IMF Sees UK Growth Remaining Fastest In G7
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has raised its forecast for Britain's economic growth more than any other major economy for the third time in a row, in a boost to the Chancellor's fortunes.
The Fund said it expected Britain's economy to expand by 2.9% this year - faster than any other G7 economy, and a significant upgrade from the 2.4% rate it predicted only three months ago.
The upgrade, which is likely to be seized on by the Chancellor as further evidence of British success, comes one year on from the IMF chief economist's warning that George Osborne was "playing with fire" with his austerity policies.
At that stage, Britain was facing the prospect of a possible triple-dip recession.
Now, the Fund says that not only is growth strong in the UK, there is a significant chance of an "upside risk" - in other words even stronger growth than its central prediction.
However, the Fund added that the growth was being fuelled by the same imbalanced elements - consumer spending and credit - that contributed to the crisis.
"Growth has rebounded more strongly than anticipated in the United Kingdom on easier credit conditions and increased confidence," the report said.
"However, the recovery has been unbalanced, with business investment and exports still disappointing."
It pointed out that as a result, interest rates would be likely to rise sooner in the UK than in the US or Europe.
The Fund recommended that the Bank of England keep monetary policy "accommodative" - keeping rates low for the time being.
It added that "the Government's efforts to raise capital spending while staying within the medium-term fiscal envelope should help bolster recovery and long- term growth."
The benign tone of the report, which forecast only slightly milder growth of 2.5% in 2015, is likely to be regarded within the Treasury as a victory over the Fund and Olivier Blanchard, who repeatedly urged the Chancellor to change course on austerity in recent years.
However, the Fund itself is likely to point towards the fact that the pace of Mr Osborne's spending cuts has been reduced in recent years - such that by some accounts he has already adopted a "plan B" on austerity.
A Treasury spokesperson responded: "The IMF forecast the UK to be the fastest growing major advanced economy this year.
"This is further evidence that the Government's long term economic plan is working, providing economic security for hardworking people.
"But the job is not done. Budget 2014 set out the next stage of the plan that is creating a more resilient economy through support to businesses, savers, and exporters.
"The biggest risk now to the recovery would be abandoning the plan that's delivering a brighter economic future."
Ed Balls, Labour's shadow chancellor, said: "These forecasts are welcome news after three damaging years when the economy flatlined and growth forecasts were repeatedly downgraded.
"Yet millions of working people, who are on average £1,600 a year worse off since 2010, are still not feeling any recovery at all.
"The IMF is right to warn about an unbalanced recovery and it is concerning that growth is expected to slow down next year.
"The Government should also heed the IMF's warnings about surging house prices by taking action to boost housing supply, as we have called for.
"Instead of complacently trying to claim that everything is going well, we need a Government which understands that there is a deep-seated cost-of-living crisis and will act to tackle it."
The Fund said it expected the world economy to grow by 3.6% this year and 3.9% in 2015.
Among the countries facing a downgrade was Russia, whose growth prospects were cut by 0.6%, reflecting the economic impact of its involvement in Ukraine.