1.34pm BST

Welsh support package for business most generous in UK, Welsh government claims

The Welsh government has insisted that its short, sharp circuit breaker will give businesses the best chance of a buoyant Christmas and suggested that England could be heading for a longer lockdown if its tier system does not work.

Welsh economy minister Ken Skates also said that it had managed to bring the support of the country’s businesses, local authorities and trade unions along with it, rather than becoming embroiled in the sort of stand-off the UK government faces with Manchester.

Skates said £300m would be made available to help businesses through the firebreak – the most generous package in the UK, he claimed.

The minister said this amounted to £100 per person in Wales and contrasted this with the £8 per head for local authorities heading into tier three in England. Skates said:

Elsewhere restrictions are being imposed for four weeks, for six weeks and potentially longer. If the tier system in England doesn’t operate correctly they may have to revisit that entire scheme – who knows how long businesses may be affected? Here in Wales we are taking the responsible course of action, which is a short, sharp firebreak.

We haven’t had a 10-day stand-off with any part of Wales. We have brought businesses, local authorities, trade unions with us.

The Senedd building in Cardiff. Photograph: Geoff Caddick/AFP via Getty Images

at 1.35pm BST

1.30pm BST

NHS England has today announced £15m for the “rapid assessment and treatment” of staff with mental health problems this winter, in recognition of the toll exacted on them by battling the coronavirus pandemic.

Revealing the investment, while giving evidence to the Commons health committee, Claire Murdoch, NHS England’s national director for mental health, said priority would be given to Covid hotspots such as Merseyside and Lancashire. She said:

We’ll be looking at those high pressured hotspot areas first to make sure that, in a sense, although this rollout will be rapid, we’ll start where we think it’s needed most.

In addition, we will be setting up a highly specialist national service for a small number of staff, who perhaps have very complex trauma, perhaps some of my critical care colleagues.

Responding to the announcement, Dame Donna Kinnair, the Royal College of Nursing chief executive and general secretary, said:

We welcome this further support that recognises what healthcare staff have had to put up with, and hope this is the only the start of a sustained focus on the wellbeing of nursing staff. Many of the factors that worsen the wellbeing of the workforce existed before Covid-19 such as unhealthy working patterns and a severe shortage of staff.

at 1.37pm BST

1.23pm BST

Government deal with Greater Manchester ‘more likely than not’, says senior Tory

Sir Graham Brady, a Greater Manchester MP and the chairman of the Conservative backbench 1922 Committee, is on the World at One one.

He says his understanding is that the Greater Manchester leaders and the government are still trying to reach an agreement on the terms under which the region could enter the strictest tier 3 restrictions.

The noon deadline was extended, he says.

He says the dispute is just about money.

And he says he thinks it is “more likely than not” that there will be an agreement.

1.17pm BST

Scottish government to provide more funding for meals for children over school holidays

Scottish councils are being given another £10m to provide free meals over the holidays to children eligible for free school meals, after pressure from Scottish Labour and calls from campaigners including the footballer Marcus Rashford.

Shirley-Anne Somerville, the Scottish social security secretary, said the money would allow the country’s 32 councils to continue offering free meal vouchers, cash sums or food parcels over the Christmas, February and Easter holidays.

It would also reimburse those councils which provided free meals during the October holidays, and would help around 156,000 children, she said.

The previous scheme, introduced earlier this year, was criticised by anti-poverty campaigners because of significant differences in the way councils provide the meals. Some gave out vouchers for specific stores, others provided cash cards or meal packs, while the sums provided varied across the country.

Councils would also be given another £18m to help councils tackle financial crises for the worst off, to meet housing, fuel and food costs, through the Scottish welfare fund set by the Scottish government.

Last week Richard Leonard, the Scottish Labour leader, had urged the Scottish government to reinstate the free meals funding, which had lapsed after the summer holidays, echoing similar calls from Rashford.

“There is no time for reviews or prevarication. Hard pressed and poverty-stricken families need this support over free school holiday meals now,” he told the Daily Record.

Shirley-Anne Somerville. Photograph: Ken Jack/Getty Images

1.09pm BST

Welsh government criticises Sunak for refusing to let Cardiff fund early start of job scheme in Wales

At a briefing in Cardiff Ken Skates, the Welsh economy minister, said the Welsh government was pressing the Treasury to let its job support scheme start early in Wales, from this Friday, to help people affected by the two-week “firebreak” lockdown. But so far the UK government is refusing, he said.

