Matthew Taylor

Sunday shows round-up: Rishi anticipates ‘more economic stress’

Sunday shows round-up: Rishi anticipates 'more economic stress'
Rishi Sunak on Andrew Marr (BBC)
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Rishi Sunak - There is more economic stress to come

The Chancellor of the Exchequer will deliver the 2020 spending review this Wednesday, and it will shock no one to hear that the public finances are not in good health. Joining Andrew Marr in the studio, Rishi Sunak said that the economy was not out of the woods yet, and may not be for a long time:

RS: The economy is experiencing significant stress. We've seen that particularly in the labour market... [There is] more stress to come, and that is very sad to see... and it's something that we're going to grapple with for a while to come sadly.

'You will not see austerity next week'  

Sophy Ridge put it to the Chancellor that, contrary to his assurances, he would be priming the UK for another round of austerity measures of the kind pursued by his predecessor George Osborne. Sunak flatly denied that this was the case, though he did not rule out the possibility of a return to a pay freeze for public sector workers:

RS: You will not see austerity next week. What you will see is an increase in the government's spending on day to day public services, quite a significant one.... It would be fair to also think about what's happening... across the economy when we think about what the right thing to do in the public sector is.

Priti Patel 'is not a bully'

Marr also confronted Sunak over the Prime Minister's expression of 'full confidence' in home secretary Priti Patel. Patel has been accused of bullying behaviour, and saw the resignation of her most senior official Philip Rutnam back in February. After the conclusion of an independent report into the matter, Patel issued an apology on Friday, claiming that she had not intended 'to upset anyone'. The report's author, Sir Alex Allan, has now resigned from his role as a standards adviser over the differences in opinion between him and Boris Johnson:

AM: It is said that the Prime Minister had asked the official concerned [with] this report to water down the language...

RS: That's not what happened... The Prime Minister... has reached the conclusion that Priti is not a bully, and she has offered a full and unreserved apology... and as far as the Prime Minister is concerned that draws a line under this.

'I'm not going to apologise' for coronavirus contracts

Sunak defended the government's record on issuing contracts for personal protective equipment (PPE) during the height of the pandemic. The National Audit Office has reviewed £18 billion worth of such deals, and found the processes to be wanting:

RS: When you're in the midst of a crisis... it was right to try and do everything we can, and I'm not going to apologise for us reacting in that way. I think it's all fine now to look back, but at that moment... what people wanted to know was 'Do we have enough PPE to keep our health workers safe?', and that's what we were trying to do.

10 pm curfew could be relaxed

Sunak hinted that the government would be hoping to scrap the 10pm closing time rule for pubs and restaurants after the English lockdown comes to an end on 2nd December:

AM: Is that going to go?

RS: It's definitely something that we're looking at... As we've learnt more, there have been opportunities for us to look and refine things, and that is one of the things on our list.

Anneliese Dodds - Anti-Semitism scandal is about more than just Corbyn

Marr also spoke to the Shadow Chancellor Anneliese Dodds, and the interview turned to Jeremy Corbyn. Corbyn was suspended from the Labour party three weeks ago after his response to the EHRC report into anti-Semitism was deemed to be unsatisfactory. However, the party's National Executive Committee reinstated his membership last week, even though Corbyn remains an independent MP for the time being. With the rift now threatening to rip Labour apart, Dodds told Marr that party unity was not more important that dealing with anti-Semitism:

AD: We need to make sure that we demonstrate as a party... that we have learned from that EHRC report... That is more important than any other consideration. We cannot continue like that... Obviously the debate is focused around one person now, but it's got to be about the whole system changing.

Government cannot rely on Labour's support next week

With backbench Conservative MPs growing increasingly impatient with lockdown restrictions in their various forms, the government may have to pass its plans to return to a new tiered system with Labour votes. However, Dodds said that Labour's support was still conditional:

AD: I really hope that... there will be much more clarity about why areas might end up in different tiers, what support will be available for businesses, and obviously we'll look at those plans very very carefully... The government needs to have learned from... all the problems that we've had previously.

Lucy Powell - Public sector pay freeze would be 'a kick in the teeth'

Ridge spoke to the Shadow Business Minister Lucy Powell. Ridge asked her about the possibility that the Chancellor would implement a new public sector pay freeze:

SR: Economically, it would be the wrong thing to do to cut back the public finances just at this point in time... It would be morally absolutely a kick in the teeth... for all those front line workers who have helped support us through this pandemic.

Frances O'Grady - Unions can't rule out industrial action during pandemic

The General Secretary of the TUC, Frances O'Grady, echoed Powell's comments, telling Ridge that freezing public sector pay would be 'morally obscene'. O'Grady put the case against the freeze, but suggested that strikes could still be on the cards as a last resort:

FO: Nobody can rule anything out at the moment, but what I am... asking for is that the government stands by key workers... [and] recognises that this is absolutely the wrong time to be talking about pay cuts... [And] the worst thing to do, if you want to raise demand in the economy, is to cut their pay.

Professor Calum Semple - We cannot ban Christmas, but there will be a price

And finally, Professor Calum Semple, a key adviser on the government's SAGE committee, told Ridge that there could be a few days respite from restrictions over the Christmas period:

CS: We cannot ban Christmas, and to do so would just lead to breaches... so what we're looking at is getting [the R number] down.... and there's real good news here... Hopefully, if this system works, we'll be able to relax some regulations for a few days, but there will be a price for that.