INDEPENDENT 2024-03-25 10:04:06

Hunt on £100,000 salaries: ‘It doesn’t go as far as you might think’

The chancellor of the exchequer has stood by his comments that £100,000 is “not a huge salary” in his constituency, explaining that it “doesn’t go as far as you might think”.

Jeremy Hunt came under fire after posting on social media earlier this week that he wanted to “sort out” government childcare eligibility for a parent who earns over £100,000.

In a post, Mr Hunt said: “I spoke to a lady from Godalming about eligibility for the government’s childcare offer which is not available if one parent is earning over £100k. That is an issue I would really like to sort out after the next election as I am aware that it is not [a] huge salary in our area if you have a mortgage to pay.”

The Godalming MP has now doubled down on his comments, explaining that the average cost of property in his constituency is over 670,000 and “if you’ve got a mortgage and you’ve got childcare costs, It doesn’t go as far as you think”.

Mr Hunt’s comments drew criticism, as £100,000 is almost three times the national average salary for someone in full-time work, which is £34,963 according to the Office for National Statistics.

Speaking onSky News’ Sunday Morning with Trevor Phillips, Mr Hunt said: “That’s why I want to give help to families and that’s why the childcare measures are very important.

“We weren’t able to afford to fund childcare for people on the highest salaries, but I was simply saying that’s something I’d love to be able to look at in the next parliament, but we can’t afford to do it now.”

Mr Hunt was also forced to defend the Conservative’s economic record after it was put to him that the Conservatives had presided over a fall in living standards that is “very, very unusual in our lifetimes”. Last month the UK entered a technical recession after GDP fell for two quarters in a row.

Real GDP per person has also fallen in every quarter since the start of 2022.

The chancellor responded that the decline in living standards was due to “two things that haven’t happened for half a century or more” in the form of a “once-in-a-century pandemic and a 1970s-style energy shock caused by the invasion of Ukraine.”

He also insisted that “living standards have actually gone up since 2010 in real terms by about £1,700 per household”.

In a heated exchange between Mr Phillips and Mr Hunt, the chancellor insisted that although the government had had to make “difficult decisions” in the wake of the dual crises, the government was still committed to cutting taxes. Mr Hunt cut national insurance tax by a further 2 percentage points in his recent spring budget following another 2 per cent decrease in Autumn.

But Mr Phillips pointed out that taxes are still going up, adding: “You’ve made a couple of cuts in national insurance, but the movements of the thresholds are a thing.”

As the pair spoke over each other, Mr Hunt argued: “You can’t just mention things and then not let me respond … yes, taxes have gone up… the question in British politics is do you think they need to stay high, or do you want to start to bring them down.”

Mr Hunt insisted that his party was still committed to bringing down the tax burden: “My budgets have actually reduced the tax burden by about 0.6 per cent of GDP.

“But I’ve always been completely open about the fact that we have had to put taxes up to deal with that pandemic and it was right to support families through the pandemic and the energy crisis. But the question now is whether you want to bring them down.”

The chancellor also attacked his opposition counterpart. He stated that shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves is “not confronting any of those difficult decisions” and “we didn’t hear a single thing about welfare reform or controlling migration in [the] Mais lecture”.

Earlier in the week, Ms Reeves delivered an hour-long lecture about Labour’s economic policies.

Mr Hunt added: “In the Mais lecture, the shadow chancellor didn’t mention bringing down the tax burden once. I have now brought down taxes significantly in an autumn statement, and in the budget.”

The chancellor’s assessment follows comments made by the deputy prime minister that Ms Reeves is “wolf in sheep’s clothing” after the shadow chancellor’s economic policies were compared to that of Margaret Thatcher.

In her Mais lecture, Ms Reeves said: “As we did at the end of the 1970s, we stand at an inflection point, and as in earlier decades, the solution lies in wide-ranging supply-side reform to drive investment, remove the blockages constraining our productive capacity, and fashion a new economic settlement, drawing on evolutions in economic thought.”

