A Spring Statement dominated by inflation

Tax plans brought forward as Chancellor Rishi Sunak seeks to limit spending commitments and build fiscal headroom ahead of the Autumn Budget.

Inflation dominated the Spring Statement as the Chancellor added to his support package for households and businesses facing rapidly rising prices but held off giving any extra money for public services.

Despite a major tax cut from raising National Insurance thresholds, the OBR estimates that the measures announced by the Chancellor for the coming financial year will offset around a third of the fall in living standards. This will leave household budgets to take most of the strain of the rapidly rising prices, with the potential that the government will need to intervene again later in the year as the impact becomes clearer.

The biggest individual change in the government’s spending plans is the bill for interest on central government debt, which increases from £24bn in 2020/21 to £54bn this year and a forecast of £83bn for 2022/23. This is the biggest driver of an increase in the forecast deficit for next year from last October’s forecast of £62bn to a revised forecast of £99bn, despite an £11bn boost from restructuring the system for student loans that could see graduates paying back their loans almost up until retirement.

Despite the increase in the coming financial year, the OBR expects the deficit in the rest of the forecast period to be lower than before, with the projected deficits in the subsequent four years up to 2026/27 down from £62bn, £46bn, £46bn and £44bn to £50bn, £37bn, £35bn and £32bn – a net improvement of £11bn a year on average. 

Higher tax receipts are the primary driver of a reduced forecast for public sector net debt at 31 March 2027 of £2,480bn, down from a previous forecast of £2,567bn, but still £687bn higher than the £1,793bn at 31 March 2020. The impact on the debt-to-GDP ratio is greater, with lower cash outflows and higher GDP driven by inflation combining to reduce the ratio from a previous forecast of 88% in 2027 to 83%, reversing a significant proportion of the increase caused by the pandemic.

The OBR calculates that the Chancellor has about £30bn of headroom against his fiscal targets, giving him more capacity to provide additional support for households and businesses later in the year if he thinks it necessary. Given the uncertainties surrounding the potential impact of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on the UK economy, it is perhaps understandable for Rishi Sunak to want to accelerate the reduction in debt in relation to the size of the economy and build greater fiscal resilience. However, he will be conscious of the risk of a recession if households cut back their spending in the domestic economy by too much.

Other than some welcome additional funding to tackle fraud, there was no significant additional funding for departments or local authorities who will need to stick within their original budgets set by the three-year Spending Review announced last October. This could result in ‘unplanned austerity’ as they seek to find savings to offset rising costs, in particular the government’s capital investment plans, where the cost of building infrastructure is likely to increase significantly, potentially jeopardising priorities such as levelling up.

Alison Ring, Director of Public Sector and Taxation, commented: “The story of the Spring Statement is inflation, which is driving a sharp fall in living standards and is causing the interest bill on public debt to multiply. The government has responded with a package of measures that the OBR estimates offset about a third of the decline, but this still leaves household budgets exposed to the effect of rapidly rising prices. The Chancellor’s focus on building up fiscal resilience suggests he may be trying to preserve some firepower for possible further interventions later in the year.

“With public finances in a better shape than previously forecast, the Chancellor will hope that he is going to be able to make good on his pledge to cut income tax in 2024.”

This article was originally published by ICAEW.

Public finances raise hopes for Spring Statement giveaway

February’s £13.1bn deficit was offset by revisions to prior month estimates, boosting public finances and putting further pressure on the Chancellor to provide more help to households and businesses facing rapidly rising prices.

The public sector finances for February 2022, released on Tuesday 22 March 2022, reported a deficit for the month of £13.1bn. This was an improvement of £2.4bn from the deficit of £15.4bn reported for February 2021, but £12.8bn worse than the £0.4bn deficit reported for February 2020.

The cumulative deficit of £138.4bn for the first 11 months of the 2021/22 financial year was £0.1bn less than that reported last month, as the £13.1bn deficit for February was offset by £13.2bn in revisions to prior month estimates.

Public sector net debt increased by £6.6bn from £2,320.2bn at the end of January to £2,326.8bn or 94.7% of GDP at the end of February, with tax and loan recoveries partly offsetting the deficit for the month. Despite that, debt is £192.4bn higher than at the start of the financial year and £533.7bn higher than March 2020.

The year-to-date deficit of £138.4bn compares with a cumulative deficit for the first 11 months of the financial year of £290.9bn in 2020/21 and £48.7bn in 2019/20. This was £25.9bn below the forecast published by the Office for Budget Responsibility alongside last October’s Autumn Budget and Spending Review 2021, with higher-than-forecast tax receipts being partially offset by higher-than-forecast interest charges on index-linked debt. Both are driven by higher rates of inflation, which takes more time to feed through to non-interest expenditure. This suggests that the deficit for the full year could end up somewhere in the region of £30bn below the official forecast of £183bn.

Cumulative receipts in the first 11 months of the 2021/22 financial year amounted to £826.0bn – £104.7bn or 15% higher than a year previously but £69.3bn or 9% above the level seen in the first 11 months of 2019/20. At the same time, cumulative expenditure excluding interest of £846.2bn was £65.1bn or 7% lower than the same period last year, but £127.4bn or 18% higher than two years ago.

Interest amounted to £69.2bn in the eleven months to 28 February 2022, which was £29.4bn or 74% higher than the same period in 2020/21, principally because of the effect of higher inflation on index-linked gilts. Interest costs were £17.8bn or 35% more than in the equivalent 11-month period ended 29 February 2020.

Cumulative net public sector investment up to February 2022 was £49.0bn. This was £12.1bn or 20% below the £29.7bn reported for the first 11 months of last year, which included around £17bn of COVID-19 related lending that the government does not expect to recover. Investment was £13.8bn or 39% more than two years ago, principally reflecting greater capital expenditures, including on HS2.

The increase in debt of £192.4bn since the start of the financial year comprises the cumulative deficit of £138.4bn and £54.0bn in other borrowing. The latter has been used to fund lending to banks through the Bank of England’s Term Funding Scheme, lending to businesses via the British Business Bank (including bounce-back and other coronavirus loans), student loans and other cash requirements, net of the recovery of taxes deferred last year and loan repayments.

Alison Ring OBE FCA, Public Sector and Taxation Director for ICAEW, says: “Today’s numbers show the impact inflation is having on the public finances as it continues to drive both tax receipts and interest costs higher. The deficit for the financial year is expected to be around £30bn lower than October’s official forecast of £183bn, while tomorrow’s Spring Statement forecasts could see a smaller deficit next year than the £62bn expected before the pandemic.

“Uncertainty about the impact of the war in Ukraine on the UK means it will be extremely difficult for the Chancellor to gauge the level of intervention needed to support households and businesses facing rocketing energy prices if he’s to avoid a recession that could permanently damage the economy and the public finances, and still leave room for tax cuts in the Autumn Budget.”

Table showing cumulative 11 month numbers and variances against prior year and two years ago. All amounts in £bn, with negative numbers in brackets (costs / negative variances).

Receipts 826.0: 104.7 +15% better than prior year; 69.3 +9% versus two years ago

Expenditure (846.2): 65.1 -7%; (127.4) +18%

Interest (69.2): (29.4) +74%; (17.8) +35%

Net investment (49.0): 12.1 -20%; (13.8) +39%

Subtotal Deficit (138.4): 152.5 or -52% lower than the prior year; (89.7) +184% higher than two years ago

Other borrowing (54.0): (8.5) +19%; (73.3) -380%

Total (Increase) in net debt (192.4): 144 -43%; (163.0) +554%

Also:

Public sector net debt 2,326.8: 197.3 or +9% higher than prior year and 542.8 +30% higher than two years ago

Public sector net debt / GDP 94.7%: 0.3% or 0% higher than prior year; 12.7% or +15% higher than two years ago.

Caution is needed with respect to the numbers published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), which are expected to be repeatedly revised as estimates are refined and gaps in the underlying data are filled.

The ONS made a number of revisions to prior month and prior year fiscal numbers to reflect revisions to estimates. These had the effect of decreasing the reported fiscal deficit for the 10 months to January 2022 by £13.2bn from £138.5bn to £125.3bn and reducing the deficit for the year ended 31 March 2021 by £4.1bn from £321.9bn to £317.8bn.

Table showing receipts, expenditure, interest, net investment and the deficit by month from Apr 2021 to Feb 2022.

Click on link below to the article on the ICAEW website for a readable version of this table.

This article was originally published by ICAEW.

Boost to tax revenues is a dilemma for the Chancellor

January’s public sector finance surplus of £2.9bn was driven by a boost to tax revenues as inflation drove up VAT receipts and self assessment income grew, putting further pressure on Chancellor Rishi Sunak to increase support to households facing huge rises in energy prices.

The public sector finances for January, released on 22 February, reported a surplus for the month of £2.9bn. This was an improvement of £5.4bn from the deficit of £2.5bn reported for January 2021, but £7bn smaller than the £9.9bn surplus reported for January 2020.

Total receipts were £97.9bn in January, up from £76.0bn in the previous month.

Public sector net debt fell from £2,339.7bn at the end of December to £2,317.6bn or 95% of GDP at the end of January, with tax and loan recoveries supplementing the surplus for the month. Despite that, debt is £210.7bn higher than at the start of the financial year and £524.5bn higher than in March 2020.

The cumulative deficit for the first 10 months of the financial year was £138.5bn, compared with £278.7bn and £48.4bn for the same period last year and the year before that respectively.

This was £17.7bn below the forecast published by the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) alongside last October’s Autumn Budget and Spending Review 2021, although higher than forecast tax receipts were partially offset by higher than forecast interest charges on index-linked debt. Both are driven by higher rates of inflation, which takes more time to feed through to non-interest expenditure.

Cumulative receipts in the first 10 months of the 2021/22 financial year amounted to £741bn, £93.3bn or 14% higher than a year previously, but only £56.1bn or 8% above the level seen in the first 10 months of 2019/20. At the same time, cumulative expenditure excluding interest of £776.7bn was £58.8bn or 7% lower than the same period last year, but £122.2bn or 19% higher than two years ago.

Interest amounted to £59.6bn in the 10 months to January 2022, £25.4bn or 74% higher than the same period in 2020/21, principally because of the effect of higher inflation on index-linked gilts. Interest costs were £12.8bn or 27% more than in the equivalent 10-month period ended 31 January 2020.

Cumulative net public sector investment up to January 2022 was £43.2bn. This was £13.5bn or 24% below the £56.7bn reported for the first 10 months of last year, which included around £17bn of COVID-19-related lending that the government does not expect to recover. Investment was £11.3bn or 35% more than two years ago, principally reflecting greater capital expenditures, including on HS2.

The increase in debt of £183.2bn since the start of the financial year comprises the cumulative deficit of £138.5bn and £44.7bn in other borrowing. The latter has been used to fund lending to banks through the Bank of England’s Term Funding Scheme, lending to businesses via the British Business Bank (including bounce-back and other coronavirus loans), student loans, and other cash requirements, net of the recovery of taxes deferred last year and loan repayments.

Alison Ring OBE FCA, Public Sector and Taxation Director for ICAEW, said: “The strong tax receipts reported today will provide a welcome respite for the public finances, reducing the shortfall in the government’s income compared with its expenditure from previous forecasts. However, the deficit is still on track to be the third highest ever recorded in peacetime, while public debt is more than half a trillion pounds higher than it was at the start of the pandemic.

“The challenge for Sunak will be balancing the strong pressures on him to increase the support package for households facing rapidly rising energy costs and retail prices, with the need to strengthen the resilience of the public finances in the face of a great deal of economic uncertainty and increasing global security concerns. The Chancellor will be acutely aware that while inflation is adding to tax revenues today it will go on to add to public spending tomorrow”.

Table showing receipts, expenditure, interest, net investment, deficit, other borrowing the increase in net debt for the 10 months to Jan 2021 and public sector net debt and public sector net debt / GDP at 31 Jan 2021 together with variances versus prior year and two years ago.

Click on link at the end of this article to the version of this article on the ICAEW website which has a readable version of this table.

Caution is needed with respect to the numbers published by the ONS, which are expected to be repeatedly revised as estimates are refined and gaps in the underlying data are filled.

The ONS made a number of revisions to prior month and prior year fiscal numbers to reflect revisions to estimates. These had the effect of decreasing the reported fiscal deficit for the nine months to December 2021 from £146.8bn to £141.4bn and increasing the deficit for the year ended 31 March 2021 from £321.8bn to £321.9bn.

Table showing receipts, expenditure, interest, net investment and the deficit for each of the 10 months to Jan 2021.

Click on link below to the version of this article on the ICAEW website which has a readable version of this table.

This article was originally published by ICAEW.

ICAEW chart of the week: UK government major projects portfolio

Our chart this week is based on the Institute for Government’s recently published Whitehall Monitor 2022, illustrating how the government has already started on many of the major projects that form part of the Levelling Up White Paper.

Column chart showing numbers of major projects together with the whole-life cost of those projects

2014: 158 existing projects + 44 new projects (£399bn)
2015: 150 existing + 38 new (£489bn)
2016: 112 existing + 21 new (£436bn)
2017: 107 existing + 36 new (£455bn)
2018: 115 existing + 18 new (£423bn)
2019: 114 existing + 19 new (£442bn)
2020: 108 existing + 17 new (£448bn)
2021: 87 existing + 97 new (£542bn)

On 31 January 2022, the Institute for Government (IfG) published its latest annual Whitehall Monitor, an authoritative compendium of analysis about the functions and effectiveness of central government that makes for compelling reading and contains some great charts to bring to life what would otherwise be pretty dry content.

Our chart this week draws on a couple of the IfG’s charts from pages 60 and 61 in the 2022 edition that take a look at the activities of the Infrastructure and Projects Authority (IPA). One of the IPA’s key roles is to support central government departments with their most expensive and complex projects. As the chart highlights, there was a sizeable jump in 2021 with 97 new projects added to the 87 existing projects brought forward from previous years, bringing the estimated whole-life cost of the projects being supported by the IPA to £542bn, up from £448bn in 2020.

According to the IfG, the major projects portfolio includes infrastructure developments such as the creation of a Midlands Rail Hub, large-scale programmes to improve public services such as the recruitment of 20,000 police officers by 2023, and military projects such as building a new medium-lift helicopter. This is the largest number of new items added to the portfolio in a single year since the publication of the IPA’s first annual report in 2013, with many of the projects now branded as part of the Levelling Up agenda. For comparison, fewer than 20 projects were added to the portfolio each year between 2018 and 2020. The government is currently managing 184 major projects – about 1.5 times as many as it did the year before and the portfolio is now at its largest size since 2015.

From a conventional perspective it may seem strange that the government started many of the projects in its just published Levelling Up White Paper as much as a year before setting out the plan that they form part of, but in practice the main components, such as new investment in transport infrastructure outside London and the South East, have been known for some time – as has the additional capital expenditure funding that has been provided to departmental budgets. What is new is the insight into the metrics that the government intends to use to assess the effectiveness of its levelling up plans by 2030, with 12 key objectives to be achieved.

However, as discussed in ICAEW’s Autumn Budget and Spring Budget coverage last year, much tighter budget settlements for day-to-day spending mean that departments could struggle to deliver major projects successfully given all the other pressures they are under as well as rapidly rising input costs, with the IfG commenting that: “Ministers should be careful to maintain enough administrative resources in their departments to help officials undertake these projects well, on time and to budget.”

The chart illustrates how following the IPA’s inception in 2013, there were 155 existing projects carried forward into 2014 and 44 new projects that year, a total of 199 with a whole-life cost of £399bn. This was followed by 188 projects in 2015 (150 existing and 38 new) of £489bn, 143 in 2016 (112 + 31) of £436bn, 143 in 2017 (107 + 36) of £455bn, 133 in 2018 (115 + 18) of £423bn, 133 in 2019 (114 + 19) of £442bn, 125 in 2022 (108 + 17) of £448bn and 184 projects in 2021 (87 existing + 97 new) with a whole-life cost of £542bn.

The IfG says: “Major reform is needed for government to respond to crises like the pandemic while simultaneously delivering long-term policy goals. Whitehall Monitor 2022 reveals how the government has been handling the Covid crisis while at the same time trying to make progress on priorities such as levelling up and hitting net zero. New employment support schemes and the vaccination programme were delivered rapidly, but progress on pre-pandemic priorities was limited.”

The report also warns that without fundamental reform – such as clarifying ministerial and civil service accountability, better data, improving transparency and ensuring a targeted workforce plan underpins its goal of up to 55,000 civil service job cuts by 2025 – government will continue being knocked off course when faced with shocks to the system. The IfG concludes that whatever happens as a result of the prime minister’s current troubles, with a looming cost-of-living crisis, ongoing COVID-19 challenges, and crunch Brexit deadlines and decisions ahead, 2022 will bring further strain.

The Levelling Up White Paper sets out some big aspirations, but the jury is still out as to whether they can be delivered.

This chart was originally published by ICAEW.

December public finances: rising debt interest costs offset higher tax revenues

December’s deficit of £16.8bn saw both a rise in tax revenues and in interest on inflation-linked debt as pressure grows on the Chancellor to address energy price hikes and rising prices in the shops.
The public sector finances for December 2021 released on Tuesday 25 January 2022 reported a monthly deficit of £16.8bn. This was £7.6bn lower than the £24.4bn reported for December 2020 but £11bn higher than the £5.8bn deficit reported for December 2019.

This brings the cumulative deficit for the first nine months of the financial year to £146.8bn compared with £276.1bn and £58.4bn for the same period last year and the year before that respectively.

Public sector net debt increased from £2,321.8bn at the end of November to £2,339.9bn or 96% of GDP at the end of December. This is £205.5bn higher than at the start of the financial year and an increase of £546.8bn from March 2020. As a proportion of GDP, debt is the highest it has been since March 1963, almost 60 years ago.

The deficit for the month was in line with the revised forecast for 2021/22, published by the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) alongside last October’s Autumn Budget and Spending Review 2021, although higher than forecast interest charges on index-linked debt offset the benefit of higher than forecast tax revenues.

Cumulative receipts in the first three quarters of the 2021/22 financial year amounted to £641.4bn, £82.8bn or 15% higher than a year previously, but only £44.2bn or 7% above the level seen in the first three quarters of 2019/20. At the same time, cumulative expenditure excluding interest of £700.5bn was £52.4bn or 7% lower than the first nine months of 2020/21, but £113.4bn or 19% higher than the same period two years ago.

Interest amounted to £53bn in the nine months to December 2021, £20.5bn or 63% higher than the same period in 2020/21, principally because of the effect of higher inflation on index-linked gilts. Interest costs were £10.6bn or 25% more than in the equivalent nine months ended 31 December 2019.

Cumulative net public sector investment in the three quarters to December 2021 was £34.7bn. This was £14.6bn or 30% less than the £49.3bn reported for the first nine months of last year, which included around £17bn of COVID-19-related lending that the government does not expect to recover. Investment was £8.6bn or 33% more than two years ago, principally reflecting greater capital expenditures, including on HS2.

The increase in debt of £205.5bn since the start of the financial year comprises the deficit of £146.8bn and £58.7bn in other borrowing. The latter was used to fund lending to banks through the Bank of England’s Term Funding Scheme, lending to businesses overseen by the British Business Bank (including bounce-back and other coronavirus loans), student loans, and other cash requirements, net of the receipt of taxes deferred last year and loan repayments.

Martin Wheatcroft FCA, external advisor on public finances to ICAEW, said: “Today’s numbers highlight the impact inflation is having on the public finances, with higher tax revenues collected in December offset by the rising cost of index-linked debt. We expect interest charges to increase further in the next few months as the time lag on index-linked debt catches up with the current 7.5% rate of RPI.

“With borrowing costs low and headroom in forecasts for the next financial year, the temptation will be to delay fixing the public finances in order to tackle the immediate hit to household budgets from anticipated energy prices hikes and higher prices in the shops, so pressure on the Chancellor to postpone or phase in April’s national insurance rise is likely to grow.”

Table showing receipts, expenditure, interest, net investment, deficit, other borrowing the increase in net debt for the 9 months to Dec 2021 and public sector net debt and public sector net debt / GDP at 31 Dec 2021 together with variances versus prior year and two years ago.

Click on link at the end of this article to the version of this article on the ICAEW website which has a readable version of this table.

Caution is needed with respect to the numbers published by the ONS, which are expected to be repeatedly revised as estimates are refined and gaps in the underlying data are filled.

The ONS made a number of revisions to prior month and prior year fiscal numbers to reflect revisions to estimates. These had the effect of decreasing the reported fiscal deficit for the eight months to November 2021 from £136bn to £130bn and the deficit for the year ended 31 March 2021 from £321.9bn to £321.8bn.

Table showing receipts, expenditure, interest, net investment and the deficit for each of the 9 months to Dec 2021.

Click on link below to the version of this article on the ICAEW website which has a readable version of this table.

This article was originally published by ICAEW.

EU fiscal consultation

Input into ICAEW’s response to the future of the EU Economic Governance Framework.

I recently contributed to ICAEW’s response to a consultation on the future of the EU Economic Governance Framework by Dr Susanna Di Feliciantonio, ICAEW’s Head of European Affairs.

To read more see Susanna’s article about the consultation response.

Public debt at highest level for almost 60 years

While November’s deficit of £17.4bn is in line with expectations, public sector net debt is up by more than half a trillion pounds since the start of the pandemic and as a proportion of GDP, debt is the highest it has been since March 1963.


The public sector finances for November 2021 released on Tuesday 21 December reported a monthly deficit of £17.4bn – £4.8bn lower than the £22.2bn reported for November 2020 but £11.8bn higher than the £5.6bn deficit reported for November 2019.

This brings the cumulative deficit for the first eight months of the financial year to £136.0bn compared with £251.7bn and £52.5bn for the same period last year and the year before that respectively.

Public sector net debt increased from £2,283.0bn at the end of October to £2,317.7bn or 96.1% of GDP at the end of November. This is £183.3bn higher than at the start of the financial year and an increase of £524.6bn over March 2020. As a proportion of GDP, debt is the highest it has been since March 1963, almost 60 years ago.

The increase in public sector net debt of £34.7bn in the month reflects borrowing to finance the deficit of £17.4bn and £26.9bn in the final tranche of the Bank of England’s Term Funding Scheme, offset by repayments in coronavirus lending as well as other net movements.

As in previous months this financial year, the deficit came in below the forecast for 2021-22 prepared by the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) in March 2021 but was in line with the OBR’s revised forecast issued in October 2021 alongside the Autumn Budget and Spending Review 2021.

Cumulative receipts in the first eight months of the 2021-22 financial year amounted to £560.7bn, £71.4bn or 15% higher than a year previously, but only £31.2bn or 6% above the level seen a year before that in 2019-20. At the same time cumulative expenditure excluding interest of £622.7bn was £44.4bn or 7% lower than the first eight months of 2020-21, but £102.1bn or 20% higher than the same period two years ago.

Interest amounted to £44.2bn in the eight months to October 2021, £14.6bn or 49% higher than the same period in 2020-21, principally because of higher inflation affecting index-linked gilts. Despite debt being 29% higher than two years ago, interest costs were only £5.0bn or 13% more than the equivalent eight months ended 30 November 2019.

Cumulative net public sector investment in the eight months to November 2021 was £29.8bn. This was £14.5bn less than the £44.3bn reported for the first eight months of last year, which included around £17bn or so of coronavirus lending that is not expected to be recovered. Investment was £7.6bn or 34% more than two years ago, principally reflecting a higher level of capital expenditure, in particular on investment in HS2.

Debt increased by £183.3bn since the start of the financial year, £47.3bn more than the deficit. This reflects funding to cover outflows on lending, including to banks through the Term Funding Scheme, lending to businesses through the British Business Bank, and student loans, offset by the receipt of taxes deferred last year and the repayment of coronavirus loans taken out during the pandemic.

Commenting on the figures Alison Ring, ICAEW Public Sector and Taxation Director, said: “While the numbers for November are in line with expectations, it’s notable that debt has risen both in cash terms and as a proportion of GDP, and at 96.1% is the highest it has been for almost 60 years. The monthly deficit of £17.4bn is below the peaks of last year but still substantially above the pre-pandemic position.

“Despite the rise in interest rates earlier this month, the Chancellor is still able to take advantage of historically-low borrowing costs if he wants to provide support to businesses adversely affected by the Omicron variant and prevent further scarring to the economy. His concern will be how to do so without stoking inflation, which is expected to head even higher over the next few months.”

Table showing receipts, expenditure, interest, net investment, deficit, other borrowing the increase in net debt for the 8 months to Nov 2021 and public sector net debt and public sector net debt / GDP at 30 Nov 2021 together with variances versus prior year and two years ago.

Click on link at the end of this article to the version of this article on the ICAEW website which has a readable version of this table.

Caution is needed with respect to the numbers published by the ONS, which are expected to be repeatedly revised as estimates are refined and gaps in the underlying data are filled.

The ONS made a number of revisions to prior month and prior year fiscal numbers to reflect revisions to estimates. These had the effect of decreasing the reported fiscal deficit for the seven months to October 2021 from £127.3bn to £118.6bn and the deficit for the year ended 31 March 2021 from £323.1bn to £321.9bn.

Table showing receipts, expenditure, interest, net investment and the deficit for each of the 8 months to Nov 2021.

Click on link below to the version of this article on the ICAEW website which has a readable version of this table.

This article was originally published by ICAEW.

Deficit in line with expectations at £19bn but public debt jumps by £69bn

The monthly public sector deficit was flat at £18.8bn in October but a last-minute rush by banks to access cheap finance caused public sector net debt to jump by £68.7bn to £2,277.6bn.


The public sector finances for October 2021 released on Friday 18 November reported a monthly deficit of £18.8bn, slightly better than the £19.0bn reported for October 2020 but higher than the £11.6bn deficit in October 2019.

This brings the cumulative deficit for the first seven months of the financial year to £127.3bn compared with £230.7bn last year and £46.9bn for the equivalent period two years ago.

Public sector net debt increased from £2,208.9bn at the end of September to £2,277.6bn or 95.1% of GDP at the end of October. This is £141.8bn higher than at the start of the financial year and an increase of £484.5bn over March 2020.

The increase in public sector net debt of £68.7bn in the month includes £57.3bn to funding lending to banks who rushed to borrow under the ‘Term Funding Scheme with additional incentives for SMEs’ (TFSME) before the extended drawdown period ended on 31 October 2021. A further £26.9bn will be recorded in November for cash movements after the cut-off date, bringing the total amount financed through the TFSME to £193.4bn on 10 November 2021.

As in previous months this financial year, the deficit came in below the forecast for 2021-22 prepared by the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) in March 2021 but was in line with the OBR’s revised forecast issued in October 2021 alongside the Autumn Budget and Spending Review 2021.

Cumulative receipts in the first seven months of the 2021-22 financial year amounted to £489.0bn, £65.7bn or 16% higher than a year previously, but only £23.7bn or 5% above the level seen a year before that in 2019-20. At the same time cumulative expenditure excluding interest of £548.2bn was £39.3bn or 7% lower than the first seven months of 2020-21, but £92.5bn or 20% higher than the same period two years ago.

Interest amounted to £39.3bn in the seven months to October 2021, £14.2bn or 57% higher than the same period in 2020-21, principally because of higher inflation affecting index-linked gilts. Despite debt being 24% higher than two years ago, interest costs were only £2.6bn or 7% more than the equivalent seven months ended 31 October 2019.

Cumulative net public sector investment in the seven months to October 2021 was £28.8bn. This was £12.6bn less than the £41.4bn in the first seven months of last year, which included around £17bn on coronavirus lending that is not expected to be recovered. Investment was £9.0bn or 45% more than two years ago, principally reflecting a higher level of capital expenditure.

Debt increased by £141.8bn since the start of the financial year, £14.5bn more than the deficit. This reflects funding to cover outflows on lending to business, including to banks through the Term Funding Scheme, and student loans offset by the receipt of taxes deferred last year and the repayment of coronavirus loans taken out during the course of the pandemic.

Alison Ring, ICAEW Public Sector Director, said: “Today’s public finance numbers show a deficit of £18.8bn in October, which is in line with the revised forecasts published by the Office for Budget Responsibility last month. The deficit has stopped growing now that the furlough and other pandemic support schemes have finished.

