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news analysis - brown's statement

WORKERS, JANUARY 2004 ISSUE

The chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown, announced his pre-budget report in the run up to Christmas. It looked very festive -- all magic and sparkle. On closer inspection Labour's public finance plans are as bare as a Christmas tree without needles.

Brown painted a picture of economic stability, low inflation and low interest rates coupled with full employment. Yet many workers still worry about debt, job insecurity or long hours, decent housing and education for their children. So who's right?

Since 1997 the government has put money into education and health services, with many more people employed in those areas. Brown introduced the new deal programme for jobs, paid off debt early and changed public finances to allow long-term planning.

The loss of 700,000 manufacturing jobs and the new fad for exporting service jobs are obvious omissions. The government's plans rest on forecasts of economic growth. Yet Brown emphasises flexibility of labour and capital rather than encouraging employment in making and providing the country's needs. This will lead to an even greater loss of key jobs.

Brown touched on housing and pensions. We've heard about the pensions crisis; "fat-cat" pensions will be curbed, but nothing else. The housing market is "essential" to prosperity, but the answer to the spiralling cost of housing is to introduce more flexibility.

Government will be made more efficient and modernised. Many aspects of public service need reform. But workers know this is often a cover for expansion of PFI projects and increased private profiteering. We don't know yet how much of the extra cash for education and health has gone that way.

Then there is 6.3 billion spent on the war. Workers rightly point to the good use to which that could be put. But we cannot stand behind that terrible abuse; we should also take the responsibility to question the rest of Labour's spending plans.

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