Issue 45: 2016 03 17: Week in Brief: UK

17 March 2016

Week in Brief: UK

Union Jack flapping in wind from the right

HEALTHCARE: In a speech at Lancaster house, the Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, announced measures designed to enable the NHS to learn from its mistakes.  Modelled on the system for enquiring into airline accidents, there will be a review of all hospital deaths and a new investigation branch which will keep revelations secret unless forced to disclose them by court order.  The circumstances in which such an order would be granted are not yet wholly clear.  In another innovation, all hospitals will be obliged to produce their estimate of the number of avoidable deaths which have occurred on an annual basis.

According to Mr Hunt, avoidable deaths are estimated at about 1 million a year, a figure which has dropped significantly over the last three years.

A leaked report alleges that GPs are allocating contracts to organisations which they own or work for.  The arrangement was revealed by “The Times” last year and has now been confirmed in an internal NHS report.  NHS England conceded that it needs to tighten the rules.

Experts are puzzled at an increase in scarlet fever, a disease associated with deprivation in the Victorian slums.  600 cases are now being diagnosed each week, far in excess of previous levels.  The disease is treatable with antibiotics.

EU REFERENDUM: The Sun Newspaper has reported that the Queen criticised EU Integration in a private conversation with Nick Clegg, then Deputy Prime Minister.  A Palace Spokesman has stressed that the Queen remains neutral in relation to the EU Referendum and Mr Clegg has denied that the conversation occurred.

150 Fellows of the Royal Society, including Professor Hawking, have written to the Times saying that Brexit could be a disaster for British science because of the restrictions which would be imposed on the migration of talent to the UK.  Mr Gove has come out on favour of Brexit, a majority of CBI members are against it.

Boris Johnson, who has also stated that he will support the out campaign, has tried to shrug off accusations that he banned his officials from speaking in favour of Britain remaining in the EU.  Mr Johnson has been accused of hypocrisy as he has himself accused the pro EU lobby of trying to gag its opponents.

NUCLEAR POWER: Criticism continues to mount of the proposal to build a nuclear power plant at Hinkley in Somerset, with critics pointing out that the price of £92.5 per megawatt at which the Government has agreed to take electricity is now 3 times the market price and suggesting that the high cost could damage commercial users.  The viability of the project is also threatened by doubt at EDF, the French firm responsible for delivering the deal, as to whether it will be profitable.  The finance director of EDF, Thomas Piquemal, resigned last week. There are also doubts about the technology.

If built, Hinkley would generate 7% of the UK’s electricity but it would not come on line until 2017.  Opponents suggest that a number of much smaller reactors would be cheaper and more practicable.  Such reactors could be built in Britain and would be similar to those currently used to power nuclear submarines.

OBAMA CRITICISM: President Obama has taken the unusual step of criticising David Cameron over the latter’s failure to ensure that Libya was properly governed after the fall of Colonel Gaddafi and for allowing Isis state militants to take over parts of the country.  Obama said that David Cameron’s failure had been caused by other matters or issues which had distracted him.

COUNTER TERRORISM: Security and intelligence services were examining data which apparently reveal Isis’s world-wide recruitment programme.  The memory stick which contained the data has details of 22,000 jihadists.  Steps are being taken to verify the accuracy of the contents.  The information came from Sky News which obtained the memory stick from a defector from Isis.

TAX CASE: The Supreme Court has held that a tax avoidance scheme used by UBS and Deutsche Bank was artificial and had been created solely for tax avoidance purposes.  The Supreme Court therefore decided the case in favour of HMRC.

RSPB: A report to be published by the Royal Society accuses the RSPB of misrepresenting its own research paper in its anxiety to oppose the burning of heather.  Apparently the press releases which it issued bore only limited resemblance to the conclusions reached by the research. See features.

SUNDAY TRADING: The government was defeated in its efforts to relax Sunday trading laws by a combination of Labour, rebel Conservative MPs and the SNP.  The liberalisation would have brought the rules in England into line with those in Scotland which thus retains a commercial advantage.

FREE NEWS: The Greenwich Times is to close and East End Life, which is published by Tower Hamlets, is to restrict itself to four issues a year under rules designed to prevent local authorities publishing propaganda at ratepayers’ expense.  The only authorities which continue to break the rules are Enfield, Hackney, Hillingdon, Lambeth, Luton, Medway, Newham, North Somerset and Waltham Forest.

NIGHTCLUBS: Nightclub entry fees have been excluded from the basket used to calculate inflation because the use of clubs has declined.  There are now 1733 clubs in all.  There were 3,144 in 2005.

SCOTLAND: Scottish government data shows that in the last financial year (2014/5), public expenditure in Scotland exceeded tax revenue by £15 billion.  If capital investment is left out of account the figure becomes £11.9 billion or 7.8% of GDP, well in excess of the 3.3% of GDP for the UK as a whole.  The drop in the price of oil will increase the gap further in later years.

