By Joseph Willits
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Speaking on Sky's Murnaghan, and the BBC's Politics Show, Francis Maude suggested that the army could be used to help secure British borders if Wednesday's planned strikes over public sector pensions were to go ahead. Britain's image would be effected, he said, "if people travelling to Britain are subjected to inordinately long queues and inconvenience". The UK Borders Agency were "looking at all the options … determined that we will have both secure borders and do everything we can to avoid disruption to travellers". A military presence at Heathrow would be a possibility given the likelihood of planned industrial action on Wednesday.
Maude was asked on the Politics Show by Jon Sopel, if he would like to give a message to TUC leader Brendan Barber:
“I’d say ‘Brendan, call it off now’. He said that we’d been talking incessantly. We have. There are conversations going on, discussions going on in these scheme discussions every day pretty much – there will be conversations on Tuesday, on Thursday – this is going on intensively. The unions have jumped the gun."
Maude accused Barber of "slightly let[ting] the cat out of the bag there – he said ‘there’s nothing you can you can say really now that can call it off’". James Kirkup in the Telegraph wrote that even the patient Maude, the "sardonic embodiment of world-weary calm" was getting impatient with the unions. In an interview with the Telegraph, Maude said:
“People will look at the offer we have made, look at the pension schemes that public sector staff will still have afterwards. I think people will say, that’s pretty bloody reasonable actually.”
Wednesday's planned strikes were "very irresponsible" said Maude, damaging people's livelihoods and children's education. The economy, he said, is "going to be dealt a serious blow if these strikes go ahead in the way that’s been described", and that "the last thing Britain needs is a self-inflicted wound irresponsibly called by union leaders who are not driving these discussions".
Government negotiations with the unions, Maude said, were "not over", and that "talks are going on on an almost daily basis". Even on Tuesday, the day before planned strikes, a meeting is planned with the civil service unions:
"Sadly the leader of the biggest civil service union won’t be there because he doesn’t come to the negotiations. So I get a touch irritated when I hear union leaders saying the Government’s got to get serious about negotiations”.
The unions, Maude said, were responsible for exaggerating and propagating certain mistruths "to justify this completely, actually unjustifiable strike", suggesting that "everything’s terrible and there’s no progress being made":
"They know perfectly well that only three weeks ago the Government put on the table an improved offer which protects every public sector who’s within ten years of retirement – no change in their retirement age, despite life expectancy having improved dramatically in recent decades.”
The Government's new, "generous" offer he said, was "conditional on there being agreement" by the end of the year. If the offer was accepted, "people on middle and lower incomes … will be able to retire on a pension which is at least as good as they can expect at the moment, in many cases better."