Asked if the PM was satisfied with Francis Maude’s comments on pension reforms being untenable and unaffordable, the PMS said people were getting caught up in a debate about semantics. He added that, as Hutton set out in his interim report, ‘the Commission determined that longer term structural reform of pensions was required’. He further quoted the Hutton Report and said on shorter term savings, the report concluded there should be an increase in contributions.
Asked if he would use the ‘unaffordable’ or ‘untenable’ to describe public sector pensions, the PMS said public sector pensions needed to be reformed.
Asked if there was any evidence of civil servants bringing children to work, the PMS said he wasn’t aware of any specific cases.
Asked if Government accepted the need for further compromise considering nearly half of all schools were closed or partially closed, implying teachers felt very strongly about the issue, the PMS said that as Hutton said in his report the risks are currently borne by the taxpayer which remained unfair and that’s why we needed to reform public sector pensions. On the strength of feeling, he added that though some teaching unions had decided to ballot their members and go on strike, some had not, including the largest union, as talks were ongoing.
Asked for the PM’s interpretation of the supposed lack of support for action, the PMS said it was still early in the day but it reflected two points. Firstly, different unions were taking different views, with some agreeing with us that strikes were premature as talks were ongoing. Secondly, that we had been very careful in planning for this day and ensuring we had appropriate contingencies in place.
Asked whether an assessment was being drawn up on the economic impact of the strikes, the PMS said we were not aware of any such study but clearly there would be an economic impact.
Asked if the PM had a message for the strikers on how to behave, the PMS said our position was clear, that strike action was premature when talks were ongoing and it was important to remember that the majority of civil servants and teachers had not voted for this strike action.
Asked if striking unions would be penalised when talks resumed, the PMS said we would continue to have constructive talks with all unions.
Asked whether we were suggesting the PCS were lying after they claimed considerably higher turnout figures, the PMS said we were basing our view on what departments were telling us, but clearly these were early days and we would provide more definitive figures later in the day.
Asked when talks would resume between Francis Maude and union bosses, the PMS said he believed there was a meeting scheduled for next week.
Asked whether the PM still believed the claim made in his recent LGA speech that the pension system was in ‘danger of going broke’, the PMS said that the costs of public sector pensions were running at something like £32bn a year and those costs were largely being met by the taxpayer. So in reforming public sector pensions, taking into account the Hutton report, we were seeking to make the system fairer for taxpayers and public sector workers. He added that at the end of this, public sector workers would continue to have very generous pension provisions with a defined benefit scheme.
Asked why we hadn’t mentioned how this related to the deficit reduction, the PMS said all decision we took had to be taken in the context of the nation’s finances and the state they were in.
Asked why the Home Office had not prepared for emergency legislation when we had known the ruling had been deliberated for weeks, the PMS said Policing Minister, Nick Herbert, would be updating the House on this matter shortly and we would address the issue with the utmost urgency.
Asked whether the PM thought it fair that English students could have to pay considerably more to attend Scottish universities, the PMS said this was a product of devolution.
Job Losses At Lloyds
Asked whether the PM thought Lloyds’ business strategy was appropriate, the PMS said this was matter for the company and banks were run at arms length from Government, including those we had share holdings in.
Asked why the Chancellor was bringing forward the civil list settlement, the PMS referred to the Chancellor’s words during the Spending Review. He added we had come to the end of the 10 year civil list settlement and needed to look at how we approached the funding of the Royal Household in future.
Asked whether the PM had any views on the Prince of Wales’ spending which had increased by 50 per cent this last year, the PMS said he had no comment.
Asked whether the PM would veto the European Commission’s plans after President Barroso said the UK ‘should show solidarity’, the PMS said these negotiations were a lengthy process and it would be inappropriate to set out our negotiating tactics at this stage. However, we had been clear that when national governments were implementing tough economic measures, EU spending also needed to be restrained.