Magazine article Public Finance

Major Parties Failing to Spell out Spending Plans

Magazine article Public Finance

Major Parties Failing to Spell out Spending Plans

Article excerpt

The public sector was left in the dark as the opening sal vos in the general election campaign foiled to shed any light on where the cuts will fall.

Party leaders made little mention of reducing the UK's £167bn deficit, despite the hype around Prime Minister Gordon Brown's April 6 announcement that the election would be held, as expected, on May 6.

And while public sector chiefs awaited next week's publication of party manifestos, commentators warned that crucial details on public service spending were likely to be kept under wraps until a postelection Budget, which will probably be held in July.

Colin Talbot, professor of public policy and management at Manchester Business School, told Public Finance that the public sector had been left 'guessing*. He said: 1We all know what the broad parameters of public spending are going to be: if if s a Tory government it's going to be a bit worse than [Chancellor] Alistair Darling set out.. It's more or less the same ball park of cutbacks in public spending. The only main difference will be areas of protection.' He cited the Labour ring-fencing of health and education budgets and the Conservative safeguards given to health.

Talbot described the start of the election campaign as 'bizarre'. He added: 'Nobody mentioned the deficit and the need to cut back spending even though they have been banging on about it for ages. Ifs clearly a vote loser.'

He said the May 6 poll would be the least democratic election for ages' because spending plans had been laid out prior to voting in past elections but the main parties remained 'extremely coy" on the subject.

James Hulme, head of communications at the New Local Government Network, said we were entering 'quite uncharted territory* as politicians failed to set out thenspending plans before an election.

He warned that the local government sector was 'in the dark' over the 'fundamental issues of how much money is going to be available for things like transport and housing".

He added: 1If s quite odd to be going into a general election with none of the parties outlining how much services are going to be funded over die next Parliament.'

Hulme said that local government budgets were likely to be disproportionately hit by spending cuts because no political party had pledged to ring-fence the area. …

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