Belfast Telegraph

Osborne boosted by fall in borrowing

By Peter Cripps

Chancellor George Osborne's deficit reduction plans were lifted after it emerged borrowing fell by more than expected in October.

Public sector borrowing, excluding financial interventions such as bank bailouts, fell to £6.5bn, which is £1.2bn lower than the previous year, and below the City's expectations of £6.8bn.

Borrowing between April and September was also revised down by £1.7bn.

The figures come a week before the Chancellor's autumn statement, when he is expected to announce a package of measures to help boost the UK's ailing economy amid criticism that his austerity measures have choked off the recovery.

On the same day, the Office for Budget Responsibility will update its forecasts for Government borrowing, with many economists expecting the body to admit that Mr Osborne will fail to eradicate the structural deficit by 2014/15 as previously planned.

Yesterday's figures mean Government borrowing in the year since April stands at £68.3bn, which is still in sight of its target of £122bn in the financial year.

But there are increasing fears that the worsening state of the economy will scupper the deficit reduction plans by increasing the Government's benefits bill and lowering its tax income.

Prime Minister David Cameron admitted on Monday that controlling Britain's debt was "proving harder than anyone envisaged".

James Knightley, an economist at ING Bank, said the finances were better than expected and the Government's deficit reduction plan for the current financial year was "still achievable".

But he added: "The Government has been dropping clear hints that this borrowing forecast number is likely to be revised upwards next week because of much weaker than expected GDP growth.

"This suggests that the improvement in taxation revenues may moderate and that Government spending may not slow as much as hoped due to higher unemployment."

Fears are growing that the UK's economy will slip back into recession amid the tight squeeze in consumer spending, while the UK's exports markets are being hit by the eurozone debt crisis across Europe.

The better-than-expected figures in October were mainly driven by higher tax revenues, helped by the 20% rate of VAT.

The Government's net debt has risen to £966.6bn, which is 62% of GDP, and is expected to break through the £1trn barrier in the coming months.