The former Chancellor was being interviewed by Anand Menon at a ConservativeHome / UK in a Changing Europe fringe event earlier this morning. He said –
“I know from having been Chancellor, having run for other spending departments, that there are savings to be made. So for example, one thing that the government could do is… [have] a zero based [spending] review. You say to every government department that they have to justify every single pound that they want to spend for … the next four to five years. You have to start at zero and justify that programme.
“What I found in every government department that I inherited… if you ask the officials for a spreadsheet, a list of every programme that department is working on, the cost, the number of full time equivalent people on it, how much has been spent, how much is programmed to be spent – you will find programmes that are no longer necessary. Perhaps a priority of your predecessor… or programmes that can be done much more cheaply. That kind of very focused review could produce billions of savings.
We agree – making much the same case last month.
He also –
- Urged the Government to work towards a balanced budget
“Rishi has been right to say he’ll do whatever it takes. … But he’s also said again, rightly, that we need to bring public spending back under control. That won’t happen overnight, it shouldn’t happen overnight – you don’t want to sort of blow out any nascent recovery by having too sharp a change in public spending. But the direction has to be clear, we have to start heading towards a balanced budget on day to day.”
- Called for local government reform, and more devolution in decision-making
“There does need to be a fresh look at local government and how it’s set up. We are very fragmented as a country when it comes to local government. And with multiple layers that can be quite confusing. But I think that should all be looked at together with devolving power.
“Another thing that needs to go alongside [infrastructure investment] is more devolution of decision making. When it comes to infrastructure, when it comes to skills investment, we should be more trusting of local people to make decisions about their daily lives.
“That’s why the last conference I announced on stage that the government will be publishing a new white paper on English devolution. I can understand why we haven’t gotten around to that with COVID, and everything. But that should be a priority, because I think that is also a key to spreading opportunity and getting the right investments across the country.”
- Suggested that Police Commissioners might be abolished
“Well, I think that that is worth reviewing, in that I can understand the case for when it happened, but I think there’s a genuine debate to be had about whether we need to continue with that system.”
- Pushed the skills strategy that he was drawing up as Chancellor
“One of the most important things is skills, and training. We still have too many people leaving school or full time education with either no particular skills, or a very low level of skill, and people that have gone on to higher education or further education of some type but not picked a skill that is going to help them get a job.
“We need to make sure that young first of all have access to the right courses, and they’re available in their local areas. That means we need to invest a lot more in further education. In particular further education has been a bit of a second cousin to higher education. As a society we’re a bit snobbish about this. Someone goes to university and they graduate with these nice gowns and take lots of pictures, and it looks great. But what about the guy who’s gone to a college and done a fantastic engineering apprenticeship, or plumbing? Those are equally important skills.
“The government started to do a lot about this, particularly Boris Johnson – look at this announcement recently about the lifetime skills guarantee.
“But we need to go a lot further. What I’d set out just before I left the Treasury was an embryonic plan for a long term skill strategy. What Boris has announced recently is a part of that. But there’s a lot more to do.”
- Said that the Government has “work to do” on racial justice, but that Black Lives Matter “is not a force for good
“If I may, I distinguish between the Black Lives Matter movement and the fight for racial justice, and I’m not sympathetic to the actual organisation, Black Lives Matter, I think it’s a sort of Neo Marxist organisation that wants to overthrow capitalism and get rid of the Police, I think the organisation itself is not a force for good.
“I think the movement of people whether through demonstrating or other ways of fighting for racial justice, of course, that is important. And I understand why – I mean Britain is not the United States and we’ve got a lot to be proud of, but also I’d be the first to say that we’ve still got work to do, you know, the things that we can point to where we’ve learned from the past, and made progress, like after the tragic murder of Stephen Lawrence and the McPherson report, and the changes that lead to, but if we look at our prison system the disproportionality in terms of black inmates in the UK is higher than the United States.
“So we’ve got to still do work. That’s why I supported Theresa May, for example, when she launched this work that was called the Race Disparity Audit bid that Boris Johnson has rightly continued, is to try and get the facts. Let’s get the data. And then let’s learn from it and see what more we can do.”
- Described differences in life expectancy between London and the North-East as a “disgrace”
“Look at that election from 2019. As well as winning support from more traditional Tory areas, we were very fortunate to win support from other parts of the country – the northeast, for example – where we normally haven’t done well. …The Prime Minister rightly said that many people, when they put a cross against the conservative candidate in those areas, hesitated a bit, they might have felt they’re lending us their vote.
“But they were doing that, because we rightly as Conservatives were saying … as a one nation party we have to recognise that the talent is equally distributed throughout our country… but opportunity is not.
“As Conservatives you cannot stand by and just see the southeast doing well. In the Northeast… compared to London, the average wage is 30% lower, productivity measured by the ONS is 60%, lower, life expectancy is three years lower than London. I mean, that’s a disgrace.”
“If conservatives aren’t standing up for that and trying to spread opportunity across the country, then what are we for? …It’s very conservative to think about the whole nation, and think about spreading opportunity, because ultimately, that is to the benefit for all of us, not just those regions of the of the UK.”
- On the UK/EU trade talks, he has “a feeling that we’re going to get a deal”.
“I think you can absolutely get a trade agreement that is like this Canada style agreement that gives us the flexibilities that we want, but also is good for us, is good for the Europeans. If we can’t get the deal that we want, we shouldn’t be afraid to walk away. I’ve never thought that, that we should accept any deal on the table. And I think Boris would walk away if they if they kept being unreasonable.
“But that said, I know we’re in the final weeks. I’ve got a feeling that we’re going to get a trade deal, and it’s going to be good for us.”
The link to the full interview is here.