From the Prime Minister's spokesperson on pension strikes, the economy and Iran.
Asked for the latest assessment of the impact of the strike, the Prime Minister’s Spokesman (PMS) said there would be a further update from the Cabinet Office, but that the latest figures suggested that a quarter of civil servants, around 135,000, were on strike. He added that there was no serious disruption at the UK border entry points and no reports of excessive queues. He said that 14 out of over 900 job centres were closed and that in England 62 per cent of schools were closed, 30 per cent were open or partially open and the status of eight per cent of schools was unknown.
Asked if this corrected what the Prime Minister had said at Prime Minister’s Questions, the PMS said the figures had been changing. Asked if the squib was still damp, the PMS said the figures showed that our contingency plans have been reasonably effective in mitigating the impact of the strikes. He added that we always knew there would be a significant impact on schools. Asked if ambulance and emergency calls had been affected, the PMS said he did not have any reports to suggest that was a problem.
Asked what the cost of the strike had been, given it had been projected that £0.5 billion would be the impact if everyone went on strike, the PMS said he did not think that HM Treasury had made an assessment. The Government was still collecting the data on the level of disruption.
Asked if he knew how many Whitehall civil servants were on strike, the PMS said no; that was not an easy thing to generate since departments had staff in Whitehall and in buildings across the country. Asked how many Downing Street staff were on strike, the PMS said a handful. Asked how many Downing Street staff there were, the PMS said a couple of hundred people.
Asked when the last ministerial-led meeting with unions had taken place, the PMS said there had been lots of meetings. There had been meetings on individual pension schemes led by officials and by ministers. The PMS said meetings with the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, the Minister for the Cabinet Office and TUC delegates had taken place throughout the year and there had been a meeting earlier this month.
Asked if it was irresponsible not to have met since earlier this month, the PMS said that it would be difficult to argue that the Government had not been engaging with the unions: there had been a lot of meetings over a long period of time. Asked what level of meeting would take place tomorrow the PMS said there was a meeting on Civil Service pensions yesterday, there would be meetings on pensions for teachers tomorrow and health care workers on Friday, but that he did not have a cast list.
Asked if he had a figure for public sector workers on strike, the PMS said the only figure he had was for the Civil Service. Asked if the press officer in charge of strikes was on strike, the PMS said a handful of people in Downing Street were on strike and that he was not going to get into names and individuals, adding that the lead press office leading on union issues was the Cabinet Office. The PMS said he would not agree with what he had read but that he would not get into details.
Asked if the Government could reach a deal with some unions and not with others, and if this was a tactic of divide and rule, the PMS said it was not a question of divide and rule; the point was that there were different pension schemes for different workers. Asked how much it cost to employ 269 full time trade union officials the PMS said he did not know, but that Francis Maude had been looking into that.
Asked what jobs staff at Downing Street had been doing at the border, the PMS said he would not get into any more detail. A request for volunteers had been issued and there had been a good response from around the Civil Service. Some of the volunteers had come from Downing Street.
Asked if the Prime Minister thought that working at the border was an unskilled job, the PMS said no. People deployed were given appropriate training. Asked if any children were brought to the Downing Street creche, the PMS said there had been no take up.
Asked if the Prime Minister thought a deal would be possible by Christmas, the PMS said the Prime Minister thought that the offer on the table is a good one; that it represented a good deal for the public sector and a good deal for the taxpayer. The talks would continue over the coming days.
Asked what he thought about reports of central banks easing financial strains and that the Euro may collapse, the PMS said he did not want to explain the announcement made by the central banks. They had said they were enhancing their capacity to provide liquidity to the global financial system. The PMS said there were strains in the financial markets at the present time and that the central banks were ensuring they could help ease those strains and help the supply of credit into the economy.
Asked if this was akin to the 2008 crisis, the PMS said this was sensible contingency planning because this was a very serious situation in the financial markets at the present time. We are experiencing a credit crunch and the central bank action was about trying to mitigate the effects of that credit crunch.
Asked about Government preparations, the PMS said there was contingency planning going on, involving the HM Treasury, the Bank of England and the Financial Services Authority, and we would expect them to keep in close touch and monitor the situation carefully. Asked if he thought the Euro would collapse, the PMS said that the central banks’ announcement should not be interpreted in that way. They were ensuring they had the capacity to respond to strains in financial markets.
Asked if the Prime Minister had met the Governor of the Bank of England in the last 48 hours, the PMS said the Prime Minister saw him on a reasonably regular basis, and sometimes joined meetings with the Chancellor.
Asked if he had anything to add to what the Foreign Secretary had said about Iran, the PMS said no. Asked what he thought of a former Foreign Secretary warning about the unwelcome drumbeat towards war, the PMS said he had no comment.