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

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Manager - OTE £40,000

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This web-based lead generation ...

Tradewind Recruitment: Intervention Teacher Required To Start ASAP.

£125 - £150 per day + Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: A 'wonderful primary ...

Tradewind Recruitment: Maths Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Our client is an 11-16 mixed commun...

Recruitment Genius: PHP / Drupal / SaaS Developer

£32000 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A rapidly developing company in...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Benedict Cumberbatch attends a special screening of his latest film The Imitation Game  

Benedict Cumberbatch race row: What's the actual difference between 'coloured' and 'person of colour'?

Matthew Norman
Pressure is growing on Chris Grayling to abandon the Government bid to advise Saudi Arabia on running its prisons (Getty)  

What in sanity’s name is Chris Grayling doing in the job of Justice Secretary?

Matthew Norman
Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness
Homeless Veterans appeal: Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story

Homeless Veterans appeal

Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story
Front National family feud? Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks

Front National family feud?

Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks
Pot of gold: tasting the world’s most expensive tea

Pot of gold

Tasting the world’s most expensive tea
10 best wildlife-watching experiences: From hen harriers to porpoises

From hen harriers to porpoises: 10 best wildlife-watching experiences

While many of Britain's birds have flown south for the winter, it's still a great time to get outside for a spot of twitching
Nick Easter: 'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

Nick Easter targeting World Cup place after England recall
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
As provocative now as they ever were

Sarah Kane season

Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore