John Redwood's Diary
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Energy self sufficiency

Question:
To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, what assessment he has made of (a) the implications for his policies of rising UK import dependence in energy and (b) the potential to expand domestic production. (96751)

Tabled on: 04 January 2022

Answer:
Greg Hands:

Great Britain benefits from highly diverse sources of energy. The Government plans to increase energy production from a variety of sources, including nuclear and hydrogen will ensure that dependency on foreign fossil fuels is decreased. Around half of Great Britain’s annual gas supply is already met by domestic production, and Great Britain’s electricity mix includes significant sources of domestic generation.

The Government is taking steps to support investment in new sources of electricity generation, including 40 GW of offshore wind by 2030, a first of a kind power plant enabled with Carbon Capture, Utilisation and Storage technology, and new nuclear projects. The Net Zero Strategy also sets out the Government’s ambition to decrease Great Britain’s reliance on natural gas, such as by blending hydrogen into the gas grid.

The answer was submitted on 14 Jan 2022 at 15:01.

This answer is most disappointing. It states that we will rely on future nuclear and hydrogen based power. Nuclear power will decline this decade, with  no new station not currently in build possible before the 2030s. All but one of our current nuclear stations will close this decade. There is no large scale hydrogen currently available and that too will take time to build up, with current plans not large. Hydrogen will need to be green hydrogen produced from renewable electricity, as it is not a primary energy source.

The phrase “around half of GB’s natural gas is already met by domestic production” implies it is on the rise, whereas we have gone from national self sufficiency to under one half so far this century. UK policy has been to restrict new UK gas extraction and to manage a planned decline in UK output. That is still the official policy though Ministers have started talking about adding to current gas fields.

The chilling phrase that electricity includes “significant sources of domestic generation” shows officials are keen to press on with making us more dependent on imported power. Last century we used to plan to be self sufficient with a  margin of excess capacity to take care of shut downs of major power stations and surges in demand. We should revive that policy.

The wish to create 40GW of offshore wind needs to be linked to methods of storing the power when the wind blows, especially at night, to help with periods of low wind. Storage could be via production of hydrogen or battery or pump storage. Yesterday our substantial wind capacity only managed to meet 1% of our power needs, demonstrating that rated capacity is a meaningless figure to guide power availability when you can get so little when the wind does not blow – or blows too strongly so you have to shut the turbines down.

The government neds to concentrate on self sufficiency to keep the lights on and to prevent Mr Putin and an energy short Europe holding  us to ransom.Ministers have said they do now want to extract more domestic gas to help so why do they approve official answers like these which imply their words are being ignored by the government machine?

Putting things right

The significance of officials inviting each other to a bottle party when their rules and words told the rest of us to stay at home alone or with our immediate family is twofold. It implies they did not think  the virus was as serious as they told us it would  be, as they were willing to take risks themselves. It reinforced the view of a technocracy that lectured the rest of us but lived by different standards. Apparently officials decided what was right and asked the PM to drop by his own garden to thank the staff. He was clearly not in charge of working arrangements. Some argue he should have been .  It leads to more questions about the way advisers  used statistics and one  strand  of scientific opinion to take over government and dictate controls and interventions on a war time scale.

Ministers and the Prime Minister not only allowed them to do this, but made it all visible  by thrusting forward one group of advisers to front news conferences and to explain policy. You cannot allow government policy to be dictated  by the “science”. Ministers should of course place public safety as a central aim  of policy and should take best medical and epidemiological advice. They must however balance that with assessments of what lockdown will do to mental health, other causes of death, to jobs, incomes and livelihoods. They should also test out the official advice by hearing from other scientists. There were other views to consider on  treatments, air flows, infection control  and expanding capacity that were not welcome as part of the official narrative. There were other ways than locking us up at home of limiting spread, abating the impact and fighting the virus that we needed to do more about. My questions and comments to get these actions were often accepted by Ministers but not progressed with energy or pace.

Sorting out the question of what senior officials and maybe some Ministers and the PM did in lockdown is less important that ensuring they govern well today, though the one does reflect on the central problem of when will the government as a whole bend to the will of the people that pay for it? People would be less angry about the office arrangements if they were getting what they voted for. The government needs to reset, to show Ministers are in charge, and to demonstrate they can work productively with civil servants to deliver promises.

Many people would be happier to see a curb on the UK’s carbon dioxide output begun  by reducing immigration numbers. The more people in the country the more CO2 they will generate themselves and in meeting their needs. The same policy would allow us to keep more green areas free from new houses, a popular green policy with many. We would be happy if the government kept its promise not to raise taxes and if it wound down wasteful expenditures like the excessive CV 19 testing programme and the large costs of hotel accommodation for people claiming asylum who are not refugees.

We want the Brexit wins. Why hasn’t the government even taken VAT off green products yet? Given the passion they show for net zero it looks as if the officials are blocking  tax changes which would start to differentiate us from the EU. Why are the Freeports not up and running, and why does the draft not offer much freedom in the freeports proposed?

Of course Ministers are ultimately  to blame. They are meant to be in  charge. Too many of them seem unable to apply common sense to official advice and to reach sensible judgements that powerful advisers do not always like.

 

 

 

Time for the government to move on from managing Covid

The latest case numbers for Covid suggest this latest wave is peaking. The figures also suggest thanks  to vaccines serious cases and hospital stays will be lower proportionately than previous waves. On 26 January the government review should be able to decide the remaining restrictions can be lifted. The pandemic disease can move to being endemic, something we will live with. Everyone can make their own decisions about vaccines and how much risk to run of catching it.

The government needs to refocus. At the high Prime Ministerial level we know what this government is about – getting Brexit done, levelling up, improving public services. At departmental level there is often a lack of clarity or a failure to work away at contributing to the main aims. Particularly disappointing is the way so many departments have gone out of their way to avoid using Brexit freedoms. So many advisers and civil servants seem to want to keep us closely aligned to the EU.

There is also a slow start to levelling  up. This should be primarily about helping people on their journeys to ownership, self employment, better training and qualifications. So where are the Freeports as centres of investment and new jobs? Why aren’t they up and running , with low taxes and friendlier conditions for setting up and expanding business? Where are the plans to help us grow more and make more of what we want?

Cabinet Ministers need to set out how their departments will shape the post pandemic world and how this contributes to growth and levelling up.

I would also be interested in your views on the PM ‘s statement yesterday on the conduct of those working in Downing Street during lockdown.

My speeches in the Remaining Stages of the Nuclear Financing Bill, 10 January 2022

John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con)

I welcome proposals that will create more generating capacity in the United Kingdom. As the Minister knows, I am extremely worried that we are already typically 10% dependent on imported electricity and that the current plans envisage our becoming more import dependent, with the preferred route for electricity provision being the construction of more interconnectors. I am worried about this on security grounds, because we link ourselves at our peril into an energy-short system on the continent of Europe that is far too dependent on Mr Putin and Russian gas. I also worry about it because we are short of electricity and gas at the moment, and we see the price pressures that that creates. I think we should be doing more to expand the supply of both electricity and domestic gas.

I think the Scottish National party has made some important points, although it comes at nuclear power from a different perspective from that of the Government. While we could usefully enjoy more nuclear power, it is very important that those projects are timely and cost-controlled, with technologies that will deliver reliable power on a sustainable basis. Does the Minister agree that nothing in this legislation, and nothing that he can now do, can prevent the proportion of our electricity that is generated by nuclear from declining for the whole of this decade? As I understand it, these projects take a long time to get type approval and financing, and a long time in construction. As I also understand it, all but one of our current nuclear power stations is scheduled to close by 2030, and although one large new nuclear power station should come on stream during that period, it will not offset all the capacity that is taken out.

