Issue 125: 2017 10 19: Week in Brief: UK

19 October 2017

Week In Brief: UK NEWS

Union Jack flapping in wind from the right

Brexit

THE EU POSITION: Currently the parties are at something of an impasse. On the one hand the UK Government is not willing (and indeed is politically unable) to improve on the offer made by Mrs May in Florence to fund our share of the current cycle of spending.  On the other, the EU says that it will not open negotiations on a future relationship until agreement has been reached on the final divorce bill.  This stand-off is leading to tensions in the EU camp where M Barnier is in favour of widening negotiation unilaterally, a move which is being blocked by France and Germany who are anxious to use their leveraged to extract as much money as possible.  Needless to say they do not put it quite like that, but it is widely rumoured that their purported enthusiasm for ECJ control of residency issues is a ploy designed to hide naked cupidity behind a figleaf of principled disagreement.

THE UK: Meanwhile, back in the UK, the delay is causing frustration and the adherents of gesture politics sporadically call for one or other of the current Cabinet to be sacked.  At the moment the debate centres on the extent to which we should be planning for a no-deal exit.  Mr Hammond has indicated that there will be no provision for this in his budget (reflecting his view that it is not a realistic outcome) but the Department for Exiting the EU has produced detailed impact assessments on the various possible scenarios.  So far these have not been released but pressure is building with 120 MPs demanding publication.  It seems highly unlikely that the Government will be able to keep the lid on these assessments, so publication is likely in the near future.

LABOUR: John McDonnell, the Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, has told the Andrew Marr Show that he does not think that the government will be able to get a no deal withdrawal through the House of Commons.  Although Labour does not have sufficient votes to block it on its own he believes that MPs from other parties would also find that outcome unacceptable.

GREAT REPEAL BILL: Progress on the bill governing the UK’s withdrawal from the EU has stalled as the Government tries to analyse 300 amendments.  A number of these are supported by groups of Conservative MPs and may therefore command a majority.

Other Politics

SLAVERY: Requests under the Freedom of Information Act show that 152 Vietnamese children in local authority care have gone missing since 2015, raising the concern that they have fallen into the hands of traffickers.  Many more have disappeared temporarily.  Apparently Vietnamese immigrants sometimes pretend to be minors so that they can be placed in care, from which it is easy to abscond, rather than in detention centres, from which it is not.

IRANIAN HACKING: It turns out that the attack on Parliamentary email accounts on 23 June was the work of Iranians and not, as previously thought, Russians.  9000 accounts were attacked and about 90 compromised.  The motive behind the attack is unclear.  One possibility is that it was orchestrated by opponents of the disarmament deal with the West seeking to stoke ill feeling.  Another is that it was a revenge for cyber-attacks on Iran’s centrifuges.

ENERGY PRICES: The Government has published proposals to cap energy prices charged to individual consumers.  The idea is that the cap should limit amounts charged to a level set by Ofgem.  It will be introduced as a temporary measure from spring 2019 until 2020, at which stage it will presumably be renewed.  The cap is a response to the view that the system under which charges are restricted by the ability of consumers to switch tariffs and suppliers, is not working.  A large number of poorer consumers are on the expensive standard annual tariff.

LORDS REFORM: Lord Lloyd Webber is to become the 70th peer to retire from the House of Lords under a mechanism introduced in 2014 which allows him to retain his title but not his seat.  A committee of the Upper House is currently reviewing ways of reducing the membership from its current level of just below 800.  One possibility being mooted is to impose a 15 year limit on new peerages, an idea borrowed from proposals which Nick Clegg developed for the Coalition Government

Health

SEXUAL ORIENTATION: Campaigners are anxious that NHS patients should be asked whether or not they are non-binary or transgender.  As from next year they are to be asked about sexual orientation.  Clearly anything which increases the amount of form filling in the NHS must be a good thing, although patients can refuse to answer the questions.

Courts and crime

HARVEY WEINSTEIN: It is understood that the Metropolitan Police are investigating five allegations against Harvey Weinstein.  He denies having been involved in any non-consensual sex.

CARELESS DRIVING: Following public consultation, the maximum sentence for causing death by dangerous driving will be increased to life imprisonment.  There will also be a new offence of causing serious injuries through careless driving.  Life sentences will be awarded where death is caused and the careless driving was due to the influence of drink or drugs.

SCANDAL AT MATRIX: Barristers at Matrix Chambers, which specialises in human rights law, have been warned not to discuss a sexual assault which was alleged to have taken place in the Chambers lift.  An enquiry, by retired judge Sir David Calvert Smith, exonerated the barrister concerned but it is understood that a further enquiry is pending.

PRIVATE PROSECUTION: A Liverpool couple, Paul Roberts and Deborah Briton, have been sent to prison for 15 months and 9 months respectively after making fraudulent claims on their travel insurance, falsely alleging that they had suffered from gastric illnesses.  The prosecution was undertaken privately by Thomas Cook.

PRESS REGULATION: A courtroom challenge by the News Media Association to the recognition by the government-sponsored Press Recognition Panel of Impress as an approved watch dog has failed.  Impress is funded by Max Mosley who, perhaps not surprisingly in view of his history, is now a privacy campaigner.  National newspapers have generally signed up to the regulator Ipso which is not registered with the Press Recognition Panel.

