To the defence of G.O.D.

29 June 2015

Gus O’Donnell does not need my support. If anything, it is exactly the other way around. Nevertheless I was glad to leap to his defence at Reform’s event to launch its first Spending Review report, last Tuesday.

The former Cabinet Secretary made a lot of recommendations for the better handling of Budgets and Spending Reviews. In passing, he said that various taboo policies should come back into discussion. He mentioned the zero rates of VAT on food and other items and the zero rate of Capital Gains Tax on the main family home. He also said that he should pay prescription charges. Being aged just over 60, he is eligible for free prescriptions.

(Previous Reform work on VAT and prescription charges is available here and here.)

Bernard Jenkin MP, Chair of the new Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, raised an eyebrow at these suggestions. He asked a rhetorical question: “Have you ever stood for elected office?” This brought me to my feet.

I suggested to Bernard that Ministers in his own Party were pushing the political envelope and were right to do so. Theresa May had dispelled the mantra that more police officers were necessary to fight crime. George Osborne had argued that the richest in society should not be eligible for Child Benefit. Bernard graciously accepted that and emphasised the importance of leadership on the part of politicians.

Bernard got the biggest laugh of the event when he said to Gus O’Donnell, “I can’t help thinking that you should have a senior job in Whitehall.” I was most struck by G.O.D.’s point that it is strange to divide Budgets (dealing with revenue) from Spending Reviews (public spending) from the general statements of what a Government wants. He suggested a two day event at the beginning of the Parliament. On the first day, the Prime Minister would set out the ambitions and objectives of the Government. On the second, the Chancellor would frame public spending and taxation around that mission. It would allow a better examination of whether public spending is achieving its objectives, which is at the heart of the Reform Spending Review recommendations.

Andrew Haldenby, Director, Reform

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