The Prime Minister’s Spokesman (PMS) told reporters that the Prime Minister had told Cabinet that there were significant challenges ahead for the coalition government. We had already laid some important foundations for reforms, for example to health, education, and the political reforms currently going through the House. This was the period when the “rubber hit the ground”.
One of the greatest challenges in the coming months was the spending review. There was a challenging financial backdrop to the review and the Prime Minister emphasised the importance of supporting growth in the economy, and of delivering real reform in public services.
The Chief Secretary to the Treasury set out the process between now and the spending review.
Asked for further details the PMS said that there were bilateral discussions between the Treasury and departments. The Public Expenditure Committee (PEX) would start to meet this month and would consider a number of crosscutting issues concerning the spending review.
Progress had been made through the summer; departments had been putting their detailed plans into the Treasury, but there were still six weeks to go and there was an intensive period of work to come.
Asked how the Prime Minister would characterise his discussions with the Mayor of London about transport cuts, the PMS said that the spending review was ongoing and discussions would take place. When they finished we would let people know the outcome.
Asked if the Prime Minister was disappointed by the Mayor’s comments, the PMS said that the Mayor’s comments were a matter for him.
Asked how many members made the PEX, the PMS said that it included Cabinet Office and Treasury Ministers. The intention was that when departments settled, their Cabinet Minister would join the committee.
Asked how many had joined the committee, the PMS said that we were just back from the summer break, but the Treasury had received detailed plans from departments on 11 August and was in the process of discussing them with departments.
Asked if there was any reaction to Brendan Barber’s comments on the upcoming cuts, the PMS said that it was worth going back to why the spending cuts needed to happen; they were not something the government would choose to do - they were required due to the state of the public finances. We needed to get the largest peacetime deficit under control and it was important to get the level of public spending down. It was our objective to do that in a way that took people with us, which was why we had tried to be open about the scale of the challenge and to engage people in the process of examining the options.
Asked about Brendan Barber’s comments regarding violence in the streets, the PMS said that we would look to all people to engage in a constructive way with the process we had to undertake.
Asked if Steve Green would be announced as the government’s Trade Minister, the PMS said that we would be making an announcement on a Trade Minister shortly.
Asked why it had taken so long to announce a Trade Minister, the PMS said that we had made clear in the past that it was important we found the right person for this job.
Asked for the reaction to the news that Bob Diamond would become the new Barclays chief, the PMS said that it was a matter for the board of Barclays.
Asked if the Prime Minister would be surprised to hear colleagues speaking out about the appointment, the PMS said that it would be a matter for them, but it was clearly for the Barclays board to appoint its chief executive.
Phone hacking allegations
Asked if the police had contacted Andy Coulson, the PMS said not that he was aware.
Asked how long the Prime Minister had been on paternity leave for and if some of his leave had been holiday, the PMS said that he would have to check but that some of it had been holiday.
Asked if the Prime Minister would take more paternity leave after the first few weeks of parliament, the PMS said it was conference season so he imagined the Prime Minister would be reasonably busy.
Asked if the Prime Minister had asked for the Cabinet Secretary to review the paperwork on BP and Libya, the PMS said that around the time of the Prime Minister’s trip to the US there had been a lot of discussion about Megrahi’s release and in that context the Prime Minister asked the Cabinet Secretary to review the papers, and the Cabinet Secretary was in the process of doing so.
Put that the government seemed to be looking into whether or not Megrahi’s release was connected to BP getting oil-drilling contracts in Libya, the PMS said that the process reflected the nature of the questions that had been put to the government. The Foreign Secretary had put out a statement and the previous Foreign Secretary had done the same, based on a review of the documents. In order to be clear about this, and because of the recent questions and interest in this case, the Prime Minister had asked the Cabinet Secretary to review those documents again. A lot of the documents were already in the public domain, but if there were additional documents that the Cabinet Secretary thought should be published then we would do so.
Asked if the Prime Minister had spoken with his foreign counterparts about the immigration review, the PMS said that he was not aware of any specific conversations but it was an issue we discussed with counterparts in other countries.
Asked about comments from Poland that Britain’s rebate should be repealed, the PMS said that we disagreed; the rebate remained fully justified and in the absence of a rebate our net contribution would be double that of France, which we didn’t think was acceptable.