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Michael Gove is asked on Sky News whether the latest “levelling up” money is going disproportionately to Tory areas; as the nurses’ strike enters its second day, a former cabinet minister doubles down on his criticism of them using foodbanks.
Rishi Sunak is making a big push today to show the success of levelling up talk about the latest round of money that will be allocated around the country.
More than £2bn has been dished out around the UK on various projects.
Critics of the idea of “levelling up” say it is a nebulous term that can mean different things to different people.
Many point out that the idea of improving communities and investing in areas that need regeneration is something that governments should be doing anyway. 
Former prime minister Boris Johnson said “levelling up” was the “defining mission” of his government and Mr Sunak has picked up the baton after taking over from Liz Truss.
But amidst all this latest talk about levelling up, expect the likes of Labour and the Liberal Democrats to start talking about this video of Mr Sunak:
It is from last summer and shows the then-Tory leadership candidate speaking to party members in Tunbridge Wells, Kent.
Mr Sunak speaks about changing government funding formulas “to make sure areas like this are getting the funding they deserve, because we inherited a bunch of formulas from Labour that shoved all the funding into deprived urban areas and that needed to be undone.”
He added: “I started the work of undoing that.”
Mr Sunak later clarified he was talking about money that had previously been prioritised for “big urban areas”, and he was championing rural communities. 

Sinn Fein’s leader, Mary Lou McDonald, has said there is “finally a sense of movement” on talks to restore powersharing in Northern Ireland.
She was speaking to Sky News as the deadline to get the executive up and running looms tonight.
The DUP has refused to let the administration start due to concerns over the Northern Ireland Protocol, the part of the Brexit deal between the UK and EU that avoids a hard border on the island of Ireland.
Opponents of the protocol say it causing issues in Northern Ireland due to the de facto trade border in the Irish Sea that has resulted.
As time has passed, supporters of the protocol have admitted there are issues with how it has been implemented.
Ms McDonald sits in the Oireachtas, the Irish parliament.
She told Kay Burley: “Let me try and strike a positive and an optimistic note, because although we are disgracefully eight months out from elections with no executive, no functioning assembly, all at the behest of the DUP, the Democratic Unionist Party – I have to say, at times assisted by the Tory government. 
“But eight months on there is now an urgent and pressing need for government to be re-established and there is now finally a sense of movement, finally a sense that a reasonable, rational approach can be taken and a deal can be struck on the outstanding issues around the protocol.”
Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris has confirmed that if an executive is not formed today, he will not immediately call an election.
On 6 February, nurses, 999 call handlers and ambulance workers will go on strike.
Pat Cullen, the general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, has denied that the action was coordinated.
The other people striking belong to different unions, including GMB.
Speaking to Sky News from a picket line this morning, Ms Cullen said: “Well, look, actually, I learned about the GMB decision after you yesterday. 
“We have not coordinated strikes, but inevitably, as long as this government continues to allow the industrial action to continue and not get around negotiating tables, of course there will be overlap.
“But my concern, my 100% concentration, is on the nurses and nursing staff that you see behind me on every picket line today. 
“That’s what I need to get resolved for those people so they can get back into their work, [and] continue to look after their patients.”
Earlier – as you can see at 8.15am – Labour laid the blame for any deaths from the strikes at the feet of the government.
Ms Cullen was asked who she thinks is to blame.
The union head did not point the finger at anyone or any group in particular.
She said: “If you do not address the crisis in nursing, we will never address the crisis within the NHS. 
“So I think it is disrespectful to actually push more responsibility and more guilt onto the very people standing here today, losing a day’s pay on behalf of their patients to make sure that our patients are cared for as we move forward.”
Shadow levelling up secretary Lisa Nandy has criticised the government’s levelling up funds as inadequate due to the money taken out of council budgets under successive Conservative governments.
Speaking to Kay Burley this morning, the Wigan MP said: “In Wigan we’ve been successful in our bid finally, we were unsuccessful last time and we will welcome any money back that the government chooses to give us.
“We badly need investment, but it equates to only a fifth of the money that they’ve taken from us since Boris Johnson promised in 2019 to level up the country. 
“Most places have lost. Four out of five places that asked for some money have got none at all. 
“And even the winners are losing because it’s the equivalent of handing us a fiver and nicking 20 quid out of our back pocket. 
“We can do better than this Hunger Games-style contest where we pay councils and communities against one another.”
The government “bears entire responsibility” if people die during health sector strikes, according to Labour.
Shadow levelling up secretary Lisa Nandy was speaking about the planned action on 6 February – which will see nurses, ambulance workers and 999 call handlers all walking out.
Kay Burley asked the Labour frontbencher who will be responsible if people die on that day.
Ms Nandy said: “The government bears entire responsibility for this.
“For months, the health secretary has been refusing to even meet the workforce to talk to them about their concerns. 
“This isn’t just about pay, it’s also about conditions. 
“It’s about the fact that we don’t have enough people in the National Health Service.
