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Friday briefing: Levelling up 'stitch-up' favours Tory areas

Alison Rourke
·8-min read
<span>Photograph: Richard Saker/The Observer</span>
Photograph: Richard Saker/The Observer

Top story: ‘They are spending money to their own political advantage’

Good morning and welcome to our Friday roundup of the top stories, with me, Alison Rourke.

Accusations of “pork barrel politics” have been levelled at the government, after a fund intended to boost the UK’s most deprived places appeared to be overwhelmingly skewed towards Tory seats, despite their relative affluence. Guardian analysis showed that 93 English regions were ranked in the top priority group to receive money from the £4.8bn levelling up fund, but 31 of them did not appear to warrant being there based on their average deprivation score. Of those 31, 26 were entirely represented by Conservative MPs, with the others having at least one Tory MP. Richmondshire in North Yorkshire, where the local MP is Rishi Sunak, is in the uppermost level for funding. Labour described the way the fund was allocated as “divide and rule” and one MP whose area was excluded from the top tier called the decision “a stitch-up”. The shadow communities secretary, Steve Reed, said it looks like the Tories were “trying to use taxpayers’ money to shore up their own votes locally, rather than tackle the deeply ingrained inequalities that exist in our country as a result of what they’ve done with 10 years of austerity,” adding: “They are spending money to their own political advantage.”

* * *

Brexit – The EU has warned it will launch legal action “very soon” following a move by the UK to unilaterally delay implementation of part of the Brexit deal relating to Northern Ireland. The European commission vice-president, Maroš Šefčovič, said the announcement by the government on Wednesday had come as a “very negative surprise”. Britain has extended a series of “grace periods” designed to ease trade between Northern Ireland – which remains in the EU single market for goods – and the UK while permanent arrangements are worked out. Šefčovič told the FT the European commission was now working on “infringement proceedings”.

* * *

‘Give our Covid heroes a pay rise’ – The Labour leader, Keir Starmer, has called for NHS staff to get more money after the government’s proposed 1% pay rise was described as “pitiful”. Starmer tweeted: “You can’t rebuild a country by cutting nurses’ pay. Give our Covid heroes a pay rise.” The chief executive of the Royal College of Nursing, Dame Donna Kinnair, said the government was “dangerously out of touch with nursing staff, NHS workers and the public” and it could expect a “backlash from a million NHS workers”. Dr Chaand Nagpaul, the chair of the council of the British Medical Association, said the proposed pay rise was “a total dereliction of the government’s moral duty and obligation to a workforce that is keeping the NHS on its feet and patients alive.”

* * *

Net zero – Boris Johnson has failed to set out a plan for the UK to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions despite the government’s green rhetoric, a committee of MPs has found. Ministers are failing to instruct their departments to take the net zero goal into account when setting policy, there has been little coordination between central and local government on achieving emissions reductions, and the public has not been engaged, the public accounts committee said in a report published today.

* * *

Vulnerable victims – Up to 10,000 people facing long delays for trials should be allowed to give evidence by video in an attempt to stop them falling out of the system, according to the victims’ commissioner for England and Wales. Dame Vera Baird warned of a collapse in confidence in the criminal justice system and an exodus of complainants if unprecedented trial delays were not urgently addressed. She accused the government of not being sufficiently ambitious in its efforts to tackle a backlog of more than 50,000 criminal cases at crown courts in England and Wales.

* * *

Meteorite in a haystack – France’s amateur astronomers have been urged to look for a meteorite that fell to Earth on Saturday night about 100km from Bordeaux. The catch? It’s only estimated to be the size of an apricot, and weigh around 150 grams. Scientists say because it fell so recently, it contains “very precious information”. Mickael Wilmart of the A Ciel Ouvert (Open Sky) astronomy education association says he’s “really counting on people to look in their gardens, or along the side of the road, they might just stumble on this rock”.

