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Recovery teams sift through Beirut rubble for more bodies
Rescue teams were still searching the rubble of Beirut’s port for bodies, nearly three days after a massive explosion sent a wave of destruction through Lebanon’s capital, killing nearly 150 people and wounding thousands.
At least three more bodies have been recovered in the last 24 hours, bringing the death toll to 149, according to authorities.

The blast shredded a large grain silo, devastated neighbourhoods near the port and left several city blocks littered with glass and rubble.

French and Russian rescue teams with dogs were searching the port area on Friday, the day after French President Emmanuel Macron paid a visit to the site, promising aid and vowing to press for reforms by Lebanon’s long-entrenched political leaders.

The blast was apparently caused by the ignition of 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate, a chemical used for explosives and fertiliser, that had been stored at the port since it was confiscated from an impounded cargo ship in 2013.

The government has launched an investigation as it has come under mounting criticism, with many Lebanese blaming the catastrophe on negligence and corruption.

Search and rescue teams have been sent from several countries to help locate survivors of the blast.

Among those located in the rubble near the grain silo was Joe Akiki, a 23-year-old port worker who had been missing since the explosion.

Dozens of people are still missing.

Some 300,000 people, more than 12% of Beirut’s population, are unable to return to their homes because of the explosion, which blew out doors and windows across the city and left many buildings uninhabitable.

Officials have estimated losses at 10 billion to 15 billion US dollars.

Damaged hospitals, already strained by the coronavirus pandemic, are still struggling to deal with the wounded.

The investigation is focusing on port and customs officials, with 16 employees detained and others questioned.

But many Lebanese say it points to much greater rot that permeates the political system and extends to the country’s top leadership.

For decades, Lebanon has been dominated by the same political elites, many of them former warlords and militia commanders from the 1975-1990 civil war.

The ruling factions use public institutions to accumulate wealth and distribute patronage to supporters.

Thirty years after the end of the civil war, power outages are still frequent, trash often goes uncollected and tap water is largely undrinkable.

Even before the blast, the country was mired in a severe economic crisis that was also widely blamed on the political class.

Unemployment was soaring, and a collapse of the local currency wiped out many people’s savings.

That will make the task of rebuilding after the blast even more daunting.

Published: 07/08/2020 by Radio NewsHub

CBI demands improvements in handling of local lockdowns
Ministers have been told that businesses want better communication, extra support and improved coronavirus test and trace services to help cope with the impact of local lockdowns.
The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) called for more clarity on what will trigger a lockdown and the improvements needed for one to be lifted.

Calling for a “no surprises” approach, the leading business organisation said firms’ reaction to the Government’s handling of local lockdowns so far had been “mixed at best”.

The CBI said any local restrictions should be set out during working hours, following criticism of Matt Hancock’s late-night announcement of restrictions on Greater Manchester and parts of West Yorkshire.

With firms already suffering because of the impact of coronavirus, the CBI warned that it was vital that further local lockdowns are handled properly because “business resilience is lower than it has ever been, with cash and stockpiles run down”.

The CBI’s six-point plan suggested:

– Increasing the visibility and awareness of the data trigger points used in making decisions to impose and lift restrictions, to help communities and businesses prepare.

-Timing announcements during working hours to minimise confusion and allow employers to engage with their staff quickly.

– Improving the clarity of the messages, saying what people can do as well as changes to what they can’t do, with maps setting out the affected areas.

– Identifying who is in charge of the lockdown and have a “go to” person for businesses to both access and provide information.

– Stepping up test and trace efforts, as developing a fully functioning system will lessen the likelihood of new restrictions in local areas being necessary.

– Setting up a framework for business support which could include help for firms struggling with staff absences due to self-isolation rules and a clear mechanism to channelling funds quickly through local authorities.

CBI UK’s chief policy director Matthew Fell said: “Local lockdowns are a crucial piece of the puzzle in how we manage the risk of infection and reopening the economy safely, so we must get good at them.

“The Government rightly needs to act fast on new information, so there will be limited notice, but we must aim for a ‘no surprises’ approach as far as possible.

“It would be fair to say that the local business reaction has been mixed at best on how they have gone so far.

“Not all restrictions are one-size-fits-all, as we have seen from the full lockdown in Leicester and the household-based restrictions in Greater Manchester, West Yorkshire and elsewhere.

“Each will have their own impact on businesses directly and indirectly, so we must get the building blocks in place to protect jobs, as well as lives.

“We are learning all the time, and now have more tools in our armoury to combat infection risks.

“But at the same time business resilience is lower than it has ever been, with cash and stockpiles run down.

“So we must get this right.”

Published: 07/08/2020 by Radio NewsHub

CBI demands improvements in handling of local lockdowns
Ministers have been told that businesses want better communication, extra support and improved coronavirus test and trace services to help cope with the impact of local lockdowns.
The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) called for more clarity on what will trigger a lockdown and the improvements needed for one to be lifted.

Calling for a “no surprises” approach, the leading business organisation said firms’ reaction to the Government’s handling of local lockdowns so far had been “mixed at best”.

The CBI said any local restrictions should be set out during working hours, following criticism of Matt Hancock’s late-night announcement of restrictions on Greater Manchester and parts of West Yorkshire.

With firms already suffering because of the impact of coronavirus, the CBI warned that it was vital that further local lockdowns are handled properly because “business resilience is lower than it has ever been, with cash and stockpiles run down”.

The CBI’s six-point plan suggested:

– Increasing the visibility and awareness of the data trigger points used in making decisions to impose and lift restrictions, to help communities and businesses prepare.

-Timing announcements during working hours to minimise confusion and allow employers to engage with their staff quickly.

– Improving the clarity of the messages, saying what people can do as well as changes to what they can’t do, with maps setting out the affected areas.

– Identifying who is in charge of the lockdown and have a “go to” person for businesses to both access and provide information.

– Stepping up test and trace efforts, as developing a fully functioning system will lessen the likelihood of new restrictions in local areas being necessary.

– Setting up a framework for business support which could include help for firms struggling with staff absences due to self-isolation rules and a clear mechanism to channelling funds quickly through local authorities.

CBI UK’s chief policy director Matthew Fell said: “Local lockdowns are a crucial piece of the puzzle in how we manage the risk of infection and reopening the economy safely, so we must get good at them.

“The Government rightly needs to act fast on new information, so there will be limited notice, but we must aim for a ‘no surprises’ approach as far as possible.

“It would be fair to say that the local business reaction has been mixed at best on how they have gone so far.

“Not all restrictions are one-size-fits-all, as we have seen from the full lockdown in Leicester and the household-based restrictions in Greater Manchester, West Yorkshire and elsewhere.

“Each will have their own impact on businesses directly and indirectly, so we must get the building blocks in place to protect jobs, as well as lives.

“We are learning all the time, and now have more tools in our armoury to combat infection risks.

“But at the same time business resilience is lower than it has ever been, with cash and stockpiles run down.

“So we must get this right.”

Published: 07/08/2020 by Radio NewsHub

Energy bills set to drop by up to £95 as Ofgem cuts price cap
Ofgem has said it will slash bills for around 15 million households by as much as £95 as the regulator reduced its cap on energy bills to their lowest level yet.
Officials said the new cap would pass on savings from lower energy prices to many households that are suffering economic hardship during the pandemic.

The price cap has been set at £1,042 per year for an average household and will come into force from October 1, Ofgem said.

It is an £84 drop for customers on their supplier’s standard tariff and a £95 drop for those with prepayment meters.

The new cap will remain in place for six months until Ofgem reviews it again.

Ofgem also said it would recommend that business secretary Alok Sharma should extend the price cap into next year.

“Millions of households, many of whom face financial hardship due to the Covid-19 crisis, will see big savings on their energy bills this winter when the level of the cap is reduced,” said Ofgem chief executive Jonathan Brearley.

“They can also reduce their energy bills further by shopping around for a better deal. Ofgem will continue to protect consumers in the difficult months ahead as we work with industry and government to build a greener, fairer energy market.”

The cost for energy suppliers to buy gas and electricity has dropped significantly since the start of the year. As large parts of the global economy has closed down during the pandemic, demand for energy has reduced – making it cheaper to buy.

But Ofgem warned gas prices have recovered from their 20-year lows this spring, and if the cost of gas continues to rise, the regulator will likely increase the cap in April.

Suppliers are not allowed to charge above the cap but they can offer cheaper deals for savvy customers.

Ed Dodman, director of regulatory affairs at the Energy Ombudsman, said: “This reduction in the price cap represents a much-needed financial boost for millions of households, at a time when many people are struggling due to the economic impact of Covid-19 and lockdown.

“Shopping around for a cheaper energy deal is still the best way to save money, particularly for customers on standard variable tariffs, but before switching to a new supplier it’s a good idea to check out its customer service credentials.”

Emma Pinchbeck, chief executive of supplier trade body Energy UK, said: “Today’s announcement reflects another significant fall in wholesale costs since Ofgem set the current price cap. Most of the average bill is made up of costs outside suppliers’ direct control and buying energy accounts for the biggest share of these.

Published: 07/08/2020 by Radio NewsHub

Thousands of students across the county are preparing to receive their A-level and GCSE results. On Thursday 13 August, students who were due to sit A-levels this summer will receive a calculated grade due to the closure of schools and cancelled exams. Those who were due to sit GCSE exams will receive them a week later […]

Bank of England expects economic downturn to be less severe than feared
The Bank of England has said it expects the downturn in the UK economy to be less severe than first feared, but could take longer to recover than previously predicted.

It also said that the UK economy shrank by more than 20% in the first half of the year after being hammered by the coronavirus pandemic.

The bank improved its “indicative projection” for growth in the economy, forecasting that GDP will shrink by 9.5% this year, following Government action aimed at protecting the economy.

In May, the central bank had warned that GDP could slump by 14% this year.

However, it also warned that it does not expect the economy to jump back to pre-virus levels until “the end of 2021”.

It had previously said it thought GDP may recover to its pre-virus size by the second quarter of 2021.

The bank revealed its forecasts as it held interest rates at 0.1% after its nine-strong Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) voted unanimously.

The central bank also said it will maintain its current quantitative easing programme at £745 billion.

It also forecast that unemployment will jump, with the rate at 7.5% at the end of 2020, before gradually declining from the start of next year.

A consensus of analysts had said they expected rates to be held, while quantitative easing plans were also expected to remain unchanged.

Rates have already been slashed twice, from 0.75%, since mid-March as part of the Bank’s measures to try and keep the economy afloat.

The value of the pound picked up against the dollar after traders welcomed the decision to hold rates.

Fiona Cincotta, analyst at Gain Capital, said: “The Bank of England was considerably more upbeat about the recovery than had been expected.

“Upwardly revised growth forecasts, a more rapid recovery than initially feared and no tilting towards negative rates at this time has sent sterling surging towards 1.32 US dollars.”

Published: 06/08/2020 by Radio NewsHub

Alexis Sanchez exit agreed but Ole Gunnar Solskjaer tight-lipped on Jadon Sancho
Alexis Sanchez’s dreadful stint as a Manchester United player will come to an end on Thursday when the forward’s permanent switch to Inter Milan is confirmed.
The 31-year-old has got nowhere near justifying his eye-watering wages since arriving from Arsenal to much fanfare in January 2018 in a deal that saw Henrikh Mkhitaryan go the other way.

Sanchez managed five goals in 45 appearances for United and has spent the season on loan at Inter, who he came on for on Wednesday night as they beat Getafe 2-0 in their Europa League last-16 clash.

Inter chief executive Giuseppe Marotta revealed before the match that they would announce the Chile international’s arrival on Thursday – something United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer confirmed after his side beat LASK 2-1 to progress 7-1 on aggregate.

“We’ll announce it tomorrow, so I can confirm that he’s agreed and we’ve agreed,” he said. “Alexis enjoyed his time there. They’ve liked him so of course that’s a good move for him.

“Wish him all the best. He’s a top player that we want to see play his best football. For whatever reason, we didn’t see the best of Alexis but he’s a top professional and we just wish him all the best.”

While the Sanchez situation will come to an end on Thursday, United’s pursuit of Jadon Sancho shows little sign of being concluded anytime soon.

Asked how difficult the deal will be to sign the England forward from Borussia Dortmund, Solskjaer said: “Well, we’re looking into all transfers differently. I’m not going to speak about individuals that are not our players.

“I’ve got no news, no update. We’ll update you if something happens.”

Solskjaer was speaking after United set-up a Europa League quarter-final clash with Copenhagen in Cologne this Monday.

Five months after scoring five in Austria, substitute Anthony Martial wrapped up a 2-1 comeback victory on a night when Philipp Wiesinger’s stunner had put LASK ahead.

Jesse Lingard quickly cancelled that goal out and admitted afterwards he was frustrated to be taken off as he wanted to add to his two goals in as many games.

Asked if the attacking midfielder has a future beyond this final few weeks of the season, Solskjaer said: “Every player, when you get your chance in a game or even in training, you’ve got a chance to prove yourself, prove your worth.

“I’ve known Jesse since he was a little kid and I know there’s a good player and a great personality to have around.

“He knows what we want from him and he knows he has to stand by the manager whatever decision he makes. I would be disappointed if he was happy coming off.

“He’s growing in confidence. He’s worked really hard on his finishing, especially lately, and I’m happy for him to score.”

Published: 06/08/2020 by Radio NewsHub

Uber to connect passengers with local drivers in areas it does not serve
Uber to connect passengers with local drivers in areas it does not serve
The service will be possible due to the company’s agreement to acquire tech firm Autocab, which provides operators with software to run their business.

Users will still pay for their journey through the app.

Uber said hundreds of thousands of people open the app each month in places where they cannot request a ride.

These locations include Oxford (an average of 67,000 app opens per month), Doncaster (24,000), Swansea (18,000) and Aberdeen (17,000).

Jamie Heywood, Uber’s regional general manager for northern and eastern Europe, said: “Autocab has worked successfully with taxi and private hire operators around the world for more than 30 years and Uber has a lot to learn from their experience.

“We look forward to working with the Autocab team to help local operators grow and provide drivers with genuine earnings opportunities.”

Autocab chief executive Safa Alkatab said: “Autocab has been working with local operators across the world to provide the technology to make them more efficient and open up a marketplace to provide more trips.

“Working with Uber we can scale up our ambitions, providing hundreds of thousands of additional trips for our customers, and help cement the place of licensed operators in their local community.”

Uber said Autocab will “remain independent” following the acquisition and will maintain its own board.

Published: 06/08/2020 by Radio NewsHub

Row over Government’s drive to cut planning red tape
Sweeping reforms to the planning system will cut red tape and speed up house building, ministers said amid warnings they could lead to a new generation of slums and ignore local concerns.
Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick said the major overhaul of planning policy in England would protect green spaces while making it easier to build on brownfield sites.

But Labour branded the move a “developers’ charter”, while the Campaign to Protect Rural England said it was not clear how much local involvement there would be under the proposed system.

Despite the Government’s insistence that the moves would create tree-lined streets and promote “beautiful” buildings, the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) said there was “every chance they could also lead to the creation of the next generation of slum housing”.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his senior aide Dominic Cummings have both advocated reform to the system and the proposals in the Planning for the Future White Paper published on Thursday set out the Government’s vision.

Part of the new process will involve quicker development on land which has been designated “for renewal”, with a “permission in principle” approach that the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) said will balance the need for proper checks with a speedier way of working.

The other two categories will see land designated for growth where new homes, hospitals and schools will be allowed automatically to empower development, while areas of outstanding natural beauty and the green belt will come under the protection category.

Mr Jenrick said it takes seven years to agree local housing plans and five years just to get a spade in the ground, and the proposed changes aim to speed up the process.

He added: “These once-in-a-generation reforms will lay the foundations for a brighter future, providing more homes for young people and creating better quality neighbourhoods and homes across the country.

“We will cut red tape, but not standards, placing a higher regard on quality, design and the environment than ever before.”

It also aims to boost the share of houses built by small and medium-sized building firms, which built 40% of new homes 30 years ago but only 12% today.

The White Paper proposes that all new streets should be tree-lined and the MHCLG also says “all new homes to be carbon neutral by 2050, with no new homes delivered under the new system needed to be retrofitted”.

Councils will also be forced to lay out a “local plan” of where new homes can be built, as only 50% have such schemes in place.

The reforms aim to reduce the number of planning cases that get overturned at appeal by creating a “clearer, rules-based system”.

A new national levy would replace the current system of developer contributions and “beautiful buildings” will be fast-tracked through the planning system.

But RIBA President, Alan Jones, said: “While there’s no doubt the planning system needs reform, these shameful proposals do almost nothing to guarantee the delivery of affordable, well-designed and sustainable homes.

“While they might help to ‘get Britain building’ – paired with the extension of permitted development – there’s every chance they could also lead to the creation of the next generation of slum housing.”

Shadow housing minister Mike Amesbury said: “This is a developer’s charter that will see communities sidelined in decisions and denied vital funding for building schools, clinics and community infrastructure.”

Tom Fyans, deputy chief executive of CPRE (Campaign to Protect Rural England), said: “The key acid test for the planning reforms is community involvement, and on first reading it’s still not clear how this will work under a zoning system.”

The Local Government Association’s chairman James Jamieson said nine in 10 applications are approved by councils with more than a million homes given planning permission over the last decade yet to be built and the system should focus on that.

“Any loss of local control over developments would be a concern,” the Tory council chief warned.

