Andrew Haldenby

A Budget diary

A Budget diary
Text settings

On Monday, Reform published its latest report - Back to black - showing that the crisis in the public finances demanded actual spending cuts, in 2010-11. The right cuts would kick start a programme of reform in the big spending areas of health, benefits, education and defence.

In the Budget, the Chancellor revealed that the hole in the finance was even deeper - but actually increased public spending this year and next (by £11 billion in total, excluding spending affected by the recession). Higher taxes will be used to shore up the existing structure of services and benefits with all their problems and inefficiencies. Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.


As the Chancellor sat down, I took my seat in the studio of the Jeremy Vine show, to discuss with listeners our specific cut proposals and their own. Did the Radio 2 audience recoil in horror at the idea of stopping child benefit for middle class parents (saving: £7 billion) or reducing the pay of doctors (£1 billion)? Far from it. Support poured in, with the most popular suggestion being the end of the winter fuel allowance (saving: £1.9 billion). One caller said that her late husband had contacted government to say that he didn't want the benefit, could he give it back? He was told that he had to have it. We discovered that if you are still eligible for the winter fuel allowance if you become a pensioner in the UK and move to Spain or Greece.


A doctor friend called on Wednesday morning to say: please, please argue for my pay to be reduced, the terms of the new contract are crazy. Dr Charles Tannock MEP said the same in comments on a blog at ConservativeHome - Reform authors have put our individual ideas up for comment on “Star Chamber” this week.

Despite this, one of the most independent-minded Conservative MPs told our report launch on Monday that he could never support such a cut - “lots of doctors in my constituency”. Subsequently I thought - hang on, there are around 130,000 doctors in England. So on average there are around 250 in each of the English constituencies. That MP’s majority will be well over 10,000 after the election. If he can't make the case, who can?


Wednesday ended with a dinner for some of our City and business supporters. Three of the points made:

-- Two attendees had been phoned after the Budget speech to offer help with relocating their businesses, in the light of the tax increases. One by a Swiss bank, the other by the Swiss and the Irish governments.

-- Some businesses are reducing their cost bases by 50 per cent to weather the recession. The Budget says that the government sector's costs will actually increase.

-- While overall spending should fall sharply, some budgets - notably transport and energy infrastructure - should increase.

Andrew Haldenby is the director of Reform.