RELIGIOUS SCHOOLS: The Court of Appeal has upheld a ruling by Ofsted requiring mixed schools to stop segregating boys and girls.  The school in question, the al-Hijrah school in Birmingham, completely separates them as do many other religious schools.  Single sex schools have a specific exemption from the equality legislation.

Miscellaneous

WESTMINSTER ESTATES: The Exchequer will not be obtaining a windfall from the estate of the late Duke of Westminster.  That is because most of his assets were held in trusts which attract 6% inheritance tax every 10 years rather than 40% tax on the death of a duke.  Although it is impossible to say which system yields the most tax, regular payments are generally much easier to plan.

ROUND POUNDS: Round £1 coins are no longer legal tender, although still exchangeable at banks and at some supermarkets.  It is understood that there are still some 400 million of them in circulation, if indeed being lost down the back of a sofa can be described in that way.

DARWIN THWARTED: A fisherman in Bournemouth held his catch over his open mouth as a joke and nearly died when it jumped into his mouth and blocked his windpipe.  A paramedic managed to dislodge the fish which turned out to be a small Dover sole.  The man recovered.  The fate of the fish is unclear.

RED OCTOBER: Monday was the hottest October 16 on record as the skies over Britain darkened and turned red.  However, it was not the beginning of the apocalypse.  The darkness and colours were caused by dust and debris in the upper atmosphere, some of it from the Sahara and some of it from large fires in Portugal and Spain.

 

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Issue 124: 2017 10 12: Week In Brief: UK

12 October 2017

Week in Brief: UK

Union Jack flapping in wind from the right

Brexit

EU NEGOTIATIONS: The failure by the EU to react constructively to the proposals in Mrs May’s Florence speech has changed the emphasis of the government’s approach.  Mrs May’s position is that the ball is now in the Brussels court and that we are not prepared to offer more money in the hope that they will open negotiations on trade terms.  In fact she has little choice about this.  Clearly as a negotiating matter we cannot continue to put bigger and bigger sums on the table in the hope that the EU will finally negotiate.  Nor would the more hardline MPs allow the Government to do so.  A more aggressive stance has thus become inevitable even though it will alarm business, British resident in Europe and Europeans resident here.  Things are about to enter a “nasty” phase and the Government may yet end up reconsidering its cooperation on security matters.  Such rough play may go against the grain but then, if Brussels will not engage, why not?

Meanwhile, Mr Hammond, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in an article published in The Times, has called for Brussels to engage in discussions about a long-term relationship.  It is understood that Mr Barnier has some sympathy with this but that Germany and France are anxious to obtain guarantees on the financial settlement before moving further.  Meanwhile Mr Hammond does not propose to commit money to fund a hard Brexit until “it’s responsible to do so”.  Presumably that will be when, in his judgement, negotiations have broken down.  Mr Hammond is a supporter of a “time-limited implementation period” so that, although a deal would be struck by the date of Brexit, it would come into effect subsequently -probably over two years.

Environmental secretary, Michael Gove, has argued that the UK should take back its fishing policy as soon as Britain leaves the EU and not after a transitional period.  This would allow the UK to impose a 200 mile fishing ban around the coast.

Government

UNIVERSAL CREDIT: The government is to go ahead with the roll out of the universal credit despite opposition from a number of backbenchers and also from Sir John Major.  There are still concerns that families may fall into debt because of the different timing under the new payments, but the Secretary of Work and Pensions, David Gauke, believes that the change is likely to result in a far higher number of people in employment.

RACE: The Race Disparity Audit Website was launched by the Government on Tuesday.  Its purpose is to compare the position of the various racial categories in relation to employment, education, health, living standard, justice, etc.  The audit, which is just over 60 pages long, is to be updated regularly and will help the authorities to focus on problem areas.  It will no doubt also be used by demagogues of various political persuasions as they use and misuse the statistics to support their points of view.  Among the more interesting findings are that Chinese 11-year-olds are doing better at reading, writing and maths than the rest of their peer group, that white teenagers smoke more than black teenagers and that a high percentage of all groups felt that they belong to Britain.  In the case of whites that was 85%.  Presumably many of the remainder belong to Poland or other EU states.  There is lots to address and we provide a link to the report itself.

Medicine

ALL IN THE NAME: A campaign has been launched to revive the terms “senior house officer” and “registrar” for doctors who have not yet become consultants.  Currently they are known as “trainees” and “junior doctors”, terms which can be misunderstood by patients who do not realise that they are fully qualified and often very experienced.  As the reform would cost the government nothing and is backed by the Chief Medical Officer, Dame Sally Davies, it seems likely to go ahead.

Rather oddly, Priyanka Lakhani, Sonam Lakhani and Rohan Malik, three London doctors, have written to The Times suggesting that GPs be called “consultant GPs” in order to reflect their importance.  As yet no one seems to have questioned whether those members of the medical profession who do not hold a Ph.D. should be referred to as “doctors” at all or whether this is misleading.

HEALTH SERVICE: Figures released by the Care Quality Commission indicate that 135 enforcement actions were launched in 2016–17, as against 58 in the preceding year.  There is particular concern about patients spending too long in hospital and consequently suffering muscle wastage and becoming frailer.  Hospitals are under considerable pressure due to the absence of proper facilities for care in the community and because of shortages of doctors and nurses.

