The war of words between Labour and the Tories over who can slash more of public services stepped up this week.
The Labour government wants to cut £47 billion over the next four years.
On Monday Gordon Brown announced plans for “efficiency savings” of an additional £3 billion over the next four years and a clampdown on the “culture of excess”.
This is on top of the £9 billion worth of cuts the government has announced.
Among the battery of “efficiency saving” measures unveiled ahead of the pre-budget report on Wednesday, Brown outlined anticipated cuts of £1.3 billion from apparently “streamlining central government”, through a reduction in central targets and a review of government quangos with a view to cutting £500 million.
Brown also promised another clampdown on public sector pay.
These cuts are outlined in a rather surreal document called “Putting the Frontline First”.
Public services apparently will be “shaped and driven” by “users” as the government strives to be “one of the first in the world to open up public information to help inform citizens about their choices”, Brown says.
A commitment to doing everything online could cut £600 million. The plan says “Digitalising public services enables them to be delivered in ways that are more convenient.”
So the plan is to run benefits claims over the internet. Jobseekers’ Allowance and child benefit services will become online only.
In the NHS the plan is to cut £6.9 billion “by increasing levels of self care”. That means keeping people away from doctors and hospitals.
Other measures include merging or abolishing more than 120 arms length bodies and axing “expensive” civil service early retirement terms, reducing redundancy pay.
Brown refused to say how many jobs would be lost, saying, “We have got to a position where we have got the smallest civil service since the 1960s.
“So there are further changes to be made – I am not putting a figure on that today.”
He did, however, say 15,000 workers are being relocated from London and the south east of England.
The government is flogging off a range of assets from April. Things up for sale include the Dartford crossing, the Tote, the student loans company, Ordnance Survey and the Land Registry.
At a local level we are offered the Community Assets Programme which “empowers communities” by selling off local authority assets to private companies. The report hails as a success the selling off of a library in the north east and it reopening as a private sector community centre.
The looming election is producing a bidding war. Rhetoric against bankers is being used to cover for nasty attacks on the livelihoods of millions of workers.
After Darling makes his cuts announcement on Wednesday the Tories are set to announce what they would cut.
Labour and the Tories are simply taking turns, since both agree on the necessity of cuts.
Both parties want to make workers pay for the crisis. They both think that banks have to be bailed out but there is no need to keep jobs.
But the question is whether the scale of resistance is enough to stop the attacks both the Tories and Labour are announcing now, and the ones that are already happening.
In the public sector, New Labour is pushing ahead with cuts. It isn’t waiting until after the election. The resistance to the government can’t wait either.
Fake bank crackdown
Alistair Darling, the New Labour chancellor, is supposedly preparing a crackdown on “extraordinarily high” bankers’ bonuses when he makes his pre-budget report on Wednesday.
“We are not going to be held to ransom by people who believe you can pay extraordinarily high bonuses without regard to what’s going on,” Darling said.
The move comes after senior managers at bailed-out RBS threatened to resign if they did not get a bonus.
But any tax would be temporary and designed to make sure it did not affect the profits of the banks.
Darling has ruled out a tax on the banks themselves. “We’ve just spent taxpayers’ money trying to make the banks stronger: it doesn’t make much sense to take it back again now,” said one Treasury official.
So while public services face cuts, the banks are sitting on billions of pounds of our money.