Truss will pay under £2,000 for Downing Street winter energy bills, Labour says

Liz Truss will pay no more than £2,000 in total for all her energy bills in Downing Street this winter because of state subsidies, Labour has calculated.

Peter Walker 

If Truss, as widely expected, is elected as Conservative leader and prime minister on Monday, she is expected to move into the four-bedroom flat above 11 Downing Street, the larger of the two official residences.

While the energy price cap will mean the average annual bill is expected to rise well over £4,000 during the winter, Truss will be insulated from price rises beyond a certain point because of the way her energy costs are paid for.

As set out in the Treasury’s annual accounts, the electricity and heating bills for the No 11 flat, and the smaller residence above No 10, which would be used by her chancellor, expected to be Kwasi Kwarteng, are paid for by the state.

These are then treated as a benefit in kind, meaning the costs are added to the person’s income and subject to tax. The amount of tax can vary, but even if Truss paid the higher rate of income tax on it, this would be 45% of the total.

In another perk, the Treasury rules set out that this benefit in kind is capped at 10% of the prime minister or chancellor’s salary.

Truss’s salary as PM would be £75,440, meaning that for the rest of this financial year, taking her to the end of March, the total amount on which she could be liable for extra tax for heating, electricity or other expenses, would be £4,000, or 10% of the seven months of pay. She also receives an MP’s salary but the benefit in kind would only apply to her duties as PM.

In turn, Truss would not have to cover this entire cost, just pay the tax on it. At the 45p higher rate, this would mean her energy costs are capped at £1,980 this winter. However much the energy cap might rise in the 2023-24 tax year, Truss would then pay no more than £3,400 in total from her full annual salary.

Abena Oppong-Asare, Labour’s shadow exchequer secretary, said: “While Truss may be able to rest easy knowing her energy bills won’t be soaring, the least she could do is offer the millions of families reassurance and clarity on what her plans are.

“Instead she has left people deeply anxious, worrying about making ends meet as the energy crisis escalates and only offering vague promises and lukewarm words.

“Families deserve a government ready to act and meet the scale of this national emergency. With Labour’s plan to freeze energy prices, households won’t pay a penny more this winter and we’ll be able to get a grip on this crisis.”

Downing Street and Truss’s campaign were contacted for comment.

Ministers to make it easier for foreign nurses and dentists to work in NHS

Ministers will introduce legislation as soon as parliament returns on Monday to tackle the NHS’s worsening staffing crisis by making it easier for overseas nurses and dentists to work in the UK.

Denis Campbell

The move is part of a drive by the health secretary, Steve Barclay, to increase overseas recruitment to help plug workforce gaps in health and social care.

Barclay believes thousands of extra health professionals will come as a result of new rules making it easier for medical regulators to register those who have qualified abroad. If the change proves successful it will help pave the way for more nurses and dentists coming to work in Britain from countries such as India, Sri Lanka, Kenya, the Philippines and Malaysia.

However, critics claim the policy is a stop-gap that is no substitute for ramping up the supply of homegrown staff and risks worsening the lack of health workers in other countries that are struggling with shortages of their own.

The initiative comes days after new figures showed that the number of unfilled posts in the NHS in England jumped by more than 25,000 in three months earlier this year to a record 132,139 – one in 10 of the entire workforce. That included 46,828 vacancies for nurses alone – 11.8% of the total.

Brexit has significantly reduced the number of nurses coming to work in Britain from the EU.

Barclay, NHS England and organisations representing health service personnel are worried that acute shortages of staff are contributing to patients’ now routine long waits for care and increasing the risk that some services will fall over this winter.

A Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) memo seen by the Guardian shows that it will lay a statutory instrument in the House of Commons on Monday intended to enable the bodies that regulate nurses and dentists to approve the arrival of more foreign-trained staff.

The secondary legislation, which does not need a full parliamentary process to pass it, will be called the Dentists, Dental Care Professionals, Nurses, Nursing Associates and Midwives (International Registrations) Order 2022.

It makes clear that the DHSC intends to simplify what it regards as unnecessarily cumbersome procedures that restrict overseas staff coming to work in the NHS.

It says that “aspects of the current legislative requirements for registering international dentists make it difficult and time-consuming for the General Dental Council (GDC) to make changes to its registration.

“Similarly, excessive detail on the process that the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) must follow to assess international applicants makes it difficult for the regulator to explore alternative registration routes to its test of competence.”

The memo adds that the order “would provide the GDC with greater flexibility to make changes to its Overseas Registration Exam (ORE) process and to explore other registration routes for international applicants, for example, recognition of programmes of education delivered outside the UK on a unilateral basis.”

It will also remove “prescriptive detail on the process that the NMC must follow in relation to qualification comparability and the assessment of international applicants, providing the NMC with greater flexibility to change these processes in future.”

