Asked whether final figures for Defence spending would be revealed this afternoon or would people have to wait until the Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR) tomorrow, the Prime Minister’s Spokesman told the assembled press that people would know about Defence spending this afternoon.
When asked to give an assessment in general terms of what kind of armed forces the UK would have in the future, the PMS replied that he would not comment on the detail of the SDSR before this afternoon. The review would cover the ways and means of achieving the National Security Strategy (NSS) published yesterday. The background to this was that we had inherited a very difficult legacy and some problems in the way various MOD programmes had been implemented.
The PMS said that there was a black hole of around £38billion in the MOD budget for the coming ten years and therefore the objective here was to bring the programme back in to balance, in a way that allowed us to tackle the deficit and protect our national security.
Put that the Prime Minister had spoken to President Obama last night and did that call include specific pledges from the Prime Minister on defence capabilities, the PMS replied that we would be setting out the findings of our review this afternoon. The review reflected the NSS and it was based on dealing with the risks and threats that were set out in the NSS. The PMS said that clearly we worked very closely with the US on all of these issues.
Asked if he would describe the discussion as quite detailed in its nature, the PMS said that it had addressed a number of the issues included in the review. There had been contact between the US and the UK Government for a number of months on this.
Asked if the Prime Minister had spoken to any other foreign leaders about defence capabilities, the PMS said that he had not.
Asked when the next Defence Review would take place, the PMS replied that it would be looked at every five years, so there would be another SDSR and another NSS in five years time. Between now and then, there would be an annual report to Parliament on the NSS. The PMS added that the National Security Council would continue to meet and discuss all these issues on an ongoing basis.
Winter Fuel Allowance
Asked what the Prime Minister had promised in terms of winter fuel payments, the PMS replied that the Prime Minister had said that they would be protected. This was also set out in the Coalition Agreement.
Put that reports suggesting the winter fuel allowance would go down were untrue, the PMS said that the position was as set out in the Coalition document. Put that the previous Government had paid out more than the statutory amount and therefore the payments could be brought down without actually cutting it, the PMS replied that it was true that over the past two or three years there was an additional payment made on top of the standard amount.
Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR)
Asked about the BBC Licence fee, the PMS said that the BBC had recently announced that it would be frozen for the next year. Asked about BBC Licence fees for older people, the PMS advised people to wait until tomorrow.
Asked when the CSR document would be going to the printers, the PMS said that it would be this afternoon. Put that there were reports of a fair bit of ‘wrangling’, the PMS replied that the Treasury had agreed budgets with departments. That process was completed on Sunday.
When asked if departments would still be discussing internally what they would be doing with their budgets, the PMS said that departments would have four year budgets. It was unlikely that they would have allocated every last pound for the next four years. The Treasury was setting limits within which those departments would have to live.
Asked about a report on ending council houses for life, the PMS said that the Prime Minister had spoken about this in August; we needed to look at the system, review the way it was operating and make sure council housing was allocated according to need.