David Cameron has presided over one of his most fiery cabinet meetings when a group of ministers demanded an end to "ringfenced" spending and two ministers were criticised for failing to promote growth measures.

The so called National Union of Ministers, led by the home secretary, Theresa May, voiced anger that their departments are on course to face further cuts while others are exempt.

The chancellor of the exchequer, George Osborne, is expected in summer to announce a further round of cuts when he outlines a spending review for the 2015-16 financial year.

May, who has been joined in the past by the defence secretary, Philip Hammond, and the business secretary, Vince Cable, is annoyed that her department is facing further cuts while education, health and international development will be protected. "The National Union of Ministers were in fine voice," one government source said. Another added: "Theresa really got stuck in."

Osborne briefed the cabinet on the setback he suffered last week when a ratings agency deprived Britain of its triple A status. The chancellor told ministers that Moody's judgment – that it had downgraded Britain in light of the longer than expected time to stabilise the public finances – showed the need to press ahead with his deficit reduction plans.

But nerves at the lack of economic growth were highlighted when he joined forces with Cameron to lambast the communities secretary, Eric Pickles, for a lack of progress on introducing enterprise zones. "Eric Pickles got it in the neck," one source said.

Osborne challenged Pickles over the slow pace of setting up enterprise zones in December. But Cameron joined in the criticisms at Tuesday's cabinet meeting.

Maria Miller, the culture secretary, was also criticised for the slow rolling out of broadband in urban areas. Fast broadband is meant to be one of the main features of new enterprise zones.

Downing Street tried to put a positive on the discussions as it highlighted two announcements:

• Oliver Letwin, the cabinet office minister, announced that he has identified 1,300 regulations out of 4,000 that have been examined that can be "scrapped or substantially reduced". He is examining a further 2,500 regulations as part of his "red tape challenge.

• The government is a third of the way towards meeting its target of releasing public sector land big enough for 100,000 new homes by April 2015.

The prime minister's spokesman said that Nos 10 and 11 are satisfied with the progress on enterprise zones. The spokesman said: "The latest figures are that about £150m of private sector investment has already been attracted by the enterprise zones.

"What is important is we continue with their implementation. Just as with all the other aspects of the government's growth agenda clearly urgency is very much required. The prime minister's view is the government has been doing the right thing and we need to keep up that momentum."

Of Tuesday's cabinet discussion, the spokesman said: " It was an opportunity for secretaries of state to update on progress. So, for example, in the context of broadband the secretary of state for culture media and sport was able to explain how 100,000 homes and businesses a week across the UK are now getting access to superfast broadband. It was an opportunity for secretaries of state to explain how they work together."


Nicholas Watt, chief political correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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