Briefing by the Prime Minister's Spokesman on: Children's Commissioner, departmental structural reform, political memoirs, education, Race Online/digital inclusion, Scotland and Lords reform.
Asked why the Government was reviewing the role of the Children’s Commissioner, the Prime Minister’s Spokesman (PMS) said that we appreciated the work that the current and previous Children Commissioners had done; the role had been in operation for 5 years now and it was time to have an open review. We wanted to listen to stakeholders and see what they had to say about how the role was operating and what we needed to do to improve it.
Asked if the role would be scrapped, the PMS said that that was not the purpose of the review; it was to look at the role five years on from its creation and see how we could do things better.
Departmental structural reform
Asked if departments’ future budgets would be published as part of their structural reform plans, the PMS said no; the structural reform plans would set out the programmes for different departments, and would reflect commitments made in the coalition agreement. The spending review process was underway and would report in October, which would have an impact on departmental business.
Asked if plans about cutting the size of Whitehall departments would be published, the PMS said that the structural reform plans were about the key objectives for departments: what policies and reforms would be made, and allowing the public to hold us to account.
Asked if the Prime Minister had read any of the extracts from Lord Mandelson’s new book about the coalition talks, the PMS said that the Prime Minister did not spend a huge amount if time reading newspaper reviews this morning; he had other things to do.
Asked if the Prime Minister kept a diary and if he ever discussed the issue of writing memoirs with Cabinet members, the PMS said no, not that he was aware.
Asked if the Prime Minister was considering any reform where by former Cabinet Ministers would be banned from writing memoirs for a certain length of time after leaving government, the PMS said there were no plans to do this and that there were already rules governing civil servants.
Asked if there were any plans to help schools who would be told they would no longer get money from Building Schools for the Future, the PMS said that it was important to remember that before this government came in there had already been a substantial reduction in capital spending programmed in, so we were already expecting it to fall by approximately 50% in the coming years. What hadn’t happened was an announcement on which particular projects would be affected, and that’s what we were now doing.
Asked about the Prime Minister’s interview at the weekend when he said he was terrified of living in London in terms of secondary school choice, the PMS said that the Prime Minister had been empathising with the issues that many parents faced in terms of whether or not there was a decent local school they could send their children to. The government was committed to a range of reforms to drive up standards, increase choice and increase the diversity of provision for schools.
Put that the Prime Minister’s comments could be seen as an insult to schools in London, the PMS said that the Prime Minister had been reflecting what a lot of parents were saying, and that he empathised with them.
Asked what the Prime Minister thought of the outgoing chair of Ofsted’s remarks that all schools should have a useless teacher, the PMS said that the Prime Minister thought we needed good teachers, and that we should give more power to those good teachers so that they could run schools better.
Race Online/digital inclusion
Asked if the Prime Minister wanted to close down unnecessary government websites, the PMS said that we were trying to streamline the government’s web presence.
Asked how the targeted ten million people who were not yet online would do so if places like libraries were closing down, the PMS said that “Race Online” had published their recommendations today; we would look at them and see what aspects we could take forward. There was a whole range of reasons why people weren’t online and we were looking to tackle them.
Put that the First Minister had written to the Prime Minister to express his outrage that the referendum would be held on the same day as Scottish elections, the PMS said that he was sure the Prime Minister would reply to the letter. The position was clear; there was a cost saving from holding the referendum on the same day as other elections and also, provided there was a straightforward yes/no question it was perfectly reasonable to ask people that question alongside voting on other issues.
Asked for the Prime Minister’s view on non-dom peers, the PMS said that the position on this was set out in the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act; the provisions of that act were about lawmakers and their tax status. The intention was to ensure that those people who were making laws in this country, paid taxes in this country.