The news you didn’t see this week…
Your Wednesday fix of under-reported news… Got a story tip? Email us: [email protected]
10. Scotland’s young people will be able to travel for free on the bus from January, following a deal between the SNP and the Scottish Greens.
Anyone aged 21 or younger will be able to travel for free on the bus with a concessionary travel card from 31 January 2022.
The scheme had been delayed by Covid-19 and a shortage of silicone, vital in the manufacture of the concessionary cards.
Commenting, Scottish Greens co-leader Patrick Harvie said: “Free bus travel for young people is not only a transformational policy in terms of family budgets and opening up opportunities for young people, it can help shift people out of car use and help tackle the climate emergency.
“What’s more, as we recover from the pandemic, this policy will be vital in encouraging people back onto public transport safely to ensure we have a green recovery. The Scottish Greens believe public transport should be free at the point of use and serve all our communities, and January will see a major step forward to this aim.”
9. The government’s new Royal Yacht – intended to drum up trade with other nations – will cost as much as £250 million, new figures have revealed.
Responding to minister Ben Wallace’s revelation in the Commons, Nick Thomas-Symonds MP, Labour’s Shadow Home Secretary, said: “Boris Johnson has lost control of his vanity yacht.
“It is absolutely staggering that costs have rocketed by £100 million in a week.
“Labour would scrap the Government’s latest pet project and invest taxpayers’ money wisely to tackle crime and the surge in antisocial behaviour under this Conservative government.”
8. Billboards are going up around the country this week in opposition to the monarchy.
Campaign group Republic has commissioned 12 billboards to go up this week, with a further 15 planned for September and more to follow later in the year.
The billboards carry the message: Secretive, Divisive, Undemocratic. Abolish the Monarchy.
The first batch of billboards will be seen in Portsmouth, Birmingham, Stoke-on-Trent, Manchester, Leeds, Newcastle, Glasgow and Aberdeen.
Graham Smith, speaking for Republic, said: “The monarchy is wrong in principle, wrong in practice and it’s bad for British politics. That’s the message we want the country to hear.
“The Queen’s long reign has sustained support for the royals for decades. The Queen is the monarchy, the monarchy is the Queen. King Charles may inherit the throne, but he won’t inherit the respect and deference enjoyed by his mother.
“With polls showing young people wanting an elected head of state, the succession of King Charles will be a major turning point in the monarchy’s history and in the growth of Britain’s republican movement.”
An appeal was launched earlier this month and so far Republic has raised more than £16,000.
7. The government will bring embattled steel-maker Sheffield Forgemasters into public ownership, it emerged on Wednesday.
The firm is said to be important for the Ministry of Defence and the UK’s military capabilities.
Unite’s assistant general secretary for manufacturing, Steve Turner said: “This is the news we’ve waited two years to hear. Unite has been engaged in a long battle with the Ministry of Defence and the UK government to protect UK steel supply to our defence and nuclear programmes so today’s news will be welcomed with a huge sigh of relief right across our steel communities.
“It brings to an end years of instability for this historic 215 year-old company, but is also a sign that government is maybe finally waking up to a crisis of its own making. Critical infrastructure industries like steel function better in public hands and advanced economies like our own need to have stable, secure domestic steel production capabilities to protect our national security interests as well as to compete in global markets.”
He added: “We now look forward to a secure future for the plant which brings with it the guarantee for both today’s workforce and the thousands of young workers to follow the hope of a highly skilled job in a well-paid, unionised plant.”
6. The government has failed to honour its own ‘levelling up’ promises with the disappointing 3% pay rise for NHS workers in England, says Unison.
The award announced last week doesn’t meet the real living wage of £9.50 per hour for the lowest paid health service workers and widens the gap between those at the top and bottom of the scale, the union says.
The 3% increase means the lowest earners will get a rise which is just one sixth of those at the top of the NHS pay scales.
Unison will begin consulting NHS workers later this week on whether they accept the rise, or oppose it and are prepared to take industrial action.
More than 300,000 people across all disciplines – including nursing, ambulance, operational and technical services – will be asked for their views from this Friday until 10 September. Unison says its elected leadership body is giving a clear steer that 3% is “unacceptable”.
In 2018, the government and then health secretary Jeremy Hunt raised the minimum NHS salary to the level of the real living wage for the first time. But ministers failed to embed this for the future and the lowest salaries slipped below, says Unison.
