Frontline public services are going to be cut as the axe falls on Whitehall budgets, the Cabinet Office minister, Francis Maude, has admitted.
The frank statement by the minister responsible for streamlining the Civil Service is at odds with persistent claims made by other government figures, from David Cameron downwards, that the huge budget cuts in prospect can be implemented without real damage to the services the public values most.
Mr Maude said that, as far as possible, the cuts will fall on the "internal processes" of running government departments. But he added: "We're not going to be able to eradicate this huge deficit that Labour has left us without there being some impact on frontline services, but the obligation that rests on all of us is to make sure we take all the costs, to the maximum extent possible, out of our internal processes."
In the past, ministers have tried to give the impression that the huge cuts announced in George Osborne's emergency Budget – £6.2bn in this financial year alone, and 25 per cent off most department budgets in four years – would not hurt vital areas of the public services such as police numbers or class sizes in schools.
In his Mansion House speech last month, the Chancellor said: "We have launched a programme to identify £6bn of in-year savings, while protecting the vulnerable and the quality of key frontline services." And during the last of the televised election debates, Mr Cameron promised: "I will do everything I can to protect the frontline services."
Mr Maude took to the airwaves yesterday in the hope of dampening the impact of a warning given by Scotland Yard's assistant commissioner, John Yates, that the "eye-watering" cuts to be imposed on the Home Office in the next four years were likely to increase the risk of a terrorist attack.
Speaking to a private session of the Association of Chief Police Officers in Manchester, Mr Yates warned that the Metropolitan Police faced having to cut £87m from its budget, with another £62m coming out of the budgets of other anti-terrorist units across the country. But Mr Maude appealed to Mr Yates and other public servants not to spread alarm.
"I'd like to avoid public servants doing this kind of shroud-waving in public," he told the BBC. "It's going to be pretty important for people who are managing big public services like police forces to focus on cutting out unnecessary costs, driving down costs, being as efficient as they possibly can before they even begin to contemplate talking about alarming the public in this kind of way."
But the former home secretary, Alan Johnson, promised that Labour would oppose all cuts to anti-terror police budgets. "We will all be in greater peril if we cut back on the ability of the police and the other agencies to defend this country from terrorists," he said.