Number 10 Press Briefing - Afternoon From 3 November 2011
From the Prime Minister's spokesperson on: UNISON, International Monetary Fund, G20, benefits and MPs' expenses.
UNISON strike ballot
Asked what the Prime Minster’s reaction was to the UNISON vote in favour of strike action, the Prime Minister’s Spokeswoman (PMS) said the decision was disappointing, unnecessary and potentially damaging. The deal on the table was fair and affordable, and the Government would urge unions to reconsider.
Asked how the strike could be damaging, the PMS said that the strike could potentially put the delivery of public services at risk. The PMS said the strike would make things very inconvenient for members of the public. The PMS added that strikes at this time are unnecessary and particularly when families are trying to balance their budgets they will have great difficulty understanding the need for strike action.
Asked if the low turnout strengthens the case for reforms of strike laws, the PMS said there are no plans. The PMS also referred journalists to the comments of Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude who said: “We have listened to the concerns of public sector workers about their pensions and yesterday responded with a new generous settlement which is beyond the dreams of most private employees. I urge the trade unions to devote their energy to reaching agreement and not to unnecessary and damaging strike action. Today’s UNISON ballot received a very low turnout - with less than a third of their members even voting - which shows there is extremely limited support for the kind of strike action their union leaders want. But it is extremely disappointing that some union members are still planning to lose a day’s pay and go on strike.”
In answer to further questions about why Government isn’t looking at reforming strike laws, the PMS replied that there are no plans to look at the laws and that it was important that unions looked at the deal on the table which is fair and affordable.
Asked if the Government could consider legal action to prevent a strike, the PMS said that there are laws that allow strikes and that the Government is appealing to the unions to look at the deal on the table.
Asked if the unions should re-ballot as the offer has changed, the PMS said that was a matter for the unions.
Asked if the new offer on public sector pensions could be withdrawn if strikes go ahead, the PMS said the Government has put out a generous but affordable offer which will be fair to public servants and we want them to look at that deal. The PMS added members of the public won’t necessarily understand why they are going on strike when those in the private sector often have less generous pensions.
International Monetary Fund
Asked if the Government believes there needs to be a vote in Parliament on increasing contributions to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the PMS said the Government’s position on the IMF has not changed. The PMS said there will discussions at the G20 on the IMF and the Chancellor will be briefing journalists in Cannes. The PMS added that the Government is happy to look at whether resources need to be increased in the IMF, but at the moment there are no calls for that.
Asked if Conservative MPs should support the Government if there is a vote, the PMS said yes. She added that as the Prime Minster had said earlier today no country which has contributed to the IMF has ever lost out and that it is a really important organisation in terms of helping countries as part of the global economy.
Asked if a vote would be a three-line whip, the PMS said we are not there yet.
Asked for a readout of the bilateral meetings the PM had at the G20,the PMS said the Prime Mister had a meeting with Prime Mister Singh of India in which they discussed issues facing the global economy and the eurozone. They agreed momentum needs to be maintained by eurozone countries to implement the deal agreed last week. They discussed the need to make progress on global trade, and they also agreed to further the strong trade links between the UK and India and build on progress since their last meeting. The PMS said that the Prime Minister and Prime Minister Noda of Japan discussed the global economy and agreed on the importance that the eurozone made progress on implementing the deal agreed last week. Prime Minister Noda welcomed the Prime Minister’s report on Global Governance and said he looked forward to seeing the full report when it is discussed later this evening. They also agreed to build on the strong relationship between the two countries, particularly through trade, investment and defence co-operation. The Prime Minister expressed regret that his planned visit to Japan was postponed and said that he looked forward to rearranging his visit to Japan.
Asked if the Treasury are looking to reduce the increase in benefits, the PMS said the policy was set in the Budget and that remains the Government’s position.
In light of the latest publication of MPs’ expenses claims, asked if the Prime Minister thought it was important that those who would like to run the economy had their finances in order, the PMS said the Prime Minister thought it was very important for all MPs.