Tories forced to admit NHS spending has fallen after official warning

The Conservatives quietly update their website after the UK Statistics Authority orders a correction.

Last week, the Conservatives were rebuked by the chair of the UK Statistics Authority, Andrew Dilnot, for falsely claiming to have increased real-terms spending on the NHS "in each of the last two years". In response to a complaint from the shadow health secretary, Andy Burnham, Dilnot stated that, contrary to recent Conservative statements, "expenditure on the NHS in real terms was lower in 2011-12 than it was in 2009-10". The most recent Treasury figures show that while real-terms spending rose by 0.09 per cent between 2010-11 and 2011-12, it fell by 0.84 per cent between 2009-10 and 2010-11. A significant cut followed by a paltry increase means that spending in 2011-12 (£104.3bn) was lower in real-terms (and in cash-terms) than in 2009-10 (£105.1bn).

Nonetheless, at PMQs the following day, David Cameron refused to concede that there had been any inaccuracy. "It is a very simple point. The spending figures for 2010 were set by the last Labour government. Those are the figures we inherited. All the right hon. Gentleman [Ed Miliband] is doing is proving that his government were planning for an NHS cut," he said.

But while Cameron publicly insists that nothing has changed, the Tories have quietly updated their website to reflect Dilnot's letter. Having previously claimed to have "increased the NHS budget in real terms in each of the last two years", the health section of the site now states, "we have increased NHS spending in real terms since 2010-11 and will continue doing so."

Before

After

Burnham is set to ask the Speaker to bring Jeremy Hunt to the Commons on Wednesday to correct the record in person.

David Cameron makes a speech to doctors and nurses on NHS reform in 2011. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
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Scotland's vast deficit remains an obstacle to independence

Though the country's financial position has improved, independence would still risk severe austerity. 

For the SNP, the annual Scottish public spending figures bring good and bad news. The good news, such as it is, is that Scotland's deficit fell by £1.3bn in 2016/17. The bad news is that it remains £13.3bn or 8.3 per cent of GDP – three times the UK figure of 2.4 per cent (£46.2bn) and vastly higher than the white paper's worst case scenario of £5.5bn. 

These figures, it's important to note, include Scotland's geographic share of North Sea oil and gas revenue. The "oil bonus" that the SNP once boasted of has withered since the collapse in commodity prices. Though revenue rose from £56m the previous year to £208m, this remains a fraction of the £8bn recorded in 2011/12. Total public sector revenue was £312 per person below the UK average, while expenditure was £1,437 higher. Though the SNP is playing down the figures as "a snapshot", the white paper unambiguously stated: "GERS [Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland] is the authoritative publication on Scotland’s public finances". 

As before, Nicola Sturgeon has warned of the threat posed by Brexit to the Scottish economy. But the country's black hole means the risks of independence remain immense. As a new state, Scotland would be forced to pay a premium on its debt, resulting in an even greater fiscal gap. Were it to use the pound without permission, with no independent central bank and no lender of last resort, borrowing costs would rise still further. To offset a Greek-style crisis, Scotland would be forced to impose dramatic austerity. 

Sturgeon is undoubtedly right to warn of the risks of Brexit (particularly of the "hard" variety). But for a large number of Scots, this is merely cause to avoid the added turmoil of independence. Though eventual EU membership would benefit Scotland, its UK trade is worth four times as much as that with Europe. 

Of course, for a true nationalist, economics is irrelevant. Independence is a good in itself and sovereignty always trumps prosperity (a point on which Scottish nationalists align with English Brexiteers). But if Scotland is to ever depart the UK, the SNP will need to win over pragmatists, too. In that quest, Scotland's deficit remains a vast obstacle. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.