6th November 2019
Written by Katie Stanton, Senior Associate
Edited by Tom Gillingham, Associate Partner
Most days I have a run in with Britain’s infrastructure.
If train lines aren’t buckling under the heat of the UK’s notoriously ‘sweltering’ summers, then irksome autumn leaves or a gentle winter frost will no doubt cause a flurry of weather-related meltdowns.
Even getting to the platform can require some serious effort: by then, you’ve navigated antiquated ticketing systems; ones which, in Scotland, often still require you to buy an actual physical piece of paper.
Paper is still ubiquitous years after we all dreamt of a paperless society. While transport is plodding towards a ticketless future, trusty old paper is still everywhere: for voting; for identifying; for records and receipts.
We’re surrounded by legacy systems that struggle to keep up with rapid change. Think GP appointments arranged in the distant future for an illness or anxiety which will no doubt have subsided by then; financial institutions still sending physical paper to my house.
Despite all of this, I’ve heard we are an innovation nation; a scientific super-factory of fantastical, transformative ideas, just itching for a pinch of faith and a dollop of cash. But if we can’t solve the simplest challenges, how can we tackle the really big stuff?
Allow me a momentary flash of optimism. We are going to cure cancer, if not in the UK, then somewhere else in the world. CAR-T – or chimeric antigen receptor T-cell – therapy has basically done it already. Engineered cells attack tumour cells, devouring them all in a single infusion, wiping out the most violent of stage four lymphomas in one fell swoop. I’m over-simplifying, but you get the picture.
The therapy is already in use for hematologic malignancies; treatment for solid tumours remains in the early stages.
But here is the rub, the NHS, like our venerable transport system, is looking warily ahead to a looming winter crisis. And on its own this is no laughing matter. Unsurprisingly, these whizzy new therapies don’t come cheap. The financial burden of even the cheapest CAR-T is around £250,000. We can’t have a system which simply doesn’t provide life-saving treatment, so how will the NHS manage when CAR-T is the norm?
Politicians seem to be - like the train companies - so focused on fighting immediate challenges that there is a very real risk that true innovation could be lost due to the pressures of day-to-day management.
And the dilemma is not limited to cancer, or trains, or even the wider health service. What happens if the cold fusion dream comes to fruition, will existing energy infrastructure suddenly become redundant? Are existing systems and norms really flexible enough to adapt?
To put it simply, if we don’t have the capacity to implement it, then investment in, and excitement about, research and development will fall off a cliff, the innovation train grinding slowing to a gloomy halt.
Anyway, enough of all that - I’ve got a train to catch - where did I leave that ticket?
The five-week general election campaign period officially begins today, following the dissolution of parliament in the early hours of this morning. Boris Johnson will see the Queen at Buckingham Palace later to mark the start of the election period in the run-up to the 12 December poll. He will also launch the Conservative campaign, pledging to “get Brexit done”. Rapper Stormzy has joined in the backlash against Jacob Rees-Mogg, who is facing criticism for telling a radio interviewer that the victims of the Grenfell Tower fire lacked “common sense”. The leader of the House of Commons issued “a profound apology”, but survivors and campaigners remain “appalled” by the comments. British backpacker Grace Millane died after being choked during a sexual encounter with her alleged killer, his murder trial has heard. The suspect then went on a Tinder date while he stored her body in a suitcase in his hotel room. The defence claim the death was an accident during consensual sex; the suspect denies murder.
Business and economy
Germany’s finance minister has offered hope for a breakthrough in plans to create a full eurozone banking union. Olaf Scholz said yesterday that Berlin would end its opposition to a common scheme to protect savers’ deposits, having previously opposed the proposals due to public hostility toward any perceived attempt to put taxpayers on the hook for unstable banks in other countries. (£) A Boeing whistleblower has claimed that passengers on its 787 Dreamliner could be left without oxygen if the cabin were to suffer a sudden decompression. John Barnet says tests indicate up to a quarter of the oxygen systems could be faulty and might not work when needed. This comes in the wake of intense scrutiny for the firm, following two catastrophic accidents involving its 737 Max planes. Walgreens Boots Alliance has hired advisors to explore a deal to become a private company after a tumultuous year for the firm. The debt-laden buyout would be the largest to date, with the retail group valued at $52.3 billion at the close of trading last night, carrying about $17 billion of debt. (£)
What happened yesterday?
The FTSE 100 rose 0.25%, with Primark owner ABF the biggest riser as shares climbed 5.56% as a strong showing in its fashion arm offset a sharp slowdown in its embattled sugar business. The biggest faller was Aveva Group, which lost 2.73%. Other key fallers included M&G, down 2.55%, United Utilities, 2.17%, and Experian, 2.11%. In the US, the Nasdaq and the Dow edged up to close at record highs amid signs that the trade war between the world’s two largest economies was easing. The S&P 500 fluctuated between moderate losses and gains throughout the day, eventually ending 0.1% lower as advances in energy were offset by declines in the utilities and healthcare sectors. Uber lost out yesterday, with shares tumbling 9.7% after the group posted another big quarterly loss. Likewise, Shake Shack shares plunged nearly 21 per cent after the fast food chain cut its same-store outlook. Meanwhile, Walgreens added five per cent after reports that the company is exploring a deal to go private. On the currency market, the pound was down 0.04% against the dollar at $1.28. Against the euro it was down 0.03% at €1.16.
What's happening today?
Croda International Tyman
Hansard Hermes Pac. Innovaderma Redrow Schroder Japan Strategic Eqty Vast Res
UK Economic Announcements
(08:30) Halifax House Price Index
Intl. economic announcements
(07:00) Factory Orders (GER) (08:55) PMI Services (GER) (08:55) PMI Composite (GER) (09:00) PMI Composite (EU) (09:00) PMI Services (EU) (10:00) Retail Sales (EU) (12:00) MBS Mortgage Applications (US) (15:00) Crude Oil Inventories (US)
Columns of note
The SUV bug has crossed the Atlantic, argues John Gapper in the Financial Times. He notes that most of the millennial and Gen X parents of schoolchildren on his street ferry them around in 4x4s, as if they’re likely to encounter tricky terrain on the streets of London. This presents a problem: the shift to SUVs, along with the revival of petrol engines, has caused a rise in carbon dioxide emissions in Europe over the past few years. He suggests carmakers are heading in the wrong direction. (£) In the New Statesman, Hettie O-Brien exposes the overall trend for coastal erosion in the UK, with 100,000 properties at risk of falling into the sea by the 2080s. And the relationship between coastal erosion and climate change is clear to see. Rising sea levels are creating more aggressive storm surges; landfills sites placed in coastal areas present a potential for waste resurfacing. We can’t hide from the consequences of our actions forever.
Did you know?
In 2014 a group of South Korean students protested against the amount of air found in crisp packets by making a raft out of them and sailing it down a river.
TODAY House of Commons No business scheduled
House of Lords No business scheduled
Scottish Parliament Parliamentary bureau motions
Member's business World Day Against the Death Penalty
Portfolio questions Finance, Economy and Fair Work
Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party Debate The Resilience of Scotland's Ferry Network
Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party Debate Curriculum for Excellence
Member's business UN Year of Indigenous Languages and European Day of Languages TOMORROW House of Commons No business scheduled
House of Lords No business scheduled Scottish Parliament Parliamentary bureau motions General questions First minister’s questions Portfolio questions Rural economy Stage 1 debate Referendums (Scotland Bill) Financial resolution Referendums (Scotland) Bill