Text of the letter sent from Anneliese Dodds, the Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, to Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, on 22 July 2020.
The Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR) that you announced today takes place in extraordinary circumstances. The outlook for our economy, and our public finances, looks completely different today to how it looked even six months ago.
The CSR needs to reflect that. This is a moment to think boldly and strategically about the kind of country we want to be, and the public services we need, as we emerge from this crisis and prepare ourselves for the future. In particular, we need to ensure that a health emergency which has done so much to restrict economic activity is not compounded by political choices around public spending that weaken demand further. We must learn the lessons of the last crisis.
As things stand, however, it is not clear whether the instructions you have given to departments are more in line with the Prime Minister’s promise that “we are absolutely not going back to the austerity of ten years ago” or the intimations in your statement today that further – and potentially significant – cuts are on the way.
The messages are similarly mixed when it comes to paying the public workers who have done so much for us all throughout the crisis. Last night you announced that some would be receiving a pay rise and yet this morning you spoke of “restraint” and the prospect of cuts to come. That is not the right way to treat those who have contributed so significantly to tackling the coronavirus, often at great personal risk.
The CSR – and the context in which it is taking place – raises big public policy questions. They deserve to be discussed openly and publicly so that voters know whether this is genuinely an exercise in designing public services fit for the 21st century or if it just presages a return to an ideological approach to spending that gave us the slowest economic recovery in eight generations.
As such, I am calling on you today to publish the directions you have given to government departments so that everyone can see the context in which those departments will begin making critical choices about their spending plans and operations.
I look forward to hearing from you and engaging with this process, which comes at such a critical time for our country.