Here’s £37bn of cuts to get you started, voters tell PM

David Cameron received a boost last night after a poll revealed emphatic support for his Government’s programme of savage public spending cuts.

The first study of voters’ attitudes to plans to slash the UK’s crippling £156 billion deficit shows overwhelming support for measures to rip up departmental budgets rather than increase tax revenues.

Last week, Chancellor George Osborne said the public would be consulted on how to find savings of £60 billion from annual expenditure, as part of a ‘once in a generation’ reform of Whitehall balance sheets.

True blue: David Cameron co-ordinated his tie with his wife Samantha's maternity dress when they watched Trooping The Colour in London

True blue: David Cameron co-ordinated his tie with his wife Samantha's maternity dress when they watched Trooping The Colour in London

The BPIX survey for The Mail on Sunday – which comes less than a fortnight before Mr Osborne’s vital first Budget – found majority support for ten cutbacks totalling £36.9 billion. In contrast, just four increases, adding up to £10.5billion, were backed by more than half of those questioned.

Mr Cameron, who wore a tie co-ordinated with wife Samantha’s maternity dress when he appeared at Trooping The Colour in London yesterday, will be encouraged that the public appears to accept the need for drastic pruning.

Asked to specify the optimum cut to the annual £660 billion public spending bill, the most popular figure cited by those questioned is an eye-watering £130 billion – more than double the amount planned.

The most popular suggestion – supported by nine out of ten voters – is for top earners in the public sector to have their wages reduced by 15 per cent, which would save nearly £4 billion a year.

A similar suggestion, to save £1.3billion by cutting civil service numbers by ten per cent, is supported by eight out of ten.

A more sweeping proposal to find an extra £9 billion a year by freezing pay and recruitment across the entire sector is endorsed by two-thirds of those questioned.

Many of the traditionally Tory-voting middle classes have been concerned that they will be the ones to bear the brunt of the cutbacks.

These fears will not be eased by the finding that 83 per cent support the scrapping of Child Benefit for better-off families.

Other popular suggestions include freezing the overseas aid budget (supported by 77 per cent), abolishing Regional Development Agencies (76 per cent) and scrapping the Trident nuclear deterrent (63 per cent).

The most unpopular idea, supported by just 16 per cent, is the suggestion to slice five per cent off the NHS budget to save £5 billion.

Plans to slash disability allowance (supported by 27 per cent), restrictions to the winter fuel allowance (33 per cent) and reduced subsidies on student loans (43 per cent) also play badly among the electorate.

Voters were split 50-50 on the suggestion all welfare benefits should be frozen to save £5billion a year.

The most popular revenue-raising proposals centre on so-called ‘vice taxes’.

Nearly nine out of ten back a doubling of the duty on betting, to raise an extra £1.4 billion, and 81 per cent support increasing tobacco duty by half to garner £4.4 billion. Hiking duties on alcohol – a more mainstream ‘vice’ – is less popular, with only 57 per cent in favour.

Mr Osborne’s proposal to double the capital gains tax paid on second homes and shares – which has produced a mini-rebellion on the Tory backbenches – is supported by three quarters.

Ominously for the Government there is strong opposition to any move to raise an extra £12 billion a year by increasing VAT from 17.5 per cent to 20 per cent. Just one in four voters support the idea.

Opinion is also split on the suggestion that income tax should be increased by 1p in the pound, which would raise an extra £4 billion. Just 49 per cent of people are in favour.

The poll shows if an Election was held tomorrow the Tories would win 39 per cent of the vote and Labour on 32 per cent, with the Lib Dems back to a pre-Election level of 19 per cent.

Just ten per cent of voters think the Lib Dems are best able to tackle the economic problems, compared with 22 per cent for Labour and 38 per cent for the Conservatives.

BPIX pollster Paul Whiteley, from Essex University, said: ‘This shows people are more willing to make sacrifices than everyone suspected.

‘They do favour “sin taxes” like duties on alcohol, tobacco and gambling, but they are also willing to see significant cuts in public spending, with the exception of the NHS.

‘This is not because they don’t think the cuts will affect them personally, but because they think the country needs to make these cuts to get the public finances in order.’

…and axe hangs over 15,000 frontline troops

Cuts: The Army faces a 15 per cent reduction in size, with the loss of at least four infantry battalions

Cuts: The Army faces a 15 per cent reduction in size, with the loss of at least four infantry battalions

By CHRISTOPHER LEAKE

Defence chiefs are planning to axe up to 15,000 soldiers in a major review of military spending.

Defence Secretary Dr Liam Fox last week warned that tough choices had to be made in the Strategic Defence and Security Review, which takes place every five years.

Senior sources have told this newspaper that the cuts envisaged would mean a 15 per cent reduction in the size of the British Army, with the loss of at least four of the current 36 infantry battalions.

The defence insiders say other measures being considered in the review – due to be published in August – include:

  • Halving an order for US-made Joint Strike Fighter aircraft from 140 to 70 because of delays and cost increases.
  • Further cuts to Harrier and Tornado jet squadrons and the closure of several air bases.
  • The retirement and mothballing of more nuclear submarines.
  • The sale of acres of real estate at the Plymouth, Portsmouth and Rosyth dockyards for development of homes, shops and offices.
  • Extending the life of Trident, Britain’s nuclear deterrent, because a replacement is regarded as too expensive.
  • A cull of Ministry of Defence civil servants including senior mandarins on six-figure salaries and huge bonuses.
  • Dozens of colonels, brigadiers and other middle-ranking officers being sent into early retirement.
  • A sell-off of defunct tanks and armoured vehicles no longer suitable for battles in Afghanistan.

Colonel Richard Kemp, former commander of British forces in Afghanistan, said: ‘The Army has suffered from many years of under-resourcing, yet it has borne the overwhelming brunt of the fighting in every major conflict since World War Two. It must now have priority on resource decisions.

‘I am very concerned to see infantry battalions considered for cuts – we don’t have enough foot soldiers now and if anything we will need even more in the future.

‘It is right to remove the glut of senior officers in all three services, and there must be substantial savings to be made by closing or merging several of the military headquarters that have been built up, some of which are unnecessary, inefficient and duplicate effort.’

However, one piece of good news expected in the review is that the SAS is to get ten new helicopters worth £100 million.

The order for the twin-engined European-built NH90s will boost operations in Afghanistan, where commanders have long demanded more capability to airlift troops.

But the Special Forces would have preferred the more expensive US-built Black Hawks, which are seen as tougher and more reliable.

Under the review, the Parachute Regiment and the Royal Marines will be asked to share back-up units such as artillery, medics and engineers. But senior officers at the sharp end of battle group brigades say that to dismantle any aspect of these two elite formations would undermine their fighting ability.

An MoD spokesman said: ‘The Defence Secretary has made clear that tough decisions will need to be made but the complex process of a Strategic Defence and Security Review is in its early stages and speculation about its outcome is entirely unfounded.’

source: dailymail.co.uk

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