Labour are saying they would have a thorough review of public spending. They would examine everything currently being spent, using the technique of the zero base budget. Nothing is in such a budget until it is examined and newly approved.
There is a lot to be said for the Coalition government doing just such an exercise now. It is good advice from Mr Balls. If we leave it until after the next election, that gives another couple of years of potential wasteful spending.
It also, of course, means Labour can refuse to tell electors what they would cut were they to be returned to office. Their mantra can be permanently that it will all be up to the review. If the Coaliton behaved as Labour used to do in office, it could invent all sorts of cuts and claim that Labour was likely to do them if in office. Labour would then be drawn into denying certain things would be cut, pre-empting their thorough review. Such is the name calling and scaremongering that we have become used to accept as an alternative to having a mature debate about priorities and value for money.
What should such a review probe most strenuously? There are many easy targets. I list a few beneath
1. Network Rail’s large losses on derivatives and their foreign currency funding (£560m last year)
2. Early withdrawal of the troops from Afghanistan – for reasons mightier than merely saving money
3. Overseas Aid to countries that have nuclear weapons and space programmes (£485m)
4. Overseas Aid through the EU (£1.3bn)
5. The Overseas Aid Department’s large research programme and extensive use of consultancies (£800m plus)
6. The UK contribution to the EU budget
7. The size and growth of the EU budget
8. EU regional policy expenditures
9. Need to charge overseas users of the NHS
10.Subsidies to dear energy sources
11. Possible sale of state owned banking assets and companies
12. Sale of commercial forests that are not heritage sites and heritage woodlaands
13.Increasing the proportion of affordable housing for sale, so the state can release more capital from disposals
14. Stricter enforcement against illegal migrants coming to pick up benefits and other support payments
15. Repatriation of foreign prisoners
There are so many items that the list could extend for many columns. Your ideas, as always, could be helpful. The Coalition is going to have to look again at its high spending levels, given the slippage on borrowing. It’s topical again to consider priorities and better value for money.