Chancellor expected to expand free childcare in Budget announcement
The budget announcement is coming today
Jeremy Hunt is expected to announce the expansion of free childcare for working parents in England to now include one and two-year-olds in today’s Budget.
Currently, working mums and dads with three and four-year-olds are eligible for 30 hours per week of free child care. The plans are part of a move to help encourage more parents back into the workplace and help boost economic growth.
Equivalent funding is expected to be announced for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. The Treasury is not formally commenting ahead of the Budget — which will take place on Wednesday March 15th, ahead of the new tax year beginning in April.
However, it has not denied suggestions — as first reported in The Guardian — that the hourly rate paid to childcare providers by the government will also be increased, and that local authorities will be given funding to start setting up wraparound childcare provision in schools from September 2024.
The cost of childcare in the UK is among the highest in the world, seeing the government under pressure – including from some of its own MPs – to provide more help for parents. The rising costs of childcare has been seen as a deterrent preventing some parents from going back to work or being able to work full time.
The extension of free childcare has been lobbied for by business group the CBI, which calculates that while it will cost several billion pounds, it could raise up to £10bn in further revenue by increasing the number of parents able to work.
The Guardian also reported that the government could introduce changes to the staff-to-child ratios for two-year-olds in childcare, moving from one carer for every four children to 1:5 to align with Scotland — which the Treasury also has not denied. Supporters of the idea say it could help cut costs for parents.
However, the Early Years Alliance, which represents around 14,000 childcare providers in England, said relaxing ratios risked ‘severely compromising the safety and quality of care’ and putting more pressure on the workforce during ‘a severe staffing crisis’.
EYA chief executive Neil Leitch said underfunding had left the system ‘on its knees’, and though reports of more spending on the sector ‘appear positive, the devil is in the detail’. He said the government must ensure funding meets the sharply rising costs of delivering places.
Meanwhile, the government will also confirm that energy bill support will continue at current levels through to June. Currently, the government limits the energy bill for a typical household to £2,500 a year but this had been due to rise to £3,000 on April 1st.
Mr Hunt is expected to resist calls from some Tory MPs to cut taxes, saying: “The best tax cut right now is a cut in inflation.” A planned rise in corporation tax, from 19% to 25%, is due to come in from April 1st. However, under plans to be announced in the Budget, businesses will be able to mitigate this increase with a new system of capital allowances.
Amid further teacher strikes and rail strikes happening today and tomorrow (March 15th and 16th), no further cash is expected to be made available for public sector pay, but cabinet figures have expressed confidence that many of the industrial disputes are close to being settled.
In his Budget speech, Mr Hunt will refer to the ‘difficult decisions’ taken by the government last autumn ‘to deliver stability and sound money’, following the economic turbulence caused by Liz Truss’s tax-cutting agenda.
Family ‘devastated beyond belief’ after dad shot dead in Manchester
‘He was his mother’s son, her pride and joy’
The family of a dad who was shot dead in East Manchester in a targeted attack have paid tribute to him.
Zikel Bobmanuel, 32, was pronounced dead at the scene on Welland street, in Openshaw, at around 2pm on Saturday March 25th. Police believe the dad, whose youngest is six-weeks-old, was deliberately targeted.
A 33-year-old man has been arrested on suspicion of murder while Greater Manchester Police officers are looking for a second man who is thought to have gotten away in a vehicle.
In a tribute to their loved one, Zikel’s family said: “Zikel was many things to many people, he was a good friend, a hard-working colleague, part of a large extended family, but ultimately, he was his mother’s son, her pride and joy.
“He held the heart of his girlfriend in his hand and was a hands-on father to his beloved children — the youngest just six-weeks-old.
“Zikel was happy and fulfilled, he was working hard to provide for his family and was never more content than when he was spending time with them. It is difficult to comprehend that Zikel has died under such tragic circumstances and the shock is profound.
“We are devastated beyond belief and find it hard to comprehend life without him. We would like to thank everybody for their kind words and the comfort their support has given us, and respectfully ask for some privacy at this difficult time.”
Detective Superintendent Simon Hurst, said: “Our thoughts are with Zikel’s loved ones at this heart-breaking time. As our investigation continues, specially trained colleagues are supporting them.
“Since yesterday afternoon, we continue to build an in-depth timeline of events leading up to Zikel’s death and we are following a number of positive lines of enquiry. Although we currently have one man in custody, work is ongoing to ensure that those involved are brought to justice.
“I would like to thank members of the public that have already shared information with us. Any information, regardless of how small, may be the key to receiving answers for Zikel’s family.
“Whilst officers are gathering evidence from the scene and the surrounding area, anyone with information, CCTV, dashcam or doorbell footage is asked to contact police via 101 quoting incident 1771 25/3/2023.”
Details can be passed anonymously to the independent charity Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111. Always dial 999 in an emergency.
First yellow Bee Network buses hit the streets of Greater Manchester
It will mark the biggest change to transport in Greater Manchester for almost 40 years
Greater Manchester’s first new yellow bee network buses have now taken to the streets.
They hit the road on Friday March 24th, six months before the Bee Network will finally launch. The first publicly controlled buses will be rolled out in Bolton, Wigan and parts of Bury and Salford from September, with the whole network to be franchised by 2025.
The move will mean fares, routes and standards will be controlled by local leaders rather than private bus companies — who will have to bid for contracts to run services. Operators will also be penalised if buses are regularly late or don’t show up.
When franchising is introduced in September, there will be 50 brand new electric Bee Network buses, alongside new ‘Euro VI’ vehicles and dozens more co-branded buses from the existing fleet, including Vantage buses.
A further 50 electric buses will also be introduced onto the network in March 2024, when the second part of franchising starts. The reveal of the new yellow co-branded bus comes as an order is placed for a further 170 electric buses that will operate in and around Stockport by 2024.
The buses will be jointly funded by Stagecoach and local and national government. Stagecoach’s £37.2m investment will be match-funded by £35.7m from Greater Manchester’s Zero Emission Bus Regional Areas (ZEBRA) fund, and a local contribution of £12.5m.
The whole fleet of electric buses will be fully accessible, with wheelchair bays, hearing induction loops, audio and visual announcement systems and anti-slip flooring.
Welcoming the early introduction of Bee Network buses, Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham, said: “Today is a significant day on our journey towards the Bee Network — marking six months until we start to bring buses back under public control for the first time in decades.
“To get ready for the change – and I hope, start to build some excitement – we’re working with Diamond and other operators to introduce co-branded Bee Network buses onto those services that will be amongst the first to come back under local control.
“I am also delighted to announce that by working closely with Stagecoach we will have another 170 brilliant new buses running on our network from next year, with a brand new, world-class electric bus depot.
“This is very much the start of our journey that will ultimately deliver a greener, integrated and more inclusive transport system that will transform how people travel around our city-region.”
Fares will continue to be capped at the same price across Greater Manchester, but could increase above the £2 adult single ticket agreed last September. And a daily cap on buses, trams and rental bikes will be introduced meaning passengers can tap-in and tap-out on all three for a fixed price each day.
Greater Manchester has been awarded £7.5 in Levelling-Up funds to buy land for a leading, state-of-the-art electronic bus depot.
A potential site at Central Park would hold 250 electric buses and provide new, highly skilled jobs now and in the future, supporting ongoing regeneration and helping deliver on Greater Manchester’s ambition for a zero-emission bus fleet by 2032.
TfGM is also looking to take control of existing bus depots by buying or leasing them, before refurbishing and transforming them into modern, high-tech, sustainable facilities.
Transport Commissioner, Vernon Everitt, said: “This preparation of the bus fleet for franchised operation in six months’ time marks a further significant step towards the integrated Bee Network and transformation of public transport and active travel in our growing city-region.
“From September we’ll also have dozens of new, state-of-the-art buses serving passengers in Wigan, Bolton and parts of Salford and Bury.
“These will be the first of many across Greater Manchester that will, alongside the new lower fares – which are already increasing ridership – and improvements to travel information, improve bus travel for everyone who lives and works here.
“All buses will be operating under franchised arrangements by January 2025, which will for the first time enable effective planning of the network alongside Metrolink and active travel facilities. Under the recently announced Trailblazer deal, we will then work towards integration of local rail services into the Bee Network by 2030.”
Other than the colour, buses will remain in operation as they are, with no further changes to take place until September. Until then passengers should continue to contact their operator in the usual way.
Two men seriously injured in double stabbing at petrol station
The two men had suffered serious but not life threatening injuries that were consistent with knife wounds
Two men have suffered serious injuries in a double stabbing in Salford on Sunday evening.
Greater Manchester Police were called to the incident at around 7pm on March 26th following the attack on Cromwell Road near the Texaco garage. Officers in attendance established that an altercation had taken place and two men had suffered serious but not life threatening injuries that were consistent with knife wounds.
No arrests have been made at this time and an investigation has been launched to understand the circumstances of this incident. It is believed the men were victims of street robbery.
A Section 60 Order was put in place last night until 8am this morning to give officers extra powers to stop and search individuals. Inspector Stephen Corless of GMP’s Salford District said: “We have authorised stop-and-search powers in the area in response to the incident this evening.
“While an investigation continues at pace to understand the circumstances behind this incident, we are determined to do whatever is in our power to prevent any further incidents like this taking place in Salford.
“That is why heightened stop-and-search powers have been introduced in the Broughton area of Salford to allow officers to prevent anyone found carrying weapons to be free to walk our streets. I would urge members of the public who saw anything suspicious or witnessed the incident to come forward and report information to us immediately.”
Anyone with information should contact police on 0161 856 5187 quoting log number 2545 26/3/23. You can also make a report via the LiveChat function on GMP’s website: www.gmp.police.uk. Alternatively, you can call the independent charity Crimestoppers, anonymously, on 0800 555 111.