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Tories accused of 'planning deep public services cuts'

June 1, 2009 12:00 AM
By Andrew Woodcock, Press Association in The Independent

Labour today accused the Conservatives of preparing for deep cuts in vital public services if they win power in the General Election expected next year.

Three days ahead of crucial European and local elections, Cabinet minister Yvette Cooper said the battlelines between the parties on the economy and public spending were more starkly drawn than at any time since the early years of Margaret Thatcher's administration.

She challenged David Cameron's claim to have laid out a "clear plan" to reduce national debt, insisting that the Tories had instead made proposals for extra spending and tax cuts which would increase debt by around £10bn and have to be funded by slashing services.

Amid continuing furore over MPs' expenses, Labour today sought to refocus attention on its message that this week's elections offer a choice between continued investment in the economy, homes and jobs under Gordon Brown or cuts under the Conservatives.

Ms Cooper today said that the Tories were "isolated" internationally in their plans to cut spending during the recession, which she described as "frankly bonkers". The Conservative plans would extend the downturn and risk a return to the high unemployment and home repossessions of the early 1980s and 1990s, she said.

While the Tories have made no proposals to cut back on frontline health and education spending, their election would raise concerns about the future of investment in the NHS and schools, she claimed.

"Our view is that the economic and political choice between the parties is bigger now than at any time since the early Thatcher years," Ms Cooper told a Labour pre-election briefing in Westminster.

While Labour was taking action to support businesses, keep people in work and protect families from repossession, a Conservative Government would "walk on by", she said.

"The measures we have taken are supporting around half a million jobs. The fiscal action around things like the VAT cut and bringing forward capital investment is supporting 150,000 jobs and that is effectively 150,000 jobs that would be at risk from Conservative economy policy," she said.

"That is the Conservatives turning their backs on people who would be affected by the recession and returning to Thatcherism, but it is Thatcherism with a smoother sales pitch."

Ms Cooper said that the Conservatives had already promised to cut Government spending by £5bn this year, but had not spelt out where the axe would fall.

And she said that Tories had also pledged to spend millions on raising inheritance tax thresholds as well as voicing ambitions to reverse a "queue" of measures, including the National Insurance hike, reductions in pension tax relief and 50p income tax rate for high-earners planned for 2010 by Chancellor Alistair Darling.

Meanwhile, Tory plans to increase powers for NHS trusts and local councils to raise debt and to encourage households to borrow up to £6,500 to pay for energy-saving technology would risk a sharp rise in national and personal debt, she said.

"Our assessment is that they would need to find an additional £10 billion of spending cut simply to fund their proposals, and even more if they think borrowing and debt should come down," said Ms Cooper.

"Our challenge to the Conservatives is to come clean about what their policies actually are. People should feel quite chilled by the prospect of a Conservative Government and Conservative policy plans."