Sean O'Grady: In Chancellor's 'Axe Factor', which cut will you vote for?

Share
Related Topics

What would you rather see closed – your local library or the swimming pool? Although no Simon Cowell, George Osborne has unveiled "the axe factor" and warned of "tough decisions ahead". Like contestants in a TV talent show, different government programmes, from nursery education to training schemes for the unemployed will, in effect, be offered to the public for their verdict.

No one is quite sure which arm of the state will be acclaimed as the new Susan Boyle, or if the Department for Work and Pensions will unexpectedly turn jobseeker's allowance into the new Jedward. In any case the Government has already decided some of the winners: the ring-fenced areas such as overseas aid and NHS spending, and a potentially expensive commitment to restore the earning link for old-age pensions.

What was absent from the great national debate Mr Osborne launched was the option of raising taxation, and in particular VAT. Most City experts believe that a hike in VAT from 17.5 per cent to 20 per cent is a near certainty to be announced in the emergency Budget in two weeks' time: few think that the Government has much chance of accelerating the reduction in the deficit without this and other revenue-raising measures.

Such is the scale of the crisis that the choices the public will have to make are inevitably unpalatable. Should child benefits disappear? Or that hole in the school roof stay leaky for another year? Or should our nuclear deterrent to be cancelled? Or a longer wait to get granny into a care home?

Coalition ministers hope that carrying the voters and the unions along with harsh but unavoidable decisions will make political sense. The problem is that ring-fencing spending on the NHS, overseas aid and the armed forces and restoring the earnings link for pensions leaves little room for manoeuvre.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies predicted cuts of up to a third in departmental budgets which have not been ring-fenced – and that was on the Labour government's plans. Additional cuts of around a fifth will be required in some departments: but the notion of cutting the transport budget by half is silly.

The danger is that the £60bn in annual cuts now being searched for – 10 times the size of the cuts announced recently – may be politically and practically impossible to find, even without the union resistance that is likely to follow.

So before long the national consultation on spending cuts may be amended. Ministers may end up asking the public whether they would like to see higher student fees or VAT on books. Museum charges or grubbier parks? A fee to see the GP or fewer social workers for child abuse cases? Do we want to sell municipal golf courses or the remaining school playing fields to the developers?

Tough decisions indeed.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Recruitment Consultant / Account Manager - Surrey / SW London

£40000 per annum + realistic targets: Ashdown Group: A thriving recruitment co...

Ashdown Group: Part-time Payroll Officer - Yorkshire - Professional Services

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful professional services firm is lo...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Nicola Sturgeon could have considerable influence over David Cameron in a hung parliament  

General Election 2015: What if Cameron were to end up in hock to the SNP?

Steve Richards
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before