CUTS in spending on public services that mainly affect people in need are moving “too fast and too far,” the finance ministers of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland warned the government yesterday.
The Conservative Party’s “broken austerity programme” is a severe risk to public services and an urgent meeting should be held ahead of Chancellor George Osborne’s spending review on November 25, they added.
The cautionary letter sent to Chief Secretary to the Treasury Greg Hands was signed by Scotland’s Deputy First Minister John Swinney, Arlene Foster of the Northern Ireland executive and Jane Hutt of the Welsh government.
It said: “The ongoing austerity plans … continue to reduce public spending in the UK too fast and too far, and present unnecessary risks to our public services.”
According to the government, the forthcoming spending review will “set out how to invest in priority public services and deliver the £20 billion further savings required to eliminate Britain’s deficit by 2020.”
Mr Osborne’s summer Budget detailed deep cuts to welfare totalling at least £12 billion over the next four years and pledged to save a paltry £5 billion by tackling tax dodgers over the same length of time.
Mr Swinney said: “The government’s broken austerity programme is reducing household income, damaging economic confidence and weakening public finances. That represents a clear threat to our public services.
“The recent Budget was misguided and deeply unfair, with disproportionate cuts falling on the poorest and most vulnerable sections of society while giving tax breaks to the better-off.”
The Tories have vowed to “protect” funding for national security, the NHS, education and foreign aid, but many of these sectors are rapidly being dismantled and privatised.
Other government departments will, for the first time, be told to draft two plans for massive cuts by 2020 — one to reduce spending by 25 per cent in real terms and the other to slash it by 40 per cent.
“We’ll deliver more with less,” Mr Osborne said as he pledged to pay off the national debt of at least £1.56 trillion.
The “unsatisfactory” timing of his review was criticised by the ministers of the devolved governments. The short notice is causing “significant operational challenges,” they said, and has not given them enough time to set their own budgets.
A Treasury spokesperson said Mr Hands met the finance ministers regularly and would continue to engage with them in the lead-up to the spending review.