The Chancellor's 2010 Comprehensive Spending Review: The facts

This was the moment we've all been waiting for, the moment when George Osborne outlined the public sector cuts and reallocation of spending that would bring UK plc back from the brink of bankruptcy. And Osborne, Cameron, Clegg et al weren't pulling any punches.

"Today is the day when Britain steps back from the brink," began Osborne. "The day we confront the bills from a decade of debt. I will outline a four-year plan to put our public services on a sustainable footing.

"It is a hard road but it leads to a better future. It will bring years of ever-rising borrowing to an end. It will ensure what we buy only what we can afford and that we do not saddle our children with the cost of the interest on the interest on the interest that we were not prepared to pay ourselves."

It's rabble-rousing stuff and, indeed, the rabble was frequently roused. The Speaker of the House was forced to chastise the over-excited politicians at several points during Osborne's speech.

The 2010 Spending Review attempts to fulfil a number of objectives: to reduce the deficit; minimise public spending, especially on internal administration; protect the NHS, "the embodiment of fair society"; and foster economic growth - especially in the areas of science, technology, green industry, and education and skills.

"We have largest structural budget deficit in world," said Osborne. "We're currently paying £120m a day, that's over £40bn a year in debt interest. This money would better serve our citizens than the foreign creditors we borrowed from."

"The Comprehensive Spending Review has given us the first clear idea of just how bad the structural deficit is," says Beatrice Bartley, managing director of staffing and recruitment agency 2B Interface. "It is staggering that we are now paying over £44bn a year in debt interest alone. However, if the Coalition is serious about its spending plans then the good news is that the structural deficit itself will be eliminated by 2015. This is ambitious but it will keep the UK on a firm financial footing, gain the confidence of the international financial community and ensure that we are not confronted by a Greek-style nightmare."

To achieve the aim of clearing the structural deficit, Osborne has announced savings of £6bn by slashing resources in government departments: £3bn more than originally proposed. "We are squeezing every last penny out of waste and administration costs," says Osborne. "Administrative costs for every government department will be cut by a third."

Osborne is also aiming to reduce headcount in the public sector by 490,000 jobs over the next four years. QUANGOs across the board have been scrapped and every government department will have to present a business plan next month to highlight future savings.

Jonathan Elliott, MD of business price comparison service Make It Cheaper, has mixed feelings about the sweeping cuts. "On the plus side, protection for community Post Offices is good news for rural businesses," he says. "But on the minus side, the QUANGOs to be abolished include Consumer Focus and Consumer Direct which is bad news for SMEs when it comes to getting a fair deal on utilities such as gas and electricity."

Alastair Luff, managing director at ABM, a specialist provider of intelligence, investigation and criminal justice software solutions, says: "Significant budget cuts across the public sector will result in a very different landscape to that we have enjoyed previously and will no doubt have an effect on the private sector.  There will undoubtedly be tough negotiations between these two sectors on grounds of cost and service levels."

And Osborne's ambitious plans stretch beyond our shores. The Chancellor has pledged to help UK businesses up their export game, and means to "attract significant overseas investment, in partnership with the UKTI". In order to make Britain a great place to do business, several projects are going ahead: Crossrail is alive and kicking, as are plans to further upgrade the tube network in London.

"The positive news in the CSR is the continued commitment to major capital investment projects," says 2B Interface's Bartley. "And this is not just about Crossrail, it is about a host of new schemes throughout the UK costing some £30 billion.  For our global competitive position infrastructure projects such as those outlined by the Chancellor will be critical in maintaining our global position and prepare us for the eventual upturn."

Next, Osborne moved onto the issue of the banks, drawing boos and catcalls from the crowd. "I understand the public anger that the banks, which were appallingly regulated over past years, and caused so much damage to the economy, are now contemplating huge bonuses," he said.

"Our objective in taxing banks is clear. We don't want to let them off too easily or drive them abroad. Our aim will be to extract the maximum sustainable tax revenues from financial services industry."

This proposal involves a permanent levy on the banks, to be decided by the BoE. A press release from the British Bankers Association illustrated the industry's reaction to the levy: "Banks fully understand they have a role to play in the UK's economic recovery. The permanent levy on banks was previously announced and was, therefore, not unexpected. We clearly need to see the full detail of today's announcements to be able to assess their impact on the UK banking sector and our attractiveness as a global financial centre.

"Decisions taken today will have an effect on the whole industry and to remain competitive UK policies need to be in step with those elsewhere. Financial services currently contribute around £24bn in taxes every year so we are pleased the Chancellor said he wishes to balance taxation with the attractiveness of the UK as a global financial centre and the need to retain jobs. "

In addition to making sure the banks pay their dues, Osborne is going after much smaller prey. The government will be investing some £900m on chasing tax evaders. "This will recoup £7bn in lost revenues," says Osborne. "We will also step up the fight to catch benefit cheats: £ 5bn a year is lost through benefit fraud."

There will also be significant cuts to the welfare budget. Osborne has announced £7bn will be generated by implementing a cap on benefits and a single child benefit scheme. "It takes 16 working family's tax bills to fund one out of work family," he said. "From now on, no family that doesn't work will receive more in benefits that those families who do work."

Osborne also announced plans for a green investment bank. The government will kick-start the initiative with a £1bn cash injection but the Chancellor hopes that private investment will help the fund to grow.

But, for Helen Holland, founder and CEO of the London-based Reptile Group, there was a conspicuous lack of information from Osborne on how existing banks were to be encouraged to help small businesses:  "What we are seeing is a painful but necessary re-adjustment to the realities of our economy after 13 years of Labour mismanagement and out-of-control borrowing and spending," she says. "The key issue now is to grow the private sector to re-balance the economy but this won't happen unless the banks start lending to small businesses which it is very, very clear they are not.  The government should take steps to ensure that they do."

One item in Osborne's speech will be music to the ears of SMEs, however: renewed support for the national apprenticeship scheme. The government wants to create 75,000 more apprentices a year through investing in training and skills.

Simon Lawrence, CEO and founder of Information Arts, says wryly: "I welcome the increased focus on apprenticeships - that will be needed as some school leavers won't now be going to university because of the increase in fees."

Lawrence also supports the increase in retirement age: "Personally I think we are losing a great deal of experience unnecessarily by having a retirement age of 65 - particularly where individuals want to continue to work."

Osborne finished his lengthy speech with a short but pithy statement: "The decisions we have taken today bring sanity to our public finances." The chancellor was clearly running out of breath but finished on a high, saving one nugget for last. "Instead of the planned 25 per cent cuts to government departments, we are only asking for 19 per cent." The house erupted in applause. It was a savvy final hurrah for the Chancellor, who capitalised on the House's goodwill to add: "I look forward to your votes."

This brought Osborne's 2010 Comprehensive Spending Review to an end. But the devil's in the detail. Whether these cuts will truly deliver results, without damaging UK plc, remains to be seen.

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