Chancellor offers a smear of jam, tomorrow

For days the chancellor and Treasury have been dampening expectations that his spring statement, which replaces the spring budget, would be an event of tax-and-spending significance.

Philip Hammond was true to his word. He was dull.

The most resonant disclosure wasn't in his speech, it was in the big OBR book that accompanies it.

It showed the PM has committed to paying the pensions of EU Eurocrats till 2064, at a drain on the public purse of around €50m in that year, and €200m annually right up to 2050.

That’ll have steam whistling from the ears of the more ardent Brexiteers.

Otherwise the big change was in the Chancellor's mood - he did a lot of signaling that he is more bullish than his own independent forecasters at the OBR.

Although the OBR revised up its growth forecast for the current year from 1.4% to 1.5%, that's still tepid - especially as the global economy starts to boom again.

And next year and the year after, the OBR expects the annual rise in national income or GDP to drop back to an anaemic 1.3% - or half the rate we took for granted before the Crash of 2008 and a third lower than was widely expected before that Brexit vote.

But Phil ain't Eeyore no more, he said, but Tigger. So, in his words, forecasts are "there to be beaten".

What’s he up to?


He wants to reassure Tory colleagues tired of being beaten up by voters for the big squeeze in hospitals, schools, the armed forces, local government and so on that their habitual diet of gruel for a decade may be sweetened.

Soon. In the autumn - when there will actually be a budget.

The Chancellor described himself as Eeyore no more Credit: PA

In probably the only significant phrase in his Commons address, the Chancellor said that "if in the autumn the public finances continue to reflect the improvements that today's report hints at ... I would have capacity to enable further increases in public spending".

The smell is jam being cooked, not in Jeremy Corbyn's Finsbury Park kitchen, but in the Treasury.

But please don't assume the public services will then be wading waste deep in the delicious sticky stuff.

Even with a borrowing undershoot of around £5bn since the last official forecast in the autumn, the Chancellor still only has around £15bn to play with in 2020-1 (which is the forecast excess over his borrowing target for that year).

There will be jam, but it will be spread thinly

Now if he spent all of that, it would not deliver everything the generals, doctors, teachers and council chiefs say they all desperately need.

And he won't spend all of it. Because he has made crystal clear that any surplus that emerges will be split between spending, tax cuts and paying down a national debt that is more than double what it was a decade ago.

So yes, there will jam. But it will be spread very, very thin.

That's not yum yum. Just half a yum, maybe.