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Liveblog: Public sector strikes + PMQs

Two million public sector workers went on strike today over changes to public sector pensions. These were the main talking points of the day.

- Both David Cameron and Francis Maude repeatedly emphasised that negotiations with the unions are continuing, with meetings tomorrow and on Friday. But data from the Cabinet Office shows there hasn't been a ministerial-level meeting since November 2.

- Ed Miliband accused the Prime Minister of “spoiling for a fight” and called on Mr Cameron to admit that “800,000 people are facing an immediate tax rise of 3%” following yesterday’s Autumn Statement.

-  Cameron's PMQs line that "despite the support of the party opposite, it looks like a damp squib" has infuriated the unions, and made the front page of the Evening Standard.

- There's been some disagreement over the PM's school closure stats, with Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, calling his figure of 40% of schools open "patently ridiculous" and "wildly inaccurate".

- Protesters have broken into a building on London's Haymarket. Police have formed a cordon across the street to prevent further damage.

18.05 It's been a long day of strikes, but things are starting to quieten down. We'll be closing this liveblog down, but coverage of all the major events and interviews will continue on the main site. Thanks to everyone who's followed.

17.58 Michael Gove has been all over the media this evening. Here are some of the choice quotes.

- “I think lots of people who have reluctantly gone on strike today have very genuine concerns and worries about their pensions and the government is doing its very best to address those concerns, by making sure that teachers and other public sector workers have a secure pension which will give them a defined benefit and a proper salary in retirement which will be linked to ensure that it rises in line with inflation.”

 - “What we are seeking to do is to make sure we take account of increasing longevity. It’s a good thing people are living for longer but because they are living for longer, it means that people will spend longer in retirement. We need to increase the pension age so that people have the solid income they need in retirement so we all should pay a little bit more now.”

 - “We are also making sure other tax payers should contribute as well, but we need to be fair. We need to recognise that there are lots of people in the private sector who don’t have access to pensions as secure as those in the public sector; so we need to make sure that the deal we are laying out is fair. One of the things we need to do is to tell private sector workers that it’s right to be generous to the people who look after our children and to those who care for the sick.”

17.54 Alex Forrest has been talking to Simon Hughes, who says the Lib Dems are "clearly concerned over 2 year extension of govt cuts given coalition agreement only lasts until 2015."

That's the first indications of division in the Coalition about the extension of austerity.

17.47 More from the Shadow Business Secretary: “Let’s just remember that ministers have not been properly negotiating with trade union officials to reach a solution for this since 3 November and that’s a real dereliction of duty on their part.”

17.46 The Spectator sent Johnnie Kerr into the middle of the march today. Here are his thoughts.

17.41 Chuka Umunna can neither condemn nor support the strikes.

“What we have seen from the Government is divide and rule language...To refer to trade union members as the other, as some extreme and militant group in the corner.

“I can't support this action because it is causing great inconvenience to the people who I represent but I can't condemn it.”

17.34 There were communications failures down the unions' hierarchies, says Mr Hughes. He argues the strikes were called when people were acting "on the basis of the information and the figures that were on the table before the latest offer".

17.33 Reuters confirm that demonstrators broke into an office building used by mining company Xstrata on the Haymarket. Police have no regained control of the building.

17.31 Simon Hughes has told BBC News “nobody’s comfortable with a strike”. Interestingly, he says the unions had a strong case until the Government's most recent offer.

“I think that until the additional money was put on the table, I think the teacher’s unions and teachers had a strong case that they might be disadvantaged. I dont think everybody has understood the implication ofthe further offer made a few weeks ago.”

17.21 Kevin Maguire is the first to comment on the Education Secretary TVs spot: "Militant Minister Michael Gove a little chastened on R4 after "itching for a fight" earlier in the week. Up to 2m reasons why?"

17.19 Mr Gove is warning that union bosses "like Len McCluskey or Andrew Murray of Unite or Mark Serwotka of the PCS" have a "political agenda".

"I think it’s a responsibility of ministers to point that out...I fear that if you look at their rhetoric and look at their political connections, they are not fighting for a decent pension for public sector workers. They are engaged in a militant struggle and people need to be aware of that."

17.16 There's plenty of talk about David Cameron's apparently inaccurate figures on school closures. Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said both Cameron's and the DfE's figures were "patently ridiculous" and "wildly inaccurate".

17.15 Michael Gove has just told BBC News: “We need to make sure we can get an appropriate deal for pensions to make sure teachers are protected in their retirement and the taxpayer gets a fair deal as well.”

"It’s also the case that John Hutton, a Labour pensions minister has argued that what’s on offer is a fair deal.”

17.14 Brendan Barber has been on the BBC, threatening the possibility of further industrial action: “If we’re not able to meet an agreement then further action will need to be considered”.

