Tony Lodge: Why radical railway action can save money – and reshape a sector which will never be the same again

20 Apr

Tony Lodge is a Research Fellow at the Centre for Policy Studies and author of Rail’s Second Chance – putting competition back on track.

The modern railway boom is over. You might have missed it but, up until March last year, Britain’s railways had enjoyed the most remarkable party.

Since privatisation during the early 1990s, passenger numbers had doubled, investment in trains soared and numerous innovations had built a large and committed customer base. This was all coupled with the renaissance of Britain’s larger cities as places to work and play, particularly London.

These significant achievements have been thrown away over the last 12 months of COVID lockdown. The implications of the consequent collapse, and how it has been handled, will have far-reaching consequences for future investment, fares and passenger choice.

The risk is that Ministers will now reach the wrong conclusions – and choose to ignore the huge opportunity for change which this situation offers.

Lockdown and the Government’s aggressive campaign against all but essential travel (which remains in place on rail until June 26th, and will then require social distancing) has delivered a body blow which has, in turn, necessitated de-facto nationalisation and the real likelihood that train companies will be underwritten by the taxpayer for the foreseeable future.

To date, over £10 billion has been spent to keep near empty trains running. But Conservatives who think that more state money and Whitehall control is the answer are merely papering over the cracks of a problem which needs radical change now. Cheaper fares will be lost, and civil servants will become responsible for running trains again – thus exposing their ministers to avoidable and unnecessary political risk.

While the initial Covid-19 guidance against unnecessary rail travel was unavoidable, it has gone on for far too long. Consequently, the shift from rail to road has been significant, and will be very hard to reverse in the medium term especially as working from home takes root. The old reliable rail flows and high passenger numbers, especially across the lucrative south east and London commuter market, are unlikely return to the highs of the last decade.

It is important to put some numbers next to the words. Currently train services are operating at about 75 per cent of pre-Covid levels. However, when social distancing is taken into account, passenger capacity being provided is roughly 40 per cent of the pre-Covid timetable.

According to the Office of Rail and Road, income from fares in the second quarter of 2020 was £184 million – this compared with £2.5 billion for the first three months of 2019, a fall of 93.1 per cent. The Department for Transport has propped up train firms with its Emergency Measures Agreement subsidy. Rail travel is still below 20 per cent of ‘normal’.

Franchised train operators will continue to need around £650-700 million a month to keep running up to and beyond June. Rishi Sunak pledged £2.1 billion in the Budget to support passenger trains up and until June. But what if a critical mass of passengers don’t come back by the late summer and beyond?

Season tickets represented 11 million of the 33 million rail journeys made each week before the pandemic. The extent to which this market has collapsed, as people work from home or await more flexible ticketing or carnet style offerings remains to be seen but, crucially, this traditional and hugely lucrative ‘golden goose’ has gone for now.

The Home Counties’ traditional five day season-ticket commuter market has been particularly devastated, and the plan announced in January to impose above inflation fare rises was just another hammer blow.

So why are empty trains being paid to run (by the taxpayer) all day between London, the commuter towns and elsewhere when there remains little demand, even in the traditional peaks? Why have some services not already been cut back in line with demand? The once popular long-distance intercity services connecting large cities are similarly struggling to pull passengers back (especially when the Government keeps telling you not to use them).

Ministers effectively nationalised the railways at the start of the pandemic, initially spending more than £3.5 billion to keep services running during a six-month emergency period that ended in September. This guaranteed train companies a profit of two per cent of operating costs.

The route of travel here seems clear: Ministers seem to have accepted that Whitehall knows best and most of the firms are of course happy to run near empty trains with a huge state subsidy.

Part of the problem here can be linked with too much short-term and panicked policy. John Major’s 1993 Railways Act ended 45 years of British Rail nationalisation, and allowed for a change in the quality of services with some competition and passenger choice compared with the old British Rail.

There were huge challenges in the early years with regards to infrastructure support and cost but the private sector, with the right initial political support invested in some new rolling stock and routes. But 20 different rail ministers in 25 years, numerous reviews and countless failed initiatives to deliver more private sector-led policy have all consistently suffered a pincer attack from both civil servants and trade unions.

Ministers risk drawing the wrong conclusions from the pandemic. If they stage a final retreat back to nationalisation and central planning almost 30 years since privatisation then passengers, taxpayers and the Treasury will be the losers.

This is surely the perfect landscape on which to bring the sector more into line with new and future demand, and develop more advanced modern and flexi-ticketing alongside competing services. Such an approach can lead to market led changes, lower subsidies and better encourage rail workers to resist and even oppose trade union diktat and strikes.

