Jayne Adye: It’s time to move beyond Brussels on financial services

26 Jul

Jayne Adye is the Director of the leading grassroots, cross-Party, Eurosceptic campaign Get Britain Out.

Since the UK finally left the EU at the end of 2020, there has been an almost universal focus on the problems created by the Northern Ireland Protocol, as well as the abandonment of UK fishing communities. However, despite being this country’s single biggest export to both the EU and the rest of the world, the financial services industry has seemingly been entirely ignored.

In the last month Rishi Sunak, Lord Frost, and Andrew Bailey, the Governor of the Bank of England, have all confirmed a deal on financial services equivalence with the EU somehow appears to be dead in the water.

The EU’s justification for the lack of progress is the UK’s refusal to commit to “dynamic alignment with EU regulatory changes” for years to come. Why should we accept these demands when this is not a requisite which the EU has forced on any other countries they have equivalence deals with – for example the USA, China and Singapore – so why single out the UK?

Despite this clear pattern of unreasonable rejection, the UK Government has been unwilling to take any real action to move beyond this stalemate, leaving businesses and investors unable to properly plan for our future.

Yes, the Chancellor tried to get the ball rolling this month with his speech at Mansion House, announcing the world’s first Green Bond (a fixed-income instrument designed to support specific climate-related or environmental projects) ahead of the ahead of the COP26 Climate Conference, scheduled to be held in Glasgow from October 31 – November 12 this year.

Unfortunately, the Chancellor’s detail was limited, with interest rates for the bonds not announced and a greater focus on making sure businesses report the impact they have on the environment. While this is a good start, it barely scratches the surface of the possibilities available to the UK and the Chancellor does not seem to be making any substantial attempts to change the regulations enforced on us by the EU.

Thankfully, because the City of London is such a significant player on the world stage, the stalemate and lack of cooperation from the EU is never going to end the dominance which the UK has enjoyed for so long. To use the mainstream media’s favourite term, “Despite Brexit…”, London is still the top financial services hub in Europe and has even reclaimed the top spot for European share trading which was held by Amsterdam for a short time recently – in spite of the EU attempting to block London-based firms doing business in the EU.

In other words, even though some additional barriers have been created, companies and individuals still want to choose the expertise and experience which exists in London, rather than move to the EU – contrary to what many had claimed.

So, with the UK’s advantages over the EU being so clear, why do we seem stuck in the mud when it comes to implementing the advantages of Brexit? Right now the Government appears to be unwilling to diverge from the EU, seemingly for no other reason than “not rocking the boat” and “upsetting the EU” while we negotiate other areas of concern – primarily Northern Ireland, as the Government announced last week with their ambitious call for a total renegotiation of the NI Protocol.

This tip-toeing over glass on these issues simply cannot continue. Yes, London has maintained its position in the world, but if the Government wants to reach the full potential of Brexit, then this must mean bringing about serious change and not simply accepting the status quo. Nobody stays at the top by doing nothing. As an independent country, we cannot deprive ourselves of opportunities to thrive because it might annoy the European Union.

Quite frankly, anyone who makes this argument for the Government’s lack of action has not been paying attention. We currently seem to be sitting idly by, wasting time by continuing to abide by EU legislation, and in return the EU is not showing us any leniency or “goodwill”. Instead, it is trying to carve off Northern Ireland from this country – recently rejecting our proposals for renegotiation in just three hours; hitting us with multiple legal threats; and now it is demanding an extra £2 billion as part of a “Divorce Bill” (which was only agreed because of the UK’s desire to show goodwill).

The EU clearly has no interest in “playing nicely”, so it is about time we stopped the charades and got on with putting out own interests first – whether that be triggering Article 16 of the NI Protocol or slashing EU financial services regulation.

Companies have flocked to the UK for decades because of their trust in our economic system and the “light-touch” regulation which drives it. This has been diluted through our EU Membership, but it is something we can recover from.

There are swathes of EU regulations governing financial services and investment which we actually opposed at the time of their creation – such as the Solvency 2 laws on investment risks; and the Alternative Investment Fund Managers Directive – both of these create swathes of bureaucracy which stymie innovation and try to remove any chance of businesses taking risks – risks which help drive an economy forward at a higher rate and create more competition.

No, this doesn’t mean financial services should be an industry devoid of scrutiny or regulation. This is about shaping a system which encourages new businesses and is prepared for the future, rather than being stuck in the past, tied to a sclerotic EU legislative process which lags behind the rest of the world.

The UK has the chance to cement itself “as the most advanced and exciting country for financial services in the world”, as Sunak described at Mansion House. However, the Government must have the courage to reach out, grab this chance and bring about real regulatory change quickly. Whether this is by encouraging FinTech, green investment or digital trade, our exit from the European Union has come at an opportune time when fresh thinking and a new regulatory approach can allow the United Kingdom to reach its full economic potential.

It is clear a “good deal” with the EU is not on the cards anytime soon, so the Chancellor must not lose this opportunity to push forward and really Get Britain Out of the mindset where we worry about how our every move might affect the relationship we already have with the EU. We are now an independent sovereign nation, and it is time this Government started acting like we want to forge ahead to really explore the advantages of a truly Global Britain.

Nat Wei: To make lockdowns a thing of the past, we need a smart revolution in healthcare

26 Jul

Lord Wei is a Conservative member of the House of Lords. He is a co-founder of Teach First, a social entrepreneur, and a former government adviser.

Enough is enough. We need to start planning not to go back to the pre-pandemic normal, but for a different world in which we seek to both maximise our freedoms, but where lockdowns can really become a thing of the past, or at least become very unlikely or unnecessary.

Why have we put ourselves in a situation in which our economy, education system and healthcare service shuts down the moment we are at risk of filling 30 thousand beds? Surely it would be better to move diagnosis and treatment of healthcare problems away from hospitals, so that we can get scanned and diagnosed from the relative safety or our houses, porches, or high streets, and indeed to have specialist centres for minor operations, leaving hospitals to be the places where only the most sophisticated and complex operations take place.

To get to this point will require rethinking our system, with perpetual trials offered to citizens to test the latest technology (and even some treatments) in the home or nearer to it, to more quickly identify what is wrong with patients (something which can take many half or all day trips to A&E currently or video or other calls or weeks waiting for GP appointments).

We also need incubators based in centres adjacent to hospitals similar to those in Israel where these technologies and systems are able to be rapidly prototyped, developed and tested, including those in hospitals themselves to help make pathways and operations faster, safer, and less costly to manage.

And finally we need to have a special embedded agile group of healthcare workers, a kind of Teach First force for the NHS front line if you like, whose job as trained medical care workers and nurses would be be to find novel, better ways of organising our health better, starting with supporting us all in more imaginative rather than coercive ways to eat, sleep, and exercise better, to manage our own health and lifestyle rather than outsourcing it to A&E, and to problem solve where bureaucracy or ignorance is getting in the way of good, responsive treatment.

