When the global financial crisis came, as Chairman of the House of Commons Treasury committee, I witnessed the power of public spending to mitigate economic calamity. In the decade I led the committee’s work, I also saw the difference spending makes when sustained over time in improving public services and lifting families out of poverty.
The Fabian Commission on Future Spending Choices was established in the belief that public spending is a force for good. The remit of the commission was to examine the difficult public expenditure decisions facing a 2015 government and in all our work we have been guided by the need to harness the power of government spending more effectively and to restore public faith in the transforming role it has to play in creating a stronger society.
Not all public money is well spent and this report makes the case for improving decision making and accountability processes to see it spent better. At present the structures surrounding public spending encourage a short termism which is out of step with the needs of the country. Opaque procedures mean that profoundly democratic choices are closed to the public.
Policymakers should take a conscious, long-term view of the path of spending over many years to deliver a prosperous, sustainable and equitable economy and society. We have grappled with difficult choices regarding how to reduce the deficit during the next parliament, which few governments would ever wish to confront. But we have shown that balanced, long-term choices can be made. As a former headteacher I take particular pride in one of our central recommendations, that spending on building skills and capability for the future should not be sacrificed to short-term pressures.
The recommendations contained in this report are not aimed at any one political party and we urge whichever party or parties take office in 2015 to embrace them. The challenges the commission explored are very great, but so too is the price of inertia. Carefully-weighed, long-term decisions can restore public faith in the power of politics.