Lockdown lessons: The firms adapting and thriving

It’s an understatement to say the past year has posed a unique challenge for many businesses. The national lockdown introduced in March 2020, in response to the spread of coronavirus, forced thousands to close temporarily.

For some, it was the end. Others had to adapt to survive.

Now the public have once again been told to stay home and large parts of the economy can’t operate.

The BBC asked small business owners what they have learned from previous shutdowns, that might help them through the next couple of months – and beyond.

Toks Aruotore runs The Baby Cot Shop in Chelsea, London. It sells high-end, bespoke furniture and helps parents design their child’s nursery.

The first time non-essential retailers had to close in March 2020, it was a huge challenge. Ordering online was the only option. There were other issues too; international supply issues meant display stock had to be lent to some customers. And Toks had to furlough all her staff – she now uses flexible furlough.

“We have used the government help available. It has still been difficult. The bulk of our orders normally come from in-store as people like to see things. Now though, our online order and delivery system is better co-ordinated.”

Changes during the first lockdown were meant to be temporary. Design consultations for new parents moved from in-store to Facetime or social media. Now restrictions have tightened again, Toks is viewing things differently.

“We didn’t think we’d still be saying ‘Covid’ in 2021. This week it’s really hit me I’m looking at a more permanent transition – there is no end in sight. It feels like starting a new business for an audience with a different mindset. The process of shopping has changed.

“The Facetime method of design consultation isn’t sustainable. I am in the process of integrating a web and video chat into the website. We’ve ramped up our social media too.

“During this lockdown we are working on video tours, so that people can be shown around the store. This will also make a difference for our international clients.”

Betsy Benn’s eponymous Cheltenham-based online gift business makes personalised prints, cushions, notebooks and decorations. Most are sold through websites like Notonthehighstreet and Etsy.

There have been peaks and troughs since the business started 11 years ago, but none prepared Betsy for the online shopping boom triggered by coronavirus restrictions.

When the first lockdown was announced, orders all but stopped. One of the three staff members at the time was furloughed. That didn’t last long. People who couldn’t celebrate with loved ones in person started sending gifts instead.

“Quite quickly we had Mother’s Day and needed all staff back. By June, we were up 400% on normal levels, with Father’s Day contributing. It was bigger than a normal Christmas. We were completely overwhelmed.”

After the surprise peaks of 2020, Betsy is braced for more during this shutdown, especially around Valentine’s Day. Her team have adapted to meet demand for gift sets rather than single items.

She has found backup courier services too, having experienced delivery issues with Royal Mail last year amid the huge rise in parcels. But above all she has learned to expect the unexpected.

“We have taken on extra staff over Christmas but I don’t want to make new jobs permanent yet. When we eventually come out the other side, how much of the online gifting will remain and how many of us will be so desperate for physical contact that we want to go out and do things together?

“I do have a little concern that it’s a bubble of activity that won’t last forever. We usually forecast based on previous year’s trading, but it’s harder to plan than ever before”.

Karim Ullah opened his first Brohmon Indian restaurant in Stansted Mountfichet, Essex in March 2020. He hoped it would be the start of a chain. Within two weeks, it had to shut.

“The beginning was horrific. We couldn’t furlough anyone so had make the team redundant straight away, leaving just me and my wife. We couldn’t close as we needed some revenue to pay the rent and overheads. We had to learn fast.”

Karim hadn’t planned to do takeaways, but tried. “They didn’t work well, but it got better when we started deliveries. We learned which items would travel well. Deliveries allowed us to build our reputation, to get things like TripAdvisor reviews.”

A grant helped Brohmon stay afloat, and sit-in meals were eventually allowed again. Then the November shutdown happened. It was harder than expected.

“We have realised people are feeling the pinch more now. We need to tweak our menu so they’re not paying as much. But we are growing.

“This week during the third lockdown, we are opening our first ‘dark kitchen’. It’s a kitchen in a café about two and a half hours away, that we will only use for cooking for delivery orders. That’s the area of business we think will enable us to grow.”

OECD: Lockdowns here to stay, even with vaccine plan

More lockdowns and social distancing – even with a global vaccine rollout in place.

That’s the sobering forecast for 2021 from Laurence Boone, the chief economist of the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development.

