The axe begins to swing
Now the C word - cuts - has passed the prime minister's lips, the process of identifying what will actually be cut has begun in earnest. This week the chancellor, Alastair Darling, began meetings with senior cabinet colleagues to ask them to establish their spending priorities and to identify possible savings in their departments. Sources say that the Treasury has not yet set ministers a percentage target for cuts although this might follow.
Consideration is being given to the idea that the cabinet as a whole should agree where the spending axe should fall so that, as a previous chancellor once graphically put it, all get to dip their hands in the blood.
Some ministers believe that the ID cards programme should be scrapped as a symbol of the government's willingness to take painful decisions. However, Home Office sources insist that this has not been raised with them although they are looking at ways to deliver the scheme more cheaply.
The Ministry of Defence is confident that its plans to renew Trident are not under threat but it is under pressure to replace the current fleet of four Trident submarines with a more reliable fleet of three new subs.
This political process of identifying areas for cuts follows an exercise carried out by Treasury officials over the summer. What is called the public value programme examined the scope for savings in areas covering around a half of total government expenditure. The PVP has generated ideas for improvements to police working practices, better use of hospital space and a scheme to reduce the overlap of different government spending programmes in areas of deprivation which, it's hoped, could save billions of pounds.
Some of the savings identified are to be revealed in the chancellor's pre-Budget report due this Autumn which is now likely to give much more detail about future spending plans than previously planned. Alastair Darling is said to believe that it is only when Labour has set out its spending priorities that the Conservatives will come under real pressure to spell out theirs.