GBP – Euro

The Telegraph reports a Holiday windfall for Britons as euro slides

British families can expect to save hundreds of pounds on trips across Europe due to a slide in the value of the euro which has created the cheapest holiday-booking season since the financial crisis, experts have said. Holidaymakers can expect to save anything between five and 15 per cent on the cost of travel and accommodation booked this month and pay almost 20 cent less than last year on expenses such as eating out.

Experts said British travellers could expect the cheapest holiday prices since before the financial crisis of 2008. It comes as the travel industry prepares for the traditional January surge in bookings. Despite volatility on the currency markets which saw the pound fall further against the dollar on Friday, sterling is trading more seven per cent higher against the euro in comparison with last spring and close to the highest level against the single currency for more than six years.

Paedophile Scandal

The Telegraph reports that Prince Andrew ‘categorically denies’ claims he sexually abused teenager

Prince Andrew has “categorically” denied allegations made in US court papers that he sexually abused a 17-year-old girl who claims she was used as a sex slave.

The accusations against the Duke of York – which also include claims that he took part in an orgy with other underage girls – are contained in a motion filed in a Florida court by a woman who claims that Jeffrey Epstein, an American investment banker, loaned her to rich and powerful friends.

Epstein, who served 13 months of an 18-month jail sentence for soliciting paid sex with a minor, is a former friend of the Duke. Epstein is accused in the court papers of loaning out the girls so he could later blackmail their abusers.

The Guardian also reports on this and The Independent leads on it.

United Kingdom

Charles Moore in The Telegraph claims that The battle to keep our Union together has only just begun:

At the start of 2014, I began this column with the words: “This year, the United Kingdom could be voted out of existence.” Repetition is not usually a good idea in my trade but, in my first column of 2015, I am tempted to use exactly the same sentence.

It might happen thus. At the general election in May, Labour become the largest single party, without a majority of the seats in England. They cannot command a majority in Parliament. To govern, they make a deal with the Scottish Nationalists to whom they have just lost, say, 20 seats. Ed Miliband becomes Prime Minister, but only with the support of one Alex Salmond, a newly elected MP.

The English, I suspect, would not stand for this.

Conservatives and Labour

The Guardian reports that Tories to outspend Labour by 3 to 1 in general election

Labour is likely to be outspent by the Conservatives by a factor of three to one in the general election, the party’s election boss has admitted, but insists it can still win the tightest battle in generations through an intensive ground war built around local party activism.

The message comes before a rally in Manchester on Monday where Ed Miliband, the party leader, is due to mount a ferocious assault on Tory plans for the health service.

On a different tack, in the same paper, Ian Birrell writes A Tory-Labour unity coalition may be the only way forward after 7 May

As this year’s general election campaign effectively begins, could we be on the point of seeing our latest economic and political crisis causing a repeat of history with another national government?

The two main parties are on the slide, their historic decline speeded up by an economic meltdown that fuelled discontent with their style of traditional politics and fostered the rise of insurgent parties. Labour remains marginally ahead but is distrusted on economic matters and held back by a leader who commands little confidence. The Tories have the most trusted leader, even on the sacred health service, yet voters think they care only for the rich, and remain wary of their stewardship of public services.

The Mirror wades in on the side of Labour with George Osbourne’s VAT rise has cost families £450 a year since 2011 (sic: Osborne)

Families have been stung for £1,800 as a result of George Osborne’s VAT hike. A couple with children have lost £450 a year on average since the increase to 20% in January 2011, a parliamentary answer reveals. A pensioner couple have lost £1,100, a pensioner living alone would be £600 worse off and a one- parent family is £900 poorer. The 2011 increase followed a pledge not to raise the tax.

Labour’s Treasury spokeswoman Shabana Mahmood said that the only people to have had a big tax cut under the Tories were those earning more than £150,000. Before the last election David Cameron and George Osborne said they had no plans to raise VAT, but that’s exactly what they did after they got in,” said Mahmood. “Raising VAT on families and pensioners is what Tory governments always do. These figures show that over the last four years a family with children has paid £1800 more in higher VAT under the Tories.”

Public Sector Employment

The Guardian reports that the Conservatives would cap redundancy payouts for NHS, BBC and civil service

The Conservatives would stop public sector workers in the NHS, BBC and civil service getting six-figure redundancy packages if they win the election, the party will say on Saturday. In a new manifesto pledge, the Tories will commit to capping payouts at less than £95,000.

The party said it would legislate against big redundancy payments as one of the first acts of a Tory government, as payouts in recent years have included packages worth more than £450,000 in the civil service, £500,000 in the NHS and more than £1m in the BBC. Treasury minister Priti Patel said it was not right that taxpayers on low salaries have to “fund huge payouts when well-paid people get made redundant”.

