David Cameron U-turns on personal photographers

"Vanity" appointments will no longer be paid with public money, following outcry.

David Cameron has performed a U-turn by removing his personal photographer and videographer from the public payroll.

According to the Evening Standard, Andrew Parsons and Nicky Woodhouse will now be paid their £35,000 salaries from Conservative Party funds rather than the public purse, with immediate effect. They will also leave their desks at the Cabinet Office and be transferred to CCHQ in Millbank.

In opposition, Parsons was Cameron's personal photographer, and controlled media images of him. Woodhouse made the WebCameron videos. Both were supposedly hired by Whitehall to work across government and for all ministers.

However, the so-called vanity appointments -- in addition to the Camerons' two stylists, also employed as civil servants -- rankled at a time when the government is planning 500,000 public sector job cuts.

Reportedly, the Prime Minister has conceded that the appointments "sent the wrong signal", given the timing. He will be hoping that he has acted quickly enough to nip criticism in the bud; serious damage was done to his image several years ago by the revelation that a car carrying his papers was driving behind his bike as he cycled to work.

However, it is also worth remembering that these two are not the only slightly dubious civil service appointments -- Anna-Maren Ashford and Isabel Spearman remain on the public payroll. It was astute for Cameron to act on criticism, but this story could still rumble on.

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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The big problem for the NHS? Local government cuts

Even a U-Turn on planned cuts to the service itself will still leave the NHS under heavy pressure. 

38Degrees has uncovered a series of grisly plans for the NHS over the coming years. Among the highlights: severe cuts to frontline services at the Midland Metropolitan Hospital, including but limited to the closure of its Accident and Emergency department. Elsewhere, one of three hospitals in Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland are to be shuttered, while there will be cuts to acute services in Suffolk and North East Essex.

These cuts come despite an additional £8bn annual cash injection into the NHS, characterised as the bare minimum needed by Simon Stevens, the head of NHS England.

The cuts are outlined in draft sustainability and transformation plans (STP) that will be approved in October before kicking off a period of wider consultation.

The problem for the NHS is twofold: although its funding remains ringfenced, healthcare inflation means that in reality, the health service requires above-inflation increases to stand still. But the second, bigger problem aren’t cuts to the NHS but to the rest of government spending, particularly local government cuts.

That has seen more pressure on hospital beds as outpatients who require further non-emergency care have nowhere to go, increasing lifestyle problems as cash-strapped councils either close or increase prices at subsidised local authority gyms, build on green space to make the best out of Britain’s booming property market, and cut other corners to manage the growing backlog of devolved cuts.

All of which means even a bigger supply of cash for the NHS than the £8bn promised at the last election – even the bonanza pledged by Vote Leave in the referendum, in fact – will still find itself disappearing down the cracks left by cuts elsewhere. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. He usually writes about politics.