Skates told journalists:

As the first minister explained yesterday, we pressed the chancellor to bring forward the new jobs support scheme to ensure that all those working for businesses which are forced to close would receive financial support for all employees and would not have access to schemes during this firebreak.

We even offered to make up the difference between funding for each employee under the job retention scheme and the job support scheme.

But the UK government has so far refused this offer, we are continuing to press the Treasury to do all they can to ensure employees and employers in Wales will benefit from UK government support during the firebreak to the maximum possible extent.

12.55pm BST

On Brexit, No 10 also said that David Frost, the PM’s chief EU negotiator, would speak to his European counterpart, Michel Barnier, at 2pm.

The prime minister’s spokesman restated the government’s position that it is willing to restart trade talks if the EU agrees to compromise.

at 1.23pm BST

12.44pm BST

Boris Johnson to hold press conference this afternoon, following talks with Burnham about Greater Manchester

The Downing Street lobby briefing has just finished. We did not find out whether or not the government has reached agreement with Greater Manchester, but Boris Johnson has been speaking to Andy Burnham, the mayor of Greater Manchester within the last hour and Johnson will be holding a press conference this afternoon at 5pm, where he will provide an update on what has – or has not – been decided for the region.

The fact that the two men have been speaking suggests that the two sides were at least close to an agreement as the noon deadline approached. It is unlikely that the PM would have scheduled a call if he thought it was going to be a waste of time.

at 12.51pm BST

12.37pm BST

Covid hospital numbers in Scotland up by almost 10% in 24 hours, Sturgeon confirms

Another 15 people have died in Scottish hospitals after contracting Covid-19, with the numbers in hospital with positive tests increasing by 70 to 824 during the last 24 hours, Nicola Sturgeon has announced.

Yesterday the figure for coronavirus patients in hospital was 754, so the numbers have risen almost 10% in 24 hours, the figures show.

The first minister also said 1,456 new cases had been reported overnight, including results from some tests delayed over the weekend, with the total number of positive tests reaching 11.4%. The number of people in intensive care also increased by eight, up to 69.

These figures are amongst the highest reported since late May and Sturgeon urged people to immediately seek Covid tests as soon as they showed suspicious symptoms, and not to delay for a day or two to see whether those symptoms continued.

12.25pm BST

In Treasury questions Abena Oppong-Asare, a shadow Treasury minister, asked what support was available for businesses that were not being forced to close due to local restrictions, but that could not trade properly. She said:

In regions facing tier 3 restrictions many businesses have been forced to close. In tier 2 regions many businesses, especially in hospitality, are open in name only – running up all the costs without the customers.

What does the government have to say to those businesses which realistically cannot operate and are not legally required to close?”

Jesse Norman, a Treasury minister, replied:

The answer to the question [Oppong-Asare] raises is, of course, that we are acutely aware of the financial costs on those businesses, as we are on businesses that have been forced to close. That is why we have put in place an evolving and comprehensive programme of support for business.

12.16pm BST

Leaked memo shows Tories in ‘panic mode’ over Scottish independence, SNP says

According to a Bloomberg story by Alberto Nardelli and Tim Ross, senior Tories, including the Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove, have been considering a 21-page memo exploring what the government can do to counter the rise in support for Scottish independence. It will make grim reading for Tory unionists. Here is an extract covering the analysis in the memo.

“If the SNP builds on this momentum then the endpoint could be a full-blown constitutional crisis or a second independence referendum,” the report said. “Either of these outcomes would consume significant political capital for the government” …

One way of trying to break the link between independence and remaining in the single market is by “co-opting the EU into demonstrating that there is no viable pathway to renewed membership”, the report said.

Brexit has changed the game and makes the conventional argument against a rerun of the 2014 referendum – that it was a “once in a generation” vote – no longer effective, it said. “Put simply, there are not enough leave voters to convert to the ‘No’ side to make up for the movement of remain voters into the ‘Yes’ camp,” the report said.

And this is what the story says about the recommendations in the memo.

The memo offers three steps the UK government could take to mitigate the pressure: “New accommodation, new constitutional settlement, and cooperation rather than confrontation.” It describes the first step as a “velvet no” that rejects a referendum in the short term and buys time.

The government should instead focus on a “four nations, one country” policy by transferring further financial powers, differentiation on policies connected to the EU vote, such as immigration.

