Page last updated at 18:13 GMT, Tuesday, 30 June 2009 19:13 UK

Osborne demands spending details

George Osborne: "He (Brown) has denied us access to that information"

Shadow Chancellor George Osborne says ministers have denied him access to information he needs in order to decide how to reduce public spending.

He wants access to a government database on what has been spent in 12,000 key areas - although it is not normally shown to opposition parties.

Mr Osborne said he would publish the data so the public could "know the truth" about government spending.

But Labour said his claims were "utterly misleading".

'Debt crisis'

Mr Osborne also told the BBC the Conservatives would not ring-fence schools spending.

Mr Osborne told the BBC's Political Editor Nick Robinson that only spending on health and international development would be explicitly protected by a future Tory government.

Asked about other areas such as schools and the Sure Start children's centres, seen by Labour as one of its success stories, he replied: "I am not protecting other areas at this stage."

Earlier, shadow schools secretary Michael Gove said the Tories would protect what he called "front-line spending".

It means the country doesn't know the truth about where their money is going
Shadow Chancellor George Osborne

But Mr Osborne said he had made a "tough" but "positive" decision to protect only health and foreign aid at this stage.

Both Labour and the Conservatives are under pressure to spell out what spending cuts will be needed to rebalance the public finances and reduce public debt.

Ministers insist that real spending can increase after 2011 if tough decisions are taken on tax and "efficiencies" and accuse the Tories of planning 10% cuts in many areas.

But the Tories say Labour is trying to close down the debate on spending and will not admit cuts will be needed whoever wins the next election.

Mr Osborne said ministers had turned down a request for the opposition to look at a database - known as the Combined Online Information System - which lists government spending in 12,000 categories.

"Gordon Brown is denying to the opposition the information on spending items in the government budget which would help us plan for government, help us plan for dealing with the debt crisis," he said.

"That makes our life as an opposition more difficult but, more to the point for the country, it means the country doesn't know the truth about where their money is going."

Not routine

Opposition parties are not routinely given access to the spending database.

But the Tories have said they will publish details of the information to allow the public to know the full facts.

Nick Robinson
The Tories boast that they're being honest about the need for spending cuts but are they being honest about what they'll cut and what the impact will be?
Nick Robinson
BBC political editor

Nick Robinson said he had been told the decision to refuse the Tory request - made in February - was taken by the Cabinet Secretary Sir Gus O'Donnell, not by ministers as following standard pre-election meetings between opposition parties and civil servants.

But he said the question of which party was being the most upfront and honest about spending was likely to dominate debate in the run-up to the election.

Chief Secretary to the Treasury Liam Byrne said Mr Osborne's comments were designed to "distract" from the cutbacks he was planning if elected.

"It is utterly misleading for George Osborne to claim that the prime minister prevented the Tories getting information," he said.

"The prime minister agrees the process to allow the shadow cabinet to meet with senior cabinet officials but he has played no part in and received no report of any of those meetings."

Earlier, Mr Byrne said it would be "unwise" to make spending predictions for the period after 2011 - the last year for which Labour has set out plans - because of uncertainty over the economic situation.



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