Week in politics: Economic backlash, devolution dramas & more

Credit: PA

As I write, Liz Truss remains Prime Minister, with Jeremy Hunt now her Chancellor and signalling a change of course on economic policy, after Kwasi Kwarteng was sacked on Friday following a sustained backlash to his 'mini-Budget.'

Thirsk and Malton Conservative MP Julian Smith has been one of the government's most outspoken critics, asking for assurance during Treasury Questions in the Commons on Tuesday that "the government will not balance the forthcoming tax cuts on the backs of the poorest people in our country."

On Thursday, the former cabinet minister tweeted a dictionary definition of the word 'confidence', strongly suggesting he didn't have much confidence in those in Downing Street.

Labour MPs weighed in during an urgent question in the Commons on Wednesday, with Kevan Jones (North Durham) saying families in his constituency "now face a mortgage increase of £6,000 a year... as a direct result of the government’s mini-Budget."

Responding, Chief Secretary to the Treasury Chris Philp argued there has been "a global upswing in interest rates", and the government had stepped in to help families with rising energy bills.

Mr Philp was then moved from the Treasury to the Cabinet Office as part of that mini-reshuffle on Friday.

Parliament's Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee confirmed on Tuesday that they will hold an inquiry into the deaths of thousands of shellfish off the coast of the North East and North Yorkshire.

University scientists who said recently that they believe the deaths were caused by industrial toxins have been asked to give evidence.

Committee chair Sir Robert Goodwill (who's also the MP for Scarborough & Whitby, where fishermen have been affected) told me that government scientists who attributed the deaths to a natural algal bloom will also be invited to face questions.

The hearing is scheduled for 25 October, and I'd expect the committee to release a report with any conclusions and recommendations several weeks later.

In the Commons on Tuesday, Newcastle Central Labour MP Chi Onwurah called for the government to tackle regional inequalities in bowel disease, which she described as a "hidden epidemic."

She said the North East has high levels of bowel ill-health, linked to factors like poverty, smoking and obesity rates.

She argued for statistics on bowel conditions to be collected by region, "so that we can better target investment, and focus resources on reducing inequity across the UK."

She used a Ten Minute Rule Bill to present her case and, although it was initially nodded through by MPs, it is unlikely to become law.

During Prime Minister's Questions on Wednesday, the Labour MP for Wansbeck Ian Lavery criticised the government by saying NHS nurses had been "offered a derisory 72p a week pay rise."

Liz Truss responded by saying his figures were "simply wrong."

The fact-checking site 'Full Fact' has pointed out that the trade union UNISON calculated the pay offer made to nurses would mean wages rise by 72p per hour, not 72p per week.

On Thursday evening I revealed that the (Conservative, Lib Dem & independent) coalition leaders of Durham County Council had written to the government, requesting that they be part of a wider seven-council devolution deal, rather than have their own 'county deal.'

This has provoked some anger, with City of Durham Labour MP Mary Kelly Foy saying it "appears to be an incredible u-turn" and would mean local investment and powers being "diluted across a mammoth region."

County Durham would join Northumberland, Newcastle, North and South Tyneside, Gateshead and Sunderland under a combined authority, with an elected mayor.

County Durham's inclusion could raise complications, for example over transport funding, and may not yet get the support of the other six councils.