Issue 121: 2017 09 21: Week in Brief: UK

21 September 2017

Week In Brief: UK

Union Jack flapping in wind from the right


BREXIT BOUNCER: Boris Johnson has preempted the Prime Minister’s speech in Florence next Friday by publishing an article in The Daily Telegraph setting out his own vision for Brexit.  The article which has drawn criticism from Amber Rudd for back seat driving, earned a swift rebuke from Sir David Norgrove, the chairman of the UK Statistics Authority, who wrote as follows:

“Dear Foreign Secretary,

 I am surprised and disappointed that you have chosen to repeat the figure of £350 million per week, in connection with the amount that might be available for extra public spending when we leave the European Union.

This confuses gross and net contributions. It also assumes that payments currently made to the UK by the EU, including for example for the support of agriculture and scientific research, will not be paid by the UK government when we leave.

It is a clear misuse of official statistics.”

For those who are confused by all this, the figures (as reported by The Times newspaper) are as follows: our gross contribution to the EU is £367 million a week.  However, the rebate reduces that to £283 million a week of which £146 million is paid by the EU to entities (both governmental and otherwise) in the UK.  That leaves £137 million a week.   Mr Johnson’s article in the Telegraph referred to us taking back control of about £350 million per week.  On leaving the EU we “take back control” both the net £137 million a week and also the £146 million payable to British entities.  However the entities currently funded by the latter amount will still need money so it cannot be regarded as a saving.

The real question, of course, is not what Mr Johnson has said but what Mrs May says tomorrow in Florence.


HURRICANE: Further damage is expected in the British Virgin Islands as Storm Maria replaces its predecessor, Hurricane Irma.  Military helicopters have been loaded with supplies so that they can bring relief to victims.

STERLING SURGE: Although the monetary policy committee of the Bank of England voted 7-2 to keep interest rates at 0.25% and quantitative easing at 435 billion this month, the minutes forecast some withdrawal of monetary stimulus over the coming months. This was taken as a signal that interest rates might rise early next year, pushing sterling up to 1.34.  However, the rally was cooled by comments from Mark Carney, the Governor of the Bank of England, to the effect that increases in interest rates are likely to be gradual.  Mr Carney also said that Brexit will contribute to inflation and that the disruption is likely to weigh on productivity.

Law, Police and the Courts

TERRORISM: A bomb on a train at Parsons Green underground station failed to detonate properly but created a fireball which injured 29 people.  Only one of them is still detained in hospital.  Two arrests have been made.

CYCLE SENTENCE: Courier Charlie Alliston has been sent to prison for 18 months after being convicted of causing harm by wanton and furious driving following an accident in which a pedestrian was killed.  Alliston was riding a fixed wheel track bike, which is illegal, at about 18 mi./h.  The government is considering whether dangerous driving laws should apply to cyclists, but one cycling charity says that a review of all road-use offences is required.  Could they just be trying to distract attention from the issue?

TOUGH SENTENCES: The Lord Chief Justice, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, has spoken in support of allowing magistrates to give prison sentences of 12 months rather than the present limit of six.  The move has always been resisted because of the risk of swelling prison numbers but the view is that the increase would not be more than 1000.  The total prison population is around 85,000.  There is also potential for a considerable savings since magistrates courts cost £900 a day as against £3,400 a day for a Crown Court.

INDETERMINATE SENTENCES: The Parole Board has agreed to the release of James Ward who was given an Indeterminate sentence for Public Protection after he set fire to a mattress in his cell.  He has been in jail for 11 years although his original sentence was less than one year for an assault on his father. Indeterminate Sentences for Public Protection mean that prisoners are held until the Parole Board decides that they are no longer a risk to the public.  They have now been abolished but 3300 prisoners are still held under previous IPP’s.

GRENFELL TOWER: The enquiry into the Grenfell Tower disaster has now begun and the chairman Sir Martin Moore-Bick has said that it will be broken down into two phases.  The first, which will be completed by Easter, will deal with the cause, spread and response to the fire.  The second will deal with how the building became exposed to the dangers which consumed it.


VICE CHANCELLORS’ PAY: The Office for Students has called for vice chancellors to take voluntary pay cuts to restore confidence in the university sector.  Sir Michael Barber, chairman of the OFS, and Nicola Dandridge, its chief executives, have both taken voluntary cuts in order to set an example.


NHS COOKING LESSONS: Apparently, you can get cooking lessons on the NHS.  Under a diabetes prevention program set up last year, 50,000 people have been referred for courses costing a little over £400 each.  The NHS hopes to expand the program to 200,000 people in the next year, but the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence suggests that the approach should be taken further, with blood tests for all over 40 and younger people who are obese to check blood glucose levels.  Those at risk from diabetes (an estimated 1.7 million of them) can then be taught to cook, saving money on diabetes treatment in due course.


CLIMATE CHANGE REVISION: A new study published in Nature Geoscience indicates that temperature rises due to climate change have been less than previously thought, amounting to 0.9% centigrade since pre-industrial times. As one of the authors, Prof Grubb of University College London, points out, that makes the Paris goal of 1.5% achievable provided that emissions are reduced rapidly.


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