Spending cuts

We're hearing a lot about cuts at the moment.  I think most people accept that the country's budget deficit is unsustainable and that it's necessary to constrain public spending.

While the NHS is being protected, we won't know the impact on most government departments until the Government's spending review is completed in October.  But the Chancellor has indicated that other areas of spending could be cut by around 25 per cent in real terms over the next four years - some more, some less.

What strikes me is how, after years when spending more was always presented as the answer to every problem, there's an immediate assumption that less cash must mean worse services.  I think the public know that industrial sums of money have been wasted by bloated government, but this doesn't prevent the apocalyptic headlines.

I've already cut this year's police budgets - by less than 1.5 per cent of what the Government gives to police forces every year.  Yet even this relatively small reduction produced howls of outrage and prophesies of doom from my political opponents - the same ones, of course, who bequeathed us the budget deficit in the first place.

Yes, there will have to be deeper cuts than this.  But as the independent Inspectorate of Constabulary and Audit Commission said in a recent report, over £1 billion of savings a year can be found while protecting the frontline.  Savings can be made through greater force collaboration, smarter use of the workforce and a reduction in bureaucracy.

We need to start asking the right questions - not just about how much money is being spent, but how well.  Why, when there are record numbers of police officers in this country (over 140,000), are only 11 per cent of them visible and available to the public at any one time?

Of course, public services must be well funded.  But they must also be well run.  When money is tight, organisations must drive out unnecessary cost and protect their core business.  Far from being worse, more efficient services are better.  When their money is spent more wisely, it is the public who benefit first.

Christopher N Howarth