EGGS: The Food Standards Agency has reversed its guidance in relation to eggs marked with the Lion stamp, declaring them safe to eat save by people who are “severely immuno-compromised”.  Apparently tests in 2014 found salmonella in only 0.8% of flocks whereas in 1996 it could be found in 1% of boxes of eggs.  Foreign eggs, however, and others not covered by the Lion stamp, could still be risky.

Law and Order

SMUGGLING INTO PRISON: According to the Independent Monitoring Board at the Portland prison, prisoners on supervised release have been deliberately breaking their licence conditions so that they will be recalled and can smuggle in drugs – an unintended consequence of the imposition of conditions of licenced release.

ESSAY BUYING: A report by the Quality Insurance Agency for Higher Education reveals essay buying, under which university lecturers write essays for students to help them cheat their way to degrees.  The Office for Students has said that institutions which turn a blind eye to this practice may lose their power to award degrees.  Revelations by The Sunday Telegraph earlier this year indicated that more than 20,000 students were paying up to £6,750 a year for bespoke essays.

TRAFFIC ACCIDENT: An incident outside the National History Museum in which 11 people were injured by a car which had mounted the pavement turned out to be an accident and not, as first feared, an act of terrorism.  The driver has been arrested.

Misc

COIN DEADLINE: The old round £1 coin will cease to be legal tender on Sunday which means that traders will no longer be obliged to accept it.  In many cases, however, they will continue to do so, although they will be legally barred from handing the old coins out as change, and will have to pay them in at a bank instead.

 

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

05 October 2017

Week In Brief: UK

Union Jack flapping in wind from the right

Brexit

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.

Government

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.

Aviation

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.

Health

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.

Crime

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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Issue 122: 2017 09 28: Week in Brief: UK

28 September 2017

Week in Brief: UK

Union Jack flapping in wind from the right

Brexit

MAY IN FLORENCE: In a speech on Friday, the Prime Minister proposed a two-year transition period which would, in effect, put off much of Brexit until 2021.  During that period Britain would no longer have any representation at EU level but would continue to participate in the single market as now, subject to EU rules.  Free movement of people would also continue subject to a requirement for registration, presumably necessary for an ultimate decision on who was here before any cut-off date.

Mrs May also said that Britain would meet its contribution to the current seven-year budget so that no other countries would be disadvantaged, and that Britain was committed to the security of Europe.  The latter factor would not be used as a bargaining chip.

In making the speech the Prime Minister sought to tread a narrow path.  On the one hand she hoped that the concession on the current round of the EU expenditure would be sufficient to allow the Commission to move to the next step and open discussions on trade.  On the other she needs to retain the support of Brexiteers,

On the first, the President of the European Council Donald Tusk has said that not enough progress has yet been made.  On the second, Boris Johnson immediately tried to claw back momentum by seeking to establish red lines, in particular as to whether the UK will be bound by any new EU laws made during the transition period.  In principle this is a fair question as we will have no representation when the rules are made.  In practice, though, it is hardly a major point and to start referring to it as a red line smells a little of desperation.  More importantly perhaps the Foreign Office has set up a hard Brexit think tank.  Apart from this being a sensible thing to do, it will strengthen our negotiating position by making it clear that a hard exit is a possible outcome.

UN

MAY’S UN SPEECH: Mrs May used a 15 minute address to the UN in New York to lay about herself a bit.  She criticised Russia over its use of vetoes on the Security Council to protect President Assad and the US for pulling out of the Paris climate deal.  In addition she criticised the efficiency of the UN itself, where the Department for International Development has described UNESCO as failing in its effectiveness.  She threatened to withdraw one third of Britain’s £90 million annual commitment unless thing improve, although that would not affect the U.K.’s £2 billion contribution to peacekeeping.  Britain is the sixth biggest contributor to the UN.

Government

GOVERNMENT BORROWING: According to the Office for Budget Responsibility an unexpectedly high tax take, combined with a drop in government expenditure, has reduced the August deficit to below expected levels.  That follows encouraging figures for July which actually showed a surplus.  The figure for a whole year could be between £10 billion and £13 billion beneath the expected level of £58 million.  It will be remembered, of course, that we are talking about the rate of increase in the national debt (which stands at £1.77 trillion) not the debt itself.

Still, the results may give Mr Hammond room to relax austerity slightly in his budget on 22 November. Before we crack open the champagne, however, it is worth wondering how sustainable the improvement is.  With inflation creeping up, households may begin to reduce expenditure and that, in turn, would take down those crucial VAT receipts.

ACTIVE LORDS: The Electoral Reform Society says that one in seven peers did not make any contribution to debates in the six months to April 2017.  Nonetheless they claimed an average of £11,091. A spokesman for the House of Lord’s pointed out that no account is taken of other activities such as committee work.  The Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, has suggested that the Lord’s could be reduced to about half its size.

Labour

LEADERSHIP: The National Executive Committee of the Labour Party has reduced the number of MPs required to endorse a leadership candidate from 15% of the Parliamentary party to 10%.  The change in the rules should make it easier for left-wing candidates disliked by the Parliamentary party to become leader.

BREXIT: The Labour Party conference has decided not to hold a debate on the party’s approach to Brexit.  There seem to be considerable divisions; Sir Kier Starmer puts emphasis on membership of the single market and the customs union, whereas Jeremy Corbyn is concerned that remaining part of the European economic institutions with their ban on state aid could derail his nationalisation agenda.

