Shops given permission to trade 24 hours a day over Christmas

Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick has said he wants to remove bureaucracy to encourage greater trade over the festive period.

By Tom Gillespie, news reporter

Shops will be given permission to trade 24 hours a day over Christmas as the high street tries to recover some of the losses suffered during the pandemic, a cabinet minister has said.

Retailers normally have to go through a lengthy and time-consuming process to apply to local authorities under the Town and Country Planning Act if they wish to extend hours outside the window of 9am to 7pm.

Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick said he wanted to remove the bureaucracy to encourage greater trade – allowing shops to open round the clock in December and January. Third national lockdown after Christmas not ruled out by minister

Writing in the Daily Telegraph, he said: “With these changes local shops can open longer, ensuring more pleasant and safer shopping with less pressure on public transport.

“How long will be a matter of choice for the shopkeepers and at the discretion of the council, but I suggest we offer these hard-pressed entrepreneurs and businesses the greatest possible flexibility this festive season.

“As local government secretary I am relaxing planning restrictions and issuing an unambiguous request to councils to allow businesses to welcome us into their glowing stores late into the evening and beyond.”

It comes after Mr Jenrick suggested some areas could be moved into a lower tier when the first 14-day review of the latest system of tiered local controls takes place in mid-December.

A record number of shops closed during the first half of 2020 due to the coronavirus lockdown, according to research from the Local Data Company and accountancy firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC).

A total of 11,000 chain operator outlets shut between January and August this year, while around 5,000 shops opened, leaving a net decline of 6,000 stores, almost double the drop during the same period last year.

Sir Philip Green's struggling Arcadia Group, which runs the Topshop, Dorothy Perkins and Burton brands, has been revealed to be on the brink of collapse with around 15,000 jobs at risk.

Opening hours could be extended as shop workers have told how they have faced abuse and threats during the pandemic.

They have shared their stories in a new video as part of the Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner's #KeepingChristmasKind campaign.

Sammie, 32, has worked for the Co-op for 13 years and says violence and anti-social behaviour have spiked during the year of COVID-19.

She said: “Some shoppers seem to blame us, the shop worker, and take it out on us if they have to follow government guidance and social distance.

“We never know when they are going to lash out at us – and it takes a mental toll on us. It impacts your home-life and mental well-being.”

As part of the campaign, stores are being helped to automatically forward all logs of abuse and assaults to police so that the scale of the problem can be measured better.

UK to impose early end of Huawei equipment in 5G mobile networks

( via – – Mon, 30th Nov 2020) London, Uk – –

Telecoms providers must stop installing Huawei equipment in the UK's 5G mobile network from September, the government has said.

The announcement comes ahead of a new law being unveiled on Tuesday, which bans the Chinese firm from the network.

Digital Secretary Oliver Dowden said he was pushing for the “complete removal of high-risk vendors” from 5G networks.

The new deadline falls earlier than expected, although maintaining old equipment will still be allowed.

Networks will now have to adjust their schedules for deployment of the reserves of Huawei 5G kit they have built up.

Previously, BT's EE division, Vodafone and Three UK would have had until 2027 to install any such equipment acquired before the end of this year – when a purchase ban comes into effect.

Huawei told the BBC it would not be commenting on the announcement.

Big fines

Attempts to rid Huawei from the network have been ongoing for more than a year.

But the new Telecommunications Security Bill is the first step in enshrining such bans in law, and offers details of exactly how it will work – if it is passed by Parliament.

MPs will debate the bill at second reading in the Commons on Tuesday.

It will give government national security powers, allowing them to give instructions to big telecoms companies, such as BT, about how they use so-called “high-risk” vendors like Huawei, if at all.

It also threatens telecoms firms with hefty fines if they fail to comply with the new, higher security standards. They could total 10% of turnover or more than £100,000 per day.

Mr Dowden said that the “new and unprecedented powers” would allow government to “identify and ban telecoms equipment which poses a threat to our national security”.

“We are also publishing a new strategy to make sure we are never again dependent on a handful of telecoms vendors for the smooth and secure running of our networks,” he said.

The ban on installations will be accompanied by measures to encourage more suppliers to enter the market and replace Huawei, and the development of new technologies that open up the market.

There were fears firms might stockpile new kit and install it later, despite a ban on buying it from the end of 2020.

Under the new strategy, the government will spend an initial £250m which will involve setting up a National Telecoms Lab research facility as well as investing in open radio technology.

“Our plans will spark a wave of innovation in the design of our future mobile networks,” Mr Dowden added.

Political wrangling

It follows months of political wrangling, both in the UK and internationally, over Huawei's threat to security and its alleged links to the Chinese state.

In July, the government ordered the complete removal of the company's kit from the entire 5G network by 2027, amid pressure from the US.

The UK had initially decided that Huawei equipment should be removed from the sensitive part of the “core” network, and only make up a maximum of 35% of the non-core systems. The deadline was set to be 2023.

Huawei, however, has dismissed concerns from both the US and its allies over its operations.

Its vice-president Victor Zhang has previously said that the decision to remove the firm from the UK's 5G network was “politically motivated and not based on a fair evaluation of the risks”.

How Peloton Became A $4 Billion Fitness Start-Up

Source: CNBC

Peloton is a bonafide fitness phenomenon — it has a million impassioned users to whom its bikes and original streaming workouts are a way of life, making it much more than a company that sells exercise equipment, though it does that too. In fact, Peloton has sold over 400,000 bikes so far and started delivering its first treadmills in late 2018, the company tells CNBC Make It. Peloton changing the way America works out.

15 Things You Can LEARN from LUXURY BRANDS

Source: Alux

This Alux video will be answering the following questions: What is the top luxury brand? What are the top 10 luxury brands? Is it worth buying luxury brands? What is the point of luxury brands? Is YSL a luxury brand? What is the oldest luxury brand? Is guess a luxury brand? Is Dior a luxury brand? Is Calvin Klein a high end brand? What is the most expensive clothing brand in the world? Is Prada more expensive than Gucci? Does Gucci own YSL? Is Kate Spade a luxury brand? Is a YSL bag worth it? What's the most expensive designer brand? What is dsquared2 known for? What is the most prestigious clothing brand? What is the oldest brand in the world? What are the top luxury fashion brands? What are the top 10 luxury brands? Which is the cheapest luxury brand? What are the most luxurious brands? How do you describe luxury brands? Is MK a luxury brand? Where is Gucci cheapest in the world? What is the oldest luxury brand? Is Calvin Klein a high end brand? Is Kate Spade considered luxury? Is Balenciaga a luxury? How do I get cheap luxury brands? What is the most expensive designer brand? Does Michael Kors own Louis Vuitton? Is Michael Kors expensive brand? What is the best luxury bag? Is LV cheaper in Paris? Where is Louis Vuitton cheapest in the world? Which country buy YSL cheaper? Is DSquared2 a luxury brand? Is Valentino a luxury? What is the oldest brand in the world?

Amazon staff in the UK set to see Christmas boost in wages

( via– Fri, 27th Nov 2020) London, Uk – –

It comes after a year where many people have relied on the company, which runs a global retail operation and a streaming service.

Amazon staff in the UK are set to see a Christmas boost in their pay packet, after the firm announced $500m (£374m) in global bonuses.

The company, which is run by the world's richest man Jeff Bezos, will hand out £300 to full-time workers who are employed from 1 to 31 December, while part-time staff will get £150.

It comes after a year where many people have relied on the company – which runs a global retail operation and streaming service – to send gifts, buy essential items or while away the hours on box sets and films.

In a blog post, the firm's senior vice president of worldwide operations, Dave Clark, said this holiday season would be “unique”, and that he was “grateful to our teams who continue to play a vital role serving their communities”.

He added: “This brings our total spent on special bonuses and incentives for our teams globally to over $2.5bn (£1.84bn) in 2020, including a $500m (£374m) thank you bonus earlier this year.

“Our teams are doing amazing work serving customers' essential needs, while also helping to bring some much-needed holiday cheer for socially distanced families around the world. I've never been more grateful for, or proud of, our teams.”

Despite paying two rounds of bonuses this year, the firm has had to answer questions about its safety protocols amid the coronavirus pandemic after US politicians scrutinised Amazon's working practices.

Amazon joins major US retailers such as Walmart and Home Depot in spreading the wealth, after sales during coronavirus lockdowns surged.

Bezos also grew his personal wealth exponentially in 2020 and is estimated to be worth almost $186bn (£136bn) – almost $60bn (£44bn) ahead of the next richest person in the world, Elon Musk.

Philip Green’s retail empire Arcadia group faces collapse within days

( via – – Fri, 27th Nov 2020) London, Uk – –

Sir Philip Green's retail empire Arcadia, which includes Topshop, Burton and Dorothy Perkins, is understood to be on the brink of collapse.

Sir Philip had been in talks with potential lenders about borrowing £30m to help the business through Christmas.

However, these talks have failed and administrators could be appointed on Monday, putting 13,000 jobs at risk.

Arcadia said the pandemic “has had a material impact on trading across our businesses”.

“As a result, the Arcadia boards have been working on a number of contingency options to secure the future of the group's brands. The brands continue to trade and our stores will be opening again in England and the Republic of Ireland as soon as the government Covid-19 restrictions are lifted next week,” it said.

“Arcadia would be the biggest British corporate collapse of the pandemic if it does enter voluntary liquidation,” said Susannah Streeter, senior investment and markets analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown.

“It would hollow out huge swathes of the High Street, if its huge footprint of stores were forced to close.”

If administrators are called in, the shops will continue to trade as buyers for the company – or more likely its well-known brands – are lined up for sale. Arcadia currently has about 500 shops.

Non-essential retailers in England have been forced to close for four weeks until 2 December to contain the spread of Covid-19. This followed a longer lockdown earlier in the year.

However, even before the pandemic, Arcadia's best-known brands such as Topshop were struggling against nimbler online-only fashion retailers like Asos, Boohoo and Pretty Little Thing.

And rival High Street chains like Zara have invested heavily in their digital business while Topshop has been slow to catch up.

In its most recent accounts for the year to 1 September 2018, Arcadia reported a £93.4m pre-tax loss compared to a £164.6m profit in the previous 12 months.

It also said sales fell 4.5% to £1.8bn.

At the time, Arcadia said: “The retail landscape has changed dramatically over recent years and the increased competition from other High Street and online retailers in particular has had a significant impact on our business.”

Richard Lim, chief executive at Retail Economics, said that while all clothing shops have been adversely affected by the pandemic, Arcadia's “demise has been accelerated because of an online proposition that falls way behind that of their competitors”.

“Years of underinvestment in the digital channel has severely restricted their ability to trade successfully through this hugely difficult period,” he said.

EasyJet see significant rise in domestic bookings as England lockdown ends

( via — Thur, 26th Nov 2020) London, UK —

LONDON (Reuters) – British airline easyJet said domestic bookings for December had risen significantly this week compared to last week after news that some COVID-19 restrictions in its home market would be eased.

