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MPs call for cull in ministers

David Cameron's "Big Society" project should be judged a failure if it does not result in a "significant" cull in the number of ministers and aides, MPs have said.

The public administration committee renewed calls for tougher limits on the scale of the "payroll vote" and suggested it should be slashed by more than 60 within four years.

Many ministers were engaged in tasks better carried out by officials, and parliamentary aides performed "few functions of real value", it concluded.

Wage bills also needed to be reduced at a time of severe public spending cuts, the MPs said, rejecting claims that coalition government by nature required a larger number of ministers.

The "payroll vote" already makes up a "deeply corrosive" 22% of the House but that would rise to 23.5% if action was not taken to reduce ministerial numbers by at least eight, it found.

Under the recommendations put forward by the committee, junior ministers would no longer enjoy a Commons aide - cutting the ranks of Parliamentary Private Secretaries (PPS) by 26.

"We expect this review to identify scope for significant reductions. If this does not happen we will interpret this as a sign that the Government has failed in its ambition to devolve real power and responsibility to local communities, a central tenet of its Big Society agenda," the MPs concluded.

Senior Tory MP Bernard Jenkin, who chairs the committee, said: "During the election the Prime Minister promised to 'cut the cost of politics'. The public sector is being asked to do more with less and Government ministers should not be exempt from having to re-evaluate how they work and what they do."

Lowering the legal limit on the number of ministers in the Commons was "a very modest reduction and easily achievable".

But the report said action should go much further, finding: "It should ultimately be possible to cut the number of ministers to a total of 80, shared between the Commons and the Lords". At present the number is 119.

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