The less we hear from Theresa May, the more I worry about the Home Office budget.
I’m hearing rumours of her taking a 30 percent cut, which I first dismissed as a piece of expectations management. But now I’m beginning to wonder. We know that defence is settled -
about an 8 percent real-terms cut. The NHS, which absorbs a quarter of government spending, will have real-terms increases (something even the left-leaning IPPR doesn’t back). The schools
budget has escaped relatively unscathed, we read. So what’s left? Again, there’s so much deliberate misinformation out there that I hesitate to give a rumour round-up. But here
One major victim is expected to be Transport. We’re being braced for a 40 percent rises in train fares - just in case the commuter on £44k with three kids to support wasn’t
feeling enough pain yet. Word is Ken Clarke is looking at -25 percent for Justice/prisons (on top of the 4 percent fall over the last five years of Labour). Given that Clarke doesn’t believe
in prisons, he won’t be weeping into his hush puppies. Crime fell under Labour as they locked up more bad guys. The link between crime and custodial sentences is not rocket science: fewer
prisons will mean more crime.
But if Ms May has taken a 30 percent cut in the Home Office – which I doubt, but you can bet it'll be a lot worse than the 14 percent departmental average – this raises serious
questions. First, how does she explain that to ACPO, whom Ed Balls will be befriending as we speak? This further shortens the life expectancy of the Home Secretary. And, next, what about
counter-terrorism? MI5 agents don’t actually arrest anyone, Jack Bauer style: that’s down to police. Our failure to prepare for this led to the botched response to 7/7. Things improved,
and several plots have been quietly thwarted since. But we can ill afford to drop our guard. Sure, Al-Qaeda may have been precision-bombed out of Afghanistan and the Pakistani tribal areas, but
they have enough havens in Africa to keep them going (and one camp which the Foreign Office believes to be UK-focused).
Cameron could not risk seeing a terrorist attack succeed due to lack of funding, so I assume that counter-terrorism has been protected. But it’s one of many questions that will be raised once
the headline figures have been announced on Monday.
UPDATE: I hear that counterterrorism policing will fall in line with defence - i.e. a cut of about 8 percent. That can be presented as a freeze in budget, as (like defence) the
cash sums would rise by a tiny amount over those years. The Sun today says the MI5
and MI6 budgets will expand slightly. Both agencies have expanded as fast as they felt they could over the last five years (expanding too fast poses a danger if quality of intake is compromised).
It's a separate budget but as long as the agencies are not being ordered into reverse now, they too with have escaped Wednesday's spending review unscathed.