Unlike the privatisation of aviation, telecommunications, maritime or mail, why have ministers and civil servants not been able to relinquish their micromanaging of trains and fares? For far too long, the latest Rail Minister has hidden behind the latest Rail Review, which usually contradicted the last one.

In 2016. I gave evidence to the exhaustive Competition and Markets Authority inquiry into the future of the rail passenger market. Its findings and recommendations for a more flexible and competitive network were sadly ignored by the then Transport Secretary, but would have stood the rail industry in a much better place to adjust and shoulder the crisis it faces today.

Covid-19 has delivered a huge blow to the railways but has also delivered a rare opportunity. We now need a plan which embraces a market-led reset with greater efficiency and services in line with what customers want.

Harry Fone: Profligacy is to blame for the Council Tax rise in Wolverhampton

20 Apr

Harry Fone is the Grassroots Campaign Manager for the TaxPayers’ Alliance.

Following the release of the Town Hall Rich List, my inbox has been flooded with examples of local authority profligacy. Of particular interest was a tip-off from Wolverhampton which revealed the massive increase in the Council’s expenditure on its communication team.

Figures show that since 2014-15 spending has more than doubled from £412,681 to £922,978 in 2020-21 – an increase of 123 per cent. In 2019-20 spending peaked at over £1 million. Alongside this, Council Tax has increased from £1,522 (2014-15) to £1,989 (2021-22). You have to wonder if council bosses have their priorities in the right place.

The council argues “the team has remained relatively stable and costs have reduced year-on-year”. I’m not sure I would describe an increase of 123 per cent as stable. Furthermore, cost reduction only came in the last year after five consecutive increases.

It’s worth adding that the director of communications hasn’t seen any reduction in their salary. Quite the opposite in fact. In 2019-20 they were paid £95,800 but by 2021-22 this had risen to £105,113. Let’s not forget a healthy pension contribution of over £27,000 as well. That means that 14 per cent of the communication team’s budget was spent on just one member of staff.

Residents in Wolverhampton suffered a 5.3 per cent increase in their council tax this year. I’m not saying councils shouldn’t have the means to communicate information about local services. Rather, maybe this money would be better spent on key services, such as collecting bins and fixing potholes.

Vanity and virtue-signalling

Similar questions need to be asked of Leicester City Council. Its use of taxpayers’ cash isn’t exactly exemplary. Band D Council Tax bills increased by almost £100 this year to £2,012. What are residents getting for their money? A litany of highly questionable spending decisions, it seems to me.

For starters, the authority wrote off a loan worth £600,000 to a local theatre, after it went into liquidation. This came after spending £3.6 million renovating the building which reopened in 2018, only to close three years later. Once again it begs the question, why does the public sector think it can succeed where the typically highly efficient private sector has failed?

Not put off by the failure, plans are now afoot to convert a museum into a tourist attraction at a cost of £11.6 million. But it’s not just vanity projects the council is fond of, it’s now planning to virtue-signal with taxpayers’ cash. On the council’s website and in its Capital Programme for 2021-22, £500,000 of funds have been set aside for the political movement Black Lives Matter. As my colleague, John O’Connell laid out on this website last week, taxpayer-funded lobbying creates something of a merry-go-round and cash is diverted away from frontline services.

Over the last five financial years, the average tax rise by Leicester City Council has been 4.5 per cent. Only on one occasion was the increase less than 4 per cent. Arguments that there is no fat left to trim from council budgets simply don’t hold water. If the trend continues, bills will be over £2,100 by next year. Residents deserve better. The authority must put an end to its specious spending.

Waffle from Waltham

The TaxPayers’ Alliance warmly welcomes transparency at all levels of government, especially when it comes to public sector procurement. As such the Contracts Finder website is an excellent resource for everyone from armchair ‘waste watchers’ to broadsheet journalists, wanting to keep an eye on public tenders. However, this is only any good if what is written in the contract makes sense.

Take this example from Waltham Forest Borough Council. It’s looking for “consultancy support for a strategic reset”. This sounds like something that would emanate from David Brent’s mouth. But it gets worse. The details of the proposal can only be described as a word salad:

“The Council is seeking to commission a Bidder to help us shape our strategic activity over the next year, creating a compelling narrative, working with management team to define and agree priorities and establishing the strategic programme that will enable us to deliver our priorities effectively.”

