David Hellier
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PRIME Minister Gordon Brown will today signal a programme of asset sales intended to reduce the government&rsquo;s debt mountain as part of his campaign to demonstrate he is dealing with the problems facing the UK economy.<br /><br />Speaking today in the City, Brown will announce plans to sell upwards of &pound;16bn of non-financial assets, including&nbsp; the Dartford crossing, the student loan book and the government&rsquo;s stake in Urenco, a uranium producer.<br /><br />His plan values the above-mentioned assets at &pound;3bn, a figure which is complemented by &pound;13bn of other sales.<br /><br />Brown says the government will look to dispose of surplus real estate that is part of the &pound;220bn owned by departments and agencies and which can be packaged up for sale as market conditions improve.<br /><br />The intended asset sales are designed to reduce the UK&rsquo;s stock of debt which stands at around &pound;800bn. <br /><br />The Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats were dismissive of the plans, pointing out the sales would not make much of a dent in the debt pile.<br /><br />Yesterday a Conservative spokesman said:&nbsp; &ldquo;As any family knows selling off things helps in the short-term and, given the state the country is in, is probably necessary but it is no substitute for a long-term plan to get the country to live within its means.&rdquo;<br /><br />&ldquo;You can only sell assets once,&rdquo; added shadow treasury spokesman Phillip Hammond.<br /><br />The Liberal Democrat&rsquo;s shadow chancellor Vince Cable criticised the timing of such asset sales, saying that Brown was intending to sell when prices were at a low ebb. <br /><br />Brown will emphasise that he has a &ldquo;clear and credible&rdquo; approach to tackling the deficit, focused on asset sales, closing tax loopholes and sale of shareholdings in the banks.<br /><br />In the rest of his speech, Brown argues that a premature ending of the current supportive monetary and fiscal policies globally would &ldquo;cut the legs off from under the recovery&rdquo; and lead to higher deficits and debts. <br /><br />&ldquo;You do not force the patient to leave the hospital at the first sign he may be coming out of a coma,&rdquo; he will say. <br /><br />Brown, who has been savaged for not dealing quickly enough with the budget deficit, says the government will only withdraw support from the economy from 2011 onwards, seen by his political opponents as too late. He predicts the economy will grow 1.5 per cent next year. <br /><br />Brown says the details of&nbsp; cuts to government spending will come in the chancellor&rsquo;s pre-budget report.