All three parties attacked over deficit honesty

Counting the pennies? Cuts are coming, whoever forms the government.
Counting the pennies? Cuts are coming, whoever forms the government.

By staff

Britain's leading financial thinktank has criticised all three parties for not being more honest about the spending cuts they would have to inflict after the general election.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) said all three party leaders had been "reticent" during the campaign when asked how they would cut down the country's deficit.

"Over the next four years starting next year (2011-12), Labour and the Liberal Democrats would need to deliver the deepest sustained cuts to spending on public services since the late 1970s," said Robert Chote, IFS director.

"While starting this year, the Conservatives would need to deliver cuts to public spending on public services that have not been delivered over any five-year period since the Second World War."

The institute calculated that if Tory plans to ring-fence certain spending plans, such as the NHS and international development, were abided by, other departments would have to cut their budgets by £63.7 billion by 2014/15.

Only 17.7% of those cuts had currently been specified by the Conservatives. Labour had specified just 13.3%, but the Lib Dems came out best, having specified 25.9%.

Liberal Democrat Treasury spokesman Vince Cable said: "The IFS clearly shows that the Liberal Democrats have gone further than any party in identifying the savings that will be needed to tackle the structural deficit.

"The Conservatives have pledged to make the biggest cuts to spending since the Second World War without coming clean about where the axe will fall."

Mr Chote added: "Repairing the public finances will be the defining domestic policy task of the next government.

"For the voters to make an informed choice in this election, the parties need to explain clearly how they would go about achieving it. Unfortunately, they have not.

"The opposition parties have not even set out their fiscal targets clearly. And all three are particularly vague on their plans for public spending. The blame for that lies primarily with the government for refusing to hold a spending review before the election."

The report comes on the same day that Labour's morning press conference saw a senior minister harangued by journalists for refusing to go into details about what they would cut after the general election campaign.


Politics @ Lunch

Friday lunchtime. Your Inbox. It's a date.

Newsletter update