Covid: Boxing Day sales expected to plummet amid pandemic

Boxing Day sales are expected to plummet after Covid-19 restrictions meant shops in many areas were forced to stay closed.

By midday, footfall was down 60% across the UK compared with last year, according to experts Springboard.

Stricter measures have been introduced in much of the UK with 40% of England’s population now under tier four rules, meaning non-essential shops must shut.

Analysts said footfall had dropped even where other retailers could open.

National lockdowns in Wales and Northern Ireland, as well as most of mainland Scotland being placed into its own level four restrictions, meant non-essential stores are forced to be closed on what is traditionally a big day in the retail calendar.

Footfall in tier four regions of England fell by 77.3% compared with last year, and even in tier two and three areas where shops are open, footfall was down by 38.2% and 42.4% respectively, according to Springboard, which analyses customer activity in stores.

An estimated £2.7bn will be spent by UK shoppers by the end of 26 December, with each consumer planning to spend an average of £162 online, according to research from Barclaycard, down from last year’s projection of spending an average of £186 each and a total of £3.7bn.

Jace Tyrrell, chief executive of the New West End Company which represents 600 retail and leisure businesses in the capital, described the scenes as “heartbreaking”, with the London district empty on Boxing Day for the first time since 1871.

Mr Tyrrell said the days around Christmas are usually “the key golden period” for sales but tier four restrictions have had a “huge impact”.

He said coronavirus had cost the West End 80% of its usual year-on-year sales, with £2bn forecast to be lost during the Christmas period.

Diane Wehrle, insights director at Springboard, said while the losses from reduced footfall will be offset a little by virtual “comfort-buying”, for the majority of retailers “the sales they get online are much smaller than what they get in-store”.

Last year’s post-Christmas sales also saw a drop in footfall with Springboard seeing an 8.6% decline, the largest since 2011.

High streets across England secure cash boost for regeneration

More than 70 towns and cities across England are to share up to £830m to help boost high streets, the government has said.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak said the funding plan, initially revealed before the Covid pandemic, would help areas to “bounce back” through regeneration.

Sunderland and Swindon will each get £25m to fund railway station and town centre improvements.

Some 15 areas share £255m, with 57 others provisionally granted £576m.

The Future High Streets Fund was part of the 2018 Budget by former chancellor Philip Hammond.

Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick said the role of the High Street has “always evolved” and the government wanted to ensure they were the “beating heart of their local community”.

“The year ahead will be a big one for the High Street as it seeks to recover, adapt and evolve as a result of the pandemic,” he said.

“This investment will help us build back better and make town centres a more attractive place to live, work and visit.”

Projects include £24.6m to support a permanent new space for the historic market in Birkenhead and £17.9m to renovate the Scala Theatre and Corn Exchange in Worcester town centre.

The government said areas that will receive all the money they applied for were:

A further 57 town and cities will receive provisional funding totalling £576m ahead of final proposals, the government added, with £107m going to support the regeneration of heritage high streets.

Shadow communities secretary Steve Reed welcomed the funding but called on the government to reform business rates.

“Their bungled response to Covid-19 has left high streets struggling with avoidably long lockdowns,” he added.

Kevin Bentley, from the Local Government Association, which represents councils in England, said: “Social distancing looks set to play some part in our everyday lives for some time to come and the scale of the challenge facing our local economies as a result of this pandemic cannot be under-estimated.

“This funding is good news and will boost councils’ ongoing work to repurpose their town centres and implement measures to help communities and high streets transition to our new way of life.”

Isle of Wight oil tanker security alert suspects charged

Two men have appeared in court charged in connection with a security alert on an oil tanker off the the Isle of Wight.

Special forces stormed the Nave Andromeda on 25 October after the crew raised concerns about stowaways.

Matthew John Okorie, 25 and Sunday Sylvester, 22, were charged with conduct endangering ships under the Merchant Shipping Act.

They were remanded in custody by Southampton magistrates.

They are due appear at Southampton Crown Court on 29 January.

Hampshire police said five other men, who were arrested on suspicion of seizing or exercising control of a ship by use of threats or force, remain on police bail until 25 January while police investigations continue.

They are currently detained under Border Force powers.

The Southampton-bound Liberian-flagged tanker had left Lagos, Nigeria on 5 October.

Members of the Special Boat Service based at Poole, in Dorset, were involved in the operation to board the vessel off the east coast of the Isle of Wight following a request from police.

The Nave Andromeda later docked in Southampton with all 22 crew members reported safe.

Erdington murder probe after man deliberately driven at by car

A man was killed when a car was deliberately driven at him in Birmingham, police say.

Police have launched a murder inquiry after the victim was found with serious head injuries on Coton Road in Erdington shortly before 06:00 GMT.