But Oliver Dowden has said he was not “not fooled” by Labour’s policies. Writing in TheSun on Sunday, he said: “I was amused this week to see Labour’s Rachel Reeves trying to portray herself as the next Margaret Thatcher.

“Wasn’t it just a few years ago that she was knocking on doors, persuading people that the socialist Jeremy Corbyn should be in No 10? But I’m not fooled, and I don’t think The Sun on Sunday readers will be. Ms Reeves’ self-portrait as Thatcher really is a wolf in sheep’s clothing.”

Lewis Hamilton’s miserable start gives one clear verdict on Ferrari move

If Toto Wolff thought Saturday in Australia was below-par – with George Russell and Lewis Hamilton languishing seventh and 11th on the grid respectively after qualifying – wait until you hear the Mercedes boss’s verdict by Sunday night. A first double retirement in five years made Wolff want to “punch himself on the nose”. The outlook at Mercedes, the former titan of Formula One, is decidedly gloomy down under.

But to the front for the time being. Carlos Sainz’s victory at the Australian Grand Prix on Sunday was down to two factors: first, Max Verstappen’s surprise mechanical fault, on a weekend where Red Bull design guru Adrian Newey was not on-site at Albert Park. A right rear brake fault resulted in the three-time world champion’s dramatic departure from proceedings four laps into the 58-lap race. Out of nowhere, we all had a grand prix on our hands.

Factor number two: Ferrari. Fred Vasseur and his team of engineers have unlocked something different this year. A car with potential, definitely capable of competing with Red Bull over one lap, if not quite yet over a full race distance. With Sainz leading home a one-two finish – the Scuderia’s first since Bahrain in 2022 at the start of the current set of regulations – Ferrari are now just four points off Red Bull in the constructors’ standings. Leclerc trails Verstappen by the same margin.

The only surprise was the driver on top of the podium. Sainz continues to startle in the face of continued adversity. Axed from his seat before the season begins? Not ideal, but he’ll get on with it. Absent from race two after undergoing surgery to remove his appendix? Not ideal, but he’ll get on with it.

Just 16 days on from that abdominal operation in Jeddah, the Spaniard ruffled feathers and the medics with a supreme victory in Melbourne where, strikingly, he was genuinely quicker than Ferrari’s de facto No 1, Leclerc.

Sainz left no stone unturned in his ambitions to race this weekend. As part of his rehabilitation, he used a hyperbaric chamber and an electromagnetic machine. His dedication to his craft is indisputable. And it leaves a rather strange situation, given his current 2025 status: seatless.

“I’m still jobless for next year, so I guess this is good for me!” he joked to Martin Brundle after the race. Indeed, Christian Horner admitted he could “not rule out” the possibility of Sainz returning to Red Bull – where it all started with sister team Toro Rosso in 2015 – to replace Sergio Perez next year. Aston Martin may be a potential suitor, too, depending on Fernando Alonso’s future.

But back to Mercedes. A Mercedes team who should be eyeing Sainz themselves, in what would amount to a straight swap for Hamilton. An assured and professional presence, Sainz in partnership with George Russell would be a credible duo with bags of talent. More frighteningly for Wolff, however, is that the project he will be able to offer to Sainz does not look particularly marketable at this stage.

It makes Hamilton, who has gambled the end of his career for a tilt with Ferrari, look somewhat vindicated in his decision just three races into the new season. The 39-year-old – winless for over two years – has endured his worst ever start to a Formula One season after his retirement on Sunday.

A power unit failure is difficult to predict and can amount to simply being “one of those things”. Nonetheless, you’d be forgiven for thinking Hamilton may well be watching the improvements at Ferrari with a wry smile, behind the curtains in the Mercedes motorhome.

“This is the worst start to a season,” he said. “It’s worse than 2009 I think,” in reference to Brawn’s dominant sole season and McLaren’s rapid downfall. With 21 races to go, Mercedes are arguably the fifth-quickest team at this moment in time. For Hamilton, a move to Maranello in 2025 may well feel some way away.