You’d have to go a long way to find a worse example of rambling middle management speak than this. I might be wrong of course and it might make perfect sense to you. If so, I recommend you apply as this ‘non-job’ pays up to £75,000. Maybe this role will bring long term benefits to the taxpayer but I wouldn’t bank on it.

Robert Palmer: To support the levelling up agenda, the Government should follow Biden’s plan to tackle corporate tax avoidance

19 Apr

Robert Palmer is the Executive Director of Tax Justice UK.

Few issues annoy Conservative voters more than Facebook, Google and other global companies paying ultra-low levels of tax in the UK.

Whether it’s pensioners, Brexiteers, Red Wallers, people with degrees or those who failed to get a single GCSE, polling shows that they all unite in frustration at companies that avoid their obligations on tax.

Conservatives like Kevin Hollinrake, the MP for Thirsk and Malton, and Anthony Browne, who represents South Cambridgeshire, understand these frustrations. Companies like Netflix have been hauled over the coals in parliament, with MPs across parties demanding it explain why it paid so little UK tax.

Netflix, famous for box sets like The Crown, hit boom times during the pandemic. Even before Covid, the entertainment tech giant booked £860 million in subscriptions from UK customers alone via its Amsterdam-based subsidiary, but paid very little tax here. MPs are understandably concerned to make sure the likes of Netflix pay a fair share in the UK.

In a parliamentary debate last year, Browne said: “What any fair-minded person objects to is aggressive tax avoidance which results in companies or people paying less tax than is clearly their fair share.”

In its 2019 manifesto, the Conservative Party pledged to continue to lead “the international fight against aggressive tax avoidance and offshore tax havens”.

Last week President Joe Biden announced a plan that could end the “race to the bottom” on corporate tax. It comes just a month after Rishi Sunak pledged in the March Budget to increase corporation tax to 25 per cent by 2023.

The US President is proposing that companies should pay at least 21 per cent on their profits as part of a package of global reforms. This would make it much harder for global companies, like Amazon, to get away with paying very low rates of tax by stashing their profits in offshore tax havens.

Far from stifling UK businesses, the Biden plan would give companies a chance to compete fairly against the global giants and their clever accounting.

Areas of the UK that lost out under globalisation, could reap the rewards from the overdue reform of the way global multinationals are taxed. There’s nothing buccaneering about keeping our antiquated global tax system in place.

Research shows that the plan for a global minimum corporation tax could raise £13.5 billion a year in the UK.

Raising corporation tax is popular among Conservative voters and the rest of the voting population. Bringing in more money from companies is also compatible with the levelling up agenda.

The centre-right think tank Onward, recently called for the Government to level up the tax system. Its research highlights that corporation tax receipts are concentrated in the wealthy South East of the country. This is partly skewed by the fact that many companies are headquartered in London. However, even with this factored in, over the last decade the corporate tax take has declined in the North and Scotland, while it has risen in the South.

Red Wall voters are desperate to see investment in their communities. The £13.5 billion that could be raised through adopting Biden’s plan, much of it likely to be paid by tech giants, would help us invest in things like broadband to bridge the gap between rural and urban areas.

It’s clear that the Conservatives’ new electoral coalition is more left wing on economic issues. This is in part driven by increasing support in the Red Wall constituencies in the North and Midlands. These voters want to see higher levels of public investment and support tax increase to help deliver this.

So far there’s been some indication that the UK government is interested in the idea of a global minimum corporate tax rate, but won’t yet sign up to Biden’s proposed 21 per cent rate.

On Wednesday, the Treasury Minister Lord Agnew responded to a question in the House of Lords about Biden’s plan from the Green Party’s Baroness Bennett. The Minister said that “the UK was at the forefront of initiating global action on international tax”. He backed global efforts to reform the global corporate tax rules and said that the Treasury was looking at the US proposals.

In June, Johnson will show leadership to the world as the UK plays host to the world’s richest countries at the G7 summit. Getting global agreement for a global minimum corporation tax will be near the top of the agenda for the US President.

The 2013 G8 summit in Northern Ireland saw a Conservative-led government push through a global agreement to tackle tax evasion and avoidance. Those changes have made a real difference and ended some of the more egregious practices.

A G7 summit in our own backyard will be front page news in the UK. It’s in this government’s interests to support President Biden’s plans to tackle corporate tax avoidance. This would be good politics given the popularity of cracking down on tax loopholes and the billions that could be raised to support levelling up.

James Frayne: The scale of the unpopularity of Council Tax is staggering

19 Apr

James Frayne is Director of Public First and author of Meet the People, a guide to moving public opinion.

