PM Direct in Newcastle

Transcript of Q&A given by the Prime Minister David Cameron in Newcastle on Friday, 14 January 2011.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government
The Rt Hon David Cameron

Transcript of Q&A given by the Prime Minister David Cameron in Newcastle on Friday, 14 January 2011.

Read the transcript:

Prime Minister:

Thank you very much.  Thank you.  Thank you very much for that introduction. It is great to be here and it is particularly good to be here at Greggs - a fantastic, expanding business, a growing business, a business that is employing more people, and that is spreading across the country.  But particularly what I like is a business with a sense of social responsibility, a business that knows that there’s more to business just making money.  It’s also about being a good citizen, being a good employer and also being part of what I call the Big Society and I’d like to particularly commend what you do in terms of your breakfast clubs, providing children with a good breakfast in so many schools around our country and all the other investments you make,  particularly here in the north east.

Anyway, the point of today is not a long speech by me; it is your questions and my attempts to answer them about any subject you want to raise.  Just one word of introduction, the reason I want to do these meetings is to get out of Number 10 Downing Street, to get out of the bunker, to get out of Westminster, to get out of Parliament, and come and hear from people direct, partly because this is such an important year for our country.

We have had a very difficult recession, a very tough time.  We’re coming out of that now but we’ve got some really difficult decisions we have to make about spending cuts and taxes so that we get our deficit down, we get our debts under control and we can thrive as a country.  It is a difficult period but it is a big year for Britain because we have got to make sure that is matched by real growth in the private sector, in the commercial sector, businesses like yours.  And I want to make sure we are doing everything we can to help get that growth moving and get those jobs coming.

That’s all you get by way of an introduction; who wants to ask the first question?


You just made a statement there about Greggs expanding.  I have been fortunate, I have worked for Greggs for the last 12 years.  I have always had a pay rise.  The rest of the country is not getting it.  There are more places shutting down.  What are you going to do to make Great Britain great?  What’s going to be our manufacturing base?  We haven’t got one.  The Industrial Revolution brought us on; what’s in the pipeline for Britain?

Prime Minister:

OK, well, I think we do still have a manufacturing base.  We have a manufacturing base, though, that is more at the high end.  I have just come from Newcastle University and I’ve been looking at some of the future science businesses.  There are areas of manufacturing and technology that we can succeed in as a country and I don’t think we should talk ourselves down.  Sometimes we can get too depressed by the difficult things that face us.  Here in the north east in the last year, exports to other parts of the world are up by 25 per cent and many of those are from manufacturing businesses.

Where are we going to succeed in the future?  Well, we have a fantastic health service and some of the best universities in the world so we can lead in things like genetic science and robotics and inventions.  We have got a fantastic aerospace industry, we can expand that.  We have got to make money out of the green technologies.  I mean, here in the north east we have got Nissan - they are going to be building the LEAF electric car.  We are going to be giving a £5,000 bonus to anyone who buys one of those cars so we are one of the centres of green manufacturing.  We have got incredible resources in the North Sea, not just the oil and gas but also the wind and the wave and the tidal technology.  That’s why we are putting money into the National Centre for Renewable Energy here in the north east.

So I don’t think we should think that Britain is somehow going to be in relative decline and is not going to make it in the world.  I think this can be a great decade for us.  We have some great advantages but, and this is where the pay freeze point comes in, I don’t want us to be a country like Greece or like Ireland queuing up for a bailout because we didn’t get our debts in order.  All of us in this room we have got credit cards, we know what it is like: the longer you leave your credit card debt, the worse it gets. 

And that’s why the Government I lead that came together, two parties who don’t always agree with each other, we came together and said ‘Right, we have to sort this debt situation out’.  That means some painful decisions about tax, some painful decisions about spending but I say better to do that, better to have a plan to get that under control, than ask all our children to go on paying these debts in the future.  Do you know how much interest we pay on our debts every day?  £120 million.  Think what you could do with that money, the schools you could build, the hospitals you could build.  So I think it is right we do that and one of the tough things we have had to do to get on top of our debts is freeze public-sector pay for two years.  That is tough and difficult but many people in the private sector have had a pay freeze and so I think it’s fair.  But I recognise I’ve got a big job to do to get round the country and explain that to people, but I think if we do those things we will put the Great back into Britain as sure as eggs is eggs.


You talk about employing people, but one of the biggest things in terms of people being employed is for businesses to be able to transport their goods around and also for people to be able to get from their homes to their industry.  Yet fuel prices keep going up and up and up.

Prime Minister:

What are we going to do about it?  Yes. I know you go and fill up at the pumps right now, £1.30 a litre or sometimes even more.  That is a huge amount.  Filling a family car costs £60, £70, not for some flash car but just for an ordinary family car.  That affects every family that has to drive - and many people have to drive, they don’t have a choice - and it affects businesses large and small.  Now, as I said to the gentleman first, we did have a big deficit, a big debt we have to deal with and the last government set out four increases in fuel duty which we’ve had to put in place, but I do think we should look at this idea, which I’ve been talking about, which is when the oil price goes up, and when the price at the pumps goes up, obviously the Treasury gets some extra money.  How much extra money we’re having a debate about, but they do get some extra money. So there is the idea of saying, well, when that happens you should share some of that benefit with the hard-pressed motorist who’s filling up his car, because what matters to the Treasury is that they’re getting the revenue that they need to help pay down the deficit and if there’s extra revenue they can help share it. So we are looking at that. There’s a Budget in March, and I hope that we will be able to make some progress.

But as I’ve said many times, I don’t want to fool people to say this is easy or it’s some simple calculation, because obviously when the oil price goes up, that has a bad effect on other parts of the economy and can reduce the tax take from those parts of the economy.  But I think we can make some progress on this and I want to give the motorist a fair deal, a sense that it’s not a one-way street and that the Government takes its responsibilities too.


From my own experience, I hated my last job so much and everywhere I was going I was told, ‘Oh, you’ve got no experience, we’re not going to take you on.’

Prime Minister:

What were you doing?  What was your job?


I worked in a call centre, and if I hadn’t been the chance here I would have had to have gone on the dole to be given any chance of getting anywhere.  So there’s no help for people who are in jobs but really want to get out of them.

Prime Minister:

Well, that is a very good question.  The truth of the matter is that if you have a job and you’re in work, however much you may not like that job, you have a better chance of getting another job than someone who doesn’t have a job at all, so I think as a country we’ve got to focus the help on the people who are out of work and people who’ve been out of work for a long time, because the longer you’ve been out of work, the more out of touch you get with what it’s like to have a job, with the time-keeping and what you have to do in an office and all those things that you sort of take for granted.  So of course we want to have a good job market where you can go online or look in newspapers, you can see other opportunities, we want a mobile job market where people move to the jobs of the future, but for the Government we’ve got to put our biggest effort into helping those who are out of work, and we’re going to introduce this thing called the Work Programme where anyone who’s been out of work for a set number of months should then get a huge amount of help and support, and not just from Job Centre Plus and the state, but also from the private sector, from the voluntary sector.

We’re going to introduce a new idea, basically, of saying we’re going to pay those organisations by results, so the more people they get into work because they’ve trained them properly, the more money they get.  And crucially, if they can get people into work who’ve been out of work for maybe five, 10, even 20 years, we should pay them more, because those people, statistically, are people who stay on the dole or on incapacity benefit for a very long time.  That’s bad for them, bad for their families and it’s costing the country a lot of money, so if we can get them off those benefits and into work, we will all benefit hugely, and we are being more creative about this and saying, ‘Why not spend, today, some of the future benefits of getting them off the dole?’ That is a new way of doing things and it’s vital, but I’m afraid we must concentrate on the people who are out of work; their needs are greatest.


Bankers’ bonuses.

Prime Minister:

Bankers’ bonuses. They’re too high.


Exactly.  All of us in the room are taxpayers, so I’m just wondering when you’re going to make a decision on bankers’ bonuses and what you’re going to do about it.

Prime Minister:

Well, let’s first of all rewind and think about why, rightly, we’re all so angry about this.  You know, when the banks nearly went under, the taxpayer stepped in and helped them.  Why did we do that?  If Greggs had trouble, it wouldn’t just turn to the Government and say, you know, ‘We have trouble, help us’.  Banks are different, because if banks fall over, if banks go bust, they can bring the whole economy down, because you have to have a banking system that works for the whole economy.  So we put our money in and that’s why I think it’s right that we can have a big argument with the banks about the level of bonuses that they should pay. 

And I think there are two parts to this: there are those banks that we still own.  We still own Royal Bank of Scotland.  We still own, effectively, Lloyds HBOS.  And with those banks I think we can absolutely say they have got to show restraint, that they should not be paying the sort of bonuses you’ve been reading about in the newspapers, and we are having exactly that discussion with them and we will be very tough with them about those bonuses.

For banks more generally, we should have tough rules and we have introduced tough rules.  Last year, just 25 companies had to comply with the rules by the Financial Services Authority about what bonuses could be paid, how much were in shares, how much had to be delayed.  Now 2,500 companies are covered by that. 

And also what we are doing is getting more money out of the banks.  So they’re not just paying corporation tax and National Insurance.  We were one of the first governments in Europe, one of the first governments in the world, to introduce a specific bank levy and we’re going to be taking out of the banks in order to pay back the taxpayers and make sure the banks are making a contribution to dealing with the problems we have - £2.5 billion every year.

Now the balance of argument that I’ve got to think of as Prime Minister and the balance of argument I’ve got to get right, is not easy, because there’s part of me, like probably everyone in this room, that just thinks right, let’s just go after every penny we can get out of these banks, let’s tax these bonuses to hell, let’s just get hold of the cash.  That would look good for a few weeks, maybe a few months, but actually, what do we really want to do here?  We want a growing economy that is creating jobs and that means banks that are lending money to businesses. 

So what I’m trying to do with the banks - and we’re having meetings with them, we’re sat down with them - I want to make sure the bonuses go down, I want to make sure the lending goes up and I want to maximise the amount of tax they actually pay.  I don’t want to just try to win good headlines by saying I’m going to hammer these guys.  I want to make sure this year they’re paying more tax than last year and I want them to pay more tax every year between now and the election, because we need that tax revenue to pay down our debts, to pay down our deficit, to invest in our schools and, at the same time, we want those banks to lend money.

So it’s about getting the balance right and it’s not going to be easy and it won’t satisfy everybody, but I think we’ve got to try to work for that balance rather than just think, let’s take revenge on people because they’ve made us mad as hell.


Do these decisions not need to be made now, because this is the time of the year when the bonuses are actually coming out?

Prime Minister:

Absolutely.  That’s why we’re in these discussions with the banks right now and I hope we’ll get an agreement where we can say bonuses are going down, lending is going up, tax payments are going up.  That’s the deal I want to do for the British people.  I also want to add some other things into it - like Greggs are a good corporate citizen, you put money into the local economy, you run breakfast clubs, you’re socially responsible.  I want banks to do that too.  I want them to put money into the Big Society bank that we’re planning.  I want them to help fund jobs around the country.  I think actually banks have been in the past, can be again, good corporate citizens in the country.  That’s what we should be trying to achieve. 

In the end, what we’ve got to try to get is a good outcome for the economy for the long term, not just something that looks good and sounds good for a few days.  It’s a tough thing in politics, but we’ve got to try to get it right.


It’s about my local school and its new build.  My local school had its new build cancelled and now the maintenance budgets have been slashed.  What does the future hold there?

Prime Minister:

What we’ve actually said in schooling is that, although we’re having to make difficult cuts in the economy, the amount of money per pupil that goes into the school is going to be the same this year as it was last year.  We’re not cutting it.  So when I look at my two kids, who go to a state school in London, a church school, the money following them into the school next year will be the same as this year because I think, as a parent, that’s what I care about most -  that these schools, for the children they teach, they’re not going to lose money.

And we’re adding something into that, which is that for all children on free school meals, we’re adding what’s called a pupil premium of over £400 so that if the school that you’re in has got children from a deprived background it’s getting extra money.  That might not benefit me, that might not benefit you, sir, but I think it’s good for our country, because education should be about social mobility.  It should be helping you to go from the very bottom to the very top.  It doesn’t do that right now and I think this pupil premium will help.

So that’s the current money.  That’s the spending money going into schools.  The capital money - there was this thing called Building Schools for the Future.  It was completely inefficient.  It went on for years before it spent any money on any schools.  In some cases, it was two times more expensive than those schools could be built otherwise, so we’ve had to change that.  But there is still going to be £15 billion across the next five years for school building, for school maintenance.  So there’ll be every opportunity for the school your children go to, to try to apply for that money and make sure that you get the buildings and all that you need. 

But I think the most important thing is that the money following the pupil stays where it is, so we don’t see cuts to the schools that our children go to, because it is so important for our future.  So we’ve safeguarded that while taking difficult decisions in other areas.


Prime Minister, you talked earlier about supporting those in the greatest need and, sadly, the north east tops a lot of the league tables for social deprivation, health, etc.  What is the Government going to do to help us become more competitive as a region to help us attract more businesses, more jobs, and I’m referring in particular to infrastructure, like the A1, the networks, the rail networks?

Prime Minister:

I think this is the absolutely key question here in the north east, because the economy has become quite reliant on the public sector and, frankly, whoever was Prime Minister right now, whoever was standing here right now with the debts that we have, with the 11 per cent budget deficit, bigger than Greece’s, would have to make some cuts whoever was doing this.  So the question is not: ‘How do we make the cuts?’ Or: ‘When?’ We’ve got to do that.  The question is: ‘How do we get the private sector growing and how do we help particularly in areas of the country like this that have become over-reliant on the public sector?’

Part of our answer is a Regional Growth Fund, which has got £1.4 billion in, that areas can bid for and the only criteria are two: (a) is this an area of the country that is going to suffer loss of public sector jobs? And (b) is this grant going to drive private-sector job creation?  Very simple, very straightforward.  Michael Heseltine is helping deliver it and I think it will make a difference.

But in the end I believe that the biggest thing that makes a difference is encouraging new businesses to start up and encouraging existing businesses to employ more people.  That’s how we crack it and that’s why we’re cutting the rate of corporation tax, which is like the key tax rate for your economy.  What are you charging businesses if they come here and make a profit?  We’re cutting that down to 24 pence in the pound.  That’ll be the lowest rate for any G7 country.  I want to make sure the next generation of Nissans are coming to Sunderland and to Newcastle, that we attract that inward investment.  And for new businesses we’re saying if you start up here in the north east you don’t have to pay National Insurance on the first people that you take on.

So everything like that to try to make it easier, very simple for one person to say to another person, ‘Come and work for me’.  We’ve made it too complicated to set up a business in this country.  We’ve made it far too complicated to employ people.  We’ve got to start de-regulating and make it simple again, so that businesses like this, and smaller businesses, can actually decide to take on more staff.  That’s the key.


I’m very pleased to say that I did vote for you and I have great admiration and respect, but I’d love to know what drives you to do this terrible job.

Prime Minister:

Do you know what?  And I’m not just saying this.  I wake up every day and I just think it is an incredible privilege to do this job.  I think Britain’s a wonderful country.  I think we’ve got some difficult times, yes, but we’ve got some great advantages.  We’ve got fantastic people, brilliant universities, some great businesses, very talented young people, the English language, we’re at the centre of the world’s time zone, we’ve got relationships with everyone.  We’re right up there in NATO, in the European Union, the special relationship with America, the Commonwealth.  We’ve got a fantastic set of opportunities and I wake up every day and think yes, OK, there are some difficult decisions and there are some real problems we have to face, but to do this job at a time like this with the incredibly talented team I have around me is an enormous privilege and a huge pleasure.  And if ever I get out of bed and think ‘Oh, go away, get someone else’ - you know, that’s pathetic.  This is an amazing thing to be able to do and so if you feel grumpy about it, stand aside and let someone else do it. 

