Advertisement

Osborne under pressure as a weakening economy damages Britain's finances

Public sector borrowing has risen by more than expected, it was announced today. Photo: Press Association

The state of Britain's finances worsened much more than expected in October and the Bank of England appeared more resolute than forecast in calling an end to QE to boost the economy.

We're digesting a flurry of data this morning which all appear to add pressure on Chancellor Osborne.

First the public finances: this is a measure of new borrowing by the government in October, which was expected to be around £6 billion - the same as a year ago.

In fact it's over a third higher at £8.6 billion - worse than even the most pessimistic forecast in a poll of economists conducted by Reuters.

The news makes it more likely that Mr Osborne is knocked off track to meet his targets of cutting the government's huge debts.

At this rate, the official forecaster may have to report borrowing for the year a full £10 billion above the £120 billion target.

The Chancellor delivers the Autumn Financial Statement at the beginning of December and today's news makes it more likely that he'll either have to concede he won't meet his targets to get Britain's debts under control or he will have to announce more austerity cuts.

Either option is politically toxic and Labour has been quick to make capital.

Chancellor George Osborne faces a challenging time following the release of today's borrowing figures. Credit: Press Assocation

Meanwhile, the Bank of England appears to be stepping back for now from offering any more help than it already has with quantitative easing, as it worries about the effectiveness of more cash against the threat of rising inflation.

Members of the Bank's powerful committee which runs monetary policy decided 8 to 1 to keep QE on hold in November.

They also discussed cutting interest rates from the record low of 0.5 per cent but decided against, saying: "it was unlikely to wish to reduce the ...rate in the foreseeable future."

The Bank's decisions were clouded somewhat by the decision a couple of weeks ago to transfer a £37 billion surplus built up under QE from the Bank to the Treasury. This amounted to QE. George Osborne will use the money to pay down some of the country's debt - which is a good thing, but it comes with potentially expensive strings attached which could add to the country's debts in years to come. This decision has caused controversy as some argue it both weakens the Bank's independence and the government's credibility in solving the country's debt in a sustainable way.

In summary, today's news reflects a weakening economy which is damaging the country's finances and a Bank holding back from more stimulus as it worries about inflation.

The Autumn Statement will be fascinating as Mr Osborne tackles a very difficult task.