Several years ago, before the surge of political and public interest in the environment, I struggled to explain to a visiting American political consultant why the Conservatives didn’t ‘go for’ the then-Labour Government on motoring taxes and charges. He couldn’t understand why, when so many people were being whacked by high fuel tax, car tax, parking charges, and all the rest, the Conservatives barely campaigned on it. Such is the clarity that outsiders sometimes bring. I couldn’t do any better than say, “they just don’t”.

I would similarly struggle to explain why the Conservatives don’t do more on Council Tax. My agency recently ran a comprehensive poll for the TaxPayers’ Alliance on Council tax – the most detailed recent poll on this subject I’m aware of. The scale of the unpopularity of the tax is staggering. In my mind, I can see some of you rolling your eyes: “of course it’s unpopular, who knew?!” What was interesting about this poll was that we looked not just at the top lines on Council Tax, but we also looked at Council Tax in relation to other taxes and also in the context of people’s views on local government more generally. From the standpoint of this poll, if anything, opposition to Council Tax looks more serious and more embedded.

In our poll, we found the following:

  • By 61 per cent to 15 per cent, people said they would oppose an above-inflation Council Tax increase this year; by 74 per cent to 16 per cent, people think Council Tax should be frozen or cut;
  • The Conservatives’ new base – the working class – are particularly hostile: by 64 per cent to 16 per cent, C2 voters said they opposed an above-inflation Council Tax increase, with DEs opposing it by 65 per cent to eight per cent; ABs opposed it by a much narrower margin of 51 per cent to 25 per cent; by 81-12, C2s favour a freeze or cut, compared to 74-11 for DEs and 68-23 for AB;
  • Thinking about the issues people will vote on in the council elections, Council Tax levels are third overall, sitting just below people’s perceptions of their local council’s general competence (36 per cent) and how much money they waste (32 per cent), which, of course, are related.

More interesting are the figures on Council Tax compared to other taxes:

  • Given a list of taxes that could go up in this Parliament – if the public had no choice but to accept such rises – just ten per cent of people said they thought Council Tax should rise. This compares to 29 per cent for Inheritance Tax, 27 per cent for Stamp Duty, 23 per cent for Income Tax, and 22 per cent for National Insurance Contributions and Vehicle Excise Duty;
  • In a series of questions about the relative fairness of a series of taxes, only the TV licence fee was viewed as less fair. 40 per cent of people said Council Tax was unfair, compared to 54 per cent saying that of the TV licence fee, 38 per cent Inheritance Tax, 34 per cent fuel tax, 25 per cent VAT, 24 per cent Income Tax, 21 per cent Vehicle Excise Duty, 18 per cent Capital Gains Tax, 17 per cent VAT, and 15 per cent Corporation Tax.

Council Tax is hugely visible given the way it’s levied and communicated. It constantly rises without apparently sufficient justification – people don’t think they see enough for it.

So, why don’t the Conservatives do more on Council Tax? To be fair, as the flare up over the prospect of replacing Council Tax with a property tax showed recently, many of the alternatives look worse. And there’s clearly no public agreement on what alternatives might work better. The TPA poll showed:

  • Given a list of options that might be introduced to replace Council Tax, the top pick was an increase in Income Tax (backed by 26 per cent), followed by “none of the above” (24 per cent) and then charging for the use of leisure facilities (15 per cent). There were relatively few differences between social groups or political affiliation. In other words, the public are split on alternatives;
  • Asked whether people support a new property tax being brought in to replace Council Tax, around 30 per cent each supported and opposed it;
  • Thinking more narrowly about alternatives to raising Council Tax, unsurprisingly people overwhelmingly prefer alternatives to new taxes or charges. The most popular options councils should take to keep Council Tax down were: limiting senior staff salaries (59 per cent); more actively pursuing debt collection (51 per cent); and merging teams between councils to improve efficiencies (39 per cent). While the figures were a little lower in terms of people’s views on the actual impact of these measures on keeping Council Tax down (a question we asked separately), they still chose them in this order;
  • Incidentally, asked about the number of exemptions, a third of people (32 per cent) said there should be no Council Tax exemptions and that everyone should pay something; 24 per cent said they should be kept the same and 12 per cent said they should be increased;

While it’s unquestionably complex, the Conservatives should think about the implications of what would happen if Labour got serious on this issue. Yes, they’re a bit late to all this, but Labour finally seem to have realised the power of Council Tax as a political weapon; they’ve begun attacking the Conservatives on the issue. Conservative activists might think this is a bit rich, but the public generally don’t mind political opportunism of this sort; generally, they will take what they can get from whatever political parties are standing at a given moment. The Conservatives should look to head off this potential problem and find a way to replace Council Tax, or at least find a structural, long-term alternative to endless rises.

