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FirstFT: Using NHS could be ‘very difficult’ this winter, says Downing Street

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Downing Street yesterday admitted that some Britons will find it “very difficult” to access the NHS this winter, as Prime Minister Rishi Sunak tried to regain control of the political agenda in the face of an escalating health crisis.

Sunak, accused by Labour of going missing during a series of strikes and chaotic scenes at Britain’s hospitals, will today vow to tackle the problems in the NHS in his first big domestic policy speech as prime minister.

He will also aim to look beyond the UK’s acute social and economic challenges by mapping out priorities for the country, including a new “mission” to ensure all pupils study mathematics until the age of 18.

Sunak has said his first mission is to provide people with “peace of mind” but the deteriorating situation in the NHS — hit by a combination of flu, Covid-related treatment backlogs and strikes — has left the public fuming.

A YouGov survey has found the government’s net rating over its handling of the NHS has fallen from minus 3 in May 2020 to minus 73 this week, with Labour believing Sunak will pay a heavy political price.

1. UK food inflation hits 13.3% Annual growth of UK food prices hit 13.3 per cent in December, the British Retail Consortium said today. That was up from 12.4 per cent in November and the highest reading since the trade body’s records began in 2005, with the new data pointing to “another difficult year for consumers and businesses”.

2. Rail unions warn strikes could last into summer RMT and Aslef, the UK’s two main rail unions, have warned strikes will last into the summer unless the government and industry come up with new offers on pay and reform, as passengers and business face more disruption this week.

3. Policymakers to overhaul EU ethics standards Věra Jourová, European Commission vice-president for values and transparency, told the Financial Times she would use the European parliament’s bribery scandal to push through reforms ensuring the “highest standards of integrity and independence”. Former lawmakers warn, however, that a culture of impunity in EU institutions will be difficult to stamp out.

4. Kevin McCarthy loses 3 rounds of votes to be US House Speaker The US House of Representatives has adjourned after failing to elect a new Speaker, leaving Kevin McCarthy’s political future hanging by a thread. The Republican yesterday became the first majority party leader in a century to falter in the first ballot, and went on to lose two subsequent rounds of voting.

5. Sam Bankman-Fried pleads not guilty The founder of FTX entered the plea in a Manhattan federal court yesterday. The eight charges include wire fraud, conspiracy to commit commodities and securities fraud, conspiracy to commit money laundering and campaign finance violations.

  • Opinion: Trading in unbacked digital assets should be treated like gambling, writes Fabio Panetta, a member of the executive board of the European Central Bank.

  • Sports sponsorship: The future of lucrative sports sponsorship deals with digital asset companies is increasingly in doubt after the FTX collapse.

The training kit of Premier League club Manchester United features the name of blockchain provider Tezos
Blockchain provider Tezos slapped its brand across the training kit of Premier League club Manchester United © Phil Noble/Action Images/Reuters

The day ahead

UK transit strikes About 40,000 RMT members will stage walkouts today, Friday and Saturday in a dispute over pay, job security and changes to working practices. Rail users have been warned to “only travel if it is absolutely necessary”. Train drivers represented by the union Aslef are to hold a national day of strike action on Thursday.

Federal Reserve minutes The Federal Reserve releases minutes from its December gathering, when it was decided to raise short-term interest rates by 0.5 percentage points.

What else we’re reading

The new Gulf sovereign wealth fund boom From Qatar and Saudi Arabia to the United Arab Emirates, the Gulf is increasingly viewed as one of the world’s last remaining sources of abundant capital. For many of those beating a path to its door, there is one thing on their minds — striking deals with sovereign wealth funds — as the region enjoys its first petrodollar-fuelled boom in a decade.

Charts showing Saudi GDP growth and budget balance

UK universities turn to philanthropy Philanthropy and endowment money are an increasingly important source of income for some of the UK’s leading universities, according to the president of one of the world’s top-ranking science research institutions. Hugh Brady of Imperial College London said that attitudes towards taking gifts from wealthy donors had “changed immeasurably” in the past decade.

Russian army faces backlash over conscripts’ deaths The killing of scores of Russian conscripts in a Kyiv-led missile attack on their barracks in occupied eastern Ukraine has rekindled recriminations in Moscow over the conduct of the war — and raised fresh questions over the military’s capacity to learn from its mistakes.

China ESG reckoning looms for investors Foreign investors in Chinese equities have a problem. China’s growth offers the hope of big returns over the coming decade, but on environmental, social and governance ratings, its companies rank lower not only than western nations, but also below most emerging markets.

Can Brazil create a football league to take on the world? Traditionally, the best Brazilian players have had to head abroad for financial rewards and stronger competition. Now a pair of consortiums are vying to create a new domestic league — inspired by the English Premiership — that will unlock the domestic game’s commercial potential and improve its quality — with the backing of big money.

Take a break from the news

The 13th edition of Bamako Encounters — African Biennale of Photography, currently under way in the capital of Mali, showcases artists from the African continent and diaspora at a precarious time for the country.

From ‘Rwandan Youth, 25 Years After the Genocide’ by Seif Kousmate
From ‘Rwandan Youth, 25 Years After the Genocide’ by Seif Kousmate © Seif Kousmate

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