Tuesday News Review

Coalition planning for summer strike breakers

Ministers are drawing up plans to deal with a wave of co-ordinated public sector strikes across the country this summer. A special unit of civil servants has been set up in the Cabinet Office to “war game” areas of vulnerability in key services and infrastructure. They are also investigating how they can draft in private-sector “strike breakers” to cross picket lines. Services identified as vulnerable to strikes include transport, energy, prisons and the health service. Ministers fear that the trigger for such co-ordinated action will be plans to increase the amount that public-sector workers have to contribute to their pensions – and could come as soon as the summer. – the Independent

Labour hits back at MigrationWatch report

Labour has hit back at the report by MigrationWatch claiming its points based system was bringing down net migration. Gerry Sutcliffe, Shadow Immigration Minister, said: “This is an unbalanced, misleading and highly political report. Migration levels increased initially because of the strength of the British economy over many years and must be seen in the context of increases globally. “However the most recent figures show net migration from outside the EU was coming down as a result of the new points based system and over a third of “long-term migrants” were in fact students, the vast majority of whom study, pay their fees, and then return home. “Labour introduced a tough Australian-style points based system to ensure that only those with the skills Britain needs could come here.” – the Telegraph

Rumours of a reshuffle

Spare a thought for Vince Cable. The disgruntled Business Secretary, whose “nuclear option” turned out to be more of a suicide vest, is the odds-on favourite to be the next minister to leave the coalition cabinet, according to the online betting exchange Smarkets. Or perhaps it will be Ken Clarke. “Is it time to give this disloyal, pro-Europe old bruiser the boot?” read the headline in the Daily Mail on 12 February. Paddy Power has him as 7/2 fav­ourite on its “next to leave the cabinet” list. Then there’s Tom Strathclyde. Tom who? The Leader of the House of Lords, exposed as an old-fashioned Tory adulterer by a Sunday paper last month, is second-favourite on both the Smarkets and Paddy Power lists. Away from the betting shops, Tory MPs and peers congregate in the bars and tearooms of Westminster to whisper about the future of William Hague, his personal life and his foreign policy (or lack thereof); about the Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman’s disastrous decision to sell off the nation’s forests; about Cheryl Gillan’s “Where’s Wally” performance at the Welsh Office and the persistent rumours of her impending departure from government. – New Statesman

Defence spending out of control

Weapons projects that have been written off or delayed have cost the taxpayer more than £8bn, a cross-party committee of senior MPs said in a withering critique of waste in the Ministry of Defence. The decision to cancel the Nimrod MRA4 and Sentinel reconnaissance aircraft will lead to greater operational risks as well a write-off of nearly £5bn, the Commons public accounts committee says in a report which also sheds new light on the row over the decision to go ahead with the contract to build two new large aircraft carriers for the navy. The RAF spent an extra £2.7bn on the Eurofighter/Typhoon project, including the purchase of 16 additional aircraft it did not need, to honour contractual commitments to other countries assembling the planes. The MoD assumed other partner nations would also not wish to purchase the final tranche of aircraft, so the requirement would be waived, says the committee. – the Guardian

Defence Secretary Liam Fox today outlined plans to tackle the financial mismanagement that blew a £36 billion hole in his department’s budget. He said “fantasy projects” which make their way into the defence programme have to stop, and the department’s biggest projects will be regularly assessed. Speaking to the BBC, he said: “One of the criticisms by the public accounts committee was that projects get started with no real budgets to follow through. “So I have asked the new Chief of Defence Materiel in the MoD to ensure that no projects begin unless we’re sure that there’s a budget for development and in procurement and deployment, because otherwise we end up with fantasy projects which are not much more than a wish list, and that has to stop.” Dr Fox laid the blame for overspending squarely on Labour, saying it had created a “conspiracy of optimism”. – the Independent

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