Equality Bill forces companies to close gender pay gap

By Vikki Graves

The Equality Bill receives its first reading in Parliament today.  The Bill will impose legislation forcing companies which employ over 250 workers to declare average hourly rates of pay for men and women and the government will be able to take legal action if these declarations do not take place.

Equalities minister Harriet Harman says the Bill will help to end discrimination in the workplace, but the British Chambers of Commerce have expressed concern about forcing businesses to spend more on bureaucracy whilst in the grip of recession.

The Bill is expected to come into force from autumn 2010.

Argentinian President marks Falklands anniversary in London

Gordon Brown meets Christina Kirchner

Gordon Brown meets Christina Kirchner

By Vikki Graves

Argentinian President Christina Fernandez de Kirchner is in London today for the G20 summit. The discussions will focus on solving the global economic crisis, but for Argentinians, today’s date has another significance. It marks the anniversary of Argentina’s landing in The Falkland Islands, which sparked a bitter 74 day war. Ironically, President Kirchner will be marking the anniversary on British soil. She will attend a commemorative event at the Argentinian Embassy in London.

Last weekend, British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, met President Kirchner at the Progressive Governance forum in Vina del Mar, Chile. While Mrs Kirchner was keen to discuss Argentina’s claim to sovereignty of the islands, Mr Brown had stated in advance that there was “nothing to discuss from our side”.

The talk is reported to have lasted 35 minutes of which 15 were devoted to discussing the Falklands. It was described as “constructive” by both sides, who also, according to a British official, “agreed that they have differences of opinion”.

But this seems to be the only thing they agree on. Argentina’s claim to the islands, known in Spanish as ‘Las Malvinas’ is a powerful tool in domestic politics. Opinion is particularly strong in Tierra del Fuego, the province at the southern tip of the country, 300 miles from the islands. One Argentinian claims “for the world Malvinas are forever Argentinian”.

A British tourist, who visited Argentina in 2007, during the 25th anniversary of the war, confirms the strength of public feeling on the issue. “When I was in Ushuaia, the capital of Tierra del Fuego, there was a lot of grafitti saying things like ‘Malvinas for Argentina!’ and ‘The English are Pirates’. If you speak to the locals, many of them will agree that the Islands should join Argentina and become part of their province.”

Argentina’s Foreign Minister, Jorge Taiana, said “the President clearly established that in the 21st century the persistence with an archaic colonial enclave [by the British] is something not consistent with the world’s rhythm”. Gordon Brown, however, focussed not on a British sovereignty claim, but on the rights of the island’s inhabitants.

“The essential principle has always been that the Islanders should determine the issue of sovereignty for themselves and, let us be clear, our first priority will always be the needs and wishes of the Islanders.” – Gordon Brown

But what do the Islanders want? They were granted British citizenship in 1983, but the consitution supports their right to self-determination. They are ruled by a Governor, appointed by the Queen and advised by  Executive Council and an elected Legislative Council.

A statement release by the Falkland Islands Government on Monday made its position on the Argentinian sovereignty claim very clear.

“…our Argentine neighbours remain in a time warp, still pressing their anachronistic claim to territorial sovereignty.  In short, they wish to colonise the Falkland Islands.

We have been encouraged by the UK Government’s clear and unshakeable position that the sovereignty issue is not for negotiation.  There is no turning back from this.

Falkland Islanders have expressed their views freely and unequivocally over many years.  We wish to remain British.  Our constitution enshrines the right to determine our own future.  Surely no-one who supports democracy and human rights can oppose this?”

Yesterday, yet another coincidence befell President Kirchner. On the the eve of the anniversary of the beginning of the war, it was announced that Raul Alfonsin, the democratically elected president who took over at its end, died in his sleep aged 82.

Alfonsin’s government replaced the military dictatorship which started the war and, controversially, put nine of its former rulers on trial. He is widely seen as a symbol of a return to democracy for Argentina. The announcement of  his death could well overshadow any plans Mrs Kirchner may have to restate her claim to the Falklands.

Jacqui Smith’s £23,000 claim

By Vikki Graves

Image from www.bbc.co.uk

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith claimed £23,000 in tax-payer funded allowances on her second home last year, the maximum claim available to MPs. The news comes as Ms Smith continues to face criticism for an accidental expense claim for adult films watched by her husband, Richard Timney, in April 2008.

