Osborne Denies 'Fiddling' Mini-Budget Figures

Osborne Denies 'Fiddling' Mini-Budget Figures

Chancellor George Osborne has denied "fiddling" the borrowing figures in his bleak mini-budget.

In his Autumn Statement to the Commons on Wednesday, he said that borrowing would fall this year.

But it quickly emerged that he had included the anticipated income from the sale of the 4G mobile phone spectrum , and without it borrowing would be up by £2bn.

He told Sky News that no political interference had taken place, and that the figures were compiled independently.

"I don't massage any figures, because they're produced completely independently of me now.

"There's no question of political interference, or fiddling, or anything like that.

"When it comes to those sales, the money we expect to get from the 4G spectrum - like other things the Government sells - we make an estimate of how much we're going to get.

"It's accounted for in the exactly same way it was when the last government sold the 3G spectrum."

But Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls said including the 4G mobile network cash was a "dodge".

"He had said that borrowing was falling - only because he slipped in £3.5bn from the 4G mobile sale which he didn't even mention in the speech and the reason is he knew that would be seen as a dodge."

The Autumn Statement also saw Mr Osborne insist that Britain was on the right track, despite announcing that austerity will last until 2018.

Speaking to Sky News, he said: "If you look at this country you've got a country getting to grips with its problems, making sure that it is paying its way in the world."

He also ruled out slashing the foreign aid budget, saying Britain had an "obligation" to the world's poorest.

"I think one of the hallmarks of being British is that we’re a compassionate country," he added.

But Mr Balls branded the Chancellor's management of the economy as "incompetent".

"Growth (is) downgraded, he's borrowing over £200bn more than he planned, his economic plan has clearly failed, his fiscal targets are being badly missed, and he's just ploughing on with the same plan and saying to families you're going to pay more."

The Sky News Money Panel, made up of high-profile figures from across the fields of business, finance, consumer policy and the economy, was asked to give its reaction to the Autumn Statement.

Ross Walker, UK economist at RBS, said: "The Chancellor had little room for manoeuvre so there were no fiscal policy 'game-changers'.

"The main objective seemed to be to find a number of temporary income streams (Royal Mail pension assets, BoE gilt coupon payments, 4G spectrum revenues) to lower the near-term borrowing projections.

"The main concern, from a macro perspective, is how much more elevated the medium-term borrowing projections are and their projected slower rate of decline," he said.

The founder and chief executive of advertising giant WPP, Sir Martin Sorrell, saw the cancellation of the planned 3p fuel duty rise as the most important short term economic measure.

He said: "From a longer term point of view, the most encouraging measure was the increase in infrastructure investment of £5bn over two years and the £600m investment in science, £270m in further education colleges and £1bn for schools.

"The measure that I welcomed least was the pension limit change in that it will discourage saving but perhaps we have no choice at this time."