News In Brief

Written By: James Douglas
Published: February 11, 2018 Last modified: February 11, 2018

Almost all local authorities in England are set to raise council tax and service charges, according to the 2018 State of Local Government Finance research. The planned increases come as 80% of councils fear for their balance sheets. Council tax can rise by 3% this year, in line with inflation, before a referendum is triggered, although the largest authorities will be able to up it by 5.99%. Local authorities also oversee charges for services such as parking, burials and planning and 93% of respondents to the survey indicated new or increased fees in order to make ends meet.

A survey of UK head teachers found that nearly half are struggling to get mental health support for their pupils. A total of 45% of 655 of school leaders quizzed by children’s mental health charity Place2Be said it was a problem.

Staff in MPs’ constituency offices told the BBC they “feel left out” of plans to tackle harassment at Westminster. Proposals accepted by the government include mandatory training for MPs who have bullied or harassed employees. But some are concerned the grievance procedure focuses too much on the parliamentary estate. Commons Leader Andrea Leadsom insisted constituency offices would be covered by the new behaviour code. A cross-party committee set up in response to widespread allegations of sexual harassment recommended a range of sanctions, which MPs will be asked to approve by the end of February.

Scotland has become the first country in the UK with a statutory gender representation objective for public boards after its parliament key legislation. The new law sets an objective for public boards that 50% of non-executive members are women by the end of 2022. It also requires action to encourage women to apply to become non-executive members of public boards. Organisations with the remit to have an equal balance of men and women in the top jobs include colleges, universities and some public bodies including health boards, enterprise agencies, the Scottish Police Authority and the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service. Equalities Secretary Angela Constance said: “Over the last decade the numbers of women on public boards has risen from 35% to 45%, and last year saw more women than men appointed. But this progress doesn’t just happen by accident. It has been achieved through the shared ambition and action of all of those involved.”

The economy grew last year, but at a slower rate than 2016, according to preliminary figures. UK gross domestic product (GDP) was estimated to have increased by 1.8% between 2016 and 2017, slightly below the 1.9% growth seen between 2015 and 2016. The 2017 figure is also well down on annual growth rates for the three years before that, which were 2.1% in 2013, 3.1% in 2014 and 2.3% in 2015. The preliminary estimate for quarterly growth was 0.5% in the final quarter of 2017, compared with 0.4% in the third quarter, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

The defence select committee warned that the government’s axing of amphibious ships spells “Sunset for the Royal Marines”. The United Kingdom will lose its ability to conduct specialised amphibious operations, if leaked plans considered in the National Security Capability Review (NSCR) are not cancelled by the new Modernising Defence Programme (MDP). The MPs reported that further reductions in the Royal Marines and the disposal of the amphibious ships HMS Albion and HMS Bulwark would be “militarily illiterate” and “totally at odds with strategic reality”.

A campaign group fighting to keep the UK in the EU received £400,000 from billionaire investor George Soros for advertising to rally public opinion and convince MPs to vote against the final Brexit deal. Best for Britain chairman Lord Malloch-Brown, a former Labour minister, said Mr Soros was a “valued” supporter but small donors had contributed more. Soros, a Hungarian-born US citizen, made a fortune in 1992 betting against sterling on Black Wednesday, forcing then-PM John Major to take the pound out of the European Exchange Rate Mechanism.