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Government Running Costs

Part of Opposition Day – in the House of Commons at 7:16 pm on 18th January 2000.

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Photo of Andrew Lansley Andrew Lansley Shadow Minister for the Cabinet Office and Policy Renewal 7:16 pm, 18th January 2000

The hon. Gentleman knows that that Conservative Administration were rapidly reducing Government debt—[Interruption.] In the last two years—that is what the hon. Member for Gordon (Mr. Bruce) is asking. In the last five years of that Conservative Administration, we saw a 10 per cent. reduction in real terms in Government running costs. In the five years before the 1997–98 financial year, that was the record of the Conservative Administration.

What has happened under Labour, by contrast with that 10 per cent. real terms reduction? The last published spending plans before May 1997 said that, compared with 1997–98, the running costs of Departments would be reduced by £223 million in the subsequent year and, in 1999–2000, would be £114 million lower than the base year. The Government's latest figures show that the cost of administration of Departments last year was £867 million higher than the preceding year and this year will be £1,104 million higher than the base year. Compared with previous plans, therefore, Labour has not delivered the planned savings, and it has also lost its grip and let spending on running the Government rise sharply.

The result is that in the space of two years £2,300 million more has been spent on administration than was set out in the plans this Government inherited. That is an enormous sum that could buy much front-line activity. Given the debate that we have just had, it is instructive to note that the sum is more than half the annual cost of general practitioners in the NHS; it is more than is spent in a year on children's personal social services; and it is one third more than this year's total capital spending in the NHS. I recall that Labour's so-called early pledge to cut waiting lists by 100,000 was to be achieved by cutting administration costs by £100 million, but if Labour has spent £2,300 million more on administration, that is a compelling reason why it is failing to deliver.

Department by Department the story is the same. For the Department of Health, we achieved a £93 million reduction in total running costs for the four years before the election, but that has been followed in the subsequent two years by a £38 million increase. At the Department for Education and Employment, we achieved a £95 million reduction in the three years before the election, which has been followed by a £36 million increase in the past two years. For the Department of Trade and Industry, spending was down by £82 million in the two years before the election but has gone up by £55 million in the two years since.

The cost and waste does not stop at departmental running costs. Scattered through the Government's spending plans are their slush funds, the so-called unallocated provision, which adds up to £173 million. It adds insult to injury for the taxpayer to have to pay more in taxes only for the money to be wasted or squandered on Labour's machinery of spin and disinformation. The public want more doctors and fewer spin doctors, and that is what the Conservative party will offer.

To Labour, facts do not speak for themselves. Indeed, it believes that facts should not speak at all. Interpretation is all, and facts are secondary. Lack of accountability is the easy Labour way out of answering for the Government's lack of policy achievement. They spin their way out of problems, thanks to the growing phalanx of taxpayer-funded political advisers.

In the summer last year, we had the absurdity of Labour's annual report, in which dozens of manifesto pledges were counted as realised because the Government had published some document or announced some future target. For Labour, activity is a substitute for achievement. Its response to criticism is to blame public servants, as we saw last summer. Labour wants to make the civil service, not Ministers, accountable for the results of its policies.

I applaud the Neill committee's vigilance in following up the Government's evident desire to make political compliance the key to career advancement inside the civil service. The Neill committee last week recommended that the performance measurement of permanent heads of Departments should be structured to allow for some element of independent validation so as not to undermine political impartiality". That is right, but as a former civil servant myself, I find it profoundly depressing that the qualities and values of civil servants, who are often highly able and dedicated to public service, are at risk of being undermined by the pressure for political correctness and compliance demanded by Labour Ministers and their paid political advisers.

The growth of direct political interference in the provision of policy advice to Ministers is among the greatest dangers. On that, we can see clearly that big Government means worse Government.