Which question to ask: The dilemma of the Downing Street daily briefing

HullLive reporter Nathan Standley was the local journalist tasked with asking a question of chancellor Rishi Sunak a question during the daily Downing Street briefing last Friday. But what to ask…

When I was first told that Hull Live had been allocated a slot at the daily press briefings at Number 10, I jumped at the opportunity to ask a question.

But it would be several weeks before that actually came to fruition.

In the current environment, where the news cycle can shift to become unrecognisable within minutes and hours, rather than days and weeks, that is quite some time.

It meant that those weeks were occupied by scribbling down and crumpling up questions as they rapidly went out of date in the metastatic news agenda.

Many of those questions, however, remain unanswered.

After speaking to an offshore oil worker who returned to the UK from Norway during lockdown, and was horrified when he was not asked anything about his health, I wanted to ask why the Government had not yet implemented a policy of isolation for people entering or returning to the UK akin to what was happening at the very start of the pandemic.

That policy has now been reintroduced and was announced at a briefing held by Home Secretary Priti Patel — but is still not due to come into force until June 8.

There are also a number of questions still surrounding the return to school for children across Hull and the rest of the UK.

How did the Government come to this exact plan to have some year groups return on June 1 when the advice published by SAGE suggests that the scientists had not even considered it as one of the options put forward by Government and councils across the UK subsequently came out to say they would not be able to allow children to safely return by that date in their regions.

Rishi Sunak takes questions during last Friday’s briefing

And then came the Dominic Cummings saga in which the Prime Minister’s chief advisor decided to travel from London to Durham with his wife, who had Covid symptoms, to stay on his family’s estate, purportedly to allow them to access childcare for their four-year-old son.

The country was at the peak of the pandemic at the time, with nearly 1,000 people dying every day.

The police have since said they considered that Mr Cummings may have committed a breach when he drove with his wife and son the 30 miles and back to popular tourist site Barnard Castle to test that his eyesight was good enough to survive the drive back to London, adding that they would have sent him home had they caught him in the act.

Mr Cummings’ televised statement on his behaviour at the start of this week arguably raised more questions than it answered, not least why he did not feel a shred of regret or give any sort of apology for behaviour that broke the letter of his own lockdown at a time when millions of families across the country were obeying it.

But that story has dominated the news cycle for a week now and I have a suspicion that will not be the last we hear of it.

Ultimately, I wanted to make sure the people of Hull were represented as broadly as is possible with the allocation of just one (two-part) question.

I also wanted to make full use of the expertise of the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, who was announcing the extension of the self employment income support scheme and providing more details of the extension to the furlough scheme in Friday’s conference.

In a week where Hull was revealed to still have one of the highest infection rates in Yorkshire, I wanted to ask NHS Medical Director Professor Stephen Powis if we were therefore more at risk from the virus as lockdown restrictions were lifted and if we were more likely than other places to see the ‘local lockdowns’ touted by the proponents of the track and trace system.

I believe that the Government has done a lot with its economic support for workers affected by the pandemic and the billions set aside to support them has undoubtedly been a level of support never seen before by average workers and small businesses.

But in the financial crash of 2008, the UK Government put out a rescue package many times that size — £500bn — for the banks that had caused the crisis which started of years of austerity that had a devastating impact on cities like Hull.

So in this, the only comparable moment in history for years before or since, I wanted to ask if the Government could do more to alleviate the inevitable financial hardship that will befall cities like Hull as a direct result of the Covid-19 crisis.



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