Britain unveils spending cuts to tackle huge deficit

20th October 2010, Comments 0 comments

Britain will unveil billions of pounds in public spending cuts Wednesday in a sweeping review of government expenditure expected to trigger half a million job losses as it tackles a huge deficit.

Prime Minister David Cameron's Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition wants to cut spending by 83 billion pounds (130 billion dollars, 95 billion euros) by 2014-15, and the review will reveal exactly where the axe will fall.

In its biggest challenge since taking power in May, the coalition wants to eliminate Britain's 154.7-billion-pound deficit -- a legacy of the previous Labour government and the recession -- over the next five years.

Finance minister George Osborne is expected to say his plans, which will see departmental spending reduced by an average of 25 percent, will map out "a hard road to a better Britain," according to reports.

Osborne is set to brace the public sector for nearly 500,000 jobs to be culled over the next four years -- a fact unwittingly revealed by a Cabinet minister who was photographed reading confidential briefing papers.

Danny Alexander, the Liberal Democrat chief secretary to the Treasury, was snapped Tuesday with the documents on his lap as he was driven away from his office.

Britain's welfare and justice systems are expected to be hard hit, and the BBC is braced for a 16 percent cut to its budget in real terms over the next six years, the broadcaster's website reported.

The coalition started the process Tuesday, announcing that it would shrink the country's armed forces and scrap key assets like its flagship aircraft carrier in a defence review that forms part of the wider programme of cuts.

Cameron said 17,000 service personnel would go from the British Army, Royal Air Force and Royal Navy by 2015 -- but vowed there would be "no cut whatsoever" to the level of support for forces in Afghanistan.

The harshness of the measures has worried some economists who fear they could plunge Britain's economy back into recession, a concern shared by the opposition Labour party, which was ousted from power in the May election.

The International Monetary Fund has enthusiastically endorsed Osborne's plans, and European governments are watching closely.

Trade unions have reacted with anger and thousands of union members and protesters rallied in London Tuesday, waving placards that said "Don't Break Britain" and "No more cuts".

Labour's finance spokesman, Alan Johnson, has also warned that the cuts were being made "too deeply and too quickly".

The scale of the cuts has provoked disquiet among some Liberal Democrats, the junior coalition partners, who fear they could cause lasting social damage.

© 2010 AFP

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