Seeing risks, Osborne offers no austerity relief for UK

British Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne (L) and German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble speak at the British Chambers of Commerce conference in London on March 3, 2016. The European Union would be "less stable" if Britain voted to leave in a referendum on membership in June, Germany's finance minister told British business leaders on Thursday. / AFP / JUSTIN TALLIS


U.K. Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne is sticking to his guns.
Tripped up by an economy proving weaker than forecast and with lower tax revenues as a result, Osborne is set to use his budget on March 16 to deliver even more austerity to meet a legally binding pledge of a fiscal surplus by the end of the decade.
Such rectitude will leave the Bank of England with the task of driving demand and marks a split from peers increasingly turning to fiscal stimulus to support their economies.
“His focus on austerity does set him apart from the European governments, but it is his trademark. He’s staked his own reputation on it,” Liz Martins, an economist at HSBC Holdings Plc in London, said in an interview.
Squeezing fiscal policy is par for the course for Osborne, who took office in 2010 pledging to rid Britain of a record budget deficit following the ravages of the financial crisis. Subsequent strength in the economy relative to that of international peers only stiffened his resolve. Having already halved the deficit from 10 percent of the economy, his goal now is to post surpluses from 2020 and continue them so long as economic growth doesn’t fall below 1 percent.
That leaves economists at Bank of America Merrill Lynch predicting he’ll have to tighten policy by about 5 billion pounds per year until 2020.

Cuts Warning
Osborne is already signalling he is up to the challenge, saying last month that he “may need to undertake further reductions in spending because this country can only afford what it can afford.”
That marks a shift from November, when a 27 billion-pound windfall from lower debt costs allowed him to scrap controversial cuts to tax credits and protect police budgets, while still reducing borrowing and increasing investment.
Forcing the turn is the general economic malaise at home and abroad since. While the Office for Budget Responsibility in November predicted U.K. growth of 2.4 percent this year and 2.5 percent in 2017, the median forecast of economists surveyed by Bloomberg News is now for 2.1 percent and 2.2 percent.

Budget Overshoot
Osborne is on course to overshoot his current-year deficit forecast by about 5 billion pounds, according to Bloomberg Intelligence economist Jamie Murray, and further cuts could be needed if he wants to keep close to the 10 billion-pound surplus currently predicted for 2019-20.
Finding it may prove tricky. PM David Cameron’s Conservative party already committed not to raise levies on income, sales and national insurance. A further blow to Osborne’s revenue-raising ambitions came this month when pressure from within his own party and business groups forced him to abandon a revamp of pension taxes. While the plunge in oil prices could give him room to raise duties on road fuel, the likelihood is that government spending will bear the brunt of his austerity. Osborne indicated as much when he said he will seek “efficiencies” in departments.
EU Referendum
Hemming him in further is the need not to antagonize voters or his own party as the divisive referendum on European Union membership looms. After beginning the year as the front-runner to succeed Cameron, Osborne is now trailing London Mayor Boris Johnson, an advocate of so-called Brexit, in opinion polls. Withdrawal from the EU would likely roil the economy and the government’s
“Cameron and Osborne are now in a real fight and all is focused on the referendum,” said Tim Bale, professor of politics at Queen Mary, University of London. “If ‘Brexit’ occurs, all bets are off.”
Austerity leaves Osborne at odds with many of his counterparts in the Group of 20 after they said last month they’d use “fiscal policy flexibly to strengthen growth” amid a sense the monetary policy is reaching its limits. Canada, Japan and China are among those either delivering or considering more fiscal aid for their economies.

Leave a Reply

Send this to a friend