Keir Starmer has used prime minister’s questions to make a pointed and personal attack on Rishi Sunak over tax benefits for private schools, saying the policy of continued VAT exemption for school fees amounted to “trickle-down education”.
More than 10,000 ambulance workers have voted to strike across nine trusts in England and Wales in an escalation of the row over NHS pay with ministers, raising the threat of widespread industrial action across the health service before Christmas.
The UK is not in a significantly better place to deal with a new pandemic, the former vaccine taskforce chief has said, as a leading public health expert suggested Covid infections may be on the rise again.
Brexit is 'for the long term', and 'change is difficult', says Badenoch when asked about Brexit's impact on economy
Giving evidence to the Commons international trade committee, Kemi Badenoch insisted Brexit should be seen as a long-term project when asked about its economic impact.
In response to a question about its impact on GDP, she said:
This is something that we have done for the long term. We haven’t said that there are not going to be any changes in the interim. What we are doing is creating an independent trade policy that is going to work for the future.
Will there be difficulties because of changes? Yes. All change is difficult.
She said that alongside Covid pandemic and the war in Ukraine, it was not “helpful” to try to disentangle Brexit from other factors impacting on the British economy.
Badenoch also refused to say what exact impact post-Brexit trade deals might have on GDP. When this was put to her, she replied:
Asking for a number for something that is not a number question is not going to work. If that was the case, you wouldn’t need to have me here. You could just have a computer program and press a button and then get the number.
There is a whole world out there. Looking inward and saying there is nothing else happening except the EU, I’m afraid, is just not realistic.
Brexit has contributed to Britain's current economic decline, Bank of England's chief economist says
Brexit has contributed to Britain’s current economic decline, the Bank of England’s chief economist has said.
Huw Pill also said that Brexit had probably helped to drive up inflation, and that it had contributed to labour shortages.
At an economic summit run by the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW), Pill was asked to what extent he thought Brexit was to blame for the UK’s current economic decline. He replied:
I think Brexit plays a part, but I don’t think it’s necessarily the whole story, probably only part of the story. It is difficult to give a percentage measure, but to my mind it has had an effect.
Pill said that in 2016, at the time of the referendum, the Bank of England took the view that reduced trade following Brexit would have a negative impact on productivity across the country. He said:
The Bank took the view, and still retains that view … that Brexit would knock about three percentage points off the level of the potential of the economy.
UK growth has been relatively slow by historical standards since 2016, and shrunk by 0.2% between July and September, meaning that the country may enter a recession if it continues to decline over the last three months of the year.
On the subject of inflation, Pill said:
Brexit has probably reduced some of the competitive pressure in the goods market, because it just is harder to import things into the UK from Europe. Some of that loss of competitive pressure probably means there is greater pricing power at some points in value chains in the UK, and that has probably proved to be somewhat inflationary.
And on skills, Pill said the labour shortage may have been heightened by Brexit, because EU workers are no longer free to come to the UK. He said:
It’s not that migration has fallen, in fact, we have more migration from non-EU sources than we have had in the past. But whether those people are as immediately productive and fungible in the labour market is at least open to question.
Downing Street has rejected Dame Kate Bingham’s claim that the UK is “going backwards” when it come to pandemic preparedness. (See 3.55pm.) Asked about her claim, the prime minister’s spokesperson told journalists that he did not accept it. He went on:
I think you can see just from today we are opening the medicines manufacturing innovation centre.
That’s a £13m site which did not exist pre-pandemic which we have rightly spotted is something we need to have better preparation for and we have acted on.
That sits alongside the creation of the UK Health Security Agency - a body that was set up to spot future pandemics. That is backed by £2.4bn.
We have the wider £20bn of research and development.
We have the new MRNA Information and Technology Centre, the Covid vaccine unit. So we have significantly changed our approach to looking for future pandemics and to responding to them when they should arise.
Rebecca Pow, an environment minister, has refused to deny that EU-derived laws which restrict and ban the use of thousands of toxic chemicals are at risk of being dropped from the statute book at the end of next year.
The REACH programme is derived from EU law, and controls the use of chemicals by businesses and manufacturers.
For example, the use of lead paint, which is toxic and causes health problems if used, is restricted under REACH.
When asked if these laws were at risk of being “sunset”, Pow told the environment audit committee:
We are going through all the EU retained law with a view to how we will deal with it and what we will bona fide retain, what we would like to improve and potentially things that have been superseded by other things. That large process is underway right now.
