Headline of the day: ‘With hindsight, I wouldn’t have gone on holiday’

Dominic Raab also says ‘with benefit of hindsight’ he would have come home from holiday earlier.

“Hindsight is a wonderful thing but foresight is better, especially when it comes to saving life, or some pain!” – William Blake

(Also judgement. It seems Dominic Raab lacks both foresight and judgement – Owl)


Chicken and chips crisis shows normality is some distance away

First there were empty supermarket shelves and “pingdemic” staff shortages; now Nando’s is out of chicken and the car industry short of chips. It’s an unusual state of affairs for a country where normality was supposed to resume a month ago.

Richard Partington www.theguardian.com 

After the lifting of most pandemic restrictions on the government’s 19 July “freedom day”, the long hard slog of Covid-19 was meant to be all over bar the shouting. Britain’s economic potential would be unleashed, allowing for the fastest growth since the second world war.

Significant progress has indeed been made. Far from the jobs crisis forecast at the onset of Covid-19, unemployment is falling and businesses have survived, helped by billions of pounds of government support.

Yet in this new version of normality, substantial challenges remain, as the initial buzz from the reopening of shops, pubs and restaurants begins to fade.

Retail sales suffered an unexpected fall in July, while Bank of England figures for credit and debit card transactions – covering the full gamut of sales in hospitality, travel and other services in addition to retail – show consumption has plateaued.

Confident forecasts for an unprecedented boom in consumer spending, fuelled by more than £200bn of household savings built up during lockdown, feel wide of the mark after most Covid restrictions ended – the supposed moment for their release.

So why is Britain only managing to muddle through? Listen to government ministers and a telling tonal shift offers a clue. Earlier this year, the hope had been that Covid could be beaten with the help of vaccines. But there is now a growing realisation that persistently high cases fuelled by the Delta variant, and high infection rates in other countries where vaccination rates are lower, mean normality remains some distance away. As the health secretary, Sajid Javid, is now fond of saying, we must “learn to live with Covid”.

For this reason, economic disruption related to the pandemic is likely to remain for longer than anticipated. Which brings us back to the problems with chicken and chips.

Peri-peri chicken wings became the latest casualty of Covid-related upheaval last week because Nando’s is struggling with staffing problems at its suppliers’ factories, as well as shortages of lorry drivers holding back deliveries.

Toyota said this week it would be forced to reduce global production in September by 40% owing to shortages of microchips around the world. Other car manufacturers, including Ford, Nissan, Honda and Jaguar Land Rover – Britain’s biggest carmaker – have also scaled back production for similar reasons.

In a sign of how the pandemic must be beaten globally before the UK and other economies can declare a return to normal, Toyota pinned the blame mostly on outbreaks in south-east Asia leading to delays in the delivery of components.

Opponents of Brexit have been quick to blame Britain leaving the EU for empty supermarket shelves and supply chain disruption. But many of the trends are international, with driver shortages evident in several countries. German companies are struggling and most expect such problems to persist into next year.

That said, erecting tougher trade barriers during an international supply meltdown is far from a bright idea. Politically motivated trade restrictions reduce the possibility of solutions being found and are indeed making a bad situation worse.

Against this backdrop, supply chain disruption risks feeding through to the price of goods in the shops. The Bank of England expects inflation to reach 4% this year as the economy reopens with supply constraints still dogging businesses – far higher than originally expected at the start of this year.

For several months Threadneedle Street has attempted to reassure us that this inflationary burst will prove temporary. There are good reasons for this, with much of the inflation rise down to the fact that a broad range of consumer prices fell sharply during the first lockdown. The measure for the cost of living is calculated using the annual change in the price of a basket of goods and services. It’s hardly surprising the only way is up after the catastrophe of 2020.

In one example, average petrol were 132.6p per litre in July 2021, compared with 111.4p a year earlier, a rise of 19%. But compared with January 2020 – before Covid sent global oil prices into a tailspin – petrol prices are just 4% higher.

Meanwhile, analysts believe inflationary pressures should fade as Covid disruption recedes. But if countries key to global supply networks face prolonged challenges due to slower progress with vaccinations, and if Delta means more disruption in the UK, how long might this “temporary” period prove?

With the world economy suffering Covid for longer than expected, analysts at NatWest believe it could take until late 2022 for elevated supply chain costs to fade. These pressures will prompt serious questions for how big central banks, including the Bank of England, plan to respond to prolonged periods of transitory inflation.

At this point, the evidence is that further pressure is looming. The Baltic dry index, the shipping industry’s bellwether, which measures the average prices paid for the transport of dry bulk materials across more than 20 routes, has hit a 10-year high in recent weeks in a sign of the mounting costs facing companies.

Though inflation fell back slightly in July, official figures show UK manufacturers are being hit by higher fuel and raw material costs. Industry’s input prices rose by 9.9% in the year to July, up from 9.7% in June. Labour market vacancy rates have hit record highs as many companies struggle to find enough workers.

Not all of these costs will be passed on to consumers. Companies fear they will lose customers if they jack up prices too far, and will allow profit margins to take some of the hit instead. And goods shortages do not always lead to inflation – sales may be forgone rather than prices raised – as evidenced by an unexpected fall in sales of electrical goods in July amid supply chain disruption.

