So scream headlines like this one in the Independent this morning (they weren't the only ones but I picked one at random.) Really?
Well, if we take a look at the Budget Report 2009 we see that total tax take from HMRC was forecast to be £437.4 billion for the financial year 2008-09 (see p.231). Now what is the reported outturn? It was £435.7 billion. The gap is £1.7 billion. That is not insignificant but it is not £22 billion. The reporting of the NAO report makes it sound like this was unexpected. It was not. Any large organisation- and we are talking about a government here!- budgets then measures outturn against budget. The worrying thing is when your budgeting is off.
So the sensationalist reporting this morning doesn't match the situation. Nonetheless we are in a very fraught period of time for public finances what with global financial meltdown and all. What is scarier as I have have argued time and time again is that we focus on the deficit and forget about the recovery. If we retrench expenditure and raise taxes too early then watch things get really, really scary- economically AND fiscally. Over to you Messrs Cameron and Osborne.