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The spring statement

In his statement, the Chancellor will respond to the OBR’s latest forecasts for the economy and public finances. It is unlikely that the statement will feature any new spending or tax announcements: the Chancellor has said that the statement will be ‘no major fiscal event’.

Wider challenges for the economy and public finances may also be reviewed at the spring statement, and consultations launched on how they may be addressed.

Economic situation

The UK economy grew by 1.7% in 2017, slightly slower than in 2016. This relatively modest growth reflected subdued growth in consumer spending.

Consumer spending growth

Consumers faced higher inflation, a result of past falls in the pound which raised import prices, and lacklustre earnings growth. Stronger export performance has mitigated this to some extent, supported by the lower value of the pound and a resurgent world economy. Much of the world has seen accelerating economic growth of late, including the US and Eurozone.

UK, US and Eurozone GDP

With UK inflation at 3%, well above its 2% target, the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) lifted interest rates – from 0.25% to 0.5% – in early November. The MPC has signalled that it is likely to raise interest rates further, possibly in May.

Consumer price inflation

Employment rates remain at near-record highs (around 75% of the working-age population is in work) and the unemployment rate is very low by historical standards at 4.4%.

The backdrop of a stronger global economy has led some forecasters – including the Bank of England – to raise slightly their expectations of UK GDP growth for 2018. Most expect it to be somewhere between 1.5-2.0% again this year. If the OBR follows suit, it may revise up its current forecasts of GDP growth of 1.4% in 2018 and 1.3% in 2019.

OBR GDP forecasts

Public finances

Borrowing and debt

In 2016/17, UK government borrowed £46 billion to make up the difference between its spending and income raised from taxes and other sources. Since its 2009/10 peak the UK’s borrowing – often referred to as the deficit – has fallen by 70%. Borrowing is now at a similar level to before the 2007-2008 financial crisis.  

Government spending and revenues

Government borrowing

It is very likely that the OBR will lower its estimate for borrowing in 2017/18. Outturn data for the year so far has been better than expected, and the OBR says “it now looks clear that borrowing in 2017-18 will undershoot our November forecast by a significant margin”.

Public sector net debt

Government’s public finance targets

In its forecast the OBR will assess the Government’s progress against its targets for borrowing and debt. In its previous forecast, the OBR judged that the Government was on course to meet both targets. 

The OBR will also assess progress against the Government’s overall objective for the public finances, which is for the Government’s budget to be in balance – spending no more than its income – sometime in the 2020s. There is some ambiguity about the exact date for achieving this target, but the OBR says that, whatever the date, the objective appears challenging.

The Treasury Committee recommends that the Government clears up the ambiguity in some of its targets for the public finances at Spring Statement 2018.

Further information

The Library will publish a summary of Spring Statement 2018 on the evening of 13 March.

The Library will publish its summary of UK Economic Indicators on 8 March

Look out for Spring Statement related ‘Insights’ on the Library’s blog, Second Reading.

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