NATIONALISATION: The Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell, has promised to nationalise assets built and maintained under the Private Finance initiative, as well as the Royal Mail, water, energy and rail companies.  The pledge may play well at the Labour Party conference but would be difficult to implement because of the large upfront cost.  In any case a blanket approach makes little sense.  The Royal Mail, for example, is a company wrestling with the changes in the behaviour of its customer base and it is hard to imagine that the flexibility needed to do this is best provided in the public sector.  Nonetheless, the fact remains that the private sector does profit from PFI so the question of whether the public sector gets value for that profit is a fair one, at least in the case of future projects.  The Party have admitted gaming the run on sterling which would follow its election.

Health

UNSAFE SURGERIES: The Care Quality Commission has completed its inspection of GPs’ practices, finding that one in seven doctors’ surgeries still have safety issues although only 2% were rated inadequate.  Professor Field, the chief inspector, suggested that patients should move to better performing surgeries.  That, however, is easier said than done with many surgeries already oversubscribed.

ALZHEIMER’S DRUG: It is understood that algorithms, developed in Italy and expected to be used by the NHS within ten years, should enable Alzheimer’s disease to be predicted well before any symptoms emerge.  The algorithms are used in analysing brain scans and are said to be 86% accurate.

FRESHERS’ WEEK: Sir Anthony Seldon, Vice Chancellor of Buckingham University, has suggested that universities should discourage excessive drinking and drugs, particularly during freshers’ week, in order to safeguard the mental health of their students.  His report, which suggests mentoring and the availability of tranquil spaces and welfare dogs, also said that schools should also do more to prepare students for university, including teaching them about managing their finances and proper balances of food and exercise.

Crime

ANTI-TERRORISM LEGISLATION: Max Hill QC, independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, has suggested that terrorists should be dealt with under normal criminal laws rather than special legislation. In many cases, that of murder for example, existing laws are sufficient to deal with the matter.  Using special terrorist laws can be seen by minority communities as targeting them.

MURDERED TEACHER: Emily Kelty, a former head teacher from Taunton, who was murdered in Brazil last week after being robbed, had expressed concern that she might be killed.  A number of people, including the local civil police chief, have been murdered in the area which is particularly dangerous.

Transport

RAIL STRIKES: The dispute about giving drivers the power to open and close doors on trains rumbles on with the Rail, Maritime and Transport union planning strikes on Southern Region, Merseyrail, Northern and Greater Anglia Networks on October 3 and October 5.

UBER: 700,000 people have signed a petition objecting to the refusal by Transport for London to renew Uber’s London licence when it expires at the end of this month.  The decision is to be appealed to the Westminster Magistrates Court who will hear it de novo.  That is to say that they look at the evidence without regard to TfL’s decision rather than merely reviewing whether that decision was irrational.  Uber have brought in a top legal team and no doubt TfL will do the same.  We can look forward, then, to a full analysis of whether Uber complied with its licence, for example by carrying out proper criminal checks on drivers.  TfL will say “no” but the company will point to a series of clean compliance inspections as evidence to the contrary.

Uber will be allowed to continue operating until the appeal is heard, but what will happen if the original decision is upheld?  Uber’s supporters draw a picture of drivers left without income and women unable to get home in safety.  That has to be nonsense.  Already other operators are vying to take over and, when they have done so, the same drivers will presumably take the same ladies home but with a different company supervising and taking the profit.  The other interesting angle is a political one.  TfL is chaired by mayor Sadiq Khan, a rising figure in the Labour movement and seen by some as a possible future Prime Minister.  Vigorous action in favour of the consumer may not play badly with the public and favouring the unionised cabbies against an aggressive American corporation could go down well within the party.  Just why wouldn’t you do it if you were Mr Khan?

Miscellaneous

CHOPPER OSBORNE: Mr Osborne has been criticised by colleagues for saying that he would not rest until Mrs May was “chopped up in bags in my freezer”.  Unfortunately for him, the comment was reported in Esquire magazine.  Although he has not actually apologised he has admitted that intemperate language is out of place.  Mrs May said that if there was an apology she would accept it but that she had not actually read it.

FAWCETT STATUE: Planning permission has been given for a statue of Millicent Fawcett to be erected in Parliament Square.  Fawcett was a prominent feminist campaigner whose approach was rejected by the more militant Emmeline Pankhurst.  Pankhurst’s statue is expected to be erected down by the Thames in due course.

WOMEN’S FOOTBALL: Mark Sampson, the head coach of the England women’s football team, has been fired following allegations of inappropriate behaviour.  It is understood that there have been concerns for some time but that none of the behaviour complained about was illegal.

 

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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

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.

Politics

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.

Education

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.

Health

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.

Science

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

14 September 2017

Week in Brief: UK

Union Jack flapping in wind from the right

Brexit

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.

Politics

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.

Energy

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.

Education

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).

Health

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.

