With literally no plans to balance the books, the Tories are failing us

Liam Byrne, former Chief Secretary to the Treasury, responds to today's Autumn Statement.

A pessimist, said Oscar Wilde, is someone who when faced with a choice of two evils, chooses both. And today we learned Philip Hammond is a pessimist. In today's budget he chose not only stratospheric public debt - but cash-starved public services. It's the worst of all worlds. 

Let's start with the shocking state of public finances. When Alistair Darling and I left the Treasury in 2010 we left a plan to halve the deficit in four years. But the Tories slammed the economy into the slow lane and together with Brexit, public debt is now set to doubled by the next election - to an incredible £2 trillion. Borrowing is set to rise by nearly £1/4 trillion higher than forecast just 8 months ago. And the government has so much faith in us trading our way to glory that net trade is set to be a drag on growth in the three years after Brexit. 

But nor is this failure all about Brexit. A huge hole has been punched in the forecasts by a meltdown of £23 billion in tax and national insurance by 2020/21 due to weaker growth and slower earnings. 

We are left with literally no plan to balance the books. The chancellor basically said 'we'll balance the books when we get round to it'. With the greatest respect, this is not a fiscal rule. This failure is Tory failure. 

The consequences for public services are catastrophic. No new money was announced for the NHS or social care. In Birmingham, one of Britain's poorest places, we've £150 million short next year - and by 2020/21 the funding gap in social care may hit £250 million. Yet we got no new help today. 

My final thought is about the test the Chancellor set for productivity. I've pointed out for some time that what the rest of our competitors finish making on a Thursday night takes us until the end of Friday to get done. But the key problem is our skills base is much worse than our competitors. So it was a complete mystery to see no new money for technical education - and no plan to fix what everyone in Whitehall knows is the shambles of a plan to introduce an apprentice levy.

It's now clear we're sailing into some very stormy waters. Today our chancellor failed to fix the boat. Maybe his pessimism is well placed.