Monday, 29 March 2010


So this is the big plan of the Conservatives in advance of the General Election. They would block some of the National Insurance rises planned for next year. The plan will apparently benefit 7 out of 10 employees and it will be paid for by cancelling some as yet unnamed projects and by 'efficiencies'. The Labour Party is also declaring that 'efficiencies' will pay for their limited promises to cut the deficit.

Conservative proposals for 'efficiencies' include halting spending on major new IT projects and cancelling some existing ones, negotiating significant cost reductions in the contracts held by government departments with major suppliers, controlling recruitment by closing some back office and support roles when they become empty, cutting back on discretionary spending such as expenses, travel, consultancy and office consumables and reducing public sector property costs by vacating space and cutting the running costs of buildings. All pretty nebulous and all about as likely to achieve the required savings as I am of walking on the moon any time soon.

Is anyone going to be convinced by this rhetoric? I hope not. For the record, the Liberal Democrats have identified £15bn of savings on specific items for the coming year, such as cancelling the needless replacement of Trident, which will be used to start addressing the deficit and cutting income tax for the lowest paid. This is not rhetoric, it is a specific pledge based on a realistic assessment of our financial situation. It contrasts starkly with the Conservative pledge.

Under our proposals, 4 million of the lowest paid people will no longer pay tax, giving them a better chance to help themselves rather than relying on state handouts paid for by National Insurance.

So rather than recycling less money to help the less well off, the Liberal Democrats will simply let them keep their own money. That makes more sense to me than a technical cut in NI.

As for these much vaunted 'efficiencies', we all agree with the principle and the next government, whatever its stripe, must look hard at this area but making spending pledges based on such an uncountable notion is rather like asking people to pay for their weekly supermarket shop with a blank cheque for the shop to fill in as it sees fit. No one would do that so why should we be asked to give our support to a party which cannot tell us what its commitments would cost if elected?

If you want to know exactly where your money will go before you vote on May 6th, vote Lib Dem. If you're happy to sign that blank cheque, try the others.

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