20 April 2017

Week in Brief: UK

Union Jack flapping in wind from the right

Government

GENERAL ELECTION: The government has called  a general election on 8 June.  Under the Fixed Term Parliament Act that had to be endorsed by a two thirds majority of the House of Commons but, since Mr Corbyn has already said that he would back an early election, this requirement was easily met by a majoriy of 522 to 13.  Should the Government win the election, its fresh mandate will free it from electoral promises made by David Cameron in 2015.  For example it will be able to take a fresh look at the triple lock on pensions and the undertakings not to increase taxes and national insurance which resulted in a U-turn following the last budget.

The decision, reached after discussion with an inner core of Cabinet members, surprised commentators and the markets.  Sterling rallied immediately.  The plan seems to be for the campaign to be heavily Brexit focused and Mrs May has made it clear that she will not be taking part in any television debates.

See comment Draining The Swamp.

DIESEL SCRAPPAGE: The government is considering the possibility of a diesel scrappage scheme under which those exchanging their diesels for new cars would obtain a discount provided from government funds.  It is believed that the scheme would only operate in high pollution areas.  The Prime Minister is known to be concerned that the alternative of simply introducing a special congestion charge is unfair on those drivers who were encouraged to buy diesels by the Labour government.

SPEEDING FINES: As from 6 May, Britain brings into effect European rules which allow foreign police forces to access DVLA records to enforce speeding fines.  Oddly the system, which is designed to enable foreign fines imposed on British motorists to be enforced, is not reciprocal.  Under British law it is the driver and not the registered owner who is liable.  Accordingly a search of foreign registers will not reveal who should pay the fine.

FAST TRACK EXPULSION: Liz Truss, the Justice Secretary, is to introduce a new scheme for expelling failed asylum seekers.  The idea is to reduce the time between the decision and appeal to 28 days rather than the current 36, with 20 working days for a further appeal.  The plan, which has to be approved by the Independent Tribunal Procedure Committee, gives power to judges to decide whether fast tracking should apply or not.  Removals have fallen from about 18,000 in 2006 to about 3500.

GREENPEACE FINE: Greenpeace has been fined £30,000 for failure to register under the Lobbying Act in respect of its expenditure in the 2015 election.  As a not for profit organisation it should have registered because its expenditure of £125,000 exceeded the threshold of £20,000.  Apparently Greenpeace refused to register as “an act of civil disobedience”.

WAGES: According to official figures the average weekly wage grew by 2.3% in the year to February if bonuses are included.  Without bonuses the rise was 2.2%.  There is concern that, as the effects of the falling pound are felt, the purchasing power of working families will shrink.  The employment rate remains at 74%.

FOREIGN POLICY: The Prime Minister has praised Boris Jonson’s efforts in bringing together an international consensus for Rex Tillerson to take to Moscow.  She said that British scientists had found very clear evidence that a nerve agent was used in Syria and that it was highly likely that the Assad regime is responsible.

GERMAN INTELLIGENCE: A report by the German magazine Focus that Mrs Merkel received data gathered by GCHQ during a visit to the UK has caused resentment in the Federal Intelligence Service.  It is suggested that she may have handed over a file of reports from her own intelligence services in return.

NORTHERN IRELAND: The stalemate between the Democratic Unionist Party and Sinn Fein following the collapse of the Stormont government means that there will either need to be a new election or direct rule from the UK if a further power sharing administration is not formed in early May.  It is possible that elections to the assembly will be called to coincide with the General Election in June.

Media

FACEBOOK: The Times newspaper has reported that the social media company Facebook failed to take down images depicting child abuse and supporting terrorist atrocities on the basis that they did not breach their in house community standards.  It quotes a leading QC as saying that the failure to take down the posts when reported might mean that Facebook was guilty of criminal offences.  The odd part of this story is the focus on the criminal responsibility of Facebook.  Presumably if they were committing offences, the staff responsible must have been doing so too.  One might think that that was the effective place to apply sanctions.

TRUMP DAMAGES: The Daily Mail is to pay damages, thought to be in the region of £2.4 million, to Melania Trump, the wife of the President of the United States, following suggestions that her work as a model included other “services”.

SEX FOR ROOM: The discovery that landlords are offering accommodation in return for sex has caused concern among charities and politicians.  Apparently the arrangements are widely advertised in the media.

Education

GRAMMAR SCHOOLS: It is being proposed that at least one third of the pupils at new grammar schools will have to come from families earning no more than £25,000 a year.  That is higher than the £21,000 a year figure mentioned by Mrs May when she announced the new schools.  Opponents point out that only 3% of grammar school pupils receive free school meals as compared with 18% of pupils at other local authority controlled schools, taking this as an indication that an increase in the number of grammars will not assist poorer families.

STREAMING: Lawyers from the National Union of Teachers have asked a number of academies how they justify the admission to their selective streams.  Although streaming is legal once children have been admitted to a school, streaming at admission is not.  The union is concerned that if the government fails to get legislative support for its proposals to permit new grammar schools, streaming will be introduced within existing schools, thus creating grammars by the back door.

Health

SHREWSBURY AND TELFORD NHS TRUST: Jeremy Hunt has asked NHS England and the regulator, NHS Improvement, to contact families of children who have died at hospitals run by the Trust so that their deaths can be properly investigated.  There is concern that the steps taken to monitor babies’ heart rates during labour had been insufficient and may have led to deaths.

NURSING PAY: The Royal College of Nursing is to ballot members who have been offered a 1% pay rise on the possibility of strike action.  The College has never previously called a strike over pay but is concern that nurses have seen a 14% cut in real terms since 2010.

SICK BRITS: British holidaymakers are accused of making false claims against travel companies alleging that they have suffered from food poisoning.  The Costa Del Sol Hotel Association says that, despite a wide mix of holidaymakers, only those from the UK seem to be affected.  It is thought that the claims, much like those made for whiplash injuries against car insurers, are largely spurious and encouraged by lawyers remunerated on a contingency fee basis.

DRUG PRICES: The European Commission has begun in investigation into Aspen Pharmacare, a South African company which bought the rights to a number of patent expired drugs from GlaxoSmith Kline.  The price of the drugs were then increased by a factor of up to 120 in the UK and even more in Italy.  Rules are already being put in place in the UK to cover the pricing of patent expired drugs.  Aspen is already under investigation in Spain and Italy for an alleged abuse of dominant position.

Courts and crime

CRIMEWAVE: Crime in London is up by 4.6% to a total number of 774,737 offences over the last 12 months.  The increase includes a 4% increase in knife crime, a 42% increase in gun crime, a 26% increase in motor thefts, a 4% increase in assaults and a 12% increase in robberies.  Detection rates have fallen.  The increase in crime is also reflected in national statistics.

ASSISTED SUICIDE: A retired lecturer, suffering from a terminal complaint, has successfully challenged a High Court ruling denying him consent to take proceedings for Judicial Review of the ban on assisting suicide.  Mr Conway’s argument is that the Suicide Act 1961 is incompatible with the European Convention of Human Rights.

POLICE RECRUITMENT: A Freedom of Information request has revealed that the Metropolitan Police have paid £219 million to Reed Recruitment over six years, re-hiring former policeman to reduce staff shortages.  The Met is currently 740 detectives short and all those retiring this year are being asked to stay on.

 

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