17.07 This just in from the Treasury, responding to accusations that 800,000 part-time public sector workers face contribution increases.

Suggestions that 800,000 part time workers are not protected from contributions increases are incorrect. Based on the ONS’s Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings, of this figure:

- Around 250,000 are not members of the pension scheme so will see no increase in contributions

 - Around a further 350,000 are in Local Government, where alternatives to contribution increases are being consulted upon.

- Around a further 150,000 would be partially protected, with a cap of 1.5 percentage points, as their full time earnings are less than £21,000

- The remainder earn on average £32,000 on a full time equivalent basis.

17.00 The Guardian has a story on David Cameron’s schools stats from PMQs (see 12.20). The PM claimed 40% of schools were open, but apparently Department for Education figures show it was more like 13%. And 13% partially open….this one could run and run.

16.59 Sky's Tim Gatt has an update on police activity; "Met Police say 52 arrests been made, mainly for breach of peace & possession of weapons (excludes Panton House arrests)"

16.56 Audience members applaud speakers during a Trades Union meeting in Dover.


16.54 More from the lobby. The PM's spokesman was asked whether it was true that the press officer in charge of strikes for the Government was on strike today. He said: "As i say, there are a handful of people in Downing Street who are on strike today. I'm not going to get into names or individuals. The lead press office on union issues is the Cabinet Office."

He added: "What I have read, I wouldn't agree with."

16.52 Sky News have been brilliant at setting up on-air battles over the strikes today. They have just had Director General of the Institute of Economic Affairs Mark Littlewood telling Linda Perks from UNISON not to "confuse the strikers today with the Tolpuddle Martyrs".

16.51 He said there was a meeting on teachers' pensions tomorrow, and one on health workers' pensions on Friday. Asked whether he knew if ministers would attend those meetings, he said: "No, but there are meetings with union representatives to talk about the detail of these pension schemes."

16.48 Back to those updates from the PM's spokesman. Asked when the last meeting had taken place between ministers and unions on pensions, they replied:

"There have been lots and lots of meetings. I think generally the meetings, or a lot of the meetings on the individual pension schemes, so the civil service pension scheme, the teachers' pension scheme and health workers' pension scheme, a lot of those meetings are being led by officials, but some of them have involved ministers as well, departmental ministers as well.

"And the meetings between the Chief Secretary and the Minister for the Cabinet Office and the TUC delegation have taken place throughout the year and there have been 12 in total. The last one was earlier this month."

16.47 David Miliband tells the Prime Minister he can never again say "we are all in this together".

16.41 On hospitals, he said: "I think we are confident that all the essential services have been maintained throughout the day. As I said earlier, a lot of their non-urgent work was rescheduled."

16.39 This afternoon, the Prime Minister's official spokesman said the impact of the strikes on hospitals, borders and other operations had been minimised by the Government's contingency planning.

"What it shows is that our contingency plans have been reasonably effective in mitigating the impact of the strikes. Obviously there has been an impact on schools, and we always knew that there would be a significant impact on schools."

16.38 In the House, Stella Creasy notes "Tory mps shifting uncomfortably and in silence as @DMiliband speaks & points out problems in govt plans on youth unemployment."

16.30 We'll be dropping in some of the best images from the day, starting with six-year-old Amelia Byrom during a trades union meeting in Dover, Kent.

16.28 Michael Gove has a written ministerial statement on the effects of the strikes on the education system. Here's the vital data.

- There are 21,476 state-funded schools in England. 13349 (62%) were reported to be closed. 2951 (14%) were reported to be partially open and 3351 (16%) were reported to be fully open. The situation with a further 1825 (8%) has not been reported to us or the local authority did not know.

- Of the 20,027 maintained schools, 12526 (63%) were reported to be closed, 2536 (13%) were reported to be partially open and 3140 (16%) were reported to be fully open. The situation with a further 1825 (9%) was not reported or was reported as unknown.

- Of the 1449 Academies 823 (57%) were reported to be closed, 415 (29%) were reported to be partially open and 211 (15%) reported to be fully open.

- There are 24 Free Schools, of which 4 were reported closed, 1 was reported partially open and 19 were reported to be fully open.

16.26 More from the Hackney MP, getting behind her leader:

"Ed miliband has gone out of his way to try and explain to the Tories the case because part of the problem is that the changes that the government is asking for is not not just changes in relation to pension but a completely arbitrary three per cent levy to pay towards the deficit.”

16.20 Diane Abbott accuses the Government of "going back to the anti-union rhetoric of the eighties”.

"The strikers have a very strong case and the way the Tories are trying to demonise teachers and dinner ladies and librarians is quite wrong."

