The public, especially the needy, will suffer, say social workers and unions Blood would 'flow like a river' if Mr Tang cut spending by 11 per cent over five years, one political opponent said. Another doubted a weak government had the will to find such big savings. Civil service unions and social workers warned the cuts would worsen public services and affect adversely the disadvantaged in society. In his speech to Legco, Mr Tang said he was determined to reduce government operating expenditure to $200 billion by 2008-2009. 'Striving to restore balance to our operating account and maintaining fiscal discipline are essential when the government has been running deficits since 1998-99,' Mr Tang said. 'Starting from 2004-05, the cuts will build up to 11 per cent over five years.' He said the cuts were moderate. 'In proposing these reductions, I have balanced the requirements of different policy areas, and been sympathetic to the special needs and the human elements of different sectors,' he said. But he admitted such a cut might adversely affect services to the public and subsidies to non-governmental organisations. Democrat Cheung Man-kwong said his party was 'very disappointed' by the prospect of cuts in spending on welfare, education and health care. 'Although Tang said it would not be an across-the-board cut, the cut is deep enough to cause blood flowing like a river,' he said. Cheung Kwok-chu, chairman of the Hong Kong Social Workers' General Union, said the cuts would worsen the understaffing problem facing NGOs in the welfare sector. 'The cuts might result in reductions [in] or even the scrapping of developmental and preventive social services, such as youth services,' he said. Christine Fang Meng-sang, chief executive of the Hong Kong Council of Social Service, said the government should ensure services for needy people would not be affected. 'It takes longer for disadvantaged groups to benefit from economic growth,' she said. Ms Fang called on the community to donate more to welfare groups to make up for any cuts. Felix Cheung Kwok-biu, president of the Hong Kong Civil Servants General Union, said the workload on civil servants had been increasing, and further cuts would undermine the quality of public services. Joseph Cheng Yu-shek, professor of political science at the City University, doubted the government's determination to implement the cuts. 'Mr Tang withdrew the proposal to levy a departure tax in the wake of opposition from political parties,' he said. Anthony Cheung Bing-leung, professor of public and social administration at the City University, said Mr Tang would face gigantic challenges in resolving conflicts between government departments over how to implement the cuts.