Prime Minister’s Speech to EU Council
Asked what the Prime Minister's speech to the EU Council tomorrow in Brussels might contain, the Prime Minister's Official Spokesman (PMOS) said the Prime Minister would be setting out his vision for how we looked forward in Europe. The Prime Minister wanted the reality of what we were trying to achieve in the UK set out, which was not a purely market Europe vision, but rather a balance of social and market Europe. What was necessary was that Europe faced up to the challenge and the opportunity.
Put to the PMOS that President Barosso had said that there would be pressure when Turkey came into the EU and that the date of its accession would be "very much open ended", the PMOS replied that our commitment was to start negotiations with Turkey. We had made no secret that we wanted to see that process move forward as quickly as possible, and we believed that enlargement was an advantage for Europe as a whole, and that process should therefore continue. The PMOS said enlargement was an issue which people wanted to see happening in the proper way, and that way was to make sure that the necessary investment would bring the accession countries up to the standard of the rest of the EU because that would result in a virtuous circle, as the whole of the EU would become more prosperous as a result.
Put to him that the Government said any overpayments in tax credits due to computer errors would be written off, what would happen about the overpayments that occurred for other reasons, the PMOS replied that the system for paying back was laid down, and we had said that where there had been error, that would be written off. With regards to other payments, the Paymaster General outlined in the May statement various measures, one of which put the emphasis on communicating to claimants and the need to let us know when the circumstances improved. What was also announced was an increased liaison with voluntary groups who could help those who were vulnerable. The PMOS said people had to remember that a balance had to be struck here between on the one hand, allowing help to those who need it, and on the other hand a recognition that we were dealing with tax payers' money. There was also a case that we had always made it clear that it was the duty for all those who receive a tax credit to let the authorities know if circumstances changed.
Put to him that the Prime Minister had seemed to imply in comments made last night that a deal in Gleneagles might not be achievable, the Prime Minister's Official Spokesman (PMOS) said no. The Prime Minister had said, as we had always maintained, that we have deliberately set very very ambitious targets for Gleneagles wand we would work very hard to try and achieve them.
Asked if the Prime Minister had full confidence in the tax credits system, the PMOS said that the Prime Minister recognised that the tax credit system had benefited 6 million families including 10 million children. The vast majority of which had not experienced problems claims or payments. They had had an unprecedented take up, with an estimated 80% eligible families claiming child tax credit. Some of the problems which had arisen, had come about as a result of technical problems and administrative errors and where that had been the case the claimants would not suffer. Other problems had arisen where claimant's income had increased but they hadn't notified the appropriate authorities accordingly. On 26th May the Paymaster General set out a series of 6 measures, which were in part designed to improve communication to claimants, to remind them that if their circumstances changed they did need to notify the authorities, so that their payments could be adjusted accordingly and the problem avoided. Also there would be greater liaison with the voluntary sector to help those who got into difficulty.
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