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Good economic forecast means we can fund our priorities

OPINION: Leader of Camden's Conservatives Oliver Cooper welcomes Theresa May's declaration that austerity is over

05 November, 2018 — By Oliver Cooper

BESIDES my role as a councillor, I’m an economist by day, so I spend much of my time inter­preting economic data. Don’t worry – I’m more fun at parties than that sounds.

Last week we had a flurry of good economics news: unemployment at its lowest since 1975, wages rising by their fastest in a decade, and inflation and rents falling.

To top it all the deficit is now at its smallest since 2002.

In the Budget the independent Office for Budget Responsibility is due to reduce its forecasted deficit for this year by £13billion compared with its forecast just seven months ago.

That £13billion is a bonus thanks to the government’s economic stewardship since 2010 – and two-thirds of the way towards the record £20billion a year funding boost that the Conservatives have committed to the National Health Service.

That bonus is primarily because tax revenue has been much higher than expected, while spending has continued to rise.

Yet readers – who have seen Camden’s budget rise by £37million this year, but seen the borough cut services – know that what matters is how money is spent, not always how much.

As a result, I’ve made representations to government on what should be in the Budget. I’d like to see more funding for housing, for example.

The government has given the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan a record £3.15billion to fund affordable housing, and Britain’s building more homes than every year but one since the 1980s, but I make no bones about saying we need more.

Much of that can be funded by scrapping HS2, but while I believe that folly’s time is up soon, it won’t be this week. So the only way we can fund our priorities – like building more homes or giving that £20billion extra to the NHS – is to continue to be careful about what is spent in other areas.

The end of austerity means government can spend more on its priorities.

But running the bath is not the same as flooding the house, and you should be wary of snake-oil salesmen that say spending can increase on everything.

If Britain’s not careful on what we spend, we’ll jeopardise the economic progress that has been made: not just the good economic news we’ve had recently, but our ability to fund that boost to the NHS and housing, too.

Oliver Cooper is leader of the Conservative group on Camden Council and councillor for Hampstead Town


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