Sunday, February 22, 2009

Should Cameron Abolish Ministerial Cars?

Ed Vaizey has made an interesting suggestion today. He says that the days of the Ministerial Mondeo should be numbered, and that only those Ministers who security demands it, should have cars. He reckons upwards of £10 million could be saved. I suspects that's not the half of it.

Moving from the specific to the general, I reckon there are literally hundreds of cost saving measures in government of this small magnitude. But added together they add up to a lot.

And it's the small, seemingly insignificant savings, which often have more effect on public opinion than the big headline savings. People understand what saving £100,000 means, but when the talk moves to billions, their eyes glaze over.

Apart from abolishing MPs' second home allowances, I can think of few better signals that his government would be different, than Cameron taking up Ed Vaizey's idea. But I can imagine the squeals now from all those potential parliamentary under secretaries...

UPDATE: Oh dear, Tom Harris has decided to defend Ministerial cars. I particularly loved this bit...
Ministers work ridiculously long hours, have to carry out all their ministerial duties on top of all their constituency duties and try, somehow, to fit in a family life as well. A car and driver makes life easier and, as Iain accepts, doesn’t cost the public purse that much in the grand scheme of things. Yes, a ministerial car is a perk. So let’s hear it for perks! Because if you’ve just had a 12- or a 14- hour day and you’re leaving the Commons after the last vote, it’s wonderful to be able to slide into the seat of a car and relax while you’re taken home, knowing you’ll be lucky to get six hours sleep before your ministerial diary kicks in the next morning.

Yes, that really convinces me Ed and I have got this wrong... Not.

47 comments:

cherami said...

Yes, and to hell with the squealers.
And then root and branch reform of allowances.

BTW have you seen Brian Gould's post in CiF?

That's not a rat leaving a sinking ship, it is one of the navigators.

You might feel like quoting it.

Scary Biscuits said...

This approach is admirable but it is a recipe for a bygone age. It can produce substantial savings (e.g. in Windsor). However, it will always fail in the long run because Civil Servants and various other vested interests will always fight it. As the are permanent employees they will always have more time than elected politicians and they only need to delay things to win.

In the new age, as the country stares in to the abyss of bankruptcy, this cheese paring approach is nowhere near enough. The Govt budget is over twice what it can be sustainably. Therefore it needs to be cut in half. After increases in military spending that would be wise as a wave of unrest threatens to sweep Europe, that means that one in four government employees needs to lose their jobs. Mrs T's mistake must not be repeated: they must be treated compassionately and given two years' redundancy at a minimum but paying them to stay at home would still be cheaper than keeping them on. Better still, they are freed up to be employed by new manufacturers currently squeezed out by too much government spending.

Michael Portillo writes in today's Times that nobody has any idea how to get out of this crisis. This is nonsense: the truth is that nobody in Parliament or their patsies in the media has the guts to tell voters the truth: the way out of this mess is exactly the same as Ronald Reagan charted 30 years ago and summarised in two words: small government.

Scary Biscuits said...

Correction to the above: three out of four government employees need to lose their jobs.

Matthew said...

The main reason why the civil service provides ministers with cars is to maintain the security of government papers. Normally, no papers equals no car.

This is no a trivial consideration. If, say, the parliamentary under secretary at DWP receives a 100-page submission on a welfare reform contract worth hundreds of millions of pounds, the chances are (a) that they aren't going to have time to read it while their in the office, because their diary will be full of meetings, and (b) that you're not going to want them to absent-mindedly leave it on the Jubilee Line where it could be picked up by an employee of one of the tendering companies. If that were to happen, you'd rapidly see any cost savings eliminated as the whole thing got bogged down in judicial review.

Human beings are forgetful creatures (Tories as much as anyone else!) so it's just as well to stop this happening in the first place.

Brian said...

Honestly this is the most infantile tokenistic electioneering I have heard all year - and I'm usually a fan of Mr Vaizey. We're asking these people run a bloody country! And we're saying we want them to catch the tube? For god's sake get some perspective.

