Issue 101: 2017 04 20: Week in Brief: UK

20 April 2017

Week in Brief: UK

Union Jack flapping in wind from the right


GENERAL ELECTION: The government has called  a general election on 8 June.  Under the Fixed Term Parliament Act that had to be endorsed by a two thirds majority of the House of Commons but, since Mr Corbyn has already said that he would back an early election, this requirement was easily met by a majoriy of 522 to 13.  Should the Government win the election, its fresh mandate will free it from electoral promises made by David Cameron in 2015.  For example it will be able to take a fresh look at the triple lock on pensions and the undertakings not to increase taxes and national insurance which resulted in a U-turn following the last budget.

The decision, reached after discussion with an inner core of Cabinet members, surprised commentators and the markets.  Sterling rallied immediately.  The plan seems to be for the campaign to be heavily Brexit focused and Mrs May has made it clear that she will not be taking part in any television debates.

See comment Draining The Swamp.

DIESEL SCRAPPAGE: The government is considering the possibility of a diesel scrappage scheme under which those exchanging their diesels for new cars would obtain a discount provided from government funds.  It is believed that the scheme would only operate in high pollution areas.  The Prime Minister is known to be concerned that the alternative of simply introducing a special congestion charge is unfair on those drivers who were encouraged to buy diesels by the Labour government.

SPEEDING FINES: As from 6 May, Britain brings into effect European rules which allow foreign police forces to access DVLA records to enforce speeding fines.  Oddly the system, which is designed to enable foreign fines imposed on British motorists to be enforced, is not reciprocal.  Under British law it is the driver and not the registered owner who is liable.  Accordingly a search of foreign registers will not reveal who should pay the fine.

FAST TRACK EXPULSION: Liz Truss, the Justice Secretary, is to introduce a new scheme for expelling failed asylum seekers.  The idea is to reduce the time between the decision and appeal to 28 days rather than the current 36, with 20 working days for a further appeal.  The plan, which has to be approved by the Independent Tribunal Procedure Committee, gives power to judges to decide whether fast tracking should apply or not.  Removals have fallen from about 18,000 in 2006 to about 3500.

GREENPEACE FINE: Greenpeace has been fined £30,000 for failure to register under the Lobbying Act in respect of its expenditure in the 2015 election.  As a not for profit organisation it should have registered because its expenditure of £125,000 exceeded the threshold of £20,000.  Apparently Greenpeace refused to register as “an act of civil disobedience”.

WAGES: According to official figures the average weekly wage grew by 2.3% in the year to February if bonuses are included.  Without bonuses the rise was 2.2%.  There is concern that, as the effects of the falling pound are felt, the purchasing power of working families will shrink.  The employment rate remains at 74%.

FOREIGN POLICY: The Prime Minister has praised Boris Jonson’s efforts in bringing together an international consensus for Rex Tillerson to take to Moscow.  She said that British scientists had found very clear evidence that a nerve agent was used in Syria and that it was highly likely that the Assad regime is responsible.

GERMAN INTELLIGENCE: A report by the German magazine Focus that Mrs Merkel received data gathered by GCHQ during a visit to the UK has caused resentment in the Federal Intelligence Service.  It is suggested that she may have handed over a file of reports from her own intelligence services in return.

NORTHERN IRELAND: The stalemate between the Democratic Unionist Party and Sinn Fein following the collapse of the Stormont government means that there will either need to be a new election or direct rule from the UK if a further power sharing administration is not formed in early May.  It is possible that elections to the assembly will be called to coincide with the General Election in June.


FACEBOOK: The Times newspaper has reported that the social media company Facebook failed to take down images depicting child abuse and supporting terrorist atrocities on the basis that they did not breach their in house community standards.  It quotes a leading QC as saying that the failure to take down the posts when reported might mean that Facebook was guilty of criminal offences.  The odd part of this story is the focus on the criminal responsibility of Facebook.  Presumably if they were committing offences, the staff responsible must have been doing so too.  One might think that that was the effective place to apply sanctions.

TRUMP DAMAGES: The Daily Mail is to pay damages, thought to be in the region of £2.4 million, to Melania Trump, the wife of the President of the United States, following suggestions that her work as a model included other “services”.

SEX FOR ROOM: The discovery that landlords are offering accommodation in return for sex has caused concern among charities and politicians.  Apparently the arrangements are widely advertised in the media.


GRAMMAR SCHOOLS: It is being proposed that at least one third of the pupils at new grammar schools will have to come from families earning no more than £25,000 a year.  That is higher than the £21,000 a year figure mentioned by Mrs May when she announced the new schools.  Opponents point out that only 3% of grammar school pupils receive free school meals as compared with 18% of pupils at other local authority controlled schools, taking this as an indication that an increase in the number of grammars will not assist poorer families.

STREAMING: Lawyers from the National Union of Teachers have asked a number of academies how they justify the admission to their selective streams.  Although streaming is legal once children have been admitted to a school, streaming at admission is not.  The union is concerned that if the government fails to get legislative support for its proposals to permit new grammar schools, streaming will be introduced within existing schools, thus creating grammars by the back door.


SHREWSBURY AND TELFORD NHS TRUST: Jeremy Hunt has asked NHS England and the regulator, NHS Improvement, to contact families of children who have died at hospitals run by the Trust so that their deaths can be properly investigated.  There is concern that the steps taken to monitor babies’ heart rates during labour had been insufficient and may have led to deaths.

NURSING PAY: The Royal College of Nursing is to ballot members who have been offered a 1% pay rise on the possibility of strike action.  The College has never previously called a strike over pay but is concern that nurses have seen a 14% cut in real terms since 2010.

SICK BRITS: British holidaymakers are accused of making false claims against travel companies alleging that they have suffered from food poisoning.  The Costa Del Sol Hotel Association says that, despite a wide mix of holidaymakers, only those from the UK seem to be affected.  It is thought that the claims, much like those made for whiplash injuries against car insurers, are largely spurious and encouraged by lawyers remunerated on a contingency fee basis.

DRUG PRICES: The European Commission has begun in investigation into Aspen Pharmacare, a South African company which bought the rights to a number of patent expired drugs from GlaxoSmith Kline.  The price of the drugs were then increased by a factor of up to 120 in the UK and even more in Italy.  Rules are already being put in place in the UK to cover the pricing of patent expired drugs.  Aspen is already under investigation in Spain and Italy for an alleged abuse of dominant position.

