Press release

Number 10 Press Briefing - Morning From 30 January 2012

This news article was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

From the Prime Minister's spokesperson on Syria, bonuses, Europe and Scotland

Syria

Asked for details about the Foreign Secretary’s (FS) trip to New York, the Prime Minister’s Spokesperson (PMS) told the assembled media that Government hoped to agree a United Nations Security Council Resolution this week, the international community had repeatedly called on President Assad to stop the killing and repression of civilians.

Asked for details about what to expect in New York, the PMS said that we have been working in New York to support a text drafted by Arab members of the Security Council which promotes a regional approach to the crisis. We welcome the briefing tomorrow by Qatari Foreign Minister, Hamad bin Jassim, and Arab League Secretary General, Al Arabiy. We believe that the UN must act to support the people of Syria and that Russia can no longer explain blocking the UN and providing cover for the regime’s brutal repression. 

Asked if the PM had made any calls on the matter, the PMS said that the FS had been leading on the issue.

Bonuses

Asked if the other senior members of the RBS team should also renege on their bonuses, the PMS said bonus arrangements had been put in place by the previous administration, RBS was left in a complete mess and it was important that the RBS management team got on with the job. Progress is being made and decisions on bonuses are for the RBS Board.

Asked if these arrangements were right, the PMS said that it was important that targets set for RBS were met and banks were put on a more sustainable footing. RBS had been too big and too risky and must now act in the interests of taxpayers. There would be no micromanaging but government has taken action so bonuses are lower, a fraction of what they were. We have placed a limit on cash bonuses for RBS and Lloyds, and made it clear that the bonus pool must be lower again. The PMS referred the assembled media to the Business Secretary’s proposals and action Government had taken to reform the whole system.

Put that lending from RBS, particularly to small businesses was down, the PMS said that RBS have significantly increased their lending to businesses - up 30% to businesses and up 6.5% to SMEs in the first nine months of 2011 compared to the previous year. RBS lent £50.3 billion to businesses of which £23.6 billion was to SMEs in the first nine months of 2011, clearly the RBS Board had taken that into account.

Put that Vince Cable said that Hester surrendering his bonus should ‘set the tone’, the PMS replied that whether to accept a bonus or not was a matter for individuals, but it was important that bonuses were much lower and measures were in place to limit them.

Asked if the Prime Minister (PM) had misjudged the situation, the PMS said that the PM had expressed his view last week; he wanted bonuses to be lower and said it was a matter for Hester if he took the bonus or not.

Put that there was a threat that the RBS management team might walk out, the PMS said the team did a difficult job and they were making good progress. They had reduced the balance sheet by around half a trillion. There have been significant changes but RBS has to be stronger and more sustainable before it moves to full private sector ownership.

Asked if there was a fear that Hester might leave or be poached, the PMS said she would not speculate but what was important was that the bank was viable going forwards.

Asked why people received bonuses, the PMS said that it was a matter for the Board who received bonuses.

Asked if the intervention by Labour was welcome, the PMS replied that the Government had made its position clear, bonuses should be responsible and we have taken action to achieve that. Reward for good performance was not a bad thing but should reflect the current climate and be responsible.

Asked if the PM or other ministers had spoken to Hester or the Board, the PMS said that she was not aware of any conversations, and reminded the assembled media that the Government’s shareholding is managed by UKFI (UK Financial Institutions) and they speak to the Board.

Asked if any conversations had taken place with UKFI, the PMS referred the media to the Treasury.

Asked to define ‘micromanaging’, the PMS said that UKFI acts for Government in dealings with the management Board. It was not the role of Government to look at individual’s bonuses that was a role for the Board and the Government wouldn’t take the place of the Board.

Asked if the same approach would be taken with Lloyds, the PMS said it would be the same process.

Asked if the bonus was mandatory, the PMS said that it would be a matter for the Board to decide whether a bonus would be awarded.

Asked if the Government was happy with the arrangements with UKFI, the PMS said the Government was happy to follow the process and there were no plans to change current arrangements.

Asked if RBS were public sector staff or private sector staff, the PMS referred the media to the Treasury.

Europe

Asked why Government would be happy for EU institutions to play a role in the fiscal pact when previously the PM had said this would not happen, the PMS said the position had not changed. We need to see a solution in the Eurozone and its in Britain’s national interest to be constructive, open-minded and vigilant. There was no agreement yet but the fundamental principle was that the Single Market should not be undermined.

Scotland

Asked if there were plans for the PM to meet the First Minister, the PMS replied that one had not been fixed but the PM had said he would meet him.

Put that if Scotland were independent then the United Kingdom would not exist, the PMS said that the PM believes that Scotland is better as part of the UK, we are stronger together than breaking apart. Understanding what an independent Scotland means is a matter for Salmond to set out.

Put that Spain had said they don’t want Scotland in the Euro, the PMS said that we’re consulting on the legal aspects of the Scottish Government holding a referendum.