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‘Grown men come in here crying’: how Tory cuts have hit Blackpool hard

Blackpool

‘Grown men come in here crying’: how Tory cuts have hit Blackpool hard

It is 14 years since the Conservatives last held their conference in Blackpool, but the resort has been on the lips of every cabinet member in Manchester this week.

“Children born in Blackpool are no less gifted than those in Beaconsfield but their GCSE results, job prospects and university offers don’t reflect that. That’s wrong,” said Michael Gove, the secretary of state for levelling up.

In his speech, Sajid Javid, the health secretary, pledged to tackle the inequalities that meant healthy life expectancy was 20 years higher in Richmond-on-Thames than in Blackpool.

Boris Johnson could also give the Lancastrian seaside a namecheck in his conference address on Wednesday. What the prime minister probably will not mention as he takes to the podium is that some of Blackpool’s most deprived and sickest people will be £1,000 a year worse off as a direct result of decisions taken by his government.

From Wednesday the £20-a-week universal credit uplift, introduced during the pandemic, will be scrapped, despite sharp rises in the cost of living, including fuel increases that will leave the average prepayment meter customer £153 poorer this winter.

If 57-year-old Johnson lived in Bloomfield, Blackpool’s most deprived ward, he could expect to already have lived 10 years in bad health and to then die in just another 10 years hence.

There are high levels of alcohol and drug abuse in the area and various deprivation-related health problems, which local doctors have privately called SLS (shit life syndrome).

Most of the 18 million people who visit Blackpool each year will spend time in Bloomfield, the location of the Central Pier as well as the town’s football club. The roads nearest the prom are lined with bargain B&Bs offering rooms for as little as £20 a night.

Since July 2020 the area has also served as the base of Blackpool’s Voice, a food bank, free counselling service and charity shop. A hand-written sign says the organisation is there for “homeless, vulnerable, well anyone, needing help”. By the door are crates of bread to be taken, no questions asked, by anyone who cannot afford to buy a loaf.

The organisation is run by Sue Davies, a trained counsellor, who is bracing herself for an influx of new clients when the cut to universal credit kicks in as fuel and food bills rise. The picture, she says, is already bleak.

About 29.2% of Bloomfield households experienced fuel poverty in 2018, almost three times the English average. The child poverty rate is 63.4%, almost four times the English average.

“People are going to have to choose between food and electricity,” Davies said. “To be fair to the government they did always say [the benefit rise] was temporary, but people have got used to it. That £20 made everything that little bit easier.”

Despite only being in operation for 14 months Davies has noticed an increase in desperation. “We have grown men come in here crying when they ask for a food parcel, men who never ever thought they would be in a position where they couldn’t provide for their families,” she said.

On Monday an army veteran came in saying he had been referred by the council. “That made us laugh. We get no funding from the council or the government and yet they are referring people to us,” said Davies. The man was living in a B&B with his family and needed help applying for social housing.

On an industrial estate on the outskirts of town, Blackpool’s food bank is preparing for its busiest winter yet. Only founded in 2012 it recently outgrew its premises and now employs six members of staff who work with 50 volunteers to deliver surplus food to 70 partner organisations – including Blackpool’s Voice, as well as schools and nurseries.

“We’re expecting a real spike in demand this winter because of the universal credit cut,” said Paul France, the food bank’s chief executive. At the end of October, the food bank will roll out the first of 10 mobile pantries to deliver more food to Blackpool’s most deprived communities.

Blackpool has the second highest male suicide rate in England and there were more than 500 hospital admissions for intentional self-harm in 2018/19.

Shaun Smith, 45, is one of many residents struggling with mental health problems and receives the personal independence payment as well as universal credit. He suffers from depression, anxiety and panic attacks. This week he has been sleeping badly, worrying he is going to be evicted.

Like many of the 8,000 people who migrate to Blackpool each year he had hoped for a happier life by the sea but it wasn’t to be. He recently split up with his boyfriend and says he is trying desperately to stay off the drink but “it’s hard in Blackpool with so many bad influences everywhere”. He is taunted by painful memories, including the suicide of his brother several decades ago.

Smith is among 17,000 people in Blackpool receiving universal credit and worries about losing the £20 uplift. He has two dogs to care for and spends a lot on public transport getting to medical appointments.

Conal Land, from Blackpool Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB), fears the organisation’s workload will soon go from extremely busy to “astronomical”. He recently rang clients set to lose the UC uplift to gather first-hand testimony about what the money meant to them.

One woman talked of how hard life had been since she lost her partner to Covid-19. “He worked and I always had little part-time jobs, we did OK. Now, I’ve been ill, had to use food banks and find cheap food that’s going out of date,” she said.

“I will struggle to keep up with my debt repayments,” said one man. “The extra £20 per week gave me a chance.”

Land included a selection of testimonies in a letter last week to Blackpool’s MPs. With both of the town’s constituencies now Conservative for the first time since 1945 he hoped a last-minute reprieve might be won.

