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18 May 2017

Week In Brief: UK

Union Jack flapping in wind from the right

Election news

LABOUR MANIFESTO: Following leaks of a draft, the Labour manifesto was launched on Tuesday, pledging, amongst other things: that tuition fees and  zero hour contracts would be scrapped and fracking for oil abolished; that the triple lock on pensions would be retained; that 10,000 new police officers would be hired; that childcare would be expanded for two, three and four-year-olds; and that water, the railways, the Royal Mail and energy supply systems would all be brought into public ownership with at least one publicly owned energy company in every region.  Labour would renew Trident and retain the 2% of GDP benchmark for defence spending.  It opposes a further Scottish referendum, would produce refreshed negotiating priorities on Brexit and would unilaterally protect the rights of EU citizens living in the UK.  HS2 would be extended to Scotland.  There are commitments to a new Brighton mainline and to Crossrail 2.  Out of 1 million new homes, at least half would be for social rent.  Labour would scrap the NHS pay cap and end hospital parking charges.  In addition to four new bank holidays there are a number of measures to protect workers’ pay and unionisation.  The minimum wage would be increased to at least £10 an hour by 2020.

To help pay for this, a 50% rate of income tax would be introduced for those earning above £123,000 per annum with the 45% rate beginning at £80,000.  Companies paying salaries in excess of £330,000 would pay a levy, the rate of corporation tax would increase to 26% and VAT would be charged on private school fees.  The Institute for Fiscal Studies has expressed scepticism as to whether Labour’s tax changes would realise as much as they think.

CONSERVATIVE PLEDGES: The Prime Minister has indicated that the Conservative manifesto will include provisions for unpaid leave with no jeopardy to employment rights where family members require care.  There will also be provision for two-weeks paid child bereavement leave and a guarantee of further increases in the national minimum wage.  Listed companies will have to appoint an employee director and there will be a reform of the rules governing workers currently treated as self-employed.  It is understood that the manifesto will also contain provision for new social houses.

Mrs May has pledged that a Conservative Government would make Parliamentary time for a free vote on the foxhunting ban.

LIBERAL DEMOCRATS: It is understood that the Liberal Democrat manifesto will include the promise for a further referendum following the Brexit negotiations, a promise to restore housing benefit for 18 to 21-year-olds and proposals to introduce a new local bus pass.

See comment Big Beasts.

Health

NURSING PAY: The congress of the Royal College of Nursing has voted to mount protests over nursing pay, where the cap on public pay rises has meant a 14% real reduction since 2010.  They also threaten the possibility of industrial action if the cap is retained.

HACKING ATTACK: The National Health Service has been seriously affected by cyber attacks against businesses and agencies across the world.  It has been suggested that the tools used to carry out the attack were created by the US National Security Agency and then stolen by an organisation known as Shadow Brokers which made them available on the Internet.  Microsoft says that it provided free software to counter the attacks in March but there are many older systems in use which are particularly vulnerable.  It is understood that each user is being asked to pay US $300 for the restoration of its files.  It is not thought that any patient data has been compromised.

Shadow Brokers has said that only a small part of the stolen data was used in the attacks and that unless someone buys the other stolen material from them they will release it by instalments, enabling criminals to mount further attacks on institutions and governments.

HOSPITAL BACKLOG: Official figures that show the NHS is missing targets in a number of areas.  Performance figures are the worst since 2003/2004 with many patients requiring routine surgery forced to wait at least 18 weeks, 2.3 million beds blocked by elderly patients and the target for treating 85% of cancer patients within two months being missed for 15 months in a row.  Tim Gardner, senior policy fellow at the Health Foundation think tank points out, however, that in relation to strokes, heart disease and some cancers, the quality of care is holding.

Education

MANCHESTER UNIVERSITY: Manchester University is to make 140 academic staff and 31 support staff redundant in response to financial pressures, including an increased pensions deficit, and concerns about the standard of teaching in some departments.  The academic sector as a whole is under pressure from the uncertainties of Brexit and also a higher education bill which will link the ability to raise fees to teaching quality.  Manchester’s own cuts, which are not Brexit related, need to be seen in context.  The University has 7000 academics, so the cuts represent 2%.

KNIVES AT SCHOOL: The number of weapons seized from children at school has increased dramatically in recent months.  This corresponds with the general increase of knife crime in London where 11 people died in the fortnight ending on 5 March.

Central Government and figures

POLL FRAUD: The Crown Prosecution Service has decided not to bring charges against 20 former MPs in relation to their 2015 campaign expenses on the grounds that, although there may have been misreporting, there is insufficient evidence of dishonesty.  The misreporting relates to expenses, such as visits by a battle bus to key constituencies, which were charged centrally rather than as an expense of the constituencies concerned.  Local limits on expenditure are much tighter than national limits.  One case, that of Craig MacKinlay, who defeated Nigel Farage in South Thanet, is still being considered.

SQUEEZED HOUSEHOLDS: The Bank of England has warned that households will have to cut back on spending as inflation moves ahead of wage rises.  The forecast for wage growth is now 2% this year against an inflation forecast of 2.8%.  Business investment is expected to increase.

HOUSE PRICES: Official figures show that house prices fell by 0.6% last month, contributing to a general slowdown over the last year when prices rose by 4.1% across the country, with 1.5% in London.  The average house price across England and Wales is now some 7.6 times annual earnings, well above the traditional level of around 3.5 times.

Policing and the law

POLICE RESIGNATION: The Deputy Police and Crime Commissioner for Cambridgeshire, Andy Coles, has resigned following allegations that he had a sexual relationship with an animal rights activist when working undercover in the 1990s.

ENQUIRY BLOCKED: The Metropolitan Police have been prevented from charging a Libyan man, Saleh Ilbraham Mabrouk, with the murder of WPC Fletcher in 1984 by the refusal of the intelligence services to hand over documents.  Mr Mabrouk denies involvement in the killing.

DIVORCE: A record £453 million was awarded by Mr Justice Haddon Cave to a mother who, by looking after their children as well as children from her husband’s first marriage for 20 years, made an equal contribution to the marriage.  In fact the exact proportion of the matrimonial assets awarded to her was 41.5%.  Although the award is very large, it reflects the normal practice of splitting assets accumulated during the marriage equally between the parties.

Church affairs

ANGLICAN SCHISM: An Anglican bishop has been appointed in Newcastle under the authority of a conservative church in South Africa.  This appears to be part of plans to found a new Anglican organisation in the UK outside the Church of England which were discussed at the ReNew conference in September.  The new church would take a stricter interpretation of Christian teachings on homosexuality.

RICHARD III: Philippa Langley, the historian who found Richard’s body in a car park, has criticised the decision by the Diocese of Leicester to allow a production of Shakespeare’s Richard III in the cathedral in which his body is now buried.  The play, of course, is a work of fiction and may or may not be unfair to the last Plantagenet king.  Either way, however, it is hard to argue with Ms Langley’s comment that this is a “truly unprincipled commercial and promotional venture”.  Some will think that this modern equivalent of dancing on graves compares poorly with the Roman Catholic practice of allowing the dead to Rest in Peace.

Other news

DRAYTON MANOR: An 11-year-old girl, Evha Jannath, died after falling into the water at the Splash Canyon ride at the Drayton Manor theme park.  The ride, and similar rides at Alton Towers, Legoland and Thorpe Park are currently closed.

FOREST GREEN: Forest Green Rovers, funded by green entrepreneur Dale Vince, has made it into the football league.  All food served at the ground will be vegan and the lawnmower is solar powered.

BBC FUNDING: Users of the BBC iPlayer will be required to register as a way of checking that they pay the licence fee.

 

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