Tomorrow at conference I will be part of a panel discussing how public spending could make a bigger contribution to cutting the deficit. I will have very limited time to tackle such a big and important topic. Let me sketch a bit of the background in this post, in advance.
The first thing I have urged the government to do for the last two and half years is to avoid large external commitments at a time when we are fully stretched at home. For that reason I voted against the £20 billion of extra money being made available to the IMF, primarily because I fear that money will go to the unworthy cause of trying to avoid changing the Euro scheme to let it work for those countries who can live with it. I voted against the £3.2 billion special loan to Ireland and against the UK £8bn contribution to the European Financial Stability Mechanism for the same reasons.
The second thing I have done is urged the government to transform RBS. RBS is too large for the UK state to back comfortably. It has been loss making and failing to deliver enough support for the UK economy. I have tried to get the government to speed its break up, sale of assets, reduction of taxpayer risk, and creation of new working banks out of its assets and liabilities. Getting the taxpayer out of majority ownership of a £1.5 trillion bank would be the single most important step it could take to cut potential risks and losses for taxpayers, and to improve the UK state balance sheet rapidly.
The third thing I have done is to set out case after case where the Uk government could spend less without damaging services or entitlements. There is the issue of the large derivative losses at Network Rail; the £800 million research programme of DFID; the £500 m overseas aid to nuclear weapons powers; the £1.3 bn of aid channeled through the EU that is not universally well spent; the large operating losses and inefficiencies of state owned Network Rail; the high level of subsidies to inefficient and expensive ways of generating energy; the persistence of high overheads at departments like DFID and the Energy department and many others;the high costs of legal aid owing to long winded and repetitious court processes for terrorist extradition, for example.
The fourth thing I have argued is that we spend far too much on UK membership of the EU. I have been pressing the governemnt to use its veto over the forthcoming 2014-2020 financial settlement. I have supported colleagues seeking a major cut in expensive and badly targetted EU regional assistance; pressed for a big reform of the CAP to cut its costs to taxpayers and food buyers alike; sought a general reduction in what the EU does in the UK and how much it spends.
The fifth thing I have highlighted is “soft touch UK”. With others I have asked the government to charge overseas users of the NHS for their treatment. I have proposed charges on foreign haulage firms using our roads. I have supported moves to curtail illegal immigration, and to tighten eligibility rules for benefits so they go to legally settled people.
PS I Am pleased to hear the Prime Minister is willing to veto an unacceptable EU budget settlement for 2014-2020, but disappointed that the government finds a “real terms freeze”acceptable when we need deep cuts to the EU outgoings.