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FirstFT: UK levelling-up blueprint devolves Whitehall powers to regions

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Boris Johnson will unveil plans today for a significant decentralisation of power from Whitehall over the next decade to underpin the government’s strategy to “level up” the UK.

A long-awaited, 400-page white paper will outline the prime minister’s efforts to help “left-behind” areas that voted for Brexit in the 2016 referendum and backed the Conservatives at the 2019 election. It is likely to be criticised for not including new government funding.

Johnson pledged “the largest devolution of power from Whitehall to local leaders across England in modern times” by 2030, following the creation of mayoralties in Greater Manchester and Teesside in northern England.

The white paper invites nine English counties to apply for county devolution deals, including Cornwall and Durham. Some existing mayors will be offered further powers akin to those in London.

Thanks for reading FirstFT Europe/Africa. Here’s the rest of today’s news — Jennifer

1. Putin: US is trying to drag Russia into war Vladimir Putin has accused the US of seeking to hold Russia back by dragging it into a conflict over Ukraine while insisting that he wanted talks with Washington and Nato to continue to avoid a “negative outcome”.

“Their most important objective is to contain the development of Russia. This is what it is all about” — Vladimir Putin, during a press conference with Hungary’s prime minister Viktor Orban in Moscow.

Opinion: If the Russian leader triumphs in Ukraine, his thuggish style will gain new followers among world leaders, argues Gideon Rachman.

2. Alphabet posts search advertising revenue surge Shares in Google’s parent soared nearly 9 per cent late yesterday, lifting its value back to almost $2tn, as an unexpectedly strong boost in search advertising revenue raised Wall Street’s hopes that the internet group’s momentum would continue as the pandemic recedes.

3. Markets expect at least two ECB rate rises in 2022 Investors are betting that persistently high inflation will force the European Central Bank to raise interest rates more than once this year, challenging the central bank’s insistence that it expects to freeze rates at historical lows at least until next year.

4. Big Oil regains swagger ExxonMobil and Chevron in the past week have reported combined net annual profits of almost $38.6bn for 2021, a swing from losses of $27.6bn in the first year of the pandemic, as US supermajors fend off questions about their long-term prospects.

5. Donald Trump kicks off 2022 with $100mn war chest The former president started the year with a political war chest of more than $100mn, reinforcing his status as the Republican party’s most formidable fundraiser ahead of November’s midterm elections as he considers another run for the White House in 2024.

Coronavirus digest

Some Conservative MPs once loyal to Boris Johnson said the prime minister should quit over the “partygate” affair. Separately, the UK squandered almost £10bn on defective, unsuitable and overpriced personal protective equipment to meet demand at the height of the pandemic.

Eurozone unemployment fell to a record low of 7 per cent at the end of 2021.

Amazon recruited 15,000 more British workers than expected last year as demand for home deliveries and digital services boomed.

Countries whose citizens trusted their government and each other suffered far fewer Covid-19 infections, according to a new paper published in The Lancet.

The FT View: It is too soon to say if the great resignation will herald a shift in labour markets. It is worth noting that Generation Z is particularly disaffected.

Opinion: US Federal Reserve policy is still aggressively loose, even though the recovery and surge in inflation have long been clear, writes Martin Wolf.

Higher inflation and a tighter labour market could kick-start a new pay bargaining era. Can the UK avoid a wage spiral?

The day ahead

Economic data Economists expect eurozone inflation to fall from a record 5 per cent in December to 4.4 per cent in January. Italy will publish monthly consumer price index data. Sign up to our The Road to Recovery newsletter for more on business and the economy in a world transformed by the pandemic.

Old Firm football match The lifting of Covid-19 restrictions will allow the Old Firm football match to be played in front of a crowd at Celtic Park in Glasgow.

Corporate earnings Vodafone is set to deliver a third-quarter trading update in the UK, while Meta, the parent of Facebook and Instagram, reports in the US. AbbVie, Banco Santander, Ferrari, Novartis, Panasonic, Sony, Spotify and Telenor also release earnings.

Join us for the FT’s Future of Business Education on February 23. This event offers both young professionals and seasoned executives an ideal opportunity to find out how to enhance their skill set and accelerate their careers through an MBA.

What else we’re reading

The new era of organ transplants After decades of anticipation, scientists are on the cusp of being able to use modified animal organs to help solve a global shortage for humans. Fears that such transplants could transfer viruses from animals to humans, which almost killed “xeno” research, have eased. Could such medical innovation become a reality?

A surgeon performs an organ transplant

As populations grow older, the shortage of organs will probably grow more acute © FT montage/University Of Maryland School Of Medicine

Russia’s military learns from past failures The international community is warning that Moscow is preparing for a very different operation than its recent lightning-fast deployment to Kazakhstan: a comprehensive invasion of Ukraine, after overhauling its military equipment, strategy and personnel.

Activist investors descend on ‘bargain basement’ UK companies From Vodafone to Unilever, a breed of activist shareholder is shaking up corporate boardrooms. With few sectors untouched, these investors, drawn by depressed share prices, are set to influence the direction of corporate Britain more than ever before.

Has the Fed ‘put’ been put to bed? Conceding that inflation is not quite a transitory phenomenon, the US Federal Reserve is on a mission. Its aim is to let inflation run hot to compensate for the lengthy era of disinflation. So don’t count on the central bank intervening over market volatility, writes Liz Ann Sonders, chief investment strategist at Charles Schwab.

How Noom handles vulnerable users A number of health coaches for the Silver Lake-backed weight loss app, speaking anonymously, raised concerns that Noom’s design and policies could lead vulnerable users to harm. Some messages read: “I’m bulimic”, “I binge-eat” and “I hate myself”.


We asked readers to share their “happy places” around the world — and got whisked from an Alaskan ice-cream parlour to a Singaporean Eden, via a magical Roman ruin. Here’s what readers had to say.

“Not far from the Appian Way is this grotto surrounded by a sacred wood of holm oaks . . . It is the very picture of the Romantic ideal of the verdant and bucolic ruins of the ‘Campagna Romana’. And it’s a 15-minute Vespa ride from my apartment” — Agnes Crawford, Rome guide

The Nymphaeum of Egeria, Parco della Caffarella

The Nymphaeum of Egeria, Parco della Caffarella © Mauro Toccaceli/Alamy

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