Uber sees fundamental shift in food delivery demand

Uber’s food delivery business has more than doubled, as the pandemic increases appetite for online grocery orders and restaurant takeaway.

The firm said revenue from its Uber Eats service hit $1.4bn (£1bn) in the three months to 30 September, jumping 124% from the same period in 2019.

The growth helped offset steep declines in the firm’s core rides business.

But Uber still recorded a loss of about $1.1bn in the quarter, roughly the same as last year.

Uber boss Dara Khosrowshahi said demand for food delivery has stayed strong even as countries lift restrictions, a promising sign for growth in the Uber Eats business.

“We’ve got more eaters, they’re staying longer, they’re eating more,” he told investors on a conference call to discuss the firm’s quarterly results.

“There’s no question in my mind that … there’s a fundamental behavioural shift that has gone on,” he added later. “People aren’t going to stop using Amazon. People aren’t going to stop using Eats.”

The growth in delivery marked a stark contrast to the firm’s ride-hailing business.

There, Uber said bookings and revenue for its taxi service remained roughly half of last year’s levels, despite improvement since the spring.

Demand has recovered most in Europe, while lagging in the US and Canada, its most important market, executives said.

They warned that the resurgence in Covid cases in Europe and new restrictions in countries like the UK and France would likely hit demand in coming months.

MP Olivia Blake tells of difficult miscarriage in pandemic

A Labour MP learned she had miscarried while her partner waited in a hospital car park during the coronavirus pandemic.

Olivia Blake, MP for Sheffield Hallam, spoke out about her “very difficult” experience in a Parliamentary debate on baby loss.

She called on the government to do more to ensure no woman has to go through the same experience.

Ms Blake said: “No-one should have to hear news on their own.”

After being told about her miscarriage, the MP said, she had to relay the news to her partner, who had been waiting in the car.

She told the Westminster Hall debate she had raised concerns about the issue on behalf of her constituents in June.

“Little did I know that I would be experiencing a miscarriage in August and having to go through some of the issues that my constituents had raised with me,” she said.

“Going to A&E, my partner having to wait in the car park, getting confused and muddled about my dates, being unable to have a hug, someone to hold my hand or support to hear the news that I was having a miscarriage.”

Ms Blake added: “Receiving bad news on your own is not only incredibly traumatic and challenging, but then having to go and repeat that news to your partner in a car park is another level of difficult.

“No-one should be put in that position but too many people have been.”

The blanket ban on visiting patients or accompanying them to hospital appointments in England was lifted on 5 June.

It is now left up to individual NHS authorities to decide on rules around outpatient appointments.

Ms Blake welcomed the government’s change in advice and guidance on allowing partners to scans and appointments, but said it was “not enough to improve access”.

New lockdown: Manchester University students pull down campus fences

Students have torn down “prison-like” fencing erected around their campus on day one of England’s new lockdown.

Those living at the University of Manchester’s Fallowfield halls of residence awoke to find workers putting up “huge metal barriers”.

They were eventually pulled down as hundreds of students – who said they were not warned about the measure – protested.

The university apologised “for the concern and distress caused”.

Students said the fences, placed between buildings, blocked off some entry and exit points and left them feeling trapped.

First-year Management student Megan, who did not want to give her surname, said: “Morale is really low, we’re really disappointed we didn’t hear about this beforehand and about the fact it went up without any explanation.

“They’re huge metal barriers, they’re connected to one another and there’s literally no gaps.

“There is fencing around the whole outside, we feel like it’s completely unnecessary. It makes it feel like we’re in a prison.”

Fellow first-year, English literature undergraduate Ewan, said the 7ft (2.1m) fencing was a further blow to many who had already spent weeks isolating.

“It’s not like living at home, we don’t have a sofa, we have a kitchen and plastic chairs,” he said.

“There’s no way you can relax there. You’re in a completely different city and you do feel lonely there and trapped.”

Ewan was among those who attended the protest where much of the fencing was torn down.

“People were dragging them down and jumping on them,” he said.

“We walked on the grass that was restricted by the fences. We did a lap of the whole campus.”

The university initially insisted it had written to students informing them about the construction, but has since acknowledged work began “ahead of the message being seen”.

In a statement, President and Vice-Chancellor Prof Dame Nancy Rothwell said the fencing was not meant to cause distress nor prevent students from entering or exiting the site.

It was intended, she said, to address safety and security concerns from students and staff, “particularly about access by people who are not residents”.

“The fences are being taken down from Friday morning and students are being contacted immediately,” she said.

“Alternative security measures, including additional security patrols are being put in place.”

Covid: Was it right to extend the furlough scheme?

As soon as government decided to announce another lockdown in England, it was clear it would need to do something significant to protect jobs. The question was – what?

With many businesses forced to close, and others facing reduced income, there was a risk of rapidly rising unemployment.

The furlough scheme, which had helped to keep unemployment from rocketing during the first lockdown in the spring, was due to end on the very day the new lockdown was announced, 31 October.

The government at first declared a one-month extension – then on 5 November, the Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced that it would be extended to a full five months.