John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con)

I wish the Secretary of State, the Minister and the Bill every success. I think we might call this Secretary of State brave, because experience tells us that it is extremely difficult to land one of these really big projects and keep it to time and budget, and it is extremely difficult to get agreement to cheaper power. I am delighted that Ministers are motivated by the wish to have both more reliable generating capacity and more affordable power. Those are two excellent objectives of energy policy.

However, I fear that what I have learned from this debate, and from previous debates like it, are these things. First, we are going to have less nuclear power in 2030 than we have today, whatever Ministers do—they are prisoners of their inheritance. Secondly, it will be difficult signing up big projects in particular, or getting smaller projects that are available and working in good time so that there is more nuclear, rather than less, in the decade that follows, and it will be difficult securing that at prices that customers think are good.

In the meantime, we have the problem that, on a typical day, we are already 10% import dependent for our electricity—I think it should all be generated in the UK—and that we are very dependent on the sun shining and the wind blowing, but the wind not blowing too much. When those things did not happen towards the end of last year, we had to reopen three old coal plants. People would rather not have to burn coal, but coal stations were reliable and actually worked when the wind did not blow and the sun did not shine. If the plan is to close them down and make them unavailable in future before we have anything else as a good stand-by, we will be trying the patience of the international community and trying our own luck rather too far.

I urge the Secretary of State, on the back of this Bill, to consider ways of increasing reliable power for this coming decade—the decade that we are living in and that we will be battling over in immediate elections to come—because that is what will matter to our voters. We should have in mind security of supply, availability of supply and affordability as the crucial things that we need to take care of so that we do not have a self-imposed energy crisis. Linking us into the European system is not a secure thing to do, because those countries are chronically short of reliable green power. Poland and Germany are in the middle of trying to phase out coal and lignite. Germany is in the middle of phasing out nuclear altogether. France needs to think about replacements for its ageing nuclear fleet and it is chronically short of gas, which is a sensible transition fuel, so it needs to rely on Putin and Russia.

Hospital bed capacity in winter 2021-22 for all health pressures on hospitals

Question:
To ask the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, what steps he has taken to increase hospital bed capacity in winter 2021-22 for all health pressures on hospitals. (96741)

Tabled on: 04 January 2022

Answer:
Edward Argar:

The National Health Service is working with local authorities and partners to release the maximum number of beds through ensuring that medically fit patients can be discharged home as soon as possible, seven days a week. The use of non-acute beds in the local health and care system is also being maximised, including in hospices, hotels, community beds and the independent sector. The NHS is also expanding the use of ‘virtual wards’ and ‘hospital at home’ models of care, allowing for patients to be safely cared for in their own homes and creating additional bed capacity in hospitals. NHS trusts are also reviewing plans to expand general and acute and critical care bed capacity in hospitals as needed, learning lessons from the pandemic to date.

The difference in risk of serious illness from covid-19 is of having a booster vaccination for someone who has previously had two doses of the vaccine

Question:
To ask the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, what the difference in risk of serious illness from covid-19 is of having a booster vaccination for someone who has previously had two doses of the vaccine. (96743)

Tabled on: 04 January 2022

Answer:
Maggie Throup:

Early data suggests that vaccine effectiveness against hospitalisation and severe illness after two doses is 72%, compared to 88% following a booster dose. Analysis will continue as the booster programme progresses, including monitoring the duration of protection of booster doses against a range of disease outcomes.

My speeches in the Charter for Budget Responsibility and Welfare Cap debate, 10 January 2022

John Redwood – (Wokingham) (Con) – Could my right hon. Friend comment on what difference, if any, he thinks it makes that a significant proportion of that debt is now owned by the Bank of England, which is 100% owned by the Government on behalf of the taxpayers?

