Gordon's English NHS Priority
In one of his last acts as chancellor, Gordon Brown apparently slashed the NHS hospital building and equipment budget in England by almost a third, from £6.2 billion to £4.2 billion. That’s quite a big cut, isn’t it? He did not feel it either prudent or necessary to tell anyone about this at the time, the Financial Times reported yesterday.
Upon opening the door to No 10 he announced the health service was his “immediate priority” – which, I suppose it was, although maybe not in the way in which you and I (or the Labour party, for that matter) might have expected. But then “it is my immediate priority to cut as much money as is humanly possible from the health service without anyone noticing, in order to balance the books” has a rather counterintuitive ring to it.
More interestingly still, while he cut the English NHS capital expenditure budget by two billion quid, he left the budgets for Wales and Scotland intact. One is forced to conclude that it is because he likes Scottish and Welsh people more than he likes English people and is thus less bothered if we die. Or perhaps he’s scared of getting a good kicking where it hurts from Alex Salmond. Either way, it is evidence yet again that north of Hadrian’s Wall and west of Offa’s Dyke, the same rules simply don’t apply.
One of these days a clever economist will produce a paper that explains how many weeks of the year we have to work to pay off in tax the money required to keep Scotland’s vast, profligate and expanding welfare state afloat. My guess is eight. Until then, the English will abide with a vague resentment and sense of chronic injustice: we let them run our affairs, vote on issues that are only of our concern, give them close to full political independence – and still continue to subsidise, subsidise, subsidise.
Yesterday the Treasury admitted – because it could not do otherwise – that the health service capital expenditure budget had been “adjusted”. My guess is that if your wage packet suddenly turned up 30% lighter you’d be tempted to use a more vigorous, apposite verb than “adjusted”.
The Treasury also indicated that the missing £2 billion would probably turn up in the spending plans for the three years from 2008-09. Yes, I bet it will. In an election year it will be suddenly announced there’s much more dosh for the NHS, a big juicy rabbit pulled straight out of Gordon’s hat.
So, to recap. Gordon Brown swipes two billion quid from the NHS in England and doesn’t tell anyone about it, keeping a straight face when he announces that the NHS is his priority. Out of political expediency there is no such cut in Scotland or Wales. In a year or so he will announce, for reasons of expediency, that, for lo, more money is available for the NHS. Whisper it quietly: Pretty. Straight. Kinda. Guy.