Cutting down: a guide for government

November 26, 2008 at 10:26 pm | Posted in British Politics, New Labour | Leave a comment

First, the ‘good’ news: whilst our economy continues to slump, our national debt becomes ever more eye-watering and a myriad known unknowns lurk menacingly in the distance, public spending is – for now, at least – being seen as an aid to Britain’s recovery, rather than an encumbrance. The money set aside for transport infrastructure, social housing and school building should aid a construction industry suffering badly from the credit squeeze, and the greater funding for ‘Warmfront’ will help people make energy savings. With each of these policies, the economic and social benefits of state spending are clear.

But there’s going to come a time when the scene will seem less sunny, and whilst Labour & the opposition squabble over the imagined tax ‘bombshell’, we should also consider the cuts in public spending which are all but inevitable.

In its analysis of the pre-Budget report, the Institute for Fiscal Studies reported that the government’s spending after 2010 will be slashed by around £37 billion, which is a bit ironic when you remember that in 2005, Labour said the Tories’ plans to cut £35 billion could “only be found by cutting deep into frontline services such as schools, hospitals and police”.

This puts the government in something of a bind: they have to save money across the public sector, but if the electorate even suspects that the banks were bailed out by cutting frontline services, there’ll be blood at the ballot box. So where should we make savings? Well, since you asked, I do have a few of suggestions:

  1. Scrap identity cards. Loathed by bloggers, civil libertarians and all those who just don’t fancy being listed by barcode, the government’s habit of losing sensitive data should have killed ID cards many moons ago. In today’s climate, the idea of funding this lavish Orwellian indulgence at the expense of a department which could put the money to good use is even less defensible. Estimates for how much this crap is costing vary, but we’ll go with £5bn as a conservative estimate.
  2. Scrap Trident. The equivalent of buying a Fabergé Egg when you’ve just lost your job, the Trident weapon system is a sop to the remnants of the ‘rule Britannia’ brigade who think we should boast a military arsenal far greater than our stature as a global power. Estimates for a new 3/4 boat system are between £15 and £20bn, but given a history of delays and overspending, you shouldn’t expect the lower estimate to be the correct one. We just don’t need it.
  3. Scrap government advertising. Not content with taxing the fun out of drinking & smoking, or telling food, drink and tobacco advertisers where they can and can’t place their adverts, New Labour has instigated a massive increase in the amount of money it spends on giving orders to the general public. ‘Stop smoking!’ they demand, ‘and cut the drinking, whilst you’re at it! Oh, and if you’re a benefit thief… we’re coming to GET YOU’. They’re patronising, infantilising, don’t tell us anything we don’t already know and scrapping them would likely save over £200m.
  4. Closing time for MPs. As you might’ve read, the Chancellor is trying to raise tax revenue by putting an extra 8% on alcohol duty. Well, okay, but if we’re going to live in a ‘fairer society,’ I think the burden of this tax hike should be felt equally, don’t you? Great, so let’s stop using public money to subsidise our MPs boozing habits to the tune of £5million a year. No, this one won’t save us much, but it’d make us all feel a lot happier.

You’re not going to recover all the state needs to save just by scrapping these policies. Nevertheless, if Labour truly believes that public services shouldn’t suffer for the banking system’s folly, then before it starts making the kinds of cuts which could hamper frontline delivery, it should first put an end to some of its own expensive indulgences.

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