Ten questions for Cameron and Osborne on state “waste”

But will they ever be posed and/or answered?

1) How do you define waste in the public sector? Isn't there a difference between making "efficiency savings" and cutting "waste"?

2) How, for example, does selling off valuable public-sector estates and properties at potentially knock-down prices, and in violation of existing contracts and leases, save the taxpayer money in the long term?

3) In 2005, the Tory report on planned savings ran to 173 pages but this year the statements produced by Sir Peter Gershon and Dr Martin Read cover just four pages. Why are they so much shorter, and less detailed, this time round?

4) Isn't there a conflict of interest in having an adviser advocating spending cuts while chairing a private company that could potentially benefit from them?

5) Why won't you put Sir Peter Gershon and Dr Martin Read up for interview? With, say, Paxman?

6) Why do the two two-page notes from Gershon and Read contain no detailed explanations or statistics, or any department-by-department breakdown? What happened to Tory transparency and openness?

7) How do you respond to the Standard Life chairman, Gerry Grimstone, who also happens to be advising the Trearury on its operational efficiency programme, and who says: "By the time the next government is ready to take detailed decisions, we will already be well into the financial year. It is just not credible to think that our savings can be almost doubled"?

8) Why do you pretend as if the government is not tackling "waste" in the public sector, despite the Treasury having announced £15bn out of a target £35bn in efficiency savings?

9) How do you respond to the OECD's chief economist, Pier Carlo Padoan, who says that "the fragility of the recovery, a frail labour market and possible headwinds coming from financial markets underscore the need for caution in the removal of policy support"?

10) Having accused the government of "moral cowardice" in failing to deal with the Budget deficit adequately, isn't it irresponsible, not to mention hypocritical, to use an imagined saving of £6bn to make a tax cut, rather than tackle the national debt?

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Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

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Cabinet audit: what does the appointment of Andrea Leadsom as Environment Secretary mean for policy?

The political and policy-based implications of the new Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

A little over a week into Andrea Leadsom’s new role as Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), and senior industry figures are already questioning her credentials. A growing list of campaigners have called for her resignation, and even the Cabinet Office implied that her department's responsibilities will be downgraded.

So far, so bad.

The appointment would appear to be something of a consolation prize, coming just days after Leadsom pulled out of the Conservative leadership race and allowed Theresa May to enter No 10 unopposed.

Yet while Leadsom may have been able to twist the truth on her CV in the City, no amount of tampering will improve the agriculture-related side to her record: one barely exists. In fact, recent statements made on the subject have only added to her reputation for vacuous opinion: “It would make so much more sense if those with the big fields do the sheep, and those with the hill farms do the butterflies,” she told an audience assembled for a referendum debate. No matter the livelihoods of thousands of the UK’s hilltop sheep farmers, then? No need for butterflies outside of national parks?

Normally such a lack of experience is unsurprising. The department has gained a reputation as something of a ministerial backwater; a useful place to send problematic colleagues for some sobering time-out.

But these are not normal times.

As Brexit negotiations unfold, Defra will be central to establishing new, domestic policies for UK food and farming; sectors worth around £108bn to the economy and responsible for employing one in eight of the population.

In this context, Leadsom’s appointment seems, at best, a misguided attempt to make the architects of Brexit either live up to their promises or be seen to fail in the attempt.

At worst, May might actually think she is a good fit for the job. Leadsom’s one, water-tight credential – her commitment to opposing restraints on industry – certainly has its upsides for a Prime Minister in need of an alternative to the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP); a policy responsible for around 40 per cent the entire EU budget.

Why not leave such a daunting task in the hands of someone with an instinct for “abolishing” subsidies  thus freeing up money to spend elsewhere?

As with most things to do with the EU, CAP has some major cons and some equally compelling pros. Take the fact that 80 per cent of CAP aid is paid out to the richest 25 per cent of farmers (most of whom are either landed gentry or vast, industrialised, mega-farmers). But then offset this against the provision of vital lifelines for some of the UK’s most conscientious, local and insecure of food producers.

The NFU told the New Statesman that there are many issues in need of urgent attention; from an improved Basic Payment Scheme, to guarantees for agri-environment funding, and a commitment to the 25-year TB eradication strategy. But that they also hope, above all, “that Mrs Leadsom will champion British food and farming. Our industry has a great story to tell”.

The construction of a new domestic agricultural policy is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for Britain to truly decide where its priorities for food and environment lie, as well as to which kind of farmers (as well as which countries) it wants to delegate their delivery.

In the context of so much uncertainty and such great opportunity, Leadsom has a tough job ahead of her. And no amount of “speaking as a mother” will change that.

India Bourke is the New Statesman's editorial assistant.