Councils to get £23m to encourage high-risk groups to have jab

Funding will help English local authorities target minority ethnic and older people

The government will provide £23m in funding to dozens of councils in England to help fight misinformation around coronavirus vaccines and to encourage uptake of the jab among more high-risk communities.

Councils with plans to contact people from minority ethnic backgrounds, older people and disabled people have been chosen for the financial support, as these groups have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic and are more likely to be dealing with its long-term effects.

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Source: The Guardian Politics, Councils to get £23m to encourage high-risk groups to have jab

Uncertainty over 12-week Covid jab interval intensifies as UK rollout expands

More vaccination centres open as experts call for monitoring of effect of lengthy gap between jabs

Experts have called for greater clarity about the monitoring in place to assess the 12-week dosing interval for Covid vaccines, as the UK’s vaccination programme ramps up.

According to government data released on Sunday, a total of 6,353,321 people in the UK have received at least one dose of a Covid vaccine. A further slew of vaccination centres are due to open on Monday to speed up delivery of the jabs.

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Source: The Guardian Politics, Uncertainty over 12-week Covid jab interval intensifies as UK rollout expands

Michael Rosen backs campaign for big funding rise for NHS

Patient-led pressure group says Covid pandemic shows need for extra £33bn a year

Michael Rosen, the poet and children’s writer and one of the best-known Covid survivors, is backing a campaign for a massive cash injection into the NHS and social care.

The New Deal for the NHS, organised by the patient-led pressure group Just Treatment, says the pandemic has exposed the need for “transformative investment” of £33bn a year in the NHS or 1.5% of GDP.

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Source: The Guardian Politics, Michael Rosen backs campaign for big funding rise for NHS

Terrorism watchdog to open inquiry into radicalisation in prison

Prison officers have suffered a ‘steady drumbeat’ of attacks by terrorists, says Jonathan Hall QC

An inquiry into the way prisons deal with convicted terrorists is being launched by the independent terror watchdog amid concerns of growing radicalisation behind bars.

Jonathan Hall QC said there had been a succession of terror attacks on prison officers while other inmates were coming under the influence of “high status” terrorist prisoners.

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Source: The Guardian Politics, Terrorism watchdog to open inquiry into radicalisation in prison

Ministers won't commit to reopening schools in England after Easter holidays

Stubbornly high Covid infection rate means no end in sight for home schooling for most pupils

The government has refused to commit to schools being open even after the Easter holidays, raising the prospect that parents will have many more weeks of homeschooling before even a phased return of most pupils to the classroom in England.

A senior government source cautioned that although the data was starting to show signs of a slowing of infections, rates were not falling nearly as sharply as had been expected. The source said the picture had become “more pessimistic” over the past week about the government’s ability to ease any measures in the short term.

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Source: The Guardian Politics, Ministers won’t commit to reopening schools in England after Easter holidays

The Guardian view on the BBC: more than good value | Editorial

The BBC should argue for itself as a public utility, central to democratic life

Since its foundation in 1922, the BBC has had powerful enemies, usually commercial rivals, who think that it is “too bloody big, too bloody pervasive and too bloody powerful”, to quote the former Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre, still reportedly in the running to be made chair of the media regulator Ofcom. But since 1986, when the Peacock report ushered in a move from regulation to competition in broadcasting, this claim has been less and less true. The more competitors the BBC has, the less market share it has, and the less “universal” it risks becoming; in turn, the weaker becomes the argument for the licence fee. It is an ever-tightening circle, quite convenient for the BBC’s enemies. The success of streaming services such as Netflix – which this week announced that it has topped 204 million subscribers – has heightened the problem, though the BBC remains comfortably the most used media brand in the UK.

Last week, a National Audit Office report cast stark light on the BBC’s difficulties. Interestingly, 80% of 16- to 24-year-olds do use the BBC – but almost half of them do not watch BBC TV channels on a weekly basis. And the most damaging recent enemy of the BBC turns out to have been the former chancellor George Osborne, whose insistence in 2015 that the BBC take on the cost of licence fees for the over-75s (an expense previously borne by the government) is significantly harming the corporation’s income. The BBC, after a public consultation, has begun charging those over-75s who are not on pension credit, but it is still unclear how much this will recoup compared with the £745m it would have received had Mr Osborne not taken that drastic step. Between 2017-18 and 2019-20, licence fee income declined by £310m.

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Source: The Guardian Politics, The Guardian view on the BBC: more than good value | Editorial

Johnson being urged to impose blanket Covid border controls

Cabinet ministers and scientists say more protection needed against unknown variants entering UK

Boris Johnson is facing increasing pressure from cabinet ministers and scientists to impose blanket border control measures against Covid instead of his preferred option of a targeted approach as experts warned that this may not protect the UK from importing further mutations.

Ministers are to meet on Tuesday to weigh up the merits of a border policy which could require all new arrivals, including British citizens, to quarantine at their own expense in government-supervised hotels.

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Source: The Guardian Politics, Johnson being urged to impose blanket Covid border controls

These are big moments in our history. Why is Labour's response so small? | John Harris

Keir Starmer can skewer Boris Johnson in the Commons, but competence isn’t enough. He has to spell out a vision, and soon

One of the most glaring aspects of the Covid-19 era is yet another Westminster-centred crisis of political leadership, if not politics itself. This may be a polarised age in which the idea of millions being helped through dark times by the people at the top is laughably old-fashioned. Trust in power has hardly been a feature of recent British history. But it has been clear from the start of this crisis that Boris Johnson has neither the gravitas nor the basic administrative talents to offer us any convincing kind of inspiration or comfort, and the surreally poor quality of the cabinet only makes things worse.

And then there is Keir Starmer. In the eyes of most voters, the Labour leader is clearly a vast improvement on Jeremy Corbyn. The skills he developed as a lawyer mean that he does such an enviable job of skewering Johnson and his colleagues’ failures that it has become a cliche to even mention it. The union jacks Starmer habitually appears in front of are clearly intended to tell the people rattled by Corbyn’s time at the top that all is now well again. But for many reasons, the use of such symbols feels awkward and incongruous: here, it seems, is someone who would like to channel the national mood, but cannot yet find a way to do it.

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Source: The Guardian Politics, These are big moments in our history. Why is Labour’s response so small? | John Harris

Scotland will hold independence referendum if SNP wins in May, says Sturgeon

First minister says her government will not wait for Westminster to consent to a poll

Nicola Sturgeon says she will hold an advisory referendum on independence if the Scottish National party wins a majority in May’s Holyrood elections, regardless of whether Westminster consents to the move.

Her party is setting out an 11-point roadmap for taking forward another vote, which will be presented to members of the SNP’s national assembly on Sunday.

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Source: The Guardian Politics, Scotland will hold independence referendum if SNP wins in May, says Sturgeon

UK vaccine adviser says delay of Covid second dose will save lives

JCVI deputy chair defends extended gap between jabs as Hancock warns end of restrictions ‘long way off’

A representative of the UK’s vaccine advisory committee has defended its decision to delay giving people a second dose, saying it will “save many lives”, as the health secretary, Matt Hancock, warned lifting restrictions was “a long, long way off”.

Prof Anthony Harnden, of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), said the evidence was still in favour of delaying the dose, after a small Israeli study on people over the age of 60 suggested a first dose gave just 33% protection from coronavirus.

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Source: The Guardian Politics, UK vaccine adviser says delay of Covid second dose will save lives

Labour bids to be seen as able and competent, not bold and radical | Larry Elliott

Never mind being big and bold, Keir Starmer and Anneliese Dodds want to be seen as competent managers

Big economic shocks tend to do for prime ministers. Jim Callaghan was finished after the winter of discontent, and the writing was on the wall for John Major once the Bank of England lost its fight with George Soros and his fellow speculators on Black Wednesday. Gordon Brown would have had a decent chance of beating David Cameron had it not been for the financial crash.

Brown’s defeat in 2010 was the start of a run of four election defeats for Labour, something that last happened between 1979 and 1992. Since it became a party of government in the 1920s it has never lost five in a row.

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Source: The Guardian Politics, Labour bids to be seen as able and competent, not bold and radical | Larry Elliott

Perhaps I'm biased but I really do think the BBC is impartial | David Mitchell

The broadcaster is giving in to its critics by trying to prove what it already is – one of the few reputable media sources we have

The BBC started its compulsory impartiality training last week and I’m concerned not to have been asked along. Is that a bad sign about my career or do I not qualify for a more benign reason? As someone who quite often features on the BBC’s TV or radio stations, I still find it hard to work out whether I’m officially part of it. Or, indeed, who is.

Everyone seems to talk about “the BBC” – usually complaining, about anything from how it’s biased against Brexit, to how it hates Jeremy Corbyn, to how it ruined The Archers, to how it won’t let you have a kettle in your office any more, to, since Monday, how it makes you go on impartiality courses – but nobody seems to own up to actually being it. Even Tim Davie, the director general, mainly talks about what “the BBC” got wrong under his predecessors. So even he’s moaning about it not being it.

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Source: The Guardian Politics, Perhaps I’m biased but I really do think the BBC is impartial | David Mitchell

Netflix still several steps ahead in strategy for wooing subscribers

Many thought the streaming service would come unstuck with its debt-fuelled growth, but the pandemic changed all that

Only Frank Underwood could amass as much power in such a short space of time. Nearly eight years after Netflix used House of Cards as the launch of its global empire, the streaming service announced last week that it now had more than 200 million subscribers. The pandemic has hastened the company’s transformation from a debt-laden digital upstart into an essential part of the TV landscape in homes across the world.

In 2013, when Netflix’s first original series made its debut, the company had 30 million (mostly US) subscribers. This was six years after it moved from being a DVD-by-post business to a streaming pioneer. Since then it has added 170 million subscribers in more than 190 countries and its pandemic-fuelled results last week sent Netflix’s market value to an all-time high of $259bn.

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Source: The Guardian Politics, Netflix still several steps ahead in strategy for wooing subscribers

President Biden and Boris Johnson share hopes for end to Covid in first phone call

The 46th US president and the UK prime minister also discussed Nato, climate change and human rights

Boris Johnson has had his first call with Joe Biden since the new US president entered the White House on Wednesday. Downing Street said Johnson congratulated Biden on his inauguration and that the two leaders looked forward to “deepening the close alliance” between their nations.

After the call, the prime minister tweeted: “Great to speak to President Joe Biden this evening. I look forward to deepening the longstanding alliance between our two countries as we drive a green and sustainable recovery from Covid-19.”

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Source: The Guardian Politics, President Biden and Boris Johnson share hopes for end to Covid in first phone call

Move to EU to avoid Brexit costs, firms told

Exporters advised by Department for International Trade officials to form EU-based companies to circumvent border issues

British businesses that export to the continent are being encouraged by government trade advisers to set up separate companies inside the EU in order to get around extra charges, paperwork and taxes resulting from Brexit, the Observer can reveal.

In an extraordinary twist to the Brexit saga, UK small businesses are being told by advisers working for the Department for International Trade (DIT) that the best way to circumvent border issues and VAT problems that have been piling up since 1 January is to register new firms within the EU single market, from where they can distribute their goods far more freely.

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Source: The Guardian Politics, Move to EU to avoid Brexit costs, firms told

Welsh Tory leader quits after drinking during Covid alcohol ban

Paul Davies says he did not break any rules in Senedd, as chief whip Darren Millar also quits

The leader of the Conservatives in the Welsh parliament has quit after he was seen drinking in the Senedd during a pub alcohol ban.

Paul Davies insisted he had not broken any rules but that the fallout from the news meant “I simply cannot continue in my post”.

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Source: The Guardian Politics, Welsh Tory leader quits after drinking during Covid alcohol ban

Doctors call for shorter gap between Pfizer Covid vaccine doses in UK

British Medical Association warns current 12-week wait could reduce effectiveness of the jab

The gap between the first and second dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccine must be reduced to ensure the vaccine is effective, senior doctors have warned.

Currently patients wait about three months to get their second dose. Prof Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer for England, said this was a “public health decision” to get the first jab to more people across the country.

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Source: The Guardian Politics, Doctors call for shorter gap between Pfizer Covid vaccine doses in UK

Child benefit: government urged to raise high income charge threshold

Decision would avoid a hit to basic-rate taxpayers from April, say campaigners

The level at which the high income child benefit charge kicks in should be increased so that basic-rate taxpayers do not have to start paying, a campaign group has said.

Currently, anyone earning more than £50,000 a year must start paying back child benefit that they or their partner claims. The charge is gradual and is equal to 1% of the amount of child benefit for each £100 of income between £50,000 and £60,000.

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Source: The Guardian Politics, Child benefit: government urged to raise high income charge threshold

Summer holidays cancelled? UK faces big decision on border

Stricter controls appear likely, with government’s approach in stark contrast to that during first Covid wave

Slumped on the sofa after another day of home schooling, many families will have longingly eyed adverts for getaways: sun, sandy beaches and glittering pools, a much-needed reward after a year in the shadow of the coronavirus pandemic.

But ministers are becoming increasingly concerned they may have to ask the British public to sacrifice their hopes of a break abroad this summer. On Thursday, Priti Patel became the latest cabinet minister to say it was too soon to book an overseas break; Matt Hancock has already announced he is going to Cornwall.

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Source: The Guardian Politics, Summer holidays cancelled? UK faces big decision on border

Ministers criticised for plans to create 500 new UK prison places for women

Investment in steering women away from crime ‘dwarfed’ by cost of new places, says penal reform charity

Ministers have been criticised for plans to create 500 new prison places for women as part of proposals designed to reduce the numbers in the criminal justice system.

The Ministry of Justice said almost £2m in funding would go to 38 organisations which work on steering women away from crime, such as Shropshire-based Willowdene, and Cheshire Without Abuse.

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Source: The Guardian Politics, Ministers criticised for plans to create 500 new UK prison places for women

Invest in UK industry to drive switch to electric cars, says Labour

Party also says sector needs Covid crisis support similar to that in France and Germany

The Labour party has called for the government to invest billions of pounds in the UK car industry to help it recover from the coronavirus pandemic and to push forward the transition towards electric cars.

The stimulus for motor manufacturers envisaged by Labour would be on a similar scale to the support given by Germany and France, which last year earmarked €5bn (£4.4bn) and €8bn, respectively, for their carmakers.

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Source: The Guardian Politics, Invest in UK industry to drive switch to electric cars, says Labour

PM's press secretary Allegra Stratton to self-isolate due to Covid rules

No 10 aide is the latest key government figure forced into self-isolation during pandemic

Boris Johnson’s press secretary, Allegra Stratton, has become the latest key government figure to be forced to self-isolate under coronavirus rules, days after Matt Hancock had to do so after being alerted by the test-and-trace app.

Stratton – an ex-journalist and former aide to Rishi Sunak, the chancellor, who moved to Downing Street to become the face of still-to-begin televised No 10 press briefings – will not be at work all next week, it is understood.

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Source: The Guardian Politics, PM’s press secretary Allegra Stratton to self-isolate due to Covid rules