Honda pauses production after UK port woes

Japanese carmaker Honda has warned that production at its Swindon plant will be disrupted, after transport problems caused a shortage of parts.

The plant operates on a “just in time” production system, where parts arrive at the factory when they are needed.

Honda has told employees that it is currently experiencing vessel delays and congestion at UK ports.

It will pause production on Wednesday “due to transport-related parts delay”, the car giant said.

“The situation is currently being monitored with a view to restart production as soon as possible,” Honda said.

It is looking at other arrangements such as air freight.

Congestion at UK container ports has been building up in recent weeks, causing problems initially at Felixstowe, but recently at Southampton and London Gateway as well.

The backlog has built up as companies increased orders after the initial pandemic lockdown, while some have looked to stockpile goods before the end of the Brexit transition period.

Problems at the UK’s container ports have been building up for weeks. Businesses have been complaining about consignments being delayed, or even ending up on the wrong side of the channel. Now a major manufacturer has admitted production will be disrupted.

So what’s gone wrong? Issues at Felixstowe, Britain’s biggest container port have been evident for some time – blamed by hauliers on a vehicle booking system that they claimed simply didn’t work, preventing them getting into the port.

The Covid outbreak has also caused problems – which were exacerbated when thousands of containers of PPE imported on behalf of the government were simply left within the port for weeks, adding to the gridlock. And after the lockdown in the first half of the year, the volume of goods being imported has been much higher than normal.

Congestion at Felixstowe has pushed more container traffic to Southampton and London Gateway – and now the situation in both of those ports is also reportedly getting worse.

Honda is looking at air freight to ease its supply problems. The chances are other businesses may have to do the same.

Congestion at England’s ports is now so bad that some shipping firms have limited the amount of cargo they will bring to the UK.

Consignments have reportedly been offloaded at continental ports such as Antwerp, Rotterdam and Zeebrugge.

In a statement, Honda said: “Honda of the UK Manufacturing has confirmed to employees that production will not run on Wednesday 9 December due to transport-related parts delays.”

Tesla: German court halts factory plan over snake and lizard habitats

Tesla has been ordered again to suspend preparations for a car factory in Germany after a successful court injunction by environmentalists.

The electric carmaker has been clearing forest land near the capital, Berlin, for its first European car and battery plant.

But opponents argued this will endanger the habitats of lizards and snakes.

A court in Frankfurt an der Oder ordered forest clearing to be halted, pending further examinations.

A similar court order was made earlier this year about Tesla’s plans for what it calls the Gigafactory in Grünheide, in the eastern state of Brandenburg.

The earlier ruling was in response to concerns about wildlife and the water supply.

Tesla has not publicly commented on the latest ruling, resulting from an ongoing legal dispute with the Nature and Biodiversity Conservation Union (NABU) and Green League. A final decision on the case is still pending.

The environmentalist groups say Tesla’s deforestation will destroy the habitats of sand lizards and smooth snakes, both of which are protected species. They have also expressed concern that the building work will disturb these reptiles during their winter hibernation.

“Even Tesla cannot and must not place itself above the law,” said Heinz Herwig Mascher, chairman of the Green League in Brandenburg, in a statement.

To much fanfare, Tesla’s boss Elon Musk announced plans for the factory last November, and said he aimed to have it operational by 1 July 2021. The aim is to produce 500,000 cars a year.

Mr Musk has also said the company is looking at building the world’s largest battery factory at Grünheide, alongside its car plant.

But the site has become a flashpoint between environmentalists, and Germany’s Christian Democrat and Free Democrat parties, who fear the issue could damage the country’s attractiveness to businesses.

The dispute has also highlighted the risks for the US carmaker, which has not been officially granted permission to build the factory.

Tesla has been granted permission by Germany’s environment ministry to begin site preparations “at its own risk.” This has involved clearing about 91 hectares (225 acres) of forest and the felling of thousands of trees.

But Tesla’s permission to start construction hinges on approval by local authorities, who have to consult environmental groups and the local community. Building work was also set back after seven bombs dating from World War Two were discovered on the site.

Tesla held a consultation process with local residents and groups in October, and over 400 complaints and observations were lodged.

After concerns about the impact the factory could have on local water resources, the firm agreed to cut its water consumption.

Tesla currently has two Gigafactories in the US and one in Shanghai, China. Earlier this year, Tesla overtook Toyota as the world’s most valuable carmaker.

Queen seen with family for first time during Covid-19 pandemic

The Queen has appeared alongside several other senior royals for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic began.

The monarch, 94, welcomed the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge to Windsor Castle following their royal train tour.

Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall also attended the socially-distanced Christmas carol concert within the castle’s grounds.

The Earl and Countess of Wessex and Princess Anne were also there.

It was confirmed last week that the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh will spend Christmas “quietly” at Windsor, rather than Her Majesty’s private estate at Sandringham in Norfolk.

And rather than a gathering of senior royals as is traditional, the Queen and Prince Phillip, 99, will spend the festive period alone after considering “all the appropriate advice”, according to Buckingham Palace.

“Like everyone they hope things will get back to normal in 2021,” a palace spokesman said at the time.