Richard Ritchie: In-house, employee lobbyists are different

19 Apr

Richard Ritchie is Enoch Powell’s archivist and is a former Conservative Parliamentary Candidate. He was BP’s director of UK Political Affairs.

When I looked after BP’s UK Government Affairs team – and I did the job throughout the Blair, Brown and Cameron years – I never liked the word ‘lobbyist’. Though I realise that, to many people, that’s what we were. But while it was our job to advance BP’s interests within Whitehall, we performed this role entirely differently from a paid lobbyist acting for various clients ‘for hire’. Amidst the current controversy, it is a great mistake to assume that by requiring in-house employee lobbyists to register, anything beneficial would be achieved. In-house lobbyists are a different breed.

I always thought we were more akin to civil servants than lobbyists. Often, our most important advice was offered internally, and our main role was to understand the political dimensions of any commercial decision and advise our managers accordingly. Although most businessmen think they understand politics, those at the top very seldom do. They tend to resemble disgruntled and angry members of a golf club who are convinced that, if only they were running the country, all would be well. Such people never liked to be warned that a commercial decision might attract political criticism. Their conviction that the action was rational, and in the shareholders’ interests, was sufficient justification. But the internal lobbyist’s job was to advise senior management that this wasn’t necessarily the case, and this required someone with political rather than commercial instincts.

This could mean telling senior managers they were mistaken, rather like an external lobbyist informing a client that he is wrong and wasting his money. If that means losing the client, an external lobbyist might think twice before giving such advice. Maybe that happens sometimes. But it’s more likely that a lobbyist will go along with what the client wants, even though it may be unrealistic and politically naïve. Proffering such advice could be difficult for the in-house lobbyist too, especially when the budget of the Government Affairs department is seen as an additional cost by those engaged in profit-making activities. Occasionally, one heard of the concept of ‘lobbying-for-profit’ as a means of justifying the commercial existence of a government affairs department to those who were sceptical of its role. But I always felt that the greatest service I might have performed for BP was to help avoid (or mitigate) costly political mistakes, rather than add directly to shareholders’ dividends.

That is why sometimes our best advice was to “do nothing.” Because we weren’t client-driven, it was much easier for us to give internal advice which might be unpopular with our bosses but which was politically realistic. Our jobs did not depend on ‘winning business’ from outside, but rather on retaining the respect of those whom we advised internally. Like civil servants, we were there to point out the dangers, but also to offer suggestions on how best to steer through commercial decisions which might be politically sensitive.

Sometimes, we were required to fulfil an advocacy role. There are always instances when amending legislation or reducing a tax will benefit a company or industry. But when this was required, the manager or director concerned normally had greater credibility with the Government than any lobbyist. Or rather, the director became the lobbyist, which raises another flaw in the requirement for employee lobbyists to be registered. In the case of a company like BP, would the CEO have to sign up to the lobbyist register? Invariably he or she is the person who will convey the important messages, not the ‘lobbyist’ who advises and frames them.

Moreover, it’s a two-way exchange. For example, when I was at BP, North Sea taxation was a contentious issue for any Chancellor and the subject of numerous reviews and consultations. My impression was that the Treasury wanted to speak to oil companies as much as oil companies wished to speak to the Treasury. However much our interests may have diverged, it was never in the Government’s interest to devise complicated legislation without a technical understanding of the effect it would have on commercial decisions to develop, or not to develop, the North Sea. The Treasury and other Government departments were just as likely to seek out BP’s views, as BP was likely to wish to communicate them. My experience was that it was best to acknowledge when our interests didn’t coincide, and simply to explain how a piece of proposed legislation would affect us.

For the oil industry, perhaps the area where most suspicion existed was over climate change and the need for ‘green’ policies. Companies differed in their approach. In those days, Exxon was the most sceptical of the need to curtail fossil fuel development, while BP under John Browne was championing ‘Beyond Petroleum’. This was as much about strategic direction as image, and clearly it had an impact upon how the respective companies advanced their positions to government. But neither company was secretive about its position. And I know that both positions were fully debated within their own companies in which the respective Government Affairs Departments were engaged. But ultimately it was the CEO who decided and advanced the case to government – and no register of interests would have made any difference as it was already public knowledge where the companies stood.

