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LACA view

27 May 2020


At the Liaison Committee today, the PM said he wanted to double down on investing in skills but refused to be drawn on the tax lock pledge not to increase income tax, VAT and National Insurance. The Liaison Committee consists of the chairs of the 32 House of Commons select committees and the chair of the Joint Committee on Human Rights. The PM defended his decision to retain Mr Cummings and said an economic recovery package would be introduced. At the Daily Press Conference, the Health Secretary unveiled the Government’s plans to introduce test and trace to enable the country to open up. The strategy has faced questions about how it will ensure compliance in a voluntary scheme. The Chancellor has welcomed the news that Nando’s is reopening 54 stores as the ‘good news we’ve all been waiting for’ as the UK Government look to restart the UK economy.

On Brexit, the EU negotiator Michel Barnier has written to UK opposition leaders proposing a two-year extension to the transition period provided the U.K. continue to make a financial contribution. Michael Gove and David Frost confirmed in evidence to the EU Scrutiny Committee that Mr Barnier had told them the EU’s position on fishing was not realistic. Mr Frost stated that Mr Cummings did not instruct him on Brexit and that the EU would have to ‘evolve its position’ to reach a deal with the UK. Mr Gove confirmed that customs declarations will be required whether we strike a deal or not. The Government has spent £34 Billion to ensure capacity can be increased to deal with this.

Schools Minister Nick Gibb has confirmed the decision on schools coming back will be confirmed tomorrow. It will be based on Sage data. The Prime Minister’s decision to pre-announce this on Monday was about giving the sector warning. Mr Gibb confirmed there were discussions about a summer package to help children catch up on lost time at school. There will be no regional approach to schools reopening. Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick confirmed that parents worried about childcare can “do as Dominic Cummings chose to do” and that “in order to protect your children you are allowed to exercise a degree of personal judgement.”

The Government have rowed back from Matt Hancock’s remarks about reviewing the fines for parents who broke lockdown rules to access childcare. Mr Jenrick stated that Mr Hancock ‘spoke in the moment.’ Mr Jenrick announced that there will be ‘no formal review’ of the fines. The Government are considering beginning to wind down the furlough scheme by not allowing companies to add new people to the scheme from the end of July. Meanwhile, Boris Johnson has been given permission to exercise in the grounds of Buckingham Palace by the Queen amid security concerns about his practice of running in public places.

The search to find prominent people who have broken the lockdown rules continues. The Daily Mirror have reported that a house party at a Conservative MP’s house was broken up by Police. Rob Roberts, MP for Delyn in north Wales was not present at the time, on social media he revealed that he had come out 6 weeks before and was 200 miles away when the incident occurred. Alastair Campbell took a break from calling for Mr Cummings resignation for lockdown breaches to apologise for himself breaking social distancing rules by taking a selfie this morning with a football fan.

Daily Press Conference

The Health Secretary Matt Hancock led the press conference with Chair of the Test and Trace Programme Dido Harding and Deputy Chief Medical Officer Professor Jonathan Van-Tam also providing an update.

Matt Hancock

  • 3,798,490 coronavirus tests have now been carried out in the UK. This includes 117,013 tests yesterday.
  • 267,240 people have so far tested positive for the virus. 2,013 of these cases were confirmed yesterday.
  • 37,460 have now died in all settings. 412 people have died since yesterday.
  • Test and Trace is being formally launched. This will only apply to England initially; Northern Ireland currently have their own system.
    • We can now replace the national lockdown with individual isolation for those who have been in contact with the virus and enforce local action where necessary to respond to flare ups.
    • We will hunt down the virus to find out who is infected currently.
    • Anyone with symptoms must self-isolate and get tested.
    • People who test positive will work with contact tracers to identify who else they have come in to contact with. Those contacts must isolate even if they have no symptoms and the chain of transmission will be broken; this will be voluntary as the system commences.
    • We can now be in touch with who we need to. We now have the capacity for 161,000 tests per day and we are expanding eligibility to include under 5s so now every single person can get tested.
  • To protect your friends and family, testing and tracing must become a “new way of life”.
  • The system will start tomorrow morning at 9am. The first people to be contacted will be those who tested positive today.
  • In the coming weeks we will start focusing on local action to tackle local flare ups. This will help restore basic freedoms and allow people to see friends, book a holiday and get a haircut.
  • A contract tracing app will be rolled out once the Track and Trace system is “bedded in”.

