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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Issue 115: 2017 07 27: Week in Brief: UK

27 July 2017

Week In Brief: UK

Union Jack flapping in wind from the right

Brexit

BREXIT NEGOTIATIONS: Last week’s round of talks ended with little agreement.  Points at issue include whether EU citizen should be able to bring their families to the UK without restriction, whether the European Court of Justice should have any jurisdiction in the UK, whether the British people can continue to belong to the European healthcare scheme while on holiday (under this system care is provided locally but charged to the home jurisdiction), the circumstances under which the UK should be able to deport EU citizens, whether UK citizens living in the EU should have voting rights and, of course, the financial settlement.

According to The Times, the government is proposing to suggest leaving free movement in place for two years after Brexit.  The plan which has been devised by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond, is said to have gained Cabinet support although Brussels is understood to wish to restrict British citizens living abroad to the state in which they are now living.  There is plenty of room for confusion over all this with all parties regarding the others’ proposals as inadequate.

SINGLE MARKET AND LABOUR: Jeremy Corbyn has clarified the Labour Party’s position on the single market, stating that the UK would have to come out of it because it is dependent on EU membership. Instead they would seek tariff-free access.  This stance is likely to result in further clashes with pro-EU Labour MPs and particular Chukka Umunna, who is emerging as their leader.

Government News

PENSION WAIT: The government has accepted the recommendation made in a report by John Cridland, former boss of the CBI, that the pension age should rise to 68 in 2036.  The age, which equalises between the sexes at 65 next April, will increase to 66 in 2020 and 67 in 2028.

GROUND RENTS: The Government is to take action to deal with abuses by housebuilders selling leasehold property, and in particular escalating ground rents.  In an article in The Times, Sajid Javid, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, pointed to an example of a house costing £200,000 where the ground rent would increase by 3000% to almost £10,000 by 2060.  Apparently freestanding houses are also being sold as leaseholds in order to exploit this source of profit.  There are also excessive charges for making alterations et cetera.

It is understood that in the north of England banks have become reluctant to lend against properties with escalating ground rents, which makes you wonder why lawyers acting for purchasers have not pointed out the downside to their clients.  Are we going to see a series of actions against solicitors?  The government is to consult on proposals but some areas are likely to be difficult, for example how to deal with existing reversionary interests which have been acquired by investors.

UNIVERSITY CONTRACT: Jo Johnson, the Universities Minister, is to consult with the Office of Students in relation to the rights which students should enjoy in return for the tuition fees which they pay.

MIGRATION: According to figures produced by the Office of National Statistics, net migration into the UK has increased the population by 250,000 people a year since 2004.  That is more than the increase resulting from the number of births exceeding the number of deaths.

LICENSING DRONES: The Department of Trade has announced that users of drones weighing more than 8 ounces will need to register on a database, after taking an online test.  Hopefully this will alert them to safety and legal requirements.  Other proposed reforms are signal disruption around prisons and government buildings.  A ban of unofficial drones within a specified distance of an airfield is also being considered.

IMF DOWNGRADE: The IMF has downgraded its predictions of UK growth this year to 1.7%.  In April it estimated 2%.

MINIMUM WAGE: The new minimum wage threatens to bankrupt disability learning charities which provide overnight supervision. Although the Government has agreed to stay HMRC’s enforcement of the legislation in such cases, the fact remains that unless something is done the new wage rates will make vital services unaffordable.

POLLUTION: The sale of new diesel and petrol cars, including hybrids, is to be banned from 2040.  From then on all vehicles will have to run on electric power.  The change, which mirrors a recent pledge by France, will be a problem for vintage car owners as it becomes more and more difficult to find places to refuel their vehicles.  On the other hand it may save some of the 40,000 premature deaths which occur each year because of pollution.  The government has also committed £255 million to be spent with local authorities on dealing with nitrogen dioxide from diesel vehicles.

Other Politics

LIBERAL DEMOCRATS: Vince Cable, MP for Twickenham, has been elected unopposed as leader of the Party.  He has suggested that he might be able to recruit MPs from the other parties to create a party of the centre.

STUDENT DEBT PLEDGE: Jeremy Corbyn has denied that he made any pledge to wipe out student debt as part of the last election campaign.  Although his manifesto contained a pledge to abolish tuition fees going forward, he had been unaware of the amount of the outstanding debt and had done no more than to say that his party would look into how the burden of that could be reduced.  This appears to be true but its force has been undermined by the fact that statements made by shadow ministers Imran Hussain and Sharon Hodgson indicated the opposite.

FRACKING ABUSE: Arfon Jones, police and crime Commissioner for North Wales and an anti-fracking campaigner, has been criticised for objecting to his force assisting Lancashire Constabulary to deal with protests against Cuadrilla.  Supporters of fracking say that this was a misuse of his official position.

Law and Courts

SUPREME COURT: Baroness Hale of Richmond is to be the next president of the Supreme Court, replacing Lord Neuburger who retires later this year.  Lady Hale will be joined by another female Supreme Court judge, Lady Justice Black, making it the first time that there has been more than one woman at the top level of the judiciary.

KNIFE CRIME: Figures produced by the Office for National Statistics show an 18% increase in the level of violent crime.  Murder is up by 9%, excluding the victims of Hillsborough.  Knife crime rose by 20%; gun crime by 23%.  The Government is currently under pressure to deal with a spate of acid attacks and is holding a consultation on the sale of knives online.  Commentators suggest that the crime wave may be linked to the decline in stop and search for which Mrs May received so many plaudits as Home Secretary.

CHARLIE GARD: The parents of baby Charlie Gard have accepted that irreversible damage to his muscles means that his quality of life would not justify further treatment.  Accordingly they have decided to abandon the litigation against Great Ormond Street hospital.

POLICE CHASE DEATHS: According to the Independent Police Complaints Commission, 28 people died in police chases last year of whom two thirds were bystanders. The police shot six people dead last year and 14 people died in police custody.

Miscellaneous

FLOODING: A freak storm devastated the Cornish village of Coverack with 100mm of rain falling in less than three hours.  The weather is thought to have been created by rising hot air in France.

