Ten Things You Need to Know Today: 17 December 2021

The Week’s daily digest of the news agenda, published at 8am

1. Conservatives lose safe seat

The Liberal Democrats have won North Shropshire, a seat held by the Conservatives for nearly 200 years. The winning candidate, Helen Morgan, overturned a Tory majority of 23,000 to win by almost 6,000 votes in a by-election caused by the resignation of Owen Paterson, who was found to have breached parliamentary rules on lobbying. Morgan said the result meant the “party was over” for Boris Johnson.

2. Rate rise divides analysts

Interest rates could quadruple within months after the Bank of England put up borrowing costs yesterday, claimed The Telegraph. The decision to raise interest rates from 0.1% to 0.25% surprised some analysts, but financial markets are now pricing in more rate rises in 2022. Some economists have predicted that rates will rise again in January and reach 1% – their highest since 2009 – by August, but others have suggested that rates will remain lower for longer.

3. Pandemic ‘to last 18 months more’

A record 88,376 daily Covid cases were reported yesterday as England’s chief medical officer, Professor Chris Whitty, said the pandemic could go on for 18 months more. “Each six months will be better than the last six months,” he said, but it would be another year and a half before a wide range of vaccines covered all variants of the coronavirus.

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4. Public ‘wants to party on’

A poll has found that people “want to party” despite the rapid spread of Omicron, said The Times. Only 10% said that they had avoided going to a pub or restaurant they had planned to visit and only 16% said that they had avoided a Christmas party. Meanwhile, 90% said that they were going to work as normal and 81% said they still planned to meet up with family and friends on Christmas Day or Boxing Day.

5. Sunak to speak to hospitality bosses

Rishi Sunak will hold talks with business leaders today about a new support package for the hospitality sector as its leaders complained of a “dire and deteriorating” situation. The chancellor has cut short a trip to California for discussions on how to support the hospitality trade, after pubs and restaurants said their Christmas bookings had collapsed as Omicron spread rapidly around the country.

6. Investigator finds misconduct at Hermes

An investigation by The Times has found that couriers working for one of Britain’s largest delivery companies mishandle parcels, routinely fail to complete next-day orders and are encouraged to lie to customers. Managers at Hermes watched as workers threw parcels across a depot to save time and couriers were encouraged to mislead customers and “act stupid” if faced with complaints. The company, which handles orders for retailers including John Lewis, Marks & Spencer and Next, said it had begun a “full investigation”.

7. Dozens die in Japanese fire

Up to 27 people are feared dead after a fire broke out in a building in a shopping district in Osaka, Japan. The local fire brigade responded after receiving reports of a blaze on the fourth floor of a building in the Kita district. Police are investigating suspected arson, the Kyodo news agency said, adding that an unidentified man is believed to have started the fire.

8. Government ‘too slow’ on Covid pills

Scientists and business leaders have accused the government of being “asleep at the wheel” over the launch of new drugs to combat Covid-19. So far, the UK has ordered 250,000 courses of the new Pfizer pill, compared to the 500,000 ordered by Australia, one million by Canada and ten million by the US. “The government needs to be ordering millions of courses, not 250,000. That’s not nearly enough,” Lord Bilimoria, president of the Confederation of British Industry, told The Telegraph.

9. Cuts mean BBC ‘must go cheap’

The BBC could be forced to replace high-end dramas and natural history documentaries with cheaper programmes due to government-imposed funding cuts, according to the National Audit Office. It said the broadcaster is required to make deep and continued spending cuts due to successive governments reducing its income from the licence fee. As the cost of making programmes soars due to competition from Netflix and Amazon, channels such as BBC Two and BBC Four are expected to show more repeats.

10. PM ‘joined staff at Downing St party’

Boris Johnson joined No 10 staff for a party in Downing Street during the first lockdown, The Mirror reported. Around 20 civil servants and Conservative aides allegedly gathered on 15 May 2020 for drinks inside No 10 and in the garden, with some staying late into the evening. At the time, the public was banned from mixing outdoors with more than one person from a different household and indoor gatherings were strictly forbidden. Some 314 people had died of Covid that day.

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