Chancellor Rishi Sunak has warned of ‘tough choices’ as he launched the Comprehensive Spending Review.
Although he pledged real-terms growth in departmental spending across the period, which runs to 2023/24, Mr Sunak has not fixed a spending envelope due to ‘unprecedented uncertainty’ in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.
Departments have been asked to ‘identify opportunities to reprioritise and deliver savings’.
Priorities set out by the Government include post-COVID-19 jobs and skills, ‘levelling up’ across the country, health, crime and education, and making the UK a ‘scientific superpower’.
The date for the review’s conclusion, expected in the autumn, has not been confirmed.
Mr Sunak said: ‘The Comprehensive Spending Review is our opportunity to deliver on the third phase of our recovery plan – where we will honour the commitments made in the March Budget to rebuild, level up and invest in people and places spreading opportunities more evenly across the nation.’
Responding to the announcement, chief executive of the Resolution Foundation think tank, Torsten Bell, said the chancellor was ‘rowing back’ on public spending increases promised before the COVID-19 crisis.
‘The planned 2.8% real terms growth a year has now become a far vaguer promise of some growth in real terms,’ he added.
‘This could mean very tough times for some public services in the years ahead.’
Chairman of the Local Government Association, Cllr James Jamieson, said: ‘Securing the long-term sustainability of local services must be the top priority. It also needs to place emphasis on communities and place by properly enshrining long term, locally-led investment in the economy and infrastructure.
‘With the right funding and freedoms, councils can provide local services which communities rely on and grasp the opportunity to address the stark inequalities the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed, develop a green recovery, address skills gaps and rebuild the economy so that it benefits everyone.’