Gabrielle Edwards, deputy director for chemicals, pesticides and hazardous waste at Defra, added:
We are in the process across government of analysing all the pieces of retained EU law and decisions will be made.
But she said the government would “maintain environmental standards”.
Pow said Defra was “working really hard” on deciding which environmental laws to retain.
UK 'going backwards' on pandemc preparedness, and falling behind Europe, Kate Bingham tells MPs
The UK is “going backwards” when it come to pandemic preparedness, the former chair of the vaccines taskforce, Dame Kate Bingham, has suggested to MPs.
Giving evidence to the Commons science committee this morning, she said Britain was “not in a much better place to deal with a new pandemic” because capabilities put in place during the Covid pandemic were dismantled.
When I left [the vaccine taskforce] in December 2020 we gave some very specific recommendations as to what we thought should happen – ‘an independent industrial experience chairman and board established to bring together the various strands of vaccine activities that will define UK as a global leader in vaccine development and manufacturing’. That’s not happened.
To begin with I thought it was lack of experience of officials – because we don’t have a lot of people within Whitehall that understand vaccines and relationships with industry, all of that.
But actually, I’m beginning to think that this is deliberate government policy, just not to invest and not to support the sector. Because I cannot explain why we haven’t appointed somebody that can actually bring this all together because we’ve got the capabilities and yet systematically, things have been dismantled that we’ve put in place.
Asked about being prepared for future pandemics, Bingham said:
I don’t think we are in a much better place to deal with a new pandemic … I think we’re marginally better.
She also said that other European countries were making better progress in this area.
[European countries] were slow to get off the blocks to begin with, but they’ve now done what needs to be done which is to recognise this is not going to be the last pandemic and we need to have a better and quicker approach to identifying potential pathogens, and maybe being able to build vaccines very rapidly against new variants or new pathogens.
They are doing exactly what we’ve recommended for the UK, but our approach seems to have been to go backwards rather than to continue the momentum.
More than 10,000 ambulance workers vote to strike in England and Wales
More than 10,000 ambulance workers have voted to strike across nine trusts in England and Wales, the GMB union has announced. The full story is here.
Mel Stride hints review could lead to state pension age rising more quickly than planned
Mel Stride, the work and pensions secretary, hinted that the state pension age could rise more quickly than currently planned as a result of a review that is due to conclude by May next year.
Giving evidence to the work and pensions committee this morning, he said:
I think there are various moving parts in assessing where we should go with the state pension age.
One of them is life expectancy and more precisely, what proportion of your life should we expect people to have in retirement as opposed to not in retirement?
Another is the cost, and if you look at the consequences of us living longer, and you look at that, for example, as expressed in the financial stability report that the OBR produces every year, where it casts out 50 years and says ‘what are the public finances likely to look like given the demographic change that’s going on?’, the cost of pensions being an element within that, it all gets pretty hairy.
So there is also certainly this other element of ‘what’s the cost going to be’?
I think there are other issues - intergenerational fairness, when you look at the split between how long somebody works to support those that are not working.
As PA Media reports, a previous review of the state pension age in 2017, led by John Cridland, established that people should expect to spend on average up to one third of their adult life in retirement.
Asked if the government is “seriously thinking” of reducing that proportion, Stride said that this was “a factor to consider but I can’t really be drawn on what my thoughts are at this stage as to whether Cridland is about the right figure or not”.
The state pension age is currently 66 for men and women, and is due to rise to 67 between 2026 and 2028.
It is also due to rise to 68 between 2044 and 2046, but there has been speculation that this date could be brought forward.
Security staff on Eurostar are to strike for four days next month in a dispute over pay, PA Media reports. PA says:
Members of the RMT union employed by a private contractor will walk out on 16 December, 18, 22 and 23 after voting 4-1 in favour of industrial action.
The RMT said the strike will “severely affect” Eurostar services and travel plans for people over the pre-Christmas period.
More than 100 security staff, employed by facilities management company Mitie, are involved in the dispute.
George Eustice wrong to say trade deal with Australia bad for UK, says Badenoch
Kemi Badenoch, the trade secretary, has robustly defended the UK’s post-Brexit trade with Australia against criticism from George Eustice, rejecting the former agriculture secretary’s claim that it was badly negotiated under the pressure of an arbitrary deadline.
Giving evidence to the Commons international trade committee, she said:
I would like to put on record that I disagree with George’s view, almost all of it.
I disagree with what he said about it not being a good deal for the country. That’s absolutely not true.
Eustice told the Commons earlier this month that the decision of Liz Truss as trade secretary to seek a conclusion before the 2021 G7 summit in Cornwall meant the UK in effect asked the Australians what they would need in terms of concessions to agree, which largely shaped the deal.
