Spending Review: Chancellor to announce £500m for mental health

The chancellor will announce a £500m package to support mental health services in England after increased demand for support during the pandemic.

The Treasury said the majority of the funding will be spent on specialist services for young people, including in schools, and support for NHS workers.

Mr Sunak is also expected to vow for rapid progress to tackle the backlog of adult mental health referrals.

He will pledge the new funding in Wednesday’s Spending Review.

In the same speech, the chancellor will unveil his long-term plan for infrastructure investment.

While the funding only applies to England, the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will receive equivalent funding via the Barnett formula, which will allow them to provide similar support.

The government estimates that mental ill health costs the economy up to £35bn per year, and hopes the package will address the extra demand for services amid the pandemic.

Mr Sunak said the pandemic has had “a major impact on mental health because of increased isolation and uncertainty”.

He added: “It is vital we do everything we can to support our mental health services and ensure help is there for people.

“This funding will make sure those who need help get the right support as quickly as possible so they don’t have to suffer in silence.”

A Spending Review is a chance to take a long-term view of the government’s spending plans.

It sets out how much money will be allocated to different government departments and how taxpayers’ money will be spent.

This year the government decided to abandon its long-term Comprehensive Spending Review amid the economic uncertainty of the Covid-19 pandemic and instead next week’s review will cover just one financial year.

It is expected to focus on supporting jobs and public services through the Covid crisis as well as investing in infrastructure to deliver on the government’s pledge to “level up” the country.

The package will also be spent on extra support for people with severe mental illness, and faster access to psychological support for conditions such as depression and anxiety, the Treasury said.

Local areas will benefit from £1.2m for a new service to allow them to access real-time suicide data to better target prevention efforts, it added.

And the Spending Review will recommit to the government’s pledge to eradicate outdated mental health dormitories, as well as increased investment in the mental health workforce.

On Saturday, the government confirmed it would make a major reform to the way it assesses the value for money of big spending projects.

It plans to remove a longstanding bias that has affected funding for northern England and other regions.

The changes to what is known as the Treasury’s “Green Book” will be unveiled at the Spending Review as part of the government’s “levelling up” agenda.

Covid-19: Strengthened tier system for England after lockdown

A tougher three-tiered system of local restrictions will come into force in England when the lockdown ends on 2 December, Downing Street has said.

Boris Johnson is expected to set out his plan – including details of how families can see different households at Christmas – to MPs on Monday.

More areas are set to be placed into the higher tiers to keep the virus under control, No 10 said.

And some tiers will be strengthened to safeguard lockdown progress.

It is not yet clear exactly how restrictions could change. Full details of the so-called “Covid winter plan” are expected on Monday, after cabinet discussions on Sunday.

Some local measures will be the same as those in the previous three tier system, used in England to tackle the spread of coronavirus up until the current lockdown began.

But the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) is expected to publish papers on Monday saying that measures in the previous tiers were not strong enough.

The prime minister will acknowledge that the measures are difficult, while making clear they are not to last longer than is absolutely necessary, and that the need to support the economy is being taken into account.

Pre-lockdown, there were three tiers of restrictions – medium, high, and very high:

It comes after newspaper reports suggested families could be allowed to meet for up to a week over Christmas as part of a UK-wide relaxation of coronavirus rules.

According to the Daily Telegraph, several families could be allowed to join in one “bubble” and mix between 22 and 28 December.

The plan will include guidance on how people will be able to celebrate Christmas, but ministers have made clear the festive season will be different to normal – with some restrictions expected to remain in place.

The government will set out what tier each area will be placed into on Thursday and MPs are expected to be given a vote to approve the new tier system in the days before it comes into force.

Earlier this month, Mr Johnson promised MPs would have a say on any restrictions imposed after the current lockdown ended.

A No 10 spokeswoman said: “Everyone’s efforts during the current national restrictions have helped bring the virus back under control, slowed its spread and eased pressures on the NHS.

“But the prime minister and his scientific advisers are clear the virus is still present – and without regional restrictions it could quickly run out of control again before vaccines and mass testing have had an effect.

“That would put in jeopardy the progress the country has made, and once again risk intolerable pressure on the NHS.”

The PM will be wary of a rebellion from backbench Tory MPs opposed to new restrictions.

