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Last Updated: Thursday, 8 January, 2004, 12:45 GMT
Tories appoint red tape watchdog
Michael Howard
Mr Howard was at the Millennium Dome to announce the initiative
The man put in charge of closing the Millennium Dome is to try and find ways for the Tories to cut wasteful spending and red tape in government.

Tory leader Michael Howard has asked troubleshooter David James and a group of experts to scour the government books for ways to save taxpayers' cash.

The announcement came at the dome, seen by Tories as symbolic of Labour waste.

Mr Howard said wasteful spending had "increased beyond recognition", although ministers denied those claims.

Speaking at the Dome Mr Howard said: "No government has been perfect in relation to this question but the extent of this government really takes it to a completely different level."

But Cabinet Office Minister Douglas Alexander said it was a reannouncement of previous Tory reviews on spending.

He added that Mr Howard had an "appalling record on waste".

"As an economics minister he squandered 1.5bn on the poll tax, 4bn on Black Wednesday and 3.5bn on the cost of BSE."

Rising costs?

Tony Blair has said the amount spent on government bureaucracy has fallen as a share of total spending since he came to office in 1997.

But the Tories say the actual costs of administering central government has risen by 7bn.

The Dome was the site for the launch of the Conservative's initiative
The committee of experts are due to carry out an audit of government finance, identify waste and find ways of spending taxpayers' money more efficiently.

Mr James has built his reputation on turning around collapsed companies.

He was executive chairman of Dome operators the New Millennium Experience company from September 2000, supervising its closure.

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that he was not just concerned with cost-cutting and reducing staff.

He said: "What we are looking to do here is a much more comprehensive review which goes to the core of the process by which taxpayers' money is made available to the essential services of health, education and the armed services etc."

Mr James added that his time at the Dome had caused him to be concerned about the way government determined how taxpayers cash was spent.

Sharp end?

"I believe there is great scope for us... to ensure that the money gets down to the sharp end of the hospitals, the schools, the armed forces without first of all being diluted by the cost of the bureaucracy."

Former Dome chairman David James
David James is a crisis manager
Mr James said his team would consist of senior accountants, senior hospital and education managers, and military figures.

He told Today that the Tories were launching their initiative at the Dome for a particular reason.

"One of the early discoveries that we made here was that there was a place called Yard Ten and Yard Ten was the repository for everything that had been bought for the Dome that did not work.

"And into that yard we had something like 80m worth of equipment which had never been out of the packing cases.

"What we want to know is where is Britain's Yard Ten under Labour today, and how much is actually going into wasted expenditure?"

Closure calls

The Tories say eliminating waste could be critical to their ambitions of cutting taxes and improving public services.

But opposition parties have long declared war on red tape and waste, only to be accused of failing to act when they get into government.

The Liberal Democrats have already honed in on the issue.

Last year they said a series of big departments, including the Department of Trade and Industry, would be abolished under Lib Dem plans to save cash.

The party said its plans could see 4bn saved by slimming down central government.

The BBC's James Landale
"The Tories' problem is that they have tried this before"

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