Eustice also personally criticised Crawford Falconer, who was the government’s chief trade negotiation adviser and is now interim permanent secretary at Badenoch’s department, saying he repeatedly gave way on issues and ignored expert advice.
Badenoch said she would “strongly disagree” with this, and denied that the UK team had in effect asked Australia what they needed to reach a rapid deal. She said:
I am not aware of any such question being asked. That sounds like a standard negotiating question, where we ask, what is it that you want, and the other team asks the same.
Badenoch did say, however, that he agreed with the general idea that timescale on trade deals could be a problem.
I do think deadlines can be incredibly unhelpful in negotiations. We saw this with Brexit.
Here are the highlights from PMQs.
Sunak urged to attend Cop15 biodiversity summit, 'most important moment for nature in decade'
Forty MPs, including seven Tories, have privately written to Rishi Sunak imploring him to attend the Cop15 biodiversity conference, which starts next week.
In the private letter, seen by the Guardian, the parliamentarians warn that a million species are facing extinction globally and a lack of high-level political buy-in could spell disaster for nature.
Sunak currently is understood to have no plans to attend, sending the environment secretary, Thérèse Coffey, in his stead.
But Tory backbenchers are among those who have asked him to stand up for nature by taking to the world stage in Montreal. The MPs wrote:
Today, we encourage you to stand up for nature by attending Cop15, holding bilateral meetings with other heads of government, and raising ambition to halt and reverse nature’s decline by 2030.
We hope that the same leadership the UK has demonstrated on climate will be extended to fight for an ambitious global deal to protect nature at Cop15.
With a million species facing extinction around the world there is no time to waste.
The letter follows a meeting between British parliamentarians and Canadian representatives, in which it was made clear there could be a replication of the failed 2009 Copenhagen climate summit, where talks fell apart.
Former prime minister Liz Truss had committed to attend during the summer leadership race and it was in her diary to go.
It is understood that plans are under way for the former prime minister Boris Johnson to attend Cop15 in what could cause further frustration for Sunak, who many believe was forced to U-turn on his decision not to attend Cop27 in Egypt.
The government’s chief nature adviser, Tony Juniper, recently said that the summit is “the best and last chance” to halt and reverse the decline of nature.
Lord Randall, a former Conservative MP and Theresa May’s former environment adviser, told the Guardian:
Cop15 is the most important moment for nature in a decade. Although world leaders have not been formally invited to attend the Montreal summit, the prime minister should think about ways in which he can engage with other heads of government whilst the talks are ongoing and ensure that Cop15 is a Paris moment for nature.
It would be helpful for the UK government to publish ambitious targets to restore nature, as promised in the Environment Act, before the UN summit takes place.
Cop stands for conference of the parties, but Cop26 was the 26th of its kind addressing the climate crisis, while Cop15 is the 15th of its kind on biodiversity.
Boris Johnson still living in £10,000-a-month accommodation provided by Tory donor, register reveals
Boris Johnson is still having his housing provided by the Bamford family, the latest entry in the Commons register of members’ interests shows.
The former PM has declared receiving accommodation worth £10,000 for himself and his family, covering the month of November, from Lady Carole Bamford.
This is the third month in a row he has declared housing from the Bamfords worth £10,000 a month.
He has also declared two further donations, both for accommodation worth £3,500, from the Bamfords over the autumn.
Lord Bamford, a pro-Brexit Conservative peer who is chair of JCB, has been a generous Tory donor for decades. He and his wife also paid for Johnson’s wedding party at their mansion in the Cotswolds in the summer, with Johnson declaring the gift as being worth £23,853.
Johnson, his wife and their two children, lived in Downing Street and at Chequers during his time as prime minister. Since then he has been living in Bamford accommodation despite owning or part-owning three homes, in London, Oxfordshire and Somerset.
Prisoners to be held in police cells because jails are getting full, justice minister tells MPs
Prisoners could be held in police cells in an attempt to reduce “acute and sudden” overcrowding in jails, MPs have been told.
In a statement to the Commons, Damian Hinds, the justice minister, said:
In recent months we have experienced an acute and sudden increase in the prison population, in part due to the aftermath of the Criminal Bar Association strike action over the summer, which led to a significantly higher number of offenders on remand.
With court hearings resuming, we are seeing a surge in offenders coming through the criminal justice system, placing capacity pressure on adult male prisons in particular.
I’m announcing today that we’ve written to the National Police Chiefs’ Council to request the temporary use of up to 400 police cells through an established protocol known as Operation Safeguard.
