George Osborne was pleased to announce on Wednesday that borrowing would fall this year. However he has been accused of a bit of misdirection after including money he doesn't actually have yet.

The chancellor told MPs that the sale of the 4G mobile phone spectrum would bring in a tasty £3.5bn. Without that cash, public sector net borrowing would be actually be up by £2bn this year, not down.

The "wheeze", as described by Duncan Wheldon of the TUC, leaves Osborne open to the accusation that he is attempting to fiddle the figures just as he accused Gordon Brown of doing in the past.

"It is a measure of the constitutional achievement that it is taken for granted that our country’s forecast is now produced independently of the Treasury," Osborne told the Commons.

But Labour accused the chancellor of "fiscal massaging" after Ed Balls appeared initially flummoxed by the news that borrowing was down.

Shadow Treasury spokesman Chris Leslie told the BBC: "Osborne can only claim borrowing the figures are better because he's taken into account the sale of 4G, which hasn't happened yet."


Rachel Reeves
GO: borrowing down. But this relies on proceeds from 4G sale that hasn’t even happened yet. Without this, it is £2bn higher on last year

The move also raised eyebrows among journalists in Westminster covering the Autumn Statement.


Laura Kuenssberg
Key point - borrowing is down including counting the proceeds of 4G auction that hasn't yet happened - take out that 3.5bn and it's up

Azad Zangana, European economist at Schroders said that taken at face value, the policy measures announced today represent fiscal tightening of £6.5bn.

"However, included in this figure are the £3.5bn expected to be raised from 4G licence auctions, and £4.9bn worth of spending cuts for 2017/18, not previously announced. If we exclude those, we find a £2bn giveaway for the next five years.