Detectives believe the 28-year-old was deliberately hit by the car that then left the scene.

West Midlands Police have appealed for witnesses as officers piece together what happened.

“A family have lost a loved one and we need to find out what took place and who is responsible,” Det Sgt Nick Barnes said.

Chinese economy to overtake US by 2028 due to Covid

China will overtake the US to become the world’s largest economy by 2028, five years earlier than previously forecast, a report says.

The UK-based Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR) said China’s “skilful” management of Covid-19 would boost its relative growth compared to the US and Europe in coming years.

Meanwhile India is tipped to become the third largest economy by 2030.

The CEBR releases its economic league table every year on 26 December.

Although China was the first country hit by Covid-19, it controlled the disease through swift and extremely strict action, meaning it did not need to repeat economically paralysing lockdowns as European countries have done.

As a result, unlike other major economies, it has avoided an economic recession in 2020 and is in fact estimated to see growth of 2% this year.

The US economy, by contrast, has been hit hard by the world’s worst coronavirus epidemic in terms of sheer numbers. More than 330,000 people have died in the US and there have been some 18.5 million confirmed cases.

The economic damage has been cushioned by monetary policy and a huge fiscal stimulus, but political disagreements over a new stimulus package could leave around 14 million Americans without unemployment benefit payments in the new year.

“For some time, an overarching theme of global economics has been the economic and soft power struggle between the United States and China,” says the CEBR report. “The Covid-19 pandemic and corresponding economic fallout have certainly tipped this rivalry in China’s favour.”

The report says that after “a strong post-pandemic rebound in 2021”, the US economy will grow by about 1.9% annually from 2022-24 and then slow to 1.6% in the years after that.

By contrast the Chinese economy is tipped to grow by 5.7% annually until 2025, and 4.5% annually from 2026-2030.

China’s share of the world economy has risen from just 3.6% in 2000 to 17.8% now and the country will become a “high-income economy” by 2023, the report says.

But the average Chinese person will remain far poorer in financial terms than the average American even after China becomes the world’s biggest economy, given that China’s population is four times bigger.

Storm Bella: Met Office Boxing Day weather warnings for Wales

Storm Bella is set to bring strong winds and more rain to Wales on Boxing Day, raising warnings of further floods.

A yellow rain warning has been issued for Wales by the Met Office from 18:00 GMT on Saturday to 09:00 on Sunday.

It said there was a “small chance” homes and businesses could flood.

An amber warning for wind is also in place from 20:00 on Saturday to 09:00 on Sunday with gusts up to 80mph forecast on hills and along coasts.

Strong south-westerly winds in parts of south and west Wales could reach 60-70mph, the Met Office said.

Sixteen of Wales’ 22 local authorities are covered by the amber warning.

All counties in the south-west and the majority of those in the south-east are covered by the warning, as well as parts of Ceredigion, Powys and Gwynedd.

The Met Office has also warned that 40-60mm of rain could fall on hilly areas while 15-25mm is expected more widely.

Natural Resources Wales has issued flood warnings and alerts for the River Ritec at Tenby, Pembrokeshire, and the Lower Dee Valley from Llangollen to Trevalyn Meadows near Wrexham.

The warnings follow parts of Wales waking up to a flood clean-up on Christmas Eve.

Tinsel drama for Dexter the dog saved by vet

A dog has been saved by vets after eating 3ft (91cm) of tinsel pinched from its owners’ mantelpiece.

Dexter, a Great Dane cross, was taken to PDSA vets after the tinsel went missing and he started being sick.

X-rays confirmed the tinsel was in Dexter’s stomach, and hadn’t moved through to his intestines, which could have caused extra complications.

Vets operated on Dexter and pulled out the tinsel all in one piece and he was able to go home the same day.

Dexter’s owner, Paul Noakes, 56, from Margate, said his pet had a habit of eating things he shouldn’t.

“When he was younger he used to eat sofas and carpets, and two years ago at Christmas he ate tinsel.

“He wasn’t ill at all, and the first we knew was when it started coming out in pieces at both ends.”

This Christmas, Paul’s son, 15-year-old Mitch, noticed the tinsel which had been wrapped around ornaments on the mantelpiece, was missing.

The family was sure Dexter was the culprit but said they had no idea how Dexter had managed to avoid pulling over any of the ornaments.

Kate Milroy, vet team leader at PDSA Margate Pet Clinic, said: “Dexter needed to be taken straight in for emergency surgery. It was clearly causing a blockage and would be fatal if we didn’t remove it as soon as possible.

“I was very surprised when I managed to pull the tinsel out all in one piece.”

Mr Noakes said: “Dexter bounced back so quickly, and you can barely even see the scar.”

