We do make heavy weather of controlling public spending in this country. The £6 billion of cuts which caused such anguish in the Election debates represented less than 1% of total public spending. Tomorrow’s budget will probably be proposing cuts of less than 10% over the lifetime of this Parliament. Sensibly managed, this need not entail cutting anything that really matters.
The UK state has been living a middle class lifestyle. If you are living on a low income then of course cutting spending is difficult or impossible. If you are living a middle class lifestyle and your income goes down by 10% you have plenty of options. You can holiday nearer at home and cut out the foreign trip. You can eat in more than in the local restaurants. You can trade down for a cheaper car. You can draw some money out of the savings account to tide you over until your income goes up again. You can buy more of the value items at the supermarket, and put more vegetarian dishes into the home menus. You can discover home entertainment to keep the leisure bills down. You can turn down the thermostat a little and put on a jumper.
The UK state finds itself in that position today. It has plenty of assets. Some can be sold to help out. It has been dining out on consultants and temporary labour. It needs to do more in house. It has been appointing all too many to exotic job titles which we could manage without, and sending many of them on expensive overseas fact finding trips and seminars. It has indulged in a mind blowing array of politically correct regulations which often fail to tackle the underlying problem they wanted to address. It has been a master at buying the “nice to have” or the “why do we need this?” instead of concentrating on doing the basics well.
I know it is asking a lot for an outbreak of commonsense by public sector CEOs in Councils and quangos. But can they spare us the crocodile tears and the parade of the bleeding stumps? Can they do what any household or company does when faced with a few percent off their income? Just get on and manage it in the least damaging way possible. The cuts in funding are going to be nothing like as severe as the loss of income in industrial companies during the great recession of 2008-10.