“There is no magic money tree” declared the former Prime Minister, Theresa May, in answer to a nurse who’d asked, during one of the TV debates in the 2017 General Election, why she couldn’t have a pay rise. Now it appears Boris Johnson hasn’t just found the tree; it’s the size of a giant redwood and in full bloom of fresh and crisp £50 note leaves.
Yes, the new Government is giving the illusion of splashing the cash. Of tearing up the economic stringency we’ve endured since 2010. But is all what it seems? I sadly think not.
Firstly, some of the announcements aren’t new money. Take the decision to allow 20 hospitals, including Tameside General, to proceed with improvements. It’s certainly welcome news, but in actual fact it is a reannouncement of plans already in the pipeline using money the NHS had saved from ‘cost savings’ but the Government hadn’t permitted them to spend.
And on policing, the announcement that the Government intends to recruit 20,000 additional police officers certainly grabs the headlines, but the reality is this same Government was responsible for cutting 21,000 police officers over the past decade. Here in Greater Manchester, since 2010, we’ve lost around 2,000 police officers and over 500 PCSOs.
It is debatable how quickly the extra officers can be recruited (or even whether they can be) but it would only take us back to the numbers we had before David Cameron, George Osborne and Theresa May took a scalpel to our police service.
Then we had a promise of an unspecified £ billions for education to level schools up. This from the Government that has actually cut school budgets in real terms by 8%. But it’s worse than that: every school in Tameside has seen a per-pupil funding cut, and in some schools by astronomical figures. Our children are being taught in leaking and overcrowded classrooms once again. The under-investment is clear to see with some schools even proposing cutting the hours they operate.
And this is the real point. I suspect there’s a General Election in the offing. Certainly the Johnson administration, with a notional Commons majority of just 1 MP (and that’s assuming Democratic Unionist Party support), isn’t going to survive for long. That’s why there will be a one year Spending Review, instead of the usual four year settlement. Appear to splash the cash ahead of an election, only to pair it back significantly afterwards. None of the promises I’ve outlined are actually costed for the long-term.
Ultimately, this Government caused the damage to our public services. I for one do not trust them to be the ones to fix them.