By Ray Fleming

YESTERDAY'S warnings by Britain's Lib-Con government that public services may be in line for departmental savings of up to 40 per cent produced predictable howls of anger from trade unions and many bodies concerned with social wellbeing. The Treasury was presumably ready for just such a reaction but ministers must have been surprised to find that model economic rightwinger John Redwood dismissing the announcement as “stupid”. He said the Budget statement showed there was no need for cutting on such a scale, and continued: “Spare us the parade of bleeding stumps in public. It's such a stupid old hat way of conducting a review of public spending.”

One school of thought is that the 40 per cent threat is being publicised in order to make those affected quite grateful when their cuts prove to be only 25-30 per cent. If there is any truth in that it should be condemned as schoolyard bullying of the worst kind. The promise that “we're all in this together” is wearing thinner by the week and it will be completely discredited if crude tactics of this kind are employed. It is possible, of course, that “special cases” such as Defence and Education are claiming the ring-fenced protection already given to Health and Overseas Aid; if too many concession are offered the 40 per cent option for some less fashionable departments might become a reality.