Boris Johnson news – live: Gavin Williamson accused of 'repeated incompetence' after day of GCSE results chaos, as government 'risks major misstep' with PHE closure

Gavin Williamson was accused of “repeated incompetence” after a day in which both he and the Department for Education apparently contradicted themselves on when GCSE students official results would be released. The exam board later clarified that students would have them by Thursday.

The education secretary also refused to say whether he had offered his resignation to Boris Johnson, after the government was forced into a painful U-turn on Monday in allowing students to use teachers’ suggested grades, rather than those awarded by a government algorithm based on schools’ performance history.

While reports suggested that Mr Williamson’s offer to resign had been refused by the prime minister, his public comments appeared to lay blame at the feet of civil servants, telling LBC that Ofqual “didn’t deliver the system that we had been reassured and believed that would be in place”.

It came as headteachers union ASCL called for an urgent independent review of the exams grading fiasco, with general secretary Geoff Barton claiming it was necessary because ”public confidence has been badly shaken”.

Meanwhile, the government faced further criticism for its decision to replace Public Health England (PHE) during a pandemic, with independent health think-tank, the Nuffield Trust, warning of a “major misstep”.

Health secretary Matt Hancock raised further eyebrows as he unveiled its replacement body, the National Institute for Health Protection, by insisting that “one of the big learnings” of the coronavirus crisis has been the need for private intervention in the health sector.

Citing the partnership between the government, pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca and Oxford University in creating a vaccine candidate, he claimed the idea of a “divide” between the public and private sectors was now “for the birds”, adding: ”So my message to everyone in the private sector is – join us in the mission.”

Read below to see how we reported on the day’s events as they unfolded:

Baroness Harding set to head agency replacing Public Health England 

Health secretary Matt Hancock is expected to announce the appointment of the Conservative peer Baroness Dido Harding as head of the government’s new Institute for Health Protection.

Baroness Harding, the former chief executive of TalkTalk, has been in charge of England’s Test and Trace system since May.

Since then, questions have been raised about the programme’s performance and value for money. 

After becoming a peer in August 2014, Baroness Harding has been on the Economic Affairs Committee of the Lords since July 2017.

Read more on the story here:

Williamson refuses to say whether he’s offered to resign 

Education secretary Gavin Williamson has refused to say whether he has offered his resignation to the prime minister over the A-levels fiasco. 

This follows the government’s decision on Monday to ditch the controversial algorithm that was used to standardise A Level and GCSE results. 

Asked three times on BBC Breakfast whether he had discussed stepping down from his position with Boris Johnson, Mr Williamson refused to directly address the question. 

The education secretary said: “Of course, I spoke with the prime minister, explained the situation – the fact that we needed to move to centre assessed grades because it was the fair system and the right system to do.” 

“But my focus is making sure that every student gets the grades they deserve – making sure we deliver the return of all children back to school in September,” he added.

The Independent’s Ashley Cowburn has more on the story here: 

Sajid Javid takes extra role as JP Morgan adviser 

The former chancellor, who quit his cabinet position earlier this year, has been appointed as JP Morgan’s senior adviser on its advisory council for Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

Although the bank did not give details about Mr Javid’s salary, it said the position would be paid.

Prior to his career in politics, Mr Javid worked at the bank throughout the 1990s before working at Deutsche Bank. 

His new role has been approved by the regulatory Advisory Committee on Business Appointments (ACOBA).

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Shadow minister says education is government’s ‘blind spot’ 

Shadow universities minister Emma Hardy has said that education secretary Gavin Williamson’s delay in scrapping a controversial algorithm used to standardise exams results has caused a “massive headache”.

Her comments come as Labour sought clarity from the government over a range of outstanding issues posed by the U-turn. 

Ms Hardy told BBC Breakfast: “His delay in making this decision has meant that more and more places at university have been filled up.”

“Many students have gone ahead and accepted their second-place offers or other offers, or in fact got offers that maybe in the past they wouldn’t have actually been entitled to,” she added. 

