Tory pledge to axe regional bureaucracy

CHRIS FISHER, EDP Political Editor The East of England Development Agency will be threatened with the axe if the Tories return to power, and the unelected East of England Regional Assembly would definitely be scrapped.

CHRIS FISHER, EDP Political Editor

The East of England Development Agency will be threatened with the axe if the Tories return to power, and the unelected East of England Regional Assembly would definitely be scrapped.

David Cameron emphasised at the Conservative Party Conference that regional development agencies would survive only in parts of the country where they are thought to perform a useful service, and that the assemblies would be doomed if he enters 10 Downing Street.

“In areas where people value their RDA and they think it does a good job, by all means let's keep them and work with them,” he said. But in areas where there is a less “positive” attitude to them, their role could be replaced by county councils working together, he continued.

The Tory leader is acutely aware that RDAs are much more popular in some regions - generally the north - than others, and that most people are barely aware of the existence of the “shadow” regional assemblies that were set up in anticipation of votes for elected ones in regional referendums.

The East of England Assembly has 105 members from 54 local authorities in the region, meets twice a year, has 45 staff and is based in Flempton near Bury St Edmunds.

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Mr Cameron's renewed pledge to remove regional bureaucracy that he regards as unnecessary and unwanted was given as he came under further pressure over tax cuts - with claims that more than half of Tory MPs want him to set out plans for tax cuts now.

Senior backbencher Edward Leigh said that “at least 100” of Mr Cameron's 198 MPs want an early commitment to lower taxes. And the head of the Tory leader's own competitiveness taskforce, John Redwood, published a pamphlet making a “plea for early tax cuts”.

Mr Cameron is fighting to keep the lid on unease among activists at the Conservatives' annual conference in Bournemouth over his refusal to promise up-front tax cuts ahead of the next general election.

He has repeatedly stated that stability and low interest rates are his top economic priorities, and has said he will not be “pushed around” by those urging him to change his stance.

In a clear message to the party to fall in line on the issue, he used a TV interview to say: “I give a lead and I want people to follow me.”

Shadow chancellor George Osborne told activists on the fringe of the conference: “You have got to say to people if it comes to a choice between cutting taxes and economic stability we would choose economic stability first.

“We would put mortgage rates above tax rates.”

A similar message is expected when he addresses the conference today.