Slash 3 layers of middle management out of the NHS, abolish tax credits and turn them into tax cuts, pull the quangos to pieces yes - but ministerial cars?

Pathetic. Ask any CEO of a company over about 100 people: the decline in the quality of work done by these people will outweigh the savings fivefold.

Boyce said...

They should have a bigger salary and get rid of all the bonuses and expenses except for those that really are essential (security, for example) and say exactly what the money saved will buy for the country - building schools or hospitals or whatever. It'd be nice to hear some good news.

cherami said...

Trivial, yes, but a start. The first chip of the ax starts to bring down the tree.

Oldrightie said...

"They should have a bigger salary and get rid of all the bonuses and expenses"

-------------------------------
They should have B&B in London, claimed for with receipts. Salary is three times average wage for 30 times less work. Expenses, pah!

Wrinkled Weasel said...

Oh come on.

The only cogent argument for abolishing ministerial cars is that they are such crap cars. I mean, the chief of libraries in Harare gets a better limo than most of the poor sods here.

Perhaps if they were given Audis, or the new re-incarnated Citroen DS, there would be a debate, but not here, now, with the shitty little roller skates our betters have to put up with.

WV unsunoid

JMB said...

So Labour Ministers, who impose the restrictions of the EU's Working Time Directive on everyone else, do not follow it themselves?

an ex-apprentice said...

I don't want sending a signal. I don't need spinning. And I very bloody definitely don't need patronising by people I elect and whose wages I apparently pay so that they can go around helping themselves to anything not nailed down.
There are a lot of things to cut, things a lot bigger and far more important than ministerial cars. Unfortunately, you've probably described accurately the scope of Cameron's ambition.

strapworld said...

My answer to Tom Harris is Get a Taxi..thereby keeping a cabbie in employment and having a nice rride home - sometimes with interesting discussions with the driver!

AD627 said...

We'd all be a lot better off if those in government didn't spend 12 or 14 hours a day thinking up ludicrous new schemes that cost us all billions of our money and - entirely predictably - achieve the square root of bugger-all.

Wrinkled Weasel said...

Strappy, you obviously don't take Taxis!

All Tom needs is some flatulent git telling him, for the 37th time, "it's political correctness gone mad, and what about the Somalis, and I have that Stephen Fry in the back of the cab...

I agree in principle with torturing MPs, but that is beyond the pale.

Blue Eyes said...

Re the Harris quote: isn't that what the massive ministerial salary could be for?

Doug said...

Tom Harris - "wonderful to be able to slide into the seat of a car and relax while you’re taken home"

It's called a taxi.

Doug said...

Why should a minister be seen as so important that they deserve a chauffeur driven car (except for high risk ministers)? There are plenty of doctors, policeman and people with other long hour, high stress jobs who clock off at ungodly hours and drive themselves home.

cht said...

According to this hansard statement from Ruth Kelly, total cost for 2007-08 was just over £6m (unless I've misread it). Make of that what you will.

whufcpj said...

and Tom Harris nobody else works long hours. We poor mugs have to either suffer the Tube, Rail or drive on overcrowded roads after a long day at the office. It would do our MP's good to have to suffer commuting like us mere mortals.
And don't tell me we need to shower our MP's with loads of cash and expenses so that we get high calibre people because this clearly is not working.
We need to reduce the burden of taxation and we should start with MP's setting an example. While thousands of small business's go under and thousands lose their jobs these parasites are living the good life. It is disgusting.

Cynic said...

Its not as simple as the Ministerial pool. The Civil Service reaction will be to just contract it out. Same results but the cars dont appear on the books so its less apparent.

So you need to be rigorous in this. Oh yes, and at the same time perhaps abolish the pool of cars / contract that is used by senior civil servants too? Poor dears. They often have to work late over dinner and then need support on the way home, I understand.

If its essential (eg a late vote where public transport has ended or is impracticable) I understand that they have these wonderful things in London called Hackney carriages which one can summon with a wave of the hand and which are capacious and comfortable and offer employment to cockney working men and women. And they are British made too offering yet more work for Brummies!

