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EDITIONS
Monday, 15 July, 2002, 23:51 GMT 00:51 UK
High stakes for the powerful Mr Brown


Gordon Brown is nothing if not self-confident.

Under him, the Treasury has more control over the spending departments than ever in its history.


Five years on, Britain is already far more suspicious about whether this centre-left government really can deliver

It makes the chancellor seem almost like the Prime Minister for Home Affairs.

From struggling schools to prisons, from local councils to planners and art gallery bosses, tens of thousands of public service staff will be working to targets and rules set down ultimately by Mr Brown and his staff.

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There are torrents of new taxpayers' money, for the health service and schools anyway.

But they have to reach the dusty, neglected areas other money hasn't reached.

'Terrible price'

The reason is obvious enough.

If New Labour manages to spend another 61bn over the next few years without making us feel safer on the streets, better cared for when we're ill, and happier about how well-educated and inspired Britain's children are, then they will pay a terrible political price.

The crucial point is that this is not simply a spending review, the customary allocation of small percentage increases or cuts, department by department.


What is really at stake is whether the system of central control we have in this country can actually deliver local services effectively

It is a clutch of crucial decisions about what the Labour government is for, a year after its re-election.

Five years on, Britain is already far more suspicious about whether this centre-left government really can deliver.

If it can't the Tory agenda of much more radical change, and a break from a 55-year-old social consensus, might suddenly look not just plausible but essential.

People will start to ask themselves whether the Tories are right to talk about charging for services or introducing social insurance.

And Labour's great dream of restoring the post-war welfare state will have been defeated, probably forever.

High stakes indeed.

Local government

But it is about much more than which party wins the most seats at the next election.

What is really at stake is whether the system of central control we have in this country can actually deliver local services effectively.

Gordon Brown is trying to devolve power from the centre - but Labour has been a very centralising government.

It is almost a constitutional issue.

Local government has never had any real standing in the UK.

Its powers have been gradually eroded by successive Conservative and Labour governments - making it increasingly hard to deliver local services effectively.

For Mr Brown, that chicken might finally be coming home to roost.

The government's plans for future spending are published on 15 July

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