This week the Chancellor will announce how much extra money it thinks the government should spend in 2015-16. Although all the talk is about cuts in public spending in certain departments, the overall total spending will continue to rise, as it has been doing all through this Parliament. Big areas like welfare, pensions, health and education are protected from cuts. In some cases, as with the new pensions uprating system, the more generous approach naturally costs more money.
It seems likely that Labour as well as the Lib Dems and Conservatives will all agree to the new totals, which will show slower growth in cash spending for day to day items, and a bit faster growth in capital spending on items like new railways and roads. The political argument will be about the amounts provided to differing programmes and departments within the agreed totals. All seem to agree that we have to accept more modest cash increases, as the country has borrowed so much already and is still increasing its borrowing at a rapid rate.
I have been working with the Council on the need for more capital spending in our area, in response to the national policy for road and rail improvements. We need to bring our public facilities up to date, as we now are with a new station. We need to improve our transport system so it is easier and safer to get to work and to the shops.
In recent days I have been lobbied by constituents in Shinfield, complaining about Reading Council’s expensive installation of two new sets of traffic lights on the A 327 into Reading. These lights have greatly increased the congestion. The roundabouts we had before worked well, and kept the traffic moving at a suitable safe slower speed across the junctions. It is a good example of how the wrong kind of public spending can make things worse, making voters doubly cross that their road system is made more difficult to use and they have to pay a large bill for the privilege.
The government is encouraging road improvements. Replacing lights with roundabouts can often make a junction flow better . I trust Wokingham will show Reading how to do it, avoiding provocative decisions like the Shinfield Road one at a time when we need to make sure every penny local or national government spends is well spent. The first rule of local and national government spending should be “Do no harm”. Spending plans should be carefully examined to see how many people they can upset, before embarking on them.