Monday, November 29, 1999

UK may cut 11.5 billion pounds from utility services

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H S Rao London, June 18 (PTI) Facing a whopping budgetary deficit of 157 billion pounds, the Conservative-led coalition Government in the UK has signalled a cut in grants totalling 11.5 billion pounds to public utility services like hospitals, libraries, leisure projects and roads. A maternity unit in the North East, a component for a nuclear reactor, 100 PhD scholarships, a third lane on a congested major road in Cambridgeshire, free internet access in public libraries and 24-search-and-rescue helicopters make up part of the spending commitments either ripped up or frozen by the new Government. The British economy is facing a budgetary deficit of 157 billion pounds. The Conservative-Lib dem coalition government had announced they will try to bridge the gap between the earnings and expenditure. The Government took the knife to all aspects of social spending with graduate students, the long-term unemployed, patients facing intensive care, elderly swimmers and businessmen likely to be affected by the cuts, which are effective immediately. The Labour benches were stunned as Danny Alexander, the Liberal Democrat Chief Secretary to the Treasury, read out the long list of programmes destined for the scraphead last evening in the House of Commons. Two projects worth around 7 billion pounds for a new fleet of 25 search-and-rescue helicopters that would patrol the coastline have been suspended. On top of the Treasury cuts, the Culture Department scrapped a 40 million pounds scheme to fund free swimming for the under-16s and over-60s. The programme had been devised to increase sports participation before the 2012 Olympics. Andy Burnham, the former Health Secretary who introduced the free swimming, accused the Government of a retrograde, vindictive and expensive step. "We have to get serious about making people more physically active and tackling obesity," he said. The Government has also frozen a 25 million pounds fund for 100 new PhD students that had been set up by Lord Mandelson when he was Business Secretary. It also suspended the 25 million pounds University Enterprise Capital Fund, devised to encourage academics to spin off commercial technologies in partnership with the private sector. The Culture Department scrapped a 166 million pounds budget for the British Film Institute Film Centre to showcase the best of British and world cinema.

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