However, supply disruption is the early signal of what living with Covid might look like. Rather than simply encouraging the nation to adapt, ministers need to do a lot more to tackle the economic consequences.

Boris Johnson broke ministerial code jetting to the Hartlepool by-election on taxpayer funds, Conservative Party spending return suggests

  • The Conservative Party spending return says it spent £0 on transport for the Hartlepool by-election.
  • But Boris Johnson flew to the area for an official visit and to campaign.
  • The Ministerial Code says travel costs for official and political visits must be split between the government and the party.

Henry Dyer www.businessinsider.com 

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson used taxpayer funds to campaign in the Hartlepool by-election, breaching the Ministerial Code, a copy of the Conservative Party’s spending return suggests.

The spending return, which was obtained by Insider, outlined the costs of the campaign, which the Conservatives won.

On April 1, five days after the regulated period for the by-election started — during which spending in support of a candidate must be declared — Johnson flew by private jet from London Stansted to Teesside International Airport, near Middlesbrough. 

Johnson travelled in a motorcade from the airport to Middlesbrough, where he conducted official government business promoting a rise in the minimum wage at the DIY store B&Q. 

He was then driven to Hartlepool, where he met with the Conservative candidate Jill Mortimer for a visit to the local company Hart Biologicals, supporting her campaign in the constituency. The pair then visited a nearby housing estate for doorknocking, leafleting, and speaking to residents, the Hartlepool Mail reported.

That afternoon, Johnson flew back from Teesside International Airport to Stansted.

‘Transport: Nil’

None of the costs of Johnson’s travel by plane or car appear to be included in the spending return, which says the candidate spent nothing on transport.

Summary of Conservative Party expenditures in the Hartlepool by-election.Conservative Party

Electoral Commission guidance says transport costs should include the cost of transporting “party members, including staff members […] around the electoral area, or to and from the electoral area […] where they are undertaking campaigning on behalf of the candidate.”

Parties can spend up to £100,000 in by-elections. The Conservatives say they spent a total of £86,991.77.

The Ministerial Code says ministers “must not use government resources for Party political purposes.” It also says that “where a visit is a mix of political and official engagements, it is important that the department and the Party each meet a proper proportion of the actual cost.”

The spending return, signed by Mortimer and her election agent, Diane Clarke OBE, suggests the party did not pay for any of the cost of Johnson’s journey to Hartlepool on April 1. 

The spending return also shows that all campaign expenditure was run through Conservative Campaign Headquarters (CCHQ).

None of the expenditure listed in a separate document provided by CCHQ to Clarke is stated to relate to the cost of transport, or to a portion of travel costs:

An invoice produced by Conservative Campaign Headquarters showing a spending breakdown.The Conservative Party

Unlike other parties’ returns, the Conservatives do not provide invoices from the suppliers, only a single invoice of purchases made centrally by CCHQ.

A Conservative Party spokesperson told Insider: “Tours and associated costs […] were all declared in accordance with the rules and feature on the return under ‘Staff Costs.'”

“All candidate election expenses were included in the return made in accordance with the Representation of the People Act by the candidate’s agent,” they added.

The Conservative Party did not respond to Insider’s requests for evidence that the £24,154.02 staff costs included transportation, in addition to the cost of paying for party staff to work on the six-week campaign.

The party also did not respond to a request to see an invoice showing a repayment of transport costs to the Cabinet Office. The Cabinet Office did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for invoices showing repayment of transport costs from the Conservative Party.

For comparison, the Labour Party’s return for its Hartlepool campaign says it spent £32,665.11 on staff costs, plus an additional £8929.50 on transport.

This amount is closer to the spending of staff costs by the Conservative Party in two other by-elections held this year: In Chesham and Amersham, the Conservatives spent £32,246.42 on staff costs, while in Batley and Spen they spent £33,773.34.

Johnson did not fly to campaign in either Chesham and Amersham or Batley and Spen, according to flight data.

Further visits were made by Johnson to Hartlepool on April 23 and May 3, and by Home Secretary Priti Patel on April 29. Johnson and Patel campaigned with and for Mortimer on all of these occasions. 

Labour calls for an investigation

The Labour Party is demanding an investigation into a breach of the Ministerial Code by Johnson. 

Angela Rayner MP, Labour’s deputy leader, told Insider: “Yet again the Prime Minister behaves like the rules don’t apply to him. Taxpayers’ money should not be abused to fund the Conservative Party’s election campaigns.

“The Prime Minister has clearly broken the Ministerial Code, and this time he can’t play ignorant and pretend that he didn’t know what was going on.

“The contempt with which the Prime Minister treats the laws governing election expenses and the rules that are supposed to uphold standards in our public life shows that he is only ever interested in helping himself, not acting in the interests of the British people.”

Rayner has written to Lord Geidt, the prime minister’s independent advisor on ministerial standards, and Cabinet Secretary Simon Case, the UK’s most senior civil servant, demanding to know if public funds were used for party political campaigning by the prime minister.

