The 2013/07/19 at 12:16
Stéphanie Salti, in London
When the British coalition came to power, it had hoped to limit austerity to 2015. But the weakness of the British economy is forcing David Cameron to make further cuts to the spending budget and to prolong this spate of lean times until 2017-2018. At the end of June, the Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne announced a new 11.5 billion-pound slash in public spending that will take effect when the new tax year commences in April 2015, in other words one month before the general elections.
The different ministries have not received the same treatment: education, international aid and public health have largely escaped from cuts unlike other departments that have seen drops in budget ranging from 6 to 10 %. The Departments of Justice and of Rural Affairs, the Treasury and the Council of Ministers are to undergo drastic cuts of around 10 %. On the other hand, the budget of the Department of Transport will amount to 9.5 billion pounds, while its operational expenses will be reduced by 9 %. According to economists, austerity is being maintained and the announcements made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer do not modify the country’s economic prospects in any way.
To make this bitter pill easier to swallow, the coalition government followed up this news with the announcement, 24 hours later, of a massive injection of money into infrastructures. Ambitious on paper, 70 % this 100 billion-pound (118 billion-euro) programme will be going to transport, namely the relaunch of the HS2 high-speed line between London and either Manchester or Leeds, that continues to stir debate in Britain. Roads will be another priority, to which 28 billion pounds will go, whereas the rail network will also be receiving 9 billion pounds to support the continuation of the Crossrail project – a regional express rail network to service greater London. Three billion pounds will be invested in new housing while 261 schools are also to be renovated at the cost of ten billion pounds.
The government’s roadmap also includes investment in energy projects such as the construction of a nuclear plant at Hinkley Point, the first since 1994. The Labour opposition, as well as a certain number of trade organisations, immediately issued warnings against these grand declarations. Twice since 2010, the Cameron government has announced colossal plans – including one comprising 500 projects for a sum of 250 billion pounds – that have not been followed up. “Infrastructure projects are too often promised and too rarely delivered in this country, and that cycle must be broken,” observes Adam Marshall, Director of Policy and External Affairs at the BCC.
“If these announcements are to translate into short-term confidence, medium-term construction jobs and long-term competitiveness, the Whitehall machine must be judged by the number of diggers on the ground, not strategies and press notices.”