Labour has dismissed a Treasury document published this morning used to justify Tory claims that Keir Starmer’s insulation pledge would cost £13bn a year – more than double what Labour says it would cost.
In a press release issued by CCHQ, not the Treasury, Jeremy Hunt, the chancellor, said:
This official costing shows that a key plank of Labour’s policy costs double what they have claimed.
But given it was all coming out of a £28bn a year spending splurge which is cancelled one day and then reinstated the next, the overall picture is an opposition party in a general election year that simply does not have an economic plan.
The £13bn figure is in a Treasury document providing an opposition policy costing.
Civil servants do not normally engage in party political briefing, and in a note justifying the publication of the report the Treasury says:
Successive administrations have accepted that since departments provide factual answers to MPs and peers about the costs of identifiable changes in activities or benefits, there is no objection to officials providing ministers with similarly factual information about clearly identified opposition policies.
Where another department produces this costing it is cleared with officials at the Treasury and signed off by the Permanent Secretary in line with official guidance around their production and clearance.
Labour says the small print of the report shows that officials don’t believe the opposition would spent £13bn on the policy. The report says: We would note that the opposition has stated publicly that “public investment in home energy ramping up to £6 billion annual investment in the second half of the parliament at the latest”.
A Labour source said:
Labour’s plans to upgrade homes would ramp up to a maximum of £6bn per year, subject to our fiscal rules.
The government has the same target. It was first announced in 2017’s clean growth strategy and again in 2021’s heat and building strategy.
Given this is the government’s costings for delivering their own target, it raises questions about whether they have a secret plan to spend (£12-14bn) and how they will pay for it.
Oliver Dowden, the deputy prime minister, has claimed that Rishi Sunak was not being misleading when he suggested in an interview that Keir Starmer was a terrorist sympathiser.
Sunak made the comment in his TalkTV interview with Piers Morgan, which also led to him being widely condemned for shaking hands with Morgan on a £1,000 bet over whether or not deportation flights to Rwanda will happen.
The Conservatives have recently criticised Starmer for acting for the Islamist group Hizb ut-Tahrir when he was a human rights lawyer in 2008. Starmer was part of a team of lawyers that tried unsuccessfully to use European human rights law to overturn a ban on the group in Germany.
In the interview Sunak told Morgan:
We have been very clear about Hizb ut-Tahrir, they should be a proscribed terrorist organisation. We are bringing forward the legislation to do that.
And, again, the question for Keir Starmer, he once upon a time represented Hizb ut-Tahrir. Actually he supported them in resisting proscription elsewhere. And that is who he was on the side of? We are trying to ban these people and he was busy trying to represent them.
Asked if he thought Starmer as “a terrorist sympathiser”, Sunak replied:
Well I would say let the facts speak for themselves, right? There he was, he was their lawyer when they were trying to resist this.
Starmer’s office dismissed Sunak’s comments as “desperate nonsense”, saying that as director of public prosecutions Starmer “oversaw the first ever prosecution of senior members of al-Qaida, the jailing of the airline liquid bomb plotters and the deportation of countless terrorists”.
In an interview with Times Radio, Dowden said that, while “robust political discourse” was fine, he did not think politicians should lie or mislead people, and he said he did not accept that was something his party was doing.
Asked about Sunak’s jibe, Dowden said:
What Rishi Sunak was highlighting … was the fact that (Starmer) had represented, I believe it was Hizb ut-Tahrir which the government has proscribed. I would say that is the use of robust language. I wouldn’t say that was the prime minister misleading.
Asked if it was acceptable for Sunak to imply, in his response to Morgan, that he did think Starmer was a terrorist sympathiser, Dowden replied:
I think it’s acceptable what the prime minister said, which was that the facts speak for themselves. He was setting out those facts for people to understand them.
During her media round this morning Victoria Atkins, the health secretary, faced awkward questions about funding for NHS dentistry.
In an interview on BBC Breakfast, she repeatedly refused to confirm that the budget for NHS dentistry has fallen over the past decade.
Later, on the Today programme, when asked to confirm that the government had underspent on dentistry, she said “the dentistry environment is much, much more complex than that”. She insisted that the £200m was new money, in addition to £3bn already being spent on NHS dentistry.
Asked to confirm that overall spending on NHS dentisry in real terms was lower than it was in 2010, Atkins did not deny this, but said it was important to acknowledge there had been “a big change in the dental market over the last decade or so”.
Responding to the interview round, Daisy Cooper, the Lib Dem health spokesperson, said:
Seeing a minister duck and dive on the reality of dental funding cuts will be hard to swallow for millions who have been left waiting for so long under this government.
The reality is they’ve left our dental services to rot and now think they can rebuild it with a handful of toothpicks.
At Westminster many people have been working on the assumption that the general election will take place in November or December. That is because one of the very few reliable laws of British politics is that a prime minister facing almost certain electoral defeat will put of an election for as long as possible, because January (the last possible date) would be madness, because no one wants an election campaign over Christmas, and because the Conservative party, like other parties, makes a huge amount of money from its party conference, and letting it go ahead would rule out October.
