It’s official – the Budget ‘red book’ contained a glaring error about NHS efficiency savings and thus the Chancellor (obviously inadvertently) misled Parliament.
The Budget stated:
“Budget 2010 confirms that the NHS will deliver annual efficiency savings of £15 to 20 billion by 2013-14.” (Para 6.14, page 90 – my emphasis).
The error is including the word ‘annual’ – these are cumulative savings over the next four years NOT annual savings. Department of Health officials have confirmed to me that their understanding is they have to save £15-£20bn in total over the four years up to 2013-14 – i.e. about £3-£5bn a year. Treasury have yet to comment on their mistake.
Treasury has gotten into hot water over this sort of thing before – a few years ago they habitually announced spending and savings in (usually unspecified) cumulative totals to make them sound bigger. After strong criticism from the Treasury Select Committee they more or less stopped doing it – but now they seem to be at it again. But this time, as consequence of their ‘spin’ they’ve even managed to confuse themselves over what’s annual and what’s mutli-year savings. Treasury always claims it is the elite of the civil service with the finest collection of minds in Whitehall. Pity they can’t get something as simple as this right then. I await their response with interest.