Smoke and mirrors?

Osborne’s performance yesterday was, as one would expect, a polished one.  The detail was thin, but the message was that they had managed to spread the pain etc.  But the detailed analysis will follow from the Institute of Fiscal Studies (http://www.ifs.org.uk/) among others.

However, some of the politics is quite interesting.  People in the public sector seem to be breathing a little easier today.  It is not as bad as they feared.  The police will be cut by 16% over the five year period, which is an improvement on 25%.  Local government has been appeased by the £2bn for social care.  Whitehall appears to have taken a bigger cut, offering £6bn in administrative savings as against the anticipated £3bn.  So the frontline might think the picture is rosier than the worst case scenarios being talked about a matter of days ago.

But then there is the worry that we only have the good headlines at the moment.   Maps and details showing the geographical impacts emphasise the new investments in each region.  Roads, bridges, tunnels.  But where is the analysis of the spread of the 490,000 public sector jobs that the government predict will be lost in the next four years?  (And is it a coincidence that this is less than half a million?  Is that somehow easier to swallow?)

And managing to arrive at a headline figure of 19% cuts in public service budgets (as opposed to the 20% he claimed Labour proposed) was good knockabout stuff.  Leaving aside whether we can trust the figures, the people paying to keep public sector workers in jobs appear to be their clients, and particularly welfare recipients.   Can we really justify spreading the pain in this manner?  What will be the consequences?  In particular, changes to Housing Benefit and to the support for the social housing sector could combine to create an increasing problem of homelessness.  Is this a saving?  An efficiency?

As the detail begins to become clear and some of the last minute deals and juggles begin to come together, the anomalies will also emerge.  We have already seen examples of poorly thought out polices on child benefit etc.  What more unpleasant surprises are hidden in this spending review?

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