BALLS FIGHTS CUTS
But needs to deliver more from current investment
Ed Balls, the Education Secretary, knows a bit about macro economic issues and has been, when he was at the Treasury, at the epicentre of the yearly Departmental wrangles and horse trading over Departmental budgets.
He also knows more than most about the parlous state of public finances, so it requires chutzpah of a high order for him to stake an early claim, with Chancellor Alistair Darling, (according to the FT) for an extra £2.6bn for the DCSF over three years to boost education spending. Spending cuts will be severe across government, even if the pain is shared quite evenly.
The more departments are spared the axe, self-evidently the deeper the cuts for the other Departments. According to the FT acceding to Mr Balls’ request, which amounts to a 4 per cent cumulative increase for his department’s budget, would mean reductions of 12 per cent elsewhere.
Would his cabinet colleagues wear this, it seems doubtful. Balls knows the form and knows that Darling is unlikely to accede to his demands so it looks as if Balls is positioning himself politically. He should, of course, be ensuring that his Department gets more bangs for its taxpayers’ bucks and builds on the impressive investment it has received over the last 10 years. But it is much easier to ask for more funds, rather than to address the more demanding task of delivering Departmental savings and efficiencies and to make the necessary cuts.
Nobody believes that the DCSF and its supporting quangocracy is not wasting public money, in some areas at least , and there is much to the claim that current funding could be better utilized to deliver better outcomes.
Not least by outsourcing more work and managing procurement and commissioning better.
Darling knows that he has to make cuts across the board in the order of 10-15%.
It is no help to him or the Government, more generally, that an individual Minister makes a very public spectacle of special pleading. Whatever happened to collective responsibility? There is of course a distant possibility that Balls might get his way given that he is at the centre of Browns inner circle. In which case there is a real danger of very public cabinet splits in the run up to the election. Not, one might suggest, good politics.