24 September 2010 | Angeline Albert
Former chief secretary to the Treasury Michael Portillo has cast doubt over whether the UK government is likely to achieve its ambitious spending cuts.
Addressing procurement professionals at the CIPS Conference 2010 in London yesterday, Portillo, now a broadcaster and political commentator, said: “Government is universally inefficient and wasteful. It lacks the management skills.”
Referring to the coalition government’s plans to reduce its deficit mainly with budget cuts rather than tax rises, he said: “The problem is that when you turn the screw, what comes out is not what you expect to come out.
“The figures they want to achieve are massive, although they could be got without damage. They need to know where to put the knife in.”
He also said he had “some scepticism” over whether the cuts are realistic.
However, he said the political will was there, if not the experience. “All the people elected this time knew this is what they had to do. They are up for it.”
Referring to the large number of new, inexperienced MPs facing spending cuts dilemmas, he said: “There is some concern that they are almost too up for it.”
Portillo admitted to some procurement failures during his time in government. Referring to his years as defence secretary and the inefficiencies within the Ministry of Defence, he said: “To some extent I hang my head in shame. I don’t think we managed to change the culture of what was going on.
“In my first week as defence secretary I ordered the American Apache helicopter. There was a European competitor. I bought the Apache because it worked. I was buying off the shelf.
He continued: “After I had left, it was a few years later that I noticed the Apache was not flying. Someone had decided to give it a British gearbox to create British jobs. This led to years wasted, billions wasted.”