England’s current lockdown bans most international travel, but when it ends on Dec. 2 people will be free to go abroad. Over Christmas, COVID-19 restrictions across the UK will be relaxed to allow families to mix for five days.

The prospects for travel were also boosted after a rule change in England earlier this week which means from mid-December, arrivals in the UK can shorten their quarantine to five days from 14 if they test negative for coronavirus.

EasyJet said bookings for flights from London and Bristol to Belfast, and London to Edinburgh had risen, and it had seen a 200% increase in searches for both flights and holidays to beach destinations for next year.

“We know underlying demand is there, which we see every time travel restrictions are lifted,” easyJet chief executive Johan Lundgren said in a statement on Thursday.

“We continue to closely review our flying programme to ensure we are aligning our schedule with customer demand.”

The pandemic has battered easyJet’s finances, forcing it to axe 4,500 staff, sell planes and take on new debt, and Lundgren has said a recovery depends upon travel restrictions being removed.

Reporting by Sarah Young

Royal Mail moves a step closer to scrapping Saturday letter deliveries

( via – – Thur, 26th Nov 2020) London, Uk – –

Research finds scrapping service would have no significant impact on customers

Ofcom estimates ending Saturday service could save Royal Mail up to £225m a year.

Royal Mail has moved a step closer to scrapping Saturday letter deliveries after research from the postal regulator found there would be no significant impact on consumers.

Ofcom, which estimates the move could save Royal Mail £225m a year, said cutting Saturday deliveries would still allow the company to “meet the needs of nearly all people and businesses”.

A comprehensive review of the postal market conducted by Ofcom found that a six-day-a-week letter delivery meets the needs of 98% of residential users and 97% of small and and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) in the UK. Cutting back to five days a week would still meet 97% of the needs of residential and SMEs.

Ofcom has estimated this could help Royal Mail cut costs by £125m-£225m a year.

“Our research suggests that people’s needs would still be met if letter deliveries were reduced from six days a week to five,” said Lindsey Fussell, Ofcom’s networks and communications group director.

“It would ultimately be for parliament to decide whether the change is needed. However, Royal Mail must still modernise and become more efficient, to keep pace with customers’ changing needs.”

In September, Royal Mail, which delivered 1.1bn fewer letters in the five months to the end of August compared with the same period last year, hinted that Saturday letter deliveries were no longer essential.

Royal Mail is keen to focus on parcel delivery, which is booming thanks to the online shopping revolution. The company reported a 31% increase in UK parcel volumes between April and September, as home deliveries boom during the pandemic.

However, in the last six months letter volumes have fallen by around a third. “To stay relevant and sustainable, the universal service must adapt to life in the 21st century,” said Keith Williams, the interim executive chairman at Royal Mail.

“The reduction in letter volumes has had a significant impact on the finances of the universal service which lost £180m in the first half of the year. This, along with our own comprehensive customer research, demonstrates the need to rebalance the universal service in line with growing consumer demand for parcels, and lower usage of letters.”

Ofcom’s annual monitoring report published on Thursday found that 2.8bn parcels were sent and received in the UK in the year to the end of March 2020 – 1bn more than in 2013. The volume of letters has fallen by about 5% each year since 2015, as people move to digital communications, according to Ofcom.

However, Ofcom also said the cost savings made by cutting Saturday letter deliveries was not enough on its own to make Royal Mail sustainable over the long term.

Ofcom also gauged consumer reaction to other features of the universal service, including scrapping the first-class service and creating a single service offering a two-day delivery speed. 

The research found this option, which would be slower than first-class mail but faster than second class currently, would not “have a large impact on users’ acceptability of the service”. However, Ofcom said the option would have limited scope for cost savings, and would risk reduced revenues.

Under its universal service obligation, Royal Mail is required to deliver letters six days a week and parcels five days a week to every address in the UK at a standard price. Royal Mail exceeds its obligation relating to parcels, with a six-day service, but Ofcom’s research found consumers would be “largely indifferent” if it was reduced to five days.

In June, Royal Mail revealed a cost-cutting plan that will lead to the loss of 2,000 management jobs by March, in areas including IT, finance, marketing and sales. The company’s 90,000 postal workers would not be affected by the cuts, Royal Mail said at the time.

Last year, its former chief executive, Rico Back, set out a five-year £1.8bn turnaround plan to revamp Royal Mail as an international parcel-led business. But changes have been held back by strikes. The company has long been at loggerheads with trade unions about changes to working practices.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak warns of ‘lasting’ damage to UK economy

( via – – Wed, 25th Nov 2020) London, Uk —

Chancellor Rishi Sunak has warned that the coronavirus pandemic has dealt “lasting” damage to the economy as official forecasts predicted the biggest economic decline in 300 years.

The UK economy is expected to shrink by 11.3% this year and not return to its pre-crisis size until the end of 2022.

Government borrowing will rise to its highest ever level outside of wartime to deal with the economic impact.

Mr Sunak said: “Our economic emergency has only just begun.”

The government's independent forecaster, the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) expects growth of 5.5% in 2021 and 6.6% the following year.

Mr Sunak said the government had already spent £280bn to help support the economy through the coronavirus.

It will spend a further £55bn next year as part of a package of measures to support the recovery. This includes billions of pounds to help people find jobs.

However, Mr Sunak said long-term scarring meant the economy would be 3% smaller in 2025 than expected in the March budget.

The OBR expects unemployment to peak at 2.6 million next year, although fewer jobs are expected to be lost than predicted this summer.

The government has extended its furlough scheme to support jobs and wages until next March.