Simon Clarke (Chief Secretary to the Treasury) – The Bank of England has obviously helped to underpin our wider response to the crisis that we face. Clearly, it does have a bearing on the relevant significance of debt, but it would be simply irresponsible to leave ourselves exposed in the manner in which we risk being if we fail to constrain the borrowing, which risks otherwise becoming an unacceptable burden and which would leave us very vulnerable. A 1% rise in interest rates would cost the Exchequer ÂŁ22.8 billion in 2025-26. That is a meaningful level of exposure and one which we want to take action to address.

John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con) – Further to that point, is my right hon. Friend not quoting a gross figure for the impact of a rise in interest rates, and quite a bit of that would be credited back to the Bank of England, which, in turn, could pay it back as a dividend to the Treasury?

Simon Clarke (Chief Secretary to the Treasury) – I think it remains the case that we need to make sure that our debt-to-GDP ratio is more sustainable than it is at present, and I do not think colleagues would significantly demur from that. I take the point that, obviously, there is an interaction—some of these interactions are of a relatively circular nature—between the Bank and Exchequer, but none the less, it is important that we control our public debt. Indeed, we were able to respond to the pandemic as comprehensively as we did precisely because of the fiscal space created since 2010. The fact that we faced two once-in-a-generation shocks in just over a decade highlights why we must have the buffers to provide support when it is needed most and why we must act to rebuild those buffers, so that we are ready for any future shocks. In its most recent “Fiscal risks report”—not an easy one to splutter out—the OBR said:

“In the absence of perfect foresight, fiscal space may be the single most valuable risk management tool”

that we have.

The third and final reason we need to keep our debt under control is simple: our public finances are the legacy we leave for future generations, and the decisions we take now will have a material impact on the lives and livelihoods of our grandchildren. They will help or hinder challenges, from climate change to an ageing population, or indeed to seize the opportunities that lie ahead.

The charter for budget responsibility contains new fiscal rules to guide us back to fiscal sustainability in a fair and responsible way. The rules will ensure that we get debt down over the medium term. They will allow us to deliver a significant uplift in capital investment, in turn driving economic prosperity, but without burdening future generations with borrowing to fund our day-to-day spending. The new rules require that underlying public sector net debt, excluding the impact of the Bank of England, must as a percentage of GDP be falling. The current budget must be in balance, which means that everyday spending must be paid for through taxation. Both rules must be met by the third year of every forecast period, giving us the flexibility to respond to events in the near term, such as omicron, while credibly keeping the public finances under control.

Finally, a third rule will ensure that public sector net investment does not exceed 3% of GDP on average over the forecast period. This rule will allow the Government to deliver on our ambitious plans for investment over this Parliament, with the highest sustained levels of PSNI as a proportion of GDP since the late 1970s. With this rule, we are delivering on plans to invest more than ÂŁ600 billion in gross public sector investment over this Parliament to spread prosperity across the UK. The ÂŁ4.8 billion levelling-up fund is part of that. An unprecedented investment package of ÂŁ5.7 billion for eight English city regions to transform their local transport networks is also part of it. On top of these commitments, the UK Infrastructure Bank is now open for business and is expected to support more than ÂŁ40 billion of infrastructure investment. Crucially, the rule also mitigates the risk of increasing debt to an unsustainable level. Our fiscally responsible approach supports growth while keeping debt under control.

Combined, these rules will guide responsible decision making. The International Monetary Fund has noted that

“Countries that have followed a debt rule have typically managed to reverse a jump in debt…significantly faster than other countries”,

and it recently assessed that the

“new fiscal rules have anchored fiscal policy well”.

Thanks to our support for the economy and early responsible decisions to strengthen our public finances, in its October forecast, the independent Office for Budget Responsibility confirmed that the rules were met. The current budget is in surplus and underlying debt is forecast to fall in the current target year, 2024-25. The rules will guide fiscal policy for at least this Parliament and will be reviewed at the start of each Parliament to ensure they reflect the economic context and mean that we can deliver for the British people.