The timing of these revelations is not good for the Home Secretary, whose expense claims are currently under investigation. She claims her ‘main’ residence is with her sister in South London which allows her to make claims on her ‘second’ consituency home in Redditch, Worcestershire, despite her family living there permanently.

Despite his full time job as his wife’s parliamentary assistant, Mr Timney found plenty of time for watching movies. As well as the two unnamed ‘adult’ features, he also saw Ocean’s Thirteen, widely regarded as the weakest of the trilogy, and Surf’s Up, a mock-documentary for children that received mixed reviews back in 2007.

Following the news of the mistaken claim, Ms Smith released a statement saying the £67 she received for the television package, billed as part of her internet connection, would be repaid in full and Mr Timney yesterday issued a public apology.

“As soon as the matter was brought to my attention, I took immediate steps to contact the relevant parliamentary authorities and rectify the situation.” – Jacqui Smith

Prime Minister, Gordon Brown defended the Home Secretary at a Downing Street news conference today, and yesterday Foreign Secretary David Miliband told the BBC’s Andrew Marr show he thought Ms Smith was doing an “outstanding job”.

Listen here:



But political pressure on Ms Smith is certainly mounting, with Labour MP Paul Flynn today calling for her resignation. A full review of MPs expenses is due to begin in September, but it remains to be seen whether the Cabinet, and the public, can separate Ms Smith’s ministerial responsibilities from her financial wrong-doings.

Sir Fred and RBS To Be Sued

By Vikki Graves

Cherie Blair has been hired by two British local authorities to sue the Royal Bank of Scotland through the US Courts. RBS and its entire board of directors, including ex-Chief Executive Sir Fred Goodwin, are named as defendants.

North Yorkshire and Merseyside councils’ pension funds have plummeted in value along with RBS shares. They claim they were falsely assured that the bank was in good health.

The lawsuit, which is open to all European and US investors in RBS, comes just weeks after Ian Hamilton QC was forced to abandon his case against RBS plc in the small claims court.

Hamilton claimed he was misled when he bought 640 RBS shares at £2 each in April 2008. He said the bank had been negligent and knew it was in trouble. Each of his shares is now worth just 20p. But Oban Sheriff Court ruled the case too complex to be heard at a low level.

Mr Hamilton said it would be too expensive for him to take the case further, but continues to campaign online for more small claims actions to be brought against the bank.

Have we had enough of Jade Goody?

By Vikki Graves

Jayne GoodyToday’s Jade Goody news tells us that a woman with a hammer and large bag visited Jade in hospital yesterday afternoon. She awoke to find the uninvited guest leaning over her bed. It is not clear whether the hammer was in or out of the bag, or whether its presence was relevant to the visit.

Police have confirmed that a 41 year old woman was arrested for possession of an offensive weapon at the Royal Marsden hospital yesterday, but was later released without charge.

So is this story even a story? Do we now know so much about Jade and her sad condition that the only new information we can find is that she has fans with a penchant for DIY?

A week ago it was reported that Jade was convinced she had only days to live. A few days later Max Clifford told the radio station TalkSport he believed enough was enough and Jade should withdraw from the public eye.

Cut to the end of last week and Clifford had clearly changed his mind, speculating over whether her story could become a Hollywood movie. And Michael Jackson had been on the phone sending her his best.

But it seems we might be reaching saturation point. At the weekend Noel Gallagher expressed his bewilderment at our obsession with her story to The Sunday Times.

“…what an embarrassing place Britain is right now. You might as well shut No 10 Downing Street down and get Max Clifford to run the country.”

Online comments attached to Jade Goody related articles range from strong support for her recent earnings of an estimated £1.4 million, to outright disgust. Some justify the sense of unease that comes from someone living out their death in the public domain by saying that she is doing it for her kids. But will her children really want such a scrupulously kept record of every detail of their mother’s deterioration in years to come?

Perhaps today is just a slow Jade news day. No matter what your opinion on her self-made media circus, we all know there is, of course, a rather unpleasant end point in sight.

Financial News

By Vikki Graves

HSBC asks shareholders for £12.5bn

Chairman Stephen Green said the funds would be used to see the group through the current uncertain economic climate.

