Pickles leads Government U-turn on the Environment Agency…

Screen shot 2014-02-10 at 07.52.04“Speaking on the Murnaghan programme on Sky News Mr Pickles said a meeting of the Government’s Cobra emergency committee would focus on preparing for “significant” flooding in the Thames Valley. He also apologised for relying “too much” on advice from the Environment Agency and admitted that failing to dredge the Somerset Levels had been a mistake. He said: “I think we recognise now that we should have dredged. I apologise unreservedly and I’m really sorry that we took the advice, we thought we were dealing with experts.” – Daily Telegraph

  • A week of Pickles quotes on the agency – James Kirkup, Daily Telegraph
  • Agency’s spending shame latest – The Sun (£)
  • Pickles rejects spend-aid-on-flood-relief campaign – Daily Mail
  • Cameron to chair COBRA – The Independent
  • “It’s crazy to be trying to command and control very local dredging operations from Whitehall without any consideration of the scientific evidence of flood risk or value for money.” – Hannah Cloke, associate professor in hydrology at Reading University, The Times (£)
  • Floods cut off rail services to southwest England – Financial Times
  • Thames reaches record water levels – BBC
  • The Met Office has issued severe weather warnings for heavy rain for tomorrow, Wednesday and Thursday – Daily Express
  • Live updates – Sky News

…As Chris Smith strikes back in rural communities paper of choice

Screen shot 2014-02-10 at 08.26.52“Hitting back at the vitriolic criticism that has been aimed at him and his agency for weeks – one MP has called him a “git” and threatened to “stick his head down the loo and flush” – Lord Smith said the attacks had been unlike anything in his career. In an article for the Guardian, Smith, a former Labour cabinet minister, said: “In a lifetime in public life, I’ve never seen the same sort of storm of background briefing, personal sniping and media frenzy getting in the way of decent people doing a valiant job trying to cope with unprecedented natural forces.” – The Guardian

Smith article in full – Guardian

Clive Aslet: I blame the birdwatchers

“For the past two or three decades, the RSPB and other environmental charities like it have gained control over much of countryside policy. This is largely because, during the Thatcher and Blair eras, ministers wanted farmers to do anything but farm. As agriculture entered its long doldrums in the Eighties – and Margaret Thatcher began to fret about the cost of its subsidies, given the availability of cheap food from overseas – official minds began to think up better uses for the countryside. Golf courses, corporate shooting, barn conversions, business parks: all seemed to offer a better return than farming.” – Daily Telegraph

> Today: Martin Parsons on Comment – Ministers should decide flood protection – not the Environment Agency

The vote on a smoking ban in cars carrying children takes place today

Screen shot 2014-02-10 at 08.28.41“The proposal was initially made in the Lords by Lord Howe, the health minister, and was backed by Labour peers as well. Some, such as Jeremy Hunt, health secretary, will vote for the ban, believing smoking in confined spaces is too damaging for children’s health to justify allowing it. Last week, more than 700 doctors and other health experts signed a letter urging MPs to back the ban. But others, such as Chris Grayling, the justice minister, oppose the move, calling it unenforceable.” – Financial Times

  • Northern Ireland’s MPs urged to back ban – Belfast Telegraph
  • Cameron to miss vote ‘because of the floods’ – Daily Mail
  • Minimum alcohol pricing “would save 860 lives a year” – The Guardian

Boris backs ban

“This law would give that smoker an extra legal imperative to obey their conscience and do the right thing. And no, I don’t think it would involve the police in a huge new anti-car-smoking task force, diverting them from dealing with robbery. This is one of those measures like the alcohol ban on London’s buses, which has helped bring down bus crime 40 per cent in the past six years: it is largely enforced by the natural social pressure of disapproval backed by law.” – Daily Telegraph

> Yesterday: ToryDiary – Boris should stop flirting and state his intentions

Telegraph names Harper’s London cleaner, says he claimed expenses for bills

HARPER Mark white background“The Telegraph has learnt that Mr Harper’s cleaner was Isabella Acevedo, who was paid £22 a week to clean and iron at his Westminster flat. She is known to work for a number of people in the complex, which is popular with MPs, raising the prospect of other politicians being drawn into the affair. Mr Harper quit as immigration minister on Saturday after it was confirmed that Ms Acevedo was not legally permitted to remain in the UK.” – Daily Telegraph

