BELFAST, Northern Ireland---British Prime Minister David Cameron is calling for reinforcements to help him deal with the country's massive debt, which has been caused by nonstop spending, severe recession, and declining tax revenue. According to the UK's Centre for Policy Studies, at the end of 2008, the national debt was 1,340 billion pounds (US$2,090 billion), which was 103.5 percent of GDP. This figure includes all the public sector pension liabilities and Private Finance Initiative contracts. It's likely that figures for last year will be even more alarming.
Cameron has commissioned Sir Philip Green, the multibillionaire owner of Britain's Topshop women's clothing stores, to help cut spending. Sir Philip is described by The Times of London as an "ostentatious businessman" with "a reputation for making brutally effective commercial reforms." Effective is what is most needed here, given the ineffectiveness of government to break from its addiction to spending and the public's satisfaction with receiving other people's money.
While the Value Added Tax is scheduled to increase from 17.5 percent to 20 percent on Jan. 1, government expenditures long ago exceeded income and crossed into the realm of the ridiculous. In America, government spending has only reached the outrageous. The ridiculous British expenditures as detailed by the Department for Communities and Local Government include: 12,948 pounds for catering at Manchester United football games; 500 pounds spent at Majestic Wine Warehouse; 1,673 pounds to Stress Angels, a company that offers onsite corporate massages.
As in the United States, this is only the tip of the fish and chips. Sir Philip's real challenge will be to channel former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and begin the dismantling (again) of the British welfare state and the sense of entitlement that has gripped this increasingly socialist economy. People here are beginning to "get it" that they can't go on with attitudes, practices, and spending that government can no longer tolerate.
Sir Philip's commission is to present a spending review to the government by October that will recommend cuts in virtually every government program and agency. He is not likely to be universally popular as opponents of any cuts will be vocal and use the media megaphone to persuade the public that children will starve and the elderly will be evicted from their homes. Sound familiar?
Already, union leaders have been on television conducting pre-emptive strikes against budget cuts for their interests, suggesting any reductions in their budgets would mean Armageddon for Britain. If Britain can survive The Blitz at the start of World War II, it can surely survive going on a much more passive spending diet in 2010.
Prime Minister Cameron's mandate to Sir Philip Green recalls the 1993 movie Dave. Kevin Kline, playing the virtual identical twin to an incapacitated president, calls in a longtime friend (played by Charles Grodin) to bring some common sense to the federal budget. Working late into the night, the two devise a balanced budget that makes sense to them. The reason they are able to do this is that they are free of lobbyists, political pressure groups, and other "special interests." They are also free of the political need to get re-elected.
If Sir Philip succeeds at his task, the government should put his likeness on British currency, along with Queen Elizabeth's, because he will have saved Britain from paralyzing debt, a force almost as strong as that from which Winston Churchill saved the nation seven decades ago. Perhaps America can then bring him here so that he can do the same for us. He already has an American presence. A Topshop recently opened in New York City.
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