David Cameron received a ticking-off from the official statistics watchdog yesterday over his claim that the government was “paying down Britain’s debts”.
The Prime Minister’s assertion in last week’s Conservative party political broadcast sparked a complaint by Labour, which described his comments as “deliberately misleading” because the debt was actually rising.
Chair of the UK Statistics Authority, Andrew Dilnot, confirmed this week that public-sector net debt had risen from £811 billion in 2010 to £1.1 trillion at the end of last year.
Mr Dilnot said it was important that politicians distinguished correctly between accumulated debt and annual public-sector borrowing, which had come down under the coalition.
“It is clearly important … to understand the relevant statistical definitions and to distinguish changes in the level of debt outstanding from changes in borrowing per period, and to reflect these in their communication of the statistical trends involved,” he wrote.
“Public-sector net debt is a measure of how much the UK public sector owes at a given time. Public-sector net borrowing is the difference between total accrued receipts and total accrued (current and capital) expenditure over a specified period; this measure is frequently used by commentators to summarise the extent of any public-sector ‘deficit’.”
He added he was sending a copy of the letter – with graphs setting out the relevant data – to Mr Cameron’s chief of staff, Ed Llewellyn.
Shadow chief secretary Rachel Reeves said: “It is hugely embarrassing for David Cameron that he has had to have the difference between borrowing and debt explained to him.”