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Liz Truss vows to axe 'white elephant' government spending projects

3 min read

Big government projects seen as "white elephants" could be killed off under a fresh crackdown on public spending, Treasury minister Liz Truss has vowed.

Ministers will use the Spending Review later this year to decide which Whitehall departments will get more cash and which will be asked to tighten their belts.

Writing in the Sunday Telegraph ahead of the Government-wide exercise, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury pledged a "zero-based" review of all big government projects - and said ministers could "junk" infrastructure projects that are not up to scratch.

"This year’s Spending Review will set government budgets from 2020; and it’s vital that, accompanied with supply-side reforms, we use it as a catalyst to unleash the economy," Ms Truss said.

"We will conduct a zero-based capital review – examining all major investment projects across government and judging their contribution to future prosperity.

"We will also look at how budgets contribute to human capital, including how much they genuinely boost aspiration and opportunity.

"In reviewing this evidence, we must be prepared to junk the white elephants, the programmes that haven’t worked, and roll back mission creep, where government involves itself in areas the private sector can deliver.

"Growth and bang-for-buck must take precedence."

Ms Truss - who is seen as a future Tory leadership contender - meanwhile urged her party to be true to its "ideals" with a fresh call for low public spending and free markets.

"The state should not encroach on people’s lives unnecessarily, interfering in lifestyles or preferences," she said.

"Of course it needs to provide essential services, public goods and defence of the realm.

"But when decisions do have to be taken, it should be by those who are accountable to the electorate, not unelected quangos.

"The most basic question in politics is not what is best, but who shall decide what is best.

"The public voted for Westminster over Brussels. As Conservatives, we should lean towards the individual, the family, and the local over central government authority."

The intervention from Ms Truss comes after it emerged that the Treasury is considering a cull of several major Whitehall departments in a radical bid to cut costs at the Spending Review.

Under the proposals, the Departments for International Development, Exiting the EU and International Trade could be integrated into the Foreign Office.

Meanwhile, the Departments for Transport, Housing, Communities and Local Government, and Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy could become a single ministry with responsibility for major infrastructure projects.

A senior Treasury source said: "The current Whitehall set-up is crazy – we have more government departments than the United States. Every time you create a new department it comes asking for more money – we need to start rolling that back."

But the plan has already met opposition from civil service unions, with Mark Serwotka of the PCS union saying his organisation would "oppose any attempt to cut jobs or lower terms and conditions if there are any mergers".

He told PoliticsHome: "Ministers should be putting their energies into giving civil servants and those in related areas a pay rise and investing properly in government departments."

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