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Bite-sized briefing: UK

The pre-Budget report was presented in parliament. The Chancellor, Alistair Darling announced measures including:

  • An increase in public spending of 2.2 per cent in 2010-11, with cuts in the years that follow.
  • £5bn of savings from public sector programmes and pay.
  • The inheritance tax threshold will be frozen at £325,000.
  • National Insurance will increase from 2011, and start at £20,000.
  • A one-off 50 per cent tax will be levied on bonuses over £25,000 (see column, right).

Britain's military death toll in Afghanistan this year reached 100, making 2009 the bloodiest year for British troops since the Falklands war in 1982.

Lawyers for Guantanamo Bay's last recognised British resident, Shaker Aamer, will gain access to documents they believe may free him. They say that the papers show his confession was obtained by torture.

A million public-sector jobs should be cut to ease public debt, said the centre-right think tank Reform. It says the police and the NHS should be among the hardest hit, having previously seen large staffing increases.

Teesside will receive £60m in aid to help the area recover from the loss of 1,700 jobs at the Corus steelworks plant in Redcar. The support will be a combination of direct help for the unemployed, and investment in future jobs.

Twenty-nine UK Border Agency officials who received bonuses last year totalling £295,000 came under fire from MPs. MPs say the UKBA is still underperforming. The Home Affairs Committee found a raft of cases where there is "no formal record" of applicants having left the UK.

Graduates can expect to earn £100,000 more in their working lives than those without a degree, said John Browne, chair of the review of English university fees. But the "graduate premium" was claimed to be four times this size when tuition fees were raised to £3,000 a year in 2006.

The Scottish Parliament's inquiry into the release of the Lockerbie bomber has closed. Holyrood's justice committee will issue a report next year on the decision to release Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi on compassionate grounds.

A third runway at Heathrow airport would not jeopardise UK carbon targets, the Committee on Climate Change said. But other sectors of the economy must reduce emissions by 90 per cent to allow air travel room to grow by 60 per cent. The current predicted growth is at 200 per cent.

The ex-spy chief John Scarlett told the Chilcot inquiry that there was "no conscious intention" to manipulate information about Iraq's weapons. He denied being under pressure to "firm up" the claim that Iraq could use WMDs within 45 minutes.

This article appears in the 14 December 2009 issue of the New Statesman, The Muslim Jesus