Cabinet warns Brown not to 'hype' crucial spending plans

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The Cabinet has warned Gordon Brown to avoid "hype" and "spin" when he unveils the Government's three-year spending programme today.

The Cabinet has warned Gordon Brown to avoid "hype" and "spin" when he unveils the Government's three-year spending programme today.

Senior ministers made a last-minute plea to the Treasury not to repeat the mistakes made when the last spending blueprint was published two years ago. They warned that the "extra £40bn" the Chancellor trumpeted for health and education raised public expectations about improved services, which the Government has struggled to fulfil.

The "extra" £21bn for health and £19bn for education included "double counting" and money already in the pipeline.

Ministers issued their warning at last Thursday's cabinet meeting, government sources told The Independent yesterday. Those demanding a different approach today are understood to have included John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister; Jack Straw, the Home Secretary, and David Blunkett, the Education and Employment Secretary.

Their intervention was a rare challenge to the Chancellor's authority and a clear sign of concern at the highest levels of the Government that its "spinning" to the media can backfire. A cabinet source said: "The big beasts all said there should be no funny money and no double counting this time.The message was clear and there was a chorus of approval round the table."

Another minister said: "The feeling was very strong that Gordon should just give it to us straight. People want to know what the real extra money is and precisely what it will achieve."

Mr Brown did not attend last Thursday's meeting because he was making a speech in Scotland. But Andrew Smith, Treasury Chief Secretary, who has played a key role in the negotiations over the three-year spending plans, was present.

Another government source said: "It was a case of 'message received'. But Gordon was already well aware of the problem. He will not be promising extra squillions of pounds."

The Chancellor will outline the programme to his cabinet colleagues this morning before unveiling it to the House of Commons this afternoon.

Last night, Mr Brown's aides insisted he had used traditional methods when he presented the 1998 spending review, which were used by all ministers, and said "a lot of mythology" had grown about his statement since.

An ally of the Chancellor dismissed as "garbage" the idea that there was any "row, wrangle or rebellion" at the cabinet meeting and dismissed the discussion as "nothing out of the ordinary".

But the Chancellor was more cautious in his March Budget, when he announced that the budget for the National Health Service would rise by 5.6 per cent a year on top of inflation, but did not put a cash figure on the injection. He is expected to stick to that formula by announcing percentage rises for other services today.

Mr Brown is expected to increase public spending by about £43bn. The big winners will include education, the police and transport. An anti-crime package, to be outlined tomorrow by Mr Straw, will include a pledge to expand the number of police officers to the 127,000 level Labour inherited from the Tories.

The Government's problems on the issue of law and order deepened last night when the annual crime figures showed a bigger than expected 16 per cent rise in violent offences, a record increase. Overall, the number of crimes rose by 3.8 per cent to 5.3 million in the 12 months to March.

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