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US agency declares Biden ‘apparent winner’ – clearing way for transition
A federal US agency has ascertained that Joe Biden is the “apparent winner” of the November 3 election, clearing the way for the start of the transition from Donald Trump’s administration. The move by the General Services Administration (GSA) allows Mr Biden to co-ordinate with federal agencies on plans for taking over on January 20.

Mr Trump, who had refused to concede the election, said in a tweet that he was directing his team to co-operate on the transition but vowed to keep up the fight.

GSA administrator Emily Murphy made the determination after Mr Trump’s efforts to subvert the vote failed across battleground states, citing, “recent developments involving legal challenges and certifications of election results”.

Michigan certified Mr Biden’s victory on Monday, and a federal judge in Pennsylvania threw out a Trump campaign lawsuit on Saturday seeking to prevent certification in that state.

Yohannes Abraham, the executive director of the Biden transition, said in a statement that the decision “is a needed step to begin tackling the challenges facing our nation, including getting the pandemic under control and our economy back on track”.

He added: “In the days ahead, transition officials will begin meeting with federal officials to discuss the pandemic response, have a full accounting of our national security interests, and gain complete understanding of the Trump administration’s efforts to hollow out government agencies.”

Ms Murphy, a Trump appointee, had faced bipartisan criticism for failing to begin the transition process sooner, preventing Mr Biden’s team from working with career agency officials on plans for his administration, including in critical national security and public health areas.

“Please know that I came to my decision independently, based on the law and available facts. I was never directly or indirectly pressured by any executive branch official — including those who work at the White House or GSA — with regard to the substance or timing of my decision,” she wrote in a letter to Mr Biden.

Mr Trump tweeted shortly after her letter was made public: “We will keep up the good fight and I believe we will prevail!

“Nevertheless, in the best interest of our Country, I am recommending that Emily and her team do what needs to be done with regard to initial protocols, and have told my team to do the same.”

Pressure had been mounting on Ms Murphy as an increasing number of Republicans, national security experts and business leaders said it was time for that process to move forward.

Retiring Tennessee senator Lamar Alexander, who had repeatedly called for the transition to begin, released a new statement saying Mr Trump should “put the country first” and help Mr Biden’s administration succeed.

“When you are in public life, people remember the last thing you do,” Mr Alexander said.

Republican senator Rob Portman had called for Ms Murphy to release money and staff needed for the transition.

Mr Portman, a senior member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, also said Mr Biden should receive high-level briefings on national security and the coronavirus vaccine distribution plan.

The two men, who had both aligned themselves with Mr Trump, joined a growing number of Republican officials who in recent days have urged him to begin the transition immediately.

Meanwhile, more than 160 business leaders had asked Ms Murphy to immediately acknowledge Mr Biden as president-elect and begin the transition to a new administration.

“Withholding resources and vital information from an incoming administration puts the public and economic health and security of America at risk,″ the business leaders said in an open letter to Ms Murphy.

Separately, more than 100 Republican former national security officials — including former Homeland Security director Tom Ridge, former CIA director Michael Hayden and former director of National Intelligence John Negroponte — said in a statement that Mr Trump’s refusal to concede and allow for an orderly transition “constitutes a serious threat” to America’s democratic process.

The officials signing the letter worked under four Republican presidents, including Mr Trump.

The statement called on “Republican leaders — especially those in Congress — to publicly demand that President Trump cease his anti-democratic assault on the integrity of the presidential election”.

Mr Trump had publicly refused to accept defeat and launched a series of losing court battles across the country making baseless claims of widespread voter fraud and seeking to overturn the election results.

Ms Murphy had missed a deadline on Monday set by House Democrats to brief legislators about the delay in beginning the transition, which is usually a routine step between the election and the inauguration.

A spokeswoman for the GSA said a deputy administrator would instead hold two separate briefings for House and Senate committees on November 30.