Brexit trade deal moment of national renewal, says Lord Frost

The UK’s new trade deal with the EU marks “the beginning of a moment of national renewal”, Boris Johnson’s chief Brexit negotiator has said.

The agreement was announced on Christmas Eve, after months of fraught talks on issues such as fishing rights and business rules.

Lord Frost described it as “one of the biggest and broadest” ever.

MPs will vote on the deal in Parliament on 30 December, with the UK set to exit existing trading rules on 31 December.

The European Parliament also needs to ratify it, while EU ambassadors received a Christmas Day briefing on the trade deal from EU negotiator Michel Barnier.

A 1,246-page document, which has been published on the UK government’s website, sets out the post-Brexit relationship with the EU and includes about 800 pages of annexes and footnotes.

Speaking to reporters on Saturday, Lord Frost said: “There’s no more role for the European Court of Justice, there’s no direct effects of EU law, there’s no alignment of any kind, and we’re out of the single market and out of the customs union just as the manifesto said we would.

“All choices are in our hands as a country and it’s now up to us to decide how we use them and how we go forward in the future.”

Senior members of the UK negotiating team added that the deal allowed for a “managed divergence” from EU rules and standards.

They said the UK was not prohibited from any action – and if divergence led to competitiveness issues then an arbitration process was available.

But Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer – who campaigned against Brexit – said the deal did not provide adequate protections for jobs, manufacturing, financial services or workplace rights and was “not the deal the government promised”.

But with no time left to renegotiate, the only choice was between “this deal or no deal”, he added.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen described it as “fair” and “balanced”, saying it was now “time to turn the page and look to the future”.

Lord Frost certainly isn’t underselling the agreement with Brussels, describing it as representing the “beginning of a moment of national renewal”.

Members of the Conservatives’ European Research Group , or ERG – which includes many prominent Brexiteers – have sounded positive about the deal, as outlined by the PM.

But some believe that the devil is in the detail.

ERG lawyers – including the veteran Eurosceptic MP Sir Bill Cash – are set to dissect the contents of the agreement between now and Parliament’s recall on Wednesday.

But the former Brexit Secretary David Davis has said one day of scrutiny in Parliament isn’t enough – and has accused the EU of having a habit of inserting “little quirks” into its treaties.

What happens next with Brexit?

Meanwhile, writing in the Times, Cabinet Secretary Michael Gove said the UK and EU would be able to enjoy a “special relationship” as a result of the new deal.

He said the deal would give UK businesses “certainty and the ability to plan for growth and investment”.

“We can develop a new pattern of friendly co-operation with the EU, a special relationship if you will, between sovereign equals,” he added.

Liberal Democrat leader Ed Davey told BBC Breakfast that the post-Brexit trade deal meant more of the red tape “we all feared”, “far more bureaucracy” and was a “defeat for those who wanted frictionless trade”.

He said the deal was “bad for business”, “less safe” for families and it was therefore “insupportable”.

Conservative MP and former cabinet minister Theresa Villiers, who voted for Brexit, told the same programme that “many prime ministers” had returned from negotiations with Brussels with deals that appear to “do the right thing and then closer scrutiny demonstrates that they are not as good as first billed”.

“I hope that we have finally seen the pattern broken and I hope that this is a deal that I can support, but it is important that we scrutinise that detail carefully and take some expert advice on it,” she said.

Warnings as Storm Bella moves across NI

Storm Bella is set to bring strong winds and heavy rain to parts of Northern Ireland on Boxing Day.

The Met Office is warning of gusts in excess of 100km/h (60mph) in some exposed and hilltop areas.

There is also the chance of snow at some low levels, as sleet and rain showers move across Northern Ireland on Sunday evening.

The storm has sparked a series of warnings across the UK and the Republic of Ireland.

Gusts of wind up to 90km/h (55mph) are expected inland along with rain, which could cause some flooding.

Around 30mm of rain is forecast to fall in about six hours, leading to surface water flooding.

In the Republic of Ireland, weather service Met Éireann has issued wind and rain warnings across the country.

The west coast is expected to bear the brunt of the strongest winds with gusts in excess of 110km/h (70mph) in exposed areas.

Much colder air will follow on Sunday, leading to a risk of wintry showers during the day.

As temperatures fall on Sunday evening there is an increased risk of ice and snow, even at low levels.

As a result, the Met Office has issued a warning for snow and ice from 18:00 GMT Sunday until 10:00 Monday.

The organisation says rain, sleet, and snow showers will move across Northern Ireland on Sunday evening with up to 3cm of snow possible on some low levels.

Higher amounts are expected over higher ground with up to 10cm possible over 250 metres.

However, due to the random nature of showers, many places will avoid snow altogether.