Osborne Wants Fuel Duty Frozen Until 2015
Fuel duty will be frozen until 2015 if the money is available, George Osborne has told the Tory party conference.
The Chancellor revealed he aims to cancel the 2p-a-litre rise pencilled in by Labour for September 2014, continuing a freeze that has already lasted two-and-a-half years.
Aides claimed drivers would save £750m a year, leaving pump prices 20p-per-litre lower than under the plans inherited from Labour, if the cancellation goes ahead.
The promise is conditional on finding savings to pay for it and came as Mr Osborne declared that he wanted a future Conservative government to run a surplus.
Warning that the battle to rebuild the UK economy is not over, he effectively outlined a new fiscal rule designed to protect Britain from future crashes.
He said: "What is the alternative? To run a deficit for ever? To leave our children with our debts? To leave Britain perilously exposed to the next time the storm comes?
"This crisis took us to the brink. If we don't reduce our debts, the next could push us over. Let us learn from the mistakes that got Britain into this mess.
"Let us vow: never again. This time we're going to run a surplus. This time we're going to fix the roof when the sun shines."
Mr Osborne told delegates a continued squeeze on welfare and spending even after the deficit is eliminated would also allow for tax cuts and vital investment.
In a deliberately sombre speech, he rejected accusations of complacency about the recovery, insisting there was "no feeling of a task completed or a victory won".
He said: "The sun has started to rise above the hill and the future looks brighter than it did just a few dark years ago".
But he also cautioned: "The battle to turn Britain around is not even close to being over and we are going to finish what we have started."
He accused Ed Miliband of making up Labour policy "on the back of a fag packet" and warned his energy price freeze plan was a "quick-fix con" that would stunt growth and cost jobs.
But in a move to show the Tories are also determined to help ease the cost of living, he said he was ready to take immediate action to help drivers.
"Provided we can find the savings to pay for it, I want to freeze fuel duty for the rest of this Parliament," he announced to loud applause.
He added: "Conservatives don't just talk about being on the side of hard-working people. We show it day in day out in the policies we deliver."
Shadow chief secretary to the Treasury Rachel Reeves described the move as "panicky" and claimed it was just another unfunded "aspiration".
The British Chambers of Commerce said it would be welcomed by small businesses, although its chief John Longworth warned: "They will want to ensure that ambition becomes a reality."
The address also confirmed tough new rules to make the long-term unemployed earn their benefits by doing full-time unpaid community work will come into force next year.
From April, people still without work after two years on the coalition's Work Programme will face three options if they want to remain on the dole.
They will either have to do community work such as litter picking, visit a job centre every day or take part in compulsory training to tackle problems like illiteracy.
Those who break the rules of the new Help-to-Work scheme, for example by failing to turn up without a good reason, could lose their benefit for four weeks.
A second offence would see them lose it for three months.
The scheme, devised by Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith, will cost around £300m - with the money likely to be found from departmental underspends.
Critics claimed the Government scheme would treat the unemployed more harshly than criminals and was just a "rehash" of plans that had already failed.
Joanna Long, from the Boycott Workfare campaign, said: "It's bad news for people who will be forced to work at far below the minimum wage - and it's terrible news for the people whose jobs they will be replacing."
Graeme Cooke, from the Institute for Public Policy Research, added that the measures would probably affect only one in 20 people on the dole and warned it needed careful planning.
"The key issue is how such schemes are designed. If they give people real experience of work and the practical employability habits that go with it, they can help people be more attractive to prospective employers," he said.
"But if it is pitched as a punishment where people do menial tasks, it risks acting as a signal to employers that these are people not to employ."
But Matthew Sinclair, chief executive of the TaxPayers' Alliance, welcomed the move.
"There is plenty of international evidence from countries such as Australia, Canada and the US that this type of scheme is not only fairer on those footing the welfare bill, but also gets people back into work," he said.
Simon Walker, director general of the Institute of Directors, hailed the "bold ambition" of returning Britain to a surplus but also called for an explicit commitment to lower taxes.
Meanwhile, Ms Reeves claimed "nobody will believe a word" Mr Osborne says about capital spending because he had already broken his pledge to balance the books by 2015.