The hackney costs shouldn't be too high. After all we seem to be paying a lot already for them all to own second homes near the house so its reasonable to assume that at least two thirds of them could walk home anyway.

Cynic said...

Matthew

May I remind you that under the strict new rules implemented by the Government after the various Data losses it is against the rules to take such documents home save on an encrypted laptop.

This would of course be a complete shock in some Departments as it would require some of our more senior colleagues to move on form the quill pen and be able to start their PC themselves without their PAs assistance.

.

Gareth said...

I agree with the sentiments that it is a bit of a wet tokenist idea.

But... if more ministers (and MPs in general) drove themselves to and from work and maybe we would have less legislation cooked up and voted on by drunks.

Sixxstring90 said...

There are lots of things he should abolish. Most of the state departments are impotent and should be merged e.g. the Business brief should be merged with the Chancellorship. The Schools brief should be merged with the Universities and Skills brief. The Department of Justice should be put back into Home Affairs, and International Development should be merged with the Foreign Ministry.

He can also slash the numbers in the civil service, and force a pay cut for all MP's, and then tie their pay to performance e.g. response to letters and emails, questions to the House, debates attended etc

Abolish Regional Development Agencies, ID cards, DNA databases etc

Dick the Prick said...

There's an ex political prisoner dude who's just become president of the Maldives and has popped loads of trinkets & shite on e-bay to the extent that he's turning an island into a nature reserve, a £X million yacht, the presidential palace and is doubling up office space with his secretary.

I really can see the benefit of having ministerial cars. Especially all cabinet rank. You (hopefully) get a protected driver who you can talk to, you can be rat arsed and forget your box, wallet, keys and life.

Ministers have to be protected from themselves. It's not a vulgar conceit for it can double as a portable office.

Richard Havers said...

Fiddling while Rome burns...this is not what we need.

canvas said...

"Yes, that really convinces me Ed and I have got this wrong... Not."

Iain, do you mean Ed or Tom??

Iain Dale said...

Er, what's to misunderstand? I agree with Ed, not Tom, isn't that obvious?

canvas said...

It's the 'not' that confused me...

Phil Taylor said...

Funnily enough you can pull all the numbers you need out of the Annual Report of the Government Car and Despatch Agency, here. Government mail and car services are handily structured as a Department of Transport Executive Agency and they publish separate figures.

In 2007/8 they had 171 cars and 168 drivers and they cost £14.0 million to run. That is about £82K per car but I guess they don't have all the cars and the drivers on the road at the same time so they probably have nearer to 150 cars out there operating and the effective cost per car is slightly higher than £82K but probably not quite a s much as £100K. They bought £1.0 million worth of new cars and employed five managers who earnt over £50K in 2007/8. All employees are on civil service pensions. Nice work if you can get it.

It sounds like you could keep 50 odd cars for the real big knobs, lose 120 or so and save £10 million. They also have large premises at 46 Ponton Road in Vauxhall which would probably make a nice capital receipt thank you.

trevorsden said...

I have to say I cannot for the life in me see the point of cutting back on Ministerial Cars. Have you never heard of Red boxes?

How are Ministers expected to cart them around?

This is quite frankly Mr Dale a truly pathetic response to the news about Jacqui Smith's sleaze and all the EU scummy sleaze.

A minister of the Crown is expected to nip on the tube with Christ knows what in his briefcase? Never mind that we as a nation should aspire to treat Ministers with some semblance of proper decorum- the security element alone should surreal call your notion into question.
I know the name Jacqui Smith etc can be called up - which is precisely why she SHOULD resign, her behaviour is disgraceful.

If you want to save money in government then let us have fewer ministers and other hangers on, and indeed fewer MPs.
I suspect the number of ministers has risen alarmingly under Blair and Brown. THIS is where savings can be made.

The Grim Reaper said...

Tom Harris says elsewhere "A ministerial car is a perk. Because if you’ve just had a 12- or a 14- hour day... it’s wonderful to be able to slide into the seat of a car and relax while you’re taken home, knowing you’ll be lucky to get six hours sleep before your ministerial diary kicks in the next morning."