GRADE INFLATION: The proportion of firsts awarded by universities has increased, with almost 30% of Russell Group students graduating with a first and the Royal Academy of Music awarding firsts to 64% of its undergraduates.  The Higher Education Policy Institute are concerned at the possibility of  “grade inflation”.

SOUTHERN COMFORT: Overtime bans and strikes planned for Southern Rail have been called off as talks resume between Chris Grayling, the Transport Secretary, and the unions.

MORNING AFTER PILL: Boots the chemist has been criticised for refusing to reduce the price of morning after pills on the grounds that they might be overused.  Boots is now looking for a cheaper pill than the one which it currently sells.

TIME LADY: Arguments have broken out over the new Doctor Who, actress Jodie Whitaker, with high minded talk of role models, gender specific casting and the possibility of using ethnic actors.  All this seems to ignore the fact that there can be no right or wrong about which actor represents a fictional character.  In the end the question depends upon who will get the best audiences.

OXFORD AWARDS: According to The Times newspaper, the Europe Business Assembly, an entity controlled from the Ukraine but also with a presence in Oxford, is selling prizes and awards which appear to be linked to Oxford University even though that is not in fact the case.  The EBA hosts conferences and arranges ceremonies, some of which include that famous Oxford character, a man in the uniform of the Yeoman of the Guard.

ENGLISH SPORT: England women won the 2017 cricket World Cup at Lord’s, beating India by nine runs with eight balls remaining. Chris Frome secured his fourth victory in the Tour de France and said that he hopes to compete for another five years.

GLOBE THEATRE: Actress Michelle Terry is to be the new director of the Globe Theatre, replacing Emma Rice.  Although Ms Terry has no experience of directing she is an accomplished Shakespearian actor and an enthusiast for his work.

 

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Issue 114: 2017 07 20: Week In Brief: UK

20 July 2017

Week In Brief: UK

Union Jack flapping in wind from the right

Brexit

BREXIT BILL: The Government has published the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill which will repeal the European Communities Act 1972, the statute which gives EU legislation effect in the UK.  The bill, which has the effect of freezing the law as at the date of Brexit so that EU legislation in place at that date continues to have effect until repealed by Parliament, has a number of critics.  The Scottish and Welsh assemblies are concerned that powers relating to the environment, agriculture and fisheries, currently with the EU, will be passed to Westminster rather than into the assemblies themselves.  Labour is concerned at the extent to which the bill gives power to the government to make adjustments without Parliamentary scrutiny and wants the EU charter of fundamental rights incorporated into UK law.  That is different, of course, from the European Convention on Human Rights which is unconnected with the European Union and will remain in force in any event.

EU TRANSITION: A division has opened in the Cabinet over transitional provisions to cover the period following Brexit.  The Chancellor is understood to be in favour of an extended period of, say, four years but Liam Fox, whose job involves the signing of free trade agreements, believes that any period should be restricted to a few months.  Ex cabinet secretary Lord O’Donnell has said that it will take longer than 20 months to come to an agreement.  In reality, of course, nothing will be agreed until just before the deadline so putting that back will itself extend the period necessary for negotiations.

UK OBLIGATIONS: David Davis, the Brexit Secretary, has acknowledged that Britain has financial obligations which it will have to continue to meet after Brexit.  His comments contrast with those of Boris Johnson who suggested that the EU could “whistle” for its “divorce payment”.

AUSTERITY: The Office of Budget Responsibility has stressed the importance of reducing the debt to GDP ratio in preparation for the shock to public finances which may result from Brexit.  If leaving the EU was to weaken the economy or to drive up borrowing requirements, the UK could be left with a choice of making much deeper cuts in public spending or defaulting on its debts.

Government

CARRIER FORCE: An investigation by The Times has revealed problems with the F-35B Lightening II aircraft being purchased for use on the new Queen Elizabeth class carriers.  The UK is expected to buy 138 of the aircraft, which is the vertical takeoff version of the state-of-the-art F– 35A.  Difficulties encountered include handling at high speed, overheating, icing up and reliability.  To an extent they seem to arise because the F35 which is expected to be used extensively by the US, Turkey, Australia, Italy, Canada, Norway and Japan, is still under development. Since the US military are taking a large number of the planes themselves, the issues will presumably be sorted out.  In any case the MOD has the choice of buying state of the art planes and putting up with glytches or going for yesterday’s planes and becoming vulnerable to anyone with the new version.  Seems pretty obvious really.

AID SPENDING: A report by the National Audit Office expresses concern that ministries responsible for dispensing the 26% of the aid budget not administered by the Department of International Development, are spending a large proportion of their allocation in the last quarter of the year.  That suggests that expenditure may be driven by targets rather than effectiveness.  Britain spends 0.7% of the gross national income (currently about £13.3bn) on aid each year.

TREASURY COMMITTEE: The new chair of the House of Commons Treasury Select Committee is to be Nicky Morgan who replaces Andrew Tyrie in the role.  Other new select committee chairmen include Tom Tugedhat (Foreign Affairs), Rachel Reeves (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) and Norman Lamb (Science and Technology).

SCHOOLS SPENDING: Education Secretary, Justin Greening, has announced a £1.3 billion cash injection into the school system.  The money is to come from other savings in her department including £280 million from the free schools budget and £420 million from the capital budget, much of the latter from the provision the sports facilities.

STATE VISIT: The King and Queen of Spain have made a state visit to the UK, the King making the traditional speech to both houses of Parliament.  His comment that the problems of Gibraltar could be overcome through dialogue were badly received by the territory.

LABOUR: Tony Blair has qualified his view that the far left could never be elected to office, although he believes that the country would be worse off under an “unreconstructed far left programme”.

Law and Order

ACID ATTACKS: An increase in acid attacks has put the Home Office under pressure to take immediate action.  Last year there were 458 attacks in London alone, more than three times the total for the entire country in 2012/13.  One possibility is to make the carrying of acid on the street an offence.  Another is to restrict sales.  There are currently two teenagers in custody in relation to acid attacks and it seems likely that they will be dealt with harshly by the courts.