In addition to the rules in this charter, we will go further, becoming one of the first countries to formally consider the broader public sector balance sheet in our management of fiscal policy. The OBR will now forecast broader measures, including public sector net worth, which it says provides a fuller picture of fiscal sustainability and allows for more sophisticated analysis.

The charter also retains the welfare cap in order to keep welfare spending on a sustainable path and to support the other rules in strengthening the public finances. Since the cap was last set at Budget 2020, the covid pandemic has had a significant impact on the medium-term outlook for welfare spending. To reflect that and to align with the updated fiscal framework, the level of the cap is being reset in line with the latest forecast. That leads to an effective increase of £10.5 billion in the cap by 2024-25.

John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con) – Let me return to the subject of the debate, the charter for budget responsibility. I will not follow the Opposition into a debate on the general state of the UK economy, which I am sure we will have other opportunities to discuss.

I see this as the Maastricht rules tribute debate. Every year under the Maastricht treaty, whether under Labour, coalition or Conservative Governments, we used to have a debate. We had to look at the two fiscal rules, which of course both came from the European Union: rule one was that the budget deficit had to be 3% of GDP or less; and rule two was that we had to either be below 60% of GDP with our state debt, or we had to show how we were going to get down to 60% of GDP with spending cuts or tax rises. The UK normally favoured the tax rise route, rather than the spending cut route.

That was characterised by the Opposition parties of the day, once the Conservatives or the coalition were in office, as austerity economics, although they would never accept that the cause of the austerity was the rules designed in Brussels. They would point out, when I made that point, that, “Oh well, because the UK is not a member of the euro there are not the same penalties imposed if the UK fails to comply.” The fact was, however, that the whole UK economic machine—Bank, Treasury and officialdom—believed they were very serious commitments and that, as they were treaty commitments, the UK had to keep to them. So when we finally got out of the EU, I was one of those voices saying to the Government, “Let’s scrap all that. Let’s not have those Maastricht tribute debates”—although I think we had one even after we left—“and let’s have our own UK framework.” That is what we should be debating tonight.

The Government have come up with a charter for budget responsibility, which I welcome, but reading the detail, it has a familiar ring to it. What are the two main rules in the charter? One is that we must keep the budget deficit down to 3% or below. It has been repackaged in relation to investment, but it is basically the 3% Maastricht budget deficit rule. The second rule is that, by the third year, debt should be falling as a percentage of GDP. Of course, our debt is well above 60%, and it will be quite a long time before we get back to 60%, if at all. It is now built into the framework as a regular review item, although it has the extra twist that it is a three-year average, so there is a bit more scope for flexing things.

I think we can do better than this Government. We could come up with an economic framework geared to the modern needs of an independent country, and I would suggest that our charter should embed two great aims of economic policy. The first aim that it should definitely embed is controlling inflation. It is right that the so-called independent Bank of England—this House regularly changes the rules and shows that it is actually in charge of the Bank of England—is charged with the duty of keeping inflation down to around 2% on average. I have no problem with that as a target, but the Government need to adopt it as a target as well, because as Ministers must well know, we cannot do all of the heavy lift through monetary policy—we cannot do it all through interest rates or quantitative easing. We also need to have a sensible fiscal policy.

Above all, the Government, who control such a huge chunk of the economy, need to manage their own affairs well, in terms of productivity, sensible real wage growth and so forth, and they have a duty to follow an anti-inflation strategy for the public sector directly under their control as a back-up to what the Bank and monetary policy are trying to do. I think that we should embed the inflation policy more firmly in the charter and that the Treasury should have to tell us how it is contributing to controlling inflation. It will be very topical this year, because clearly inflation is considerably above where we would all like it to be and there is no immediate sign that it is about to drop down, although I think it will drop down towards the end of the year, unless policy is particularly foolish.