16.17 David Cameron's "damp squib" line from PMQs has infuriated the unions, and made the Evening Standard front page.


16.13 Tory Press have pointed out that the same document showing no recent meetings between unions and ministers shows that negotiations are ongoing at lower levels.

16.08 Police have formed a cordon across the Haymarket; some protesters have made it on to the roof of the building.

16.06 There's an impressive collection of strike photography over at the BBC site.

16.04 The PCS have sent over a press release in which PCS General Secretary Mark Serwotka says that "every single person on strike today should be proud of themselves and the millionaires in the government should be ashamed of themselves".

"They said this day would never happen but this is the best day for the trade union movement in generations. The strikers are an inspiration. The message to the government is if you don't negotiate with us we will do this again. They should go into work tomorrow with their heads held high."

16.03 A group of protesters have apparently broken into a building on the Haymarket in London.

16.00 Norman Smith is tweeting some of the statistics we saw earlier (14.55). Sounds like the Government are fairly happy with the level of civil service disruption.

15.56 The formal meetings were on:

  1. 17 February 2011
  2. 15 March 2011
  3. 10 May 2011
  4. 25 May 2011
  5. 9 June 2011
  6. 27 June 2011
  7. 6 July 2011
  8. 13 July 2011
  9. 8 September 2011
 10. 22 September 2011
 11. 24 October 2011
 12. 2 November 2011

15.54 The Cabinet Office has published a list showing there have been no ministerial-level meetings with trade unions since November 2.

15.47 Priti Patel has a blog on Conservative Home, fiercely arguing that the support for the trade unions from those they "claim to stand up for" is "at an all-time low".

15.45 Over at the Spectator website, Jonathan Jones has enlisted the help of some pie charts to ask if the strikes will make Cameron's 'women problems' even worse.

15.42 Jones: “Instead of playing the politics of divide and rule” we should assist workers in the private sector.

15.38 Douglas Murray is unsurprisingly anti-strikes on Sky News, speaking opposite Owen Jones, who must be very upset not to be at school today.

15.34 Our editor Paul Waugh has a blog up on how the Downing Street staff are split between striking and helping out (see 14.38).

15.33 More from Ellie Gellard on Twitter: "more job cuts, more pain, more borrowing" headline of the Indy sums yesterday up really. #hurtingnotworking

15.31 The strikes are biting in the emergency services: "I rang 999 earlier just to see and got 'PLEASE TRY AGAIN LATER' #strikes"

15.28 Some more great pictures from around the country.

Outside the Queen Alexandra hospital near Portsmouth.

And a picket line outside the Western Infirmary in Glasgow.

15.25 Kevin Maguire points out this "strike sounds like a revolt of Middle England when a union leader(NUT's Christine Blower) uses terms like "jolly well do it"!"

15.22 Lib Dem Norman Lamb rolls out the Government line, talking of the "need to ensure that a very generous pension is sustainable in the long-term" and be "fair between public sector workers and private sector workers".

But he also calls on both sides of the debate to "ratchet down the rhetoric" and focus on the facts of the matter.

15.19 The BBC reports about 6,000 out of just over 30,000 routine medical operations are being cancelled across the UK.

15.15 It's another ding-dong in the House, and Liam "the money's gone" Byrne has just told the Commons debate on living standards: “there is a great deal of extra squeeze that will hit families up and down the country.”

15.11 Over in the House of Commons, it's business as usual, with a debate on living standards.

14.55 The Cabinet Office has just released some interesting stats on how the strikes are affecting public services.

Civil Service: 135,000 civil servants - a quarter of the total number employed - are on strike.

Borders: "There has been no serious disruption reported at UK border entry points. UK Borders are open and operating.

"Currently there are no reports of excessive queues at any port. Additionally more staff than expected have turned up to work at some ports and airports and all UKBA buildings are open."

1.5kg of cocaine has been seized at Stansted.

Job centres: 14 out of 900 job centres and benefit delivery offices are closed.

Health: "Services such as emergency ambulance responses, accident and emergency departments, maternity, chemotherapy and dialysis are available, but members of the public who had planned non-urgent operations or appointments could be inconvenienced."

Schools: 13% of schools were expecting to be open, 13% were expecting to be partially open, 58% of schools were expecting to be closed and 16% of schools have not given an indication of whether they will be open or closed.

Prisons: Running "as full a regime as possible. Any disruption to routines is minimal".

14.48 The London Ambulance Service has announced it can now only respond to emergencies where life is at risk.

14.45 Helen Grant has just told the BBC that the strikes “don’t help anyone” and that they had caused “mass disruption”. She added that the Government was working hard to protect women up and down the country.

“It is probably the woman who has had to stay at home... and we owe it to our children and grandchildren to deal with these issues now. The Government has done everything it possible can to help women, such as pushing forward policies on parental leave.”

