The Telegraph 2024-03-07 10:00:36

Live Jeremy Hunt brands BBC’s Budget coverage as ‘unworthy’ of the broadcaster

Jeremy Hunt has criticised the BBC’s coverage of the Budget as being “unworthy” of the broadcaster. 

The Chancellor and Amol Rajan, the BBC Radio 4 Today programme presenter, clashed repeatedly during a fiery interview this morning as the latter questioned whether the Budget had “met the moment”. 

Mr Rajan said: “This is a country ravaged by economic shocks, at best drifting, at worst stagnant, we all know about its potential, but we have had seven quarters of falling GDP per head… we are hooked on foreign labour, the birth rate is collapsing, many public services are creaking, councils are going bust. Those are facts. Has your Budget really come even close to meeting the scale of the challenges this country faces?” 

Mr Hunt replied: “I believe it has and if you want gimmicks, if you want quick fixes that unravel then I am not your person. If you want a long term plan to deliver better public services, to get more investment into the economy then I have delivered packages that do that. 

“And by the way I think the overall characterisation that you have just given of the British economy is unworthy of the BBC because we have grown faster…” 

Mr Rajan laughed and said: “The BBC is an organisation with tens of thousands of people who do lots of different things, there is no such thing as ‘the BBC’ and I am putting to you facts about this country…”

Mr Hunt said: “It is unworthy of you Amol… we have grown faster than the three largest European economies since 2010…”

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Live ‘Large scale’ war with Europe can’t be ruled out, says Russian official

The conflict in Ukraine could escalate into a full-scale war in Europe, a senior Russian military officer has warned.

Vladimir Zarudnitsky, the head of Russia’s military academy, said the probability of Moscow’s forces becoming involved in a new conflict is increasing “significantly”.

“The possibility of an escalation of the conflict in Ukraine – from the expansion of participants in ‘proxy forces’ used for military confrontation with Russia to a large-scale war in Europe – cannot be ruled out,” he told Russian state media.

“The likelihood of our state being purposefully drawn into new military conflicts is significantly increasing.”

Gen Zarudnitsky’s saber-rattling comes amid heightened tensions between the West and Russia following Emmanuel Macron’s, France’s president, appeal to send EU troops to Ukraine.

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Nearly 200 firefighters battle London police station blaze

Nearly 200 firefighters have been called to tackle a blaze at a Metropolitan Police station in east London.

Forest Gate police station has been evacuated, with nearby residents told to keep their doors and windows shut because of large amounts of smoke.

Pictures and video on social media show tall flames and smoke billowing from the building, in the London borough of Newham.

The cause of the fire is not yet known, London Fire Brigade and Scotland Yard have said, though police say they are not treating it as suspicious.

Officers said shortly before midnight on Wednesday that the fire had been contained.

Some 175 firefighters and 30 fire engines were called to the scene after the fire broke out shortly after 4.15pm. No injuries have been reported, but ambulances were in attendance.

In a video posted on X, Superintendent Dan Card spoke outside the smoking police station and thanked the firefighters for their swift response.

“I’m glad to report that the building was evacuated properly and no one has been reported as injured,” he said. “The fire has now been contained and the cause of the fire is not being treated as suspicious at this stage.

“I’d like to reassure the residents of Newham that our policing response in the area has not been affected and we are able to continue to do our job of keeping the people of Newham and London safe.

Earlier the London Fire Brigade said in a statement: “Part of a police station, including its mansard roof, is alight. The fire is producing large amounts of smoke, and people in the local area are advised to keep their windows and doors closed.

“Road closures are in place and people are advised to avoid the area while the incident is ongoing.

“Three of the Brigade’s 32-metre turntable ladders and one of the Brigade’s 64-metre turntable ladders are at the scene.

“The Brigade was called at 16.17. Firefighters from Stratford, Leytonstone, Plaistow and surrounding fire stations are attending the scene. The cause of the fire is not yet known.”

The Met Police said: “London Fire Brigade is currently dealing with a fire at Forest Gate police station on the third floor of the building.

“The building has been evacuated. We are not aware of any injuries or people trapped in the building. Road closures are in place at the scene.”

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Southampton match called off after huge fire near St Mary’s Stadium

A Championship football match due to be played on Wednesday night has been postponed after a huge fire broke out at a factory in Southampton.

Southampton Football Club said the fixture against Preston North End had been called off after the blaze, close to the club’s St Mary’s Stadium, resulted in the closure of several roads and caused “significant disruption”.

Emergency services were tackling the fire on Wednesday evening, which sent thick smoke and flames billowing into the sky.

Hampshire and Isle of Wight Fire and Rescue Service said it had been called to reports of an incident at around 1pm.

A factory on Marine Parade, near St Mary’s Stadium, appeared to be at the centre of the fire, which emergency services said then spread. 

In a statement, Southampton FC said: “We are grateful for the co-operation of Preston and the EFL [English Football League] and, while we appreciate the disappointment fans may feel, we hope they will understand the need to put the safety of supporters and staff of both clubs first.

“The game will be postponed to a new date, which will be announced in due course, and all tickets for the match will be valid for the rearranged fixture.”

A total of 18 fire engines were sent to the scene, with water cannon directed towards the building in an attempt to control the flames.

A Hampshire and Isle of Wight Fire and Rescue Service spokesman said: “Additional fire engines are now heading to the scene to make it up to 18. The fire currently involves four industrial units.

“There is lots of smoke, and people in the area are reminded to keep doors and windows closed. Some roads local to the incident are closed and people are advised to avoid the area to allow movements of emergency vehicles.”

Nikki Delaney, who witnessed the fire, told the Daily Echo: “The flames are high and it’s getting worse. The heat from the flames is a lot, and I’m not even close.”