This will provide the immediate additional capacity we need in the coming weeks to ensure the smooth running of the prison estate and to continue taking dangerous criminals off the streets.
Hinds said that using police cells to house prisoners was not unprecedented, and last happened in 2006, 2007 and 2008.
Responding for Labour, Ellie Reeves, a shadow justice minister, said:
This is yet another crisis created by this shambolic Tory government. It is hard to think of a more damning indictment of this government’s failure on law and order than the fact they have now run out of cells to lock up criminals. But it is hardly surprising when under the Tories 10,000 prison places have been lost.
UPDATE: I have amended the headine to say prisons are “getting full”, because they original wording said they were full now. The Ministry of Justice says they’re not. It says about 1,000 places are still available, but that these could soon run out.
Minister says No 10 will appoint ethics adviser 'soon' as he ducks Rayner's questions about why it is taking so long
Angela Rayner is seeking to put the government on the ropes over its failure to appoint a successor to Lord Geidt as Rishi Sunak’s ethics adviser.
The Guardian revealed earlier this week that several candidates had turned down the role because Sunak is refusing to grant the new adviser the power to launch their own investigations. Sunak had promised that appointing a new ethics adviser would be one of his top priorities in office.
During an urgent question, Labour’s deputy leader accused ministers of promising “jam tomorrow” and “mañana, mañana”.
But she failed to pin down Alex Burghart, the junior minister at the Cabinet Office, on any of the specifics of the appointment. He told her:
We’re going to have an independent adviser, they’re going to have the powers that they need, and they are going to be appointed very soon.
But he refused to answer any of the detailed questions he was asked about how many candidates had been approached and when the process might be complete.
Starmer attacks Sunak at PMQs over private schools, saying VAT exemption is 'trickle-down education'
Here is my colleague Peter Walker’s story about PMQs.
And this is how the story starts.
Keir Starmer has used prime minister’s questions to make a pointed and personal attack on Rishi Sunak over tax benefits for private schools, saying the policy of continued VAT exemption for school fees amounted to “trickle-down education”.
Specifically using Winchester, the private school Sunak attended, as an example, Starmer highlighted a 2017 article by Michael Gove that argued for VAT to be imposed on school fees.
“Winchester College has a rowing club, a rifle club and extensive art collection – they charge over £45,000 a year in fees,” the Labour leader said. “Why did he hand them nearly £6m of taxpayers’ money this year in what his levelling up secretary calls ‘egregious state support’?”
Citing the contrasting example of Southampton, where Sunak grew up, Starmer said four in every ten state school pupils in the city failed either their English or maths GCSEs.
PMQs - snap verdict
Keir Starmer won that quite comfortably, but it was a notable victory – one to remember, and possibly a turning point – for two reasons. The main one is that Starmer is now establishing a winning track record in this arena, and he is bedding down two criticisms of Rishi Sunak that are starting to stick: privileged, and “weak”. Another month of this and it will be received wisdom. But, second, this may have been the most successful example of a Labour leader using private education against a Tory PM in recent times.
David Cameron and Boris Johnson were both educated at the most elite private school in the country, and Conservative MPs generally are less likely to be state-educated than Labour MPs, but in the past Labour leaders have been cautious about using this as a line of attack. In part that was because people are not responsible for where their parents send them to school, in part it was because it smacked of class warfare, and in part it was out of fear of being on the wrong side of the aspiration argument. Only a minority of people are rich enough to afford private education, but there are many more who would like to be that wealthy one day, and Tony Blair taught his party that it was best not to alarm this group.
Yet Starmer today (with a little help from Michael Gove, whom he quoted) successfully monstered Sunak over going to Winchester. It is worth looking in detail at why it worked for Starmer so well.
First, Sunak’s response was poor. There is not a particularly good argument in favour of the tax advantages enjoyed by private eduction (as Gove pointed out in his Times article five years ago), but there are arguments (principally the cost to the state if private schools close), which is partly why Labour largely accepted the status quo when it was in office. Sunak could have opted a techno-bore answer, laced with references to Labour figures being privately educated. (Starmer himself went to a school that turned private while he was there, although he was able to finish his education there without his parents paying fees.) But instead, in his first response to Starmer, Sunak went for a total non-sequitur, banging on about Covid and the unions. And, in his second response, Sunak went way over the top, claiming Stamer’s question showed that he was “attacking the hard-working aspiration of millions of people in this country”, which meant that “he’s not fit to lead”.