YOUTH PRISONS: Peter Clarke, the Chief Inspector of Prisons, has warned ministers of serious problems in youth jails where assaults and self harm have doubled over the last six years.  Almost half of boys within the institutions feel unsafe and the level of vocational training has dropped.  In many cases the facilities are “squalid, dirty and disgraceful”.  The Ministry of Justice has announced that it will be introducing a new youth custody service to take over the running of the establishments.

SENTENCE CHALLENGE: Arrangements under which victims and members of the public can challenge lenient sentences by asking the Attorney General to examine them are being expanded to cover more terrorist offences.  The Attorney General may refer a sentence to the Court of Appeal for review if it appears to be too light.

NEW LORD CHIEF: Lord Justice Burnett will take over as Lord Chief Justice on October 2.  Appointed QC in 1998, he became a High Court judge in 2008, and was the presiding judge of the Western Circuit for three years prior to his appointment to the Court of Appeal in 2014.

PEER IMPRISONED: Viscount St Davids has been sentenced to 12 weeks imprisonment on two counts of sending menacing messages by public media.  One message included threats to anti-Brexit campaigner Gina Miller following her legal challenge to the government’s notice to leave the EU.  He is on bail pending an appeal.

Transport

SOUTHERN RAIL: Further problems loom for the hard-pressed Southern Rail commuters as Aslef calls strikes on 1st, 2nd and 4th August despite drivers being offered a 23.8% rise over four years.  That would take pay for a four-day week to £60,683.

IN AND OUT: The final route chosen for HS2 passes through sixteen newly built properties in Mexborough.  The properties, which have just been occupied, will have to be demolished.

Miscellaneous

THE NATIONAL TRUST: Dame Helen Ghosh is leaving the National trust to become master of Balliol College, Oxford.

BBC: The BBC annual report has revealed the amounts which it pays to its stars.  Top of the list is Chris Evans at £2.2 million a year, way higher than the highest paid woman, Claudia Winkleman, at £450,000. Generally male stars are paid more than female and white stars are paid more than Asian or black ones. Since the value of a star is his or her contribution to ratings, this raises the question of whether white male stars have higher followings than others.

EMERGENCY SERVICES: Response targets to 999 calls are to be changed so that more priority is given to urgent cases, at the expense of patients in less danger.  The current system with an across the board eight minute target is regarded as wasteful with 25% of ambulances attending to find that hospital treatment is unnecessary.  The change has been cautiously welcomed by the ambulance service and the unions.

TENNIS: Roger Federer beat Marin Cilic in straight sets to become the men’s Wimbledon champion for a record eighth time.  Garbine Muguruza took the ladies championship, defeating Venus Williams, also in straight sets.

TEST MATCH: England lost the second test to South Africa so the series now stands at 1-1

 

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Issue 113: 2017 07 13: Week in Brief: UK

13 July 2017

Week in Brief: UK

Union Jack flapping in wind from the right

Government news

TEACHERS PAY: Education Secretary Justine Greening has confirmed that the 1% cap on teachers’ pay is to remain in place.  The education budget is under pressure because of pledges to spend an additional £4 billion on schools which were made before the decision to scrap free school lunches for infants was reversed.  A possible target for savings is the provision for the creation of further free schools, which amounts to £1.3 billion in 2017/18.

TRUMP VISIT: It is understood that a state visit by President Trump is being considered for the early part of 2018.  Mr Trump has recently indicated that the US will be willing to strike a trade deal with the UK very shortly after Brexit.

EXCLUDED MEMBER: Brexiteer Tory MP for Newton Abbott, Ann Marie Morris, has been suspended from the party for saying that leaving the EU without an agreement was “the real nigger in the woodpile”.  She has apologised unreservedly and says that she had not meant to use the phrase.  John Redwood, who was on the same platform, did not notice it.

OPERATION SOPHIA: The House of Lords EU external affairs subcommittee has concluded that the use of naval forces to interrupt people smuggling in the Mediterranean has increased deaths, as smugglers have moved from larger vessels to small inflatables.  The Committee could see no reason for continued participation but recommended that the training of the Libyan coastguard should be continued.

ARMS SALES: The High Court has rejected an application for judicial review challenging the grant by the Government of export licences for weapons sold to Saudi Arabia.  After hearing evidence in secret, the Court held that the grant of the licences was not illegal.  That, of course, confirms that ministers acted within their powers and does not amount to a ruling on whether they did so wisely.

POPULATION GROWTH: According to Eurostat, the statistical agency of the EU, the amount by which the population of France exceeds that of the UK has narrowed by 500,000 to 1.2 million over the last five years.  At 65.8 million, the UK is still a long way behind Germany at 82.8 million.  However, the German population is falling and may drop by as much as 15 million over the next 30 years.

END OF MAY? Pressure is growing on the Prime Minister to give up her position before the party conference in the autumn.  As she seeks to come to terms with her reduced majority by calling on the other parties to contribute ideas, it seems increasingly unlikely that she will retain the support of her own colleagues.

BAD BLOOD: Following receipt of a letter from opposition parties seeking an enquiry into the deaths of people who were given contaminated blood in the 1970s and 1980s, the Government has announced an enquiry.

DESELECTION: The Chairman of the Labour Party has said that he does not see deselection as the way forward and that there is no plan to change the current rules under which sitting MPs need a simple majority from their local branch to stay in place.  Momentum has said that it is not planning to target individual MPs.

Health

CHARLIE GARD CASE: In yet another hearing regarding the application by Great Ormond Street Hospital for confirmation that it is lawful to turn off life support for Charlie, the Court of Appeal upheld the High Court Judgement that to do so would be in his best interest.  The Court stressed that the test was the interest of the child even where that conflicted with the views of parents.  Nonetheless the merits of the nucleoside therapy advocated by the parents had been carefully analysed.

NUCLEAR REGULATION: The Royal College of Radiologists has criticised the proposal to leave Euratom because of the effect on scans and treatments which use radioactive isotope.  The UK is dependent on reactors in France, Germany, and Holland for isotope supplies.

CARE FUNDS: Councils are objecting to attempts by the government to make them spend £2 billion of emergency and social care funds to create care home places which will free up hospital beds.  The concern is that this will reduce the money available for maintaining patients in the community and make it harder for old people to remain at home.