In response, the Democratic chairs of four committees and subcommittees said they could reschedule the meeting for Tuesday, but no later.

Published: 23/11/2020 by Radio NewsHub

William and Kate hear of ups and downs of fatherhood from new fathers

The Duke of Cambridge has voiced concerns about fathers who “just don’t know what to do” during a chat with men whose parenting skills have been supported by a charity.

William said he worried some fathers “don’t know where to go” for help, as he and Kate spoke to the group who have attended fatherhood courses run by Future Men, a London-based charity providing guidance to men and boys.

Published: 23/11/2020 by Radio NewsHub

Christmas will not be normal despite lockdown ending next month
Chancellor Rishi Sunak has warned that “Christmas is not going to be normal” despite England preparing to move out of lockdown and into a strengthened three-tier system of local coronavirus restrictions next mont
Boris Johnson will detail his “winter Covid plan” on Monday, setting out the restrictions to replace the national lockdown on December 2 and how people can spend the festive period.

Downing Street said more areas are expected to enter higher tiers next month and those tiers will be strengthened to safeguard the gains made during the four-week lockdown, but it is understood that the 10pm curfew on pubs and restaurants will be altered.

Mr Sunak said the localised tiered system is a “far better way” to tackle Covid-19 as he confirmed the Prime Minister’s plans, which were expected to be approved by the Cabinet on Sunday.

The Prime Minister is understood to be preparing to unveil a plan so that while last orders must be called at 10pm, people will get an extra hour to finish their food and drinks, with opening hours to be extended until 11pm.

Mr Johnson will announce the full plans for winter in the House of Commons on Monday.

But he runs the risk of a rebellion from backbench Conservative MPs when they vote on the restrictions in the days before they are scheduled to come into force on December 2.

On Saturday the coronavirus recovery group (CRG) of Tories resisting new curbs warned that they “cannot support” a tiered approach unless the Government produces a cost-benefit analysis showing they “will save more lives than they cost”.

Published: 22/11/2020 by Radio NewsHub

Millions to be spent in Scotland on a new ‘world-beating’ planning system *
The Scottish Government will invest £35 million in the creation of a new tool for the planning system which will make it easier for the public to be involved in the process.
Housing minister Kevin Stewart has announced plans to start work on the new project from early next year.

While details are scarce, the system will create a single place for planners and the public to access information and services related to the planning process.

According to the Scottish Government, increased communication within the sector will speed up decision-making.

The five-year programme is expected to create up to 1,600 jobs in the next 10 years in the construction and development fields, along with a £200 million boost to the economy, according to the Scottish Government.

Mr Stewart said: “There is immense potential for digital to provide new ways to get people involved in the planning of great places.

“Our digital planning team has been hearing about the experiences of people who work within planning, and also of those who participate in various ways.

“We’ve learned about what works well, what could work better and how digital transformation can help deliver positive impacts and outcomes at both the local and national levels.

“We’re now preparing to put our findings into action and over the next five years we will be building a world-leading digital planning system, helping connect people with their places, influence positive change, strengthen decision-making and focus on delivery of high-quality planned development.”

Mr Stewart is set to announce a new digital strategy for planning on Tuesday.

Published: 22/11/2020 by Radio NewsHub

Sunak to announce £500 million package to support mental health services

Chancellor Rishi Sunak will announce a £500 million package to support mental health services as part of measures to recover from the coronavirus crisis.

The Treasury said he will pledge the new funding in his spending review on Wednesday, when he will also deliver his long-term plan for infrastructure investment.

The majority of the spending is planned to go on specialist services for young people, including in schools, and support for NHS workers.

But Mr Sunak is also expected to make a vow for rapid progress to tackle the backlog of adult mental health referrals.

The Government estimates that mental ill health costs the economy up to £35 billion per year, and hopes the package will address the extra demand for services from the pandemic.

Mr Sunak said: “The pandemic has had a major impact on mental health because of increased isolation and uncertainty.

