pounds 3bn borrowing surge dampens tax hopes

The Chancellor's scope for responsible tax cuts in the next Budget shrank even further yesterday with the news that government spending was pounds 3.2bn more than its income last month. Without pounds 1.1bn in privatisation revenue from the sale of Railtrack the gap in the Government's finances would have yawned even wider.

Adam Cole, an economist at brokers James Capel, said it left Kenneth Clarke "with only one policy lever to pull ahead of the election - lower base rates". In his Mansion House speech last week the Chancellor insisted that bringing the government budget into balance in the medium term was a key policy aim, and he would make sure it was achieved.

But the City was disappointed by yesterday's figures, which showed borrowing adjusted for privatisation receipts was higher in the first two months of this financial year than at the same stage last year.

Andrew Smith, shadow chief secretary to the Treasury, said the figures called into question the Chancellor's claim that public borrowing was on a downward trend.

Liberal Democrat Treasury spokesman Malcolm Bruce said: "It is clear the Government is heading for another blow-out on borrowing this year."

Mr Clarke is expected to adjust upwards his target for the public sector borrowing requirement when the Treasury publishes its new economic forecast next month.

City experts think the total for 1996/97 could be up to pounds 8bn higher than the current target of pounds 22.4bn.

That would mean very little shrinkage compared with last year's PSBR of pounds 32.2bn, itself pounds 3bn higher than the target set last November.

The reason for their scepticism is the toughness of the expenditure plans. The Govern- ment has successfully held spending to its ambitious targets for the past three years, and has an increase of only 1.2 per cent planned this financial year. If this is achieved it would mean a reduction in real terms.

Geoffrey Dicks, UK economist at NatWest Markets, believes a cut in real expenditure is "near-impossible in a pre-election year".

Departmental spending grew 3.3 per cent in the year to May, down from April's 7.3 per cent increase but well above the target. Much of the over- run in the first two months of the financial year has been on the social security budget rather than across all departments, and it is probably too early to conclude that the pattern has been set for the year as a whole.

"The slowdown in spending growth in May is encouraging, but it will need to be maintained in the months ahead," Jonathan Loynes, an economist at HSBC Markets, said.

After the concern about "missing" tax revenues towards the end of the last financial year, their growth has now started to overshoot the Treasury forecasts. Government receipts were 6.7 per cent higher in the year to May despite a 5 per cent fall in income tax revenues.

A combination of high income tax receipts last May and this year's tax cuts probably explains the drop.

VAT receipts, fingered as one of the main culprits for last year's shortfall, were up 16 per cent. However, revenue from corporation tax, the other problem area in 1995/96, was flat.

The headline PSBR in May was exaggerated by an unexpectedly small repayment of borrowing by local authorities. They were in surplus by only pounds 100m this May, pounds 500m less than a year ago. Local authority reorganisation might explain why they spent more early in the financial year. As local authority borrowing is more or less capped over the year as a whole, this disapointment will be reversed later on.

Comment, page 17

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
peopleMathematician John Nash inspired the film Beautiful Mind
News
Richard Blair is concerned the trenches are falling into disrepair
newsGeorge Orwell's son wants to save war site that inspired book
Life and Style
Audrey Hepburn with Hubert De Givenchy, whose well-cut black tuxedo is a 'timeless look'
fashionIt may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
Arts and Entertainment
The pair in their heyday in 1967
music
Life and Style
fashionFrom bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Neil Pavier: Management Accountant

£45,000 - £55,000: Neil Pavier: Are you looking for your next opportunity for ...

Sheridan Maine: Commercial Accountant

£45,000 - £55,000: Sheridan Maine: Are you a newly qualified ACA/ACCA/ACMA qua...

Laura Norton: Project Accountant

£50,000 - £60,000: Laura Norton: Are you looking for an opportunity within a w...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine