Nat O'Connor: The UK's Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, gave his Autumn Statement early this afternoon, as the UK too examines its debt and deficit levels. One striking feature is that he cited at length the independent Office of Budget Responsibility, which generates the growth forecasts used by the UK Government instead of the civil service predictions used in the past.
Despite presumably being disappointed by those independent forecasts (including the prediction of UK GDP decline of 0.1%), the Chancellor nevertheless praised the independence of the OBR. Given the history of optimistic growth forecasts by the Irish civil service in recent years, there may be a lesson for us in the value of having independent growth forecasts.
The OBR notes that problems in the Euro zone will "constrain growth for several years to come" in the UK. The Chancellor (citing the IMF and others) laid the blame for the UK's low economic growth on the problems abroad. Limited growth in the UK likewise affects Ireland greatly, as they remain our major trading partner. Of course, Ireland's woes are part and parcel of the Euro zone's problems and our growth will be even more constrained than the UK's until strong action is taken to repair the institutional weaknesses in the Euro zone.
The UK is not cutting spending in its Revenue service, but is instead clamping down on tax evasion and avoidance, including measures to close hundreds of tax loopholes and tax breaks, including pensions tax relief (which in Ireland has been described by the IMF as tax relief for richer sections of society).
The UK government is also increasing capital spending by a modest amount (£5 billion GBP) to improve economic infrastructure, which is exactly what is needed to foster long-term growth. Another lesson for Ireland there, as our capital expenditure has been slashed in recent years.
The UK is also creating a new business bank to ensure lending to SMEs. The lack of credit from Ireland's dyfunctional banks is currently killing businesses in Ireland.
The UK has capped rail fare increases for the next few years, unlike in Ireland where they continue to rise - including Dublin Bus's recent fare increase of c.18 per cent following a rise of around c. 15 per cent earlier this year!
Not that I'd agree with a lot of the Chancellor's other measures or rhetoric. Some bad moves include limiting welfare increases to below inflation (which will lower aggregate demand), tax incentives for shale gas extraction (which will be environmentally damaging) and ruling our further property taxes (which are less damaging to job growth than any other tax increases). But it will be interesting to compare the measures taken by the UK coalition with our own coalition budget later today.