“We probably have another six to nine or twelve months of this ahead of us,” she told the BBC’s Talking Business Asia programme.

“I’m not saying it’s easy, I’m saying we’ve seen that it worked in 2020”.

“We must keep going both with the non-pharmaceutical measures, the government support and deploy the vaccine, as long and efficiently as fast as efficiently and securely as possible.”

A new strain of the virus has led to fresh lockdowns in many parts of the world – including countries in Asia, such as South Korea, that have up until now managed to constrain new infections.

Nevertheless, the OECD says the global economic outlook for 2021 will improve – albeit from a low base.

It is expecting global GDP to rise to pre-pandemic levels by the end of this year, but warned that recovery won’t be equal across all countries.

China, for instance, is expected to grow by 8% in 2021, while other OECD member economies are expected to grow by just over 3% on average.

The international economic body added that how well countries will recover will depend on how smooth the rollout of vaccines is.

Speaking from Paris, Ms Boone also explained that governments have to keep spending to help shore up their economies in the face of this unprecedented crisis – even if that means adopting a more relaxed attitude to managing national budgets.

“These measures that we have strongly advocated do make sense because this crisis is temporary. So we’re talking about temporary measures and a temporary increase in debt to GDP ratio,” she said.

“Once we’re out of the crisis, the economic fabric would have been preserved thanks to these measures, then we will have to take a step back, look at the evolution of public finances across country not only since COVID-19, but also since the financial crisis and see… whether governments are spending their money on the right priorities.”

This is a different approach from the advice the OECD gave countries in the wake of the global financial crisis of 2008, when it advocated austerity.

The stark forecast highlights how challenging the health crisis has been for both rich and poor countries – and the difficult road they now face.

The OECD also warns of widening inequality, with lower paid workers in informal jobs at most risk.

Covid: Fines reviewed after women surrounded by police

A police force that was criticised for its overzealous approach to two female walkers is to review its lockdown fines policy.

Jessica Allen and Eliza Moore said they were surrounded by police after driving five miles from their home for a walk on Wednesday, and fined £200 each.

Derbyshire Police initially said driving to exercise was “not in the spirit” of lockdown.

But it now says new national guidelines mean it will review its position.

In a statement, the force said all of its fixed penalties issued during the new national lockdown will be reviewed.

Ms Allen, from Ashby-de-la-Zouch in Leicestershire, said she assumed “someone had been murdered” when she arrived at Foremark Reservoir on Wednesday afternoon.

When she and her friend were questioned by police, they were also told by officers the hot drinks they had brought along were not allowed as they were “classed as a picnic”.

She said: “The next thing, my car is surrounded. I got out of my car thinking ‘There’s no way they’re coming to speak to us’. Straight away they start questioning us.

“I said we had come in separate cars, even parked two spaces away and even brought our own drinks with us. He said ‘You can’t do that as it’s classed as a picnic’.”

Her friend, Ms Moore, said she was “stunned at the time” so did not challenge police and gave her details so they could send a fixed penalty notice.

At the time Derbyshire Police said that driving to a location to exercise “is clearly not in the spirit of the national effort to reduce our travel, reduce the possible spread of the disease and reduce the number of deaths”.

The force added: “Where there are cases of blatant breaches of the regulations then fines will be issued by officers.”

Derbyshire Police has also been giving fixed penalty notices to people who visit Calke Abbey and Elvaston Castle.

But in a statement, the force said further guidance issued by the National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC) had “clarified the policing response concerning travel and exercise”.

The guidance said: “The Covid regulations which officers enforce and which enables them to issue FPNs [fixed penalty notices] for breaches, do not restrict the distance travelled for exercise.”

The NPCC added that rather than issue fines for people who travel out of their local area “but are not breaching regulations, officers will encourage people to follow the guidance”.

The force has now said it will be “aligning to adhere to this stance”.

Assistant Chief Constable Kem Mehmet said: “We are grateful for the guidance from the NPCC.

“The actions of our officers continues to be to protect the public, the NHS and to help save lives.”

It is not the first time the force has been criticised for being overzealous in enforcing alleged lockdown breaches.

In the country’s first lockdown in March the use of a drone to film people walking in the Peak District was labelled “nanny policing”.

Prince William talks about NHS and Covid with his children every day

The Duke of Cambridge has said he talks to his three children about NHS staff “every day” to help them to understand the “sacrifices” made during Covid.