But moving to Ferrari is what he is doing; signed and sealed, on a long-term contract. Maybe he knows something we don’t – maybe he even pictured this rapid development coming, persuaded by chairman John Elkann to back Vasseur and his leadership. Right now, it looks as wise a decision as when he jumped ship from McLaren to Mercedes in 2013.

Because behind Red Bull, Ferrari are a clear second-best on the grid; the only shame for Sainz is the countdown clock in the background throughout the year ahead.

The contradiction at the heart of Leicester’s Premier League case

Leicester City already held a unique status with both the Premier League and the EFL. Now they may have another. The only club to win each of English football’s top three divisions in the 21st century – champions of League One; Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal may never sing that – then announced plans to take legal action against both the Premier League and the EFL.

The feelgood success story has become an emblematic failure in an age of suddenly greater regulation and a dramatic recourse to the lawyers. Attention has shifted from Jamie Vardy’s predilection for vodka and Red Bulls to Nick De Marco KC’s capacity to win court cases. Leicester were the 5000-1 shots who won the title. They presumably think the odds are slightly better when they take on the governing bodies.

There may be a contradiction in their case. Trying to argue they are not subject to the Premier League’s jurisdiction presumably brings them into the EFL’s remit. One way or another, the accusation is that Leicester have failed Financial Fair Play; in one division or another, this season or next, it should bring a points deduction. Which, in turn, either further imperils their chances of promotion or gives them an added obstacle to stay up next season.

But it is also revealing in various other respects. When Everton were the trailblazers in being charged for their breach of Profitability and Sustainability Rules (PSR), there was talk of other clubs suing them; if the accusation was that Everton cheated to get an advantage, that looks ridiculous when they finished 17th last season and the clubs in 16th (Nottingham Forest) and 18th (Leicester) have their own breaches.

Another is that all three suffered on the balance sheet for their underachievement. Budgeting to finish far higher in the Premier League than they did – somehow Everton factored in a sixth-place finish in 2021-22 and trailed in 16th – brings far less prize money and a hole in the accounts ledger. Leicester had more reasons to imagine themselves in the upper echelons of the table but went from five consecutive top-half finishes, two of them in fifth, to 18th in 2022-23.

It is notable, too, that Covid upended the footballing economy. Clubs were permitted to write off Covid losses in their accounts – and Everton’s felt suspiciously large – without them counting towards FFP calculations. But the collapse of transfer fees, especially in other leagues, reduced the market to sell players; it also led to a knock-on effect by restricting the spending power of Premier League rivals who might have otherwise sold well to Europe to finance their own buying.

Leicester had a reputation as fine traders, but they posted a record £92.5m loss for 2021-22, a rare year without a significant sale. In previous summers, players such as Ben Chilwell, Harry Maguire and Riyad Mahrez had brought in windfalls. That had come to feel part of the business plan, yet it can illustrate the precarious position clubs find themselves in: even the well-run are only a few poor decisions away from being plunged into trouble and Leicester made more than a few. Nevertheless, they did well to get £70m from Chelsea for the ever-injured Wesley Fofana in 2022; they then sold James Maddison, Harvey Barnes and Timothy Castagne the following year, after relegation, even though too many of the others who left did so on free transfers.

But a relatively sure touch in the transfer market started to desert them. There were other signings they could not sell for a profit – Danny Ward, Ayoze Perez and Rachid Ghezzal in 2018, Dennis Praet in 2019 – but two windows of recruitment came at a particular cost. The 2021 outlay on Patson Daka, Boubakary Soumare and Jannik Vestergaard, none either a footballing or financial success, was compounded by the January 2023 outlay on Harry Souttar and Victor Kristiansen.

In the process, Leicester contrived to get the worst of both worlds: spending some £30m to compound their FFP issues and yet still getting relegated. It also illustrates that they should have done more to try and cash in on Youri Tielemans, Caglar Soyuncu and Perez while they still could and, while the scale of Leicester’s breach is not yet known, the recurring theme between them, Everton and Forest is that much of it was avoidable: without accumulating so many players, with fewer bad signings, with more sales, the figures may be more presentable.