Despite this, Nicola Sturgeon said at the SNP spring conference in Glascow that this summer her party will launch a new initiative to build support for Scottish independence, implicitly writing off the Labour party by advocating a future which is not shaped by perpetual Tory governments.  She also promised:

• increased contributions to the NHS, funding five new elective treatment centres, more primary, community and social care and an additional £50m for radiotherapy services;

• to double the provision of free early years education and childcare;

• nurseries to provide free school meals to two, three and four-year-olds; and

• superfast digital broadband for all.

SEXTING: An investigation by “The Times” newspaper suggests that schools have caught 44,112 children sexting (i.e. sending or receiving an indecent image of a minor) in the last three years, fanning concerns that sexts often fall into the hands of paedophiles and can give rise to blackmail, with demands for further images or potential damage to careers.  The revelation has raised pressure from campaigners for more compulsory sex education in schools.  Currently secondary schools other than academies are obliged to provide lessons on sexually transmitted diseases, pregnancy and contraception.  There is no requirement to teach about the dangers of sexting.

CRIMINALS’ ASSETS: The National Audit Office has stated that only a fraction of the £1.6 billion owed to taxpayers by criminals under confiscation orders will be collected.  That is because the perpetrators of crimes often hide the proceeds successfully.  Also confiscation orders are frequently for unrealistic amounts.

TERRORIST DATABASE: The biometrics Commissioner, Alastair MacGregor, has reported that the fingerprints and DNA profiles of 7,800 people are now held on the police terrorism data bases.  In many cases the individual has never been charged.  Although normally any material relating to uncharged suspects is destroyed after six months, in the case of terrorist suspects the police can apply for it to be held for two successive periods of two years.  The police databases are separate from the 3000 individuals currently monitored by the security services.

ELECTION EXPENSES: The Conservative Party has agreed to issue a full statement in response to allegations of election overspending in the constituency of South Thanet, where it defeated Nigel Farage at the General Election.

LABOUR PARTY: Tom Watson, the deputy leader, has sought to calm the party’s turmoil by pointing out on Sky News that he and Mr Corbyn had been elected by members who would be unlikely to welcome a challenge 9 months later.  He also warned left wingers against trying to change the rules to entrench Mr Corbyn, saying that changes to the constitution would create uncertainty and confusion.

The Labour party has expelled a Trotskyist party member who said that those who carried out the 9/11 attack on New York should never be condemned.  He has also made remarks which appear to be anti-semitic.  The person expelled, Gerry Downing, said that his remarks had been taken out of context.

In another development, John McDonnell, who appeared beside Mr. Downing at a rally in 2012, said at the time that he had only joined the Labour party as a tactic, and because membership was a “useful vehicle”.

Moderates won a majority of seats in recent elections for the general committee of the Streatham Labour Party.  This has been seen as a setback for Lambeth Momentum, a militant branch of the hard left in the Party.   Moderates were also elected in Vauxhall.

ABUSE ENQUIRY: The enquiry into sexual abuse of children, chaired by the New Zealand judge Mrs Justice Lowell Goddard, has heard that the number of people accusing Greville Janner of abuse has risen to 30.  The allegations go back to 1955.  The enquiry will attempt to differentiate between accusations which are true and which are false.

TOP GEAR: The reformatted Top Gear has been heavily criticised for filming cars performing “doughnuts” by the Cenotaph.  Mr Evans who will host the programme has said that he is mortified and that the Cenotaph will not be shown when the series resumes next month.

COMPOSER DIES: Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, Master of the Queen’s Music, died at the age of 81.  Sir Peter, a preeminent composer/conductor created about 300 works and devoted much of his energy to bringing music to children.

ESCALATOR TRIAL: Transport for London is going to introduce a ban on passengers walking up escalators at Holborn Underground station. The ban is part of a trial to see whether congestion can be reduced by asking people to stand on both sides of the escalator instead of the current practice whereby some stand on the right, while those who are more active walk up on the left.

POLITICAL CORRECTNESS: Students at Pembroke College, Cambridge have cancelled a party with a theme based on Jules Verne’s “Around the World in 80 Days”.  The reason given is that dressing up in the style of another culture might cause offence.

DOWNTON: A stately home in Scotland is exploiting the fame and popularity of the television series “Downton Abbey” by offering paying guests the opportunity to live a “Downton Abbey” lifestyle.  Those who are interested can choose to live a life of luxury upstairs or choose to work in the kitchen as skivvies.  Surprisingly, many Americans have expressed a preference to work downstairs: making beds, shining shoes or polishing silver.  Baking in the kitchen under the watchful eye of the resident cook is particular popular.

RUGBY: England is now certain to win the 6 nations following victory over Wales by 25-22, France’s defeat by Scotland meaning that they can no longer catch the leaders.  If England win the final game against France they will have achieved a grand slam by winning all their games.

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