Tories move to deflect criticism of cuts

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The Tories yesterday sought to silence critics of their planned £16bn spending cuts by outlining a "golden combination" of future policy which would save taxpayers' money.

The Tories yesterday sought to silence critics of their planned £16bn spending cuts by outlining a "golden combination" of future policy which would save taxpayers' money.

Oliver Letwin, the party's Treasury spokesman, said the dual strategy of a "war on waste" and "rigorous tests on public spending" would ensure investment in crucial areas, such as the NHS was guaranteed.

David Willetts, the social security spokesman, used his speech to the conference to promise a boost for pensions, attacking Labour's "measly" rise of 75p a week and describing as "patronising gimmicks", the Government's package of help for the elderly.

Mr Willetts said the Tories would uprate pensions next year by £5.50 for a single pensioner under 75 and £10 for a married couple over 75. "If [the Chancellor] Gordon Brown uprates pensions by more than inflation, we will accept that and still add our reform package on top. So we can look every pensioner in the eye and say: 'You will be better off under the Conservatives'," he said.

Mr Willetts said: "We want the next generation to have bigger, better-funded pensions. We can only achieve that if we encourage saving now." He said younger workers would be offered the option of building up a real fund of their own.

The Conservatives have repeatedly come under pressure from the Government to list the £16bn worth of spending on schools and hospitals they would cut to be able to afford lower taxes. But Mr Letwin said: "We are determined to share the proceeds of economic prosperity between high quality public services and tax cuts that give people more control over their own lives. We will achieve that golden combination through a war on waste and a rigorous test on every item of public expenditure."

That test, he said, would involve approving only projects that were a more worthwhile use of taxpayers' money "than letting a family put a better meal on their own table".

Mr Letwin listed the Millennium Dome, regional development agencies and regional cultural consortia as prime examples of waste.

Andrew Smith, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, said the Tory party leadership had still failed to explain how they would fund their policies. "The Tories are committed to cuts they won't name, whilst making promises they can't fund," he said.

Earlier, David Heathcoat-Amory, the trade and Industry spokesman, pledged to cut red tape by reducing the regulatory costs to business year-on-year. "I will deregulate before breakfast, before lunch and before tea," he said.

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