Budget 1) Cameron defends the £2,000-a-year childcare subsidies…

CAMERON PPB Jobs“Getting more parents out to work with up to £2,000 a year in childcare subsidies for every child will be ‘good for the economy’, David Cameron said last night. … The Prime Minister said the scheme, details of which will be confirmed in today’s Budget, was not about ‘pushing people into a particular choice’. … His comments came after some Tory MPs complained the handout will only be available to couples in which both parents work, discriminating against stay-at-home mothers and fathers.” – Daily Mail

  • “A new scheme to help parents with the cost of childcare will be delivered with the help of the troubled outsourcing company Atos.” – The Times (£)
  • “British workers have the shortest retirements in any major EU country despite significant improvements in life expectancy, a new international study shows.” – Daily Telegraph

And comment:

  • “Couples on £300K should pay for their own nannies” – Jill Kirby, The Times (£)

> Yesterday:

Budget 2) …whilst Clegg defends the decision to target tax cuts at low earners

money“The Liberal Democrats will continue to cut taxes for people on lower and middle incomes, Nick Clegg has insisted as he dismissed suggestions that people in the 40p tax band were paying more tax. … The deputy prime minister said critics were “simply and plainly wrong” to say that the Lib Dem manifesto pledge – to raise the personal tax allowance to £10,000 – had led to an increase in taxes for those paying the higher tax rate of 40%.” – The Guardian

  • “George Osborne insists that the middle classes have reaped the benefit from his decision to raise the personal allowance from £6,475 in 2010-11 to £10,000 from the financial year starting next month, at a cost of more than £10 billion.” – The Independent
  • “George Osborne’s attempts to reassure Conservative MPs about changes to the tax system have backfired amid accusations that he is ignoring those most likely to vote for his party.” – The Times (£)

And comment:

  • “The task before Mr Osborne is to reunite the political and the economic so that the pound in people’s pockets feels as if is worth more than before.” – Times editorial (£)
  • “How can this country hope for a coherent economic strategy while it is run by Coalition partners pulling in opposite directions?” – Daily Mail editorial
  • “The Budget is just a gimmick. So let’s ditch it” – Daniel Finkelstein, The Times (£)
  • “George Osborne, it’s not your job to look after the very rich” – Simon Jenkins, The Guardian
  • “George Osborne must show he is truly on the side of those who suffer” – Mary Riddell, Daily Telegraph
  • “Our outrageous tax system isn’t just bad economics. It’s immoral too” – Nigel Farage, The Independent

> Yesterday:

Budget 3) A blue collar Budget starts with cuts to bingo taxes

Blue Collar Conservatism“George Osborne will slash tax on Bingo halls in a boost to its three million players, The Sun can reveal. … In the Budget today, the Chancellor will bring down the hated duty from 20% to 15% to bring it in line with other forms of gambling. … The popular move is one of a series of headline-grabbing measures drawn up by the Treasury chief to prove he understands working class Brits’ interests. … His fifth annual economic blueprint will be the most blue collar-friendly yet, friends say.” – The Sun (£)

  • “Every Budget is important. But today’s is the most vital of George Osborne’s life. … We suspect it’ll also be the first in years Sun readers will want to hear.” – The Sun (£)

> Today: ToryDiary – In spirit at least, Halfon is now the author of Osborne’s Budgets

Budget 4) Osborne to cap welfare spending into the next Parliament

“Mr Osborne’s plan is to cap welfare spending – covering between £100bn and £120bn of benefits including disability payments and housing benefit – into the next parliament. … The cap, which excludes pensions and jobseeker’s allowance, will be in line with official forecasts for welfare spending but will require a future chancellor to cut benefits or seek parliamentary approval if spending rises above the cap.” – Financial Times

Budget 5) Tax breaks for the families of fallen emergency service workers

“George Osborne will today unveil a plan to exempt all 999 heroes from inheritance tax if they die in the line of duty. … The move – which he will announce a consultation on in his Budget today – would scrap the 40% toll on everything above £325,000 left by the staff to their loved ones.” – The Sun (£)

  • “Britain’s cathedrals will be given £20 million for renovations ahead of the World War I commemorations, George Osborne will announce today.” – Daily Telegraph

Budget 6) A new pound coin

New Pound Coin“The £1 coin is to be replaced by a new model based on the old threepenny bit, George Osborne will announce in the Budget. … The Chancellor will say that the current coin, which has been in circulation for 30 years, is no longer suitable for use because it has become vulnerable to sophisticated counterfeiters. … The new 12-sided coin will be as secure as modern banknotes and will save taxpayers’ money by cutting down on millions of pounds worth of fraud.” – Daily Telegraph

Budget 7) Shapps to tour small businesses

“Party chairman Grant Shapps and local MPs will take a 1,000 mile tour of the small firms across Manchester and the north-west later this week. … Insiders say they will insist the Government is on their side and talk up the Chancellor’s policies. … The ‘Shapps Party’ will visit a start-up nursery business, a design engineers, textile manufacturers, and a wood flooring firm that supplies Starbucks.” – The Sun (£)

