National debt: the truth


Gordon Brown says his government's debt is much lower than most other countries, at around 47% of national income. But the Office of National Statistics (ONS) has just dealt him a blow, by saying that the National Debt ought to include all those dodgy debts of HBOS and RBS. After all, the government is now a part-owner of these banks. What they owe, it owes. And when you tot it up, the bank bailouts add around £1,500 billion to the government's liabilities, trebling the National Debt to more like 150% of the nation's income.

Brown has been struggling for years to hide the true extent of this reckless spending. He fought ONS to keep the cost of all those new schools and hospitals off the books, for example. He claimed they were 'privately' funded, under the Private Finance Initiative. Nothing to do with the government then? Well, over the next couple of decades, taxpayers are going to have to pay £148 billion to the private financiers. That's money which the government owes, just as my mortgage is money that I owe. You can't just ignore it.
And there are lots of things like this. Indeed, I calculated them for my new book The Rotten State of Britain. There's Network Rail's borrowings. The cost of decommissioning nuclear power stations. All those fat civil-service pensions we're going to be paying out for years to come. And more. Add it all up and you discover that the government's total indebtedness is twice what the ONS has managed to make stick. It's actually about three times the national income.
Borrowing is so big because Gordon Brown has borrowed, not (as he says) to 'invest', but to to spend, spend, spend. I don't know why people are daft enough to lend to such a profligate crew. But if investors stop lending to Brown's government what happens then? A bankrupt government tries to pay its debts by printing more worthless money. Indeed, we seem to be there already. 
The Rotten State of Britain by Eamonn Butler (Gibson Square Books) is published in March.