AA agree to £219m takeover deal with Private equity groups

( via– Wed, 25th Nov 2020) London, Uk – –

The roadside recovery company's prospective new private equity owners plan to tackle its £2.6bn debt mountain.

By John-Paul Ford Rojas, business reporter

The AA has agreed to a £219m takeover with new owners pledging to inject extra cash after years of underinvestment – but warning of possible “limited” head office job cuts.

Private equity groups Towerbrook and Warburg Pincus will take control of the company in a deal likely to complete early in 2021.

The AA has more than three million members and in the last financial year reported revenues of nearly £1bn but is weighed down by a £2.6bn debt pile.

A statement on the deal said the consortium of new owners believed the company had been held back by underinvestment and they planned to inject funds to tackle the debt.

“This investment will safeguard the future of a much-loved business,” they said.

“The AA has a proud heritage but has struggled to reach its full growth potential in recent years.

“By deleveraging this fundamentally high-quality organisation, the business will be able to fully capitalise on its iconic brand, its market-leading positions, and its skilled and committed workforce – so that it can continue to deliver the exceptional levels of service it provides.

“We have no doubt that, on a stronger financial footing, the AA will go from strength to strength, to the benefit of all stakeholders.”

The consortium indicated an increased focus on the AA's insurance, driving school and financial services divisions.

After the planned takeover, it will no longer be listed on the London stock exchange meaning that a “limited number of central corporate and support functions… may be reduced in scope or become unnecessary” though the aim will be to reassign some to other roles in the company.

Its new owners will also conduct a “thorough evaluation of the strategy, operations and organisational structure of the AA” but do not expect to see “material headcount reductions”.

The AA, which employs more than 7,000 people, has a history dating back to 1905 but investment has been held back in recent years in order to service its mountain of debt.

In accepting the takeover offer, its directors said it would be “highly challenging” to try to raise the money it needs to address this debt through a cash-call with existing shareholders. Where jobs have been lost across the UK economy

Chairman John Leach said that having considered the options available it concluded “that the acquisition, which offers certain cash value to the AA's shareholders as well as a significant equity injection to reduce indebtedness, is in the best interests of the AA”.

The agreement comes two days after the AA board indicated that it was willing to accept the offer and entered “advanced discussions” with the bidders.

Shares rose nearly 7% in early trading.

In September, the AA reported a 38% fall in pre-tax profits to £26m for the six months to the end of July as membership numbers fell at a time when road usage dropped due to the COVID-19 lockdown.

Over the weekend, Sky News revealed that former Centrica chairman Rick Haythornthwaite had been approached about chairing the AA if the bid is successful.

Elon Musk topples Bill Gates to become world’s second-richest person

Further rise in Tesla share price pushes entrepreneur past Microsoft co-founder.

Elon Musk has toppled Bill Gates as the world’s second-richest person, only a week after the Tesla co-founder overtook Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg to become the third-richest.

Driven by a further surge in Tesla’s share price, the 49-year-old entrepreneur’s net worth rose by $7.2bn (£5.4bn) to $127.9bn. It has soared by more than $100bn this year – outranking everyone else on the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, which lists the world’s 500 richest people. In January, Musk was in 35th place.

The maverick chief executive of the electric car company is now ranked immediately behind the Amazon boss, Jeff Bezos.

Tesla’s shares have surged since the company was selected to join the S&P 500 index of leading US companies a week ago, driving its market value close to $500bn. Three-quarters of Musk’s net worth comes from Tesla shares.

If Tesla’s share price growth continues, Musk could net a bonus deal worth a record $55.8bn. To trigger the maximum payout he has to build Tesla into a $650bn company by 2028.

Tesla has the highest market value of any car company in the world, even though it makes far fewer vehicles than others. It is expected to deliver up to 500,000 electric vehicles this year, compared with Japanese carmaker Toyota’s annual production of about 10m.

Musk is also involved in spacecraft through his company SpaceX, which last week sent four astronauts to the International Space Station on its Falcon rocket and Dragon capsule under a commercial contract with Nasa. SpaceX is about to launch 60 broadband internet satellites into orbit, after suffering delays due to poor weather conditions.

Gates, who co-founded Microsoft, was the world’s richest person for years before being knocked off the top slot by Bezos in 2017. Gates’s fortune is worth $127.7bn but would be higher had he not donated large sums to charity over the years. He has given more than $50bn to help fight diseases and tackle poverty, mainly through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which has also backed the development of Covid-19 vaccines.

Despite the pandemic, which has resulted in business closures and job losses, this year has been a good one for those listed on the Bloomberg index, who have collectively gained $1.3tn since January.

A week ago, Musk overtook Zuckerberg and advanced into third place. The 36-year-old Facebook founder has fallen back into fourth spot this week, behind the French businessman Bernard Arnault, the chief executive of LVMH, the world’s largest luxury goods company.

Virtual reality embraced by traders and bankers to invigorate working from home

( via — Tue, 24th Dec 2020) London, UK —

By Elizabeth Howcroft, Saikat Chatterjee

LONDON (Reuters) – Once the preserve of gamers, virtual reality (VR) has been seized on by the financial sector as a way of enlivening home working for lonely traders or isolated executives and replicating real-world sales, networking or training events.

With 90% of employees at some of the world’s biggest financial firms now working at home due to a resurgence in coronavirus infections, more and more companies are experimenting with VR.

Some practices could stick beyond the pandemic, particularly as home working becomes more widespread.

At investment manager Fidelity International, executives experimented with a VR auditorium, taking questions from colleagues and even walking up and down the aisles.

“Working from home has massively accelerated the interest in virtual/online spaces,” said Stuart Warner, head of technology at Fidelity International which manages $3.3 trillion in assets.

