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Martin Horwood MP

Don't try this at home! crack

It’s one year since I began this column for the Cheltonian. My, how the world has changed.

My first column debated the vexed subject of MPs’ expenses, which seemed quite important then. Now it pales into insignificance beside the looming cuts in public spending and fears over everything from housing benefit to the Human Fertilisation & Embryology Authority. The Cheltenham-based Commission for Rural Communities will be tipped onto the ‘bonfire of the quangos’ and replaced by an internal rural policy unit. Its headquarters at John Dower House near Royal Well will close, along with the local office there of Natural England. We should thank the dedicated civil servants who have worked there over the years. They’ve highlighted the enormous value of the countryside and natural environment to our health and wellbeing and brought world-class expertise to its actual management and care – worthy successors to John Dower himself, who first planned the UK’s priceless National Parks. Natural England’s budget will be cut and CRC abolished but I hope that valuable work continues and will one day be restored to full strength. That the cuts are necessary is surely not in doubt. But that doesn’t mean we have to like them or not want to reverse many of them given half a chance (or better public finances).

A year ago, of course, Gordon Brown’s government was still in spending mode. How long ago that seems. The result was a government overspend each year of more than £156,000,000,000. That’s much more than the entire NHS budget. So you could close every hospital, clinic, ambulance station and dental surgery tomorrow and we’d still be over-spending. We now spend more on debt repayment than we do on defence. Even now we’re only planning to reduce the rate at which we’re overspending, just balancing the books by 2015. So despite what some politicians would have you believe, the coalition government will still be spending more next year than it is this year. And the year after that. And the year after that.

Don’t try this at home. Dear Bank, I know I have a mindboggling overdraft and that I’m still spending more than I can afford every month but I was wondering if I could carry on for, say, another five years? Labour’s official response is that we should ask the bank manager if it’s OK just to halve the amount we’re overspending by then. In other words, keep on adding to the colossal national overdraft for the foreseeable future, putting it well into the trillions. Some Labour MPs are even openly saying we shouldn’t cut back at all and that we should carry on overspending at the current rate. This is the equivalent of going to the bank manager and saying up yours, matey! The result would be spiralling interest rates, even higher debt repayments and much deeper, more savage cuts a few years down the line. A year ago seemed like happier days but we were living on borrowed time and money.

To contact Martin Horwood MP:

Telephone: 224889


16 Hewlett Road, Cheltenham GL52 6AA