Magazine article Public Finance

Battles Royal

Magazine article Public Finance

Battles Royal

Article excerpt

Gordon Brown, it seems, is still determined to patch it up with prudence.

The prime minister, who yearns to regain his reputation for careful stewardship of the nations finances, put fiscal responsibility firmly at the heart of his new. and possibly last, legislative programme.

A Fiscal Responsibility Bill will enshrine in law the government's aspiration to halve the £17Sbn deficit by 2014 and to balance the books by a target date of 2018.

The message is clear and the aspiration admirable, but the Opposition might have a point when they accuse ministers of using the Queen's Speech for political posturing.

What do we elect governments for if not to behave in a fiscally responsible manner? It's difficult to see how such a Bill, if enacted, would change anything in a meaningful way or how those charged with delivery will be held to account.

As the Institute for Fiscal Studies said this week (see news, page 6). what sanctions will the government impose on a Treasury that doesn't deliver? Are we likely to see redfaced chancellors being frogmarched out of No 11 Downing Street if targets are missed? It seems unlikely.

The sanie question arises in relation to other aspirations in the Queen's Speech.

Pledges to enshrine shorter hospital waiting times and school standards in 'entitlements' sound great, but where is the money underpinning this and how will failure be tackled? …

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