22 June 2017
Week In Brief: UK NEWS
GRENFELL TOWER: The Prime Minister has been heavily criticised for failing to empathise with victims following the disastrous fire at Grenfell Tower. Although she visited the site shortly after the tragedy there was resentment that she spent her time with the emergency services rather than with those who had lost their homes. The tragedy has clearly shocked the authorities and caused panic among those who think they might be blamed. Statements as to whether the fire was caused by the cladding and, if so, who was responsible for the cladding being used, why there was no sprinkler system and why the alarm system did not operate, give the impression that shifting the blame has become a priority. There will be a public enquiry.
Meanwhile the death toll continues to rise, the latest figure being 79. The Queen has visited a centre for evacuated families with Prince William. Mr Corbyn has also talked with victims.
The relief effort appears to be chaotic with the Council running out of cash and difficulties in finding accommodation for those made homeless. Labour has called for the requisition of empty properties in the borough to provide shelter.
FINSBURY PARK MOSQUE: A man has been arrested after deliberately running his van into 10 people who had attended late prayers at the Finsbury Park Mosque. One victim has died and two others are seriously hurt.
QUEEN’S SPEECH: Both the dress code and the program were stripped down today as the Queen’s speech went ahead with the Government still uncertain of its majority. The expected agreement with the DUP not having been reached it remains to be seen whether the Government will fall.
BREXIT: Negotiations about the terms of Brexit began on Monday between Michel Barnier and David Davis. The initial focus was on procedure, it being agreed that the status of EU citizens resident in the UK (and vice versa) and the exit bill would be discussed first. There will be one week of negotiation each month leaving the rest of the time for them to work on proposals. Meanwhile both negotiators have indicated that the UK will not remain in the Customs union.
MAY’S SUCCESSOR: Philip Hammond has publicly criticised Mrs May’s conduct of the election campaign in what appears to be positioning to be her successor. Likely candidates include Boris Johnson and David Davis.
ELECTION STATISTICS: Analysis has shown that the older the elector the more likely he or she is to have voted Conservative in the election. The crossover, the age at which voters are most likely to switch to the Tories, is 47. Among women there was equal support for Conservatives and Labour. 45% of men voted Conservative against 39% who backed Labour. There was a tendency for more educated voters to support Labour but that may be because the young have more qualifications.
SENSITIVE STATISTICS: Changes are to be made to the arrangements under which sensitive economic statistics are released to ministers and officials before becoming public. There has been concern for years that statistics leak into the market before they are released and research by a US University has revealed a high level of market activity between pre-release and a statistic being publicly announced.
ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS: According to the think tank Civitas, secret Home Office estimates indicated that there could be as many as 1 million illegal immigrants in the UK. The number of failed asylum seekers leaving the UK has dropped to 3446.
JO COX: A number of street parties and other events have been held in commemoration of Labour MP Jo Cox who was murdered in June 2016 during the referendum campaign.
NONPERSON: Moves have been made to deprive Akif Razak, a British citizen from Pakistan, of his British nationality on security grounds. Mr Razak who works for a media organisation in northern Syria will appeal. Under the 1981 British Nationality Act, British citizenship can be revoked in the public interest where the individual is either a dual national or naturalised.
CANCER DRUG: Use by the National Health Service of cancer drug Kadcyla has been approved following negotiations over price with the manufacturer Roche. The drug, used in the treatment of breast cancer, had previously been rejected by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence in 2015 because it cost £90,000 per annum per patient. It was, however, are approved for use in Scotland. The new price is not known.
GENERAL PRACTITIONER HOURS: According to the chief executive of Health Education England, the average general practitioner now works for four days a week rather than for four and a half. That means that he or she sees only 90% of the patients who would have been seen in the past and is one of the reasons why the NHS is having difficulty finding enough doctors.
BAD COCONUTS: the American Heart Association has said that coconut oil boosts bad cholesterol, which is bad news for those who have converted to it for health reasons. The position over fats is now highly confused although apparently unsaturated fats are the best sort.
THERAPY CASE: The case of baby Charlie Gard whose parents wish to take him to the US for a therapy which doctors at Great Ormond Street say will not help him is being heard by the European Court of Human Rights.
BARCLAYS: Barclays’ ex chief executive John Varley and other executives have been charged with fraud in connection with support from Qatar which avoided the need for a bail out in 2008.
CYBER ATTACK: University College London and Ulster University have each been the subject of cyber attacks. However in both cases the attacks were contained to a small number of machines and no ransom was or will be paid.
HEATHROW: Heathrow’s baggage system collapsed for more than two hours on Thursday, causing chaos for passengers departing from terminals 3 and 5. The airport was criticised over the level of its communication with passengers. All luggage has now been forwarded.
RAILWAYS: Drivers have turned down an offer of a £7,000 per annum rise by Southern region. Currently earnings with overtime come to some £75,000 a year.
WARM SPRING: According to the Met office, this spring has been the warmest in central England since records began in 1659, the average temperature of 10.27° topping the 10.23° record set in 2011.
BRIDGE A SPORT?: An opinion by Maciej Szpunar, Advocate General in a dispute between the English Bridge Union and HMRC, has ruled that bridge is a sport for VAT purposes because it requires mental effort and confers health benefits on participants. If the opinion is accepted by the European Court of Justice, VAT will no longer be charged on competition entry fees. The amount at stake is about £500,000. Chess is already regarded as a sport: video gaming is not.
SPY PLANE FLEET: According to reports in “The Times”, the RAF’s fleet of Sentinel spy planes has been crippled by lack of funds. One of the five-aircraft fleet is to be removed from service and consideration has been given to scrapping the fleet, whose unique mapping abilities are of value to the coalition on Iraq.
MILITARY TRAGEDY: Two soldiers died after a tank blew up on the Castlemaine firing range in Wales. Two other soldiers are still seriously ill in hospital. Until it is understood what happened, tank exercises using live ammunition have been suspended.
AMAZON: Amazon is to buy Whole Foods, the organic supermarket chain, as part of its expansion into the grocery sector. Whole Foods has only nine UK stores but 460 stores in the US.
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