There are three big areas where public spending can be cut without touching the core public services which are popular with many voters. These are unemployment costs by getting unemployment down, money given away overseas, and the costs of regulation. Cutters can also look at services and activities not valued by so many or as strongly as the core services.
All political parties agree on the need to get unemployment down, though there are arguments about how you do it. Much is riding on the government’s welfare reform programmes, designed to equip people to work and to give them the incentive to find a job. The UK cannot afford more than 5 million people of working age on benefits.
The issue of giving money away overseas is far more contentious. Now our gross contribution to the EU is around £20 billion a year it is a major item. The money we get back often comes back in the form of payment for spending that is marginal, little valued, or could be better controlled and spent under a UK programme. Overseas aid at £8 billion a year does not all go to the relief of famine and disaster, or entirely to very poor countries. The work being done to improve the effectiveness and to target the direction of the spending could allow reductions in the level of total spending for at least a year or two whilst we get the national accounts into better balance and work out more effective ways of using overseas aid. Many of us see no reason why the Uk should be contributing to Euro area bail outs. Nor should the UK pick up a large bill to help the UN in Libya, when others are better placed to do that.
The costs of policing and complying with all the regulations heaped on us over the last decade or more by a hyper active national and EU government should also be the centre of the deficit reduction programme. The UK needs a great Statute of Repeal, to confine to the dustbin of history many of the needless or infuriating measures passed in recent years. They were often the sledgehammer to miss the nut. There may have been a very worthwhile and moral purpose, but the regulation usually failed to tackle the heart of the abuse whilst burdening the many largely law abiding with big costs and complexities.
I suspect the government itself will conclude that items one and three are central to its task of deficit reduction, but will prove shy of tackling the easy money going abroad. High on the list of areas outside the core services that bloggers would like to see reduced are all the different expenses on climate change. That too may prove too difficult for this government.