Sunak defends £19m levelling up payment going to town within his own, relatively affluent constituency

Rishi Sunak has defended the distribution of levelling up funds, saying that the north of England has received more per head than the south.

Speaking on a visit to Accrington in Lancashire, he said:

The region that has done the best in the amount of funding per person is the north. That’s why we’re here talking to you in Accrington market, these are the places that are benefiting from the funding.

Sunak also defended the government’s decision to allocate £19m to Catterick Garrison, a town in his own, relatively wealthy constituency, Richmond in Yorkshire. Asked about the payment, he told broadcasters:

If you look at the overall funding in the levelling-up funds that we’ve done, about two-thirds of all that funding has gone to the most deprived part of our country.

With regard to Catterick Garrison, the thing you need to know is that’s home to our largest army base and it’s home to actually thousands of serving personnel who are often away from their own families serving our country.

It’s important that they have access to a town centre providing the amenities they need – that’s what that funding is going to deliver.

Rishi Sunak visiting Accrington market hall today. Photograph: Reuters

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NHS England figures show significant fall in number of ambulances waiting more than hour outside A&E

Pamela Duncan

The number of ambulances in England waiting outside A&E departments for more than an hour to drop off patients fell significantly in the second week of the year, the latest NHS figures show.

However, pressures persist elsewhere most notably among those fit to be discharged from hospital who cannot be due to a lack of available social care.

The latest figures from NHS England released this morning show that 9% of patients waited in the back of an ambulance or with crew before being handed over to A&E staff in the week to 15 January, compared with 26% in the last week of 2022.

But while this brings the delays in line with last year’s waiting times, the situation remains far worse than previous winters with close to a quarter of ambulance patients waiting at least a half hour to be admitted to A&E.

Lengthy delays in handing over patients have been repeatedly cited as a source of frustration for ambulance crews who have announced they will take part in a coordinated strike with nurses on 6 February in what could be the “biggest day of industrial action the NHS has ever seen”.

Pressures on the system are still evident elsewhere, with more than 14,000 beds taken up across the system by patients medically fit for discharge who cannot leave hospital because of a lack of social care places.

Bed capacity remains high at 94.2% and, while the average number of critical care beds required in the second week of January fell slightly compared with the previous week, it remains high compared to the average pre-pandemic year.

The number of beds required for flu patients fell significantly this week, by 35%, which is the first significant drop in the winter to date. But the number of 3,447 beds is still 84 times higher than in the same week in 2022.

The number of critical care beds occupied by flu patients also fell to an average of 221 beds, higher than the number required for Covid patients in the same week (191).

Keir Starmer and Rachel Reeves, the shadow chancellor, are at Davos today where later, at 1pm UK time, Starmer will be taking part in a panel discussion.

Keir Starmer and Rachel Reeves at the World Economic Forum in Davos today.
Keir Starmer and Rachel Reeves at the World Economic Forum in Davos today. Photograph: Arnd Wiegmann/Reuters

This is from my colleague Richard Partington on James Dyson’s latest diatribe. (See 9.32am.)

James Dyson attacks Rishi Sunak’s ‘shortsighted, stupid’ tax policies, saying “ever higher tax” pushes firms abroad…

And when UK headline corp tax ratewas cut from 28% to 19%, where did Dyson choose to locate production? … was it not Singapore? https://t.co/J83OLBgz59

— Richard Partington (@RJPartington) January 19, 2023

Here is a Guardian graphic showing which regions are getting the most levelling up funding per head from the latest round of funding.

Levelling up funding.
Levelling up funding.

Some ministers need reminding of importance of upholding rule of law, say peers, in rebuke to Braverman

Haroon Siddique

Haroon Siddique

All ministers should consider the rule of law to have primacy “over political expediency”, but this is particularly important for the lord chancellor and law officers (attorney general and solicitor general), a House of Lords committee says today.

In a report, the Lords constitution committee suggests that the oaths of office for these ministers should be amended to include upholding the rule of law, which it says has been undermined in recent years by the government twice knowingly introducing legislation which would breach the UK’s international obligations.

The committee is referring to the internal market bill and the Northern Ireland protocol bill.

Suella Braverman, who is now home secretary, was attorney general when both bills were drafted, and was strongly criticised for approving them despite experts saying parts of them were in breach of international law.

Both Dominic Raab, the current lord chancellor and justice secretary, and Braverman have been critical of judges in the past.

In what appears to be coded criticism of Braverman, the report also says that law officers “should refrain from making public statements which could damage public perception of their impartiality”.

Responding to the report, the shadow attorney general, Emily Thornberry, said:

It should be a source of immense shame and deep embarrassment for this government – and Suella Braverman in particular – that this respected committee feels obliged to remind them of such basic duties as upholding the rule of law, respecting international treaties, and taking impartial legal advice.

But above all, the man who stands condemned by this report is Rishi Sunak, who saw first-hand the way that Suella Braverman debased and degraded the role of attorney general, then breached national security rules as home secretary, and nevertheless saw fit to restore her to that role.

A government spokesperson said:

This government will always act to respect the rule of law and uphold the independence of the judiciary.

We recognise the UK’s reputation for the rule of law is central not only to confidence in the justice system at home, but also to our excellent international legal reputation.

Boris Johnson urges west to ignore Putin threats and give Ukraine tanks

Boris Johnson has urged the west not to fall for Russia’s threat of nuclear war but instead boost its supply of heavy weaponry to Ukraine, my colleague John Collingridge reports.

Gove rejects claims levelling up funding awards biased in favour of Tory areas or south-east England

This morning the Times has splashed on claims that the levelling up awards announced today favour south-east England over the Midlands and the north. In its story it says this has infuriated Tory MPs in “red wall” seats – constituencies outside the south-east that were won from Labour at the last election. It says:

The £2 billion-plus fund is shared between 111 communities across the UK as part of the second round of levelling-up funding. In England 52 Tory constituencies benefit, more than twice as many as those represented by Labour MPs.

However, Tory MPs in seats in the north and Midlands who missed out have accused Sunak of favouring the south. One Tory MP in the north-west said it made a “mockery of levelling up” and added: “A government that U-turned on a minister for the north is delivering for the south once again.”

Another Tory MP said: “People are apoplectic. There are some really wealthy areas on the list. It looks awful. It’s gone down terribly among red wall MPs.” A third said: “It feels we’ve given up on the red wall. It seems bizarre that Richmondshire is getting levelling up funding.”

Of the 80 successful bids in England, only half are in the 100 most deprived areas of the country. Affluent areas such as Rutland, North Somerset and Malvern Hills, Worcestershire, have been handed cash.

Michael Gove, the levelling up secretary, has been doing a media round this morning and he defended the allocation of money. This is what he said on levelling up.

If you look per capita at the amount we’re spending, the biggest winners are those in the north-west and of course, yes, there is some spending in London and the south-east, but there are some areas of deprivation in London and the south-east. But it’s overwhelmingly the case that the areas that benefit the most are the north-west, the north-east and the east Midlands.

It’s simply untrue that the levelling up fund is concentrated disproportionately on London and the south-east.

When you’ve got a region like the south-east which has such a large proportion of the UK population but also has within it particular areas of deprivation, it’s natural that there should be money there.

But the money in the south-east has gone to areas like Swale and Dover, in Kent, which I think, again, everyone would recognise those coastal communities in Kent are areas where levelling up is important.

  • He said Wales had done best overall, on a per capita basis. This tweet, from Rob Parsons from the Northern Agenda newsletter, confirms this.

I think more of the money is going to Labour-led local authorities than to Conservative-led local authorities and that’s because the money’s been allocated according to a set of objective criteria and on the basis of deliverability.

When it was put to him that parliamentary constituencies with Tory MPs seemed to be getting more, he replied:

You often get situations where you will have Conservative MPs representing areas which will have Labour local authorities and that’s a feature of the changing political geography of the country. And that’s because in 2019 a significant number of people in those areas that were overlooked by Labour governments, and indeed some Labour councils in the past, decided it would be a good idea to have a Conservative government.