Second, the Labour policy is popular, and has become more so in recent years. As living standards stagnate, there may be more public appetite for bashing private education than in the past. My colleague Pippa Crerar has the polling figures.
Third, by presenting private education as an “aspiration” issue, Sunak made it easier for Starmer to attack him over homeownership. Telling Sunak he should “get out more”, he said:
He talks about aspiration, they are killing off aspiration in this country and it is not just education. Why is the dream of homeownership far more remote now than it was when his party came into power 12 years ago?
Sunak is the richest person ever to be prime minster. In the past Britons have tended not to mind very much about their political leaders being wealthy. (We are still ruled by a King, after all; egalitarian, we’re not.) But they do expect their prime ministers to be in touch, and to know what people are experiencing. In this exchange Starmer turned Sunak being privileged into a riff about him being clueless, and it worked.
Starmer ended with a spiel about Sunak being weak. (“Every week he gets pushed around and every week he gets weaker”). Sunak has his own weak jibe in response. (“Too weak to confirm no one on the picket line.”) This sounds like an argument about character. In reality, a leader’s “strength” or “weakness” is probably 80% a consequence of political context (how much space they have available to act), and at most only 20% a matter of personal authority and leadership virility. But the public at large won’t take much convincing that Sunak is weak, given everything that is happening in his party and in the country at large (see 9.21am), and so this is an easy hit for Labour.
Kirsten Oswald (SNP) asks why Sunak won’t scrap the retained EU law (revocation and repeal) bill.
Sunak says getting rid of EU law will increase prosperity.
Paul Bristow (Con) says the small boat crossings are a national emergency. He calls for a Cobra-style committee to address this.
Sunak says the government will take extra powers if it has to do address this. Labour has blocked every proposal on this, he says.
Colleen Fletcher (Lab) says a vulnerable teenager in the West Midlands had to spend two days in a police station because mental health services were not available.
Sunak says the government is already paying for more mental health support in schools.
Catherine West (Lab) says the Royal Mail paid records sums to shareholders last year, but is now cutting services. Why won’t the government investigate the mismanagement of this service?
Sunak says he has nothing but gratitude and appreciation for the work of postal workers. But their pay demands are unaffordable, he says.
Munira Wilson (Lib Dem) asks if Sunak will deliver for Marcus Rashford and extend free school meals.
Sunak says the government is already funding initiatives such as breakfast clubs.
Esther McVey (Con) says the trains from the north-west have got worse. What is the government going to do to sort this out, and get the service back to what it used to be. It is “completely unacceptable”.
Sunak says McVey is right to say the Avanti service is unacceptable. The transport secretary is monitoring this, he says. But it needs union cooperation.
Andy McDonald (Lab) says it was sad to see Sunak in a student video saying he did not have any working-class friends. And he won’t make any with the pay offers he is offering public sector workers.
Sunak says he admires nurses, but a 19% pay rise is unaffordable.
Gordon Henderson (Con) asks when the government will pass emergency legislation to make it easier to remove people crossing the Channel in small boats.
Sunak says the Nationality and Borders Act gives the authorities new powers, which they will use. And it is willing to take more powers, he says.
Abena Oppong-Asare (Lab) asks about the killings of two teenagers in her constituency this weekend. What is the PM doing to address the knife crime epidemic?
Sunak says this was an awful tragedy. He says police numbers are going up. And the police are getting new powers, he says.
Ian Blackford, the SNP leader at Westminster, wishes people a happy St Andrew’s Day. St Andrew is celebrated throughout Europe. So it is sad to watch Sunak champion a law that would rip up 4,000 EU laws. And it is sad to see Labour refusing to oppose Brexit, he says.
Sunak says he was proud to support Brexit. It was right for the country. It allowed us to get control of our borders, he says.
MPs laugh at that point.
He says the government is also seizing the economic opportunities, and deregulating.
Blackford says even Tory voters do not believe Sunak on Brexit. More and more people say it was a bad idea. And they can see that ‘make Brexit work’ is just a stupid slogan. What is the democratic path for independence?
Sunak says the difference between him and Blackford is he respects the referendum result. And he claims that the UK had the fastest vaccine rollout because of Brexit.
(That is not true – as a full EU member the UK could still have run its own vaccine programme, although it is arguable that a more pro-EU government than Boris Johnson’s might have stuck with the EU version.)
Starmer says every week Sunak hands out cash to people who don’t need it, and every week he gets pushed around by his party. He says Sunak should let Labour back him on planning. “Country before party, that’s the Labour way.”
Sunak says Starmer tells his party what it wants to hear.
