Today is the last full day that MPs will sit before heading off on the long summer break. This means that tomorrow marks the beginning of an unusual few weeks in British politics, a time known across the Westminster village as 'silly season'.
August is traditionally a moment when many political journalists will log gratefully out of their lap-tops and head off for a well-deserved digital detox. With precious little in the way of Whitehall gossip and no parliamentary battles to fill up columns, most hacks will be grateful for the opportunity to catch a glimpse of the world outside the British political circus.
However, with Brexit negotiations leaving no room in the agenda for a quick beach break, I suspect that more than a few editors (not to mention ministers) will be cutting short their August getaways this year. One eye on the seaside and one eye on the twitter feed hardly like seems a civilized way to spend a summer holiday, but it may be all that most can hope for over the next month or two.
Uncork the Gauke
The Government is bringing forward the rise in the state pension age to 68 by 5 years. The pension age was originally due to rise to 68 from 2044, but on the back of proposals from a former Director General of the CBI, the rise will now be phased in between 2037 and 2039. Announcing the decision yesterday in the House of Commons, Work and Pensions Secretary David Gauke said that ‘as life expectancy continues to rise and the number of people in receipt of state pension increases, we need to ensure that we have a fair and sustainable system that is reflective of modern life and protected for future generations’.
The move – which is slated to save taxpayers £74bn by 2045/46 – is mainly a response to the growing pressure that the state pension is bringing to bear on public finances. However, Labour’s Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Debbie Abrahams said that many people are already beginning to battle with ill-health well before their state pension kicks in. Age UK also criticised the move, saying ‘it is astonishing that this is being announced the day after new authoritative research suggested that the long term improvement in life expectancy is stalling’.
This latest change will mean six million people now having to wait an extra year before receiving the state pension.
David Davis and his EU counterpart Michel Barnier will meet today to take stock of the first week of hard negotiations on the UK's withdrawal from the EU. Four days after talks got underway in earnest, today will be a chance to see if the two sides have managed to identify some common ground on issues like citizens’ rights and the way in which a financial settlement will be calculated.
Mr Davis came under fire from the British media earlier in the week for remaining in Brussels for only a few hours after kicking off this formal phase in the talks. However, both sides have since said that this had always been the arrangement and that many of the finer details would be handled by the chief negotiators' respective teams.
This week’s bout of negotiations is just the first in a series of four day sessions that will take place every month until the Autumn. In that sense we will inevitably hear lines like ‘there is still a long way to go’ in the press conference later today. However, it is also significant because indications of early progress (or stumbling blocks) could give us a hint about whether the two sides will be in a position to open talks on trading arrangements after the EU summit in October.
Stay tuned for analysis of every vocal inflection, foot shuffle and shrug made by both men when they face the media later.
Closing the gap
Diversity at the top of big UK companies is back in the news again with a new report suggesting that Black, Asian and minority ethnic groups (BAME) are significantly underrepresented across key management roles in British companies.
Individuals from minority backgrounds comprise 12.5% of working people in the U.K, but make up just 6% of those in senior management roles. Despite this disparity, the report's authors say there is a lack of appetite on the part of bosses in large firms to discuss ethnic diversity in management. This is in spite of a willingness to engage with the issue of gender diversity at the top of business over the past few years.
The report has been jointly compiled by the Chartered Management Institute (CMI) and the British Academy of Management (BAM), who are pushing for ethnic diversity to be subject to the same priority level as gender diversity.
It also follows a Government review of diversity on boards last year, which found that only 1.5% of directors in FTSE 100 boardrooms are from minority ethnic backgrounds.
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