Charles Kennedy: This country needs less government

From a speech by the Liberal Democrat leader to the Social Market Foundation in London
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On the wall of my office, there's a print of Gladstone's Cabinet of 1880. There are 14 men in the picture, five with beards and nine without. Compare that with the Cabinet of 2003. The proportion of beards has gone down. But the overall number has gone considerably up - to 21. It raises a question. If it was possible to make do with a much smaller Cabinet when Britain ruled a third of the world, do we really need a Cabinet of 21 to run the UK on its own? Particularly when Scotland and Wales now have their own devolved legislatures.

I believe that central government could help achieve a great deal more by doing a great deal less. We believe that by both restructuring and slimming down central Government and by cutting back on less productive spending programmes, we can secure significant savings.

I have decided to set a target of finding savings of at least one per cent of total annual government spending to re-allocate to priority areas like education, health and tackling poverty. By the time of the next election, one per cent will be equivalent to savings of around £5bn a year - enough , for instance, to fund over 150,000 extra nurses, teachers and police every year.

We'd leave far more decision-making to the local level, where local people understand local needs. But that would not mean large amounts of extra local bureaucracy soaking up the money transferred from the centre. There are already plenty of public servants struggling to deliver services at regional and local level. They are hampered, not helped, by the weight of central bureaucracy - constantly having to check whether they are fulfilling the endless targets set by Whitehall. Our proposals would set them free to get on with the job of delivering better services.