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Ten initial reactions from the blogosphere to the Comprehensive Spending Review

By Jonathan Isaby

Tim has already summarised the main measures contained in the Comprehensive Spending Review  and given his initial reaction. We have also carried the reaction of our expert panel and are also asking ConHome readers for their reaction.

Here is the initial reaction from ten leading bloggers and commentators...

Iain Martin of the Wall Street Journal reckons it was a very political Spending Review: "Osborne has constructed a clear political argument - defending priorities such as health and education whilst cutting the deficit. It is aimed at protecting the coalition’s left flank from suggestions that they don’t care.... The measures were endlessly political, and very, very George Osborne. The Chancellor is the tactical mastermind of the government and the Cameroon project. In his speech there were all sorts of little quirks designed to outflank and outfox his opponents. Some were clever and well-judged, others could easily blow up down the line." More here.

Fraser Nelson Spectator editor, Fraser Nelson, strongly supports Osborne's overall package: "The Chancellor is a clever political operator – too clever, sometimes – but the result is a cuts package that has surprisingly broad popular support... The phrase “3 percent cut over four years” puts into perspective phrases like “bloodiest cuts since the war/the 20s/since man discovered fire”. Strikingly, in cash terms, the cuts are £23.3bn by 2014-15. I kept hearing this figure of £83bn cuts, which the Treasury refers to, and couldn’t see it anywhere in the CSR.  Turns out the sum is produced by quadruple-counting: the cuts in 2011-12 added to the cuts of 2012-13 added to 2013-14 etc. Brown used this disingenuous tactic to exaggerate spending. Just why the government would want to exaggerate the scale of its cuts I don’t know. But I suppose they are by no means the worst offenders in this regard." More here.

The Telegraph's Peter Oborne did not like the Chancellor's tone: "George Osborne got the tone terribly wrong. Lurking behind Osborne’s very detailed (and mostly fair-minded and sensible) announcements are thousands upon thousands of individual tragedies in the shape of lost jobs and falling living standards. Osborne scarcely seemed to acknowledge or be aware of this." More here.

Peter Hoskin at Coffee House fears another debate about "progressiveness": "Just as they did in the Budget, the coalition have produced a chart showing the impact of the Spending Review's tax, spend and benefit measures on different income groups. In many respects, this is a noble effort: it's a good deal more transparency than Gordon Brown could ever manage in his Budgets. But it also sets a trap for the coalition.... The coalition's opponents will focus on the fact that, say, the poorest people are the second most affected income group. And once the IFS produces its own version of this chart, then we can expect the debate over "progressiveness" to flare up once again – just as it did back in August." More here.

Nick Watt Nick Watt of The Guardian reckons the statement "had the feel of a Brown budget in two key ways": "Osborne rattled through the awkward bits in the way Brown used to read out Britain's growing borrowing requirement at great spend. So today Osborne barely paused for breath when he announced a series of technical changes that will allow an extra £7bn to be cut from the welfare budget. And he left a political flourish until the end when he announced that the welfare savings will allow him to cut departmental budgets by less than Labour's plans. These will be cut by 19% over four years rather than by 20% "implied" in Alistair Darling's March budget." More here.

The Telegraph's Philip Johnston applauds the reduction in public sector jobs: "Removing many back office staff is a good thing because it becomes necessary to deal with people directly rather than split the functions of a service... The fact is that the public sector employs 800,000 more people than in 1997, many of them engaged in developing specifications, writing guidance, drawing up standards, devising targets, enforcing inspections – all in the name of a reform programme that does not work properly. It is madness. As George Osborne said, it is time to restore some sanity." More here.

The BBC's Nick Robinson says today was the opening line of what will be a "long-running political saga": "George Osborne set out the story that he is hoping to see unfold - the deficit tamed then eliminated, welfare reformed, waste cut but spending on the NHS, schools, big transport infrastructure projects and overseas aid all protected. Those who work in the public sector will get paid less and have to pay more for their pension - if, of course, they keep their jobs. And, since we are "all in it together", we will all have to work longer before being entitled to a state pension. It is not the government, however, which writes the whole of this story. The next chapter is likely to examine the consequences of unprecedented cuts in welfare spending... Turn a page or two and we'll find out which jobs and services councils have to cut to save around a quarter of their budgets." More here.

James Forsyth at Coffee House notes that the cuts are not as deep as expected: "The cuts are not as bad as expected because the government has managed to make AME, annually managed expenditure, take much of the strain. The coalition is finding another £7bn from welfare to go with the £10bn of savings announced in the Budget. There is also another £3.5bn coming out of other bits of AME, more than half of which comes from the planned changes to public sector pensions." More here.

Mark Littlewood Mark Littlewood, Director General of the Institute of Economic Affairs says that the Spending Review "may have gone some way to stemming the bleeding", but was not radical enough: "A radical review would have seen some departments abolished altogether, not merely cut by 25% or so – for example the departments of Business, Innovation and Skills, that of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and Culture, Media and Sport could all have been subsumed into other areas. The review also failed to take on the peripheral hand outs of child benefits for over-16s, free TV licences, winter fuel payments and bus passes for affluent elderly people. With the public sector job losses this review implies the challenge now is how to grow the private sector – an absurdly long tax code, maternity leave entitlements, collective pay bargaining and the minimum wage must go.” More here.

Patrick Nolan, Reform’s Chief Economist has a nagging concern that the coalition is “doing the right things but in the wrong way”: "A number of the key departmental budgets – health, schools, aid, science and pensions in effect – are still ring-fenced. This will isolate these services from incentives to provide value for money and undermine the case for reforming them to be affordable in the 21st century. On welfare reform, key initiatives included reforming the Employment and Support Allowance, controlling the cost of tax credits and capping the amount a workless household can receive in benefits. While these may be sensible reforms, the impression they give is of a government squeezing the pips dry on out of work benefits, while the worst value welfare spending is left largely unreformed." More here.


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