Treasury figures show Tories' new spending plans top £5bn

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The pre-election battle between the main parties over taxation and public spending reached new heights last night when a Treasury-backed analysis showed the Tories have clocked up more than £5bn of new spending promises.

The pre-election battle between the main parties over taxation and public spending reached new heights last night when a Treasury-backed analysis showed the Tories have clocked up more than £5bn of new spending promises.

As the Tories attacked the Government's three-year spending programme to be unveiled tomorrow as a "bribe", their criticism was undermined by Labour's decision to put a price tag on Conservative policy pledges. It suggests the hole in the Opposition's programme may be much bigger than the £16bn claimed by ministers last week, when the Tories promised to spend less than Labour to leave room for tax cuts.

Using Treasury figures, Labour has identified seven prominent spending commitments totalling £5.193bn. Ministers said this was only the "tip of the iceberg" and a Treasury costing of the Tory programme would be published before the election. While the Tories were in power, the same exercise was used to place a big question mark over Labour's spending plans ahead of elections.

The Tory promises highlighted by Labour are: the detention of all new asylum-seekers, which would cost £2bn to set up and £1bn a year to run; scrapping the early release of prisoners (£1.5bn); bringing in new flexible detention orders for inmates (£75m); expanding the use of secure training centres (£148m); scrapping plans to curb jury trials (£120m); increasing the strength of the Territorial Army (a £136m one-off cost plus £125m a year); and restoring the assisted places scheme to allow pupils from low-income families to attend private schools (£89m).

Although the shadow Chancellor, Michael Portillo, insisted yesterday he would balance the books before the general election, he is worried about the number of commitments made by Tory frontbenchers. The Independent revealed this month that he has ordered them to identify savings of up to £10bn. Some senior Tories admit privately that the party is "getting good at opposition but not yet ready for government".

Andrew Smith, the Chief Treasury Secretary, said last night: "The Conservatives' economic policy is in complete disarray. Shadow spokespeople have gone round the country promising extra resources. It is clear that this is a cruel deception on people."

He called on the Tory frontbenchers to withdraw the plans they could not pay for and branded Mr Hague and Mr Portillo the "£16bn axe men".

Labour will make what it calls the Tories' "£16bn cuts guarantee" the centrepiece of the party's summer campaign. It will give a breakdown on how the extra spending announced tomorrow will affect every constituency in the country, claiming the Tories would scrap the improvements in services.

But Mr Portillo insisted yesterday the Tories would be able to spend more on public services than Labour in the long run because their plans were sustainable while Labour's were not.

He accused Mr Brown of embarking on a spending "binge" in a pre-election U-turn. "Labour wants to spend its way to winning the election, bribing the electorate with their own money. It has no care for tomorrow," he said.

Interviewed by Sir David Frost on BBC television, Mr Portillo declined to say how the Tories would reduce spending but promised they would cut out waste and bureaucracy. He said the dividing line between the parties was: "Labour taxes more and delivers less. Tories tax less and deliver better."

In his statement tomorrow, Mr Brown will announce a huge cash injection for the education budget, which is expected to allow it to keep pace with the 5.6 per cent annual growth announced for the National Health Service in March.

The police will be another big winner, with ministers promising to restore the number of officers by 2003 to the 127,000 level when Labour came to power. The annual crime statistics, to be published tomorrow, will show that crime increased by 3.8 per cent in the year ending in March, partly due to a rise in violent offences. Tony Blair's increasing concern about law and order has strengthened the hand of Jack Straw, the Home Secretary, in his negotiations with the Treasury.

The Department of Health will get a further boost of about £1.5 bn to pay the nursing costs of elderly people requiring long- term care, but will stop short of meeting their bills for all personal care, such as feeding and washing, which was recommended by a Royal Commission last year.

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