Afternoon summary

  • Andy Street, the Conservative mayor of the West Midlands, has delivered a damning assessment of the way the government administers its levelling up fund. He was speaking as the government announced how 111 communities would receive funding worth a total of £2.1bn from the fund. This is the second round of awards from the fund, which is worth £4.8bn in total. Echoing Labour criticisms of the way local authorities are forced to bid for money from central government, Street said today’s announcements showed “why Whitehall’s bidding and begging bowl culture is broken, and the sooner we can decentralise and move to proper fiscal devolution the better”. (See 3.11pm.) Labour said the fund was “in chaos” because of payment delays and allegations of “favouritism”. (See 9.15am.)


This is from Rob Parsons of the Northern Agenda newsletter.

Another map to ponder as we digest the Levelling Up Fund allocations

Of the 74 successful English bids that can be matched to a particular constituency, 50 are currently held by Conservative MPs and 23 by Labour

More in The Northern Agenda newsletter -

— Rob Parsons (@RobParsonsNorth) January 19, 2023

Mikey Smith from the Mirror has more on Rishi Sunak’s travel arrangements today.


Rishi Sunak took a second flight from Blackpool to Darlington - a 28 minute flight that would have reached cruising altitude for seven minutes.

— Mikey Smith (@mikeysmith) January 19, 2023

Wonder what's so special about the three places Rishi Sunak simply HAD to visit by luxury private jet today. 🤔

— Mikey Smith (@mikeysmith) January 19, 2023

Starmer calls for 'clean power alliance' of leading net zero countries as alternative to Opec

Keir Starmer has called for a “clean power alliance” of countries strongly committed to net zero as an alternative to Opec, the cartel of oil producing states.

Speaking at Davos, he said an alliance of this kind could operate as an “inverse Opec”. He explained:

One of the things that I am proposing is a clean power alliance where countries that are in the advance when it comes to net-zero share information, cooperate and share investment with a view to driving the global prices down.

So, this is an inverse Opec, if you like. Instead of trying to ensure prices stay at a certain level, it’s to drive them down, to see the common benefit, whether it’s in the UK or across the globe.

If we could get that alliance working together, then I think that will be a big step in the right direction.

Keir Starmer being interviewed by the media at Davos.
Keir Starmer being interviewed by the media at Davos. Photograph: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Images

The Conservatives will lose the next election unless they take climate targets seriously, Chris Skidmore, the government’s net zero tsar, has told my colleague Helena Horton in an interview.


Starmer says Met police need 'root and branch' changes, possibly including new name

Keir Starmer has said the Metropolitan police need “root and branch” changes, which might need to include changing its name.

In an interview with the News Agents podcast, Starmer said that having a new name might help to assure Londoners that the force had been through a genuine transformation.

He said having a new title was one reason why the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) has more public support than its predecessor body in Northern Ireland, the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC).

Starmer said the case of David Carrick, who has admitted multiple counts of rape committed while he was a police officer in the Met, showed a “fundamental review” of the force was needed. He said:

It absolutely needs fundamental review. The Carrick case is just jaw-droppingly shocking. But it’s obviously not a single case on its own. There are other examples, many of which we’ve seen in the last few years.

It needs a root and branch review, cultural change, because this is not just the perpetrators, it’s those that have allowed this to happen, moved them around, not taken action when they should have done.

When he was a barrister, Starmer served as a human rights adviser to the board overseeing thePSNI, the then new force set up after the Good Friday agreement to replace the RUC, which did not have the confidence of the Catholic community it served. He said:

With the police service in Northern Ireland … that was root and branch, that was stripping it down.

It was also very important that it was called the Police Service of Northern Ireland because it changed the way in which the force was looking, it was a service to the public, not a police force.

Asked if the Met should also change its name, he replied:

If changing the name signals a change, then perhaps. It was very important to what we were trying to achieve in Northern Ireland that it was the Police Service of Northern Ireland.


Sunak apologises for not wearing seatbelt while filming social media video

Rishi Sunak has apologised for making a “brief error of judgment” by removing his seatbelt to film a social media video message while a passenger in the back seat of a car. PA Media says:

No belt could be seen covering the prime minister’s shoulder as he promoted his levelling up funding in the clip filmed for Instagram on Thursday as he visited Lancashire.

Fines of up to £500 can be issued for failing to wear a seatbelt when one is available.

There are a few exemptions, including when a car is being used for police, fire and rescue services and for certified medical issues.

Police motorbikes can be seen escorting the car as Sunak addresses the camera.

Lancashire constabulary referred a request for comment to the Metropolitan police.

The government has considered toughening seatbelt rules to ensure drivers not wearing them could receive penalty points.