But I find it hugely challenging.  There are some very big issues we have to grapple with, but I’ve been impressed in the seven months that I’ve been doing the job with the British civil service - they can sometimes be attacked, we think of the Sir Humphreys and whatever.  But there’s some very talented people working very long hours to try to help us sort out the problems we have in this country and the opportunity to give those people a lead is a fantastic opportunity, so I relish it.


Mr Cameron, you’ve just alluded to all our relationships around the world, how central we are.  I’m thinking this morning about our relationship with Europe and as a business amongst many other businesses, there’s a lot of things coming out of Europe which we tend to gold-plate, etc., and I’m just wondering what you will do as a government to protect that further erosion of sovereignty that we have experienced and how we can, in fact, claw some of it back.

Prime Minister:

I take a very simple, straightforward view: just ask the question, what’s in Britain’s interests?  And it seems to me it’s totally in our interest to be in the European Union and to be trading and co-operating with our neighbouring countries.  If you look at our exports, half of them, 50 per cent, go to other European Union countries and about 44 per cent of them go to members of the Eurozone.  So we should be in the European Union, we should be in this organisation.  We should be fighting for a more de-regulated Union, for a looser Union, for one that’s more about co-operation rather than building some sort of super-state, but we’ve got to be in there.

Imagine if we weren’t.  If we were outside, we’d be selling all our goods to Europe, but we’d have no say about what the rules were.  That would not be in our interest.  But is it in our interest to go in much deeper and to, say, join the single currency and give up the pound?  I think absolutely not.  And when I look at what’s happening with some of the countries that have the single currency I’m very glad we didn’t join, because if you’ve got your own currency you set your own interest rates, you run your own economic policy, you can make sure it suits your needs rather than others.

So I think that’s the basic settlement: be in the European Union, fighting for change from within, but don’t join the single currency.  But you’re right, sir, some of the stuff that comes out of Europe in terms of rules and regulations we then gold-plate and make even worse and we’ve got to stop doing that.  And we’ve also got to get into Europe and then fight for a more de-regulated approach.

I had the President of the European Union in my office yesterday.  The French Prime Minister came in after him and I said, ‘Why don’t we just add up the regulatory burdens they face in China, the regulatory burdens they face in America and then let’s have a look at what we’re doing to ourselves in Europe’, because this year of all years has got to be all about growth and jobs and we’re mad to be adding endlessly to the burdens that we face rather than trying to trade our way out of difficulty.

Now, governments always regulate and so it’s a real battle to get up in the morning and go and fight for a more de-regulatory approach, but I’m determined that we do it, not just in Britain but in Europe, and I see quite a lot of allies.  I don’t go into the European Union meetings and think ‘Oh, it’s so depressing, no one agrees with me’.  I actually see other young leaders, like Frederik Reinfeldt in Sweden, like Mark Rutter in Holland, like Nicolas Sarkozy in France, who are also pro-enterprise, pro-growth, modern-thinking leaders who want to get their economies moving.  So we’ve got to form an alliance with them and try to get that done and I’m not a pessimist about this.  We can do it.  We shouldn’t go into these battles thinking we’re always going to lose.  We should go in thinking we can fight this and we can win it.


I’ve got a couple of young children and I, quite honestly, worry about their future, particularly with climate change and with Copenhagen not really coming out with anything concrete.  I’m wondering what the Government can do.

Prime Minister:

Well, I think it was depressing.  The Copenhagen conference was very depressing, because there was no proper agreement and it looked like the world had come together to talk about this incredibly important problem and had stalled.  The meeting recently in Cancun in Mexico was more encouraging; it’s sort of back on track.  I think if you add up all the things that the different countries have said they ought to do, if you add them all up, we would probably limit global warming to two degrees, which is what the experts say is dangerous but acceptable.

What should we do about this right now, as we’re trying to work towards this global agreement?  I think the most important thing is try to prove to the doubting countries that actually this is an opportunity not a threat.  So we should be doing lots of things in Britain, like the electric cars in Nissan, like pumping carbon dioxide into the depleted fields in the North Sea, like developing offshore wind power, like investing in wave power, like making sure we insulate all our homes, which will employ tens of thousands of people in our country.  Let’s do all the things that show this is an opportunity, that there are jobs in this market.  If we do that, I think other countries that are more sceptical will say, ‘Hold on, we know we’ve got to do this, so let’s actually grab it and take advantage of it’. 

And to sceptics I think there’s a very simple argument: if someone told you there’s a 75 per cent chance of your house burning down, would you take out the insurance?  To which most people’s answer is, ‘Yes’.  So even if you’re not 100 per cent certain about climate change, it’s worth doing this for the insurance, for the risk avoidance.  So demonstrate that argument, show there are jobs involved in this and I think we can win the argument, even at a time of some economic difficulty.


I’m a local lad, I grew up in the north east, I’ve lived all my life here.  I’ve gone through all the militancy that the north east is renowned for and it’s actually quite refreshing to see a coalition government working.  The question I actually have is, why is yours working when previously it never seems to?

Prime Minister:

Well, we haven’t had one in Britain for 65 years.  We haven’t had one since the Second World War and Winston Churchill and all of that.  I think it’s working for a couple of reasons.

First of all, I think when the problems are big; I think people have to act big.  I think what happened after the election was that I took the decision and Nick Clegg took the decision that of course we don’t agree about everything, but the country has got some big problems right now and actually it’s no good having a minority government and trying to just muddle along.  Let’s actually take a risk.  Let’s do the big thing; let’s do the bold thing.  Let’s actually put the differences aside, form a coalition, know you’re going to get a lot of bricks thrown at you but try to actually do the right thing.  I think that because the problems were big, it was easier to take that leap.

The second thing I’d say is it is partly to do with the way I think everyone is behaving in the coalition.  Now of course we have our arguments and disagreements.  We are two separate parties, we don’t agree about everything and there are some lively arguments and debates, including about some of the subjects we have talked about today.  But so far I would say we have settled our differences and disagreements about what tax to put up, what service that you have to amend, what budgets need to be cut, what we do about bankers’ bonuses or control orders or immigration, areas where we don’t always agree. But we’ve managed to sort of work it through and settle it and I have to say that I think Nick Clegg and his top team have behaved in a very honourable and straightforward way.

I was a doubter about this.  I have always believed coalitions tend towards weakness but I think because the problems are big and because the people are behaving reasonably, I actually believe this government is taking some big and bold decisions, right decisions.  Not just about the deficit and the debts, but also about getting growth in the economy.  And then the things we really come into politics to try to sort out like the schools and the hospitals and the welfare system, which I am passionate about trying to reform.

I’ve got three young children and I want them to go to through a great state education.  I want there to be great universities for them.  I want to make sure that if anything goes wrong there is a brilliant health service for them.  Reforming those public services, modernising them.

Today I sometimes feel if you want to have some choice about where you shop or where you holiday it’s all absolutely ‘click the button’, everything’s there but when it comes to the school, or sometimes the hospital, it’s slightly ‘take what you’re given and get on with it’.  That shouldn’t be the case.  We’re a first-class country, we should have first-class services and I hope the next steps of the coalition are to do some really difficult and bold things to modernise those services so we feel that we have what we need in our country.

I hope it will last for a full five years and be a really changing government and I think if we go on as we are there’ll be tough times.  It’s not great, when you have by-elections and all the rest of it, but I think that if we do the right thing, in the end the public will actually give us the space to get on with it and turn round at the end of it and who knows.