Commenting on the report, the SNP’s deputy leader at Westminster, Kirsten Oswald, said:

This leaked memo reveals that the Tories are in panic mode because people in Scotland know Boris Johnson’s government can’t be trusted to act in Scotland’s interests.

at 12.33pm BST

12.09pm BST

Deadline set by No 10 for deal with Greater Manchester passes – with no word yet as to whether agreement reached

The noon deadline set by the government for an agreement with leaders of Greater Manchester on its move into tier 3 restrictions has passed. But there is no word yet as to whether or not there has been a deal.

11.55am BST

Sunak accuses Labour of favouring ‘rolling programme of national lockdowns’

During Treasury questions Anneliese Dodds, the shadow chancellor, claimed that not implementing a short “circuit breaker” national lockdown (which Labour is advocating) could cost the economy £110bn. She said the figure was based on IMF analysis, taking into account the changes in behaviour people would make if they were worried about getting Covid, and the knock-on impact on the economy. She asked Rishi Sunak what he estimate was of the cost of not having a circuit breaker.

Sunak said Labour wanted “a rolling programme of national lockdowns”. That would cause unnecessary pain and suffering in places where the prevalence of the virus was low, he said.

11.44am BST

Sunak rejects claim Greater Manchester just being offered £8 per head

Afzal Khan, the Labour MP for Manchester Gorton, told Rishi Sunak at Treasury questions that people in Manchester were suffering. He said last night the government offered the region just £22m in return for it going into tier 3. That was just £8 a head, he said. He said other places were given twice as much.

Sunak said Khan was mistaken in what he said about the support available. He said £8 a head was the national baseline for regions entering tier 3. But extra sums were offered to Greater Manchester on top of that, he said. He said that offer was still available to the region.

11.37am BST

Rishi Sunak takes Treasury questions in Commons

In the Commons Rishi Sunak, the chancellor, has just started taking Treasury questions.

He says conversations with Greater Manchester are continuing, and that it is being treated the same as other regions. He dismissed a claim from Labour’s Andrew Gwynne, who represents Denton and Reddish in Greater Manchester, that the region was being treated unfairly.

UPDATE: Here is the question.

BBC Politics

“Why does this government hate Greater Manchester?” asks Labour’s Andrew Gwynne, who says region was offered less than the communities secretary “granted to his own town centre”

Chancellor Rishi Sunak says we need people “acting in a constructive spirit”https://t.co/NVFEZRmj7E pic.twitter.com/qtZy2LaXWD

October 20, 2020

at 12.21pm BST

11.33am BST

Children and young people are at risk of becoming a “lost generation” because of the UK government’s pandemic policies, members of Sage have warned. My colleague Amelia Hill has the story here.

11.31am BST

Yesterday Downing Street claimed intensive care capacity in Greater Manchester was less than month away from being completely overwhelmed.

Prof Jane Eddleston, an intensive care consultant at the Manchester Royal Infirmary who is the region’s medical lead for the coronavirus response, has disputed that. She told Sky News:

We have seen initially an eight-fold rise in hospital admissions from the beginning of September through to the beginning of last week …

I don’t think we are running out of beds. We have very detailed escalation plans. We have more capacity that can come onstream. We’ve protected a lot of capacity for our patients with non-Covid conditions. And so at the moment we are completely in control.

Prof Jane Eddleston. Photograph: Sky News

at 11.33am BST

11.16am BST

Pressure mounts on No 10 to extend free school meals holiday scheme

Pressure is mounting on Downing Street to support families entitled to free school meals throughout the holidays in England, with Labour writing to every backbench Conservative MP to press home the issue, my colleague Heather Stewart reports.

Ahead of a vote on a Labour motion on this tomorrow, the England and Manchester United striker Marcus Rashford, whose campaigning on this issue led directly to the government agreeing to fund food vouchers for poor children in England over the summer, has been tweeting.

Marcus Rashford MBE

Tomorrow MPs will vote on holiday provision –

I’ve spoken to a number of MPs who I know care. I’ve also spoken to MPs who were on free school meals…

If you don’t know if your MP is one of them, ask them, tag them:@SirGrahamBrady https://t.co/t1VdjFSDDR

October 20, 2020

Marcus Rashford MBE

Whilst I don’t agree with another sticking plaster method, these children do need protecting during the upcoming holidays.

If your MP doesn’t deem providing vulnerable children with vital food resources a priority then you must ask yourself why.

Have a good day everyone.

October 20, 2020

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