The pace and scale of public spending cuts is not set in stone and could be changed if the policy fails to rescue the economy, a Liberal Democrat cabinet minister has said.

The Chancellor will next month unveil the drastic squeeze on Whitehall budgets as he bids to eradicate the UK’s structural deficit by 2015 - a policy the Lib Dems opposed at the general election.

Speaking at a fringe event during the party’s annual conference in Liverpool, energy secretary Chris Huhne defended the decision to back the drastic programme, saying the eurozone crisis forced a change of approach.

But he indicated that no government could be forced to switch tack if the policy was not working.

“I’ve never ever known one red book the same as the next,” he said, referring to the document containing each year’s Budget measures and economic figures.

“Any chancellor has to take account of the circumstances,” he went on, comparing it to the wind changing for a sailor crossing the Mersey from Liverpool to Birkenhead.

“The objective will stay the same but you have to make sure you get there.”

Asked by Labour ex-cabinet minister Lord Adonis if he was saying the plans could be scaled back if growth fails to improve, he said: “You have to assess this as things go along and look at what the threats are.”