Asked for a comment on reports that the Cabinet Secretary had written a paper on a ‘Plan B’ for the economy in the event of an economic downturn, the Prime Minister’s Spokesman (PMS) told the assembled press that the Treasury had already responded to the reports. We had set out our economic plan to tackle the budget deficit in the Budget and Spending Review. The PMS said that recent sovereign debt pressures in Europe showed why it was the right plan.
On whether the paper existed, the PMS said that it was his understanding that Ministers had not asked for any advice on alternative approaches, because we were clear that our plan was the right plan.
Asked if the paper was sent out without it being initiated by Ministers, the PMS replied that he would not get into process questions about what papers were being written in Government.
Asked if there was a ‘Plan B’, the PMS said that the Prime Minister had made clear that he was in favour of fiscal conservatism and monetary activism. We had set out our fiscal plan in the Budget and our spending plans in the Spending Review and those plans were being implemented.
Put that Ireland had made massive cuts and were still suffering a crisis, the PMS said that the Irish Government had had to reinforce their measures. The PMS added that he didn’t think anyone would suggest that we should go slower in regard to cutting the deficit.
On whether the paper would have been based on plans from the previous Government, the PMS said he would not get into specifics, but in his experience, it was quite normal for Government officials to be thinking about alternative scenarios for the economy.
Asked if it was normal for the Cabinet Secretary to be writing those papers, the PMS said he would not get into process issues about who had written what papers.
Put that the Cabinet Secretary had just ‘come up with this off his own bat’, the PMS replied that people were speculating about a paper that may or may not exist. The PMS said that Ministers had not asked for advice on a Plan B as they were very clear that the plan in place was the right plan. The PMS added that it was quite normal for Government officials to think about alternative economic scenarios.
Asked to confirm whether the paper existed, the PMS said that it was not normal practice for the Government to confirm or otherwise, the existence of pieces of advice or papers.
Asked if he accepted that it was in the public interest to know if such a paper existed or not, the PMS replied that the Government wouldn’t confirm whether such a paper existed.
Asked whether the NHS was now facing a real terms decrease in funds, the PMS said that we had set out the details on health spending at the time of the Spending Review and nothing had changed.
Put that the OBR’s forecast had changed, the PMS said that the Government always set out spending plans on the basis of cash figures. The PMS said that inflation would have an impact on the spending power, but this was only a forecast. The inflation costs faced by departments actually differed depending on what those departments purchased.
Put that the Government’s pledge was not about spending power, but about pounds and pence, the PMS replied that we had set out cash figures for spending on health.
Asked if the Cabinet Manual was a first draft of a new written constitution, the PMS advised people to wait for its publication. Asked why it was being published, the PMS said that this was not setting out new rules, but bringing issues together in one place. These were issues of public interest, such as what happened in the case of a Hung Parliament.
Local Government Spending
Asked why relatively wealthy parts of the country were given generous settlements while poorer parts of the country were faced with large cuts in spending, the PMS said that Eric Pickles had set out the figures yesterday.
Put that the settlement was unfair, the PMS said that we thought it was a fair settlement; we were faced with a difficult fiscal situation and we had looked to see where we could find efficiency savings and Local Government had to be part of that.
Asked if the Prime Minister had full confidence in the Met Police Commissioner, the PMS replied that he did.
Asked what the Prime Minister’s view was on control orders, the PMS said that we were looking at that issue and would be making a decision soon.
Asked if the Government was confident of winning the Lords vote on tuition fees, the PMS said that he would not speculate on the outcome.