Comprehensive Spending Review

Part of Oral Answers to Questions — Prime Minister – in the House of Commons at 12:31 pm on 20 October 2010.

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Photo of George Osborne George Osborne The Chancellor of the Exchequer 12:31, 20 October 2010

Today is the day when Britain steps back from the brink and when we confront the bills from a decade of debt; a day of rebuilding, when we set out a four-year plan to put our public services and welfare state on a sustainable footing for the long term, so that they can do their job of providing for families, protecting the vulnerable and underpinning a competitive economy. It is a hard road, but it leads to a better future.

We are going to bring the years of ever-rising borrowing to an end. We are going to ensure, like every solvent household in the country, that what we buy we can afford, that the bills we incur we have the income to meet and that we do not saddle our children with the interest on the interest on the interest on the debts that we were not prepared ourselves to pay.

Tackling this budget deficit is unavoidable. The decisions about how we do it are not. There are choices, and today we make them. Investment in the future, rather than the bills of past failure: that is our choice. We have chosen to spend on the country's most important priorities: the health care of our people; the education of our young; our nation's security; and the infrastructure that supports our economic growth. We have chosen to cut the waste and reform the welfare system that our country can no longer afford.

This is the context of this spending review. We have, at £109 billion, the largest structural budget deficit in Europe-this at a time when the whole world is concerned about high deficits and our economic stability depends on allaying those concerns. We are paying at the rate of £120 million a day, £43 billion a year in debt interest-this at a time when we all know that the money would far better serve the needs of our own citizens than those of the foreign creditors we borrow from. We have inherited from the previous Government plans-if one can call them that-that envisaged our national debt ratio still rising in the year 2014. Not a single penny of savings had been identified. Indeed, they were plans that envisaged the Chancellor of the Exchequer standing here in 2014, presenting a spending review that still had years of cutting public spending ahead of it. That is why, last year, the International Monetary Fund warned this country that it had to accelerate the reduction in the deficit. That is why the OECD, the Governor of the Bank of England and the CBI all agreed with the IMF.

The action we have taken since May has taken Britain out of the financial danger zone. The immediate reductions to in-year spending have bought us a breathing space in the sovereign debt storm. The creation of an independent Office for Budget Responsibility has brought honesty back to official forecasts. I can confirm to the House that the OBR and its new chair, Robert Chote, have audited all the annually managed expenditure savings in today's statement.

The emergency Budget in June was the moment when fiscal credibility was restored. Our market interest rates fell to near-record lows, our country's credit rating was reaffirmed and the IMF went from issuing warnings to calling our Budget essential. Now we must implement some of the key decisions required by that Budget. To back down now and abandon our plans would be the road to economic ruin. We will stick to the course, we will secure our country's stability and we will not take Britain back to the brink of bankruptcy.

In the Budget, I set out the tax increases we were prepared to make, including on capital gains at the higher rate, pensions relief on the largest contributions and, for the first time, a permanent levy on banks. We also had to increase value added tax, where, fortunately, we were able to benefit from the preparatory work in the Treasury of the previous Government. I made it clear that spending reductions rather than tax rises needed to make up the bulk of the consolidation. That is what the leading international evidence suggests works best. So I set out spending totals for the coming years and announced some £11 billion of welfare savings that would help to achieve them. I also set out a new fiscal mandate for the public finances to eliminate the structural deficit by balancing the cyclically adjusted current Budget over five years by 2015-16. We set a target of national debt falling as a proportion of national income by that same year. We explained how, for reasons of caution, we will achieve both these objectives a year earlier, in 2014-15.

I can confirm that the spending plans I set out today achieve a balanced structural current Budget and falling national debt on the same timetable. I can further confirm that the current spending totals I set out in the Budget for each of the next four years are the same as the current spending totals I set out today. They have not changed. Next year, current expenditure will be £651 billion, then £665 billion the year after and £679 billion the year after that, before reaching £693 billion in 2014-15. The House will note that current spending is rising, not falling, over that period. That is partly because, even with the measures we take today, debt interest payments continue to grow in these years. Debt interest payments will reach £63 billion in 2014-15-it takes time to turn around the debt supertanker-but I can now report to the House that against the plans we inherited, one of the departments which suffers the greatest cut today, and at the steepest rate, is the department for debt interest. Debt interest payments will be lowered by £1 billion in 2012, then by £1.8 billion in 2013 and by £3 billion in 2014-a total of £5 billion over the course of the spending review, which is equivalent to 16 new hospitals or the annual salaries of 100,000 teachers.