Recent Department for Transport figures suggested around 30% of people killed in cars on Britain’s roads in 2021 were unrestrained.

Later a Downing Street spokesperson said: “That was a brief error of judgment. The prime minister removed his seatbelt to film a short clip.”

Sunak “fully accepts this was a mistake and apologises”, the spokesperson added.

“The prime minister believes everyone should wear a seatbelt. It was an error of judgment, he removed it for a short period of time to film a clip, which you’ve seen, but he accepts that was a mistake.”

Rishi Sunak on his Instagram video.
Rishi Sunak on his Instagram video. Photograph: rishisunakmp/Instagram/PA


Sunak refuses for second day in row to confirm he's fully committed to existing HS2 plans

At PMQs yesterday Rishi Sunak refused to confirm that the government was still committed to ensuring the HS2 high speed rail line will reach Manchester.

During his Q&A, Sunak was asked by Sam Coates from Sky News if he was 100% committed to the current plans for HS2. Coates was asking the final question, and he tagged on the HS2 question at the end of a lengthy question about levelling up (which Sunak did answer). But Sunak did not address the HS2 point at all.

This is from Sky’s Tom Larkin.

.@SamCoatesSky "Are you 100% committed to the current plans for HS2?"

Rishi Sunak very much not answering that question. On the first or second attempt 🧐

— Tom Larkin (@TomLarkinSky) January 19, 2023


Earlier I posted a Guardian chart showing which regions have got most from the latest round of levelling up funding on a per capita basis. (See 10.48am.) This chart shows who has got most when the first and second rounds of funding are combined.

Levelling up funding - rounds 1 and 2

Tory West Midlands mayor condemns way levelling up fund operates, saying 'bidding and begging bowl culture is broken'

Andy Street, the Conservative mayor of the West Midlands, and the most senior Tory in local government, has delivered a withering assessment of the way the levelling up fund operates.

He says that most of the bids from the West Midlands were rejected, that some of its most deprived areas lost out and that it should be for local decision makers, not Whitehall, to decide where money gets spent.

He says this shows “why Whitehall’s bidding and begging bowl culture is broken and the sooner we can decentralise and move to proper fiscal devolution the better”.

My views on today’s Levelling Up Fund announcement👇🏻

— Andy Street (@andy4wm) January 19, 2023


What Sunak said about not being able to cut taxes now, but wanting to be able to cut them in future

Here is the full quote from Rishi Sunak during the Q&A, when he was talking about cutting taxes and explaining why people knew it could not happen now because they weren’t “idiots”.

He did not mention Liz Truss, but he referred to her when he said that over the summer people saw what happened when politicians made unrealistic promises.

He said:

I’m a Conservative. I want to cut your taxes, of course I do, because you will work incredibly hard, and I want you to keep more of your money so you can spend on the stuff that you want to. That’s what I want to deliver.

I wish I could do that tomorrow, quite frankly. But the reason we can’t is because all the reasons, you know. You’re not idiots, you know what’s happened.

We had a massive pandemic for two years, we had to shut the country down, do a bunch of extraordinary things – that didn’t come cheap. And we’ve got this war going on, which is having an enormous impact on inflation and interest rates.

And that’s meant that the public finances – how much we borrow every year and the trajectory of our debt – is not where it needs to be.

And the worst thing I could do is promise you a bunch of things that sound great, but ultimately just make the situation worse. And all of you guys in the front couple of rows here [students] are just going to have to have to pick up the tab. I don’t want to do that.

My job is to make sure that when you get all these fantastic jobs that we were talking about, that I’ve left you a really strong economy where, yes, we’re going to be able to fund the NHS and schools and all the other things that we talked about, but at that point interest rates are coming back down, you can afford to buy a house because the mortgages are not too expensive, inflation we’ve got a grip of … And then, yes, we can cut your taxes so you can keep more of what you earn.

But it takes a bit of work to get there. And, as you saw over the summer, the easiest thing in the world is me to just promise you the Earth. But I wouldn’t be being straight with you.

But, trust me, that is what I’m going to do for you this year. That is what we are going to do while I’m prime minister. And if we do those things, we will be able to cut your taxes. That’s what I want to deliver.


Sunak defends taking jet to Blackpool, saying he needs to do 'lots of things in one day'

Rishi Sunak has been criticised for taking a domestic flight in an RAF jet for the third time in 10 days, my colleague Kiran Stacey reports.

Commenting on Sunak taking a flight to Blackpool today, Angela Rayner, Labour’s deputy leader, said:

Rishi Sunak’s expensive private jet habit is costing the environment and the taxpayer dear.

Instead of catching the train like the rest of us, he’s swanning around like a washed-up A-lister courtesy of the public, making a mockery of his own government’s ‘zero-jet’ strategy.

