» Wednesday, February 11, 2004

Trade Unions

Asked the Government's justification for giving money to Trade Unions, the Prime Minister's Official Spokesman (PMOS) told journalists that the Government had given a significant sum of money to businesses to help them adapt and change. This was a modest sum amounting to about £5-10 million spread over several years. Obviously, as the Prime Minister had said, the Government was for good employment relations and this was a way of enabling that to happen. The Government was committed to ensuring that we had good labour relations in the UK and had done a huge amount in terms of the minimum wage, paternity leave and union recognition, to address this area. Put to him that the funding to business helped create wealth, which helped to create jobs, but that was not the case with Unions, the PMOS said that in the context of ensuring good employment relations, it was a benefit to the economy as a whole. Asked if the money was being given to Trade Unions because they couldn't afford to modernize, the PMOS said that Unions had different sources of funding but as had been explained in Parliament, this was money specifically designed to help Unions modernize employer-employee relations and that was obviously a good thing. The measures however would be subject to a vote in the House as part of the Employment Relations Bill. Asked if the money would be specifically 'ring-fenced', the PMOS said that there were, for example, funds to allow Unions to embrace new technology more easily to the benefit of the workforce and to business as a whole. Asked who would audit the money, the PMOS said he presumed it would be done by the DTI.

Briefing took place at 15:45 | Read whole briefing | Comment (1)

EU Accession Immigration

Asked to clarify the Government's position on arrangements for the accession countries, the PMOS said it was important to give context to this. The Prime Minister had said in the House that from the 1st May there would be freedom of movement across the 25 EU countries. The question was not therefore, 'how do you prevent people from travelling to any country?' The Government would not want to in any event, since it believed in the principle of freedom of movement. The question was, 'what are the entitlements that people have if they go to another country?' The Government had not yet laid the regulations for this and obviously there was still ongoing discussion within Government. The Government's desire was to ensure that people did not, for example, come here for "benefit tourism" or "benefit shopping" etc. There was clearly an issue in respect of the right to work because obviously different countries had taken a different view, some had a derogation. However it should be clear that if a country derogated in terms of employment it didn't mean that people could not still go to that country and perhaps work illegally. In the UK, where we had almost full employment and labour shortages in the South-East, there was an issue in terms of ensuring that if people came here and worked then they were economically active in a way that benefited the Exchequer. The position on that hadn't changed.

Briefing took place at 15:45 | Read whole briefing | Comments (0)

Unemployment Statistics

The Prime Minister's Official Spokesman (PMOS) drew journalists' attention to the latest unemployment figures which had been published this morning. They showed that unemployment was at its lowest level since 1975. No doubt the good news would be competing with 'I'm a Celebrity...Get me Out of Here' in the column inches stakes tomorrow morning if past form was anything to go by.

Briefing took place at 11:00 | Read whole briefing | Comments (0)


Asked to confirm reports today that the Government was planning a manifesto pledge to extend school opening hours for the purposes of increased childcare opportunities, the PMOS said that manifestos were party political and therefore not a matter for him. However, the Education Secretary had answered questions about this issue in media interviews today. The Government recognised that there was a real value in building up the role of schools as a centre in the community delivering a range of services. That was why, as set out in the Children's Green Paper last year, we were moving forward with the idea of 'extended schools', i.e. schools which offered a full range of services, including childcare and health on site, with at least one such school in each community. Schools already had flexibility over their own opening hours. For example, many were introducing breakfast clubs and after-school clubs. However, the Government's proposals needed to reflect the needs and wishes of parents and headteachers on the ground and that was what they would do.

Briefing took place at 11:00 | Read whole briefing | Comments (0)


Asked if the two attacks in the last twenty-four hours would have implications for the timetable to hand over power to the Iraqi people, the PMOS said no. We were continuing to work towards the same timetable. There was no point pretending that the last twenty-four hours had been anything other than very grim and difficult. Dissidents and terrorists were clearly deliberately targeting Iraqi citizens who wanted to help rebuild their country. However, neither the Iraqi people nor the Coalition were going to be bombed and intimidated by those who stood for nothing beyond their own prejudices and hatreds. We were determined to continue with the programme of reconstruction. The timetable for the hand over of power remained that which had been set out.

Briefing took place at 11:00 | Read whole briefing | Comment (1)


Asked how large an 'influx' of workers from Accession countries would be welcome in the UK in the light of apparently conflicting views from Denis MacShane and David Blunkett, the PMOS said that he was unable to provide cast-iron figures at this point. They were not conflicting views. Dr MacShane had simply been referring to the explanatory notes to the Accessions Act which stated that the Government could take action if it became necessary to do so. The situation remained as we had set out. Work was ongoing within Government to look at the issue of 'benefit shopping', in particular, and ways we could address it. We hoped an announcement would be made shortly.

Briefing took place at 11:00 | Read whole briefing | Comments (11)

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