It is the politics of yesterday with him, or the future of the country with me.
Starmer says the age at which people can buy a home keeps going up. He loves his kids, but he does not want to be cooking them dinner in 30 years time. Apparently Sunak is having a relaunch. He will be tough. How tough will he be on his MPs opposing planning reforms.
Sunak says Starmer is too weak to stop his MPs joining picket lines.
Starmer says Sunak should get out more. He talks about aspiration. What has happened to home ownership?
Sunak says housebuilding is going up. And when the Tories came to power, housebuilding was at a record low.
Starmer says Sunak is being pushed around by lobbyists. He says that money (effective subsidies for private schools) could be better spent. Starmer says he has made his choice; Sunak must make his.
Sunak says he is about aspiration.
Starmer quotes from the Gove article again. Winchester has had £6m in taxpayers’ money. He says that money would be better spent on under-performing schools.
Sunak says schools are getting better under Gove’s reform. And when Starmer attacks his schooling, he is attacks aspiration, and the decisions made by his parents, he says. He says that is why Starmer is not fit to lead.
Keir Starmer says Winchester college has a rowing club, a rifle club, an extensive art collection, and it charges more than £45,000 in fees. Why did the government give them what Michael Gove calls “egregious state support”.
Sunak says the government is increasing spending on schools. But during Covid Starmer wanted to keep schools closed. He says he listens to parents; Starmer listens to his union paymasters.
Sir Paul Beresford asks Sunak if he agrees that China is a threat, not just a challenge.
Sunak says the government recently stopped China buying the Newport wafer fab, or investing in Sizewell C.
Tommy Sheppard (SNP) asks if Rishi Sunak still shares the view in the Calman commission that nothing can stop Scotland becoming independent if it wants to.
Sunak says we had that conversation in 2014. He says both governments should focus on what people want.
Rishi Sunak starts by congratulating England on their victory last night, and commends Wales “for inspiring millions”. And he wishes people a happy St Andrew’s Day.
PMQs is about to start.
Here is the list of MPs down to ask a question.
One problem that Rishi Sunak faces is that the parliamentary Conservative party has become increasingly fragmented. In the Financial Times today, Sebastian Payne identifies four rebellious Tory tribes: the “heartland defenders” (blue wall Tories, many of whom are backing the amendment to end mandatory house building targets, like Damian Green); the “Trussites” (self-explanatory, typified by Simon Clarke, who wants more housebuilding and onshore wind); the “Johnsonites” (again self-explanatory – Sir Jake Berry is cited as the most prominent example, because he has made various interventions unhelpful to Sunak); and the “don’t cares” (Tories who have decided to stand down).
Payne suggests the final group could be the most dangerous. He says:
The challenge for Sunak is that the MPs in this tribe risk being unbiddable: some have no reason to back his government. One Tory MP who is retiring said: “We don’t care anymore and can do what we like.”
Ambulance response times will be “incredibly stretched” when thousands of 999 call handlers, paramedics and other staff go on strike, an NHS leader has said.
Saffron Cordery, the interim chief executive of NHS Providers, which represents hospitals and other NHS trusts, said trust leaders would be plans in place to deal with the impact of the Unison ambulance strike. (See 9.37am.) She told the Today programme:
In terms of the ambulance strike, we know the challenges already of not having enough paramedics, call handlers available, because we’ve seen the challenges to ambulance handover times that we have at the moment, in terms of not being able to transfer patients from ambulances into A&E departments and the challenges that brings when they can’t get back out on the road.
Additional challenges on top of that, I think, will make response times incredibly stretched. But ambulance trust leaders will be putting in place as many measures as possible to mitigate the risks of those actions.
There will be two urgent questions after PMQs. At 12.30pm Angela Rayner, the deputy Labour leader, will ask why Rishi Sunak has not got round to appointing a new ethics adviser at No 10. (As my colleague Jessica Elgot reports, the answer is because he can’t find anyone to take the job, because he is not willing to offer the adviser enhanced powers). And after that, at around 1.15pm, the DUP’s Carla Lockhart will ask about the energy support scheme for Northern Ireland.
Poorer students more than £1,000 worse off this year, warns IFS
England’s poorest students will be more than £1,000 worse off this academic year than the last, according to a new analysis that warns of “significant hardship for many this winter”. My colleague Sally Weale has the story here.
Thérèse Coffey, the environment secretary, has said she expects the government’s delayed nature and pollution targets to be published before Christmas.
