Sunday, July 12, 2020

Saturday, July 11, 2020

Coronavirus diary, Day 107

An incredibly clear day in West Cumbria.

Sometimes you can look from Whitehaven or the surrounding area near the coast in the  direction of the Isle of Man and not see a thing.

On other days you can look in the same direction and see the island so clearly you almost feel that you could reach out and touch it. Today was one of those days.

I see form the international news that a number of countries which have relaxed their lockdowns are seeing the numbers of infections go up again.

That doesn't mean that while infections are falling and as we are putting track and trace in place it is wrong for Britain to try to get the economy going again. If we don't there might not be much of an economy after this is finally over. But it does mean that everyone - government, employers, individuals - still needs to be very careful not to spread the virus.

Keep well.

Opportunities for British trade with India

Reuters reports that India has started trade talks with the European Union (EU) and is open to dialogue with the United Kingdom for a free trade agreement, according to a statement made by India's trade minister today (Saturday 11th July,) as Asia's third largest economy looks for new markets for its products.

Piyush Goyal said that India is open to engage with the UK for a preferential trade agreement with the ultimate goal of a free trade agreement.

He is also in dialogue with the European Union's trade commissioner for a deal that could start with a preferential trade agreement. He added that the ultimate goal here too would be to have a free trade agreement.

"We're talking to the EU and I am in dialogue with the EU trade commissioner. I am looking for an early harvest deal. Open to discussions on a variety of subjects. It’s up to the UK and EU whoever picks up the gauntlet first," Goyal said.

Negotiations for a comprehensive free trade agreement between the EU and India were suspended in 2013 after six years of talks.

India pulled out of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership last year due to fears over China's access to its markets and is looking for new ways to boost its exports.

The country has also been raising trade barriers to block cheap imports from China and replace them with locally made goods for domestic consumption and exports.

"Apart from pharmaceuticals, we have textiles, handicrafts, leather, furniture, industrial machinery, toys are areas where India can engage with UK and the  EU at competitive prices," Goyal said.

India's economic growth has largely been driven by local consumption and successive governments have struggled to expand exports.

In the last six years Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government has been trying to push exports through various programmes like "Make in India" but with limited success.

Regardless of how you voted in the EU referendum, the majority of those who voted ticked the box for leaving the EU and Britain has now done so.

That gives us the opportunity to take up potential deals like this, and India is a country with which Britain may be able to do a mutually valuable deal. We need to move as quickly as possible to follow up such opportunities.

Saturday music spot: "Not The 9 'O Clock News - Super Duper" (ABBA parody)

Jack Charlton RIP

Almost anyone who pays the tiniest amount of attention to football in either England or Ireland will have learned with sorrow today of the death of football legend Jack Charlton at the age of 85.

The former Leeds United defender had been diagnosed with lymphoma in the last year and also had dementia.

One of English football's most popular characters, he was in the team that won the World Cup at Wembley in 1966, alongside his brother Bobby.

He then went on to be manager of the Republic of Ireland's team and took them to the World Cup's quarter final stage.

A family statement read: "Jack died peacefully on Friday, July 10 at the age of 85. He was at home in Northumberland, with his family by his side.

"As well as a friend to many, he was a much-adored husband, father, grandfather and great-grandfather.

"We cannot express how proud we are of the extraordinary life he led and the pleasure he brought to so many people in different countries and from all walks of life.

"He was a thoroughly honest, kind, funny and genuine man who always had time for people.

"His loss will leave a huge hole in all our lives but we are thankful for a lifetime of happy memories."

The England football team tweeted to say they were "devastated" by the news, while he was hailed as a man who "changed Irish football forever" by the Football Association of Ireland.

"He was a great and lovable character and he will be greatly missed. The world of football and the world beyond football has lost one of the greats. RIP old friend,"

said Sir Geoff Hurst who scored a hat-trick in that 1966 world cup final.

What can I add but "Rest in Peace."

Quote of the day 11th July 2020

"Let's discuss further when I'm next in your lift."

(The late Sir Keith Joseph, who at the time was a cabinet minister, apparently mistaking the MP for West Derbyshire, Matthew Parris, for a Westminster Palace lift attendant according to an anecdote told by Parris in this morning's Times.)