At the Budget, I also set out my plans for capital spending over the next four years. I can tell the House that capital spending will be at £51 billion next year, then £49 billion, then £46 billion and at £47 billion in 2014-15. This is about £2 billion a year higher than I set out in the Budget. Given the contractual obligations we inherited from the last Government, doing anything else would have meant cutting projects that would clearly enhance the economic infrastructure of this country. This has no direct impact on whether we meet the fiscal mandate or the year in which the debt ratio starts falling. So, total public expenditure-capital and current-over the coming years will be £702 billion next year, then £713 billion, then £724 billion and £740 billion in 2014-15. In real terms, public spending will be at the same level as in 2008. Our public services and our welfare system will be put on a sustainable long-term footing and we will make sure that the financial catastrophe that happened under the previous Government never, ever happens again.

Let me now turn to the spending decisions and the three principles that we propose to apply to the choices that we have made. First, on reform, in every area where we make savings, we must leave no stone unturned in our search for waste, and we must deliver the changes necessary to make our public services fit for the modern age.

Secondly, on fairness, we are all in this together and all must make a contribution. Fairness means creating a welfare system that helps the vulnerable, supports people into work and is affordable for the working families who pay for it from their taxes. Fairness also means that, across the entire deficit reduction plan, those with the broadest shoulders will bear the greatest burden; those with the most should pay the most, and that includes our banks.

Thirdly, on growth, when money is short, we should ruthlessly prioritise those areas of public spending that are the most likely to support economic growth, including investments in our transport and green energy infrastructure, our science base and the skills and education of our citizens.

Let me explain now how those principles have guided our specific decisions. First, on reform, I believe that the public sector needs to change to support the aspirations and expectations of today's population, rather than the aspirations and expectations of the 1950s, so the spending review is underpinned by a far-reaching programme of public service reform. We saw over the last decade that more money without reform was a recipe for failure; less money without reform would be worse, and we are not prepared to accept that, so we have begun by squeezing every last penny that we can find out of waste and administration costs.

Our ambition in this review was to find £3 billion of savings from the administrative budgets of central Government Departments. With the help of the Green review and the work done by my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General, I can tell the House that we have gone further than we thought possible in cutting back-office costs. Quangos will be abolished; services will be integrated; assets will be sold; and the administrative budget of every main Government Department will be cut by a third. The result is this: we promised £3 billion of Whitehall savings; we will deliver £6 billion.

Of course, there is a very understandable concern about the reduction in the total public sector head count that will result from the measures in the spending review. We believe that the best estimate remains the one set out by the independent Office for Budget Responsibility. It has forecast a reduction in the head count of 490,000 over the spending review period. Now let us be clear: that is over four years, not overnight, and much of it will be achieved through natural turnover, by leaving posts unfilled as they become vacant. Estimates suggest a turnover rate of over 8% in the public sector; but, yes, there will be some redundancies, and that is up to the decisions of individual employers in the public sector. That is unavoidable when the country has run out of money.

We feel responsible for every individual who works for the Government, and we will always do everything that we can to help them to find alternative work. In fact, in the last three months alone, this economy created 178,000 jobs. So we should remember that, unless we deal with this record budget deficit decisively, many more jobs will be in danger in both the private and the public sector.

The Cabinet Office and the Treasury will oversee the programme of Whitehall savings. Both Departments will lead by example. The core Cabinet Office budget will be reduced by £55 million by 2014-15. Additional allocations will be provided to fund electoral reform, support the big society projects, establish community organisers and launch the pilots for the national citizens service, which will give young people for the first time a right of passage to citizenship. In recognition of the challenges faced by the voluntary and community sector, I am establishing a one-year £100 million transition fund to help those facing real hardship. The Treasury will see its overall budget reduce by 33%, and we will share the Department's enormously expensive private finance initiative building, which my predecessor but one signed up to, by moving part of the Cabinet Office into the same premises.

The Chancellor is also a royal trustee, and I want to say something briefly about the civil list. As I outlined in the Budget, the 10-year settlement expired this year, and no provision for a new settlement had been made when we entered office.

Her Majesty has graciously agreed to a one-year cash freeze in the civil list for next year. Going forward, she has also agreed that total royal household spending will fall by 14% in 2012-13, while grants to the household will be frozen in cash terms. In order to support the costs of the historic diamond jubilee, which the whole country is looking forward to celebrating, there will be a temporary additional facility of £1 million. After that, the royal household will receive a new sovereign support grant linked to a portion of the revenue of the Crown estate, so that my successors do not have to return to this issue as I often as I have had to.

Central to this review- [ Interruption. ]


Richard Taylor
Posted on 10 Nov 2010 3:44 pm (Report this annotation)

The spending review documents are available at: