Four people have been taken to hospital in a critical condition after a reported explosion in Leicester, according to the local NHS Trust.
Six fire engines were sent to the scene after members of the public reported a large blast in the area at around 7pm.
A spokeswoman for Leicestershire Fire and Rescue Service said firefighters were on their way to the scene when police told them a building had collapsed.
The building was two-storeys high with a loft conversion and it had suffered a “pancake collapse”, she said.
“This is a search and rescue at the moment,” she added, saying that there is “no indication” of the cause.
We can confirm that four patients from the scene have been taken to Leicester Royal Infirmary via @EMASNHSTrust in a critical condition. @Leicspolice are advising everyone to avoid the area. Please only attend A&E if absolutely necessary. If not an emergency, please call NHS 111 https://t.co/7uso1OwAJD
The starting pistol for the review of university tuition fees in England will be fired early next week.
Or at least that’s the latest claim in the political twisting and turning over one of the toughest domestic decisions facing a fragile government.
The last time Theresa May’s review of fees seemed to be approaching, neither the education secretary Justine Greening nor the universities minister Jo Johnson seemed particularly enthusiastic – and within weeks both of them were out of their jobs.
The new team – Damian Hinds and Sam Gyimah – will know they have to deliver, with the prime minister and Mr Hinds expected to lead the charge.
As they head for the weekend TV studios, the next big question is what problem the fees review is trying to solve?
Fee freeze to stay
Is it trying to kill off a political problem – with middle England still unconvinced by young people leaving university with £50,000 in debts and interest rates up to 6.1%?
Or is it trying to find a fairer way of balancing the cost between student and taxpayer – and to support those who might currently be missing out, such as those in vocational training and those wanting to study part-time?
There are some outcomes that are predictable.
For instance, the freeze on annual fees at £9,250 is going to stretch further than this year.
You can’t announce a review to show you are listening and then increase fees even more, so there will either be a long-term freeze or a big cut.
Lord Willetts, a former universities minister and author of A University Education, says the review could be politically “high risk”.
The government can’t “trump Corbyn”, with Labour having already established its promise to scrap fees.
Lord Willetts argues that the current system is essentially a good model – it ensures that students do not have to pay up-front and it ensures universities the reliable funding that allows them to keep widening access.
Where he would make changes, he says, is to reduce interest rates and give students more financial support when they are studying.
‘Reverse pupil premium’
This would also help parents who end up paying for their student children’s living costs.
There have been suggestions – often attributed to the Treasury – that the review will consider varying the level of fees depending on the likely return in graduate earnings.
But Lord Willetts says this would become a “reverse pupil premium”, concentrating more funding in the most prestigious universities and in courses that lead to the most lucrative careers.
A former Labour education secretary, Charles Clarke, says the review will need “absolute clarity of purpose”, because it is such a complicated system with so many interlocking parts.
“No one seems to know what the aim of the reform in 2018 will be,” he says.
Mr Clarke says that linking fees to the likely financial returns of specific courses would “significantly reduce fees for millions of students”.
He backs cutting interest charges – and says that poorer students should have access to maintenance grants.
Help with living costs
In a theme that the current education secretary is likely to keep hearing, Mr Clarke also highlights the need to provide more support for students when they are studying.
He says there should be loans that cover the real living costs and that since students are adults, this shouldn’t be dependent on parental income.
The former education secretary, Justine Greening, thinking more freely from the backbenches, wants maintenance grants reinstated and has raised concerns about the level of interest on student debts.
Sir Anthony Seldon, vice chancellor of the University of Buckingham and biographer of prime ministers, also wants a return of maintenance grants.
He wants a cut in interest rates for loans, saying the current level “undermines the credibility of the whole scheme”.
But he wants a clearer message that repayments from students are a form of graduate contribution and not a “debt”.
There are also calls for the fees review to be much wider than academic study at university – and to look more broadly at support for post-18 students taking vocational courses.
Robert Halfon, chair of the education select committee, recently warned that taxpayers were currently expected to “lavishly furnish universities”, when the real shortage was in vocational skills.
But universities face their own problems.