Prince William’s comments were part of a video call to London hospital staff.

“Catherine and I and all the children talk about all of you guys every day, so we’re making sure the children understand all of the sacrifices that all of you are making,” he said.

It comes after the London mayor said the virus was “out of control”.

Sadiq Khan declared a major incident on Friday – meaning the emergency services and hospitals cannot guarantee their normal level of response – after the number of Covid patients in the capital’s hospitals surpassed 7,000.

Staff at Homerton University Hospital in east London told the Duke of Cambridge that queues of people waiting to be vaccinated at the hospital offered hope, but that the way out of the crisis was for the public to “stay at home” during lockdown.

In recent days the hospital has seen its highest number of admissions since the pandemic began.

The duke, who is joint patron of NHS Charities Together, said: “A huge thank you for all the hard work, the sleepless nights, the lack of sleep, the anxiety, the exhaustion and everything that you are doing, we are so grateful. “Good luck, we are all thinking of you.”

His video call, which took place on Thursday, is one of many he and the duchess have made to NHS staff during the pandemic.

Prince George, Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis have also shown their support for the health service by getting involved with the weekly Clap for Carers applause during the UK’s first national lockdown.

Chief nurse Catherine Pelley told the prince her hospital had used funds from NHS Charities Together to set up various support initiatives such as a “wobble room” for colleagues to relax in.

“For us this week, starting vaccinating has been one of the single most significant impacts on people feeling that there is a future out of this, and the queues out the door here where they have been vaccinating have been really kind of hopeful for people,” she said.

“But the support we need is stay at home, help us – because that will get us all out of this whatever our role is and we will get society out of this.”

After speaking to Ms Pelley and her colleagues about how they supported one another, the prince said: “It’s good that you and your team are keeping your spirits high and I always find that having some sort of sense of humour through everything is very important, otherwise we all go mad.”

Brexit: Edwin Poots warns of job losses and food shortages

The Stormont minister whose officials are responsible for the new Irish Sea border has said some food will be unavailable if changes are not made.

DUP Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots has also said jobs could be at risk.

He said problems at the ports were being caused by new rules applied on imports of food and other products from Britain to Northern Ireland.

Earlier Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove said trade from GB to NI “will get worse before it gets better”.

Mr Gove said that “work is ongoing” and it is “all part of the process of leaving the European Union”.

He added that he had spoken to ministers from all parties in the Northern Ireland Executive.

After speaking with hauliers, supermarkets and processors this week, Mr Poots predicted the loss of jobs and rising costs.

“A wide range of frozen and chilled foods will be unavailable after the temporary exemption period ends,” he tweeted.

That exemption period applies to supermarkets and other food importers and runs out in April.

After that they will have to comply with all the paperwork required to ship food in, or find suppliers on the island of Ireland or elsewhere in the EU.

New rules – called the Northern Ireland Protocol – were introduced because while the UK has left the EU, Northern Ireland has remained in the Single Market for goods and is continuing to apply EU customs rules.

The arrangement was agreed between the UK and the EU to prevent a hard border on the island of Ireland.

Mr Poots said he had spoken to senior UK government figures to ask them to consider unilaterally revoking the protocol as it was “damaging Northern Ireland at the economic and societal level”.

And he hit out at members of Sinn Fein, the SDLP, and Alliance Party who he claimed had supported it.

Members of those parties have countered similar claims from other DUP politicians in recent days.

They said DUP MPs had voted against alternative arrangements that would have been simpler to manage before the government pushed ahead with the protocol plan.

Responding to Mr Poot’s tweet on Friday evening, SDLP leader Colum Eastwood wrote: “You broke it, you own it.”

Sinn Féin MLA Martina Anderson accused Mr Poots of being “asleep at the wheel”.

The Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) has called for the assembly to be recalled to discuss difficulties over trading between Great Britain and Northern Ireland due to Brexit.

The party has submitted a recall petition.

UUP MLA Roy Beggs said: “The impact of the Irish Sea border is causing horrendous difficulties for hauliers and this is being seen in shops and businesses across Northern Ireland.

“It is damaging the Northern Ireland economy and the situation is escalating.”

Earlier on Friday, Michael Gove said it had been expected that there would be “some initial disruption” to trade between GB and NI, but that the government is “ironing” issues out.

He said discussions with the executive in Northern Ireland were “in order to make sure that the [Northern Ireland] protocol works”.

“[To make sure] that businesses in Northern Ireland can continue to have access to the rest of the UK market, and that Northern Ireland businesses can have the goods that they need on the shelves, that they have access to at the moment,” he said.

Northern Ireland has remained a part of the EU’s single market for goods while the rest of the UK has left.

This means food products from Great Britain are subject to checks when they enter Northern Ireland.

Similar processes and checks also apply when moving food products from Great Britain into the Republic of Ireland.

Meanwhile, an organisation representing haulage firms has called on the UK and Irish government to relax some of the new Irish Sea trade border rules.

The Road Haulage Association (RHA) said there is serious disruption to freight movements into the island of Ireland.

The RHA said relaxing the controls on food products and customs declarations “would help traders to ship goods that have struggled to move over recent days.”

“The problems have led to gaps in supermarket shelves and lorries delayed at ports because of problems with red-tape and the situation is worsening,” the organisation added.

“We are facing an inflexible, cumbersome and time consuming process just to move goods.”

The UK government said the flow of goods “between GB and NI has been smooth overall and arrivals of freight have continued to increase substantially over this week”.

“There are no significant queues at NI ports and supermarkets are reporting healthy supplies into their Northern Ireland stores,” a spokesperson added.

“We recognise the need to provide as much support to the haulage sector as possible as industry adapts to new processes. That’s why hauliers can benefit from the Trader Support Service, which provides free advice and support to businesses of all sizes moving goods under the Northern Ireland Protocol.

“We have been engaging intensively with the Irish authorities and hauliers on the issues that have been encountered for goods transiting through Dublin port.”

On Thursday customs authorities in the Republic of Ireland announced a temporary relaxation of one customs process.

Hauliers will be able to use an override code to complete a piece of administration known as ENS.

The letters ENS refer to an entry summary declaration, an online form which goods carriers are now legally obliged to submit to Irish customs when transporting goods from Great Britain into Ireland.

On Thursday night the Irish Revenue Commissioners said it recognised that “some businesses are experiencing difficulties on lodging their safety and security ENS declarations”.

It said that in response it was providing a “temporary easement” which would allow an ENS to be produced without all the normally required information.

An Irish government spokesperson said it is “absolutely essential that Ireland fulfils its obligations as a member of the EU and that we protect the integrity of the single market and the customs union”.

“We appreciate that the new requirements and customs formalities present significant challenges and impose additional burdens on businesses.”

Meanwhile Stena, the ferry company, said it was cancelling a dozen sailings between Wales and Ireland next week due to “a decline in freight volumes during the first week of Brexit.”

Michael Apted: TV documentary pioneer and film-maker dies aged 79

Film director Michael Apted, best known for the Up series of TV documentaries following the lives of 14 people every seven years, has died aged 79.

He also directed Coal Miner’s Daughter, Gorillas In The Mist and the 1999 Bond movie The World Is Not Enough.

The original 7 Up in 1964 set out to document the journeys of a range of children from all walks of life.

The show was inspired by the Aristotle quote “give me a child until he is seven and I will show you the man”.

The first 7 Up show was followed by 14 Up at the start of the next decade, which interviewed the same children as teenagers – and the pattern was set right up until 63 Up in 2019.

Throughout all those intervening years ITV viewers became engrossed with the stories of private school trio Andrew, Charles and John, of Jackie who went through two divorces, of Nick who went from jobless and homeless to Liberal Democrat councillor, and of working class chatterbox Tony, whose life ambition was to become a jockey.

Apted’s shows have often been described as the forerunner of modern-day reality TV series, giving its participants the time to tell their own stories on screen.

But unlike their modern counterparts, the original Up children tended to fade away from the limelight in the seven years between each chapter.

Thomas Schlamme, president of the Directors Guild of America, said Apted was a “fearless visionary” whose legacy would live on.

He said Apted “saw the trajectory of things when others didn’t and we were all beneficiaries of his wisdom and lifelong dedication”.

ITV’s managing director Kevin Lygo said the director’s six-decade career was “in itself truly remarkable”.

