Axe-wielding ministers earn Star Chamber seats

Five Cabinet ministers agreed yesterday to cut their budgets by about a third as the Treasury axe began to fall ahead of next month's government-wide spending cuts. Eric Pickles, the Communities Secretary, and Caroline Spelman, the Environment Secretary, were rewarded with seats on the Cabinet's Star Chamber, which will impose cuts on those ministers who cannot reach agreement with the Treasury. Both ministers have also been quick to cull quangos since the May election.

Mr Pickles may emerge as a key figure on the cabinet committee, chaired by the Chancellor, George Osborne, in pressing other ministers to fall into line. "He's a bruiser and the Treasury is delighted to get him on board," one insider said last night.

The ministers already serving on the Star Chamber, who have relatively small budgets, have also reached a provisional settlement on their departmental spending for four years. They are William Hague, the Foreign Secretary; Francis Maude and Oliver Letwin at the Cabinet Office; and the Chancellor and Danny Alexander, the Liberal Democrat Chief Treasury Secretary.

The scale of the cuts being planned was also underlined last night by a leaked Cabinet Office document listing 177 taxpayer-funded bodies which face abolition in a "bonfire of the quangos".

The hit-list is said to include the Health Protection Agency, which provides advice on infectious diseases and environmental hazards, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority and the Commission for Rural Communities. Four more bodies will be privatised and 129 merged. Another 94 – including the BBC World Service, the Design Council and the Equalities and Human Rights Commission – are under threat.

The first Whitehall budget deals were announced after the public spending committee met for just over two hours yesterday. Mr Pickles has reached an outline agreement on cutting his £4.4bn budget for housing and regeneration but is still in talks with the Treasury over the other element – the £26.3bn grants to local authorities. No deals on capital spending on building projects have yet been struck with any departments. Precise figures for each ministry will be announced by the Chancellor on 20 October.

The Treasury had expected Kenneth Clarke, the Justice Secretary and former chancellor, to be among the first ministers to settle, winning a seat at the top table. "He's not going to make rash decisions to fall for that trick," one ally said. Mr Clarke, who has a budget of £9.4bn, is believed to be ready to shave spending on legal aid and the probation service, but Tories are nervous about plans to curb the prison population via sentencing reform. Allies say he will not scrap short jail terms.

The biggest headache may be at the Department for Business, where the Lib Dem Vince Cable has been asked by the Treasury to offer more cuts. The Business Secretary worries that axeing schemes that help industry will weaken growth as the country emerges from recession.

About half his £19.6bn budget goes on universities. There is tension between the Tories and Lib Dems over funding them, with the former leaning towards higher top-up fees and the latter favouring graduate tax. Mr Cable is expected to be one of the last ministers to reach agreement. Another problem is Defence, in its first strategic review since 1998. Liam Fox, the Defence Secretary, is due to discuss the options for reducing a £40.4bn budget next Tuesday at a National Security Council meeting chaired by David Cameron.

Theresa May, the Home Secretary, is under pressure to make politically sensitive cuts in the police budget. Iain Duncan Smith, the Work and Pensions Secretary, is battling with Mr Osborne over the benefit system. The Health and International Development budgets will rise in real terms each year.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
election 2015The 10 best quotes of the campaign
News
A caravan being used as a polling station in Ford near Salisbury, during the 2010 election
election 2015The Independent's guide to get you through polling day
News
people
Voices
David Blunkett joins the Labour candidate for Redcar Anna Turley on a campaigning visit last month
voicesWhat I learnt from my years in government, by the former Home Secretary David Blunkett
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
2015 General Election
May2015

Poll of Polls

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (B2B) - Romford - £40,000 + car

£35000 - £40000 per annum + car and benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager...

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000 ...

Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

£35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

Typefaces still matter in the digital age

A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

Crisp sales are in decline

As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

Ronald McDonald the muse

A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
13 best picnic blankets

13 best picnic blankets

Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'