“So it is vital we do everything we can to support our mental health services and ensure help is there for people.

“This funding will make sure those who need help get the right support as quickly as possible so they don’t have to suffer in silence.”

Mr Sunak’s spending review is long-awaited, but it could also spark industrial action if he confirms the Government will impose a pay cap on millions of public sector workers.

Published: 21/11/2020 by Radio NewsHub

England to enter strengthened three-tier system when lockdown ends

England will enter a strengthened three-tiered system of local restrictions when the national lockdown ends on December 2, Downing Street has said.

Boris Johnson is expected to detail his plan for winter, which includes details on how families can see their loved ones at Christmas, to MPs on Monday.

The “Covid winter plan” is expected to place more areas into the higher tiers to keep the virus under control to ensure further restrictions are not needed, No 10 said.

And while some local measures will be the same as those in the previous system, some tiers will be strengthened to safeguard the gains made during the national lockdown.

The Prime Minister will accept that the measures are difficult but will make clear they are not to last longer than is absolutely necessary and will take into account the need to support the economy.

The Cabinet is expected to discuss and sign off the plan on Sunday before Mr Johnson announces it to Parliament the following day when the full details are expected.

The plan will set out how people will be able to spend their Christmas, but ministers have made clear that the festive season will be different to normal, with some restrictions expected to remain in place.

Ministers will set out what tier each area will be placed into on Thursday and MPs are expected to be given the vote to approve the new tiering system, as promised by Mr Johnson, in the days before it comes into force.

Published: 21/11/2020 by Radio NewsHub

UK and Canada agree post-Brexit trade can continue under same terms as EU deal

The UK and Canada have reached a deal to continue trading under the same terms as the current European Union agreement after the Brexit transition period ends.

The Government said the agreement paves the way for negotiations to begin next year on a new comprehensive deal with Canada, which has been touted as one of the benefits of the UK leaving the EU.

Boris Johnson and Canadian counterpart Justin Trudeau sealed the “agreement in principle” in a video call on Saturday, the Department for International Trade (DIT) said.

The agreement does not give any new benefits to businesses but rolls over the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement reached by the EU and Canada after seven years of negotiations.

Welcoming the continuity deal, Mr Trudeau suggested a new comprehensive trade agreement with the UK would take several years to negotiate.

Industry groups expressed relief that businesses will not face higher trade tariffs with Canada next month but warned that similar deals were urgently needed.

Mr Johnson said the extension was “a fantastic agreement for Britain”, adding: “Our negotiators have been working flat out to secure trade deals for the UK and from as early next year we have agreed to start work on a new, bespoke trade deal with Canada that will go even further in meeting the needs of our economy.”

Published: 21/11/2020 by Radio NewsHub

Government urged not to let ‘everything loose’ over Christmas
The Government has been urged not to let “everything loose” in the lead-up to Christmas after it emerged that families could be allowed to meet for up to a week as part of a UK-wide relaxation of coronavirus rules.
Several families could be allowed to join a bubble and to mix between December 22 and 28, The Daily Telegraph reported.

Downing Street insiders have suggested that discussions on what Christmas will look like are still ongoing.

But Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham said that while infection rates were dropping in all 10 boroughs of Greater Manchester and other parts of the North West, the Government should not “let everything loose”.

He told BBC Breakfast: “I would also say to the Government, don’t just go towards Christmas and let everything loose.

“What you need to do is keep a steady approach that will keep the numbers going in the way they are currently going in the North West and in Greater Manchester, and that will relieve the pressures on the NHS come January.”

On Friday, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said there were “substantial differences” in Covid-19 infection rates across England, with rates having continued to increase in London, the east of England and the South East, but decreasing in the North West and the East Midlands.

Former chief government scientific adviser Sir Mark Walport told Times Radio there was “something iconic in people’s minds” about Christmas but that it “doesn’t make sense to have big parties” this year.

