Mr Brown is right to spend more, but he must also spend wisely

Share

Well underspun, Mr Brown. The Chancellor's statement was low in hype and gimmickry, so we could see more clearly the strengths and flaws of his plans.

Well underspun, Mr Brown. The Chancellor's statement was low in hype and gimmickry, so we could see more clearly the strengths and flaws of his plans.

First, the strengths. The substantial, sustained increases in health and education spending are vital to Britain's future as a civilised and economically efficient nation. The really striking boost to spending on transport - the percentage figure is high because spending starts from a much lower base - is also long overdue. Decades of underinvestment in road and rail are holding back both our economic effectiveness and our quality of life.

There are a number of other welcome spending increases. On defence, it is time to declare that the peace dividend from the end of the Cold War has now been cashed. We have to recognise that a foreign policy in defence of human rights wherever Britain has a responsibility is going to be expensive - and the parallel increase in the international-development budget is part of that. Small things such as the extra money allocated for the BBC World Service and for the Food Standards Agency should also be applauded.

But the weaknesses were glaring, too. The overall picture was one of alarming advance on all fronts. It simply cannot be the case that, in all main areas of public spending, more money is needed. Of course, because of the demands of health, education, transport and defence, there will have to be what the Chancellor called a "step change" upward in total spending. But the only cut Mr Brown offered yesterday was £1bn in savings on fraud and errors in social security. And there, we suspect, we are back in the land of funny money and double counting.

There is a terrible political danger in such across-the-board generosity. It sends the wrong signals about the Government's determination to target money where it can do most good. It almost invites voters to return to the bad old pre-Thatcher ways of assuming that the Government should simply throw taxpayers' money at every problem. Yes, transport needs a big increase, in capital spending especially; but in the long run, we, as drivers and commuters, have to recognise that, if we want less-congested roads or faster public transport, then we, as users, are going to have to pay for them.

Michael Portillo, the shadow Chancellor, mocked New Labour politicians for having claimed that they were going to be wise spenders, not big spenders. But Tony Blair and Gordon Brown have in fact put such spin behind them: the point is that they will be praised for being bigger spenders, but only if they can also prove themselves to be wise spenders.

That is what Mr Brown failed to do. Some excellent innovations were built on, such as the diversion of education funds directly to schools. But where were similar radical ideas for the health service? What about giving patients the right to spend their tax money on going private if the NHS cannot treat them quickly?

Mr Brown spoke a lot of targets, public-service agreements, penalties and inspections - all the old devices of state bureaucracies. Without convincing new mechanisms to ensure that the extra money really is "tied to output and performance", there is a danger that, by the middle of the next parliament, he will be remembered as a good old-fashioned Labour splurge-and-spend Chancellor.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: PMLD Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: PMLD Teacher A specialist primary school i...

Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Day In a Page

 

Political satire is funny, but it also causes cynicism and apathy

Yasmin Alibhai Brown
The super-rich now live in their own Elysium - they breathe better air, and eat better food, when they're not making beans on toast for their kids

The super-rich now live in their own Elysium

They breathe better air, eat better food, take better medicine
A generation of dropouts failed by colleges

Dropout generation failed by colleges

£800m a year wasted on students who quit courses before they graduate
Entering civilian life 'can be like going into the jungle' for returning soldiers

Homeless Veterans appeal

Entering civilian life can be like going into the jungle
Sam Taylor-Johnson: Woman on top

Sam Taylor-Johnson: Woman on top

Fifty Shades of Grey director on bringing the hit to the screen
As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch