New Year Honours 2021: Hays Travel boss Irene Hays made a dame

Hays Travel boss Irene Hays has been made a dame in the New Year’s Honours.

The Sunderland-based travel agency made headlines in 2019 when it took on more than 2,000 former Thomas Cook staff.

The firm was founded by Dame Irene’s husband John Hays, who died in November after collapsing at the head office.

Dame Irene said she was “absolutely overwhelmed” but the honour was “bittersweet” as she could not share the moment with her husband.

She also said the honour was in recognition of the firm’s successful apprenticeship scheme over the past 40 years, adding: “I feel this really isn’t an award just for me, it’s for all the people who have created the right environment for all those people to succeed and the apprentices and the young people themselves.”

Dame Irene said before the Thomas Cook acquisition that 47% of Hays Travel senior managers had started as apprentices at the firm.

“It’s always been a real team effort,” she said.

Dame Irene said: “For me it really does feel bittersweet.

“When I first heard I thought ‘I can’t wait to tell John’, and obviously John’s not here to tell. He would have been immensely proud.”

Hundreds of mourners lined the streets of Sunderland to pay their respects to Mr Hays at his funeral, which also saw several buildings around the city lit up in the company’s colours of orange and blue.

Before it took on hundreds of Thomas Cook shops, Hays had 190 stores, 1,900 staff, and sales of £379m, reporting profits of £10m.

At the time Mr Hays described the purchase as “a game-changer” which almost trebled the firm’s number of shops and doubled its workforce.

However, in August, the couple warned almost 900 employees may lose their jobs due to coronavirus travel restrictions, which hit destinations such as Spain.

Hays Travel said it had a two-year turnaround plan in place, and that although 2020 “looked really bad”, bookings for 2021 were already up on the same period in 2019.

New Year Honours 2021: Lewis Hamilton knighted and Covid volunteers recognised

Formula 1 champion Lewis Hamilton has been knighted in a New Year Honours list which salutes hundreds of people for their work in the Covid pandemic.

Hamilton, who took his seventh title in November, is on the list with actress Shelia Hancock, who is made a dame.

Ex-footballer Jimmy Greaves and musician Craig David become MBEs.

But it is the response to coronavirus which dominates, and an MBE for charity volunteer Anne Baker, 106, makes her the oldest ever recipient of an honour.

Mrs Baker, from Salisbury, who has been involved with fundraising for the NSPCC since the 1950s, said it was a “great surprise and great honour” to be recognised.

Ruth Saunders, aged 104, becomes an MBE for services to charity during Covid after walking a marathon to raise money for Thames Valley Air Ambulance this year.

The same honour goes to airline pilot Emma Henderson, from Moray, who set up a first class lounge experience in more than 80 hospitals across the UK for NHS staff.

There is an MBE for Mark Owen, from Clwyd, after he re-joined North Wales Police to support volunteer officers with tasks including delivering prescriptions and food parcels, and a British Empire Medal (BEM) for Catherine Fitzsimmons from Greater Manchester, a former palliative care nurse who came out of retirement.

There is a BEM too for Carl Konadu, 28, who helped young people in London prepare for jobs applications during the pandemic through 2-3 Degrees, a not-for-profit group he co-founded.

The recognition for hundreds of people involved in the Covid response continues the trend set in the delayed Birthday Honours in October.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in a year when so many have made sacrifice, the list was a “welcome reminder of the strength of human spirit, and of what can be achieved through courage and compassion”.

Lewis Hamilton’s knighthood comes after he equalled Michael Schumacher’s title record and was voted BBC Sports Personality of the Year for a second time.

The 35 year old was made an MBE in 2008 after winning his first F1 championship.

But the Monaco-based driver was reportedly previously overlooked for the top honour amid questions about his tax arrangements. This year Motorsport UK launched a campaign with the All Party Parliamentary Group for Formula One for him to be nominated, with the organisation suggesting his business dealings had been “misunderstood”.

Stage and screen star Sheila Hancock, 87, said she was “very flattered” by her damehood, adding: “I’ve never felt myself this sort of person… I feel I’ve got to prove something and work even harder, particularly in my charity area.”

Among the other new dames are Jane Glover, conductor and musicologist, and Pat McGrath, described by Vogue magazine as the most influential makeup artist in the world.

Dame Pat said she was “delighted and humbled” by the honour for services to the fashion and beauty industry and to diversity, and paid tribute to her mother for encouraging her to enter the field.

The other knighthoods include Roger Deakins, winner of this year’s best cinematography Oscar for 1917; Simon Baron-Cohen, professor of autism research at Cambridge University; former Tesco boss Dave Lewis, and opera director Graham Vick.

Former Leeds Rhino player Rob Burrow, who was diagnosed with motor neurone disease in 2019, is made an MBE for services to the sport and to MND awareness.

Architect Sir David Chipperfield, whose work includes the Turner Contemporary art gallery in Margate, joins the elite Companions of Honour.




The youngest recipient is 20-year-old Samah Khalil, the Youth Mayor of Oldham, who receives a BEM.

Overall, 1,239 people are on the main list issued by the Cabinet Office, with 49% being women and 14% from an ethnic minority background. Some 803 people (65%) are recognised for work in the community.

The Foreign Office has announced 153 honours for recipients with an overseas connection, and separate lists cover military personnel, and gallantry awards for police, ambulance and fire staff.

Nadim and Tanya Ednan-Laperouse, who founded the Natasha Allergy Research Foundation after their daughter died from an allergic reaction to a takeaway sandwich, both become OBEs.

And Kim Leadbeater, who helped set up a charity after her MP sister Jo Cox was murdered in 2016, is made an MBE for services to social cohesion, and combatting loneliness during Covid-19.

The MBE for Claire Throssell, from Sheffield, whose two sons were killed in a house fire started by their father, recognises her campaigning which has led to changes in family court rules.

Joining Jimmy Greaves among the sporting recipients is Ron Flowers, who also becomes an MBE, and was a fellow members of England’s 1966 World Cup winning squad.

MBEs go to former England rugby player Damian Hopley, who founded the Rugby Players Association; Dee Bradbury, the first woman to head the Scottish Rugby Union, and Alan Curtis, the former Wales and Swansea footballer.

Among the political honours are a knighthood for former attorney general Geoffrey Cox and a damehood for Labour MP Angela Eagle, a former pensions minister.

Lynne Owens, head of the National Crime Agency, is among the other dames, while Wendy Williams, a former inspector of constabulary who authored a critical report into the government’s response to the the Windrush scandal, is made a CBE.

Robert Chote, who chairs the Office for Budget Responsibility, is knighted.

From the business world, Hays Travel boss Irene Hays has been made a dame, while Nigel Newton, who founded Bloomsbury, the publisher of the Harry Potter books, becomes a CBE.

The same honour goes to two supermarket chief executives for services to retail and the food supply chain during the pandemic – Ocado’s Melanie Smith and the Co-Op’s Joanne Whitfield.

Sarah Cairns, from Huddersfield, whose technological innovations helped Asda deliver groceries to vulnerable customers, becomes an MBE and Sarah Joyce, from York, an optometrist for the same chain, receives a BEM after working with lens providers to ensure customers would continue to receive care.

From the arts, there is recognition for Humza Arshad, a comedian and writer, known for his YouTube programmes, and Jonty Claypole, director of BBC Arts and behind the corporation’s virtual arts festival during the pandemic. Both are made MBEs.

There is an OBE for Eric Robson, former chairman of BBC Radio 4’s Gardeners’ Question Time and an honorary president of the Cumbria Tourism organisation, who is recognised for services to tourism.

BEMs also go to London youth worker Jason Allen who has helped thousands of young people at risk from gang involvement, and Charlotte Park, from North Yorkshire, whose Treats for Troops on Tour initiative has posted more than 8,000 parcels to British soldiers overseas.

Royal Navy Lieutenant Commander Sean Heaton, a bomb expert who has overseen the disposal of 16,000 potentially explosive items in his career, has been made an MBE.

Royal Navy nurse Andrew Cooper, who this year was involved in the Covid testing of sailors on aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth and worked in an NHS hospital’s emergency department becomes an Associate of the Royal Red Cross.