As before, under the scheme, employees stop doing their jobs and the government pays 80% of their wages.

The Chancellor also increased the generosity of support for self-employed workers, to 80% of three months’ average profits up to a total of £7,500.

Why did he do it, and was it the right thing to do?

A blanket, nationwide furlough was the simplest option. A blanket furlough scheme covering the whole UK puts an end to the piecemeal negotiations with leaders in different parts of the UK about how much support to give businesses facing more restrictions in their areas.

Extending the original furlough scheme would also be easy to implement and understand. Most businesses and workers will already be familiar with it.

The system which runs the programme was kept operational in case of a second wave, Mr Sunak told the House of Commons.

He also justified the decision to extend the scheme for five months as a necessary measure to give businesses clarity to plan over an economic downturn which could be longer and harsher than previously feared.

Mr Sunak told the House: “As we saw from the first lockdown the economic effects are much longer lasting for businesses and areas than the duration of any restrictions.”

“I think it’s the right thing to do in the current circumstances,” said Carsten Jung, Senior Economist at the Institute for Public Policy Research think-tank. “The last thing that was announced was only for one month, and that doesn’t give enough certainty to businesses to plan ahead.”

Furlough is meant to keep staff in their jobs temporarily, until better times return. Keeping links with their employers means they can return to work as soon as conditions improve, without the costs and uncertainty of job hunting, recruitment and training.

But critics argue that many of the jobs being expensively preserved by furlough will never come back.

If many more people work from home instead of commuting into cities, for instance, will the jobs making coffee and sandwiches for them return in the same numbers?

Former Sainsbury’s chief executive Justin King said on the World at One on BBC Radio 4 that “we will look back on this time as a good chunk of the money spent on furlough as having been spent … just avoiding the inevitable.”

Besides being a waste of money, some argue that keeping workers in these ‘zombie’ jobs stops them from retraining for new, more productive roles, slowing the eventual recovery. They argue that the money could be better spent supporting the incomes of people who do lose their jobs and helping them retrain.

However, many jobs in pubs, restaurants and live entertainment will still be viable once the pandemic is over, said Mr Jung. “We are not expecting the entire hospitality industry to disappear, and those are a lot of the jobs that will be furloughed.”

“A lot of the unviable jobs have been shed already,” he added.

And it’s unlikely a business would keep workers on furlough who they have no prospect of rehiring as they still have to pay national insurance and pension contributions, said Dan Tomlinson, senior economist at the Resolution Foundation. “They still have some skin in the game.”

One big downside of furlough is the cost – the Resolution Foundation estimates that it could cost around £6bn in the first month, if 5.5 million workers take it up, as the Bank of England predicts.

However, that cost will fall in coming months, as more people return to work when the economy re-opens.

In normal times that would be a huge figure, but not so big in the context of the vast sums spent fighting the coronavirus pandemic.

The government was expected to borrow as much as £391bn this year – more than £1bn a day, according to the Office for Budget Responsibility.

So far there has been little sign that the government is close to the limits on what it can borrow. The rates investors will accept to lend money to the government are still low, despite the big increase in borrowing this year.

As a benchmark, the effective interest rate for lending to the government for ten years is 0.23%, according to Bloomberg. However though the interest rates are low all this extra borrowing is still a burden for future generations to bear.

London anti-lockdown protest: Four arrested

Police have arrested at least four protesters during anti-lockdown demonstrations in central London.

A large police presence remains in place near Trafalgar Square where the protest was dispersed shortly after 19:00 GMT.

Smaller groups of protesters remain on Oxford Street and along the Strand.

The Met Police said: “This gathering is unlawful and is putting others at risk. We are directing those there to go home.”

It added: “Failure to do so will result in enforcement action.”

The police service tweeted: “We remain in a national health crisis and new heightened restrictions have been brought in to limit the spread of coronavirus.

“This action is being taken to keep everyone safe.”

On the scene police have told protesters to return home.

A number of demonstrators were heard chanting “freedom” and “take our country back”.

New restrictions mean people are told to stay at home except for education, work, exercise, medical reasons, shopping for essentials, or to care for others.

Households are not allowed to mix with others indoors, or outdoors.

Million Mask March: Four arrested in London protests

Police have arrested at least four protesters during anti-lockdown demonstrations in central London.

A large police presence remains in place near Trafalgar Square where the protest was dispersed shortly after 19:00 GMT.

Smaller groups of protesters remain on Oxford Street and along the Strand.

The Met Police said: “This gathering is unlawful and is putting others at risk. We are directing those there to go home.”

It added: “Failure to do so will result in enforcement action.”

The police service tweeted: “We remain in a national health crisis and new heightened restrictions have been brought in to limit the spread of coronavirus.

“This action is being taken to keep everyone safe.”

On the scene police have told protesters to return home.

A number of demonstrators were heard chanting “freedom” and “take our country back”.

New restrictions mean people are told to stay at home except for education, work, exercise, medical reasons, shopping for essentials, or to care for others.

Households are not allowed to mix with others indoors, or outdoors.

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