With such a force we could also simulate daily or weekly the next pandemic, or drone attack, or climate disaster, and rehearse drilled solutions before they happen rather than belatedly and on the fly.

All of these measures would not just build longer-term resilience, but help cut down the huge waiting lists now and into the future, and save money at a time when we will need to manage our finances very carefully, as well as avoid future lockdowns due to the bottleneck of NHS and social care capacity.

To have three lockdowns is regrettable, but to go through three winters knowing we may have to shut the country to save the NHS is unacceptable. Despite the success of our vaccination programme we are not out of the woods yet. Thousands of viruses are out there waiting to leap into humans as we expand as a human race into territories historically only occupied by animals, whose diseases we haven’t adapted enough yet to be immune to.

There remain variants that could develop in the young unvaccinated and in less well vaccinated countries which can partially evade our current individual and herd immunity, both of which are not yet perfect. And then there are other asymmetric threats that could fill our hospitals as our climate changes and geopolitics continues to causes tensions.

It would be wise now to be prepared and get ahead of the curve rather than assuming this was just a one off, and just hoping for the best as we approach each new winter. Only this way can we preserve our freedoms while enabling our healthcare system to adapt and bounce back stronger.

The war on cars

26 Jul

Last week, a study came out showing that road injuries have halved in low traffic neighbourhoods (LTNs) installed in March to September of 2020.

One paper called the research a “significant moment in the debate over the use of LTNs” which have “faced noisy opposition”. Soon after Sadiq Khan Tweeted saying: “The evidence is clear: LTNs dramatically reduce road danger – particularly for pedestrians – making neighbourhoods safer places for everyone.”

The story and the reaction to it were comical and depressing in equal measure. For starters, the study must have some of the most state-the-obvious results of all time. It turns out that if you block cars going down roads, there will be less car injuries. Who knew! But more worryingly, it seems to have been taken as evidence of why we need more LTNs in Britain.

What’s my problem with LTNs, anyway? As ConservativeHome readers may know, I have written about this topic before, and it’s the most boring issue I’m passionate about – simply because I don’t like to see hard-working people hurt by illogical policies (which LTNs are).

The first time I discovered LTNs was in April this year when a delivery driver helped me move back to London. In short, we had to stop and re-route numerous times due to how many LTN signs had been put up blocking roads (more on that here).

The next time I discovered LTNs was when I ordered a taxi – approximately 500 metres away – and it took 20 minutes to arrive. “Where are you?” I said, rather urgently, on the phone to the driver. “Sorry, it’s these LTNs”, he replied. 

We subsequently ended up in traffic – because LTNs block so many roads – where he told me “I hate London at the moment”. Both he and the delivery driver seemed at their wits’ end.

It’s not hard to see why. According to The Daily Telegraph, which has been one of the few papers to cover issues with LTN, tradesmen are hiking prices up by as much as a quarter to negate LTN’s practical effects, often resulting in them being able to attend less jobs.

Khan has reassured us all that LTNs are safe, but he is, essentially, trying to counter a phantom objection. Who has said they aren’t safe? Indeed, my road is nice because it’s an LTN. The other day I watched two people play ping pong in the middle of it, and it all felt very idyllic.

But something about the ping pong bothered me – yes, really – as it seemed to symbolise what’s wrong with LTNs, which increasingly look like an excuse for upper middle-class playgrounds (in my area, at least). Who cares about the delivery driver stuck in traffic…

The result of LTNs is that plumbers, electricians, builders and many other tradesmen and women, often self-employed, struggle to get about in areas to carry out services and drop off things that we all need (unless you think supermarkets can survive on deliveries made by bicycle in the future?).

Worst still, how are the elderly and people with disabilities meant to get around if cars are banned from their road? And what about those subjected to all the emissions on “non-LTN” roads? These questions seem to be ignored in the “debate” on LTNs, which no one remembers having.

Shockingly, LTNs have even generated £14 million in fines over the last 12 months – mainly because people don’t know what they are. It’s no wonder. Councils quietly installed 72 LTNs in March and September in London last year – when we were all mostly at home, oblivious and conveniently unable to protest.

LTNs aren’t just a London thing, incidentally. They are happening all over the country, in places such as Bath and North East Somerset, where the Deputy Council Leader recently told residents that they “are here to stay”. The council set to spend £2.2 million on its programme in the next two years. Speaking about residents’ concerns, a councillor in the area said leaders simply need to “hold [their] nerve“, as though people will simply get used to having roads closed off.

My area is one of the worst offenders for LTNs, and there are now regular protests against them – although they hardly get any media coverage. In general, there’s quite a lot of snobbery towards anyone who dislikes LTNs, as if they’re not intelligent or caring enough to value their higher, environmental purpose.

There is a greater point to this. First, it’s clear from Khan’s reaction that councils want to roll out more LTNs. Far from being concerned about them, the “party of business” appears to have endorsed the scheme, with the Conservatives allocating £2 billion towards projects that promote “active travel” over the next five years and encouraging London’s transport authority to spend £100 million on walking and cycling schemes.

I predict LTNs will cause real economic pain. When there are so many variables that are already unknown about the national recovery from Covid (empty supermarkets, for instance), turning cities into assault courses is hardly the best idea.

Furthermore, LTNs seem emblematic of an era in which councils, committees and MPs seem to think they can bring any policy in, so long as it’s attached to “environmentalism”, Coronavirus (the initial excuse for LTNs) or now “safety”. It seems to me that LTN protests are just a taster for the backlash leaders will get, so long as they continue to stop consulting people on such radical decisions.

Either way, some parliamentary interest in LTNs cannot come soon enough…

Newslinks for Monday 26th July 2021

26 Jul

Coronavirus 1) Big fall in cases suggests third wave has peaked

“Britain is seeing a sustained fall in reported coronavirus cases outside of lockdown for the first time since the pandemic began. In new evidence that the country has passed the peak of its third wave, the number of confirmed infections fell for the fifth consecutive day. Yesterday, 29,173 positive cases were recorded, the first time it had fallen below 30,000 for two weeks and down from a peak of about 50,000 shortly before almost all legal restrictions were lifted in England last Monday. It was also nearly 40 per cent lower than the same figure last Sunday and the first period in which case numbers had consistently fallen since the start of May.” – The Times

  • Public Health England criticised for excluding reinfections from official Covid figures – Daily Telegraph
  • Quarantine from France could end as Covid Beta strain fades after one week – The Times

Analysis:

  • Early days but fall in Covid cases is reason to be cautiously optimistic – The Times

Coronavirus 2) Vaccine passports for work considered by nearly a third of major businesses

“Vaccine passports in the workplace are being considered by nearly a third of major businesses, according to industry surveys. More than 30 per cent of large UK firms have signalled that staff may be asked for proof of vaccination before they can physically return to work. It comes after the Government appeared to suggest that the NHS App should be used by businesses to ensure office workers had received both jabs. In a survey of 1,000 firms conducted by the British Chambers of Commerce, 31 per cent of firms with more than 50 employees suggested they were considering introducing so-called vaccine passports.” – Daily Telegraph