Among the other people recognised for their work during the pandemic are:

The release of the list comes after the honours system faced criticism this year over its association with Britain’s colonial past – most recipients have titles linked to the Order of the British Empire.

Shadow education secretary Kate Green – who herself has an OBE – this month described the wording of the title as “offensive and divisive”.

And Welsh actor Michael Sheen revealed this week that he handed back his OBE so he could air his views about the monarchy without being a “hypocrite”.

Commonly awarded ranks:

Guide to the Honours

New Year Honours 2021: The entertainment figures in pictures

Several leading figures from the worlds of entertainment, fashion, art and literature have been recognised in the New Year Honours.

Here is a rundown of some of the biggest names, and their new titles:

Actress Sheila Hancock, who made her name in the West End before becoming a perennial presence on British TV screens, has been made a dame.

Commenting on the award, Hancock joked: “I’ve never felt myself this sort of person. It just doesn’t happen to people like me. I feel I may be lowering the tone. I feel slightly miscast, let’s put it that way.”

One of the biggest behind-the-scenes names to receive an honour is two-time Oscar-winning cinematographer Roger Deakins, who is based in California and is knighted in the overseas list.

Known for his work on Fargo, Skyfall, Sicario and No Country for Old Men, he has received 15 Oscar nominations over the course of his career, winning for the films Blade Runner 2049 and 1917.

From the world of fashion, ground-breaking make-up artist Pat McGrath – dubbed the “most influential make-up artist in the world” by Vogue – becomes a dame for services to the fashion and beauty industry and to diversity.

“I am truly delighted and humbled to be given this wonderful honour. My mother’s obsession with beauty and fashion ignited my passion for this amazing industry and I feel blessed to have the privilege of working with some of the most extraordinary people throughout my career,” she said.

Academy Award nominee Lesley Manville is made a CBE for services to drama and charity. Her screen credits include Phantom Thread, All or Nothing and Another Year.

She will portray Princess Margaret in seasons five and six of the Netflix series The Crown.

Actor Toby Jones, who counts Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and the Harry Potter franchise among his many film credits, becomes an OBE for his services to drama.

His first film role was in 1992’s Orlando, but his big break came in 2006 when he portrayed Truman Capote in the biopic Infamous. He has since appeared in The Hunger Games and Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

Screenwriter and producer Jed Mercurio, who held the nation spellbound with TV hits including Line Of Duty and Bodyguard, is made an OBE.

Former EastEnders actress Nina Wadia, who rose to fame in sketch show Goodness Gracious Me, is made an OBE for her services to entertainment and charity.

Wadia has worked with charities including Barnardo’s, in tribute to her father who was an orphan in India; and a kidney illness research charity in memory of her mother, who died with kidney failure.

She also supports the Juvenile Diabetes Research Fund and Diabetes UK after her son was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes three years ago and works with the organisation Education Saves Lives.

Singer Craig David has been made an MBE after staging a career comeback.

He found overnight fame as the voice of the Artful Dodger’s garage smash Re-Rewind (The Crowd Say Bo Selecta) in 1999. A year later, his solo album Born To Do It entered the UK charts at number one, becoming the fastest-selling debut by a British male solo act ever.

After almost a decade in the musical wilderness, he enjoyed a renaissance with the 2016 album Following My Intuition, culminating in a hugely-enjoyable set on Glastonbury’s Pyramid Stage and a nomination for best male at the Brit Awards.

Coronation Street stalwart Sally Dynevor, who has played Sally Webster on the soap since 1986, becomes an MBE.

Professor Jane Alison Glover, conductor and musicologist, receives a damehood for services to music

New Year honours: NHS workers awarded for work during Covid pandemic

Healthcare workers in Wales are among those recognised in the New Year honours list for their work during the coronavirus pandemic.

The woman behind NHS Wales’ Video Consulting Service, and a senior matron who expanded critical care capacity in Swansea, are among those honoured.

Others include a retired police officer who led a volunteer response to Covid.

Welsh Secretary Simon Hart said they were “inspiring achievements” in an “extraordinarily challenging year”.

