Rail Operating Companies to Take Over Some Network Rail Roles

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The Government is expected to announce this week that rail operating companies will be able to take over some track maintenance roles from Network Rail. The intention would be to ensure that maintenance work was completed more efficiently because of the motivation of the rail operating company to minimise delays.

The speech will be made by Chris Grayling, the Secretary of State for Transport, and in an exclusive for the Daily Telegraph, the paper suggested that:

“It will be a shot across the bows of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who has used a threat to renationalise the railways to win over the support of frustrated rail commuters in middle England”.

The Department for Transport has refused to comment before the speech is made.

Liberal Democrats win Shock Victory in Richmond Park By-Election

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Sarah Olney has won the Parliamentary by-election for the Liberal Democrats in Richmond Park overturning Zac Goldsmith’s 23,000 majority. Goldsmith called the by-election following the Government’s decision to allow a third runway to be built at Heathrow Airport.

In contrast to Goldsmith’s pro-Brexit stance, Olney based her campaign around opposing Brexit, saying:

“The people of Richmond Park and North Kingston have sent a shockwave through this Conservative Brexit government, and our message is clear – we do not want a hard Brexit. We do not want to be pulled out of the single market, and we will not let intolerance, division and fear win”.

The Conservative Party issued a statement saying that Brexit wouldn’t be stopped over the vote as “the government remains committed to leaving the European Union and triggering Article 50 by the end of March next year”.

The full result was:

Sarah Olney (Liberal Democrats) – 20,510

Zac Goldsmith (Independent) – 18,638

Christian Wolmar (Labour Party) – 1,515

Howling Laud Hope (The Official Monster Raving Loony Party) – 184

Fiona Natasha Syms, (Independent) – 173

Dominic Francis Stockford, (Christian Peoples Alliance) – 164

Maharaja Jammu and Kashmir (One Love Party) – 67

David Powell – 32

Turnout = 53.6%

Government Confirms Resignation of Lord Freud

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The Government has confirmed that Lord Freud has resigned from his position as the Minister of State at the Department for Work and Pensions. He was the longest serving Minister of State in the current Government, having held the same post since after the 2010 General Election.

In a statement Lord Freud said:

“At the heart of our reforms is desire to give people independence to improve their lives. For too long, people have been trapped by a byzantine benefits system, leaving them powerless. This has always been my driving force – to give people back control over their own lives; to give support in times of need, but also to give a clear route out of the benefits system and into independence.

That’s what Universal Credit does, and I’m incredibly proud of what we have achieved. It’s a testament to the support I’ve received both from my ministerial colleagues and civil servants in the DWP that we are now well on the way to achieving our goal of a truly modern, responsive welfare system which is already transforming lives.

As I retire from my ministerial position, I leave with full confidence in the future of Universal Credit”.

Damian Green, the current Work and Pensions Secretary, said:

“Everyone comes into government to make a difference, but David’s contribution to transforming the welfare system has been outstanding. As the architect of Universal Credit, he combines vision with an impressive attention to detail. Moreover, he cares greatly about improving the lives of some of the poorest people in our country.

I want to thank him for everything has done over the years at DWP, and for all the help and support he has given to me and his ministerial colleagues. His will be a legacy of which he can be truly proud”.

David Davis, Brexit Secretary, Says UK Might Pay to Join Single Market

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David Davis, the Brexit Secretary, has suggested that the UK might pay to join the single market. The unexpected announcement led to a surge on the pound given the market’s concern about the impact on prosperity in the UK if the country left the single market.

In a Parliamentary answer to Wayne David, the Labour MP for Caerphilly, Davis said:

“The major criterion here is that we get the best possible access for goods and services to the European market – and if that is included in what you are talking about, then of course we will consider it”.

Peter Bone, the Conservative MP for Wellingborough condemned Davis and rejected the Government proposal to get the best deal for the UK, saying “people would be absolutely outraged”.

UK Unemployment Falls to Lowest Level Since 2005

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The Office for National Statistics, ONS, has confirmed that unemployment has fallen by 37,000 to 1.6 million people in the three months ending September 2016. The fall means that unemployment is now at an 11-year low, with 31.8 million people currently in work.

Damian Hinds, the Employment Minister, said:

“Yet again we have a strong set of figures, with employment continuing to run at a record high and unemployment falling to a 11-year low. Growth is being fuelled by full-time professional jobs while wages are continuing to perform strongly, which underlines the resilience of the UK labour market.

The measures we have taken have put our economy in a position of strength, and we will work to ensure more people can benefit from these opportunities as we build a country that works for everyone”.

Amber Rudd Confirms Alan Manning is to Chair the Migration Advisory Committee

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Amber Rudd, the Home Secretary, has confirmed that Professor Alan Manning is to become the new Chairman of the Migration Advisory Committee. Manning will hold the role for three years, with Rudd saying:

“Professor Manning will bring a wealth of knowledge and experience to his new role as chair of the Migration Advisory Committee. Under his leadership, I am confident the government will continue to receive transparent, independent and evidence-based advice on migration issues”.

Manning said of his appointment:

“I am delighted to have been appointed chair of the Migration Advisory Committee. As a committee member since 2015, I have engaged closely with the MAC’s work and I look forward to taking up this leadership position. I pay tribute to my predecessor’s role in establishing the MAC as an effective, authoritative body. I look forward to leading this distinguished team of experts. We are keen to continue providing advice on migration”.

Labour MP Clive Lewis Attacks EU Migration Saying “it hasn’t worked for millions”

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Clive Lewis, the Labour MP for Norwich South, has criticised EU migration policy, saying that that “it hasn’t worked for millions of Britons”. Lewis, the Shadow Business Secretary, criticised previous migration policy saying to the Guardian newspaper:

“we have to acknowledge that free movement of labour hasn’t worked for a lot of people. It hasn’t worked for many of the people in this country, where they’ve been undercut who feel insecure, who feel they’re not getting any of the benefits that immigration has clearly had in our economy”.

Lewis’s comments are in opposition to reports published by organisations such as the LSE, who rejected that EU migrants had brought down the pay of UK workers.

Lewis did though seem to reject any fixed limit on immigration, and supported the UK’s membership of the single market. He said on immigration numbers:

“You don’t have to go down the path of talking about artificial barriers, which I think ultimately are going to harm the economy, and harm the very people who most need the economy to work for them”.

Boris Johnson Addresses Assembly in Kosovo

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Boris Johnson, the Foreign Secretary, has addressed the Assembly in Kosovo, during a tour to the region. He also urged Kosovo to continue its dialogue with Serbia, as both countries attempt to join the European Union.

Johnson said:

“I’m delighted to be here in Pristina, in a free and independent Assembly, in Europe’s youngest democracy.

Because 17 years ago, I was here in Pristina and I saw a very different city in those days. I was there when the British Army came in and I remember seeing the joy on the faces of villagers and how they threw roses in the path of the British Army vehicles. I remember seeing the burning mosques and the villages that were torched, sometimes razed almost to the ground, by the retreating forces. I also remember the expressions of shock on the faces of refugees who were moving in great columns of tractors and carts away from ancestral farms, in many cases not to return.

I wondered then, looking at Pristina, what the future would hold for this ancient and beautiful country, and what kind of government and society we were helping to create. Because we in NATO were unquestionably helping to create a new society. And I remember wondering whether we had got it right, and hoping that out of such pain and suffering a functioning democracy could be born.

And here is your answer to that question. It is a land transformed, with Kosovo’s people in control of your destiny, with elected representatives sitting here in this Assembly, and outside Pristina we have a vibrant and secular society.

At a time when the values I think we share, a belief in democracy and freedom and pluralism, when those values are by no means uncontested around world, Kosovo can be a powerful and shining example to the rest of the world of what can be achieved.

I’m therefore proud that Britain was one of the first countries to recognise Kosovo’s independence in 2008. We were allies then; we are allies now. And so, in a spirit of friendship, and the candour that comes with friendship, allow me to offer some thoughts about Kosovo today.

You are an independent country, recognised now by 112 other nations. This means that you are responsible now for your own affairs. The duty to serve your people rests on your shoulders. The consequences that flow from that reality are momentous and challenging.

Like many other political systems, yours must continually adapt and improve. The process of reform in Kosovo must not be allowed to stagnate. Rather than being machines for power and patronage, political parties should strive to serve the interests of every citizen.

The people have a right – indeed an obligation – to demand more from their elected representatives and to hold us – their elected representatives – to account. I know that, like me, you talk to your voters about their worries, and I’m sure their concerns will include how hard it is to get a job in Kosovo unless you have the proper connections. Appointing people on merit means, if you’re a student and you work hard, you stand a fair chance of getting a job. You won’t be elbowed aside by some lazy candidate who hasn’t studied at all, but who is lucky enough to have better connections than you.

