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The freezing weather and its consequences continue to dominate the papers. The Times, Guardian, Express and FT all report that gas supplies to businesses have been rationed to protect domestic supplies, with nearly 100 firms in the North-West and East Midlands cut off and ordered to use alternative supplies. The Mail adds that the “biggest freeze for 30 years”, with temperatures dropping to below -20, could last for “10 more days”. The Independent, however, urges caution, describing fears of a gas crisis as “just hot air”. It says:
“There really does seem to be no problem with gas supplies. Sure, we could do with better storage facilities, but Britain is not running out of gas.”
Reforms to MPs’ expenses “may be watered down”, reports the Telegraph, the chairman of the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority indicating that he will abandon several key reforms outlined in the Kelly Report. The paper explains that under IPSA’s draft proposals, “existing MPs will be able to profit from the sale of their taxpayer-funded second homes”, they will continue to be able to “nominate which of their properties is their ‘main’ and ‘second’ home for expenses”, and “those living within commuting distance of London will also be able to claim expenses for a second home”. The Express, however, reports that some of IPSA’s proposals “are tougher than those in Kelly” – including plans to scrap “golden goodbyes” for MPs leaving parliament which the Kelly Report recommended should be £10,000.
David Cameron has quietly ditched another two policies – with plenty more to come, reveals the Independent. He has abandoned plans for an extra 5,000 prison places and rowed back on proposals to abolish income tax on the savings of basic rate taxpayers. Tory insiders have told the paper that the party’s draft election manifesto “is being used to water down expensive policy commitments”, adding “there is a lot of rewriting going on”. This week the Conservatives have already ditched pledges of 45,000 single rooms in NHS hospitals – reported yesterday by Left Forward – and a moratorium on hospital closures, with several other policies left hanging in the balance.
President Obama has accepted “full responsibility” for the intelligence failings that led to the botched Detroit terror attack, report the Times, Telegraph, Guardian, Independent, Standard and FT. Telling the world that “the buck stops with me”, he demanded urgent reforms to national security, but ruled out any sackings and stressed the need to defend American values. He said:
“Great and proud nations do not hunker down and hide behind walls of suspicion and mistrust. We will not succumb to a siege mentality that sacrifices the open society and liberties and values that we cherish as Americans. That is what our adversaries want and so long as I am president I will not hand them that victory. We are at war, we are at war against al-Qaida. We will do whatever it takes to defeat them.”
And the Prime Minister has told the Telegraph that within five years, he wants the “vast majority” of transactions with the public sector to be carried out online as part of his “broadband revolution”, insisting rural households would not miss out. He writes:
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“Imagine if you could hold a consultation with your GP over the internet in real time, or easily access your office computer network from home, or hold two-way video conferences. No one area should be left out of this expansion in opportunity simply because of its location. We are determined in particular to see rural communities benefit from this investment and the economic and social advantages that will inevitably follow.”