Wow. The Tories have been talking about austerity. But, understandably, until now they have been less than specific about where they will make cuts. Then Andrew Lansley popped up on the Today programme.
As he defended a Tory pledge to maintain real terms increases in health spending, Lansley said there would be a 10 per cent cut in spending in unprotected departments. It goes well beyond what the Tories have said before. This is the key quote:
There is going to have to be very powerful spending constraint elsewhere across government
We haven’t done a spending review beyond 2011…but we have made it clear where our priorities lie. We are going to increase the resources for the nhs, we are going to increase resources for int dev aid, we are going increase resources for schools.
But that does mean, over three years beyond 2011, a ten per cent reduction in the departmental expenditure limits of other departments. It is a very tough spending requirement indeed.
This is political dynamite. Gordon Brown will actually be able to attack the Tories at PMQs today. Extraordinary.
What makes matters even worse for Lansley is that he said the reduction would be in departmental expenditure limits. These budgets are set in raw cash terms and are unadjusted for inflation. That means that a 10 per cent cut in DEL could end up as a real terms cut of even more than 10 per cent. Ouch.
Conservative Home are already gunning for Lansley over the pledge to protect real terms health spending. I expect David Cameron will be furious for a very different reason.
UPDATE: It isn’t just the 10 per cent. Lansley has also just written a brand new policy on schools spending.
UPDATE: The Tories are attempting to set the record straight. Lansley was talking about “Labour cuts”, apparently. There is an element of truth to this. Beyond 2011, Brown has pencilled in a fierce spending squeeze. Real spending falls and overall DEL is cut by around 7 per cent. Lansley’s defence is that he was simply running through Brown’s own figures. But, of course, he adjusted them to account for maintaining health spending in real terms. His calculation laid bare the consequences of a Tory policy decision. Cameron will now have to live with the political consequences of his health secretary being so honest.