Page last updated at 16:13 GMT, Sunday, 10 January 2010

We must act quicker on deficit, says Cameron

David Cameron says the Tories would go further in cutting the deficit

Conservative leader David Cameron has said his party will "go further" than Labour in cutting the UK's £178bn budget deficit, if they win power.

The government has pledged to halve Britain's deficit over four years, but Mr Cameron told the BBC: "We need to make more progress more quickly."

But he accepted that plans outlined by the Tories so far were "not enough" to balance the books.

Minister Liam Byrne said he had said nothing about where the axe would fall.

'Not enough'

The government has introduced a Fiscal Responsibility Bill in Parliament aimed at halving the deficit in four years - but Mr Cameron said Mr Brown's plan was to "put every decision off until after the election and say as little as possible between now and then".

He accepted that Conservative plans to reduce costs announced so far did not go far enough but said they were a "big contrast" to what the government had announced.

He said he wants deeper, faster cuts than Labour but then deepened the mystery about where the cash would come from
Liam Byrne
Chief Secretary to the Treasury

Asked if he would do more than halve the deficit in four years, Mr Cameron told BBC One's Andrew Marr Show: "We think you have to go further than what the government say, you have to start earlier."

One consequence of the "shambles of this week" - a reference to a failed bid by two former Labour ministers to hold a secret ballot on Gordon Brown's leadership - was that the PM and chancellor now agreed his party had "got it right" on the need for cuts, he said.

The BBC understands Mr Darling, who has reportedly been frustrated by the PM's messages on cuts, met Mr Brown on Wednesday before publicly rejecting the revolt.

On Sunday Mr Brown dismissed the ballot call as a "form of silliness" in a newspaper interview.

Mr Cameron said economists agreed with his party that reducing the deficit - the gap between what the government is spending and its income from tax - was "part of getting the economy to grow".

'Sound bites and dogma'

He said it was wrong to believe public spending would pull Britain out of recession - the government says Tory plans to begin cutting public spending earlier risk deepening the recession.

"We are going to get out of this recession by trading our way out, by business deciding to employ people to create wealth, to go after new markets, to export," Mr Cameron said.

He said that while he thought the government's planned 0.5% National Insurance rise from 2011 was the wrong approach - he could not yet commit to "get rid" of it.

The government is spending vast amounts of money. They have got more spin doctors, more advisers, more press officers than they have ever had. So I think the money we are spending is responsible
David Cameron

And he outlined plans to change rules stopping social housing tenants from setting up businesses in their home, reducing the time it takes to start a new business and lifting the insolvency threshold from £750 to £2,000 to protect small businesses.

But Chief Secretary to the Treasury Liam Byrne said Mr Cameron's comments would "set alarm bells ringing up and down Britain".

"He said he wants deeper, faster cuts than Labour, but then deepened the mystery about where the cash would come from," he said.

"He said he wants to cut the deficit faster, but yet again he says nothing about how he'll do it."

Liberal Democrat Treasury spokesman Vince Cable, said "the speed and the extent of deficit reduction" should be decided on how the economy was performing, not "political sound bites and dogma".

"The time to start cutting the budget deficit and its speed must be decided by a series of objective tests which include the rate of recovery, the level of unemployment, the availability of credit to businesses and the government's ability to borrow in international markets on good terms," he said.

Justice Secretary Jack Straw has accused the Tories of mounting "the most expensive election campaign in British political history".

'Tough' cuts

Mr Cameron confirmed the party planned to spend £18m - the legal limit on election campaigning - but said the Central Office of Information, which he described as "the government's advertising arm", had a £500m budget.

"The government is spending vast amounts of money. They have got more spin doctors, more advisers, more press officers than they have ever had. So I think the money we are spending is responsible," he said.

On Saturday, Chancellor Alistair Darling warned that the next spending review would be the "toughest we have had for 20 years" and said there would be "something like a £57bn reduction in the deficit through tax increases and spending cuts".

Asked if he intended to reduce departmental budgets by more, or simply start cuts earlier, Mr Cameron replied: "It's both and one leads to the other."

A general election must be called by early June but commentators believe 6 May is the most likely date.

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