The politics of the next four years will be about saving to exactly the same extent that the politics of the last four have been about spending. Interdepartmental cuts battles will replace those over investment. Alliances will be built around where axes will fall. And ministers will create contrasting political narratives over the right way to wield the axe, just as Blairites and Brownites bashed eachother over reform. Recent weeks have seen some early marking of turf—for instance Andrew Adonis’s pre-emptive interview in the Independent trying to save high speed rail. It continues in this morning’s paper as Peter Mandelson (who now, it seems, make such decision) saying that Labour would protect the defense budget.
So the question of the moment is how to save lots of money. In last month’s Prospect, we carried an article by David Halpern of the Institute of Government. Halpen mentioned something called the Funamental Savings Reviews— a review carried out during the latter days of the Blair government by himself and a team of other officials in the Prime Minister’s Strategy Unit. (Halpern was at the time the unit’s Deputy Director.) For a brief period i too worked at the same unit, and my former colleagues used to whisper about the FSR’s contents….
It contained, I was told told, strong an imaginative stuff to save money accross every area of Government, with savings in the billions in areas like further education, defense and self-care in health. Blair announced the review, and it was originally to be published publically. But in the end its contents were kept secret, and while some PMSU documents have since been leaked—most famously the document about Tony Blair’s “secret plan to break up the treasury—this one has never come out. And so it sits, in a folder, on a network drive, somewhere in the bowls of the Cabinet Office.
Last month, during the publciation of Brown’s abortive relaunch document (which, coincidentally, was also put together by a team at PMSU) the Fundamental Savings Review was mentioned in an editorial in the Times, which i’m guessing was written by Phil Collins, Blair’s former speech writer and now Times leader writer. But apart from that the existence of the review has gone unmentioned. Of course, an incoming Tory government (assuming they win) could just ask to be…