Cameron pledges to cut all ministerial salaries

Tory leader promises to cut salaries by 5 per cent and end MPs' subsidised food and drink

David Cameron has announced that a Conservative government would cut all ministerial salaries and end MPs' subsidised food and drink.
In his first major speech since the summer recess, the Conservative leader also pledged to reduce the number of MPs by 10 per cent and to cut the number of ministerial cars.

Cameron conceded that the £120m-a-year saving would only be a "pinprick" in the amount needed to plug the deficit but said that politicians had to lead a "wholesale change of culture" in public spending.

"That will only happen if people feel there is genuine leadership from the top and that the burden is being shared fairly - especially by those who can bear it best," he said.

He added: "Under a Conservative government, far from politicians being exempt from the age of austerity, they must show leadership."
Cameron said that following an immediate cut of five per cent, ministerial salaries would be frozen for the duration of the next parliament. His plans would see the prime minister's pay cut by £6,500 and cabinet ministers' pay cut by £4,000.

The price of food and drink would be raised to "match the prices, normal people pay in cafes, restaurants and bars around the country", he said, saving up to £5.5m.

"We all have to eat, we all sometimes want a drink, there's nothing about this job that forces us to eat or drink any more than if we did something else," he said.

He also restated plans to abolish Regional Assemblies, publish all government spending over £25,000 online and scrap MPs' £10,000 communications allowance.

Cameron said his proposals marked the first time that an opposition leader had promised to cut public spending.

"Unlike any previous politicians in opposition... we've taken the bold step of saying to the British public very clearly, with a Conservative government, public spending will be cut. Not reduced in growth, not frozen, but cut.

"That candour is a world away from the current Labour government," he said.

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Is anyone prepared to solve the NHS funding crisis?

As long as the political taboo on raising taxes endures, the service will be in financial peril. 

It has long been clear that the NHS is in financial ill-health. But today's figures, conveniently delayed until after the Conservative conference, are still stunningly bad. The service ran a deficit of £930m between April and June (greater than the £820m recorded for the whole of the 2014/15 financial year) and is on course for a shortfall of at least £2bn this year - its worst position for a generation. 

Though often described as having been shielded from austerity, owing to its ring-fenced budget, the NHS is enduring the toughest spending settlement in its history. Since 1950, health spending has grown at an average annual rate of 4 per cent, but over the last parliament it rose by just 0.5 per cent. An ageing population, rising treatment costs and the social care crisis all mean that the NHS has to run merely to stand still. The Tories have pledged to provide £10bn more for the service but this still leaves £20bn of efficiency savings required. 

Speculation is now turning to whether George Osborne will provide an emergency injection of funds in the Autumn Statement on 25 November. But the long-term question is whether anyone is prepared to offer a sustainable solution to the crisis. Health experts argue that only a rise in general taxation (income tax, VAT, national insurance), patient charges or a hypothecated "health tax" will secure the future of a universal, high-quality service. But the political taboo against increasing taxes on all but the richest means no politician has ventured into this territory. Shadow health secretary Heidi Alexander has today called for the government to "find money urgently to get through the coming winter months". But the bigger question is whether, under Jeremy Corbyn, Labour is prepared to go beyond sticking-plaster solutions. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.