The UK's creaking public finances took another hit in December as public borrowing soared to £15.7 billion, official figures showed today.
The surge is slightly lower than expected but remains a record for December and takes public sector net borrowing for the nine months of the financial year so far to £119.9 billion.
For the 2009 calendar year, borrowing reached £142.6 billion - the highest since Office for National Statistics (ONS) records began in 1946.
The figures revealed the impact of a record recession on the UK's finances as tax revenues were hit and spending on measures to help the economy and on benefits such as jobseeker's allowance rose.
The Government's receipts were down marginally to £37 billion from £37.1 billion a year earlier - the 15th successive month of year-on-year falls in the tax take.
VAT income was flat year-on-year at £6.4 billion, although this should be helped next month as the tax rate returns to 17.5 per cent after the Government's temporary move to help the economy.
Spending ran much higher over the month at £48.3 billion, with layout on social benefits up 9 per cent to £14.2 billion in December.
The UK's net debt also hit £870 billion - the equivalent of 61.7 per cent of the country's annual output.
This is the highest proportion since the ONS began recording the measure more than 30 years ago.
The data will add to pressure on the Government to set out clearer plans to repair the public finances - either through spending cuts or tax rises - to soothe worries among international investors over the UK's borrowing burden.
The Conservatives want to begin cutting the deficit sooner than the Government, which argues that sharpening the axe too early could endanger the UK's pull out of recession.
Owen James, an economist with the Centre for Economics and Business Research, said the lower-than-expected borrowing figures were "likely to be a reflection of positive labour market data".
Unemployment figures yesterday revealed a reduction in numbers claiming jobseekers' allowance for the first time since February 2008, with jobless totals far lower than the three million feared at the height of the recession.
But he warned: "While the increase in the level of public debt in December is less than expected, the scale of the deficit remains frightening.
"With no plausible strategy for a sustainable fiscal policy set out in the Pre-Budget Report, the additional headroom suggested by today's data does provide an opportunity for the Government to begin to bring expenditure in line with income."Reuse content