He said the Up series “demonstrated the possibilities of television at its finest in its ambition and its capacity to hold up a mirror to society and engage with and entertain people while enriching our perspective on the human condition”.

“The influence of Michael’s contribution to film and programme-making continues to be felt and he will be sadly missed,” Lygo added.

Brexit: M&S temporarily cuts hundreds of products in NI

Marks & Spencer’s has temporarily stopped selling hundreds of items in its Northern Ireland stores due to Brexit red tape.

The retailer said it feared its food would be blocked due to new rules governing shipments between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

A growing number of firms have spoken out about paperwork delays at ports.

The government said traders and hauliers need to take steps to comply with new border rules.

M&S took the decision to temporarily drop hundreds of products, including chocolate fudge pudding and sweet and sour chicken, from its Northern Ireland stores after it saw competitors’ lorries barred from travelling between the mainland and Northern Ireland.

An entire consignment in a lorry can be held up if only one item in the truck doesn’t have the correct customs forms filled out.

The retailer said it aimed to get the products back up for sale soon.

An M&S spokesperson said: “We have served customers in Northern Ireland for over 50 years and our priority is to make sure we continue to deliver the same choice and great quality range that our loyal customers have always enjoyed.

“Stores have been receiving regular deliveries this week, however following the UK’s recent departure from the EU, we are transitioning to new processes and we’re working closely with our partners and suppliers to ensure customers can continue to enjoy a great range of products.”

The UK sealed a trade deal with the European Union (EU) on 24 December that was billed as preserving its zero-tariff and zero-quota access to the bloc’s single market.

But the new Brexit trade rules are already creating problems for exporters and traders sending goods between the UK and EU, say firms.

In addition to red tape causing delays, major retailers that use the UK as a distribution hub for European business could face possible tariffs if they re-export goods to the EU.

On Friday, M&S chief executive Steve Rowe warned of more red tape and a rise in export costs to some countries.

“The best example I can give you of that is Percy Pig,” he said,

“Percy Pig is actually manufactured in Germany. If it comes to the UK and we then send it to Ireland, in theory it would have some tax on it,” he added.

M&S said it was “actively working to mitigate” the effects of the “rules of origin” regulations, under which products are taxed differently depending on which country they come from.

Other firms have also been hit by the confusion caused by new Brexit trading rules regarding customs declarations.

Parcels giant DPD has suspended some services, while seafood exporter John Ross said the chaos was like being “thrown in the cold Atlantic without a lifejacket”.

One export trade body told the BBC there was a “growing problem and sense of unease” among its members.

Shane Brennan, chief executive of the Cold Chain Federation, which represents chilled transport and storage companies, said the emerging problems had come despite the amount of cross-border traffic still being quite low.

“Trade flows are still only about 50% of what we would expect, but even at those levels we are seeing levels of confusion and delays,” he told the BBC’s Today programme. “The feeling is we are building to quite a significant potential disruption.”

A government spokesman acknowledged that there had been “some issues”, but said ministers had always been clear there would be some disruption at the end of the transition period.

The Cabinet Office said in a statement that the volume of border crossings had been low so far this year, but that it expected crossings to steadily increase to normal levels.

This brings the potential for “significant disruption if traders and hauliers have not taken the necessary steps to comply with the new rules,” the Cabinet Office said.

Out of about 1,500 lorries per day trying to get from Great Britain to the EU in the new year, 700 have been turned away – mainly due to a lack of a negative Covid test for drivers, it said.

“We have always been clear there would be changes now that we are out of the customs union and single market, so full compliance with the new rules is vital to avoid disruption,” said Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove.

However, anger is growing among companies whose livelihoods depend on export trade.

In a letter on Friday to Business Secretary Alok Sharma, Scottish salmon producer John Ross Jr launched a stinging attack on the government’s handling of the situation.

The firm’s sales director, Victoria Leigh-Pearson, wrote that the company had in recent months “had to endure the government issuing a barrage of useless information” and an “absence of factually correct information from all government agencies.” It amounted, she said, to “gross incompetence”.

Part of the letter to Alok Sharma:

As I write, perishable goods that were dispatched from our facility five days ago, headed for France following a process that your department advised, have still not crossed the border. This usually takes only 24 hours because they are consolidated with the produce of other companies, which have not been able to follow the correct procedures due to a knowledge gap directly attributable to your department.

