Osborne's weekend get together with Brooks and Coulson

Pressure building on Chancellor to make Leveson appearance.

Two days ago my colleague George Eaton asked, "Why isn't Osborne appearing at the Leveson inquiry?" He posed the question because of the Chancellor's direct involvement in the recruitment of Andy Coulson as the Conservatives' communication director. 

So far George Osborne has been asked only to give written evidence. 

But he might yet appear in person after details emerged today of a weekend get together featuring both Coulson and former New International chief executive Rebekah Brooks. 

The meeting at the Chancellor's Buckinghamshire residence Dorneywood back in 2010, and unearthed by the Observer, was disclosed in Coulson's written statement to the inquiry released on Thursday. It reads:

My family and I also spent a weekend at Dorneywood in 2010 as a guest of George Osborne and his wife. Rebekah and her husband were also guests.

It was in June 2010 that News Corp's intention to bid for overall control of BSkyB was made public and we know already that Brooks discussed the bid briefly with David Cameron over dinner in December 2010. It is also understood that Brooks and Osborne met in the same month. 

This latest revelation does at least raise questions about Osborne's judgement and a seemingly inappropriate closeness to an executive of a company subject to a major regulatory decision.

It is surely inconceivable, therefore, that Osborne won't soon be invited -- as Cameron and Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt already have been -- to make his way to the Inquiry Room, Royal Courts of Justice, The Strand.

 

Rebekah Brooks, the ex-CEO of News International, leaves the high court, 11 May 2012. Credit: Getty Images

Jon Bernstein, former deputy editor of New Statesman, is a digital strategist and editor. He tweets @Jon_Bernstein. 

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The big problem for the NHS? Local government cuts

Even a U-Turn on planned cuts to the service itself will still leave the NHS under heavy pressure. 

38Degrees has uncovered a series of grisly plans for the NHS over the coming years. Among the highlights: severe cuts to frontline services at the Midland Metropolitan Hospital, including but limited to the closure of its Accident and Emergency department. Elsewhere, one of three hospitals in Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland are to be shuttered, while there will be cuts to acute services in Suffolk and North East Essex.

These cuts come despite an additional £8bn annual cash injection into the NHS, characterised as the bare minimum needed by Simon Stevens, the head of NHS England.

The cuts are outlined in draft sustainability and transformation plans (STP) that will be approved in October before kicking off a period of wider consultation.

The problem for the NHS is twofold: although its funding remains ringfenced, healthcare inflation means that in reality, the health service requires above-inflation increases to stand still. But the second, bigger problem aren’t cuts to the NHS but to the rest of government spending, particularly local government cuts.

That has seen more pressure on hospital beds as outpatients who require further non-emergency care have nowhere to go, increasing lifestyle problems as cash-strapped councils either close or increase prices at subsidised local authority gyms, build on green space to make the best out of Britain’s booming property market, and cut other corners to manage the growing backlog of devolved cuts.

All of which means even a bigger supply of cash for the NHS than the £8bn promised at the last election – even the bonanza pledged by Vote Leave in the referendum, in fact – will still find itself disappearing down the cracks left by cuts elsewhere. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. He usually writes about politics.