After accusing the government of lacking leadership and foresight, Ms Hardy said of education: “It’s like it’s their blind spot.”

Tory MP says exam grade fiasco should be ‘massive wake-up call’ for government

Robert Halfon, the Tory MP and chair of the House of Commons Education Select Committee, has said that the government’s handling of exam results this year has been a “mega-mess” and that it should serve as a “massive wake-up call”. 

Mr Halfon told ITV’s GMB programme: “This should be a massive wake-up call for the Government.

“This has been a mega-mess and should not have happened and (Education Secretary Gavin Williamson’s) got to, I think, learn from this and just make sure these kind of things do not happen in the future,” he added. 

The Tory MP said that “government by computer” does not work and that Boris Johnson’s government should empathise with thousands of ordinary people who are affected by its decisions.

Labour calls for ‘clarity’ from Williamson over U-turn 

Labour has called on education secretary Gavin Williamson to give “clarity” to students, parents and universities after the government’s U-turn on exam results. 

This follows Mr Williamson’s announcement on Monday that GCSE and A-level students will receive their predicted grades and that the regulator Ofqual’s standardising algorithm will be scrapped. 

Describing the government’s handling of the situation as “incompetent”, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer wrote in the Daily Mirror: “At a time of national emergency, this is no way to run a country.” 

“The Tories’ incompetence is holding Britain back from recovery,” he added. 

Shadow education secretary Kate Green has written to Mr Williamson with 15 questions, including when students will receive their new grades. 

After saying she welcomed the policy change, Ms Green added: “The delay and chaos accompanying means that students, families, and education providers have no answers to essential questions.”

One of the unresolved issues is whether students who have accepted a place at university based on their moderated grades can change institutions once they receive their predicted grades.

While announcing the policy change on Monday, Mr Williamson apologised for “the distress” last week’s results caused to students and their parents.

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Kent County Council says it has reached its capacity to care for asylum-seeking children 

The leader of Kent County Council has said that it can no longer safely accommodate more asylum-seeking children after reaching its capacity. 

In a statement released by the council, Roger Gough said: “I am deeply disappointed and concerned that, despite our many efforts to avoid this unthinkable situation, it has been necessary to make this announcement today.”

“This is a huge challenge for Kent, but a relatively small challenge to solve nationally, and should have been resolved before now,” he added. 

Mr Gough said the limit had been exceeded despite efforts to work with local authorities and the Home Office. 

More than 400 unaccompanied migrant children have arrived in Kent this year, to whom Kent County Council has a duty of care. 

Scotland’s most senior civil servant to be first witness in Salmond inquiry

MSPs will question permanent secretary Leslie Evans as part of an investigation into Holyrood’s handling of harassment allegations against the former first minister Alex Salmond. 

This comes after the Court of Session in Edinburgh ruled that the Scottish government’s actions over the complaints had been “unlawful”.

Ms Evans, Scotland’s most senior civil servant, will be the first witness to come before a committee established last year. 

Mr Salmond, who was acquitted of 13 sexual offence charges earlier this year, will speak to the committee at a later date, as will the current first minister Nicola Sturgeon.

Williamson says he has ‘every confidence’ schools will reopen in September 

Education secretary Gavin Williamson has said that he has “every confidence” students will return to education in September.

Speaking to LBC, the education secretary said: “Anyone who works in education knows that … the only right thing to do is open the doors to every single school in this country and welcome every single pupil back.”

“We’re looking forward to welcoming all those nine million children back into school in September and I do not have a moment’s doubt, that’s what we’re going to achieve,” he added.

Mr Williamson’s remarks came as he faced calls to resign over his handling of exam results, which sparked a national outcry and led the government to scrap an algorithm that had been used to moderate students’ grades.  

The education secretary was criticised a few months ago after rowing back on a pledge to have all primary school students back at school before the end of the summer term.

This followed the closure of schools as part of lockdown restrictions. 