Prof Alka Surajprakash Ahuja, a consultant child and adolescent psychiatrist, from Cardiff, will be appointed MBE for services to the NHS during the pandemic.

Having helped establish the NHS Wales Video Consulting Service, she was asked in March for this service to be rapidly scaled up for people to continue to access healthcare advice and services from their homes during the pandemic – which she called a “mammoth task”.

“What would usually have taken years needed to be done in a matter of weeks,” she said.

She said she had “mixed feelings moving away from front line” but was proud of the work she had managed to achieve.

“It has enabled us to deliver a safe delivery of care whilst protecting the work force.

“It is obviously an honour to be recognising but is very humbling because it is a team effort.”

Carol Doggett, 51, head of nursing for medicine at Morriston Hospital in Swansea, will also be appointed MBE for services to leadership and nursing care for intensive care patients and staff, particularly during Covid-19.

At the onset of the pandemic, Mrs Doggett was tasked with expanding the critical care capacity for the area.

She trained a cohort of 156 redeployed staff and ensured 13 members of staff who became patients on the intensive care unit received the same high level of care and support as others.

Mrs Doggett said: “I am overwhelmed by this award and recognition.

“I accept it on behalf of all the staff from critical care and other departments who stepped up and supported the enormity of the first wave and on behalf of all the patients we nursed with Covid in ITU.”

Dr Tamas Szakmany, a Critical Care Consultant at Newport’s Royal Gwent Hospital, is also being appointed MBE for services to the NHS during Covid-19 and said he was “very surprised”.

On top of his clinical duties and research into Covid-19 he has spent twice his normal clinical time at the bedside, personally looking after more than 50 patients, participating in numerous webinars, teleconference calls and other online tutorials to help share lessons learnt from his days on the ICU.

“I had an email that I was considered and I had to check the email twice to see if it is real and not a scam,” he said.

Dr Szakmany said it was a recognition for the clinical teams, research teams and critical care network, who “are making sure every patient can receive the critical care despite the pressures we face”.

Special chief officer Mark Owen, from Llanynys in Denbighshire, will be appointed MBE for his services to policing and to the community in north Wales, particularly during the Covid-19 response.

He returned to work and oversaw a team of volunteers to help out with tasks including delivering prescriptions and food parcels, keeping regular phone contact with the vulnerable, helping out with shopping and reassuring the community.

Under his leadership, the number of special constabulary officers doubled to almost 200.

He said: “You are asking people to volunteer their time, to put on police uniform and to go out on a Friday night and involve themselves in quite vicious and quite nasty circumstances.

“You are asking them to do it for nothing, so it’s a real challenge.”

In June alone, 8,000 hours were recorded by volunteers.

“It is the equivalent of having a massive amount of extra police resources on the streets of north Wales, literally engaging and encouraging our communities and supporting them directly in our hour of need which has been exposed in this last few months.”

Commonly awarded ranks:

Guide to the Honours

Prof Sandy Toogood, an honorary professor at Bangor University’s School of Education, is to be awarded BEM for services to people with intellectual disabilities, having been involved in numerous developments which have aimed to improve the quality of life for children and adults with significant disabilities.

Prof Toogood, said: “Receiving an award is a humbling experience for most and very often a stimulus for reflecting on the wonderful work being done by one’s friends and colleagues.

“Education has been key to unlocking the potential in people with intellectual disabilities and in society as a whole. Much remains to be done, however, and I am delighted to receive this award on the way to a better future for us all.”

Prof Carl Hughes, head of the School of Education at Bangor University, said: “I could not think of a more deserving recipient of this award. Sandy has tirelessly worked for people with intellectual disabilities throughout his whole career.

“It is difficult to quantify the impact Sandy has had with his clinical and academic work and his teaching. He has been an inspiration to hundreds of students over the years.”

Commonly awarded ranks:

Guide to the Honours

Shane Andrews, from Cardiff, has worked over the years to increase LGBT+ awareness among his Network Rail colleagues and tried to empower them to celebrate diversity in the workplace.

His commitment has led to Network Rail being ranked fourth in the Vercida group list of LGBT+ inclusive employers and he will be appointed MBE for services to diversity and to inclusion.