Courts and crime

CRIMEWAVE: Crime in London is up by 4.6% to a total number of 774,737 offences over the last 12 months.  The increase includes a 4% increase in knife crime, a 42% increase in gun crime, a 26% increase in motor thefts, a 4% increase in assaults and a 12% increase in robberies.  Detection rates have fallen.  The increase in crime is also reflected in national statistics.

ASSISTED SUICIDE: A retired lecturer, suffering from a terminal complaint, has successfully challenged a High Court ruling denying him consent to take proceedings for Judicial Review of the ban on assisting suicide.  Mr Conway’s argument is that the Suicide Act 1961 is incompatible with the European Convention of Human Rights.

POLICE RECRUITMENT: A Freedom of Information request has revealed that the Metropolitan Police have paid £219 million to Reed Recruitment over six years, re-hiring former policeman to reduce staff shortages.  The Met is currently 740 detectives short and all those retiring this year are being asked to stay on.


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Issue 100: UK News Week In Brief

13 April 2017

Week In Brief: UK NEWS

Foreign Affairs

BORIS STAYS AWAY:  Boris Johnson cancelled this week’s visit to Moscow to the apparent irritation of his Russian hosts.  Tweets from the Russian Embassy refer to him as Donald Trump’s “lieutenant.” It is assumed that the cancellation was designed to strengthen the hand of US Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, who is now visiting Moscow.

NEW SANCTIONS REJECTED:  Calls by Mr Johnson for increased sanctions against Russia, if it continues to support Assad, were rejected at the Lucca meeting of the G7 (Britain, France, Canada, Germany, Italy, Japan, and the US) and no reference was made to them in the final communiqué.

Other government news

DEATH TAXES:  The Parliamentary Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments has criticised proposals by the Lord Chancellor, Liz Truss, to increase probate fees, increasing the top level from £215 to £20,000.  The Committee said that the new charges had the hallmarks of a tax rather than fees in which case they should not be introduced without full parliamentary scrutiny.  A petition against the fees, which would go to funding the courts and tribunal service, gathered 30,000 signatures.  Ms Truss is unpopular with lawyers following her failure to protect the judiciary, incorrect statements over a scheme to spare rape victims cross-examination in court, and her role in setting rules which exclude Sir Brian Leveson from the role of Lord Chief Justice.

FREE FOR LABOUR:  Mr Corbyn has announced that Labour will, if elected, raise the legal minimum wage to £10 an hour by 2020 and will apply it to workers under the age of 25.  This is designed to “outflank” the government’s position which is that by that year the wage will rise to £9 an hour for those over 25.

A pledge by Labour to add VAT to private school fees to pay for universal free school meals at primary level has been undermined by a statement from the Institute of Fiscal Studies that the report on which it was based is not as clear as the Party claimed. The Shadow Education Secretary had stated that evidence from the IFS report made it clear that universal meals would raise standards. The author of the report said that this was overstating the conclusions and that more work would be required before reliance could be placed on it.

FOREIGN OWNERS:  A report by the Bow Group calls for a restriction on the foreign ownership of UK residential property.  Apparently 10% of the housing stock is owned by foreigners and demand from abroad is a major contributor to house price inflation.

RECKLESS TURN:  Former UKIP MP Mark Reckless, who was elected to represent the party in the Welsh Assembly in 2016, has now joined the Conservative Group in the Assembly although he has not as yet re-joined the Conservative party.  Paul Oakden, chairman of UKIP, said that, as Reckless owed his position to being on the UKIP list, he should now resign it.


COMPETENT DOCTORS:  A paper published in BMC Medical Education has revealed that doctors from other parts of the world are more likely than British trained doctors to have to have their competence reassessed by the General Medical Cancel because of the quality of their work. At first sight the results, which are based on almost 20 years of data, are encouraging for the UK medical establishment. Doctors qualified in Germany are six times more likely to be referred than doctors who qualified in the UK; those who qualified in India are five times as likely; those who qualified in Eastern Europe four times as likely and those who qualified in Ireland twice as likely. Still, UK educated doctors should be able to perform better as they are working in their own language and can be presumed to have a better grip on local culture.

LOCUMS:  New rules to prevent the use of personal service companies by locums have resulted in industrial action.  The new arrangements will increase the amount of tax and national insurance paid by doctors and, although some hospitals have tried to increase rates to compensate for this, many locums have refused the extra pay.  The General Medical Council has intervened to say that the industrial action must not be allowed to put patients at risk.

DR FOX:  Liam Fox, the international trade secretary, came forward on a flight to the Philippines to assist a nine month old child suffering a fit.  The child had recovered fully by the time the flight landed.

HOSPITAL PARKING:  The RAC has criticised arrangements for parking at English hospitals, pointing out that in many cases drivers are expected to insert coins even though they do not know how long their visit will last.  Use of modern technology or exit payments would make the system far more user-friendly.  In Wales and Scotland, parking at hospitals is largely free.

RICH SCOTS:  Breast cancer drugs regarded as too expensive for the NHS in England are to be available in Scotland.  Although some disparity of treatment is inevitable bearing in mind that the Scottish Medicines Consortium, which recommends drugs in Scotland, is a separate body from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence which performs the same function in England, the difference draws attention to the disparity in health funding north and south of the border.  In Scotland the NHS gets £2100 per person; the English figure is £1900.  There is a similar disparity in public expenditure as a whole under the Barnett formula.

CARE WORKERS:  Figures put together by the charity Skills for Care put the shortage of care workers at 84,000.  That compares with some 1.3 million employed in the sector.  The average hourly wage for care workers is £7.69 an hour and a quarter of them are on zero hours contracts.

Courts and crime

CHARITIES:  Cancer research, the British Legion, Oxfam and the NSPCC are among charities fined for trading information about donors so that they could be pursued for more money.  The information illegally swapped included details of wealth, telephone numbers and email addresses.

TERM TIME HOLIDAYS:  The fine imposed on Jon Platt by the Isle of White Council for taking his daughter to Disneyland during term time without her school’s permission has been reinstated by the Supreme Court on appeal by the local authority.  Mr Platt relied on a 90% attendance record as discharging the obligation for his daughter to attend “regularly” but the court decided that “regularly” in this context meant “in accordance with the rules”.