He added that UK lockdown measures appeared to be working but that people should continue to follow the rules.

“It’s absolutely clear that if you were to stop everything and take the brakes off completely, then infection would start growing again and so the question is what measures will come in after December 2?” he said.

“I’m sure there will need to be continuing measures of some sort.

“Surely now, when there is the prospect of a vaccine, is not the time to give up.”

Health Secretary Matt Hancock told a Downing Street briefing on Friday it was still too early to say what contact people will be able to have over the festive period.

Mr Hancock said it would be a “boost” for the UK if a “safe, careful and sensible” set of plans could be agreed between the devolved nations.

He said: “Over Christmas I know how important it is that we have a system in place, a set of rules that both keeps people safe but also allows people to see their loved ones.”

Earlier this week, Public Health England said Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) guidance had suggested each day of greater freedom could require five days of tighter measures.

But Professor Calum Semple, from Liverpool University and a member of Sage, said if he had a crystal ball, he would say the North West was going to have a “cracking Christmas”.

He told BBC Breakfast: “What I have seen in Liverpool is that the Tier 3 system was like taking the power off the supertanker so instead it’s just gliding, but the lockdown is putting the brakes on – that’s the big difference.

“So that’s why we can be really confident that the North West is coming out of this earlier, and if I had a crystal ball, I think the North West is going to have a cracking Christmas.”

Meanwhile, Boris Johnson acknowledged the frustration of people self-isolating due to coronavirus and thanked them for their “incredibly important” actions.

The Prime Minister posted a video update online from Downing Street, where he himself continues to isolate, and joked that he had finally been “put under house arrest”.

“Bear in mind what you are doing is incredibly important because that is how we are going to break the chain of transmission, stop the disease, get the R down as I believe we are doing at the moment and get it under control,” he said.

Mr Hancock said he is increasingly hopeful of some kind of normality by spring, as he confirmed the UK’s health regulator is assessing a coronavirus vaccine which could potentially be rolled out next month.

He described the consideration by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine as “another important step forward in tackling this pandemic”.

Referring to the “ray of light” that a vaccine may bring, he confirmed he had formally asked the regulator to assess the vaccine and that, if approved, a jab could be rolled out from December.

He said: “If the regulator approves a vaccine, we will be ready to start the vaccination next month, with the bulk of roll-out in the new year.”

It comes as NHS documents seen by the Health Service Journal (HSJ) suggest all adults in England – of any age – could start to be vaccinated against Covid-19 before the end of January if supplies allow.

Under the plan, every adult who wants a jab could be vaccinated by early April.

But an NHS spokeswoman said: “These earlier draft slides are no longer up to date relative to the latest information from companies on likely supply schedules, and as there is of course as yet no authorised vaccine in the world the NHS is having to plan for many different scenarios.”

Meanwhile, the UK will be the first country to begin clinical trials of a new coronavirus antibody treatment developed by drugs giant AstraZeneca aimed at people with a weakened immune system who cannot be vaccinated.

A participant in Manchester will be the first in the world to receive the pharmaceutical company’s new “antibody cocktail” as part of the trial to test whether it will prevent Covid-19 for up to a year.

The clinical trial programme will recruit 5,000 participants, which includes 1,000 people from nine sites in the UK.

Published: 21/11/2020 by Radio NewsHub

Big spending plans to be unveiled by the Government *
Chancellor Rishi Sunak will unveil the much-delayed National Infrastructure Strategy for £100 billion of long-term investment next week.
He will publish the strategy to help tackle the climate crisis and invest in transport on Wednesday, when he will also outline his spending review.

The infrastructure strategy to boost transport connectivity and work towards achieving net-zero emissions by 2050 had been expected to be published in March but was delayed.

Mr Sunak said he would unveil it on Wednesday alongside tens of billions of pounds of infrastructure investment, including £1.6 billion to tackle potholes, in his spending review.

