Cutting with care?

The coalition’s decision to cut support for the unemployed is deeply irresponsible.

"Good luck, carry on cutting with care," read David Laws's note to his successor, Danny Alexander. Sound advice, but if only Laws had followed it himself. By scrapping child trust funds and cutting 10,000 university places, the coalition did anything but cut with care.

Now the new axeman, Alexander, has announced the cancellation of 12 projects worth £2bn and the suspension of 12 projects worth £8.5bn. These include the two-year Jobseeker's Guarantee, the Young Person's Guarantee and an £80m loan to Sheffield Forgemasters.

At first glance, the decision to reduce support to the unemployed seems deeply irresponsible. Unemployment is now certain to pass three million, with youth unemployment rising to one million.

Elsewhere, the decision to axe £80m from Sheffield Forgemasters, a company that employs 800 staff and is involved in building new nuclear power plants, is, as Ed Miliband remarked today, "self-defeating short-termism". The coalition has damaged manufacturing and the transition to a low-carbon economy by withdrawing a loan that would, after all, have been paid back.

Alexander's claim that the cupboard is bare does not bear scrutiny. Only this week, new figures from the Office for Budget Responsibility showed that the Budget deficit is now £155bn. That's £12bn less than the £167bn predicted at the last Budget and a whole £23bn less than the original forecast of £178bn.

As Fraser Nelson pointed out in a fine piece for the Telegraph, "embarrassingly, the economy is not playing along. Things just keep getting better." The suspicion that these cuts are driven not by necessity, but by ideology, persists.

Here's a full list of the projects axed by the coalition:

Stonehenge Visitor Centre: £25m

Local Authority Leader Boards: £16m

Sheffield Forgemasters International Limited: £80m

Rollout of the Future Jobs Fund: £290m (previously announced)

Six month offer recruitment subsidies: £30m (previously announced)

Extension of Young Person's Guarantee to 2011/12: £450m

Two-year Jobseeker's Guarantee: £515m

Active Challenge Routes - Walk England: £2m

County Sports Partnerships : £6m

North Tees and Hartlepool hospital: £450m

Local Authority Business Growth Initiative: £50m (previously announced)

Outukumpu: £13m

Total: £1.9bn (£370m previously announced)

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George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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The Brexit elite want to make trade great again – but there’s a catch

The most likely trade partners will want something in return. And it could be awkward. 

Make trade great again! That's an often overlooked priority of Britain's Brexit elite, who believe that by freeing the United Kingdom from the desiccated hand of the European bureaucracy they can strike trade deals with the rest of the world.

That's why Liam Fox, the Trade Secretary, is feeling particularly proud of himself this morning, and has written an article for the Telegraph about all the deals that he is doing the preparatory work for. "Britain embarks on trade crusade" is that paper's splash.

The informal talks involve Norway, New Zealand, and the Gulf Cooperation Council, a political and economic alliance of Middle Eastern countries, including Kuwait, the UAE and our friends the Saudis.

Elsewhere, much symbolic importance has been added to a quick deal with the United States, with Theresa May saying that we were "front of the queue" with President-Elect Donald Trump in her speech this week. 

As far as Trump is concerned, the incoming administration seems to see it differently: Wilbur Ross, his Commerce Secretary, yesterday told Congress that the first priority is to re-negotiate the Nafta deal with their nearest neighbours, Canada and Mexico.

In terms of judging whether or not Brexit is a success or not, let's be clear: if the metric for success is striking a trade deal with a Trump administration that believes that every trade deal the United States has struck has been too good on the other party to the deal, Brexit will be a failure.

There is much more potential for a genuine post-Brexit deal with the other nations of the English-speaking world. But there's something to watch here, too: there is plenty of scope for trade deals with the emerging powers in the Brics - Brazil, India, etc. etc.

But what there isn't is scope for a deal that won't involve the handing out of many more visas to those countries, particularly India, than we do currently.

Downing Street sees the success of Brexit on hinging on trade and immigration. But political success on the latter may hobble any hope of making a decent go of the former. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.