Mark Leftly: Osbornism - one small step for the man, one giant leap for the economy... ideally

Outlook As an economic paradigm, Osbornism has reached maturity: the theory has taken a long time to craft but it has now developed to such an extent that its full force has been unleashed in practice.

The Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR) yesterday and the details of the Government's £100bn infrastructure plan today crystalise the two essential components of an 'ism' that the Chancellor, George Osborne, hopes will become every bit as enduring as Thatcherism.

These facets are a leaner, more efficient Government committed to modern ideas – be it unprecedented levels of outsourcing departmental work to huge corporate entities or new sources of energy like shale gas – coupled with a reliance on private money to build the country out of its economic mire.

Like most economic theories, Osbornism relies on a perfect world that bears virtually no resemblance to the complicated, nuanced realities of everyday life and society.

That's not a criticism. It is, though, an acknowledgement that Mr Osborne has followed the well-trodden path of having to ignore the irritations of a historical mess of regulations and contradictory cultural norms – as well as irrational human behaviour – so as to forge a set of consistent, coherent ideas that will guide his thinking from here on in.

Let's start with that eye-catching infrastructure spending. Forgetting Mr Osborne's dodgy use of gross figures over net, the reality is that actually getting the money spent is not so easy.

The planning system has been reformed time and again, but is still a hugely problematic obstacle for builders in a country determined to protect its countryside.

There are too many protests, planning appeals and regulations for it to be assumed that infrastructure spending can simply be turned off and on like a tap.

Also, most of these projects are reliant on attracting pension funds and the like to invest additionally in new roads, bridges and sewerage systems. The reality is that these funds tend only to buy and sell those type of assets once the things are already built, when any risk to the project – and therefore their money – is virtually nil.

But Mr Osborne needs that money from the outset.

Then, to describe the National Infrastructure Plan as a 'plan' should be against the Trade Descriptions Act: it is a list of projects, from the £600m Mersey Gateway bridge linking Runcorn and Widnes to London's mighty Crossrail, which yesterday received the green light for a second phase from north to south London.

This reminds me of when Ian Hislop was asked on Have I Got News For You what he thought of a particular novel and he reprimanded the presenter that it should have been described as a "collection of words" not a book. A list is not a plan.

However, this list does illustrate Mr Osborne's increasingly firm belief that the dawn of a new Victorian era of great engineering feats will cement his economic legacy and create long-lasting physical manifestations of his daring ideas.

Maybe there will be more detail today on turning the list into a genuine plan of action but, given how the Government fundamentally failed to reform the Private Finance Initiative with 'PF2' last year, this must be doubtful at best.

The other plank of Osbornism, stripping down Government, naturally involves bringing private sector nous into Whitehall to drive down costs. Even reform of civil service pay is an attempt to introduce a structure that is more similar to that found in commercial organisations.

Outsourcing en masse has long been inevitable: before it was gobbled up by Babcock International in 2010, VT Group, under the astute leadership of its then-chief executive, Paul Lester, was purposely moving into a position that would see it win work that the Government could no longer afford to do in-house.

However, the ambition of the Coalition is absolutely breathtaking. Officials at the Pentagon are, I am told by sources in Washington DC, shocked that the Ministry of Defence is willing to outsource the Bristol-based agency that buys warships and missiles.

A previously announced 1 per cent boost to that £14bn equipment and support budget was confirmed in the CSR, but that doesn't take away from the point that Government wants to buy weapons and essential kit far more cheaply. Consortiums are currently being formed to bid for this lucrative contract – and all of them seem certain to be led by US engineering consultants.

Think about the political gamble here: the Defence Secretary, Philip Hammond, and Mr Osborne are willing to let one of the most sensitive aspects of national security be run by business, most likely overseas behemoths. This is extraordinary – even more so if this unparalleled, globally unproven idea actually works.

Although the Chancellor has not been so public in trumpeting just how unique his ideas are in the way of the Iron Lady, Osbornism is the boldest economic programme put before this country since the 1980s.

There is no doubt Mr Osborne has dared to be great. The problem is he might not be right.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Homeless Veterans charity auction: Cook with Angela Hartnett and Neil Borthwick at Merchants Tavern
charity appeal
Amir Khan is engaged in a broader battle than attempting to win a fight with Floyd Mayweather
boxing Exclusive: Amir Khan reveals plans to travel to Pakistan
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
Ched Evans in action for Sheffield United in 2012
footballRonnie Moore says 'he's served his time and the boy wants to play football'
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Carlton Senior Appointments: Private Banking Manager - Intl Bank - Los Angeles

$200 - $350 per annum: Carlton Senior Appointments: Managing Producer – Office...

Carlton Senior Appointments: San Fran - Investment Advisor – Ind Advisory Firm

$125 - $225 per annum: Carlton Senior Appointments: San Fran - Investment Advi...

Sheridan Maine: Commercial Finance Manager

Up to £70,000 per annum + benefits: Sheridan Maine: Are you a qualified accoun...

Sheridan Maine: Regulatory Reporting Accountant

Up to £65,000 per annum + benefits: Sheridan Maine: Are you a qualified accoun...

Day In a Page

Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture