£742 billion is a lot of money. It is £11,600 for every man, woman and child in the country. It is what the UK state will spend this year whoever wins the election. It is time to ask a few more questions about how this money should be spent.
I agree with Conservative policy that we need a further period of restraint in public spending to help get the deficit under control. I think the cash near standstill for a couple of years is just what is needed as per the present Red Book plans. I do not think this need be difficult for the public sector, as there are some relatively easy ways of achieving it. Having zero inflation helps.
There is considerable scope for better buying, more quality driven systems of management, getting more right first time and more reduction of error and waste in many parts of the public sector. There is considerable scope to reduce the benefits bill for the best of reasons, by helping more people into better paid jobs or into any kind of job.
I disagree with the official party line over HS2. I would cancel this project tomorrow,and did vote against it in the last Parliament. There is no capacity problem from London to the north. There is a commuter capacity problem into the main cities which could be more easily and cheaply solved by improvements to current lines.
The large subsidies being pushed into Network Rail, a nationalised industry, have not bought us cheaper peak hour fares, but have bought us gross inefficiencies. I would seek a new management plan to do more and better for less on the railways. Our railway performance is way below that of comparable European railways.
I would spend money on overseas aid in relation to the need of countries for help and in relation to the priorities of UK foreign policy. I would charge all the costs of the military in the ebola mission and similar activities to the aid budget. I would also charge all treatments offered free in the NHS to visitors from abroad to the aid budget. I would do more to ensure the NHS recharges all treatments for visitors from the rest of the EU through the EU recharge system to the relevant member state governments, and expect most overseas visitors to have insurance or cash to pay for any non emergency treatment whilst here, if not covered by the EU arrangements. The government has been taking action to remind the NHS of the need to charge people from abroad who are not eligible for free treatment.
I would also expect a major reduction in our dues to the EU. Either we will negotiate a new relationship based on trade and political co-operation, which should include lower charges, or the UK electorate will vote to leave. Either way there should be large savings.