10 bits of bad news that just got buried hours before the summer holiday

In the West Wing, it was nicknamed Take Out the Trash Day…..

So we’ve rummaged through Boris Johnson’s bins – metaphorically of course – to find some of the news we’re sure he wouldn’t want you to miss.

The Russia report. A pay rise for teachers. Little Prince George’s birthday photos. And, of course, coronavirus.

It’s been a busy old week in the news world – so you’d be forgiven for missing some of the other important stories that have emerged in the UK.

And it’s been made a lot busier by a simple fact – tonight is the start of MPs’ summer recess.

Call it a holiday, call it a working break, it means Parliament won’t be sitting again until September.

Every year, this day is an opportunity for the government to rush out a flurry of announcements at the last possible moment.

And every year, the government is accused of slipping out some things it hopes will be lost in the avalanche.

In the West Wing, it was nicknamed Take Out the Trash Day.

And even if it’s not a deliberate ploy, the timing means many important announcements slip below the radar.

We wouldn’t want that to happen, would we?

So we’ve rummaged through Boris Johnson’s bins – metaphorically of course – to find some of the news we’re sure he wouldn’t want you to miss.

1. Nurses face having to tighten their belts

Tory ministers announced with great fanfare this week a pay rise for 900,000 public sector workers.

But the announcement didn’t include more than a million NHS workers, including nurses and porters, as their current pay system takes them up to April 2021.

And there could be bad news when it’s their turn.

Hours after the pay rise, Chancellor Rishi Sunak launched a massive spending review to “reprioritise and deliver savings” across government.

While he claimed we won’t go back to austerity, the Chancellor warned the government will have to “exercise restraint in future” over its workers’ pay.

He added it’ll have to keep “parity” with private sector pay – which is set to stall due to coronavirus.

While spending will go up overall, Downing Street refused to rule out some individual departments having their budgets cut.

2. Tory reforms have led to ‘slum’ homes

Tory “red tape” slashing has created homes the size of Boris Johnson’s car with no windows, a damning report for the government found this week.

The scathing verdict on Tory planning reforms exposes the grim conditions forced on people in “permitted development” homes.

Tory ministers have been reforming planning rules since 2013 to extend rights to convert buildings, like office or storage units, into homes without full planning permission.

But campaigners warn the system opens the floodgates to “slums”.

The report by UCL and the University of Liverpool was commissioned by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government and slipped out just before MPs’ summer recess.

It found just 22% of permitted development homes would meet national space standards – compared to 73% through planning permission.

The smallest were just 16 square metres, and ten of them had no windows at all.

A government spokesman insisted permitted development makes an “important contribution” and is “crucial” to helping recover from coronavirus.

The government said the research “shows on average there was little difference in the appearance, energy performance or access to services between schemes delivered through permitted development and those that were granted full planning permission.”

3. Our ‘generous’ offer to Hong Kong citizens still forces them to pay for the NHS

Hours before MPs left Parliament, the government unveiled full details of its landmark visa for people from Hong Kong.

And in many ways, it’s impressive. Some 300,000 British National (Overseas) passport holders can get a special visa to live and work in the UK, eventually getting citizenship, from 2021.

Overall 3million Hong Kongers could be eligible if they get a BNO passport.

Home Secretary Priti Patel boasted the offer is “very generous” to people fleeing a mounting crackdown on free speech from the Chinese state.

Unlike the rest of the UK immigration system, there will be no skills test, no minimum income requirement, and people won’t need a UK job.

But it isn’t all roses in the small print.

Hong Kongers who come to the UK will still need to pay £624 a year to use the NHS – even if they get a job and pay taxes here like everyone else.

That’s despite the Immigration Health Surcharge being scrapped for some people, such as migrants who work in the health and social care service itself.

Ms Patel confirmed the move in a written statement – which also said BNO citizens will need to “stay of good character” and pay steep visa fees.

4. Rules on building ‘eyesore’ masts will be relaxed

5G masts have become a bit of a hot potato lately – thanks in part to conspiracy theorists who falsely claim they spread coronavirus and even set them on fire.

But sometimes opposition to phone masts is a bit simpler – for example, ruining a view for residents of a local area.

The bad news for them is the government has confirmed, hours before the summer break, that it’ll relax the rules on building or extending 5G masts.

Existing masts will be allowed to be “strengthened” without prior approval to enable them to be upgraded to the 5G network.

Radio equipment will also be allowed to be stored on sites without prior approval.

The height limit on masts will also be raised and they’ll be allowed to be placed on buildings near highways. However, these new masts will still need approval before they can be built.

5. The Tories have used coronavirus for a political ‘power grab’

The Tories have been accused of using the Coronavirus crisis to mount a ‘power grab’, after installing a longtime Boris Johnson ally to the board of Transport for London.

Andrew Gilligan, Johnson’s ‘cycling tsar’ while he was London Mayor, will be appointed as a “special representative”, according to a written statement slipped out by the government this week.

He’ll be joined by Clare Moriarty, the former top civil servant at the Brexit department.

Mr Gilligan is also an advisor to Number 10 on transport.

The pair were installed on the board as a condition of the £1.6 billion ‘bailout’ of TfL, sparked by the Coronavirus crisis.

Labour MP Wes Streeting said: “From increasing the congestion charge to scrapping free travel for young people, it is pretty obvious to Londoners that the Tories have used an unprecedented crisis to mount a power grab on TfL in the hope that the Mayor gets the blame for their decisions ahead of next year’s election.”

6. Crossrail will hit London taxpayers in the pocket

Another written statement this week threatened a big financial hit to Londoners – which could also be announced months before the mayoral election.

The vast east-west Crossrail rail project was delayed and over budget before it was even hit by coronavirus.

And in an annual update on Crossrail this week, Transport Minister Chris Heaton-Harris made it clear who will foot the bill.

He wrote: “The further schedule delays and cost increases to this project since the last annual update are very disappointing.

“A revised funding package will now need to be developed for Crossrail that is fair to UK taxpayers, with London as the primary beneficiary bearing the cost.”

Don’t be surprised if this is raised as a political issue ahead of the May 2021 mayoral election, with Tories pointing the blame at Labour mayor Sadiq Khan.

7. The Home Office has had to pay millions in legal costs

Accounts published last week show taxpayers have funded millions in legal costs when people fight the Home Office for justice.

The total bill for “special payments” in 2019/20 was £39.2m – up from £36.4m the year before.

Of that, £28.7m was spent on “adverse legal costs” in 3,394 cases. Officials spent a further £0.9m on tribunal award payments split between 6,442 cases.

And the Home Office made 272 compensation payments for wrongful detention totalling £6.9m.

Other compensation payments totalled £1.7m, while the Windrush compensation scheme involved 100 payments totalling £400,000.

The Lib Dems said the bill could have paid for an extra 900 police officers. Home Affairs spokeswoman Christine Jardine said: “Priti Patel, who is already under serious pressure, has shown herself to be incompetent and nothing more than a millstone around government’s neck. People deserve better.”

8. Number 10 just took control of all the government’s data

Downing Street has taken control of the government’s use of data – wresting it from the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) department.

Boris Johnson announced the move in an eye-catching written statement on the “machinery of government.”

The responsibility for government data policy will be moved to the Cabinet Office from DCMS, where it was placed by Theresa May in another ‘snuck out just before recess’ move in 2018.

It comes days after Number 10 advertised for a £135,000 data scientist to join a ‘skunkworks’ Downing Street team to be known as ’10ds’.

It’s thought to be the latest in Dominic Cummings ‘ bid to ‘revamp Whitehall’ with trendy data science.

The job ad said the unit will be a ‘pseudo start-up within No10 designed to drive forward the quantitative revolution. The current plan is to establish a data engineering team, data science team, a skunkworks and an analytical deep dive unit.’

Mr Cummings infamously pioneered the use of data-driven political campaigning in the UK in Vote Leave’s successful EU referendum campaign.

SNP MP Owen Thompson said: “Dominic Cummings should not be trusted with data use.”

9. Government’s renters protections won’t stop unfair evictions

Renters will still be at risk of unfair eviction, despite the government’s new rules for landlords.

Evictions have been banned since the start of the coronavirus crisis – but that’s due to expire in August.

Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick had promised new rules would give more protection for renters when the eviction ban is lifted.

But today, minister Chris Pincher confirmed that the new rules will not give judges the power to prevent so-called Section 21 – or ‘no-fault’ – evictions.

Under such eviction notices, renters out of contract can be evicted with just two months’ notice without the landlord having to give a reason.

Asked by Housing Committee chairman Clive Betts whether a court would be allowed to refuse such a request under the new rules, Mr Pincher admitted they would not.

He said: “Under the 21 clause of the ’88 act, the courts do not have discretion in that particular circumstance.”

10. The government is cutting overseas aid by £2.9bn

Foreign aid spending is being reduced by £2.9 billion, Dominic Raab has announced.

The government is committed to spending 0.7% of GDP on overseas aid spending.

But the UK economy has shrunk dramatically due to the Coronavirus pandemic – so 0.7% of the economy is about £2.9 billion less than it used to be.

Announcing the cut, Dominic Raab said it would include “underspends, delaying activity and stopping some spend.”

But Sarah Champion, chair of the International Development Committee, said: “The announcement today raises more questions than it answers.

“The letter speaks of delaying activity and stopping some spending – what is the timescale on this? If it is with immediate effect, do the projects know or will they find out via the media as DFID staff did about the merger? Is there an overarching strategy in place? Will the evaluation of the impact of these cuts be made public? Where is the scrutiny?

“Clearly there has been no consultation, but to release this news literally as parliament rises so there can be no scrutiny by MPs is poor practice.”

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