Strikes by rail and road staff are set to cause extensive disruption to commuters returning to work after the Christmas break – amid fears that continued walkouts could cause a years-long slump in demand for train travel.
About 40,000 members of the RMT union from Network Rail and 14 train operators are taking industrial action today, tomorrow, Friday and Saturday – meaning most services nationwide will not run.
Train drivers are also set to stage a one-day walkout on Thursday, meaning the UK’s rail network will be crippled throughout the first working week of 2023. Passengers have been urged to only travel if necessary.
In other developments, more than 100 road traffic officers and control room operators working for National Highways in England are launching their own 48-hour strike today.
While this walkout is expected to have little impact on the network, roads are expected to be busy on both days as commuters ditch the train and head to the office in their cars.
RMT general secretary Mick Lynch has warned that strikes on the railways will continue until the government stops “blocking” a deal to resolve the bitter dispute over pay, jobs and conditions.
The union claims that – despite its best efforts over the festive period – rail employers have not arranged any formal negotiations.
Mr Lynch also alleges that an “unprecedented level of ministerial interference” is preventing progress from being made, and he said RMT representatives are “available around the clock for talks”.
RMT strike days will see approximately half of the network shut down, with just 20% of normal services expected to run. These trains will also start later and finish much earlier than usual, with journeys only possible between 7.30am and 6.30pm.
According to The Times, ministers fear that millions of passengers will give up on train travel altogether as a result of the worst week of rail disruption in 30 years.
A government source told the newspaper: “This is an act of self-harm – a generation of passengers will just write off the railways. We’re talking about permanent scarring. The longer the strikes continue, the greater the risk.”
But Aslef general secretary Mick Whelan, who represents train drivers, said workers have been left with little choice but to strike because they haven’t had a pay rise since April 2019 – with high levels of inflation resulting in a real-terms pay cut.
Stressing that his union is always happy to negotiate with train operators, he added: “The ball is in their court. The companies, or this Tory government which stands behind them, could end this dispute now by making a serious and sensible pay offer. It is up to them.”
The Department for Transport has warned that passengers have “rightly had enough of rail strikes” – and called on unions to stop taking industrial action.
A spokesperson said: “The government has demonstrated it is being reasonable and stands ready to facilitate a resolution to rail disputes. It’s time the unions came to the table and played their part as well.
“Inflation-matching pay increases for all public-sector workers would cost everyone more in the long-term – worsening debt, fuelling inflation, and costing every household an extra £1,000.”
Transport Secretary Mark Harper will be interviewed live on Sky News at 7.20am this morning – followed by RMT general secretary Mick Lynch at 7.30am.
Two Britons were among four killed after two helicopters collided mid-air near a marine theme park in the Australian state of Queensland.
An FCDO spokesperson said: “We are supporting the family of two British nationals who died in Australia and are in contact with the local authorities.”
The collision occurred on the Gold Coast at around 2pm local time, when the park would have been filled with families enjoying school summer holidays.
Initial information suggested one of the helicopters had been taking off and the other had been landing when they collided, Queensland Police Acting Inspector Gary Worrell said.
Members of the public were among those first on the scene, with a sandbank making it difficult for emergency service workers to access the site of the crash.
“Members of the public and police tried to remove the people and they commenced first aid and tried to help these people to safety,” said Inspector Worrell.
Janey Shearman, from Queensland Ambulance Service, said 13 people had been on the two helicopters.
The three people critically injured were suffering from “multi-system trauma”, while six people with minor injuries – mainly from the impact of the glass – were also taken to hospital.
Sea World Helicopters, a separate company from the theme park, expressed its condolences, saying it was “devastated” by what had happened and was co-operating in an investigation opened by authorities exploring the cause of the crash.
A statement read: “We and the entire flying community are devastated by what has happened and our sincere condolences go to all those involved and especially the loved ones and family of the deceased.”
A witness named John described to Melbourne radio station 3AW that there was a “massive, massive bang” and staff at the theme part moved swiftly to close off areas closest to the crash.
“It was just huge. I’m not sure if it was the propellers or whatever hitting against each other. But there was this poor lady and her son near the helipad in tears.”
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said the accident was an “unthinkable tragedy”.
She said: “My deepest sympathies are with each of the families and everyone affected by this terrible accident.”