During his Q&A earlier Sunak defended his decision to fly to Lancashire, instead of going by train. He said:

I travel around so I can do lots of things in one day, I’m not travelling around just for my own enjoyment – although this is very enjoyable, of course.

Trust me, I’m working as hard as I can to deliver for you and I travel to make myself as effective as possible.


Starmer criticises Sunak for not attending Davos, saying UK has been absent on global stage in recent yearas

Keir Starmer has criticised Rishi Sunak for not attending the World Economic Forum event at Davos. Responding to a question at a panel event, Starmer said:

Yes, I think our prime minister should have showed up at Davos.

One of the things that’s been impressed on me since I’ve been here is the absence of the United Kingdom.

That’s why it’s really important that I’m here and that our shadow chancellor, Rachel Reeves, is here – as a statement of intent that, should there be a change of government, and I hope there will be, the United Kingdom will play its part on the global stage in a way I think it probably hasn’t in recent years.

Keir Starmer at Davos.
Keir Starmer at Davos. Photograph: Arnd Wiegmann/Reuters


Rishi Sunak arriving for his a Q&A session in Morecambe.
Rishi Sunak arriving for his a Q&A session in Morecambe. Photograph: Reuters
Sunak at his PM Connect event.
Sunak at his PM Connect event. Photograph: Reuters
Sunak at his PM Connect event.
Sunak at his PM Connect event. Photograph: Owen Humphreys/AFP/Getty Images

There was lots of anger in Nottingham today as it was revealed the Midlands city missed out on the government’s latest round of levelling up funding.

The city had submitted three bids, including one to help turn the derelict Broadmarsh shopping centre into a performance and food space, totalling £57m, but all three were rejected.

Alex Norris, Labour MP for Nottingham North and shadow levelling up minister, said the announcement was “just the latest instalment of disappointment from the government on levelling up”.

He told the local democracy reporting service:

It’s exceptionally disappointing to see that our city’s bids have not succeeded. The government has no interest in supporting Nottingham.

Nevertheless our ideas are good ones and we will keep fighting to see them become reality.

The Nottingham city council leader, David Mellen, said it was “a big disappointment” the bids had been turned down when the city “so clearly needs” levelling up funding. He said:

All three Nottingham bids were very strong and clearly aligned to what the Levelling Up Fund is meant to be about. There has been huge support for the exciting new vision for Broad Marsh we unveiled just over a year ago.

Mellen said the council would “explore alternative public and private funding options” so the plans can still go ahead.


Sunak says people understand why government cannot cut taxes now because they're 'not idiots'

The most significant moment in Rishi Sunak’s Q&A came when he said that people understand why the government cannot cut taxes now because “you’re not idiots”.

It was a throwaway remark, and it came in the course of an answer in which Sunak stressed his belief in low taxes, and his determination to cut taxes eventually, but it probably set alarm bells ringing in the No 10 media operation.

Why? Because this morning the Daily Mail splashed on a story that quoted approvingly Tory MPs who are saying Sunak should cut taxes. The Mail also has an editorial saying it is “dismaying that the chancellor is not considering tax cuts in March’s budget”.

Thursday's Mail: Cut Taxes Or Lose Election, Tories Warned #TomorrowsPapersToday #DailyMail #Mail

— Tomorrows Papers Today (@TmorrowsPapers) January 18, 2023

The Mail splash, and its editorial, were prompted by my colleague Pippa Crerar’s story yesterday saying that Jeremy Hunt, the chancellor, is planning a slimmed down budget that will not contain tax cuts.

In its story, the Mail quotes Tory MPs alarmed by this news. It says:

Former leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith said: ‘We have got to get growth going. This Government will sink without trace if we don’t get growth going by the middle of this year – we won’t have a hope of winning the election. We are already over-taxed and it is quite clear we cannot tax ourselves out of a recession.’

Fellow Tory Sir John Redwood also warned tax cuts were essential – and said some could even boost overall revenues by triggering growth. He added: ‘We cannot address the issue of growth without some tax cuts. They must be affordable, of course – but the best way to bring borrowing down and boost revenues is to grow the economy.’

The Mail also says that Sunak’s two predecessors as PM, Boris Johnson and Liz Truss, both want taxes cut.

In his Q&A, when asked about tax cuts, Sunak said:

When I was chancellor I also really preferred it when the prime minister didn’t comment on tax policy.

I’m a Conservative, I want to cut your taxes … I wish I could do that tomorrow, quite frankly, but the reason we can’t is because of all the reasons you know. You’re not idiots, you know what’s happened.

