Page last updated at 08:55 GMT, Saturday, 27 June 2009 09:55 UK

Minister hints at spending cuts

Hilary Benn
Hilary Benn said the government faced "real choices" ahead over spending

A cabinet minister has hinted there may have to be cuts in public spending after the next general election.

Environment Secretary Hilary Benn told the BBC the government faced "real choices" ahead and "when times are tough you need to tighten your belt".

Mr Benn said his own Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has had to prioritise spending.

The disclosure comes with Labour and the Conservatives immersed in a dispute over spending plans.

Mr Benn told BBC Radio 4's Any Questions ministers would face some tough decisions.

'Investment v Cuts'

He said: "If I look at my department's budget, it is going to go down a bit and therefore we will have to prioritise."

His comments come with Prime Minister Gordon Brown insisting the next general election will be fought on a platform of "Labour investment versus Tory cuts".

He defended Mr Brown's policy of borrowing during the recession, saying the financial crisis would be "deeper and worse" had he not.

Mr Benn said there were already 2,500 fewer jobs in his department than in previous years, but more was being spent, for example, on flood defences.

A Defra spokeswoman said: "This is not news - we announced Defra's budget in the Comprehensive Spending Review settlement in 2008 and we have been open about our spending plans."

Commons clash

On the same programme, shadow work and pensions secretary Theresa May said a future Conservative government would "save billions" by scrapping the proposed national identity card.

At Prime Minister's Questions on Wednesday, Mr Brown defended his spending pledges after Tory leader David Cameron accused him of being caught "red-handed" giving misleading figures.

Mr Cameron said the prime minister told MPs capital spending would rise every year until 2012, when it would fall from £44bn in 2009/10 to £26bn in 2012/13.

But Mr Brown said Labour had brought forward future spending to counter the recession and investment was far higher than it had been under the Tories.

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