Conservative leader David Cameron's morning didn't start well: on the very day he was due to explain how the Conservatives will lop £12bn off the public spending budget, the FT's front page suggested that the Tory plans will require 40,000 public sector job cuts in 2010. Not really a vote-winner among those currently working for the Governemnt in some capacity (and that's a lot of voters). Cameron naturally denied this today, arguing that the savings would come from IT, office costs and recruitment freezes, but the Government has seized on it gleefully. No doubt this will be a political football for a while yet - but we can't help feeling that by private sector standards, this is not a hugely ambitious cut we're talking about here...
After taking a battering from Labour in the last few days about their 'back of envelope' calculations, the Tories wheeled out their favourite cost-cutter Sir Peter Gershon today to explain where this £12bn - which will fund their promise to reverse the NI hike - is going to be saved. Gershon had previously told the FT that controls on public sector recruitment (like using fewer contractors and not filling empty posts) could save anything up to £2bn in the current financial year. But Colin Talbot, a professor at Manchester Business School, reckoned this translated into 20,000 to 40,000 job losses. Suspiciously vague, you might argue, but great headline fodder.
However, Cameron insisted today that it wasn't a question of job cuts; instead there would be hiring freezes, with advertised jobs left unfilled (and since the public sector created over 20,000 jobs in the last quarter of 2009, you can see why that would save a few quid). And that's not the only thing on Gershon's radar: he reckons that some £9.5bn can be saved by cutting IT spend, renegotiating supplier contracts and hiring fewer consultants. 'I don't think it's particularly challenging to ask government to save £1 out of every £100 it spends', Cameron told the Today programme.
Relative to the savings private sector companies have had to find this year, that's certainly true. The actual sums involved here are much larger, but that presumably creates even greater inefficiencies to correct. Besides, in this month's MT, Andrew Wileman explains how we can cut £70bn from the public spending bill - so £12bn must be doable.
Equally though, the private sector cuts have been painful. So it's a bit disingenuous for the Tories to claim they can cut spending like this without anyone noticing the difference. Although given how many voters work for (either directly or indirectly) for the Government, we suppose it's (disappointingly) predictable.
In today's bulletin:
Cameron denies claims of 40,000 public sector job cuts
Cadbury tests public support with Cocoa House chain
Have the politicians got it wrong on paternity leave?
Editor's blog: Let's hear it for middle managers
A Traveller's Tale: Syria's uncertain future