Sunak said the pandemic and the war in Ukraine had left the public finances “not where it needs to be”. He said that he wanted to get a “grip” on inflation, get interest rates down and make the economy stronger, so that the NHS and schools can be well funded. He went on:

Trust me, that’s what I’m going to do for you this year, that’s what we’re going to do while I’m prime minister and if we do those things we will be able to cut your taxes.

When Sunak used the word “idiots”, he almost certainly did not intend to refer to Tory colleagues like Iain Duncan Smith and John Redwood. But his comment could be linked to them quite easily, which makes it potentially perilous.

UPDATE: See 2.59pm for the full quote from Sunak.

Rishi Sunak at his Q&A session at the Platform in Morecambe.
Rishi Sunak at his Q&A session at the Platform in Morecambe. Photograph: Owen Humphreys/AFP/Getty Images


Despite the ongoing row between the Scottish and UK governments over Holyrood’s gender recognition reform bill, at Thursday’s FMQs both Tories and Labour focused on education and health, a welcome reminder that there is politics beyond the culture war and beyond the constitution.

Meanwhile, hostilities between the two governments continue, with Holyrood’s social justice secretary, Shona Robison, writing an article for the Guardian in which she calls for Alister Jack to revoke section 35 which he is using to prevent the gender bill going for royal assent. She says:

This legislation is designed to make trans people’s lives better by removing an administrative burden. Instead, trans people have been dragged into an attack on devolution that puts them in the middle of a continuing culture war. The UK government must rethink this damaging course of action.

Here is Robison’s article.


Q: You flew to Blackpool today, instead of taking the train. Since you found the airport so useful, why can’t we have it reopened for commercial use.

Sunak says he travels around by air so that he can do “lots of things in one day”. It is not for enjoyment, he says. He says he is working to deliver for the public and when he travels he tries to make himself “as effective as possible on your behalf”.


Q: What is your response to James Dyson?

Sunak says of course growth is important. He says he wants jobs that pay well.

And he says the government is cutting taxes for businesses.

He says no other country in the world has such a generous investment allowance for small and medium-sized businesses.

Q: Can you promise not to put up income tax before the election?

Sunak says when he was chancellor, he did not like the PM talking about tax policy. And he won’t today.

He says he favours low taxes. But the public finances are not where they should be after Covid. He says people are not idiots; they understand that.

He says he is trying to sort out the economy and bring down inflation. If he can do all this, he will be able to bring down taxes.


Q: Is the allocation fair? And hasn’t the phrase levelling up become meaningless?

Sunak repeats his point about the north getting more than the south. He says they could not approve every bid. It would be easier for him if he could, he says. But he says there will be another round of funding.

This government is delivering on things people have been talking about for a long time, he says.

Sunak is now taking questions from the media. Anushka Asthana from ITV goes first. She mentions a castle in Canterbury getting money, and asks why places like that are benefiting. And she says Sunak has more cabinet minsters from Surrey than from the north of England. Is that why levelling up money is going to the south now?

Sunak says the north-west came top in terms of money, followed by the north-east. The north-west is getting twice as much per capita as London and the south-east, he says.

And, as for the cabinet, he says he wants ministers who will just get on with the job.

And he says as prime minister he sits for one of the most northern constituencies represented by a PM.

If he does not deliver for his region, “it is hard for me to go home”.


Phillippa Williamson, leader of the Tory-run Lancashire county council, is asking a question now. She says the council’s levelling up bid was about greener, safer travel. What is your vision for that?

Sunak says the government supports active travel schemes. He says he personally is not big on cycling, but it is important for others, he says.


A woman asks about the pressure on the local RNLI when tourism increases. She says he son is a lifeboat volunteer.

Sunak says that’s an excellent question. They should think about it, he says.

Sunak says he wants to see “really vibrant town centres”.

Businesses in town centres hate business rates. The government is cutting these, he says.

He says people are shopping more online. So the government is changing the planning laws. It used to be hard to get permission to change the use of a premises. The government has changed the rules to make that easier, he says.

He also promotes the government’s Help to Grow programme for businesses.

And he says he hopes the Eden Project will bring more visitors to the town.

Sunak tells the audience they do not have to ask just about the Eden Project.

Q: People cannot visit the north if there is no efficient transport system. What are you doing about that?

Sunak says the government is doing HS2. And he says the government needs to connect the north. From his Yorkshire constituency, getting to London is easy. But getting to Manchester is much harder. The services are less reliable.

He says the government announced last year a £96bn programme to address this. It will take time, he says, but journey times will get faster.

The government is also investing in roads, tackling things like potholes. And it wants to ensure big city regions will be like London, in that the mayor will have transport powers.

In the past the UK has not been good at this, he says. London is productive because it has the tube. You need that in other city regions, he says.

Sunak says the government has changed how student finance is organised.