Friday, July 10, 2020

Opening up Britain's economy

Yesterday the government announced the next phase of the careful reopening of the economy, with outdoor sports facilities, competitive grassroots sport, open-air performances and beauty businesses to return from 11 July. 
  • In March, during the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, we had to press pause on many of things that brighten our lives – meals with friends, trips to the cinema or theatre and playing sports.  
  • Thanks for to the efforts of our fantastic NHS and the British people, we have made huge progress against in tackling this disease, and as we continue to keep it under control, we can gradually see the things we enjoyed return, as we slowly go back to normal life.   
  • Each one of us played a role in fighting the spread of this virus. Now as we begin the next phase of easing lockdown, we can all play our part to help the country recover safely.
Yesterday’s announcement means:
  • From tomorrow, many of the nation’s beloved theatres and performances venues will be back up and running, as outdoor theatres, opera, dance and music performances  resume. Beauty salons, nail bars, tattoo and massage studios, physical therapy businesses and spas across England will be able to reopen, with strict measures in place to ensure the safety of both workers and the public. 
  • From 11 July we are allowing outdoor pools to reopen, followed by indoor gyms, pools and leisure centres on 25 July, helping the nation get match-fit to defeat this virus. We have published guidance with input from industry bodies and in consultation with Public Health England and the Health and Safety Executive, which includes advice to pool, gym and leisure facilities on cleaning, social distancing and protection of staff to help get venues back up and running safely.
  • Recreational grassroots sports will be permitted to begin returning outdoors, ensuring millions of people can once again enjoy the benefits that playing team sports brings. Each individual sport will submit an action plan and related guidance, demonstrating its mitigations before they can be approved to restart. Supporters will also be allowed to attend community fixtures in small numbers, provided they are in groups of two households only, or no larger than six people from different household, and adhere to social distancing measures. 
  • From 13 July, businesses including beauty salons, nail bars and tattoo studios across England will be allowed to reopen safely, enabling many thousands of small independent businesses to return. Beauty salons, nail bars, tattoo and massage studios, physical therapy businesses and spas across England will be able to reopen, with strict measures in place to ensure the safety of both workers and the public. 

The New Deal for Britain

The Plan for Jobs announced this week builds on the Prime Minister’s New Deal for Britain:
Over the next five years, we will invest more than £600 billion pounds in our future prosperity, with the New Deal bringing forward and accelerating £5 billion of capital investment projects, supporting jobs and the economic recovery across the country.
  • Providing £1.5 billion this year for hospital maintenance, modernising the mental health estate, accelerating new hospital building projects, and expanding A&E capacity. This will improve patient care, make sure NHS hospitals can deliver world-leading services and reduce the risk of coronavirus infections.
  • Investing £100 million this year for 29 projects in our road network to get Britain moving, from bridge repairs in Sandwell to boosting the quality of the A15 in the Humber region. Plus £10 million for development work to unblock the Manchester rail bottleneck, which will begin this year.
  • Providing £1 billion to fund the first 50 projects of a new, ten-year school rebuilding programme, starting from 2020-21. These projects will be confirmed in the Autumn, and construction on the first sites will begin from September 2021. We are also accelerating existing programmes to repair and upgrade schools and FE colleges. This will be worth £560 million and £200 million respectively this year.
  • Investing over £280 million to support and modernise our criminal justice system creating jobs; New £142 million for digital upgrades and maintenance to around 100 courts this year, £83 million for maintenance of prisons and youth offender facilities, and £60 million for temporary prison places, creating thousands of new jobs.
  • Bringing forward £900 million for a range of ‘shovel ready’ local growth projects in England over the course of this year and next, as well as £96 million to accelerate investment in town centres and high streets through the Towns Fund this year. This will provide all 101 towns selected for town deals with £500,000 – £1 million to spend on projects such as improvements to parks, high streets, and transport.
  • Kick-starting the construction industry and speeding up rebuilding. New rules will mean existing commercial properties, including newly vacant shops, can be converted into housing more easily. And in July we will publish a planning Policy Paper setting out our plan to comprehensively reform England’s outdated planning system with a new approach that works better for our modern economy and society.
  • Confirming a £12 billion affordable homes programme that will support up to 180,000 new affordable homes for ownership and rent over the next 5 years. This builds on the 464,500 affordable new homes we have delivered since 2010 and will now include a pilot of 1,500-unit ‘First Homes’ that will be sold to local first-time buyers at a 30 per cent discount, delivering on our manifesto commitment.
  • Allocating funds from the £400 million Brownfield Land Fund. We have confirmed the allocation of funds to the West Midland, Greater Manchester, West Yorkshire, Liverpool City Region, Sheffield City Region, North of Tyne and Tees Valley to unlock brownfield sites and support around 24,000 homes.
  • Expanding the Home Builders Fund to help smaller developers access finance for new housing. Developments will receive additional £450 million boost. This is expected to support delivery of around 7,200 new homes.
This all comes on top of the unprecedented action the Government has already taken to support jobs and livelihoods across the UK with over £160 billion of support…. 
  • Jobs retention scheme has been used by over 1.1 million employers to protect 9.4 million people’s jobs at a value of £27.4 billion
  • Self-employed income support scheme has been used by over 2.7 million to the value of £7.7 billion.
  • The safety net is working – with an extra 2.3 million people getting the help they need through Universal Credit (since 12 March)
  • 53,536 loans have now gone out through the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme for SMEs providing almost £11.5 billion worth of finance.
  • 394 loans have been approved for the Coronavirus Large Business Interruption Loan Scheme for large firms providing £2.5 billion worth of financing.
  • Over 1 million Bounce Back Loans have been approved worth over £30 billion.
  • Over 861,000 firms have benefitted from £10.57 billion of business grants through the Small Business Grant Fund and the Retail, Hospitality and Leisure Grant Fund.
  • Almost £10 billion of business rates relief has been provided for firms affected by Covid-19 – taken with existing measures around 1.1 million properties will pay no business rates in 2020-21.
  • Over 496,000 VAT payments deferred by businesses to the value of £27.5 billion.