14.43 If you want to see more snaps from the front line of the industrial action, this #n30 twitter grid and this #strike twitter grid are full of shots. Particular highlights are this solidarity cake, this angry penguin, and this message in lights.

14.42 Jo Swinson has just appeared on the BBC, where she said that there was “recognition” amongst the general public that public sector pensions needed to be reformed.

“To say that the taxpayer should bear all of that cost is unfair. The whole concept of pensions provision is that the employee and the employer both make contributions towards retirement.

“What has been happening is that it used to be about half the cost of public sector pensions was half and half, and it’s not two thirds from the taxpayer. There is recognition that it is reasonable that extra cost should be met by the taxpayer and the employees as well.”

14.38 And here's where Gabby Bertin is today.

14.34 Labour's Austin Mitchell tweets: "Strike: They're running scared. Cameron Ratty. Police cordon round Parliament. Helicopters hovering. Whitehall closed. Huge traffic jams."

14.25 Dave Prentis has been speaking to the BBC at a rally in Birmingham and he said that reaction to the strike “has been solid as we always thought it would be”.

He added: “The truth is that we have not had any talks with the ministers Francis Maude or Danny Alexander since the 2 November. There have been talks within the schemes but no talks with the ministers who are saying that they are still talking and when you hear Danny Alexander going into Parliament and saying this is a final offer that we are going to withdraw the offer unless it is accepted, it doesn’t sound to me like real talks will take place without this show of strength.”

14.15 Paul Waugh tweets: "Exclusive: the No.10 press officer who leads for Govt on strikes is...on strike. So not just junior staff who have joined

14.13 Keeping her beady eye on the House of Commons benches as ever, PoliticsHome's diarist Dot Commons has given her verdict on the fluffed Miliband dinner ladies joke.

14.05 Louise Mensch and Liz Kendall have been on Boulton & Co on Sky News debating the impact of the public sector pension changes and the Government’s policy on women.

Ms Mensch said "this is a really good deal for women”.

“Women are being protected by the deal that is on the table. Anybody earning £15,000 or less and we know that the majority are women aren’t going to have to pay any defined contributions and the Treasury said yesterday that women are going to be better off because we are averaging pensions out so that people in the middle and lower receive more and those are mostly women. I am sorry that the union bosses are hurting women that have to stay at home with their children. It is not responsible.”

Liz Kendall said: “I am afraid Louise is just wrong. If you are a part time worker earning less than £15,000 a year working in the public sector you are actually going to see a 3% increase on your contributions to the pensions schemes. Lower paid public sector workers are having a tough time. Three quarters of the people who work in our public sector are women and they are suffering more, not only from the cuts we are seeing to the public sector but also they are seeing their tax credit squeezed – a family with two children is going to be £320 a week worse off because of the changes that George Osborne announced.

“We all have to work together to sort out the problems the country faces but I know my constituents feel very strongly that they are paying the price that the bankers aren’t and what we saw was the Government taking three times more from hard working low paid families than from bankers and I think people think that is unfair.”

Ms Mench said this was “complete rubbish” and that in the 13 years Labour had to deal with it they did “the square route of absolutely nothing”.

13.56 Marches are now well underway across the country. Here are the scenes in some of the UK's major cities.

City Hall, Sheffield.

Manchester City Centre




13.51 On the World at One, Universities Minister David Willetts said that those in the private sector would be looking at the strikes “in amazement”.

“If you are a private sector worker, you will be looking on in amazement at this. The pensions are far more generous than those in the private sector can dream of. We have ended up in a world where there is a complete chasm between pensions in the private and public sector. The real divide was two nations where the public services have better pensions.”

He added that low interest rates were crucial to the economic recovery.

“If you look at what has happened to low interest rates... that means that younger people and people in work are being helped with mortgages. For older people that means instead lower returns on their modest saving and we have to keep it fair overall. Everything we do it aimed at getting our economy growing.”

Labour’s Chuka Umunna, also speaking on the World at One, added that the bigger economic issue was the lack of growth in the British economy.

“Above all the bigger issue... is the lack of growth we have seen. We have seen it revised down and that is very worrying because it means we will end up with more people out of work.

“Our starting point is always growth and jobs. The key thing is... that the Government have to take responsibility and reduce the squeeze that so many people are feeling. “

13.50 PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka has put out a press release saying the strikes are receiving "unprecedented support".

"We are seeing unprecedented support for the strike across the UK as public sector workers say they want justice on pensions. We are witnessing a real increase in the number of strikers and picket lines.

"The government is carrying out a massive raid on pensions, which is a reflection of unrelenting mismanagement of the economy by the government. Suffering and misery are a price the government wants us to pay, this is an all-out attack on public services."

If you're a PoliticsHome subscriber, the full release is here.

