16 July 2015
Week in Brief: UK NEWS
BUDGET: Figures from the Institute of Fiscal Studies indicate that in many cases an increase in pay to the new national living wage will not compensate low-paid working families for the reduction of benefits proposed in the budget.
TREASURY COMMAND PAPER: In “Fixing the foundations: Creating a more prosperous nation”, the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills set out a series of policy measures designed to boost productivity and encourage long-term investment. Some of those measures were in the budget and others have already been announced. The paper, however, provides a useful summary of the government’s policies in areas including the provision of university education, the enhancement of the transport system, improving the digital infrastructure, encouraging science, cutting red tape and introducing planning reform. The planning reforms envisaged include a new zonal system giving automatic permission on suitable brownfield sites, intervention where local authorities are not using their powers to make local plans and to make homes available for local people and strengthening compulsory purchase powers. The provision of new houses is central to the government’s economic policy.
STRIKES: Industrial action by London Underground workers brought the network to a complete halt on Friday. Four unions – the Rail Marine and Transport, Unite, ASLEF and the Transport and Salaried Staff Association – were involved in the action which related to a dispute over terms and conditions when an all-night service is introduced from September. The difficulties of the travelling public were compounded by coordinated action by the RMT at First Great Western over the introduction of new high-speed trains, reductions in guards and the abolition of buffet cars. Jeremy Corbyn, a candidate for the leadership of the Labour Party, tabled a motion deploring the disgraceful treatment of Tube workers.
The newly published Trade Union Bill contains provisions introducing a 50% turnout threshold for strike ballots. The threshold for essential services will be higher in that 40% of those entitled to vote must vote in favour. Other provisions require a strike to take place within four months of a ballot, extend the list of essential workers to include border agency workers and nuclear plant staff and limit picket lines to 6. Employers will be allowed to use agency workers to break strikes.
The union Unite has altered its rules by removing the requirement that protests should be “so far as may be lawful”.
PRESS PROSECUTIONS: The conviction of Ryan Sabey, a former royal reporter, for aiding and abetting misconduct in a public office has been overturned. Mr Sabey had been found guilty of making payments to a soldier in the same regiment as Prince Harry in return for information. His conviction, and that of the soldier, were overturned on the basis that the Crown had not demonstrated harm to the public interest.
WEST LOTHIAN QUESTION: A new draft of the legislation under which proposals affecting only particular countries within the UK will go through a stage involving only MPs from the relevant country has now been published. The debate on the proposals has been delayed until the autumn.
HUNTING BAN: The SNP have forced the government to withdraw its proposals to alter the law on fox hunting so that more than two dogs can be used to flush out a fox. This, together with a possible SNP ambush on the Assisted Dying Bill, is in response to government proposals for English votes for English laws (see above) and its unwillingness to devolve further powers to Scotland.
ZERO CARBON HOMES: Plans to install solar panels and take other measures to reduce dependence on fossil fuel oil in new homes have been dropped by the government. According to the Home Builders Federation, the measures would have cost about £2,500 per home.
INCORRECT CALCULATIONS: A ruling by the pensions ombudsman in a test case has held that maladministration by the Government Actuary’s Department has resulted in firemen and police officers receiving less pension than they should have. It is estimated that compensation will total at least £860 million.
EUROPEAN DIRECTIVES: According to reports in The Times, Mr Cameron is seeking to reinstate the opt-outs from the EU working time directive and temporary worker directive which were surrendered by Tony Blair.
FOREIGN STUDENTS: It is understood that Teresa May, the Home Secretary, has circulated proposals to prevent the spouses and other dependents of foreign students from working in the UK. Academics have said that the proposals risk damaging Britain’s research capability.
THEFT: the statue Historical Birdman 1 made in 1962 by Elizabeth Frink and valued at around £40,000 has been stolen from the Beaux Arts Gallery in Mayfair.
TENNIS: Novak Djokovic won the men’s singles title at Wimbledon, beating Roger Federer by three sets to one. Serena Williams won the women’s title, beating Garbine Muguruza by two sets to nil.
CRICKET: England beat Australia at Cardiff to take a one nil lead in the Ashes series. The only century of the match was scored by Joe Root.
SIR TIM HUNT: The Council of University College London has unanimously endorsed the decision of the university’s executive to accept Sir Tim’s resignation from the position of honorary fellow following his joke at a women’s conference in South Korea.
FREEDOM OF PANORAMA: The European Parliament has rejected a proposal that commercial use of public buildings and sculptures which remain under copyright should require prior authorisation. In the UK, Germany and Spain the photographing of public buildings is permitted. In France and Belgium photographing such buildings can often be an offence.
CHILD SEX ABUSE ENQUIRY: Justice Lowell Goddard, the New Zealand judge chairing the enquiry which is expected to last for at least five years, has said that it will be “the largest and most ambitious public enquiry ever established in England and Wales.”
SAS DEATHS: A coroner investigating the deaths of three reservists from heat exhaustion on a march through the Brecon Beacons in 2013 identified a catalogue of very serious mistakes by those running the exercise. She did not consider, however, that the failings were sufficient to conclude that the deaths arose in consequence of manslaughter.
SEA BASS: The International Council for the Exploration of the Sea has advised that a plan is needed to reduce sea bass fishing if a collapse in stock is to be avoided. The quantity of seabass of breeding age has halved since 2010 and is becoming critical. It is believed that this may be largely due to overfishing by French trawlers. Cod and plaice stocks in the North Sea are, however, increasing satisfactorily.
OMAR SHARIF: The actor Omar Sharif who starred in Lawrence of Arabia has died at the age of eighty-three. Mr Sharif was a leading bridge player.
TRAVEL ADVICE: The Foreign and Commonwealth Office advice against non-essential travel in Tunisia following the Sousse massacre has been criticised by the Tunisian authorities and also by some of the tourists evacuated.
MURDER: Robert Ewing has been convicted at Preston Crown Court of the murder of Paige Chivers in August 2007.
SUGAR TAX: The British Medical Association has suggested that sugar-laden drinks should be taxed as part of an attack on obesity and ill health. It also makes proposals relating to the standard of school meals and the labelling of food. While not proposing to introduce a new tax the Government is concerned to find ways of reducing the sugar in food and drinks.
KIDS COMPANY: It appears that HM Revenue and Customs relieved the charity of £689,000 in unpaid employment taxes. The money had been used to support vulnerable children.
TOO AWAKE: Research published in the British Journal of Anaesthetists indicates that the number of patients who wake up during operations could be as high as 1,500 a year.
BIRD FLU: A case of bird flu has been identified in Lancashire where more than 170,000 poultry have been destroyed. A 3 km protection zone has been set up around the farm. The British Free Range Egg Producers Association believes that that the isolation should have gone further with all poultry farms within 50 km moving the birds inside.