Howard urged to get tough on tax cuts

Michael Howard has been warned he must get tougher on taxes if he wants to convince voters that his party can deliver a "lower tax government."

Edward Leigh, chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, said that the Tory Party leader is running out of time to sway voters because of the impending general election.

Mr Leigh, a senior Tory MP, called for "radical" tax cuts in the first year of a Conservative-led government and said that specific tax promises need making now.

He said that any pledge of lower taxation should be put into place "months, not weeks" before the General Election of May 5.

It is understood that this would allow voters time to soak up the message of the Conservatives, while giving the opposition 'underdog' a tangible chance at unseating the Labour party.

Mr Leigh, who is chairman of a watchdog on government spending, added that a promise of lower tax would give an asset to the Conservatives that Gordon Brown could not afford.

He said by vowing to reduce tax, the Tories would "give a new dynamism to our party and to our chances of winning the election."

Michael Howard has since reacted by unveiling further tax cuts in the shape of slashing existing government bureaucracy, known by the shadow chancellor as "fat government."

Sliming down 'fat' government would start with the abolition of the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, and carry on to cut costs significantly at local councils.

The cost of scrapping John Prescott's department, which caters for housing, social exclusion and local government issues, would deliver an estimated saving of £2.3 billion a year.

Likewise, the cost of closing local council authorities is expected to net a further £4.43 billion a year.

With both sums of money, Oliver Letwin pledges to reduce the paid amount of council tax and create a new "slimmed down" version of the ODPM, dubbed the 'Department for Local Government.'

Meanwhile, the Daily Telegraph reports that the Tories have hired City troubleshooter David James, to calculate the total amount of government bureaucracy, estimated at £30 billion.

His findings will be rolled out later this month, and are expected to pave the way for Tory proposals, including direct tax cuts as well as more money to schools, hospitals and other front-line services.

The report will also set out ways in which the next government can fill Gordon Brown's £10 billion "black hole" in the Treasury finances.

Labour has since hit out at the tax talk of the Tories, by saying any savings would have an adverse reaction to the front-line services that Mr Howard is pledging to help.

Last night, the Conservative leader was doing his best to dispel a series of gloomy pre-election surveys, which puts Mr Howard and his party firmly in second place for May's election.


12th January 2005

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