13.47 Here's a round-up of some excellent blogs on the strikes. PMQs, and Francis Maude's statement:

James Forsyth at the Spectator says today's PMQs were "real blood and thunder", "whose side are you on stuff".

Alex Hern at Left Foot Forward claims that George Osborne is actually "52 times more privileged" than Ed Miliband claimed in his fluffed joke at PMQs.

On LabourList, Marcus Roberts says PMQs was a "vintage" one today, especially "for lovers of bloodsport".

13.39 Theresa May has been over at Sky News on Boulton & Co. She said: "Contingency arrangements have been put in place in a number of areas we have seen that there are some schools that have been closed but a good number of heads are making every effort to ensure that their schools can remain open. At the border proper checks are in place, we have made contingency arrangements and things have so far been running smoothly at the borders - Nobody at Heathrow queuing for more than an hour. So what we have been able to be doing as a Government is put those contingency agreements in place but I think the strike is irresponsible because the talks are ongoing and I think that the responsibility for what has been happening does like squarely with the union leaders."

Ms May added: “The generous offer that has been made is an offer which actually means that public sector workers will still get pensions that will be among the best available.

“The Government has had to take some tough decisions in relation to public sector pay and of course the Chancellor made a further answer about that in his Autumn Statement yesterday. We have had to take those tough decisions because of dealing with the deficit. What we have learned from the OBR is that the boom under Labour was higher and greater and the bust was far deeper than we thought previously, so we have had to take the steps necessary to take this country through the debt storm.”

13.37 Chris Keates of NASWUT has been on the BBC and said the strikes were not a battle between public and private and sector, and that unions wanted good private sector pensions as well. “We want people – public and private – to have decent pensions.”

13.36 You can read the IFS' analysis here.

13.29 Meanwhile, the Institute for Fiscal Studies' traditional post-autumn statement analysis is underway and Paul Johnson has just said he estimates that average incomes will fall by a "whopping" 7.4% from 09/10 to 2012/13.

Johnson warned that the Chancellor could miss his debt reduction target by 2015/16. "Tiny adjustments to growth or the public finances could lead to this target being missed - and as we saw yesterday we are not in a world where adjustments are tiny."

Johnson also said that "failure to index some elements of tax credits..will leave some poorer families worse off and will lead to an increase in measured child poverty".

Mr Johnson has also said this to the BBC's The World at One: "The news is not good. Household incomes are falling at the moment and we have historically unprecedented numbers. Frankly we have never seen anything like that since figures have been collected. The Government have no chance at all of reducing child poverty. It is expensive to make big changes to benefits at a time when other cuts are being made."

13.27 The war of the words between unions and Government is taking its toll on Alan Duncan, who appears to be taking forty winks on the frontbench.


13.25 Tory MP Esther McVey gets up for one of the most obviously pre-scripted questions we’ve seen in the Commons for some time. She ask Maude if the pensions should be fair to unions, taxpayers and future generations. Unsurprisingly, he agrees.

13.24 Francis Maude is now attacking the "misleading information" from trade union leaders. He tells MPs: "We have done our best to get the details of the offer through to members of public sector staff directly and to correct the misleading information given by some trade union leaders."

13.21 Home Secretary Theresa May has just told BBC News: “I think the strike is irresponsible, particularly at a time when the negotiations are still ongoing and the responsibility for disruption that is taking place lies squarely with the trade union leaders.”

13.18 Len McCluskey, General Secretary of Unite, has just told Boulton & Co that public sector workers “are the people who create the very fabric of the civilised societies we live in".

He added: “The Government have been playing games and tricks, they’ve hoped  to turn the public against public sector workers, to use public sector workers to mask the mess  they are making of the economy and it’s backfired on them.”

13.14 The GMB union has now responded to the Government's claim that ministers are talking to union officials by saying that there is no pension deal on the table for local government workers and categorically denies that any negotiations are taking place.

Brian Strutton, GMB National Secretary, says: "I can confirm there is no pension deal on the table for local government workers and categorically confirm that no negotiations are taking place. that's why we are on strike and that's why we are calling for negotiations to take place urgently and seriously."

PoliticsHome subscribers can read the full release here.

13.10 Here is a summary of the last hour's debates and exchanges:

- Both David Cameron and Francis Maude have repeatedly emphasised that negotiations with the unions were continuing, with meetings tomorrow and on Friday.

- Ed Miliband has accused the Prime Minister of “spoiling for a fight” and called on Mr Cameron to admit that “800,00 people are facing an immediate tax rise of 3%” following yesterday’s Autumn Statement.

- Mr Miliband tried to put the Prime Minister on the spot in PMQs, accusing him of "spoiling for a fight" and asking him why "so many decent hard-working public sector workers feel the Government isn't listening?".