When David Cameron spoke of lobbying as the next big scandal to happen, he was referring rightly to the lack of transparency prevailing at the time. It is easy for the issue of lobbying to become confused with freedom of information, and the extent to which private conversations between the Chairman of a large company and government have a right to be kept confidential. If David Cameron had been required to register as an in-house’ lobbyist, it’s unclear what practical difference this would have made. If a company hires a senior politician or civil servant once they leave the public sector, there is no secret why it does so. It wishes to benefit from that person’s experience both of issues and people. It will probably be more effective if the person in question is simply paid directly for his services, rather than as the recipient of future share options. That, again, is a different issue.

But for the lobbying industry as a whole, away from the famous personalities, there is a distinction between those who do the work openly as an employee of a private company and those who work for a range of clients, sometimes beneath the radar. If it is to become a requirement for any employee of a company who speaks to the Government to register as a lobbyist, it will be hard to escape the reality that “we are all lobbyists now.”

Bank of England publishes policy for omnibus accounts in RTGS

19 Apr
The Bank of England already offers a variety of models that enable payment systems to settle in central bank money, the ultimate risk-free asset. To support ongoing industry innovation, the Bank has now added a new model, which can allow the Bank to support a greater range of payment systems.

Newslinks for Monday 19th April 2021

19 Apr

Queen’s Speech “will include new laws to counter hostile states”…

“Foreign spies operating in Britain face being prosecuted and deported under new laws to protect the nation from hostile states such as China and Russia. Boris Johnson will use the Queen’s Speech on May 11 to announce a bill to counter hostile states, including a requirement for all individuals working on behalf of foreign governments in Britain to register their presence. Failure to do so would be a criminal offence. The government will also update the “archaic” Official Secrets Act so it can be used against individuals who try to undermine Britain’s interests from abroad, including cyberhackers working on behalf of hostile states. Johnson is determined to press ahead with the measures amid mounting concern over the activities of Russia and China.” – The Times

  • Putin faces biggest protest as Navalny “clings to life” – The Times

…as Raab expresses “full support” for the Czech Republic

“The British foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, said the UK stood in “full support” of the Czech Republic after the country’s police announced they were hunting two Russians, suspected of carrying out the Salisbury poisonings, in relation to an explosion at an arms depot. The Czech authorities said on Saturday they were seeking Alexander Petrov, 41, and Ruslan Boshirov, 43, in connection with a previously unexplained 2014 explosion at a munitions dump in Vrbětice, which left two dead….Raab praised the Czechs, who had “exposed the lengths that the Russian intelligence services will go to in their attempts to conduct dangerous and malign operations in Europe” – and hinted that he believed the same GRU cell was behind both plots.” – The Guardian

  • Russia expels Czech diplomats over explosion row – BBC

Johnson and Dowden attack plans for breakaway league by “big six” football clubs

“Europe’s richest football clubs were on Sunday night threatened with expulsion from their domestic leagues and warned that their players would be barred from the World Cup after they unveiled plans for a new €10 billion breakaway Super League. The so-called ‘big six’ in England, comprising Manchester United, Manchester City, Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur, formally confirmed that they have joined with six leading clubs in Spain and Italy over a new highly selective and largely closed tournament that would effectively replace the Champions League….The Prime Minister said that he supported football authorities in trying to block the plans. “They would strike at the heart of the domestic game, and will concern fans across the country,” said Johnson. Culture secretary Oliver Dowden stressed the financial link from the Premier League down to the grassroots game and warned of the dangers of a “closed shop” in European football.” – Daily Telegraph

  • Government must put fans first and change football for the better – Alsion McGovern, Shadow Sports Minister, The Times

>Today: ToryDiary: In their pocket?

Government guarantee for 95 per cent mortgages

“First-time buyers will be able to get on the property ladder with just a five per cent deposit under a government scheme launching today. High street banks including Lloyds, Santander and Barclays will start offering state-backed mortgages worth up to 95 per cent of the value of a home. Other lenders taking part are HSBC and NatWest. The scheme, announced by Chancellor Rishi Sunak in the Budget, is designed to encourage banks to offer low-deposit mortgages by ensuring a government guarantee in case of losses. Both first-time buyers and current homeowners will be able to access the mortgages to buy houses worth up to £600,000.” – Daily Mail

  • Khan snaps at reporter over housing record – Daily Express
  • House prices up by £7,000 in a month – The Times

