THE Chancellor’s spending review today dominated the newspapers comment sections, with columnists speculating what Rishi Sunak might prioritise.

The Independent

Former Liberal Democrat leader Vince Cable is familiar with public debates on spending, he admitted. “Often a member of the audience would interject with “charity begins at home” followed by a colourful account of aid money waste,” he said. “Cue rapturous applause. The chancellor, Rishi Sunak, will no doubt have that – currently silent – round of applause at the back of his mind tomorrow.”

He said a demand to cut the aid budget by over £4bn had been made by a group of substantial Tory MPs.

“They enjoy strong support from some right-wing newspapers, who will say that that even if we want to help – not that it seems they do particularly – the UK can’t afford to now we are burdened by the costs of the Covid-19 pandemic,” he said. “[But] the impact of coronavirus on poor communities in the UK is as nothing compared with the ravages of the pandemic on the economies of the low-income countries.”

He said India was one of the worst cases, with a fall of 10 per cent in its GDP. “Uganda and Kenya have closed their schools for a year, setting back decades of progress in improving literacy levels,”he added. “Overall, low income countries have seen a decline in average per capita incomes of perhaps 3 per cent to 4 per cent which translates into placing an estimated 100m in “absolute poverty”.”

He said the UK’s aid budget facilitated vital imports and enabled essential budget spending in countries which do not have the luxury of borrowing at very low interest rates - ‘unlike ours.’

The Daily Express

Stephen Pollard said Rishi Sunak will not be judged by normal standards this year.

“Even as someone who believes in sound money, the Chancellor has understood from the start of the pandemic that he has two priorities,” he said. “First, he must provide the NHS and the rest of the nation’s healthcare infrastructure with enough money to cope with the pandemic. And second, he must ensure that we are protected as far as possible from the economic storm.”

He said it was predicted there would be a £40bn annual shortfall that has to be made up somehow.

“That’s one reason why Mr Sunak knows he cannot simply spend without any thought as to the consequences,” he said. “So, for example, the Treasury has floated the idea of a public sector pay freeze – nurses and other NHS workers apart, that is.”

He said the private sector had seen devastating job losses during the pandemic but the public sector had been protected.

“It’s asking very little of the 5.5 million public sector workers to make a small sacrifice,” he said. “As it is, the public sector now enjoys higher pay, much better pension provision and, even before the pandemic, far greater job security. Even if NHS workers were exempt, a three-year pay freeze would still save a huge £15.3billion, keeping a lid on the current £190billion annual public sector pay packet.”

The Guardian

Polly Toynbee predicted Rishi Sunak would ‘let rip the credit card’ for the prime minister’s ‘favourite Christmas eye-catchers’ - a £16.5bn splurge on new MoD PlayStations and, God help us, millions for a “festival of Brexit”.

“Yet Sunak’s clear message is that this is for one Keynesian year only,” she said. “The chancellor is a natural fiscal conservative and any plan of his to be prime minister depends on wooing his ultra shrink-the-state party members.”

She said most threadbare public services face deeper cuts, not growth, as councils teeter on the brink of bankruptcy after losing more than 50% of government grants since 2010.

She cited Bexley, which once had 13 children’s centres, will now have just one.

“Lift the stones on the basic fabric of civilisation and you soon discover what’s no longer there,” she said. “A public-sector pay freeze is a purely political gesture, presaging austerity to come. This freeze will hit “red wall” seats hardest, given they have higher proportions of public-sector workers. They will be hardest hit, too, by another benefits freeze.”

She said the government is not the one to open the great debate on spending and taxation that the country needs.

“Brexit might have been a moment to face hard realities, but last week’s fantastical defence splurge suggests it inhabits a realm of national delusion.”