The two people charged with murder and affray after footballer Cody Fisher was stabbed to death in a nightclub have been remanded in custody at a court hearing.
Kami Carpenter, 21, and Remy Gordon, 22, appeared in front of two magistrates at Birmingham Crown Court on Monday.
The defendants, both from Birmingham, spoke only to confirm their personal details and enter not guilty pleas to a linked charge of affray during a four-minute hearing.
They were not asked to enter any plea to the murder charge.
Both defendants were ordered to re-appear before a Crown Court judge on Wednesday. A further hearing was set for January 30.
Mr Fisher was stabbed to death on the dancefloor of the Crane nightclub in Digbeth shortly before 11.45pm on Boxing Day.
The 23-year-old, who played for Stratford Town FC, was approached by a group of people and stabbed while on a night out with friends.
The nightclub had its licence suspended for 28 days on Friday following accusations from West Midlands Police that there had been “serious management failings” at the venue on the night Mr Fisher died.
Birmingham city councillors said they will consider whether to close the club permanently at a full review hearing in the future.
The police’s application for the review said Mr Fisher died during “a fight on the dancefloor” and officers who attended “described a scene of chaos and evidence of drug use within the premises”.
Officers recovered a knife from the crime scene, and a post-mortem examination has confirmed that Mr Fisher died of a stab wound.
Close to 50 shops shut down every day in 2022, more than at any other point for at least five years.
In a bruising year for retail, 17,145 shops closed last year – up by nearly 50% on 2021, when 11,449 shops shut.
Analysis by the Centre for Retail Research found about 47 sites shut up shop for the last time every day last year.
As shops shut, jobs went with them. More than 151,000 retail jobs were lost in the UK last year, including from online retailers – an increase of more than 45,000 on the year before.
The group’s survey found that a little over 5,500 of the shops went under, while more than 11,600 of them were closed as a larger chain decided to cut its costs.
The Centre for Retail Research’s director, Professor Joshua Bamfield, said: “Rather than company failure, rationalisation now seems to be the main driver for closures as retailers continue to reduce their cost base at pace.”
He said the trend was likely to continue this year, but added that a few “big hitters” could also go under.
The researchers found there had been a 56% drop in shops being closed because larger retailers – with 10 or more sites – went out of business.
They said that many of the chains that were going to fail already had in recent years. But Joules, McColl’s and TM Lewin among others still went under.
The real estate adviser Altus Group said that retailers and landlords would have to pay close to £1.1bn from April 1 to cover the business rates on empty sites. These are sites that have been empty for three months.
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Robert Hayton, UK president at Altus Group, said: “Rate-free periods need to be urgently extended to reflect the time that it actually takes to re-let vacant properties.
“The current woes facings the retail sector, driven by the war in Ukraine, mean that empty rates are ripe for modernisation.”
More than a third of adults in the UK would find it difficult or impossible to cover a £20 increase in their monthly expenditure, according to new research.
Citizens Advice commissioned a survey of 2,000 adults between 5 and 9 December and found that one in four would find it somewhat difficult to cover the increase, 7% would find it very difficult and 4% would find it impossible.
Also among those who would find the extra cost difficult or impossible were 58% of those on benefits, 57% of those using pre-payment meters for their energy supply, and 47% of people of colour.
Citizens Advice chief executive Dame Clare Moriarty said: “Millions of households are at financial breaking point: running down savings, going without bare essentials and turning to food banks to get by.
“We’re already seeing record numbers of people coming to us for crisis support and this research shows people simply cannot cut back any further.
“Current government support is a sticking plaster which is quickly being exhausted due to the increased pressures people are facing.
“Without further targeted intervention, we risk another year of despair for millions of people.”
The survey also found that a third of people have had to dip into their savings in the last three months to get by, and more than half of them had either run out of savings or expect to do so in the next three months.
Read more: Ed Conway: Inflation, gas prices, cost of living crisis and a plummeting pound – 2022 in charts Cost of living crisis to deepen in 2023 with falling pay and rising bills, warns think tank Inflation may have peaked but you should still be prepared for a bleak winter ahead
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Britain is witnessing the worst squeeze on incomes in a generation, as struggling households are hit by soaring energy costs and rocketing inflation.
Citizens Advice said it helped a record number of people in December, assisting them in getting emergency grants and referring them to food banks.