Budget 8) Carney highlights the dangers of low interest rates…

“Ultra low interest rates could damage the economy by encouraging excessive household borrowing, Mark Carney admitted last night. … The Governor of the Bank of England also said he is ‘fully aware’ the policy is not without considerable risks, putting ‘a  tremendous burden’ on the Bank as it battles to restore the economy to health.” – Daily Mail

  • “Carney is right to warn that risks are building again, though he remains too complacent about housing and too dovish about the rate at which interest rates are likely to have to rise.” – Allister Heath, City AM

Budget 9) …as his team gets reshuffled

“More than a dozen top staff at the Bank of England will be reshuffled into new or radically changed jobs this summer, the Bank said yesterday, with around 10 more senior positions still to be filled. … A new deputy governor has been appointed for markets and banking, a position which did not exist previously and comes with a seat on the monetary policy committee (MPC). … The IMF’s Nemat Shafik is taking the role, taking Paul Fisher’s MPC seat.” – City AM

  • “The governor’s biggest gamble involves his choice of management structure.” – Financial Times editorial

Putin annexes Crimea and antagonises the West…

Russian flag“As Russia was accused of war crimes after the death of a Ukrainian soldier, Putin defiantly told a joint session of the Russian  parliament that he would not accept Western influence ‘next to our home or on our historic territories’. … And in a stark warning that Ukraine risks dismemberment if it seeks to join the EU or Nato, he said he would not tolerate Western countries ‘behaving as the master of the house outside our fence’.” – Daily Mail

  • “Russia’s revanchism has to be stopped, even for its own sake” – Martin Wolf, Financial Times
  • “Putin thinks the West is as weak as jelly. And the tragedy is he’s right” – Max Hastings, Daily Mail
  • “The focus is on Crimea, but next is the fight for Ukraine” – Timothy Garton Ash, The Guardian
  • “Western sanctions against Russia would only prove counter-productive” – Hamish McRae, The Independent
  • “Putin needs to hear a four-letter word: Nato” – Roger Boyes, The Times (£)
  • “Today, let us see Russia’s move for what it is: an illegal, neo-imperialist act.” – Guardian editorial
  • “Russia’s crime in Crimea must not go unpunished” – Daily Telegraph editorial

…as Ukraine’s Prime Minister suggests that the conflict is moving to a “military stage”

“A Ukrainian serviceman and a member of a local self-defence brigade were shot dead, and many more were arrested in a Military base in Simferopol as the crisis between Russia and Ukraine escalates closer to all-out war. … Following the base attack, Ukraine’s Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk has now warned that the conflict with Russia has escalated, saying: ‘The conflict is shifting from a political to a military stage.'” – Daily Mail

  • “A more nuanced speech from Richard Ottaway, Tory chairman of the Foreign Affairs select committee, was probably more practical. It demanded that defence of the Baltic states must become ‘our red line and needs marking out in indelible ink’.” – Quentin Letts, Daily Mail
  • “A high-profile Tory MP has been challenged in Parliament over money paid to his constituency office by a close associate of a Ukrainian magnate arrested last week amid allegations of bribery. … Questions were raised over alleged links between Robert Halfon, the Tory MP for Harlow, and Dmitry Firtash, who made his fortune importing Russian gas and who is being held in Vienna.” – The Independent

Grayling reveals his sympathy for Bridgen’s licence fee campaign

Grayling470“A total of 150 MPs are backing a campaign to stop the BBC prosecuting viewers in a criminal court if they fail to pay the TV licence fee. … Yesterday, the Justice Secretary, Chris Grayling, expressed sympathy with those who feel it is unfair to criminalise viewers who are too poor to pay for their licence and say it should be collected in the same way as gas bills or Sky subscriptions.” – Daily Mail

Ministers accused of blocking the reform of secret courts…

“A senior judge yesterday accused ministers of blocking attempts to open the country’s most secretive court to public scrutiny. … Appeals to the Coalition to allow the public to know what goes on in the controversial Court of Protection have ‘fallen on deaf ears’, the leading family law judge said.” – Daily Mail

  • “Ministers issued potentially misleading figures about barristers’ earnings to justify cuts to legal aid, the statistics watchdog has said.” – The Times (£)

…and of ignoring cyclists

“Britain’s leading motoring and cycling bodies have criticised the Government for refusing to create an annual budget for cycle provision, ignoring the recommendations of a parliamentary inquiry. … Robert Goodwill, the Cycling Minster, has come under fire from the AA and British Cycling for effectively ruling out any pledge in the 2015 Conservative manifesto to create a dedicated cycling budget.” – The Times (£)

Laws wants councils to start charging for services such as bin collection

“Councils should be encouraged to charge for services such as bin collections even if it is ‘painful’ for residents, a Liberal Democrat minister has suggested. … David Laws, the education minister, said that councils should become less dependent on central government funding and ‘take responsibility for themselves’.” – Daily Telegraph

