Leading article: Cuts that smack more of desperation than strategy

Share
Related Topics

After the turkey, it's time for sales. For retailers, an opportunity to pile high and sell cheap; anything to shift unwanted stock and free up space. That same retail-based mentality seems to have seized the minds of coalition ministers as they move into 2011. They, too, plan on starting 2011 with January sales.

As we report today, the Government is trying to sell off 140 nature reserves, ranging from the Lizard in Cornwall to Lindisfarne in the North-east, which Natural England has managed until now. The potential savings appear tiny. Together, these outstanding sites cost the taxpayer less than £10m a year.

The same bean-counting attitude is reflected in other cost-cutting measures destined to take effect in the next few weeks. The Booktrust charity, which has provided children under 11 with free books since 1992, is about to lose its entire Government grant, saving taxpayers £13m a year.

Meanwhile, music teaching in schools faces an uncertain future with the planned withdrawal in March of the ring-fence of £82m a year around the subject.

Not all these planned sales or cuts are as straightforward as they first appear. The Lizard peninsula and the land around the shrine to St Cuthbert in Northumberland are not being sold off to developers. The Government simply wants to shift the management and costs of these reserves to equivalent tried and trusted independent bodies such as the RSPB.

The scrapping of ring-fenced spending around music is not exactly a cut. The Education Secretary, Michael Gove, insists that the idea is not to reduce the total amount of money that is given to schools but to give head teachers more freedom to decide how best to use the financial resources that they have been allocated.

There is a respectable philosophical case to be made for such freedom in decision-making and it is one that clearly appeals to a thinking man like Mr Gove, one of the brightest minds on the libertarian wing of the Conservative party.

The problem is that what sounds good on paper often turns out less satisfactorily in practice. Music teachers, for one, fear that giving schools more liberty to manage their funds will almost certainly lead most schools to divert money away from supposedly non-essential subjects such as music towards other subjects that are closer to the core of the curriculum.

An additional problem with these cuts and changes to the way that money is allocated is that they will not make a significant difference in the larger scheme of things. They will not help Britain to reduce its deficit. The total annual cost of the nature reserves in question is no larger than many a banker's recent Christmas bonus. The same can be said for the grant awarded to Booktrust, the threat to which has drawn angry complaints about cultural vandalism from a number of leading writers. These all look like savings being made for the sake of making savings.

There is, of course, hope that some of the proposals for 2011 will end up in the Whitehall wastepaper basket. The worry is that the final decision about each grant will depend mainly on the decibel level of the row that it generates, and that if one grant is saved, some other equally useful, not very expensive Government-financed body – perhaps one with less powerful supporters than Booktrust – will be left to take the hit instead.

Except for among a handful of deficit deniers, there is acceptance of the need for substantial reductions in public spending if Britain's economy is to be put on a stable footing. But the case for cuts is not strengthened when, as in these examples, it is presented with more zeal than discrimination.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Merger and Acquisition Project Manager

£500 - £550 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client are currently...

SEN Teaching Assistant

£50 - £55 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: SEN TAWe are looking to recrui...

Technical Manager – Heat Pumps

£40000 Per Annum dependent on experience: The Green Recruitment Company: They ...

Test Job

TBC: Test Recruiter for iJobs: Job London (Greater)

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

A long way to go before we reach Dave Eggers's digital dystopia

Memphis Barker
 

August catch-up: dress to impress, words to use more often, and the end of the internet

John Rentoul
Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo music review: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it

Kate Bush shows a voice untroubled by time

A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
Robot sheepdog technology could be used to save people from burning buildings

The science of herding is cracked

Mathematical model would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
Tyrant: Is the world ready for a Middle Eastern 'Dallas'?

This tyrant doesn’t rule

It’s billed as a Middle Eastern ‘Dallas’, so why does Fox’s new drama have a white British star?
Rachael Lander interview: From strung out to playing strings

From strung out to playing strings

Award-winning cellist Rachael Lander’s career was almost destroyed by the alcohol she drank to fight stage fright. Now she’s playing with Elbow and Ellie Goulding
The science of saturated fat: A big fat surprise about nutrition?

A big fat surprise about nutrition?

The science linking saturated fats to heart disease and other health issues has never been sound. Nina Teicholz looks at how governments started advising incorrectly on diets
Emmys 2014 review: Can they genuinely compete with the Oscars

Can they genuinely compete with the Oscars?

The recent Emmy Awards are certainly glamorous, but they can't beat their movie cousins
On the road to nowhere: A Routemaster trip to remember

On the road to nowhere

A Routemaster trip to remember
Hotel India: Mumbai's Taj Mahal Palace leaves its darker days behind

Hotel India

Mumbai's Taj Mahal Palace leaves its darker days behind
10 best pencil cases

Back to school: 10 best pencil cases

Whether it’s their first day at school, uni or a new project, treat the student in your life to some smart stationery
Arsenal vs Besiktas Champions League qualifier: Gunners know battle with Turks is a season-defining fixture

Arsenal know battle with Besiktas is a season-defining fixture

Arsene Wenger admits his below-strength side will have to improve on last week’s show to pass tough test
Pete Jenson: Athletic Bilbao’s locals-only transfer policy shows success does not need to be bought

Pete Jenson: A Different League

Athletic Bilbao’s locals-only transfer policy shows success does not need to be bought
This guitar riff has been voted greatest of all time

The Greatest Guitar Riff of all time

Whole Lotta Votes from Radio 2 listeners
Britain’s superstar ballerina

Britain’s superstar ballerina

Alicia Markova danced... every night of the week and twice on Saturdays
Berlin's Furrie invasion

Berlin's Furrie invasion

2000 fans attended Eurofeurence
‘It was a tidal wave of terror’

‘It was a tidal wave of terror’

Driven to the edge by postpartum psychosis