Details of the government’s plans to slash £20bn from public spending were discussed on Friday, as Chancellor George Osborne pressed ahead with his austerity agenda.
Osborne had requested government departments model two scenarios of how the cuts could be implemented in advance of November’s spending review. In the face of sharp cross-party opposition, he asked cabinet ministers to submit their proposals by Friday.
Economists say Osborne’s economic policy path is based on a doctrine of blind austerity. The spending cuts, which have been decried by MPs, academics and social justice campaigners, will see a further £12bn slashed from the government’s welfare spending.
If Osborne is to meet his target of eliminating the deficit in 2019-20, he will also need to recover £5bn by tackling tax evasion. However, critics have long argued the Conservative Party’s outward opposition to tax dodging is politically motivated lip service, with no firm basis in policy.
As part of Osborne’s deficit reduction plan, public sector workers were asked to submit proposals to the Treasury on how they could cut back on spending.
Council staff were also instructed to give proposals on how funds could be devolved from central government coffers to local authorities.
Prior to Friday’s deadline, the Local Government Association (LGA) called for a minimum of £60bn worth of central government spending to be devolved to local regions by 2020.
Some of the offers being finalized include Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire’s request for a decade-long transport settlement along with fully devolved housing investment rights. Meanwhile, Gloucestershire has asked for full control over its healthcare budgets and far-reaching innovations in its health and social care provision.
LGA Chairman Gary Porter said devolution is vital if Britain’s economy is to be balanced.
“Devolution is not an end in itself,” he told the Guardian. “If our public services are to survive the next five years, councils also need fairer funding alongside the freedom to pay for them.”
In a joint letter to the Treasury, the finance ministers of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland warned Osborne’s cuts are being implemented too rapidly and too drastically.
Scotland’s Deputy First Minister John Swinney, Arlene Foster of the Northern Ireland Executive and Jane Hutt of the Welsh Government said the Tories’ austerity agenda poses a serious risk to the state’s social fabric.
They also warned November’s spending review leaves little time for Swinney, Foster or Hutt to set their own budgets and could cause serious challenges as a result.