More, deeper cuts ahead as economic woes mount

 

Cabinet ministers have been warned to prepare for further sweeping budget cuts extending to 2016 as new figures showed another leap in public sector borrowing.

George Osborne told ministers attending yesterday’s Cabinet that they would have to do “more for less” and must start identifying savings across all areas of their departments ahead of next year’s Comprehensive Spending Review.

The warning came as it emerged that the Government borrowed £15.4bn last month – £500m more than the same month the previous year. More bad news is expected later this week with the publication of official growth figures, which are expected to show that output contracted in the final quarter of 2012.

Acknowledging how tight things are, the outgoing Bank of England Governor Sir Mervyn King said last night that Britain’s 20-year-old inflation-targeting regime had “come of age” and should be reviewed.

Sir Mervyn’s comments pave the way for the first major overhaul of the Bank’s inflation target since it was granted independence in 1997.

Although a triple-dip recession would require two consecutive months of negative growth, some economists fear that the recent spell of bad weather has made this more likely. All three of the major credit ratings agencies now have the UK’s coveted AAA rating on negative outlook.

Acknowledging the severity of the economic situation, the Chancellor told colleagues that he expected them all to work with the Cabinet Office’s Efficiency and Reform Group to identify where they could merge functions, services and buildings to reduce costs.

“The Government has made very clear that there will be further squeezes on departmental spending, said David Cameron’s official spokesman. “The focus at Cabinet today was on doing as much as we can through service reform and efficiency, but there is an acknowledgment that the Government will have to continue to make difficult decisions.

The Prime Minister’s spokesman said: “There was agreement around the Cabinet table that, although the decisions that are going to have to be taken are difficult, they will have to be made.”

Health, education and foreign aid spending will continue to be protected but the departments concerned will still be expected to find administrative savings in their budgets.

Asked whether cuts to frontline services were inevitable, the spokesman said: “There is a sense across Government that there are further opportunities for big public service and back-office service reforms. It is very important that these are explored to the full.”

Yesterday’s borrowing figures were worse than those pencilled in by economists. It comes after an unexpected increase in November, when borrowing rose to £17.5bn, up £1.2bn from last year, after tax receipts were dented by lower energy company profits.

Within the December figures, the picture was much the same as previous months, with Government spending outstripping tax receipts. Total expenditure was up 5.4 per cent, with tax receipts up just 3.6 per cent in the month.

Public sector borrowing for the year to date is £106.5bn, excluding a one-off £28bn boost from the transfer of the Royal Mail pension fund into Treasury ownership, which is 7.3 per cent higher than the same period last year.

Martin Beck, UK economist at consultancy Capital Economics, said December’s public finance figures confirmed that the Government’s fiscal consolidation plans were still off track.

He expects borrowing for 2012/13 to come in at around £113bn, £5bn above the tax and spending watchdog’s forecast of £108bn.

ING economist James Knightley added: “The question is how long the UK can hold on to its AAA status. With the US and France having been downgraded by one ratings agency in the past couple of years, another disappointing UK borrowing number and a widely expected contraction in GDP on Friday will intensify the threat of the UK suffering the same fate.”

A Treasury spokesman said the figures underlined that the recovery in the Government’s finances was taking time but the economy was healing.

However, Labour’s shadow Chief Secretary Rachel Reeves said: “David Cameron and George Osborne’s economic plan is hurting, but it’s not working. Their failure on jobs and growth means they are now failing on the one test they set themselves – to get the deficit and debt down.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
2015 General Election
May2015

Poll of Polls

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 General

Ashdown Group: Senior VMware Platform Engineer - VMware / SAN / Tier3 DC

£45000 - £55000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior VMware Platform En...

Recruitment Genius: Purchasing Assistant

£10000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A distributor of specialist ele...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Ledger Assistant

£17000 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A distributor of specialist ele...

Ashdown Group: Automated Tester / Test Analyst - .Net / SQL - Cheshire

£32000 per annum + pension, healthcare & 23 days holiday: Ashdown Group: A gro...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

Cult competition The Moth goes global

The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

Pakistani women come out fighting

Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

Education: LGBT History Month

Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot