Zoom sees more growth after unprecedented 2020

Zoom boss Eric Yuan, whose business exploded during the pandemic, says working from home is here to stay.

The video conferencing company expects sales to rise more than 40% this year, reaching more than $3.7bn (£2.66bn).

The forecast pushed shares in the company up more than 6% in after-hours trade in New York.

Investors have been watching for clues as to how the firm would fare as more people get vaccinated and social distancing restrictions lift.

Zoom said it did not expect growth to continue at the pace it enjoyed last year, but so far business remains strong.

The firm’s sales in the last three months of 2020 were up 370% compared to the same period in 2019, hitting $882.5m.

“The fourth quarter marked a strong finish to an unprecedented year for Zoom,” company boss Eric Yuan said. “As the world emerges from the pandemic, our work has only begun.”

The pandemic, which prompted an abrupt shift to remote work for many businesses around the world, transformed Zoom into a household name practically overnight.

The firm, which charges businesses for its remote meeting software in addition to more limited free use for the general public, saw sales soar 326% to $2.6bn in 2020. Profits jumped from just $21.7m in 2019 to $671.5m.

While some companies have started to ease staff back into the office, many others have said they expect that some of the increased flexibility introduced during the pandemic will linger.

“The future is here with the rise of remote and work from anywhere trends,” Mr Yuan said in prepared remarks for investors. “We recognize this new reality and are helping to empower our own employees and those of our customers to work and thrive in a distributed manner.”

Susannah Streeter, analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown, said Zoom’s fate would depend on how it manages to compete against firms such as Microsoft and Google, which have introduced similar features.

“Although it stole an early march on other players in the first few months of the crisis, it does now have much stiffer competition from the likes of Microsoft and Google who have significantly upped their game,” she wrote in a research note.

“It may be that we have become so used to pandemic habits that we will stick with our virtual social lives, particularly for long distance friendships and work relationships. But just how large a slice of the live video pie Zoom manages to hang on to will depend on how it matches up to its powerful rivals.”

Taylor Swift criticises Netflix show for deeply sexist joke

Taylor Swift has accused a Netflix show of “degrading” women for featuring a joke she branded “deeply sexist”.

The pop star tweeted to criticise the joke, which was in the season finale of comedy-drama Ginny and Georgia.

In one scene, main characters Ginny Miller and her mother Georgia argued about relationships.

Asked whether she had broken up her with her boyfriend, Ginny said: “What do you care? You go through men faster than Taylor Swift.”

The line incurred the wrath of Swift’s fans, prompting criticism of the show and its cast members on social media. Some Swift fans even called for a boycott of the series.

On Monday, Swift herself addressed the controversy in a tweet, writing: “Hey Ginny & Georgia, 2010 called and it wants its lazy, deeply sexist joke back.”

Netflix has not yet commented on the criticism, nor has anyone associated with Ginny and Georgia.

Swift’s love life has long been in the media spotlight.

The singer, 31, has been linked to various men – including former One Direction singer Harry Styles, actor Tom Hiddleston and DJ Calvin Harris – in the past.

But Swift has been in a relationship with 30-year-old British actor Joe Alwyn for several years.

Swift and Alwyn – whose films include The Favourite, Mary Queen of Scots and Harriet – have largely kept their relationship private.

He is considered to be the subject of her 2019 track London Boy, in which she sang about her experiences in the city.

In Monday’s tweet, Swift also referenced her documentary Miss Americana, which was released on Netflix in January 2020.

Covering several turbulent years of her career from 2018, the documentary revealed intimate details of Swift’s life, exploring how her relationships had been dissected by the public and press.

SNP MP Amy Callaghan returns to Commons after brain haemorrhage

An SNP MP who spent four months in hospital after suffering a brain haemorrhage has made a virtual return to the House of Commons.

Amy Callaghan underwent two “life-saving” surgeries after collapsing at home in June last year.

In a tweet marking her online return to parliament, she said “Not even that long ago, this felt so far off”.

She was welcomed back by colleagues including Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle and Education Secretary Gavin Williamson.

In a statement published after her appearance, the East Dunbartonshire MP said she had been “working away behind the scenes for some months”.

But she was “delighted” to be able to take part in parliamentary business again.

Ms Callaghan spoke during questions to the Secretary of State for Education, raising issues about the consequences of the UK government withdrawing from the Erasmus scheme.

When she was called by the Speaker, Sir Lindsay said: “Can I say how pleased I am to see you Amy, and welcome back. Really is good.”

She replied, offering a “heartfelt thank you to everyone who wished me well during my recent illness”.

Mr Williamson also welcomed her back to the House and wished her the “very, very best”.

Ms Callaghan was elected to the House of Commons at the 2019 general election.

She unseated the then Liberal Democrat leader, Jo Swinson, with a narrow majority of 149 votes.

The 28-year-old was found by her partner after collapsing at home in June last year.

In October she tweeted a photograph of herself holding a crutch in the air after leaving the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow.

“I was wheeled in here. Now I’m walking out. I’m just getting started too,” she said.

Ms Callaghan has previously spoken about being diagnosed with melanoma aged 19.

Swinney agrees to publish Salmond case legal advice

The Scottish government has agreed to release key legal advice from its court battle with Alex Salmond after MSPs threatened a vote of no confidence.

Holyrood has twice voted to urge ministers to publish advice they were given after the former first minister took the government to court.

Deputy First Minister John Swinney previously argued that such legal advice should remain confidential.

But on Monday he confirmed that the advice would be released to MSPs.

The move came after all opposition parties indicated they would back a motion of no confidence in Mr Swinney if he did not comply, with the SNP government facing defeat.

The Scottish Conservatives had lodged a one-line motion and were pushing for debate on Tuesday – but said they would withdraw it if the advice was released.

Mr Swinney said he would be handing the papers over to an inquiry committee “to counter the false claims being made by some” about what advice the government had been given and when.

The row centres on legal advice that was given to the Scottish government after Mr Salmond launched judicial review proceedings in 2018 over the way harassment complaints against him had been handled.

The government ended up admitting it had acted unlawfully because its investigating officer had had prior contact with the two complainers, and had to pay the former first minister more than £500,000 in legal expenses as a result.

The Holyrood inquiry investigating the botched probe has been keen to examine exactly what advice the government was given during the row, with Mr Salmond claiming that officials were told by lawyers that it was unlikely to win the case months before actually conceding defeat.

The former SNP leader said he had “absolute reason to believe” that counsel had informed the government on 31 October 2018 that they were facing defeat – only for the case to continue into January 2019.

Mr Swinney appeared to push back on this while confirming the advice would be published, saying: “Serious allegations have been made – this material allows people to confirm that these allegations are false.”

The SNP does not have a majority at Holyrood, and what became clear today was they would lose a vote of no confidence.

With that threat hanging over the deputy first minister, the government blinked and decided to take the highly unusual step of releasing the legal advice.

This has never happened before. The Scottish government has never handed legal advice over to a parliamentary committee with the expectation it will be published.

They’re doing that because of political pressure – although they also say they are concerned that Alex Salmond’s claims have threatened the integrity of the justice system.

This is happening the day before the Lord Advocate is due to give evidence, and two days before Nicola Sturgeon is due to appear in person. This is a massive week for this inquiry.

MSPs twice voted to demand the inquiry was given access to all legal advice from the civil case.

The committee was given sight of a memo summarising key advice from the row, but continued to call for more detail – particularly after Mr Salmond’s evidence session on Friday.

On Sunday, the Conservatives said they were giving Mr Swinney 24 hours to hand over the advice or face a motion of no confidence.

And on Monday they published a motion stating that “the parliament has no confidence in the deputy first minister, in light of the government’s continued failure to publish legal advice called for in two resolutions of the parliament”.

All opposition parties backed the move, meaning the minority SNP government could have been heading for defeat – with Tory leader Douglas Ross saying the deputy first minister was “out of options – release the legal advice or lose his job”.

Mr Swinney confirmed on Monday evening that “the key legal advice that underpinned the Scottish government’s defence of the judicial review” would be released on Tuesday.

He said: “In normal circumstances, government legal advice is not released. Indeed, such is the importance of being able to get frank, private advice, it is almost unheard of for the legal advice to be released.

“But we have to acknowledge that the issues at stake now are not normal. The very integrity of the legal system is being questioned.

“Serious allegations have been made. This material allows people to confirm that these allegations are false.”

The inquiry committee is to take evidence from Lord Advocate James Wolffe – the government’s top legal advisor – on Tuesday.

Nicola Sturgeon will then follow on Wednesday, with the first minister saying she is looking forward to putting her side across.

Vauxhall: Business Secretary hopeful over car plant future

The Business Secretary has said he is “hopeful we can reach a satisfactory conclusion” over the fate of Vauxhall’s Ellesmere Port plant.

Kwasi Kwarteng told the Commons a number of meetings had taken place with Vauxhall’s parent company, Stellantis.

More than 1,000 people work at the Cheshire site – with many more in the supply chain.

The government is “100% committed to making sure those jobs stay”, Mr Kwarteng said.

Stellantis has been in talks with the government for weeks about the plant, which makes the Astra car.

Responding to an urgent question brought by former Business Secretary Greg Clark, Mr Kwarteng said he had also held a meeting with the Unite union boss Len McCluskey.

Speculation over the future of the site and its workers has been mounting since the merger of PSA and Fiat-Chrysler created a new automotive superpower.

It is thought Stellantis is seeking financial incentives to make a fully electric car at the factory. But there are fears Stellantis may close it entirely.

Stellantis bosses have also voiced concerns about the UK’s decision to bring forward a ban on new petrol and diesel cars to 2030. Its boss Carlos Tavares recently referred to the decision as “brutal” and said it might make more sense to move future electric production closer to its biggest market in the European Union (EU).

Mr Kwarteng said on Monday that he wanted to see a “successful renewed commitment” to Ellesmere Port from the company, in the way that it committed to investment at its site in Luton, where it makes vans.

Throughout the session in the Commons, a number of MPs expressed concerns over the speed of the development, and investment in, battery manufacturing sites in the UK, compared to other countries.

Greg Clark, Conservative MP for Tunbridge Wells, told the Business Secretary: “A laissez-faire approach won’t do it, neither will just general encouragement”.

He added that it requires “sleeves rolled up, and concrete action to be taken now between government and industry, just as was the case with vaccines”.

Lucy Powell, shadow minister for business, said the future of Ellesmere Port was in the government’s hands and that it would be a “tragedy” if it closed.

She argued the UK needed a world-leading gigafactory to make electric car batteries, adding: “It’s no wonder that international companies like Stellantis are looking at their long-term investments and wanting more from the government.”

Mr Kwarteng said the government was “100% committed” to having UK-based gigafactories and that conversations were taking place with local communities and leaders across the country on where they should be based.

He also pointed to the previously-announced £500m support package for the electrification of vehicles and their supply chains over the next four years.

Drag Race UK: Sister Sister reveals graphic death threats

Drag Race UK contestant Sister Sister has spoken out against the online abuse she has received since appearing on the BBC Three show.

In an essay for The Guardian, the Liverpool-based entertainer said this included “graphic” death threats.

“The toxic fandom have made themselves clear and my mental health has reached rock bottom,” she wrote.

Last week she became the seventh contestant to be eliminated from the UK version of the hit reality series.

Her departure came two weeks after an explosive argument with fellow drag queen A’Whora that sparked a wave on controversy on social media.

But the 32-year-old urged fans of the show to keep their comments in perspective.

“You don’t know the person behind the make-up, only what you are being sold,” she said.

“So, given the option of a fleeting interaction with somebody who provides increasingly needed entertainment during lockdown, why make it negative?” she asked.

She added: “It’s not so much the individual messages that have an impact – it’s the emotional toll on the recipient when they come in en masse. It’s a wall of hate.

“Without going into too much detail, one [post] that came from a blank profile described in graphic detail how they would like to see me die.

“What has to change in order for people to take their own online behaviour seriously?” she asked.

“Do we need yet another tragic reminder that people can be ground down over time? I really hope not.”

“I always considered myself a self-sufficient, robust Scouser but it seems even I have my limits.”

Discussing her experience on BBC Radio 5 Live on Monday, Sister Sister urged people to be more considerate online – particularly given the impact of the pandemic.

“The new normal is that we’re all talking online, so we have to really consider… how does this sound?,” she told host Naga Munchetty.

“The other person on the receiving end of this, what are they going to actually hear?

“We’re not talking in bars, we’re not exchanging face-to-face conversations, so a lot of the tweets we’re putting out are the equivalent of you just shouting one really solid opinion in someone’s face”.

Since detailing her experience in The Guardian, numerous Drag Race stars have come out in support of Sister Sister, including Baga Chipz, BOA, Blu Hydrangea, Bimini Bon Boulash and Tayce.

The RuPaul’s Drag Race franchise, which rose to prominence in the US before the UK version launched in 2019, has a troubled history with online abuse.

Drag queens Asia O’Hara and Silky Nutmeg Ganache are among a number of former US contestants to have also revealed death threats.

Speaking to Gay Times in 2019, O’Hara said: “I think that the people who are in a position to influence should take some responsibility. These people have the power to influence a large number of people and they need to take that seriously.

“Those who are not affected by it are the ones who should be made accountable for the people who follow them spouting this negativity.”

Earlier this year, World of Wonder, the production company behind the franchise, ran a social media campaign promoting digital kindness with statements including “kindness is cool”.

Love Island: South Africas reality show is too white

As the Love Island reality TV franchise launches in South Africa, the show has come under fire from viewers who say it fails to reflect the racial make-up of the majority-black nation.

South African media say just two contestants are black, and two are coloured – the official term for mixed-race people in the country.

The other six housemates are white.

In all, 10 contestants are vying to win the series and take home 1 million rand ($66,200; £47,500).

A spokesman said more contestants would be arriving in the next few days who would reflect South Africa’s diversity.

The reality TV series, which began in the UK before spin-offs launched elsewhere in the world, sees a group of men and women living in a villa isolated from the outside world. They couple up and take part in challenges to win the support of the voting public and ultimately compete for the cash prize.

Participants are catapulted into the limelight, and there has been criticism in recent years that Love Island has failed to adequately support contestants’ mental health, while black contestants have spoken out about experiencing racism.

Love Island says it has taken steps to address these issues. And in a first, a black couple won the US edition last year.

Yet many viewers in South Africa are disappointed with the programme’s debut in their country.

“Wow so much diversity. This is a true representation of what I thought SA looks like,” was one sarcastic reaction.

According to a 2011 census at least 76% of South Africa’s population is black, 9% is white, 9.1% is coloured and 8.9% is Indian.

“There aren’t any Indian people on [Love Island SA], the one time we’re thankful for not being represented,” said Twitter user @joekhan360.

Yet another person complained that the ethnic breakdown of the group could mean there will be no mixed couples, in a country known for its fraught racial politics that persist 27 years after the end of white-minority rule:

Respected news site IOL however says some of the criticism may be “over the top”, and points out that the Love Island format brings in new cast members as the series goes on. “Indeed, as the show progresses, it’s likely that the show will become more diverse,” IOL reports.

Love Island SA’s distributor DStv told the BBC this was indeed the case, adding: “We pride ourselves in reflecting diversity and inclusion for all our shows, including Love Island.

“Viewers can be assured that this will become more apparent in future episodes of Love Island SA. We hope viewers will keep watching to enjoy the new stars of the show who will be arriving over the next few days.”

DStv’s spokesman also apologised for “technical issues” that saw poor image and sound quality and which they are “working really hard to resolve”.

Barnsley: Girl, five, injured during police pursuit

A five-year-old girl was seriously hurt when the car she was in was hit by another car being followed by police.

The child was in the back seat of a Range Rover Evoque which was involved in a collision with a Citroen C3 on Fish Dam Lane in Barnsley on Sunday.

The Citroen driver, a 29-year-old man, was also seriously injured and arrested on suspicion of burglary and causing injury by dangerous driving.

The girl was still in hospital on Monday, South Yorkshire Police said.

The Range Rover driver, a 32-year-old man, and the passenger, a 32-year-old woman, were also taken to hospital with minor injuries.

More Yorkshire stories

South Yorkshire Police said the incident began at 12:35 GMT on Sunday when an officer in a marked police car spotted a vehicle with a smashed windscreen in the Athersley North area of Barnsley.

“The vehicle, a blue Citroen C3, is believed to have become aware of the police presence and drove off, with the police vehicle following,” a force spokesman said.

The Citroen was later found to have been stolen during a burglary in Barnsley, police said.

The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) has been notified.

Exeter WW2 bomb: Doors and windows blown though

Properties in Exeter are being assessed for structural damage after the controlled detonation of a World War Two bomb.

A structural engineer said doors and windows of nearby houses had been “blown through” by the blast.

Hundreds of people evacuated from the area on Friday spent a third night away from home.

The 2,200lb (1,000kg) German bomb was discovered on an allotment due for development and blown up on Saturday.

People living within 100m (330ft) of the device must continue to stay in temporary accommodation, said police.

Others whose homes are within the wider 400m (1,310ft) cordon were allowed back on Sunday night.

Structural engineer Matthew Cridge said the blast had left a crater so big “you could easily park three 3 double decker buses in there”.

Mr Cridge, who has been inspecting nearly university accommodation, said a row of houses opposite the site “had their windows and doors blown through” and “some damage to the roofs”.

“They were not as badly damaged as I was expecting so I would say the Army has done a really great job of controlling that force of the explosion,” he said.

Reinforced sandbags were used to direct the force of the blast upwards, he said.

“Buildings around it were completely covered in this grey sand,” he said.

“It was incredibly eerie.

“If there was a gust of wind you could hear the noise of the sand falling from the trees.

“I have never seen anything like this, and I’m not sure I’ll get to see it again.”

Major Chris Hunter, a former British Army bomb disposal officer, said: “They tried to mitigate the blast as best they could.

“I’m not sure I would have done anything differently.

“I have the deepest sympathy for the people who have been affected and I am sure the bomb technicians and the police would also have tremendous sympathy for them.

“But I think they did everything they possibly could do.”

Debris had been thrown at least 250m (820ft) away, said police.

Supt Antony Hart said there had been “extensive” safety measures in place and there had been no reports of injuries.

“People’s safety is paramount,” he said after a report that a child was nearly hit by flying metal after the explosion.

The bomb was found on Friday morning by builders on private land next to the University of Exeter’s Streatham campus and about 1,400 students were among the evacuees.

Bomb disposal teams destroyed the device in a 400-tonne “box” of sand just before 18:15 GMT on Saturday in an explosion heard up to five miles (8km) away.

The majority of residents who were evacuated on Saturday stayed with friends and family.

Students in private accommodation “should follow instructions from local authorities”, said the university.

It expected all academic buildings on campus to be open on Monday.

The city was heavily attacked by German bombers in 19 raids during World War Two, which saw more than 7,000 devices dropped, particularly in May 1942 during the Baedecker Raids.

Possible Banksy artwork appears on Reading prison wall

An artwork bearing the hallmarks of street artist Banksy has appeared on the side of Reading Prison overnight.

The picture shows a prisoner – possibly resembling famous inmate Oscar Wilde – escaping on a rope made of bedsheets tied to a typewriter.

Campaigners have been fighting to see the former jail turned into an arts hub rather than sold off for housing.

The “guerrilla artist” has not yet claimed the work but an expert said it did “appear to be a new Banksy”.

The jail famously housed Wilde between 1895 and 1897 and was immortalised by his poem Ballad of Reading Gaol during his stay, which reflected on the brutality of the Victorian penal system.

He was convicted after his affair with Lord Alfred Douglas was exposed.

It has been derelict since 2013 and was put up for sale by the government in 2019.

However, a deal to sell the Grade II-listed building to developers fell through last year and Reading council said it hoped to revive its bid to turn it into an arts complex.

Hollywood actors Sir Kenneth Branagh, Natalie Dormer and Dame Judi Dench are among the stars who have lent their support to the campaign.

Vince John, from the 1loveart gallery in Bristol, which sells urban and street art, said: “It appears to be a new Banksy at Reading jail or should I say gaol… I believe the piece is in reference to Oscar Wilde.”

He added: “I believe this is an example of Banksy’s street work at its best, being both humorous and politically poignant. A great piece of work and a brilliant social commentary.”

The art curator believes it could be a “nod of encouragement for the use of the building as a cultural and arts centre… now it has its crowd-puller and star exhibit to get things moving in the right direction”.

Toby Davies, artistic director of Reading-based Rabble Theatre, said if it is genuine “it’s amazing that Banksy has recognised the cultural significance of Reading’s extraordinary gaol”.

He added: “In the right hands, this gaol will evolve Reading into an internationally recognised historical and cultural destination, built on the values of acceptance and diversity.

“Dare I say it, it looks like Banksy agrees.”

Reading residents have been checking out the new addition to the prison’s wall.

Marcus Edgar said he thought the artwork was a great way of raising awareness and “keeping that campaign alive and not selling it off to some developer”.

Eloise Wylie added: “If it is real then that’s really good. It’s quite significant and really nice to support that campaign.”