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Rail strikes cost UK £1bn as minister admits settling dispute would have cost less

It would have been cheaper to have agreed to pay deals for rail workers.

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A minister has admitted that it would have been cheaper to settle a dispute with unions over pay and working conditions for rail workers months ago, after it has been revealed that the rail strikes have cost the UK economy more than £1bn.

Though rail minister Huw Merriman said the need to reform the working practices made the stand off necessary, as he spoke to MPs on the transport select committee on Wednesday, saying the government had not ‘torpedoed’ a deal nor ‘interfered in a negative manner’.

Merriman cited a study which says that from June to December, the cost to the wider economy was £700m, with strikes costing the UK rail industry £25m a day through the week and £15m a day on a weekend.

To which, Labour MP Ben Bradshaw asked whether it ‘would easily be enough money to have solved this dispute months ago?’

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Merriman replied: “If you look at it in that particular lens, then absolutely, it’s actually ended up costing more than would have been the case if it was just settled.

“It’s the reforms that will actually pay for these pay deals and also make the railway more efficient in the long run as well.”

RMT general secretary, Mick Lynch, said the government had: “admitted that prolonging the rail dispute was part of a deliberate strategy dictated by the government’s concern to keep down the pay of rail workers, nurses, ambulance workers and teachers.

“The wider economy and the business interests who relied on pre-Christmas trade were just collateral damage in that policy.”

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Louise Haigh MP, Labour shadow transport secretary, said the government had now ‘openly admitted that their posturing and failure to take responsibility, has cost the taxpayer dear’.

Merriman has said that he is really hopeful to come to a deal with the RMT soon, with further talks to take place this week. On Monday, Train drivers led by Aslef called for further strikes for February 1st and 2nd, but the rail minister said he was ‘encouraged’ that the union said it is open to talks.

When questioned  on the ‘current chaos’ happening to northern rail services, Merriman quoted figures from Transport for the North saying that failing connections were costing the Manchester economy alone £8m a week, adding: “It breaks my heart to see the performance so poor, because we’re letting people down.”

Further strikes are expected, following the five days already in 2023, with two more walkouts planned for February 1st and 3rd by the ASLEF union and the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport workers.

 

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Wetherspoons to close pubs across UK with CEO blaming ‘people drinking at home’

CEO Tim Martin has said the closures are down to people opting to ‘drink at home’.

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Wetherspoons has announced a number of closures of its low budget pubs across the UK and is looking to sell more off.

Low-cost pub chain JD Wetherspoon, owned by Tim Martin, has announced plans to close 11 of its pubs due to spiralling costs and are putting 35 more up for sale. The moves comes after the high street chain suffered a huge £30m loss and has described the plans as a ‘commercial decision’.

Chairman Mr Martin has said the closures are down to people opting to ‘drink at home’, especially after the Covid lockdowns.

The hospitality chain said like-for-like sales surged by nearly 18% over the last three months of 2022, when compared with the same period in 2021. However, sales still remained 2% lower than the equivalent pre-pandemic period in 2019.

 

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Mr Martin, told the PA News Agency: “The aftermath of the pandemic and lockdown restrictions have been far more difficult than anyone thought.

“That is the picture for the whole pub and restaurant industry. People thought that after lockdown there would be a boom in people suffering from cabin fever but, instead, it has almost been the opposite situation as people have got in the habit of staying in.

“That’s the big thing that means sales are down on 2019. Things are improving now but it’s slow.”

Is your Wetherspoons local at risk of closure? Here’s the full list of pubs which have been sold and are up for sale.

Pubs which have been sold:

  • Harvest Moon, Orpington
  • Alexander Bain, Wick
  • Chapel an Gansblydhen, Bodmin
  • Moon on the Square, Basildon
  • Coal Orchard, Taunton
  • Running Horse, Airside Doncaster Airport
  • Wild Rose, Bootle
  • Edmund Halley, Lee Green
  • The Willow Grove, Southport
  • Postal Order, Worcester
  • North and South Wales Bank, Wrexham

Pubs still up for sale:

  • The Butlers Bell, Stafford
  • Worlds Inn, Romford
  • Silkstone Inn, Barnsley
  • Wrong ‘Un, Bexleyheath
  • The Percy Shaw, Halifax
  • Jolly Sailor, Hanham
  • The Alfred Herring, Palmers Green
  • The Moon & Bell, Loughborough
  • The Widow Frost, Mansfield
  • Resolution, Middlesbrough
  • Foxley Hatch, Purley
  • The Rising Sun, Redditch
  • Sennockian, Sevenoaks
  • Admiral Sir Lucius Curtis, Southampton
  • The Colombia Press, Watford
  • The Malthouse, Willenhall
  • The John Masefield, New Ferry
  • The Crosse Keys, Peebles
  • Lord Arthur Lee, Fareham
  • The Saltoun Inn, Fraserburgh
  • General Sir Redvers Buller, Crediton
  • Plough & Harrow, Hammersmith
  • Thomas Leaper, Derby
  • Cliftonville, Hove
  • Tollgate, Turnpike Lane
  • Asparagus, Battersea
  • Millers Well, East Ham
  • Hudson Bay, Forest Gate
  • Angel, Islington
  • The Billiard Hall, West Bromwich
  • Capitol, Forest Hill
  • The Bankers Draft, Eltham
  • Moon on the Hill, Harrow
  • The Bank House, Cheltenham
  • Last Post, Loughton

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Son of woman who died of hypothermia because she ‘couldn’t afford heating’ speaks out

He assured his mother not to worry about the bills and that he would help her to pay them.

