Issue 120: 2017 09 14: Week in Brief: UK

14 September 2017

Week in Brief: UK

Union Jack flapping in wind from the right


GREAT REPEAL BILL: The bill which resets UK law at the point of Brexit passed its second reading comfortably with the Democratic Unionists and seven Labour MPs supporting the government.  Now it will move to committee.  Although a further Commons vote has given the Government control of the relevant committees, hopefully the process will iron out some of the objections to the bill.   Still, the truth remains that this is a procedural sideshow with little impact on the main event – the negotiation with Brussels.


MAN OF PRINCIPLE: Jacob Rees Mogg, Conservative MP for North East Somerset and an outlying runner to be next leader of the Conservative party, has said that as a Catholic he opposes abortion in all circumstances.  In his view life is sacrosanct and begins at conception.  Mr Rees Mogg also said that he had no ambitions in the direction of leadership, but that, of course, has been said before.  The general impression is that Mr Rees Mogg, who is popular with party members, is probably a good and principled man but out of line with public opinion.

ROTHERHAM: Reports commissioned by the Council into the performance of senior employees during the years in which children were abused have failed to recommend any disciplinary action, finding that the abuse was not the responsibility of any individual Council officer but rather the product of systematic failure.  At first sight that sounds a little too convenient but, when you bear in mind that the whole of the City of London failed to foresee the 2008 crash, perhaps it is not as surprising as all that.

SCOTTISH INCOME: The SNP is to look at the idea of paying every citizen a fixed income for life, whether or not they are seeking work.  The introduction of such a scheme lies beyond the current competence of the Scottish Government, but the idea is one of those canvassed to deal with the fact that at some stage the demand for labour may dry up so that the requirement to work will become otiose.

HURRICANE RELIEF: The Government has been criticised over the speed and extent of its assistance to British Territories affected by Hurricane Irma.  Although the ship RFA Mounts Bay was on station to assist, there are doubts about its effectiveness in restoring electricity in Anguilla before moving on to the British Virgin Islands.  There is also concern that the ship failed to land heavy equipment on Anguilla because of difficulties with moving sand although materials have now been transferred to the island by helicopter.  Britain’s efforts are being compared adversely to those of France and Holland which are said to have been quicker to support their citizens and dependencies.  France sent Macron.  The Dutch sent their king.  Boris Johnson has flown to Anguilla.

PAY CAP: The government has accepted advice to raise the pay of police and prison officers by 2% and 1.7% respectively, thus breaking the 1% pay cap which has been in place for public sector workers.  Other workers will not discover next year’s pay until the budget in November.


WINDFARM: Contracts have been entered into with developers of two huge windfarms off Scotland guaranteeing them a price of £57.50 per megawatt hour for electricity generated over a period of 15 years.  That is just over half of the price guarantee given to Hinkley Point for 35 years (£92.50 per megawatt hour) and much less than previous subsidies to windfarms.

Courts and police

OPERATION CONIFER: The investigation by Wiltshire police into allegations of child abuse by the late Sir Edward Heath has cost the taxpayer £1.5 million, although further work is required before it is finalised.  The operation overlaps with the Metropolitan Police’s discredited Operation Midland.

PROFUMO AFFAIR: The Criminal Cases Review Commission has decided not to refer the conviction of the late Stephen Ward to the Court of Appeal, partly because it has proved impossible to locate a transcript of the summing up.  However, it indicated that if Mr Ward, who committed suicide after the summing up but before his conviction for living on immoral earnings in 1963, had still been alive, it would probably have referred the case on the grounds of doubt over the evidence given by Christine Keeler, prejudicial publicity and the judge’s direction that the jury could infer guilt from the failure of Ward’s friends to attend the trial.  Ward’s suicide was 54 years ago.

DOG’S NAZI SALUTE: A man is being prosecuted in the Scottish Courts for posting a video on YouTube showing his girlfriend’s dog, a pug, giving a Nazi salute whenever he said “gas the Jews” and “SeigHeil”. He also filmed the dog watching a Nazi rally at the 1936 Olympics.  The man, who has apologised for any offence caused, got fed up with his girlfriend going on about how cute and adorable the dog was so thought he would train it to do the least cute thing he could think of.  Obviously it was offensive and in gross bad taste, but “hate crime”?  Surely not.  If the authorities are concerned that this sort of behaviour will become widespread they probably overestimate the ability of the average Scotsmen to train a dog.


