April 26, 2009

Cameron vows government 'thrift'

Conservative leader David Cameron is to say he plans to "replace Labour's spendaholic government with a new government of thrift".

Mr Cameron will tell his party's spring forum in Gloucestershire later that cutting wasteful spending will not be enough to save the UK's finances.

What is needed is a "complete change of direction" across government and the public sector, he will say.
Mr Cameron is also challenging Gordon Brown to hold a TV debate with him.

The Tory leader made that challenge - something he has done before without success - in an interview with the Sunday Times.

He is using the spring forum, being held at Cheltenham racecourse in Gloucestershire, to set out his priorities for a general election campaign, which could be less than a year away.

'Change of direction'

Responding to the dire state of the public finances revealed in Wednesday's Budget, he will say Britain is entering a "new age of austerity" and there needs to a "complete change of direction" at the top.

He will argue for a "whole new, never-been-done-before approach to the way the country is run".

He will tell delegates: "Cutting out spending we can do without is not going to deliver the scale of change we need. "Delivering more for less, on a sustained and long-term basis, cannot just be about top-down cuts imposed by ministers. We need a massive culture change at every level of government, so the state is no longer casual, but careful, with public money."

He will list examples of public sector waste and attack what he says is the culture in government that "prizes profligacy over prudence".

"With a Conservative government, if ministers want to impress the boss, they'll have to make their budgets smaller, not bigger.

"On my watch it will be simple: if you do more for less you get promoted; if you do less for more, you get sacked.

"If we'd had this approach over the last 12 years, I don't suppose there'd be a single minister left."

He will say the "culture of thrift" must also apply to the civil service, promising "a new fiduciary responsibility on senior civil servants - a contractual obligation to save the taxpayer money" and a "proper finance director" for every government department.

Top tax rate

The Conservatives are using the spring conference to launch what is likely to be a key policy at the general election - extending the city academy programme to primary schools.

They will be hoping this will head off any rows over the new 50% top rate of income tax after Mr Cameron said it would not be a priority to cut it if the Tories win the election.

London Mayor Boris Johnson has said he would scrap the top rate but has so far managed to avoid being drawn into public criticism of Mr Cameron at the conference. He made a typically colourful speech at a rally for Tory election candidates, in a room below the one of the main stands at the racecourse, telling them - to loud cheers - "break your piggy bank and put it on the jockey wearing blue" and saying "the Labour animal is knackered".

He has also denied, in an interview with the ConservativeHome website, a report in the Times' that he "despised" Mr Cameron, saying the report was "obvious tripe" and "fantasy".

He also played down recent reports that he is planning to be prime minister saying that being London mayor is "almost certainly my last big job in British politics".

The Conservatives have said they want to make savings through spending cuts rather than tax rises if they get into power, which they argue would slow down any economic recovery.

They have not said where any cuts will fall, beyond saying that health, schools, defence and international development will be protected from cuts in 2009 and 2010.

For 2010 to 2011 they only have two commitments - real terms increases in health spending and matching Labour's 2013 target for 0.7% of GDP to be spent on overseas aid.

Pressed on where cuts would come under a Conservative government, shadow foreign secretary William Hague told BBC Radio 5 Live: "Most of those will have to be set out when we are in government.

"Some others may be set out before the election. I'm not going to set them out casually on a Sunday morning... We haven't done all the work on how we would change public spending, of course not."

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