Tracy Hopkins, chief executive of Blackpool CAB, warned the MPs that the reduced benefit would take £17.6m a year from the local economy. “This is money that local people would spend in shops, cafes and local businesses. Blackpool’s economy cannot afford to take this hit at a time when many local businesses are just beginning to recover from the pandemic.”

Blackpool has already suffered disproportionately from government cuts. The Health Foundation thinktank thinks it will be hit hardest by the universal credit cut, and this week warned that the local authority had had one of the largest reductions in its public health grant, amounting to £43 per person a year.

The government is investing in Blackpool with a Towns Deal, worth £39.5m. That money is to be spent on seven projects, including the conversion of the magistrates and civil court into a tourist attraction, a carbon-neutral university campus for Blackpool & The Fylde College, and a £4.5m modernisation of the Illuminations.

All of which was good and well, said Land. “But it won’t do anything to help all the people already struggling.”

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Business

Ethiopian Airlines Wins Bid For Nigeria Air

The Federal Government has selected the Ethiopian Airlines (ET) Consortium as preferred bidder for Nigeria Air.

Minister of Aviation, Sen. Hadi Sirika disclosed this in a media briefing on Friday in Abuja.

He said ET scored 89 percent out of 100 as regards the technical bid and 15 out 20 as regards financial bid.

Mr Sirika said the Request for Proposal (RFP) under the Public-Private Partnership (PPP) Act, governed by Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission(ICRC) regarding the Nigeria Air was now completed.

He said, “After a careful, detailed and ICRC governed selection process, Ethiopian Airlines (ET) Consortium has been selected as preferred bidder, offering an owner consortium of 3 Nigerian investors.

“The Nigerian investors are MRS, SAHCO and the Nigerian Sovereign Fund (46%), FGN owning 5% and ET 49%. The consortium has been subject to a due diligence process.

“The contract will be negotiated between consortium and FGN leading to a Full Business Case (FBC) which will be expected to be approved by the Federal Executive Council (FEC). We expect this process to take 6-8 weeks.”

The minister said the national carrier would be launched with three Boeing 737-800 in a configuration very suitable for the Nigerian market.

Mr Sirika said Nigeria Air will be launched with a shuttle service between Abuja and Lagos to establish a new comfortable, reliable and affordable travel between the two major Nigerian Airports.

“The first aircraft is ready to arrive in Abuja for the further work and NCAA inspection, demo flights and audit as part of the AOC requirements.

“In time, two others will arrive to complete the required three aircraft for a new AOC holder. The interim executive team has prepared, with the support of FAAN.

“The team has arranged for Terminal C at the Abuja Airport and finalised a contract with MMA 2 terminal in Lagos, for the operation of an initial shuttle between Lagos and Abuja,” he said.

The Operations Control Centre (OCC) at the Abuja Airport would act as Headquarters of the airline.

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UK slashes personal, corporate taxes in bid to spur growth

UK slashes personal, corporate taxes in bid to spur growth

Britain’s new government on Friday announced a sweeping plan of tax cuts it said would be funded by borrowing and revenues generated by anticipated growth, as part of contentious moves to combat the cost-of-living crisis and bolster a faltering economy.

But Treasury chief Kwasi Kwarteng offered few details on the cost of the program and its impact on the government’s own targets for reducing deficits and borrowing. The government’s two-pronged approach offers short-term help for homes and businesses struggling with soaring energy costs while betting that lower taxes and reduced red tape will spur economic growth and increase tax revenues in coming years.

“We need a new approach for a new era, focused on growth,” Kwarteng told lawmakers in the House of Commons.

Friday’s statement was billed as a “fiscal event” rather than a budget, because it wasn’t accompanied by an analysis of its cost from the independent Office for Budget Responsibility. Opponents said the government was dodging scrutiny.

The plan was immediately attacked by the opposition Labour Party for favoring the interests of business over working people and failing to provide any analysis about the impact on the government’s fiscal targets.

“It is a budget without figures, a menu without prices,” said Rachel Reeves, Labour’s spokeswoman on Treasury issues. “What has the chancellor got to hide?”

Many economists have expressed concern that the government’s policies will lead to a sharp increase in borrowing, undermining confidence in the British economy. The pound on Friday fell below $1.12 for the first time since March 1985.

The program announced Friday reverses many of the initiatives announced by former Prime Minister Boris Johnson, another Conservative. The center-right party has led Britain for the last 12 years.

For example, Kwarteng annouced that he was reversing a hike in national insurance taxes introduced by Johnson’s government in May to boost spending on health and social care. Kwarteng said the government would maintain expected funding for the National Health Service — but he didn’t say how.

He also said the government would cut the basic rate of income tax to 19% next year, from the current 20%. The top rate will drop to 40% from 45%. He also canceled a planned six percentage point increase in the corporate tax rate, leaving it at 19%.

“This was the biggest tax-cutting event since 1972, it is not very mini,” said Paul Johnson, director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies, an independent think-tank that scrutinizes government spending. “It is half a century since we have seen tax cuts announced on this scale.”

