Spending Review 2013 – politics trumps planning, again.

So, it appears fairly certain now that the Coalition Government is going to announce – sometime next year – Spending Review 2013.

But, and this is critical, Danny Alexander (Liberal Democrat Chief Secretary to the Treasury) seems to have said this will only be a 2 year Spending Review covering the years 2014-15 and 15-16 (interview in the Guardian).

Multi year Spending Reviews were an innovation introduced by Gordon Brown at the start of the previous Labour government. But the “cycles” of Spending Reviews have been odd, to say the least.

Here’s a list of how they’ve worked out in practice – the figures in brackets are the number of years the Reviews allegedly covered and the second number is what they actually covered (because sometimes they were ‘superseded’ by the next SR).

Spending Review Announced Covering Planned vs actual years
CSR 1998 July 1999-2000 to 2001-2002

3:2

SR 2000 July 2001-02 to 2003-04

3:2

SR 2002 July 2003-04 to 2005-06

3:2

SR 2004 July 2005-06 to 2007-08

3:3

CSR 2007 October 2008-09 to 2010-11

3:3

SR 2010 October 2011-12 to 2014-15

4:3

SR 2013? July or Oct? 2014-15 to 2015-16?

2

What this little table shows is that Government’s of different complexions have been more than happy to ‘juggle’ the timing of public spending plans – both their announcements and their duration – to suit political or other imperatives.

(This is something I find hard to explain to overseas audiences, who can’t believe we have such a “flexible”, and not a law based, system).

SR2013 will be “interesting to put it mildly. The challenges for the Coalition, given how badly their economic and financial plans have worked out in practice is huge. And politically, SR2013 will – whether they like it or not – be seen as part of the platforms of the two parties as the General Election looms.

7 thoughts on “Spending Review 2013 – politics trumps planning, again.

  1. If you mean “énarques” (i.e. graduates of the Ecole Nationale d’Administration – ENA – France established in 1945) there is no British equivalent. Graduates of ENA play an important role in the French public administration, but also frequently in politics and business too. It is a symbol of republican meritocracy not matched by anything in the UK. The top public administration people – top civil servants or “mandarins” – are more usually graduates of Universities – especially Oxford or Cambridge without additional formal training like that provided by ENA.

    The UK had a Civil Service College from the 1970s, which eventually became the National School of Government, but has since been abolished. It was nothing like ENA, which was an elite staff academy – CSC/NSG was always more of lower and middle level civil servant training school. For a brief history see here http://www.guardian.co.uk/public-leaders-network/blog/2011/feb/25/national-school-of-government-no-longer-to-train-civil-servants

  2. I was involved in the last Government’s spending reviews from inside a spending department. It always appeared that Treasury officials didn’t have enough (interesting) to do in the middle of a 3-year SR cycle. So, rightly or wrongly, they created pressure for 2-year intervals. Turnover of Treasury Ministers could have contributed as well – a new Minister always wants something new to do.

  3. As a trainer in government finance (and a previous tutor at the National School of Government) what has been fascinating in the history of spending reviews is their plasticity and ability to flex to the political necessities of the day. Makes teaching them a nightmare as the inevitable question: ‘what happens next?’ can only be answered by: ‘your guess is as good as mine’. Given the difficulties that both the previous administration had and the current one has in keeping to its fiscal rules it is hardly surprising that they choose to keep control of when and for how long they plan government spending. One day – perhaps – the planning system will be set in legislation but until then we can only continue to try to keep up with the twists and turns. I await your book with interest.

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