Spending Review Muggles


Today I have heard several reporters on the BBC, not to mention various print journalists, getting over excited about the ‘gaff’ by Lord Mandelson ‘admitting’ there was not going to be a Spending Review this year, or this side of a General Election – shock, horror!

Common guys – I know it’s a bit complicated but it ain’t that difficult – so here’s Spending Reviews 101:

Spending Reviews were introduced in 1998 and promised to be every 3 years – they set out plans for 3 years.

The next one was announced in June 2000 (two years later) because if it hadn’t been it would have been after the spring 2001 General Election. Thereafter Spending Reviews became “3 year plans reviewed every 2 years” in glorious Mandarin speak. There followed SRs 2002, 2004 and …. 2007.

Yes, they reverted to a 3 year cycle – which of course had nothing to do with a change in PM in… 2007.

So when was the next SR due? If they stuck to 3 years – June 2010. If they went back to 2 years, June 2009. But given in every previous Spending Review since 1998 they had previewed what thye were doing in the Pre Budget Report the Autumn of the year before, and the March Budget before the Sr announcement – it doesn’t take a genius to work out that no such previews in PDR08 or Budget 09 meant we weren’t getting an SR this year – duh. So why is it now such a “revelation”?

I even heard one BBC journalist (I’ll spare his blushes) breathlessly announce today that next year would be the first time we didn’t know in advance what Labour’s spending plans would be for the following year. Well, they are in SR2007 (which covered years 2008-9 to 2010-11) if you could be bothered to look. How far they are still relevant is another issue, but they are in there – plans for spending in 2010-11. But let’s not let facts get in the way of a good story, shall we?

The Tories synthetic anger at the “revelation” that there will “not be a Spending Review until after the Election” is even more spurious. First, they have known, like everyone else in Westminster/Whitehall there isn’t going to be one this year. Second, they are absolutely committed to saying as little as possible on what they would do in the next Parliament other than rhetorical flourishes about being fiscally prudent. So they lambast Labour for not saying what it would be doing (rightly) whilst keeping absolutely silent about their own plans – are they trying to give hypocrisy a bad name?

We are in real danger of heading into an Election in which neither major party is honest with the electorate about what they plan to do about public debt, spending and taxation. The BBC and others don’t help when they muggle up the facts about Spending Reviews to get a good story.

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About Colin Talbot

Professor of Government. Universities of Cambridge and Manchester, England.
This entry was posted in Spending. Bookmark the permalink.

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