How do you find the money to pay for a £20bn NHS funding pledge? Usually such discussions – and eventual calculations – would be made before the money was announced. However, Theresa May decided to ditch the rulebook this week when she unveiled her government’s funding package to boost health spending by an average of 3.4 per cent over the next five years. Far from a fully costed pledge, May referred to a rarely-sighted Brexit dividend, potential borrowing and future tax rises. The uncertainty has led to criticism from Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour – not usually known for fiscal restraint.
But happily it seems the Treasury now has a plan – or at least a plan to come up with a plan. Coffee House understands that this week, around 20 fiscally-minded Conservative MPs were summoned to the Treasury for a game of policy X Factor. Anchored by Treasury minister Mel Stride, each MP present was asked to deliver a one-minute pitch on a unique tax revenue-raising measure for the Budget.
Not everyone got the memo. A handful of MPs stood up and just made the case for a hypothecated NHS tax. Given that the Treasury has already no-no’d this and it is hardly seen as a new idea, these MPs were lightly heckled and moved along quickly.
More well-received ideas included looking to council tax rises to fund the NHS. One MP suggested a specific council tax levy for expensive homes which would go directly to the NHS. Another popular idea was charging council tax on development land if after five years of getting the green light to build the developer still hasn’t done so.
However, the most controversial idea came from Chris Philp. The Conservative MP stood up and told his colleagues that he proposed taxing Ken Clarke. Philp said that the government should get people of retirement age who work – like Clarke and Alex Ferguson – to pay national insurance. Currently people of retirement age are exempt. Alas his idea was not well-received by colleagues. Despite the Tory grandee being expected to vote against the government that very afternoon, Philp’s colleagues came to Clarke’s aid and heckled the idea.
At the end of the session, Stride instructed colleagues to send their pitches in written form to No 11. Has May’s government funding problem been solved? ‘I didn’t leave feeling that optimistic,’ remarks one attendee.