Entire trucks are currently being rejected without explanation by the French customs authority. Our hauliers have now pulled their services as such a backlog has been created. Other hauliers are not taking on new customers. Today, we’ve even had confirmation that the IT systems of the UK and France are incompatible. After four years you only establish this now?

Your so-called ‘deal’ is worthless if this situation is not fixed immediately, and unless you put in place measures to address the issues that continue to unfold on a daily basis. Moreover, as a seafood exporter, it feels as though our own government has thrown us into the cold Atlantic waters without a lifejacket.

Yours sincerely, Victoria Leigh-Pearson, Sales Director, John Ross

John Ross is not the only Scottish seafood exporter suffering. The industry says it has been hit by a “perfect storm” of Brexit disruption, which could sink a centuries-old industry.

“These businesses are not transporting toilet rolls or widgets. They are exporting the highest quality, perishable seafood which has a finite window to get to markets in peak condition,” said Donna Fordyce, chief executive of Seafood Scotland.

“If the window closes, these consignments go to landfill.”

She said the sector has already been weakened by Covid-19, the closure of the French border before Christmas as well as “layer upon layer” of problems associated with Brexit.

The group fears that without exports, the fishing fleet will have little reason to go out.

“In a very short time, we could see the destruction of a centuries-old market which contributes significantly to the Scottish economy,” added Ms Fordyce.

UK government Minister for Scotland David Duguid blamed Scottish leaders for the issues.

“The Scottish Government has persistently refused to accept the democratic vote to leave the EU, but that does not allow them to abdicate their responsibilities to Scottish businesses,” he said.

“Over the past 18 months they have assured the fishing industry that the systems they were putting in place would be adequate. They clearly are not.”

Parcel delivery service DPD UK said it had paused its European Road Service because of the ‘”increased burden” of customs paperwork for packages heading to the EU, including the Republic of Ireland.

DPD said 20% of parcels had “incorrect or incomplete data attached”, which meant they would have to be returned.

In an email to its business customers, the company said that it had been a “challenging few days” for its international operation, and that it would “pause and review” its service. It plans to restart on 13 January.

“It has now become evident that we have an increased burden with the new, more complex processes, and additional customs data we require from you for your parcels destined to Europe” the firm wrote.

The boss of one of Wales’ largest hauliers said logistical problems have emerged at the Irish border too.

Andrew Kinsella, managing director of Gwynedd Shipping, said his company has a backlog of 60 lorries waiting to be shipped to Dublin.

He said many hauliers are finding that their customers are not able to generate the special declarations that are needed to ultimately enable a lorry to get onto a ferry.

“Whilst you don’t see queues at ports and terminals the reality is that these queues are developing elsewhere in our depot in Holyhead, in our depot in Deeside and in our depot in Newport in South Wales, and lots of hauliers have depots in the proximity of ports,” he said.

“There are a lot of issues about demarcation about who is going to arrange the export declaration with the UK revenue authorities, who’s going to arrange the import declaration, the hauliers then trying to arrange the import safety and security declaration to create an ENS number which helps you generate a PBN number so there has been a lot of everyone finding their feet”.

Ex-MP quits Labour ahead of sexual harassment disciplinary process

A former Labour MP has quit the party before disciplinary proceedings against him concerning sexual harassment could be concluded, Labour has said.

Kelvin Hopkins was suspended by the party in 2017 after a Labour activist, Ava Etemadzadeh, accused him of inappropriate physical contact.

Ms Etemadzadeh said the ex-MP’s exit from the party was “disappointing”.

The BBC has attempted to contact Mr Hopkins for a response, but he has previously denied the accusations.

A Labour spokesperson said it “takes all complaints of sexual harassment extremely seriously and they are fully investigated in line with our rules and procedures, and any appropriate disciplinary action is taken. “We are disappointed that the party’s disciplinary processes did not reach a conclusion due to Kelvin Hopkins’ decision to resign his membership,” they added. “We are establishing an independent process to investigate complaints, including sexual harassment, to ensure complainants can feel confident that in coming forward they will be heard and get the justice they deserve.”

Mr Hopkins stood down as MP for Luton North ahead of the 2019 election – a decision, he said, which was to do with his wife’s health, not the accusations.

