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The Telegraph, Guardian and Independent outline how Richard Branson has entered the debate over the deficit in a story broken in yesterday’s Evening Standard and followed up on Left Foot Forward. He said, “We are going to have to cut our spending and I agree with the 20 leading economists who said we need to start this year.” But writing about the same Sunday Times letter from a group of economists on his New York Times blog Nobel Prize winner, Paul Krugman, says, “It’s important to be clear that the call for immediate austerity isn’t grounded in unarguable economics; in fact, the arithmetic tells you that what Britain does in the next year or two is virtually irrelevant to its long-run solvency. Martin Wolf agrees and writes in today’s Financial Times: “a massive fiscal tightening today would be a grave error.”
With the latest unemployment figures due at 09.30, the FT covers new statistics from the Office for National Statistics yesterday showing that a total of 2.8m people, nearly one in 10 of the UK workforce, are “underemployed” – forced to work shorter hours than they would like because the work is not there. The BBC quotes TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber who said yesterday, “Job statistics could be making the market look deceptively healthy – a closer look suggests that thousands of people are taking part-time or temporary jobs because they cannot secure full-time positions.” The figures follow news yesterday that inflation has hit 3.5 per cent.
The Telegraph outlines that Scottish universities face an “impending funding ‘crisis'” with Universities Scotland, which represents the country’s 20 higher education institutions, warning that its members cannot “absorb large numbers of additional unfunded students”. The Scottish Funding Council (SFC) has given universities money for about 77,000 ‘funded’ places in 2009, but this year there have so far been more than 89,000 applications from British and EU citizens. Opposition parties called for Mike Russell, the SNP education minister, to instigate an independent review of university funding.
The Guardian reports that Children who do not reach key developmental milestones at just nine months old are far more likely to struggle at school. The Millennium Cohort Study of nearly 15,000 children says that babies who were slow to develop their motor skills at nine months were significantly more likely to be identified as behind in their cognitive development, and also likely to be less well behaved at age five. The paper speculates that the difficulties facing children from poor backgrounds are likely to be a key election battleground.
Following up a covered by the Guardian yesterday, The Times report that “MPs will have to decide how to force more than 200 colleagues to pay a one-off profits levy on second homes bought with taxpayer support.” The Treasury indicated yesterday that it had no powers to levy such a charge, which is being demanded by Sir Ian Kennedy, head of the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority. Sir Ian used an interview in The Times on Tuesday to voice frustration that the authorities appeared unprepared for the change, despite weeks of advance warning.
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