The news comes as HSBC announce pre-tax profits of £6.5bn for 2008, a 62% fall on the previous year.

There was a drop in share prices across the banking sector this afternoon, with HSBC shares down by as much as 19%.

Row over Sir Fred’s RBS pension continues

Pressure is still mounting on former Royal Bank of Scotland Chief Executive Sir Fred Goodwin to give up a large part of his £693,000 annual pension.

Deputy Labour Leader Harriet Harman has said that the government is prepared to take measures to prevent him from receiving the full amount.

Meanwhile, it has come to light that RBS are still paying for Sir Fred’s personal security costs, including CCTV and security staff at his home.

Tesco to create 200 jobs in Edinburgh

Tesco Personal Finance is expanding its banking operation in the capital.

The supermarket’s financial arm, which currently employs 250 staff will move to a new, larger headquarters in Haymarket within the next year.

The Way We Eat Now

By Vikki Graves

If you believe everything you read, our eating habits have gone into a steep decline. This time last year, your average Brit was walking home from the farmers’ market chomping an a fluffy organic roll stuffed with freshly roasted pig and apple sauce. But then this nasty credit crunch business came along and pushed many of us away from the hog and towards the Big Mac.

When Jamie Oliver first made his cheap salmon fishcakes in the Sainsbury’s advert, the idea of ‘credit crunch cuisine’ was not yet fully formed. Many of us foodies still sneered at supermarket bargain ranges and headed for the now dwindling organic aisle. These days however, more and more of us will be throwing a few tins of cut price tomatoes into the trolley.

But doesn’t look like us foodies are quite willing to give up our gourmet fishcakes just yet. In response to this week’s news of rising profits for McDonald’s and Domino’s, and the expansion of KFC, The Guardian’s food blog  declared the situation to be “utterly depressing. Penny-watching consumers are turning away from conventional restaurants and slobbing out on the sofa at home, not with a bowl of hearty, homemade soup, but with a whopping great bucket of fried chicken or a calorie-laden pizza.”

Have these people not embraced the true spirit of credit crunch cuisine? Why do they not pinch their pennies bycooking sensible healthy meals from scratch?  And eat out occasionally at their locally owned and run bistro which serves fashionable, cheap (but still delicious and healthy) cuts of meat at reasonable prices? Because apparently they prefer “slobbing out” which, though cheap, is not fashionable.

Before, many of us could afford to eat premium quality foods if we liked. The buzz words were ‘fresh’, ‘organic’, ‘ethical’, ‘local’. But did we want those things because we believed they were better for us, or because they were de rigueur?

Now the doom and gloom has struck our wallets and our trolleys. And the word on the street is ‘cheap’. The diehard foodies have dusted down their slow cookers, but it may well be that some of us have fallen off the home cooking wagon, decided eating out is too expensive and landed comfortably on the sofa with a Domino’s.

For all of us, what we eat has become firmly associated with a need for cheapness and value. For some that will come from their own kitchen, and for others it will come from KFC. Because if you want to talk about calories and fat, even a home cooked pizza can provide ample quantities of both.

Fringe box office project was “fundamentally flawed”

42-17657911By Vikki Graves

An independent report into the box office system failure at last year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe has criticised the Fringe Society’s “lack of strategic direction and transparency”.

The report, published today by consultants Scott-Moncrieff, says the replacement of the Fringe’s box office system shortly before the 2008 festival was poorly handled from start to finish.

The new software malfunctioned as tickets went on sale last June, leaving the Society unable to print tickets for show previews until just one week before performances began.

Permanent venues were able to market their own shows and sell tickets independently. A spokesman for the Traverse Theatre said their sales went up. “We had a really strong programme and seven out of ten of our shows were sold out every day”.

But ticket sales over the festival as a whole were down 10% on 2007 figures, in part as a result of the box office fiasco that left many small visiting companies without a means to print tickets.

Fringe director Jon Morgan called 2008 a “fantastic year”, but his resignation followed shortly after sales figures were released. As a result it was decided to modify the Fringe’s management structure and recruit a chief executive.

The Fringe Board of directors today released a statement welcoming the report. It says the recommendations are already being implemented as part of a system of changes to  “ensure that the incoming chief executive inherits an organisation that can reinforce the Fringe’s position as the biggest and best arts festival in the world with a box office system to match”.

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