Tories attack Brown’s economic record

The Conservatives today laid into Gordon Brown’s economic record as the chancellor presented his tenth and possibly final pre-Budget report (PBR).

Mr Brown began his annual statement with a confident assessment of the UK’s economic position, with forecasts for growth of up to 3.25 per cent next year and predictions of falling deficits and borrowing.

He took pains to attack Tories’ economic position throughout the 40-minute speech, saying that if he followed their fiscal rule to share the proceeds of growth between tax cuts and spending, he would have to cut spending by £28 billion this year.

By contrast, Mr Brown said efficiency savings and his own prudent financial management meant that he could continue to funding the government’s priorities – namely schools, hospitals, security and transport.

“This is my tenth pre-Budget report and under this government the tenth consecutive year of growth,” the chancellor said.

“I can report not only the longest period of sustained growth in our history, but of all the major economies – America, France, Germany, Japan – Britain has enjoyed the longest post war period of continuous growth.”

However, shadow chancellor George Osborne laid into Mr Brown, saying that while today’s PBR was supposed to prepare the UK for globalisation, instead it was moving it “further from the direction in which we need to go”.

He claimed that Britain was 21st out of the 25 EU member states in term of economic growth – something Mr Brown denied – and said that with £37 billion of borrowing, Britain was heading for the largest structural deficit of any major European economy.

Mr Osborne noted the chancellor had downgraded his growth forecasts for 2008, and questioned why there was no mention in today’s statement of the continuing rise in unemployment, or the NHS, which recorded deficits of £520 million last year.

“The chancellor is trying to persuade the public that he is the change that they are crying out for. He lets it be known, with nods and winks, that he will end the spin and the eye-catching initiatives of the Blair years,” he said.

“But they were his years too. The Blair-Brown years. The years of the clunking fist. The hospital cuts are his cuts, the failing schools are his failures, the pensions that were destroyed were destroyed by him. The truth is this – Labour can only be new once.”

However, Mr Brown hit back by noting that under his chancellorship, Britain had enjoyed the longest period of economic growth, the low inflation, interest rates and employment for years – compared to three million unemployed under the last Tory government.

He said the Conservatives were now claiming to spend more, cut taxes and borrow less all at the same time – a situation that led to Black Wednesday when interest rates rose to 15 per cent and home repossessions soared. “We are not ever returning to that,” he said.