I’ve just been watching a BBC News 24 report on the forthcoming Comprehensive Spending Review in which two reporters have been despatched to S.Wales and N.Ireland because, we are told, these are where the public sector is largest. One of these reporters (the one in Wales) then began asking a series of questions of the interviewee all premised on the relative size of the public and private sectors in that region (although, bless her, she managed in her excitement to mix the two up ‘Why is it that the private sector is so huge here…Why is the public sector so small?’ she asked; Er? Come again? Don’t you mean…oh never mind.)

Notwithstanding such minor incompetencies, thus do we see how government still has the power to shape discourse and how the news agencies, like little lapdogs, unthinkingly do their work for them by consolidating the frame within which discussion might be set. After all, the public sector versus private sector distinction is now being used ubiquitously by the news media, thereby doing some ideological heavy lifting on behalf of the government, enabling them to pursue their aim of dismantling the state.

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So now we know the truth: the £6bn ‘efficiency savings’ the Tories promised before the election were calculated on the back of an envelope. It was clearly cooked up in the two weeks between the Budget and the announcement of the election, with the sole aim of giving the Tories some tactical room to attack Labour’s proposed rise in National Insurance contributions (aka ‘jobs tax’), whilst at the same time delivering a sleight of hand that would enable them to claim they were still serious about cutting the deficit without adverse consequences to ‘frontline’ public spending. Time and again during the leaders’ debates, when Gordon Brown accused the Tories of risking the recovery by cutting public expenditure this year, David Cameron responded by talking about ‘waste’ not ‘cuts’.

Well, the smoke has lifted and the lie is exposed. Whilst the Tories suggested that £1bn of savings could be found from efficiencies in government IT projects, the Treasury confirmed this week that the real figure would be £95 million – less than 10% of the figure claimed. Similarly the Tories suggested that £1bn of savings could be found by freezing civil service recruitment; the real figure will be £120 million, just over 10% of the saving claimed.

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