Downing Street sought today to play down a warning by Britain's most senior civil servant that the country could be facing a decade of spending cuts.
Cabinet Secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood has said the Government is just 25% of the way through its austerity programme.
Speaking to civil servants in Westminster last night, he warned that spending restraint could last "seven, eight, maybe 10 years".
A No 10 spokeswoman said his "off-the-cuff remarks" referred to the future shape of the Civil Service and were fully in line with Government policy.
"He was talking very much in the context of Civil Service reform," the spokeswoman said.
"He was not trying to predict what spending down the track might look like. Sir Jeremy was being off the cuff. He was not setting out a different policy."
Chancellor George Osborne announced in his Autumn Statement that public spending cuts would continue to 2017 - two years into the next parliament.
However, Sir Jeremy's comments appeared to imply that - for the Civil Service at least - austerity measures could continue for the whole of the next parliament to 2020.