Factometer: fiction

The claim
“Here we sit today with a budget deficit bigger than Greece.”
David Cameron, Conservative leader, BBC Today programme, 9 April 2010

Cathy Newman checks it out
It was David Cameron’s turn in the Today programme hot seat this morning. And it wasn’t long before he was goaded by presenter Evan Davis that his plans to slash the deficit were reminiscent of the last election.

Not a bad call, the Tory leader retorted, as we have a “budget deficit bigger than Greece”. It was enough to make every hard working family choke on their collective cornflakes. But was it true? Over to the team.

The analysis
The Conservative party pointed FactCheck in the direction of a document produced at the end of last year by the OECD.
Those figures say Greece’s deficit for 2009 stood at 12.7 per cent of GDP, a number also quoted by the European Commission.

The OECD put the UK deficit at a 12.6 per cent of GDP – not bigger as Cameron alleged, but strikingly similar. It mirrors the figure the government set out in the pre-budget report in November last year.

But the Treasury revised this number for the UK deficit down in the budget last month, placing it at 11.8 per cent of GDP for 2009/10. That suggests there’s a more comfortable leeway between us and Greece.

To be fair to Mr Cameron, Oxford Economics believes it is “plausible” that the UK deficit may overtake Greece’s by the end of the year.

That’s because Greece has taken on drastic austerity measures in the last two months to drive down the deficit to 8.7 per cent of GDP in 2010, compared to the UK Treasury deficit target – outlined in the budget – of 11.1 per cent for 2010/11 and then 8.5 per cent the following year.

Cathy Newman’s verdict
The comparison to Greece is not wildly off the mark, but neither the statistics the Conservatives provided nor the current Treasury numbers put the Greek deficit above the UK’s.

He’d have been closer to the truth if he’d said our deficit was set to overtake Greece. Perhaps he was using poetic licence, but in doing so he confused voters, and strayed into the realms of fiction.