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Darling forces ministers to draw up spending hit lists

Spending review begins

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Chancellor of the Exchequer Alistair Darling has asked ministers to start drawing up hit lists to show what their departments will do to slash government spending.

Saddled with massive debt of £178bn and with promises to ringfence spending on education, the NHS, police and overseas development spending, the government needs big cuts from other departments.

In a lengthy interview with the FT Darling would not detail exactly how much he wanted cut from department spending, but neither did he dispute figures from the Institute of Fiscal Studies which suggest cuts of around 16 per cent for non-protected departments.

Ministers are being asked to set targets for 2011 to 2014 and to rank spending priorities. If the Tories win the election, supposedly scheduled for 6 May, they are likely to follow broadly similar cuts, although they have promised to cut deeper and quicker than Darling.

Darling has rejected Tory plans as likely to remove £25bn from the economy while it is still in a fragile state of recovery.

The Chancellor refused to be drawn on whether the UK is out of recession. He said he remained cautious but hopes next week's figures will show continued growth - the Treasury forecast growth of 0.3 per cent for the last quarter of 2009. ®

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