The Week in Review: Home News

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The Independent Online
JOHN MAJOR challenged established orthodoxy twice this week by distancing himself from his predecessor and by abolishing the class-based part of the honours system.

His repudiation, in an interview in the Independent, of the Eighties view that manufacturing was not important and could be replaced by service industries and his lamenting over an inheritance of high inflation and high interest rates brought a swift reaction from Labour. 'Who does he think was the Chancellor in the preceding year?' John Smith, the Labour leader, asked in the House of Commons.

Mr Major got more support for his reforms of the honours system which abolished the British Empire Medal and gave people the right to nominate potential award winners. All future honours would be awarded on merit or for exceptional achievement, while winners of the BEM, the honour given to working-class public servants, will be merged with the MBE, the middle class's 'gong'.

John Birt, Director-General of the BBC, will have done his case for a medal no good this week after the Independent on Sunday revealed that he was not on the corporation's staff.

A public outcry that his pounds 135,000 salary was paid to John Birt Productions Ltd, a private company, resulted in a swift decision to join the payroll after six years with the BBC.

Council workers in Sheffield earning pounds 134 a week agreed to a 3.25 per cent pay cut to prevent 1,400 redundancies as the council struggled to keep within its pounds 366m spending limit.

Prescription charges are to rise for the 15th time since 1979. What was then available for 20p will cost pounds 4.25 from April. The 13.3 per cent increase was eight times larger than inflation but Dr Brian Mawhinney, the Minister for Health, said 80 per cent of prescriptions were issued free: for children, pensioners or those on Income Support.

If the cost of keeping healthy was rising faster than inflation, so was the price of dying. The average funeral costs pounds 754, a 15 per cent increase, according to the National Association of Funeral Directors.

The association blamed churches and local authorities for 'scandalous' increases in fees of up to 62 per cent. Consumers were advised to shop around for funerals.