Is there a Plan B for the UK economy?

The government’s plan for the UK economy is well known. Reduce the public-sector deficit to restore confidence and get the economy going again. The deficit will be reduced mainly by government spending cuts but also by tax increases, including a rise in VAT from 17.5% to 20% on 1 January 2011. Reductions in public-sector demand will be more than offset by a rise in private-sector demand.

But what if private-sector demand does not increase sufficiently? With a fall in government expenditure, reduced public-sector employment and higher taxes, the danger is that demand for private-sector output may actually fall. And this is not helped by a decline in both consumer and business confidence (see, for example, Nationwide Consumer Confidence Index). What is more, consumer borrowing has been falling (see Consumer borrowing falls again) as people seek to reduce their debt, fearing an uncertain future.

So does the government have a ‘Plan B’ to stimulate the economy if it seems to be moving back into recession? Or will it be ‘cuts, come what may’? The Financial Times (see link below) has revealed that senior civil servants have indeed been considering possible stimulus measures if a return to recession seems likely.

Over in Threadneedle Street, there has been a debate in the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee over whether an additional round of quantitative easing may be necessary. So far, the MPC has rejected this approach, but one member, Adam Posen, has strongly advocated stimulating demand (see The UK inflation outlook if this time isn’t different, arguing that the current high inflation is the result of temporary cost-push factors and is not indicative of excessively strong demand.

So should there be a Plan B? And if so, what should it look like?

Gus O’Donnell’s economic ‘Plan B’ emerges BBC News, Nick Robinson (14/12/10)
Sir Gus O’Donnell asks ministers to consider possible stimulus measures Financial Times, Jim Pickard (14/12/10) (includes link to article by Philip Stephens)
Gus O’Donnell urges Treasury to prepare ‘Plan B’ for economy Guardian, Patrick Wintour and Nicholas Watt (14/12/10)
Unemployment, and that ‘Plan B’ BBC News blogs, Stephanomics, Stephanie Flanders (15/12/10)
Inflation wars (cont’d) BBC News blogs, Stephanomics, Stephanie Flanders (16/12/10)
Don’t overreact to UK inflation – Bank’s Posen Reuters, Patrick Graham (16/12/10)
Bank of England’s Adam Posen calls for more quantitative easing The Telegraph, Philip Aldrick and Emma Rowley (29/9/10)
Don’t overreact to above-target UK inflation rate, cautions Posen Herald Scotland, Ian McConnell (17/12/10)
Posen calls for calm as inflation fears rise Independent, Sean O’Grady (17/12/10)

OECD Economic Outlook OECD (see, in particular, Tables 1, 18, 27, 28 and 32)
Forecasts for the UK economy HM Treasury
UK Economic Outlook PricewaterhouseCoopers
Employment and Unemployment ONS
Inflation Report Bank of England


  1. What are likely to be the most important factors in determining the level of aggregate demand in the coming months?
  2. What are the dangers of (a) not having a Plan B and (b) having and publishing a Plan B?
  3. Why is inflation currently above target? What is likely to happen to inflation over the coming months?
  4. What are the arguments for and against having another round of quantitative easing?
  5. What else could the Bank of England do to stimulate a flagging economy?