Do the figures in Reform UK's 'manifesto' add up?

The Reform manifesto, or "contract" as they're calling it, is a strange document.

Most manifestos are produced to give the voter a sniff of what life might look like if the party in question gets into power.

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Yet Reform have said quite plainly that they have no ambition to win this election, and see their best case scenario as, instead, installing some MPs as the beginnings of the real opposition against the Labour Party they assume will win on 4 July.

Yet, even so, they have provided a manifesto (if it's alright with you I might just carry on calling it that) with a blizzard of numbers illustrating what they would do in power if given the chance. Not only that, they put great store on the fact that this manifesto is a serious document - that their plans are "fully funded".

So: are they? Do their numbers add up?

Well, in one sense, yes. But in another sense, very much: no.

We'll get to the latter thing in a second but let's just deal with the big numbers which do, as Reform say, make their plan look like it's affordable.

The big numbers first. Essentially Reform say they have a range of money-raising measures (some tax rises and even more spending cuts) which add up to £150bn.

This is a lot of money, but then so is the amount they plan to give away, mostly in the form of tax cuts: £141bn.

So, on the surface, it looks like they plan to raise more money than they'll spend. Not only is their plan "fully-funded", it actually leaves a safety buffer. Impressive! If you believe the numbers!

So, what about those numbers?

Most parties attempt to provide their figures for a single year - usually the final year of the next parliament, but Reform have averaged out their numbers, which makes it a little hard to be sure whether they are achievable. But this is far from the biggest problem.

The real issue here is that you barely have to touch their policies before holes start appearing in them.

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Let's start with the biggest money-raising measure. The party thinks it can save £50bn by "slashing wasteful spending" in government. This clearly sounds like a good idea. And in one sense the back-of-envelope numbers seem to back it up.

After all, the government's total current spending (in other words once you subtract investment) minus debt interest payments comes to about £1,000bn (a trillion pounds). Five pounds in every hundred of that would indeed come to £50bn.

But here we begin to run into some pretty insurmountable problems. Because that £1,000bn isn't just government departments spending money willy-nilly.

In fact, £140bn of it is the state pension. Reform have no plans to cut that, so we should probably subtract it from the total available for these waste-cuts.

Around £180bn of it is other welfare spending. Reform do indeed have plans to cut welfare spending, saving £15bn in the process, but, crucially, this is on top of the £50bn they are trying to save from government waste.

A hole in their sums

You could say something similar about international aid: that comes to about £12bn of spending. But Reform already have plans to slash that in half, raising £6bn.

Then there's the bits of government spending where Reform say they'll actually increase spending, not cutting it - most notably defence.

Subtract all of these areas where Reform have either signalled they're protecting budgets or have already "spent" the savings elsewhere in their manifesto and the total government bill left to trim is not £1,000bn. It's only £610bn.

Let's assume Reform really are able to save £5 in every £100 spent by this remaining "rump" of UK state spending. That would raise not £50bn in savings but £30bn.

Perhaps by now you start to see the problem. All of a sudden that safety buffer disappears and there's a hole in Reform's sums. There's not enough money coming in to pay for all those tax cuts they're planning to offer.

They're in Liz Truss territory - albeit with even bigger tax cuts than that former prime minister posited.

Confronts issues major parties shirk

Which is rather a shame because, while many (especially those from the "establishment") will likely turn their nose up at the Reform manifesto, it confronts a few issues the major parties shirk from addressing in their own manifestos.

For instance, Reform say they would raise £35bn by cutting the amount of interest the Bank of England is paying out to private banks as a consequence of its quantitative easing programme. This sounds deeply outlandish at first, but it's actually not far from what many other central banks around the world are already doing.

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The Reform number there may be over-ambitious: if the UK copied what the European Central Bank is doing it would probably only raise a fraction of that - maybe £5bn or £10bn.

Even so, it's very odd neither Labour nor the Conservatives are even addressing this. It would be quite surprising if Labour didn't do something along these lines (albeit perhaps less radically-structured) if they came into office.

However, one thing that certainly isn't especially realistic with this manifesto is the sheer scale of the numbers Reform are talking about.

They are multiples bigger than Ms Truss's plans, and still bigger than any of the plans posited by the major parties in this election. The only other party planning a bigger set of giveaways is the Green Party.