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Osborne boosted ahead of Budget

Published 22/05/2015

New figures will boost George Osborne ahead of July's Budget
New figures will boost George Osborne ahead of July's Budget

George Osborne today received a boost ahead of his emergency summer Budget as official figures showed a better-than-expected improvement in the UK's public finances.

Borrowing - excluding the effect of bank bailouts - was £6.8 billion in April, £2.5 billion lower than in the same month last year, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

Public finances were bolstered by bumper VAT receipts as well as spending cuts.

It was the first set of monthly borrowing figures for the 2015/16 fiscal year as Mr Osborne targets a further reduction in the annual deficit. The Chancellor is to deliver his first all-Tory Budget, following the party's election victory, on July 8.

Martin Beck, senior economic advisor to the EY ITEM Club, said: "As it stands, it is not implausible that the Budget on July 8 will see a cut in the deficit forecast.

"This would certainly make life easier for the Chancellor in juggling his ambitions to achieve a Budget surplus by the end of the Parliament, while meeting the various tax and spending commitments made during the election campaign.

"All in all, it is looking like the most favourable backdrop to a Budget since 2007."

Today's figures showing a year-on-year fall of 27% in monthly borrowing was comfortably ahead of the 14% pencilled in for the financial year ahead by the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR).

The OBR sees borrowing reduced to £75.3 billion for 2015/16. Revised figures show it was £87.7 billion in 2014/15, slightly higher than the initial estimate of £87.3 billion though still undershooting its target.

April's figures were helped by VAT receipts of £10.6 billion, up 3.4% year-on-year and the highest figure for April since records began in 1997.

Meanwhile debt interest payments for the month were 7%, or £400 million, lower as the cost of servicing inflation-linked bond debt fell, with inflation at record lows.

Income tax-related receipts rose 3.7% to £11.6 billion while spending on net social benefits fell 1.1% to £16.7 billion. An expenditure category mainly including departmental spending was 10%, or £4.1 billion, lower at £36.8 billion.

Underlying debt at £1.488 trillion was up from £1.484 trillion in March but as a proportion of gross domestic product (GDP) was flat at 80.4%. In April last year the debt was £1.404 trillion, or 78.9% of GDP.

Samuel Tombs of consultancy Capital Economics said the figures were "more good news on the current health of the UK's public finances"

But he added: "A major and painful re-intensification of the fiscal squeeze will still be required for the Government to obtain an overall budget surplus in this parliament.

"It is highly unlikely that this pace of spending cuts can be maintained in future months. Accordingly, the Chancellor is unlikely to have spare funds to dispense at the Summer Budget."

Howard Archer of IHS Global Insight said it was a "very good start" for plans to cut the annual deficit.

"However, there is obviously an awful long way to go, and much will obviously depend on how well the economy bounces back from the first quarter slowdown when GDP growth was limited to 0.3%," he added.

A Treasury spokeswoman said: "Today's figures show that our deficit reduction plan is working, with borrowing down £2.5 billion compared to a year ago.

"We have more than halved the deficit, but at just under 5% it is still one of the highest in the developed world.

"There is no shortcut to fixing the public finances so we have to continue with the hard work of identifying savings and making reforms necessary to finish the job and build a resilient economy."

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