Patel accuses Facebook of “unacceptable” threat to children’s safety

“Priti Patel will on Monday accuse Facebook of putting profits before children’s safety, as she says tech giants have a “moral duty” to prevent abuse. The Home Secretary will take the unusual step of singling out Facebook for its “unacceptable” plans to encrypt all messages, which she says will hamper law enforcement agencies’ ability to prevent “abhorrent” online child abuse. She will tell a conference of industry and child protection experts that Facebook and other social media platforms need to start treating children’s online safety as seriously as they do selling advertising, phones and online games.” – Daily Telegraph

Lobbying 1) Lord Prior challenged over Greensill role

“The Conservative peer who chairs NHS England is facing demands to explain why he helped arrange for Greensill Capital to lobby senior health service bosses, with Labour describing his role as “shocking”. David Prior is facing questions over a meeting he organised between the now collapsed finance firm’s founder Lex Greensill and the overall boss of the NHS and its chief financial officer. Lord Prior – a former Tory MP, health minister and Tory party deputy chair – also helped to facilitate a meeting at which Lex Greensill was able to lobby Lady Harding, the Tory peer who chairs NHS Improvement, the health service’s financial regulator.” – The Guardian

Lobbying 2) Labour drawn into the row

“The Conservatives on Sunday night attempted to draw Labour into the lobbying row engulfing Westminster by claiming an senior opposition frontbencher has questions to answer over his role at a firm that provides advocacy services. Lord Falconer, shadow attorney general, is a partner at Gibson Dunn, an international law firm headquartered in the US, which has provided advice on “political lobbying” in the UK. It says of its “public policy” lobbying practice: “Unlike a pure lobbying firm, Gibson Dunn’s work is grounded in traditional analytic and advocacy skills, combined with broad experience in US and international government operations.” It says its methods “achieve the desired result without fanfare or unwanted publicity”. ” – Daily Telegraph

Lobbying 3) Timothy: The PM must stop public service being corrupted for private gain

“The true scandal is about the corruption of public service for private gain. It is about how public servants appear to have made decisions because of the prospect of personal advantage. It is about how private interests have been allowed into the heart of government as they pretended to be motivated by public service…Thanks to this culture, the legacy and reputation of one former prime minister lies in tatters. If Boris Johnson wants to avoid the same fate, he will need to investigate the Greensill affair without fear or favour, make sure his own ministers, advisers and officials are whiter than white, and eliminate the spectre of corruption from British public life. There are few things more serious.” – Nick Timothy, Daily Telegraph

  • Cameron “did nothing wrong” claims Eustice – The Times
  • Ministers ‘will look at’ ideas for new lobbying rules – BBC
  • Some former MPs working for lobbyists have Parliamentary passes – The Times

>Yesterday:

Coronavirus 1) Poorer households hardest hit by pandemic

“Poorer households were thrown into the pandemic with a “weak foundation” due to high levels of income inequality compared to other countries, a new study shows. Research reveals lower savings, more debt and a weaker social security safety net than in France and Germany left some Brits with less resilience to deal with the crisis. The least well-off fifth of working-age households in the UK are 20 per cent worse off than those in France while the richest fifth are 17 per cent better off, the Resolution Foundation found.” – The Sun

  • Australia opens travel bubble with New Zealand – BBC
  • UK to pass ten million second jabs today – The Times
  • To understand the dangers of Covid passports, simply imagine an obesity equivalent – Charles Walker MP, Daily Telegraph

>Today: Columnist Neil O’Brien: Covid. We should stick to the plan – and finish the job.

>Yesterday: WATCH: The Government’s traffic light system for international travel “poses a risk”, warns Sturgeon

Coronavirus 2) Call for a Wales-specific public inquiry

“The Plaid Cymru and Welsh Conservatives leaders say there should be a Wales-specific public inquiry into the handling of the coronavirus pandemic. Adam Price and Andrew RT Davies said the inquiry should take place in addition to a separate UK one. Welsh Labour First Minister Mark Drakeford said there should be a single inquiry involving all UK nations. The party leaders were taking part in an ITV Wales televised Senedd election debate dominated by the pandemic. During the debate, both Plaid Cymru leader Adam Price and Welsh Conservatives leader Andrew RT Davies said a Wales-specific inquiry into the Welsh government’s handling of the Covid crisis had to happen in addition to one for the UK government.” – BBC

>Yesterday: WATCH: Andrew RT Davies – “We’ve seen the Welsh government take different approaches for the sake of being different”