Miscellaneous

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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Issue 119: 2017 09 07: Week In Brief: UK

07 September 2017

Week In Brief: UK

Union Jack flapping in wind from the right

Brexit

NEGOTIATIONS: The nation returns from its holidays to find that not much has moved in the negotiation between Mr Davis and Mr Barnier.  The EU still insists that further progress on three issues – the “Divorce Bill”, the rights of EU citizens who already live in the UK, and the Northern Ireland border – is a precondition to discussions over a future relationship.  That approach, of course, suits Mr Barnier nicely since the amount of the “Divorce Bill” is of crucial importance to the high spending EU and agreeing it would remove the UK’s leverage, leaving it to the EU to dictate terms elsewhere.  Despite this obvious trap, some UK commentators (including, we are sorry to say, The Times in Monday’s leading article) urge the Government to come up with a figure to “unglue” the negotiation.  In fact, the correct strategy must be for the UK to increase pressure on the EU by blanking them on these issues and then making an overall offer which gives both parties most of what they really want.  Any experienced negotiator would tell them that.

THE GREAT REPEAL BILL: Children need toys to keep them out of mischief and, for the House of Commons, that toy is the Great Repeal Bill.  The main issue, absorbing the surplus energy of Sir Kier Starmer and others, is the dramatically named Henry VIII clause, a wide power for the government to deal with the deficiencies in UK law which emerge as part of Brexit by way of regulations.  Is the power too wide?  Will it enable the executive to grab power without accountability?

Schedule 7 of the Bill makes the level of Parliamentary scrutiny dependent on the subject matter.  More important regulations, including those which create a criminal offence or confer legislative powers on a UK authority, require Parliamentary approval.  Regulations dealing with lesser matters have to be laid before Parliament and come into force unless there is a resolution to annul them.  Either way the scrutiny is less than that accorded to primary legislation so there is lots to be argued over. Hopefully this slightly pointless debate will distract the House from areas where it could do real damage, such as the approach to be taken in the negotiations.

LEAKED IMMIGRATION PAPER: A paper from the Home Office leaked to the Guardian contains draft proposals for changes to UK immigration policy in the light Brexit.  It suggests a temporary “implementation period” of up to 2 years following Brexit and a final phase when permanent rules are in place.  It has to be kept in mind that these proposals have not yet been agreed by the Cabinet, where there are a number of different views.  Still, a number of points are worth noting.  The first, and by far the most important, is that the proposals have no effect on individuals resident in the UK before a specified date.  They will (provided that they register for settled status) be entitled to continue to live here and to benefit from UK social security, health care and pensions.  Reciprocal rights are being sought for UK citizens resident in the EU.  The document states that the specified date will be sometime in the two-year period following 29 March 2017, when the UK gave notice that it would leave the EU.

Moving to the other end of the timetable, the document makes it clear that no decision has been made as to ultimate immigration policy, pending consultation with stakeholders, Parliament and the EU.  More specific proposals are made in relation to the Implementation Period.  That said, it is only a leaked draft and the government’s real position will not be revealed until Mrs May makes her awaited speech on the U.K.’s approach to Brexit as a whole.

CHARTER OF FUNDAMENTAL RIGHTS: Slightly bizarrely some Conservative MPs have become concerned about the fact that the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights will cease to apply at Brexit. So that readers do not become confused, we would point out that this is different from the European Convention of Human Rights, which, being independent of the EU, will continue to apply.  It seems doubtful, therefore, whether the change will really be very significant.

Politics

MRS MAY: Rather against the odds, the Prime Ministers seems to be taking back control of her party following comments indicating that she hopes to fight the next election.  Not much should be read into these.  Had she said anything else, leadership campaigning would have begun immediately.  Still, there is talk of a reshuffle and of discussion with other parties about agreed reforms.  Time will tell whether this is the start of a political revival or merely a small bump in a saga of decline.

REES MOGG: One of the more interesting start of term rumours is that Jacob Rees Mogg might be offered a ministerial job.  The quirky backbencher has established quite a following in the party and it seems sensible to expose him to ministerial responsibility.  After all, if there is a leadership contest, one wouldn’t want it to be won by someone with no experience of office.  That couldn’t possibly work, could it?

PUBLIC SECTOR WAGE CAP: It is understood that the Cabinet is considering bringing to an end the 1% cap on public sector pay rises.  Sir Vince Cable, leader of the Liberal Democrats, has said that such a move is long overdue.

LABOUR AND MS CHAMPION: In a letter to The Times, representatives of Sikh bodies and the Pakistani Christian Association have deplored the dismissal of Rochdale MP, Sarah Champion, from the shadow cabinet following her comment that: “Britain has a problem with British Pakistani men raping and exploiting white girls.”  They also make the point that other non-Muslim girls have been similarly victimised.  Those amazed at Ms Champion being sacked for saying something so obviously true and important must wonder whether the Labour leadership had other grudges against her.  Whether that is the case or not, they are stifling an important debate and must take their share of the blame for the consequences.

Miscellaneous

COMPENSATION: Lord Bramall and the widow of Lord Brittan have each received compensation from the Metropolitan Police in relation to unjustified searches undertaken as part of the ill-starred Operation Midland sex abuse enquiry.  Harvey Proctor whose career was destroyed as a result of unfounded allegations continues to pursue legal claims against the police.

GRENFELL TOWER: Progress has been slow in rehousing families from Grenfell Tower where only 10 families have accepted permanent accommodation and only 2 have actually moved in.  61 households have accepted offers of temporary accommodation.  Mr Healey, the shadow housing minister, has urged the Government to speed up the process.

