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Last Updated: Monday, 4 October, 2004, 09:59 GMT 10:59 UK
Interview: Oliver Letwin
By Ben Davies
BBC News Online political staff

If the Tories win the next election cabinet ministers will be put on "short term contracts" and will be sacked if they fail to deliver, shadow chancellor Oliver Letwin has said.

Shadow chancellor Oliver Letwin
Oliver Letwin wants to lower taxes but won't make pledges at this stage
In an interview with BBC News Online, Mr Letwin said the challenge his party currently faces is persuading voters they "mean business" when it comes to delivering reforms.

"We believe if we can get into people's minds that we have a very carefully worked out programme that is not just words and we can establish a clear timetable for action and if we can make ourselves accountable then we can convince people that we mean business," he said.

"When we come to power our secretaries of state will be on short term contracts - they will have a plan for their department they will be required by Michael Howard to deliver, and if any of us doesn't deliver we'll be out.

"By showing people that's how we will operate it seems to me we stand a chance of persuading them that we really mean business."

Mr Letwin argues that one of the barriers the Tories have to break through if they are to regain power is a general disillusionment among voters with all politicians.

Health consumers

He says that people have seen their taxes go up by the equivalent of 16.5p in the pound but they are not getting value for money when it comes to schools, healthcare and policing.

He also argues there is a "terrible crisis looming about pension provision".

"In short, people aren't getting the things that they think - and we think - the government really ought to be ensuring they do get," he said.

The challenge for the Tories is persuading people they are the party that can deliver efficiencies by reducing bureaucracy.

Letwin argues that by allowing parents and patients to take tax payers' money out of the system, to purchase the services of their choice, quality will be driven up as hospitals and schools compete for consumers.

Fine words?

He said there were voters who did not want that, but the Conservatives had to persuade those that did, that they "really mean business in doing them".

"So the challenge we are facing at the Conservative Party conference is to persuade people we really do mean business - that this is not just another set of fine words," he adds.

He goes on to claim that there's a "large pool of voters" who backed Labour in 1997 who are disillusioned.

Letwin says he not only wants to be able to persuade these people that they will get a better deal on public services but that if they don't back his party they are in for some difficult times economically.

Action plan

He says British business is being "suffocated" by regulation and that the UK has fallen from fourth to fifteenth in the competitiveness league.

"The whole point of this conference is to set out an action plan," he says.

The party had to "make it clear that we accept that we have to be accountable for delivery".

And it had to "get into people's minds that we have actually over the last four years accumulated by joint effort practical proposals, practical policies very carefully developed to address each of these problems".

"We have a very clear idea how we can reduce the waiting lists for the hospitals, and get hospitals to be cleaner and the answer is to allow them to run themselves and make them compete for patients.

"We have a clear idea how we can get our schools to give parents the education they want for their children - allow teachers to run their schools and make them compete for parents and children."

No pledges on tax

"We have a clear idea of how to get police on the streets which is to fund the police force as we are funding education and health, but to let the police run the show locally, make them accountable locally rather than running them from the home office."

He says his spending plans mean that by the end of a Parliamentary term, expenditure on the NHS and schools would increase by 49bn a year.

But when it comes to tax cuts Letwin is unable to make any pledges saying that it is not possible to predict the state of public finances at the time of the next election - widely predicted for May 2005.

At this stage he only can express his ambition to reduce the burden that he says is currently being shouldered by taxpayers.

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