“However, a last-minute rush by banks to obtain cheap loans for small and medium enterprises, before the application deadline on 31 October, caused government debt to jump by £68.7bn last month. These loans should help businesses navigate choppy economic waters with rapidly rising inflation, as well as supply chain and staffing challenges. Nonetheless, the Chancellor will need to continue watching events closely to see if he will need to reintroduce any pandemic support schemes.”

Table showing receipts, expenditure, interest, net investment, deficit, other borrowing the increase in net debt for the 7 months to Oct 2021 and public sector net debt and public sector net debt / GDP at 31 Oct 2021 together with variances versus prior year and two years ago.

Click on link at the end of this article to the version of this article on the ICAEW website which has a readable version of this table.

Caution is needed with respect to the numbers published by the ONS, which are expected to be repeatedly revised as estimates are refined and gaps in the underlying data are filled.

The ONS made a number of revisions to prior month and prior year fiscal numbers to reflect revisions to estimates. These had the effect of increasing the reported fiscal deficit for the six months to September 2021 from £108.1bn to £108.5bn and the deficit for the year ended 31 March 2021 from £319.9bn to £323.1bn.

Table showing receipts, expenditure, interest, net investment and the deficit for each of the 7 months to Oct 2021.

Click on link below to the version of this article on the ICAEW website which has a readable version of this table.

This article was originally published by ICAEW.

ICAEW chart of the week: US Infrastructure & Jobs Act

My chart this week looks at the $550bn of incremental funding over five years allocated by the US Infrastructure & Jobs Act just passed by Congress.

Chart showing $550bn in incremental investment over five years, with $110bn allocated to roads & bridges, $66bn railroads, $65bn power grid, $65bn broadband, $63bn water, $47bn resilience, $39bn public transit, $25bn airports, $21bn environment, $17bn ports, $15bn electric vehicles and $11bn safety.

The $1.2tn US Infrastructure & Jobs Act authorises $550bn in incremental spending over five years on top of existing infrastructure investment planned by the federal government on highways, railroads, electricity networks, water, public transit, airports, and ports across the US. Passed by Congress with some bipartisan support it aims to renew the nation’s infrastructure and stimulate the economy as the US emerges from the pandemic.

The White House describes the Act as delivering “no more lead pipes, high-speed internet access, better roads and bridges, investments in public transit, upgraded airports and ports, investment in passenger rail, a network of electric vehicle chargers, an upgraded power infrastructure, resilient infrastructure, and investment in environmental remediation.”

The incremental spending can be broken down as follows:

  • $110bn for roads and bridges – rebuilding the crumbling highway network, transportation research, funding for Puerto Rico’s highways, and ‘congestion relief’ in American cities
  • $66bn for railroads – upgrades and maintenance of the passenger rail system, and freight rail safety
  • $65bn for the power grid – investment in power lines and cables, and in clean energy
  • $65bn for broadband – expanding broadband in rural areas and low-income communities, including $14bn to reduce internet bills for low-income citizens
  • $63bn for water infrastructure – including $15bn for lead pipe replacement, $10bn for chemical clean-up, and $8bn for water facilities in the western half of the country to address ongoing drought conditions.
  • $47bn for resilience – a Resilience Fund to protect infrastructure from cybersecurity attacks and address flooding, wildfires, coastal erosion, and droughts along with other extreme weather events
  • $39bn for public transit – upgrades to public transport systems nationwide, new bus routes, and public transport accessibility for seniors and disabled Americans
  • $25bn for airports – major upgrades and expansions at airports, including $5bn for air traffic control towers and systems
  • $21bn for the environment – to clean up polluted ‘superfund’ and other brownfield sites, abandoned mines, and old oil and gas wells
  • $17bn for ports – half to the Army Corps of Engineers for port infrastructure, with the balance to the Coast Guard, ferry terminals, and to reduce truck emissions at ports
  • $15bn for electric vehicles – including $7.5bn on electric vehicle charging points, $5bn for bus fleet replacement in low-income, rural, and tribal communities, and $2.5bn for zero- and low-emission ferries
  • $11bn for safety – mostly highway safety improvements, but also for pedestrian, pipeline, and other safety areas

The plan was for a combination of tax rises, economic returns on the investments made and savings from other areas (including unused pandemic-relief) to fully cover the cost of these investments, however, many of the proposed tax increases did not make it to final bill and the independent Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that there is less unused pandemic-relief available than originally thought. The CBO estimates that the fiscal deficit will be $350bn higher over the next five years.

The Act is the economic infrastructure element of President Biden’s “Build Back Better Framework”, with the separate $1.75tn Build Back Better Bill covering social infrastructure (including more than a million homes for low-income families) and large amounts for social programmes. These include universal pre-school for three- and four-year olds, free community college, expanded healthcare through Medicare (for over 65s) and Medicaid (for low-income families), lower prescription drug costs, tax cuts for children and childcare support, and paid family leave. There is also some money for tax cuts for electric vehicles and other climate incentives, although more ambitious plans such as forcing utilities to phase in renewable energy are believed to be less likely to make it into the final legislation. The Build Back Better Bill does not have bipartisan support and so requires all 50 Democrats in the Senate and almost all the Democrats in the House of Representatives to agree if it is to pass.

