Labour 'cannot afford to undo coalition spending cuts in next government'

Pair Of Scissors

Labour cannot afford to undo the coalition's cuts in the next government and must expect to be unpopular, one of the party's most senior finance spokesmen will say on Friday.

Chris Leslie, the shadow chief secretary to the treasury, will say some of the spending decisions "will be the toughest faced by an incoming Labour government for a generation" if Ed Miliband wins the next election.

In a message addressed to his own party as much as potential voters, the MP in charge of reviewing Labour's spending plans will say he is "not heading into this expecting popularity, quite the opposite".

"We won't be able to undo the cuts that have been felt in recent years, and I know that this will be disappointing for many people. A more limited pot of money will have to be spent on a smaller number of priorities. Lower priorities will get less."

All government departments in the next Labour government will face fundamental questions as never before, he will say.

Leslie's speech at the Institute of Chartered Accountants is an update on Labour's "zero-based" spending review, which is a pledge to examine every prospective penny of public spending. He will say Ed Balls, the shadow chancellor, and Jon Cruddas, who is in charge of reviewing policy, entirely agree that ideas for the next government have to be "funded and achievable" in the tight economic circumstances.

He will say that Labour does not disagree with the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats about the scale of the challenge facing the economy, but he will stress Labour's different ways of confronting the problem and highlight examples of poor coalition decisions.

These include the decision to withdraw funding for the A14 upgrade before reinstating the project at a higher cost three years later, cutting funding for roads maintenance before creating a "potholes challenge fund", and introducing a bedroom tax that ended up shifting costs on to local authorities.

He will also promise to set out budgets for different departments and agencies over a number of years so they can plan for the future, rather than reviewing spending every year.

"Labour will get the current budget into surplus and national debt falling as soon as possible in the next parliament," he will say, echoing Balls's pledge from last year's party conference.

Labour's shadow treasury team has repeatedly emphasised its commitment to fiscal responsibility over the last few years, with Balls asking the government's spending watchdog to audit all of its tax and spending commitments before the next election, a desire likely to be vetoed by the Conservatives.

In a separate process to the spending review, Cruddas has been conducing a series of policy reviews that will come to a conclusion at a national policy forum in July. The party has already unveiled plans to freeze energy prices, build 200,000 homes a year, abolish the bedroom tax, cap rent increases, promise GP appointments within 48 hours and link the minimum wage to median earnings.

Powered by article was written by Rowena Mason, political correspondent, for The Guardian on Thursday 29th May 2014 22.00 Europe/London © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010