Key events

Unite union says it’s set to announce further ambulance strikes

The Unite union says its is going to announce further strike dates for its members who work as ambulance staff.

Its ambulance organising professional committee (OPC) is meeting later today to set new strike dates and the union says this “could see strike action throughout February and March as the government continues to refuse to negotiate on fair pay for this current financial year”.

Unite ambulance staff are going on strike in Wales tomorrow, and in four English regions and in Wales on Monday 23 January.

In its report about the head of the International Labour Organisation saying he does not support the government’s anti-strikes bill, the BBC says that, at the same meeting in Davos, Marty Walsh, the US labor secretary, indicated that he was not in favour of legislation for minimum service levels either.

Paul Nowak, the TUC general secretary, has welcomed these comments. He said:

Ministers have rightly been called out for spinning mistruths. It’s time the government came clean about the draconian nature of this bill …

The UK already has some of the most restrictive trade union laws in Europe.

It’s little surprise that the ILO and the Biden administration have warned against these spiteful plans.

Angela Rayner, Labour’s deputy leader, also says she is glad the ILO has clarified its position.

Grant Shapps ludicrously claimed his Sacking Nurses Bill has the international seal of approval.

But the ILO and US Labour Secretary beg to differ… 🇺🇳🇺🇸

— Angela Rayner 🌹 (@AngelaRayner) January 18, 2023

Kemi Badenoch reportedly concerned trans conversion practices ban could ‘inadvertently criminalise parents’

The normal practice within government is for ministers to argue about policy in private but, once a position has been agreed, to stick to the collective line.

But, on the proposed conversion practices ban, the process has been inverted. Yesterday Michelle Donelan, the culture secretary, used a written statement to announce that the government will ban conversion practices, including those affecting trans people.

And this morning there’s a big picture of Kemi Badenoch, the equalities minister (and international trade secretary), alongside a splash story saying she has considerable reservations about the idea.

In his story Daniel Martin says:

The equalities minister is to write to all Tory MPs to insist that a ban on trans conversion therapy must not criminalise parents …

Although the move was announced by Ms Donelan, Mrs Badenoch is the minister responsible for the ban. She is understood to be concerned that it will be “hard” to ensure that there are no unintended consequences and that “there is much still to work on”.

The Telegraph understands that she intends to stress in her letter that great care needs to be taken when writing the bill, with input from doctors and parents as well as the LGBT+ community.

She is set to acknowledge that the draft version of the legislation will be imperfect, with issues around what constitutes conversion therapy, and how to protect faith leaders, counsellors and parents, not fully resolved.

A source close to Mrs Badenoch said: “The area of gender identity is much more complex than sexual orientation. We have said we will not inadvertently criminalise parents who are trying to support children.”

According to the Telegraph report, Badenoch is not opposed to the legislation per se, and she just wants to reassure Tory MPs that the bill won’t have unintended consequences. But it also says she wants “proper time for scrutiny”, which implies she would not be too upset if the plans have to be watered down.

The Telegraph does not say how it got its story and it is conceivable that Badenoch is mortified to find her thinking revealed on its front page. But Tory MPs will assume the briefing was authorised and, with Badenoch set to be a leading candidate in the next Tory leadership contest, being seen as sceptical about a policy like this probably won’t do her long-term ambitions any harm.

Labour to force Commons vote on plans to ‘sunset’ 4,000 EU laws

MPs will debate the remaining stages of the retained EU law (revocation and reform) bill this afternoon. This is the legislation that will abolish around 4,000 EU rules imported into UK law after Brexit, unless a decision is taken to retain or revise them, following a review.

The bill says this should happen by the end of this year. Almost all experts think this deadline is unrealistic, but the government is still refusing calls for the December 2023 end date to be removed from the bill. Partly that’s because the bill also allows ministers to extend the deadline, department by department, until the end of 2026 if they want to. When the bill goes through the Lords, peers may amend the bill to make 2026 the default deadline, not 2023.

As my colleagues Aletha Adu and Lisa O’Carroll report, Labour wants to amend the bill to protect workers’ rights.

The figure of 4,000 retained EU laws is an estimate. As Peter Foster from the Financial Times points out, even the government does not know what the exact total is.

But Rachel Reeves, the shadow chancellor, said the inflation figures just showed how people were worse off under the Tories. Releasing figures showing that the average household is set to spend 9% of its disposable income on energy in 2023-24, compared with 3% in 2019-20, she said:

Each passing day brings more and more evidence that people are feeling worse off under the Tories.

That such a huge proportion of household bills will be spent on energy instead of the things families enjoy is a mark of Tory failure on energy security and economic competence.