- 40% of schools are open, there is full cover for ambulances and the borders are coping well, David Cameron told the House of Commons this afternoon at Prime Minister's Questions.

- Only 16 out of 920 job centres are closed, Francis Maude told MPs in his statement.

-   Mr Maude said the strike was only having a “minor impact” on the NHS and that robust contingency planning had meant the service could continue at a “near normal” level.

13.04 Chris Bryant is now joking that he first joined a trade union as a vicar, "though it was very difficult to strike, because nobody noticed", he says. He adds that it was a little difficult to tell who your employer was as well.

Mr Maude quips that the Government would miss Mr Bryant if he went on strike today.

13.02 If you're interested in the whereabouts of Number 10 press secretary Gabby Bertin, Paul Waugh tweets that Number 10 sources are refusing to deny that she is at the border.

13.00 Labour's David Winnick says: "Despite the sickening trade union-bashing from Conservative MPs today, many of whom were funded in their campaigns by Lord Ashcroft so we don’t need any lectures from them…many have gone on strike because they feel cheated, they feel insecure about their pension benefit and don’t accept what the minister and other ministers have said. Isn’t there at least an opportunity to understand the feelings of workers who will retire on a tiny fraction of what most Tory MPs will be getting?"

12.55 Here are some interesting tweets on the strikes:

The Daily Mail's Tim Shipman tweets that Number 10's Gabby Bertin is volunteering to man border controls today. He says: "Big Society in action from Gaby Bertin manning our borders

Joe Murphy at the Evening Standard tweets: "Seven Labour MPs are refusing to cross picket lines - but they won't be docked a day's pay, will they?"

12.52 Francis Maude responds to the Shadow Minister's statement by saying: "I think it's easy to tell from that reponse who pays for his party."

He says the Government has been meeting with the unions, but these meetings have been secret at the request of the TUC.

12.50 Mr Trickett is defending the decision to strike. He says: “Many of them never, ever thought when they entered in to the service of the public that they would have to go on strike, this is a difficult personal decision for each one of them and I can assure the House that each one of them does so only with the greatest reluctance, but they do so because of a burning sense of injustice.“

12.49 Jon Trickett, Shadow Cabinet Office Minister, is responding to Maude. He says: “We found the unions to be tough but ultimately reasonable negotiators nad we achieved a settlement without any industrial action.”

12.48 Meanwhile, the post-PMQs huddle has been taking place in the Commons press gallery. PoliticsHome editor Paul Waugh reports that Ed Miliband's team has admitted that Ed Miliband garbled his joke on skiing holidays and dinner ladies. the joke should have been that dinner ladies earn less in a year, not in a week, than the cost of the Chancellor's skiing holidays.

12.47 He says public sector workers deserve decent pensions. "I have huge respect for the dedicated women and men who keep our public services running. They deserve to retire on decent pension schemes, and our reforms will ensure that. They deserve it."

12.45 The Minister also says the plans to deal with the strikes are "rigorous".

"We put in place rigorous contingency plans to ensure essential public services are maintained. I can confirm that only 16 of the 920 Job Centres are close to the public. UK borders are open, and I would like to pay tribute to all of those dedicated people keeping the borders secure and open.

"The NHS is coping well with industrial action. This has been mitigated by robust contingency planning. Many organisations are reporting that they are operating at near normal levels."

12.44 Mr Maude adds: "Contrary to claims being made by trade union leaders talks are very much alive. I regret deeply the misleading claims to the contrary."

12.43 He says the Government is negotiating with the unions, and responds to an intervention from Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls about whether the Government has recently met with teh unions by saying 'yes'.

"It is not true that the Government is not negotiating. Only yesterday there were discussions with the unions. Tomorrows there will be discussions with the teaching unions and on Friday discussions with the health unions."

12.40 The Minister says reform is "desperately needed". "Reform is desperately needed. Without reform, spending on public sector pensions will rise by nearly £7bn over the next five years. We have been willing during these discussions to listen to the concerns of staff and we responded. On 2 November we set out a revised offer, more generous by 8%."

12.37 Francis Maude is now giving his statement. He is congratulating public sector workers who have gone into work. 

"I start by thanking the large majority of public servants who have turned up to work as normal. The low response reflects the recognition that strike action while negotiations continue is nothing short of irresponsible and untimely. It is just wrong."

12.36 More Movember banter. The Prime Minister congratulates Roger Williams on his "magnificent specimen". He says: "Can I praise the Hon. gentleman for the mangificent specimen lurking under his nose."

12.30 He says: "This government is squarely on the side of people who work hard who play by the rules who want to do the right things by their families. What I say to those people is ‘Thank you for what you do to contribute to public sector pensions that are far more generous than anything you can afford.’…The party opposite has taken the side of trade union leaders that want to actually disrupt our country."