Almost three in 10 of those surveyed said they are losing sleep at least once a week because they are worried about their finances.
Plummeting temperatures and icy conditions are set to sweep parts of Britain overnight after the country endured a cold snap and consistent downpours at the end of 2022.
Yellow weather warnings for ice are in place for the North of England and across Northern Ireland from midnight on Monday until 11am on Tuesday.
The Met Office has also issued yellow weather warnings for ice in Scotland from 6pm on New Year’s Day until 11am on Monday, with temperatures expected to drop to -8C in the Highlands.
The forecaster warned of the risk of injuries from slips and falls, along with icy patches on some untreated roads, pavements and cycle paths.
While rainfall is easing for many, it will remain cold in the North and West of the country, with the Met Office adding: “Rain in northeast and southeast is clearing during the evening, though lingering over the Northern Isles.
“A few showers elsewhere, but plenty of dry weather with easing winds. Cold in the north and west with some frost. Icy stretches in the north.”
It added that “ice remains the main hazard”.
A snow warning across central and northern Scotland was in place until midday on Sunday.
The Met Office predicts a “much better day than of late” on Monday with most areas expecting fine, dry and bright weather after a chilly start through showers in the southeast during the morning, though it will remain showery in northwest Scotland.
Met Office meteorologist Dan Stroud said: “We’re expecting temperatures to drop quite quickly, quite widely – actually below zero – with some rural spots getting down to -7C, -8C tonight in the Highlands.”
He added: “The rest of the UK, certainly a colder night than the night just gone… a few showers moving off of the north and west around Liverpool Bay area across the Lake District, and those will leave behind wet surfaces during the course of the afternoon and into the evening.”
After a cold and dry day on Monday, forecasters say the first week of 2023 looks unsettled with wet and windy weather for most, before turning milder.
Fourteen flood warnings are in place for the next five days, with local flooding from rivers and surface water possible on Tuesday and Wednesday for parts of North West England.
Land, roads and some properties could also flood, and there may be travel disruption.
For most of Tuesday and Wednesday, the Met Office predicts it will be unsettled and windy for most parts of the country, with showers or longer spells of rain.
It is expected to turn mild after a chilly start on Tuesday morning, with further rain in mainly central and southern areas forecast later on Thursday.
About 500 people could be dying each week due to emergency care delays, a senior healthcare official has warned.
Dr Adrian Boyle, president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, said he thinks waiting times for December will be the worst he has ever seen.
More than a dozen NHS trusts and ambulance services declared critical incidents over the festive period as a severe flu outbreak and rising COVID cases are adding pressure to the system.
Read more: Number of flu cases in hospital seven times higher than November
Dr Boyle told Times Radio: “We went into this December with the worst-ever performance against our target and the highest-ever occupancy levels in hospital.
“We don’t know about the waiting time figures because they don’t come out for a couple of weeks; I’d be amazed if they’re not the worst ever that we’ve seen over this December.
“What we’re seeing now in terms of these long waits is being associated with increased mortality, and we think somewhere between 300-500 people are dying as a consequence of delays and problems with urgent and emergency care each week. We need to actually get a grip of this.”
In November, 37,837 patients waited more than 12 hours in A&E for a decision to be admitted, NHS England figures show.
This is an almost 355% increase on the previous November, when about 10,646 patients waited longer than 12 hours.
Dr Boyle added: “If you look at the graphs, they all are going the wrong way, and I think there needs to be a real reset. We need to be in a situation where we cannot just shrug our shoulders and say ‘This winter was terrible, let’s do nothing until next winter’.
“We need to increase our capacity within our hospitals, we need to make sure that there are alternative ways so that people aren’t all just funnelled into the ambulance service and emergency department.
“We cannot continue like this – it is unsafe and it is undignified.”
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Half of Staffordshire ambulances queuing outside hospital
Patients have been reportedly waiting hours for a bed and ambulances carrying patients have been stuck outside hospitals for hours as they wait to hand them over.
Sky News revealed on New Year’s Eve that more than half of Staffordshire’s ambulances were queuing outside Royal Stoke Hospital, with a paramedic and UNISON representative saying it was the “worst we’ve ever seen”.
Last week, one in five ambulance patients in England waited more than an hour to be handed over to A&E teams.