Baroness Dido Harding, Chair of the Test and Trace programme

  • This will only succeed if each of us does our bit.
  • The following three steps must be followed:
    • If you have any symptoms of coronavirus you must immediately self-isolate.
    • You should then book a test online or by dialling 119 if you do not have access to internet. If you test positive, you will be contacted by the Test and Trace service within 24 hours.
    • Test and Trace will work with you to gather the contact details of those you may have infected. This includes members of your household and people you have been in close contact (<2m) with for more than 15 minutes. These individuals must then isolate for 14 days, with their households also self-isolating if you develop symptoms and test positive.

Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, Deputy Chief Medical Officer

  • In Great Britain, motor vehicle usage has gradually increased since the point of lockdown. Public transport usage remains low.
  • The number of confirmed cases continues to decline.
  • In England, there 472 hospital admission with Covid-19 on 25 May, down from 637 on 18 May.
  • In the UK, 11% of mechanical ventilator beds were occupied with Covid-19 patients on 26 May, down from 14% on 19 May.
  • In the UK, 8,879 people are in hospital with Covid-19, down from 10,037 this time last week.
  • On 15 May there had been 45,231 cumulative registered deaths from Covid-19, which includes non-confirmed cases. This was 11,233 higher than the DHSC figure.

Liaison Committee

The PM appeared before the Liaison Committee on the subject of ‘Coronavirus: the science, the impact, and the way ahead.’ On the Cummings saga the PM stated that he was deeply sorry for all the pain and hurt that people have been going through in this period. We have asked people to do very tough things. On his advisor we have heard quite a lot of autobiography recently and the PM will not add to it. Need to focus on peoples needs and the next steps to get people through the epidemic.

Sir Bernard Jenkin asked why the PM had not asked the Cabinet Secretary to do an inquiry. The PM was not certain that an inquiry was a good use of official time. He would not go into the discussions that had taken place regarding this. The PM thought it would be good for people to know what happened as they have been through a horrendously difficult time. Need to focus now on getting the message right and to move on and to focus on coronavirus. We have a plan and have been going through it and its working.

Dominic Cummings

SNP MP Pete Wishart stated the PM was brave in standing by his advisor and had united the British public against him. 65% of public say this makes it less likely that the UK public will follow the lockdown rules. The PM answered that a lot of what was written about Mr Cummings was false and these were party political points. The PM said he was sorry for the anguish of many people across the country and across Government at every level. The PM said a lot of the allegations are totally false, it is a distraction and it is time to leave it aside and to move on.

Conservative MP Simon Hoare asked if the R increases, then the British people may not follow it as much because of the activities of Mr Cummings and people cannot understand your position on this. The PM stated that if Mr Hoare were right the public health message would become even more vital, the Government needs to be ruthless in its message. Mr Hoare stated that this was a distraction and asked if this was on the PM’s radar. The PM stated that the public wanted a focus on the peoples needs and much of the coverage was false.

Labour MP Meg Hillier asked about if the PM saw the evidence that Mr Cummings story was correct and would he refer this for officials to look at. The PM stated he had and there would be no inquiry, the PM said he understood the anger, but people wanted officials to concentrate on beating the virus.

Devolution, Ireland and the virus response

Conservative MP Stephen Crabbe asked how frustrating is it that the 4 nations can take different approaches or does this show the strength of the union. Did the Welsh and Scottish comments on easing the lockdown have an impact on how quickly it is being eased? The PM stated that there had been a lot of cooperation and the 4 nations had similar positions but here there were differences in the R there would be a different approach. Mr Hoare asked about how much coordination there was with the Republic of Ireland. The PM stated that the Republic would not be affected by quarantine and there would be cooperation over the app.

