Weekly political news round up – 7th July 2017

Overview

It has been confirmed that Sarah Wollaston has been re-elected unopposed as Chair of the Health Select Committee, and Meg Hillier as Chair of the Public Accounts Committee. The Education Select Committee has had six nominations for its Chair: Nick Boles; Rehman Christi; Robert Halfon; Tim Loughton; Stephen Metcalfe; and Dan Poulter. MPs will vote for the Chairs of each Committee being contested on Wednesday 12th July, with the results being announced at the end of that day.

Education ministerial portfolios confirmed

The Department for Education has confirmed that Robert Goodwill’s has been appointed as Minister of State for Children and Families, with responsibility for early years policy, special educational needs and disabilities and child protection. Nick Gibb, the Minister of State for School Standards, has had his portfolio expanded to include personal, social, health and economic education, relationships and sex education and children and young people’s mental health. These aspects were previously the responsibility of Caroline Dinenage, whose portfolio has been redistributed.

It has also been reported that since being reappointed, the Education Secretary Justine Greening has been pressuring the Government to swiftly allocate schools an additional £1.2 billion in funding. The Conservative manifesto had pledged to increase the overall schools budget by £4 billion by 2022, but this would represent a real-terms 2.8% reduction in funding per pupil, leading Greening to pressure for more funding to be promised before the summer holidays.

Ministers attend first Health Questions of new Parliament

Ministers have attended the first session of Health Questions of the new Parliament, with Steve Brine and Jackie Doyle-Price debuting as part of the Government’s health team. During the session the Government re-committed itself to the target of recruiting an additional 5,000 GPs by 2020, despite not including it in their election manifesto. The primary care minister said that increasing GP numbers “is an essential part of creating a strong and sustainable general practice, and indeed NHS, for the future.”

The session also featured questions on the progress of STPs and how the Department of Health becomes involved with individual CCGs’ decision-making processes to improve healthcare provision. In response to a question on this and deadlock between CCGs from the Conservative MP Daniel Kawczynski, Brine did not indicate that the department would intervene in such stalemates, suggesting that local decision making would be left to prevail wherever possible.

Labour conducts minor reshuffle

Labour has conducted a minor reshuffle of its shadow frontbench, appointing 20 MPs to positions including former shadow ministers Louise Haigh, Rachael Maskell and Gloria de Piero, who have been appointed to the Home Affairs, Transport and Justice teams respectively. Some of the MPs appointed were newly elected or re-elected MPs such as Chris Williamson, Tony Lloyd and Anneliese Dodds, with Lloyd becoming a shadow housing minister and Dodds joining the shadow Treasury team. While appointments were made across a range of departments, only a few specific portfolios were confirmed, primarily in the shadow home affairs team.

LGA Chairman highlights 75% of core government funding for councils cut by 2020

The Chairman of the Local Government Association, Lord Porter, has said to the association’s annual conference that councils should be first in line for new funding if “austerity is coming to an end”, underlining that local authorities will have lost 75% of their central government funding by 2020. Lord Porter stated that by 2020, nearly half of all local authorities will not receive any central government funding but will still be left with an overall funding gap of £5.8 billion. He explained that it is nearly impossible to meet this funding gap, as “even if councils stopped filling in potholes, maintaining parks and open spaces, closed all children’s centres, libraries, museums, leisure centres, turned off every street light and shut all discretionary bus routes they still would not have saved enough money to plug this gap by the end of the decade.”

Lord Porter said that “Councils can no longer be expected to run our vital local services on a shoestring”, and called for local authorities to be able to keep all revenue collected from business rates – £26 billion a year – and be able to hold referendums on increasing council tax without centrally imposed limits.

17 NHS staff unions issue pay restraint warning

17 NHS staff unions, including the Royal College of Nursing, the British Medical Association, GMB and Unite, have joined forces calling for the Government to end the public sector pay cap to prevent “lasting damage to the NHS workforce and the patients they care for.” The Royal College of Nursing warned that the pay cap is impacting the NHS’s ability to recruit more nurses, citing figures published by the Nursing and Midwifery Council the previous day showing that more nurses are now leaving the NHS than joining. Unison’s head of health, Sara Gorton, said “Not only do staffing shortages affect care quality and safety, they put pressure on the remaining nurses, healthcare assistants and midwives as well.”

The warning came in the same week that Sarah Wollaston also commented on the NHS pay cap, warning that perpetuating it would have consequences for “recruitment, retention and morale”, as well as patient safety. In an interview with Parliament’s House magazine, Wollaston also notably called for a figure such as Norman Lamb to be appointed to chair a cross-party commission on health and social care spending, choosing Lamb particularly as the figure would need to be “somebody who is respected across the House, who we know works in a good consensual manner to chair this and get it going.”