But it is also a hugely damning indictment of Brendan Rodgers, even if the cost of sacking him may be a further factor in taking Leicester over the FFP limit. Leicester’s former manager had a tendency to voice his complaints about the board’s reluctance to spend in the summer of 2022; now it is apparent that was based on sounder financial logic than his own.

Rodgers had excelled before. Last season, he underachieved with what has proved an unaffordable squad; it would be instructive to know if Leicester’s wage bill was higher than Newcastle’s, as they finished fourth; certainly before bonuses were triggered on Tyneside anyway.

The counter-argument is that Leicester suffered for their success. They were a club without big-six commercial or matchday income but, as they finished fifth twice and won the FA Cup, they had players who deserved to be paid accordingly. They were damned if they did, damned if they didn’t.

Viewed that way, Leicester were punished for their ambition. Certainly it put them in a position where they had less margin for error. But err Leicester did, both in plummeting into the Championship and with transfer-market missteps. Now they find themselves under a transfer embargo, facing a loss of points, their future threatened.

Saying they wanted charges “proportionately determined” risked accusations of hypocrisy, given that threats to take legal action against the Premier League and the Football League strike some as disproportionate. But what can be said is that the landscape has been transformed since Leicester won the Championship in 2014 – while breaching Financial Fair Play.

Kyiv attacked with hypersonic missiles after it destroys two Russian ships

Moscow has attacked Kyiv with hypersonic missiles after Ukraine destroyed two Russian ships in Crimea.

US Ambassador Bridget Brink said on X, formerly Twitter, on Monday morning: “Loud explosions in Kyiv. Over the last five days, Russia has launched hundreds of missiles and drones against a sovereign country.”

It comes after Ukraine’s military said two Russian warships and a communications centre were hit in attacks on the annexed Crimean peninsula on Sunday.

Moscow said air defences had shot down more than 10 missiles over the port of Sevastopol during the incident in the early hours.

Meanwhile, parts of the City of Odesa were plunged into darkness after a Russian air attack damaged one of the high-voltage facilities.

The administration of Odesa said on Telegram that the city and the region were attacked by several waves of drones launched by Russia. Four of the air weapons were shot down over the Odesa and neighbouring Mykolaiv regions.

Debris from a falling drone sparked a fire at the power facility, which was promptly put out, the administration added.

Power had since been restored to two city regions by Monday morning.

Two workers killed in incident on cruise ship in the Bahamas

Two crew members on a cruise ship have died during an “incident” in the ship’s engineering space, the Holland America cruise line has said.

The unidentified crew members died on Friday while the Florida-based Nieuw Amsterdam was at Half Moon Cay in the Bahamas, Holland America said in a statement.

Authorities were notified and the cause of the accident is being investigated, the cruise line said.

Crew members were being offered counseling.

ABC News reported that the two were killed by an accidental steam release, though this has not been confirmed by Holland America.

“All of us at Holland America Line are deeply saddened by this incident and our thoughts and prayers are with our team members’ families at this difficult time,” the statement said. “The safety, security and welfare of all guests and crew are the company’s absolute priority.”

The cruise line did not offer any further details about the crew members, nor which agency was handling the investigation. The ship set sail out of Fort Lauderdale on March 16 for a seven-night trip.

History, heritage, cuisine and culture in Split, Croatia

Historical buildings, pine forest hills and breathtaking views of the Adriatic Sea are just a few things to expect on a fun-filled trip to the old-world coastal city of Split. This ancient sliver of the country is steeped in eclectic history and blessed with abundant natural beauty, a dynamic food scene, and more cultural attractions you can shake a stick at. It’s an all-rounder, ideal to visit no matter the season and even for a quick city break since there are plenty of direct flights from UK cities, including Birmingham, Bristol, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Leeds, London and Manchester. Here’s our must-see, must-do guide to this stunning city…

Split is Croatia’s sportiest city, often referred to as The City of Sport, thanks to the number of professional athletes that hail from the city. In fact, Split is the city with the highest number of Olympic medal winners per capita. You can see their names proudly presented on Sports Walk of Fame on the city’s west coast, including Wimbledon champion Goran Ivanišević, double world high jump champion Blanka Vlašić, and ex–NBA star Toni Kukoč.