But, in a story in the Sun today, Harry Cole says thinking in No 10 is moving towards an October election. He explains:
It comes as Tory HQ brought in a whopping £16.5 million in donations in the last four months.
An October poll would upend the party conference season – traditionally a big money spinner for political parties.
But one Tory source said: “Cash is not a problem for us.”
Wes Streeting, the shadow health secretary, was giving interviews this morning about dentistry from outside the dental surgery in Bristol where the police had to be called to manage the queues because so many people wanted to sign up for an NHS dentists.
Unusually for an opposition spokesperson, Streeting sounded marginally more positive about the government’s announcement that the relevant professional organisation – British Dental Association (see 9.46am). He said it would “go some way to plugging the immediate shortfall”. But he agreed with the BDA in saying what was really needed was reform of the contract for NHS dentists. Labour would address this within days of getting into office, he claimed.
He told BBC Breakfast this morning:
It’s just gone quarter past seven. There is already a queue of people. Those people have been told that the practice isn’t enrolling new patients today, but people are still queuing already on a very cold morning because they’re desperate.
What the government’s announced today, much of which has been lifted from what Labour has announced as an emergency dental rescue package, will go some way to plugging the immediate shortfall.
But what it doesn’t do, and what the dentists are crying out for, is reform of the dentist contract so we can recruit and retain the NHS dentists we need.
I will grip the issue of reform of the contract in week one of a Labour government, getting the dentists in straight away to agree the process for contract renegotiation.
The British Dental Association cites numerous reasons why it thinks the government’s dental recovery plan for England is inadequate in its formal response. Here are the points it is making.
The BDA says the new, higher payments for dentists who see NHS patients do not “go anywhere near far enough” to covering the full costs dentists will incur, “particularly for treatments like dentures or crowns that require laboratory work”.
Last month Department of Health and Social care accounts revealed the service’s £3bn budget has barely changed in a decade, with no effort to keep pace with demand, or rising costs. In real terms the budget has been cut by over £1bn since 2010.
The BDA says the plan does not do what the Commons health committee said was needed in a report last year. The committee said the problems faced by people unable to access NHS dentistry were “totally unacceptable in the 21st century” and that “fundamental reform” of the contract for NHS dentists was needed.
It says, without reform to the contract for NHS dentists, the plan amounts to “little more than an exercise in ‘rearranging the deck chairs’”.
Good morning. Labour has been campaigning hard recently on the dire state of NHS dentistry, which is near-impossible to access to many places, and today the government is responding by publicising its own NHS dental recovery plan. The British Dental Association has been scathing about it. It is normal, with a government initiative like this, for the relevant to professional body to say that it is a step in the right direction but does not go far enough etc. But, in its response, the BDA does not even bother with the usual niceties. It is wholly critical, saying the plan is “incapable of even beginning to honour Rishi Sunak’s promise to ‘restore’ NHS dentistry, or in any way meet the government’s stated ambition to provide access to NHS dentistry for ‘all who need it’”.
Aletha Adu and Tobi Thomas have the story here.
Labour has said some elements of the programme, in particular the emphasis on doing more to get young children brushing their teeth properly, echoes what they were saying in their own dental recovery plan, published in October at the party conference. In interviews this morning, Victoria Atkins, the health secretary, refused to accept that, claiming that Labour does not trust parents. She told Times Radio:
Labour seems to think that no parent can be trusted to brush their children’s teeth. We do not take that approach. We say the overwhelming majority of parents do a great job looking after their children.
For those children that are struggling, this is where the fluoride brushing dental teams into reception class…really counts because we are targeting it very, very particularly on areas where there are high, high rates of oral ill health.
But, in fact, on children’s teeth brushing, the two plans are similar. NHS England’s plan says:
The plan will also see the government roll out a new ‘Smile For Life’ programme which will see parents and parents-to-be offered advice for baby gums and milk teeth, with the aim that by the time children go to school, every child will see tooth brushing as a normal part of their day.
And Labour proposed: “Supervised toothbrushing in schools for 3-5 year olds, targeted at the areas with highest childhood tooth decay.”
At the time Labour announced this, some Tories criticised the party for nanny statism. Miriam Cates, the co-chair of the New Conservatives, a backbench group of rightwingers who are particularly socially conservative and pro-family, suggested Labour was “disempowering parents and robbing them of their rightful responsibilities”.
Here is the agenda for the day.
Noon: Rishi Sunak faces Keir Starmer at PMQs.
After 12.45pm: MPs debate motions relating to funding for the police and local government.
If you want to contact me, do try the “send us a message” feature. You’ll see it just below the byline – on the left of the screen, if you are reading on a laptop or a desktop. This is for people who want to message me directly. I find it very useful when people message to point out errors (even typos – no mistake is too small to correct). Often I find your questions very interesting, too. I can’t promise to reply to them all, but I will try to reply to as many as I can, either in the comments below the line; privately (if you leave an email address and that seems more appropriate); or in the main blog, if I think it is a topic of wide interest.