George Osborne was forced to admit in today’s budget that he has failed to meet a target on reducing the national debt.
It’s not the only time the chancellor has set out a benchmark for the UK economy, only to fall short.
What other targets has Mr Osborne failed to hit?
The target was for public sector net debt to fall as a share of GDP between 2014/15 and 2015/16.
Today – as has been long predicted by many leading economists – we learned that this is not going to happen.
Public sector net debt is set to rise from 83.3 per cent of national income to 83.7 per cent at the end of 2015/16, before falling in subsequent years.
Why? The government has come up with a number of reasons including weaknesses in the global economy, lower inflation – which means the economy is smaller than expected in nominal terms – and the delay of sales of Lloyds shares.
Critics say the economy is not growing as quickly as it should and it is the chancellor’s own policies that have failed to tackle low inflation.
On today’s figures, Mr Osborne is still on course to meet the most important debt target of all: the Charter for Budget Responsibility, which says the government must hit a surplus on the measure of public sector net borrowing by 2019/20.
The independent Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) said in last year’s autumn statement that the government had already breached its own cap on benefits and tax credit spending.
The OBR said today: “A fresh upward revision to the cost of disability benefits… means that our forecast of spending subject to the welfare cap continues to exceed the permitted amount in every year, and by a larger margin than in November.”
In 2012 Mr Osborne said he wanted UK exports to double to £1 trillion by 2020.
The OBR says it expects the real number to be £643bn by then, lower than its last forecast in November and 36 per cent lower than the government target.
There isn’t a numerical target for productivity growth, but the government launched a plan last summer to try to improve productivity, a long-term problem in the UK economy.
It must be a disappointment, then, to see that the OBR has revised down its forecast for productivty growth, and believes it will remain below its pre-financial crisis average until at least 2020.
In February, ONS figures showed that output per hour in the UK was 18 percentage points below the average for the rest of the G7 economies in 2014, the biggest productivity gap since records began in 1991.
In a speech in 2010, Mr Osborne said he wanted to increase saving as a share of GDP. It’s not absolutely clear how he defined “saving”, but on most measures, the aspiration has failed.
World Bank figures on national saving – which including private and public saving – show the UK figure falling from 14 to 12 per cent of GDP from 2011 to 2014.
The household saving ratio – which represents the percentage of disposable income people are saving – has fallen from 11 per cent when Mr Osborne first became Chancellor in 2010 to just 4.4 per cent.