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Heathrow Airport has urged the government to reopen the UK economy to fully vaccinated travellers from the European Union and United States by the end of the month after revealing coronavirus crisis losses of almost £3bn to date.

The company said expensive COVID-19 testing requirements were hampering an effective reopening of the skies while it also reported that the UK was falling behind its EU rivals in international trade by being slow to remove restrictions.

Heathrow said that fewer than four million people travelled through the hub airport during the first six months of 2021 – a level that would have been surpassed by 18 days’ worth of traffic in pre-pandemic times.

It posted a loss before tax of £868m compared to a figure just above £1bn for the same period last year, as demand for international travel slumped in the face of the first lockdowns Europe-wide.

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Costly tests for travelling to low-risk countries ‘completely unnecessary’

The figure took its cumulative losses to £2.9bn, Heathrow said, adding: “Recent changes to the government’s traffic light system are encouraging but expensive testing requirements and travel restrictions are holding back the UK’s economic recovery and could see Heathrow welcome fewer passengers in 2021 than in 2020.”

It said that cargo volumes remained 18% down on pre-pandemic levels while rivals, such as Frankfurt and Schiphol, were up by 9%.

“Britain is losing out on tourism income and trade with key economic partners like the EU and US because ministers continue to restrict travel for passengers fully vaccinated outside the UK,” the statement continued.

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“Trade routes between the EU and the US have recovered to nearly 50% of pre-pandemic levels while the UK remains 92% down.”

It said that unless the government acted, the sector must be continue to be supported through an extension of the furlough scheme beyond September and business rates relief – the latter worth almost £120m to Heathrow.

Chief executive John Holland-Kaye said: “The UK is emerging from the worst effects of the health pandemic, but is falling behind its EU rivals in international trade by being slow to remove restrictions.

“Replacing PCR tests with lateral flow tests and opening up to EU and US vaccinated travellers at the end of July will start to get Britain’s economic recovery off the ground.”

Queues mounted up at Heathrow as people had to show their COVID vaccine passes despite already checking in online
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Queues mounted at Heathrow over the weekend as people had to show their COVID vaccine passes despite online checks

He was speaking following a weekend in which COVID checks were blamed for long queues at Heathrow’s arrivals halls on what was its busiest day of the year so far.

Significant waiting times were reported at airports more widely and also attributed to staff shortages as a result of the so-called ‘pingdemic’ that has forced personnel to self-isolate if identified as a close contact by the NHS COVID app.

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Joules secures Next rescue with majority of stores and jobs saved

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Joules secures Next rescue with majority of stores and jobs saved

Collapsed fashion retailer Joules will live on after Next agreed a rescue deal that preserves most of its stores and jobs.

Under the deal Next will pick up 100 of its 132 stores and only 133 of 1,600 staff will lose their jobs.

TFG, the owner of the Hobbs, Whistles and Phase Eight womenswear brands, appeared to be the frontrunner on Wednesday in an auction process to secure an agreement with Joules’ administrator, Interpath Advisory.

Joules is the second major UK acquisition for the fashion-to-homewares retailer in as many months.

Next snapped up the brand, website and intellectual property of Made.com on 9 November.

Joules had been trading as normal since a failure to secure new investment pushed it towards insolvency a fortnight ago.

The clothing, footwear and accessories retailer collapsed after its finances, profitability and cash generation came under pressure amid the cost of living crisis.

It had been in talks with both Next and TFG about new investment beforehand.

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Unions could coordinate strike action across NHS for ‘maximum impact’, GMB boss says

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Unions could coordinate strike action across NHS for 'maximum impact', GMB boss says

Union leaders could coordinate industrial action across the NHS this winter to cause “maximum impact”, the head of the GMB has suggested.

Andy Prendergast, the GMB national secretary, said health workers have had enough of “public school boys who run the government and simply don’t care” about their pay demands.

More than 10,000 ambulance workers from the GMB voted to strike yesterday, following in the footsteps of nurses in opting to walk out.

Union rejects claim granting pay rises will lead to spiralling inflation – politics live

Asked if there will be a “coordinated strike” in the health service, Mr Prendergast told Sky News: “We will be talking to the other unions.

“We know that the nurses have got their first ballot in over 100 years. We know that our colleagues in Unite, in Unison are currently delivering ballots.

“So we’ll be looking to make sure this has the maximum impact.”

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It was put to Mr Prendergast that the safety of patients could not be guaranteed if there is coordinated strike action between unions and the NHS.

He argued their safety is not being guaranteed now due to the staffing crisis, with poor pay driving many out of the profession.

“One third of our members in the ambulance service believe that they have been involved in a delay that has led to a patient dying, so this isn’t a situation where this is a service that runs perfectly well,” he said.

NHS ‘dying on its feet’

“This is a service that’s dying on its feet and our members are actually standing up and the public of Britain should support them. This is a matter of a life or death situation.”

Mr Prendergast said NHS workers “work extremely hard, often for wages that a lot of people wouldn’t get out of bed for”.

He added: “Ultimately they are saying enough is enough. It’s time for them to take action. This is the one thing that they can do to try and improve patient safety, to try and improve the terms conditions, to try and deal with 135,000 vacancies that we have among a service that we rely on.”

