The curious case of the Chancellor, the 4G sale and government borrowing

5th December, 2012 2:10 pm

George Osborne seemed very pleased with himself today, as he suggested that borrowing is forecast to fall.

And yet that’s not the full picture.

The only reason borrowing is forecast to fall this year is because the government has added the 4G mobile spectrum auction to this year’s figures – even though government delays mean the auction hasn’t happened yet. Without the £3.5bn receipts penciled in from the 4G sale, borrowing would be £2bn higher this year than last year.

Previous OBR estimates had suggested that the 4G spectrum could be worth between £1.5 billion and £6.7 billion. It’s unclear at this stage where the £3.5 billion figure came from, as the spectrum hasn’t been sold yet… George Eaton calls it “an accounting trick worthy of Enron” – and he’s right.

Has Osborne factored in money not yet received from a 4G spectrum auction which hasn’t taken place yet, in an attempt to cover the fact that he was set to borrow more this year than last year? It certainly looks like it…

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