House of Commons
The House of Commons will next sit on 26 April.
Railway to recovery?
Written by Liam Hendry, researcher
News round-up by Katie Armour, senior associate
23 April 2021
My dad works for ScotRail. Growing up, we would travel on the Caledonian Sleeper overnight to London. And being a guard, he worked this service from time to time, and I relished tagging along with him after school on a Friday.
Boarding in Aberdeen at 9pm, my jammies would be on, and I would plonk myself on the lounge car sofa and eat my bodyweight in haggis. By Dundee, it was bedtime. The never tiring novelty of this home on rails kept me awake until Edinburgh Castle’s strobes lit up my private berth at midnight. And before I knew it, Wembley was skimming by the window at 7am as my dad stood elegantly at the door fully uniformed with a hot mug of tea and a bacon roll.
This romantic niche is emblematic of the soul of a proud national industry which, although being quite the captivating escape for a council scheme boy like me – probably finds itself more at home in 1921 than 2021 in some areas of the country. A trip trundling between Sheffield and Hull Paragon onboard a train originally built as a 1980s stop-gap, exposes how decades of cuts, neglect and contentious outsourcing made sure of that.
Though if you live in Ashford, Kent, you could be forgiven for denying this – with the UK’s only multi-billion-pound international serving high-speed rail network on your doorstep, and state of the art trains that have worn more fresh paint than the Forth Rail Bridge.
Perhaps they ought to learn from Scotland, where – at a time when post-Covid economic and climate realities collide – wholesale investment in rail appears to be back in vogue.
Ahead of next month’s election, we have heard calls from the SNP for Caledonian Sleeper to connect directly with Eurostar; from the Scottish Conservatives for investment in new stations in the North East; and from the unions to “re-examine every mile” of Scots track in the wake of the fatal derailment at Stonehaven last August.
We could look to the continent, too, where we heard this week that the new Brussels-Vienna sleeper service is expected to launch as early as next month, marking a new renaissance for sleeper travel across central Europe.
Greater public intervention, or at least the rescue of UK rail by central government during Covid, is an idea whose time may have come again. Last September, the UK Government spent £3.5bn in a nationwide bailout package for the operators of the 13 franchises it controls, and the Scottish Government spent £330m for ScotRail and Caledonian Sleeper to keep their services on tracks.Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised. Pre-covid, the UK government permanently nationalised the East Coast franchise in 2018 after thrice failing to successfully franchise it.
Not all share my enthusiasm, of course, with ardent proponent of privatisation,transport secretary Grant Shapps, comparing the notion to British Rail’s “bad sandwiches”.
Biased I may be, but I can only hope the future turns out to be like ScotRail era Caledonian Sleeper haggis instead.
With six months to go until the UN climate conference in Glasgow, world leaders attended a virtual White House summit yesterday to discuss emissions targets. President Biden set out a new pledge to halve American emissions by 2030 compared with 1990 levels. Japan and Canada also set out tougher targets, but China is yet to outline its plans for the next decade. Boris Johnson attended the event and told delegates that the UK has “shown that it’s possible to slash emissions while growing the economy”.
The Cabinet Office is set to launch an internal investigation into the leak of the prime minister’s text messages to businessman James Dyson about the production of ventilators in the first wave of the pandemic. Last night, several newspapers reported that sources from inside number 10 have accused former special adviser Dominic Cummings of being the source of the leaks. They suggested he remains “bitter” over his own exit. Boris Johnson is reportedly “disappointed” and “saddened” by the leaks.
Six hospitals in Delhi have completely run out of oxygen as a deadly second wave of coronavirus sweeps the country. More than 99% of the city’s intensive care beds are occupied, and doctors are warning that a number of other hospitals only have a few hours’ of oxygen supplies left. In devastating scenes, some crematoriums in the capital are having to resort to building pyres as they can’t cope with the numbers arriving.
Business and economy
Jaguar Land Rover has suspended production at two of its three UK-based manufacturing sites because of a worldwide shortage of semiconductor computer chips. Car makers across the world are subject to the same supply constraints, as the chips are also required for smartphones, gaming devices and tablets. (£)
KPMG’s first female chief, Mary O’Connor, is reportedly in talks about leaving the ‘big four’ accountancy firm. Miss O’Connor took up the position on an interim basis after Bill Michael vacated the position earlier this year. She was expected to be a strong contender to take on the role on a permanent basis but last month Jon Holt was nominated for the position. One KPMG partner told Sky that the “optics were far from ideal” at a time when the organisation is attempting to address gender imbalance.
Columns of note
Fraser Nelson argues in The Guardian that there is a conspiracy of silence among politicians about the hidden victims of the pandemic. He considers the “incalculable” social damage caused by lockdowns over the last year and questions why no one is talking about the 20,000 pupils who have “vanished from the school roll”. He warns that there is no official log of those being home-schooled, but with numbers being estimated at around 75,000 it would require a lot of resource to investigate. (£)
David Lammy writes in The Guardian about the distressing admission from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission that hundreds of thousands of soldiers who died fighting for Britain “went unremembered, simply because of their race”. He stresses that no one can ever make up for this indignity but suggests that the moment should be taken as an opportunity for Britons to consider our collective history and look again at decolonising the curriculum.
What happened yesterday?
London stocks closed on Wednesday in positive territory even as investors considered the European Central Bank’s moved to leave the door open for possible “recalibration” of its pandemic emergency purchase programme.
The FTSE 100 ended the session up 0.6% at 6,938.24, while the FTSE 250 was up 1.3% at 22,364.87. Sterling was, however, weaker, trading down 0.59% against the dollar at $1.38. It also slipped by 0.41% against the euro, to €1.15.
In company news:
Rentokil closed 0.98% down even after reporting a positive start to the year and revenue growth of 15.4% in the first quarter.
Anglo American’s share price rose by 0.83% after revealing increased copper production in the first quarter despite the limitations of covid restrictions.
What’s happening today?
Final dividend payment date
Interim dividend payment date
Aberdeen Smaller Companies Income
Henderson European focus trust
JP morgan Global
JP Morgan Mid Cap
Tr European growth trust
Special dividend payment date
UK economic announcements
(00:01) GFK Consumer Confidence
(07:00) Retail Sales
Int. economic announcements
(15:00) New Homes Sales (US)
The hashtag symbol is technically called an octothorpe (Source: Sporcle)
House of Commons
The House of Commons will next sit on 26 April.
House of Lords
The House of Lords will next sit on 26 April.
The Scottish parliament is in recess ahead of the election on 6 May
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