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Philip Hammond dismisses NHS chief's call for £4bn emergency cash injection

Posted on 20/11/2017 by

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The chancellor told the BBC that heads of public services always predict ‘Armageddon’ in the run-up to a budget

Philip Hammond has dismissed calls from the head of the NHS for an emergency cash injection of £4bn, as he said people running public services always predict ”Armageddon” before a budget.

The chancellor hinted the NHS could get more money to cover the cost of ending the public sector pay freeze for nurses and other workers.

But he downplayed the need for the £4bn cash injection demanded by Simon Stevens, the health service chief.

He also accused Stevens of failing to meet his side of a bargain in which he pledged to turn around the NHS in return for an extra £10bn by 2020.

Hammond told the BBC’s Andrew Marr: “That plan is not at the moment being delivered. We need to get it back on track … in the run-up to budget, people running all kinds of services, government departments come to see us and they always have very large numbers that are absolutely essential, otherwise Armageddon will arrive.

“I don’t contest for one moment that the NHS is under pressure. We have been doing some very careful work with the Department of Health, with the NHS, to look at where those pressures are, to look at the capital needs of the NHS, to look at where the particular pressure points around targets are. And we will seek to address those in a sensible and measured and balanced way.”

The idea that the NHS got what it requested has been previously disputed by Stevens, who said earlier this month: “As I have told parliament on many occasions, for the next three years we did not get the funding the NHS had requested. So 2018, which happens to be the 70th anniversary of the NHS, is poised to be the toughest financial year.” The turnaround plan was also based on the government sorting out the crisis in social care, which has not happened.

The chancellor’s restraint towards the NHS likely to disappoint Conservative MPs who are looking for bold measures they can sell to voters at a time when Labour is ahead in the polls.

His plans to put housebuilding at the heart of the budget, with measures to encourage 300,000 new homes a year, were also met with disappointment after he said it could be done without building on the green belt or “pouring money in” to the problem.

Opposition parties dismissed his measures as “derisory” and lacking in bold action to stimulate housebuilding, after Hammond suggested his target could be reached mostly by changes to the planning system.

The chancellor set out his ambition for 300,000 new homes – an increase of around 50% on current levels – in the media over the weekend, indicating it would form a central plank of his budget on Wednesday.

He is expected to provide £5bn for housing schemes and underwrite loans worth tens of billions but stopped short of agreeing with Sajid Javid, the communities secretary, that the UK should borrow up to £50bn to invest in housing.

Challenged by the BBC about whether he had a big vision to solve the problem, the chancellor said there was no single silver bullet and progress would come from a series of measures combined.

He rejected the idea of building on the green belt, which would infuriate Conservative heartlands in the south-east.

“We’ve set out some very clear and strong protections for the green belt and we have committed to them, and we are going to maintain them but there are lots of things that we can do including ensuring that the very many planning permissions that are being granted now are actually built out,” he told ITV’s Peston on Sunday.

In response, Labour said it was clear that the Conservatives “have no plan to fix the housing crisis and still can’t see that their policy failures are making the crisis worse”.

John Healey, the shadow housing secretary, said: “More big targets, small changes in funding and yet another review into the housing market fall far short of what is needed. The hard truth is that housebuilding is still below the level it was before the global financial crisis and affordable housebuilding has fallen off a cliff.”

Vince Cable, the Liberal Democrat leader, said £5bn was a “derisory” amount.
“His own cabinet colleague, Sajid Javid, has said we need 10 times that amount to tackle the housing crisis. I would put it at more like 20 times that number,” he said.

Hammond’s budget on Wednesday is also expected to focus on more money for improving transport links and funding new technologies, such as driverless cars.

Ahead of the budget, Hammond will seek to concentrate on higher spending on science and transport. He will accompany Theresa May, Chris Grayling, the transport secretary, and Greg Clark, the business secretary, on a visit to the West Midlands on Monday, where they will announce the UK’s “ biggest ever increase in research and development investment” and a new fund to transform transport connections within city regions across the country.

He will promise an extra £2.3bn for science investment by 2021, with an aim of getting spending research and development to 2.4% of GDP by 2027. On top of that, they will announce a £1.7bn fund to improve transport links between city centres and their suburbs across the country.

Source: TheGuardian