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UK car production soars 23.5%

Domestic car manufacturing rose by almost a quarter in February.

UK car manufacturing rose by 23.5 per cent in February, according to figures released by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders. Production rose to 138,296 cars, strongly ahead of the same month last year. The revival for the motoring industry was driven by the UK expansion of Jaguar Land Rover and Nissan, the country's biggest car manufacturers.

Land Rover's Merseyside factory is working around the clock to keep up with demand for the popular Evoque model and its total production rose by 33 per cent to 238,237 in 2011. In the same period, Nissan production rose 13.5 per cent to 480,485. Car makers have promised £4bn of new UK investment in the past twelve months, with Nissan and JLR announcing this week that they planned to create 3,000 new jobs.

A week before the budget, the figures provide a much-needed boost to the government's plans to rebalance the British economy. However, European car makers fear that excess output is hurting profits and have called on leaders to foster a favourable climate for continued investment. Paul Everitt, chief executive of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders urged Finance Minister George Osborne to increase Britain's competitiveness when he delivers his budget on March 21.

He said that George Osborne should use "next week's budget to deliver on its growth strategy and boost the UK's competitiveness by encouraging private sector investment in research and development in research and development, capital equipment and skills."

Britain's unemployment rate is at a 16-year-high, and the government is under pressure to boost growth while cutting the growing budget deficit.

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Is anyone prepared to solve the NHS funding crisis?

As long as the political taboo on raising taxes endures, the service will be in financial peril. 

It has long been clear that the NHS is in financial ill-health. But today's figures, conveniently delayed until after the Conservative conference, are still stunningly bad. The service ran a deficit of £930m between April and June (greater than the £820m recorded for the whole of the 2014/15 financial year) and is on course for a shortfall of at least £2bn this year - its worst position for a generation. 

Though often described as having been shielded from austerity, owing to its ring-fenced budget, the NHS is enduring the toughest spending settlement in its history. Since 1950, health spending has grown at an average annual rate of 4 per cent, but over the last parliament it rose by just 0.5 per cent. An ageing population, rising treatment costs and the social care crisis all mean that the NHS has to run merely to stand still. The Tories have pledged to provide £10bn more for the service but this still leaves £20bn of efficiency savings required. 

Speculation is now turning to whether George Osborne will provide an emergency injection of funds in the Autumn Statement on 25 November. But the long-term question is whether anyone is prepared to offer a sustainable solution to the crisis. Health experts argue that only a rise in general taxation (income tax, VAT, national insurance), patient charges or a hypothecated "health tax" will secure the future of a universal, high-quality service. But the political taboo against increasing taxes on all but the richest means no politician has ventured into this territory. Shadow health secretary Heidi Alexander has today called for the government to "find money urgently to get through the coming winter months". But the bigger question is whether, under Jeremy Corbyn, Labour is prepared to go beyond sticking-plaster solutions. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.