Mr Andrews said: “I am pleased to have played my part in improving diversity and inclusivity in this industry.

“I’m proud we have achieved so much in the last year, despite the challenges of Covid-19 and we will continue to ensure Network Rail is a great place to work for all and a place where everyone matters.”

Bill Kelly, Wales and Borders route director at Network Rail, said: “I would like to offer my warmest congratulations to Shane for being recognised with such as prestigious award.

“Shane’s work has been instrumental in helping us become more reflective of the communities we serve.”

Cathy Knapp-Evans, founder and creative director of Mid Wales Arts Centre in Caersws, Powys, will be awarded BEM for her services to the arts in Wales, having developed access to the arts in the area, and raised awareness of the importance of the arts for health and wellbeing.

“We see this as an award for the co-operative efforts of artists in mid Wales,” said Ms Knapp-Evans.

“We were very fortunate in 2020 to have a space where we could offer access to the arts and art education.

“We received a sustainability grant from the Arts Council of Wales to enable us to pay for all the PPE and reduced class sizes etc and, as we watched people heal and grow, we saw just how important art can be.

“This is a wonderful way to start 2021, it will hopefully be a better year for everyone, a time to heal and meet together again.”

Craig Stephenson, former Director of Engagement at Senedd Cymru, is appointed OBE for services to the Welsh Parliament and equality.

Mr Stephenson, who was born in Barry but now lives in Penarth, said: “I’m very proud to have played a part in the development of the Senedd since 1999 and to help make it the inclusive institution is has become.

“Being right at the heart of devolution in Wales and working with a group of committed, enthusiastic staff was a huge privilege.

“We achieved great things together to help cement the Senedd’s reputation as a world-class parliament with diversity, fairness and bilingualism rooted in its services and culture.

“I am absolutely delighted to receive the OBE and thank everyone at the Senedd for this honour.”

Gilligans Island actress Dawn Wells dies of Covid complications

American actress Dawn Wells has died of causes related to Covid-19 at the age of 82.

Wells, who portrayed Mary Ann Summers in the classic sitcom Gilligan’s Island, passed away peacefully in Los Angeles on Wednesday morning, her publicist Harlan Boll said.

The iconic show ran for 98 episodes from 1964 to 1967.

“There is so much more to Dawn Wells” than the character that brought her fame, Mr Boll said in a statement.

Wells represented her state of Nevada in the 1959 Miss America pageant before becoming a household name on Gilligan’s Island, which was based around three women and four men stranded on a desert island.

At the time of the Vietnam War, many saw the light-hearted show as welcome respite.

Wells appeared in many other TV shows and films, including 77 Sunset Strip, Maverick, and Bonanza.

But it is for Gilligan’s Island that Wells will be remembered and her following remained faithful decades on, with her Facebook boasting over 540,000 followers.

Many have been paying tribute on social media.

In a foreword for her 2014 memoir, Russell Johnson, who played the professor on the show, captured the character of Mary Ann as played by Wells.

“We love Mary Ann because she is the future, the hope of our world,” he wrote.

“The youngest of the castaways, Mary Ann has her entire life in front of her. Watching her unfailing good cheer, her optimism is never in question. We love her because we need her emotional support and her belief that all will turn out well,” he said.

“We love Mary Ann because of Dawn Wells.”

Covid-19: School return expected to be delayed for many pupils

The return of many pupils to school in Northern Ireland is to be delayed, BBC News NI understands.

Changes to arrangements for the new term in January are expected following discussions between the departments of health and education.

The Education Minister, Peter Weir, had previously said schools would reopen in the first week of January.

Pupils in years eight to 10 in post-primary schools were due to move to remote learning on 25 January.

However, those arrangements were to be kept under review dependent on the public health situation.

BBC News NI understands that an announcement on changes to those arrangements is imminent.

Details are still being finalised but primary school pupils returning to school on 11 January, a week later than originally planned, is one of the measures under consideration.

It is also understood that pupils in non-exam years in post-primary schools could move to remote learning for a period from the start of term rather than 25 January.