During a vote on the current lockdown earlier this month, 32 Conservatives rebelled to oppose the measures and 17 more, including former Prime Minister Theresa May, abstained.

A “Covid recovery group” led by former chief whip Mark Harper and ex-Brexit minister Steve Baker has since formed to resist new measures, with suggestions 50 Tories have enlisted.

It is hoped restrictions can be gradually reduced in the run-up to spring, providing vaccines are approved by regulators, allowing then to start being rolled out next month.

Downing Street will hope this – combined with an easing of restrictions over Christmas, will lessen the scale of the rebellion.

Labour has so far been supportive of the need for restrictions to slow the spread of Covid-19, making a full-scale Commons defeat on the plan unlikely.

But the opposition party has been urging the government to lay out its plan for what will happen when the national restrictions end.

Labour’s shadow chancellor Anneliese Dodds, in a speech on Saturday, said the nation could not be allowed to return “to the shambles we had before this lockdown”.

She called for clarity about what economic support package would accompany different types of restrictions.

Under England’s previous three-tiered system, regions were classified as either tier one – “medium”, tier two – “high” or tier three – “very high”, and each one had different lockdown rules.

There are also different rules in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

On Saturday, the United Kingdom recorded another 19,875 new coronavirus cases and 341 deaths of people who had tested positive for the virus within 28 days, the latest figures showed.

The number of deaths was down from 511 on Friday, and 462 on Saturday 14 November.

Man arrested after seriously injured toddler dies in Edinburgh

A two-year-old child has died after being found seriously injured in Edinburgh.

Emergency services were called to a property in the Muirhouse area of the city at about 09:30 on Saturday morning. The boy died at the scene shortly after.

Police have confirmed a 40-year-old man has been arrested in connection with the incident.

Officers called for anyone who may have information to contact them.

Ch Insp David Happs, from Drylaw Police Station, said: “Inquiries are at an early stage and ongoing.

“We understand an incident such as this can cause distress and alarm to the local community. There will be a continued police presence in the area as we conduct enquiries.”

Safety checks eased to help flat owners in limbo

Safety checks that left thousands of people unable to sell their flats after the Grenfell disaster are being eased.

Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick said homes without cladding would no longer need an EWS1 external wall safety certificate – which involves a survey.

Thousands of people have been refused mortgages on flats because owners have been unable to get the surveys done.

But mortgage lenders said they “did not consent” to the changes and questioned how many homeowners would benefit.

The checks were introduced after 72 people died at Grenfell Tower when a fire spread along outside walls.

To begin with, only those who owned flats in tall buildings with dangerous flammable cladding were affected. But in January the government extended its advice to smaller properties and mortgage lenders began demanding fire surveys from a much wider range group of sellers.

With fewer than 300 qualified surveyors for hundreds of thousands of properties, many owners have been unable to access them, leaving them stuck, unable to sell or remortgage.

Earlier, Mr Jenrick announced he had “secured agreement” that the survey would not be needed for homes without cladding.

“Through no fault of their own, some flat owners have been unable to sell or remortgage their homes, and this cannot be allowed to continue,” he said.

The housing secretary said the decision to ease checks for blocks without cladding would help almost 450,000 homeowners who “may have felt stuck in limbo”.

But mortgage lenders’ bodies named by the government as having struck the agreement – UK Finance and the Building Societies Association – said they “did not consent” to being included in the announcement.

A finance industry source with knowledge of the negotiations told the BBC the proposal did not mean properties with issues other than cladding would automatically be exempt from a fire survey.

It would still depend on the decision of a “suitably qualified, independent and properly insured surveyor”, the source said. They did not recognise the figure of 450,000 homeowners stuck in limbo.

Only a “small subset” of buildings would benefit from the announcement, the UK Cladding Action Group said. Estimates by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government suggested that more than 800,000 homes would still require the EWS1.

Some blocks which appeared to be built from solid brick were in fact “clad with unknown materials behind the brick”, UK Finance and the Building Societies Association warned.

An industry source suggested that buildings with wooden balconies should have been included among those which still required the external fire safety checks.

The Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors said it had agreed the announcement that buildings without cladding did not need the EWS1 assessments, but it added that it would still need to review the government advice before deciding what guidance to issue to surveyors.

Sean Tompkins, RICS chief executive, said there had been an “acute market shortage of fire engineers” to carry out the checks.

