Whitehall cuts 'hide reduction in public services'

Liberal Democrats claimed cuts in public services had been disguised as reductions in the number of civil servants.

Vincent Cable, the party's Treasury spokesman, attacked the "mock battle" between Labour and the Conservatives over waste. He said: "If this waste is so easily available, why hasn't it been dealt with already? Otherwise we would have decent pensions and there would be no university tuition fees. We believe in order to fund priority areas, choices have to be made."

Dr Cable condemned the search for government waste as "evading the true issue" of the need to make tough decisions about priorities.

He told MPs: "What this statement is fundamentally about, is about reducing the rate of growth of public spending and hence we have had this mock battle between the Conservatives' slash and burn and the Chancellor's somewhat more cautious singe and trim approach to public services.

"Conceptually they are both the same. They are arguing you can have lots of good things: more public services, more tax cuts, or both, and it's all going to be funded by this magic ingredient called cutting waste.

"It strains credibility when the Government argues it can suddenly produce a rate of growth of productivity in the public sector of about 2.5 per cent a year, because even the Treasury does not believe in it."

He challenged Mr Brown to show how he was paying for Tony Blair's pledges to increase choice in public services. He called for cuts in industrial and other subsidies to pay for better state pensions, and said "extravagances" like identity cards costing £3bn should be scrapped for increased spending on policing.

Kenneth Clarke, the former Conservative chancellor, said: "The Chancellor will win all the prizes going for sheer brass neck but not for consistent policymaking. He has just announced a sharp reduction in the growth of public spending but tried to make it sound as if he is dispensing largesse in all directions. He tries to make it sound like a pre-election spending spree but in fact he is dealing with the consequences of the last election spending spree."

John McDonnell, a Labour left-winger, asked Mr Brown to meet a delegation from the Public and Commercial Services Union, which represents civil servants. "Civil servants provide an excellent service," he said. "Large numbers of them will now be facing compulsory redundancy and this will have an effect on their lives and future careers and will have an impact on service delivery."

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