Briefing by the Prime Minister's spokesman on Deputy Prime Minister, Foreign Secretary trip, deficit, Prime Minister's economy speech, Prime Minister's pay and US Defence Secretary.
Deputy Prime Minister, Foreign Secretary trip
Asked what was on the agenda for the Deputy Prime Minister’s trip, the Prime Minister’s Spokesman (PMS) said that this should be seen in the context of the Foreign Secretary’s tour as well. This was about championing ties with other European countries and the Government had been very clear that it was going to take a very proactive approach to engaging with European Partners.
Asked if there was a special reason for the Deputy Prime Minister to accompany the Foreign Secretary, the PMS said that the trip should be seen in the context of our engagement with European colleagues.
Asked if the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister were in total accord over the deficit reduction, the PMS said yes.
Asked if the Prime Minister would definitely rule out a return to what had been described as the brutality of the Thatcher years, the PMS said that the Prime Minister had set out the approach he intended to take on the spending review during his speech this morning. He had been very clear that it would be a very difficult process but that he wanted to do it in a way that strengthened and united the country.
Prime Minister’s economy speech
Asked what the percentage of shrinkage was, the PMS said that the Prime Minister had stated that people shouldn’t have a pre-conceived idea about the size of the state, but it was very important to get the private sector moving and see growth in the private sector.
Asked in what way the Prime Minister felt that the cuts we were about to embark on were different from the brutal cuts of the 1980s, the PMS said that it was very clear given the size of the deficit, which was the largest peace time deficit this country had seen, that it needed to be tackled. He had been very clear in his speech this morning that there was no option other than to tackle it, and if we didn’t tackle it, we would see rising debt interest payments, which would cost us more. There would be a Budget on 22 June that would set out the overall envelope for spending and there would then be a spending review process which would agree allocations to the departments. Both the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister had been very clear that it was important for the process to involve a wide consultation with people about what needed to happen to public spending and what would happen to public services.
Asked if the Prime Minister was concerned about how previous governments had exaggerated growth forecasts, the PMS said the Prime Minister had set out his view that those forecasts were optimistic. The Chancellor had put in place a new process for the future - an independent Office of Budget Responsibility (OBR) - that would set out independent forecasts. We would proceed on that basis, but the Prime Minister was very much focused on dealing with the problem at hand.
Asked how much leeway there was for a consultation of the deficit review, the PMS said that the Treasury would set out more detail on this tomorrow, but they had taken one step already by publishing some data at the end of last week. The intention was to work hard through the summer to allow us to engage properly with people and have a proper debate about what needed to happen to public spending.
Asked if it was appropriate for the Prime Minister to comment or pre-judge the outcome, the PMS said that the Prime Minister was not pre judging what the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) was going to say; the OBR was completely independent and would set those forecasts. The important thing was what forecasts were used to set fiscal policy and the important thing was that that was done independently.
Put that this Government was now committed to making all interest or annual figures for the debts every year, the PMS said that the previous Government produced debt interest forecasts a year or two out, but not five years out. The £70 billion number was the five year out debt interest number. The Treasury would make a judgement on what numbers should be published in the Budget, but as a general principle the Government had been very clear about wanting to be transparent about these things.
Prime Minister’s pay
sked if it was the case that the former Prime Minister could have claimed £198k and chose to claim £150k and that the new Prime Minister was choosing to claim £142k but could actually claim £198k, the PMS said the Prime Minister’s salary, both the Ministerial and Parliamentary salaries were set by the Senior Salaries Review Board. The Prime Minister was entitled to a salary of approximately £198k. It was right that the previous Prime Minister voluntarily decided to cut that to £150k and on 13 May there was an announcement that all Ministers were going to receive a 5% pay cut and that applied to the Prime Minister too.
US Defence Secretary
Asked if the Prime Minister would be meeting the US Defence Secretary, the PMS said that the Prime Minister would be meeting him today.
Asked what would be on the agenda, the PMS said that Robert Gates had been touring capitals, he would be meeting the Prime Minister and the National Security Adviser today. They would be talking about security issues and Afghanistan.