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Business Comment

James Moore: Not much to celebrate – even if we avoid ignominy of triple-dip recession

Outlook It's the end of the fiscal year and time to tot up exactly what the Government has to show, in terms of cutting Britain's budget deficit, for another year of austerity, public sector job cuts, pay freezes and non-existent economic growth.

The answer is not very much. During the last year the state borrowed £120.6bn, a reduction of just £300m on what it borrowed the previous year. At this rate of progress there won't just be an overspend in 2018 (the target for the deficit's elimination) there'll be one in 2118.

Public sector borrowing is flatlining and so is the economy. We'll get an update on the latter later this week and, even if the Chancellor, George Osborne, gets lucky and the Office for National Statistics says it has returned to growth (meaning we have avoided a triple dip recession), there surely won't be much to celebrate.

Disturbingly we may face another year of this. Maybe more.

Being a flatlining nation, it should be said, is better than being in Greece, or Cyprus, or in one of the other time bombs ticking quietly, for now, but still menacingly on Europe's fringes.

But it surely isn't a happy place to be. Perhaps there are heads other than the Chancellor's in Government that can see the problem. The austerity programme has left us with some pain, but zero gain when it comes to any real improvement in the public finances, and zero gain when it comes to a badly misfiring economy.

Lloyd Blankfein, the Goldman Sachs chief executive, was in town urging Mr Osborne to "stick to his guns" despite no less than the IMF calling the Chancellor's strategy into question.

Mr Blankfein warned that the markets will extract a price if he doesn't. Maybe so, but he's out of step with almost everyone else, after the research underpinning austerity was proven to be of dubious merit on account of the fatal misread of an Excel spreadsheet.

That's an easy enough mistake to make. We've all been there. But it's as well to correct it quickly if you find yourself in that unhappy situation.

That is what Bill Gross, the manager of the world's biggest bond fund, appears to have done as he is now questioning the merits of austerity having been a big part of the market Mr Blankfein was talking about.

Not so Mr Osborne and his chums. But perhaps they might like to meditate on this. Mr Blankfein doesn't have a vote in this country (thank goodness). Those who do probably aren't listening to the Goldman Sachs boss. But they might start to listen to Ed Milliband, even if they aren't exactly thrilled with the prospect of him as prime minister.

Mr Blankfein may be right, there may be a price to pay if Mr Osborne loosens the purse strings until the economy improves. But the price the electorate extracts will be a bigger one as far as this Government is concerned if he doesn't and it's still a flatlining nation that goes to the polls in a couple of years.