Slow Recovery (OBR)

The Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) formed in May, 2010 to provide an independent assessment of the public finances and the economy for each Budget & Pre-Budget Report, has increased its growth forecast for 2010 from 1.2% to 1.8% of GDP but cut its forecast for 2011 from 2.3% down to 2.1% and the estimate for 2012 down from 2.8% to 2.6%. The stronger growth in the middle of 2010 is attributed to temporary factors such as unsustainable activity in construction and companies rebuilding stocks. The recovery then would be the weakest for any downturn in the UK since World War II, taking a projected four (instead of the three of the two previous recessions) years overall.
On the more positive side, the OBR reduced its forecast of 490,000 job cuts in the public sector, down to an estimated 330,000 job losses with private sector job creation likely to offset these public sector losses over the next few years. The OBR also said that the Coalition government had a greater than 50% chance of achieving its deficit reduction goals. It added that it would be unprecedented in the post-war period for economic growth to not exceed 3% of GDP in a calendar year over the recovery phase of the economic cycle and warned of the considerable uncertainty around its main forecasts, particularly on levels of government spending and revenue. Overall, the deficit at 10.0% of GDP in 2010 is seen as falling to 1.9% in 2014-2015.
George Osborne the Chancellor in his own autumn report to the Commons, seized on the projected fall in public sector job losses as justifying his cuts to the Welfare Benefits System, which in turn had made more budget money available for other government departments to protect jobs. The Labour opposition, however, criticised the OBR for being too optimistic in its forecasts, although these would appear to be in line with the expectations of the financial markets. The pick-up in tax revenue from the increased growth in 2010 has still to come through and, in the key export markets of the Euro-zone, growth is continuing at the core.
That said, last week George Osborne put aside his much-advertised white paper on growth (with the associated prospects for job creation) and there remains the need for a narrative on economic recovery for those facing austerity. Otherwise, the view of the Institute for Fiscal Studies that the poorest are bearing more than their fair share of the cuts programme, will only add credibility to the accusation made by opposition Labour leader Ed. Milliband that the government is reducing economic policy to deficit reduction. The Social Market Foundation Think Tank also sees it as inevitable that the costs for the new Universal Credit System for Welfare Benefits, will end up as being much higher than many now expect and significantly outweighing the savings after 2014/15 when the system is fully up and running, with its associated universality and simplicity much less impressive than billed.

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