People will be able to get loans to study at the age of 25 or 35 or 45, he says.

He says as the economy changes, people will change more often, and so they need to retrain.


A woman asks how a project like this might address health inequalities.

Sunak says access to open spaces is good for people’s health. The Eden Project will be fantastic for that, he says.

The NHS is under pressure. The government is recognising that, he says. In the autumn statement they had to make some difficult decisions. The government prioritised the NHS. Billions extra is going in. But it seems that things are not working from the news, he admits.

He says that is because of a number of things. The flu season has been very tough. And the NHS is still recovering from Covid.

He says millions of people are on waiting lists. But the government has a plan to get the numbers down. It is ensuring things like hip operations are done in different places, so operations can carry on when big hospitals are under pressure.

The government is also putting in place measures to speed up hospital discharges.

Sunak says they will not get there overnight. But he is spending a lot of time on this. The other day, he spent all Saturday on a meeting about this, he says. They were focusing on identifying best practice, and extending it.

He says he will be making an announcement about how this can be done with emergency care within the next couple of weeks.


Sunak says he wants to change people’s perceptions about where they live. He wants to show people that change can happen.

He cites Teesside as an example. When the steel plant closed there, people did not know what the future held. Now it is “brimming with optimism and excitement”.

Government has done its bit, he says. People are proud the area is “going places”.

When change starts to happen, “it just builds on itself and then you get a virtuous circle then of positivity”.


“Right, YES,” he says, as he takes the next question.

The students aren’t the only ones “pumped up”. Rishi Sunak may be slightly overdoing the positivity and energy.

Sunak says the levelling up fund is about, not small, but smaller scale initiatives.

“I believe in action,” he says.

He says, looking at projects, one of the criteria for going ahead was “deliverability”. That is how bids are scored, he says.

Q: Will the levelling up bill ensure people can get more access to green spaces?

Sunak says green spaces are helpful for people’s mental health and fitness. The government is rolling out what used to be called pocket parks, and are now called levelling up parks, “because we are branding everything levelling up”, he says (in what might be a joke – it is hard to tell).

Sunak says in his first ministerial job (as local government minister) he used to be in charge of this. He says small initiatives like this can make a big difference.

Sunak rejects the next questioner because they are a journalist. He will take media questions later.

Instead he takes what he says is a “great question” (which we could not hear from the TV feed).

Sunak says the government needs to think about how an attraction like the Eden Project can benefit the whole region.

The next question is about what impact levelling up will have on the area.

Sunak says Eden Project at Morecambe, which has had £50m from the levelling up fund, is going to be a world-class attraction.

Rishi Sunak's Q&A on levelling up

Rishi Sunak is in Morecambe where he has just delivered a short speech on levelling up. But he is mainly here to do a Q&A with what journalists call “real people” (ie, non-journalists).

The first question comes from a woman who asks what he is going to do to engage with students.

Sunak says he wants to ensure that in future young people do not feel they need to move away from home to get a good job.

He wants to ensure colleges get involved in bids for levelling up money.

Referring to the students in the audience, he can see they are already “pumped”.

The levelling up urgent question was tabled by Alex Norris, the shadow communities minister, and he described the levelling up initiative as a failure. He said:

Levelling up is a failure, the government are going backwards on their flagship missions. They can’t even appoint levelling up directors and today we see this reach its maximum.

A rock-bottom allocation for Yorkshire and the Humber, nothing for the cities of Birmingham, Nottingham and Stoke, nothing for Stonehouse in Plymouth, a community in the bottom 0.2% for economic activity.

But money for the prime minister’s constituency, money for areas in the top quartile economically. What on earth were the objective criteria used to make these decisions?

Norris also said the money allocated through the levelling up fund was only a fraction of what was cut from local government over the past decade. He said:

The cuts to local government, and this is in cash terms rather than real terms, is £15bn over the last decade or so. Today’s announcement gives back £2.1bn. They have nicked a tenner from our wallets and they expect us to be grateful for getting two quid back.

In response to Norris, Lucy Frazer, the communities minister, said Keir Starmer, Lisa Nandy, the shadow levelling up secretary, and Norris himself were among the MPs whose constituencies were getting money. And she defended the money going to Rishi Sunak’s constituency, saying it would be “regenerating a town where an infantry base is”.

Minister laughed at by opposition MPs after claiming levelling up money allocated on 'clear and transparent' basis

Lucy Frazer, a communities minister, was jeered in the Commons this morning as she responded to an urgent question from Labour about the levelling up awards.

When she told the house that the levelling up fund was “about directing funding where it is needed most”, opposition MPs shouted “No, it is not” and “Rubbish”.