BATMAN:  Mustafa Bashir, who beat his wife with a cricket bat and forced her to drink bleach, has had his sentence revised upwards to 18 months imprisonment on the basis that the trial judge was misled by his claim to have a contract to play professional cricket for Leicestershire County Cricket Club.  The original sentence was suspended but the judge, Richard Mansell QC, when making it custodial, pointed out that the club had issued a statement to the effect that the defendant’s claim of a contract was wholly false.

EQUAL CONTRIBUTION:  The Court of Appeal has rejected an attempt by American financier Randy Work to overturn a divorce court ruling that the matrimonial assets should be split 50:50.  The assets were accumulated during the marriage of Mr Work and his ex-wife, with whom he had two children.  His proposal that he should enjoy 60% of the assets was based on his exceptional contribution as a “financial genius”.

NO-WIN NO FEE:  the Supreme Court has held that Times Newspapers should pay fees incurred by successful libel litigant Gary Flood even though these were inflated by a premium to reflect a “no-win no fee” arrangement.


GOOGLE:  The dispute between Google and MPs over the publication of illegal videos has moved on, with the company telling Bloomberg that it will use programs to detach extremist videos from advertising on its social media networks.  It will not, however, use the technology to remove them entirely.  The fact that Google is able to identify extremist sites will increase the pressure for it to remove them.

BARBICAN LAVATORIES:  The relabelling of the loos outside the Barbican Cinema to “gender neutral with urinal” and “gender neutral with cubicles” has resulted in queueing for the ladies because men can use the lavatories indiscriminately whereas women do not use urinals.  One critic of the new arrangements received an online response to comments which read “we welcome all your feedback about the new system as we look to ensure an outstanding audience experience for all“.  And we thought that you went to the cinema to watch the film!

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Issue 99: 2017 04 06: Week in Brief: UK

06 April 2017

Week in Brief: UK

Union Jack flapping in wind from the right


REPEAL BILL WHITE PAPER: The Government has published the Great Repeal Bill White Paper setting out the mechanisms through which Britain will disengage from the EU.  The idea is that as from the date of exit (29 March 2019), the European Communities Act will be repealed so that European Institutions and the European Court of Justice (“the ECJ”) will cease to have sway here.  That, however, is just a start.  English law, and also that of Scotland and Northern Ireland, is heavily intertwined with that of the European Union and much of it was introduced in compliance with European Directives or judgements of the European Court of Justice.  What to do?  To disentangle the remainder of UK law from the bits which derive from Europe would simply be impractical.  In the White Paper, the Government has taken the only possible solution.  There are two parts to it:

  1. all European law in force at the Exit Date will become British law.  That means that directly enforceable European rules will continue to have effect and British Courts will continue to follow pre Exit decisions of the ECJ.  From then on, however, the lawmaking power returns to Westminster (or in some cases the devolved authorities) so that the laws inherited from Europe, like any other legislation, can be amended if and when change is desired;
  2. that leaves, however, another problem.  Some of the rules which will be in place at Exit Date give power to European Institutions or are otherwise inextricably linked to EU membership.  Those rules will need to be changed before Exit and, as there are likely to be a lot of them, the Government proposes to take the power to change them by statutory instrument rather than requiring endless Acts of Parliament.  This is a wide power, and has been criticised as such.  However it will only be available to adapt the rules where this is necessary to make them work post Brexit.  It will not be used for policy changes.

So far so simple, you might think.  Employment rights, environmental rights, consumer protection rights will all remain exactly as they are when we leave the EU until and unless Parliament decides to change them.  Still, that leaves some difficult points.  What about the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights?  That is to be abolished on the basis that its purpose was to codify existing EU rights and that those rights will themselves remain in place.  There is room for confusion here.  The codifying provisions of the Charter of Fundamental Rights are entirely separate from the European Convention on Human Rights which is a creature of the Council of Europe and not of the EU.  That is the one that creates rights of privacy etc.  It is also the one that was at one time thought to require that prisoners be giving voting rights.  It will not be affected.

Another area of difficulty relates to devolution.  Currently there are a number of areas where the devolved assemblies make rules within a framework set by the EU.  If that framework disappeared, coherence across the UK would be lost.  In these circumstances it is proposed that the Government should take over the EU’s role but the devolved rights should continue to be operated as before.  The split of responsibility with Scotland over fishing rights is likely to be contentious.

That of course leaves Gibraltar, the Channel Islands and other dependent territories.  Of these Gibraltar is the most difficult because of the political tension with Spain and also because, although it is not within the EU, substantial tracts of EU law apply.  For example Gibraltar applies VAT.  The White Paper does not go into how all this will be dealt with, probably because that is a matter on which Gibraltar itself needs to be consulted.

This White Paper was clearly written by lawyers, its purpose being to provide a mechanism which works for Brexit.  Accordingly, discussion of it should be focussed on refining the way in which that mechanism operates.  No doubt some of the more testosterone-fuelled politicians will seek to make difficulties, and the scope of the power to use secondary legislation is an area where this has begun to occur.  Nonetheless, the proposals are sensibly constructed and, headbangers aside, should not be too difficult to agree on.

EU NEGOTIATING GUIDELINES:  The EU has also been off to the printers with a note from the European Council (the President of which is Donald Tusk) and member states on how the negotiations are to be conducted.  A two-stage process is envisaged.  The first part will be devoted to disentangling the relationship and, no doubt, settling the amount which Britain needs to pay in respect of outstanding liabilities.  The second phase will involve discussion as to the relationship between the UK and the EU following exit.  That will not, however, begin until substantial progress has been made on the first phase.  Presumably the idea here is to separate negotiations about the Brexit Bill from negotiations about a future relationship.

The guidelines also raise the possibility of transitional arrangements, confirm that efforts will be made to avoid a hard border within Ireland, state that the EU will expect the UK to continue to honour agreements made before Brexit, and stipulate that EU institutions and Courts should deal with matters pending at Brexit.  The sting comes in the tail.  Having made it clear that Britain cannot be a member of the single market but that the parties will work towards a trade agreement, the guidelines state that no agreement will apply to Gibraltar without the separate agreement of Spain.  That has caused outrage on the Rock and is likely to give rise to endless trouble.

Cuts, kind and unkind

NHS CUTS:  The National Health Service is to drop its 18 week target for surgery for hip replacements and cataracts in order to make funds available for improved A &E services and cancer therapy.  Also on the priority list are mental health and general practice.  Simon Stevens, the chief executive, points out that 10 years ago half of the patients waited 18 weeks for operations.  Now the figure is about 10%.

Mr Stevens also set out his plans for improved cancer care, including improved diagnosis, ten new assessment centres, and upgrading of radiotherapy machines.  He proposes too that more resources be put into helplines and evening and weekend GP surgeries.  Hospitals are to warn patients of the effects of drinking and smoking.

FORCES CUTS:  According to The Times, the armed forces face a shortfall of about £1 billion a year over the next 10 years.  Savings to deal with this are likely to involve a reduction in the number of Royal Marines and the suspension of overseas training.  The forces face increased costs for a number of reasons.  The weak pound has made the fleet of aircraft required for the two new carriers more expensive.  It is also likely that the cost of the new submarines required to host the nuclear deterrent will overrun.

SAT CUTS:  In a reversal of government policy, SATS for seven-year-olds are to be abolished from next year.  Instead the children will be assessed during their reception year at the age of four or five but will not be aware of the process.

COMMISSIONERS SALARY:  Cressida Dick, the Oxford graduate who moves from the Foreign Office back into policing to lead the Met, has asked for her pay to be reduced by £40,000 a year from the £270,000 a year paid to her predecessor.

Other political news

LORDS EXPENSES: Allegations in The Sunday Times suggest that some peers may be abusing the £300 a day expense allowance by turning up, claiming the allowance, and then not doing any work.  The total of allowances paid in the year to October 2016 was £19 million.

PASSPORT REMOVED:  The passport of Sufiyan Hamza, the son of hate preacher Abu Hamza, has been withdrawn.  He is currently believed to be fighting in Syria and can no longer return to the UK.

WESTMINSTER UPGRADE:  The decision on whether MPs and Peers should move out of the Palace of Westminster while it is refurbished has been deferred yet again.  The vote will now not be until the end of May and it is feared that reluctance to spend the money at a time of austerity will result in the matter being referred for another review.

LABOUR:  The Labour Party, having concluded that remarks by Mr Livingstone that Hitler backed Zionism prior to the Holocaust breached party rules on anti-Semitism, has decided not to expel him.  Instead his current suspension has been extended for a further year.  Mr Livingstone, who has a record of taunting the Jewish community, based his claims on the 1933 Ha’avara agreement between the Nazis and German Zionists under which Jews leaving for Palestine to escape increasing persecution were permitted to reclaim a proportion of assets forfeited on emigration.  The decision has caused widespread anger in the Jewish community and will further erode Labour support there.


OLDER JUDGES:  Lord Neuberger, the presiding judge of the Supreme Court, has called for the retirement age of judges to be put back from 70 to its previous level of 75 in order to deal with a recruitment shortage.

PROCTOR SUES:  Former Tory MP Harvey Proctor is to sue the Metropolitan police and the anonymous witness “Nick” in respect of unsubstantiated allegations against him and other public figures.  It is understood that substantial damages may already have been paid by the Metropolitan Police to Lord Bramall.

RIGHT TO DIE:  A man suffering from motor neurone disease has been refused leave to pursue a declaration that the Suicide Act 1961, which prohibits assisting suicides, is incompatible with the Human Rights Act.  Mr Conway’s case is different from those which have previously come before the courts because his illness is terminal.

CROYDON ASSAULT:  Seven people are in custody following the assault on asylum seeker Reker Ahmed in Croydon on Friday.  Mr Ahmed suffered a fractured spine and brain haemorrhage although his condition is now stable.  Two men are still being sought.

GOOGLE:  It is understood that Google is trying to develop technology to identify hate videos and prevent them being run with advertising.  A boycott by more than 250 companies has resulted in their going into “emergency mode” on the issue.  Apparently the technology may make it possible for advertisers to verify the posts against which their advertisements appear.


DIESEL CARS:  Diesel cars more than two years old will be the subject of a £12.50 per day charge in a new central London zone covering the area between the North Circular and the South Circular.  Other cities are considering bringing in similar charges.  The Government is known to be concerned about the charges, bearing in mind that many people bought diesel cars following government advice that they would reduce carbon dioxide emissions.  The trouble is that the scientists underestimated the emission of nitrogen oxides.  It is understood that consideration is being given to whether there should be incentives to motorists to scrap diesel cars.

ONLINE DEGREE:  Exeter University is to offer a number of online postgraduate degrees from September.  These include degrees in finance and management, business and marketing.  The fees for a two years of study will be £18,000.  A number of US universities already offer online courses.

SPORT:  Briton Johanna Konta has won the Miami tennis open, becoming the world number seven.  Oxford won the men’s boat race by one and a quarter lengths.  Cambridge won the women’s boat race.


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Issue 98: 2017 03 30: Week in Brief: UK

30 March 2017

Week in Brief: UK

Union Jack flapping in wind from the right


ARTICLE 50: Britain has served notice under article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon, beginning the two year countdown to its exit from the EU.

LABOUR: Shadow Brexit secretary Kier Starmer has set out six conditions which his party will require if they are to back the final Brexit deal in the Commons.  Slightly bizarrely one of the test is whether the deal will deliver exactly the same benefits as our current membership of the Single Market and Customs Union.  Read literally that would indicate that Labour would prefer no deal (i.e. reliance on WTO tariffs) to marginally decreased access to the market.  Mr Starmer also said that the Prime Minister should now commit to establishing transitional arrangements running from the end of the two-year period, apparently overlooking the fact that such arrangements can only be put in place with the agreement of the EU.

WESTMINSTER ATTACK: After days of speculation in the press, the Metropolitan Police have come to the conclusion that Khalid Masood who murdered four people, including a police officer, in last week’s attack at Westminster Bridge and at the Houses of Parliament, was acting alone.  Despite thorough investigations into his background and the questioning of a number of his associates, the authorities have not been able to identify any conspirators.  As a “one-off” attack the incident has few implications as to the likelihood of similar incidents occurring.

Home Secretary Amber Rudd has called for WhatsApp to produce the texts sent by Masood immediately prior to the attack.  Unfortunate, however, the texts are encrypted so that is not possible.  Ms Rudd has called for a “backdoor” through which encrypted text can be read but it is questionable whether this can be achieved without undermining the privacy of communications generally.