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Former conservative minister suggests Williamson may go in reshuffle 

George Freeman, a former Tory minister, has suggested the education secretary may be forced out of his position in an upcoming reshuffle following the exam results fiasco. 

Describing this year’s exam results as a “total shambles”, the Conservative MP told Times Radio that Boris Johnson will want to show that his government cares about a generation of young people.

“Ultimately, the Prime Minister is in charge. And I think he will want to take firm control of this and get a grip and show that his government is taking the life chances of a generation of children seriously,” the Tory MP said. 

“I’m told the Prime Minister’s, you know, planning to reshuffle in the autumn and I dare say he wants to take everything into account,” he added. 

Some MPs have called for Mr Williamson’s resignation, including the Labour shadow minister Louise Haigh and the Liberal Democrat leadership contender Layla Moran. 

“The point is this government is utterly incompetent. Gavin Williamson must go,” Ms Moran told BBC News.

Labour says government plan to break up PHE during pandemic is ‘irresponsible’ 

Shadow health minister Jonathan Ashworth has strongly condemned the government’s decision to replace Public Health England (PHE) during the pandemic, labelling it as “risky” and “irresponsible”.

Mr Ashworth’s comments, which were made in a series of scathing tweets, came as Matt Hancock is set to announce Conservative peer Baroness Dido Harding as the head of the agency replacing PHE.

In one of his Twitter posts, Mr Ashworth accused Boris Johnson’s government of trying to “shift the blame”. 

“A structural reorganisation mid-pandemic is time consuming, energy sapping. It’s risky indeed irresponsible,” he added.

The shadow health minister also asked who will be responsible for priorities including sexual health, obesity and anti smoking, now that PHE was being replaced. 

Christina Marriott, chief executive of the Royal Society for Public Health, said: “We question the timing of an announcement to scrap our national public health agency in the midst of a global pandemic and before any public inquiry has started, let alone reported.”

Exam results volte face is latest in series of government U-turns during pandemic

The government’s decision to change its exam grades policy is just the latest in a string of reversals it has been forced to make during the pandemic, writes Kate Devlin

On Monday, the government said that students would receive their predicted grades instead of the grades they were awarded last week, which had been moderated by an algorithm. 

Boris Johnson’s government has been forced to make other U-turns since the start of lockdown, including its policies on free school meals during the summer holidays and on a bereavement scheme for the relatives of key workers who have died of Covid-19.

Read more here: 

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Hancock confirms Public Health England to be scrapped 

Health secretary Matt Hancock has confirmed that the government will replace Public Health England, amid warnings that the move is “irresponsible” during a pandemic.

Speaking at the Policy Exchange think-tank, Mr Hancock said that Baroness Dido Harding, a Conservative peer who is in change of the test and trace system, will become the new institute’s interim head.

The National Institution for Health Protection, which is set to start operating in spring 2021, wil protect the the country from external threats such as infectious diseases, according to the health secretary. 

His comments came after Jonathan Ashworth, the shadow health secretary, condemned the decision in a serious of tweets on Tuesday morning.

In one of the messages, Mr Ashworth wrote: “Today we’ll get a structural reorganisation, an attempt at blame shifting, more corrosive privatisation.”

Hancock explains new health organisation’s mission 

Matt Hancock has said that the government is replacing Public Health England with a new organisation called the National Institution for Health Protection.

In a speech given at the Policy Exchange think-tank, the health secretary claimed the decision would “give ourselves the best chance of beating this virus” and would enable the country to deal with future external “health threats”. 

He said: “To give ourselves the best chance of beating this virus and spotting and tackling other external health threats now and in the future, we need to bring together the science and the skill into one coherent whole.

“So, today, I am announcing that we are forming a new organisation, the National Institute for Health Protection,” he added. 

Mr Hancock did not specify how much funding the public health sector would receive. 

Kent County Council to stop taking in new unaccompanied migrant children

Asylum-seeking children who arrive in Dover without other family members will no longer be looked after by Kent County Council. 