The number of doctors and nurses from outside the EU working in the NHS in England has soared since Britain voted in 2016 to leave the bloc.

A DHSC source said: “These legal changes will free up the regulators to carry out thousands more checks each year on dentists and nurses from overseas, giving the NHS much-needed capacity. The NHS has always called on overseas staff when in need.

The changes would not lead to a glut of less-qualified staff arriving, the source said. “We’re making sure we recruit ethically and without weakening standards, and these extra checks will help deliver that. Patients should be reassured that we will bring in extra staff able to deliver care to the same high standards as the staff we have already.”

However, the overseas recruitment push has generated controversy about the ethics involved, such as the decision to recruit 100 nurses from Nepal over 15 months to work in hospitals in Hampshire. The Health Service Journal reported last week that NHS and nursing bosses are concerned at what they see as the over-reliance on luring staff from abroad.

The Royal College of Nursing has warned that “our health system is already over-reliant on international nursing staff and we must ensure recruitment is ethical”.

James Buchan, a senior fellow at the Health Foundation thinktank, said the acute shortage of nurses is likely to see already historically high levels of international recruitment of members of the profession go up further.

“While international recruitment [of nurses] can plug the gap short-term, it should not distract from the need to train and retain more nurses in the UK. In order to attract more homegrown people to the profession nursing must be made an attractive career choice and that means improving pay, terms and conditions.”

The British Dental Association said government action to enable a bigger supply of dental staff from overseas was welcome but the new push would not end the growing shortage of NHS dentists, which has left millions of patients facing serious difficulty accessing care.

“Action here is long overdue, but will not address the scale of the crisis facing this service,” said Eddie Crouch, the BDA’s chair.

“NHS dentistry is haemorrhaging talent by the day because of the dysfunctional system it’s built on. Ministers need to do more than try to fill a leaky bucket. They need to actually fix it.”

Revealed: levelling up fund allocated south-east twice as much as north-east

Who gets the Magic Sauce? – Owl

The south-east of England, the most affluent region in Britain outside London, last year received almost twice as much money as the north-east from the government’s levelling up fund aimed at boosting deprived areas.

Jon Ungoed-Thomas 

Projects in the south-east benefited from £9.2m from the fund in the year to 31 March 2022. By comparison, the north-east only received £4.9m, despite being the poorest region in Britain by disposable household income.

The £4.8bn fund is under scrutiny over its failure to date to deliver to some of the poorest areas of the country. There are also questions over the criteria for allocating money after the former chancellor, Rishi Sunak, told an audience that he changed funding formulas to divert money from “deprived urban areas”.

Ministers want the multi-billion pound fund to provide a cash boost to some of the poorest areas of the UK, but the new figures obtained under freedom of information laws reveal that just £107.4m of funds were delivered in the year to 31 March 2022.

Jack Shaw, a researcher into local government who obtained the new figures, said: “With less than 3% of the levelling up fund having been spent in its first year, the rhetoric of levelling up hasn’t matched the reality.

“The government needs to be clear about why that is the case and why [the north-east] despite the focus on correcting regional imbalances, has received less than 5% of the fund’s spending to date.”

Initially, it was hoped that £600m would be delivered in 2021/22 by the fund. The figure was revised downwards to £200m, but not even that target has been hit.

The new figures reveal the West Midlands received the most money in 2021/22, with projects receiving £16.3m of funds. Northern Ireland received the smallest amount, with projects receiving just over £1m of cash, equivalent to 57p per head of population.

While the north-east received less funds than the south-east in 2021/22, it did receive more per head of population: £1.83 per capita, compared to the £1 per head of population received in the south-east.

Officials say they allocated £1.7bn in the first round of funding in which the successful bidders were announced in October last year. Bids for the second round closed last month.

In the 2020 spending review, Sunak announced the launch of the levelling up fund to support towns and communities with regeneration schemes. It will run over four years from 2021/22 to 2024/25.

The methodology for allocating awards has faced criticism for not using deprivation levels to rank areas for priority funding.

Lisa Nandy, the shadow levelling up secretary, called for an inquiry into why some of the poorest communities have so far missed out in levelling up awards.

A spokesperson for the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities said: “This is a selective use of figures and does not accurately represent allocations from the first round of the Levelling Up Fund, where the North and Yorkshire are receiving £519m, more than the south-east and London combined.

“We are working closely with all levels of government to relentlessly drive forward our shared ambition to fuel regeneration and growth in areas which have been overlooked and undervalued for far too long.”

Sewage warning at three Devon beaches where it’s unsafe to swim 4 September

Warnings to sea swimmers have been issued by the government after sewage was discharged into the sea. Warnings across Devon at three beaches state that the water is unsafe to swim in.