So I’m glad that Britain is helping you to combat the scourge of nepotism with a British Embassy project, launched recently with the public support of the Prime Minister and you, Mr Speaker.

I’m also pleased that commercial links between our two countries are developing well. There was a successful conference in London only last week to promote British investment in Kosovo; this was the context for my first meeting with Prime Minister Mustafa. We strongly support economic development and job creation in Kosovo. I am only sorry my visit didn’t coincide with skiing season, because I can assure you that otherwise I would be up on the slopes to show my solidarity with the Kosovo ski industry, as I believe tourism will play a vital part in your future.

Britain wants to work alongside you as a partner. There is much that we can accomplish in the common struggle against terrorism, violent extremism, corruption and organised crime. We need to combat these threats together, for example we in the UK have a particular problem with ethnic Albanian crime gangs, and we want to work with our friends in the region to counter this.

When we speak of the wider region, Britain wants Kosovo to be a force for peace and stability in the whole Western Balkans. And that must include achieving a normal relationship with Serbia. I’m looking forward to discussing these issues too in Belgrade. I understand the past is filled with such pain and grievance that no human society can be expected to sweep these memories easily aside. But Kosovo and Serbia share a vital interest in a normal relationship. It will take political courage and visionary leadership, but I have no doubt that it can be achieved.

This will also require a sincere attempt to resolve the wrongs of the past. It should be uncontroversial to say that all those guilty of war crimes, on all sides, should be locked up. I will say the same thing in Belgrade, and across the Balkans. But that’s why co-operating with the Special Court for war crimes is so important for Kosovo, however difficult this may be. Britain and our international partners will be watching the work of the Court very closely.

I would like to take this opportunity to extend my condolences to the family and friends of Astrit Dehari, who recently died in custody. I endorse the calls made by all sides for a transparent investigation into his death.

I deliver these messages in a spirit of friendship. And I do so with great humility in view of everything that you have achieved since you gained your independence.

I want to close by repeating what I said a city absolutely transformed since 1999. A city buzzing with restaurants and all kinds of fashion, a young country, a country where at least 8 young people rejoice in the name of Tony Blair. There is so much going for it: Olympic gold medal-winning athletes, tech start-up entrepreneurs with links to London, Kosovo pop stars who top the charts and world-class footballers. A beautiful and fertile country whose potential is only just beginning. It is not far off from the time when Brits will be coming with their stag parties.

You face challenges. Which country doesn’t face challenges? But I am also sure you can meet those challenges in a way that seemed completely improbably 17 years ago. I am sure today looking at what you have achieved that you will have a truly great future and as you achieve that great future for Kosovo and realise the potential of this country I want to assure you that you have friends and supporters in the United Kingdom”.

Prime Minister Speaks to US President-Elect Donald Trump

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Downing Street has confirmed that Theresa May, the Prime Minister, has spoken to Donald Trump, the President-Elect of the United States, by phone.

In a statement the Prime Minister’s spokesperson said:

“The Prime Minister spoke to US President-elect Donald Trump earlier this afternoon to congratulate him on his hard-fought election campaign and victory. The President-elect said he very much looked forward to working with the Prime Minister and congratulated her on her recent appointment.

The Prime Minister and President-elect Trump agreed that the US-UK relationship was very important and very special, and that building on this would be a priority for them both. President-elect Trump set out his close and personal connections with, and warmth for, the UK. He said he was confident that the special relationship would go from strength to strength.

The Prime Minister expressed her commitment to building and expanding the UK’s relationships around the world, particularly after the referendum vote, and the importance of our partnership with the US. She noted President-elect Trump’s commitment in his acceptance speech to uniting people across America, which she said is a task we all need to focus on globally.

The Prime Minister said that we have a long history of shared values and added that she looked forward to that continuing in the future.

She highlighted her wish to strengthen bilateral trade and investment with the US as we leave the EU. But she said that our relationship is so much more than that and our 2 countries have always stood together as close allies when it counts the most. President-elect Trump strongly agreed and added that the UK is a “very, very special place for me and for our country”.

The call ended with President-elect Trump inviting the Prime Minister to visit him as soon as possible”.