UK NAZIS: Five people, including four serving soldiers, have been arrested on suspicion of being members of National Action, the proscribed group alleged to have condoned the murder of MP Jo Cox.

MIGRANT ABUSE: One Home Office official and 9 employees of G4S have been suspended following claims of abuse at the Brook House detainee centre near Gatwick airport by Panorama, which also claimed that drugs were readily available there.  Although a report in March by the Chief Inspector of Prisons criticised the impersonality of the accommodation and poor sanitary facilities at Brook House, the centre was regarded as reasonably good overall.

CHARITIES: Under proposals contained in a Charity Commission consultative document, the rules under which large charities have to disclose the number of employees paid more than £60,000 and provide a breakdown of those employees, will be extended to smaller charities.

ROYAL BABY: The Duchess of Cambridge is pregnant with her third child.

 

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Issue 118: 2017 08 17: Week in Brief: UK

17 August 2017

Week In Brief: UK

Union Jack flapping in wind from the right

Brexit

TRANSITION: Philip Hammond and Liam Fox have published a joint article confirming that Britain will leave the customs union and the single market in 2019 and that, although there may be transitional provisions, they will not be used as a way of remaining in the EU by the back door.  Meanwhile, however, a position paper from the Government proposes a transition period during which the UK would be able to negotiate but not implement trade treaties, followed by either smooth tariff arrangements or none at all.  This suggestion seems unlikely to make much progress at the moment; the EU is still taking the position that there will be no discussion on trade until the divorce bill is settled.

The Government will be issuing a series of papers over the next month or so setting out its proposals on the various Brexit issues.  At that stage serious negotiations will presumably start with the EU but expect plenty of posturing on both sides before progress is made.

GOVERNMENT LIABILITY AFTER BREXIT: You would have thought it was completely obvious. The rule set by the ECJ in the Italian case of Francovich, which enables a member of the public who suffers damage to sue the Government for failing to legislate in accordance with its EU obligations, will disappear following Brexit as, after that (and subject to whatever twists and turns come out of the negotiations) Britain’s obligation to legislate in conformity with the directives will cease.  No need to cover it in the Repeal Bill, then.  The rights going forward will die of their own accord.  Why then do we find at Schedule 1 the words: “There is no right in domestic law on or after exit day to damages in accordance with the rule in Francovich”?  They should be unnecessary unless of course the Government is trying to slip out of liability for past breaches.  Now why would it want to do that?

The key is to this is the UK’s failure to comply with European law in the environmental field.  Here the ambulance chasing is beginning to gather momentum and soon your anonymous caller will stop talking about “an accident which was not your fault” and ask if you have “suffered from an illness which might have been avoided if…”.  The ensuing legal circus will suck out of the public sector money which is needed to build hospitals and reduce class sizes.

We have seen something similar before.  When the European Court of Justice found that that the UK’s corporate tax system did not fit the parent-subsidiary directive, huge amounts were claimed by large international companies as professional advisers scoured the rules for mismatches.  The government is anxious to stop this all happening again and you can see why.  The important thing, though, is that the provision should be properly debated.  It is a serious thing to remove rights which have already accrued and Parliament should weigh the matter up carefully before it does so, however sensible the decision may be.

CHAPMAN TWEETS: At last Britain has its answer to Donald Trump.  James Chapman, one time political editor at the Daily Mail and subsequently chief of staff to David Davis, contributed to the Twittersphere with several hundred messages on Tuesday.  Amongst the general vitriol cast in the direction of leavers is the allegation that Mr Davis is lazy and only works three days a week.  This appears to be intended as a criticism whereas you might think that sitting back and reflecting was more important than running around like a lunatic at the moment.  Replying on LBC, Mr Davis said that Mr Chapman had been a good chief of staff and that he did not propose to criticise him.  Maybe Mr Chapman needs to go on holiday, at least to rest his fingers.

Health

EGGS: Initial confidence that only 21,000 of the eggs poisoned with fibronil by criminal poultry farmers in Holland and Belgium reached the UK turns out to be misplaced.  Apparently the number may be closer to 700,000 and the risks include cancer, nausea, vomiting, headaches, dizziness, kidney damage, liver damage and thyroid damage.  The eggs are not currently thought to contain horsemeat.

CARE HOMES: Out of 7497 care home companies examined by accountants Moore Stevens, 1210 were in a state of financial distress, a one third increase over last year.  A major contributor to the difficulties is the introduction of the national living wage.

PENSIONERS’ TEETH: A report by the Faculty of Dental Surgery indicates that at least 1.8 million people aged 65 or over may be suffering from an urgent dental conditions and that the figure could rise by 50% over the next 23 years.

MOTORWAY LEARNERS: Chris Grayling, the transport secretary, has said that from next year learner drivers will be allowed on motorways.  The change has met with general approval although the safety charity Brake has suggested that the lessons on motorways should occur once drivers have already passed their tests.

Crime

MODERN SLAVERY: Although convictions for modern slavery offences have fallen, the National Crime Agency says that large numbers of slaves are being forced into sex work and also work at car washes and farms.  Apparently perpetrators are often charged with more general offences such as rape, drug offences or money-laundering.