Unison had called for an across-the-board £2,000 pay increase for all NHS staff. This would have ensured the pay gap and inequalities would not have widened further.
5. New polling for the Local Government Association shows that eight in 10 say it is important to have a say on all housing in their local area – in contrast to government plans that would restrict locals’ say on new developments.
Steve Reed MP, Labour’s Shadow Communities Secretary said it was an ‘emphatic rejection’ of the Conservatives’ ‘Developers’ Charter’.
He said: “The best development happens when communities and developers’ come together to shape their local areas, but the Conservatives’ plans will gag residents and do nothing to solve the country’s housing crisis, with over 1 million homes granted planning permission still unbuilt.
“Labour would protect local residents’ voices over what goes on in their area and speed up housebuilding by incentivising developers to get building.”
Labour’s alternative Planning and Local Representation Bill would impose a time limit on planning applications to incentivise faster building completion, while giving communities the right to a fair hearing in planning applications.
4. The Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain (IWGB) brought together workers to protest outside Uber HQ at Aldgate Tower in London on Monday, in opposition to ‘unfair’ terminations of drivers.
A motorcade of cars, bicycles and mopeds blocked the road outside Uber HQ, demanding the reinstatement of colleagues they say were unfairly sacked. They are demanding a transparent termination process in line with ACAS guidelines, which respects rights to a hearing, trade union representation and to appeal.
The IWGB says app-based corporations like Uber routinely ‘terminate’ drivers and couriers without notice, investigation or due process. In November 72 MPs signed an Early Day Motion condemning “the opaque and unjust process by which app-based couriers and private hire drivers working for companies such as UBER and Deliveroo can be blocked permanently from their accounts and thus effectively dismissed from their jobs”, and called for “all app-based companies to end unfair dismissals by implementing fair dismissal processes, including a hearing prior to dismissal, and the right to appeal a dismissal with union representation.”
The IWGB has made representations on behalf of over 200 drivers in the last year following their deactivation to companies including Uber, Deliveroo, Bolt, Stuart, Free Now and Ola but in the vast majority of cases the companies have not conducted any investigation or allowed appeal and as a result hundreds of key workers remain unable to work.
Alex Marshall, IWGB President and former courier, says: “This protest was an incredible show of solidarity between key workers whose hard work helped bring Britain through the height of the pandemic and are being sacked at the click of a button by the likes of Uber. In the coming weeks the IWGB will be discussing escalation, boycotts and strike action. In the fight for our frontline all options are on the table.”
Nader Awaad, chair, United Private Hire drivers Branch (IWGB) says: “Drivers and couriers made their voices heard but it is only the beginning for us. We want justice and due process and we will fight for it and for each other until we win and every worker unfairly sacked is reinstated.”
3. A leading UK producer of industrial hemp, is calling for an end to the hemp licensing regime and for farmers to take direct action to grow hemp without a licence.
The call comes as Hempen had their latest licence to grow industrial hemp rejected again, despite following all the Home Office guidance since being forced to destroy £200,000 of hemp crops in 2019.
Enthusiasts say hemp is a wonder crop which can save the planet from climate change, soil depletion and replace fish and meat consumption, whilst providing a boost in new green jobs for the UK.
However, the licenses are granted by the UK home office which hemp farmers say can refuse a license for something as trivial as being near a public footpath or road. Growers say license applications are often decided too late for farmers to get crops in the field making it a risky option to pursue for the cash strapped.
This means that despite UK consumers being some of the biggest consumers of hemp and CBD in the world most of our hemp is imported from Europe, North America or China with the British farmer being penalised by their own government.
Hempen are calling for growers large and small to grow hemp without regard for the Home Office in a campaign of mass civil disobedience against the licensing regime. Two years ago, the World Health Organisation recommended that the UN end the scheduling of industrial hemp as an internationally controlled substance as it posed no public health risk. Furthermore under article 28(2) of the UN’s 1961 Single Convention on Narcotics the whole plant is fully exempted from all the provisions, when used for “industrial” and/or “horticultural” purposes. As such hemp is not a controlled substance under international law. The UK is a signatory of this convention and yet still classifies industrial hemp as illegal cannabis.
Hempen’s Co-Founder Patrick Gillett said: “The UK’s unfair licensing regime has no obvious public benefit and is stifling this emergent green industry at a time when the UK desperately needs jobs which care for our communities and the planet.”
