Why can’t we have an IFS government?

Why may we want one? Because, says Janet Sillettthe Institute for Fiscal Studies doesn’t make up statistics and wouldn’t leave strategic gaps in their spending and cutting proposals.

We can trust their figures. They can say sensible stuff like we need a council tax revaluation and not avoid the question. Because they try to fill the gaps in the parties proposals on tax, spending and cuts when the parties would rather we didn’t ask about the details. Because they cut through the rhetoric without bombast but with forensic effectiveness.

Because we wouldn’t have those endless pictures of politicians in nurseries doing hand painting with innocent four year olds, or meeting middle aged celebrities who represent ‘yoof’ or talking to public meetings made up of party workers and speeches made in empty tractor making sheds. We won’t have election broadcasts (enough said).

Actually being a politics nerd I find elections fascinating and watch and read everything, even the rubbish. And I admit the IFS wouldn’t be democratically accountable, even if there are a few question marks whether any government is that accountable anyway. And election night would be a tad boring.

But how refreshing to have some honesty about finances and the economy.

So even with endless pronouncements from party leaders, comment from the Sun to the Financial Times, twitter trending, and debates between spokespeople popping up everywhere – there are still numerous known unknowns (or is it unknown knowns or unknown unknowns?).

Our recent briefing How the parties will tax, spend and support growth tries to join up some of the dots, drawing on IFS analysis. We do know what the parties are broadly committed to in relation to deficit reduction and whether they will allow for borrowing for investment. Though the details are largely missing. We know what services they intend to protect and which taxes they won’t put up. We know where they want to increase spending (largely on the NHS). But we have no idea what the Conservative’s additional cuts in welfare will be (though there is speculation), or where the axe will fall on the non protected services (all of the parties suggest further cuts to different degrees). All three rely on raising significant revenues from reducing tax avoidance – Conservatives £5 billion, Labour £7 billion, Lib Dems £10 billion – all of which the IFS say are ‘plucked from thin air’.

Of course if the polls are right even the firm commitments may not remain intact (see our briefing on the minor parties). But surely we do need a more informed public debate about the consequences of party manifestos? For local government the future of social care funding is critical but largely ignored by all three main parties; for tenants and councils whether housing benefit will be further cut or restructured is crucial; do we know the exact policy impact of the mansion tax, or stamp duty holidays for first time buyers?

The election is unlikely to resolve many of these questions – not for some time anyway. There must be an opening for local government to raise these and many other uncertainties (see my briefing for example on the three main parties manifestos for question marks around devolution) – either whilst negotiations continue if we have a hung government and certainly when a government is formed. Uncertainty is a pain of course – though inevitable following any election, but it raises opportunities too – let’s grab them.

Janet Sillett is the LGiU’s briefing manager.

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    1. Kevin Nunn says:


      Interesting stuff, but the IFS itself is a “political” organisation. It chooses what to measure and what measures to use to judge a government’s performance, just as any organisation with its role would. Those are fundamentally political decisions in themselves.

      For example, following up yesterday’s media debate about the environment, is there an IFS analysis on the impact of each parties policies on our long term economic sustainability? \for all our sakes I hope so.

      1. Janet Sillett says:


        I agree with you that the IFS is ‘political’ in that it accepts the established criteria for measuring progress eg using GDP as an indicator of economic growth etc – which presumably the Green Party and others would challenge. I suppose what I was saying that within the perimeters of the debate over the election and public finances they provide an objective account that can be trusted.


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