New Penning health assessment scheme

“Workers who take more than four weeks off sick will be referred for health assessments under a new scheme. Occupational specialists will assess them then create a plan to get them back to work quickly. Employees will be referred by a GP or their employer — but it will NOT be compulsory. Up to 960,000 workers were on sick leave for more than a month of the year between 2010 and 2013, according to new official figures.” – The Sun (£)

  • 50,000 people in Wales take a month off sick each year – Wales Online
  • 800 police officers are off sick with stress – Daily Mail
  • Delivery of state pension may be privatised – The Guardian
  • Sematu claims lunchtime workers using food banks – The Independent

May suspends English language tests

MAY Home Office“The Home Office has suspended English-language tests run by a major company after a TV investigation claimed Britain’s student visa system is riddled with fraud. BBC1’s Panorama programme said it had found blatant, routine cheating in government-approved exams and a thriving market in false documents enabling people to stay in Britain illegally. Researchers found that, for a fee, criminal immigration agents can help people get around language tests which are necessary for a visa to be obtained – even if they speak little or no English.” – The Guardian

  • Human rights for guilty but not accused, say pair facing extradition – Daily Telegraph

Clegg to call for tax cut that will happen anyway

“In a keynote economic speech at the Mansion House today, the Deputy Prime Minister will say the Liberal Democrats will fight to increase the tax threshold in the Chancellor’s Budget, due next month. He is expected to call for a Mansion Tax on properties worth more than £2 million to raise the £1 billion cost of the plan. The Tories will block a Mansion Tax but both David Cameron and George Osborne have already signalled that they are open to raising the basic rate threshold – which will put money back in the pockets of 25 million taxpayers.” – Daily Mail

Trevor Kavanagh: The trouble with the Deputy Prime Minister

CURSE OF CLEGG one“Cleggie himself will never be forgiven for his 2010 betrayal over tuition fees. He is indelibly identified as a politician who will say anything to win office then betray the very people who put him there. Like the fabled scorpion who hitches a lift across the river on a frog after promising not to use his lethal sting, he simply can’t help himself. Now he is turning on the Tories in a desperate grab for Left-wing votes among public sector workers. The Lib Dem leader seeks a divorce but doesn’t want to be blamed for walking out.” – The Sun (£)

> Today: ToryDiary – Killing the Liberal Democrats with kindness

Miliband says that Labour will give parents the power to oust head teachers

“Parents are to be given a new power to call in a specialist team to boost the performance of failing schools or teachers, under a set of wide-ranging public service reform plans to be laid out on Monday by the Labour leader, Ed Miliband. The improvement team, working separately from Ofsted, will have powers to set out school improvement plans, order greater collaboration between schools or even remove failing headteachers. The body would have powers to intervene with academies, free schools and community schools.” – The Guardian

Commissioner threat to Switzerland as it votes for quotas on EU immigrants

Screen shot 2014-02-10 at 08.31.12“Viviane Reding, European Commission vice-president, suggested that Swiss companies could face limits on their access to the European single market if the country pressed ahead with the new quotas. “The single market is not a Swiss cheese,” she told the Financial Times. “You cannot have a single market with holes in it. Business people will make their cost-benefit analysis and decide where to establish their companies.” – Financial Times

> Yesterday: ToryDiary –  Switzerland votes to end free movement of people from the EU

Commissioner attack on Cameron over his call for restrictions on EU immigrants

“In extraordinary remarks for an unelected official, he will deliver his latest assault on the Coalition’s policies in a speech at Bristol University. He will say: “The vast majority of people who move from one EU country to another do so to work. They don’t do it in order to claim benefits. “I have been asking for evidence to back up UK claims for over two years but all we have received is a series of anecdotes about fraud and vicars performing sham marriages.” – The Sun (£)

News in Brief

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