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Tribunal reserves judgement on BBC presenter's discrimination claims

BBC's head of rural affairs' account may be "devastating blow to the BBC's case".

An employment tribunal in London reserved its judgement on the former Countryfile presenter Miriam O'Reilly's claims that she was victim of age and gender bias, after the final day of arguments.

While O'Reilly told the tribunal that she and two more female presenters - all aged between 40 and 50 - were rejected for a prime time version of the show because their gender and age did not fit the new-look show, the corporation's head of rural affairs, Andrew Thorman, said the former BBC1 controller, Jay Hunt, rejected them saying: "I think their experience is mainly radio, no."

On Wednesday, the last day of hearing in the case, O'Reilly's legal representative, Heather Williams QC, said "If you accept Mr Thorman's account mainly that Ms Hunt made the decision and conveyed it in a sentence ... it is a pretty devastating blow to the BBC's case."

However, Jason Galbraith-Marten, representing the BBC, said the corporation insisted that prime-time television experience and the ability to appeal to prime-time audiences are a must in its six-point list of requirements.

Williams argued that there was no documentary evidence of the six-strong criteria.

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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.