Labour vows to 'balance the books'

The Oxford Times: Labour is prepared to make unpopular decisions about government spending, shadow chief secretary to the Treasury Chris Leslie said Labour is prepared to make unpopular decisions about government spending, shadow chief secretary to the Treasury Chris Leslie said

Labour will embrace the goal of balancing the public finances because "there is nothing left-wing about running a deficit", shadow Treasury secretary Chris Leslie has said.

Outlining the party's plans to create a budget surplus and eliminate the deficit if elected next year, Mr Leslie took aim at the Government and specifically Tories for talking about a "long-term economic plan" while short-termism has become a "chronic disease".

Criticising Chancellor George Osborne's "arbitrary" target of eliminating the deficit by 2017/18, he claimed the coalition has become hamstrung by a "myopic year-by-year lack of foresight" that leads to inefficient and wasteful spending decisions.

Mr Leslie insisted Labour would end the "narrow-minded focus on the end-of-financial-year" and create a long-term approach with Government departments working together towards shared goals, similar to the old public service agreements.

He indicated a Labour government would spend money in the short-term to save in the long-term as part of "early intervention programmes where there is a robust invest-to-save business case".

And a Labour government would give an increased role to the Major Projects Authority to step in to save failing "vanity projects".

In his speech to the Institute for Chartered Accountants, Mr Leslie said: "Short-termism is now a chronic disease eating away at the heart of our public services. Ministers repeat their 'long-term economic plan' mantra with such frequency that they are deluding themselves into a belief that simply uttering these words will magically make them come true.

"So I want to set out why we can no longer continue with the myopic year-by-year lack of foresight that is too often a hallmark of the current Treasury and the coalition government."

He went on: "Why does it matter so much to get the books into balance?

"Because if you believe that as a society we achieve more by coming together and pooling our resources to deliver services from which we all benefit, then we have a responsibility to prove to the taxpayer that this can be done efficiently and effectively.

"Public service budgets have got to be sustainable.

"We need to continually demonstrate to taxpayers that they can trust the public realm to manage services well.

"The alternative risks eroding public confidence and an opt-out culture of private provision for those who can afford it - and sub-standard services for the rest.

"There's no reason why we cannot create decent quality services and a fair society while living within our means.

"This is why I believe those on the progressive centre-left of politics should embrace the goal of balancing the books. There is nothing left-wing about running a deficit."

Mr Leslie said Labour is prepared to make unpopular decisions about government spending if it wins the next election and will not be able to undo the coalition's cuts.

He insisted party's policy plans are radical but will "not be about spending commitments".

He said: "I'm not heading into this expecting popularity, quite the opposite.

"All government departments in the next Labour government will have to face fundamental questions as never before.

"We won't be able to undo the cuts that the have been felt in recent years. And I know that this will be disappointing for many people.

"A more limited pot of money will have to be spent on a smaller number of priorities. Lower priorities will get less.

"We are not arguing with the Government about the scale of the challenge.

"But we do differ significantly on the best way to confront it.

"George Osborne has had his five years to eradicate the deficit. I am determined that we finish that task on which he has failed."

Financial Secretary to the Treasury Nicky Morgan said Mr Leslie was offering more of the "same old failed Labour policies" to borrow and spend more.

She said: "Nothing's changed. In a speech on savings, Chris Leslie failed to set out a single penny in savings and failed to set out a clear long-term economic plan. Instead, he made new spending commitments.

"All Ed Miliband and Ed Balls are offering are just more of the same old failed Labour policies that got us into a mess in the first place - more spending, more borrowing and more taxes.

"Labour's policy to borrow and spend more would endanger the recovery, put jobs at risk and put the security of Britain's future at risk."

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