That would mean that pupils in senior years, facing GCSE, AS and A-Level exams, would attend school to receive face-to-face teaching.

However, all schools would be expected to allow vulnerable children and children of key workers to attend.

Nursery and childcare provision, BBC News NI understands, are also likely to remain open.

However, the Departments of Health and Education are yet to confirm the exact details of the new arrangements.

It is not yet clear what impact changes to the new term would have on the transfer tests, as the first one is due to take place on 9 January.

However, some grammar schools have already outlined how they will admit pupils using “Covid-19 criteria” if transfer tests are cancelled.

Firms moving into tier four: Devastated and disappointed

Thousands of businesses across the UK will now have to close or extend closures as multiple regions join the toughest tier of Covid restrictions from Thursday.

Under tier four rules, non-essential shops, beauty salons and hairdressers must close, and people are limited to meeting in a public outdoor place with their household, or one other person.

We talk to four firms affected.

William Lees-Jones, managing director of JW Lees, a 192-year-old pub chain in the North West, says the shift will be “devastating” for many firms.

Already in tier three, he was forced to close over Christmas and said this alone “cost each of our pubs £4,000 in food waste alone.”

“Before Christmas we restocked all our sites. That cost us a lot so we won’t take that gamble again.”

“Our concern as you get into January and February is being able to plan any sort of reopening is the challenge.”

“Pubs are shut in tier three and they’re shut in Tier four,” he tells the BBC. “All our pubs remain shut with very limited compensation from the government.”

Rosemary Smith runs All Fired Up, a pottery cafe in Bournemouth, which will be forced to close again from Thursday as the area enters tier four.

“I’m disappointed but not surprised after seeing the figures on new cases,” Ms Smith says.

“The November lockdown was a blow because of all the work we’d done to build the customer base back up.

“I was feeling much more confident in October, but in December, customer numbers were still quite low. Now we’re going into 2021 not quite knowing how things will work out.”

Ms Smith says the lockdowns have meant food having to be thrown away, not being able to trade and then customers not feeling safe to come back to the cafe once the lockdowns end.

She has created kits for people to take home and paint pottery, then bring pieces back to be fired, but says it is not the same.

“For hospitality as a whole, we have been so badly hit, give us more financial support please,” she stressed.

“If business rates come back in March, trade will not be restored enough by then for me to be able to pay them.”

Heritage Kitchen co-director Derek Jones’ firm produces jam, chutneys and relishes that are sold at food markets and in independent artisan food shops, as well as supplying pubs and restaurants across the country.

With all the restaurants and pubs closed during lockdowns in 2020, the business has taken a 30-50% hit in takings.

After launching a website in November, sales went really well over the Christmas period, but he says typically people buy chutneys at Christmas as gifts. In January and February trade is quiet again, until shops and eateries request more stock.

“I am bothered, insofar as it will have a knock-on effect on my business,” he tells the BBC.

“[Pubs and restaurants] tend to restock in January to February, so if they’re not open the orders won’t come through. If we get into March to April and we’re still in tier three or four, then it will be a serious concern.”

Analysis by Sarah Corker, Consumer Affairs Correspondent

The stop start nature of restrictions and lockdowns throughout 2020 has already proved fatal for many businesses.

January is usually a slow month for sales, but tier four restrictions mean things just got much, much harder for firms in large swathes of the North of England and the Midlands.

Since the pandemic hit in March, the hospitality, retail and travel sectors have been the worst affected parts of the economy.

After disappointing Boxing Day sales and footfall down 60%, retailers are already struggling to shift a mountain of surplus stock.

Pubs and restaurants have missed out on the lucrative Christmas party season the so-called golden quarter.

Escalating to tier four restrictions is their worst possible start to the new year; another enforced hibernation, no customers or money coming in, but bills still need paying.

There are government grants for firms forced to close of up to £3,000 a month and the furlough scheme has been extended until the end of April, but with most of England now in tiers three and four, businesses are calling for more financial support to help them survive the winter.

During the first lockdown in March to May, Heidi Hargreaves found herself in an awkward position.

She had closed her High Street gift shop Dukki Gifts in Nottingham city centre due to lockdown, and now her landlord had decided that he wanted to sell the whole building entirely.

