Sunday, March 26, 2006

The Budget

I've been thinking of whether there's anything original to say about the Budget and have concluded that there is little new in it and, hence, little new to say.

Martin Wolf's commentary is, as ever, excellent.

The main thing that struck me about the speech is how strange it is to hear Brown boasting that he has spent vast amounts on X public service. Standard procedure in charity, business and the rest of life is to boast of doing something with little. Return on capital employed is the accountancy measure, charities compete to suggest that they are keeping costs down and improving the life of a fisherman so much for so little money by supplying him with nets. Gordon Brown doesn't talk about the value he is getting us for our money because the reality is that the value is very low. While measuring productivity in public services is difficult it is probably falling in the public sector (as Redwood mentioned in his generally good speech in the Budget debate) while rising at a decent rate in the private sector. Gordon Brown's boasting of huge amounts of "investment" is a boast of waste so long as he fails to take reform remotely seriously.

He has noticed that we face challenges, from India and China and other developing nations, but his response consisted of lots more funding for education (no mention of reform) and lots of window dressing. Does he really think that changes to the means of distributing academic grants (moving the decision from council to university) will make a serious difference to whether or not we take the opportunities of new markets?

Cameron's response was pure politics but I don't see that as a problem. The detail of the weaknesses in the chancellor's numbers was best left to the more technical MPs; Cameron should stay focussed on a message that can get through.

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