Prime Minister’s meeting with President of the European Council
Asked what the Prime Minister and Herman Van Rompuy talked about at their meeting, the Prime Minister’s Spokesman (PMS) said that it was essentially a meeting to go through the issues that would come up at the European Council.
Put that there had been a suggestion that the Prime Minister could be asked to reveal the Budget at the European Council, the PMS said that the Budget would be announced to Parliament.
Put that there had been a suggestion that the EU wanted advance knowledge of how governments were running things due to what had happened in Greece, the PMS said that he was not aware of any representations from the EU regarding this, but it was a long-established practice that we announced the Budget to Parliament and that would continue to be the practice.
Put that there had been a suggestion that Britain would be asked for extra money in regards to helping the situation with the Euro, the PMS said that today’s meeting would not have been the forum for that type of discussion. The Chancellor was clear about this issue when he attended his first Ecofin meeting. Today’s meeting was about the European Council, which was in just over a week’s time.
Asked what would be on the agenda at the European Council, the PMS said that there would be a focus on the Eurozone economy, growth and climate change.
Prime Minister’s speech on the economy
Asked if the £70 billion figure of debt interest mentioned in the Prime Minister’s speech was an annual figure and if it was in today’s prices, the PMS said that the figure was an annual figure and it was best to check with the Treasury in terms of pricing.
Put that there had been a list of departments in the Prime Minister’s speech, including the Treasury, that had been named and shamed in terms of getting things wrong, the PMS said that the Prime Minister had said that the Treasury had been ‘a Treasury that sanctioned [all of this] because it published growth forecasts that were far more optimistic than independent forecasts’. It was clear that the most recent forecast from the Treasury was more optimistic than the average independent forecast. All forecasts in the past had been the Chancellor’s forecasts, but now we would have the Office of Budget Responsibility’s (OBR) forecast. Fiscal policy had been planned on the basis of an optimistic view and therefore spending policy had been planned on that basis. That was why one of the first things the Government announced was that it would set up an independent body, the OBR, so that there would be an independent forecast that would underpin these judgements.
Put that the previous Chancellor had given overly optimistic forecasts, the PMS said that it was a fact that growth forecasts were more optimistic than independent forecasts.
Put that a senior civil servant in the Treasury could think that the Prime Minister didn’t trust them, the PMS said that the Prime Minister had been saying that some mistakes had been made in the past, but both the Prime Minister and the Chancellor had praised the work of the civil servants at the Treasury.
Asked why Cabinet was at a later time this week, the PMS said that Cabinet had been at a number of different days and times so far under this Government.
Asked if the Cabinet timing changed so as the Prime Minister could take his children to school and if other people in working life should be allowed the time off to take their children to school, the PMS said that the Prime Minister had said that on occasion he would like to be able to take his children to school and he thought that the family was an important institution.