Quote of the day 10th July 2020

"Dear Queen Elizabeth, You might be feeling sad or lonely during lockdown, so I thought I could make a word search for you to cheer you up. Love from Timothy Madders,"

(The note accompanying a "happiness word search" with hidden words including "smile", "family", "holiday" and "sunshine" made for and sent to her Majesty by seven year old Timothy Madders.

In reply the Queen's private officer sent a letter from one of Her Majesty's ladies in waiting, Philippa de Pass, who wrote:

"The Queen wishes me to write and thank you for your kind letter, and for the puzzle you have created especially for Her Majesty.

"Your thoughtfulness is greatly appreciated, and The Queen hopes that you too are keeping safe and well in the current situation.

"I am to thank you very much indeed for writing as you did at this time.")

Thursday, July 09, 2020

Boosting the economy throughout the UK

This is how the action the UK government is taking to protect the economy applies over the four countries of the United Kingdom including the support for devolved administrations in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales.

There a tick appears in the UK column, that programme applies throughout the UK, if there is a tick against one of the four home countries, it applies in that country.

"Barnett" or "Block grant" against a country means that the devolved administration is being given equivalent funding through the Barnett Formula or a block grant to enable them to afford to run such as scheme or take other action to protect the economy in that country.

Anyone who calls you and says they're from "British Telecom" is a crook

Another call this week with a recorded, official-sounding voice claiming to be from "British Telecom."

I put the phone down, knowing this call was fraudulent, as soon as I heard the company referred to  by that name.

"British Telecom" was the official name of Britain's largest Telecommunications supplier for less than three years of its 174 year history, between 1st October 1981 and 12th April 1984, and was used as a trade name for just over a decade from 1980 to 1991.

On 2nd April next year it will be thirty years since "British Telecom" was dropped as a trade name in favour of "BT" although the company still owns the trademark rights to the name so nobody else is allowed to use it under UK law.

It is inconceivable that any legitimate, official communication would use this name. For a couple of years after the branding change it was not entirely unknown for individuals to occasionally slip and accidentally use the old branding, but I've not heard anyone in the company use the old name even informally this side of the Millennium.

So anyone who phones or otherwise contacts you claiming to be from "British Telecom" is lying and is almost certainly part of some scam or fraudulent activity aimed at stealing your money.

Don't waste your time talking to them, don't ring any number they give you, don't reply to any email, don't go on any website they ask you to look at. Just hang up or delete the message.

The Plan for Jobs

Yesterday, the Chancellor announced a Plan for Jobs, worth up to £30 billion.

The plan for jobs is about supporting people to find the jobs that are out there, creating new jobs through investing in our infrastructure and housing, and finally protecting jobs by revitalising the hard-hit sectors upon which many jobs depend. 

Throughout the coronavirus crisis, we have put in place a £160 billion plan to protect people’s jobs, incomes and businesses – one of the largest and most comprehensive in the world. And the analysis, published today, shows our interventions significantly protected people’s incomes, with the least well off in society benefitting the most. 

The first phase of the plan was about protection. It is now time to focus on jobs, and there will come a third phase – which is the moment for rebuilding. We will produce a Budget and a Spending Review in the autumn.
Jobs Retention Bonus Scheme:
  • Rewarding and incentivising employers who successfully bring furloughed staff back through a new Jobs Retention Bonus SchemeTo encourage employers to keep their employees on, we are introducing the Jobs Retention Bonus Scheme, a one-off payment of £1,000 to the business for every employee who was furloughed previously and who is successfully kept on continuously until January. Our message to business is clear: if you stand by your employee, we will stand by you
Protecting jobs:
Front and centre of our economic response has been the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme – but it cannot and should not go on forever. That is why we will introduce new unprecedented measures to protect millions of jobs.
  • Temporarily cutting VAT for the tourism and hospitality sectors, giving a much-needed boost to some of the industries hardest hit by coronavirus. From 15 July 2020, we will cut the rate of VAT applied across the UK to hospitality, accommodation and attractions from 20 per cent to 5 per cent until 12 January 2021. This could support almost 2 million businesses and protect 2.5 million jobs. 
  • Launching a new Eat Out to Help Out scheme – something that has never been done in this country ever before – giving people up to 50 per cent off meals out, encouraging them back into restaurants, cafes and pubs. Anyone who eats at a participating business, Monday to Wednesday for the month of August, can receive up to 50 per cent off food and non-alcoholic drinks, up to a value of £10 per person. Businesses can claim the money back from the government weekly, receiving funds within 5 working days. Guidance for businesses will be published next week.
Labour have praised the government for our economic response. Sir Keir Starmer said ‘The government did the right thing in putting in furlough and other support schemes’ and Anneliese Dodds has said ‘The job retention or furlough scheme… has had no parallel in UK history… Without it, one in three businesses say they would have had to lay off staff’. 
Creating new jobs:
We will not be deterred by this crisis from the urgent need for change in our country and to deliver on our manifesto commitments – that is why we are doubling down on our ambitions to level up, invest in infrastructure and create jobs in all four corners of our country.
  • Temporarily scrapping stamp duty on all homes under £500,000 to catalyse the housing market and boost confidence – helping to drive growth and create jobs. From 9 July 2020 until 31 March 2021, we are increasing the threshold at which stamp duty applies from £125,000 to £500,000. This will mean, from tomorrow, 90 per cent of people getting on or moving up the property ladder will pay no stamp duty at all – equating to an average saving of £4,500.   
  • Upgrading the energy efficiency of homes across England through a new Green Homes Grant, saving people hundreds of pounds on their energy bills, while helping to meet our goal of Net Zero by 2050. We will provide £2 billion to allow people to apply for a voucher, to fund at least two-thirds of the cost of upgrading the energy performance of their homes – up to a maximum of £5,000. Low-income households will be eligible for up to 100 per cent of government funding, up to £10,000. This measure will also reduce energy bills by up to £300 a year and help to save carbon – equivalent to a flight from London to New York. 
  • Launching a pilot to decarbonise social housing, reducing energy bills by an average of £200 for some of the poorest households in society. We are providing £50 million to pilot new approaches for retrofitting social housing at scale – meaning warmer and more energy efficient homes. 
  • Providing £1 billion to improve the energy efficiency of public sector buildings, helping to deliver on our ambitious climate change targets. The scheme will offer grants to public sector bodies including schools and hospitals to fund both energy efficiency and low-carbon heat measures.
Labour would not help businesses who are recovering from coronavirus. Sir Keir Starmer wants to hike corporation tax putting more burdens on business. Meanwhile, Labour’s own union paymasters have called their plans to deal with climate change ‘utterly unachievable’ saying they would damage workplaces. 
Supporting people to find jobs:
We know that young people will be hardest hit by this crisis, and we are determined to provide support to give them the best possible chance of getting on and getting a job.
  • Creating hundreds of thousands of new jobs for young people through a new £2 billion Kickstart Scheme, to give young people the best possible chance of getting a job. The scheme will directly pay businesses to create new, decent and high-quality jobs for any 16-24 year old at risk of long-term unemployment. Funding available for each job will cover 100 per cent of the National Minimum Wage for 25 hours a week, for six months in total, plus an admin fee – for a grant of around £6,500 per placement. There will be no cap on the number of places available, and our £2 billion will initially fund hundreds of thousands of new placements. 
  • Paying businesses £1,000 to take on Trainees, with triple the number of places there are now, to get young people ready for work. We will provide £111 million to triple the scale of Traineeships, which consist of work experience placements, training and work preparation for 16-24 year olds. We will also increase the eligibility of Traineeships to include young people qualified up to Level 3 (advanced – equivalent to 2 good A Level passes), up from Level 2 (intermediate – equivalent to achieving 5 GCSEs at 9-4) currently. 
  • Providing £2,000 to employers for each new apprentice they hire under the age of 25, helping more people into the workplace while developing key skills. In recognition of the value apprentices of any age can bring to our economic recovery, we will provide £2,000 to any employer in England who takes on an apprentice aged under 25, and £1,500 for any apprentice aged over 25. 
  • Giving young people who have just left school the skills they need to find work in high-value sectors, such as engineering, construction and social care. We will provide £101 million to help 18 and 19 year olds to take high value courses at Levels 2 and 3 where work opportunities are not available. 
  • Expanding the National Careers Service to help more young people find work or training. We will provide £32 million to recruit more careers advisers for the National Careers Service, so that it can provide advice to 269,000 more people. 
  • Tripling the number of places available through Sector-Based Work Academies, supporting those who are out of work with the new skills they need to re-enter the jobs market. Sector-Based Work Academies are short-term courses lasting up to six weeks for unemployed benefit claimants. They consist of pre-employment training, work experience placements and guaranteed interviews. We will scale up these academies, providing an additional £17 million to triple the number of placements available in 2020-21, supporting 32,000 more vocational training placements. 
  • Doubling the number of work coaches and boosting the DWP’s rapid response service to get people back on their feet and into work. We will double the number of Work Coaches through Job Centre Plus to 27,000; provide an additional £150 million into the Flexible Support Fund to remove barriers to work; and help DWP react quickly to large-scale redundancies by expanding the Rapid Response Service.  We will also expand the Work and Health Programme to provide intensive support to people unemployed for at least three months; and launch a new scheme, modelling on the successful Work Programme, to support the long-term unemployed. 
  • Offering a guaranteed foundation of support to all young people on Universal Credit with a new Youth Offer. From September, we are providing a guaranteed foundation of support for all 18-24 year olds on Universal Credit. The Youth Offer will include: 13 weeks of intensive support – including a referral to work-related training or an apprenticeship; new Young People’s Hubs for those who need additional tailored work coach support; and Youth Employability Coaches for those with more complex needs.
  • Creating an Opportunity Guarantee so every young person has the chance of an apprenticeship or an in-work placement. As the Prime Minister announced last week we will provide an Opportunity Guarantee to give young people the skills and confidence they need to find they job that is right for them. 

