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Working group formed over website blocking

ISPs, rights holders and search engines come together to find new solutions for tackling illegal fil

A new working group is to be formed by the government to assess potential plans to avoid litigation over the blocking of alleged illegal filesharing websites.

The group, which will include rights holders, internet service providers and search engines, will review alternative forms of action to take against the websites, with Ofcom reviewing the Digital Economy Act's section 17 on website blocking at the request of culture secretary Jeremy Hunt.

The formation of the group follows concerns raised by ISPs about potential legal action from blocked websites.

In response, Hunt and Ed Vaizey, the communications and creative industries minister, held a roundtable discussion with businesses including BT, Google and TalkTalk to address potential problems with the section of the act.

The working group, formed at the meeting, will be tasked with considering alternative ideas including indemnifying ISPs against being sued by blocked websites and new policing of digital piracy searches.

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Is anyone prepared to solve the NHS funding crisis?

As long as the political taboo on raising taxes endures, the service will be in financial peril. 

It has long been clear that the NHS is in financial ill-health. But today's figures, conveniently delayed until after the Conservative conference, are still stunningly bad. The service ran a deficit of £930m between April and June (greater than the £820m recorded for the whole of the 2014/15 financial year) and is on course for a shortfall of at least £2bn this year - its worst position for a generation. 

Though often described as having been shielded from austerity, owing to its ring-fenced budget, the NHS is enduring the toughest spending settlement in its history. Since 1950, health spending has grown at an average annual rate of 4 per cent, but over the last parliament it rose by just 0.5 per cent. An ageing population, rising treatment costs and the social care crisis all mean that the NHS has to run merely to stand still. The Tories have pledged to provide £10bn more for the service but this still leaves £20bn of efficiency savings required. 

Speculation is now turning to whether George Osborne will provide an emergency injection of funds in the Autumn Statement on 25 November. But the long-term question is whether anyone is prepared to offer a sustainable solution to the crisis. Health experts argue that only a rise in general taxation (income tax, VAT, national insurance), patient charges or a hypothecated "health tax" will secure the future of a universal, high-quality service. But the political taboo against increasing taxes on all but the richest means no politician has ventured into this territory. Shadow health secretary Heidi Alexander has today called for the government to "find money urgently to get through the coming winter months". But the bigger question is whether, under Jeremy Corbyn, Labour is prepared to go beyond sticking-plaster solutions. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.