Letwin attacked by children's charity over call for closure

Oliver Letwin, the shadow Chancellor was criticised by a children's charity yesterday after he suggested that it was a quango that could be abolished as part of his plans to save £1.7bn.

Oliver Letwin, the shadow Chancellor was criticised by a children's charity yesterday after he suggested that it was a quango that could be abolished as part of his plans to save £1.7bn.

Mr Letwin had listed the Children's Play Council (CPC) as an example of government bureaucracy that would be cut after a "serious, line by line" review carried out by the business troubleshooter, David James. "There is much the Government does at the moment that is simply unnecessary," he said on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme. "Let me give you an example. This is not something that the Department for Culture Media and Sport is doing by mistake: it established a Play Council. Do we need a Play Council?"

The council hit back by pointing out that it was a charity, and was set up under the Tories in 1988. It employs five staff and receives £100,000 a year of taxpayers' money from the department towards its £270,000 budget. Officials said it worked with other charities to provide staff and guidance on play schemes for children, including the severely handicapped.

Tim Gill, director of the CPC, said: "He seems to have got the wrong end of the stick about our history and our purpose. We are inviting him to meet us to see what we do."

A spokesman for Mr Letwin said last night: "Most of these things should be treated as example of where we do not think the Government should be involved. They may be a charity, but they do take taxpayers' money."

Richard Caborn, the Sports minister, said: "Oliver Letwin has got his attempt to cut red tape round his neck. The CPC was born under the Tories and we have kept it going because it provides a valuable service."

Mr Letwin was seeking to steal the thunder of Gordon Brown, the Chancellor, who will announce deep cuts in civil service numbers next Monday in his Comprehensive Spending Review.

Mr Letwin said the main savings under his plans would include £925m from stopping primary care trusts commissioning operations for patients. Under the Tories, he said, family doctors would organise operations for patients.

He would also save £100m from the abolition of strategic health authorities and £650m by cutting back the role of "arm's-length" NHS bodies such as the National Institute for Clinical Excellence.

Officials close to John Reid, the Health Secretary, said the NHS would not be able to gain the best prices for items such as cancer scanners if GPs were expected to do the commissioning. "It would be chaos," a senior ministerial source said.

However, Mr Reid is planning to match the Tories by cutting back the NHS's more peripheral organisations, which between them employ 22,000 staff. This is likely to require the merger of bodies such as the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority and the Human Tissue Authority.

Jonathan Bourne, of the First Division Association, said: "We appear to be in a lottery between the Tories and the Government for who can make the biggest cuts. What we have not seen is any evidence of how these cuts can be achieved without losing public services."

THE TORY LIST

¿ The Civil Service now numbers 512,410

¿ Whitehall bureaucracy costs every household £850 a year

¿ The number of tax collectors and customs officers (97,760) has increased almost twice as fast as the number of doctors and nurses

¿ The number of NHS managers is increasing three times as fast as the number of medical staff

¿ An extra 511 civil servants were employed every week last year

¿ 88,000 extra people were employed to work in education last year; just 14,000 were teachers or teaching assistants

¿ For every extra police officer, almost one more bureaucrat works in the Home Office

¿ Fifteen new regulations have been created every day since 1997

¿ A criminal arrest takes on average three-and-a-half hours to process

¿ For every job the private sector lost last year, the public sector took on almost two jobs

¿ The increase in the Government's advertising budget since 1997 (£60m to £161m) could have paid for 17,000 heart by-pass operations

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