This year’s Ucas application figures have been much worse than superficially they might have appeared.
Among applicants in England, the numbers are the lowest since at least 2009 – even below the slump that happened when fees trebled in 2012.
There is also an emerging pattern of high status universities getting bigger and attracting more applicants, while others, often doing the hardest work in widening access, are seeing a collapse in student numbers and funding.
If universities were Monty Python characters, they would be like the knight who has his arms and legs chopped off – and says “It’s only a flesh wound.”
They never want to look like they are in trouble.
But behind their shiny prospectuses and fixed smiles, there are some university leaders who are seriously concerned about a review that can only bring them less money.
But this is about politics and this is a subject which has a remarkable track record for sudden switches.
It is easy to forget that in 2005 Theresa May was a shadow minister going into a general election with a Conservative manifesto promising to scrap all tuition fees.
In the previous year, it had been Labour that had been on the ropes over plans to increase fees to £3,000 per year.
In the general election, the shadow education secretary, Tim Collins, lead the Tory campaign to end fees.
He lost his seat to a youngster called Tim Farron and his education brief went to another newcomer, David Cameron.
The prime minister is to call for better value for students in England, admitting they face “one of the most expensive systems of university tuition in the world”.
Theresa May will announce an independent review of fees and student finance on Monday.
She will also argue for an end to “outdated attitudes” that favour university over technical education.
Mrs May, announcing the year-long review of student finance and university funding, will warn that the system has failed to deliver sufficient competition on price – with almost all courses being charged at the maximum £9,250 per year.
For many students, the prime minister will say, “the level of fees charged do not relate to the cost or quality of the course”.
There are “serious concerns” about the cost among parents and grandparents as well as students, she will say.
There is a temporary freeze on fees at £9,250 and that is likely to be extended for at least another year during the review.
He also calls for more flexibility in how courses are delivered, such as two-year degrees, encouraging “commuter degrees” where students live at home and making it easier for part-time students and those who want to carry on working while studying.
But there have been no suggestions from ministers that the review will consider scrapping or radically reducing fees, or replacing the system with a graduate tax.
“If you’ve benefitted from a university degree, we know that typically people earn over £100,000 more over the course of their life… then you should be making a big part of that investment,” Mr Hinds said.
Former Labour education minister, Lord Adonis, called for a more significant change – arguing that fees should be much lower or abolished, in the way that had happened in Germany.
He accused universities of being “bloated” on high fees and said they needed to “get real” over how much they should charge.
But Lord Adonis rejected the idea of different subjects having different costs as a “big backward step”, which would reduce numbers applying for science subjects, if they became more expensive than arts and humanities.
The tuition fee review also will consider ways of reducing costs such as cutting interest rates on loans – currently up to 6.1% – and reintroducing maintenance grants for disadvantaged students, as well as examining the level of fees.
Poorest with biggest debts
Mrs May will say the review needs to make sure poorer students can have an “equal chance”.
Students from poorer families are offered bigger loans for living costs than better-off students, who are expected to be partly supported by their parents, but it means they graduate with bigger debts.
Restoring maintenance grants for poorer students, scrapped last year, would reduce their level of borrowing.
Support for vocational training and apprenticeships in “post-18 education” will also be considered.
The prime minister will also warn that the route into further technical and vocational training is “hard to navigate”, saying the standards across the sector “are too varied” and the funding “is patchy”.
Labour’s shadow education secretary, Angela Rayner, has called for services in further and higher education to be free at the point of delivery.
She called the tuition fee system “unsustainable” and called for fees to be scrapped and maintenance grants brought back.
The Treasury select committee, chaired by former education secretary Nicky Morgan, has raised concerns about the high level of interest rates.
How do tuition fees work in England?
Universities can charge up to £9,250 per year
Students do not pay this up-front, but can borrow the full amount
They can also take a loan for living costs
Disadvantaged students can borrow more for living costs, on the assumption that better-off students are supported by their parents
Interest of up to 6.1% is charged on loans from when students start at university
Students begin to repay loans once they earn £21,000, with this threshold being raised to £25,000
Any unpaid debts are written off after 30 years
The Institute for Fiscal Studies says students in England face more than £5,000 in interest charges before they have even left university – contributing to average graduate debts of more than £50,000.
