Page last updated at 17:21 GMT, Sunday, 26 April 2009 18:21 UK

Cameron promises age of 'thrift'

By Brian Wheeler
Political reporter, BBC News, Tory Spring Forum

David Cameron: 'I've always been a fiscal conservative'

Conservative leader David Cameron has said he plans to "replace Labour's spendaholic government with a new government of thrift".

Mr Cameron told his party's spring forum he wanted a "complete change of direction" on public spending.

And he vowed an end to Labour waste and "incompetence".

Labour accused him of plotting tax cuts for the wealthy few at the expense of ordinary voters. The Lib Dems said he had "bottled" tough decisions.

Mr Cameron received a standing ovation from delegates at Cheltenham racecourse for his speech, in which he set out his priorities for a general election campaign, which could be less than a year away.

He announced plans to name and shame overpaid civil servants, with a "people's right to know" scheme.

A Tory government would publish all items of public spending over £25,000 on a website and all public sector salaries over £150,000, he said.

He attacked Chancellor Alistair Darling's new 50% top tax rate as a "pathetic piece of class war posturing" aimed at distracting attention away from the "vast hole in the public finances".

"When I see Brown and Darling, I'm reminded of those people who come to your door; one pretends to read your gas meter, while the other robs your house.

"50p income tax when you have a budget deficit of £175bn? That's not responsibility - it's distraction burglary."

Mr Cameron has so far resisted calls to make axing the new top rate a priority for an incoming Conservative government.

'Change of direction'

Responding to the dire state of the public finances revealed in Wednesday's Budget, he said Britain was entering a "new age of austerity" and there needed to be a "complete change of direction" at the top.

He said any government would have to make cuts in the years ahead and he said he was not "frightened about their (Labour's) idiotic ritual chants about Tory cuts".

And he pledged to come up with more detailed proposals when the party had completed a study of the public finances.

He argued for a "whole new, never-been-done-before approach to the way the country is run".

He told delegates: "Cutting out spending we can do without is not going to deliver the scale of change we need.

With a Conservative government, if ministers want to impress the boss, they'll have to make their budgets smaller, not bigger
David Cameron
Conservative leader

"Delivering more for less, on a sustained and long-term basis, cannot just be about top-down cuts imposed by ministers. We need a massive culture change at every level of government, so the state is no longer casual, but careful, with public money."

He listed examples of public sector waste and attacked what he said was the culture in government that "prizes profligacy over prudence".

"With a Conservative government, if ministers want to impress the boss, they'll have to make their budgets smaller, not bigger.

"On my watch it will be simple: if you do more for less you get promoted; if you do less for more, you get sacked.

Today David Cameron once again showed that natural Tory instinct to make the many suffer to pay for tax cuts for the very wealthiest
Alan Johnson, Health Secretary

"If we'd had this approach over the last 12 years, I don't suppose there'd be a single minister left."

He said the "culture of thrift" must also apply to the civil service, promising "a new fiduciary responsibility on senior civil servants - a contractual obligation to save the taxpayer money" and a "proper finance director" for every government department.

'Bottling out'

Mr Cameron earlier hit back at criticism from the right of his party that he should axe the 50% top rate of tax

He also suggested in an interview with BBC One's Politics Show that his party's inheritance tax plans might still be "operable".

This prompted Labour to claim he was planning tax cuts for the few "at the expense of the many".

Labour also seized on Mr Cameron's call for the government to ditch its "irresponsible" plan to increase public spending by £20bn in 2010.

Health Secretary Alan Johnson said: "Today David Cameron once again showed that natural Tory instinct to make the many suffer to pay for tax cuts for the very wealthiest.

"Behind all the marketing speak designed to disguise their true plans, David Cameron let slip today that he is considering cuts of £20bn to public services and help for families.

"He also revealed today that he is so determined to cut taxes for the 3,000 wealthiest estates in the country that if he had to then he would 'put some taxes up' to pay for it."

Lib Dem Treasury spokesman Vince Cable accused the Tories of "bottling out" of the debate on the "hard decisions" that had to be made by all parties on public spending.

"They can not wait until after the election before confronting all of this stuff," he told the BBC News channel.

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