Government advice and clarity

Labour MP Yvette Cooper asked what the advice was for people in Mr Cummings situation where they were ill and had no access to local available childcare. The PM stated that if they had exceptional circumstances they could. A Mumsnet survey showed a quarter of parents said they had no access to childcare during the crisis and one third said they would be more likely to break the law now. The PM said you would have to look at the circumstances in each case. Ms Cooper stated that the PM was putting his political concerns above the national interest. The PM said people should put aside party-political point scoring and should put the national interest first.

Social distancing and the 2 metre rule and contact tracing

Conservative MP Greg Clark asked if the PM read the scientific advice. The PM said he read the summary. Mr Clark asked why the policy was 2 metres when the WHO record was 1 metre and other countries advised 1-1.5 metres. The PM said he had made this point himself, but SAGE said there was a considerable reduction of risk at 2 metres. The PM had asked why it was the highest in the world and SAGE said that was their advice but that may change SAGE had changed their position on face coverings etc. On contact tracing Mr Clark asked if people could use their judgement about self-isolating if they were with someone ill, was it a law or advice. The PM said that he was asking them to stay home but there might be fines if they did not. The captivity for a small number would allow 66 million people to be released.

Testing and tracking

Conservative MP Jeremy Hunt stated the announcement on test and trace was a gamechanger, but it is only possible because we have ramped up testing. Why did it take until April to have the 100,000-test target when the first case was in January? The PM stated it was possible to spread the virus when people don’t have symptoms, we started earlier but we did not have the capacity in Public Health England in terms of equipment and trackers to mount the kind of operation that they did in Asia. The country did not learn the lessons of Sars. Mr Hunt stated that not having the testing capacity meant that we ran the risk of discharging people from hospital to care homes when infected. The PM said the number going in to care homes went down and no one was discharged to care homes.

The PM said he wants a world beating system new test and trace system and that it will start tomorrow. The PM wants the results back in 24 hours. Mr Hunt urged the PM to commit to saying that he wanted a 24-hour target, the PM said he had a 24-hour target. The PM would not give a deadline because he said he had been forbidden from pre-announcing any more things. It would be as soon as possible. What we have tomorrow will be a very valuable tool, but it will be getting better over June, it has come from a standing start. Mr Hunt asked if he would ban agency workers from working in multiple care homes, the PM said that he had committed to this in the care home action plan. What has happened in care homes is a tragedy.

Conservative MP and Chair Sir Bernard asked what was causing the delays to the tests and who was in charge. The PM said the delays in testing were caused by the labs and they were looking at batch testing. Host of technical problems but the UK’s testing capacity was growing. He asked the PM to say who Dido Harding was. The PM stated that she worked in the NHS and was now responsible for NHS Test and Trace which is being launched by Matt Hancock.

Labour MP Clive Betts said Directors of Public Health experts were not as involved as they should be. The PM said there should be better use of local skills and knowledge. The Government were using local experts as well as more trackers nationwide. Mr Betts asked how the local arrangements would fit in and who would be accountable. The PM said that he was accountable. Mr Betts said that it had been announced that every area will have an outbreak control committee and outbreak control plan. The PM said that the biosecurity centre would coordinate with the local outbreak control committees. Mr Betts asked if the PM would look at sanctions if people would not cooperate. The PM said they will look at sanctions if needed and monitor compliance.

Education, Universities and Apprenticeships

Conservative MP Robert Halfon asked if schools would be safe to reopen and the full testing in place and would it be all primary school. The PM stated that by 1 June the primary schools will begin to come back. Accept that not everyone will be back on day 1. Everybody needs to understand the steps that need to be taken on washing hands and abiding by social distancing. The PM said the re-opening would be reviewed and hopefully expanded. Mr Halfon said that there was the potential of people falling behind and would the Government support a pupil premium to pay for retired teachers etc during the summer to get them to catch up. The PM said that Mr Halfon had very good ideas and a lot more needs to be done.

Conservative MP Mr Halfon said apprenticeship starts are 7% down on last year and apprentices are being furloughed and sacked. Asked if the PM would guarantee an apprenticeship from level 2 right up to degree level for the 16-25-year olds. The PM stated he would look at the idea of an apprenticeship guarantee and might consider it. Cambridge has moved all courses online and Nottingham Trent University has taken a blended approach – which should Universities take? The PM said that face to face courses were key to social justice.