Mrs Morgan has also called for more support for part-time students, saying that their numbers had “collapsed”.
She said that the review needed to find a way to encourage more flexibility in courses and costs, saying that when the fees system was introduced it was “naively assumed” there would be be more competition.
‘Variety’ of fee levels
But there have been warnings against different levels of fees for sciences or humanities and arts, or for different types of university.
Lord Willetts said higher fees for courses with the highest graduate earnings would become a “reverse pupil premium”, giving even more money to the most advantaged courses and institutions.
Sir Anthony Seldon, vice-chancellor of the University of Buckingham, backed calls for more flexible approaches – such as two-year degree courses – but warned that setting different fee levels would be a “bad idea”.
Dame Janet Beer, president of Universities UK, said the current system needed to be “better understood and feel fairer to students”.
The priorities should be support for disadvantaged students and reversing the collapse in numbers of part-time and mature students, said the university group leader.
A minor earthquake with 4.4 magnitude has affected parts of Wales and England.
Shaking has been reported across south Wales, the south west of England and the Midlands.
The British Geological Survey said the epicentre was approximately 20km north-north-east of Swansea and at a depth of 7.4km.
Events of this magnitude only happen in the UK every 2-3 years, it added.
There has been a minor earthquake throughout South Wales….no need for you to contact the Emergency Services unless you have something to report ie:- injuries or damage. Hope this sets you minds at rest SWP
Boris Johnson is to attempt to reassure voters who are angry and alienated by Brexit that the UK’s split from the EU is a cause for “hope not fear”.
The foreign secretary will use a speech to try to build bridges with those who voted to remain in the EU, saying their belief in European solidarity is based on “noble sentiments”.
“It is not good enough to say ‘you lost, get over it’,” he will say.
But he will also insist those who want to stop Brexit cannot prevail.
In the speech in London, he will say that that holding another referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU would be a “disastrous mistake that would lead to permanent and ineradicable feelings of betrayal”.
Labour MP Chuka Umunna, who supports the Open Britain campaign “against a hard, destructive Brexit”, said Mr Johnson was “totally unqualified to preach about the perils of fear and betrayal”, having “engaged in disgraceful scaremongering” during the EU referendum.
Mr Johnson’s speech is the first in a series of speeches by Theresa May and her ministers on the “road to Brexit”.
The prime minister is expected to address the UK’s future relations with the EU in a speech in Munich on Saturday, the day after she holds talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin.
In what has been billed as his most substantial speech on Brexit for more than a year, Mr Johnson – a leading figure in the Leave campaign during the 2016 referendum – is expected to make the “liberal case” for the UK’s withdrawal and argue it will allow the country to play a greater role on the world stage.
Excerpts released in advance of the speech suggest Mr Johnson will appeal to both sides to move on from the divisions of the past and unite around a shared goal of seeing an outward-facing and global nation succeed.
“We must accept that many [Remainers] are actuated by entirely noble sentiments, a real sense of solidarity with our European neighbours and a desire for the UK to succeed,” he will say.
“If we are to carry this project through to national success – as we must – then we must also reach out to those who still have anxieties.
“I want to try to anatomise at least some of those fears and to show to the best of my ability that they are unfounded and that the very opposite is usually true: that Brexit is not grounds for fear but hope.”
by Ben Wright, political correspondent, BBC News
It’s a conciliatory tone we haven’t heard much from Cabinet ministers.
And it’s a recognition of the deep divisions Brexit has opened. Boris Johnson will use his Valentine’s Day speech to try to woo despairing Remain supporters who think Brexit is a disaster.
There’s no crumb of comfort for people who would like to see Brexit stopped. Mr Johnson insists it must happen.
Furthermore, he will say the UK must take back full control of regulations and tariff schedules.
It’s no secret the Cabinet is divided on how closely the UK and EU should align after Brexit.
Last month the Chancellor Philip Hammond said he wanted the two economies to move apart only “very modestly”, a statement that enraged Brexiteers.
