10 August 2017
Week in Brief: UK
TRADING DISPUTES: The Department for International Trade is recruiting staff to deal with trading disputes after Brexit. The team, expected to comprise some 130 personnel, will not begin to operate until Britain leaves the Customs Union.
FISHING: Speaking in Denmark, Michael Gove, the Environment Secretary, has said that EU fishermen will continue to have access to British waters after Brexit because Britain does not have the fleet required to fish British waters.
DIVORCE BILL: It is understood that the Prime Ministers has ruled out paying a £36 billion “divorce bill” on leaving the EU. It is very doubtful whether she could get the figure through Parliament but, on the other hand, unless progress is made on a figure, the debate is unlikely to move on to future trading relations.
LANDING CARDS: Landing cards used by travellers arriving from outside the EU are likely to be abolished as part of the Government’s “digital transformation”. Stakeholders, who will have the opportunity to give their view in the consultation, have expressed concerns that valuable information may be lost.
BAD EGGS: The Food Standard Agency says that the public health risk from eggs contaminated with toxic insecticide fibronel by Dutch and Belgian chicken farms is very low. In any event such eggs would now be past their sell by date so they will already have been eaten. Too late to worry, then.
GRENFELL TOWER: The appointment of Sir Ken Knight, formerly chief fire officer, to lead a panel of experts into the steps required to make tower blocks safe is being criticised on the basis of that Sir Ken was formally involved in assessing the suitability of cladding. His role in relation to Grenfell Tower is unpaid but the conflict could clearly become a concern if he were to have to review any of his previous decisions.
Similar difficulties seem to have arisen in relation to the appointment of Dame Judith Hackett to review the building regulations regime. Immediately prior to her appointment she resigned from the Energy Saving Trust. There is now concern that the trust approved forms of insulation which may be inflammable.
Although the government seems accident prone in this area, there is a fundamental difficulty. All the real experts will have been involved in the building industry which approved flammable products in the past. There is therefore a choice. Use people who have a history in the industry and rely on their neutrality, or use people with no real expertise. One possible face‑saver would be to use people from outside the industry and get the experts to give evidence. Cumbersome and probably ineffective but might please some people.
INTEREST RATES: Minutes issued by the Bank of England monetary policy committee indicate that interest rates may rise more quickly than the market anticipates if unemployment continues to fall and global recovery to continue. Inflation is now running at 2.6%, 0.6% above the Bank’s target of 2%.
BRITISH COUNCIL: The Government is to remove its support for the British Council which currently runs at £39 million a year. As a result the Council will have to move from the Mall to less fashionable Stratford in East London. Apart from its grant the Council is funded by its profits from English language courses and exams.
DATA PROTECTION: The government has issued a consultation document on measures to bring UK law into line with the EU Directive on Network and Information Systems, which comes into force next year. The paper contains proposals to fine infrastructure providers who do not take steps to protect themselves from cyber attacks, to expand the definition of personal data and generally to move the balance in favour of individuals, inter alia by the “right to be forgotten”.
CORBYN ON VENEZUELA: Mr Corbyn has attracted criticism from his own party and elsewhere for his failure to criticise President Maduro of Venezuela, preferring to deplore the violence there generally. His support for Chavez and Maduro in the past leaves him in a sensitive position as the Venezuelan economy implodes.
SINGLE MARKET: Labour has now shifted its position to retaining single market membership, at least for a transitional period. It is thought that they may seek to force a division on the subject in order to divide the Conservatives. On the other hand they may reflect on the electoral risk of accepting the continuation of the free movement of people which would presumably be the quid pro quo.
Courts and Crime
CARE PLAN: Sir James Munby, the President of the Family Division of the High Court, has ordered the NHS to file evidence showing that the plan they have put in place for a potentially suicidal teenage girl is being carried out. He deplored the fact that judicial involvement had been required to safeguard the girl and also that she had only got her case dealt with properly because she had appeared in front of a senior judge.
MIGRANT RING: Police from the UK, Spain and Europol have arrested a large number of people suspected of being part of a ring to bring Iranians into the UK. It is alleged that the gang charged an average of €25,000 for a set of false documents and that 2000 people have been brought into the country over the last 10 years. The suspected ringleader was held at Heathrow.
MOPED GANG: The trial has begun of a gang alleged to have stolen phones and tablets worth at least a million pounds over a six‑month period. It’s alleged that the accused used battering rams to get into shops and then sold stolen phones and tablets internationally.
CLOCKING: An investigation by The Times indicates that up to 500,000 second‑hand cars bought last year were clocked at an aggregate cost to buyers in excess of £1 billion. Clocking kits can be bought for as little as £80.
STOP AND SEARCH: In coordinated letters to The Times newspaper, Cressida Dick, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, and Amber Rudd, the Home Secretary, have indicated an increased use of powers to stop and search. They were careful to say, however, that the powers must be used lawfully and transparently, and that there will be no return to a more generalised use prior to 2014 which led to tension between the police and ethnic communities.
GETTING IT RIGHT FIRST TIME: A team led by orthopaedic surgeon Prof Tim Briggs and leading surgeon John Abercrombie points to variations in costs, techniques and outcomes between different hospital groups in the National Health Service. Implementing best practice across the service could save very large amounts of money and also improve patient care. For example, the availability of a senior surgeon to review admissions at Nottingham University Hospital has already resulted in a 15% reduction in inappropriate referrals and a 57% increase in same‑day discharges. Also some trusts pay much more than others for their supplies.
The report, which focuses on General Surgery and is a part of the Getting It Right First Time programme, also calls for better record‑keeping; for example, the measurement of surgeons’ performance should take into account the nature of the problem as well as the outcome. Its recommendations have the support of both Jeremy Hunt, the Health Secretary, and Simon Stevens, the head of the NHS.
PARKINSON’S DISEASE: A study from University College London indicates that exenatide, a low‑cost diabetes drug, is effective in treating Parkinson’s disease. Tests carried out at the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery show that those treated with the drug did much better than those treated with a placebo and it is believed that the treatment attacks the disease rather than merely ameliorating its systems.
POLLUTION PANELS: It is understood that Highways England is considering covering roads with tent‑like structures in order to prevent fumes spreading to nearby residents. Although the agency says it is working on materials which absorb nitrogen dioxide, there must be concern that the tunnels will turn into lethal chambers.
GENETICS ADVANCE: Progress in genetic engineering indicates that a number of incurable diseases will soon be capable of elimination by genetic modification of DNA.
TESCO: The supermarket Tesco is to stop selling 5p plastic bags, replacing them with 10p reusable bags which it will replace free of charge. This is the latest move in the initiative to reduce the number of plastic bags in use and is in line with moves by other supermarkets.
DUKE STILL ALIVE: Despite reports to the contrary in the Daily Telegraph online, we are happy to hear that the Duke of Edinburgh is still alive and has merely retired from public engagements.
HOLIDAY CHAOS: New EU regulations continue to cause trouble for UK holidaymakers in Europe with delays caused by new checks on those entering the Schengen area. Unfortunately the staff and systems required to impose the checks are not generally available. Some holiday destinations are simply ignoring them.
RSPCA: Troubles continue at the animal charity with allegations of interference by the trustees and a heavy‑handed prosecution policy. Following periods in which the organisation had no chief executive and was run by trustees, it is being carefully monitored by the Charity commission.
CRICKET: England beat South Africa by 177 runs to win the series 3‑1. All‑rounder Moheen Ali took 5 wickets in the final South African innings and scored an unbeaten 75 in the second innings for England.
RUNNING: Mo Farah won the world 10,000 metres for the third time in London, He will retire at the end of the championship.
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