The Independent

Hunt dampens Tory tax cut hopes as borrowing rockets


The chancellor has dampened Tory hopes of tax cuts in his upcoming Budget as the latest government figures show state borrowing hit another record high last month.

Jeremy Hunt vowed to stick with the “tough decisions” needed to balance the books, as the mounting cost of the energy support

schemes and soaring debt interest pushed borrowing to a December record. The chancellor is said to be preparing to disappoint frustrated Tory MPs who backed the Truss government’s plan for the radical tax cuts with a “slimmed down” Budget in March.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) said government borrowing reached a far higher than expected £27.4bn last month, jumping by £16.7bn year on year and marking the highest monthly figure since records began. The official figures showed nearly £7bn in costs from energy support schemes, with the ONS estimating the government spent £5bn last month on its energy price guarantee capping annual bills, with a further £1.9bn paid out for power bill support payments.

Mr Hunt said the government was making “tough decisions to get debt falling”, adding: “Right now we are helping millions of families with the cost of living but we must also ensure that our level of debt is fair for future generation­s.” The chancellor added: “We have already taken some tough decisions to get debt falling, and it is vital that we stick to this plan so we can halve inflation this year and get growth going again.”

Interest payments on government debt jumped from £8.7bn to £17.3bn year on year last month – the highest December on record and the second largest in any single month – as a result of sky-high inflation. In the financial year to December, the government’s debt interest bill jumped to £87.8bn and Britain’s fiscal watchdog, the Office for Budget Responsibi­lity, is estimating it will rise to £115.7bn by the end of the full year in March.

The government is paying a hefty price for the energy price guarantee scheme, launched to help households cope with painful gas and electricit­y bills by capping the annual bill at £2,500. The support will become less generous, with the cap increasing to £3,000 in April. Businesses are being offered similar help, but this too will be cut significan­tly from the end of March.

The government is also paying households £400 each over six months to help with bills. The cost of this is adding to the impact of inflation, which has risen to a 40-year high due to the energy and cost of living crisis, given a large chunk of public sector net debt is linked to the RPI.

The ONS said public sector debt reached £2.5 trillion at the end of December last year, or around 99.5 per cent of gross domestic product, a level last seen in the early 1960s. But Samuel Tombs at Pantheon Macroecono­mics said pressure on the nation’s ailing public finances should ease, with falling energy wholesale prices set to make its energy bill guarantee less expensive.

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 ?? (AP) ?? ‘ Tough decisions’: the chancellor is focused on balancing the government’s books as the cost of the energy scheme mounts
(AP) ‘ Tough decisions’: the chancellor is focused on balancing the government’s books as the cost of the energy scheme mounts

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