Kate Henderson, chief executive of the National Housing Federation, said the Government was proposing to scrap Section 106 agreements which can be used to require private developers to build a certain amount of social homes on a site.

“Any alternative to Section 106 must ensure we can deliver more high quality affordable homes to meet the huge demand across the country,” she said.

But Matthew Fell, CBI chief UK policy director, said the reforms “will allow housebuilders to get to work”.

And the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors welcomed the moves as a “big step in the right direction”.

There were concerns about the environmental measures contained within the proposals.

Nikki Williams, director of campaigning and policy at The Wildlife Trusts, said tree-lined streets are not enough.

She added: “Parks, green spaces and all the areas around our homes must be part of a wild network of nature-rich areas that will benefit bees and birds as much as it will enable people to connect with on-your-doorstep nature every single day.”

John Alker, director of policy and places at the UK Green Building Council, said they were “deeply concerned” by the 2050 target for carbon neutral homes.

“All new homes must rather be net zero carbon in operation by 2030 at the latest, in order to meet our national net zero target,” he said.

Published: 06/08/2020 by Radio NewsHub

Family of PC Andrew Harper campaign for tougher sentences for police killers
The mother and widow of PC Andrew Harper have launched campaigns for tougher punishments for those who kill police officers.
Debbie Adlam told the PA news agency that “something needs to change” after those responsible for her son’s death were handed 16-year and 13-year sentences at the Old Bailey on Friday.

She is calling for a minimum term of 20 years for anyone who takes an officer’s life, with no chance of parole during that time.

Pc Harper’s widow, Lissie Harper, has launched her own campaign, backed by the Police Federation of England and Wales, for full-life prison terms for those who kill emergency services workers.

The 28-year-old Thames Valley Police officer died as he tried to stop three thieves fleeing after they stole a quad bike in Stanford Dingley, Berkshire, on August 15 last year.

Henry Long, 19, and 18-year-olds Jessie Cole and Albert Bowers were sentenced for the newlywed’s manslaughter.

Pc Harper was caught in a crane strap dangling from the back of a Seat Toledo driven by Long, and dragged to his death.

Launching her campaign on Wednesday, Mrs Adlam told PA: “We’ve come to realise that, with the outcome of the trial as it stands, something needs to change.

“He is worth much more than this and we’ve been thinking for some time that something needs to be brought in to protect our police officers.

“There’s nobody looking out for them and we aim to change that.”

Mrs Adlam added: “We’re looking to bring in a minimum term – 20 years. No parole, no reductions.”

On Tuesday, the Attorney General’s Office confirmed that it has been asked to consider if the jail terms handed to Pc Harper’s killers are too lenient.

Long, of College Piece in Mortimer, was sentenced to 16 years, while Cole, from Paices Hill, Aldermaston, Reading, and Bowers, of Windmill Corner, Mortimer Common, Reading, were each handed 13-year terms.

Currently defendants under the age of 21 receive lower sentences, but Mrs Adlam believes this should end.

“As far as their age and the reductions go, my personal thoughts are there is no sense whatsoever in being 18 or 19 and getting time off your sentence.

“My gut turns when I think about that because you can change your gender, you can get a mortgage, you can serve in the Army, and the thing that really bugs me is you can be on a jury – yet you are not treated as an adult until you’re 21 in the judicial system.

“That can’t be right.”

Mrs Harper is also campaigning for tougher penalties in a move backed by the Police Federation, which represents more than 120,000 officers up to the rank of chief inspector.

She said: “As a widow of a police officer – a title which I would give everything to not have – I have witnessed first-hand the lenient and insufficient way in which the justice system deals with criminals who take the lives of our emergency workers.

“The people responsible for wreaking utter despair and grief in all of our lives will spend an inadequate amount of time behind bars.

“These men who showed no remorse, no guilt or sorrow for taking such an innocent and heroic life away will find themselves able to live out the rest of their lives free and able to commit more crimes and continue to put people in danger when they are released in a very small number of years.”

Mrs Harper is due to meet Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Home Secretary Priti Patel in the coming weeks.

Since 2015, the starting point for a judge sentencing an adult over the age of 21 who has been convicted of murdering a police or prison officer is a whole life sentence.

The judge then takes aggravating and mitigating factors into account before either passing a life sentence with a minimum jail term, or a whole life order.

A Ministry of Justice source said that the Justice Secretary will set out his proposals for sentencing reform later this year, adding: “No stone will be left unturned and we will look at everything from community orders up to sentences for serious violent crime.”

Published: 06/08/2020 by Radio NewsHub


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