Cameron Rebuked by Statistics Chief Over Statement on U.K. Debt

Prime Minister David Cameron received a rebuke from Britain’s statistics watchdog over his assertion that the government is “paying down” the country’s debts.

Cameron made the statement in a political advertisement on Jan. 23. Rachel Reeves, Treasury spokeswoman for the opposition Labour Party, subsequently wrote to U.K. Statistics Authority Chairman Andrew Dilnot to complain that Cameron “may be attempting to deliberately mislead the public” in his comments.

“It is clearly important for all parties to public debate in this area to understand the relevant statistical definitions and to distinguish changes in the level of debt outstanding from changes in borrowing per period,” Dilnot wrote in his reply published today. A copy of the letter was sent to Cameron’s chief of staff, Ed Llewellyn.

Dilnot explained the difference between public-sector net debt, which is what the U.K. owes at a given time, and net borrowing, also known as the deficit, which is the difference between government receipts and spending over a specified time.

Net debt excluding support for banks had risen from 811.3 billion pounds ($1.28 trillion), or 55.3 percent of gross domestic product, in June 2010 to 1.11 trillion pounds, or 70.7 percent of GDP, at the end of last year, he wrote. Net borrowing, meanwhile, had fallen from 159 billion pounds in the 2009-10 fiscal year to 121.6 billion pounds in 2011-12.

“It is hugely embarrassing for David Cameron that he has had to have the difference between borrowing and debt explained to him by the chair of the U.K. Statistics Authority,” Reeves said in a statement. “Now that his false claims have been exposed, it’s time the prime minister stopped deliberately misleading people about his economic record.”

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