Hamish McRae, whose coverage of the crash has been prescient and authoritative, sets out the key question that comes out of the state of the public finances in his column today:
“We have had over the past decade the largest increase in public spending that has ever taken place in peacetime. It is also the largest increase that has occurred, proportionate to GDP, of any major economy during that period. So we have in effect been carrying out a huge experiment: to what extent can you improve public services by spending much more money on them. (The tax take, by contrast, has actually declined as a proportion of GDP.)I think most of us now recognise that this experiment has failed. You can have a debate as to whether public investment had been squeezed too hard in the middle 1990s and during the first two years of the Labour government. You can have a debate about the best way of getting more money into services such as health care and education. But only die-hard ideologues would maintain that this great surge in public spending has brought real value for money and everyone agrees that this process has now come to an end.
If you accept that, you have to ask what we can learn from this failure and how we can use that knowledge to advantage. In short, we have to figure out how to do the business of government better?” This is why public service reform is essential. Encouragingly what the Conservatives want to do in education should mean that they are actually able to get more for less. But on health, the Tories are proudly committed to carrying on pumping in more money without proper reform.