Thursday, 27 June 2013

Labour unclear on welfare..

BREAKING NEWS: This morning has been dominated by reaction to the Comprehensive Spending Review. On the Today programme, Ed Balls was unable to say whether or not Labour supported the mandatory seven-day wait before people can claim benefits, saying it was too early to tell whether the move would have positive effects and save money. 
George Osborne has just been speaking on Today about the CSR: "This is not an election pitch – this is about moving the economy from rescue to recovery." He rejected the claim that the Conservatives were unconcerned with the plight of the poorest: "We have gone out of our way… to protect those who are most vulnerable, to make sure this is evenly-spread."
Good morning. Danny Alexander takes the stage today to unveil the £100bn infrastructure bonanza that the Coalition hopes will be one of the highlights of the spending review. The good news is that the British Geological Survey's well-trailed report on Britain's bumper supplies of shale gas is published this morning - what a remarkable coincidence. The bad news is that HS2 is going to cost another £8 billion; and the truth is that capital spending isn't budging much, so a lot of this may be necessary, but it's window dressing: the benefits, economic and political, will be for others.
The Chief Secretary is widely feted as one of the government's heroes. The word in Whitehall is that he has consistently impressed with his thoughtfulness and his capacity to mix collegiality with steeliness. Aprofile in the FT (£) this week had an official describing him as "the perfect chief secretary", which could be read in a number of ways; others say he is a Lib Dem Thomas Cromwell and de facto Tory. Today, expect lots of micro detail on roadworks, a new pricing and regulation system for energy extraction, support for HS2 and another push for nuclear. The fear is that it will all sound worthy, and tiresomely familiar.
For a look at the exact effects of the Comprehensive Spending Review on each department, check out our interactive graphic
George Osborne will see the newspaper reaction this morning and think: it could have been a lot worse. Infact (barring the "Shamburger" splash in The Sun) he will be pretty pleased. We splash with "Osborne wields welfare axe" and the news that foreigners claiming benefits will be forced to attend English classes or they will lose the right to state support, a focus shared by the Mail and the Times. To The Guardian, it was a case of "The cuts that keep on coming". The FT's focus is on the £8.1 billion overspend on HS2, while The Independent brand the welfare changes "The Wonga coup".   
We reaffirm the sobering truth that "Mr Osborne’s package will do nothing to dent the country’s indebtedness: by the end of this parliament, overall public spending will still be 44 per cent of GDP. The big decisions about how we live within our means, and the most brutal cuts, have been put off until after the next election." Nevertheless, debate over state spending "is no longer being conducted on Labour’s terms." The Mail are unusually complimentary, depicting Mr Osborne as "the laddie's not for turning". To The Times (£), yesterday was a reminder of the need to unpick the "triple lock" on pensioners, but they warn that "Bigger, bolder and essential reforms have been delayed until the next Parliament." The Guardian fear that "growth is likely to come from the housing market and rising personal debt. The future, in other words, will look a lot like the bad old past." And the FT (£) lament that "the government has been far too timid in reversing the excessive cuts in public investment that it inherited from the previous government. Yesterday’s statement did too little to change that."
Peter Oborne doesn't think Mr Osborne's actions amounted to much more than "cowardice". Peter writes that getting the cuts needed "means targeting pensioners, tackling the National Health Service, shaving foreign aid and seriously cutting the welfare bill." Meanwhile, Alistair Darling says in The Times (£) that "a new welfare contract is needed", criticising the seven-day wait before benefit is paid and the lack of substantive progress on a regional growth fund: "Michael Heseltine’s sensible proposals seem to have been discarded." Rachel Sylvester warns in The Times (£): "This may end up a fast-food spending review — meaty at the time but ultimately not very nourishing and leaving the country needing more."
Rather forgotten in yesterday's Conservative-Labour fight were the Liberal Democrats. Yet, writing in the FT (£), Janan Ganesh believes that they could hold the key to the future of the welfare debate:
Labour’s best hope is that Mr Clegg, who frustrated Tories by refusing to countenance immediate cuts to welfare in this spending round, will insist on a relatively generous cap. His decision will do much to decide the next election.
While other departments are enacting efficiency savings, the same does not seem true for HS2. The £11.5 billion of cuts were almost cancelled out by the £8.1 billion increase in the budget for HS2 to a total of £42.6 billion, reports the FT (£). As £100 billion of infrastructure spending is set out until the end of the decade, we can't afford other projects to suffer from a 25 per cent overspend.
George Osborne announced a plan to amend the situation whereby some schools received more funding per pupil than others. Mr Osborne said he wished to introduce a national funding formula to "fix the historic and unfair differences in funding between schools in different local authorities", reports The Times (£). Under the current system, schools in Leicestershire will receive £4,428 per pupil in 2013-14, while those in Tower Hamlets will receive £8,051, as the FT (£) notes.  
George Osborne's love of fast food is mocked by The Sun, who brand him "Shamburger". The burger Mr Osborne tweeted on Tuesday evening as he was finishing work on the Comprehensive Spending Review came from Byron and, with fries, cost £9.70. But Mr Osborne seems to be a good sport, describing the front page as an "occupational hazard" of the job on Daybreak this morning.

Andrew Selous has since removed this tweet. I wonder why?
@Andrew_SelousMP: Strongly support the loss of benefits unless claimants lean English.

In the Telegraph
Best of the rest
Allister Heath in City AM - Cuts will have to keep on coming
Janan Ganesh in The Financial Times (£) - Osborne sets a trap for Labour on welfare
Jonathan Freedland in The Guardian - George Osborne master of the game of divisive politics
0900: Call Clegg on LBC 97.3.
1030 London: Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander MP will make a statement to the Commons on capital investment in major infrastructure projects.