Ministers were shooed off chauffeur-driven cars as Britain’s new coalition government announced public spending cuts worth £6.2b on Monday and warned of more to come in a bid to plug a massive budget deficit.
In what were described as “cuts with care,” the Conservative-Liberal Democrat government ringfenced schools, hospitals, defence and foreign aid while targeting a swathe of high-spending ministries — led by the ministry of business — for cutbacks. The government, sworn in earlier this month, also scrapped consultancies, government IT programmes and publicly-funded British NGOs that work for ministries. Britain’s record £163b deficit is the largest in Europe.
“This is the first time this government has announced difficult decisions on spending — it will not be the last,” said Chancellor of the Exchequer (finance minister) George Osborne. “Over the summer there does need to be a conversation in the country about what we can afford going forward.”
Keen to set an example before further deeper cuts expected in an emergency budget on June 22, the government said ministers will no longer have a dedicated car and driver — a prized perk — and public servants will be discouraged from travelling first class. Prime Minister David Cameron has already begun walking to work and is spending some of his own money getting the kitchen in his new Downing Street home refitted.
Osborne told the BBC the steps will not only avoid the prospects of a Greece-like sovereign debt crisis but also help the country grow by increasing exports to India and other countries. Britain, he said, wanted to sell its products — particularly in aerospace and the creative industries — to India, China, Brazil and Indonesia.
But workers’ unions and shadow finance minister Alistair Darling of the opposition Labour party strongly criticised the cuts, saying they would slow down the economy after the first signs of growth this January following the nation’s worst recession since the Second World War.