Today the Chancellor, George Osborne, launched the autumn spending review.
From the statement you might guess that he has climbed down over welfare spending cuts by abolishing his plan to cut tax credits, climbed down over big cuts to police budgets and acted to save the mental health budget and save the NHS from further cuts. All terribly good news along with more money for defence equipment, the security services, already announced.
But if you look at the figures he still planning the same huge level of cuts but apparently with no pain.
For a start we are going to have no changes to the tax credits – yet there is going to be a change to the new universal credit which will replace a whole series of benefits. So the government will still be cutting the welfare bill by £12 billion. No details yet but it will be sneaked through when the figures are announced much later, hitting another group. And there is a plan to sell off 20 per cent of the ministry’s estate- poissbly closing jobcentres and benefit offices.
The NHS is getting more money but will have to make £22 billion of efficiency savings and provide a 7 day a week service. How? No details.
The police may not get their budget cut but the budget is not protected against inflation which is expected to start rising – so there are hidden cuts inside this announcement.
And the government claimed it had protected the science budget – but within hours engineers were announcing that a major demonstration project into carbon capture – which could save some coal fired power stations from closure – had been cancelled.
And both the extra money for defence and spending by HM Revenue and Customs – on equipment and tackling tax evasion- is going to be financed by axing thousands of civilian jobs in defence and closing down almost all local tax offices.
And while there is a £600m fund for mental health inside the NHS many voluntary organisations looking after the mentally ill and handicapped will be hit by the huge cut in local government funding.
And there will be more privatisations like the land registry, air traffic control and ordnance survey.
So what looks like a series of good announcements are often little more than smoke and mirrors. And in this budget it will depend more than most on the small print hidden in government announcements. Journalists are often fooled into first believing the initial message only to find it starts to unravel over the next few weeks when the policy bites. This is a Caveat Emptor Spending Review – buyer beware.