  • Helpline on way for double-jabbed who missed out on vaccine passport – Daily Telegraph
  • Police investigate antivax rally over ‘Nuremberg’ cry – The Times
  • Merkel aide hints at Covid vaccine passports plan – The Times
  • Reluctant Swedes will be paid £17 to have Covid jab – The Times

Coronavirus 3) Javid apologises after saying nation does not need to ‘cower’ from virus

“Sajid Javid has apologised after saying that the nation does not need to “cower” from coronavirus following criticism from those who have lost loved ones. The health secretary described the tweet a “poor choice of word” for which he said he would like to “ sincerely apologise”. Javid said on Saturday he had made a “full recovery” and that his “symptoms were very mild, thanks to amazing vaccines”, of which he had received two doses. “Please, if you haven’t yet, get your jab, as we learn to live with, rather than cower from, this virus,” he wrote on Twitter. Co-founder of Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice Jo Goodman, said Mr Javid’s comments “are deeply insensitive on a number of levels”.” – The Times

Coronavirus 4) Unions battling Government’s plans to end pingdemic

“Union leaders have launched a battle against Government plans to end the pingdemic in a move that threatens a summer of disruption for holidaymakers, shoppers and commuters. Critical workers are able to avoid self isolation via a Government scheme launched amid fears key infrastructure could collapse under the pressure of hundreds of thousands being told to stay at home by the NHS app. However, leaders of the UK’s largest unions are now encouraging key workers, including in transport and food, to ignore the exemption and stay at home, citing fears that they could be exposed to Covid-19 in the workplace, the Telegraph can reveal.” – Daily Telegraph

  • Covid testing won’t prevent food shortages, warn hauliers – The Times

Coronavirus 5) Unjabbed students face ban as ‘raging’ Johnson targets vaccine refuseniks

“University students will have to be fully vaccinated to attend lectures or stay in halls of residence under plans being pushed by Boris Johnson. The prime minister is said to have been “raging” about the relatively low vaccine uptake among young people and is determined to apply pressure. During video meetings with colleagues while in isolation at Chequers last week, he suggested that students in higher and further education settings should face compulsory vaccination, subject to certain medical exemptions. However, The Times has been told that the Department for Education has reservations about the legality and practicability of the plans given that universities are independent and offers to study are legally binding.” – The Times

  • Pushing young to get vaccine ‘risks damaging trust in jab’: Strong-arming people into getting Covid shot could undermine rollout, expert warns – Daily Mail

Douglas Murray: No one’s listening to you any more, Boris – too often the story has changed

THERE were terrible scenes in the UK and around the world this weekend. In multiple cities and countries, members of the public came out to protest the endless rolling lockdowns and vaccine rules. In Australia, mounted police on horseback confronted crowds. In Paris, police fired tear gas. And in London, Manchester and other UK cities, police and demonstrators clashed. In Manchester, a crowd tried to storm a Covid test centre. And in Parliament Square in the capital, arrests were made as police and protesters got into a stand-off. There have inevitably been a fringe of wack jobs and conspiracy theorists at the rallies. People who believe that the virus is not real or only exists as a means to control the population.” – The Sun

More comment:

French seek eyes in sky over Channel

“France has asked the European Union border agency to provide airborne surveillance of the Channel in an effort to reduce migrant crossings. Gérald Darmanin, the interior minister, said he wanted Frontex to extend its mission to the fight against people-smuggling along the Channel coast. He urged Belgium and the Netherlands to co-operate, suggesting that neither country was doing enough at present. Darmanin was speaking on a visit to Calais after Priti Patel, the home secretary, pledged a further £54 million for security measures in France to prevent migrants from trying to reach the UK. The French minister said the deal would finance police reinforcements, but also air surveillance, notably drones, and other equipment such as infrared sights.” – The Times

Save women and girls from rise in domestic abuse and sex offences, police told

“Ministers will tell chief constables how their forces should investigate domestic abuse and sex offences under plans being considered to deal with a surge in cases. Michael Gove, the Cabinet Office minister, held talks with colleagues about using existing powers to set minimum standards for police handling allegations of violence against women and girls. Ministers are concerned that investigations take too long and victims are left unsupported. This contributes to the “indefensibly” low level of prosecutions for rape and domestic abuse. Only 1.4 per cent of about 55,000 rape cases reported to the police in England and Wales in 2019-20 resulted in a suspect being charged, while more than 750,000 domestic abuse cases were recorded, with only 47,534 convictions.” – The Times

London sees months worth of rain in three hours flooding tube stations and motorways

“A month’s worth of rain fell in three hours in London, flooding tube stations and forcing drivers on motorways to abandon their cars. Motorists along the A406 were left stranded with emergency services telling some drivers no help would be available until late in the evening as thunderstorms battered the South East. Footage posted on social media on Sunday night showed crews attempting to rescue stranded drivers who risked becoming submerged under rising water levels. A part of the M11 was shut for a time on Sunday after it became flooded.” – Daily Telegraph

House prices have nearly tripled in two decades

“House prices have nearly tripled in the past twenty years, making up for any value homeowners may have lost during the global financial crisis. The average home in Britain is now worth £163,700 more — £106,800 once adjusted for inflation — than it was in 2001, according to research from Zoopla. Buyers who bought their home before the financial crash saw a dip in its value between 2008 and 2012, but these losses have been offset by strong price growth since 2013. Grainne Gilmore, head of research at Zoopla, puts this down to “long-term undersupply [of housing], as well as access to low-cost mortgage finance” due to low interest rates. House prices have risen the most in Kensington and Chelsea in west London, where the average house price is about £1.2 million.” – The Times

Wine-lovers to save £130m as Brexit frees imports from red tape

“Wine-lovers are set to save about £130m per year as the Government uses its new Brexit freedoms to chop EU red tape on imports. Each bottle could become 13p cheaper, according to the industry, thanks to the abolition of the VI-1 forms – a bureaucratic exercise which includes lab tests to verify the acidity of the wine, something which is not done for other drinks such as beer or spirits. The Government is set to scrap the requirement for imports from outside the EU to come with the certificate, and has also abandoned its previous plans to impose the rule on wines coming from the EU to Britain. Officials estimate the saving for consumers at £130m, while the industry believes it will save £100m on non-EU wines and avoid imposing costs of £70m on those from the continent.” – Daily Telegraph

News in brief:

Bim Afolami: The Olympic model of spotting and developing talent should be applied to academia

26 Jul

Bim Afolami is MP for Hitchin & Harpenden.

As the Olympics begins, I have a giddy sense of excitement. The coverage is the BBC at its best. I start to care about events you barely knew existed (Men’s 10m Air pistol anyone?), and cheer on each British athlete with immense fervour.

