Issue 123: 2017 10 05: Week in Brief: UK

05 October 2017

Week In Brief: UK

Union Jack flapping in wind from the right


JOHNSON RETREATS FROM LIMB: Last week Boris Johnson continued his attempts at backseat driving, telling The Sun that the Government must raise the minimum wage and pay more to public sector workers.  He was also said to have set further red lines for Brexit saying that the transitional period must not last for more than two years and that Britain should refuse to accept new EU rules or ECJ rulings during that period.  Following pressure from senior Tories, however, he confirmed in his Conference speech that he now subscribes to the position taken by Mrs May in Florence, i.e. that during any transitional period current EU rules will continue to apply.


CONFERENCE: Mrs May’s address to the Conservative Party Conference focused more on domestic issues than on Brexit.  In relation to the latter she stressed that those EU citizens who already work here are welcome and that she hoped that their position would be agreed in short order.  There is little surprising in that but her comments on domestic issues were more interesting.  These included a pledge to cap energy prices as promised in this year’s manifesto, a commitment to get to the truth of what happened at Grenfell Tower, a proposal to appoint a “victims advocate” for future disasters, and a review of the mental health act.  Much more significant, however, was her acknowledgement that the housing market is not working, with the average price for a new home being eight times earnings.  As temporary help she proposed to extend schemes for funding deposits but her real answer is to increase government expenditure on affordable housing by £2 billion.  Mrs May is clearly planning a major push on affordable housing.  She also promised a review of student fees which will presumably go beyond the £9250 cap and the increase in the income level which triggers loan repayments.  If she succeeds in these areas she will achieve something really worthwhile for the younger generation.  At the moment, however, it is still “if”.

Mrs May apologised for the style of her election campaign and struggled with a cough throughout her speech.  The focus on the latter point by commentators presumably indicates that those commenting found it harder to attack the content than they expected.

UNIVERSAL CREDIT: 12 Conservative MPs have written to David Gauke, the Work and Pensions Secretary, asking him to defer the rollout of universal credit.  According to its critics some families are more than £50 a week worse off than they were under tax credits, and payments are coming through much too slowly.  Frank Field, the well-respected Labour MP who chairs the Work and Pensions Select Committee, points to long delays in payment which he says are pushing families into debt.  Dame Louise Casey, previously the head of the government’s troubled families team, has said that the scheme is leaving recipients in dire circumstances – sometimes making them go for weeks without payment.

David Gauke, the Work and Pensions Secretary, has said that he proposes to push on with the introduction of universal credit, claiming that its introduction is neither reckless or risky.

MARKET CONCENTRATION: The Social Market Foundation report “Concentration, not Competition: the State of UK Consumer Markets” claims that many of the UK’s markets are dominated by large suppliers and that that results in extra cost and bad service for consumers.  The study looks at 10 key markets, being: cars, groceries, broadband, mobile telephones, landlines, electricity, gas, personal current accounts, credit cards and mortgages.  Out of these only cars and mortgages had a large number of major participants.  With the exception of groceries, the remainder were generally uncompetitive with particular criticism for broadband, clearing banks and energy.

FALSE NEWS: The Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee of the House of Commons is to hold sessions in the US as part of its enquiry into fake news.  The hearings, technically on British soil as they will take place in the British Embassy, will be held there in order to enable executives of silicon valley firms to participate.  Both Facebook and Google have indicated that they be willing to do so.

TUITION FEES: The Government has announced that tuition fees will be frozen at the current level of £9250 until 2019, rather than rising with inflation.  In addition the amount which graduates can earn before paying this off will rise from £21,000 to £25,000.  The government has also suggested a wider review of the fees.

FRACKING: The Scottish Government has announced that it will continue the current moratorium on fracking.  As the Conservatives are now the only Scottish party in favour of fracking the ban will stay in place indefinitely.

WOOD-BURNING STOVES: Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, has written to the environment secretary, Michael Gove, asking for further powers to clean up the air in London.  In particular Mr Khan wishes to ban the burning of wood in areas with high pollution since this releases particles into the atmosphere.

UKIP: UKIP has selected Henry Bolton as its new leader.  He was a captain in the army where he was awarded an OBE for his work in brokering the ceasefire in Yugoslavia, has been a police officer, has stood as a candidate for the Liberal Democrats and has worked for the EU on its common defence and security policy.  Although he sounds very experienced, his party only took 2% of the vote in this summer’s election so he is still some way from No 10.

BIG BEN BILL: Refurbishing the Elizabeth Tower, which houses Big Ben, is now expected to cost £61 million, more than twice last year’s estimates.  Apparently the cost of repairing the clock is far higher than originally expected.  Despite protests Big Ben itself (ie the bell) is to be silenced for four years.


BOMBARDIER RULING: 4000 jobs at the Belfast factory which makes the wings for Bombardier’s C Series jet have been jeopardised by proposals in Washington to apply tariffs.  The Americans are concerned at subsidies received by the factory from the British and Canadian governments.

MONARCH: The collapse and administration of Monarch airlines has left the Civil Aviation Authority, which operates the Atol scheme, with the job of bringing 100,000 holidaymakers back from abroad.  It is understood that they have chartered 34 planes with which to do this.  Quite apart from those already abroad, however, there are a further 300,000 people with holidays booked on the Monarch flights.  It is understood that the position of those who have booked package holidays with Monarch is protected under the Atol scheme.  Whether or not those who simply booked flights are protected will depend upon travel insurance, whether the flight was paid for by credit card, etc.

RYANAIR: Ryanair, which has cancelled a large number of flights following its failure to produce the necessary number of pilots, has now agreed to reimburse all reasonable costs in accordance with European Regulations.  That includes costs incurred by passengers in travelling by other airlines but only in so far as those are budget operators.

HEATHROW: John McDonnell, the Shadow Chancellor whose constituency includes Heathrow airport, has said the tests regarding emissions, noise etc which are preconditions to the third runway cannot be met.  If that is right the runway will not be built.  Heathrow airport insists that the tests will be met.


NURSES: The Government is to increase training places for nurses by 25% after concern at the number leaving the profession.  Nurses now pay full fees for their courses which has led to a 9% drop in applicants.  Many of the new places will go to health care assistants already working within the NHS.


MURDER: Aaron Barley, who knifed to death the mother and son of the family who took him in and severely injured the father, has been sentenced by Birmingham Crown Court to life imprisonment.  He is to serve a minimum of 30 years.


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