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Surprise Economic Growth, "Cordial" Talks Between Sunak And Sturgeon, Health Secretary Warmer To Pay Increase For NHS Staff

Office for National Statistics figures show the economy grew slightly in November (Alamy)

5 min read

The UK economy saw surprise growth of 0.1 per cent in November, in the first sign that the country might be able to overcome recession in 2023.

The Qatar World Cup may have boosted economic growth due to pubs and restaurants having more customers to watch the games, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

However, figures for the latest three-month period (September-November 2022) show that overall GDP fell by 3 per cent and the economy shrank. 

The latest figures show the economy is still weak but it is uncertain whether the UK is in formal recession. 

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt responded to the figures by saying inflation was “holding back growth”.

“We have a clear plan to halve inflation this year – an insidious hidden tax which has led to hikes in interest rates and mortgage costs, holding back growth here and around the world,” he said.

“To support families through this tough patch, we will provide an average of £3,500 support for every household over this year and next – but the most important help we can give is to stick to the plan to halve inflation this year so we get the economy growing again.”

Rishi Sunak held “cordial” talks with Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak met with Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon to discuss the issue of Scottish independence, the crisis in the NHS, and announce two new freeports in Scotland. 

Freeports are a series of government-assigned special economic zones where taxes do not apply until goods leave the zone.

Government officials promise that new freeports announced by Sunak and Sturgeon will “provide opportunities for people” across Scotland and create up to 75,000 new jobs.

Sunak described the talks as “cordial” and told BBC’s Good Morning Scotland: “We had a very constructive discussion on the collective efforts we are making to address some of the challenges that people who are in Scotland face and I'm confident that we can deliver for them.

On the issue of Scottish independence, he said: “I'm not going to agree on everything. 

“But what I want to do as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom is work constructively with the Scottish government to make a difference to people in Scotland.

“We've got lots of challenges that we all face collectively around the UK and where we can work together and make a difference we should.”

Sunak also said they discussed the NHS “extensively” and reiterated that there is “record funding” currently going into the healthcare service.

The talks are another sign that Sunak is being more conciliatory towards the Scottish parliament than his predecessor Liz Truss.

Truss repeatedly criticised the First Minister and during her 44-day premiership did not have a single phone call with Sturgeon.

Health secretary admits he may have to increase pay offer to NHS staff

Health Secretary Steve Barclay visiting a hospital
The health secretary has admitted an increased pay offer might be necessary to end widespread strike action (Alamy)

Steve Barclay has reportedly accepted he might have to increase his pay offer to NHS staff, in a departure from the government position on the strikes so far.

The Guardian reported that the health secretary acknowledged that more than 1 million frontline NHS staff deserve more money. 

However, the Treasury has indicated it does not currently plan to grant additional money to departments for pay settlements to end the strikes.  

The health secretary has so far offered a £1,400 pay award for 2022-23, saying that is all the government can afford. 

A government source told The Guardian that the Treasury is waiting for Barclay to determine which NHS services could be scaled back so that the Treasury can consider whether to grant additional funding. 

Online Safety Bill faces major backbench rebellion

Tory backbenchers are likely to rebel against the current Online Safety Bill and are pushing for tech firm bosses to face jail time if they breach online safety duties. 

Culture Secretary Michelle Donelan said she is "not ruling out" changes to the bill.

Forty three Conservative MPs are supporting an amendment to the bill to introduce prison sentences for senior managers of tech companies who fail to protect children from harmful online content.

The proposal has the support of at least 10 former ministers, including Iain Duncan Smith, Andrea Leadsom and Priti Patel.

At present, the bill only imposes higher fines for firms that break the online harms rules. 

The bill currently only makes managers criminally liable for failing to give information to media regulator Ofcom.

The prime minister’s spokesperson said: "Our aim is to hold to account social media platforms for harmful content, but also ensuring the UK remains a great place to invest or grow a tech business. 

"We will consider all the amendments to the Online Safety Bill and set out an approach when they have been put forward."

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