Instead, the children will remain with the UK Border Force at Dover until another UK local authority has space to safely care for them, according to the council. 

This comes one day after Roger Gough, the council leader, said that the council had reached its capacity to provide care for migrant children. 

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PM did not lose temper over A-levels U-turn, Williamson says 

The education secretary Gavin Williamson has said that Boris Johnson did not get angry with him over the exam grades fiasco. 

Mr Williamson told LBC: “The prime minister is a very, very even-tempered person and certainly didn’t lose his temper with me.

He added that he hade “very good” discussions with the prime minister, who agreed with the decision to give students their predicted grades. 

Mr Williamson said it was not a conversation that “you ever want to have”. 

“But my belief is if something’s wrong, if something isn’t working, the key thing to do is to fix it. That’s what I did and that’s what I’d always do,” he added.

‘The Government risks making a major misstep’

The chief executive of the Nuffield Trust, an independent health think tank, has warned that the government is risking a “major misstep” by dismantling Public Health England.
 

Responding to Matt Hancock’s speech on the future of public health, Nigel Edwards said: “There is no doubt that Public Health England is far from perfect: serious questions should be asked about the agency’s role in some of the failures around testing, contract tracing and PPE in the early stages of the pandemic. 
 

“But the correct way to respond to these questions is a proper and evidence-led investigation of what went wrong across government. Without this, we risk a disproportionate response to problems that could be dealt with through straightforward managerial action.  
 

“The government risks making a major misstep by dismantling its own Public Health agency at such a crucial time, creating a huge distraction for staff who should be dedicating themselves to the next stage of the pandemic. 
 

“There is no clear argument as to why this rebranding and reshuffling will solve some of the problems highlighted by the secretary of state today.”
 

Richard Murray, chief executive of health think tank The King’s Fund, was equally critical of Mr Hancock’s decision to break up PHE.

“Undoubtedly, there are questions to be answered about England’s handling of the Covid-19 crisis, but the middle of a pandemic is not the time to dismantle England’s public health agency,” Mr Murray said.

EU warns of October deadline for post-Brexit trade deal 

The EU has said that a post-Brexit trade agreement with the UK must be reached by “October at the latest”. 

A spokesperson for the EU Commission expressed hopes for an “ambitious and fair partnership with the UK”, adding that a deal must be struck by late October for it to be ratified in time. 

“This week and over the coming weeks we will remain constructive, we will remain engaged and respectful with the UK negotiating team in order to reach a deal,” the spokesperson added. 

This comes a day after a Downing Street spokesperson said that the government remains confident that a deal can be achieved in September.

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Millions take advantage of eating out scheme 

Restaurants have served more than 35 million half-priced meals as part of the government’s Eat Out to Help Out scheme, according to the Treasury. 

The offer allows customers to take advantage of the discount on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays throughout August in a bid to boost the economy. 

This comes after the economy shrank by a record 20.4 per cent in the second quarter of 2020. 

Under the eating out initiative, restaurants take 50 per cent off a customer’s bill, up to a total of £10, before claiming the money back from the government. 

Stephen Wall, the co-founder of restaurant chain Pho, said: “It’s so nice to see our restaurants full of happy staff and customers again.”

Scottish schools need 3,500 more teachers for social distancing to work, union claims 

An additional 3,500 teachers are required in Scottish schools to allow for social distancing, Scotland’s largest teaching union has said.

Writing to first minister Nicola Sturgeon, Larry Flanagan, the general secretary of EIS, also said that there needed to be stronger advice on face masks, referring to the fact that pupils and staff are not currently obliged to wear face coverings.

Mr Flanagan said: “We need the Scottish Government to fund the hiring of the 3,500 teachers identified by the GTCS (General Teaching Council for Scotland) as willing to aid education recovery so that we can reduce class sizes and make possible physical distancing.”

“We also need stronger advice on face coverings, where physical distancing is not possible,” he added. 

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