Having internally explored VR and augmented reality (AR) technology, which unlike VR is not fully immersive and involves computer-generated elements being visible through a smartphone screen for example, Fidelity now aims to trial VR with its sales teams’ interactions with clients.

“It brings it to life a bit,” Warner said.

For London-based Ed Greig, chief disruptor at Deloitte Digital, VR has sparked conversations with potential clients and colleagues in far-flung cities in office get-togethers.

“The other day, I was finishing a VR meeting with somebody and as I was walking out of their office I bumped into a person who was coming in for another meeting and that interaction for a couple of minutes turned into a proper business conversation later,” Greig said.

VR can be useful not just for scheduled meetings but also for helping ease feelings of isolation and giving some workers the office buzz they crave and thrive in.

Swiss bank UBS has experimented with issuing its London-based traders with Microsoft HoloLens smart glasses, which it says allows staff to recreate the trading floor experience at home.


VR headsets allow users to see and interact with others in the same digital room, and movements, such as turning one’s head, correspond with how the person’s avatar moves in the space.

Recreating the feeling of human interaction is what has provided impetus for the VR push.

Executives say they are combating so-called Zoom fatigue – exhaustion brought on by a daily barrage of video conferences, meetings and messaging via tools such as Zoom or Microsoft Teams, which have replaced face-to-face interaction.

The hope is that virtual reality spaces will resuscitate team spirit, especially when bringing in new employees.

Marc Bena, who leads the digital audit business unit at PricewaterhouseCoopers UK, said:

“In a virtual environment you can hear multiple people talking at the same time, which is different in a zoom meeting… when you wear these headsets you are transported into a giant room with a whiteboard and office furniture and you join your other colleagues in brainstorming ideas.”

“You can look around you and interact as if you were in a office. That recreates the sensation of being together.”

After a virtual session he and colleagues had virtual drinks in another zone and could move from table to table.

“You could recreate exactly the same environment as if you were in the cocktail parties with your avatar. The only downside to this is that it can get pretty intense after a couple of hours,” he said.

A PwC study in June found participants in a virtual reality workshop were three times more confident about what they had learned than those learning via traditional classrooms or even via e-learning courses.

The cost to train 13,000 executives in a classroom at the firm is eight times more expensive than via a virtual reality course for the same number of people, the study found.

PwC and American Express use VRtuoso, a virtual reality presentation platform, that utilizes headsets made by Pico Interactive for training and boosting sales.

So far, most of VR’s real-world business applications are in medicine and retail, including training department stores salespeople how to deal with difficult customers.

Julie Ask, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester, a U.S. based-market consultant, says more widespread adoption is inevitable.

“I think VR technology adoption is going to continue to grow over time,” she said.


The immersive work experience carries a hefty price tag – Microsoft’s HoloLens 2 headsets cost $3,500 apiece.

But the financial industry is gearing up to spend. Fidelity says tech spending is up “100%-200%” this year versus 2019 and it will keep that level of spending for the next year or two.

David Ripert, chapter president of the UK branch of the global VR/AR Association said that growth in demand for VR was a “silver lining” of the pandemic, as people used the technology to recreate cancelled physical events and conferences.

“Using VR for these networking events is really cool because you get that sense of belonging and connection that you don’t get necessarily through flat 2D video,” he said.

Advances in immersive technology could save banks as much as $1.5 trillion by 2030 with nearly $500 billion coming from virtual reality applications alone, PwC estimates, through the use of VR training or business meetings.

Deloitte estimates that 19% of British firms have invested in VR and augmented reality in 2019 and a further 31% will invest in such technologies by 2021.

Citibank first built an experimental simulated trading environment some years ago when it looked at Microsoft’s HoloLens. At a bond conference in Munich last year, Finnish bank Nordea gave investors a virtual tour of its Copenhagen trading floor through VR headsets.

But while there is momentum in the sector, to be fully effective VR technology must overcome constraints such as limited display size, processing power, and battery life.

This is where a host of start-ups are trying to get in the market by offering cheaper, simpler ways to smooth remote work. Platforms such as Sococo and Gather provide virtual versions of physical spaces online, in which employees can move about and interact without headsets.

“The casual socialisation aspect of work is hard to get when you’re doing everything over Google Meet or Zoom,” said Phillip Wang, who founded Gather with his university friends.

Gather has hosted everything from weddings and parties to meetings and conferences, with 30,000 people coming to the virtual spaces every day from more than 100 countries.

While startups are scaling up quickly, established leaders are launching new innovations.

Zoom Video Communications said it expects VR and AR to become a bigger part of online communication in the future.

This could include new enhancements to alter a person’s appearance to make it more work-appropriate, hiding gym clothes for instance, and translating real-life details into the virtual space, such as the ability to shake hands.

Microsoft said it has seen increased opportunities for VR usage this year. Google declined to comment.

“I think the pandemic has changed people’s perception on what’s possible and what’s feasible,” said Fidelity’s Warner.

Reporting by Elizabeth Howcroft and Saikat Chatterjee

Non-essential retail and gyms to reopen in lead-up to Christmas

( via– Mon, 23rd Nov 2020) London, Uk – –

The prime minister is publishing a COVID Winter Plan, with new restrictions in England in December but a break for Christmas.

Boris Johnson is hoping to lace his latest COVID crackdown with more good cheer, with ministers working on plans to allow families to meet up in a festive bubble.

He is unveiling a new blueprint to fight the pandemic that he hopes will not only save lives during the winter but also prevent a Commons revolt by rebel Tory MPs.