Frazer also provoked laughter when she insisted the awarding of money was fair, saying:

The levelling up fund has a clear and transparent process for determining how bids are selected. Each bid is assessed by officials against a published assessment criteria, with the highest-scoring bids shortlisted.

Before Frazer responded to the UQ, Sir Lindsay Hoyle, the Commons speaker, said the way the government released news of the successful bids – to the media first, not to parliament – was “completely unacceptable”.


Rishi Sunak And Jeremy Hunt visiting Accrington market hall today with local MP Sara Britcliffe.
Rishi Sunak (left) and Jeremy Hunt visiting Accrington market hall today with local MP Sara Britcliffe (second from right). Photograph: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images
Sunak and Hunt putting up a Powered by Levelling up sign outside the market, with Britcliffe trying to get out of the way.
Sunak and Hunt putting up a Powered by Levelling up sign outside the market, with Britcliffe trying to get out of the way.

Photograph: Reuters

Sunak defends £19m levelling up payment for town in his own, relatively affluent constituency

Rishi Sunak has defended the distribution of levelling up funds, saying that the north of England has received more per head than the south.

Speaking on a visit to Accrington, in Lancashire, he said:

The region that has done the best in the amount of funding per person is the north. That’s why we’re here talking to you in Accrington market, these are the places that are benefiting from the funding.

Sunak also defended the government’s decision to allocate £19m to Catterick Garrison, a town in his own, relatively wealthy constituency, Richmond in Yorkshire. Asked about the payment, he told broadcasters:

If you look at the overall funding in the levelling-up funds that we’ve done, about two-thirds of all that funding has gone to the most deprived part of our country.

With regard to Catterick Garrison, the thing you need to know is that’s home to our largest army base and it’s home to actually thousands of serving personnel who are often away from their own families serving our country.

It’s important that they have access to a town centre providing the amenities they need – that’s what that funding is going to deliver.

Rishi Sunak visiting Accrington market hall today.
Rishi Sunak visiting Accrington market hall today. Photograph: Reuters


NHS England figures show significant fall in number of ambulances waiting more than hour outside A&E

The number of ambulances in England waiting outside A&E departments for more than an hour to drop off patients fell significantly in the second week of the year, the latest NHS figures show.

However, pressures persist elsewhere, most notably among those fit to be discharged from hospital who cannot be because of a lack of available social care.

The latest figures from NHS England released this morning show that 9% of patients waited for an hour or more in the back of an ambulance or with crew before being handed over to A&E staff in the week to 15 January, compared with 26% in the last week of 2022.

But while this brings the delays in line with last year’s waiting times, the situation remains far worse than previous winters, with close to a quarter of ambulance patients waiting at least a half hour to be admitted to A&E.

Lengthy delays in handing over patients have been repeatedly cited as a source of frustration for ambulance crews who have announced they will take part in a coordinated strike with nurses on 6 February in what could be the “biggest day of industrial action the NHS has ever seen”.

Pressures on the system are still evident elsewhere, with more than 14,000 beds taken up across the system by patients medically fit for discharge who cannot leave hospital because of a lack of social care places.

Bed capacity remains high, 94.2%, and while the average number of critical care beds required in the second week of January fell slightly compared with the previous week, it remains high compared with the average pre-pandemic year.

The number of beds required for flu patients fell significantly this week, by 35%, which is the first significant drop in the winter to date. But the number of these beds, 3,447, is still 84 times higher than in the same week in 2022.

The number of critical care beds occupied by flu patients also fell to an average of 221, higher than the number required for Covid patients in the same week (191).


Keir Starmer and Rachel Reeves, the shadow chancellor, are at Davos today where later, at 1pm UK time, Starmer will be taking part in a panel discussion.

Keir Starmer and Rachel Reeves at the World Economic Forum in Davos today.
Keir Starmer and Rachel Reeves at the World Economic Forum in Davos today. Photograph: Arnd Wiegmann/Reuters


This is from my colleague Richard Partington on James Dyson’s latest diatribe. (See 9.32am.)

James Dyson attacks Rishi Sunak’s ‘shortsighted, stupid’ tax policies, saying “ever higher tax” pushes firms abroad…

And when UK headline corp tax ratewas cut from 28% to 19%, where did Dyson choose to locate production? … was it not Singapore?

— Richard Partington (@RJPartington) January 19, 2023

Here is a Guardian graphic showing which regions are getting the most levelling up funding per head from the latest round of funding.

Levelling up funding.

Some ministers need reminding of importance of upholding rule of law, say peers, in rebuke to Braverman

All ministers should consider the rule of law to have primacy “over political expediency”, but this is particularly important for the lord chancellor and law officers (attorney general and solicitor general), a House of Lords committee says today.

