Peter Hoskin

Darling’s £15 billion to keep up appearances

So Wednesday’s Budget will feature some £15 billion of spending cuts.  Here’s how the Times reports the latest bit of early information:

“The Treasury has already said it is seeking efficiency savings of £5 billion by 2011. Mr Darling is expected to say that should be extended by a further £10 billion over the following three years. There will be huge implications for public-sector jobs as ‘back office’ functions are pared back. Only frontline services such as education will have budgets protected.”

You sense this is a rhetorical device, as much as anything; an opportunity for the Government to say that they’re taking the “tough decisions” to “get our economy back on track”.  Given the vast amount of borrowing that’s pencilled in for this year alone – some estimates have it approaching £200 billion – savings of £15 billion, spread over the next few years, hardly suggest that Brown & Co. are alive to the scale of the problem.  And that’s even considering the £35 bilion that they trimmed off public spending in the PBR.

And then you’ve got to wonder whether Darling can deliver.  The much-vaunted Gershon programme was meant to result in about £21.5 billion of savings, but the National Audit Office cast significant doubts over whether even a fraction of the savings were “genuine and sustainable”.  Still, I suppose that’s not really the point.  By the time it comes to making deep savings, we’ll most likely have a Tory government.  For now – so far as Brown is concerned – it’s all about keeping up appearances.

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