Today in Focus podcast: The lawyer who fought to free Guantánamo’s highest-value detainee

Nancy Hollander has taken on many difficult cases in her career, but none quite like that of the Guantánamo detainee Mohamedou Ould Salahi. Brought from his home in Mauritania to the Guantánamo Bay detention facility in Cuba in 2002, he had already experienced a series of harsh interrogations in Jordan and Afghanistan. Now he was in the hands of the Americans he thought his experience might improve, but he quickly discovered he was wrong.

Lunchtime read: A forest for the city

One of the most famous stone courtyards in Europe will be dramatically transformed this summer when Somerset House in London is taken over by a forest of 400 trees. The stage designer Es Devlin will channel ideas of enchanted woodland for the 2021 edition of London Design Biennale. The installation, Forest for Change, will be the biennale’s centrepiece and part of a programme highlighting the role of design in addressing global challenges and crises. The forest will have trees from 23 types typically found across the UK and northern Europe. There will also be a clearing where visitors can learn about the United Nations global goals for sustainable development, a plan to eradicate poverty, fight inequality and tackle the climate crisis.


Jürgen Klopp has told Liverpool’s players to “fight harder” and played down Mohamed Salah’s reaction to being substituted during the defeat against Chelsea on Thursday. Ben Stokes described batting conditions during England’s Test series in India as the hardest he has faced in his career but admitted their first‑innings total of 205 in the fourth and final Test in Ahmedabad, which continues today, felt some way below par. More than two-thirds of UK parents believe their children have become less active during the pandemic, new research has found, placing more pressure on schools before their reopening next week. Three members of the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board’s referrals committee will convene today to impose a punishment on trainer Gordon Elliott, who was pictured astride a dead horse on his gallops. Tiger Woods has told responding deputies to his crash last week that he did not know how the accident happened and didn’t remember driving. Warren Gatland has assured Saracens’ potential British & Irish Lions contenders that their selection prospects will not be harmed by a lack of recent top-level club rugby. Pole vaulter Holly Bradshaw has missed five events this season, potentially costing her thousands in prize money, but she is now setting her sights on medals rather than money. The Russian Formula One driver Nikita Mazepin, who will make his debut for Haas this season, has said he made a huge mistake in inappropriately touching a woman. And world football has widely spurned the opportunity to introduce concussion substitutes to the game, with just five countries, including England, trialling the measure.


The troubled global financier Greensill Capital has moved closer to collapse after a court in Australia released papers that cast doubt on its insurance of A$10bn (£5.55bn) of loans issued to its customers. Greensill, which employs thousands of people in the UK, Europe and Australia, and counts David Cameron as an adviser, could lose cover for loans after it was alleged that contracts had been issued by an employee who “exceeded his authority”. The FTSE100 is expected to open down by more than 1% this morning after a selloff in Asia overnight amid alarm that a rise in US bond yields could lead to higher interest rates. The pound is buying $1.388 and €1.154.

The papers

The chancellor is the target of several of today’s front pages. The Guardian splashes with “Sunak under fire as NHS staff offered 1% pay rise”, saying the chancellor is under increasing pressure to provide more money for the NHS and struggling households. The i’s lead is: “NHS fury as the heroes of the pandemic get 1% pay rise”. The Mirror echoes that sentiment, with “Insult to NHS heroes”. The Times puts a different spin on the budget with: “Tax-raiding budget gives poll bounce to Johnson”, saying the Tories have opened up a 13-point lead over Labour.

The Telegraph leads on what it calls “Europe’s volte-face on Oxford vaccine”, singling out Germany’s “latest about-turn” on the AstraZeneca jab, while Italy blocks a shipment of doses to Australia. The Express says, with the health secretary confident the vaccine rollout will pave the way for staycations, “UK holidays are on … but at a price”. The FT gives weight to “Deliveroo seeks $10bn valuation”. The Mail splashes with “PM fears Carrie’s No10 decor may cost £200,000”.

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