Over the last two weeks, Westminster attention has focused almost exclusively on the great expenses debate - where relatively small sums of money have been involved in buying quixotic items, such as duck houses.
More importantly, though, financial markets were spooked last week by confirmation from Standard & Poors, a leading credit rating agency, that it had moved the UK’s AAA credit rating to ‘outlook negative’ – the first time that the UK’s top-tier rating has been questioned since 1978.
Given the prodigious debt figures outlined in last April’s Budget, this response is hardly surprising. Indeed, the Budget numbers are truly alarming.
Net public sector borrowing this year is forecast to soar to £175 billion, whilst public sector net debt is projected to reach a staggering £1,370 billion by 2013/14, compared with £527 billion in 2007/08.
To fund this burgeoning deficit, the Government plans to issue £220 billion of gilts during this financial year.
Whilst last Thursday’s gilts auction was successful in selling £5 billion of short-term debt, it is long odds-on that some gilt auctions over the next 18 months will fail - especially if the UK’s prized AAA credit rating is removed.
In short, UK spending and borrowing is veering out of control; hence, the deep concerns of credit rating agencies inter alia.
What is needed, above all, is a sustained effort to cut back public expenditure, where so much money is wasted. Imposing substantial across-the-board cuts - in real terms - would be a good starting point.
Otherwise, the UK’s ability to fund its massive deficits will be seriously compromised.
The alternative, of course, is to call in the IMF, which also stated last week that the UK needed to cut its debt more quickly than proposed in April’s Budget.