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Spending Review 1) Sunak targets Covid-19 jobless with £4.3bn support package

“Rishi Sunak is to acknowledge that the coronavirus pandemic will lead to a steep rise in long-term unemployment today when he announces a £4.3 billion package to help the jobless. The economic devastation will be made clear in a series of forecasts published by the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) alongside the Whitehall spending round. The Resolution Foundation, a think tank, has suggested that the central forecast will show a permanent reduction in GDP of 3 per cent, equivalent to £1,000 a head. Government borrowing will be close to £400 billion this year as public spending jumps above 50 per cent of GDP, a level not seen since the Second World War, and the national debt reaches a 60-year high.” – The Times

  • The cost of Covid is predicted to rise to £400 billion by the end of the year – Daily Telegraph

> Today:

Spending Review 2) Treasury ‘considering’ cutting pensions tax relief

“Millions of higher earners could be hundreds of thousands of pounds worse off in retirement if the Government targets pension tax relief to plug the growing hole in Treasury coffers. The Chancellor Rishi Sunak is reportedly reconsidering proposals to limit tax relief on pension contributions to 25pc for all workers as part of a desperate attempt to reduce the deficit which is forecast to hit almost £400bn this year. An announcement is not expected as part of today’s Spending Review, which does not cover changes to tax policy, but could feature in a future Budget. The move would put those on middle and higher incomes in the crosshairs for cuts while boosting the amount received by basic-rate taxpayers, all those earning less than £50,000 in the current tax year.” – Daily Telegraph

Spending Review 3) Parliament ready to resist Sunak’s bid to cut foreign aid

“Rishi Sunak’s bid to cut foreign aid could be thwarted in Parliament as it emerged that legislation may be required to enable the £4 billion reduction to go ahead. On Tuesday night, senior Tories warned the Government would have “serious problems” forcing through the planned reduction of the target from 0.7 per cent of national income to 0.5 per cent. Mr Sunak is expected to confirm the 12-month cut in Wednesday’s comprehensive spending review, arguing that a brief cut to overseas aid is justified at a time of severe economic hardship at home. However, while exemptions in the International Development Act allow the Government to miss the target in certain circumstances, critics argue that these can only apply retrospectively.” – Daily Telegraph

  • Chancellor will reassure that the move is ‘temporary’ – FT

Daniel Finkelstein: Is Sunak savvy enough to be prime minister?

“Not long after the first lockdown began, a friend offered me his congratulations. “What for?” I asked. “In 2015 I asked you which new Conservative MPs were going places,” he said, “and you replied ‘Rishi Sunak’.” I told him that much as I’d love to accept his praise for my political acuity, I really couldn’t. The only difference between us in 2015 was that I had met Rishi Sunak and he hadn’t. Any idiot with this advantage would have made the same prediction. A knack for talent spotting was not required. This is how the Conservative businessman Michael Ashcroft describes Sunak in Going for Broke, his new biography of the chancellor: “Clever and talented, immensely hard-working, ambitious, eager to learn, disciplined, always well prepared.” He then adds the words used about him by the people interviewed for the book: “authentic, humble, approachable, gentle, modest, friendly, empathetic, thoughtful, respectful, sensitive, a listener.”” – The Times

Coronavirus 1) Rules relaxed for Christmas…

“Families will be allowed to meet two other households in a “Christmas bubble” under a five-day relaxation of social distancing rules. They can travel freely around Britain from December 23 to 27 under a “limited and cautious” exemption from restrictions agreed between Westminster and the devolved administrations. Social distancing rules will not apply within bubbles, allowing loved ones to hug each other. However, official advice will urge people to “think carefully about what they do during this period” and take precautions to avoid infecting vulnerable relatives. Government scientific advisers have warned that the relaxation will cost lives and risk a third lockdown in January and hospital chiefs say it is premature.” – The Times

  • Coronavirus quarantine to be lifted for business and tour groups – The Times

Coronavirus 2) …as Tories question the logic of the Tier system

“MPs have argued that the new tiers lack “clarity” and will serve to do more damage to the economy. Sir Graham Brady, the chairman of the 1922 Committee of Tory backbenchers, said the measures needed to be more specific. “We don’t have the clarity. The tiers that are being envisaged, particularly the even more stringent Tier 3, would be extremely damaging for places that find themselves locked in it,” he told The World at One show. Asked whether he would vote against further tiered restrictions, Sir Graham said: “I don’t know yet what the substance of the votes that will be offered will be, but my inclination would be to oppose this.” – Daily Telegraph

  • The Government will announce tomorrow which Tier applies to each area – The Times
  • Charles Walker, MP for Broxbourne, rages at “disgraceful” police as they arrest lockdown protestor – Daily Mail

Coronavirus 3) Hancock overruled officials to order millions of extra vaccines, says Shapps…

“Matt Hancock overruled officials in insisting that the UK ordered an extra 70 million Oxford AstraZeneca Covid vaccines, the Transport Secretary has said. Regulators are about to start their assessment of the vaccine, developed with the University of Oxford, amid hopes that a roll-out programme could begin next month. The UK has ordered 100 million doses of the vaccine, which are set to stretch even further after a half-dose for the first jab was found to be even more effective then the full amount. AstraZeneca has said 20 million doses should be available by the end of this year. On Tuesday, it emerged that Mr Hancock, the Health Secretary, persuaded Government officials to buy far more stocks of the AstraZeneca jab than had been intended.” – Daily Telegraph

  • … as the Health Secretary says people should stop “soldiering on” to work when they’re ill – The Times

> Yesterday:

Whitehall bungling wastes £5 billion of taxpayers’ money

“A £5 billion hole in Whitehall spending is exposed today in an analysis of wasted public money. The bill for government losses has been increasing as transport projects, IT improvements and preparations for Brexit are bungled. Money has been written off for legal blunders including a payoff to an Iranian bank, fines for health and safety breaches at a nuclear power plant and payments to public servants for alleged mistreatment. The figure in the accounts of public organisations covers the past three years. The rising trend, from £1.4 billion to £1.7 billion between the 2018 and 2019 financial years, suggests that officials may be failing to learn from errors.” – The Times

  • Late rush for PPE cost government £10 billion extra – The Times

Freedom of Information Act undermined

“The architect of a law aimed at ensuring government transparency has called for an investigation into an “Orwellian” Cabinet Office system that is screening information requests across Whitehall. Disclosures to the website Open Democracy show that a central “clearing house” is routinely sent details of requests made to government departments under the Freedom of Information Act, so that it can provide advice on how to respond. The details include the identities of those making the requests, undermining one of the act’s key principles of neutrality. Requests handled in this way include those made by The Times, the BBC, The Guardian and The Daily Telegraph, as well as campaigning organisations such as Privacy International and Big Brother Watch.” – The Times

Biden says there must be no guarded Irish border in Brexit warning

“Joe Biden said on Tuesday night that he did not want to see a guarded border in Ireland. The US president-elect said he had discussed the matter with Boris Johnson and other European leaders. Asked what his message to Brexit negotiators was, Mr Biden said: “We do not want a guarded border. We want to make sure. We’ve worked too long to get Ireland worked out. “And I talked with the British prime minister, I talked with the Taoiseach, I talked with others, I talked to the French. “The idea of having a border north and south once again being closed is just not right, we’ve just got to keep the  border open.” Mr Johnson put forward legislation in September that would break the Northern Ireland protocol of the Brexit divorce treaty that seeks to avoid a physical customs border between the British province and EU-member Ireland.” – Daily Telegraph