Examination of Witnesses (Questions 180-199)|
15 JULY 2004
MP, MR NICHOLAS
Q180 Mr Beard: At the time of the Budget
translate when we were questioning your officials about the rate
at which revenue was coming in and the fact that several commentators
had questioned whether revenue could be at that level, the answer
was, "We have got good contacts with Inland Revenue and Customs
and Excise, and they know the detail and therefore we know what
is happening", but at present the taxes are still coming
in below what was expected. Are you still confident that the revenues
can match the forecast?
Mr Brown: No; I think that is
not strictly right. What has happened in the last few months,
and I think I did indicate this in the Budget, is that two things
have changed. One is that income tax revenues have started to
rise again as a result of bonuses returning in the city. I think
it is sometimes forgotten that bonuses are a big source of extra
income tax. Last year, that is the year, the two years actually
of the world downturn, bonuses were not being paid. Now they are
being paid. So there has been an increase in the amount of money
coming from income tax as a result of thatnot because the
wages have changed but because people are getting bonuses and
they are paying income tax on that. The second thing that is changing
is on the corporate tax side. We have had a debate with this Committee
about this before. The Institute of Fiscal Studies published their
assumptions about corporate tax, but they are based on an entirely
different set of assumptions, because they do not have the actual
information about what is happening to companies as the Inland
Revenue does. So the Inland Revenue is in a position, looking
at the individual companies, without us naming them publicly,
looking at the position and is able to do a bottom-up and aggregate
of what revenue is both coming in and an estimate of what is likely
to happen in future years. Of course, as far as corporate tax
revenue, there is a steer more towards the financial sector than
in the past because of the changes in the balance between manufacturing
and finance. So a lot of things are happening at the grass roots,
so to speak, of the corporate sector, and we are therefore in
a better position, I think, to know what is the likely projection
of revenues for future years. I think we discussed this during
the Budget debates when I came to the Committee, but on these
two points, income tax revenues as a result of bonuses and corporate
tax returns, things are moving and moving forward.
Q181 Mr Beard: Do you still forecast,
for the purposes of assessing performance, the economic cycle
will be 2005-06, as you have just mentioned, because the Bank
of England and other advisors have suggested it might be foreshortened
to end earlier. If it is, does that affect your ability to meet
the golden rule in the subsequent cycle?
Mr Brown: We can give you a note
of this, but I would have thought we would have been in a better
position. The fact of the matter is we are holding to our forecast
as things stand. I shall update it when we come to the Pre-Budget
Report. What I can tell you, however, definitively is that we
are meeting our fiscal rules and will continue to do so
Q182 Mr Beard: Yes, but just if it happened,
if they were shortened?
Mr Brown: There could be a lot
of debates about it. My instinctI have not looked at that
specific point in detailis that there will be no problem
in meeting our fiscal rule on both projections, both times, before
the end of the cycle.
Q183 Mr Beard: The Institute for Fiscal
Studies have noted that during the previous two Spending Reviews
you were able to revise spending funds upwards to release resources
for items such as the Child Tax Credit and the Child Trust Fund,
but there is no margin for error against the golden rule very
much. Would you agree the scope for such favourable issues during
this period covered by the 2004 Spending Review is very limited?
Mr Brown: We will meet our fiscal
rules, and therefore there is no question of additional spending
if we were to go beyond our fiscal rules, and I am not planning
for it at all. I ought to say two things about the financial figures
that you are getting. The first is our reserve has been severely
stretched by the major commitments we have made in Afghanistan
and Iraq, and therefore, while our reserve is relatively low compared
with historic figures, that is because we are giving departments
three-year budgets and to some extent they should be operating
their own margin for caution. The scale of expenditure in Iraq
and Afghanistan has been in the order of £4.5 billion, and,
on top of that, we have had major security requirements to be
met that could not have been anticipated clearly enough before
11 September and, therefore, in total, the additional expenditure
simply on Iraq, Afghanistan and security is £6.5 billion,
and we have had to be able to provide for that. At the same timecan
I make this other point, which is the reason why you have drawn
attention to the fact about what happened in previous spending
roundswhen we calculate unemployment and the costs of unemployment
and therefore the costs of benefits, we do so on the basis of
the outside advisors giving us their estimate of what should happen;
but if people think the figure will be lower, we do not calculate
any gain from that into our figures. So, looking forward, let
us say unemployment were to fall by 100,000 or 200,000, the gains
to the social security budget from there being a lower cost for
unemployment is not in our figures at the moment. In previous
governments that was done, but it became the subject, I think,
of people making unrealistic estimates about jobs. Because we
audit our figures and because we want, therefore, to have a margin
with no room for improvementthat is necessaryas
far as unemployment is concerned we are not counting these gains,
that might accrue to us as a result of unemployment being lower
over the next period; so there is this additional margin that
comes from running a successful economic policy which is not included
in our figures at the moment.