Catch a basketball game featuring the legendary KK Split, one of the most successful clubs in Europe, at the Gripe Sports Hall, or watch a football match with HNK Hajduk Split at the Poljud Stadium to feel the electrifying passion of local fans. If you’d rather participate, take advantage of Split’s drop-dead coastal location by trying windsurfing, kayaking, paddle boarding or sailing; many places offer equipment rental or lessons. Or, to keep it traditional, try your hand at ‘picigin’ – a local ball game from Split that is played at the beach.

For a more cerebral experience, immerse yourself in the city’s rich history, from Roman walls to UNESCO heritage sites and historical Old Towns. Wander through preserved Roman streets lined with Gothic and Renaissance buildings and visit the oldest cathedral building in the world, Diocletian’s Palace, built between 295 and 305 A.D. The beautiful basement halls here (more commonly known as the substructures) are one of the world’s best-preserved complexes from the era of classical antiquity and central to the historical centre of Split being added to UNESCO’s World Heritage List in 1979.

Dip your toe into the world of Croatian art at the Ivan Meštrović Gallery, wholly dedicated to the sculptor himself, renowned for his powerful and expressive works. There’s also the Museum of Croatian Archaeological Monuments, which delves deep into the city’s history across more than 20,000 artefacts. Plus, the museum itself is an architectural masterpiece.

If you want to learn all about the city’s history and citizens, the City Museum of Split is a must-visit. It was founded in 1947 at the stunning palace of the Papalić family and is a stunning example of late-Gothic style architecture.

There’s also the Ethnographic Museum of Split, situated inside a former residential complex in the southeastern quarter of Diocletian’s Palace. The museum holds a vast collection of artefacts that showcase the traditional way of life, customs, and cultural practices of the people of the Dalmatia region and beyond. You’ll find everything from household items and religious objects to traditional tools and clothing.

Leave some time in your itinerary to explore the city’s natural wonders and incredible beaches. Ideally situated on the Adriatic coast, Split houses some of Croatia’s finest and most picturesque beaches. Bačvice Beach is one of the most popular in the area, perfect for shallow bathing and basking in the sun; plus, there are many bars and restaurants along the front, and concerts take place throughout the summer months.

There’s also Bene Beach, located on the northeastern part of the leafy Marjan Forest Park, often referred to as the green oasis of Split. It’s usually a little quieter, so it’s perfect for finding a secluded spot, sheltered beautifully by the trees that border the shoreline. Hiking or biking in the forest park Marjan is also a great way to experience the natural landscape of the Dalmatian Coast. You can follow many routes through fragrant pine forests and scenic viewpoints – the Marjan Hill Viewpoint overlooks the entire Old Town. Finish off with a dip in the sea to cool off.

Kašjuni Beach is known for being particularly beautiful, surrounded by lush greenery and rocky cliffs. It tends to be a little quieter and less crowded with calm, crystal-clear water, ideal for snorkelling and swimming. While on the southern side of Marjan, you’ll find Kaštelet Beach, a small but peaceful fine-pebbled beach with shallow banks, perfect for dipping in and out of between basking in the sun.

Follow the scenic coastal promenade from the city centre, and you’ll eventually reach Trstenik, home to a well-equipped, picturesque beach popular amongst water sports enthusiasts. Here, you can enjoy windsurfing, kitesurfing, kayaking, paddle boarding and more. The surrounding neighbourhood is chock full of restaurants, shops and places to stay should you want to spend a few nights here.