Boris Johnson’s speech shows again that he is not in the close alignment camp.
His speech was approved by Number 10 and will be scoured for clues about how Theresa May’s divided Cabinet plans to find common ground around the deal it hopes to strike with the EU.
Continuing the conciliatory tone in an article for the Sun, Mr Johnson writes: “To those who worry that we are somehow going to become more insular, the exact reverse is true.
“We do not want to haul up the drawbridge and we certainly don’t want to deter the international students who make a huge contribution to our economy.”
Mr Johnson is expected to focus on the potential for extending British influence in the rest of the world, exploiting Britain’s traditional strengths in trade, diplomacy, soft power, development and human rights.
The foreign secretary, who returned on Tuesday from a visit to Myanmar and Thailand, told the Guardian last month he would like to see the UK “taking advantage” of the people’s decision to leave to get the “best economic result from that decision, and do the best we can do”.
Ministers are under pressure to spell out how they can square their desire for frictionless trade after Brexit with the UK’s exit from the single market and customs union, which EU officials say will create trade barriers.
By leaving the customs union, the UK has said it will have freedom to negotiate trade deals of its own during the transition period, while reducing tariffs on imports from developing countries.
Mr Johnson is one of the most enthusiastic Brexiteers in the cabinet but his decision to deliver a Brexit speech shortly before Mrs May’s Florence speech in October, plus his recent plea for more money to be spent on the NHS after Brexit, has seen him face criticism from some in his party.
Meanwhile, a report by the Commons Home Affairs Committee has said the UK is ill-equipped to cope with changes to the immigration system after Brexit due to a lack of resources.
A group of MPs has warned that the Home Office is planning only “moderate adjustments for an immense bureaucratic challenge”.
The Home Office said preparations for Brexit were well advanced and more staff were being recruited.
A group of schoolgirls were rushed to hospital after becoming ill and unable to walk after allegedly taking prescription drugs on school grounds.
Six pupils at the all-girls’ Burntwood School in Wandsworth are believed to have taken Xanax, a potentially addictive anti-anxiety medicine.
Helen Dorfman, principal of the 1,700-strong secondary school, confirmed staff called paramedics after the pupils were found unwell. She told the Standard she was “very relieved” they suffered no serious harm.
One student witness said: “It’s been happening for years — students taking drugs at schools. It’s different drugs, but it’s mainly Xanax.
“These students were taken to hospital so they could have a drugs test. They were all high and could not walk. Parents were called in, and police and ambulances were there too.”
Burntwood, which became an academy in 2013, was rated “good” in its latest Ofsted report. It won the Stirling Prize, the most prestigious architecture award in the country, for its new buildings in 2015.
Past pupils include actress Pearl Mackie, who played the Doctor’s companion in Doctor Who.
A spokeswoman for Scotland Yard said it was believed the girls may have consumed prescription drugs.
Mrs Dorfman said: “As soon as the school became aware some students were unwell, we requested paramedics attend and alerted parents. Six were taken to hospital as a precaution. They were accompanied by representatives of their families. The students have since been discharged. At this time we understand all are well.”
She added: “Police spoke with staff and students. They are investigating the circumstances. We are cooperating fully with the officers. We are just very relieved our students are well and have suffered no ill effects.” A Met spokesman said: “Police were called by London Ambulance Service at approximately 1pm on Monday to reports of a number of teenagers taken unwell at a school in Wandsworth.
“At this very early stage it is believed that they may have consumed prescription drugs. Officers are liaising with the school and local education authority. There have been no arrests.”
London Ambulance Service confirmed three ambulances were sent to the school, with patients treated at the scene before being taken to hospital.
According to new research by the Oxford Internet Institute, the UK is second behind the US for the highest number of global trades in Xanax on the dark web. The pills are not available on the NHS but are licensed by the UK medicines regulator and can be ob-tained on private prescription.
They are also available from street dealers.
While overdoses are less common, side effects include blurred vision, muscle pain and seizures. At a debate in Parliament last month, MPs were told Xanax takes effect within 15 minutes and its sedative action can last 10 to 20 hours. When taken with alcohol the impact is multiplied and can cause memory loss.