Jonathan Werran 23 April 2015

Vague manifesto tax pledges leaving voters 'in the dark', says IFS

Leading public finance experts have condemned the main political parties’ manifesto spending pledges for refusing to spell out the detail of where funding would be cut.

Analysis into manifesto commitments published today by the renowned Institute for Fiscal Studies suggests neither the Conservative, Labour, Liberal Democrats nor the SNP have given sufficient detail of tax and spending plans for each year of the next parliament.

The IFS report suggests this leaves voters ‘in the dark’ as to the scale and make up of future spending cuts and tax hikes.

The Labour party is chided for being ‘vague’ on its borrowing commitments or for explaining how the party would deliver a budget surplus, while the Liberal Democrats received praise for being ‘more transparent’ over their fiscal tightening plans to 2017/18 – which are figured at 3.9% of GDP.

Conservative proposals suggest unprotected areas of public spend - including local government, transport, law and order and social care- face 17.9% spending cutbacks between 2014/15 and 2018/19 which would imply real terms reductions of around one third since the start of austerity finances in 2010/11, the IFS has estimated.

According to the economists, the SNP manifesto claims for ending austerity are undercut by commitments on increased welfare spend, with a knock on impact on departmental spending which belies ‘a considerable disconnect between this rhetoric and their stated plans for total spending, which imply a lower level of spending by 2019/20 than Labour’s plans'.

Soumaya Keynes, research economist at the IFS, said: 'The Conservatives have said they want to eliminate the deficit but provided next to no detail on how they would do it.'

She said the Tories 'should be forthcoming' in sharing how the £5bn of largely unspecified clamp down on tax avoidance, £10bn of unspecified cuts to social security spending and IFS forecasts of additional £30bn real cuts to 'unprotected' departments would be delivered.

Rowena Crawford, senior research economist at the IFS, said: 'Labour's proposed measures might be broadly enough to meet their target for only borrowing to invest.

But this would leave borrowing at £26bn a year in today's terms. If Labour wanted to reduce borrowing to a lower level than this, they would have to spell out more detail of how they would get there,' Ms Crawford adaded.

Carl Emmerson, IFS deputy director, argued there were 'genuinely big differences between the main parties' fiscal plans'.

'The electorate has a real choice, although it can at best see only the broad outlines of that choice. Conservative plans involve a significantly larger reduction in borrowing and debt than Labour plans,' Mr Emmerson said.

'But they are predicated on substantial and almost entirely unspecified spending cuts and tax increases. While Labour has been considerably less clear about its overall fiscal ambitions its stated position appears to be consistent with little in the way of further spending cuts after this year,' he added.

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