In a report, the Lords constitution committee suggests that the oaths of office for these ministers should be amended to include upholding the rule of law, which it says has been undermined in recent years by the government twice knowingly introducing legislation which would breach the UK’s international obligations.

The committee is referring to the internal market bill and the Northern Ireland protocol bill.

Suella Braverman, who is now home secretary, was attorney general when both bills were drafted, and was strongly criticised for approving them despite experts saying parts of them were in breach of international law.

Both Dominic Raab, the current lord chancellor and justice secretary, and Braverman have been critical of judges in the past.

In what appears to be coded criticism of Braverman, the report also says that law officers “should refrain from making public statements which could damage public perception of their impartiality”.

Responding to the report, the shadow attorney general, Emily Thornberry, said:

It should be a source of immense shame and deep embarrassment for this government – and Suella Braverman in particular – that this respected committee feels obliged to remind them of such basic duties as upholding the rule of law, respecting international treaties, and taking impartial legal advice.

But above all, the man who stands condemned by this report is Rishi Sunak, who saw first-hand the way that Suella Braverman debased and degraded the role of attorney general, then breached national security rules as home secretary, and nevertheless saw fit to restore her to that role.

A government spokesperson said:

This government will always act to respect the rule of law and uphold the independence of the judiciary.

We recognise the UK’s reputation for the rule of law is central not only to confidence in the justice system at home, but also to our excellent international legal reputation.


Boris Johnson urges west to ignore Putin threats and give Ukraine tanks

Boris Johnson has urged the west not to fall for Russia’s threat of nuclear war but instead boost its supply of heavy weaponry to Ukraine, my colleague John Collingridge reports.


Gove rejects claims levelling up funding awards biased in favour of Tory areas or south-east England

This morning the Times has splashed on claims that the levelling up awards announced today favour south-east England over the Midlands and the north. In its story it says this has infuriated Tory MPs in “red wall” seats – constituencies outside the south-east that were won from Labour at the last election. It says:

The £2 billion-plus fund is shared between 111 communities across the UK as part of the second round of levelling-up funding. In England 52 Tory constituencies benefit, more than twice as many as those represented by Labour MPs.

However, Tory MPs in seats in the north and Midlands who missed out have accused Sunak of favouring the south. One Tory MP in the north-west said it made a “mockery of levelling up” and added: “A government that U-turned on a minister for the north is delivering for the south once again.”

Another Tory MP said: “People are apoplectic. There are some really wealthy areas on the list. It looks awful. It’s gone down terribly among red wall MPs.” A third said: “It feels we’ve given up on the red wall. It seems bizarre that Richmondshire is getting levelling up funding.”

Of the 80 successful bids in England, only half are in the 100 most deprived areas of the country. Affluent areas such as Rutland, North Somerset and Malvern Hills, Worcestershire, have been handed cash.

Thursday's Times: Levelling-up cash favours southeast over red wall #TomorrowsPapersToday #TheTimes #Times

— Tomorrows Papers Today (@TmorrowsPapers) January 18, 2023

Michael Gove, the levelling up secretary, has been doing a media round this morning and he defended the allocation of money. This is what he said on levelling up.

  • Gove rejected claims that London and the south-east of England were benefiting most. He told Times Radio:

If you look per capita at the amount we’re spending, the biggest winners are those in the north-west and of course, yes, there is some spending in London and the south-east, but there are some areas of deprivation in London and the south-east. But it’s overwhelmingly the case that the areas that benefit the most are the north-west, the north-east and the east Midlands.

It’s simply untrue that the levelling up fund is concentrated disproportionately on London and the south-east.

  • He said it was right to spend levelling up money in the south-east because there were poor areas there. He said:

When you’ve got a region like the south-east which has such a large proportion of the UK population but also has within it particular areas of deprivation, it’s natural that there should be money there.

But the money in the south-east has gone to areas like Swale and Dover, in Kent, which I think, again, everyone would recognise those coastal communities in Kent are areas where levelling up is important.

  • He said Wales had done best overall, on a per capita basis. This tweet, from Rob Parsons from the Northern Agenda newsletter, confirms this.

Michael Gove has revealed who's getting cash in Levelling Up Fund round 2

Wales and North West did best but Yorkshire - home to some of UK's poorest areas - gets less per head than the South East

More in tomorrow's Northern Agenda -

(Chart: @tom_lees)

— Rob Parsons (@RobParsonsNorth) January 18, 2023
  • Gove rejected claims there was a Tory bias in the allocation of levelling up funds, saying Labour-run local authorities were getting more than Tory-run ones. He said:

I think more of the money is going to Labour-led local authorities than to Conservative-led local authorities and that’s because the money’s been allocated according to a set of objective criteria and on the basis of deliverability.