In her letter, seen by Insider, Rayner says that Johnson cannot pretend he was unaware of the expenditure.

“Given the Prime Minister clearly walked himself up the steps onto his taxpayer-funded plane, and walked himself around Hartlepool talking to voters during a party political visit during a by-election campaign, this excuse can clearly not be used on this occasion,” the letter says.

“I trust that in the course of your inquiry you will also refer any evidence of illegal and criminal behaviour in breach of the Representation of the People Act in relation to the non-declaration of election expenses and donations in kind, the submission of false returns and any other wrongdoing.”

A Downing Street spokesperson told Insider: “The Prime Minister visited Teesside on official Government business, meeting workers to coincide with an increase in the national living wage. This was followed by a short political visit, as permitted by the Ministerial Code.

“All relevant costs have been correctly accounted for and appropriately proportioned. At all times Government rules and electoral requirements have been followed in relation to Ministerial visits.”

Downing Street pointed to section 10.16 of the Ministerial Code, which says the Prime Minister “may use their official cars for all journeys by road, including those for private or Party purposes.”

Got a tip? If you have information about spending in by-elections, please email the author at hdyer@insider.com. We can keep sources anonymous.

M5 blockade protest in Devon cancelled

Plans to block the M5 junction for Tiverton and motorists heading to North Devon have been cancelled after the idea sparked controversy.

Ami Wyllie  www.devonlive.com

North Devon and Torridge Housing Crisis campaigner Emma Hookway proposed the plans to highlight the plight of many residents in the region struggling to find a home.

She posted her plans to blockage junction 27 at 5pm on Friday (August 27) in her housing crisis Facebook group and asked for support co-ordinating the event.

Immediately, people raised concerns and advised Emma to cancel the event, but she insisted that half an hour was all that was needed to make a dramatic statement.

Emma said: “Half an hour guys, that’s all I’m asking.

“Half an hour to let the rest of the UK know what is happening to you.”

However, after further criticism towards the idea, Emma cancelled the event due to the backlash she received, but asked for help coming up with new ideas.

In the North Devon and Torridge Housing Crisis group, she wrote: “It seems that the group was mostly against the junction 27 idea and I respect that.

“Therefore, what should we do next to keep the momentum going?”

Emma told Devon Live: “I don’t want to do something drastic, but I want to create an event that gets people to acknowledge what’s happening.”

It’s property – not coronavirus – that is emerging as the hottest topic in Devon now the dreadful pandemic rumbles towards its conclusion.

Several commenters raised concerns over the safety of a protest like this.

One person asked: “Could this not potentially cause accidents?

“Blocking a motorway junction doesn’t sound like a safe idea to me.”

She went on to warn: “I think this is potentially dangerous, on the junction of two roads that are incredibly dangerous as is.”

Other commenters were worried about the traffic implications on the last Friday of the school holidays, which doubles as a bank holiday.

They thought that blocking J27 would be counter productive to getting politician’s and the general public on side.

One person said: “Lobby your council representatives and your MP.

“Action like this will only turn people against your concerns.”

Another wrote: “When the traffic is already bad, a half hour hold up is an issue, especially when you have young children in the car.

“It doesn’t make sense, you want local’s help, yet you are making the local’s lives a nightmare.”

Someone else said: “What about locals going away?

“I’ll be travelling up north for the weekend next Friday.

“We have already postponed our wedding three times and our 10th anniversary once.

“Not knocking the sentiment, but I’d rather this time we just had a smooth run.”

Meanwhile, others raised concerns about the access route to larger hospitals.

Lewis Clarke wrote: “As somebody who has just returned from hospital with a poorly baby and used that route several times over the course of visiting Musgrove, I cannot help but feel for all those people in similar situations who would be help up because of something like this.”

Another wrote: “Not a cool idea. People use this route to access Bristol Royal Infirmary.”

Some argued that as the blockade would be on the Southbound carriageway, it would not interfere with people travelling North to Bristol.

However, it was pointed out that the return journey from the hospital would be impacted.

One person shared a personal anecdote: “Two years ago I travelled that road twice a day for a week to visit my husband who was in Bristol Royal ICU.”

In a separate comment, she added: “I drove that road having left my husband in BRI with malaria wondering if I would see him again.

“But I needed to get to my children who I hadn’t seen for four days with thoughts in my head wondering if I would be taking them to say goodbye to their daddy.

“That was my return journey.”

Not everyone was against the idea of a road block, some group members thought J27 might be too extreme, but suggested local roads in North Devon or council run car parks as an alternative.

Someone suggested: “Find local council meetings and block their car parks.

“Much better to inconvenience the people who make decisions.”

One person compared it to similar drastic action that rocketed campaigners into the public eye.

They wrote: “It’s about awareness though, people need to sit up and listen.

“Look at Extinction Rebellion and BLM, you would not even know who they were unless they took extreme measures.”

A similar protest was proposed in Cornwall, as locals facing a similar fight against second home owners and a surge in rental prices threatened to form a human barrier across the A30 into the county.

Emma is currently working on another plan to raise awareness for the North Devon housing crisis and will be holding a meeting at the Castle Centre in Barnstaple on 2 September at 7pm.