Church

CLERGY UNFROCKED: The General Synod of the Church of England has voted to allow clergy to conduct services in casual dress rather than in vestments.  The change, which will not formally come into effect until approved by the Queen, provides for casual dress to be used with agreement of the parochial church council.

SUICIDES: The Synod has also approved the burial of suicides using the standard burial service from the Book of Common Prayer.

Transport

LUTON BETTER: Luton airport, famous for its boast that it is just 20 minutes from central London and the fact that travellers have to begin by getting a bus to the local railway station, is about to construct a shuttle link to the station to improve the experience of passengers.  The link, which it is said will deliver passengers to or from the railway station in no longer than five minutes, should be operational by 2021.

SOUTHERN RAILWAYS: Long suffering commuters on Southern Rail face a three-week partial shutdown of the network in August.  This time, however, it isn’t disagreement with the unions but engineering work to extend platforms at Waterloo.  The work, once completed, will increase the capacity of that station by 30%.  Meanwhile Network Rail suggests that commuters should work from home or avoid peak times during the works.

Miscellaneous

NED LUDD RIDES AGAIN: A drill owned by Cuadrilla which was to be used for exploration in Lancashire has been damaged by vandals.  Lorries making deliveries to the site where the drill was to be used have been stopped by protesters.

AMBULANCE CHASING: Law firm Leigh Day has suspended two trainees after an investigation by The Times uncovered what seems to have been the touting of services to the survivors of Grenfell Tower.  Posters bearing the names of the trainees are being examined by the Solicitors Regulation Authority.  The Times’s investigation has also found evidence of insurance agencies visiting door-to-door and a bogus victims’ organisation.

Sport

TENNIS: Johanna Konta has become the first British woman to reach the semi-finals of Wimbledon since 1978 by beating second-seeded Simona Halep in a remarkably even and hard fought match.  She goes on to play Venus Williams of the US.  Andy Murray was defeated by Sam Querrey in the quarter finals.

ROONEY: Wayne Rooney, the former England captain, is to transfer to Everton, the club at which he began his career.  He has always had an emotional attachment to the club and believes that he can move it forward to future trophies.

LIONS: The British and Irish Lions drew their test series with the All Blacks, tying the final test at Eden Park 15 – 15.

CRICKET: England won the first test match against South Africa by 211 runs, captain Joe Root making 190 in the first innings and Moheen Ali being named man of the match after taking 6 wickets for 53 runs in South Africa’s second innings.

 

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Issue 112: 2017 07 06: week in Brief: UK

06 July 2017

Week In Brief: UK

Union Jack flapping in wind from the right

Government

AUSTERITY: The government’s austerity policy has come under renewed pressure with demonstrations against the 1% limit on increases to public sector pay and cuts to the real education budget.  The 1% pay cap has been in place since 2013, before which time there was a freeze on the pay of all but the lowest paid public workers.  There is now a clear feeling, which seems to be shared by many Conservative MPs and also by a number of ministers such as Michael Gove and Justine Greening, that public sector workers have suffered enough.  The question is, however, how to pay them more within the parameters set by public debt levels.  Certainly there seems to be good case for shifting some of the burdens of austerity by raising taxation but that, of course, has to be done without strangling the economy.

STUDENT LOANS: According to the Institute of Fiscal Studies, students now leave university with an average debt of around £50,000 on which interest is running at 6.1%.  Although it is estimated that three quarters of graduates will never repay their loans, which are written off after 30 years, this is a heavy burden for the younger generation and risks putting students off university to the detriment of the national economy.  Something needs to be done but no one can agree what.  A graduate tax would bear heavily on those who have already paid university fees.  Removing student fees would yet again alter the relationship between students and universities and undermine university funding.  One answer would be to reduce the level of the fees to makes the debt more acceptable and, perhaps, to reduce the interest rate to government funding levels.

PARLIAMENT UNTIED: The sartorial revolution in the Commons triggered by speaker John Bercow’s ruling that MPs no longer need to wear ties, may spread to the House of Lords.  Although the Lords’ speaker, Lord Fowler, has said that it is down to peers to decide the matter, Lord Scriven, an entrepreneur, has threatened to take matters into his own hands by going in tieless.  Apparently Lord Scriven has been campaigning on this issue for six months.  Who said that peers were useless?

ROAD BUILDING: The Department of Transport’s new investment strategy reveals that from 2020/21 Vehicle Exercise Duty is to be ring fenced to pay for new roads.  Out of the £6.8 billion of duty which is expected to be levied in that year, 1 billion will be used to upgrade second class A roads, that is those maintained by local authorities rather than the Department.  A considerable amount of that will be spent on new bypasses.  The idea is to reduce the economic damage inflicted by road congestion, currently the worst in Europe.  Although hypothecating a particular revenue stream shows a commitment to road improvement, it brings the danger of money being spent unnecessarily to absorb budgets.

LABOUR: 49 pro-remain Labour MPs have refused to back the party position on Brexit by supporting an amendment by Chuka Umunna calling for the government to retain access to the single market.  Ruth Cadbury, Catherine West and Andy Slaughter have all been fired from the shadow cabinet as a clear rift in the party’s response to Government Policy opens up.

TERROR CRITICISM: Max Hill QC, now the independent reviewer of counter-terrorism legislation, has criticised proposals to prosecute media companies who do not do enough to counter terrorism.  In his view it is better to bring them onside in the fight to limit on-line material rather than to attack them.

Grenfell Tower

GRENFELL TOWER: The number of people who died in the Grenfell Tower disaster is still unknown because a number of flats were sublet and there is uncertainty about how many people were living there. The total death toll is, however, expected to be over 80.  Meanwhile controversy continues with criticism of the choice of retired Court of Appeal judge, Sir Martin Moore Blick, as chairman of the Inquiry, and calls for an inspector to be appointed to run Kensington and Chelsea.  Elizabeth Campbell, who has been a councillor since 2006, is the new leader there.

Environment

NORTH SEA COD: Recoveries in North Sea cod mean that it is now expected to be awarded the Marine Stewardship Council blue label which indicates that fishing is not endangering stocks.  Stocks of breeding fish are now four times 2006 levels.