NEWCASTLE SEX TRIAL: Police officers in Northumberland have been accused by ex-chief constable Sue Sim of using a convicted child rapist as a paid informant without her agreement.  The individual, who was paid sub £10,000 for his help, claimed, in an interview with the Sun, that by working underground for the police he had put hundreds of people behind bars.  The current chief constable, Steve Ashman, with whom Ms Sim had an acrimonious dispute, said he took full responsibility for the decision.  Ms Sim claims that her criticism of her old force is unconnected with her dispute with it.

PREVENT: Consideration is being given to making the Prevent scheme, which is currently entirely voluntary, compulsory for certain categories of people thought to be at risk from extremism.  Jihadists returning from IAS territories might be one.  The move is contentious as some regard the scheme as eroding trust between the Muslim and non-Muslim communities.

Education

UNIVERSITY ADMISSIONS: The combination of a declining youth population with a drop in EU students leaves many universities trying to drum up applicants following the release of A-level results.  According to The Times, Mike Nicholson of the University of Bath has said that this may mean that offers are made at lower grades than previously.  It would be cynical to suspect that universities in need of applicants will also drop the level required to obtain a good class degree.

UNIVERSITY SALARIES: Lord Adonis, previously Labour education secretary, has criticised the level of pay at universities, suggesting that the amount paid to vice chancellors should be no more than that paid to the Prime Minister.  In his view recent increases in pay are one of the reasons that student fees are so high.

Miscellaneous

NEW NOTES: The Bank has announced that it will not be changing the composition of the new polymer £5 banknotes to eradicate small amounts of tallow as this would cost over £16 million.  Other banknotes will contain a similar quantity.  Tallow is already used in many plastics such as carrier bags, cosmetics and detergent bottles.  It is also used in debit and credit cards, and mobile phones.

FOOD STANDARDS: Michael Gove has announced that slaughterhouses will have to install CCTV so that the treatment of animals can be monitored.  The announcement has been welcomed by animal charities across the board.

BIG BEN: Under plans approved by the House of Commons Commission, the ringing of Big Ben would be restricted to special occasions for four years from monday while work is carried out to the Elizabeth Tower and its clock.  However, silencing the bell, a precaution to protect the hearing of the workmen, is being reconsidered following objections by MPs.

RAIL FARES:  Proposals to increase fares by 3.6% in January have been criticised on the basis that they are based on the Retail Price Index rather than the Consumer Price Index which excludes housing costs and is preferred by the Department of National Statistics.  Apparently many of the costs of rail companies depend on RPI.

 

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Issue 117: 2017 08 10: Week in Brief: UK

10 August 2017

Week in Brief: UK

Union Jack flapping in wind from the right

Brexit

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.

Government News

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”.

Labour

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.

Health

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.

Miscellaneous

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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Issue 116: 2017 08 03: Week In Brief: UK

03 August 2017

Week In Brief: UK

Union Jack flapping in wind from the right

Brexit

TRANSITION:  In a move which has attracted broad cross-party support but is still contentious within the Cabinet, Philip Hammond, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, has said that he would like to see a transitional deal which left trading relations with the EU much as they are now for three years after Brexit.  Whether this would involve a retention of part of the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice remains to be decided, but presumably it would.  Amber Rudd, the Home Secretary, has indicated that any change in the free movement of people following Brexit is likely to be gradual.  She envisages an intermediate stage with some sort of registration of EU citizens.

TAX HAVEN: Mr Hammond has also said, in an interview with the French paper Le Monde, that, following Brexit, Britain will not compete unfairly in regulation or tax policies.  Currently Britain’s tax take as a share of GDP is 15th out of the 28 EU countries and the Chancellor expects that we will stay in the middle of the pack.

IRISH BORDER: The new Irish foreign minister Simon Coveney has reversed the Republic’s previous stance that the North could be divided from the South by surveillance rather than a physical border, suggesting that there should be a single physical border at the Irish coast.  As he coupled this with a desire to keep free movement of people, goods, services and livelihood between the North and the Republic, he appears to be arguing for the North to become part of the Republic’s economy rather than the British one.  That is unlikely to commend itself to the majority in Northern Ireland.

US TRADE TREATY: Preliminary discussions with Washington on a possible trade treaty have become entangled with environmental standards.  Apparently chlorine-washed chickens are legal in the US but not in the UK and there is similar tension over meat treated with hormones.  The issues are important to the US farming lobby.  Cabinet members take different views with Mr Gove, the Environment Secretary, saying that we would not sacrifice food standards and Liam Fox, responsible for trade deals, taking a more flexible line.

Government

ELECTRIC CARS: Research by Cambridge Econometrics indicates that a ban on petrol and diesel cars would increase electricity demand by less than 10%, dispelling concerns that government proposals that all new cars should be electric by 2040 will put too much strain on the National Grid.  In any case electric cars are likely to recharge at non-peak hours.

Meanwhile both BP and Shell are planning to install electric car chargers at their petrol stations.  It is understood that the first chargers will be able to provide an 80% refill of power within 30 minutes.

WARSHIP DEPLOYMENT: Speaking in Australia, Defence Secretary, Sir Michael Fallon, has said that Britain will be sending a warship into disputed areas of the South China Sees next year in order to assert freedom of navigation.  Mr Johnson who is accompanying Sir Michael suggested that we might also send the aircraft carriers once they are complete.  Fans of Tomorrow Never Dies will urge MI6 to keep Commander Bond available.