Today’s investment is just one part of levelling up. Levelling up also involves trusting local communities more, and we’ve had a significant programme of devolution, with it now being the case that more than 2,000 people in the north of England either are or will have full devolution, mayors, additional funding and more control over what they can achieve.

James Dyson attacks Rishi Sunak’s ‘shortsighted, stupid’ tax policies

Sir James Dyson, the billionaire businessperson, has launched a withering attack on Rishi Sunak’s government, saying its “shortsighted” and “stupid” economic policies have left the country in a state of “Covid inertia”, my colleague Julia Kollewe reports.

Dyson was writing in an article for the Daily Telegraph which is here, at the bottom of the Telegraph’s news story.

And here is Julia’s story for the Guardian.

Labour claims levelling up fund ‘in chaos’ because of payment delays and allegations of ‘favouritism’

Good morning. Rishi Sunak has today announced a spending splurge – £2.1bn for more than 100 community projects. It is the second round of awards from the government’s levelling up fund.

In theory, spending announcements are meant to be good news stories for governments. But initiatives like this always trigger complaints about who has been left out, as my colleague Pippa Crerar reports in her overnight story.

There are various claims around this morning about who is gaining most. I’ll cover them in more detail shortly. At this point there does not seem to be a consensus, partly because it depends whether you just look at spending totals per region, or whether you look at spending totals per head, and partly because it depends whether you just look at this set of levelling up funding awards, or whether you include the first round awards too.

But one point is obvious from the list; if you thought the levelling up initiative announced by Boris Johnson when he was prime minister was going to be about channelling money into poor communities mostly in the north of England, you’ll be disappointed. The spending is much more evenly spread.

The press release about the latest awards from the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities is here. There is a full list of the successful bids here. And the government has created a website which you can use to identify levelling up projects going ahead near where you live.

Labour says the money being distributed does not compensate for the cuts imposed during the Tory austerity years and it says the system is “in chaos” because many places that were promised levelling up funds in the first round of awards have not yet received anything. Lisa Nandy, the shadow levelling up secretary, bases this claim on research published in the Financial Times at the end of last year saying just 5% of the total £4.8bn had been spent.

She said:

The levelling up fund is in chaos, beset by delays and allegations of favouritism. Fifteen months after the first round of allocations, just 5% of the money has made it to the communities who were promised it. And despite today’s announcement, communities across the country are still paying a Tory premium for the last 13 years.

It takes an extraordinary arrogance to expect us to be grateful for a partial refund on the money they have stripped out of our communities, which has decimated vital local services like childcare, buses and social care.

It is time to end this Hunger Games-style contest where communities are pitted against one another and Whitehall ministers pick winners and losers. That’s why Labour has set out plans for the biggest ever transfer of power out of Westminster, so local leaders can harness the skills and assets in their area to drive growth, and all people in all parts of Britain are given the backing to make a contribution.

Here is the agenda for the day.

11.30am: Downing Street holds a lobby briefing.

12pm: Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister, takes questions in the Scottish parliament.

12.30pm: Rishi Sunak gives a short speech on levelling up, and takes questions from journalists, at an event in the north-east. It is one of three visits he has planned today, and other cabinet ministers are also on visits to promote levelling up funding awards.

Keir Starmer and Rachel Reeves, the shadow chancellor, are in Davos today.

And at some point Chris Heaton-Harris, the Northern Ireland secretary, is expected to announced that he is again delaying the deadline for the creation of a power-sharing executive in Northern Ireland. He needs to act because otherwise, by law, there would have to be an election, and it is generally agreed that, with the parties in deadlock over the Northern Ireland protocol, going to the polls would not help.

I’ll try to monitor the comments below the line (BTL) but it is impossible to read them all. If you have a direct question, do include “Andrew” in it somewhere and I’m more likely to find it. I do try to answer questions, and if they are of general interest I will post the question and reply above the line (ATL), although I can’t promise to do this for everyone.

If you want to attract my attention quickly, it is probably better to use Twitter. I’m on @AndrewSparrow.

Alternatively, you can email me at andrew.sparrow@theguardian.com

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