Dr Boyle added it is “absolutely never too late” to get a flu vaccination and said those who are eligible should do so to reduce pressure on hospitals.
What chance the Lionesses dominating the sporting reviews this time next year, as they have been in the last week or so?
Transformational coach Sarina Wiegman has persuaded the FA to fly her Euros winners business class to the Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand – and they have the ability, and crucially the mentality, to do the business again – even though the USA, above all, will strengthen the opposition.
Backheel goalscoring Euros heroine Alessia Russo could be part of another double – at club level. Both the men and women of Manchester United have that deliver-on-the-day quality that can win an FA Cup.
Forgive a boring notion, but Manchester City’s men and Chelsea’s women remain the likeliest league champions, despite strengthening challenges.
In the Scottish Premiership, Celtic’s nine-point league is too great for new Rangers coach Michael Beale to bridge.
And in Europe? Will goal machine Erling Haaland deliver a long-awaited first Champions League for Manchester City. With a problem or two dogging most of their strongest rivals, this is surely the time for boss Pep Guardiola.
In the year’s first big global event, Novak Djokovic is rightly hot favourite to win the Australian Open tennis and equal Rafael Nadal’s record 22 Grand Slam wins.
British fans have reason to hope Emma Raducanu starts a sharp climb from 80th in the world rankings, if she hits it off with new coach Sebastian Sachs and – importantly – fitness guru Jez Green.
The Six Nations kicks off the international rugby union year – France’s men and England’s women to win – but the autumn men’s World Cup will dominate.
New coaches for Wales and England add to the fascination, but if Ireland are ever going to win it, this is the year.
Also going for World Cup glory are England’s male and female cricketers in the 50-over and 20-over versions respectively. The men can retain the trophy they won dramatically in 2019; the women may find Australia too strong.
In this summer’s Ashes, will Australia provide a rude awakening for Ben Stokes’s new-look all-conquering swashbuckling England? Instinct says the Stokes bandwagon will roll on for a bit yet.
There are British world championship gold medals in prospect in athletics (Jake Wightman and Keely Hodgkinson on the up), gymnastics (likewise the Gadirova twins, Jessica and Jennifer) and swimming (Adam Peaty against the rest again, but can he still do it at 27? Maybe just.)
In F1, as ever, so much depends on the cars and the rules, but Mercedes British pair Lewis Hamilton and rising star George Russell may find World Champion Max Verstappen still too tough a nut to crack, though they should get closer than in 2022.
And two individuals to finish with – 6ft 9 Tyson Fury and 5ft 9 Rory McIlroy.
Ukrainian heavyweight Oleksandr Usyk will be a tougher test than anyone Fury boxed in 2022, but the “Gypsy King” hits as hard as he talks and should prevail again.
And back McIlroy finally to win his first major golf tournament since 2014, help Europe regain the Ryder Cup from the USA in Rome, and be a big part of sporting reviews this time next year.
Police are searching for two men who have escaped from a mental health facility in Northampton.
Nicholas Courtney is a 43-year-old convicted sex offender who is serving a hospital order.
He left the grounds of St Andrew’s Healthcare in Billing Road at about 6pm on Saturday 31 December while on an escorted walk with members of staff.
He is white, 5ft 8, slim, with a bald shaven head and distinctive tattoos on his neck.
When he was last seen, he was wearing black trainers, blue jeans, a black jacket with a red stripe across the chest and a waterproof jacket on top.
The other escapee is Johnny Brady, a 19-year-old who is also serving a hospital order but for a serious assault in Derby.
He escaped the hospital at about 3.30pm on Saturday 31 December, although his escape is not thought to have been related to Courtney’s.
Brady is white, 5ft 9 and slim. He was last seen wearing black Adidas tracksuit bottoms, a black hoodie, and black trainers.
A Northamptonshire Police spokesperson said: “We would like to appeal directly to Johnny to reassure him that he is not in trouble but to please return to St Andrew’s or make yourself known to the police.
“We need to make sure you are safe and receive the care that you need.”
Northamptonshire Police said members of the public should not approach the men under any circumstances but should instead phone police to report sightings.
The force control room can be contacted on 999, and people can quote incident number 359 of 31/12/22 for a sighting of Courtney and 275 of 31/12/22 for Brady.