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The son of a woman who died of hypothermia after saying that she couldn’t afford to put her heating on has spoken about his tragic loss.

Mark Bolton, 61, assured his mother not to worry about the bills and that he would help her to pay them, but she had refused his offer. Barbara Bolton, 87, told her relatives that she felt cold when they visited her home on Dawson Street, in Bury.

She was rushed to Fairfield general Hospital where she was diagnosed with hypothermia and also had a chest infection. Despite the efforts of doctors and medical staff around her, Barbara’s condition deteriorated and sadly, she passed away on January 5th, just a number of weeks after she was admitted.

Mark said he spoke to his mum every night and that she worried about her heating bills, despite his assurances he would cover the costs, telling The Mirror: “She was concerned about all her bills because she was a pensioner.

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“She was careful, she was mindful of the prices and worried about them going up. But she was very stubborn and proud about paying her own way.”

Barbara was found sitting in her kitchen by one of her grandchildren when they went round because they couldn’t get hold of her, when she said that she ‘felt cold’.

Police coroner’s officer, Jane Scullion, told the hearing: “Barbara was admitted to hospital on December 11th 2022, with hypothermia, and a chest infection.

“During that time she continued to deteriorate. After a discussion, she was placed on end-of-life care and passed away.”

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Assistant coroner for Manchester North, Julie Mitchel, adjourned the inquest and requested statements from her doctor, and also asked for a medical cause of death to be provided.

She said: “Her death was particularly accelerated by hypothermia and there is a possibility of self-neglect due to the lack of heating so her death has been referred to the coroner.”

Barbara’s neighbours said they were ‘shocked’ and ‘saddened’ upon the news of her death, and said she had lived there for several decades.

One man said: “I think Barbara must have lived here about 50 years. I know that she was working at the chemist in Tesco until fairly recently. It’s so sad.”

And a woman said: “I hadn’t seen her in a few weeks. It’s so sad. She was a really nice woman and lived here for years but more recently kept herself to herself.”

A full inquest, which will explore the circumstances which led to Barbara’s death, will take place at Rochdale Coroners’ Court later this year.

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Police issue warning to anyone heading to the Trafford Centre this weekend

Police have a warning for visitors of the Trafford Centre travelling by car.

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Police say they have noticed an increase in the number of vehicles being stolen, particularly from the Trafford Centre.

Thieves are using signal jammers and scanning devices to steal customer’s cars using the Trafford Centre car park. Among the cars being targeted are Land Rovers and Ford Fiestas in a spate of shopping centre motor thefts around the Trafford area.

Officers have already made 11 arrests since January 10th this year, with one car being recovered. As they launch ‘Operation Lexford’ — which aims to robustly tackle vehicle theft in the area Greater Manchester Police are issuing a warning to car owners.

GMP have been working in partnership with the Trafford Centre security team and together they have now set up ‘Operation Lexford’ to prevent crime and target those who are coming to Trafford to steal specific types of vehicles.

Greater Manchester Police

Chief Inspector Shoheb Chowdhury of GMP’s Trafford District, said: “This operation is an excellent example of GMP’s commitment to tackling vehicle crime across Greater Manchester.

“A lot of the work GMP does to tackle the issue may not be visible but catching those responsible remains a force priority. Cars are of great value to people and we understand that having a car stolen can have a huge impact both financially and emotionally.”

Reassuring the vehicle owners using car parks in Trafford, he added: “As part of the operation, there will be an increased police presence at the Trafford Centre and we will be holding weekly police surgeries with focus on providing people with tailored crime prevention advice.

“We will continue to work to bring offenders to justice, but I would ask the public to help us to help them, by being vigilant when visiting the Trafford Centre, and to follow our simple crime prevention advice found on the crime prevention page on our website.”

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A spokesperson from Trafford Centre also said: “Our security and customer services teams take car theft very seriously and we are working closely with Greater Manchester Police on this issue. We minimise car theft on-site through the use of ANPR, CCTV and camera patrols so all vehicles entering and leaving the car parks are monitored and logged.

“This data and footage is made available to GMP as required. We also deploy high profile patrols in all car parks to deter thieves and run multiple police operations on-site to apprehend offenders.”

GMP officers have also issued some advice for vehicle owners to help them in preventing the thefts including: double checking your car is locked, investing in a faraday bag, not leaving your belongings on display, investing in a tracking device and using a steering wheel lock.

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