Huppert likens the British intelligence watchdog to Yes, Minister

“Britain’s intelligence services had a system of oversight no better than that seen in the TV comedy Yes, Prime Minister, an MP said on Tuesday during a meeting of a Commons committee. … Julian Huppert, a Liberal Democrat, said the sitcom depicting ineffectual government was an appropriate comparison after it emerged that the intelligence services commissioner appearing before MPs worked only part-time, and operated with only one other staff member.” – The Guardian

Labour pledges to devolve more power to Scotland

Scottish flag“The Scottish Parliament would have the ability to impose income tax hikes on those earning more than £41,000 a year under new powers proposed yesterday by Labour. … The introduction of ‘Scottish progressive rates of income tax’, aimed at the redistribution of wealth, has emerged as a key measure in Labour’s plans to strengthen devolution at Holyrood in the event of a No vote.” – The Scotsman

  • “The UK could cut back the amount of energy it buys from Scotland after independence, the energy secretary said yesterday.” – Daily Telegraph

> Today: Henry Hill’s column – Scottish Labour’s constitutional lunacy – and how to use it

UKIP softens its stances on same-sex marriage

“Nigel Farage has said that he will not campaign to annul the marriages of same-sex couples at the election, in an apparent softening of Ukip’s opposition to the policy. … Mr Farage said his party wanted civil partnerships to have ‘equal status’ to marriage, adding that couples should have to go through a legal marriage in addition to a religious ceremony.” – The Times (£)

> Today: Stephan Shakespeare’s column – Are UKIP supporters racist?

Committee report 1) Parliamentarians warn of a “postcode lottery” in amputations

Lottery“Too many people are undergoing ‘unnecessary’ leg amputations due to a lack of proper treatment, MPs and peers have warned. … A new report revealed a postcode lottery in the number of people losing legs for diseases including diabetes, with amputation twice as likely for those in the south west compared to those in London.” – Daily Mail

  • “The First Minister of Wales has clashed with a senior Labour MP over her campaign to reform the Welsh NHS.” – The Times (£)

> Yesterday: Adrian Hilton on Comment – The looming manpower crisis in GP-land

Committee report 2) Facebook and Twitter must clear up their act

“Facebook and Twitter must do more to banish porn — or face prosecution, MPs warn today. … The sites’ ‘flimsy’ age verification rules mean children can easily get to watch legal adult internet filth. … They must toughen up procedures — and pay more attention to what users post, says a Commons Culture Committee report.” – The Sun (£)

State funding for controversial Islamic group

“A charity once described by David Cameron as a ‘front’ for an extremist Islamist group is receiving tens of thousands of pounds each year in state funding, research shows. … The group is being given annual grants to fund places for children at nurseries it runs in London and Berkshire.” – Daily Telegraph

Nuclear reactor closed due to safety concerns

“A British nuclear power reactor was shut down for five months over fears of a Fukushima-style meltdown. … One of two reactors at Dungeness power station on the Kent coast was closed by energy giant EDF last year after concerns that its shingle bank flood defences could be breached during a catastrophic weather event.” – Daily Mail

  • “George Osborne’s vision for a 21st Century garden city in Ebbsfleet, South East England, could be at risk of flooding, a report has warned.” – The Independent

News in brief

  • Thailand admits that it might have seen Flight MH370 on its radars – The Independent
  • Tony Benn’s body may lie in state – The Guardian
  • Israel bombs Syrian positions in the Golan Heights – The Guardian
  • Further allegations of “mass shredding” at Scotland Yard – Daily Mail
  • The Savoy hotel included in list of potential Al Qaeda targets – Daily Mail
  • Queen Mother’s fridge still working after after 60 years – The Scotsman

And finally 1) John Humphrys lays into the Beeb’s management team

BBC“The BBC is managed by a group of men and women who are brilliant at three things. … The first — and easily the most important — is persuading their superiors their job is vital to the well-being of the Corporation even if no one is quite sure what that job actually is. … Their second is avoiding taking any decision for which they can be held responsible. … And their third is to demonstrate by thought, word and deed their unswerving loyalty to the man at the top of the organisation: Baron Hall of Birkenhead.” – John Humphrys, Daily Mail

And finally 2) You can finally stop keeping watch for squirrels in your garden

“Ministers have conceded defeat in the battle against grey by scrapping a little-known piece of legislation which makes it an offence not to alert the authorities if you find one on your land. … Enacted in 1937 in an effort to halt the advance of the invasive creature, it attached a stiff penalty of £5 – £295 in today’s money – for failure to ‘give notice to the relevant department’.” – Daily Mail

  • “The beleaguered red is still worth defending.” – Daily Telegraph editorial

And finally 3) Truss likes chips

“The minister in charge of promoting healthy eating in schools has admitted that she preferred eating chips when she was at school. … Liz Truss, a Conservative education minister, admitted she did not eat school dinners as a lollipop lady helped her reach a nearby chip shop.” – Daily Telegraph