WOLVES: Conservation charity the Wildwood Trust is monitoring the behaviour of six wolves which have been introduced into a park in Escot.  Apparently they are hoping to introduce wolves throughout the country in order to reduce the deer population.  They would also like to bring in brown bears.  Fortunately rewilding of this sort requires a licence from Natural England.  Still, they may just get it.  Deer are responsible for about 50,000 traffic accidents a year.  Wolves are presumably better drivers.  According to records, the last Scottish Wolf was killed in 1680.  The last Irish Wolf to be killed with hounds was killed by John Watson, Master of the Carlow and island Hunt, in 1786 on the slopes of Mount Leinster.

Health

DRUG LICENSING: Jeremy Hunt has put forward plans for the UK to continue to use the European Medicine Agency as a pharmaceutical product regulator following Brexit.  The one change to the current system is that drugs assessed by the European Medicine Agency would be rubber stamped by the UK rather than, as at present, by the European Commission.

BAD BLOOD: Documents disclosed in compensation claims against the government reveal that haemophiliacs continued to be treated with clotting agents taken from blood which might be contaminated with HIV or Hepatitis, after doctors had become aware of the risks.  There are about 300 claims in all.

MEDICAL RECORDS: The Privacy Regulator has ruled that the Royal Free NHS Foundation Trust illegally passed information to Google’s Deepmind project without patient consent.  Deepmind has confirmed that the information is only being used to promote patient care.

NURSING NUMBERS: The number of nurses and midwives fell in the financial year 2016/17 to 690,773.  That is 1783 less than in the previous year as more people leave the professions than join them.

Crime and the Courts

HEATH ENQUIRY: A retired high court judge, Sir Richard Henriques, is to report on the enquiry by Wiltshire Polices into discredited allegations of paedophilia against Sir Edward Heath.  Someone, somewhere, must think that something useful will come out of this and that it won’t be yet another waste of public money.

CYBER ATTACK: Cyber attacks on the Palace of Westminster continue with hackers posing as officials in order to try and get politicians to hand over their passwords.

GUNS SEIZURE: 79 pistols have been seized by Border Force at the Calais entrance to the Channel Tunnel.  Thought to be destined for London criminal gangs, the guns were concealed in a hollowed out engine block.  Seven Poles and a Czech have been arrested.

JERSEY: A report into child abuse in Jersey has revealed drastic failures going back for 50 years.  Appalling treatment, much of it focused on the Haut de la Garenne children’s home, was compounded by a failure to listen to those who spoke out and to follow up recommendations.  Stuart Syfret, who, as the Island’s health and social care minister, expressed concerns in 2007, has suggested that Westminster intervene to separate the operation of the police and judicial services.

ELECTION FRAUD TRIAL: Craig MacKinlay, the MP for South Thanet, will be tried in the Crown Court on charges of electoral fraud relating to the 2015 election.  The case will turn on allegations that he knowingly completed returns which failed to disclose the costs of the battle bus, hotel accommodation for central office staff, and various other expenses.

Sport

CRICKET RETURNS: Lord Hall, the director-general of the BBC, has confirmed that live cricket is to return to terrestrial channels from 2020.  The greed of the cricketing authorities resulted in cricket being removed from free view in 1999.

 

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Issue 111: 2017 06 29: Week In Brief: UK

29 June 2017

Week in Brief: UK

 Union Jack flapping in wind from the right

From the Brexit kitchen

QUEEN’S SPEECH: Last week’s Queen’s speech, a two-year programme of 27 measures, 8 of which related to Brexit, omitted many manifesto pledges.  Gone was the proposal to means test winter fuel allowance; gone were the plans to replace free school lunches with breakfast; gone was the “dementia tax” which would have reclaimed assets from the estate of the deceased to contribute to the amount spent on social care.  Other things have disappeared too.  There was no mention of the net migration target of 100,000.  Perhaps that policy has been downgraded.  Nothing was said about a proposed cap on energy prices or Mr Trump’s state visit to the UK.  Essentially the Government’s programme was gutted in order to focus on Brexit.  No wonder that Mr Corbyn referred to the proposals as “thin”.

DEVOLVED ASSEMBLIES: It appears that the Scottish, Irish and Welsh assemblies will vote on the way in which the Great Repeal Bill transfers certain EU legislation back to the UK.  This is mainly about agriculture and fisheries where considerable powers will come back from the EU.  The Scots are determined that they should come back to the devolved assemblies and not to Westminster.

ARCHBISHOP PITCHES IN: Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, has told the Mail On Sunday that there is a need for a cross-party body to work on Brexit strategy.  Other politicians including Lord Hague of Richmond and Yvette Cooper have also called for a more bipartisan approach and Lord Adonis has suggested that Sir John Major might make a suitable chairman for a cross-party committee.  At government level, David Davis, the Brexit Secretary, has asked for his shadow Sir Kier Starmer to be brought into the Privy Council so that he can be briefed on difficult areas.

OPENING OFFER: The negotiations regarding the terms on which we will leave the European Union began with the issue of citizens’ rights, that is the rights of EU citizens who currently live in the UK and of UK citizens who live in the other 27 states.  Mrs May’s opening bid, a proposal that those who have been in Britain for five years and have not been convicted of serious crime should be awarded “settled status” entitling them to the same rights as British citizens and that those who have been in Britain for a lesser period should be allowed to stay to accumulate those rights, was received unenthusiastically by Brussels.  Issues include which courts should enforce the rights.  The EU would like the European of Court of Justice to do it.  Mrs May would prefer the right to be overseen by British courts.

Other politics

DUP VOTES SECURED: The Democratic Unionist Party has agree to support the Government in the Commons on votes relating to Brexit, the Budget, national security, and on matters of confidence.  In return the Government has confirmed £1bn of expenditure on Northern Ireland.

NEW PRIME MINISTER: Philip Hammond is being suggested as a replacement for Teresa May on the basis that he would resign his position after two years so that another leader of the party could be appointed before the next general election.  Concerns of hardline Brexiteers, which focus on his preference for a soft Brexit, could be met by appointing David Davis as Deputy Prime Minister.  Mr Hammond might wonder why, if he is considered competent for the important job, he should make way for someone inferior once it is done.

