A look ahead at the key events leading the news agenda next week, from the team at Foresight News. Delivered to your inbox on Fridays.
Leading the week
One word we’re going to be hearing a lot this week: trains. On Wednesday (August 17), the ONS publishes inflation figures for July on the heels of the Bank of England’s warning that consumer price inflation could hit 13% this year. But the July release is more closely watched for the retail price index (RPI), which is used as a benchmark to set regulated rail fare rises for next year. Traditionally, train operators have been able to raise prices by 1% above the July RPI, which stood at 11.8% in June and is forecast to rise as high as 17.7% by the end of the year. Last year, operators were capped at an inflationary rise of 3.8%, which still marked the highest jump since 2013. Commuters will have to wait until later in the year to find out how much fares will actually go up in 2023, but in the meantime, they’ll be considering an eye-watering increase while simultaneously watching services come to a standstill over the next three days.
A series of strikes across the UK’s rail network begins on Thursday (August 18), as members of three separate unions go on strike in disputes over pay, jobs and conditions. Some 40,000 workers belonging to the RMT union who are striking over Network Rail’s recent pay offer and safety protocols are joined by thousands of workers belonging to the TSSA, as well as electric train operators belonging to Unite, in a coordinated move expected to bring most national train services to a halt.
The rail disruption will carry on into Friday (August 19), just as 11,000 RMT and Unite members working on the London Underground go on strike in a dispute over pay, proposed job cuts and pension changes. The action runs alongside two separate strikes by London Overground staff working for Arriva and around 1,600 bus drivers employed by transport operator RATP, as part of a synchronised push that will cripple much of London’s public transport system. The joint Network Rail strike by RMT, TSSA and Unite union members resumes for one day on Saturday (August 20), bringing to a close what is unlikely to be the last period of travel chaos across the UK this summer.
Teenagers across England, Wales and Northern Ireland receive their AS and A-Level results on Thursday (August 18), with grades based on end-of-year exams for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic began. Exams regulator Ofqual announced in February that grade boundaries would likely be lower this year, but the Department for Education has since warned that very few schools and colleges will receive better results than last summer. Those students who fail to get their required grades for university places face the added stress of a strike by staff at the AQA exam board, which has been called to coincide with results day. Those workers taking strike action include staff who normally field calls from schools, parents, and pupils about their results, causing potential problems for thousands of teenagers chasing university places.
Monday (August 15) marks one year since Taliban fighters entered Kabul, forcing President Ashraf Ghani to flee and signalling the fall of the western-backed government that had been in place after 20 years of war. The anniversary, and a series that will follow in the next two weeks marking the Kabul airport attack (August 26) and withdrawal of UK and US troops (August 28 and 30), was always going to prompt a deluge of reflections, but these were even more pointed in the wake of the news that Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri was killed in a drone strike in Kabul last week.
A year on under Taliban rule, Afghans are suffering total economic collapse and what Human Rights Watch has called ‘a human rights nightmare’, with girls and women denied education and participation in public life and millions of people experiencing food insecurity bordering on famine. The security situation is similar: the resurgence of ISIS-K has led to terrorist attacks on civilians, with the group said to be responsible for almost all of the 700 civilian deaths recorded up to mid-June and a recent uptick in attacks on the Shiite community. The Taliban government largely remains an international pariah, though Russia has made noises about a path to recognition independent from the international community that it is already at odds with over Ukraine.
Analysis of the UK’s role in these disasters will make for bleak reading. A scathing select committee report in May called the UK withdrawal a ‘betrayal’, while charities have criticised the government’s Afghan relocation and resettlement schemes as ‘shameful’. Refugees that have managed to make their way to the UK have reported feeling abandoned in insecure housing and a maze of paperwork, and British Army translators who were left behind during the withdrawal last year have launched legal action against the government.
On Tuesday (August 16), Russia’s Ministry of Defense is hosting its annual Moscow Conference on International Security, typically featuring closely-watched speeches from Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. As the conflict in Ukraine nears its six-month anniversary (August 24), Western nations met earlier this week in the Danish capital for a donor conference to emphasize their continued financial and military support for Ukraine. Russian authorities, meanwhile, have been struggling to provide a credible explanation regarding a series of explosions at the Saki Air Base in Russia-annexed Crimea. Satellite imagery of the base before and after the blasts suggest a number of Russian planes were destroyed in the incident, which many suspect may have been a Ukrainian operation.