Quote of the day 9th July 2020

"If you're an employer and you bring back someone who was furloughed - and continuously employ them through to January - we'll pay you a £1,000 bonus per employee. 

"It's vital people aren't just returning for the sake of it - they need to be doing decent work. 

 "So for businesses to get the bonus, the employee must be paid at least £520 on average, in each month from November to the end of January - the equivalent of the lower earnings limit in National Insurance."

(Chancellor Rishi Sunak yesterday on the incentive the government is giving to help employers pay people properly to get back to work.)

Wednesday, July 08, 2020

Coronavirus diary, Day 104

  • Today, the Chancellor announced our Plan for Jobs, worth up to £30 billion – to support people to find jobs, create new jobs through investment, and finally protect jobs by revitalising the hard-hit sectors upon which many jobs depend. We have announced a range of measures – on top of the £160 billion plan to protect people’s jobs, incomes and businesses – to support, create and protect jobs. This includes:
    • Rewarding and incentivising employers who successfully bring furloughed staff back through a new Jobs Retention Bonus Scheme.
    • Temporarily cutting VAT for the tourism and hospitality sectors, giving a much-needed boost to some of the industries hardest hit by coronavirus.
    • Launching a new Eat Out to Help Out scheme, giving people up to 50 per cent off meals out, encouraging them back into restaurants, cafes and pubs.
    • Temporarily scrapping stamp duty on all homes under £500,000 to catalyse the housing market and boost confidence – helping to drive growth and create jobs.
    • Upgrading the energy efficiency of homes across England through a new £2 billion Green Homes Grant, saving people hundreds of pounds on their energy bills.
    • Creating hundreds of thousands of new jobs for young people through a new £2 billion Kickstart Scheme, to give young people the best possible chance of getting a job.
    • £1 billion to double the number of work coaches and support the unemployed.

Other things which the government is doing:

  • Providing a world-leading £1.57 billion package of emergency grants and loans to protect Britain’s world-class cultural, arts and heritage institutions. This is the largest ever investment in UK culture and will safeguard the sector for years to come, ensuring arts groups and venues across the country can stay afloat and support their staff as the economy cautiously reopens again.
  • Announcing plans to reopen travel routes with lower risk countries like France, Spain and Italy from 10 July, so that people can go on holiday this summer without needing to self-isolate on return. From 10 July, people returning from a range of countries including Germany, France, Spain and Italy will be able to enter England without needing to self-isolate for 14 days. Passengers will still be required to provide contact information on arrival in the UK.
  • Announcing that staff and residents in care homes for the over 65s, and for those with dementia, will be regularly tested, as we continue to throw our arms around the most vulnerable in society. We are launching a new testing strategy for care homes, under which staff will be tested weekly, while residents receive a test every 28 days. This is in addition to intensive testing in any care home facing an outbreak. While we will start with care homes for the over 65s and those with dementia, we will extend the programme to all care homes for adults in August.
  • Delivering a new £500 million funding package for councils, to help them continue their response to coronavirus while addressing their financial pressures. The new £500 million un-ringfenced support will ensure they can continue to do that, bringing the total support for councils to £4.3 billion – part of the unprecedented £27 billion package to support councils, businesses and communities announced over recent months.
  • Publishing detailed guidance for all schools in preparation for September – so that children across the whole country can safely return to their education. Our guidance will allow schools to reopen their doors to as all children in September. The safety and wellbeing of every single child and their teachers continues to be our absolute top priority.

Keep well

Quote of the day 8th July 2020

"We are not led by Jekyll and Hyde, nor even Laurel and Hardy. Britain right now is neither a horror movie nor a comedy of errors. It’s more like The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner."

"We will get to the finishing line in the end, but how we respond to the crisis matters more than anything decided in Downing Street. We, the people, may think we only get to decide once every few years at elections, but in fact the everyday decisions we make matter more than we think."

(Daniel Johnson, from a piece on The Article website which you can read in full here.)

Tuesday, July 07, 2020

Tuesday music spot: "My Heart is Inditing," by G.F. Handel

The Domestic Abuse Bill

Yesterday the landmark Domestic Abuse Bill passed through the House of Commons, the first step towards protecting victims of this heinous crime and ensuring perpetrators are properly punished.

  • Millions of people have suffered domestic abuse – it is unacceptable, and the reason why it is so important we shine a light on it and tackle this heinous crime. 
  • That is why the government has brought forward a ground-breaking Domestic Abuse Bill through the House of Commons, which will strengthen protections for victims, whilst also tackling perpetrators at the earliest stage and ensuring they feel the full force of the law. 
  • With this bill, which has been widely welcomed by charities, and by bolstering law enforcement, we will keep victims safe and ensure survivors of this horrendous crime get the support they need to rebuild their lives knowing justice has been done.

Britain introduces "Magnitsky" sanctions against Human rights abusers.

Yesterday the British Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab, announced that forty-nine individuals would be sanctioned under our new global human rights regime, demonstrating Global Britain’s commitment to acting as a force for good in the world.

  • As we forge a dynamic new vision for a truly Global Britain, the government is committed to making the United Kingdom an even stronger force for good in the world. 
  • That is why Britain has introduced a new ‘Magnitsky’-style sanctions regime, that will target those who have been involved in some of the gravest human rights violations and abuses around the world, stopping them from entering the country, channelling money through UK banks, or profiting from our economy. 
  • Through this action, and by continuing to work closely with our international allies, we are underscoring our position as a global force for good that will stand up for victims of human rights violations and abuses around the world.

These measures are known as "Magnitsky" sanctions after Sergei Magnitsky, a taxd expert who died after 11 months of mistreatment in Russian police custody in 2009 after being arrested himself on trumped-up charges when he raised allegations that Russian officials had been involved in massive theft and tax fraud.

His friend and colleague Bill Browder has campaigned for a decade for sanctions against individuals responsible for such human rights violations, resulting in laws being passed in the USA, the European parliament, and the UK parliament and considered in other countries.

Alexander Bastrykin, an investigator who reports directly to President Vladimir Putin, and Aleksey Anichin, a former deputy interior minister, are among the Russians who the UK has now blacklisted over Magnitsky's death.

The UK has also sanctioned 20 Saudis for their roles in the murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul in 2018, including intelligence and security officials in the office of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

The two top members of Myanmar's armed forces are sanctioned for their role in the persecution of the Rohingya, while two North Korean security ministries face asset freezes because of their involvement in murder, torture and slave labour in the country's prison camps.

Speaking about the new sanctions regime, Mr Raab told parliament yesterday: "If you're a kleptocrat or an organised criminal, you will not be able to launder your blood money in this country."

He added:

"Today this government...sends a very clear message on behalf of the British people that those with blood on their hands, the thugs and despots, the henchmen and dictators, will not be free to waltz into this country to buy up property on the King's Road, to do their Christmas shopping in Knightsbridge, or frankly to siphon dirty money through British banks or other financial institutions."

Green investment for Britain's recovery from COVID-19

Today the government is announcing a £3 billion green investment package to drive forward green home improvements, decarbonise buildings and create thousands of jobs – helping to kickstart our eco-friendly economic recovery.

