Spending Review Framework: Plus ca change

So, now we know the ‘how’ if not yet the ‘what’ of the cuts in public spending. “The Spending Review Framework” (Cm 7872) published June 8th sets out how the radical new Spending Review will operate, and it’s rather similar to the old one introduced by Labour in 1998.

The period covered by the Spending Review will be the whole Parliament – in effect a change from 3 years to 4 years (2011-12 to 2014-15). The chances of forecast spending by any individual department for Year 4 (2014-15) actually being what appears in the Spending Review this autumn are remote, to put it mildly.

Public Service Agreements (PSAs) – the other half of the New Labour quasi-conractual Spending Review system – have been dropped. But in their place we’re getting ill-defined (as yet) Departmental Business Plans and objectives, and “key statistics and data” (which sounds suspiciously like performance reporting to me). And there are even some cross-cutting reviews.

Some fundamental questions will be asked (nine to be precise) about what government should be doing – which sounds suspiciously like the ‘zero-based’ Spending Reviews that supposedly took place in 1998 and 2007 under Labour.

The old PSX Cabinet Committee is being replaced with… the PEX Cabinet Committee. The only notable thing about this is that it has only one Lib Dem on it (Danny Alexander) and includes for some strange reason the Foreign Secretary (WIlliam Hague) – not the sort of job usually associated with foreign ministers given 99% of what PEX will be doing is about domestic policy. He clearly doesn’t have enough to do.

And lastly – the grand consultation. As far as I can see this consists of inviting a few people from think tanks, academia, the trade unions, etc to Downing St or Chequers for a quick chat (been there, done that, with the last lot). Nothing really radical like… consulting Parliament on how our money is spent? Strange how in Europe we steadfastly defend the right of Parliament to be told first about spending plans but back home it gets, as usual, sidelined.

So all-in-all and thoroughly damp-squib in terms of anything radical. Apart for the spin and hype, which of course we have never seen before.

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