» Tuesday, November 29, 2005


The Prime Minister’s Official Spokesman (PMOS) explained for clarification following this morning’s briefing that he had re-interrogated the figures. The 10% figure for the estimated turnover of staff who would be on the new scheme, not the old scheme, remained correct. That meant, as the Prime Minister said in his speech this morning that it would be a bit more than a decade for a majority to be on the new scheme. Not 70% as the PMOS had said yesterday. The 70% figure had arisen from a misunderstanding that came about somewhere between Malta, Barcelona and London. The PMOS apologised for any confusion that had arisen.

Asked if it was across all three sectors, the PMOS said that it was in the public sector. Asked whether the 40% figure for private sector schemes was still right, the PMOS said that it remained accurate and we stood by it. It was a figure for the percentage of active members, in other words members who were working and not members of schemes that had closed down. It was a definition of the private sector that came from an independent source: the Government Actuaries Department Survey 2004.

Asked if that definition included the Post Office, the PMOS said that the examples that he had were the Bank of England and Royal Mail. However if you took the overall definition it was a small minority in what was defined as the private sector.

Put to him that the Treasury in a written answer had the figure that in 8 years time it would be 33% and in 13 years it would be 50%, the PMOS clarified that what he had said now was in just over a decade. His understanding was that the turnover rate rose at 10% a year, though he was not a statistical expert and as such they should speak with the relevant departments.

Put to him they understood that it had been a tough few days, but what confidence could they have in the rest of the Government if they gave him the wrong figures, the PMOS said that they had to recognise that sometimes when you operated out of the office or outside of London it could be difficult. The simple fact was that the figure came through from London and unfortunately it was wrong. He had corrected it at the first opportunity. He apologised again for the mistake but sometimes these things happened. What it did not do was to take away from the basic argument, which was based on the 10% figure of staff turnover and that mirrored the practice in the private sector.

Put to him that he had first used the 70% figure earlier in the week, the PMOS said that he would have to check on that but he thought the first time had been on the weekend. If he had used it earlier it was a genuine mistake then too. Having checked the figures this afternoon he had now returned and corrected the mistake.

Asked if the confusion over the figures had arisen because we were not talking to the Treasury as they clearly had the figures, the PMOS said that we were in constant contact with the Treasury. This was just one of those confused things that happened when you had non-statisticians like him dealing with figures.

Put to him that the Chancellor had indicated that the public sector pensions deal would be looked at again and was the Prime Minister minded to look at it again if it was indeed back on the table after the Turner report was published, the PMOS said that Alan Johnson had set out the position of the Government this morning, as had the Prime Minister at the weekend. Indeed so had John Hutton. The position was that the deal remained.

Put to him that even though the deal remained would there not be a need at some point in the future for adjustments and as such the deal would need to change accordingly, the PMOS said he thought that constituted the ultimate hypothetical question but despite that it would get the same response as the more ordinary variety: we did not deal in hypotheticals. We should deal with where we were now. This deal was done 6 weeks ago and the Government did not rip up deals done 6 weeks ago. The reasons why it was a good deal then remained today just as much.

Asked if Nicholas Macpherson, Permanent Secretary at HM Treasury had complained about No10 publishing his letter, the PMOS said that he was aware of our intention to publish it.

Briefing took place at 9:00 | Search for related news

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