BREACH OF TRUST: The Wakefield City Academies trust, whose governance has been exposed by a Department for Education enquiry which revealed 16 breaches including failures of financial management and leadership, has asked the Department to place its 21 schools with new sponsors.  The Trust will then be wound up.  Three of the Trust’s schools were placed on special measures recently.

UNIVERSITY PAY: The Office for Students is to consult on levels of pay in British Universities.  Both political parties are concerned about this with proposals to fine universities which pay excessive amounts to their staff.  One suggestion is that a written explanation should be required whenever the head of a University is paid more than the Prime Minister.  Louise Richardson, vice chancellor of Oxford, has rather surprisingly defended her £350,000 package by comparing it to the amounts received by footballers, suggesting that the government is being mendacious in linking high pay to tuition fees. Hmmm, maybe.  It will be interesting to see what emerges as the debate develops.

GENDER FREE:  A secondary school in Sussex has forbidden girls to wear skirts in an attempt to make their uniform gender free.  Instead all pupils will wear trousers.  Needless to say parents have objected, making the point that it is equally sexist to have female teachers wearing skirts.  Some parents have removed their children and may even sue.  They obviously don’t have much to do in Sussex.

STUDENT LOANS: Pressure is building on the government to reduce the rate of interest charged on loans which now runs at 6.1%.  The rate is set at 3% plus the Retail Price index and academics are joining forces to say that it is too high (unlike their salaries where they are taking a different line).


HRT: Research led by Harvard Medical School indicates that Hormone Replacement Therapy used by women in menopause does not shorten their lives.  Scientists who followed a group of women who took part in a previous study for 18 years, found no significant difference in the death rates between those who took HRT and those who took a placebo.  Professor Manson, who led the study, suggests that any increase in the risk of blood clots, strokes or breast cancer was offset by protection against diabetes and other cancers.

BAD TEETH: First the hospitals; then the GPs; now the dentists.  Apparently dentists are unwilling to take on further NHS work because of the quota system which governs the way they are paid.  As a result (or partly as a result) half of adults and nearly 5,000,000 children are not seeing a dentist regularly.  Various individuals interviewed by The Times indicated that they had extracted their own teeth.  In the 60s this was done by tying the tooth to a door and then slamming it shut but the Shaw Sheet is not qualified to give dental advice and it may well be that this system has drawbacks or has otherwise gone out of fashion.


HALL DEAD: Sir Peter Hall, founder of the Royal Shakespeare Company and one time director of the National Theatre, has died aged 86.

AIRCRAFT CARRIER: The new carrier HMS Prince of Wales was launched by the Duchess of Cornwall at Rosyth.  It will be the twin of the recently launched Queen Elizabeth.  Britain needs two carriers since, if we only have one, a cunning enemy will attack us while it is being refitted.

MINICABS: Department of Transport figures show that there are over 205,000 minicabs operating in the UK.  The increase corresponds to a 0.7% drop in traditional taxis.  The increase has raised fears about congestion and also the number of drivers with criminal records.  One operator, Taxify, has been refused a licence to accept private bookings in London.

MET OFFICE BONUS: Forecasters at the Meteorological Office are to be paid bonuses of around £330 each because of the accuracy of their predictions.  The total cost is around £1 million.

ALBERT HALL: When the Albert Hall was constructed, 1275 of its seats (just over a quarter of the total) were sold to investors who can either attend performances or sell on their tickets.  They also vote for the management of the charity which owns the hall.  This arrangement, which has been in place since the late 19th century, is now being challenged by Richard Lyttelton, previously president of the trustees, who believes that profiting from ticket sales is wrong.  He has called for the resignation of the current president and the entire matter has been referred to the Charity Commission.  It is being suggested that they have involved the Attorney General but that would not indicate misfeasance as the Attorney General has a role in relation to the supervision of charities.

CRICKET: England fast bowler James Anderson became the third man to pass the milestone of 500 test wickets when England clinched the series against the West Indies, winning the third test by nine wickets.


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