The second criterion or objective that I would put in the charter is a growth objective. Labour made an entirely fair point by saying that what matters is growth. The faster the growth—as long as it is not inflationary—the more we would solve our deficit and debt problems. Our economy and our figures are incredibly sensitive to the growth rate. In the first half of the current financial year, we had very fast growth. It was a recovery phase and things were going fairly well from the covid lockdowns. As always, the OBR and the Treasury completely misjudged what favourable impact growth has, so they overstated the deficit for the first six months of the year by a whopping £50 billion. The deficit tumbled by £50 billion more, with no tax rises. But there was a huge tax rise—it was called tax on growth. More people went to work, and more people earned higher wages, bonuses or salaries. More people spent more money, so there was more VAT. So income tax receipts, VAT receipts and other receipts in the economy greatly outperformed the OBR and Treasury forecast, demonstrating that, if we can go for growth, we will make much better progress on the debt and deficit, which we need to do, than if we go for austerity economics, slowing the economy with tax rises and a too abrupt monetary deceleration.

I urge the Government to look again at whether they can improve on the objectives in the charter, to reflect on it and to see how an independent Britain can have a growth policy. If the Government established a growth target—they would not always hit it, but they could establish it—it would start to inform the actions of every Government Department that has a bearing on the strength of our economy, new jobs and all the rest of it. That is what we want. We want a Whitehall that is positive about Britain, not one that is trying to hold it back. We want a Whitehall that thinks Britain can achieve things—can invest here, have more jobs here and substitute for imports—rather than a negative Whitehall that says, “Gosh, there is too much borrowing, What can we cut? What can we tax? What can we stop?” We want less stopping and more positive going. We want more ability, generated by a growth policy, to show that an independent Britain can produce more of its own energy, grow more of its own food, catch more of its own fish, and make more of its own personal protective equipment and of its own medical requirements.

David Linden (Glasgow East) (SNP) – That speech would perhaps have done even better with “Jerusalem” on in the background. The right hon. Gentleman speaks about growing more food, but can he tell me who is going to pick that food from our fields?

John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con) – It will be picked by people paid decent wages, and if that requires wages to go up a bit, I have no problem with that. It will also be picked by the growing mechanisation of agriculture. Our agriculture is not as fully mechanised in a lot of farms as it is possible to do when there are better capitalised farms, like those that have been growing more food elsewhere. How pessimistic that was—why is the hon. Gentleman not proud of the United Kingdom, Scotland or wherever, thinking that we can achieve more and do more? Why do we always have to be stopping people doing things, and saying that nothing is going to work and so let us import all our vegetables from Spain, all our flowers from the Netherlands and all our energy from Russia, Germany or the Netherlands or wherever because we are not able to do it here in Britain? It is just not good enough. We have this huge opportunity. We have a very talented people. We have many natural resources. We have a perfectly good temperate climate for growing most of our own food. So, Government, get on with it. Having a growth target would help energise a Whitehall that still seems to be very disappointed in the country it is trying to govern and seems to be trying to hold it back.

One other thing that the Chief Secretary mentioned in his remarks, which is mentioned briefly in the text we are debating tonight, intrigues me. It says that balance-sheet items are being worked on but have not yet reached a state of development where they can be shared with the rest of us. How long does it take? Why do the officials to the Government not know the asset and net asset position for the country? I believe there are some figures we can get from public sources that show that we do have some guesses about all that, but is it not rather important that when we debate the state of the nation’s finances, we understand the balance sheet as well as the income account and that we know whether the public sector is adding value and long-term wealth or not? If it is, why do we not claim some credit for it? If it is not doing enough of that, we need to ask the difficult questions about the wisdom of the investments, the productivity of the schemes and all the things that go into making that a success.

