Cameron promises end to regional quangos

DAVID Cameron yesterday confirmed that unelected regional assemblies would be scrapped if the Conservatives win the next election.He also promised more help for post offices and the armed forces.

By Graham Dines

DAVID Cameron yesterday confirmed that unelected regional assemblies would be scrapped if the Conservatives win the next election.

In their place, he envisages joint co-operative working with county councils getting together to attract inward investment and to sort our major planning issues such as housing.

Answering questions from a group of regional journalists at his first conference since being elected Tory leader 10 months ago, Mr Cameron insisted no-one would miss England's eight regional assemblies, set up by the Government as its answer to devolution in Scotland and Wales.

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“Instead of asking 'who will stand up for the English regions?' I say 'who stands up for the great cities and counties of England?'

“Everywhere I go I see huge civic pride in the institutions which people understand and to which they relate.

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“Let's empower real civic responsibility in the cities and counties, get rid of these regional constructs and get power down to counties. That's a much better way of doing things.”

A Cameron government could also axe regional development agencies such as EEDA. He wants counties such as Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex to combine to win European funding - real devolution to local people.

“If people in a region think their RDA is doing a good job, by all means let's keep it and work with it. But it may be that counties would rather get together to do the work of the RDAs on a different basis. Real devolution and real social responsibility is recognising you don't have to do the same thing in every part of the country.”

And social responsibility is a key them of this week's conference. “We are moving back to the centre ground. You can see it in the concerns about health and education - debating mainstream topics rather than banging on endlessly about Europe. It confirms the move that is going on for 10 months.

“While we are on the centre ground, we have to have a clear mission. We are going to test every policy through the prism of social responsibility - what can we do to give parents more responsibility for bringing up their children, to give teachers and doctors more professional responsibility in schools and hospitals, to give local councils more civic responsibility to solve problems in their own areas, give companies more corporate responsibility to tackle environmental challenges.

“Unlike Labour, it's not about rolling back the state but rolling forward society.”

Mr Cameron acknowledged the work the Tories must do in parts of the UK where they have been unelectable for more than a decade. “I have said I want to win in every part of the country. Moving back into the centre ground is part of the issue.

“The Conservative Party has had a problem that it is out of date and out of touch and that has been particularly acute in Scotland and northern England. People are perplexed that despite all money that has been put into the NHS we now have a huge programme of closures, redundancies and cutbacks.”

RURAL post offices could be saved under a future Conservative government by giving them lottery terminals. “It would draw in people who would then use the services of their post office, ensuring that a vital community facility survives, ” said Mr Cameron

Mr Cameron is looking at a manifesto for the armed forces. It would mean, for example, Colchester based troops would not pay income tax while serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“United States personnel are exempt from tax while on overseas duty. Why should it be any different for British forces?

“We are also considering a range of other issues which concern our troops, including contact time with home. I am very sympathetic with our servicemen - they're doing a terrific job in difficult circumstances and we should do what we can to help them keep touch with home.”

IS the National Health Service safe in David Cameron's hands?

“I believe in the NHS and that it should be free at the point of use.

“It is not just that the NHS is safe in my hands but that my family is safe in the hands of the health service. I feel the importance of the NHS every day of my life.”

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