Private Schools Spat At PMQs, Food Prices Rising, NHS Pay Rises Not On The Cards
Keir Starmer challenged Rishi Sunak to address an ongoing row over private schools (parliamentlive.tv)
Keir Starmer challenged Rishi Sunak to address an ongoing row over private schools at Prime Minister's Questions on Wednesday.
The Labour leader criticised the government for handing the prestigious Winchester College – where Sunak went to school himself – £6 million in "egregious state support".
Starmer pointed out that the private college has a rowing club, a rifle club, and charges over £45,000 in fees.
The prime minister responded by underlining the government's pledge to provide billions in more funding for schools in the recent Autumn Statement.
“We’re helping millions of disadvantaged kids with their lost learning," he said, before accusing Starmer of wanting to keep schools closed throughout Covid lockdowns.
Sunak added: “Whenever he attacks me about where I went to school, he is attacking the hard working aspirations of millions of people in this country.”
Starmer went on to challenge Sunak on tax breaks for private schools, calling the policy “laughable” and saying he thinks "trickle down education is nonsense”.
On housing, Starmer mocked the prime minister's plan for an 'Operation Get Tough' campaign, asking: “How tough is he going to get with his backbenchers blocking new homes this country so badly needs?”
Sunak responded by saying the government is delivering record new homes, with the highest number of homes started in 15 years and more first time buyers in 20 years.
"He's too weak to stop dozens of his own MPs joining the picket lines," Sunak said of Starmer, accusing him of not being tough enough to control the Labour Party.
Health Secretary says NHS pay rises are "not affordable"
Health Secretary Steve Barclay has rejected calls to increase NHS pay after the Unison union, which represents health staff including cleaners and ambulance drivers, said it's members would take strike action over winter.
Further strikes are expected to be announced by members of the GMB union, which repesents ambulance staff, in the first walkout in over 30 years. Earlier this month, the Royal College of Nursing announced its staff would strike on December 15 and 20 over pay and work conditions.
Barclay expressed "regret" that strikes would take place as the NHS enters a "challenging winter". But he said that increasing the pay scale on the "Agenda for Change" contracts that most NHS staff who aren't doctors and senior managers are paid through was "not affordable".
"Our economic circumstances mean unions' demands are not affordable – each additional 1 per cent pay rise for all staff on the Agenda for Change contract would cost around £700m a year," he said in a statement on Wednesday.
"We've prioritised the NHS with record funding and accepted the independent pay review body recommendations in full to give over one million NHS workers a pay rise of at least £1,400 this year, with those on the lowest salaries receiving an increase of up to 9.3 per cent."
Barclay insisted the NHS had "tried and tested plans" to ensure emergency services continue to operate during strikes. Despite dismissing the prospect of pay rises, the Health Secretary said his "door remains open to discuss with the unions ways we can make the NHS a better place to work".
Shadow immigration minister Stephen Kinnock told Sky News the government was more interested in "sowing the seeds of division" than taking firm steps to end the strikes.
Food prices reach a record high
Food inflation has hit record highs with prices increasing by 14.3 per cent as a result of rising costs for producers.
According to the British Retail Consortium, products including meats, eggs and dairy products have increased rapidly in recent months, with Helen Dickinson, CEO of the consortium saying producers had been hit by "rocketing energy costs, and rising costs of animal feed and transport".
The group said overall shop prices were 7.4 per cent higher than last November, the highest on record since they started tracking prices.
Dickinson said the price increases were leading to an "increasingly bleak" winter period for the country.
UK urged to launch Russian war crimes probe
Tobias Ellwood, the chair of the Commons Defence Select Committee has said the UK should "absolutely honour" the request by Ukraine to lead the investigations into Russian war crimes.
Olena Zelenska, the first lady of Ukraine, said on Tuesday that Russian soldiers had used sexual violence as a "weapon" as she urged the UK government to lead the probe into crimes committed during the invasion.
Speaking to Sky News, Ellwood said: "This is so important that any soldier, whether he be a private, a sergeant, a colonel, or indeed a general who is operating under President Putin, recognises that whatever they do in Ukraine, it could come back to haunt them.
"And that could only happen if we collect the evidence, if we're able to put that material together and take it to the [International Criminal Court]."
Pointing to the UK's work on similar investigations into war crimes committed in Rwanda and Bosnia, Ellwood said it "absolutely needs to happen here again".
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