Rather than find new premises, Ms Hargreaves and her business partner Ian Jones decided to run the firm from their living room instead, and built a workshop in the bottom of their garden.

Unlike many other retailers, Dukki Gifts has done well over Christmas, helped by the fact that it manufactures 90% of its products in-house and sources other products and services from local firms.

“We’ve totally changed and adapted our business, but in the long run it will be better as we’ve got better control of things, so if we do go into another lockdown, like today, we can still trade,” she says.

“Initially we were worried about enough traffic to the website, but we’re number one when you search for ‘Nottingham gifts’ on the internet, and we have a click-and-collect service.”

Four-day week means I dont waste holidays on chores

Phil, an IT worker in the Midlands, has worked a four day week for two years.

“I fit my 36 hours into those days, which works very well,” he said.

“The biggest bonus is being able to schedule personal chores – those ‘must be done on a week-day jobs’ for the Friday, so I don’t have to waste precious holiday on them.”

Many firms are resistant to the idea of a four-day week but the think tank Autonomy, which looks at work-related issues, reckons it would work well.

It claims a reduction in hours would be entirely offset by increases in productivity and price increases, in the best-cases.

Even under the worst-case, a four-day week with no loss of pay would be affordable for most firms once the initial phase of the Covid-19 crisis has passed, it said.

However it warned that some firms in high-labour cost industries could experience cash flow problems if a four day week was implemented too quickly.

“For the large majority of firms, reducing working hours is an entirely realistic goal for the near future,” said Will Stronge, director of research at Autonomy, which is campaigning for a shorter working week with no loss of pay.

He said the government should investigate ways of rolling out a four-day week, starting with the public sector.

While IT worker Phil has enjoyed working just four days a week, he conceded it has its challenges for workers.

“Days can be long, especially if something crops up that needs me to work until stuff is complete or can be left,” he told the BBC.

“Also being on call can be a challenge, but it’s nothing that’s not fixable.”

The best days are when he works from home, he said. “It means the working day isn’t top and tailed with an hour each-way commute.”

Alan Rae works in Switzerland for a tech start-up specialising in the Internet of Things.

“I work a four day week, or 80% job as it’s called here in Switzerland,” he told the BBC.

“Monday-Thursday is super productive, and I spend Friday with my children.”

Alan’s wife works a similar 50-70% of the working week, “which means we both get to have careers and spend full solo days with our children during the week. Weekends are longer too, which means we have a great work/life balance.

He, however, is technically part time. “The downside is I earn 80% of a 100% salary, but with my wife working too and us both sharing childcare, it works for us.”

The Autonomy report believes four day working, properly arranged, is possible on full pay. It used profitability statistics drawn from a database of more 50,000 UK firms and simulated best- and worst-case scenarios regarding profit rates under a sudden imposition of a four-day week.

“By providing a hypothetical ‘stress test’, we can dispel any myths about the affordability of a four-day working week,” said Mr Stronge.

“Any policy push will have to be carefully designed, and different strategies would need to be deployed for different industries,” he said, adding that if it happened overnight, with no planning, most firms would still remain profitable.

“Covid-19 has thrown the world of work totally up in the air and we must take this opportunity to move away from the outdated and old ways of working,” said Joe Ryle, a campaigner with the 4-Day Week Campaign.

“The four-day working week with no reduction in pay is good for the economy, good for workers and good for the environment. It’s an idea whose time has come.”

Murder probe as man and teenage boy found dead in Bishopbriggs

Police have launched a murder inquiry after a man and a teenage boy were found dead in East Dunbartonshire.

Officers were called to Grainger Road in Bishopbriggs at about 16:10 on Wednesday 23 December.

Inside, they found the bodies of Seweryn Thomas, 40, and Antoni Thomas, 16.

A spokeswoman for the force said post-mortem examinations had taken place and inquiries to establish the full circumstances were ongoing.

Covid-19: Twenty million in England added to toughest level of restrictions

A further 20 million people in England will join the toughest tier of Covid restrictions from Thursday.

The Midlands, North East, parts of the North West and parts of the South West are among those escalated to tier four.

