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Britain's gas imports to go up

Heating needs of the country would be comfortably absorbed.

North Sea gas reserves have depleted by 9 per cent this winter, which means that UK will have to import close to 55 per cent of its gas requirements for the season from Norway, Netherlands, Qatar and Algeria, among other countries, said power networks operator National Grid.

"As ageing North Sea fields continue to deplete, we are getting less and less of our gas from them every year," said a National Grid spokesman.

However, the energy company said that there would be no repeat of last year's conditions, when National Grid had to announce several alerts and urge industries to reduce their gas usage, as European pipelines faced the possibility of a supply cut off owing to a dispute between Ukraine and Russia.

The company, said in its outlook that given the increased LNG imports and projected increase in generating capacity, the heating needs of the country would be comfortably absorbed, even in case of a harsh winter.

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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.