I heard a talk given by the LSE’s Tony Travers last week, in which he presented the latest figures and his own projections about the impact of the spending cuts on local authorities.
In amongst the reminders of what we already know – total UK public expenditure is likely to fall by between five and ten per cent in real terms by 2014-15 – there was a point which I hadn’t heard before and which I found really quite striking: if this indeed transpires, then we’ll simply be back to 2006-7 spending levels. This is because public spending increased by fifty per cent – fifty per cent! – in the first decade of this century, in real terms.
Now I don’t want to be glib about this, because of course the increase in spending between 2000 and 2010 came after decades of disinvestment in public services; and the cuts will already have to be much heavier for many sectors (local government is facing 20-25 per cent cuts, for example); and as Travers himself pointed out the reductions will have to be substantially bigger if there isn’t the two per cent rate of growth in the economy as a whole that the forecasts assume there will be; but still, the comparative scale did make me feel a tiny bit better about things.
As a postscript: the psephologist in me was fascinated by some of Travers’ commentary on the general election results: for example I hadn’t realised that the combined Tory/Labour vote has been in decline for many years now, a trend continued at this election, which means that hung parliaments could well be here to stay; and also London was apparently affected by another interesting phenomenon, which is that when local and general elections are held on the same day, there’s a large ‘latent Labour vote’ that comes into play which stays at home when it’s just local elections. Which explains why in the capital Labour did much better than expected. Interesting, huh?