Q184 Mr Plaskitt: Can we look at the
pattern of spending for the departments, Total Managed Expenditure.
In the first couple of years you were in the Treasury there was
hardly any real growth at all in departments as we stuck to inherited
spending plans. Then, from about 2000 onwards, departments had
to find their accelerators as the real rate of growth in their
department, or spending, rose quite strongly. Now you are asking
them to find the brake. Do you think they can make that switch?
Mr Brown: I am sorry. I did not
hear that last question?
Q185 Mr Plaskitt: As I was saying, departments
had to find the accelerator on their spending plans as it rose
from virtually zero, in real terms, to five and now 6%. Now, looking
forward on the Spending Review, you are forecasting rates of growth
in total spending to fall to about a third of the current rate.
So they are going to have to find the brake now. Do you think
departments can make that switch?
Mr Brown: First of all, you are
absolutely right, the first two years people said we would not
stick to our spending limits, and we did, and therefore spending
did not rise; and that was a point at which we were examining
what we could do with the departmental plans that led to the Spending
Review of 1998. The second period of our government has been a
continuous growth in investment in all the vital public services.
We are talking about, since 1998, a decade of investment, right
through to 2008, a decade of rise in investment where on average
I think you will find that educational expenditure will be going
up by 5% a year in real terms, that is after inflation, transport
by 5% in real terms, that is after inflation, and, of course,
Health Service expenditure, I think, by something in the order
of 6%. That is quite different from previous historical examples
of what has happened to health or education. I think the average
for health over 30 or 40 years was 3%; it is now 6% under our
government. It is true that in the second part of this period
the rate of growth of public expenditure as a whole has become
slower, and that is absolutely right because we wanted to get
the rate of growth of spending, after making up this huge under-investment,
to a level that we think is sustainable over a period of time.
So in the last two years of this spending period the rate of growth
of public spending as a whole is something in the order of 2.6%,
I think, 2.6 or 2.8, but, because of the savings on debt and unemployment,
the rate of the growth of departmental expenditure is 4%so
it is not a third of the growth rate; it is very similar to the
growth rate of the last periodand what we are also saying
to departments: "If you can get these efficiency savings
which we are demanding of you, and we have agreement with the
departments on them, then at the front-line, if you can transfer
resources from headquarters, so to speak, to the front-line, then,
on top of that 4% average that departmental expenditure is growing
over the next three years, you can get 2.5% going up to 6% in
terms of growth in the amount of money available for front-line
services." That is a prize for departments which would allow
them to maintain these historically high growth rates for spending
on front-line services in health and in education, that is at
our schools and our colleges, in transport and, of course, in
housing and we are putting in 20,000 new communities support officers.
So I would say that the plan was actually freeze for the first
two years while we sort out the public finances, then fo 10 years,
a decade of rising investment in our public services.
Q186 Mr Plaskitt: You are saying that
assets sales identified by departments are going to help support
the levels of spending in the forecast period. Is that correct?
Mr Brown: I would say to you that
I will report on this in the Pre-Budget Report about asset sales.
Some of these asset sales would be in addition to what we forecast.
Q187 Mr Plaskitt: In the 2004 Budget
you indicated asset sales would raise £24 billion. This statement
raises that figure to £30 billion?
Mr Brown: That is, in my view,
Q188 Mr Plaskitt: Is that spread across
all of the years out to 2010, or is the additional £6 billion
you have identified front-loaded in the period?
Mr Brown: That is what I will
report on in the Pre-Budget Report, but basically we are getting
an assets registerbringing it up-to-date. Obviously there
is a great deal of need for greater coordination about the use
of assets locally and nationally. It is pretty clear to me that
if you are relocating and if at the same time you have got quite
big reductions in the staffing of Civil Service posts, then there
is scope for buildings and land to be released, and, therefore,
that is what the report I will be making in a few months time
will tell us.
Q189 Mr Plaskitt: In the section on local
government in the Spending Review you remind us that they are
being asked to contribute the £6.45 billion to efficiency
gains by 07/08. In the break-down you give in box 11:1 it does
not appear to suggest asset sales. Are you expecting local government
to contribute to efficiencies for asset sales as well?
Mr Brown: Local government will
be selling their assets as before. I do not think at the moment
we are including any additional amount of money than previously
for these assets sales, but again that is something I can report
on in the autumn. I just make this point that there is always
the allegation when we talk about these assets about playing fields,
school playing fields. It is not part of our plans to sell off
school playing fields.
Q190 Mr Plaskitt: No, but in box 11:1
when you break down where the £6.45 billion is going to come
from, you say 40% of the savings were delivered through schools?
Mr Brown: Yes, but that is not
asset sales here; these are efficiency savings in effectively
the current budget of local authorities.
Q191 Mr Plaskitt: And 10% through policing.
That is not asset sales?
Mr Brown: No.
Q192 Mr Plaskitt: 35% through procurement?
Mr Brown: No, I would distinguish
between the announcement I made about the efficiency savings we
are expecting to have from local government, on which the financial
settlement is based, and the announcement about asset sales, which
is assuming nothing in addition to what we are doing, and I want
to report on that in the Pre-Budget Report. It is our objective
to get the £30 billion of asset sales, and we will get it,
in my view, and I will report on the detail of that in the Pre-Budget
Report. I was really giving a pre-view to what we will do later
in the year.
Q193 Mr Plaskitt: I am trying to understand
whether we are in a situation where you have got central government
departments expected to find asset sales to contribute to this,
but local government is not expected to find them?
Mr Brown: Local government is
doing the normal thing of selling off surplus assets, but, as
far as the efficiency savings are concerned, that is not about
the sale of assets, that is about getting greater efficiency in
the use of money, the reduction of staff where you have, for example,
new technology making back office services far less expensive,
the co-ordination of back offices between different local authority
areas by them merging their operationsand there are a number
of examples in the savings in this box 11:1 that I would draw
the Committee's attention to. It may not be peak-time viewing
if you had to listen to this.
Q194 Mr Plaskitt: It is going to be important
for local governments up and down the country, though, who will
be at the sharp end of finding these. Finally, can I ask you what
process does the Treasury expect each government department to
be going through in order to identify its asset sales year on
year, and to what extent are they reporting to you on a regular
Mr Brown: The update of the register
is the chance for the departments to get a proper assessment of
what they have got, what is needed and what is not needed. This
is a regular process of consultation. I think we have got investment
agreements with the departments about the use of resources, and,
again, I can give you more detail in the Pre-Budget Report, but
it is generally what we have been doing but we are stepping up
the objective; in other words we want to achieve more asset sales
over the next period of time, principally land and buildings.
Q195 Mr Plaskitt: If departments fail
to come up with those, what happens?
Mr Brown: That is what the debate
between now and the pre-Budget report will be about. When we publish
the departmental investment strategies, which do exist, we will
be able to tell you what assets the departments are planning to
look at and dispose of.
Q196 Mr Walter: Briefly where did the
£30 billion figure come from?
Mr Brown: It is setting an ambitious
objective. It is perfectly achievable, because if I read out the
figures for individual years, which I just had a few minutes ago,
we have got here the figures and this is why it is achievable:
1997-08 £4.1, 1998 £4.1, 1999 £4.6, 2000 £4.6,
2001 £4.3, 2002 £6.1, 2003-04 £6.0, and in total,
therefore, in the seven years of our government, £33.8 billion,
and that has included a number of specific sales; but equally
it is mainly about property, land, assets, and so on and so forth,
and therefore £30 billion sales for the years to the years
to 2010 does not seem to me to be unreasonable; in fact quite
a lot is already in the figures for different departments.
Q197 Mr Walter: But departments have
been under pressure to find these assets to sell throughout that
Mr Brown: I think it is right
they should be under pressure to sell.
Q198 Mr Walter: I am not disagreeing
with that, but you are assuming that there are yet more assets
that are available to be sold?
Mr Brown: If I tell you that the
official estimate of the overall asset-base on which we are working
is £612 billion, then a £6 billion a year average asset
sale, if it were that (or £30 billion over the period 2010),
which is just a little less, is about 1% of assets a year. That
does not seem to be unreasonable at all given a £612 billion
asset-base, and so the idea that I am making departments do something
we should not be doing is ridiculous. It is perfectly proper and
right for us to be asking departments to continuously look at
whether the asset that they have is really necessary.
Q199 Mr Walter: So over 100 years we
will have sold the entire stock of government assets?
Mr Brown: If that were to be your
ambition, it may end up with us selling the very building that
we are in at the moment, and probably you would not want to go
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