Tories told to adopt positive attitude on public services

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Indy Politics

The Conservative Party has been urged to stop regarding public services as a burden that must be paid for and instead to hail them as a force for good.

Stephen Dorrell, who is co-chairing a review of Tory policies on public services, said: "Because they are paid for by taxation, there is a tendency to think of them as a cost rather than a benefit. We are committed to the importance of wealth creation. There is no purer form of wealth creation than good health or a broad education. Both healthcare and education are wealth-creating activities and should be regarded as such."

Mr Dorrell, the former health secretary, warned the Tories would not win the voters' trust on public services merely because David Cameron had pledged to give economic stability greater priority than tax cuts. He said the party needed to be more positive about health and education.

"We have been poor at expressing our ambition for these services; we have been defensive about them," he said. "We should be explicitly committed to the growth of these services and demonstrate we are excited about them.

"We should not regard them as something that we have to deal with as part of the price of being in politics. It is part of the reason for being in politics to be engaged in the delivery of better quality public services."

Mr Dorrell said Mr Cameron's line on tax cuts would help to "remove a negative" but not be enough to reassure voters. "We are not going to convince people we are committed if it is linked in the public mind to tax cuts. We have to be committed to it on its own terms. We have to find a language that expresses our personal and political commitment to the development of these services."

At its first meeting, his group approved a document that highlighted the case for higher spending on services as well greater efficiency in the way they are delivered. It said it would look at whether charges for eye and dental treatment should be abolished to make the NHS genuinely free at the point of use.

The group will also investigate whether more private money could help improve public services. Its report noted that people were prepared to spend more of their own money on private health and education as their incomes rose but that the public was reaching its tolerance limit on the level of taxation.

The document said: "Like most human institutions, our public services could clearly use the resources that are already available to them more efficiently - and standards would rise as a consequence. It is also unavoidably true, however, that if greater resources were available, the services could achieve more. "

Yesterday, the Tories announced they would examine ways of generating energy closer to homes and businesses to tackle climate change. But Mr Cameron said he favoured "green growth" rather than restricting people's lifestyles. He told the BBC that people had a "shared responsibility" to cut greenhouse gas emissions but it would be a "mistake" to tell them to travel less.

The Tory leader rejected as a "fake choice" the idea that airport expansion was incompatible with cutting greenhouse gases. "If we go down the route of the Government trying to tell everyone to live like monks - that we're not going to have economic growth and we're not going to be able to travel - that would be a mistake."