He was originally referred to the party’s National Constitutional Committee following the allegations in 2017 and had previously expressed frustration at the length of time the hearing was taking.

Responding to his decision to leave the party, Ms Etemadzadeh tweeted: “This is very disappointing news. I hope Keir Starmer listens to my concerns and fixes this broken system.”

Salmond accuses Sturgeon of misleading parliament

Former first minister Alex Salmond has accused Nicola Sturgeon of misleading parliament, calling her evidence to the inquiry into sexual harassment claims made against him “simply untrue”.

Mr Salmond’s comments emerged in a written submission to a separate investigation into whether Ms Sturgeon breached the ministerial code.

The submission has been shared with the Holyrood committee.

The first minister says she “entirely rejects Mr Salmond’s claims”.

In the submission, Mr Salmond said that Ms Sturgeon had misled parliament and broken the ministerial code with breaches including failing to inform the civil service in good time of her meetings with him.

He claimed she allowed the Scottish government to contest a civil court case against him despite having had legal advice that it was likely to collapse.

Ms Sturgeon told the Holyrood inquiry she had become aware of allegations at a meeting with Mr Salmond at her home.

It since emerged she met his former chief of staff in the days before, but she said she had forgotten about that meeting.

Mr Salmond said that claim was untenable.

His submission said that she misled parliament, and that amounted to a breach of the code. He also said she breached the code by failing to to inform civil servants of the nature of the meetings that took place between the two of them at her home where the allegations were discussed.

Both Mr Salmond and Ms Sturgeon are expected to give evidence to the committee in the coming weeks.

Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross responded to the claims, saying: “Nobody ever bought Nicola Sturgeon’s tall tales to have suddenly turned forgetful, especially about the devastating moment she found out of sexual harassment allegations against her friend and mentor of 30 years.

“What has been revealed are allegations of shocking, deliberate and corrupt actions at the heart of government. There is now clear evidence of Nicola Sturgeon abusing her power to deceive the Scottish public.

“If this proves to be correct, it is a resignation matter. No first minister, at any time, can be allowed to get away with repeatedly and blatantly lying to the Scottish Parliament and breaking the ministerial code.”

Scottish Labour deputy leader Jackie Baillie said Alex Salmond’s explosive allegations demanded answers from the first minister to the committee.

She said: “The bombshell accusation that Nicola Sturgeon has broken the ministerial code has the potential to end her political career and demands a robust and honest answer from the first minister.

“This committee demands truthfulness and honesty from every witness it calls – it is vital that the first minister tells the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth when she appears.”

Ms Sturgeon has repeatedly dismissed any notion of a conspiracy against Mr Salmond.

Her spokeswoman said: “The first minister entirely rejects Mr Salmond’s claims about the ministerial code.

“We should always remember that the roots of this issue lie in complaints made by women about Alex Salmond’s behaviour whilst he was first minister, aspects of which he has conceded. It is not surprising therefore that he continues to try to divert focus from that by seeking to malign the reputation of the first minister and by spinning false conspiracy theories.

“The first minister is concentrating on fighting the pandemic, stands by what she has said, and will address these matters in full when she appears at committee.”

Dearon Deezer D Thompson: Tributes to ER star who has died at 55

Actor Dearon “Deezer D” Thompson, who played nurse Malik McGrath in 190 episodes of US hospital drama ER, has died at the age of 55.

ER actor Mekhi Phifer paid tribute, writing: “What a special spirit we have all lost!” Co-star Parminder Nagra said the news was “so sad”.

Thompson, who was in ER from 1994 to 2009, had major heart surgery in 2009.

He also appeared in 1997 film Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion alongside Lisa Kudrow and Mira Sorvino.

Other roles included parts in the films CB4, a comedy starring Chris Rock, and Fear of a Black Hat, a mockumentary about a hip-hop group, both in 1993.

Actor Scott Baio also paid tribute, as did Neal Baer, a doctor and writer for some of ER’s first season.

ER actress Kellie Martin added that she “loved working with him”, while actor Terry Wilkerson said: “Even before diversity was popular he made it on one of the biggest shows on network.”

Thompson’s brother Marshawn told TMZ he was found “unresponsive at home” on Thursday morning, but that no official cause of death had been established.

Another brother, Emmery, posted: “My Big Brother! God is with you. I will miss you.”

1 2 3 9