D-day here for public spending
THE Chancellor will today give the first indication of which services will be sacrificed as the coalition Government tries to balance the books.
George Osborne was due to make his statement to the House of Commons about the Comprehensive Spending Review at lunchtime today, ending months of speculation over where the axe will fall.
Government MPs have been warned that the statement will contain some details about departmental budgets – but there are likely to be few details about individual projects until civil servants have checked the figures.
That means there are unlikely to be any details about individual schemes in the immediate wake of the announcement, although some could follow over the next few weeks.
In East Anglia some of the largest projects under the spotlight are traffic infrastructure schemes.
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Speculation is mounting that the �1.4 billion new A14 road between Cambridge and the west of Huntingdon could fall victim to the axe, but the green light could be signalled for the last single-carriageway section of the A11 around Elveden to be dualled.
Other transport schemes that remain up in the air are the proposed upgrade of the cross-country rail line from Felixstowe to Nuneaton, including the installation of a new curve at Ipswich for freight trains, and the long-awaited proposals to build a loop line at Beccles to allow hourly services on the East Suffolk line.
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Councils are not expected to get the full details of the cuts they are facing until they receive their four-year settlement on November 30, although the size of the budget for the Department of Communities and Local Government should give them a fair indication of the threat they face.
The NHS and schools have been told they are not facing cuts – although the education sector will be looking to see if there is any indication that they will be able to build new buildings following the cancellation of the Building Schools for the Future programme during the first weeks of the new government.
Suffolk County Council deputy leader Jane Storey said she was expecting little more than a general indication of the way the government was thinking in the Chancellor’s speech.
She said: “We really are not looking at getting any details at this stage. They will come later. But we know the government is looking at very tight spending curbs over the next four year.
“We should get our budget for the next four years when the government makes its settlement at the end of next month and we are not expecting it to be easy at all.”
Ipswich MP Ben Gummer said MPs had be warned not to expect detailed proposals about their constituencies immediately after the statement.
He said: “We have been told to expect the details to emerge over the next few weeks as they are considered and announced by the individual departments.”
Bosses at Network Rail are also not expecting an instant response. Both the major infrastructure programmes in Suffolk had been agreed by the previous government but had then been called back into the spending review.
Most observers believe the cross-country upgrade will go ahead because it has attracted a considerable amount of European funding.
The loop at Ipswich, costing �35 million, is one of the last sections of the upgrade and it is not expected to be abandoned.
However the �4 million Beccles loop could be in more danger – Suffolk County Council has agreed to pay �1 million towards the scheme – but there are fears that if it does not go ahead within the next two years when the line is being resignalled, the chance of carrying out the work could be lost for a generation.
Opposition councillors in Suffolk are bracing themselves for bad news.
Official opposition leader Kathy Pollard, from the LibDems, accepted that there would be bad news: “I think people are expecting that and just want to get it over with,” she said.
And county council Labour group leader Sandy Martin was worried that local authorities could face the toughest cuts of all in the review.
He said: “Of all the ministers in the spending round, the one who seems keenest to accept the cuts is Eric Pickles and that is very worrying.
“Governments – of whatever shade – have always seen making life difficult for councils as an easy option because they hope voters will blame the local authorities.
“Evidence in elections suggests that is not the case, but I think councils will get hammered again this time anyway.”