Giving evidence to the Lords environment and climate change committee, she said:
My main focus frankly in the next three months is getting the environmental targets out and the environmental improvement plan, as well as the preparation for the most important conference of the year which is actually the CBD [Convention on Biological Diversity] in Montreal next month.
The nature and pollution targets were meant to be published by 31 October. Asked whether they will be released by the end of December, she replied:
I really hope so, that’s my intention. I’ll be very disappointed if they aren’t.
More than 43,000 people have crossed the Channel to the UK in small boats so far this year, PA Media reports. PA says:
The Ministry of Defence said 884 people were detected in 17 boats on Tuesday. This suggests an average of around 52 per boat.
The latest crossings take the provisional total for 2022 to date to 43,500, according to PA Media analysis of government figures.
The numbers may explain why Robert Jenrick, the immigration minister, is bottom of the table in the survey of cabinet ministers as rated by Conservative party members. (See 10.40am.) But Suella Braverman, the home secretary, is ultimately in charge of Home Office immigration policy and she is in the top half of the table.
Train problems mean northern mayor will Zoom in to talks on train problems
A mayor in north-east England who was due to attend a meeting with the transport secretary to discuss train cancellations in the region has said he will have to take part by Zoom – because he cannot be certain he will be able to get there by train. Jamie Driscoll, the north of Tyne mayor who is having to miss the meeting, told the Today programme this sort of problem was becoming routine. He said:
We’ve had a transport for the north meeting in Manchester and the mayors couldn’t get there because the trains were cancelled. The irony of it, it would be funny if it wasn’t so serious.
My colleague Tobi Thomas has the story here.
Tory members think Sunak one of worst-performing members of cabinet, survey suggests
There is more bad news for Rishi Sunak at the ConservativeHome website this morning. It carries out a regular survey of Conservative party members, asking how they think cabinet ministers are performing, and it shows that Sunak is now rated as one of the worst-performing ministers in his cabinet. He has gone from fifth in the table, on a net approval rating of 49.9, to sixth from bottom, on a net approval rating of 9.
Three of the ministers who are doing worse are not even full members of the cabinet, and so the only proper cabinet ministers doing worse are Grant Shapps, the business secretary, and Jeremy Hunt, the chancellor.
Hunt’s performance must be linked to a related finding from the survey, published yesterday: a plurality of Conservative party members do not support the government’s economic policy.
Sunak, of course, was chosen by MPs. He lost to Liz Truss when Conservative party members chose a leader in the summer, and he became leader in October because he ended up as the only candidate with enough nominations from MPs who wanted to stand.
As Paul Goodman explains in his write-up for the website, the survey also shows the average performance score for the cabinet is at a record low. “The panel has clearly felt that the government, in its various manifestations, has not been performing well for some time,” he says.
Jeremy Corbyn, the former Labour leader, has joined a National Education Union (NEU) picket line outside a sixth-form college in north London.
Speaking outside City and Islington college, Corbyn told PA Media he was there to “support the students because of my concerns about underfunding by the government to post-16 education”. He added:
But also to support the teachers in their perfectly reasonable demand for at least a cost-of-living pay increase.
They have dedicated themselves to our students, they have taught through all the difficulties of Covid and they should be rewarded with at least a cost-of-living pay increase.
Mark Dolan, London divisional rep for the Communication Workers Union (CWU), is among the postal workers on strike outside the Royal Mail Islington delivery office in north London today. He told PA Media:
This is our 11th day of strike action and the action we are taking today is about saving this great British institution, 500 years’ service that we give to the public, and also the destruction of our terms and conditions.
The company, following Covid, made over £700m and they made that money off the backs of our membership who during Covid put their own lives on the line connecting the country, delivering test kits and we were hailed as key workers during Covid.
And yet, 18 months’ later, the company have announced they have got no money, they gave most of the profits away to shareholders and the people who sit on the board of Royal Mail.
And they have now told the workforce they can only afford a 2% pay rise in a cost-of-living crisis with inflation in double figures – but more seriously than that they’ve announced tax on the service we deliver, they’ve announced 10,000 job cuts, they also yesterday announced the real threat of compulsory redundancies, attacks on our terms and conditions, it’s unacceptable.
We’re not prepared to stand by and watch this great public service tuned into another gig economy service where they want to get rid of the current workforce and replace them with workers on 20% less money and less terms and conditions than we currently have.
Barclay tells Unison its call for above inflation pay rise for health staff 'not affordable'
Steve Barclay, the health secretary, issued a statement this morning in response to the strike announcement from Unison. He said that its call for an above-inflation pay rise was “not affordable”. He said:
I’m hugely grateful for the hard work and dedication of NHS staff and deeply regret some will be taking industrial action – which is in nobody’s best interests as we approach a challenging winter.
