Belfast Telegraph

Friday 28 November 2014

Osborne must keep one eye on the ball

The run-up to budget day is always a busy time for the Chancellor but this year's has probably been more fraught than most.

To say George Osborne is under pressure to deliver is very much an understatement.

He finds himself in much the same situation as Ireland rugby coach Declan Kidney after one of the worst runs in the Six Nations ever.

Both had to operate in terrible weather; one economic the other meteorological, both have watched as their team has been decimated; one by scandal the other by injury and both have seen their neighbours and one-time equals climb up the rankings; Wales in the rugby, the US in economic terms.

Mr Osborne might not feel it at the moment but he's lucky not to be at the mercy of the IRFU's ire, although he certainly has been coming up against enough criticism from his own backbenchers of late.

A sluggish economy which has been standing still may be easy to brush aside with a wave of the hand and a "sure it's a downturn" comment but 0.2% growth in 2012 is pretty unimpressive.

It's even less palatable when you think that the Northern Ireland economy is bound to have shrunk last year if the overall UK figure can only just manage to poke its head into the positive side. Meanwhile, the deficit doesn't show any signs of going away soon and at the same time as trying to get the economy moving again he has to try and cut spending. That's going to be a difficult task given many of the ingenious ways of boosting growth involve throwing a bit of cash at the problem or at the very least, spending money earlier than the government might have wanted to.

Meanwhile, the events in Cyprus of the last few days have spooked investors who are worried that instability has returned to Europe. Coupled with that, UK inflation looks to be on its way to 3.5%, not much in decimal point terms but a million miles away from the Bank of England's 2% target. Mr Osborne may be wishing he was sitting in Mr Kidney's shoes, precariously slippy though they may be. Failing that, the Chancellor is going to have to get creative if we're to keep our economic heads above water and today's Budget speech will be key. Let's just hope he at least takes a lesson from Declan Kidney's understated delivery rather than from his recent scorecard.

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