One of the challenges that we sometimes face is that we need members of staff to stay working an extra few hours. They are quite happy to do so, but it’s actually less cost-effective for them to do that because of the impact it has on their benefits.  Do you have any plans to deal with that?

Prime Minister:

Yes.  This is a really important question.  Today the way the welfare system and the tax-credit system works means that sometimes if you work a few extra hours, you’re really facing a sort of marginal tax rate effectively of 80, 90 per cent sometimes because every extra hour you put in you lose so much tax credit.

To be fair to the last government, what they were trying to do was prevent that poverty trap, as it were, for the unemployed.  There was a time when if you were unemployed and you got a job, you were losing.  Now what we’ve got is a situation where if you’re working and you earn a bit more, you’re trapped.  And this is nuts.  Rich people moan about high rates of tax and say they’re going to leave the country and all the rest of it.  We’re taxing effectively less well-off people sometimes at 80, 90%.

So yes, we’ve got this plan to introduce something called universal credit and the idea is that you should always keep a decent proportion of every extra pound you earn.  And the idea is if that you put together things like unemployment benefit, housing benefit, eventually tax credits as well, and you withdraw them all at one single rate, it’s always worth your while working an extra hour, working an extra day and all the rest of it.

I think if we have a simple system like that there will be a very big benefit.  You’d still have withdrawal rates, so the extra hour would lose you some money but you’d always be better off.  I think it’ll be a really big reform and it’s one of the ones that the coalition wants to do.


Good afternoon, Prime Minister.  My question is about school breakfast clubs.  I’ve heard you mention them once or twice already, and there is a tremendous amount of research to show how beneficial they are at the start of the school day.  The question’s two part: firstly, what does this government intend to do to support breakfast clubs generally?  And secondly, what can this government do to support the Greggs scheme specifically?

Prime Minister:

Well, I was talking to your boss before coming in here and he says he’d got this great ambition to go from 150 to 300.  We fully support that.  I think it’s a great idea.  And I think we have to sort of rewind and ask ourselves, why?  I mean, actually it’s very obvious and we all know it with our own children.  If you start the day with a good healthy meal, the brain kicks in, you can concentrate and you’re set up for the day.  And if that doesn’t happen, school is never going to work out for you.  So it’s sort of really obvious.  Sometimes I think we should get everything out of the national curriculum apart from food and sport.  They’re so important and I think sometimes we forget about that.

So I think the first thing is a sort of cultural change, where as parents, as a country, as a nation, we should all just be upping the importance of food, of diet, of making sure we give our kids a proper start to the day.  We should use our social pressure.  We need people to recognise that if they don’t do that, they really are letting their children down and they’re letting the country down.  We need a sense that you’ve got to do that.  It’s part of being a parent and we need to help those parents who are not getting it done.

In terms of Greggs, I think we should point out your example to other companies and I know that you’re planning to team up with other companies.  I think that’s a really good move.  In terms of schools, I think the most important thing is to make sure, as I said to the gentleman in the middle over here, that we just keep that per-pupil funding going and that we make sure that therefore schools are able to maintain and improve their breakfast clubs and their extended hours.

I think now every school recognises it’s a good thing; everyone wants to do it.  The demand in some places isn’t as high as others because in some areas parents are giving their children a good start.  In other areas the needs are greater.  I don’t think we should try to second-guess every school, but the biggest thing I think is a big cultural change as a nation that says food is important, diet is important, cooking is important, fresh is important, all these things really matter.  If we do that, we can actually encourage a national conversation that says frankly, if you don’t feed your children before they go to school you’re a bad parent, you’re doing a bad job.

On that rather gloomy ending, I was meant to give you an uplifting ending, it’s been lovely to be here, thank you very much indeed.  Thank you for what you do as a business.  Thank you for what you’re going to do this year in terms of employing and growing across our country and thank you for what you do as a socially responsible company.  I think it’s really important, I admire that and it’s been lovely to come and spend some time with you.  Thank you very much indeed.

Published 14 January 2011