GAS RISES: It is understood that Ofgem will not intervene to prevent British Gas increasing its charges for electricity by 12% because they regard it as a matter for the government.  It is possible that legislation could be passed with all-party consent.

Labour

LABOUR: A group of MPs from the Labour and other parties has called on Mr Corbyn to censure President Maduro of Venezuelan for his destruction of his country.  Labour MP, Graham Jones, who chairs the group, points to food shortages, the murder of citizens and the export of cocaine, all now rife in a country which boasts considerable oil wealth.  Mr Corbyn has a history of praising Venezuela, celebrating the current regime as recently as June 2015.  Ken Livingstone continues to act as an apologist for the regime, putting its problems down to US interference.

NEPOTISM: A video produced by Momentum in order to expose middle-class nepotism backfired when it emerged that Mr Corbyn’s eldest son, Seb, is employed as chief of staff to John McDonnell.

Health

ANTIBIOTICS: Medical specialists writing in the BMJ have reversed the time-honoured view that it is important to complete courses of antibiotics.  They say that this is often unnecessary and may result in the patient becoming antibiotic resistant.  Instead they suggest that it is often be better to stop taking medication when you feel better.

CARE HOMES: An investigation by The Times newspaper reveals that the Care Quality Commission failed to take any action in relation to serious sexual abuse at homes run by Hillgreen Care.  Of particular concern was the destruction of evidence at one home which made a prosecution impracticable.

A report by Age UK indicates that relatives are being asked to pay top up fees where local councils cannot afford to pay care home charges.  Such fees should only be charged for voluntary extras, for example to have a better room.

MORNING AFTER PILL: Claims by Boots to be seeking a less expensive morning after pill were undermined when it emerged that its sister company, Alliance Healthcare, already supplies such pills to other retailers.  Currently the Boots pill costs £26.75 and other pharmacies sell pills at as little as £4.99.

HIV TESTING: Research at Queen Mary’s Hospital and the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine indicates that giving patients who register with a doctors an HIV test would lead to a fourfold increase in the diagnosis rate.  The programme would cost £4 million and become cost-effective within 33 years.

STATINS: Research by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence suggests that statins should be prescribed widely for men over 60 and women over 75.  Apart from the cost of such a program, however, and statins are cheap at 10p per patient per day, doctors are concerned at the prospect of putting healthy people on medication.

Law and Crime

MANSLAUGHTER: Nicholas Allen from Stafford has been sentenced to 10 years imprisonment plus an additional five year period on licence, for manslaughter, after driving his ex-girlfriend to suicide by harassing her.  Allen, who pleaded guilty, had a history of making threats against women.

EMPLOYMENT TRIBUNAL FEES: The Supreme Court has upheld arguments by the trade union Unison that fees payable by those making claims for unfair dismissal, equal pay and redundancy are illegal because they impede access to justice.  The ruling is likely to result in a revival in the level of litigation against employers, something which died down following the introduction of the fees.

TRADITIONAL SILENCE: In the forward to a report on “Rethinking Judicial Independence” published by Transform Justice, Sir Alan Moses, previously a Lord Justice of Appeal and now chairman of the Independent Press Standards Organisation, said that the traditional approach by which judges maintained silence outside the courtroom was outdated.  He suggested that judicial authority might be better maintained by speaking out to offer clarity on issues to which cases related.

GRENFELL FIRE: The Metropolitan Police have notified the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, and also the management company which ran Grenfell Tower, that there are grounds to suspect corporate manslaughter.  Although that sounds very grand it is hard to see what charges will achieve. Since corporate bodies cannot be locked up, the only real remedy is fines which would in the end fall on public funds.  If there really was negligence amounting to manslaughter (and in view of the similar mistakes now emerging all over the country, one might doubt that) prosecution of individuals would be more effective.

Miscellaneous

HOLIDAY DELAYS: British tourists have been affected by new checks imposed on those entering the Schengen area, which are causing substantial delays.  The checks are required by an EU regulation brought in to improve security and to enable a number of databases to be used.

CAUGHT NAPPING: Cuadrilla, the fracking company, delivered a drilling rig to its Preston site at 4:40 am on Thursday while the protesters who had assembled to block the delivery were asleep.  Cuadrilla’s planning permission specifies that deliveries should be made during the day.  The company had liaised with the police over the delivery.

KIDS COMPANY: The Insolvency Service is to take proceedings against Camilla Batmanghelidjh, and also against Alan Yentob and seven other directors of the former charity Kids Company, seeking their disqualification from acting as company directors.

CLIMATE CHANGE: The annual report from the Meteorological Office indicates that the 2015/16 winter was the first in which no deep snow (snow of 20 cm depth or more) occurred in the UK.  Deep snow has been declining for a number of years.

LIFEJACKET FAILURE: Lloyd’s register of shipping is working with the Maritime and Coastguard Agency to investigate why three fishermen died despite wearing government approved lifejackets. Apparently the jackets do not hold the head clear of the water as they should, so that wearers drown when they become unable to support themselves.  The MCA has asked the European Commission to ban the lifejacket in question.

CRICKET: England beat South Africa by 239 runs in the third test, the victory being sealed by a hat-trick by spin bowler and all-rounder Moeen Ali.

 

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