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Page last updated at 16:20 GMT, Sunday, 13 September 2009 17:20 UK

Jon Sopel interviews TUC leader

On the Politics Show, Sunday 13th September 2009, Jon Sopel interviewed Brenden Barber

Brendan Barber, General Secretary, TUC
Brendan Barber, General Secretary, TUC

Q: The General Secretary of the TUC, Brendan Barber, joins us now from the Albert Dock in Liverpool, good to talk to you, we won't discuss what you had for lunch, thanks very much for being with us. What did you make of what David Frost was saying, that there needs to be a big cutback now in public spending?

BRENDAN BARBER: Well I think that would be absolutely disastrous. We're beginning to see some signs of modest recovery in the economy, that would be absolutely throttled if we followed his advice and started cutting public spending, it would send us back into an even deeper recession, absolutely disastrous.

Q: But, but if you have a giant black hole of public spending and debt spiralling, don't you need to address that?

BRENDAN BARBER: Our biggest problem is the recession and unemployment, and that's what the Government needs to be focussing on. Yes, the time will come when we will need to get that deficit down, but that's not the stage we're at, that's further down the line, and when we do begin to address that issue of reducing the deficit, the most critical thing that will influence the, the rate at which the deficit comes down is the level of economic growth, above all other factors, the level of economic growth and that, again, we're not going to see a real push for economic growth if we start cutting back now.

Q: And do you agree with Gordon Brown that, I mean, apparently it's all been heavily trailed and press releases issued that he's going to say, when he comes to speak to you, that Britain is on the road to recovery, is that the way you see it?

BRENDAN BARBER: Well I think we're beginning to see some first signs of recovery and I think we may begin to see data that suggests that economic growth, by the end of this year, economic growth will be on a positive trend again, which will be enormously important, but from my perspective, I don't think that's a real recovery until we begin to see unemployment coming down, and I fear that we, we're a long way off that.

Q: But isn't there enormous pressure to cut public spending so that you can start addressing the fundamental problems of the British economy which are that we have got the most enormous deficit?

BRENDAN BARBER: No, but I don't think that is the biggest problem that we face in the economy. I think, people say we can't go back to business as usual after this crisis, and that's absolutely right and I think we need to see a rebalancing of the economy, much more emphasis, for example, on our manufacturing sectors, rather than all the emphasis that's been placed on financial services, we've seen what trouble that's got us into, so there are some big issues about the shape and structure of our economy that are much more important in terms of our long term prosperity than this issue of the deficit.

Yes, we'll need to bring the deficit down, I think we're going to need to see tax increases on those who can afford it, not on low and middle income earners, as a part of the strategy for getting the deficit down, but that is not our biggest problem now, let's get people back to work first.

Q: Just interested on the tax increases, who do you think can afford it, I mean what sort of things are you saying, because there's a very interesting debate to be had about whether you, for example, keep universal child benefit when maybe the middle classes don't need child benefit, or you know, everyone gets a free television licence over the age of 80, whereas you might be quite wealthy at the age of 80?

BRENDAN BARBER: Well I think, I think there are a whole range of possibilities and we need to look at, at all this in a very careful way. I don't want to see some of those important universal benefits like child benefit, I don't want to see those eroded, but when you look at a tax system in which people who earn an awful lot of money through what's called in the tax system capital gains, on assets that they've got, and are paying a much, much lower rate of tax than people whose income comes from working for a living, issues like that really need to be looked at again.

I remember when there was a lot of debate about the private equity sector about a year ago, if you remember, and one of the private equity barons said he was rather … ashamed that he was paying tax on a lower rate than his cleaner - well he was right to be ashamed, and it's that kind of change that we need to see addressed.

Q: Okay. We've got a minute or so left, I wonder whether you can give me a yes or no answer to this, did you and Gordon Brown agree entirely


Q:… no, did you… and Gordon Brown agree entirely on what needs to be done when you met at Chequers?

BRENDAN BARBER: No, there are all sorts of issues where we want to see the Government go further than they, they've gone at the moment, but in terms of the, the core issue at the moment, which is, does Government need to use its power to try to aid a recovery, or should it start retreating and making cuts, which is what the Conservatives are calling for, on that issue, we're absolutely with the Government.

Q: And how was your meeting with David Cameron, is he someone you could do business with if he became Prime Minister next year?

BRENDAN BARBER: Well I've talked to David Cameron a couple of times, we've have fairly businesslike conversations, and I think that's important and it's right that there should be that, that dialogue, I want all the … major parties to understand trade union views and concerns. As to if, if there was a change of government, then I'd expect a new government to want to work sensibly with the trade union movement, that's certainly what I want to see.

Q: Ok, Brendan Barber, we'll leave it there, thanks ever so much for being with us.


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