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British News Brief for the week 

Monday 14th January


Lord Heseltine joins fray on Britain’s future in Europe


THERE is a great deal of political posturing going on in Britain at present with regard to Britain’s future role in Europe and there is a general feeling that recent warnings about a possible exit from the European Union could have been orchestrated to make Prime Minister David Cameron’s moderate approach appear acceptable.
Tory big-hitter Lord Heseltine has now fuelled the debate. He never quite made Prime Minister, but the rank and file listen to him, although his past support for the Euro has tarnished his credentials in the eyes of some.
He is now an advisor to the coalition on economic growth and he has warned the Prime Minister against rushing into a referendum on Britain’s membership.
In an interview with The Times newspaper Lord Heseltine quoted the words of Margaret Thatcher: ‘Never go into a room unless you know how to get out of it.’
While his relationship with Baroness Thatcher was not always completely cosy, he was making a point. “To commit to a referendum about a negotiation that hasn’t begun, on a timescale you cannot predict, on an outcome that’s unknown, where Britain’s appeal as an inward investment market would be the centre of the debate, seems to me like an unnecessary gamble,” he said.
David Cameron is currently preparing to unveil his approach to the thorny issue and is under great pressure for a simple in-out referendum. He is thought to favour a compromise, staying in Europe, at the same time clawing back some powers.



Scale of Savile sex abuse shocks nation


HOW could this have happened in Britain? That is the big question following the scale of the sex abuse revelations confirmed in a report on the activities of former BBC disc jockey Jimmy Savile.
The facts are staggering. The late television personality was thought to have been involved in 214 criminal offences over half a century, including 34 rapes, but he was never stopped.
The offences took place on BBC premises, in hospitals and even a children’s home. Now the broadcaster and the Department of Health are likely to have to pay out substantial sums to victims in compensation.
Of the 450 people who have come forward since Savile’s death, 73 per cent were children at the time the offences took place.
While Jimmy Savile was a tireless worker for charity, the dark side of his character has shocked fans who witnessed his rise to fame in the world of popular music and his success as a television show presenter.



Return to bad old days in Belfast?


OVER 40 days of road blocks and episodes of violence have brought back memories of the festering sore that was once Northern Ireland.
Because of a dispute over the flying of the Union flag at Belfast City Hall there are fears of a return to the bad old days – already businesses have been affected.
Children as young as eight have been involved in the protests and the police, who have faced petrol bombs and other missiles, have been forced to use baton rounds and water cannon to contain the problem.
Senior politicians from Belfast, Dublin and London are meeting to discuss the situation in the hope that a solution can be found amid claims that a doctor was prevented from attending a terminally ill cancer patient by protestors who blocked the road.



Report demands better hospital regulation


DEATHS at Stafford Hospital have forced a demand for reforms of the National Health Service in Britain and Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has described the performance of the institution as “simply not worthy of a civilised society.”
While the blame game plays out and there are accusations and counter-accusations as to what was at the root of the problem, there is unquestionably a culture of cover-up within the health service and little or no accountability.
While it is important to emphasise that much of the health service in Britain is in good shape, the Stafford hospital scandal has shown that things can go spectacularly wrong and it has been estimated that as many as 1,200 patients could have died needlessly in appalling circumstances between 2005 and 2008.
A Sunday Telegraph investigation has concluded that none of the executives has been disciplined with just one suspended from working in nursing. The Francis report into the scandal, which follows a two-year public inquiry, is to call for radical changes in the supervision of health care to prevent such systematic failings in NHS regulation.



From 2017 pensions will make sense!


THE radical shake-up of the state pension in Britain is being unveiled this week. It is long overdue and will mean a single payment and an end to means testing for most people.
The present system is out-of-date and so complicated that many people do not understand it, and Government officials who suggest they do appear unable to explain it!
A new single flat rate, about £144 in today’s money, will be introduced from 2017. Women who take career breaks and the self-employed will do better with the new system. Iain Duncan Smith at the Department for Work and Pensions has worked extremely hard on the project and had a significant mess to clean up as the old system had been patched up for decades.



‘We have to move on,’ says Miliband


OPPOSITION leader Ed Miliband has been frank about the shortcomings of the last Labour Government in Britain, in particular its policy on immigration.
He told the Fabian Society: “I bow to nobody in my celebration of the multi-ethnic, diverse nature of Britain, but high levels of migration were having huge effects on the lives of people in Britain – and too often those in power seemed not to accept this.
“The fact that they didn’t explains partly why people turned against us in the last general election. We have to move on from New Labour,” he said.