The prime minister is publishing a COVID Winter Plan, which will include tough new restrictions in England in December but a break of up to five days for Christmas.

But despite the restrictions, due to replace England's national lockdown when it ends on 2 December, Mr Johnson will announce:

Non-essential retail will be allowed to open, in a boost for Christmas shoppers – and the high street

Gyms will be allowed to open too, so the nation doesn't pile on the pounds in the run-up to Christmas

The 10pm curfew for pubs and restaurants, which critics claim did more harm than good, will be scrapped

And a mass testing programme is to be launched in Tier 3 areas, using the Army, like the recent pilot programme in Liverpool

In a Commons statement, Mr Johnson is not expected to confirm how many households will be able to bubble together at Christmas, or how long the break in restrictions will last. That is planned for the following day.

But ministers are working on plans for three households and a five-day break, from Christmas Eve to 28 December, subject to agreement from the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland governments.

The mass coronavirus testing programme will be launched in areas facing the toughest restrictions, in Tier 3, using the Liverpool, model, which the government claims has been a success.

Announcing the testing programme, the prime minister is expected to tell MPs: “The selflessness of people in following the rules is making a difference.

“The virus is not spreading nearly as quickly as it would if we were not washing our hands, maintaining social distance, wearing masks and so on.

“And in England, where nationwide measures came into effect at the start of this month, the increase in new cases is flattening off.

“But we are not out of the woods yet. The virus is still present in communities across the country, and remains both far more infectious and far more deadly than seasonal flu.

“But with expansion in testing and vaccines edging closer to deployment, the regional tiered system will help get the virus back under control and keep it there.”

Plans for a Christmas break from restrictions were announced after weekend talks with the first ministers of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – Nicola Sturgeon, Mark Drakeford and Arlene Foster.

The government is proposing “some limited additional household bubbling for a small number of days”. But the public is being urged to remain cautious and avoid travelling wherever possible.

But just hours after the announcement of the festive break was announced by the Cabinet Office, the Scottish government claimed: “No agreement has been reached and discussions are continuing.”

This was echoed by Health Secretary Matt Hancock, who told Sky News a final decision “hasn't been made”.

Speaking to Kay Burley, he said: “We'll confirm it when we have that agreement across the four nations.”

Mr Hancock added: “We've agreed in principle that there should be a set of rules that applies across the board that is balanced, that allows a little bit more freedom, but is still safe.”

The dispute may be over the dates of the break. Last week Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said for some families in Scotland Hogmanay would be more important than Christmas.

“For many, bringing in new year is very important,” she said.

“For some families in Scotland that may be the time they get together, even more so than Christmas, so we do have to take that into account in our planning and we need to think across the whole festive period.”

Labour's shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth told Sky News: “We understand that people will want to come together, but this still remains a very serious, horrific and deadly virus, so please be cautious.”

And he added that the PM needs to “be honest with the British people” about the tough new restrictions.

“If areas are continuing in these localised lockdowns, we hope there is a proper package of support for the small businesses impacted,” Mr Ashworth said.

In the Commons, Mr Johnson will also face fierce criticism from a growing number of Conservative MPs of his plans to re-impose the three-tier restrictions in England which were in force from 14 October until 5 November.How lockdown leak created surge of social activity

Although the PM will reaffirm his pledge to end England's national lockdown, many Tory MPs are furious at the government's plans to make the restrictions tougher and place more areas in Tiers 2 and 3.

The Covid Recovery Group of Conservative MPs, led by ex-ministers Mark Harper and Steve Baker, has written to the prime minister threatening to vote against the three-tier system when it is voted on in the Commons.

Mr Baker told Kay Burley: “We're determined to do our duty and help the government to come up with the right solutions.”

He added: “Each measure needs to be shown to actually reduce the transmission of COVID and some of the measures can't be shown to do that, not in a material way. Things like closing non-essential retail that's COVID safe.

“We also want to see a cost benefit analysis for each measure, so that we can see that the measures will save more lives than they harm.”

By Jon Craig, chief political correspondent, and Alan McGuinness, political reporter

Rishi Sunak says spending announcement this week will not spell austerity

( via – – Mon, 23rd Nov 2020) London, Uk – –

Rishi Sunak has said people “will not see austerity” when he makes spending announcements for public services this week, despite the billions spent on the pandemic response.

The government has indicated it will keep to past promises when allocating funds for policing, nurses and schools.

On Wednesday the chancellor will detail the Spending Review.

It will outline how taxpayers' money will be spent on departments such as health and education.

But while ruling out a return to austerity, Mr Sunak has also warned people will soon see an “economic shock laid bare”.

He told the BBC's Andrew Marr show that record government borrowing to deal with the coronavirus must be “grappled with”.

The Spending Review will give a clearer picture of the economic damage wrought by the pandemic so far.

However tax rises and spending cuts were unlikely in the short term, Paul Johnson, director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS), told the BBC's Today programme.

“We are still in the position of being able to borrow incredibly cheaply and really wanting to protect the economy,” he said.

Although tax rises might end up being “quite significant” they might not come until after the next election, Mr Johnson added.

“It's not something that is super-urgent as we come out of this crisis,” he said.

Last week, reports that Mr Sunak would freeze wages for public sector staff were met with fierce criticism from unions and workers, though NHS frontline staff are likely to be excluded from such a move.

Speaking on Sky's Sophy Ridge On Sunday, the chancellor said: “You will not see austerity next week, what you will see is an increase in government spending, on day-to-day public services, quite a significant one coming on the increase we had last year.”

