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Business Comment

David Prosser: Cuts, cuts and more cuts

Outlook Two numbers that ought to frighten you (and that you certainly didn't hear during the Chancellor's pre-Budget report on Wednesday). They are 16 per cent and £15bn.

The first of these numbers is the total three-year cut to spending on departments that the Government has not promised to ring-fence as it tries to cut the budget. Both parties have promised to safeguard education, health, the police and overseas aid budgets, which means other departments have to take more than their fair share of spending cuts – 16 per cent, on average, between 2011 and 2014, the Institute for Fiscal Studies calculates. The second number, meanwhile, is the sum of the savings of which the Government has yet to spell out the detail. There is no dispute that to hit its targets, spending must come down by £36bn and the IFS says only £21bn of this cash can so far be accounted for (and that's assuming the Government is able to hit its £12bn efficiency savings target).

Where then will the axe fall? We won't find out until after the election, but the prospects for house and road building do not look good – social services, defence (leaving aside increases to spending on Afghanistan) and even green measures are vulnerable too.