  • As the country recovers from the coronavirus pandemic, it is vital we do everything in our power to support and protect livelihoods across the nation whilst also preparing our economy for the future. 
  • That is why as part of our ambitious ‘New Deal’ to rebuild Britain, the government is  committing £2 billion in grants – worth up to £5,000 per household and £10,000 for low-income households – for green home upgrades to help slash energy bills for consumers, £1 billion to decarbonise public sector buildings so we can meet our Net Zero 2050 target, and £50 million to pilot innovative approaches to retrofit social housing at scale to make them greener.
  • This will help to support thousands of new and existing jobs across the country, powering up the nation’s workforce and helping to kickstart our economy following the pandemic – building it back greener.

Quote of the day 7th July 2020

Monday, July 06, 2020

A rescue package for British culture

Today, the government has announced a world-leading £1.57 billion package of emergency grants and loans to protect Britain’s world-class cultural, arts and heritage institutions – helping to ensure they weather the impact of coronavirus.

  • Our arts and culture are the soul of our nation. They make our country great and are the lynchpin of our world-beating and fast-growing creative industries - but coronavirus has posed a huge challenge.
  • The government has already provided unprecedented financial assistance to the UK’s cultural sector through the pandemic, with loans, business rates relief and furlough support, and the money we are announcing today will provide a lifeline to ensure the future of these multibillion-pound, iconic industries is secure.
  • This is the largest ever investment in UK culture and will safeguard the sector for years to come, ensuring arts groups and venues across the country can stay afloat and support their staff as the economy cautiously reopens again.

Quote of the day 6th June 2020

"Friends, I am not a communist."

(Boris Johnson becomes probably the first ever Conservative prime minister who thought it necessary to confirm this.)

Sunday, July 05, 2020

Coronavirus diary - day 101

The second day after the lockdown was relaxed. Our first physical church service for three months, though - quite rightly - the church took extreme precautions to reduce risk to the congregation.

I've already mentioned that the church building had been very thoroughly cleaned. There was hand sanitiser and wipes at the door which everyone was encouraged to use.

All the congregation was encouraged to keep two metres apart except for family groups, so every other pew was taped off. Hassocks (kneeling mats) had been removed from the pews in use.

No hymnbooks in use and no singing - instead recordings of the hymns were played and the congregation listened. For the same reason we were asked to say responses quietly.

Communion was given in one kind only, e.g. "bread" (wafers) but not wine, and the queue to receive communion was carefully kept two metres apart.

The "Peace " was sent back forty years - the words were said with everyone staying in their place, no going round the church shaking hands, or at all, though we were encouraged to wave at one another.

All very different from what we would recently have considered a normal service.

But was it better than no service at all - or taking risks with people's health?

A million times, yes.

Later today, at 5pm I took part with my wife and family in the "Thank you NHS" clap.

Not as well supported in Whitehaven as previous such events, I'm not sure whether this was because it had not been as well publicised or because the weather wasn't too great for it.

But we were not the only ones to venture out on this 72nd birthday of the NHS and clap or otherwise make a noise to show our appreciation for those who have been working to protect us all in these very difficult times.

Thank you to all our NHS heroes. 

Keep well.

Second quote of the day 5th July 2020

"Politics is vastly more complex than engineering, not least because policies affect millions of flesh and blood people rather than inanimate hunks of metal.

"But it is still worth asking, how would we feel if ministers and officials actively sought to measure the failings of policy?

"How would we feel if they were open about what they don't know? How would we react if they conducted experiments and pilots that went wrong but acted as signposts towards how to get better?

"Would we thank them for providing the data that can help improve society? Would we admire heir risk-taking? Would we embrace their candour?

"Or would we blame them for every admission of failure, scapegoat them and humiliate them, as so many TV and radio interviewers seek to do, driving them back into the spin and subterfuge that has become so familiar - with the consequence that, instead of learning from mistakes, we make the same mistakes again and again? 

"This is the elephant in the room - the problem Gove, perhaps understandably, didn't dare to touch."

(In his Ditchley lecture.) 

For a culture of true accountability isn't just about ministers and officials; it is also about those who sit in judgement upon them. In other words, us."

(Matthew Syed pinpoints one of the fundamental problems with politics in the modern age in Britain, America and many other countries in the final three paragraphs of an article in today's Sunday Times.)

Sunday music spot: "The King Shall Rejoice" by G.F> Handel

First quote of the day 5th July 2020

"The church has been cleaned and cleaned and cleaned and cleaned again!"

(The Revd Robert Jackson, Rector of Whitehaven, opening the service this morning at St James' Church Whitehaven, the first service for three months, with an announcement of the safety precautions being and changes m the service to minimise the risks of spreading infection.)

