Has the government abandoned its net migration target?

  • 19 April 2016
  • From the section UK
Border sign - UK airport Image copyright Getty Images

The Conservative manifesto promises to reduce net migration to the UK to the tens of thousands by 2020, but in calculating the cost of Britain leaving the EU in yesterday's report, the Treasury assumes a level still well in excess of that - of 185,000 per year in 2021 and beyond.

Asked to explain whether the government has quietly abandoned its pledge, the Treasury said the UK would probably have to accept the status quo on EU migration as the price of continued access to European markets. "No country has been able to agree significant access to the single market without having to accept EU regulations, financial contributions to the EU and the free movement of people" it said.

Critics have suggested the Treasury's "Brexit" calculation demonstrates that the department has no real ambition to see radical reductions in net migration. In the year to September 2014, net migration to the UK was 323,000, according to the Office for National Statistics.

Last month the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) said that "net international migration to the UK is an important driver of the economy's underlying growth potential" and leads to a higher employment rate and lower dependency ratio (the number of children and elderly compared to the total population).

The OBR's central budget projection assumes net migration of 185,000 by 2021 (they clearly think it unlikely the government will be able to get net migration down to the levels they promised), and it is this modelling that was included in the Treasury report on the costs of leaving the EU.

Image copyright Getty Images

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Should John Whittingdale have revealed his past?

  • 13 April 2016
  • From the section UK
John Whittingdale Image copyright AFP/Getty Images
Image caption John Whittingdale did not tell Number 10 about his "embarrassing" relationship with a prostitute

Even the humblest officials in Culture Secretary John Whittingdale's department must sign a vetting form requiring them to reveal any activities that might lead people to accuse them of bias or prejudice in their official duties.

More senior government staff are obliged to go further, to give details of any conduct they have ever been involved in that might make them susceptible to pressure or improper influence.

Read full article Should John Whittingdale have revealed his past?

How Greater Manchester is smashing the Whitehall model

  • 31 March 2016
  • From the section UK
Manchester skyline Image copyright Getty Images

For the first time in over a century, municipal power is returning to Greater Manchester. But this is not simply about shifting budget meetings from Westminster to the North West.

True to their traditions, the local leaders of this proud industrial region are planning something utterly radical. They intend to abandon the Whitehall model, completely rethinking how services are run and how lives can be changed.

Read full article How Greater Manchester is smashing the Whitehall model

Pensioners: Are the untouchables still untouchable?

Elderly women at a day care centre

David Cameron has made a clear commitment to protect and reward Britain's pensioners for as long as he is prime minister. The "triple lock" on pensions, the winter fuel payment, free bus passes, TV licences, prescriptions and eye tests, all guaranteed "no question".

It's a promise that comes with a huge price tag, though. A hastily withdrawn official report from the Government Actuary's Department last year suggested the "triple lock" - raising the state pension annually by the highest of inflation, earnings or 2.5% - has added £6bn extra a year to the benefits bill.

Read full article Pensioners: Are the untouchables still untouchable?

Home Office drug strategy: Time to refresh or rethink?

Home Office sign Image copyright Getty Images

With deaths from illegal drugs in England and Wales at the highest rate ever recorded one might imagine the Home Office would be desperate to ensure it had a robust and effective strategy for dealing with this current crisis.

So it comes as a surprise to discover that Ministers have quietly abandoned the idea of a formal consultation process in advance of a new drugs strategy later this month.

Read full article Home Office drug strategy: Time to refresh or rethink?

Will David Cameron's EU child-benefit plan work?

Woman pushing pushchair Image copyright AFP

It is not quite the pledge he made in his manifesto, but is David Cameron's compromise on paying child benefit to EU migrants workable?

The Conservatives won power promising: "If an EU migrant's child is living abroad, then they should receive no child benefit".

Read full article Will David Cameron's EU child-benefit plan work?

Bowie: the creative force who changed Britain

  • 12 January 2016
  • From the section UK
Flowers start to mount up by David Bowie mural in Brixton Image copyright Getty Images

The backlash starts now. A mountain of "why-oh-why"s is piling up, the collective cry of those for whom David Bowie was no more than a pretentious pop star, a weirdo with screwed-up eyes and screwed down hairdo.

There is an argument that the blanket coverage of his death has less to do with artistic merit and more to do with the teenage crush of a thousand baby-boomers who now find themselves sitting behind the desks of media power.

Read full article Bowie: the creative force who changed Britain

Boxing Day Family Puzzler 2015

  • 26 December 2015
  • From the section Magazine
Mark Easton game image

I am delighted to present my eighth annual Boxing Day Family Puzzler - a festive quiz that rewards intuition and inspired guesswork as much as knowledge and memory.

No-one should be expected to rack their brains on Boxing Day, so in this game no-one is expected to know any of the answers.

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How a Mexican resort invented eco-tourism

  • 5 December 2015
  • From the section Magazine
Huts at Xcaret eco park Image copyright iStock

As governments meet in Paris to try to thrash out a deal for a sustainable planet, in the tropical rainforest of the Yucatan they are quietly celebrating their own sustainability anniversary.

I stumbled upon the plans for that jungle party while on a recent family holiday to Mexico. Like increasing numbers of Brits, I had saved up for a special trip to the Yucatan Peninsula, unaware that we were heading to the birthplace of "sustainable tourism". Twenty-five years ago this week, the world's first eco-park opened its gates to a new kind of visitor.

Read full article How a Mexican resort invented eco-tourism

Police cuts: Is the force drowning or shroud-waving?

  • 20 November 2015
  • From the section UK
Policeman Image copyright iStock

The warning to the home secretary that cuts to police budgets might "reduce very significantly" the UK's ability to respond to a Paris-style terror attack is seen by senior officers as a trump card in their campaign to change the chancellor's mind before next week's spending review.

It is thought George Osborne is considering reductions of around 20% in the amount spent on the police in England and Wales. That, a leaked document from a senior officer argues, is more than double what the force could withstand if it is to offer a viable response to multiple simultaneous terrorist incidents such as we saw across Paris a week ago.

Read full article Police cuts: Is the force drowning or shroud-waving?