Aww, poor widdle Tom. Forgive me if I smash the violins into pieces before the orchestra arrives. Last year, I got a job working at an arcade on a holiday park. I would often during the summer have to start work at 9am and wouldn't be finished until about 1am sometimes. When you take off breaks, that's about 14 hours per day.

However, there are two big differences. One, I was earning minimum wage, not the £125k per year that ministers get. Two, I didn't have a great big car ready to ferry me around at the expense of my own employer - I had to do all the driving myself. I often used to get less than 6 hours sleep a night myself, and usually got no thanks whatsoever for it. Ministers have it pretty damn good, I'd say.

Word verification: wimpi. Exactly what you are, Tom Harris.

Doug said...

Dick the Prick re: the Maldives. That new guy is a star. If I remember correctly he slimmed the operating cost of his office from $150m to $4m. And flogged off the gold plated taps etc.

The Grim Reaper said...

By the way, Iain - your link in this entry to Tom's blog doesn't work.

Alex said...

"The main reason why the civil service provides ministers with cars is to maintain the security of government papers. Normally, no papers equals no car."

Ye gods!. Stick them on a memory stick (encrypted) and give the minister a portable document reader. He can stick the memory stick in his pocket. Can I have 50% of the first years savings, please?

BrianSJ said...

So what happens with Jacqui Smith's car? During her 3 day working week?

Hamish said...

Completely agree with Ed and Iain.
At Edinburgh Airport, masses of the most convenient parking spaces used to be reserved for RBS.
Not any more.

Unsworth said...

Of course no one forces them to become Ministers, do they? Maybe these people should re-acquaint themselves with our so-called 'public transport' system. That might perhaps give them a slight understanding of the harsh realities everyone else has to endure.

The Grim Reaper said...

BrianSJ said "So what happens with Jacqui Smith's car? During her 3 day working week?"

4-day weekend for the driver, I suppose.

Cynic said...

Phil

Those figures wont include the really big nobs. If they have a police escort don't the Met provide driver, car everything?

Those expenses you quote are just for the political also rans and those Civil Servants who have access.

Rush-is-Right said...

Chris Mullin's diary published in the Daily Mail deals with this subject. Mullin didn't want a car, the Civil Service insisted he had to have one and raised all the usual objections you see in Yes Minister.

It's worth a read. Link.

Johnny Norfolk said...

At the very least they should be taxed as a benifit in kind like the rest of us. Or they could save the tax by refusing the car.
These people should be setting an example of thrift not how to make the most out of expences.

Roger Thornhill said...

"And it's the small, seemingly insignificant savings, which often have more effect on public opinion than the big headline savings. People understand what saving £100,000 means, but when the talk moves to billions, their eyes glaze over."


Which is why this is dog whistle politics and all part of Cameron's desire to 'win' irrespective of what is right.


If Tories are truly about cutting costs, lets see some serious moves, not this tokenistic, cosmetic puff. The budget needs to be restored to 2001 levels.

Gazza's UsefulTips and Blog said...

Well, with what Tom Harris had to say just surely made the case for abolition of these luxurious trappings. Just how much more arrogant can people get??? The ordinary Joe or Joanne also has to struggle home and take care of family and wouldn't it be lovely if everyone could luxuriate in a car provided for by someone else. I know I would. Scary Biscuit is also partly right; sure the vested interests will get in the way BUT again this is just inspirational rather than a reason to shy away from abolition. Go for it!!!

Zeddy said...

***People understand what saving £100,000 means, but when the talk moves to billions, their eyes glaze over.***

That's some of the most patronising balls I've heard in ages. And, given that it's on Iain's blog, that's up against some pretty stiff competition.

The Remittance Man said...

Ministers work ridiculously long hours, have to carry out all their ministerial duties on top of all their constituency duties and try, somehow, to fit in a family life as well.

Well, there's one solution to that: a directly elected PM who chooses his cabinet from outside the commons. Separation of powers and all that.

Then again, with a chunk of Brown's cabinet sitting in the Lords, Mr Harris's comment already seems a bit off.

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