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Covid inquiry: George Osborne ‘completely rejects’ claims austerity weakened health and social care capacity – UK politics live | Politics

Covid inquiry: George Osborne ‘completely rejects’ claims austerity weakened health and social care capacity – UK politics live | Politics

Osborne says Treasury had not planned for long lockdown – but says furlough scheme would not have been better if it had

George Osborne says it is hard to imagine a crisis like Covid not also turning into a financial or fiscal crisis.

Q: Do you agree that the Treasury had not been planning for external shocks that could affect the economy?

Osborne says the UK had an influenza plan. The Treasury had looked at the impact of that – the hit to GDP, and the impact of people being off work for a week or two.

The Treasury had the capacity to deal with that, he says.

For example, he says it had considered supply chain issues.

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But Osborne says no planning had been done for the impact of the entire population being asked to stay at home for months. He says no other country had planned for that either.

If the Treasury had been asked to prepare for a lockdown lasting months, it would have prepared policies like furlough, he says.

In the event, he says it turned out to be relatively easy to put schemes like furlough in place.

Planning could have been done in advance, he says. But he goes on:

I’m not clear that would have made for a better furlough scheme than the one we actually saw.

Key events

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Nadine Dorries, the former culture secretary, has said she is “disappointed” by the report from the independent expert panel rejecting her complaint that she was bullied on Twitter by the SNP MP John Nicolson. (See 1.10pm.)

In any workplace other than Parliament where the rule of law, not privilege applies, Nicholson would have been instantly dismissed.

— Rt Hon Nadine Dorries (@NadineDorries) June 20, 2023

I’m disappointed that the Standards Commissioners verdict has been overturned in this way. It seems strange to me that it can be done on the basis of ‘new evidence’ which I have not seen or been given the opportunity to respond to.

— Rt Hon Nadine Dorries (@NadineDorries) June 20, 2023

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Once again, a shadow of doubt cast over Parliamentary process and the conduct of individual MPs.

— Rt Hon Nadine Dorries (@NadineDorries) June 20, 2023

At the Covid inquiry George Osborne was also asked about an Institute for Government report saying austerity had left the public services in a poor state to respond to the pandemic. As my colleague Ben Quinn reports, he did not accept that.

Osborne was asked about this @instituteforgov finding. ‘is it a picture you recognise?”

“The short answer is no. By the time i left office there were more doctors, nurses… and public satisfaction had remained constant.. ” pic.twitter.com/ehJvhZWHj3

— Ben Quinn (@BenQuinn75) June 20, 2023

Osborne has finished giving evidence now. I will post a summary of what he said soon.

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Here is John Crace’s take.

George Osborne seems to have identified a new unsung hero of the Covid pandemic. A certain George Osborne

— John Crace (@JohnJCrace) June 20, 2023

Updated at 08.24 EDT

Watchdog rejects Nadine Dorries’ complaint about Twitter bullying by SNP MP, partly due to her own tweeting record

The SNP MP John Nicolson has been cleared of bullying and harassing Nadine Dorries, the former culture secretary, on Twitter.

The parliamentary commissioner for standards, Daniel Greenberg, originally considered Dorries’ complaint about Nicolson, and he concluded that the SNP MP had bullied Dorries when she was culture secretary. Dorries submitted her complaint in October 2022, and it related to tweets sent by Nicolson in November 2021, after Dorries gave evidence to the Commons culture committee, on which Nicolson sits.

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In a summary of the key complaints, today’s independent expert panel report says:

They were that over a 24-hour period in November 2021, Mr Nicolson had tweeted, liked or retweeted disparaging material about Nadine Dorries 168 times and that in the course of that time, he had “liked” tweets which described Ms Dorries as “grotesque”, a “vacuous goon”, and as having been “ragdolled” by him during parliamentary exchanges.

The complaint was originally investigated by an investigator appointed under parliament’s independent complaints and grievance scheme. The investigator said Nicolson had not broken bullying rules, but Greenberg disagreed and said Nicolson’s conduct amounted to bullying and harassment.

Greenberg said Nicolson’s tweets amounted to “offensive, intimidating, malicious or insulting behaviour” and that as a result Dorries was “left feeling vulnerable, upset, undermined, humiliated, denigrated or threatened”.

But Nicolson appealed to the independent expert panel, and in its report today the IEP says what the MP did should not count as bullying and harassment. The IEP said there were three reasons why it thought Greenberg’s ruling was flawed.

1) Greenberg did not enough account of the importance of MPs being able to engage in “legitimate political activity”.

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2) Greenberg did not make enough allowance for Dorries’ own record of aggressive tweeting.

3) Greenberg did not take into account when Dorries submitted her complaint.

The IEP pointed out that Dorries only submitted her complaint in 2022, almost a year after Nicolson posted his messages on Twitter, but shortly after the Commons culture committee criticised her for making false claims about Channel 4 faking a reality TV documentary.

And the IEP also said that Dorries’ own Twitter use suggested that she was not quite as shocked by Nicolson’s tweets as she suggested. The IEP said:

The question whether she was genuinely shocked or disturbed is obviously capable of being affected by her own behaviour. If her own use of Twitter might at times be thought aggressive, or even threatening, it would suggest it was less likely that she was affected as she claimed …
Some of the evidence provided to us demonstrates that the complainant herself has used strong language in tweeting, and that she has lodged complaints about others in the past. On one occasion she referred in a tweet to a journalist with whom she has had a sustained difficult relationship as “an apologist for Islamic atrocities”. She then complained about the journalist to his employers. The complaint was dismissed. On another occasion a tabloid journalist was investigating the funding of the complainant’s office and payments to one of her daughters. A press photographer took photographs of the complainant’s (adult) daughter in the street near her home. Subsequently the complainant tweeted that she would “nail [the journalist’s] balls to the floor using [the journalist’s] own front teeth”. She explained this to the investigator by saying the photographer had taken photographs of her “teenage” daughter “inside her house”. The complainant lodged a complaint with the Independent Press Standards Organisation, which was rejected.

Updated at 08.17 EDT
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No 10 still refuses to say whether or not Sunak agrees with privileges committee report saying Boris Johnson lied to MPs

On the Today programme this morning Mel Stride, the work and pensions secretary, said that Rishi Sunak would answer questions about the privileges committee report into Boris Johnson in due course. (See 9.22am.)

As if, as the young people might say. At the Downing Street lobby briefing the PM’s spokesperson was asked if he would finally say whether or not Sunak agreed with the committee’s report. The spokesperson implied that Sunak is still in Trappist monk mode on this issue. He told reporters:

The prime minister thanks the committee for their thorough work and fully respects the decision of the house on this matter. He has made clear it was rightly a matter for parliament and not for government.

The spokesperson would not say how Sunak would have voted if he had been in the Commons for last night’s vote.

Asked if Sunak thought Boris Johnson did mislead MPs about Partygate, the spokesperson replied:

He respects the decision the house has come to, this follows extensive work by the committee, but beyond that I don’t have anything more to add.

Asked if Sunak thought the matter was now closed, the spokesperson replied: “Yes.”

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Osborne says he completely rejects claims austerity weakened UK’s health and social care capacity

At the Covid inquiry, Kate Blackwell KC asked George Osborne if he agreed that his austerity policies had left the UK with “a depleted health and social care capacity, and rising inequality”.

Osborne replied:

Most certainly not. I completely reject that.
I would make two points. The first of all, it is not surprising that the biggest economic crash that Britain experienced since the 1930s has an impact on Britain and on poverty and on unemployment, and on people’s life chances. That’s unfortunately what happens when your country experiences such a massive economic shock as we experienced in 2008-9.
What flows from that is a whole set of things. And one of them is seriously impaired public finances which you then have to repair and that is what we set about doing.
I would say if we had not done that, Britain would have been more exposed, not just to future things like the coronavirus pandemic, but indeed to the fiscal crisis which very rapidly followed in countries across Europe, such as Spain, Italy, Greece, Ireland, Slovenia, all across the continent …
If we had not had a clear plan to put the public finances on a sustainable path, then Britain might have experienced a fiscal crisis, we would not have had the fiscal space to deal with the coronavirus pandemic when it hit seven years later.
And indeed, as Mr Cameron pointed out yesterday, the example in many of those countries that did have those crises was there were real cuts in health services and other public services that went far beyond what the UK experienced. In the case of the NHS, actually budgets went up in real terms.

Updated at 08.08 EDT

Economists paid ‘far too little’ attention to risk of global pandemic, OBR chief tells Covid inquiry

The committee has just displayed this extract from the witness statement from Richard Hughes, head of the Office for Budget Responsibility. In it, Hughes says economists paid “far too little” attention to the risk of a global pandemic in the decade before Covid.

Extract from witness statement from Richard Hughes, head of OBR Photograph: Covid inquiry

(I’m sorry I do not have a clearer version. The inquiry has not published this yet.)

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Osborne quotes from a witness statement given to the Covid inquiry by Richard Hughes, head of the Office for Budget Responsibility. Hughes’s statement has not been published, but Osborne quotes him as saying:

In the absence of perfect foresight, fiscal space may be the most valuable risk tool above all.

Osborne says this backs up his argument (see 10.22am) about how improving the state of the public finances put the country in a better position to deal with the pandemic.

Osborne says other countries could not afford a lockdown because they were not as economically strong as the UK.

Osborne says Treasury had not planned for long lockdown – but says furlough scheme would not have been better if it had

George Osborne says it is hard to imagine a crisis like Covid not also turning into a financial or fiscal crisis.

Q: Do you agree that the Treasury had not been planning for external shocks that could affect the economy?

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Osborne says the UK had an influenza plan. The Treasury had looked at the impact of that – the hit to GDP, and the impact of people being off work for a week or two.

The Treasury had the capacity to deal with that, he says.

For example, he says it had considered supply chain issues.

But Osborne says no planning had been done for the impact of the entire population being asked to stay at home for months. He says no other country had planned for that either.

If the Treasury had been asked to prepare for a lockdown lasting months, it would have prepared policies like furlough, he says.

Advertisement

In the event, he says it turned out to be relatively easy to put schemes like furlough in place.

Planning could have been done in advance, he says. But he goes on:

I’m not clear that would have made for a better furlough scheme than the one we actually saw.

Kate Blackwell KC is questioning George Osborne on behalf of the inquiry.

She starts by saying this hearing is not about the merits of Osborne’s economic policy. It will only cover austerity in so far as it is relevant to the pandemic, she says.

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Andrew Sparrow

Published: 2023-06-20 13:20:25

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