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Cabinet ministers today headed to Stoke-on-Trent for an away-day as Boris Johnson urged Whitehall departments to renew efforts to find ‘innovative’ ways to support Britons through the cost-of-living crisis.
Their visit to Staffordshire comes amid grim economic warnings as official figures showed the UK economy plunged into the red in March.
It has fuelled further fears of recession and Chancellor Rishi Sunak this morning admitted the country faces ‘anxious times’.
There is already huge pressure on Mr Sunak and his Treasury team to come up with another package of support for stuggling households.
The Chancellor today offered a strong hint that more help could come in August when the energy regulator once again updates the energy price cap.
But, despite the prospect of additional Government action to come this summer, it means Britons still face many more weeks without extra support.
Cabinet ministers were due to continue their discussions on other means of helping Britons through the cost-of-living crisis, after the PM’s call for ‘innovative’ solutions.
It emerged last month that one Cabinet brainstorming session saw ministers float ideas such as introducing looser childcare rules, allowing Britons to get an MOT for their cars only every two years, and pushing for tariff-free food imports.
But the suggestions also attracted claims that the Government is looking to address the cost-of-living crisis on the cheap, without extra spending.
Boris Johnson urged Whitehall departments to renew efforts to find ‘innovative’ ways to support Britons through the cost-of-living crisis
The PM has gathered his Cabinet ministers in Stoke-on-Trent for an away-day. Their visit to Staffordshire comes amid grim economic warnings as official figures showed the UK economy plunged into the red in March
Cabinet ministers were due to continue their discussions on other means of helping Britons through the cost-of-living crisis, after the PM’s call for ‘innovative’ solutions
Chancellor Rishi Sunak offered a strong hint that more help for Britons could come in August when the energy regulator once again updates the energy price cap
Home Secretary Priti Patel and Brexit Opportunities minister Jacob Rees-Mogg joined their Cabinet colleagues at Middleport Pottery in Stoke-on-Trent
Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries said she was ‘too busy trying to make sure my heels don’t fall through the cracks’ of cobbles when asked about the latest batch of Covid fines
In his opening remarks during the Cabinet meeting at a pottery in Stoke, the PM said: ‘We’re going to make sure we use all our ingenuity, all our compassion, everything we need to do to help people through the difficult aftershocks of Covid, and the inflationary pressures that we’re seeing, particularly on the costs of energy.
He added this week’s Queen’s Speech had given ministers ‘the legislative firepower to deliver on tackling the underlying issues – the things that are driving up prices, particularly for energy, for people’s transport, for the education people need.
‘That is why I think the Queen’s Speech is so important – infrastructure, education, technology – those are the things that we need to focus on – particularly cutting the cost of energy.’
Mr Johnson urged ministers to show ‘no lack of resource and compassion now – we’re going to have be very, very committed, very, very radical, very, very forward-thinking – but stick to the basics of our thinking about getting people into high wage, high-skilled jobs’.
‘Folks, we’re going to get through this, it’s going to take a lot of focus – but jobs, jobs, jobs is the answer – that is how we will unite and level up across the whole country, and get on with delivering on the mandate that the people gave us two-and-a-half years ago,’ he continued.
As they arrived at the Cabinet meeting, ministers were tight-lipped about the revelation that more than 100 fines have now been dished out to people working in Downing Street for Partygate breaches of Covid laws.
Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries said she was ‘too busy trying to make sure my heels don’t fall through the cracks’ of the cobbles on the site when asked about the latest batch of Covid fines.
Ahead of the Stoke away-day, Downing Street said the PM had ‘called on Cabinet colleagues and departments to double down on exploring innovative ways to ease pressures on household finances’ as well as ‘promoting the support that is available but not widely taken up.’
Last month, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps was said to have raised the idea of allowing vehicles to be checked less often, potentially saving drivers hundreds of pounds.
Mr Johnson apparently asked for faster progress on reducing the required ratio between adults and children in childcare settings – something that could reduce costs.
Cutting tariffs on imports of food not produced in the UK was also thought to been suggested around the Cabinet table.
Last month, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps was said to have raised the idea of allowing vehicles to be checked less often
The PM apparently asked for faster progress on reducing the required ratio between adults and children in childcare settings
Economic activity dipped 0.1 per cent month-on-month in March, with revised figures showing zero progress in February
John Lewis chief urges faster action on cost-of-living crisis
The Government should act before the summer to tackle the cost of living, the boss of John Lewis has said.
Sharon White called on ministers to take the same ‘decisive action’ seen during the coronavirus pandemic amid rising energy prices.
Speaking on Peston, which airs at 10.45pm on ITV, Ms White said: ‘I think the time absolutely has come for action, whether it’s an emergency budget or whether it’s another vehicle.
‘As I say, I think we’re all really nervous about what’s going to happen in October, so when energy bills potentially go up again by up to £1,000, it’s winter.’
Asked if she wanted action now, she said: ‘I do, I think there ought to be action before the summer, so the decisive action that we saw – I thought the Government did incredibly well at pace and scale during Covid – I think we need to see the same decisive action taken at speed and at pace because otherwise… those are impacts across millions of households right across the country.’
Ms White said action should be taken even if it means a temporary hit to public finances.
Households have seen soaring energy bills, with inflation forecast to hit 10 per cent and welfare payments and wages falling behind the increase in prices.
The Cabinet away-day was also arranged to discuss the Government’s new legislative agenda, as set out in this week’s Queen’s Speech.
The Parliamentary set-piece occasion drew criticism for failing to offer immediate support on the cost-of-living.
Mr Sunak today reiterated that he would wait until the full impact of global energy price volatility is known, before acting.
With the war in Ukraine continuing to exacerbate the worldwide energy crisis, it is expected that Ofgem will announce in August another huge hike in gas and electricity bills as Britain heads into autumn and winter.
One energy boss this week predicted annual bills could soar close to £3,000 when an increased price cap comes into force from October.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak said he ‘stands ready’ to do more to help households with their energy bills when the price cap is raised again.
‘I’ve always said I stand ready to do more as we learn more about the situation,’ he told Sky News.
‘On energy prices in particular, the price cap protects people for some months to come.
‘But I’ve said when we have a clearer picture about what happens with energy bills, we stand ready and I stand ready to support people further.’
The Financial Times reported Mr Sunak was looking to announce a major new support package in August.
Ahead of the Cabinet day-trip, Mr Johnson said: ‘I’m delighted to bring Cabinet to Stoke-on-Trent today – a city which is the beating heart of the ceramics industry and an example of the high skilled jobs that investment can bring to communities.
‘This government is getting on with delivering the people’s priorities and tackling the issues that matter most to the public.
‘This week we’ve set out how we’ll use new landmark legislation to grow our economy to address the cost of living, and level up opportunities for communities across the country.’