The Tory high command launched a twin-pronged attack on Labour's "tax and spend" agenda yesterday, pledging to slash red tape and make deep cost cuts across Whitehall.
Addressing the British Chambers of Commerce annual conference, the Conservative leader Michael Howard said a Tory government would free business of excessive regulation, whether it came from Westminster or Brussels, and lower the burden of taxation over time.
Claiming that Britain had dropped from fourth to fifteenth place in the world competitiveness league while £30bn had been added to the cost of regulation on business, Mr Howard told delegates: "The British economy needs to become more flexible again. We need to get a grip on regulation, cut back on waste and over time reduce the burden of regulation.
"For free enterprise to flourish, it needs to be free. Not weighed down by excessive rules, regulations, red tape and tax. You all operate in a fiercely competitive global marketplace. The extra burden of high tax and over-regulation make it much more difficult for British business to compete."
Earlier, the shadow Chancellor, Oliver Letwin, told the conference that a Tory government would slash 100,000 civil service jobs, reducing the size of Whitehall from 500,000 to 400,000. Regulations would be made more difficult to introduce and easier to abolish and whole classes of business would be made exempt from certain types of regulation.
Both Mr Howard and Mr Letwin attacked the proposed EU Constitution, warning that it would usher in yet more layers of legislation. Mr Howard said that 40 per cent of new regulations originated in Brussels. "Be in no doubt - if Europe were to adopt the proposed European Constitution that burden would go on rising."
The Conservatives will step up their campaign against the Constitution today by revealing what the party claims will be the "crippling" effect it will have on British business by doubling red tape. It will also announce the formation of a task force to combat over-regulation.
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