Britain aims to balance books within five years: minister

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Finance minister George Osborne pledged Tuesday to balance Britain's books within five years, a spokesman said, shortly before he was to unveil an emergency austerity budget.

"My budget is tough but it will be fair," he said, cited by the official spokesman of Prime Minister David Cameron, whose Conservative party won May elections and formed a coalition with the third-placed Liberal Democrats.

"This is an unavoidable budget because of the mess we have to clear up. So the coalition government will take responsibility for balancing Britain's books within five years," he added.

The comments were released shortly before Osborne was due to unveil the budget, expected to deliver the heaviest cuts in public spending for decades along with major tax hikes in a bid to slash a huge public deficit.

Tuesday's budget takes place amid heightened tensions over soaring debt levels in the eurozone, and concerns that Britain's top-rated AAA credit rating could be at risk.

Osborne is looking to save tens of billions of pounds as state borrowing is forecast to reach 155 billion pounds (230 billion dollars, 185 billion euros), or 10.5 percent of gross domestic product (GDP), in the year to March 2011.

The public deficit had rocketed to a record-high of 156 billion pounds in the 2009/10 fiscal year which ended in March, as severe recession hit tax revenues and as the government spent billions of pounds bailing out banks.

After Cameron's coalition took power last month, it announced plans to axe 6.2 billion pounds of spending, and last week it axed or suspended projects that would have cost 11.0 billion pounds.

© 2010 AFP

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