GLASTONBURY: Mr Corbyn attended Glastonbury Festival to a huge and appreciative audience.  In an unguarded interview, however, he said that he expected to see Labour in power shortly and Trident being abolished.  The latter is not official Labour Party policy.

POVERTY STATISTICS: According to the Office of National Statistics, 30% of Britons fell into poverty over the four-year period to the end of 2015.  This is not a measure of falling living standards but rather of a greater spread of income in both directions.  To be in poverty for the purposes of the statistics you need to have an income below 60% of the national median.

Tower blocks

GRENFELL TOWER: The victims of the Grenfell Tower disaster are to be housed in Kensington in flats acquired by the City of London Corporation.  All cladding tested so far has failed safety checks and hundreds of buildings have been shown to have other defective systems.  A very large number of buildings will need to have their cladding replaced.  Meanwhile the blame-storming is well underway.  Councils blame the contractors who say that they did as they were told.  They also blame the inpenetrability of Government guidance.  John McDonnell blames the cuts and refers to “murder”.  Diane Abbott blames Tory attitudes to “second-class citizens”.  As politicians seek to turn the tragedy to their advantage and those involved with the construction of the blocks seek to push away the blame, the only bright spot remains the level of community support.  Latymer Upper School (a fee-paying school) and Arc Burlington Danes Academy (a state school) have both opened their doors to pupils from Kensington Aldridge Academy which is currently closed.

According to the London Fire Brigade, inflammable materials at the back of fridge freezers makes them one of the most dangerous household appliances.  The brigade has lobbied for a change to regulations for five years.

Medicine

GENERAL PRACTITIONERS: A proposal will be tabled at the forthcoming British Medical Association conference in Bournemouth suggesting that general practitioners adopt a “black alert” system similar to that used by hospitals.  Under the hospital system, a hospital sends out a black alert when it is at full capacity so that cases can be diverted elsewhere.  In the case of GPs they would be diverted to walk-in clinics, other practices and Accident and Emergency departments.

SEX THERAPY: Prisons are abandoning two courses on sex therapy because the rate of reoffending is higher among those who have taken the courses than among those who have not.  William Marshall, who developed the programs for Canada, says that this is because they have not been adapted in accordance with new research and that they have been led by people who are not qualified psychotherapists.

CHARLIE GARD: The European Court of Human Rights has followed the British courts in agreeing that the Great Ormond Street hospital should turn off life support for baby, Charlie Gard, and that he should not be taken to the US for further treatment.  The conclusion was reached by balancing the likelihood of distress against a limited potential benefits of the treatment.

Miscellaneous

BORIS BECKER: The three times Wimbledon winner has been declared bankrupt by a London registrar on the basis that there was no evidence that a substantial debt would be paid soon.  The application was made in connection with a debt owed by the star to investment bankers  Arbuthnot Latham.  It has been outstanding since 2015.

SEA TRIALS: HMS Queen Elizabeth, the 65,000 tonne aircraft carrier built for the Royal Navy, has left Rosyth to begin its sea trials.  According to the evocatively named Captain Kyd, bringing it out of the dockyard was quite an operation, there being only a 2m clearance under the Fourth Bridge and 35 cm on each side at the entrance to the River Forth.  The ship, with her sister ship the Prince of Wales, has run hugely over budget but the Coalition Government, which would have cancelled the project, was told that that would will be more expensive than continuing with it.  The ship and its complement of Lockheed aircraft is expected to be operational in 2020.

SUPERGRASS: Gary Haggarty, previously a loyalist paramilitary commander, has pleaded guilty to 200 terrorist offences including five murders.  A police informant during the troubles, he is expected to receive a reduced sentence to reflect the fact that he is helping the authorities bring other offenders to justice.

HACKERS: In what is suspected of being a state-sponsored cyber attack, a foreign power gained access to the email accounts of MPs and peers.  Passwords are being changed but there are concerns at the possibility of blackmail (well you know what MPs and peers are like!). The Parliamentary authorities are being criticised for the fact that  the attack was not revealed for 10 hours.

Meanwhile computer systems across Britain, Russia and America were disrupted by a computer virus on Tuesday, disrupting government and commercial operations and affecting the Chernobyl nuclear power plant.  As Russia is among the countries affected it is unlikely to be sponsored by the KBG (unless it is some form of brilliant double bluff).  In fact the attack seems to be designed to extract ransoms for unlocking screens.  Sir Michael Fallon, the Defence Secretary, has indicated that Britain is ready to respond “from any domain”, which is understood to include airstrikes.  If it is some teenager in a shed he may well get seriously flattened.

ICED SHIT: According to research by the BBC’s Watchdog programme, samples of ice taken from certain high street coffee chains contained faecal bacteria.  Is this a new variant of the age-old practice of spitting into the food of unpleasant customers? Hopefully not!

UNSCHISM: The Church of England and the Methodists are debating proposals to enter into full communion.  That would mean that the clergy could officiate at each other’s services and would involve the head of the Methodist Conference becoming a “president-Bishop” giving him the authority of an Anglican Bishop.

 

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Issue 110: 2017 06 22: Week in Brief UK

22 June 2017

Week In Brief: UK NEWS

Union Jack flapping in wind from the right

Fire

GRENFELL TOWER:  The Prime Minister has been heavily criticised for failing to empathise with victims following the disastrous fire at Grenfell Tower.  Although she visited the site shortly after the tragedy there was resentment that she spent her time with the emergency services rather than with those who had lost their homes.  The tragedy has clearly shocked the authorities and caused panic among those who think they might be blamed.  Statements as to whether the fire was caused by the cladding and, if so, who was responsible for the cladding being used, why there was no sprinkler system and why the alarm system did not operate, give the impression that shifting the blame has become a priority.  There will be a public enquiry.

Meanwhile the death toll continues to rise, the latest figure being 79.  The Queen has visited a centre for evacuated families with Prince William. Mr Corbyn has also talked with victims.

The relief effort appears to be chaotic with the Council running out of cash and difficulties in finding accommodation for those made homeless.  Labour has called for the requisition of empty properties in the borough to provide shelter.

