Chancellor and shadow-chancellor spar on large project cuts

IT projects look ever more likely to be an election battleground after shadow chancellor George Osborne yesterday launched a scathing attack on government technology schemes.

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IT projects look ever more likely to be an election battleground after shadow chancellor George Osborne yesterday launched a scathing attack on government technology schemes.

Osborne, whose Conservative party has promised to scrap centralised NHS patient records and the ID card programme, as well as to slash the number large IT programmes, said if his party won this year’s election it would make the cuts immediately.

Projects that are judged to “represent poor value for money” would “have to be cut during the financial year” to April 2011, he said in a speech at the London School of Economics. And “excessive spending” on consultants would also be stopped, Osborne pledged.

The promises come as the main parties outline their economic plans ahead of an election, which will take place before the summer.

Liberal Democrat Treasury spokesman Vince Cable said this week it was "foolish" of the Tories to set a timetable for cuts "with no regard for the state of the economy".

Last week, chancellor Alistair Darling told the Times newspaper that spending cuts were “non-negotiable” in order to cut Britain’s £178 billion deficit. “My priority is to get borrowing down. Once recovery is established we have to act,” the chancellor said.

Darling warned that the next spending review would be the toughest for 20 years, adding: “There will be programmes that need to be cut.” In recent weeks, the government promised to cut £600 million from annual expenditure on the NHS National Programme for IT, the largest civilian IT project in the world.

In December's pre-Budget report, Darling said the government would create an office, called Infrastructure UK, to decide which key programmes are to go ahead and to manage their investment, in the technology, water, energy, waste and transport sectors.

Additionally, a capital investment fund of £500 million would be created to invest in startup companies, he pledged, including those in the technology sector.

More details on plans are expected over the coming months, as the parties ramp up their electoral campaigns. Hard figures on IT could appear in March, when the Budget is announced.

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