The Cambridge’s trip on the royal train saw them thank key workers, volunteers and communities in Scotland, England and Wales.

While there was veiled criticism from Welsh and Scottish ministers over its timing, Prime Minister Boris Johnson hailed the tour as a “welcome morale boost”, No 10 said.

On Tuesday, Prince William and Catherine told students in Cardiff they were still wrestling with their Christmas plans and had yet to decide where or with whom they would be.

The couple have previously spent the festive period with Catherine’s parents at their home in Berkshire.

On the final day of their zig-zag three-day tour of Britain, the couple met undergraduates to hear about their mental health challenges during the pandemic in Wales, and they spoke with NHS workers in Reading.

At the end of Tuesday’s performance, the Queen, chatted to her family in turn and as she turned to walk up the steps back inside the castle, Prince William said: “Bye gran.”

Commissioners Anthony and Gillian Cotterill, territorial leaders for The Salvation Army in the UK and Republic of Ireland, also came forward to speak to the Queen, who told them “nobody’s allowed to sing anymore”.

Choirs are allowed to perform in the open air and Princess Anne told her mother: “Oh, we can sing outside.”

Mr Cotterill said afterwards: “The Queen was saying she was just so happy we were able to play some carols because she thinks this will be the only time she’ll be able to hear carols, and she was disappointed we didn’t sing. “

“Sometimes we’re playing musicians and other times we’re a choir. At an event like this, it’s better to have the band as you can hear it for miles.”

The Salvation Army’s Regent Hall Band, based in London’s busy Oxford Street, played Hark The Herald Angels Sing and The First Noel for the royal family.

Mrs Cotterill added: “I did see the Queen mouthing some of the words – so that was nice.”

Brexit: Johnson heads to Brussels on Wednesday for last ditch trade talks

Boris Johnson will meet EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on Wednesday evening in a bid to unblock talks on a post-Brexit trade deal.

The PM will travel to Brussels for the meeting, in an attempt to strike an agreement before the UK stops following EU trading rules on 31 December.

It comes after intensive talks between EU and UK officials ended in deadlock.

The meeting over dinner will come just one day before EU leaders meet for a separate summit on Thursday.

Earlier, Mr Johnson said he hoped the “power of sweet reason” will allow both sides to clinch an agreement before the end of the year.

If an agreement is not reached and ratified by this date, the UK and EU could introduce import charges on each other’s goods.

It comes as the UK announced it had reached agreement with the EU on post-Brexit border checks and trading rules for Northern Ireland.

It means the UK has now dropped plans to override sections of its EU exit agreement it signed last year, potentially breaking international law.

Sir Jim Ratcliffe confirms new car to be made in France

Billionaire Sir Jim Ratcliffe, a Leave campaigner in the run-up to the 2016 Brexit referendum, has confirmed a new 4×4 car will be built in France.

It ends slims hopes the vehicle, modelled on the original Land Rover, would be made at a new plant in Wales.

Plans to build it in Wales were put on hold in July while Mr Ratcliffe’s Ineos Automotive negotiated buying Mercedes-Benz’s Hambach site, in Moselle.

He said on Tuesday that Hambach offered a “unique opportunity”.

Mr Ratcliffe, who built his fortune heading the chemicals company Ineos, added that the plant in Moselle was “a modern automotive manufacturing facility with a world-class workforce”.

“Ineos Automotive set out a vision to build the world’s best utilitarian 4×4, and at our new home in Hambach, we will do just that,” he said.

When plans to build the vehicle, called the Grenadier, at Bridgend, south Wales, were first announced, Mr Ratcliffe said it was “a significant expression of confidence in British manufacturing”.

It was hoped the factory would create up to 500 jobs, producing about 25,000 Grenadiers a year, once fully up and running.

Chris Elmore, MP for the Ogmore constituency in Bridgend, tweeted that Tuesday’s decision was a “crushing blow” for the area.

“The highly-skilled and dedicated workforce in Ogmore, Bridgend and surrounding areas would have risen to the challenge,” he wrote.

“That Brexit is clearly a major factor at play is a bitter pill to swallow. Ineos owner Sir Jim Ratcliffe was a vocal Brexiteer, loudly proclaiming the benefits of leaving the EU. Today, we can see his claims are as hollow as his promises.”

Under the deal, Ineos will also build Daimler’s Smart EQ electric car at the Hambach site and supply parts for Mercedes Benz, as well as building the new vehicle.

In a statement, Ineos Automotive said: “The site’s location on the French-German border, only 200km from Stuttgart, gives excellent access to supply chains, automotive talent and target markets.”

The new cars will start being built at Hambach late next year. About 1,000 jobs will be created.

“This acquisition marks our biggest milestone yet in the development of the Grenadier,” Dirk Heilmann, chief executive of Ineos Automotive, said.

The decision is the second major blow for Bridgend, as the factory would have stood beside the now-closed Ford engine plant. Ford shut its factory in September after 40 years, with the loss of nearly 1,700 jobs, one of a long line of car manufacturers to leave the UK or reduce output over Brexit concerns.

