Howard prepares to swing axe

UNELECTED regional assemblies which have been set up across England will be scrapped by the Conservatives as part of a massive plan to inject money into public services such as hospitals and schools, Tory leader Michael Howard promised yesterday.

UNELECTED regional assemblies which have been set up across England will be scrapped by the Conservatives as part of a massive plan to inject money into public services such as hospitals and schools, Tory leader Michael Howard promised yesterday.

Also for the chop are strategic health authorities as Mr Howard announced tax cuts worth £4bn if his party wins the forthcoming general election, financed by a £35bn reduction in Government spending, involving the abolition of 168 public bodies and the loss of 235,000 civil service jobs.

The party would plough £23bn of these savings into front line services such as the NHS, education, care for the elderly, transport, police and international development.

"We will increase spending beyond Labour's spending plans on the police, pensions and the nation's defences, with spending in those areas growing by 12%, 12% and 9% between 2005/6 and 2007/8," said Mr Howard.


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"And we will increase spending on aid by 18%, working towards 0.7% of GDP in aid by 2013."

To pay for this largesse, the Tories will scrap 168 public bodies, 235,000 bureaucrats, English regional assemblies, the proposed Supreme Court, the small business service, and the New Deal.

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Although Mr Howard and his Shadow Chancellor Oliver Letwin were coy at yesterday's media launch as to what taxes would be reduced as a result of the savings, the Conservatives are expected to enter the election campaignwith a promise to raise income tax thresholds to lift low-earners out of the tax altogether.

Mr Howard believes the promise of tax cuts worth the equivalent of around £170 a year for each household in the UK will give the Conservatives a powerful message in the battle with Labour and the Liberal Democrats, widely expected to be held on May 5.

"There is a clear choice at the next election," said Mr Howard. "More waste and higher taxes under Tony Blair or value for money and lower taxes under the Conservatives.

"We are showing exactly how we will deliver lower taxes and better value for money.

"No one has to take us on trust. What we promise we will deliver. Our proposals are reasonable, responsible and achievable.

"By cutting government down to size, we can ensure that the forgotten majority keep more of the money they work so hard to earn."

The Tories' pledges are a result of the outcome of a year-long review of Government spending carried out for the Conservatives by business trouble-shooter David James.

He identified £35 bn of "wasteful Government expenditure" which the Conservatives have pledged to cut if they come to power.

Labour's election co-ordinator Alan Milburn immediately rubbished Mr Howard's announcement. "The Tories ought to have learned by now that the public aren't daft. So when they hear Michael Howard promising tax cuts, and promising extra spending on schools and hospitals, they look upwards and see skies full of flying pigs.

"Because they know their sums don't add up. They know the Tories plan massive cuts in public services," said Mr Milburn.

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