Government borrowing hit a surplus of £2.9 billion in January, reversing a £2.5 billion deficit in the same month a year earlier, according to official figures published this morning.
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) said public sector borrowing from the end of March to December was £138.5 billion – the second highest since records began in 1993.
The data also showed that public sector debt, excluding public sector banks, was £2.32 trillion at the end of the month, or around 94.9 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP).
Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak said: “We provided unprecedented support throughout the pandemic to protect families and businesses and it has worked, with the UK seeing the fastest economic growth in the G7 last year.”
The growth followed the fastest economic decline of any G7 nation during the pandemic.
Mr Sunak added: “But our debt has increased substantially and there are further pressures on the public finances, including from rising inflation.
“Keeping the public finances on a sustainable path is crucial so we can continue helping the British people when needed, without burdening future generations with high debt repayments.”
Paul Johnson, director of the Institute For Fiscal Studies, has said Rishi Sunak feels he has finances “only just” under control.
Asked on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme whether the Chancellor should take advantage of a declining deficit and upcoming tax rises, Mr Johnson said: “I think he probably feels he’s got the public finances just about under control, but given his own targets to get the current budget balanced over the next few years, only just under control, so this doesn’t mean that he’s got lots of room for manoeuvre, given his own targets.”
He added that the big question was whether the Chancellor would announce any additional measures on the cost-of-living crisis in his spring statement in March.