Number 10 Press Briefing - Afternoon From 23 November 2011
This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government
From the Prime Minister's spokesperson on: pension strikes, fuel duty and land declaration.
Asked if there were any more contingency plans for the emergency services during the strike, the Prime Minister’s Spokesman (PMS) said that there were contingency plans for all areas and that the Government would continue to work on them as it got a clearer idea of who would be on strike. Arrangements couldn’t be finalised until we had more information on who would be striking. The PMS added that we wanted to continue negotiations with the Unions in the mean time. There were discussions going on between individual departments and their relevant unions and those negotiations would continue.
Asked if there was any expectation that the strikes would be called off, the PMS said that the Prime Minister (PM) covered this in PMQs earlier. There would be some strike action next week, but we would get a clearer idea of the scale in the coming days.
Asked if there was any possibility of the army being put on standby, the PMS said that he didn’t expect that to happen.
Asked if there was any chance of heading off the strikes at this stage, the PMS referred the journalists to the PM’s words earlier that day when he said that he hoped the unions would reconsider their position and appealed to public sector workers to think long and hard before they decided to go on strike. Negotiations were ongoing, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury (CST) and the Minister for the Cabinet Office (MCO) had put forward an improved offer recently and detailed negotiations were happening on the basis of that improved offer
Asked if there was a deadline by which unions have to inform the Government about plans to strike, the PMS said that there was not a specific deadline, but that we expected them to give notice if they intended to go on strike and public sector managers were expected to ask the question of their staff.
Asked if any No 10 staff were going on strike, the PMS said that No 10 would do as other departments were doing and check with the staff to get clarity on the number of people striking.
Asked if the PM was concerned that taking kids to work would impact on businesses, the PMS said that the PM had said that it should only happen where it was appropriate. If employers were able to offer some flexibility and enable workers to bring their children to work then that was a good thing. Asked if the PM was encouraging people to work from home, the PMS said that would be sensible if employers could accommodate it.
Asked if the PM thought that these strikes would strengthen the case for changing the legislation in unions, the PMS said that there were no plans to change the legislation
Asked if the PM would welcome other political parties urging people to go to work, the PMS said that he could not comment on what other political parties should do or say. However he said that the PM had written an article in The Sun that day, and made a number of political points which could be discussed with political colleagues.
Asked for a response to the accusation that the PM was trying to stir up trouble rather than sort it out, the PMS said that we had negotiated for some time with the unions. We had approached those negotiations in the spirit of trying to find a sensible solution. We thought the reforms to pensions were fair for the tax payer and public sector workers and in recent weeks we had improved the offer. Asked for a response to the claim that the Government was happy to see disruptive strike action, the PMS said that was not the view in No 10. He said that the strike would affect many people across country and that the Government would focus efforts on engaging constructively with the unions and putting in robust contingency plans to mitigate the impact of any strike action
Asked if there was a possibility of a higher offer being given, the PMS said that the Government had already put forward a better offer. He said the Government had been approaching negotiations in constructive way and would continue to do so.
Asked if there was a time limit on the offer, the PMS said that there was not and that it did not run out next week if there was a strike. He referred back to what the Chief Secretary to the Treasury said at the time - that this was a good offer, that we could withdraw it, but didn’t put time limit on it.
Asked if strike action would be seen as a failure by the Government and the Unions, the PMS said that clearly the Government would like to avoid strike action because of impact it would have on general public. The Government had approached negotiations in constructive manner, but the unions said that they would go ahead with strike action. The Government thought that was an irresponsible approach.
Asked if there were any practical steps being taken on fuel duty, the PMS directed the journalist to the Treasury for matters on tax and duty, adding that we had taken action at the time of budget and as a result petrol prices were 6p lower than they would otherwise be.
Asked if the PM regretted not registering his land, the PMS said that there wasn’t, and isn’t, an interest to declare. He added that it was a public transaction, the PM paid the full market rate for the land, and he had sought assurances from the Head of Propriety and Ethics at the Cabinet Office and his Principal Private Secretary before doing so. Asked if the Government would publish minutes showing this advice, the PMS said that the Government didn’t publish advice to Ministers.
Asked if the issue represented a breach of the ministerial code where it said there shouldn’t be any suspicion of impropriety, the PMS said that this had been handled in the proper way in accordance with the ministerial code.