Examination of Witnesses(Questions 220-239)|
MP, MR ED
THURSDAY 18 JULY 2002
220. On the tax, do your plans assume an average
increase in council tax for inflation?
(Mr Brown) I think what has been happening in recent
years is roughly the same as what happened under your government.
There has been a rise in council tax but that is a matter for
councils to decide, not central government.
221. But you must have made some assumption
about the increase in council tax over the next couple of years?
(Mr Brown) I think you will find it has been based
on the historic trend.
222. So what is it?
(Mr Brown) That is what happened under both your government
and our government.
223. So what is the figure?
(Mr Brown) I think we would have to write to you about
what the historic trend is based on but remember, these decisionsand
you would not like it to be differentare for local government
to make, not us.
224. I am just wondering whether you are assuming
that there will be an above-average increase for council taxpayers
(Mr Brown) Can I put it the other way? We fund local
government and I have announced the figures for the funding of
local government for future years, and we will not be providing
any additional money. It is for local government then to make
its decisions within that context and, therefore, if you are asking
me what implications it has for future spending requirements,
we have set our figures for future spending for local government
but, equally, it is for local government to decide whether it
wants to raise additional sums, and that is its decision.
225. So there could be big council tax increases
(Mr Brown) I am not saying that at all. I want local
government to act in the same prudent way that national government
226. Returning to the three-year aspect of the
Spending Review, it is indeed a three-year plan but not necessarily
with equal amounts in each of the three yearsthere is quite
a bit of lumpiness to the profile within those three years. For
example, we have some of the big spending departmentsTrade
and Industry, Home Office, Transportand in all of those
cases their increase in the first year of the three is very significantly
larger than the increase in the subsequent two years. In the case
of the DTI it is up by 7 per cent in the first year; the Home
Office is up by 12 per cent; DEFRA is up 15 per cent in the first
year; and Transport is up by a massive 35 per cent in the first
year. Yet, when we look at the outturn booklet for 2001-2, all
of those departments actually reported underspends. I know the
responsibility for spending that money is with the department
and not with the Treasury, but you clearly settled on that allocation
across the three years which suggests you have reached the view
that all of that money can be spent by those departments in the
first year. Given the track record of some underspending, however,
are you confident that those very large first year increases will
be spent in full?
(Mr Brown) Yes. You rightly raise points both about
end-year flexibility and what happens to underspends and, equally,
about the different rises for some of the departments in the first
year. In all cases there are changes in the figures because of
resource accounting, and I think one should recognise that there
are some quite big changes in the numbers which I think people
accept are nothing to do with anything other than that we moved
to resource accounting, and if the Committee wants a briefing
on resource accounting in more detail, which is a very complex
subject, we would be very happy to do that.
227. I realise that, but we have these four
that go up even more.
(Mr Brown) On Transport, I think you will find it
is related to the profiling of the Underground expenditures. On
the question of underspends, I think you will find that what is
happening as a result of this three year process is not that departments
are failing to spend and should be penalised: it is that departments,
first of all, ought to be carrying their own reservein
other words, if you have a three year budgeting process, you ought
to be in a position to be able to deal with eventualities and
contingencies as they arise. If, for example, the Health Service
has underspent it may be because they have laid aside money in
case something happens with the winter flu epidemic but that has
not happened and therefore they have the additional money to carry
over. If a department has not spent the money by the end of year,
it is good that they do not get into the situation that happened
previously particularly with roadworks, where all your roadworks
happened in the last month of the financial year so that the money
could be used just before the end of the year; people are able
to plan their expenditure properly and it is not wasted, and therefore
the end-year flexibility is the means by which, if you are doing
things properly, you can see that your money can be passed over
into the next year and used in that next year.
228. Nevertheless the unevenness of the profile
across the three years, rather than it simply being the same proportion
each year, clearly suggests that there is still an element of
annual budget setting, otherwise why is it not an even pattern
across all three?
(Mr Brown) If you take some of our projects, some
of the investment is concentrated in a particular period of time.
I have mentioned what we would like to see happening in relation
to the Underground as one example. If you take where we have got
to use the reserve, as in extreme circumstances such as when we
are financing defence commitments that are unforeseen, then you
will see expenditures rising at particular points in time, but
generally I think the three year system is working and I will
be interested to hear from the Committee if they think there are
any other areas you think we should be looking at.
229. But you remain confident that those four
departments I have mentioned will get the money out and spend
it on the programmes in those years?
(Mr Brown) I think in terms of capital investment
it has been a challenge because there has not been a tradition
of investing in capital projects built up over a period of time,
and departments are now getting used to doing this. If you take
the schools budget, for example, on the capital side, the figures
that I was able to announce to the House of Commons on Monday
are really an increase in schools capital expenditure from £600
million in 1997 to, if I remember right, £4.5 billion by
2006 and these are huge increases in capital expenditure and repair
and maintenance in renewal of schools. You are taking about thousands
of schools across the country, many of which are PFI projects,
and obviously we want to see this money moving into the schools
as quickly as possible but we are learning all the time how best
things can be done.
230. You were asked earlier what happens if
performance deviates from its central forecast, and you made great
play of the phrase, "We have put an end to boom and bust".
I wonder whether we could add some precision to what this means.
For example, is there any difference in your mind between a "bust"
and a "recession", as defined as two quarters of negative
(Mr Brown) I think when people talk about "boom
and bust" which is
231. Let us just stick with "bust".
(Mr Brown) "Recession" is defined around
the world in the way you describe it.
232. But is that a "bust", Chancellor?
(Mr Brown) I think "bust" is something a
bit more than that.
233. How much more?
(Mr Brown) I would give the example of 1990-92, but
you will then say I am being political!
234. If there is negative growth of less than
that we have not arrived at a bust, is that right?
(Mr Brown) If you are saying to me that "bust"
235. I would just like an estimate, Chancellor.
You have used this phrase literally hundreds and hundreds of times.
You must have some idea of what it means.
(Mr Brown) That is because, if I may say so, the history
of British economic policy under all governments has been one
236. You want to reduce the amplitude of the
cycle, so I am saying when does a "recession" become
(Mr Brown) The history of all governments has been
one of "stop go"call that "boom bust"
or "stop go"and that has been high levels of
growth followed by quite deep recessions and, of course, the deepest
ones since 1945 were 1980-82 and 1990-92. But what I mean by "boom
bust" and "stop go" is running a policy where you
allow the economy to grow too fast and then it sinks far further
than it has in other countries, even when there is a world downturn,
and that is what we mean in Britain by the history of "stop
go". I do not think anybody siting around this table denies
that the history of British economic policy over 30 or 40 years
under both governments, both parties, was one of stop go.
237. Let us just give you one more go: how much
more than negative growth in two quarters does negative growth
need to be for it to be a bust?
(Mr Brown) If I am right, GDP fell 1.5 per cent in
1981 and 1.4 per cent in 1991.
238. So that is the minimum definition of a
(Mr Brown) Yes, but I talk about "boom bust"
and "stop go", and it is the acceleration of growth
to unsustainable level followed by the downturn
239. You have answered the question, Chancellor.
Now I would like to try the other ones. When does above trend
growth become a boom? By how much more than above trend growth
does the economy have to grow to arrive at a boom?
(Mr Brown) I think when the inflation rate has gone
into double figures.
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