Peter Hoskin

Lansley keeps the spending taps on

Lansley keeps the spending taps on
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Struggles with the conference internet connection prevented me from posting on it at the time, but it's still worth flagging up Andrew Lansley's big speech on the NHS today. Why so? Well, because it exemplifies how the Tory message on health undermines their general rhetoric on public spending.

At the heart of the speech was a pledge that I'm sure many CoffeeHousers would cheer: to slash the money spent on NHS bureacrats by a third, from £4.5 billion to £3 billion. Good stuff, you might think. That's what governments should be doing in there difficult times. And you'd be right.

But the rest of Lansley's speech was at odds with this basic position. There were, of course, the familiar reminders that the Tories would increase health spending year-on-year. We're used to those. But, on top of that, there were specific spending commitments on dentistry and care for the elderly.

Funded how, exactly? Well, maybe they're funded by those health spending increases - but that rather undermines Lansley's claim that those increases are a natural function of an ageing population combined with greater treatment costs. So maybe, instead, they're funded by that money saved from cutting the health bureaucracy. But, hang on, weren't the Tories chiding Labour last week for making spending commitments funded by little more than pie-in-the-sky promises to "cut bureaucracy"?  It's certainly difficult to square this particular circle.

In which case, it's hard not to arrive at one conclusion when listening to Lansley: that the Tories intend to turn on the taps when it comes to health spending, regardless of what it means for their message now, or for their wider agenda in government.

When Lansley rounded off his speech by saying that this is an "Age of Ambition" for the NHS, it could have been a neat soundbite. As it was, it just came across as a joke at the expense of those departments operating during an Age of Austerity.