I did ask the Chief Secretary about a balance-sheet item. I think it actually makes a difference if you have bought in your own debt, because you owe the debt to yourself. I am not asking for anything imprudent to be done. I understand why we have gone through this rather tortured process, as has the European Central Bank and the Federal Reserve Board, and as, for many years, has the Bank of Japan. But we should not then fool ourselves into thinking that we have a worse problem than we have. The fact is that all these countries and currency areas spent a lot of money and created a lot of money to buy in debt over the pandemic, and we have got away with it, with a caveat that we have a little too much inflation. That debt is purchased; it is now both an asset as well as a liability of the state, so it is wrong to think that it is just a liability. The new argument is, “We owe the Bank of England and if the short rates go up, we owe the Bank of England more interest and so forth”. Yes, but it gets the receipt. If we want to do the transaction, the Treasury pays the Bank and the Bank can pay the Treasury back, because the Treasury owns the Bank. If I had bought in my mortgage from a mortgage company, I would probably just forget the whole thing. However, on Bank of England and Treasury logic, every month I would pay interest to myself because I still owe the mortgage, but then I could take that money back and spend it because I own the mortgage company and it is no longer a proper debt.

I think we have to understand that something different has occurred with quantitative easing, and I do not think we should go on doing it. It is normally very inflationary and very dangerous. In the strange circumstances of a covid lockdown in which a huge amount of demand and activity were taken out of the system, we could get away with it; indeed, it was right to do it, and I supported the Government at the time and praised them for the stimulus they offered. However, that has gone, and we now need to have sensible finances. To run those well, I strongly recommend a firm inflation target—inflation is a little too high at the moment, and needs to be taken very seriously—coupled with a much more optimistic growth target, because that is the way to grow the balance sheet and get the debt and the deficit down.

 

 

We need an economic policy based on promoting growth and limiting inflation

Yesterday in the Commons I set out how we need to  have   a new economic strategy for the UK. The framework the government has developed since Brexit is a reheated version of Maastricht austerity, based on a 3% limit on the annual deficit and the need to cut debt as a percentage of GDP. Meanwhile we have an inflation surge thanks to the Bank of England printing extra money for too long a time period after the initial lockdown and a very weak balance of payments thanks to a range of policies designed to stop us making and growing things in the UK in ways which boost imports.  I reproduce below my speech:(to come)

Modelling the potential impact of the omicron covid-19 variant on NHS England hospital admissions

Question:
To ask the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, if he will model the potential impact of the omicron covid-19 variant on NHS England hospital admissions based on South African levels of serious cases relative to total cases. (96739)

Tabled on: 04 January 2022

Answer:
Maggie Throup:

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) has no plans to do so as demographics, co-morbidities, past-infection and immunisation statuses in the two countries differ. However, the UKHSA is currently estimating the severity of the Omicron variant related infections in England to understand the likely ongoing demand for healthcare. This is in its early stages as a reasonable period of observation is required to fully understand the evolution of the Omicron variant in sufficient numbers of people across all ages and immunity status over time.

Has the Government met its 2019 manifesto commitments? Here’s my assessment on where we are at.

Please see below my article published at Conservative Home:

Manifestos matter. They are the way for an incoming government to set a direction for the country and to provide a work plan for the civil service to implement.

In 2019 the Conservatives put forward a strong positive manifesto to the public. Its key messages helped the party win its first substantial majority since 1987. The main pledges were getting Brexit done, not raising the three main taxes, reducing immigration and boosting money and personnel in the NHS, the police and schools. There was also a commitment to net zero by 2050 without a detailed road map for the first few years of that long journey.

The Government will comfortably exceed its money pledges to the three main public services singled out for front page promises. I would expect it to hit its recruitment targets for more nurses, doctors, police and teachers over the Parliament. Fifty million more GP appointments should be achievable, maybe with a different balance between face-to-face and remote exchanges. So far so good.

Net zero will be more than honoured by a wide range of initiatives already taken. The danger is in going too far beyond other countries efforts with measures that have serious costs. Making and growing less ourselves to cut carbon dioxide, only to import from big fossil fuel users, is a loss for us and no win for the planet.

More difficulties surround the related issues of getting Brexit done, cutting low and no skilled migration and keeping taxes down. The idea behind these policies is to expand national wealth and income, to promote more prosperity for more people, and to level up the lower income areas and groups.

