News In Brief

Written By: Ian Hernon
Published: July 29, 2017 Last modified: July 29, 2017

Public sector workers are thousands of pounds a year worse off than they were in 2010, the TUC has reported. With inflation outpacing the government’s 1% limit on pay rises for state employees, real wages are being eroded. Prison officers and paramedics are more than £3,800 a year poorer. However, Chancellor Philip Hammond claimed state sector workers get a 10% “premium” over private sector counterparts. The government has come under intense pressure since the June election to alter its policy of limiting pay rises in the public sector. “It’s been seven long years of pay cuts for our public servants. And ministers still won’t tell us if relief is on the way,” TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said. Inflation measured by the Consumer Prices Index, which does not take housing costs into account, has picked up in recent months, hitting 2.9% in May. According to the Bank of England it averaged 2.7% a year between 2010 and 2016. The TUC calculated that if firefighters’ wages had kept pace with inflation their average pay would be nearly £2,900 higher than it is. For nuclear engineers and teachers the figure is about £2,500.

Six million men and women will have to wait a year longer than they expected to get their state pension. The rise in the pension age to 68 will now be phased in between 2037 and 2039, rather than from 2044 as was originally proposed. Those affected are currently between the ages of 39 and 47.

Schools in England have been promised an extra £1.3bn per year alongside a shake-up of how funding is allocated to individual schools. Education Secretary Justine Greening said she recognised that there had been public concern over levels of school funding during the general election. But the funding will come from savings, including spending on free schools. Labour’s Angela Rayner said there “wasn’t a penny of new money from the Treasury”.

Officials have begun preparations for a major review of building regulations in England, reflecting official alarm at the state of building safety in the wake of last month’s Grenfell Tower fire, in which at least 80 people died. As results of checks on tall buildings have come in, civil servants have expressed shock at how the official rulebooks have been interpreted. They remain unclear whether the problem is the rules or their enforcement.

Chris Evans is the BBC’s best-paid star. He made between £2.2m and £2.25m in 2016/2017, while Claudia Winkleman was the highest-paid female celebrity, earning between £450,000 and £500,000. About two-thirds of stars earning more than £150,000 are male, compared to one-third female, according to the BBC annual report. Director general Tony Hall said there was “more to do” on gender and diversity.

The number of unemployed people has fallen by 64,000 to 1.49 million in the three-month period ending May 2017, according to the Labour Force Survey data. The fall in numbers was enough to cut the overall unemployment rate to 4.5% from 4.7%. The last time the rate was as low was in 1975. There was, however, an increase on the other main unemployment measure – the claimant count – which only includes claimants receiving Jobseeker’s Allowance and those on the means-tested Universal Credit. In June 2017, unemployment under this count increased by 5,900 to 814,500 from the revised figure for May of 808,600.

Real wages declined again in May as the rise in weekly average earnings was much less than the rise in the cost of living as measured by retail price inflation. In May, growth in average weekly earnings in the whole economy was provisionally estimated to be 1.8% against the revised rise for April of 1.3%. With retail price inflation rising by 3.7% in May and 3.5% in April, there was a real-terms decrease in earnings of 1.9 percentage points in May and a 2.2 percentage points decrease in April. Meanwhile, the inflation rate dropped unexpectedly to 2.6% in June, from 2.9% in May. It is the first fall in the rate since October of last year and was largely down to lower petrol and diesel prices, which fell for the fourth month in a row in June, according to the Office for National Statistics.

Balance of payments data from the Office for National Statistics show the UK’s trade deficit widened to £8.8 billion in the first quarter of 2017 the following a sharp narrowing of the deficit in to £4.8 billion in the final quarter of 2016. The deterioration was due to a widening in the deficit on trade in goods and a narrowing in the surplus on trade in services. This trade deficit fed into the UK’s current account deficit which widened to £16.9 billion in the first quarter of the year against a deficit of £12.1 billion in the fourth quarter of 2016.

Computing education in England’s schools is going through a revolution, but there is evidence too few pupils want to be part of it. Figures from the Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation (Ofqual) show only a modest rise in students taking the new computer science GCSE. The British Computing Society warned the numbers could halve by 2020.

About Ian Hernon

Ian Hernon is Deputy Editor of Tribune