Hampshire Constabulary has been contacted for comment. 

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Sir Michael Gambon’s girlfriend left out of will as estate goes to wife of 61 years

Sir Michael Gambon has bequeathed his £1.5 million estate to his wife but left nothing to his long-term girlfriend and mother of two of his sons.

Sir Michael, the award-winning actor latterly known for playing Albus Dumbledore in the Harry Potter films, shared his time between Lady Anne Gambon and Philippa Hart, a set designer, before his death at the age of 82 in September.

However, his will, written and signed in December 2016 and published on Tuesday, showed that nearly his entire fortune had passed to Lady Gambon, who is listed as an executor along with the couple’s 60-year-old son, Fergus.

Provision was made for the £1,465,882 estate to pass to Fergus, an Antiques Roadshow ceramics expert, if his mother had died before her husband.

Ms Hart, who lived openly with Sir Michael in west London and is 25 years his junior, will not get a penny.  However, her two children with the actor, Tom, aged 17, and William, 15, each received £10,000.

According to the three-page document, they have also both been given a silver heart Variety Club of Great Britain stage actor award, with Tom given one from 1987 and William a trophy from 2000.

The actor met Ms Hart while filming the Channel 4 series Longitude in 2000, and within a year he was introducing his girlfriend to fellow actors.

For two decades, the actor split his time between her and Lady Gambon, who was said to have initially been devastated by the news of his other relationship and moved out of the home they shared. 

However, she then came to terms with the arrangement and moved back.

Speaking from her £1.5 million four-bedroom Victorian terrace after the details of Sir Gambon’s will were released, Ms Hart told the Daily Mail: “It’s none of my business. I really don’t want to talk about this.”

Fergus and his mother declined to comment when approached by the Mail at their £5 million Grade II-listed home in Meopham, Kent.

Sir Michael, born in Dublin, trained as a toolmaker before moving to a career on stage, going on to play the lead in The Singing Detective in 1986 and the pipe-smoking French detective Maigret in the 1990s ITV adaptation before enjoying success in Hollywood.

His career spanned more than 60 years, with other films including Layer Cake, Dad’s Army and The King’s Speech.

Lady Gambon married Sir Michael in 1962 and is a retired mathematician who makes her own pottery and has a passion for bookbinding.

It is believed Sir Michael and Ms Hart had not been together for some time before his death.

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Union threatens strike over Birmingham council’s ‘devastating’ cuts

One of Britain’s biggest unions has threatened to strike over “devastating” cuts at England’s largest local authority.

The Unite union has said it will do “everything in its power” both “politically and industrially” to ensure that workers do not pay the price for the financial crisis facing Birmingham City Council.

The union represents hundreds of Birmingham workers, with the potential for strikes to disrupt key services such as bin collections and social care.

On Tuesday night, the Labour-run authority – which declared itself effectively bankrupt by issuing a Section 114 notice last year – voted to make £300 million of cuts over the next two years in an attempt to balance the books.

At the same time, council tax will rise by 10 per cent in April and 10 per cent the year after, adding £350 to average bills.

The vote came a day after Nottingham City Council, which also issued a Section 114 notice last year, voted through its own cost-cutting budget, including a rise in council tax and new charges for public toilets and garden bin collections.

Six local authorities have effectively declared bankruptcy since 2021, with research suggesting one in six council bosses expect theirs to do the same in the coming year.

Last year, a survey by the Local Government Association found some 17 per cent of council leaders and chief executives in England think their chief finance officers are likely to issue a Section 114 notice in 2024-25.

Local authorities in England face a £4 billion funding gap over the next two years just to keep services at a standstill, the organisation said, with urgent help needed from the Government to avoid “drastic cuts”.

Councils claim they have been squeezed dry by dramatic cuts to Government funding and rising demand for services, while the Tories blame poor financial management at a local level.

Birmingham issued a Section 114 notice in September, halting all new spending, after facing equal pay claims of up to £760 million and an £80 million overspend on an under-fire IT system.

Independent commissioners were brought in by Michael Gove, the Levelling Up Secretary, to help run the council, which owes almost £3 billion to lenders.

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Activists swap Union flag for Palestinian on UK Government building in Edinburgh

A Palestinian flag has been hoisted above a major UK Government building in Edinburgh by protesters claiming Britain is “complicit in genocide” in Gaza.

A Union flag was removed and hurled to the ground by activists who scaled Queen Elizabeth House (QEH) in the city on Wednesday morning.

The front of the building has also been doused in red paint as a Palestinian flag was flown in place of the Union Jack.

Four people from the Scottish This is Rigged campaign group, which also focuses on climate change issues, said they had taken part in the protest.

The group said three of the activists, Fred Spoliar, 31, Ruby Hamill, 19, and Daniel Knorr, 22, hurled water balloons filled with red paint at government signage.

Catriona Roberts, 21, sprayed the glass front of the building with a fire extinguisher full of red paint.

The group said the building, the UK Government’s most prominent base in Scotland, had been targeted “specifically due to the UK Government’s ongoing endorsement of this genocide”.

Ms Roberts, a history student from Perthshire, said: “As long as the UK Government refuses to call for a ceasefire, we will continue to call not in Scotland’s name.

“As Palestine is bombed, burned and starved, this Government is complicit. I cannot emphasise enough the importance of screaming out into the world that we will not abide genocide.”

It comes days after Rishi Sunak’s Downing Street speech in which he denounced extremist pro-Palestinian protesters who do not respect the rule of law.

He said police would be encouraged to take a harder line, though policing in Scotland is a devolved matter. Police Scotland said its officers were “in attendance” at the protest, which began at around 10.30am.

A spokesman for the UK Government said: “We are aware of the protests and the police are in attendance. All of the staff in QEH are safe and no one has entered the building.”

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