Advice to ministers: spend less on yourselves

Memorandum from the PM
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The Independent Online
Because I wish the Government to succeed, I have had the effrontery to draft the following memorandum for the Prime Minister:

Travel, accommodation, entertaining - guidance for ministers on the use of public funds.

Introduction by the Prime Minister. I have often spoken of the hard choices this Government is making and will have to make and for which we ask the support of the British people. The same discipline must apply to ministers as regards arrangements for travel, accommodation, entertaining and for advice beyond that provided by department officials. Leadership is best exercised by example. We are a government committed to tight control of public spending. As ministers know, this means refusing, almost on a daily basis, worthwhile requests for resources. The same policy drives our painful re-examination of welfare provision and it explains why we plan to hold down rises in public sector pay, even for nurses. In this light, ministers cannot in all conscience spend lavishly out of public funds on their own arrangements.

The perks of office have a second disadvantage. They tend to distance ministers from the public they were elected to serve. While I understand the argument that ministers' work can be undertaken more efficiently if travel arrangements, for instance, are as comfortable and smooth as possible, that is not the only consideration. Frankly, the morning journey from, say, luxurious accommodation in Admiralty House by chauffeur-driven limousine to government department a few moments away, and then after lunch by the same transport for the five-minute journey to the Palace of Westminster and finally back home much later, perhaps after having attended a function in one's official capacity, is completely unlike the lives led by our fellow citizens. Untaxed by the normal irritations of life, we are bound to stop thinking as the rest of the country does and become divorced from the nation's realities and aspirations.

Ministers' reliance upon advice provided by political advisers also has its dangers. The policy, inherited from our predecessors in government, has been a mistake. The use of political advisers tends to set at naught the expertise of the Civil Service and undermine its self-confidence. As ministers will know, officials are rigorously trained in providing effective advice, which includes pointing out problems ahead and indicating alternative ways of proceeding. There is no evidence that their enthusiasm varies from one government to another. On the other hand heavy reliance upon political advisers, generally employed on short-term contracts, often ill-informed about the machinery of government, can give rise to policy mistakes. The original rationale, which was to provide a link between ministers and their party, both at Westminster and outside, has been perverted into a dangerous obsession with short-term political calculation.

The inevitable result of divorcing ourselves from everyday life is that we shall make substantial errors in policy, lose the sympathy and trust of the electorate and, sooner rather than later, be driven from office.

Domestic travel. Within the UK, ministers should travel by train rather than by car. For short journeys within London or from railway station to destination, they should use taxis. As a normal rule, the Government will only provide a chauffeur-driven limousine when there is a risk to the personal security of the minister.

Overseas travel. Ministers should follow the pattern set by major companies for their executives. The class of accommodation depends upon the distance travelled. Flights within Europe should be economy, journeys to the East Coast of the US, or the equivalent, may be club class and longer trips first-class. Any proposal to travel by Concorde must be cleared with 10 Downing Street.

Travel with spouses or partners. The travel costs incurred by spouses or partners should normally be borne by the minister personally. The cases where the national interest demands that the state should finance the travelling costs of the minister's spouse or partner are likely to be rare and should be cleared beforehand with No 10.

Use of official residences. In future, the Government will make official residences available only to those ministers whose security is likely to be at risk if they remain in their own homes. Ministers on this list at present are the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary, the Home Secretary, the Secretary of State for Defence and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. In addition, by long tradition the Chancellor of the Exchequer has had the use of 11 Downing Street and the Lord Chancellor has been accommodated within the Palace of Westminster; these arrangements may continue. Otherwise any ministers at present occupying official residences must vacate them and return to their own accommodation by the end of 1998.

Spending on official residences. Before having work done on their official residences, ministers should ask themselves how much they would have had done if they had had to pay for it out of their ministerial salary. That should be the main criterion. Where there is a necessity to undertake work to preserve a historic building, the decision should lie with the Department of Culture, which would finance such expenditure.

Entertainment. The provision of lunches, dinners and parties at the taxpayer's expense must be limited. Two criteria should be borne in mind. Foreign guests of the Government should be entertained in a generous fashion; invitations to such occasions may also be conveniently used for entertaining other friends of the Government. There may also be occasions when the use of government hospitality provides a well-merited reward or encouragement for people who do voluntary work or whose activities redound to the national advantage.

Political advisers. As existing political advisers come to the end of their contracts, they should not be replaced.