EX UKIPPER: Douglas Carswell, the MP for Clacton, has left UKIP, now without any representation in the House of Commons.  Carswell was not a natural fit for the party but joined it because of his belief in the importance of getting Britain out of the EU.  Now, job done, he is leaving it.  For the time being he will sit as a cross bench MP but he has not ruled out a return to the Conservative fold at some stage.

Holyrood and Stormont

SCOTTISH PARLIAMENT: The Scottish parliament voted by 69 votes to 59 to request a further referendum on independence before Britain leaves the EU.  The UK has already indicated that it will not agree to this, inter-alia because the level of uncertainty during the negotiations will mean that the people of Scotland do not have a fair choice.  Previously it had been suggested that the Scottish Parliament might arrange a non-binding referendum but this seems to be impracticable because those who oppose independence could invalidate it by not participating.  The most likely outcome is that if Scotland is not satisfied with the terms, and the SNP is still in power, there will be further calls for a referendum in about 2021.

NORTHERN IRELAND: Talks designed to re-establish power sharing in Northern Ireland have reached an impasse with Sinn Fein failing to designate a deputy first minister.  Power sharing came to an end in January following a dispute over a green energy project.

Money and Mergers

NEW COINS: The replacement of the old circular 1 pound coin by the new 12 sided version should be bad news for forgers.  The new coin has the latest anti-fraud technology, important at a time when it is estimated that one in 30 coins is counterfeit.  It is slightly larger and slightly lighter than the pound we are used to – presumably reflecting a change in the alloy.  Since the coin is not made of gold, however, that is a matter of convenience rather than an attempt to dupe the public.  The coin is to be introduced over six months and slot machines throughout the country have been adjusted, except for those on Tesco trolleys however where conversion is yet to take place.  Tesco’s have some 200 stores with trolley locks and for the time being those locks will be disconnected.  Tesco say that there will be additional staff available to assist customers, presumably at stores where the locks are back in use.

STOCK EXCHANGES: The proposed £21 billion merger of the London Stock Exchange and the Deutsche Borse, already threatened by Brexit, has been blocked by EU competition regulators.

Court News

PRINCE GEORGE: It has been announced that Prince George is to attend Thomas’s school in Battersea, a mixed sex primary school.

Compensation and Courts

OFCOM: Consumer groups have welcomed proposals by Ofcom that suppliers of telephone and broadband services should have to compensate customers automatically for missed appointments and failure of service.  The compensation for missed appointments would be £30 whereas failure of service would result in payments of £10 a day.  It is estimated that currently 2.6 million people would receive compensation each year at a cost of some £185 million.

SON OF WHIPLASH: It used to be whiplash, now it is bogus holiday sickness claims.  Law firms and claim companies are targeting holidaymakers, telling them that they can make claims against the organisers of package holidays for stomach bugs and other minor sicknesses on the basis that in the case of minor claims only a verbal confirmation of the sicknesses is required.  The Solicitors Regulation Authority is investigating 15 firms, suggesting that some of them have made illicit payments to claim management companies.  The area is particularly remunerative for lawyers because holiday sickness abroad is not covered by rules limiting fees.  ABTA has called for those rules to be changed but one cannot help thinking that a simpler answer might be a few high-profile prosecutions followed by deterrent sentences.

DIVORCE RULING: The press and legal establishment have reacted with outrage at the refusal of the Court of Appeal to overrule a High Court ruling that a woman, Mrs Owens, could not to divorce her husband because he had not reached the threshold for unreasonable behaviour set by the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973.  There are two questions here.  The first is why this came as such a surprise.  The law is fairly clear and, where the threshold of unreasonableness is not met, to obtain a divorce against the wishes of the other party the plaintiff needs to show five years of separation.  That is the rule set by Parliament and it is hard to see how the judges can be criticised for applying it.  The second is whether Parliament should change the law.  In many jurisdictions it is enough to show that the marriage has broken down and perhaps the time has come to update our law along these lines.  It is been suggested that the case will go on to the Supreme Court.  It is hard to see that there is much point in this.  The correct approach is surely to lobby for a change in the law.

Social Media

YOUTUBE: Pressure on Google to remove terrorist materials from its platforms is increasing following videos on YouTube exploiting the Westminster bombing.  The bill for lost advertising has been estimated at $750 million a year.

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Issue 97: 2017 03 23: Week In Brief UK

23 March 2017

Week In Brief: UK NEWS

Union Jack flapping in wind from the right


TERRORIST ATTACK:  Four people, including a police officer, are dead and about another 20 injured after a car drove into people on Westminster Bridge and an officer was attacked with a knife.  The police are treating it as an act of terrorism.  Proceedings in the Scottish parliament were suspended in sympathy and the Shaw Sheet adds its voice to those sending their condolences


SELF EMPLOYMENT:  The rise in Class 4 national insurance contributions charged on the self-employed, which was announced in the budget, has been reversed, allegedly with some acrimony between numbers 10 and 11 Downing Street, on the grounds that it conflicted with a Tory election pledge.  It is understood that there was concern that the measure might be defeated in Parliament.

Matthew Taylor, ex-head of the Downing Street policy unit and now head of the Royal Society of Arts, is to report later this year on employers who artificially contrive to make their staff self-employed and thus deprive them of pension rights and job security.

ARTICLE 50:  The Bill to authorise the service of notice under article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty has now received Royal assent.  Notice to begin the Brexit process is to be given on Wednesday 29 March.

SCOTLAND:  Gordon Brown has intervened in the row between the government and the SNP over a further Scottish referendum, suggesting that following Brexit many of the powers returned to the UK should go to devolved authorities.

HADDOCK RARE:  The Marine Conservation Society has removed haddock from its list of sustainable fish following a decline in fish of breeding age.  North Sea haddock fisheries scored three and four on a five-point scale on which low scores indicate sustainability.  Organisations representing fishermen dispute the assessment.

CHILD POVERTY:  4 million children are now living below the poverty line, a 1% increase on last year’s level.  The poverty line is a relative measure and a child is living below it where the household income is less than 60% of median earnings.  At a time of little earnings growth, however, the figure may be a sign of an absolute decline at the bottom of the income scale.


ELECTION EXPENSES:  The Conservative Party has been fined £70,000 by the Electoral Commission for failing to account properly for election expenses.  Decisions have yet to be made over whether individuals should be prosecuted.

