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Debate: Should Government stop ring-fencing the NHS, education and foreign aid budgets?



What's going on?

Former cabinet minister Liam Fox has urged the Government to reconsider its pledge to ring-fence budgets for education, the NHS  and foreign aid as the economy continues to falter.

Chancellor George Osborne is expected to announce another round of public spending cuts in his forthcoming Budget.

Those on the Tory right advise drastic measures to reduce the deficit and do not feel any budget should be spared from otherwise swingeing cuts across the public sector.

But Prime Minister David Cameron said today: 'The NHS is not going to be cut by this Government."

Does Liam Fox have a point? Should education, the NHS and foreign aid be cut?

Case for: Efficiency all over

The economy is not getting any better. We must accept that these sacred cows can no longer be kept fat at the cost of other vital areas of public service. Why should the NHS not be subject to the efficiency drive other departments have undertaken? Its current bloated bureaucracy helps nobody: savings could be made without overmuch demonstrable difference to patients. All three protected budgets are political offerings. They make left-leaning voters more comfortable with the Tory austerity project. Mr Cameron should be brave and move with the times rather than further cut spending in other areas, already slashed to an inch of their life.

Case against: Greater good

It's about priorities. Which two areas of government spending effect citizens the most? Few would argue health and education are not right at the top of that list. Over 90 per cent of the population goes through the state school system, and most will fall back on the NHS when ill-health or accident strikes. So protecting these two is both politically astute - suffering services would make voters turn further against the Coalition - and practically virtuous - the greatest good for the greatest number. Aid is more difficult to protect - but the FTSE chief executives who wrote to the Financial Times today pointing out how valuable foreign aid is to our economy make a very strong case that such allocation of resources is more than fruitless altruism.