Monday 5 December 2016

Let's call it as it is - expenditure is not the same thing as investment

Through the clever abuse of language, blowing the budget can be easily reclassified as prudent, writes Colm McCarthy

Published 06/09/2015 | 02:30

Tanaiste Joan Burton and Environment Minister Alan Kelly: Ms Burton has defended state ‘investment’ in the free travel scheme
Tanaiste Joan Burton and Environment Minister Alan Kelly: Ms Burton has defended state ‘investment’ in the free travel scheme

The public finance figures announced last Wednesday show, on the face of it, an improving picture. Tax revenues are ahead of expectations, government spending is apparently contained and the budget deficit is below the target. But the persistence of any deficit at all, after seven years of fiscal correction, means that government debt continues to rise. Any country with debt over 100pc of GDP and lacking a national currency is vulnerable should there be another leg to the international financial turmoil. Small indebted countries in the eurozone will, on past experience, be the first casualties if things turn nasty again.

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On closer inspection, the figures for the year to August do not live up to the headlines. Tax revenues are indeed stronger across the board but the star performer is the volatile category of corporation tax.

Spending is in line with government intentions but only because another large overshoot in health, which could reach €500m for the current year, is offset by lower interest charges on state debt.

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