There is something magical about the Olympics. It isn’t just the hype. It is the stories behind each and every champion. There is something special about the sacrifices they have made, spending their teenage years in a mixture of holiday training camps in addition to the relentless grind before and after school, and seeing all of that effort culminate in competing at the very highest level.

We rightly applaud and celebrate them, and we also praise their highly focused coaches and families who have helped develop their extraordinary single-minded focus on achievement from a young age.

After the failure of the Atlanta Olympics in 1996, during which Team GB only won one gold medal, finishing 36th in the medal table – below Belgium, Algeria and Kazakhstan – it prompted a period of furious self-flagellation in the media and serious soul searching among administrators.

Due to the brilliant decision of John Major as Prime Minister to introduce the National Lottery, this provided the funds for the “World Class Performance Programme” to start diverting funds into elite sport. It allowed athletes to devote themselves entirely to their training, paying their living costs and delivering a wide range of support services, from physiotherapy to sports science and nutrition.

Extra funds were also invested in greatly improved facilities across a range of different fields. The talent development programmes that made sure promising athletes were funnelled into their best sport at a younger age. All of this work has led to Team GB hugely improving its performance at Olympic Games, finishing 4th overall in Beijing 2008, 3rd in London 2012, and 2nd in Rio 2016.

Why do we think about academic and intellectual achievement so differently? Why do we regard the selection of children for academic ability and potential so anathema, yet ruthless and narrow selection for sporting prowess is regarded as rightly necessary to develop the leading stars of the future?

We need to focus on developing our brightest and most talented people, in a range of different fields, from a young age – and do this irrespective of their social background. As the Prime Minister often says, talent is evenly distributed in this country, but opportunity is not. We need to rediscover meritocracy in Britain.

The truth is that in order to do so, one is confronted by a difficult problem. How to discover and develop talented children in the population at large when the ladder of opportunity has so many rungs missing? And how do you give the best possible opportunities to such children once you have discovered them?

Adrian Wooldridge, Managing Editor of the Economist, in his new book The Aristocracy of Talent argues that the way to do this is to revive two ideas that were at the heart of the meritocratic movement until the “progressive” reforms of the 1960s: IQ testing and academic selection.

We know the arguments about the 11 plus – the Left argues that dividing the country between sheep and goats at 11, on the basis of one test at a very young age, does immense harm to those who failed in the process; the Right retorting that it gave unique life chances to bright working class children who were identified early and given life changing opportunities.

The best way forward is to learn from the failures and successes of the past. We don’t need a national 11 plus in the old style. We need more of a variegated school system that has lots of different types of schools from technical schools to music schools and arts schools, but which also makes room for highly academic schools in the state sector.

We have already provided the material for this with school academies – Brampton Manor Academy, for example, is situated in Newham, East London, with one in five children eligible for free school meals. The sixth form is highly selective (on the basis of GCSE grades), and it cultivates a highly academic atmosphere, with intensive Oxbridge training as well as a host of extracurricular subjects. Last year it won 55 places at Oxbridge – their method is working.

The Government could push this revolution further by allowing academies to select at 11 – not with an 11 plus, but with IQ tests developed precisely to avoid being susceptible to intensive tutoring that is all too common in preparation for that exam. This would not just be for the typical “academic” subjects.

For example, we should turbocharge the intake for our university technical colleges (which start at 13-14 years old) by scouring the country and actively selecting children with special aptitude in technical, engineering and design skills. These are the children who will go on to build our future high tech manufacturing capacity, or develop the sort of innovative ideas that will help us achieve Net Zero by 2050.

Wooldridge argues that, in addition to this, we could create a system of fully-funded national scholarships, awarded on the basis of a combination of IQ and social need, that would allow children to study at any school in the country – opportunities to be selected for this would happen continuously throughout secondary school, lest late developers be missed.

Private schools would be forced to open up a certain number of places to these students. These national merit scholars would be given free university education in return for agreeing to spend at least 10 years working in the public sector.

This would address the public sector’s growing problem with attracting high flyers, particularly in IT and tech. It would repair the fraying link between public service and intellectual excellence. As government and governing becomes ever more complex, and we demand more from our teachers and other public servants, we should try and ensure that more of the most academically able students are incentivised and trained for life in public service.

I know that real life is not the Olympics. Yet training and developing our most able young people for the future will not just be important for identifying hidden talent, but it will benefit all of our society. It is mad that the only type of selection that is verboten in the state sector is academic, when the wealthy can just pay for it.

Let’s rejuvenate the idea of meritocracy, and truly ensure that the most talented, from every background can get to the top. We might end up with better technical skills in industry, better civil servants, better teachers, and yes – much better politicians!

Duncan Simpson: With the Covid bill standing at £372 billion, the Government’s spending spree looks increasingly unsustainable

26 Jul

Duncan Simpson is Research Director at the Taxpayers Alliance.

Two recent reports from the public accounts committee should give politicians plenty of food for thought over recess. The first looks at the expenditures associated with Covid-19 (whose lifetime costs are now expected to reach £372 billion).

The difference between the outlays already made (such as for the furlough scheme) and those expected to be made in the future can partially be explained by the liabilities that taxpayers might face for commercial loans backed by the Government. The committee was “alarmed to learn” that of the £92 billion worth of loans guaranteed by the HM Treasury, £26 billion might not be paid back.

Separately, the committee has also shed some light on the procurement of personal protective equipment. The committee identified waste levels as being “unacceptably high”, with £2.1 billion worth of items being unsuitable for medical settings. Fast decisions are crucial in a crisis, but bad decisions leave taxpayers shortchanged.

When you put the PAC reports into the wider context of the public finances, things get even more alarming. Public sector national debt stood at £2.2 trillion in May 2021 – or just under 100 per cent of GDP. That’s the highest level it’s been since March 1961.

Quantitative easing – the Bank of England bond-buying programme – has now grown to £0.9 trillion. The House of Lords economic affairs committee recently noted that “no central bank has managed successfully to reverse its asset purchases over the medium to long-term, and the key issue as they look to halt or reverse quantitative easing is whether it will trigger panic in financial markets that spills over into the real economy.” If we weren’t into the unknown before Covid-19, we very much are now.

There is some reasonably good news on the debt stock, however. The UK’s gilts are much longer-dated than many other advanced economies: just shy of 60 per cent of those in issue (excluding index-linked bonds) don’t mature for at least another seven years. This means that the Government is relatively unaffected by short-term interest rate increases. And since advanced economies’ central banks have not indicated any sharp ratcheting up of rates, this could well provide (some) welcome respite.

Inflation, however, could throw a spanner in the works. The main measure of inflation – CPIH – was last this high in February 2018. If this trend continues, higher general prices could well force the Bank of England into tighter monetary policy. This will make both debt servicing and government spending plans harder still.

But the big policy debates leave even more dark clouds on the horizon. Much of Westminster seems hell bent on pursuing net zero without considering the costs. What this will likely entail is a whacking up of families’ outgoings.