Shakespeare gets Covid vaccine: Alls well that ends well

Margaret Keenan has made history by becoming the first person in the world to get a Covid-19 vaccine outside of a clinical trial, but if there’s one name you’ll associate with this day, it may not be hers.

Enter, pursued by puns, William Shakespeare.

Not the writer, poet and playwright, but his 81-year-old namesake. This Mr Shakespeare was the second person to be given a jab – and, guess what, he also comes from Warwickshire.

“Much ado about nothing?” It doesn’t matter – “all’s well that ends well”.

“Is this a needle which I see before me?” the present-day Shakespeare could have asked, but his reaction was a little bit less, well, dramatic: he said he was “pleased” to be given the jab, and staff at University Hospital in Coventry had been “wonderful”.

So, if Ms Keenan was patient 1A, was Mr Shakespeare “Patient 2B or not 2B”?

Theirs were the first of 800,000 doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine that will be dispensed in the coming weeks in the UK.

The vaccine is given as two injections, 21 days apart, with the second dose being a booster. Immunity begins to kick in after the first dose but reaches its full effect seven days after the second dose.

“Two doses, both alike in quantity,” if we’re allowed another pun – but here are some others on the day “the taming of the flu” began.

Coronavirus vaccine: First care home residents in NI receive Covid jab

The first care home residents have been vaccinated against Covid-19 in Northern Ireland.

Twenty-five men and women from Palmerston residential home in east Belfast were vaccinated on Tuesday morning.

Thirty-five members of staff are in the process of getting the jab.

Earlier on Tuesday, the first Covid-19 vaccination in Northern Ireland was administered.

Sister Joanna Sloan – who will head up the vaccine roll out in Belfast – received the jab just after 08:00 GMT at the Royal Victoria Hospital.

The roll out involves 70 hospital hubs across the UK which are gearing up to provide the Pfizer/BioNTech jab.

On Tuesday, the Belfast Trust confirmed to BBC Radio Ulster’s Evening Extra programme that 250 people had received the vaccination.

Palmerston is a purpose built dementia care home providing 24 hour care to older people in East Belfast.

As well as the residents, 35 members of staff are in the process of getting the jab.

Speaking to BBC News NI, home manager Paul Johnston said it had been a “good day”.

The home had outbreaks of the virus in October but is now virus-free.

Mr Johnston, who also was vaccinated, said it was only yesterday that he received the call from the Belfast Health Trust to arrange the vaccinations but was delighted and relieved to be able to protect the residents.

“We had to gain consent from the families – it has been full on but we are getting there,” he said.

“Really it has been no different from administering the flu jab. It wasn’t painful at all and so far so good with all the residents.”

The Department of Health recorded 14 further Covid-19 deaths on Tuesday, taking its total death toll to 1,073.

It also confirmed 351 new positive cases of Covid-19, bringing the total number of positive cases in Northern Ireland to 55,795.

The first recipient of the vaccine in Northern Ireland, Ms Sloan, will manage the Belfast Trust’s vaccination centre.

Speaking earlier on Tuesday, she said she felt emotional and proud to be part of history.

Meanwhile, a 90-year-old woman from Northern Ireland became the first person in the world to receive the vaccine outside trial conditions.

Margaret Keenan, who turns 91 next week, said it was the “best early birthday present”.

The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine is one of a number that have been developed so far, with Oxford-AstraZeneca and Moderna seeking approval for their vaccines.

Health Minister Robin Swann hailed the vaccination rollout as a “game changer”.

Mr Swann warned that distribution of the vaccine would be a massive logistical challenge – particularly in care homes, which will require 12,000 doses – but he said those in care homes would start to receive the vaccine soon.

The vaccine must be stored at about -70C and needs to be transported in special boxes, packed in dry ice.

Once delivered, it can be kept for up to five days in a fridge.

Stocks of the vaccine were transported to Northern Ireland via the Republic of Ireland, having arrived into Dublin port from Holyhead.

They are being kept at an undisclosed central storage facility operated by a private company.

Dr Alan Stout, chairman of Northern Ireland’s GP committee, warned the vaccine rollout did not symbolise the end of the pandemic.

“It is so important that people still follow the rules and follow the guidance,” he told BBC Radio Foyle.

More than 600 volunteer vaccinators across Northern Ireland will be given the injection this week, ahead of the biggest inoculation programme in UK history.

The UK will be the first country in the world to start using the Pfizer vaccine after regulators approved its use last week. About 25,000 doses were delivered to Northern Ireland last Friday.

Vaccination will not be compulsory. Ministers have warned it could be Easter by the time restrictions are lifted in a significant way.

The vaccine will be rolled out at seven sites across Northern Ireland:

•Belfast Trust – Royal Victoria Hospital, Belfast

•South Eastern Trust – Ulster Hospital, Dundonald

•Southern Trust – South Lake Leisure Centre, Craigavon

•Northern Trust – Seven Towers Leisure Centre, Ballymena

•Western Trust – Foyle Arena, Londonderry, Omagh Leisure Centre and Lakeside Leisure Centre, Enniskillen.

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