Whether the other elements of the Build Back Better Framework come to fruition remains to be seen, but President Biden will definitely be pleased that he can chalk up this major legislative achievement.

This chart was originally published by ICAEW.

ICAEW chart of the week: Spending Review 2021

Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak found some extra money to supplement the Spending Review 2021, turning a very tough settlement for government departments into a moderately tough one.

Departmental budgets chart.

2019-20: £416bn (£346bn resource, £70bn capital)
2020-21: £570bn (£355bn, £88bn, £127bn covid-19 supplementary budget)
2021-22: £554bn (£385bn, £99bn, £70bn)

Spending Review 2021

2022-23: £542bn (£435bn resource with +£15bn health & social care and +£27bn spending review, £107bn capital)
2023-24: £554bn (£443bn with +£12bn and +£21bn, £111bn)
2024-25: £566bn (£454bn with +£14bn and +£13bn, £112bn)

The Chancellor had already announced an increase in the health budget from the proceeds of the health and social care levy, but as highlighted by our chart last week, this implied a very tough budget settlement for most other departments, including cuts for some. Instead, Rishi Sunak was able to use some of the upward revisions in the economic forecasts from the Office for Budget Responsibility to add to departmental resource budgets, ensuring that each department receives a real term spending increase in their combined resource and capital budgets even with higher levels of inflation in the coming year.

However, there was a sting in the tail, as supplementary COVID-19 funding ceases at the end of this financial year, leaving departments to absorb further COVID-related expenditure within their budgets from next April onwards. This will include catching up on backlogs built up during the pandemic in addition to any incremental costs that may continue into the Spending Review period.

The chart starts by highlighting how departmental resource and capital budgets of £346bn and £70bn in 2019-20, increased to £355bn and £88bn in 2020-21 and to £385bn and £99bn in the current year. This is before £127bn in COVID-19 supplementary budgets last year and £70bn this year.

The Spending Review period itself covers the three financial years 2022-23, 2023-24 and 2024-25, with the combination of funding from the health and social care levy and the Spending Review seeing departmental resource budgets increase to £435bn, £443bn and £454bn respectively. This is more than the spending envelope originally set out by the Chancellor last month.

Capital investment budgets remained broadly unchanged at £107bn, £111bn and £112bn respectively, continuing the significant jump from the £70bn invested in 2019-20 in the coming financial year before flattening out in the following two years.

Over the three years, the resource budget settlement implies annualised average real terms growth in the health & social care budget of 4.1% and in the education budget of 2.2%, while the defence budget is broadly frozen in cash terms and cut by 1.4% in real terms. This assumes average inflation over the three years of 2.2%, with higher inflation in the coming financial year offset by much lower rates in the following two years.

Other departments are expected to grow by 3.1% on average over the period, with central funding for local government up 9.4%, transport up 6.8%, work & pensions up 4.6% and justice up 4.1%, each receiving larger relative settlements than other departments. International trade (+0.1%), HM Treasury (+0.9%), levelling up, housing & communities (+1.1%), HMRC (+1.2%), the Cabinet Office (+1.4%), business, energy & industrial strategy (+1.4%), and intelligence (+1.7%) are the departments receiving increases below 2% a year on average.


2021-22
£bn

2022-23
£bn

2023-24
£bn

2023-24
£bn
Average
real-terms
growth
Education147.1167.9173.4177.4+4.1%
Defence70.777.079.080.6+2.2%
Transport31.532.432.232.2-1.4%
Large departments249.3277.3284.6290.2+2.9%
Other departments70.783.982.782.7+3.1%
Devolved administrations56.863.064.365.3+2.5%
ODA to 0.7% of GDP5.2
Reserves8.111.010.910.3
Total excluding covid-19384.9435.2442.5453.7+3.3%
HM Treasury, ‘Autumn Budget and Spending Review 2021’

The above growth rates exclude capital budgets, expected to increase in real terms by 1.9% a year on average over the three years of the Spending Review. Departments benefiting from higher capital budgets include small and independent bodies (+16.8%), FCDO (+16.0%), digital, culture, media & sport (+11.8%), and intelligence (+9.1%), albeit mostly from relatively small bases in each case. The 3.8% average real terms increase in health & social care capital investment is much less proportionately, but much larger in cash terms.

Perhaps just as important as the monetary amounts provided to departments as the Chancellor opened his proverbial cheque book, is the certainty that a three-year budgetary settlement provides. This will help departments plan ahead with confidence and hopefully help them obtain better value for the money they spend on our behalf.

This chart was originally published by ICAEW.