Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 17 April 2014

Cuts 'star chamber' pair appointed

Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman has been appointed to the Government's 'Star Chamber' after agreeing on cuts to her department

Communities Secretary Eric Pickles and Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman have been appointed to the Government's "Star Chamber" after reaching settlements with Chancellor George Osborne on cuts at their departments, the Treasury has announced.

The Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) and Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs were among five Whitehall departments - also including the Foreign Office, the Cabinet Office and the Treasury itself - to agree settlements.

With the exception of Health and International Development, whose budgets are protected, all Whitehall departments are facing cuts averaging 25% over the coming four years as part of Mr Osborne's plans to eradicate Britain's structural deficit by 2015.

No details were released of the settlements, but with Education and Defence expected to suffer less harsh cuts of between 10%-20%, it is thought the five departments involved are likely to lose as much as 33% of their budgets.

Mr Pickles and Ms Spelman join Mr Osborne, Treasury Chief Secretary Danny Alexander, Foreign Secretary William Hague, and Cabinet Office ministers Francis Maude and Oliver Letwin on the Star Chamber, which will sit in judgment on other ministers' financial plans.

The panel - officially known as the public expenditure committee - will subject secretaries of state to tough examination on their spending proposals before ruling on how much of the pain each department should bear.

The process is designed to prevent departmental ministers trying to play the Chancellor and Prime Minister off against one another in the hope of preserving their budgets.

Details of the settlements across government will be announced to MPs in Mr Osborne's Spending Review on October 20.

The settlements do not cover capital spending, which will be dealt with nearer the Spending Review date, and in the DCLG's case spending on local government is being looked at separately.