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Danny Alexander: 'We take impact of cuts seriously'

Treasury Chief Secretary Danny Alexander insisted today that proper assessments would be made of the impact of "painful" spending cuts due to be announced next month.

He said that although the Government's plans were driven by the need to reduce the budget deficit, they would "embed greater fairness" in the tax and welfare system.

Mr Alexander said it was important to understand the effects of the changes planned as part of the comprehensive spending review.

He was speaking during a question and answer session with his Cabinet colleagues on the final day of the Liberal Democrat conference in Liverpool.

The emergency Budget earlier this year was criticised in some quarters for disproportionately affecting women and the poorest in society.

But Mr Alexander said an equalities impact assessment would be carried out along with other checks to measure the effects of the spending proposals.

He said: "I will make sure all these sorts of assessments are carried out, not just by the Treasury but by the departments who are putting forward the spending ideas. I'm sure my colleagues here and colleagues in other departments will make sure that when they are making decisions about spending measures that the relevant impact assessments are undertaken.

"It is very important we do understand those impacts so that we know the effects that the measures we are considering will take.

"It's not just the equalities issues ... we need to understand the impact on different regions of the country. We know that different parts of the country have different degrees of dependence on the public sector. We need to understand those issues too.

"We need to understand the environmental impacts, looking at the impact of the decisions we make on carbon dioxide emissions.

"All those things need to be understood so that we make the best decisions that we can."

But, he added: "None of those things mean that the decisions that we make are not going to be difficult, in some cases painful.

"We have to remember that the reasons we are making those decisions is to stabilise the economy, get our public finances under control and be able to move the country forward in a more prosperous way in future."

Pressed on whether the results of the assessments would be published, Mr Alexander did not answer, but said: "Many of the measures that we have already taken - lifting nearly one million low-paid workers out of tax, re-introducing the earnings link for pensioners, many of the other changes we have already made - actually embed greater fairness in the system.

"Things that could have been done in the last 13 years and weren't done. So I think we can hold our heads up high on that question."

Business Secretary Vince Cable said the impact of changes in student support would need to be examined closely.

He said: "There will be cuts and we are quite open about that but we have got to make sure that if the system of student support changes then it is done in a fair way that reflects the concern we have for people on low incomes and people who aspire to go through university, that we look at further education in the same way.

"There are a lot of people who go through FE colleges for whom this is a lifeline and who come out of their schools unprepared for adult life and need extra support.

"We have got to make sure when we do these very difficult decisions that there is a proper assessment of the impact on the distribution of income."

Asked about commitments to ensuring 0.7% of GNP was spent on development aid, Mr Alexander said: "It is morally the right thing to do. We have great problems in this country, there are financial problems, there are social problems that...we need to address.

"That is as nothing to the problems that people in the countries we are talking about suffer from.

"It is right therefore to do it, it is also in our own interests."

Mr Cable said: "One of the big differences between what is happening now and what happened in the 1980s is that we haven't lost our moral compass."

He said he had seen polling data a year ago saying the public wanted to see cuts in aid, prisons and "anything to do with single mothers".

"The fact that the coalition Government has set itself against that...and is setting priorities on the basis that they are right, as well as being in our national interest is a very, very important statement and goes way beyond the fairly modest amount of money involved."

Asked what his most "surprising discovery" was on entering office, Mr Cable spoke of the "relentless, intense process of meetings and being constantly under scrutiny".

He said: "Now that's not a complaint, we're well-paid and this is what we worked towards, but it's a description.

"I think the one thing I'd advise when you're coming into this job is to keep fit."

Mr Cable said one of his most "interesting" days as a Cabinet minister was a visit to the Aston Martin factory.

"They took me out, took me behind the wheel and let me drive at 150mph round the circuit," he said. "And that made it all seem worthwhile."

Mr Alexander cited Communities Secretary Eric Pickles as his "surprising discovery".

He said: "He's someone who I didn't know very well but had preconceptions about - and he turned about to be the most formidable Cabinet ally in driving forward localism and decentralisation in Government."