Terrorism

FINSBURY PARK MOSQUE:  A man has been arrested after deliberately running his van into 10 people who had attended late prayers at the Finsbury Park Mosque.  One victim has died and two others are seriously hurt.

Government

QUEEN’S SPEECH:  Both the dress code and the program were stripped down today as the Queen’s speech went ahead with the Government still uncertain of its majority.  The expected agreement with the DUP not having been reached it remains to be seen whether the Government will fall.

BREXIT:  Negotiations about the terms of Brexit began on Monday between Michel Barnier and David Davis.  The initial focus was on procedure, it being agreed that the status of EU citizens resident in the UK (and vice versa) and the exit bill would be discussed first.  There will be one week of negotiation each month leaving the rest of the time for them to work on proposals.  Meanwhile both negotiators have indicated that the UK will not remain in the Customs union.

MAY’S SUCCESSOR:  Philip Hammond has publicly criticised Mrs May’s conduct of the election campaign in what appears to be positioning to be her successor. Likely candidates include Boris Johnson and David Davis.

ELECTION STATISTICS:  Analysis has shown that the older the elector the more likely he or she is to have voted Conservative in the election. The crossover, the age at which voters are most likely to switch to the Tories, is 47.  Among women there was equal support for Conservatives and Labour.  45% of men voted Conservative against 39% who backed Labour. There was a tendency for more educated voters to support Labour but that may be because the young have more qualifications.

SENSITIVE STATISTICS:  Changes are to be made to the arrangements under which sensitive economic statistics are released to ministers and officials before becoming public.  There has been concern for years that statistics leak into the market before they are released and research by a US University has revealed a high level of market activity between pre-release and a statistic being publicly announced.

ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS:  According to the think tank Civitas, secret Home Office estimates indicated that there could be as many as 1 million illegal immigrants in the UK.  The number of failed asylum seekers leaving the UK has dropped to 3446.

JO COX:  A number of street parties and other events have been held in commemoration of Labour MP Jo Cox who was murdered in June 2016 during the referendum campaign.

NONPERSON:  Moves have been made to deprive Akif Razak, a British citizen from Pakistan, of his British nationality on security grounds.  Mr Razak who works for a media organisation in northern Syria will appeal.  Under the 1981 British Nationality Act, British citizenship can be revoked in the public interest where the individual is either a dual national or naturalised.

Health

CANCER DRUG:  Use by the National Health Service of cancer drug Kadcyla has been approved following negotiations over price with the manufacturer Roche.  The drug, used in the treatment of breast cancer, had previously been rejected by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence in 2015 because it cost £90,000 per annum per patient.  It was, however, are approved for use in Scotland.  The new price is not known.

GENERAL PRACTITIONER HOURS:  According to the chief executive of Health Education England, the average general practitioner now works for four days a week rather than for four and a half.  That means that he or she sees only 90% of the patients who would have been seen in the past and is one of the reasons why the NHS is having difficulty finding enough doctors.

BAD COCONUTS:  the American Heart Association has said that coconut oil boosts bad cholesterol, which is bad news for those who have converted to it for health reasons.  The position over fats is now highly confused although apparently unsaturated fats are the best sort.

THERAPY CASE:  The case of baby Charlie Gard whose parents wish to take him to the US for a therapy which doctors at Great Ormond Street say will not help him is being heard by the European Court of Human Rights.

Miscellaneous

BARCLAYS:  Barclays’ ex chief executive John Varley and other executives have been charged with fraud in connection with support from Qatar which avoided the need for a bail out in 2008.

CYBER ATTACK:  University College London and Ulster University have each been the subject of cyber attacks.  However in both cases the attacks were contained to a small number of machines and no ransom was or will be paid.

HEATHROW:  Heathrow’s baggage system collapsed for more than two hours on Thursday, causing chaos for passengers departing from terminals 3 and 5.  The airport was criticised over the level of its communication with passengers.  All luggage has now been forwarded.

RAILWAYS:  Drivers have turned down an offer of a £7,000 per annum rise by Southern region.  Currently earnings with overtime come to some £75,000 a year.

WARM SPRING:  According to the Met office, this spring has been the warmest in central England since records began in 1659, the average temperature of 10.27° topping the 10.23° record set in 2011.

BRIDGE A SPORT?: An opinion by Maciej Szpunar, Advocate General in a dispute between the English Bridge Union and HMRC, has ruled that bridge is a sport for VAT purposes because it requires mental effort and confers health benefits on participants. If the opinion is accepted by the European Court of Justice, VAT will no longer be charged on competition entry fees. The amount at stake is about £500,000. Chess is already regarded as a sport: video gaming is not.

SPY PLANE FLEET:  According to reports in “The Times”, the RAF’s fleet of Sentinel spy planes has been crippled by lack of funds.  One of the five-aircraft fleet is to be removed from service and consideration has been given to scrapping the fleet, whose unique mapping abilities are of value to the coalition on Iraq.

MILITARY TRAGEDY:  Two soldiers died after a tank blew up on the Castlemaine firing range in Wales.  Two other soldiers are still seriously ill in hospital.  Until it is understood what happened, tank exercises using live ammunition have been suspended.

AMAZON:  Amazon is to buy Whole Foods, the organic supermarket chain, as part of its expansion into the grocery sector.  Whole Foods has only nine UK stores but 460 stores in the US.

 

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Issue 109: 2017 06 15: Week in Brief: UK

15 June 2017

Week in Brief: UK

Union Jack flapping in wind from the right

Fire

HIGH RISE FIRE: Grenfell Tower, a 24 story residential block of flats in West Kensington, caught fire in the early hours of Wednesday.  The block, which was built by the Kensington and Chelsea Borough Council in 1994 and refurbished last year, contained 120 flats.  It was gutted by the fire which was attended by 250 firefighters.  Although at the time of writing only 12 deaths have been confirmed, the number is likely to rise substantially.  The cause of the blaze is unknown.

