“I’m afraid there is no money” seems to be the unofficial tagline for George Osborne’s Autumn Statement this year, echoing former Chief Secretary to the Treasury Liam Byrne’s parting billet-doux to his successor in 2010.
This is because the Chancellor doesn’t seem to be planning to spend any new money on the funding announcements he will make tomorrow. Nowhere is this starker than on the NHS.
He will give the health service a £2bn annual funding boost, but it has emerged that £750m of this spending is being reallocated from within the Department of Health itself. The rest of the money will come from the Treasury (£1.3bn), efficiency savings, and under-spending in other Whitehall departments.
This shifting around and scraping of funds for the NHS makes the Tories vulnerable to Labour’s strength on the subject. Labour is consistently trusted more than their opponents on the NHS, and it seems the party’s consequential plan to make NHS the key battleground of the imminent general election is gaining some ground, much to the Tories’ disadvantage.
The party has been able to accuse Osborne of “spin”, and the shadow health secretary Andy Burnham has said his plan was based on “proposing to recycle funds”. He added that the country and its health service deserves better than, “a chancellor fiddling the figures and a Health Secretary spinning the facts”.
Although the extra money has been welcomed by leading health figures, such as NHS England’s chief executive Simon Stevens, the Labour party still seems to dominate the political narrative on the subject. The fact remains that all parties must have a plan for plugging the funding gap in the ailing health service, but the more the Conservatives try to find solutions, the more they are open to a hammering from Labour.