JOBS FOR WIVES:  The Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority has said that, as from the next general election, MPs will not be able to hire members of their family as staff.  Those already hired, however, will be allowed to continue in post.

EVENING STANDARD:  George Osborne has been appointed as the new editor of the Evening Standard at a salary rumoured to be in the region of £200,000 a year.  Questions have been asked as to whether he will be left with sufficient time to devote to his constituency, bearing in mind that he also has a job with BlackRock, holds a Kissinger Fellowship and has extensive public speaking engagements.

LABOUR:  According to deputy leader Tom Watson, Unite and the Communications Workers Union are plotting to affiliate to Momentum in order to secure continued left-wing leadership of the Labour Party.  The allegations are denied by Unite and Momentum.

NORTHERN IRELAND:  The death of ex-IRA chief and ex-Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness has met with mixed reactions, with some dwelling on his lack of contrition for his IRA role and others laying stress on his considerable contribution to the peace process.


COURT-MARTIAL APPEAL:  The conviction of Alexander Blackman, a former sergeant in the Royal Marines, for the murder of a wounded Taliban fighter has been quashed and replaced by a manslaughter verdict.  A colonel and a sergeant major who were serving with the Royal Marines at the time of the incident said that they had been prevented from giving evidence at Blackman’s trial about failures of command which had resulted in his unit being out of control.

RAPE EVIDENCE:  As from September, alleged rape victims will be allowed to give their evidence by way of pre-recorded interview rather than facing cross-examination.

CHILD PROTECTION:  The new offence of “sexual communication with the child” introduced by legislation in March 2015 to catch “grooming”, will come into force shortly. Although the legislation is on the statute book there has, to date, been no commencement date.

LAWYER BANKRUPT:  Phil Shiner, formerly the principal of the now-defunct law firm Public Interest Lawyers who was struck off last month for assisting his clients to make dishonest claims against British soldiers, is now bankrupt.  The Solicitors Regulation Authority is pursuing him for legal aid paid to his firm in support of the claims, amounting to in excess of £3 million.  It emerged in the disciplinary proceedings that his firm had knocked on doors to find clients and had also paid people to make allegations against British troops.  The total cost to the Ministry of Defence in relation to compensation claims in respect of Iraq exceeds £100 million and a large portion of this was paid to those represented by Mr Shiner’s firm.

Media etc.

SNOOPING:  Allegations made by American judge Andrew Napolitano that GCHQ tapped Mr Trump’s phone when he was president elect, have been denied by GCHQ as completely untrue.  The suggestion had been that the wiretapping had been carried out at the request of Mr Obama in order to avoid the involvement of a US agency.  The President has since sought to distance himself from the allegations, which were based on analysis by Fox News and repeated by White House spokesman Sean Spicer.  It is understood that they will not be repeated.

GOOGLE:  The Havas advertising agency has pulled its clients out of the Google advertising network following the failure by the company to remove extremist videos from YouTube.  The agency represents O2, the Royal Mail, Domino’s and many other major organisations.  Advertising has also been withdrawn by the UK government, media organisations (one of them the BBC), McDonalds, Audi, L’Oreal, Sainsbury’s and the Royal Bank of Scotland.  The advertisers are particularly concerned that their products are being shown alongside extremist material and fund payments to those behind it.  Google, which signed up to the European Commission code of conduct claims that it is reliant on the public to report offensive sites because it does not have the capacity to review all the material posted.  The Times newspaper referred six videos to Google but in no case were they removed within the time scale set by the code of conduct.


HOSPITAL SUCCESS:  The Medway NHS Foundation Trust has emerged from special measures following improvements in care and staff morale.  The hospital has ended a number of arrangements to pay large amounts to managers and now has more stable leadership.

SUGAR:  The Food and Drink Federation has said that Government targets to reduce sugar in foods by 20% by 2020 will not be achieved, advocating a less rigid approach.  Failure to meet the targets may result in legislation.

POLLUTION:  Diesel cars manufactured by Renault have topped a table of pollution compiled by Which? magazine. The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders points to different methods of testing as explaining disparities between the Which? tests and those carried out by the Government.


SCHOOLS FUNDING:  According to the Education Policy Institute, which is chaired by David Laws, all schools will lose money in real terms over the next three years under the new funding formula; this increases the allocation of funds to schools with a higher proportion of pupils with low attainment at the end of their reception year, incentivising teachers to depress children’s marks at that stage.  The formula is also criticised on the basis that disadvantaged schools (those with more than 30% of pupils on free school meals) will fall behind others.


SHALE OIL DRILLING:  Surrey residents have asked the Council and also the Environmental Agency, to investigate whether oil firm Angus Energy has broken the law by drilling without planning permission.  If the drilling is successful it will open up the prospect of considerable reserves beneath the Weald.

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Issue 96: 2017 03 16: Week in Brief: UK

16 March 2017

Week in Brief: UK

Union Jack flapping in wind from the right

BREXIT: Lord Heseltine has been removed as an adviser to Theresa May’s government after he voted in favour of an amendment to the bill which will trigger article 50; the amendment would necessitate the terms of disengagement from the EU to be approved by parliament.  The amendment was passed by the House of Lords, thereby inflicting a defeat on the government.  It has been estimated that it was the highest turnout in the Upper House since 1831.

A letter published by The Times and signed by the heads of 35 Oxford colleges warns the government of the damage that may be caused to academic life if EU citizens are not allowed to stay in the UK.  The college heads have asked the government to allow the amendment proposed by the House of Lords which would guarantee the rights of EU citizens after the UK leaves the EU.

The amendments were subsequently defeated by a vote in the House of Commons.

SCOTLAND: Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minster in the Scottish Parliament, has demanded another referendum on Scottish independence, to be held before the Spring of 2019.  The reason is that Scotland voted to stay in the EU and Nicola Sturgeon is anxious to tap into this sentiment in order to achieve independence.  Theresa May has made clear that Westminster will not introduce the necessary legislation while talks are taking place with the EU over the UK’s terms of disengagement.

See comment Ms Sturgeon’s Demands.

CYBER SECURITY: There has been another security breach from the CIA which may compromise the security of the UK.  WikiLeaks has published documents which reveal some of the methods and techniques used by intelligence services.  The techniques have been developed by the CIA and GCHQ.  Commentators have said that the beneficiaries of the leak would be Russia and terrorist organisations.

GCHQ, one of the UK’s intelligence services which has responsibility for, inter alia, cybercrime, has asked for a meeting with political parties.  The purpose is to warn the parties about the dangers of cyber attacks from foreign hackers which would be designed to disrupt the next general election.  Russia is thought to be the country most likely to mount such an attack.

In this context, Ben Gummer, a Cabinet Office minister, has been appointed as the person with responsibility for countering subversion and for safeguarding the democratic process from cyber attacks.

OPERATION MIDLAND: The Independent Police Complaints Commission has published a report which clears police officers involved in Operation Midland of any wrongdoing.  The operation investigated allegations of sexual abuse levied against well known public figures.  The investigation became notorious after the allegations of a witness called “Nick” were described as “credible and true” by Detective Superintendent Kenny McDonald, before any checks to verify “Nick’s” story had been carried out.  The report concluded that there was no evidence of bad faith, malice or dishonesty.  Harvey Proctor, the former MP who was one of those accused by “Nick”, described the report as a whitewash.  He and Lord Bramall are suing the Metropolitan Police Service for damages.

GRAMMAR SCHOOLS: Theresa May has announced that grammar schools will be required to lower the pass marks for the 11+ exam for children from poor families in an attempt to dispel grammar schools’ elitist image.  The change will be announced next month.


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Issue 95: 2017 03 09: Week in Brief: UK

09 March 2017

Week in Brief: UK

Union Jack flapping in wind from the right

BHS: Sir Philip Green has agreed to pay £363 million into the BHS pension scheme.  Commentators have said that the payment was made in an attempt to salvage his reputation and to ensure that he would keep his knighthood.

BREXIT: The Government suffered a defeat in the House of Lords when the upper house voted in favour of an amendment to the bill to trigger Article 50.  The amendment is intended to ensure that the rights of EU workers who are at present in the UK would be guaranteed.  The bill will return to the Commons which will then have to decide to accept or overturn the amendment.

Theresa May has been told by government lawyers that the UK can leave the EU without paying € billions.  It has been estimated that the EU may want €60 billion, but the legal advice is to the effect that there is no legal basis for the claim.

LABOUR: There has been a leak from the Labour party which shows that it has lost 26,000 members.  Membership rose after the election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader, but many of those who joined have now resigned.  Many more may have simply not renewed their membership.

RUBBISH: There has been a worrying spread of fly-tipping; 936,000 cases were recorded last year and the cost of removing the rubbish has been estimated at £50 million.  It is thought that organised criminal gangs are behind the increase.  The penalty which can be imposed if a fly-tipper is caught is usually substantially less than the payment received for dumping the rubbish.

GREAT WESTERN: The proposed electrification of the Great Western railway line has run into trouble after a Commons Select Committee raised doubts about the competence of the Department for Transport and Network Rail.  The upgrade is running 3 years late and is £1.2 billion over budget.  The chief executive of Network Rail said that the project had been agreed in 2009, long before the scale of the work had been properly understood.

TERROR: A so-called “terror map” has revealed that a tenth of all the UK’s Islamist terrorists come from 5 council wards in Birmingham.  The wards contain segregated communities with a majority of Muslims and have been described as “deprived neighbourhoods”.

A report from Scotland Yard’s  Assistant Commissioner for Counter Terrorism has said that 13 potential terror attacks were prevented last year and 500 investigations are being pursued at any one time.  British converts to Islam were 4 times more likely to become terrorists than those who had been born into the Muslim faith.

TREASURE: Two men using metal detectors have discovered a number of gold artifacts dating from the Iron Age.  The torcs, which are 2,500 years old, will almost certainly be worth tens of thousands of pounds.

STORMONT: Recent elections in Northern Ireland resulted in a surge of support for Sinn Fein, formerly the political wing of the Provisional IRA.  The Democratic Unionists lost their overall majority.  The Sinn Fein leader, Gerry Adams, accused the British Government of failing to comply with its undertakings under the Good Friday agreement.  These included the issue of legal recognition of the Irish language, the use of flags and the question of parades.  He raised the prospect of a referendum in Northern Ireland on the subject of Irish unity.

BUDGET: Chancellor Philip Hammond delivered the Spring 2017 budget – see comment Budget 2017.


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Issue 94: 2017 03 02: Week in Brief: UK

02 March 2017

Week in Brief: UK

Union Jack flapping in wind from the right

WOOD PELLETS: A study just published has revealed that the UK pays millions of pounds in subsides to power stations to encourage them to burn American wood pellets.  The report concludes that felling trees and transporting the pellets across the Atlantic to be burnt in the power stations is more damaging to the environment and has a more harmful effect on climate change than the burning of coal.  The report said that the desire to meet EU targets for renewable energy was the reason that Ministers had been persuaded that burning wood pellets was carbon neutral.  The subsidies paid to power stations was part of the policy of the coalition government, and Chris Huhne was the Minister in charge of energy and climate change who was enthusiastic about the policy.  He is now European chairman of a US company which supplies wood pellets.  He has denied any impropriety.

LEIGH DAY: Another solicitor is facing disciplinary proceedings following legal action taken by her firm against the British Army in connection with the Iraq war.  Sapna Malik is a partner with Leigh Day.  She faces allegations of misconduct, and the hearing is expected to last 7 weeks.

SCOTLAND YARD: The Metropolitan Police has appointed Cressida Dick as the next head of Scotland Yard, after Bernard Hogan-Howe steps down.  She is the first woman to head the Met.  In the past she has been head of the counter-terrorism branch and held that post when Jean Charles de Menezes was shot dead in 2005, in the mistaken belief that he was a terrorist.  She was cleared of any blame at a trial in 2007.

COPELAND: Labour has lost the seat of Copeland to the Conservatives, a seat not held by the Conservatives since 1935.  Recriminations have now begun within the Labour Party.  Baroness Chakrabarti, the shadow Attorney-General, blamed the media and the weather for the loss of the seat.  Apparently she said that the bad weather had meant that there was a low turn out of Labour voters, because so few of them owned cars.  She attacked Dave Prentis, the general secretary of Unison, and accused him of disloyalty.  Mr. Prentis rejected the criticism.  Tom Watson, the Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, attacked Len McCluskey of Unite, for failing to defend Jeremy Corbyn.