Politics

GENERAL ELECTION RESULT: The final score following last week’s general election was as follows: Conservatives – 318, Labour – 262, SNP – 35, Liberal Democrats – 12, Greens – 1, others – 12.  That leaves the Conservatives eight seats short of a majority and reliant on support from the Democratic Unionist Party to govern.  The election result was full of surprises.  Kensington fell to Labour as did other traditionally Conservative seats such as Canterbury.  On the other hand the Conservatives took Mansfield, Stoke on Trent and Middlesbrough.  In Scotland the SNP were pushed back by all three parties, the Conservatives taking 13 seats.

Overall there seem to be three main themes.  The first is a movement towards Labour in Remain constituencies.  Presumably this is in response to Mrs May’s comment that no deal would be preferable to a bad deal.  Second, there was a clear resentment of austerity, particularly by the younger generation.   Third, Scottish electors have been repelled by the separatist agenda of the SNP.

It is unclear how things will develop, but for the moment Mrs May remains in power on the basis of an expected confidence and supply agreement with the Democratic Unionists.  That is way short of a formal coalition and simply means that the Democratic Unionists would support the government in votes of confidence and votes of money (in practice that means support on  the Queen’s Speech and the Budget).  On specific measures the Government would have to persuade other parties to vote with it.  Arlene Foster, leader of the Democratic Unionists, is in discussion with the Prime Minister over the details.

The Queen’s Speech has been postponed in order to give the government time to trim the policies set out in its manifesto.  Michael Gove has rejoined the Cabinet as the Environment Secretary and Damian Green will run the Cabinet Office as “First Secretary of State”.  Mrs May’s previous minders, Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill, have resigned.

LiB DEMS: Yim Farron has resigned the leadership of the Liberal Democrats citing difficulties in reconcilin his Christian principles with his leadership of the party.

ABBOTT DIABETES: Diane Abbott, the shadow Home Secretary, has revealed that she has type 2 diabetes which affected her during the election campaign when she faced a series of interviews without sufficient food.

TRUMP VISIT POSTPONED:  It is understood that the proposed state visit by Mr Trump to the UK is to be postponed.  Apparently Mr Trump told Mrs May that he would not come to Britain if it was likely that there would be large protests against him.

TERRORISM: Britain and France have proposed heavy fines for technology companies which fail to remove jihardist propaganda and terrorist guidelines from their websites, at counterterrorism talks in Paris.  The German government is also anxious to change the law so that security agencies can read encrypted information.

FRACKING: The National Trust is refusing to allow Ineos Shale to carry out seismic tests at Clumber Park as part of its survey of shale gas reserves.  The Trust has refused to discuss the matter with Ineos on the basis that fossil gas is not renewable and that its use will contribute to climate change.  Ineos has a government licence to explore 1.2 million acres and legal powers to obtain access to land under the Mines Act 1966.

Health

UNNECESSARY OPERATIONS: Work by Andrew Carr, Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery at Oxford, indicates that a number of routine operations carried out by the national health service have no medical benefit other than as a placebo.  The operations include knee arthroscopics, migraine incisions and stomach balloons.  A common form of shoulder surgery which is performed on some 10,000 patients a year is still being examined.

FARSEEING FOOTBALLERS: Research published in the journal Science and Medicine in Football reveals that Premier League players are sharper sighted than the public generally, with defenders having an edge over attackers.  This is unlikely to undermine the consensus amongst supporters that most referees are blind.

Crime

MURDER: French police investigating the death of Russian whistle blower Alexander Perepilichnyy, who was found by a roadside in Surrey shortly after his return from France where he may have been poisoned, claim that they are being hampered by the failure of their British counterparts to share evidence.  The British view is that Mr Perepilichnyy, who had exposed a £150 million money-laundering operation for Russian officials, died of natural causes.  US agents claim that shortly before his death they told MI6 that he was likely to be assassinated.

MORE KNIVES:  According to the Ministry of Justice, the number of people convicted or cautioned for offences involving knives in the first three months of this year showed an increase of 11% over the 2016 figure.  The total number was 5184 and the increase was spread over police authorities generally.

Education and Charities

RSPCA: Jeremy Cooper, the chief executive of the RSPCA, has resigned.  Mr Cooper, who introduced a new five-year strategy for the reform of the charity, had only been in post for 15 months.  The RSPCA, which faces a decline in membership and receipts, has been criticised for its aggression towards pet owners and farmers, and for the large amounts of money spent on anti-hunting prosecutions.  The Charity Commission has placed the charity under formal observation and threatened to take further action unless its standards of governance improve.

ISLAMIC SCHOOL: Jamia Al-Hudaa Residential College for Girls, an Islamic boarding school in Nottingham, is likely to remain open after inspectors saw major changes in the education being provided.  When previously inspected the school had pushed pupils towards the teaching of Islam and away from other careers.  Now, however, the curriculum has been broadened, pupils have been encouraged to mix with the community and career advisers have been brought in.

EDUCATION DATA: Comprehensive data has been published by the government giving median salaries five years after graduation for different university courses.  At the top were business degrees in Economics and Management from Oxford (£71,700) and Economics from the LSE (£55,200).  Law courses and degrees in computer scientists did much less well.

Miscellaneous

DIVORCE: In a departure from the general rule that assets accumulated during marriage should be split equally, the Court of Appeal has ruled that ex-husband Robin Sharp is only entitled to £2 million out of£5,450,000 accumulated during his marriage because the marriage was short, there were no children, finances had been kept separate and Mrs Sharp had made the major contribution.  This represents a change to established practice and will, no doubt, give rise to uncertainty as the implications are worked through.

SQUEEZE: Visa has recorded a decline of 0.8% between consumer spending last month and consumer spending in May 2016.  This reflects a drop in real wages as inflation rises to 2.9%.  The decline corroborates figures from the fashion industry which show declining sales.

MOBILE PHONES: As from today no extra fees will be chargeable on British mobile phone users when they use their regular allowance from elsewhere in the EU.

GAY MARRIAGE: The Scottish Episcopal Church has become the first within the Anglican community to conduct gay marriages.  However only priests who decide to “opt in” will officiate.

ROBOT SHIPS: The International Maritime Organisation is considering whether to change its rules to allow un-crewed ships to sail between international destinations.  Such ships are already permitted in coastal waters and the first robot container ship is due to be launched next year.

 

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