For instance, one potential plan to prohibit the sale of gas boilers – thereby eventually forcing most households to switch to heat pump alternatives – could cost between £6,000 and £18,000 apiece. A standard gas boiler retails for around £2,000. The well-heeled don’t seem to appreciate the everyday pressures on their finances that most households face.

Equally, banning the sale of petrol and diesel cars by 2030 could cost families dear. The market for electric vehicles will of course grow and the costs come down as new models and competitors enter the market.

Likewise, many US car manufacturers have seen the writing on the wall and have all but stopped research and development into new internal combustion engines. But again, the thought of coughing up for a new motor will rightly worry millions of Britons. After all, 61 per cent of journeys were still undertaken by car in England during 2019.

Levelling up too presents risks to taxpayers. Though still quite ill-defined (something to do with being near a football pitch, I think), plans to increase investment spending are eye-popping.

Forecasts from the Office for Budget Responsibility show that public sector net investment will reach £70 billion by the end of this parliament. In real terms, it will have increased by two thirds in ten years. Relative to the size of the economy, that is the same as the heady, free market paradise that was Jim Callaghan’s administration or the final year of Clement Attlee’s.

When you mix together Covid spending, a large and growing debt stock, quantitative easing, potential inflation risks and enormous spending commitments, the Government’s future choices risk putting taxpayers onto an even more unsustainable footing than they currently are on.

And politics is all about choices. Some of them are difficult, but taking the easy route – spending lots of money you don’t have – can vanquish a reputation for economic competence.

So the Government must be upfront about the trade-offs in its policy programme. It should also be responsible. Perhaps it’s an excellent idea to embark on an infrastructure spending programme; but we need to hear more about where the Government will save money to pay for it, instead of endlessly raiding taxpayers’ pockets for more cash when the tax burden is already at a 70-year high.

The Comprehensive Spending Review in November gives the government a chance to do exactly that.

Peter Golds: Malice in Blunderland – Tower Hamlets has another election

26 Jul

Cllr Peter Golds is a councillor in Tower Hamlets. He has served as a London councillor for almost 21 years and is a Board Member of the Conservative Councillors Association.

Politics and elections are never straightforward in Tower Hamlets. No sooner had the Mayoral and London Assembly taken place, an effective Labour councillor for the Weavers Ward tragically and suddenly died, just nine days after his 40th birthday.

Weavers is the north western extremity of the borough sharing a boundary with hipster Shoreditch. In fact, Shoreditch High Station is in this Ward. The Ward includes the famous Boundary estate, designed and constructed in the early 1890s by the LCC to replace the Old Nichol, then the most notorious slum in London. The Boundary estate has survived both the Luftwaffe and post war planners and is now, fortunately, listed. Nearby is Jesus Green an area of old Bethnal Green where one time artisan cottages now sell for mouth-watering sums. This is the area close to Columbia Road, a historic flower market which attracts visitors from far and wide every weekend. There are also many post-war council blocks as well as Keeling House, designed by Sir Dennis Lasdun as social housing, which has become a listed landmark. Politically, Weavers Ward (named after the Huguenot silk weavers who four hundred years ago lived and worked here), had a Liberal Democrat tradition. Since 2010, it has returned Labour councillors.

This will be the third by-election since 2008, the previous two took place on London Mayoral election days in 2008 and 2012. The 2008 contest was on a disastrous day for Labour, but, exceptionally, Labour gained the seat in the by-election. The newly elected Labour councillor was almost immediately mired in controversy and Labour declined to renominate him for the 2010 election in which he fought and lost the Ward on behalf of Respect. One of the three newly elected councillors, Kabir Ahmed, left the Labour Party in 2011 to join Lutfur Rahman’s team. The 2012 by-election caused by the resignation of another Labour member was contested by the former Respect leader, Abjol Miah as an Independent and supported by Lutfur Rahman. Labour won this contest with John Pierce, whose death has caused the current by-election.

You may think this should be an easy Labour hold. After all, the Party secured 48 per cent of the vote in 2018 in a six way contest in this Ward. The hiccup is Liveable Streets – or traffic free neighbourhoods. This should be an area where Liveable Streets would expect to be welcomed. The Labour council has spent £29 million promoting and installing Liveable Streets in the Borough. However, they should have been aware of the many flaws in the consultation exercise. When the Bow programme came before Cabinet, Mayor John Biggs noted there was little sign of what he described as Bow residents, as opposed to the overwhelmingly, white, middle class, professional and well spoken cycling lobby who came to Cabinet to support the proposals. Significantly, proposals in Whitechapel Ward were deferred until after May 2022 at the request of the local councillors for fear of the campaign waged against the proposals by Lutfur Rahman and his party.

The Weavers street close-downs have been chaotic. Refuse vehicles cannot enter many streets, resulting in rubbish left on pavements or next to the planters (each costing £1,000) that seal off the streets. Far worse is the response from the emergency services which have entered the public domain via FOI requests.

London Fire Brigade wrote:

“It is important that the London Ambulance Service lodge an official request to Tower Hamlets Council to suspend the works in the event that somebody dies as a result of not being able to get an ambulance to them if the planned works go ahead.”

An Ambulance Service official said:

“The Tower Hamlets Council traffic teams sometimes struggle to understand the needs of the emergency services.”

Staggeringly, the Mayor, when faced by concerned residents, suggested that emergency vehicles could gain access to streets by mounting pavements.

This, then, is the background to this extraordinary by-election in a ward whose residents include journalists in the national media, top flight lawyers, and senior figures in the civil service who are united alongside ordinary residents to oppose a single council policy.

After Cllr Pierce’s funeral, the by-election was called by the Labour Party. The Conservatives selected Bethnal Green resident, Elliott Weaver, who hit the ground running. Before nominations closed, his second leaflet was dropping into letter boxes and he was securing pledges of support from local residents. Labour immediately became mired in a selection problem. Locally, the two favourites were a community activist and a Labour Party stalwart. Both were white men and on July 7th, the day of the selection and the England Germany semi final at Euro 2022, the selection meeting was cancelled as Labour’s national executive imposed an all woman shortlist.

Labour were due to meet on the 13th July to select a candidate and once again it became controversial with internal party emails being leaked. There were six names on the list, however at the meeting two senior Labour officials (both councillors) attended and one of the six did not attend. A further name was added. This candidate, Nasrin Khanam, is not from the area and, it is suggested, does not have a sound knowledge of the local issues. In the event she was selected with the result that much information has leaked out to other parties and bloggers. Importantly, Lutfur Rahman was given a full account of the meeting immediately the result of the selection became known.

Whilst the Labour selection meeting was under way, leaflets from Rahman’s Aspire Party were being distributed. His chosen candidate, Kabir Ahmed was elected a Labour councillor for the Ward in 2010 and, as we know, defected to the Rahman Party. He lost his seat in 2014 and featured in the 2015 election petition, where he was much criticised by Commissioner Mawrey. He works in his family shop in the Ward. He is campaigning to “end Liveable streets’ road closures immediately.”