But, while he said that he “cannot comment on future pay policy”, Mr Sunak added: “When we think about public pay settlements, I think it would be entirely reasonable to think of those in the context of the wider economic climate.”

It is thought the chancellor is keen to freeze public sector pay since average private sector earnings have fallen this year.

The IFS's Mr Johnson said that while a pay freeze would save about £2bn a year, the chancellor would need to balance that with the need to keep money in the economy and the recruitment and retention of teachers and nurses.

“Over this year public sector pay has done much better than private sector pay… but this has come off the back of 10 years when public sector pay has done really quite badly,” he said.

On Monday, the shadow chancellor, Anneliese Dodds, will give a speech which argues that: “Freezing the pay of firefighters, hospital porters and teaching assistants will make them worried about making ends meet ahead of Christmas – that means they'll cut back on spending and our economy won't recover as quickly.”

Labour is calling on the government to bring forward £30bn in capital spending over the next 18 months to create new jobs.

Prior spending commitments made by the government include the hiring of 50,000 more nurses, and 20,000 extra police officers by 2023.

However, the BBC's Reality Check team points out that while 30,000 new nurses will be trained locally or recruited from overseas, 20,000 of the 50,000 roles announced will be existing nurses persuaded to stay in the profession.

The Reality Check team also points out that adding 20,000 police officers will return total staffing levels to the 143,000 police officers employed prior to the 2010 election when the Conservatives came to power.

The government has also promised to increase spending on schools by £2.2bn in the 2021-2022 financial year, and direct £1.5bn towards building works at Further Education colleges.

The Treasury announced on Sunday that another £1.25bn would be allocated to the prisons service.

The government says a total of £4bn will be allocated to build more than 18,000 additional prison places across England and Wales over the next four years. Some 10,000 of these places have been planned since 2015.

Mr Sunak said: “This has been a tough year for us all. But we won't let it get in the way of delivering on our promises – the British people deserve outstanding public services, and we remain committed to delivering their priorities as we put our public services at the heart of our economic renewal.”

How Allbirds Became A $1.4 Billion Sneaker Start-Up

Source: CNBC

The simple wool shoe started as a Silicon Valley favorite and has spread to Hollywood and beyond.

In 2012, Tim Brown called it quits on an eight-year professional soccer career that included a trip to the 2010 FIFA World Cup as New Zealand's vice captain. After retiring, one thing from Brown's playing days would not stop bugging him: the sneakers. Throughout his playing career, Brown's teams (he played in the U.S., Australia and New Zealand) were sponsored by big-name sneaker manufacturers like Adidas and Nike. But Brown felt the sneakers he wore on and off the field were often too flashy, awash with too many different colors and packed with corporate logos. He wanted something simpler. So, he decided to make his own.

Why These 3 Businesses Will Boom In 2021

Source: Practical Wisdom

2021 may be the most unpredictable year of the decade. No one knows how people are going to react to new business strategies; no one even knows what some of these business strategies will be. Reopening a business during COVID is like a game of chess: without a plan, you’ll lose. For all those that aspire to start a new business or invest in one, this video is for you.

British Gas engineers to ballot over possible strike action

( via – – Fri, 20th Nov 2020) London, Uk – –

British Gas engineers are being balloted over possible strike action during the festive period as a row over contracts worsens.

Thousands of GMB union members will vote on industrial action which could see engineers not fixing British Gas customers' broken-down boilers.

The elderly and vulnerable in homes without heating will be exempt.

British Gas-owner Centrica said the proposed changes to contracts were vital for its business.

The row between GMB and Centrica centres on proposed new terms and conditions, which include changes to holiday allowances and no extra overtime pay.

The union is angry about Centrica's “threat” made in July to fire and rehire 20,000 workers should those changes not be accepted.

‘Boiling over'

Workers would be fired and then rehired on the conditions regardless of whether they had accepted them or not, the union says. However, Centrica said such a move would be a last resort.

The union said that members' anger was “boiling over”. “People don't like threats and bullying and GMB members are no different.” said GMB national secretary Justin Bowden.

Union members were angry in August after the Centrica “ultimatum” on jobs, and 95% voted for action, he said.

“We sought to get the threat off the table. The best that they [Centrica] were prepared to do was postpone the ultimatum until January,” Mr Bowden added.

Centrica said that it had lost more than a million British Gas customers in the past two years to competitors with lower-priced products, and that it had lost more than half its earnings.

“To win back customers from our competitors and reverse the decline of our business we must have flexibility to give customers what they want, at a price they want and when they need it,” a Centrica spokesperson said.

“Our current terms and conditions are stopping us doing this and modernising the way we work is critical to our success,” the spokesperson added.

Base pay and pensions would be protected, the company said, and the contract changes would reduce its wage bill by 1.5%.

Heathrow airport to furlough senior management team in cost cutting plan

( via–Fri, 20th Nov 2020) London, Uk – –

The UK's biggest airport is to furlough its top team and end subsidised travel in a bid to slash costs, Sky News learns.

By Mark Kleinman, City editor

Britain's biggest airport is to furlough its entire senior management team apart from its chief executive and pave the way for more permanent job losses, underlining its pessimism about the aviation industry's short-term recovery prospects.

Sky News has seen emails sent by Heathrow executives on Friday which detail plans for a new voluntary redundancy scheme and a requirement for staff to be placed on furlough for at least four weeks between the beginning of December and the end of March.

Sources said the furlough requirement would apply to every Heathrow employee other than John Holland-Kaye, the airport's chief executive.

The latest developments come weeks after Heathrow relinquished its crown as Europe's busiest airport to Paris's Charles de Gaulle, with passenger numbers at the London hub down by 82% year-on-year in October.