The Mail also reports on this.


The Independent reports on the NHS A&E crisis: Hospitals struggle to keep up with festive demand

A number of NHS hospitals have quietly declared “major incidents” in recent days as they struggle to cope with unprecedented levels of winter demand, The Independent can reveal. The immense pressure put on A&E departments over the Christmas and New Year period has left the NHS at “full capacity”, Dr Peter Carter, the leader of Britain’s nurses, warned last night.

Another senior nurse told The Independent that her hospital in the East of England had declared major incidents “regularly” throughout December. Usually a rare occurrence, major incidents are declared when bed capacity has been reached, or nearly reached. Other hospitals use the term “black alert”.


The Independent reports that Tories accused of lying in campaign poster that claims deficit has halved

The Conservatives have been accused of using “dishonesty as a weapon” after making inaccurate claims that the Government had halved Britain’s deficit. The claim – contained in the party’s first general election campaign poster – was branded a “fib” and condemned as deceptive even by right-leaning commentators.

What was intended to be the smooth launch of the new year Conservative message on the economy rapidly unravelled just hours after David Cameron had unveiled the poster which is due to go up on billboards across the country. Under the headline “Let’s stay on the road to a stronger economy”, the poster goes on to list the Government’s achievements of “1.75 million more people in work”, “760,000 more businesses” and “the deficit halved”.

The Express also reports on the Tory campaign, but on a different aspect of it: PM starts election war with attack on ‘disastrous’ Labour

The Prime Minister fired the starting gun to the crunch poll by unveiling a Tory poster with the slogan: “Let’s Stay On The Road To A Stronger Economy.” He insisted the country faced “the most important election for a generation” in May.

But he was given a stark warning from a senior Tory peer about the “very difficult” challenge the party faces in tackling Ukip after failing to meet the target on migrants.

Lord Tebbit said: “Mr Cameron swore that he would get immigration – net – down to tens of thousands, so that’s a real problem. It makes it difficult for him to persuade people that he can control it without a radical change in our relationship with Europe, which Ukip would then point out would almost certainly mean leaving the European Union.”


The Daily Mail reports on The rise of the over-60s apprentices rushing to learn new trades: Employers find younger workers lack the right skills and work ethic

Far from slowing down as they near retirement age, more and more over-60s are learning a new trade as apprentices. Figures show they are the fastest-growing age group among those in the Government’s on-the-job training scheme – intended to help school leavers.

The number of workers aged 60 or over taking up placements has soared from 400 to 2,480 in the past five years. It is thought employers are opting for older staff as they find younger workers lack the right skills and work ethic.

Among those aged 45-59, there has also been a marked increase, from 9,810 to 41,850 between 2009/10 and 2013/14. The age group makes up nearly 10 per cent of all apprentices who receive training from a business while doing paid work. A recent report by accountants KPMG found ‘more and more companies recognise the high value of older workers’ knowledge and skills’.

NHS Gagging

The Daily Mail reports: “Demonising of a decent man: His sin? Expressing concerns about the NHS in the Mail. But the venom, bile and hatred this provoked from his fellow doctors will stagger many readers …

This week, the respected Spectator magazine revealed that one of our top cancer surgeons, Professor Joseph Meirion Thomas, had been gagged from writing about the NHS.

The move came after a bid by senior figures within the medical establishment to remove him from his job. His ‘sin’ had been to write four comment pieces for the Daily Mail. The first two, about health tourism, argued calmly that the sheer weight of foreigners using the NHS was making it economically unviable.

The third explained how the preponderance of female doctors in the NHS was becoming a long-term problem because, after an expensive training, many were leaving to have families, often returning only in a part-time capacity. But it was Mr Thomas’s fourth opinion piece, which questioned whether Britain’s modern GP system — with doctors increasingly unavailable to patients — was fit for purpose, that triggered the most vitriol.


The Express reports that Police ‘are too busy to arrest drunk yobs’ despite calls for zero-tolerance policies

Inspector Ian Hanson said officers were acting “out of necessity” because it would “reduce the beleaguered thin blue line yet further”. Mr Hanson, chairman of Greater Manchester Police Federation, said calls from A&E doctors for greater protection from abusive drunks were “poorly thought out”.

Campaigners yesterday reacted angrily to his controversial views. Peter Cuthbertson, of the Centre For Crime Prevention, accused him of being complacent. Mr Cuthbertson said: “The notion that police are giving drunken hooligans a free pass to turn up at A&E week after week is an insult to taxpayers and NHS staff.


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