Asked whether the Government will support an amendment to be laid on Monday by cross-bench peers, the Prime Minister’s Spokesman (PMS) said there was nothing to add to what had already been said on the issue.
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Asked whether Britain was making a specific commitment to the Gates Foundation, the PMS said the money was being allocated from the budget of the Department for International Development.
Asked whether the specific plan for EU growth that the Prime Minister had outlined in his speech that morning would involve cutting business regulations to free up small businesses, the PMS said that that was correct, but that more detail would follow in the coming weeks, with a European Council meeting next week, when innovation was on the agenda, and then another in March, when economic reform was usually the main topic.
Asked which countries the Prime Minister had been describing as authoritarian in his speech, for instance China or Russia, the PMS said no countries had been singled out. He added that many of the challenges faced by the world’s advanced economies were the same, and that the Prime Minister had been contrasting different economic models, such as the Western democratic capitalist model and the benefits of it, and the fact that, for example, clarity in the law and the rule of law was very important for businesses.
Asked whether the Prime Minister believed that progress could be made on the single market in Europe, the PMS said that the Prime Minister had spoken to his counterparts in other countries recently about this and they understood the importance of not loading additional costs and burdens on businesses at this time. The prospects for growth in Europe meant you could not just sit back and expect it to happen. We needed to work to ensure there was sustainable growth across the European Union.
Asked for the Government’s view on the Dutch Prime Minister’s call for enhanced co-operation on a single market, the PMS said that it was something that needed to be looked at. If there was a problem unlocking the process, then the UK may want to consider different options. The PMS added that the Prime Minister had said something similar on trade. While it was important to push ahead with Doha, it was also important to pursue bilateral deals too, such as the agreement the EU developed with Korea.
Asked what the Prime Minister’s response was to the Mayor of London’s blueprint for lower taxes, the PMS said a number of tax priorities had been set out, such as increasing the personal allowance to £10,000. This would be prioritised over other tax cuts including inheritance tax. He added that the Prime Minister had said that by instinct he was a low-tax politician who did not think high marginal rates for tax were good for the economy.
Asked about the Mayor’s desire to change union legislation, in particular the threshold on strike ballots, the PMS said that the Prime Minister had previously said he was listening to the arguments on this issue and that the position was unchanged.
Asked whether No 10 believed that under the current Prime Minister, the Cabinet structure offered ‘safe places’ to discuss war preparations, following comments by the Cabinet Secretary at the Iraq Inquiry, the PMS said that the National Security Council had been set up as the forum for the strategy on Afghanistan to be agreed and decided.
Asked whether the Prime Minister was concerned by the cuts to Sure Start children’s centres, the PMS said the money for the programme came from the Early Intervention Grant and that there was sufficient money in that grant to maintain a network of Sure Start centres. Local authorities also had duties under the Childcare Act to ensure there was sufficient provision to meet local need. They also had duties to consult before changing provision, such as opening, closing or significantly changing children’s centres in their areas.
It was put to him that the amount of money in the grant was 11 per cent lower than the previous year and was a cut. The PMS said funding across the public sector was tight and that an 11 per cent reduction was less than in many other budgets across the public sector. Savings needed to be found. The PMS added that the assumption that if there was less money in a budget then there had to be a reduction in services, was not one the Government accepted. More efficient ways to run services had to be found.
Put that cutting money from the Early Intervention Grant amounted to the same thing as cutting the budget of Sure Start centres, the PMS said that the Government remained committed to Sure Start and children’s centres. He added that it should not come as a shock that the Government had needed to find areas across the public sector where money could be saved. The PMS re-iterated that it was important to challenge the assumption that reduced spending always translated into fewer public services.
Asked whether central Government would step in if councils breached the Act, the PMS said breaching the act constituted a breaking of the law because of the statutory duty.
Put that Margaret Eaton, the Conservative leader of the Local Government Association, had described local authorities as one of the most efficient parts of the public sector and had said cuts to services were inevitable, the PMS reiterated the need to find significant savings. The country was borrowing £150bn this year and £120m a day was going on paying interest on the debt. If we did not tackle that we were going to waste more money on debt interest and there would be less for public services.
Asked whether the Prime Minister would urge local authorities not to close Sure Start centres, the PMS said decisions about what was needed at a local level needed to be taken at a local level, and that there was a clearly defined way about how they should go about this.