Industry analysts say the outlook for this month is even bleaker because of the second English lockdown.

Heathrow is burning through £5m every day while it remains open, and is estimated to have lost £1.5bn since the start of the pandemic.

It has nevertheless been locked in fractious talks with trade unions about revised employment terms for many of the 5,700 people who work at the airport – including reduced pension contributions and reduced salaries for several thousand people.

Workers at the airport have voted in favour of industrial action over four days next month which unions have warned will mean that Heathrow “will grind to a halt”.Where jobs have been lost across the UK economy

Significant compulsory job cuts remain a possibility, with the voluntary severance scheme outlined on Friday offering a lump sum in return for redundancy, with expressions of interest required by next Thursday.

One insider signalled that further compulsory redundancies were likely if too few people accepted the voluntary severance option.

Heathrow's rivals, including Gatwick and Manchester Airports Group, which owns Stansted, have already cut hundreds of jobs each amid a slump in demand.

The wider adoption of the Treasury's furlough scheme underlines how Heathrow is scrambling to save money eight months after the COVID-19 crisis erupted.

Ministers' decision not to agree to a comprehensive airport testing regime has infuriated the tourism and aviation sectors, which have blamed the government for contributing to a lack of confidence in international travel between the lockdowns.

Heathrow and other airport operators are also frustrated that there has been no alleviation of their financial pain in the form of business rates relief, unlike that afforded to supermarket chains, which by contrast have thrived during the pandemic.

In an email to Heathrow employees, Paula Stannett, its chief people officer, said: “With the extension of the furlough scheme until 31 March 2021, all non-operational colleagues (negotiated and non-negotiated grades) and operational colleagues in non-negotiated grades will be required to take a minimum of four weeks (20 days) of furlough between 1 December and 31 March (pro-rated for part time colleagues).

“This furlough could be taken in one continuous block or as flexi-furlough, for example as one or two days each week.

“Reduced workload in some teams will mean that some colleagues will also continue to be asked to take longer periods on furlough.”

Ms Stannett said that there could be limited exemptions to the requirement, adding: “We do recognise that a number of business-critical roles may not be able to take a full four weeks of furlough. These exceptional cases must be approved by People Committee.”

Sources said that the airport was also halting subsidised transport for people working on the site, including on bus and coach services.

The airport also plans to suspend free travel within the zone around the airport from January, while discounts on some train services would also be scrapped, according to another memo sent to staff.

Heathrow declined to comment.

Royal Mail raised revenue forecast gained from surge in online shopping

( via — Thur, 19th Nov 2020) London, UK —

(Reuters) – Royal Mail RMG.L raised its full-year revenue forecast on Thursday as it gained from the surge in online shopping spurred by coronavirus lockdowns, while warning it was still struggling with the costs of social distancing and its loss-making letters business.

The company said it now expects revenue to be 380 million to 580 million pounds higher year-on-year and that its main UK operation could break even if it hit the top end of that forecast.

The company, Britain’s state-owned postal monopoly until its privatisation in 2013, said pre-tax profit dropped to 17 million pounds for the six months ended Sept. 27 from 173 million pounds a year earlier.

Revenue, however, jumped nearly 10% to 5.67 billion pounds as parcel volumes registered strong growth, driven by an increase in e-commerce activity.

“Whilst the COVID-19 pandemic continues to present challenges for both Royal Mail in the UK and GLS (international parcels business), the first-half performance has been above our initial expectations in many areas,” Interim Executive Chairman Keith Williams said in a statement.

Reporting by Patrick Graham and Muvija M in Bengaluru

Comparethemarket fined £17.9m by competition watchdog

( via – – Thur, 19th Nov 2020) London, Uk – –

CMA says site broke the law by preventing home insurers offering lower prices on other platforms

PA Media

The competition watchdog has imposed a £17.9m fine on the price comparison site after it found that clauses in its contracts with home insurers broke competition law.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) said the website prohibited home insurers on its platform from offering lower prices on other comparison websites, ensuring it was not undercut elsewhere.

As a result, competition between Comparethemarket and its rivals was restricted and it was likely to have resulted in customers paying higher insurance premiums, the CMA said.

Michael Grenfell, the CMA’s executive director for enforcement, said: “Price comparison websites are excellent for consumers. They promote competition between providers, offer choice for customers and make it easier for consumers to find the best bargains.

“It is therefore unacceptable that Comparethemarket, which has been the largest price comparison site for home insurance for several years, used clauses in its contracts that restricted home insurers from offering bigger discounts on competing websites – so limiting the bargains potentially available to consumers.

“Digital markets can yield great benefits for competition, and therefore for consumers. We are determined to secure those benefits and to ensure that competition is not illegitimately restricted.”

A spokeswoman for the company said: “ is disappointed with the CMA’s decision and does not recognise its analysis of the home insurance market.

“We fundamentally disagree with the conclusions the CMA has drawn and will be carefully examining the detailed rationale behind the decision and considering all of our options.

“For 14 years and the other price comparison websites have revolutionised the way in which consumers shop for their insurance. In the past year alone, we have helped more than 6 million customers save money.

“We will continue to deliver on our mission to drive competition, transparency and choice that benefits consumers, so our customers get the best deals possible.”

Rocio Concha, director of advocacy and policy at Which?, said: “The actions of Comparethemarket have fallen well below the standard you’d expect from a company who claims to be working in the best interest of consumers, so it is positive to see the CMA intervening to protect consumers and issuing this large fine.

“Customers should be able to trust that they can find the best deals when using price comparison sites, and any business found to be flouting the rules should be held to account.”