The Greens are nominating a candidate and the Liberal Democrats (in a ward which they once held) will be nominating a “paper candidate.” Labour, Liberal Democrats and the Greens are all ardent supporters of Liveable Streets.

More importantly, as we head towards the 2022 local elections, will be the actions of the police to this by-election. In May this year, as it was in 2014, the police response to problems is to avoid taking action. In May, there were strict rules regarding social distancing at polling stations. Nothing was done when electors were harassed by groups of aggressive men at polling stations. There was extensive evidence of this, but the police ignored regulations on social distancing. Hopefully this harrassment will change as the government have promised to prevent intimidation at polling stations. There will also be new regulations regarding the handling and delivery of postal votes by political parties, which caused some concern in May.

My next concern for the by-election is the preservation of the secret ballot. The law, as it has existed since the Secret Ballot Act of 1872, must be enforced. It is a disgrace to our democracy that in 2021, in full public view, women are being prevented from voting in secret because of what is described as “family voting.” This is no more than intimidation and the stealing of votes. Democracy Volunteers commented how prevalent this was in Tower Hamlets in 2018. I have, unanswered, emails to the police and the Returning Officer from an elector describing how he watched men take ballot papers from women voters whilst he was inside his local polling station in May.

In the 2012 Weavers Ward by-election, the Evening Standard covered the intimidation at a single polling station in the Ward.

Nine years later nothing appears to have changed.

The Metropolitan Police response to the 2015 election court was a disgrace. The 200-page Judgement, delivered in the Royal Courts of Justice was described in a press release by a serving officer, Phil Langworthy, as “a report.” In the intervening years the police have continued as previously, ignoring letters and concerns regarding electoral probity in this borough. As is now known, 2015 was infamous for the Metropolitan Police spending vast sums on the infamous Operation Midland which was a smear against distinguished people from a known liar. This collapsed when it was eventually realised that the complainant was a serial liar and criminal. This saga is laid out in coruscating details in a superb report by Sir Richard Henriques. Worryingly, more than one officer involved in the failed Tower Hamlets investigation played roles in Operation Midland.

In my view, the Home Secretary should invite Sir Richard, a distinguished Judge with no connection to London politics and elections, to review the Tower Hamlets investigation.

The downplaying of the election court by Scotland Yard has not been lost on Rahman. He now repeatedly states that he was disqualified from office by not a court but a tribunal – and using the police’s own words, a disqualification based on a report.

In 2022, will it be members of the public once again having to fight for electoral probity in and around the world’s fourth largest financial centre because the police lack the will to enforce the law?

If you would like to help us please email me at psgolds@aol.com.

Calling Conservatives: New public appointments announced. Chair of Ordnance Survey – and more

26 Jul

Eight years ago, the TaxPayers’ Alliance reported that “in the last year, five times more Labour people were appointed to public bodies than Tories”.

It currently reports that almost half of avowedly political appointees last year owed their allegiance to Labour Party, compared to less than a third for the Conservatives.

Despite the selection of some Party members or supporters to fill important posts, over time, the Conservatives have punched beneath their weight when it comes to public appointments.  One of the reasons seems to be that Tories simply don’t apply in the same number as Labour supporters.

To help remedy this, each week we put up links to some of the main public appointments vacancies, so that qualified Conservatives can be aware of the opportunities presented.

– – – – – – – – – –

Care Quality Commission – Chair

“The Secretary of State for Health and Social Care is seeking to appoint the next Chair to the board of the Care Quality Commission (CQC). The primary objective of the Chair is to ensure the strategic direction of the CQC, the body responsible for making sure health and social care services provide people with safe, effective, compassionate and high-quality care. CQC aims to make a positive impact on the experiences of everyone who receives care, while regulating services in a targeted way, which supports services to improve and prioritise safety.”

Time: 2-3 days per week.

Remuneration: £63,000 per annum.

Closes: 02 August

– – – – – – – – – –

British Film Institute – Scotland/Wales/Northern Ireland Governors

“The role of the Governors is primarily to develop and oversee the implementation of BFI strategy and policy, as well as provide constructive challenge to the organisation in order to support it in achieving its strategic aims.  A Governor should have a commitment to the BFI’s purpose, mission and vision, champion the BFI’s charitable work, and act as an advocate for the BFI, including assistance with activities to generate funding from the corporate sector, trusts and foundations and philanthropy. Furthermore, the Governors will support the BFI to achieve value for money and sustainability across its activities.”

Time: See listing.

Remuneration: None

Closes: 02 August

– – – – – – – – – –

British Business Bank – Non-Executive Director

“The mission of the Bank is to drive sustainable growth and prosperity across the UK by improving access to finance for small businesses, enabling them to succeed in the transition to a net zero economy, change the structure of the finance markets for smaller businesses and mid-caps so these markets work more effectively and dynamically. As a Non-Executive Director of the Bank, the successful candidate will be expected to play an active and integral part in the long-term success and the strategy of the Bank, given the collective responsibility of the Board. As a fully functioning financial service entity, the role holder should be able to contribute to matters ranging, for example, from the challenges facing SMEs with respect to finance, the management of a wide variety of risks ad the technological challenges facing today’s financial services industry.”

Time: Approx 20 days per annum.

Remuneration: £25,000 per annum

Closes: 09 August

– – – – – – – – – –

Homes England – Non-Executive Directors

Non-Executive Directors have corporate responsibility for ensuring that Homes England fulfils the overall aims and objectives set out in legislation as well as the mission and objectives it has been set by the Secretary of State. Non-Executive Directors also have responsibility for ensuring that Homes England complies with any statutory or administrative requirements for the use of public funds and assets. Non-Executive Directors responsibilities include: ensure that Homes England delivers its Strategic Objectives within the policy and resources parameters set by the Secretary of State;​ hold the Chief Executive to account for the effective and efficient delivery of the strategic and annual business plans and for the day-to-day management, delivery and performance of Homes England;​ ensure that effective arrangements are in place to provide assurance to the Board and MHCLG on risk management, governance and internal control….”

Time: Max 3 days per month.

Remuneration: £24,984 per annum

Closes: 12 August

– – – – – – – – – –

Chair – Historic Environment Scotland

“Formed in October 2015, we are a charity and the lead public body established to investigate, care for and promote Scotland’s rich historic environment. In 2019 we launched our new corporate plan – Heritage For All – which sets out how we can achieve our ambition of making a real difference to people’s lives; a difference to our health, to our economy, to our culture and to our environment. We want to make sure Scotland’s heritage is cherished, understood, shared and enjoyed with pride, by everyone. We stand for our values; collaboration, professionalism, innovation, openness and respect.”

Time: See application pack.