The policies were right in 2019 and remain right today. The optimistic spirit of the manifesto was its prime attraction. The idea was to boost people’s real incomes through more and better paid work. As the document stated there is “only one way to pay for world class healthcare and outstanding infrastructure and that is to foster and encourage the millions of British businesses large and small that create the wealth of the nation”. Levelling up is above all about individual personal journeys into better and more skilled jobs, into self employment and into ownership of homes and businesses.

Taxes worry people. High tax rates can kill confidence, drive business and investment out of the country and stifle entrepreneurs. The tax rate that collects the highest amount of tax is not the highest tax rate. Politicians who promise lower taxes and then put them up usually come unstuck with the electorate.

The 1974-9 Labour government presided over a nasty recession, raised taxes substantially and suffered a big defeat in 1979. The John Major government stood accused of putting up many taxes by the time of the 1997 election. It was defeated by its own backbenchers over a very unpopular attempt to hike VAT on fuel. The higher taxes contributed to the massive defeat in the general election as the outward reminder of the big Exchange Rate Mechanism recession the government had imposed.

The Labour government in 2010 was crushed by the great banking crash recession it helped bring about. The increases in income tax and fuel duty in its last budget underwrote the unpopularity. The first George Bush was a one term president because he was unable to keep his promise of no new taxes, the best thing he said in the election.

Fortunately this government has recovered the economy quickly from the sharp and sudden economic collapse brought on by anti-pandemic policies. The public is likely to be more understanding of this setback than they were of the big recessions that overwhelmed previous governments. The public will be less understanding if the Government presses on with its increase in National Insurance at a time of squeezed real incomes. It would be bad economics, as the Government needs to promote a further recovery. It is worse politics, taxing jobs and breaking a promise. The Government should drop the idea before it hits wage packets in April.

The Government also needs to redouble efforts to fulfil its promise over immigration. It said Brexit would allow real control over who comes into the country. It promised “We will not allow serious criminals into the country. If people abuse our hospitality we will remove them as quickly as possible”. The UK can now legislate as it wishes to exercise the controls it wants at the borders. The current Bill going through the Commons needs to be fit for purpose to deliver. Only a sharp drop off in illegal migration and in total numbers will now reassure people.

The manifesto showed concern for people’s fuel bills and promised “new measures to lower (energy) bills”. Instead the Government is presiding over a worrying energy shortage. We rely too much on imports, exposing us to the expensive vagaries of European markets during an acute European energy shortage. The manifesto promised the North Sea oil and gas industry ” a long future ahead” before getting to net zero, yet the Government is currently blocking a number of important new gas and oil developments that could ease the supply squeeze. Once again we need to ask why we stop our industry to cut carbon only to import fossil fuels from elsewhere generating extra CO2 to transport them.

The manifesto promised that the whole of the UK would leave the UK together. We were reassured that Northern Ireland with the rest of the UK “would maintain and strengthen the integrity and smooth operation of our internal market”. Work to do there then. The Government needs to remove obstacles to goods moving from GB to Northern Ireland where they are certified as being for UK consumption.

This may require UK legislation to reinforce the message to our officials. It is fully compliant with any reasonable interpretation of the Northern Ireland protocol, which can anyway be suspended if there is diversion of trade. The protocol expresses respect for the UK internal market and is meant to be compatible with other Northern Ireland Agreements that respect the place of NI in the UK. The promise to end the jurisdiction of the European Court over the UK must be carried through.

There are enough potential wins from the freedoms Brexit brings us to be the topic of another article. The manifesto holds out the realistic expectation that government will use its creativity and power to promote a more prosperous UK forged from that independence.

There needs to be more effort to implement that great vision. Success will come if the Government cuts taxes rather than raising them and if it promotes UK production rather than importing more. It needs to concentrate on helping people achieve their aims of better paid and more skilled employment and to do more to create a great environment for setting up and growing a business.