Tories Insist Cuts Will Be Needed in Assembly's New Budget; Independent Review Needed to Examine All Aspects of Spending across Departments

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Byline: Tomos Livingstone

AN independent review should look at all aspects of Assembly Government spending in anticipation of tougher future settlements from the Treasury, Nick Bourne suggested last night. S

The Conservatives' Assembly leader said the review should be "no holds barred" and look at every aspect of the Assembly's pounds 15bn annual budget.

The Conservatives spent their Welsh conference in Llandudno sticking to their stance that reductions in public spending will have to come this year if the party wins the General Election, despite Labour claims that it would hamper economic recovery.

Cuts in Whitehall are likely to lead to squeezes in the Assembly's budget, and all parties in Cardiff Bay are bracing theS mselves for difficult spending decisions after the 2011 devolved elections.

The idea of an independent review of the Assembly budget is one borrowed from the Scottish Conservatives, although critics are likely to argue it would merely be a device for ducking unpopular decisions on health, education and transport.

Although shadow chief secretary to the Treasury, Philip Hammond - who also addressed delegates in Llandudno this weekend - is drawing up plans for spending reduction if the Tories win power, no specific talks have yet taken place on whether the Assembly budget would also be cut.

In his conference speech Mr Bourne said the Assembly's governing coalition between Labour and Plaid Cymru had "frittered away" money, including on funding free breakfasts for primary school children, instead of spending it on teaching. He said: "As we emerge from recession, our ability to stimulate growth in Welsh businesses and jobs is limited because Labour and Plaid Cymru have already spent all the money on unaffordable policies and gimmicks - free prescriptions for millionaires, instead of much-needed money for frontline NHS services."

He said the Tories would "consider setting up an independent budget review to assess the value for money of public spending in Wales, with no holds barred". If the Conservatives are in power in Cardiff Bay after the election, they have pledged to reintroduce prescription charges for those who can afford to pay, raising money for stroke patients and hospices.

He attacked the "false promise" of independence, saying Plaid wanted an independent Wales while at the same time demanding more money from the UK Treasury. He said: "Abraham Lincoln once said 'a house divided against itself cannot stand'. Conservatives know that the Welsh home is more secure as part of a strong United Kingdom."

Mr Bourne said Wales had been hit particularly hard by the recession and listed big employers that had shed jobs, including German manufacturer Bosch, which is closing a car parts factory that employs 900 people near Cardiff.

Plaid's leader, Deputy First Minister IeuanWyn Jones, "did not do everything in his power to keep Bosch in Wales", Mr Bourne claimed. The Conservatives also announced plans to tackle personal debts, saying the party would reintroduce home economics lessons in secondary schools if it won power in the Assembly.

Paul Davies, the party's education spokesman, said: "Many of our young people are leaving school today totally unprepared and ill-equipped for the world outside, unable to cook a fresh meal or manage a household budget.

"It's no wonder that we have an obesity crisis and unprecedented levels of personal debt. It can't go on."

The Preseli Pembrokeshire AM said home economics lessons for teenagers would be "Maggie's good housekeeping for the next generation".

Despite a narrowing in their poll lead over Labour in recent weeks, the Conservatives have stuck doggedly to their position that cuts are needed to address Britain's pounds 1. …