Paramedics, emergency care assistants, call handlers and other staff are set to walk out in nine trusts:

  • South West Ambulance Service
  • South East Coast Ambulance Service
  • North West Ambulance Service
  • South Central Ambulance Service
  • North East Ambulance Service
  • East Midlands Ambulance Service
  • West Midlands Ambulance Service
  • Welsh Ambulance Service
  • Yorkshire Ambulance Service

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‘Inflation-busting pay rises are unaffordable’

The industrial action is due to take place before Christmas, with the union planning to meet reps in the coming days to discuss dates.

Thousands of ambulance workers in Unison, the UK’s biggest trade union, also intend to take industrial action before Christmas.

Up to 100,000 nurses from the Royal College of Nursing are also set to stage a mass walkout in December, one of the busiest months for the NHS.

The army has been placed on stand by in case it is needed to fill roles of NHS workers on strike days.

Coordinated strike ‘can speed up negotiations’

Dr Emma Runswick of the British Medical Association told Sky News that coordination between unions will help protect patients as they can discuss between themselves how to cover urgent and emergency care.

She added that an effective coordinated strike “will help to speed up negotiations”.

“We want there to be an impact on the employers and on the government to bring them to the table to negotiate with us. And if we coordinate and if we’re effective, the government and employers will negotiate faster. And that’s better for us and better for patients in the long term.”

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Dr Emma Runswick of the British Medical Association says an effective coordinated strike will help to speed up negotiations.

The UK is facing a wave of strikes this winter as workers from different industries are set to walk out over pay and conditions

Rail workers, civil servants, firefighters and teachers are among the tens of thousands expected to take industrial action as a recession grips the UK and the cost of living rises.

Read More:
Which industries are striking this winter and why?
Eurostar security staff to strike in December, RMT union announces

Wage price spiral ‘nonsense’

Ministers have been criticised for refusing to negotiate with unions, with Business Secretary Grant Shapps saying meeting their pay demands would lead to a wage inflation “spiral”.

Eddie Dempsey, assistant general secretary of the RMT, which covers the transport sector, rubbished that argument.

“This idea that there’s going to be a wage spiral is nonsense because wages have been falling as a share of wealth in this country – what goes to wages and what goes to profits,” he said.

Mr Dempsey said that now, wages only account for around 8% to 12% of unit costs.

He pointed to a study from the Bank of England which found there was no risk of wage-induced inflation across Western economies because people have got less money.

He claimed what the government is actually worried about “is a shift in class power”.

“They’re worried about trade unions and ordinary working people having the ability to bargain for better wages. That’s what they’re worried about.”

Rail union ‘hopeful’ of deal to end strikes

Mr Dempsey said his union has been in negotiations for longer than six months and “every time we feel like we are making headway it has felt like the rug has been pulled out from under our feet”.

However he said there is “definitely a change of tone” with the new Transport Secretary Mark Harper and the RMT is “hopeful” a deal can be reached.

Royal Mail workers are also locked in a bitter dispute over pay and conditions, with the CEO Simon Thompson accusing union leaders of “trying to destroy Christmas” by walking out.

He claimed striking workers had demonstrated “extraordinary behaviours” and that he has heard allegations of racism, sexism and violence.

Royal Mail CEO accused of ‘lying’

Speaking during Sky’s Q&A with union leaders, Dave Ward of the Communication Workers Union (CWU) accused Mr Thompson of “lying”.

He said the union “welcomes an independent look at behaviours” of his members but the CEO’s behaviour should also be investigated.

“He goes on (social media) every single day, including weekends. and he goads our members,” Mr Ward said.

“He’s brought in a team of union and worker busters and they’re deliberately creating a psychological attack on every single worker.

“Go out and ask postal workers how they feel about this particular CEO.”

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Buyers struggling to afford homes after mini-budget despite house prices falling

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Buyers struggling to afford homes after mini-budget despite house prices falling

Buyers are increasingly struggling to afford homes despite prices falling faster, according to a closely watched report.

Average prices fell by 1.4% last month, up from a 0.9% drop the month before, Nationwide Building Society found.

The mortgage lender said it was the biggest monthly drop since June 2020.

It took the annual pace of price growth to 4.4% from 7.2% and the average cost of a home to £263,788.

The findings build on wider evidence of a marked slowdown, partly linked to rising flexible mortgage rates after successive rises to Bank rate by the Bank of England since December last year to tackle soaring inflation.

Nationwide said it was clear that wider mortgage conditions were yet to recover from the financial market meltdown that followed the Truss government’s mini-budget growth plan in September, which hammered confidence in the UK’s public finances.

Lenders withdrew offers and temporarily halted deals as the value of the pound hit a record low and borrowing costs surged.

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Fixed term rates have taken time to ease back towards pre-growth plan levels, damaging affordability.

It has been exacerbated by the wider cost of living crisis, with pay growth lagging far behind the pace of price increases in the economy.

Property website Zoopla reported this week that homes had been typically selling for 3% below their asking price in recent weeks and warned that figure was likely to deteriorate further next year.

Robert Gardner, Nationwide’s chief economist, said: “While financial market conditions have stabilised, interest rates for new mortgages remain elevated and the market has lost a significant degree of momentum.”

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He added: “Housing affordability for potential buyers and home movers has become much more stretched at a time when household finances are already under pressure from high inflation.

“The market looks set to remain subdued in the coming quarters. Inflation is set to remain high for some time and Bank rate is likely to rise further as the Bank of England seeks to ensure demand in the economy slows to relieve domestic price pressures.”

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