David Cameron speaks at the World Economic Forum on Jan. 24, 2014. Photograph: Getty Images.
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New women's minister Nicky Morgan to "report directly" to Cameron

Minister's boss is still a man - just a different man.
 

One would have thought that even David Cameron could execute a minor cabinet reshuffle without controversy. But seemingly not. After naming Nicky Morgan as the new women's minister, but denying her the related equalities brief (owing to her opposition to equal marriage), the question arose of who was ultimately responsibility for the portfolio: Morgan or Sajid Javid (the new Culture Secretary and minister for equalities)?

At the post-PMQs briefing,  Cameron's spokesman said: "He is the cabinet minister. She attends cabinet", a response that suggested that, for the first time ever, the women's minister would be subordinate to a man. But at this afternoon's lobby briefing, the spokesman withdrew his earlier remarks ("a mistake") and announced that Morgan would instead "report directly to the Prime Minister on women's issues" (not Javid). He added: "She will have an office as Minister for Women supported by DCMS staff. But with regard to her responsibilities for women, she will report to the Prime Minister." In other words, Morgan's boss is still a man - just a different man.

Asked who had responsibility for issues relating to gay women, Cameron's spokesman simply replied that "ministers work as a team", a response that suggests that Morgan is still best described as "minister for straight women".  And, of course, there is now no full member of the cabinet responsible for women. Even by the standards of this government, quite a mess.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
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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.