After the weeks and weeks of build up – today was the Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR).
The amount of work and effort that has gone into the thinking behind this CSR is huge – and it showed. Whilst definitely medicine in parts – all that thought and effort had produced something not only economically credible but a radical reforming agenda It wasn’t just cuts – it was about a different way of doing things.
And – outside of George Osborne’s clever rabbit out of a hat finish in which all the coalition cuts (at 19%) still come out at less than the 20% cuts that Labour were proposing (without a single idea on the table as to what they would have been) the key thing was that this CSR addresses the Why of the cuts and the How of the cuts.
In terms of the Why – economically it is about freeing the nation of debt and the waste of interest payments. It is nuts to pay £43 billion in interest a year – you can never get clear and never get on to doing the things that bring real change and real improvements to peoples’ lives. In fact – the pain is longer and worse for everyone – but especially the poor – if the deficit is not dealt with swiftly.
As for the How – this CSR has been done in a way that is fairly spread (a lot of work on equality impacts and effort made to make sure that those who have the most pay the most) – and in a way that promotes future fairness and future prosperity.
As you read about all the measures announced today or watch the reports on the television – you can see that there is clearly a Liberal Democrat approach hard-wired into it – but it is ultimately a coalition process – with full involvement of LibDem Ministers – and the result is most definitely a coalition product. It is a far, far better product for the steel and fire in which it has been forged in the crossfire of two parties with very different approaches but aiming for the same outcome – a fairer (solvent) country.
pro-fairness– with items like the £7 billion ‘fairness premium’ including £2.5 billion to go into our schools with the funding following underprivileged children; with the NHS being protected; with us being the first country in the world to delivery 0.7% GDP for International Aid
pro-growth– thank goodness carrying on with capital infrastructure investment including Crossrail; investment in science and HE. Next week there will be a whole raft of details on capital projects going ahead right across the land.
pro-green: with £2billion for the Green Investment Bank (for starters), public transport investment, feed-in tariffs, a funded Renewable Health Incentive, a ports competition to encourage offshore wind manufacturing industry
The CSR was only the beginning really – and gave for the most part – the global percentage cuts in each department. How each department now takes the reduction forward will be the further test of our administration’s commitment to fairness during the deficit reduction.
There was one particular issue that I have been worried about – both in terms of national but also local funding – the voluntary sector. I wrote about here a while back.
So for me – one very important announcement was the £100 million fund being created for a year to support the voluntary sector during the transition phase. I have been stomping around pointing out to everyone the vulnerability of this sector – a sector who we in government are expecting to grow and blossom in the ‘big society’ but which without support might not have survived the transition.
Happily somehow that message seems to have got through.
I have Violence Against Women and Girls in my portfolio, for example, and the voluntary sector is absolutely crucial in supporting victims of Domestic Violence. So this was a very welcome part of the CSR!