Split also serves as an ideal hub for day excursions, offering easy access to the stunning Dalmatian islands and hinterland, each brimming with natural and cultural treasures. From the city, you can visit several of Dalmatia’s spectacular islands, including Brac, Hvar, Vis, Solta and many more. Bisevo Island is one of the most popular to visit, where the remains of a 1050 AD Benedictine monastery lay, and the Blue Cave, one of the must-see natural attractions in the country, renowned for its incredible glowy sun rays that shine through cracks in the cave, creating a magical blue glimmer.

Just a half-hour drive from the city centre, you’ll find idyllic hiking trails on mountains such as Mosor, Kozjak, and Biokovo. There’s also the Cetina River, where you can participate in heart-pumping rafting and canyoning adventures.

As a cultural hub, Split boasts a diverse timetable of not-to-be-missed events throughout the year, including Sudamja, Stories of Diocletian, Advent – Winter Joys, Split Summer Festival, the Split Carnival, Month of Gastronomy and the Split Marathon.  In recent years, the city has also emerged as a sought-after filming destination, hosting productions such as Game of Thrones and the Dark Tower movie. So it’s pretty fitting that the city is home to the Mediterranean Film Festival and the International Festival of New Film.

Food-wise, Croatia’s diverse and delicious cuisine varies significantly from region to region, with coastal areas focusing more on seafood dishes like grilled fish, octopus salad, and black risotto. Learn all about Croatian fare at a local cookery class, where you’ll get to sample and make delicious dishes and take recipes back home.

Split’s culinary scene is constantly evolving, with many restaurants opening in the city, especially in the historic centre and its surroundings. Several restaurants have been recognised by the world-famous Michelin Guide, but there are many more worth visiting, with menus brimming with local Mediterranean cuisine, often with a creative twist added by some of Croatia’s best chefs. Most of the local restaurants’ menus are made with regional, fresh produce, including just-caught seafood.

For an authentic Croatian experience and the most local atmosphere, travellers should dine at a traditional tavern-style konoba restaurant, the Dalmatian version of a tavern, where you can enjoy fresh fish and seafood and popular local meat dishes.

The local diet is also rich in seasonal vegetables, which vegetarians can enjoy in many of the city’s restaurants, with plenty of spots specialising in vegetarian and vegan fare.

Wine and olive oil are essential components of Split’s gastronomic makeup, meaning that restaurants are always stocked with exceptional Croatian wines, particularly those produced within Dalmatia. You can enjoy them with dinner or at a local wine tasting.

If you’re looking for local produce, Ribarnica is stocked with fresh seafood plucked out of the neighbouring Adriatic Sea. While Pazar Green Market is the place to go for fresh fruit, vegetables, herbs, cheese, cured meat, honey, and sweet treats, for delicious eats you can sample on the spot, or take home for a slice of Split you can reminisce with.

For more Split travel ideas and inspiration, head to Visit Split or check out Instagram or Facebook

The Tories may need more than economic growth to change their fortunes

It was revealing that Jeremy Hunt was put forward by the government for the Sunday political shows on TV – unusually, only three weeks after his last Sunday media round on the eve of his Budget.

The chancellor’s latest appearance was a tacit admission that his package, including a two-percentage-point cut in national insurance contributions, has failed to move the political dial – to the frustration of the Conservative MPs who are starting to fear that nothing will dent Labour’s 20-point lead in the opinion polls.

True, Mr Hunt wanted the opportunity to bask in the brighter economic news since his Budget – a sharp drop in inflation and a return to limited economic growth which should soon bring the UK’s recession to an end. Ministers hope that wages outpacing inflation will generate a “feelgood factor”, and that the Bank of England will soon start to bring down interest rates so mortgage rates fall, undoing some of the damage from Liz Truss’s disastrous mini-Budget.

Is there clear water between Tory and Labour economic policies?

The Labour Party has faced accusations of mirroring the Conservative Party’s economic strategies.

Last week, shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves outlined her economic approach in her Mais lecture, prompting some to liken her to Margaret Thatcher.

Echoing Labour’s commitment to a “decade of national renewal”, Ms Reeves promised substantial reforms akin to Thatcher’s era, aiming to reverse the nation’s economic decline and foster robust growth.