Remuneration: None

Closes: 16 August

– – – – – – – – – –

National Infrastructure Commission – Commissioner

“The Commissioners of the NIC have a unique opportunity to look at the UK’s long-term infrastructure needs, make recommendations to the government, and influence the government’s infrastructure priorities. Commissioners have a strong influence on government across multiple sectors, making links and shaping future infrastructure networks. Commissioners are leaders in their field, with senior level experience in a specific infrastructure sector such as energy or digital communications, or a related field such as economics, engineering or project finance. Current Commissioners are drawn from the worlds of policy, economics, engineering, technology, academia, business and architecture. We are looking to recruit up to three Commissioners with experience in the energy sector, in the relationship between infrastructure and the environment, or with experience in infrastructure policy at local or regional level.”

Time: Two days per month.

Remuneration: £20,000 per annum, plus expenses.

Closes: 20 August

– – – – – – – – – –

Office for the Internal Market – Panel Member

“The Office for the Internal Market (OIM) is being created following the passage of the United Kingdom Internal Market Act 2020. Established within the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), the Act places a duty onto the new body to carry out a set of independent advisory, monitoring, and reporting functions to support the development and effective operation of the UK internal market on an ongoing basis. Once set up later this year, the OIM will analyse the health of the UK internal market and report to the UK Parliament and the devolved legislatures. At the highest level, the OIM will be guided by and must have regard to the clear objective set out within the Act, which is to support, through the application of economic and other technical expertise, the effective operation of the internal market in the interests of all parts of the United Kingdom, consumers, and those with an interest in its operation.”

Time: Approx 30 days per annum

Remuneration: £400 per diem.

Closes: 22 August

– – – – – – – – – –

CDC Group Plc – Chair of the Board

“The Office for the Internal Market (OIM) is being created following the passage of the United Kingdom Internal Market Act 2020. Established within the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), the Act places a duty onto the new body to carry out a set of independent advisory, monitoring, and reporting functions to support the development and effective operation of the UK internal market on an ongoing basis. Once set up later this year, the OIM will analyse the health of the UK internal market and report to the UK Parliament and the devolved legislatures. At the highest level, the OIM will be guided by and must have regard to the clear objective set out within the Act, which is to support, through the application of economic and other technical expertise, the effective operation of the internal market in the interests of all parts of the United Kingdom, consumers, and those with an interest in its operation.”

Time: 1-2 days per week

Remuneration: £35,000 per annum

Closes: 27 August

– – – – – – – – – –

Chair – Ordnance Survey

“OS’s mapping data is relied on by every one of us. If you call for the fire service or an ambulance, more often than not it is OS data that is used to find you. Want to locate your nearest post office, cinema or supermarket? OS is there, supporting the search engines and pointing you in the right direction. As the national mapping services provider of Great Britain, OS provides critical location data and know-how to more than 5,000 organisations working for the public good in areas such as housing, the natural environment, connected transport and national security, and to a broad range of business sectors including energy, utility, property, retail and finance. OS is looking for a Non-Executive Chair with exceptional board leadership skills and a proven track record of building commercial businesses to support management in driving the long-term, profitable growth of the company.”

Time: 60 days per annum minimum

Remuneration: £50,000 per annum.

Closes: 26 September

Newslinks for Sunday 25th July 2021

25 Jul

Coronavirus 1) Double jabs set to be needed to watch Premier League matches

“Premier League football fans who have not been fully vaccinated could be barred from attending matches from October under plans expected to be signed off by ministers, The Telegraph can disclose. The mandatory requirement is expected to extend to the autumn rugby internationals, major concerts, and spectator events of 20,000 or more as part of Boris Johnson’s efforts to turn Covid-19 into a “manageable menace”. A social media campaign aimed at boosting uptake among 18-30 year-olds will also be ramped up, linking vaccination to the ability to go on holiday, as three million of them are yet to receive a single dose. The NHS booster jab rollout will deliver 35 million doses to over-50s and the most vulnerable over 13 weeks from Sep 6 to save the country from another lockdown this winter.” – Sunday Telegraph

  • Police, fire crews and Border Force staff can skip Covid isolation – Sun on Sunday
  • Johnson ‘will stand firm on lifting of restrictions’ – Mail on Sunday
  • Privacy tsar wants NHS Covid app ‘decommissioned’ as soon as the pandemic eases – Sunday Telegraph
  • Army on standby as 20 per cent of Britain’s food workers hit by ‘pingdemic’ – Sun on Sunday

>Today: Bella Wallersteiner in Comment: As a parliamentary staffer, I’m appalled by the double standards on who has to wear a mask

>Yesterday: ToryDiary: Will Dido Harding have her Kate Bingham moment?

Coronavirus 2) Anger over Javid’s advice to not ‘cower’ from Covid

“Sajid Javid has provoked a wave of anger from families of the victims of Covid after he said people must no longer “cower” from the virus. The health secretary announced on Saturday that he had made a “full recovery” from Covid-19 after falling ill eight days ago, and said: “Please, if you haven’t yet, get your jab, as we learn to live with, rather than cower from, this virus.” Jo Goodman, the co-founder of Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice, said Javid’s “comments are deeply insensitive on a number of levels”. Labour accused him of denigrating people who followed the rules to protect others, while the Lib Dems told him to apologise to those who have shielded because they are particularly vulnerable to the disease.” – The Observer

  • Sage adviser claims ministers trying to get as many as possible infected with Covid – The Observer
  • Covid infections halve in a week – Sunday Times
  • Government opening floodgates to Covid variants, MPs warn – The Observer

Comment:

  • Not one of my NHS colleagues believes the NHS as we know it can survive much longer – Rachel Clarke, Sunday Times

Coronavirus 3) Bill has soared to £372 billion, and it’ll take 20 years to pay off

“Action to tackle the pandemic has so far cost £12,277 for every taxpayer in Britain, a report reveals today. But the final bill is expected to be even higher — with the public having to fork out more huge sums for the next 20 years. Figures show the Government has splashed out £372billion on fighting Covid so far. That is twice the amount raised in income tax every year and almost every penny of it is borrowed. With England’s lockdown lifted, 40,000 music fans have packed the Latitude festival in Suffolk this weekend amid hopes of a return to normal. But worried MPs fear it will take decades to get the nation’s finances in tune again.” – Sun on Sunday

  • Cost of Covid will last for decades, say MPs – Sunday Times
  • Unpaid hospital bills from foreign ‘health tourists’ hit £40million in the last year – Sun on Sunday

Cabinet in revolt over national insurance hike…

“Boris Johnson is facing a cabinet revolt on two fronts as opposition grows to his plan to overhaul social care by increasing national insurance contributions while maintaining the triple lock on pensions. Five cabinet ministers have said that they oppose the proposed rise, which would hit young workers while at the same time delivering a bumper rise in the state pension next year. National insurance is not charged once state pension age is reached. The triple lock guarantee is set to push up pensions by about 8 per cent, costing taxpayers between £3 billion and £4 billion, because wages have bounced back sharply from the Covid recession. Under the triple lock, the basic state pension increases by earnings, inflation or 2.5 per cent each year, whichever is the highest.” – Sunday Times

  • Pensions triple lock could be suspended amid concern over fairness to young – Sunday Telegraph
  • Johnson wants to mimic Tony Blair’s project, say No 10 sources – The Observer

Comment:

  • The Tories need to start sending the good stuff our way if they want young votes – Charlotte Ivers, Sunday Times

…and ‘at war’ over France fiasco…

“Health Secretary Sajid Javid was last night accused of ‘frightening’ Boris Johnson into making his ill-fated decision to move France into the Amber-plus travel category. Insiders say the decision – which has thrown the plans of thousands of holidaymakers into chaos by requiring them to quarantine for up to ten days even if they are double vaccinated against coronavirus – was taken at a meeting on July 16 attended by Mr Javid, Mr Johnson and senior scientific advisers, but not Transport Secretary Grant Shapps. A source claimed Mr Javid had overreacted to claims that the AstraZeneca vaccine might not work against the South African – or Beta – variant, which is responsible for about ten per cent of Covid-19 cases in France, although many are in its Indian Ocean territories of Reunion and Mayotte.” – Mail on Sunday

  • Johnson and Raab ‘risk losing seats at election over Covid travel chaos’ – Sunday Telegraph

…as Sunak baulks at the £1.4trillion cost of net zero

“Proposals to reduce emissions to ‘net zero’ as part of Boris Johnson’s plan to make the UK a ‘world leader’ in green policies have been thrown into disarray after Rishi Sunak raised objections to the eye-watering cost to the Treasury. As part of the net zero plan –which would decarbonise the economy by 2050 – No 10 had been expected to publish in the spring details of the strategy for moving away from gas boilers ahead of Glasgow’s COP26 climate change conference in November. But this has been delayed until the autumn amid mounting alarm about the bill. The Chancellor – who is already looking for ways to pay back the £400 billion cost of the Covid crisis and the £10 billion a year required to reform long-term care for the elderly – is understood to have baulked at estimates of hitting net zero at more than £1.4 trillion.” – Mail on Sunday

  • Prime Minister launches search to find Britain’s top eco-warriors – Sun on Sunday
  • Animal testing could end as Patel launches review – Sunday Telegraph

>Today: ToryDiary: Snap guide to this session’s Government legislation 6) Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill

Robert Colvile: All this sound and fury before summer recess betrays a disturbing faith in big government

“But what does this blizzard of announcements tell us about the government? What can we learn by studying not what it is saying but what it is actually doing? Perhaps the most obvious point is the sheer scale of its ambition. Despite the demands of the pandemic, the government is still advancing — or at least attempting to — on all manner of fronts. That said, the pandemic has obviously made it hard to focus on other matters. Even those in No 10 accept that Boris Johnson’s big speech on levelling-up two weeks ago was strikingly light on detail, given how long he has been talking about it and how central it is to his agenda. There is, invariably, a strong streak of nannying and intervention in many of the government’s proposals. Yet there is also a welcome attachment to deregulation.” – Sunday Times

  • Who’s to blame for the chaos in No 10? Well, it’s not Dom, Rishi or Carrie… – Dan Hodges, Mail on Sunday

>Yesterday: Pamela Hall in Comment: Why I’m seeking election as Chairman of the National Conservative Convention

Government disability strategy risks becoming a ‘car crash’, says Tory peer

“The launch of the government’s long-awaited disability strategy risks becoming a car crash if ministers do not do more to listen to the views of people with disabilities before releasing it, a Conservative peer has said. Lord Shinkwin warned the prime minister that releasing a report that is roundly rejected by people with disabilities would greatly undermine his levelling-up agenda, after campaigners complained bitterly that the consultation process that informed it was seriously flawed. “It gives me no pleasure to say that if the strategy is launched next week, the government will be looking at another car crash that will make the launch of the recent ethnicity and racial disparity commission report look like a PR triumph,” he said. Shinkwin, chair of the Centre for Social Justice’s disability commission, said that while he did not feel the Tory minister for disabled people, Justin Tomlinson, should lose his job, he did feel he should hand over more control for drawing up the strategy to people with disabilities.” – The Observer

  • Clarke rejected infected blood scandal advice – Sunday Times

Johnson talked out of triggering ‘nuclear option’ over Northern Ireland Brexit stalemate

“Boris Johnson was ready to overhaul the Northern Ireland Protocol this week but was talked down by his Brexit minister Lord Frost, The Telegraph has learnt. With the UK now demanding a renegotiation of the post-Brexit arrangements for Northern Ireland, The Telegraph has been told Mr Johnson is now convinced of the need to use the so-called “nuclear option” if Brussels refuses. It is understood that the warning was issued to Dublin this week, with UK officials making clear that it is Mr Johnson, rather than Lord Frost, who is most in favour of triggering Article 16 should the EU fail to change course. Brandon Lewis, the Northern Ireland Secretary, is also known to have relayed similar messages to Simon Coveney, Ireland’s foreign affairs minister, during recent discussions over post-Brexit arrangements in the province.” – Sunday Telegraph

  • Britain wants a ‘standstill’ period in the protocol so it can be renegotiated – Mail on Sunday
  • NI deal scuppers hopes for Theresa May to become Nato’s secretary general – Sunday Express

Comment:

  • Do not try to modify the Northern Ireland Protocol, just scrap it cleanly – Daniel Hannan, Sunday Telegraph

‘Facebook-hating’ New Zealander in line to be Britain’s privacy tsar

“The government’s preferred choice as the next information commissioner is a vocal critic of social media and once called Facebook “morally bankrupt pathological liars”. John Edwards, a lawyer from New Zealand who is that country’s privacy commissioner, is favourite to be the new head of the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO). The office protects Britons’ digital and privacy rights and has the power to levy huge fines against companies that fail to protect customer data. Edwards has often attacked social media companies and even deleted his Facebook account after claiming it had breached privacy laws in his country. An independent panel selected Edwards as the preferred candidate and he was then recommended for the role by Oliver Dowden, the secretary of state for digital, culture, media and sport (DCMS). The appointment is awaiting Boris Johnson’s approval.” – Sunday Times

  •  Bombshell raids to find Hancock whistleblower blasted as ‘chilling’ for press freedom by minister – Sun on Sunday

Starmer appoints adviser from Blair years as his chief of staff

“Keir Starmer has appointed an adviser from the Blair and Brown years as his chief of staff in the final step of a reshuffle of the Labour leader’s top team after the party’s byelection losses. Sam White, who was a special adviser to Alistair Darling when he was chancellor, will run the leader of the opposition’s office from September. He will replace Morgan McSweeney, who was named Labour elections director. White, 46, was the longest-serving adviser to Darling while he was chancellor under former prime minister Gordon Brown, and also worked for him when he held cabinet positions under Tony Blair. In his new role, McSweeney will work with campaign coordinator Shabana Mahmood.” – The Observer