2. The percentages. By what percentage will net debt rise over this parliament? Darling’s plans would have increased debt by 60 per cent; Osborne’s March plans suggested 51 per cent. Will the already small gap between Labour and Tory narrow further still? (By the way, it’s rich for Cameron and Osborne to say you can’t borrow your way out of a debt crisis when they’re doing precisely this)
3. The DEL cuts. Departmental spending — aka, DEL — is due to go down by 3 per cent a year, only slightly higher than Labour’s planned 2.2 per cent. What will it go down by now? (HMT will be careful not to publish this figure — you wouldn’t want to actually quantify the cuts, would you?! But you can work it out by putting the new DEL totals through the OBR’s GDP deflator. All this sounds dull, but it’s pretty easy).
4. The effect of Budget measures on jobs. Will the OBR produce an assessment of what today’s budget measures will mean for employment? If not, someone should ask Robert Chote this question in the press conference. I’ll be happy to be proved wrong, but I suspect today’s Budget measures will have precisely zero effect on jobs or growth.
5. The Gilt Scam. How much money will Osborne have saved, in forecast borrowing costs, due to lower gilt yields? This is why Chancellors like QE: it lowers yields, ergo lowers borrowing costs — and gives them extra cash to play with (hence the infrastructure, nursery places, etc). But if Osborne's getting extra cash, due to an artificial manipulation of UK bond yields (or ‘safe haven’ as it's cleverly being spun), then where does the money come from? Who's being screwed? The answer is savers, who are getting less for their ISAs , and pension funds, and who will suffer shortfalls due to lower yields in the bonds they invest in. And while it is possible to guess how much our pension funds will be hit — it’ll be a 12-digit figure — you’ll find the OBR will not be encouraged to make inquiries. This really is an inconvenient truth: that QE, the only tool the government can think of, is in effect a massive raid on our pension funds) The below graph show’s Citi’s estimates of Osborne's secret stash, or how much he’ll have saved on cheaper gilts:
7. Jobs. What’s the OBR’s new forecast for employment, preferably broken down by public and private sector?
8. Blame it on the Eurozone? When the OBR lays out its new growth figures, will it explain how much of the downward revision is due to domestic and foreign influences? That is, how much can you really blame the Eurozone?
9. The Underspend. Yes, tax revenues have been lower than expected. But so has state spending, which is why some new spending projects have emerged from thin air. Sleekit, wee Osborne has been spending less than the OBR expected him to, and by quite some margin. Core spending (i.e. excluding debt and dole), is down 0.2 per cent year-in-year, and the OBR had expected it to rise by 2.2 per cent. Graph below:
One final thing. I'd also caution against getting too excited/giving a hoot about the changing estimated size of this ‘structural deficit ’. This is a classic language, being used — as Orwell would have put it — to give the appearance of solidity to pure air. All it means is an estimate of how big the deficit will be when the economy has recovered.Your guess is as good as mine. It's a far smaller figure than the deficit itself, so it suits the government to have journalists using this fake metric.
God knows how many hours were wasted worrying about Brown's just-as-spurious Golden Rules. Deficit should be measured in simple terms: what the government spends, minus what it raises. And that's something no one can spin.