Sinn Fein leader apologises for the death of Lord Mountbatten

“The leader of Sinn Fein has said she is sorry for the murder of the Lord Mountbatten by the IRA following the funeral of the Duke of Edinburgh. Mary Lou McDonald, the President of the republican party, said the death of the Duke’s uncle in 1979 was “heartbreaking” and that it was her responsibility to “lead from the front.” Her comments represent a significant shift from her predecessor Gerry Adams, who has refused to apologise for his previous claims that Lord Mountbatten “knew the danger” and could not “have objected to dying in what was clearly a war situation.” Lord Mountbatten was assassinated in August 1979 while holidaying at his summer home Classiebawn Castle.” – Daily Telegraph

Salmond: An independent Scotland should not immediately pursue full EU membership

“Alex Salmond has said that an independent Scotland should not immediately pursue full EU membership and must establish its own currency “immediately”, in a fresh attack on Nicola Sturgeon’s constitutional strategy. The former First Minister claimed the SNP case for separation was “frozen in aspic” and had not taken account of drastic changes since he led the Yes campaign to defeat in 2014. He suggested that an independent Scotland should initially have a Norway-style relationship with Europe, as a member of European Free Trade Association (EFTA), saying this would allow Scotland to maintain access to the UK internal market and British common travel area.” – Daily Telegraph

  • Your chance to stop the independence referendum drumbeat – Douglas Ross, Daily Telegraph
  • Independent Scotland needs its own currency, says Salmond – The Times
  • Half of UK thinks Scotland should be allowed second independence referendum – Financial Times
  • Independence is the only real issue in this election – Alan Cochrane, Daily Telegraph

Juncker: “I should have spoken out in the referendum. But Cameron told me to stay quiet”…

“Time is said to be the greatest healer. But for Jean-Claude Juncker, the President of the European Union between 2015 and 2019, the gaping wound of Brexit five years after the referendum still seems sore…“I should not have listened to David Cameron,” he says leaning back in his chair in his office in the commission’s Brussels HQ. “He told me not to interfere in the debate in the UK, not to come to London, not to do interviews with the British press. I made a mistake because I did not defend the EU’s point of view in the UK. They asked me to shut up, so I shut up. That is something I criticise myself for. I should have spoken out rather than stay silent.” – The i

  • Brussels Brexit chief calls for ‘good faith’ as relations with UK improve – Financial Times

…Brexit “has boosted British GDP”

“Brexit has given the UK economy a timely shot in the arm amounting to two percent of GDP – equal to almost £4 billion – largely because unshackling itself from the EU enabled Britain to get a vital head-start on the vaccination rollout, a new analysis has indicated. The new report, published today by the Centre for Business and Economic Research (CEBR), considers the impact quitting the bloc has had so far in the three-and-a-half months since the end of the transition period on December 31, 2020. Specifically, the analysis looks at the impact on exports and import substitutes, the impact of the early vaccine rollout, and the impact of regulatory and other changes.” – Daily Express

  • Red tape threatens drugs supplies in Northern Ireland – Financial Times
  • A post-Brexit trade deal with India can be the jewel in Johnson’s crown – Mark Littlewood, The Times

Prince Charles and Prince William to lead summit to discuss future of the monarchy

“Princes Charles and William will meet to discuss the future of the monarchy after the death of Prince Philip, reports say. The two heirs will reportedly plan with the Queen which members of ‘The Firm’ will be working Royals and what they should do. It comes after the Duke of Edinburgh’s death on April 9 raised questions over if his hundreds of patronages should be passed down. Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s departure complicated matters by reducing the number of people available to help the monarch in high-profile roles.” – Daily Mail

  • Steadfast Queen will keep calm and carry on – Penny Junor, The Times
  • The Queen was alone in her grief while revellers enjoyed a weekend out — this cannot be right – Leader, The Sun
  • Philip’s last journey exemplified the ideals of the crown and nation he served – Leader, The Times
  • Prince Philip’s funeral was an unapologetic celebration of royal pageantry and patriotism – Dominic Sandbrook, Daily Mail
  • Kate Middleton showed she’s a class act who can be the monarchy’s new rock – Sarah Vine, Daily Mail
  • The Queen should not have had to sit alone at the Duke of Edinburgh’s funeral – Tim Stanley, Daily Telegraph

News in brief

  • Need we fear a third wave after lockdown ends? – Philip Thomas, The Spectator
  • Tory donor “drawn into lobbying scandal” – Independent
  • Is it time for the honours system to go? – Michael Collins, The Critic
  • The UK can’t be a secession free-for-all – Henry Hill, Unherd
  • The USA and China avoid all specifics on decarbonisation – John Redwood