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NHS chief Sir Simon Stevens has failed to confirm he has confidence in Matt Hancock.

Asked repeatedly if, having worked alongside the health secretary during the pandemic, he has confidence in his ability, Sir Simon refused to give Mr Hancock his support.

Pressed on whether the health secretary is hopeless, the NHS boss smirks after an awkward pause and fails to answer.

“I mean, that is a political question,” he added.

Matt Hancock
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Matt Hancock has said he does not think he is hopeless

It comes a day after Dominic Cummings published expletive-laden WhatsApp messages, allegedly from Boris Johnson, in which the PM appears to call Mr Hancock “hopeless”.

The PM’s former senior aide published the messages as part of a 7,000-word blogpost which appears to include a series of claims about Mr Johnson and Mr Hancock, including that the prime minister considered removing responsibility for PPE from the health secretary.

In one exchange, which Mr Cummings said was part of late-night messages on 26 March 2020, he and Mr Johnson appear to be discussing actions from “MH” in boosting the UK’s COVID testing capacity.

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The screenshot shows a reply from the prime minister stating: “Totally f****** hopeless”.

Dominic Cummings
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On Wednesday, Dominic Cummings published messages allegedly from the PM

At a lobby briefing on Wednesday, Downing Street did not deny the messages were authentic, but assured journalists that the PM has full confidence in the health secretary.

“I am not planning to engage with every allegation put forward, the prime minister has worked very closely with the health secretary throughout and will continue to do so,” the spokesman said.

Asked if there were security concerns about Mr Cummings’s disclosure of messages, the spokesman added: “I don’t plan to get into individual cases, there are rules published for former advisers to observe.”

As he left the Department of Health for the House of Commons on Wednesday, Mr Hancock was asked if he believed himself to be “hopeless”.

“I don’t think so,” he replied.

Pressed again on the matter on Thursday, the health secretary said: “I’m not going to get in to that.”

But when the text messages were put to Sir Simon on Thursday, he could not say that he had full faith in the health secretary.

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‘Are you hopeless Mr Hancock?’

Sir Simon is due to step down as head of NHS England at the end of July after having overseen the COVID vaccination rollout to adults.

The PM has previously praised Sir Simon for leading the NHS with “great distinction” and he is due to become a peer in the House of Lords following his departure.

But there has not always been such an amicable relationship between Sir Simon and Mr Johnson, who attended Oxford University together, with tensions occurring between ministers and top health officials throughout the pandemic.

There were concerns earlier in the year that the NHS would not be able to successfully roll out the vaccination programme.

But those sceptical have since been proven wrong, with Mr Hancock announcing on Thursday that all over 18s will be able to take up the offer of a jab.

Possible successors to Sir Simon include Conservative peer and former head of the government’s Test and Trace programme Baroness Dido Harding.

Baroness Harding, who is the wife of Tory MP John Penrose, formally entered the running to become the top boss of England’s healthcare system on Thursday.

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Chancellor Jeremy Hunt considering further public spending cut to boost tax giveaway in budget

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Chancellor Jeremy Hunt considering further public spending cut to boost tax giveaway in budget

Jeremy Hunt is considering a last minute further cut to public spending to boost the tax giveaway in Wednesday’s budget.

The Politics At Jack And Sam’s podcast, out now, set out how Number 10 and 11 have spent recent days finding as many different ways of raising future revenue as possible to increase the size of Wednesday’s tax cuts.

National insurance could be cut by 2p again in the budget if the chancellor succeeds in finding the right mix of revenue raising measures and spending cuts.

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Currently spending is due to rise 1% above inflation after next year. However, if this was cut to 0.75% above inflation, that would raise £5-6bn.

The chancellor would hope to resist questions about where he would cut, saying he is doing an efficiency drive and decisions would be outlined at a future spending review post election.

The decision on whether to cut future spending was live in the Treasury as recently as Friday, and this morning the chancellor was arguing about the importance of finding efficiencies.

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What do people want in the budget?

This is likely to boost Labour’s charge that the government is “maxing out the credit card” to keep its own supporters on side.

However, most Tories in government believe this is a necessary trade-off to allow the party to go into the next election presenting themselves as the low-tax party.

Some senior Tories disagree, however, worrying that the public is more worried about the state of public services than tax cuts.

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Budget 2024 explained

The budget is likely to have cuts or the abolition of non-dom status, which could raise £2-3bn, plus other small loopholes closing generating a few hundred million in revenue.

The Politics At Jack And Sam’s Podcast also reveals how delaying Contaminated Blood compensation payouts has helped deliver tax cuts.

In January, the Treasury was worried those payments might reduce the amount the chancellor could spend before he reached the borrowing limits from his fiscal rules.

However, the inquiry will not report until later and the government is resisting calls for interim payouts.

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The Week… Of the budget

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Budget 2024: Unfunded tax cuts ‘deeply unconservative’, says Jeremy Hunt

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Budget 2024: Unfunded tax cuts 'deeply unconservative', says Jeremy Hunt

The chancellor has played down expectations of tax cuts in Wednesday’s budget, telling Sky News his spending plans will be “prudent and responsible”.

Speaking to Sunday Morning With Trevor Phillips, the cabinet minister it would be “deeply unconservative” to take decisions that were unfunded and increased borrowing.

Jeremy Hunt is under pressure to deliver tax cuts in what could be the last economic set piece from the Conservatives before the next general election, which is widely expected in the autumn.

Politics live: Chancellor tempers tax cut expectations as he says budget ‘will be affordable’

The tax burden is reaching record levels, with it expected to rise to its highest point since the Second World War before the end of this decade as the country looks to pay back heavy borrowing used to support people through the COVID-19 pandemic and the energy price spike in the aftermath of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Mr Hunt said: “It’s going to be a prudent and responsible budget for long-term growth.

“And when it comes to tax cuts, I do believe that if you look around the world, countries with lower tax tend to grow faster like North America, Asia.

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“And so I do think in the long run, we want to move back to being a lower taxed, more lightly regulated economy.

“But it would be deeply unconservative to cut taxes in a way that increased borrowing…

“If I think of the great tax cutting budgets of the past – Nigel Lawson’s budget in 1988 – the reason that was so significant is because those cuts were permanent and people need to know that these are tax cuts you can really afford.

“So it will be responsible and everything I do will be affordable.”

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Mr Hunt described the 2p cut to national insurance at the autumn statement as a “turning point”.

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What to expect from this week’s budget – from tax cuts to vaping

He said: “All conservatives believe that the state has a moral duty to leave as much money in people’s pockets as possible because it belongs to the people who earn that money.

“But we all know that it is not conservative to cut taxes, for example, by increasing borrowing because then you are just passing on the bill to future generations.

“So what you saw in the autumn statement was a turning point, when we cut 2p off the national insurance rate.

“We will hope to make some progress on that journey but we are going to do so in a responsible way.”

Mr Hunt’s comments come after he announced an £800m package of technology reforms designed to free up time for frontline public service workers.

Under the move, police will use drones to assess incidents such as traffic collisions and artificial intelligence will be deployed to cut MRI scan times by a third.

The Treasury said the changes have the potential to deliver £1.8bn worth of benefits to public sector productivity by 2029.

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