The Treasury said the infrastructure strategy would contain a down payment on flagship programmes including fibre broadband, flood defences and transport schemes.

Mr Sunak said: “We are absolutely committed to levelling-up opportunities so those living in all corners of the UK get their fair share of our future prosperity.

“All nations and regions of the UK have benefited from our unprecedented £200 billion Covid support package. And after a difficult year for this country, this spending review will help us build back better by investing over £600 billion across the UK during the next five years.”

The location for the Treasury’s northern headquarters as part of a drive to get more civil servants working outside of London will be announced “in the coming weeks”, a press notice added.

Jake Berry, who is leading a group of Tory MPs representing the North of England, welcomed the Chancellor’s announcement for putting “‘levelling-up’ at the heart of this Government’s agenda”.

But the Government is facing the threat of industrial action if it imposes a pay cap on millions of public sector workers.

Unions reacted angrily to reports the Chancellor would announce a pay limit at the spending review, though frontline NHS doctors and nurses are expected to be exempt.

Labour’s shadow chancellor Anneliese Dodds said: “Communities up and down the country don’t want to hear more empty rhetoric from this Government.

“The Conservatives have been in power for 10 long years, but their track record is a litany of failure and broken promises.”

Published: 21/11/2020 by Radio NewsHub

Easing of Covid restrictions for Christmas: Key questions answered *
Families could be allowed to join a temporary bubble to meet up over Christmas, it has been reported.
Household mixing is currently subject to harsh restrictions in England under the country’s second lockdown with only support bubbles allowing people from different addresses to mix.

Similar curbs are in force in mainland Scotland, a fresh lockdown will prevent gatherings of more than one household in Northern Ireland from Friday and Wales has rules governing people mixing indoors.

Here, the PA news agency looks at the key questions surrounding a Christmas curtailment of restrictions:

– What is being reported?

Several households – potentially three – could be allowed to create a bubble temporarily between December 22 and 28, with the plans covering all four nations of the UK, according to the Daily Telegraph.

The announcement of the plans – which will allow families to spend up to seven days together – is expected to come next week.

The paper also reported Chancellor Rishi Sunak pushed to have the restrictions eased ahead of December 25 to allow the hospitality sector to benefit from increased trade.

– What else could be allowed under the plans?

Restrictions on church services are also due to be lifted allowing Christmas Day services to be held, the paper said.

Currently, churches will remain open for private prayer only, with Downing Street saying in November that outlawing services inside places of worship is “vital in tackling the spread of the virus”.

– What consequences could follow from allowing more than two bubble households to mix over Christmas?

Public Health England (PHE) suggested earlier this week that for every one day restrictions were relaxed over the holiday, there would need to be an extra five days of tighter rules.

This would mean that an easing of restrictions for seven days between December 22 and 28 would mean more than a month of tighter regulations, according to this formula.

– Does everyone agree on this?

Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, the deputy chief medical officer for England, said there was “no magic number” relating to an easing of lockdown and a subsequent period of tighter measures.

He said it was more important people complied with whatever rules were in place if coronavirus infection rates were to be held down.

“There is no magic number about how many days this is going to cost us so we shouldn’t frame it that way,” he added.

– What about care homes?

Health Secretary Matt Hancock has said he wants to have testing for care home visitors in place for all care homes in England “by Christmas”.

A pilot scheme has seen family and friends of people living in 20 care homes across Hampshire, Devon and Cornwall getting access to regular testing to allow them to visit their loved ones.

The scheme, which started this week, will be assessed by experts and the aim is to roll it out to other regions before the end of December.

– Would I be able to go on holiday, or visit my second home for Christmas?

Under the current lockdown rules, people are advised not to travel unless for essential reasons.

People can travel for work and there are exemptions for overnights and second homes for work purposes.

It is not known how this will change when the restrictions lift on December 2.

Published: 21/11/2020 by Radio NewsHub


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