Sunday, 21 June 2009

Candour on spending is vital

The Sunday Times reports that there is a split within the cabinet on the best way to approach the spending debate and the battle lines with the Tories at the next election. On capital investment, this Government has an excellent story, which can be illustrated in every constituency with new schools, health centres and other public buildings. That capital may fall in future years as a result of the recession would still mean that far more is being invested that under the Tories, who provided less than a billion pounds in 1996 for school building.

But the Government is in danger of obscuring the real progress that it has made for two reasons. The first is that it has largely given up reminding people of the difference that has been made. An audit of school buildings in 2007 showed that by that stage over 1100 completely new schools had been built since 1997, yet there has been little effort made to update the data, partly because of a bizarre Year Zero approach that characterised the early Brown period.

But the second more pertinent danger is that a lack of candour on public spending will deny legitimacy both to the real achievements on the genuine differences in approach between the Tories and Labour. It is vital that ministers have the chance to set out in detail ahead of the election exactly what will be spent or invested - and what will need to be saved - in the years ahead. Only then can the party genuinely erect dividing lines with a Tory party that failed to invest when in power and is unlikely to provide the further necessary investment if it wins power again.

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