He added: “If the government won’t get out of the way, then it’s time farmers take direct action to grow this wonder plant without their permission. Hempen needs a bigger supply of organic hemp than we can currently source from farmers who have managed to jump through all the government hoops. There is more demand for organic UK hemp than the Home Office has licensed. When it comes to CBD in particular we’re forced to rely on imports.”
2. More than 2,000 LGBTI+ campaigners marched through London in a ‘Reclaim Pride’ march last Saturday.
The community-led Pride march got back to the roots of Pride; being both a celebration and a protest for LGBTI+ rights, with five key LGBTI+ demands, including a ban on conversion therapy and reform of the Gender Recognition Act.
March coordinator, Peter Tatchell, said: “Unlike the official Pride in London, we did not charge people to participate, had no corporate sponsors or branding, and put LGBTI+ human rights centre stage.”
Reclaim Pride was supported by UK Black Pride, Diva magazine, Lesbian Visibility Week, London Trans Pride, the Peter Tatchell Foundation and Stand Up To LGBTQ+ Hate Crime and many other LGBTI+ organisations and allies.
Linda Riley of DIVA and Lesbian Visibility Week said: “This proves you don’t need corporate sponsors to put on a brilliant Pride event.”
Phyll Opoku-Gyimah of UK Black Pride said: “We are here to remind one and all that until racism, transphobia and homophobia are eradicated, there will be no liberation for any of us.”
The march ended in Hyde Park where the marchers held an informal mass picnic.
Tatchell concluded: “The Reclaim Pride march mirrored the community-focus and liberation themes of the UK’s first Pride march in 1972, which I and 40 others helped organise. It was my 50th London Pride parade. We’ve set a precedent for a successful alternative to the way Pride in London’s has become commercialised and depoliticised.”
The five key demands of Reclaim Pride were:
- Ban LGBTI+ conversion therapy
- Reform the Gender Recognition Act
- Safe haven for LGBTI+ refugees
- Decriminalisation of LGBTI+ people worldwide
- Solidarity with Black Lives Matter
1. Four renters in Hackney have been awarded more than £18,000 (eight months’ rent) for their landlord’s failure to obtain House of Multiple Occupancy licenses.
Members of Somerford Grove Renters received the decision from the UK’s First Tier Tribunal. They lived in a flat owned by billionaire landlord John Christodoulou and were evicted earlier this year in what campaigners allege was retaliation for organising with their neighbours to seek fair rent terms and maintenance during the pandemic.
Somerford Grove Renters (SGR) is a tenants’ group representing 170 flats in Olympic House, Simpson House and St John’s Court in Hackney, all buildings majority-owned by Christodolou. SGR is part of the London Renters Union (LRU), a group of over 4,000 renters across the capital.
At the start of the pandemic, SGR wrote to the lettings agent that represents Christodolou, Tower Quay, asking for a rent reduction. In their response, Tower Quay told the tenants to use their unspent lunch money and holiday savings to pay their rent in full, inviting criticism from London Mayor Sadiq Khan.
SGR since repeated their demands in an open letter that garnered over 500 signatures, and held a demonstration outside Christodoulou’s 5-star hotel, the Canary Wharf Riverside Plaza, with speeches from Apsana Begum MP, and organisers with the LRU, Momentum, Socialist Alternative, and other allies. The campaign has received support from John McDonnell MP, Zarah Sultana MP, and Diane Abbott MP, who filed an Early Day Motion in Parliament on the issue.
Now that they have received the successful Decision, SGR will be filing approximately fifty additional cases for tenants in the block, representing around half a million pounds in claims.
Moritz Herle, a member of the London Renters Union, said: “By getting organised and taking action together, LRU members at Somerford Grove have helped keep each other safe during the pandemic and won this significant financial victory. The message to landlords is clear: if you try to bully us out of our rights to affordable and safe housing during a pandemic, we’ll do everything we can to hold you to account.”
Josiah Mortimer is co-editor of Left Foot Forward.
As you’re here, we have something to ask you. What we do here to deliver real news is more important than ever. But there’s a problem: we need readers like you to chip in to help us survive. We deliver progressive, independent media, that challenges the right’s hateful rhetoric. Together we can find the stories that get lost.
We’re not bankrolled by billionaire donors, but rely on readers chipping in whatever they can afford to protect our independence. What we do isn’t free, and we run on a shoestring. Can you help by chipping in as little as £1 a week to help us survive? Whatever you can donate, we’re so grateful – and we will ensure your money goes as far as possible to deliver hard-hitting news.