Counting sheep, I’ve found, rarely works on those occasions when you lie awake worrying about the state of the world. The latest tome from the Treasury might be more effective.
Long-term opportunities and challenges for the UK: analysis for the 2007 comprehensive spending review is a pithy little 156-page volume that sets the scene for the next round of spending cuts.
In a nutshell (and this hardly does justice to its breathless pace) it does a quick world tour around poverty, economic opportunity, technological innovation, global security, demographic shifts and climate change. The shock news is that they're all going to influence the way we live in the next decade: and, more to the point, what the Treasury will spend our money on.
What this document does is give us a quick flash of the next few years’ spending priorities, and it’s no surprise to discover there’s nothing you haven’t seen before. An ageing population means we need to adjust the tax base (work longer) and change the balance of public services. Threats to security, real or feared, mean we’ll spend a lot more on policing. Climate change will make our weather more expensive than ever.
As for the economy, globalisation and the expansion of China and India are presented as glorious opportunities. While this may be true, there’s a revealing little note that this ‘may also result in periods of insecurity for some individuals’. Thus the government finesses the risks of market failure.
The solution - as ever - is that before Gordon Brown wields the scythe, there must be a host of reviews. Lyons, Barker and Eddington are lining up to make their pronouncements; there’s the Leitch review of skills; and a review of economic development and the regeneration and renewal of deprived neighbourhoods. Meanwhile, watch out for a new set of public service agreements, as well as the review of the role of the third sector in social and economic regeneration.
Is it good news, bad news or no news? One thing is certain: the risks we face will only increase. But ministers are right to stress the opportunities too. To make the most of them, the inevitable pain of a tight spending round needs to be eased by a real devolution of power to enable spending to be aligned as closely as possible with communities’ real needs.
Julian Dobson, editorial director, New Start Online magazine