And secondary schools across most of England are to remain closed for an extra two weeks for most pupils.

The PM asked the public to “redouble our efforts to contain the virus” – but said he was “confident” things will be “very much better” by 5 April.

“All of these measures in the end are designed to save lives and protect the NHS,” he added. “For that very reason, I must ask you to follow the rules where you live tomorrow night and see in the new year safely at home.”

Earlier, the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine was approved for use in the UK, with the first doses to be given on Monday.

But Boris Johnson warned that people should not “in any way think that this is over” as “the virus is really surging”.

His comments came as a further 50,023 new Covid cases were recorded in the UK on Wednesday, as well as 981 more deaths within 28 days of a positive test – more than double Tuesday’s total.

Under tier four rules, non-essential shops, beauty salons and hairdressers must close, and people are limited to meeting in a public outdoor place with their household, or one other person.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock told MPs that rising cases across England mean it is “therefore necessary to apply tier three measures more broadly too, including in Liverpool and North Yorkshire”.

In tier three areas, household mixing is banned indoors and in private gardens, while the rule of six applies in public spaces. Shops, gyms and personal care services can remain open, but hospitality settings must close except for takeaway.

All of the tier changes will come into effect at 00:01 GMT on Thursday 31 December.

Following his colleague in the Commons, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said secondary schools across most of England will remain closed for an extra two weeks for most pupils.

He added that exam-year pupils will return a week earlier than their schoolmates in the week of 11 January, and in a small number of areas with the highest infection rates, primaries will remain closed temporarily.

Speaking to the BBC earlier, Mr Johnson said that 60% of UK coronavirus cases were now the new, more transmissible, strain of Covid-19.

Asked by political editor Laura Kuenssberg if the government had been too slow to act, he said: “What we, unfortunately, were not able to budget for was this this new variant.”

He added: “It’s spreading rapidly from the places where it’s started, in the east of London and in Kent. And, alas, it’s starting to seed across the country.”

It is a bitter-sweet day. News of approval for a second Covid vaccine has been followed by the announcement that more of England is to enter tier four.

That means, with the exception of a few pockets, the whole of the UK is pretty much in lockdown.

The fear now is that this will become the status quo for weeks.

Hospitals are clearly struggling with close to 24,000 patients in hospital with Covid – that’s around one in five beds.

Until those numbers start coming down, the restrictions are likely to stay in place.

The jury is still out on how significant the impact of these restrictions will be on the new faster-spreading variant.

If the effect is limited, it is likely to be late February before we can expect the rollout of the vaccines to have a significant impact on the numbers falling seriously ill.

Announcing the rule changes, Mr Hancock said: “I know that tier three and four measures place a significant burden on people, and especially on businesses affected, but I am afraid it is absolutely necessary because of the number of cases that we’ve seen.”

Labour shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said people across England “will be deeply worried” that they have now been “in a form of restriction for months and months and months”.

“It’s having a huge impact on families and small businesses,” he added.

Meanwhile, a statement on behalf of nine council and other leaders in the north-east of England urged the government to replace its regional approach with a national lockdown “to ensure the spread of the new variant is slowed and efforts can be focused on the crucial roll-out of the vaccine”.

“This is a national problem and a national solution is required now,” they added.

Elsewhere in the UK, Wales and Northern Ireland are both in lockdown, as is mainland Scotland.

The approval of the Oxford vaccine – of which the UK has ordered 100 million doses – means vaccination centres will now start inviting patients to receive the first of their two doses from next week.

Priority groups for immunisation have already been identified, starting with care home residents, the over-80s, and health and care workers.

The health secretary told the Commons the UK already has 530,000 doses available from Monday, “with millions due from AstraZeneca by the beginning of February”.

He added that the “clinical advice is that the Oxford vaccine is best deployed as two doses up to 12 weeks apart”

More than 600,000 people in the UK have been given the Pfizer-BioNTech jab since Margaret Keenan became the first person in the world to be given a Covid vaccine outside a clinical trial.

It is hoped that about two million patients a week could soon be vaccinated with the two jabs that have now been approved.

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