Page last updated at 18:22 GMT, Sunday, 26 April 2009 19:22 UK

Osborne warns of 'tough' choices

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

George Osborne says excessive debt is at the heart of the UK's economic woes

Shadow chancellor George Osborne has warned of "tough decisions ahead" on public spending if the Conservatives win the next election.

Echoing party leader David Cameron, Mr Osborne attacked Labour's "totally dishonest, disastrous Budget".

He vowed to create an age of austerity and "thrift" to tackle the problems facing the economy.

But he rejected calls to publish details of cuts now saying he wanted to take time to "get it right".

He told delegates in Cheltenham: "Given how dramatically the borrowing forecasts have deteriorated and how fast this last Budget has unravelled, I ask how sensible would it be to write that 2010 Budget now?

"Yes, we will give specifics. Yes, we will seek a mandate.

"But we will take our time and get it right - because we can see today with this government what happens when you get it wrong."

Generational 'blight'

Explaining the meaning of a new age of austerity, he said it referred to the end of "easy money".

He added: "The days of easy money are over. We've got to say to people. If you want to buy a house, then you have to be able to afford a deposit for it.

"If you think you want yet another store credit card, then think twice about it."

Mr Osborne promised to "learn from the mistake of strapping the fortunes of the entire British economy on the back of the tiger of finance" - which meant supporting manufacturing more.

But the cornerstone of any recovery would be sorting out the public finances, he argued, and that would require "tough decisions" on spending.

He said: "I don't want you or me or anyone else to be in any doubt about the scale of the task ahead to deal with a debt crisis that threatens to blight a generation".

Mr Osborne said his party would look to cut back on expensive spending programmes such as identity cards, while also concentrating on the culture in Whitehall and public sector pay as ways to save money.

But he warned that there was "no silver bullet".

The Conservatives have promised to protect health, schools, defence and international development from cuts in 2009 and 2010.

But for 2010 to 2011 they only have two commitments - real terms increases in health spending and matching Labour's 2013 target for 0.7% of GDP to be spent on overseas aid.

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