Saturday, July 04, 2020

Coronavirus diary - day 100

A hundred days since lockdown, America's "Independence day" and all manner of restrictions on shops and businesses eased a bit.

It was absolutely necessary to do this as soon as it was safe to do so if there was to be any chance of having an economy left after the virus is defeated.

Fortunately it does seem that, with a few inevitable exceptions, most people have been sensible.

Keep well


Saturday music spot: Victory theme from "Gladiator"

"Thank You NHS" events tomorrow

Tomorrow is the 72nd birthday of the NHS. 

It will be marked by a once off return - proposed to become annual - of "Clap for carers" plus a minute's break in transmission by the major broadcasters, and everyone is encouraged to put a candle or light in their window to mark those who have died from COVID-19.

The original Clap for Carers began at the start of lockdown with members of the public applauding from their doorsteps and windows every Thursday at 8pm to honour NHS staff, supermarket workers, teachers and other frontline employees who were instrumental in the fight against Covid-19.

Annemarie Plas, the founder of Clap for Carers, eventually called for the event to come to a close after its 10th consecutive week, saying it should end while “at its peak” and it finished with a particularly well supported tenth round.

Now, in celebration of the 72nd anniversary of the NHS, it is making a comeback. which it has been suggested should become an annual event on the birthday of our health service.

To mark the occasion, members of the public are being asked to come out of their homes and join a nationwide clap at 5pm (even if you have a hangover from the pubs reopening today).

Broadcasters will also reportedly suspend transmission for a minute as a sign of respect for the NHS.

Public buildings, including the Royal Albert Hall, Blackpool Tower, the Shard and the Wembley Arch will also be lit up in blue to mark the occasion.

Instead of Clap for Carers the event is being called the "Thank You NHS" clap.

After the clap, people are being encouraged to share a (socially distanced) cup of tea or food with their friends and neighbours.

People have also been asked to put a candle or a torch in their window in memory of all those who have died from coronavirus.

The open letter which proposed this event said that

“We all owe a debt of gratitude to the nurses, doctors, physios, porters, cleaners, and countless others who have delivered for patients and their families along with all those in the care sector.”

The letter also emphasised the key role the NHS has played throughout its 72-year history, “treating everyone regardless of the ability to pay”.

It has been suggested that the should become an annual tradition in the UK, with the nation marking 5th July by applauding the NHS.

Quote of the day for "Independence Day," 4th July 2020

"Mankind. That word should have new meaning for all of us today. 

"We can't be consumed by our petty differences anymore. We will be united in our common interests. 

"Perhaps it's fate that today is the Fourth of July, and you will once again be fighting for our freedom... Not from tyranny, oppression, or persecution... but from annihilation. 

"We are fighting for our right to live. To exist. 

"And should we win the day, the Fourth of July will no longer be known as an American holiday, but as the day the world declared in one voice: 

"We will not go quietly into the night!

"We will not vanish without a fight! 

"We're going to live on! 

"We're going to survive! 

"Today we celebrate our Independence Day!"

The above passage, spoken in the film by Bill Pullman as the US President, comes from the speech before the human counter-attack in the film "Independence Day."

Today the world faces a virus rather than an extra-terrestrial threat, and today has been called "Independence day" here to reflect an easing of the lockdown, but the parallels are amazingly relevant.

The struggle against COVID-19 goes on, the threat is temporarily diminished but not over,  and it is incembent on all of us to use the elements of our freedom which we have regained in a responsible way.

We still need to maintain two metres social distancing where possible and one metres at all times where that is not possible, wash our hands regularly, think about how to avoid putting ourselves and others at risk, and


Friday, July 03, 2020

Coronavirus diary - day 99

"Independence day" tomorrow.

Let's just hope everyone is sensible: in some ways the most dangerous stage of a lockdown to control a disease is when you start to relax it.

The virus is still out there and we can't afford a free-for-all

Keep well

The Flexible Furlough scheme

On Wednesday, the flexible furlough scheme was rolled out across the UK – providing businesses with the flexibility to gradually and safely reopen their doors.

  • As we start to gradually reopen our economy, businesses and their employees need the flexibility and security of knowing they can go back to work part time without having to choose between their safety and their salary.
  • Business can now bring furloughed employees back to work on a part time basis, while the government continues to support their employees, paying 80 per cent of their salaries for the hours they do not work. This will allow businesses to gradually bring their staff back while keeping pace with the reopening of our economy.
  • By giving firms the flexibility to bring back furloughed workers on a part-time basis we can continue to help them work gradually giving them time to plan for the months ahead.