This Tory government’s dearth of ambition for Britain is appalling. After 13 years of failure, they may only want our economy to survive, but Labour wants it to thrive.

As the party of sound money, Labour will make our economy stronger, and with our green prosperity plan and mission to make Britain the best place to start and grow a business, we will get it growing again.

“Are you better off than you were four years ago?” has been a potent electioneering weapon since the question was asked by Ronald Reagan in 1980. Reeves has now made it part of her repertoire.

The Labour party briefing also says the average household is now spending as much of its disposable income on energy as it is on food (9%), and more than it is spending on transport (8%) or recreation and culture (6%).

Hunt says inflation at 10.5% shows why ‘difficult decisions needed’ on public sector pay

UK inflation fell back slightly in December to 10.5% but remains at one of the highest levels in 40 years as the cost of living crisis continues, my colleague Phillip Inman reports.

In a statement issued in response to the figures, Jeremy Hunt, the chancellor, linked continuing high inflation to the public sector pay disputes, and argued today’s figures justified the government’s refusal to award pay rises at or above inflation. He said:

High inflation is a nightmare for family budgets, destroys business investment and leads to strike action, so however tough, we need to stick to our plan to bring it down.

While any fall in inflation is welcome, we have a plan to go further and halve inflation this year, reduce debt, and grow the economy – but it is vital that we take the difficult decisions needed and see the plan through.

To help families in the meantime, we are providing an average of £3,500 of support for every household over this year and next.

The unions, of course, argue that double-digit inflation is precisely why they do need a larger pay rise.

Barclay says ‘unaffordable’ pay rises for health staff would take funding away from patients

Steve Barclay, the health secretary, has written an article for the Independent to coincide with the latest nurses’ strike today. In what sounds like a change of tone from when he met the health unions last week (and was more conciliatory, at least according to some accounts), he says that “unaffordable” pay rises for health workers would take resources away from patients. He says:

The nurses’ strike on Wednesday and the further walkouts for next month announced by the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) on Monday will pile on further pressure at this challenging time. Around 30,000 procedures or outpatient appointments were postponed as a result of nurse strikes on 15 and 20 December, so I am disappointed that patients face disruption again …

With fewer than three months left of this financial year, it is time to look ahead, not back. I recognise the cost of living pressures on NHS staff and I know how hard they work. But if we provide unaffordable pay rises to NHS staff, we will take billions of pounds away from where we need it most. Unaffordable pay hikes will mean cutting patient care and stoking the inflation that would make us all poorer.

International Labour Organisation rejects suggestions it backs anti-strikes bill

Good morning. Nurses are on strike in England today, and 1 February (a fortnight today) is gearing up to be the biggest strike day yet, with train drivers, teachers and civil servants all striking, on the same day the TUC holds a “protect the right to strike” day of campaigning.

The TUC is mobilising opposition to the government’s anti-strikes bill, and this morning No 10 suffered a set back when the International Labour Organisation, a UN agency, made it clear it was not backing the bill.

So what, you might think. This government does not worry too much about the views of international quangos, particularly ones that are relatively unknown. But in recent days ministers have repeatedly defended the bill by implying it has some sort of ILO backing. Grant Shapps, the business secretary, told the Commons on Monday:

The International Labour Organisation itself states that minimum service levels can be a proportionate way of balancing the right to strike with the need to protect the wider public. That is what we are doing. Our own unions subscribe to and support the ILO, as do we.

Rishi Sunak made the same point at PMQs last week.

But the BBC interviewed Gilbert Houngbo, director general of the ILO, at Davos, and Houngbo sounded surprised to learn that his organisation was being cited as quasi-endorsing the government’s bill. He told the broadcaster:

I’m not aware of any bilateral discussion on this matter. We are very worried that workers may have to accept situations so they don’t get themselves out of a job. They may have to accept a situation that is below par.

Faisal Islam, the BBC’s economics editor, has a good write-up of the story here.

Here is the agenda for the day.

9.30am: Huw Merriman, the rail minister, gives evidence to the Commons transport committee.

9.45am: Andy Cooke, chief inspector of constabulary and fire and rescue services, gives evidence to the Commons home affairs committee on policing. At 10.45am Harvi Khatkar, chief superintendent and vice president at the Police Superintendents’ Association, and Steve Hartshorn, national chair at the Police Federation of England and Wales, give evidence.

10.15am: Gillian Keegan, the education secretary, holds a meeting with teaching union leaders.

12pm: Rishi Sunak faces Keir Starmer at PMQs.

After 12.45pm: MPs debate the final states of the retained EU law (revocation and reform) bill.

Afternoon: Steve Barclay, the health secretary, is on a health visit.

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