“And because of the way that ministers have treated people in the NHS over the last year, we’ve got more and more people saying to MPs like me, ‘I don’t know if I can carry on like this. I just don’t know if I can stay.’ 
“That is completely and utterly unsustainable.”
As we reported in our previous post, the former levelling up secretary Simon Clarke has criticised nurses for using food banks.
Mr Clarke initially made comments about health workers using the support networks to the BBC yesterday.
He sad: “I’m afraid if you are using a food bank and you are earning the average nurse’s salary of £35,000 a year then something is wrong with your budgeting, because £35,000 a year is not a salary on which you ought to be relying on a food bank.”
Using the Nursing Times as his source, he said £35,000 is the median nurse’s salary, adding: “My message is everyone needs to take responsibility in their lives.
“I don’t believe people on an average salary of £35,000 a year need to be using food banks.”
The story made the front of the Daily Mirror today.
Fellow Tory MP Lee Anderson backed Mr Clarke, tweeting: “The point here is that ANYONE (not just nurses) earning *MORE* than 30k, & are using foodbanks must have a budgeting problem. 
“I have constituents i.e armed forces, bin men, bar staff, care workers, bus drivers, pensioners etc who can all live on less. Am I missing something?”
Mr Clarke said this was his point “exactly”, and that people earning £35,000 “shouldn’t need to use a foodbank” except in “very particular circumstances”.
Michael Gove has disagreed with a cabinet colleague, as well as his predecessor as levelling up secretary, for their comments on nurses using food banks.
Simon Clarke was levelling up secretary under Liz Truss, and said nurses using food banks have “something wrong” with their budgeting – that everyone “needs to take responsibility in their lives”.
Education Secretary Gillian Keegan said many nurses use food banks because of a broken “relationship or boiler”.
When these comments were put to Mr Gove that his colleagues were criticising nurses for the way they manage money, he said: “I would never criticise nurses for something like that.”
The row comes amid a two-day strike from nurses, with more action taking place next month.
Asked if the government should give nurses an above-inflation pay rise, Mr Gove said: “I think that when we’re looking at the other pay claims that are being made by people within the National Health Service and also people in other parts of the public sector, we have to balance making sure that we do everything we can to reward them for their hard work [while] recognising that we also have to be careful stewards of public money overall. 
“And what we can’t do is necessarily accede to every demand in the public sector for pay increases because we don’t want to be in a position where the public finances, overall, are out of control.”
Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove has defended the government’s funding announcements today.
It follows accusations that money was given to a number of areas that were not deprived, and disproportionately went to Conservative or southern regions.
Mr Gove said: “We have objective criteria that govern where money is going. 
“We look at the strategic fit, the deliverability, the economic benefits and heritage matters as well.”
Mr Gove was asked about the £19m or so that had been earmarked for Rishi Sunak’s constituency of Richmond in Yorkshire.
“Well, we are giving money to Catterick, but that money is going to the biggest army infantry base in the country,” Mr Gove said.
“I don’t think anyone would deny that investing money in making sure that our service families have absolutely the best circumstances to support them.
“I don’t think anyone would deny that is a good use of money. 
“And if people want to see that service families and that the Catterick garrison doesn’t deserve cash, then let them.”
It was put to Mr Gove that only half of the 80 or so successful bids for levelling up funds were in the most deprived areas of the country.
He said: “Well, there are areas of deprivation across the whole United Kingdom. 
“I think it is the case actually that more Labour local authorities than Conservative local authorities receive money.
“But it will be news to people in Cleethorpes or in Workington who are receiving money today that they are not areas of high need – areas that have been undervalued in the past.”
A nationwide nurses’ strike in England enters its second day today.
Thousands of health workers at 55 NHS trusts have taken industrial action this week.
It comes – as we reported in our previous post – as NHS bosses are preparing for more action next month.
This includes ambulance workers and nurses both walking out on 6 February.
Today’s action from the Royal College of Nursing centres around pay – with the union wanting an offer above inflation, and the government saying this is unaffordable.
Health Secretary Steve Barclay said yesterday: “If we provide unaffordable pay rises to NHS staff, we will take billions of pounds away from where we need it most.
“Unaffordable pay hikes will mean cutting patient care and stoking the inflation that would make us all poorer.”
RCN general secretary Pat Cullen speaks to Sky News at 8.20am.
NHS leaders are making contingency plans as the biggest walkout in the health service’s history looms.
Ambulance staff and nurses are both set to go on strike on 6 February – taking industrial action on the same day for the first time.
Saffron Cordery, the interim chief executive of NHS Providers, has said the proposed walkouts are a “huge concern”.
She said: “Trusts have been warning for months that coordinated strikes were a possibility if the government and unions failed to reach an early agreement on this year’s pay award.”
Ms Cordery urged ministers to “get round the table with the unions urgently to deal with the key issue of pay for this financial year, otherwise there is no light at the end of the tunnel”.
The Royal College of Nursing has confirmed further strikes will take place on 6 and 7 February in a long-running dispute over pay.
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