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Lucy Cowie

This week in the UK - 5th March 2021

The Budget

The key questions leading up to the Budget this week were whether Chancellor Rishi Sunak would extend coronavirus support, and how the consequences of the extra support during the pandemic will be felt. Sunak had suggested he was going to be generous but realistic, a combination that raised eyebrows among his own party and others.

Image: UK Government from Wikimedia Commons

Sunak announced that furlough and self-employed support will be extended to September, although employers will need to start topping up furlough wages by 10% in July and 20% from August. Labour has criticised this for being announced too late to save many jobs, and have argued that emergency coronavirus support should have been extended earlier.

The much campaigned for extra £20 a week in Universal Credit will be extended by six months too, as well as the National Living Wage increasing to £8.91 an hour (for those aged 23 years and over).

In terms of how the economy is looking, whilst the UK economy shrank by 10% in 2020, it is expected to return to pre-Covid levels by mid-2022. The amount of borrowing is only comparable to wartime spending, with the government borrowing £355 billion.

Income tax allowance will be frozen, but in reality this means that a million people will have to pay more tax and a million will pay less.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies think-tank has been critical of the public spending cuts introduced, referring to the chancellor as “Scrooge Sunak”, and highlighting the consequences that will be felt when pandemic allowances are cut in September.

And, importantly, most government departments will see day-to-day spending  fall next year, and in some areas it will be a quarter lower than a decade ago.

Politically, the Conservatives have been accused of giving more money to towns who switched votes in the last general election from Labour, as part of a Towns Fund covering 56 constituencies in England. Of these constituencies, 47 have Conservative MPs, including 14 gained from Labour in 2019 and only 9 Labour MPs. Johnson stated that the criteria for selecting these towns was objective, using “data, poverty, and employment” to guide where the £1 billion announced from the Budget will go.

Sturgeon v Salmond continued...

Alex Salmond delivered some significant blows last Friday, but through eight hours of questioning Nicola Sturgeon rejected the former First Minister’s series of events.

Sturgeon was speaking at the inquiry over the Scottish Government’s mishandling of the Alex Salmond sexual harassment complaints. She called Salmond’s claims of a conspiracy against him “absurd” and “bizarre”, instead suggesting that the former First Minister was angry she didn’t intervene over the sexual harassment allegations.

In her opening address, she apologised to the women involved and stated, “I refuse to allow the age-old tradition of a powerful man to get what he wants.”

Image: The Scottish Government from Wikimedia Commons

Sturgeon said that whilst he was acquitted by a jury, Salmond hadn’t shown any regret, despite telling the First Minister previously that “his behaviour was not always appropriate.”

There are still many questions to be answered, including whether Sturgeon broke the ministerial code. Sturgeon admitted that mistakes had been made, but this was not due to the failure of Scottish institutions or procedures.

The Scottish Conservatives called for a vote of no confidence in the First Minister after Salmond’s committee meeting; however it has now been suggested that this move came too soon and won’t pass. Douglas Ross, the Scottish Conservative leader, called for Nicola Sturgeon’s resignation, stating that the evidence was clear that she had misled parliament.

The impact on this inquiry has already been seen; although still high, support for independence has dropped to 52% from 56%, and there has also been a dip in SNP approval ratings.

And finally, Philip Rutnam has settled with the Government over his unfair dismissal, receiving a £340,000 pay-out.

It was his resignation which begin the inquiry into the Home Secretary Priti Patel’s behaviour, amid allegations of bullying. Despite standards chief Sir Alex Allen finding that Patel had broken the ministerial code, the PM overruled this decision and kept Patel in government.

Going into next week, Salmond v Sturgeon will no doubt continue - and possibly finally give some answers.