Page last updated at 12:25 GMT, Thursday, 10 September 2009 13:25 UK

Tories 'must learn from councils'

George Osborne
Mr Osborne says councils are "getting on" with making savings

A future Conservative government will have much to learn from the way Tory-run councils have saved money, shadow chancellor George Osborne has said.

In a speech to local authorities, he said councils had dealt well with budget "constraints" similar to those to be faced in Downing Street.

Tories are "rooting out waste and cutting costs", Mr Osborne stressed.

But Labour said Tory local councils had prioritised the better-off at the expense of the majority of people.

'Rooting out waste'

In a speech to the Conservative Councillors' Seminar in central London, Mr Osborne said councils had led the way in areas such as sharing services publishing spending details online.

When it comes to rooting out waste and cutting costs, Conservative councils are showing it can be done
Shadow Chancellor George Osborne

"I want the Conservative Party to learn from what local Conservative councils are doing right now, as they are dealing with many of the constraints that we may face very soon," he said.

While Tory central office is developing policies for delivering public services when budgets are tight, local councils have "got on with doing it", he argued.

"When it comes to rooting out waste and cutting costs, or improving services through innovative new policies, Conservative councils are showing it can be done."

Windsor Council and the Greater London Authority were the first to publish detailed information about their spending programmes online, Mr Osborne said.

Tory-run Hammersmith and Fulham reduced administration costs and froze councillor allowances so it could focus resources on schools and more policing, he added.

The BBC's political correspondent Iain Watson said Mr Osborne's speech reflected the Tories' strategy of being upfront about the need for cuts and that all tiers of government needed to take the lead in tightening their belts.

Earlier this week Mr Cameron announced plans to cut ministers' pay and reduce the number of MPs among a range of measures to "cut the cost of politics".

More for less

Mr Osborne's comments come amid a row with Labour over the government's spending deficit, which is expected to reach £175bn this year.

The Tories say Gordon Brown's administration is being reckless in its spending, mounting up debt.

They intend to cut public spending if they win the next general election while protecting overall health and international aid budgets.

The truth is when the Tories say more for less they mean more for the wealthiest few but less for the many
John Denham, Communities Secretary

Despite their commitment to a real-term increase in health spending, the Tories have indicated that the rate of increase will be much smaller than in recent years and the NHS must get used to doing more for less.

In a speech on Wednesday, shadow health secretary Andrew Lansley said real savings would still be needed to meet growing demand for health services due to an ageing population and specific public health problems.

"Our commitment will still mean a significantly reduced rate of expenditure and it is by no means a blank cheque," he said.

"Even with small increases, NHS services everywhere will have to tighten their belts just to meet demand."

'Right-wing agenda'

Labour argues the Conservatives would cut spending on frontline services and their record in local government is one of privatisation and charging for core services.

"George Osborne is right to say that Conservative councils demonstrate what a Tory government would be like," said Communities Secretary John Denham.

"They show that around the country Tory politicians pursue the same right-wing agenda which they have always done.

"The truth is when the Tories say more for less they mean more for the wealthiest few but less for the many."

Under Labour, local authorities had made combined savings of £3.4bn between 2004 and 2007, he added.

But Labour is also under pressure to spell out how it can make much-needed savings without hurting frontline services.

Former home secretary Charles Clarke said Labour would be "judged" by the way it deals with the UK's mounting debt levels since most people did not appreciate the "scale" of action required to reduce the deficit.

He told online magazine Policy Review that new thinking was required on taxation while several big spending commitments such as renewal of the Trident nuclear deterrent should be axed.

"Our commitment to fairness must be crystal clear in rigorous control of public spending as well as taxation," he said.

"That is the only way to overcome widespread scepticism about the operation of government."

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