The public finances continue to be battered by economic shocks as this week’s chart on the past five years of red ink illustrates.
The monthly public sector finances for March 2023 released on Tuesday 25 April contained the first cut of the government’s financial result for 2022/23, with our chart this week illustrating trends over the past five years in receipts, expenditure and the deficit.
As our chart highlights, tax and other receipts increased from £813bn in 2018/19 to £827bn in 2019/20, before falling to £793bn during the first year of the pandemic. They recovered to £920bn in 2021/22 before rising with inflation to a provisional estimate of £1,016bn for the year ended 31 March 2023.
Total managed expenditure (TME) increased from £857bn in 2018/19 to £888bn in 2019/20, before exceeding £1trn for the first time in 2020/21 as the pandemic caused expenditure to rise significantly. TME fell in 2021/22 to £1,041bn as pandemic-released spending was scaled back, before rising this year to £1,155bn as inflation, higher interest rates and energy support packages more than offset the pandemic related spending that was not repeated in 2022/23.
The deficit of £44bn in 2018/19 was the lowest it had been since the financial crisis, following an extended period of spending restraint over a decade. The purse strings were loosened a little in 2019/20 as previous government plans to eliminate the deficit were abandoned, with the deficit rising to £61bn. The huge cost of the pandemic saw the deficit rise to £313bn in 2020/21 as the borrowing rose to meet the huge costs of dealing with the pandemic, before falling back to £121bn in 2021/22.
There were hopes that the situation would improve further, with the government in October 2021 budgeting for a deficit of £83bn. Unfortunately, rampant inflation and the energy crisis following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine mean that the government does not currently expect to reduce the deficit to below £50bn until 2027/28 at the earliest. And that is with what some commentators believe are unrealistic assumptions about the government’s ability to reduce spending on public services beyond the cuts already delivered.
Provisional receipts in 2022/23 were 25% higher than the outturn for 2018/19, which in the absence of economic growth has principally been driven by inflation of around 15% over that period combined with an increase in the level of taxation and other receipts from around 37% to approaching 41% of the economy. Total managed expenditure is provisionally 35% higher than in 2018/19, although this includes substantial amounts of one-off expenditures on the energy support packages and index-linked debt interest that should moderate, at least assuming inflation reduces in the coming financial year.
Not shown in the chart is what these numbers mean for public sector net debt, which has increased by £753bn over the past five years from £1,757bn at 1 April 2018 to a provisional £2,530bn at 31 March 2023. This comprises £678bn in borrowing to fund the deficits shown in the chart, and £75bn to fund lending by government and working capital requirements.
Our chart this week may be well presented, but it is not a pretty picture.