Friday, November 25, 2005

Gordon Brown is in the news again. It seems that he is intent on blocking one of the proposals made in the forthcoming Turner report on pensions reform. That proposal would reinstate the automatic link between pensions and the average earnings index, and would (eventually) raise the age at which people become eligible for the state pension to 67 years.

This is another example of a knot in which the Chancellor has managed to get tied. Index linking of pensions obviously reduces the degree of control that he has over public expenditure. He needs to rein in that expenditure as far as possible at present, because tax revenues are currently falling quite a long way behind expenditures. In other words, the public finances are in a mess, and the Chancellor is in no mood to sign cheques. The shortfall of tax revenues was predictable and predicted.

Most economic commentators have been less sanguine than the Chancellor about the propspects for growth over the last couple of years; they, not he, turned out to be right, and the consequence has been that incomes have failed to rise sufficiently quickly to fill the Treasury's coffers.

Mr Brown owes economists an apology. But before that, he should apologise also to the pensioners and the public sector workers who will pay the price for his mistake.
Gordon Brown, Chancellor of the Exchequer, has urged public sector pay review bodies to keep pay settlements down below 2% over the coming year. This is in spite of the fact that price inflation has been above 2% for several months now.

He is right. The recent surge in inflation has been a blip, fuelled largely by the increase in oil prices. Over the last couple of months, however, oil prices have fallen, and so has inflation. Last month's inflation rate (excluding mortgage interest) was 2.3%, down from 2.5% the month before. To allow high settlements in the coming pay round would risk perpetuating the blip in the same way that the oil price blip of the 1970s was perpetuated. Then, inflation rates rose to 28%, an experience we would rather avoid repeating.

However, there is also a more cynical reason why Mr Brown would like to see public sector pay restraint. Owing to his overoptimistic growth forecasts, tax revenues are lower than he expected. As a result, there is a gaping hole in the public finances. High public sector wage settlements would aggravate this situation.

While Mr Brown is right to urge for pay restraint, it is nonetheless the case that public sector workers are being expected to pay for the Chancellor's own lack of prudence.