When it was put to him that parliamentary constituencies with Tory MPs seemed to be getting more, he replied:

You often get situations where you will have Conservative MPs representing areas which will have Labour local authorities and that’s a feature of the changing political geography of the country. And that’s because in 2019 a significant number of people in those areas that were overlooked by Labour governments, and indeed some Labour councils in the past, decided it would be a good idea to have a Conservative government.

  • He said levelling up was about more than just investment. He said:

Today’s investment is just one part of levelling up. Levelling up also involves trusting local communities more, and we’ve had a significant programme of devolution, with it now being the case that more than 2,000 people in the north of England either are or will have full devolution, mayors, additional funding and more control over what they can achieve.


James Dyson attacks Rishi Sunak’s ‘shortsighted, stupid’ tax policies

Sir James Dyson, the billionaire businessperson, has launched a withering attack on Rishi Sunak’s government, saying its “shortsighted” and “stupid” economic policies have left the country in a state of “Covid inertia”, my colleague Julia Kollewe reports.

Dyson was writing in an article for the Daily Telegraph which is here, at the bottom of the Telegraph’s news story.

Thursday's Telegraph: Dyson: Stupid, short-sighted policies holding back economy #TomorrowsPapersToday #DailyTelegraph #Telegraph

— Tomorrows Papers Today (@TmorrowsPapers) January 18, 2023

And here is Julia’s story for the Guardian.


Labour claims levelling up fund ‘in chaos’ because of payment delays and allegations of ‘favouritism’

Good morning. Rishi Sunak has today announced a spending splurge – £2.1bn for more than 100 community projects. It is the second round of awards from the government’s levelling up fund.

In theory, spending announcements are meant to be good news stories for governments. But initiatives like this always trigger complaints about who has been left out, as my colleague Pippa Crerar reports in her overnight story.

There are various claims around this morning about who is gaining most. I’ll cover them in more detail shortly. At this point there does not seem to be a consensus, partly because it depends whether you just look at spending totals per region, or whether you look at spending totals per head, and partly because it depends whether you just look at this set of levelling up funding awards, or whether you include the first round awards too.

But one point is obvious from the list; if you thought the levelling up initiative announced by Boris Johnson when he was prime minister was going to be about channelling money into poor communities mostly in the north of England, you’ll be disappointed. The spending is much more evenly spread.

The press release about the latest awards from the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities is here. There is a full list of the successful bids here. And the government has created a website which you can use to identify levelling up projects going ahead near where you live.

Labour says the money being distributed does not compensate for the cuts imposed during the Tory austerity years and it says the system is “in chaos” because many places that were promised levelling up funds in the first round of awards have not yet received anything. Lisa Nandy, the shadow levelling up secretary, bases this claim on research published in the Financial Times at the end of last year saying just 5% of the total £4.8bn had been spent.

She said:

The levelling up fund is in chaos, beset by delays and allegations of favouritism. Fifteen months after the first round of allocations, just 5% of the money has made it to the communities who were promised it. And despite today’s announcement, communities across the country are still paying a Tory premium for the last 13 years.

It takes an extraordinary arrogance to expect us to be grateful for a partial refund on the money they have stripped out of our communities, which has decimated vital local services like childcare, buses and social care.

It is time to end this Hunger Games-style contest where communities are pitted against one another and Whitehall ministers pick winners and losers. That’s why Labour has set out plans for the biggest ever transfer of power out of Westminster, so local leaders can harness the skills and assets in their area to drive growth, and all people in all parts of Britain are given the backing to make a contribution.

Here is the agenda for the day.

11.30am: Downing Street holds a lobby briefing.

12pm: Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister, takes questions in the Scottish parliament.

12.30pm: Rishi Sunak gives a short speech on levelling up, and takes questions from journalists, at an event in the north-east. It is one of three visits he has planned today, and other cabinet ministers are also on visits to promote levelling up funding awards.

Keir Starmer and Rachel Reeves, the shadow chancellor, are in Davos today.

And at some point Chris Heaton-Harris, the Northern Ireland secretary, is expected to announced that he is again delaying the deadline for the creation of a power-sharing executive in Northern Ireland. He needs to act because otherwise, by law, there would have to be an election, and it is generally agreed that, with the parties in deadlock over the Northern Ireland protocol, going to the polls would not help.

I’ll try to monitor the comments below the line (BTL) but it is impossible to read them all. If you have a direct question, do include “Andrew” in it somewhere and I’m more likely to find it. I do try to answer questions, and if they are of general interest I will post the question and reply above the line (ATL), although I can’t promise to do this for everyone.

If you want to attract my attention quickly, it is probably better to use Twitter. I’m on @AndrewSparrow.

Alternatively, you can email me at



Andrew Sparrow

The GuardianTramp

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