Cameron promises 'people power revolution'

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Indy Politics

The public will today be urged to suggest their own spending cuts as the Government steps up its search for billions of pounds of savings.

George Osborne, the Chancellor, will appeal to taxpayers to bombard the Government with ideas for saving money and improving public services. They will be able to send in suggestions via Facebook and the Treasury's "spending challenge" website.

The move is likely to be greeted with scepticism and may produce a series of contradictory or "not in my backyard" suggestions. However, ministers insist they are serious about consulting the public about how the £150bn deficit should be reduced.

The Treasury website has already received 56,000 proposals on saving money from civil servants, since they were consulted about cuts two weeks ago. Some of these will be published by Mr Osborne and David Cameron today. The high response rate has encouraged ministers to extend the search to the general public. They say it shows there is a big appetite for such exercises.

People will be asked questions such as: "Where's the waste?", "What could we be doing more efficiently?", and "What have you seen working well that we could be doing more of?" Mr Osborne's message will be: "You pay your taxes, you use the public services, tell us how we can improve them and make sure we get better value for money."

Yesterday Mr Cameron insisted that his plan to sweep away scores of performance targets set by the previous Labour government would not harm the poorest areas and most vulnerable people – despite fears that it would create a "postcode lottery". He said: "The old top-down system failed the poorest. It widened inequality. In a system where people have no choice, it's the richest who can opt out while the poorest have to take what they're given."

Promising a "people power revolution", Mr Cameron told 1,000 civil servants at a London conference: "If you want to make our public services more transparent, open them up to make them more diverse, to give people more power and control, you can be confident it will get the green light. But if you want to set targets, set new controls, impose new rules, don't bother because you're likely to get the red light."

Unions reacted angrily to Mr Cameron's speech. Brendan Barber, the TUC general secretary, said: "There is no doubt that public services have suffered from too many top-down targets and micro-management from the centre, but the real story of the next few years is going to be deep cuts in public services. None of the new schools cancelled this week will be in a position to be more responsive, because they simply won't exist."

Bob Crow, the RMT general secretary, accused Mr Cameron of trying to "dress up the policies of Margaret Thatcher in the language of Citizen Smith". He said: "When David Cameron talks about a 'people's power revolution', what he means is that the people with the money and the power will continue to call the shots while the working class get hammered with job losses, attacks on living standards and public spending cuts. There's nothing revolutionary in old-fashioned austerity."