UK Political Parties' Spending Plans Range From 'Highly Sketchy' to Non-Existent

Spending plans
A row of piggy banks adorned with the colours of Britain's Union Jack flag are displayed in a souvenir shop in London. Darrin Zammit Lupi/REUTERS

An award-winning thinktank has accused the leading political parties of having "highly sketchy" spending plans and have said that the British public are facing not only a fiscal deficit, but a "candour deficit" too.

The Balance Report, published today by the Resolution Foundation, gave a damning overview of the Conservatives, Labour and Liberal Democrats post-election fiscal plans, pointing to the severe lack of detail offered by all three parties.

Matthew Whittaker, the chief economist at Resolution Foundation who worked on the report alongside economic analyst Adam Corlett, told Newsweek: "The conversations the parties are having are very much around big numbers and doing something about them, but they're not giving the details of which departments or which households will be affected."

"We've heard all the parties talking about fiscal targets, but none of them have yet provided the details that allow us to work out who and what will shoulder the burden of the pain. Will we be facing tax rises for some, or welfare cuts for others, and what will Whitehall look like after the next round of cuts?"

Whittaker went on to explain that for each party there is a different reason why their spending plans are so uncertain. "With the Tories there are questions of political plausibility. The chancellor has said that he'll deliver a further £12 billion of welfare cuts, but has only specified where £3bn of that will come from. That leaves the open question of where the other £9bn is going to come from – and if it's even possible. Without setting out the details, we can't say whether voters will buy into such an approach. And even if the Conservatives do deliver £12bn of welfare cuts, they would still have £25bn of tightening to do to meet their overall target. The question then is, can they really deliver all of that by making further cuts to already much-reduced departmental budgets?"

Whittaker explained that the problems with Labour's strategy are more economic than political. "With Labour it's more a question of fiscal credibility. They've said they want to ensure the current account is in surplus 'as soon as possible' in the next parliament. By excluding the capital budget from their target, they have a lot of wriggle room relative to the Conservative position. But the timing is obviously unclear - asap could mean anything from year one, to the end of the parliament. If they're cutting less and going slower, then it's likely to be politically easier to deliver than the Tory plan, but critics will question how fiscally prudent it is. It means the stock of debt will be higher, which has implications for debt interest payments, and there's the danger that any slip in their timetable means we enter the next parliament with a deficit still in place."

While Labour did not immediately respond to Newsweek's request for a clarification of their fiscal policy a Tory spokesperson was at pains to combat the report's assumptions, telling Newsweek: "Over the last four years we've shown that we can take the difficult decisions needed to get the deficit down. When we came into government the country was borrowing over £150bn a year and had the second biggest structural deficit of any advanced economy." When asked how the Conservatives' plans for the economy differed to Labour's they replied: "We have a long-term economic plan to deal with the deficit and secure a brighter future for Britain – Labour will only tax, spend and borrow more."

Whittaker went on to say that the Lib Dems "appear to be sandwiched between the Conservatives and Labour," and that "crucially, they've not specified which bits of capital are in scope and which are out – so there's a big question mark over quite what their target entails". However, when Newsweek spoke to a Lib Dem spokesperson they insisted that "We're the only party to have spelt out what our fiscal rules would be for the next parliament", before going on to damn Labour's plans as "reckless" and label Conservatives' fiscal policy as "harsh".

Although not included in the report Newsweek asked whether they had looked into Ukip's spending plans. "We did look into Ukip, but we couldn't find any detail or any modelling for their spending plans. They are vaguely pointed towards something of the Tory model but really we had nothing to go on."

The authors have made it clear that the report is not an attempt to offer a "definitive evaluation". Whittaker told Newsweek: "With everything we've done we've had to build it on interpretation - it's designed to be indicative." Despite this, their findings highlight the severe lack of clarity currently being touted by the political parties in terms of their spending plans as they fight for success in next year's election.

UK Political Parties' Spending Plans Range From 'Highly Sketchy' to Non-Existent | World