Our economic circumstances mean unions’ demands are not affordable. Each additional 1% pay rise for all staff on the Agenda for Change contract would cost around £700 million a year.
We’ve prioritised the NHS with record funding and accepted the independent pay review body recommendations in full to give over one million NHS workers a pay rise of at least £1,400 this year, with those on the lowest salaries receiving an increase of up to 9.3%.
This is on top of 3% last year when public sector pay was frozen and wider government support with the cost of living.
Our priority is keeping patients safe during any strikes and the NHS has tried and tested plans to minimise disruption and ensure emergency services continue to operate.
My door remains open to discuss with the unions ways we can make the NHS a better place to work.
Rishi Sunak to face PMQs as fresh strikes take place and more health workers vote for industrial action
Good morning. Rishi Sunak is preparing for PMQs this morning. It will be only his fifth exchange with Keir Starmer, and he may be wondering what happened to the notion about new prime ministers enjoying a honeymoon in their first few weeks in post. As he ponders what Starmer might ask about, he will realise that the outlook is dire. Here, in no particular order, are 10 of the problems he has to address.
1) Strikes are escalating. Today Royal Mail workers, university lecturers and sixth-form college staff are all taking industrial action. And last night Unison announced that health workers in England, including ambulance staff and 999 call handlers, have voted to go on strike, probably before Christmas. Christina McAnea, the Unison general secretary, said:
The decision to take action and lose a day’s pay is always a tough call. It’s especially challenging for those whose jobs involve caring and saving lives.
But thousands of ambulance staff and their NHS colleagues know delays won’t lessen, nor waiting times reduce, until the government acts on wages. That’s why they’ve taken the difficult decision to strike.
2) The Tory split over onshore windfarms is no closer to getting resolved. Today the Times reports that Sir John Hayes has now got 19 colleagues to back an anti-windfarm amendment to the levelling up bill, as a counter to the pro-windfarm one tabled by Simon Clarke.
3) Rail transport is still terrible in the north of England. Metro mayors in the north are meeting Mark Haper, the transport secretary, today and Tracy Brabin, the Labour West Yorkshire mayor, says: “This chaos is having a devastating impact on the northern economy.”
4) And drivers who have been held up by Just Stop Oil protests are still angry about the disruption. Today Suella Braverman, the home secretary, is meeting police chiefs to discuss the problem.
5) Labour is launching a new attack over the windfall tax. Sunak may have thought that the relatively wide windfall tax in the autumn statement would neutralise this as a campaign argument for Labour, but today the opposition that its own plans for a beefed up windfall tax could raise another £17bn.
6) Tory China hawks were not impressed by Sunak’s “robust pragmatism” rhetoric in his speech on Monday, and are pushing for a tougher response to the arrest and assault of a BBC journalist by police in Shanghai.
7) Michael Gove’s journalistic back catalogue is making it hard for Sunak to attack Labour over its plan to put VAT on private school fees. The shadow education secretary, Bridget Phillipson, posted this on Twitter on Monday.
8) The government still has not got a credible plan for reducing the number of people crossing the Channel in small boats.
9) NHS waiting times are still at record highs, and winter has not even properly started yet.
10) Polling for the Conservative party remains abysmal. “The Conservative brand is in as bad a state as I have seen in all my years of polling,” said Lord Ashcroft, the former Tory deputy chairman and leading pollster in a report out at the weekend. In a report full of depressing charts for the Tories, the one below was probably the worst. It shows that, on the two issues that matter most to voters, Labour has a decisive lead over the Conservatives. (If it were not for the cost of living metric, the chart would show Labour having the biggest lead on the issue of most importance to voters, the NHS, which is polling nirvana for a political party).
Here is the agenda for the day.
9.15am: Mel Stride, the work and pensions secretary, gives evidence to the Commons work and pensions committee.
9.50am: Dame Jenny Harries, head of the UK Health Security Agency, gives evidence to the Commons science committee about lessons to be learnt from coronavirus pandemic. At 10.30am Neil O’Brien, the health minister, gives evidence, and at 11.15am Dame Kate Bingham, chair of the vaccine taskforce, gives evidence.
10am: Mark Drakeford, the Welsh first minister, gives evidence to the Commons Welsh affairs committee.
12pm: Rishi Sunak faces Keir Starmer at PMQs.
1.30pm: Kemi Badenoch, the international trade secretary, gives evidence to the Commons international trade committee.
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