The announcement comes just three weeks after Prime Minister Liz Truss took office. She has said the Conservative government’s core mission is lowering taxes to drive economic growth and declared this week that she was ready to make “unpopular decisions” such as removing a cap on bankers’ bonuses to attract jobs and investment.

The plan runs counter to the view of many Conservatives that governments shouldn’t rack up huge debts that taxpayers will eventually have to pay.

Reeves criticized the government for expecting taxpayers to foot the bill for its initiatives, rather than increasing a tax on the windfall profits of energy producers benefiting from soaring prices for oil and natural gas.

A cost-of-living crisis driven by steeply climbing energy costs and slowing economic growth are the biggest challenges Truss faces.

Inflation stands at 9.9%, near the highest Britain has seen since the 1980s, and is predicted to peak at 11% in October.

The government denied it was gambling the economy on a “dash for growth,” but many economists said it was taking a huge risk by allowing borrowing to balloon while the economy is weak and inflation is high.

The Bank of England said Thursday that the U.K. may already be in recession, defined as two consecutive quarters of economic contraction. It expects gross domestic product to fall by 0.1% in the third quarter, below its August projection of 0.4% growth. That would be a second quarterly decline after official estimates showed output fell by 0.1% in the previous three-month period.

In the past two weeks, the government has announced th at the government would cap gas and electricity bills for households and businesses, amid fears that the poorest won’t be able to afford to heat their homes and companies will go bust this winter. Kwarteng said this initiative would be funded by borrowing.

Kwarteng also announced new “investment zones” across England where the government will offer tax cuts for businesses and help create jobs. He will also give details on how the government aims to accelerate dozens of major new infrastructure projects, including in transportation and energy.

Truss — who is inspired by Margaret Thatcher’s small state, free market economics — has insisted that growing the economy and tax cuts for businesses will benefit everyone in the country.

But critics say Truss’s right-wing instincts are the wrong response to the U.K. economic crisis.

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Boeing to pay $200m over 737 Max crash statements

Boeing to pay $200m over 737 Max crash statements

The US stock market regulator said the aviation giant and its former chief executive Dennis Muilenburg made false statements about safety issues.

Boeing “put profits over people” in an effort to rehabilitate its image, according to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

The 737 Max was grounded for 20 months after two crashes killed 346 people.

As part of the settlement Mr Muilenburg will also pay a penalty of $1m.

“In times of crisis and tragedy, it is especially important that public companies and executives provide full, fair, and truthful disclosures to the markets,” SEC chairman Gary Gensler said in a statement.

Boeing and Mr Muilenburg “failed in this most basic obligation,” he added.

The SEC’s statement also said that both Boeing and Mr Muilenburg did not admit or deny the regulator’s findings.

“We will never forget those lost on Lion Air Flight 610 and Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302, and we have made broad and deep changes across our company in response to those accidents,” Boeing said in response to the SEC’s announcement.

“Fundamental changes that have strengthened our safety processes and oversight of safety issues, and have enhanced our culture of safety, quality, and transparency,” the company added.

The SEC said a fund will be established for investors who suffered losses due to the misleading information between 2018 and 2019.

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Analysis box by Theo Leggett, business correspondent

This settlement is largely symbolic. The 737 Max scandal has already cost Boeing tens of billions – another $200m will barely register.

But it does give the SEC the chance to call out Boeing and its ex-chief executive Dennis Muilenburg for making assurances about the plane’s safety, when they already knew it had a serious problem – thereby misleading investors.

It’s unlikely this will cause Boeing any meaningful harm. Its corporate reputation had already been severely damaged by the affair. The company is now working hard to restore it, and regain public and investor confidence.

For Mr Muilenberg himself, the financial consequences of the settlement won’t be that painful either. He received some $60m in compensation and benefits when he left the company. But the fact that the SEC chose to charge him personally sends out a powerful signal.

There have been criticisms in some quarters that the ex-boss has not been properly held to account for his role in the affair. On this occasion, though, the finger has been pointed squarely in his direction.

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On 29 October 2018, Lion Air Flight 610 crashed into the Java Sea 13 minutes after taking off from Jakarta’s Soekarno-Hatta International Airport, killing all 189 passengers and crew.

Less than five months later, Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302, another Boeing 737 Max on its way to Kenya, crashed six minutes after leaving Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa. All 157 people on board were killed.

The crashes were linked to a flight control system called the “Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System” (MCAS) in the Boeing 737 Max.

The SEC said that “after the first crash, Boeing and Mr Muilenburg knew that MCAS posed an ongoing airplane safety issue, but assured the public that the 737 Max was safe to fly.

The crashes have cost Boeing more than $20bn, including payments to families of those killed in the crashes.

In the wake of the incidents, the US Congress passed new legislation reforming how the country’s aviation regulator, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), certifies new planes.

A small number of trials are expected to start next year to resolve outstanding claims.

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