Pain must be spread fairly

IT is, we are told, all over. The turf wars have been settled and the content of the Spending Review, which George Osborne will reveal on Wednesday, is finalised. All that remains is the shouting – and there is likely to be a lot of that.

So far, the opinion polls show that the public broadly supports the Chancellor's plan to wipe out the structural deficit during the course of this Parliament, but that may all change once the cuts start to bite.

It is one thing for the voters to see the good sense in getting the books to balance and jettisoning the dangerous belief that Britain can borrow its way to recovery. But it is quite another for them to maintain their support for Mr Osborne's strategy once they see their own council services being cut back, even fewer police on the streets, their local hospital plunging into the red or their favourite theatre being forced to close.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

In truth, of course, no one can yet predict with any accuracy what the precise effects of the Spending Review will be, although even Government Ministers admit that there is much pain ahead. But this has not prevented a procession of special-interest groups spending the past few months waving shrouds and predicting doom and disaster should the cuts go ahead without their own particular sector being exempted.

However, the very fact that special pleading from vested interests needs to be taken with a large pinch of salt is the reason that the latest report by consultants KPMG should be viewed more seriously. Here, after all, is a sober and objective account of how great the impact of the cuts is likely to be in this region as a result of the tidal wave of public spending unleashed in Yorkshire over the past few years by the former Labour government.

The report pulls no punches in outlining the potentially severe effects of following several years of untrammelled generosity with a programme to reduce Government spending by 83bn-a-year, particularly when many of the organisations affected are having difficulty in adjusting to this changed mindset and have failed to prepare themselves for the severity of the shocks ahead.

This, however, only emphasises the need for responsibility from all sides during the hard times to come. The onus is on Government departments to cut constructively, rather than indulge in indiscriminate salami-slicing. Indeed, Iain Duncan Smith is said to have made this the guiding principle of his welfare reforms, the prime aim of which is social justice rather than saving money – though

Yorkshire's spiralling 18bn welfare bill is a reminder of the need to achieve both goals.

Other departments, however, need to follow suit by ensuring that the cuts are done in a way that protects the most vulnerable while giving business the stimulus it needs to promote a swift recovery led by the private sector – for example, by pressing ahead with transport improvements in Yorkshire, as Mr Osborne has pledged to do – and by ensuring that the North does not suffer disproportionately compared with the South.

But equally, it is up to local authorities to show the sense of responsibility that too many of them have failed to do in recent years, budgeting carefully, planning ahead and resisting the temptation to cut popular services for the sake of scoring a political point against the Government.

All the indications are that the public is braced for austerity and prepared to put up with privations that are seen as necessary, fair and sensible. It is up to the politicians to ensure that this is the case.