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Letwin: Trusting people to get on with their lives

Speech to Conservative Party Spring Conference 2004

"This country is top-heavy.

In a top-heavy country, bureaucracy and regulation weigh down on people, holding people back, and preventing people from controlling their own lives.

In a top-heavy country, bureaucracy tells people which hospital they have to go for treatment, which school they have to send their children to be taught, what kind of policing they will have in their area.

In a top-heavy country, tax becomes a heavier and heavier burden, giving people less and less control over the use of their own money.

The saddest thing is that this top-heavy and bloated bureaucracy has been created by people who thought they were doing good.

They thought they could use the big state to prevent vulnerable people being left behind.

They thought they could use the big state to provide efficient services.

They thought they could use the big state to make the economy work better.

But, over the past six years, they have - once again - been proving that the hopes of the big state are illusory, that the ambitions of the big state are not fulfilled.

In a top-heavy Britain, how does the Government explain to the elderly pensioner who wants a hip operation that she has no power to go to the hospital that can offer one fastest?

A top-heavy Britain doesn't prevent vulnerable people being left behind.

In a top-heavy Britain, how does the Government explain to the taxpayer that a 58% increase in spending on public services results in only 13% more output from the public services because waste and inefficiency are so widespread?

A top-heavy Britain doesn't provide efficient public services.

In a top-heavy Britain, how does the Government justify to the small business the 15 new regulations each working day and, as the CBI have said, the £54 billion of business taxes that have contributed to halving the rate of productivity growth in Britain?

A top-heavy Britain doesn't make the economy work better.

Last week, Liam Fox found the right words. Not the enabling state, not the welfare state, not even the nanny state, but the intruder state. Britain is top-heavy because the state intrudes into our lives too much, too inefficiently, too suffocatingly.

What is the answer? How do we make Britain less top-heavy? How do we liberate future generations from the intrusions of the intruder state?

We have to return power to the people. We have to give people control over their own lives.

Just imagine for a moment what this means:

A parent paying a substantial part of his hard earned salary to the Inland Revenue. He has little choice of where his child goes to school or how his child is educated. Too often he has to accept shoddy standards.

A patient, waiting and waiting for her hip operation. It doesn't matter that the hospital in the next district has some beds free; she can't go there because health managers have decreed that to fulfil a government target she has to have one in the hospital of their choice.

It doesn't matter that she's paid her taxes and national insurance year after year. She will have to do what she is told by bureaucrats.

The pensioner, frightened to go out of doors because of drug users on her doorstep. No police about. Why? Because they are filling in forms or catching speeding motorists to fulfil a quota set by the Home Office.

In the great British tradition no one explains, no one complains. What emerges instead is a massive disenchantment with, and cynicism about, politics and politicians. People just feel powerless to change things.

We in this conference hall know what this means more than most. How often when you we are out and about knocking on doors do we hear the refrain?

"Politicians are all the same. They promise everything but never deliver. It doesn't matter who's in charge… if voting changed anything they would make it illegal".

When people feel powerless to change things they bypass politics and just don't vote.

We have a duty to show the next generation of voters that we can make a difference;

- that our country is not a safe haven for bossy bureaucrats and meddling Ministers to boss people about.

- that our public services really can be responsive to their needs.

- that taxation doesn't have to go on taking more and more of people's money.

We have to show the next generation of voters that our plans for public spending will avoid Labour's third term tax rises, and make Britain a more vibrant lower tax economy.

We have to show the next generation of voters that they will be given the same choice when they use public services as they get elsewhere.

We have to show those in need of healthcare that our patient passports will give them control over the use of their taxes, enabling them to go to the hospital of their choice. We have to show parents that our pupil passports will give them control over the use of their taxes and enable them to choose the right school for their children.

We have to show hard working public servants, the doctors, the nurses, the teachers, and the police officers, who are trying so hard to provide decent services, that they will no longer be hindered by bureaucracy, targets and regulations.

We have to show the country that the force of competition between our schools and hospitals will create real, sustainable pressure for higher standards. Schools and hospitals will run themselves, unencumbered by town hall or Whitehall bureaucrats.

Instead of being accountable to bureaucracies, schools and hospitals will become truly accountable to parents and patients because they will compete for parents and pupils.

Our aim in the 21st century will be to push power down to people, letting people and local institutions make decisions for themselves, letting the taxpayer have a real say in how his or her money is spent.

Trusting people to get on with their lives. Trusting the professionals to know what is best and to get on with their jobs. Trusting competition to create the pressure for excellence in our public services that the bureaucracies of the big state have so signally failed to deliver.

This is the challenge for the 21st Century. A challenge we are determined to meet."

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