Rights of immigrants and young peoples employment prospects

Labour MP Stephen Timms asked why immigrants had no recourse to public funds as a condition of their leave to remain. The PM said he would look at the situation. Mr Timms asked about if there would be some form of future jobs fund for young people, the PM answered that Mr Halfon’s apprenticeship guarantee was attractive and this might be the moment to use this crisis to address these issues. Will come through in June and early July in to how they get the economy restarted. Better education, infrastructure and technology is needed, and we will double down on that agenda. We have so much more data now and can be rapid in dealing with the economic issues.

Equality issues

Conservative MP Caroline Nokes asked what advice he had on access to childcare and how that would affect women getting back to work. The EHRC have said that they have been ignored. The PM said that his advisors were female and many of his appointments and there was a review of this going on now around coronavirus and women. Ms Nokes said that women are more likely to be furloughed and may be more vulnerable if employers sack people with childcare responsibilities. The PM said he thought that women had been harder hit. Ms Nokes asked about what additional assistance there would be on childcare going forward. The PM said they had agreed extra support. Ms Nokes asked what decisions the equalities office had been involved in on which parts of the economy would open first and why females had not been more visible. The PM said he would do his best.

The national debt, deficit and taxes

Conservative MP Mel Stride said that in the PM’s words on doubling down on investing in skills and no austerity, what is the PM planning doing on bringing the deficit down does this mean big tax rises? The PM said that the country could borrow at good rates and to invest in infrastructure. Mr Stride pressed the PM on taxation. The PM said he wanted to keep taxes low consistent with a desire to invest in public services but would not anticipate what the Government would announce later. Mr Stride said that young people were experiencing a lot of pain from this crisis, what about the triple lock pension guarantee? The PM said all manifesto commitments would be kept. Mr Stride asked about rises to income tax, national insurance, and VAT, which were manifesto commitments. The PM said the Chancellor would deal with economic policy as should be expected. The PM said he would look at whether dividend income for the self employed could be included in furlough scheme.

State ownership and the recovery

Labour MP Darren Jones asked how much of the UK economy could end up in state ownership because of project birch. He asked how the Government would prioritise support across different sectors. The PM said he would do what was appropriate for each sector but could not give a hierarchy and would do everything to get people back to work. Mr Jones asked about self-employed people whose Government support would end this weekend. The PM said there were bounce back loans. Mr Jones asked if there would be an economic recovery package before the summer recess. The PM said he would bring a full post coronavirus package through but did not confirm the timeline. Mr Jones asked what parts of the media coverage of the Cummings saga were untrue.

Employment rights and foreign travel

Conservative MP Huw Merriman asked about why quarantine of foreign visitors was not introduced earlier. The PM stated that the scientific advice said that they did not do it earlier because it would make little difference but now rates are coming down we don’t want to see reinfection from abroad so will quarantine from June 8th. Mr Merriman asked if the Government would vary quarantine rules by the r rate for different countries so those with a low r rate could be holiday destinations. He asked if this could be done by the 29th June. The PM said they were looking at this. Mr Merriman asked why companies could put people on furlough and threat of redundancy at the same time. The PM said he was worried about how some companies are treating their workforce, companies should not be using furlough to keep people on their books and then get rid of them. Mr Merriman asked if the Government could step in with BA regarding its treatment of workers and the PM said the Government were looking at what they can do.

SAGE Advice

Labour MP Meg Hillier asked if the advice around coronavirus was confused because people did not know they could do what Mr Cummings is doing. The PM said that the test and trace scheme would require people to stay at home and there was lots of compliance. Labour MP Yvette Cooper asked about why there had been a delay in implementing quarantine. The PM said all the SAGE advice would be published and the scientific advice was that an early quarantine of foreign travellers would not have a big impact on the spread of the virus.

Miscellaneous follow ups

Conservative MP Sir Bernard Jenkin asked about how quarantining would affect the economy. The PM said it would stop the spread of the virus. Conservative MP Julian Knight asked about the hospitality industry and charities. The PM said the Government had put £750 million to charities and were opening the economy.

Government announcements