“We are aware of the severe impact this has had on some homeowners and we agree that buildings without cladding should not be subject to the process,” he said.

Mr Jenrick also said the government was paying to train 2,000 more assessors within six months to speed up checks on blocks which did have cladding.

But some cladding experts questioned whether the £700,000 in government funding would be enough.

“Do they think they can just give these people a two-day training course for £350?” said Adrian Buckmaster, director of Tetraclad. “You can’t train experience in the built environment.”

Brexit: UK and Canada agree deal to keep trading under EU terms

The UK and Canada have agreed a deal to continue trading under the same terms as the current EU agreement after the Brexit transition period ends.

The government said it paved the way for negotiations to begin next year on a new comprehensive deal with Canada.

The PM and Canadian PM Justin Trudeau made the “agreement in principle” in a video call, the Department for International Trade said.

The agreement does not give any new benefits to businesses.

But it rolls over the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement reached by the EU and Canada after seven years of negotiations.

Boris Johnson said the extension was “a fantastic agreement for Britain”, adding: “Our negotiators have been working flat out to secure trade deals for the UK and from as early next year we have agreed to start work on a new, bespoke trade deal with Canada that will go even further in meeting the needs of our economy.”

Welcoming the continuity deal, Mr Trudeau suggested a new comprehensive trade agreement with the UK would take several years to negotiate.

Speaking during the video call, which also included International Trade Secretary Liz Truss and her counterpart Mary Ng, Mr Trudeau said: “Now we get to continue to work on a bespoke agreement, a comprehensive agreement over the coming years that will really maximise our trade opportunities and boost things for everyone.”

Labour’s shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry welcomed the “necessary” deal.

“It is now vital that Boris Johnson and Liz Truss show the same urgency in securing the other 14 outstanding continuity agreements with countries like Mexico, Ghana and Singapore, where a total of £60bn of UK trade is still at risk and time is beginning to run out,” she added.

Before it is formally signed, the UK-Canada Trade Continuity Agreement will be subject to final legal checks.

The UK has now left the EU, but its trading relationship remains the same until the end of the year. That’s because it’s in an 11-month transition – designed to give both sides some time to negotiate a new trade deal.

No new trade deals can start until the transition period ends on 31 December.

Covid in Scotland: Larbert care home suffers 20 Covid deaths

A care home in central Scotland has confirmed 20 of its residents have died in a month after testing positive for Covid-19.

The death toll at Caledonian Care home in Larbert is thought to be the worst during the second wave of the virus.

The home is operated by Care UK, which says stringent infection controls and testing are in place.

NHS Forth Valley and Falkirk Health and Social Care Partnership have been supporting the facility.

It emerged on 4 November that six residents had died in an outbreak that had been ongoing for several weeks.

NHS Forth Valley said at the time is was continuing to “closely monitor” the situation. The home was closed to new admissions and visitors and other residents who had tested positive were isolating.

On Saturday, a Care UK spokeswoman said: “Very sadly, over the course of the last month, 20 residents of Caledonian Court have passed away following positive tests for Covid-19. Our thoughts and condolences go out to their family and friends.

“Our team has been devastated by this loss, but remain professional and committed to supporting every resident, and each other, through this challenging time.

“We have had access to regular testing, are following very stringent infection prevention and control protocols and are working closely with NHS Forth Valley and Falkirk Heath and Social Care Partnership to minimise the risk of further infection.”

The granddaughter of one of the residents who died praised the staff at Caledonian Court for their handling of the situation.

Nicole Ritchie’s grandad Jim Grant was 88 and lived most of his life in Grangemouth with his wife Mary.

He was a former worker for BP until he retired.

Ms Ritchie told the BBC: “His death has had a huge impact on the family. We all miss him dearly.

“As a family, we would like to thank Caledonian Court from the bottom of our hearts. They looked after my grandad for the last 11 months of his life and they couldn’t have done a better job, he was so happy and very well looked after.

“We can’t thank them enough, wonderful carers.”

Provost William Buchanan of Falkirk Council, who represents the Bonnybridge/Larbert ward, said: “All I can do is send my heartfelt condolences to the families and friends of those who’ve passed away, and express my heartfelt thanks to all the staff who’re trying to protect and help the residents.”