Wokingham Times

I am fed up with all the talk about cuts of 25% or 40% in public spending. It is alarming people who depend on public money needlessly. The budget figures are clear and are not going to change. Public spending on current services will rise by £90 billion over the course of the next five years, taking it up from £600 billion to £690 billion.

Labour was spending on current services was £10,000 for every man, woman and child in the UK last year. This government plans to increase that to £11,500 by 2015. Spending on health is going to go up by more than price inflation every year. I expect schools spending to increase every year as well. State pensions are going to go up by prices or wages, whichever goes up by more. Labour was only raising £7500 from every person in the country on average in taxes, and borrowing the other £2500 each.

The questions we should all be asking are these. Are we getting £10,000 of value from the public service spend today? Will the extra £1500 each be well spent on the right things? Why are some parts of the public sector saying they will have to make clumsy and unpopular cutbacks, when overall spending will go on up in cash terms?

Most of us in work in Wokingham of course have to pay in rather more than the average £7500 per person in tax. Wokingham tends to have more people in better paid jobs than the national average, so it is a high tax paying area. If you add up your Income Tax, VAT, Council Tax and National Insurance you will see what I mean. Many of us do not expect to get our £10,000 of public spending. If like me your children have left school you receive no education spending. If you are earning a good living you do not need or receive benefits. If you are healthy you do not need to go to the hospital. Those three services alone account for more than half the average £10,000 per person spent.

Many of us are happy to pay extra tax so the sick can receive proper care and the disabled can receive benefits. We are happy to pay for the neighbours’ children to be educated. It is part of good neighbourliness to pay more in tax so any neighbours who are disadvantaged can enjoy the rising prosperity of our age as well. We are less happy to pay more tax if we think the money is wasted, building bloated bureaucracies or indulging grand political projects that will not make our lives better. By far and away the biggest item in my annual budget is the cost of government. Tax takes far more than my housing or food or travel which I buy for myself directly.

That’s why it is a good idea that central and local government takes a hard look at all that is being spent to drive better value for money, and to get rid of the irritating or wasteful items. What we do not want is another parade of the bleeding stumps, as public sector managers trot out unacceptable cuts to try to avoid making sensible economies in the way they are doing things. If the main public services end up cutting important services when the money available to them goes up it is a sign of bad management, not of insufficient money.