Edward Church

At these three beaches the Department for Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs (Defra) has said, the water has been polluted and people should avoid taking a dip. Such warnings have been issued multiple times since mid-August when the heat wave first gave way to heavy rain.

Heavy rain, like we had over the last few days, can overwhelm our sewage system and lead to outflow pipes by beaches being used. As a result, we get sewage at our beaches and in the water.

For some, this is a real blow as they use their local beach for swimming. But the government advice is clear on the beaches affected: do not swim.

These beaches are not safe to swim in:

  • Ladram Bay, Otterton – Pollution risk warning
  • Dawlish Town, Dawlish – Pollution risk warning
  • Paignton Preston Sands, Paignton – Pollution risk warning

As well as the warnings from Defra, south west-based Surfers Against Sewage (SAS) has issued warnings on a total of 12 Cornish beaches. SAS indicates which beaches have had a sewage discharge near a beach in the last 48 hours.

These beaches have had pollution warnings from Surfers Against Sewage:

  • Combe Martin, north Devon
  • Paignton Preston Sands, Paignton
  • Dawlish Town, Dawlish
  • Ladram Bay, Otterton
  • Shoalstone Beach (maintenance ongoing)

The White Witch of Narnia

Behold the favourite for the Conservative leadership as she surveys her icy realm.

Ms Truss has promised to deliver around £30bn in tax cuts in an emergency Budget later this month if she wins, including a reversal of April’s rise to National Insurance.

Pressed on whether richer people would benefit more from the cut, she said: “The people at the top of the income distribution pay more tax – so inevitably, when you cut taxes you tend to benefit people who are more likely to pay tax.”

But she added: “To look at everything through the lens of redistribution I believe is wrong. Because what I’m about is growing the economy – and growing the economy benefits everybody.

“The economic debate for the past 20 years has been dominated by discussions about distribution. And what’s happened is we’ve had relatively low growth”. From the Laura Kuenssberg interview Sunday

Psst: Increasing productivity is the key to growth. Owl believes that we need to change fundamentally our short-term business and financing culture. Not until companies and financiers stop looking for quick gains but take the long term view, ploughing profits back into investment in the “tools of the trade”: plant, machinery, training and human capital, will we start to improve.

In crude terms: stop asset stripping, seeking to make a quick buck and paying directors obscene multiples of the average wage.

Increasing productivity means getting more output for each hour worked. A happy and motivated staff are key.

It’s not going to happen is it? 

Exeter to Salisbury hourly train service halved from today 5 September

[And take longer.]

The extremely hot and dry weather experienced recently has caused the clay embankments to dry out and shrink – leaving the track on top uneven and trains unable to travel at full speed.

South Western Railway says the changes will enable a ‘resilient service’ to operate.

Once again transport to the South West is being shown to be inadequate. – Owl

South Western Railway issues reduced timetable on West of England Line

Jamie Jones 

Commuters are facing a reduced timetable on the railways as a new week gets underway due to issues caused by the August heatwave.

On Monday (September 5) the West of England Line, which runs from Basingstoke, Hampshire, to Exeter in Devon, will be operating the revised itinerary and customers are being urged to check their journey before travelling.

South Western Railway says the changes will enable a ‘resilient service’ to operate after an Emergency Speed Restriction was put in place between Gillingham in Dorset and Tisbury in Wiltshire by Network Rail engineers.

The extremely hot and dry weather experienced recently has caused the clay embankments to dry out and shrink – leaving the track on top uneven and trains unable to travel at full speed.

Train services have had to be amended as the line is single track – meaning trains can’t pass each other outside of passing loops – and trains are taking approximately twice the normal length of time to run between Gillingham and Tisbury.

SWR managing director, Claire Mann, said: “After two weeks of delays and short-notice changes to our services, this decision to introduce a revised timetable will allow us to run a resilient service and at least provide certainty to our customers in the West of England.

“I am sorry to all those whose journeys will be affected as we wait for weather conditions to improve so Network Rail can safely remove the speed restriction.”

The following changes have been put in place:

  • Services will generally run hourly between Waterloo & Yeovil Junction
  • Services will generally run every two hours between Waterloo & Exeter St Davids
  • Journey times will be amended and/or extended across most services on the route

West of England Line reduced timetable – when will it end?

It is likely that the timetable will remain in operation until at least October, as engineers must wait for the soil to stop shrinking and regain some of its moisture before repairs can be made and the speed restriction lifted.

Network Rail’s Wessex route director, Mark Killick, added: “We’re sorry for the disruption that our customers are seeing between Salisbury and Yeovil Junction, which is a direct result of the hot and dry conditions.

“We hope the amended timetable can give our customers confidence, but we do recognise that the reduced number of services and longer journey times will be disruptive.

“As soon as it is safe to remove the speed restriction, we will do so, but this may not be until October when we hope conditions will improve.”

For more information, visit the South Western Railway website.