He returns to his accusation that Ed Miliband is "in the pocket of the trade unions".

"These strikes are wrong at a time when negotiations are going on, negotiations are going on so the leader of the Opposition should think they’re wrong. He doesn’t think they’re wrong because he’s in the pocket of the trade union leaders.

"We have a reps to deliver an affordable public sector pension systems.. what we will deliver is a generous and fair offer which will give public sector pension holders a defined benefit pensions system."

He also says Labour has abandoned the view of the Hutton report: "What a pity it is that the party opposite has left reality and won’t back that view."

12.29 Mr Cameron says: "We are freezing the council tax, cutting the petrol tax, that’s why we’re taking 1.1m of the poorest people out of tax altogether, that’s hwy we’re increasing the child tax credit.

"The most dangerous thing we could do right now is lose control of our debts and see interest rates go up. When this government came to power our interest rates were the same level as Italy. Today Italy’s rates are 5% higher."

12.27 In response to a question from Graham Allen on early intervention for children, the Prime Minister says: "I think the Hon gentleman makes a  very sensible suggestion, I think we can look at that in terms fo the next spending round but frankly I don’t want to wait for the next spending round and that’s why the family committee, on which the Deputy Prime Minister also sits, is looking at how we can make early intervention on the neediest families more effective."

12.24 Christopher Kelly asks: "Will PM condemn attack on Iranian embassy and pay tribute to those working in dangerous environments?"

The Prime Minister does condemn the attacks, and says he chaired a meeting of COBRA yesterday. "I certainly join my Hon friend in doing that and I’m sure the whole House will join me in praising the incredible devotion of our staff in the Foreign and Diplomatic Service.

That should be our number one concern, their safety, their security and making sure those are maintained. After that we will consider taking some very tough action in response to this disgraceful action by the Iranians."

12.23 Now Mr Cameron is describing the strikes as a "damp squib".

He says: "40% of schools are open, less than a third of the civil service is actually striking…we have full cover in terms of ambulance services and only 18 out of 900 job centres have closed. So despite the support of the party opposite who support irresponsible and damaging strikes, it looks like a damp squib.

"You give the money back to the unions and I’ll calm down."

12.21 Labour's Kate Green (formerly chief executive of the Child Poverty Action Group), asks why the Government is freezing child tax credit. The Prime Minister replies: "What we’re doing with child tax credits, if u take this year and next year there is going to be a £255 increase this year and there’ll be a further £135 increase next year, an increase of 5.2%."

12.20 A question from Laurence Robertson enables the Prime Minister to condemn the practice of full-time union officials in the public sector. Mr Cameron says: "I think the idea of trade unionists working for the public sector…I don’t think that is right and we’re going to put that to an end."

12.19 Liberal Democrat Jo Swinson asks about education for girls in Afghanistan. She says: "Ten years on from the intervention there are 3m girls in Afghanistan in school. Will PM send the message that those women’s rights will not be sacrificed and traded?"

The Prime Minister replies: "All of us who’ve been to Afghanistan… know what an incredible job those people are doing and we are on their side."

12.18 Mr Cameron hops back to the union attack line. He says: "He’s on the side of the trade union leader that wants strikes nor negotiations, he’s on the side of people who want to disrupt our schools ,disrupt our borders, disrupt our country and when it comes to borrowing he can’t even bring him to say we are welcoming the fact there are low interest rates."

"Let me tell him what we’re doing because we have a plan to meet mandate and to meet the test set out by the Chancellor in his emergency budget we have some of the lowest interest rates in Europe, for every percentage  point they would have gone up under Labour. That’s £1,000 on a family mortgage, £7bn on businesses and £21bn on our national debt."

12.16 Ed Miliband tells the Education Secretary to "calm down".

He says: "Child poverty is going up as a result of the autumn statement. The Education Secretary should calm down. He tells children to calm down couldn’t he should calm down himself.

"He is another conservative Prime Minister for whom unemployment is a price worth paying.

"Will he now admit that on the central test he set himself he has failed?

"The truth is his plan has failed he refuses to change course and he is making working families pay the price he will never ever be able to say we are all in this together."

12.15 Moving onto the Autumn Statement the OBR forecasts, Mr Cameron says: "If you compare the end of this Parliament with the start of this parliament on the OBR figures and let us remember the OBR is independent when he was sitting in the Treasury the figures were fiddled by the ministers and the advisers, that no longer happens…It shows 500,000 more people in jobs, 90,000 fewer people 7.2% instead of 8.1% - that is the OBR forecast."

12.14 This is turning into a bit of argy-bargy over party funding. Mr Miliband replies: "I am proud that millions of hard working people support the Labour party: rather that than millions from Lord Ashcroft.

