Issue 70: 2016 09 08: Week in Brief: UK

08 September 2016

Week in Brief: UK

Union Jack flapping in wind from the right

General Politics

CHILD ABUSE ENQUIRY: Dame Lowell Goddard, the New Zealand judge who recently resigned from the chairmanship of the abuse enquiry, has said that its extensive scale and size makes it unmanageable. She has suggested that her resignation presents an opportunity to remodel it with less focus on the past and more on the present and future protection of children. She was also critical of the staff hired to support the enquiry and the fact that its infrastructure was insufficient to enable it to handle the amount of material which it needed to analyse. Dame Lowell, whose package was said to have been worth £500,000 a year, has been criticised for spending three months of her first year in the job either on holiday or in New Zealand.  She is replaced as chairman of the enquiry by Professor Alexis Jay, an expert on social work.

KEITH VAZ: Keith Vaz has resigned his chairmanship of the Home Affairs Select Committee in response to allegations that he paid two male prostitutes for sex and offered to pay for cocaine. He has served as chairman of the committee for nine years, represents Leicester East as an MP, sits on the National Executive of the Labour Party and has a wife and two children.

HOUSE OF LORDS: The new Speaker of the House of Lords, Lord Fowler, has said that the number of members entitled to sit should be reduced to below 600.

HINKLEY POINT: On a visit to China, Mrs May emphasised that the Anglo/Chinese relationship was not dependent on the Hinkley Point nuclear deal.  Mrs May has said that some time will be needed to review the deal from a security angle. It is understood that its cost is also giving concern.

IMMIGRATION: Mrs May has dismissed the possibility of a points system on the grounds that it did not give control over the movement of people. Other ideas, such as linking immigration to job offers, are being considered.

UNIVERSAL CREDIT: The universal credit welfare program has been delayed because of concerns about security, with experts at GCHQ contacting No 10 because they felt that the Department of Work and Pensions was not listening to their concerns about hacking. The scheme will not now come into effect in full until 2022 at the earliest.

EUROPEAN MEDICAL AGENCY: Sweden is bidding to take over the EMA which will have to relocate from London following the Brexit vote.  Currently it employs 900 people in Canary Wharf but, more importantly, acts as an attractor for pharmaceutical companies. In particular Japan has published documents stating that its companies will leave Britain if the EMA moves.

WARSHIPS SENT: A second British warship has been sent to intercept people smugglers in the Mediterranean, off the coast of Libya. It will join HMS Enterprise which has been operating in the region since 2015 and other EU vessels.

CONSERVATIVE LEADERSHIP: Andrew Tyrie MP, chairman of the Commons liaison and Treasury committees, has written to the 1922 committee suggesting that the Conservative party should have different rules governing changes of leadership when it is in office.  Currently the rules give the final say to party members.  It is being suggested that when the party is in office a new leader should be chosen by MPs to avoid the country being damaged by a “Jeremy Corbyn moment”.

SCOTLAND: According to a poll held by The Times, 54% of Scots still back the union. That compares with 55% of the time of the referendum.  Mrs May has an approval rating in Scotland of 13 in comparison to Mr Cameron’s rating of -42. Ruth Davidson, the Scottish Conservative leader, now has a higher net personal approval rating than Nicola Sturgeon.

ARMS SALES: The Commons Committee on Arms Export Controls has called for the sale of arms to Saudi Arabia for use in Yemen to be suspended until an international enquiry can establish whether they are being used to breach humanitarian laws. Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has said that there is no evidence of this.


DENTISTRY: It is estimated that 600,000 appointments a year are made with general practitioners in relation to dental issues.  Unlike visits to GPs there are fees for NHS dentistry with £20.70 to be charged for a check up in 2017. In England it is estimated that these fees cover 26% charge at the cost of treatment. Doctors can do little for dental problems.

JUNIOR DOCTORS: The five-day strike scheduled for next week has been cancelled following a reduction in public support for the junior doctors. According to a YouGov poll 42% now think that the doctors are right to strike with 30% against and 20% uncertain.

That leaves five-day strikes planned for each of October, November and December.  The dispute concerns the introduction of a new contract which reduces pay for weekend working while increasing basic salary. Doctor McCourt, chairman of the junior doctors committee, said that the strike had been called off because of the danger to patients.  She had previously supported terms agreed between those representing the parties which were not approved by a ballot of junior doctors.

LYME DISEASE: There is an epidemic of Lyme disease which now affects between 15,000 and 45,000 patients a year, far more than was historically the case. The disease (which can result in fatigue, headaches, joint pains and palpitations) is spread by ticks whose numbers have increased very considerably following a series of damp summers and mild winters. 31% of dogs now carry ticks.


THE CONSUMER RIGHTS ACT: The Department of Transport has brought forward the implementation of the Consumer Rights Act 2015 for rail passengers.  The new enhanced compensation scheme for delay will now come into effect from 1 October rather than next year.

SOUTHERN RAIL: The Go-Ahead Group which owns 65% of Govia Thames Link Railway, the operator of Southern Rail, has been criticised for showing profits of £100 million for the year, the day after receiving a £20 million grant to improve performance on Southern. The group says that it made no profit on Southern last year and indeed that the network was subsidised from its bus operation and other franchises.


GRAMMAR SCHOOLS: The Prime Minister is  proposing to end the eighteen year ban on the creation of grammar schools by allowing new state schools to select on merit as part of the programme to increase social mobility. Education Secretary Justine Greening is believed to have reservations about the proposals and to be suggesting that the scheme is only one option being considered.


CYCLE DEATH: Christopher Gard, a van driver, has been sentenced to 9 years imprisonment by Winchester Crowned Court for causing death by dangerous driving. He ran into a cyclist while reading a text message on his phone. Mr Gard, who had eight previous convictions for using a telephone while driving, attempted to hide the fact that he had been on the telephone at the time of the accident.

RACE CRIME: Two Polish men were attacked in Harlow shortly after a march to remember another Pole who died a week ago following what is thought to be racially motivated violence.

SEX OFFENDER: An Algerian sex offender with fourteen convictions has been released from immigration detention because the area in the Western Sahara from which he came is not a recognised state. His past detention has been justified on the basis that at that time there was a reasonable prospect of deportation.


GAY BISHOP: The Bishop of Grantham has, in advance of revelations by a Sunday newspaper, become the first Church of England bishop to admit to being homosexual. Since he observes the church’s rule that gay bishops must remain celibate, the church regards his sexuality as wholly irrelevant to his office.


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