IMMIGRATION: Net immigration has fallen below 300,000 as people from Poland and other European countries return home.  This was offset by an increase in the number of immigrants from Bulgaria and Romania.  The figures also show that the number of people arriving from the EU was higher than the number coming from outside the EU.

FARMLAND: The value of agricultural land fell by 7% last year, as concern grew over the effect that leaving the EU may have on farmers.  EU subsidies are worth £3 billion a year.  The Government has promised to maintain the subsidy until 2020, but there is uncertainty about what support will be offered after that.

MAJOR WARNING: Sir John Major, the former Conservative Prime Minister, has advised Theresa May to ignore the views of hard-line Eurosceptics in the party, who want a total break with the EU.  He warned that if the UK was to move towards a low-tax, low-regulation economy, there would be serious consequences for the NHS and the welfare state.


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Issue 93: 2017 02 23: Week in Brief: UK

23 February 2017

Week in Brief:UK

Union Jack flapping in wind from the right


NORTHERN IRELAND: The Democratic Unionist Party (“the DUP”) is the largest political party in Northern Ireland.  It has been revealed that it paid thousands of pounds in secret donations to help fund the Leave campaign in the EU referendum.  Northern Ireland is exempt from the rules which apply in the rest of the UK which require parties to declare the source of funds and the DUP has refused to say where the money came from.

AIR QUALITY: The UK has received a final warning from the EU Commission about air pollution.  Other EU countries which received similar warnings are: Germany, France, Italy and Spain.  If no improvements are made within 2 months, the Commission may take legal action through the European Court of Justice on the grounds that the countries have breached the 2008 Air Quality Directive.

UNEMPLOYMENT: Official statistics just released show that employment in the UK reached the figure of 31.8 million at the end of 2016, while the number of people unemployed fell to 1.6 million.  Many of those employed were born outside the UK, either in EU countries or in countries outside the EU.

RATES: Reports in the press that business rates will increase for some firms/companies by 47% have been challenged by Sajid Javid, the communities secretary and David Gauke, a Treasury Minister.  However, the figures set out in a letter by Javid to Conservative MPs have themselves been criticised as being inaccurate. Officials in the Department for Communities and Local Government, who were responsible for the estimates, defended them and said that they were correct.

EMISSIONS: The head of Volkswagen in the UK, Paul Willis, has been accused by the Transport Select Committee of telling blatant lies.  He told the Committee that VW had not misled customers in any way over diesel emissions and denied that special devices had been fitted to European cars so that they could cheat emission tests.


MUSLIM “PLOT”: “The Sunday Times” has uncovered what it says is another example of a so-called “Trojan Horse” plot by Muslim extremists to take over a state school in Oldham.  A confidential report drawn up by the local council listed complaints made by the head teacher; she said that she had been the target of a campaign to have her removed.  She said that she had received death threats, threats to blow up her car and aggressive verbal abuse.

CHEATING: Ministers have insisted that universities expel students who are caught cheating by buying essays online.  The demand comes after “The Times” revealed that 50,000 students had been cheating over the last 3 years.


SAME SEX MARRIAGE: The Church of England’s General Synod has voted not to accept a report produced by bishops which confirmed the traditional Christian teaching that marriage should be between a man and a woman.  The report ruled out a change to doctrine or ecclesiastical law which would allow same sex marriages to take place or to be blessed in church.


SOUTHERN REGION: The dispute between ASLEF and Southern Trains was thought to have been settled after agreement was reached between the two sides, but the deal has been rejected by the members of the union. It is not clear what will happen now.  The union RMT had attacked ASLEF for agreeing the deal.

NEW SERVICE: The first scheduled train service pulled by a steam engine started on the Settle/Carlisle line.  The locomotive was the “Tornado”, a Peppercorn Class A1 engine.  However, the scheduled service will only last 3 days.


SUPERBUGS: Concern has been raised at the ease with which antibiotics can be bought online without prescription.  The websites which are based overseas are beyond the control of UK authorities.  The increase in the number of “superbugs” which are immune to antibiotics, has been linked to the promiscuous use of the drugs.


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Issue 92: 2017 02 16: Week in Brief: UK

16 February 2017

Week in Brief: UK

Union Jack flapping in wind from the right

SPEAKER: John Bercow, the Speaker of the House of Commons, is facing calls from MPs to resign after he declared that he would prevent Donald Trump from addressing MPs and peers in Westminster Hall during the proposed state visit.  Diplomatic sources have said that there has been no request from the Americans for Donald Trump to address both Houses of Parliament, and it had not been suggested by Theresa May when she visited Washington recently.  The calls for his resignation grew stronger when he admitted that he had voted to remain in the EU.  The Speaker is supposed to be apolitical.

FRACKING: The operation of fracking near Blackpool has been under threat from activists who have threatened workers and have made protests to local companies which have resulted in companies refusing to supply building materials to the site.  One company said that protesters were blocking the entrance to its depot, thereby preventing lorries from leaving with concrete which were intended not only for Cuadrilla (the fracking company) but also for other customers.  Some of the protesters are local people but others are experienced activists who come from all over the country.

ABUSE ALLEGATIONS: Sir Michael Fallon, the Secretary of State for Defence, has announced that the Iraq Historic Investigations Team will be disbanded and that hundreds of claims of alleged abuse in Afghanistan will not be allowed to proceed.  He indicated that similar protection would be given to members of the armed forces who had served in Northern Ireland.

CYBER ATTACKS: Ciaran Martin, the head of GCHQ’s National Cyber Security Centre, has warned that cyber attacks on the UK are increasing.   Some of the attackers are allegedly state-sponsored Russian hackers trying to gain access to government policy documents.  Other organisations are also under threat, including universities.  The Russian hackers hope to gain access to the research data bases.

BUSINESS RATES: Companies and businesses have written to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond, warning about the possible effect of a proposed rise in business rates.  Some are facing rises of 47%.

POLLUTION: A study has found that people travelling by public transport are exposed to 8 times more air pollution than those travelling by car.  The most polluting vehicles were those with diesel engines.

ONLINE ADVERTISING: Well known companies such as Land Rover and other organisations such as Marie Curie and the University of Liverpool have decided to withdraw online advertising after The Times revealed that their advertisements were found on websites or YouTube videos which were supporting Isis State terrorists and white supremacists.  Other organisations affected were Waitrose, Mercedes Benz and the Victoria and Albert Museum.


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