"What will unemployment be at the time of the next autumn statement?"

12.13 Mr Cameron says: "Let me be absolutely clear, I do not welcome these strikes one bit, I think we have made a very reasonable, very fair offer to public sector workers and that is why the former Labour pensions secretary says that it is hard to imagine a better deal. I don’t want to see any strikes, I don’t want to see schools close, I don’t want to see problems at our borders but this Government has to make responsible decisions.

"Anyone earning less than £15,000 on a full time equivalent salary will not see any inc in the contributions they have to make, in terms of the reforms we’re making  nurse retiring on a salary of just over £34,000 today she would get £17,000 pensions in future she’ll get over £22,000 pensions, a teacher retiring on a salary of 37,000 would have got £19,000 will now get £25,000,. These are fair changes, and I’ll tell you why they’re fair. We rejected the idea you should level down public sector pensions, we think public sector pensions should be generous….but what we are seeing today is a party that is in the pocket of the trade union, that has to ask their permission to cross picket lines.  

"I’ll wait till his next trade union sponsored question then I’ll give my answer."

12.11 Speaker Bercow intervenes with a line that is not going to endear him to the Prime Minister, telling him to cut his replies down so backbenchers have a chance to ask questions too.

12.10 Ed Miliband shoots back to the "weak accusation" with a good line: "Unlike him I am not going to demonise people who earn in a year what the Chancellor pays for his annual skiing holiday.

He is the one who went around saying he was privately delighted that they had walked into his trap. Not just public sector workers it is private sector workers too."

12.09 The Prime Minister replies: "I know his whole party is funded by the unions but it is extraordinary that what he has just told the House is completely and utterly untrue, the fact is there were meetings with the trade unions yesterday there will be meetings with the trade unions tomorrow there will be meetings on Friday, these negotiations are underway…, today, he now backs the strikes. Why? Because, he’s irresponsible, left-wing and weak."

12.08 Mr Miliband says: "The reason why public sector workers don’t think they are listening is because the government has said they have made their final offer. What has the PM been saying he has gone around saying he is pleased people are going on strike. He has been spoiling for this fight. Will he admit that 800,000 are facing an immediate tax rise of 3%?"

12.04 Ed Miliband asks: "In June at PMQs the PM praised a headteacher for refusing to strike. Today she has closed her school. Why does PM think that so many decent hard working public sector workers feel the government isn’t listening?"

David Cameron says: "The reason people are going on strike is that they object to the reforms that we are making to public sector pensions, but I believe those reforms are absolutely essential but as Lord Hutton said it is hard to imagine a better deal than this. But What I would say above all to people on strike today is that they are going on strike at a timer when negotiations are still underway.

"Let me remind him what he said on June 30th –“These strikes are wrong at a time when negotiations are going on “ – Why has he changed his mind?"

12.03 Richard Drax is attacking the plans to axe the coastguard in Dorset: "Will he share the anger that the costal guard in Dorset is to be axed?"

The Prime Minister replies: "I’m very happy to meet with my Hon friend and I know how important it is that we have effective search and rescue facilities off our coast…what the Government is looking at is the best way to deliver those services."

12.01 Labour's Nick Smith is asking the Prime Minister about enterprise zones. The PM starts by congratulating the MP on his movember.

He says: "Can I thank him and the other 37 members who have opted to grow additional facial hair for this month of Movember."

He then says the Government will do what it can to help enterprise zones.

12.00 PMQs is starting now.

11.57 Mark Serwotka of the PCS union has told BBC News: “It's robbery because people have to work 8 years longer, pay thousands of pounds more in and they get tens of thousands pounds less over their retirement. By any standard that’s a massive raid on pensions particularly when all the independent analysis says that costs are falling and we’ve already made the changes for people living longer.”  

11.56 Chuka Umunna also told the Daily Politics he couldn’t support the strikes but that “I have some very close friends and family who are out on strike. I simply can’t condemn it either.

“I can’t support the mass disruption it causes for constituents.”

Asked what the unions have to do to come to an agreement, he said:

“There is a diversity of views. I think clearly there has got to be an acceptance that we are going to have to work longer. You don’t want a situation where you have got a government dividing up society.”

11.54 Also speaking on the Daily Politics, Len McCluskey said: “The only irresponsibility is the Government’s: they have had nine months to try and sort this out.

“Workers don’t like striking.”

“The reality is of course we would like to reach an agreement. 95% of our time is spent with companies and governments trying to get agreements.”

“The government are playing games – they believe they have got the public on their side and it has backfired.”

11.51 Lord Strathclyde has told the BBC's Daily Politics that the Government “is being realistic and honest with the people of this country and it is saying what we can afford and can’t afford”.

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