PM warns of 'tough road' over cuts
Political battlelines over the Government's drastic public spending cut plans are being firmly drawn - with a week to go until it is revealed where the axe will fall.
Prime Minister David Cameron issued a firm message to his Cabinet on Tuesday, insisting any watering down of the tough package would derail efforts to tackle the UK's economic problems.
Next Wednesday Chancellor George Osborne will unveil around £83 billion of cuts in his comprehensive spending review as he sets about trying to eliminate the structural deficit by 2015.
He has demanded an average 25% reduction across Whitehall departments - with defence and education given some protection and the NHS and overseas aid spared altogether.
But Labour said the Tory-Lib Dem Coalition was pressing ahead too far and too fast with cuts before there was private sector "momentum" behind recovery.
And newly-appointed shadow chancellor Alan Johnson renewed claims that the austerity package would hit the vulnerable hardest - despite government pledges it would be "fair".
Addressing Tuesday's Cabinet meeting, Mr Cameron warned of a "tough road" ahead as spending cuts bite but insisted they were the only way to fix the UK economy.
The Prime Minister said no item of expenditure had escaped the Government's "microscope of efficiency" as the details of where the axe will fall are finalised.
"If we try and put it off or water it down, things will just get worse," he said. "No stone has been left unturned, no sum of waste has been deemed too small to escape the microscope of efficiency. No hard choice has been ducked. If we pull together to deal with the debt today, in a few years' time the rewards will be felt by everyone."
Mr Johnson, in his first Commons head-to-head with Mr Osborne, said the deficit had been an "unavoidable" price of averting financial meltdown and said the Government's measures to address it so far had been "entirely wrong". "Wrong because they would have, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, two and a half times the adverse affect on the poorest as the richest in our society. And wrong because you are seeking to cut public spending before there is any momentum to private sector spending in our economy," he told MPs.