Live – Employer Actions Blog

Keep up to date with what actions employers are taking to tackle the Covid-19 crisis with People Management’s live commentary

Friday 18 December 

9.55am Northern Ireland returning to ‘sustained lockdown of March’
Northern Ireland will enter tighter restrictions from 26 December which is “in large part” similar to the “sustained lockdown” in March, the government has said. The new restrictions will last for six weeks from Boxing Day with non-essential shops closing for business. Northern Ireland’s health minister Robin Swann said the measures were being brought in “with a heavy heart”, and he was “very mindful” of the effect the last year has had on lives and livelihoods. Swann said: “We are in, large part, returning to the sustained lockdown introduced in March. Once again, a heavy responsibility will rest on all of us to remain at home as much as possible over the course of the six-week period.” Close-contact services in Northern Ireland, such as hair salons, will have to shut, and pubs, cafes and restaurants will be restricted to takeaway services. In the first week of lockdown, running until 2 January, essential shops will have to close each day by 8pm.  8.45am Openreach to create 5,300 jobs to facilitate long-term working from homeBT’s Openreach division is creating 5,300 new jobs in its drive to speed up the UK’s broadband networks. The government has told telecoms firms it wants ultra-fast broadband networks to reach every corner of the UK. The government has estimated that with such a broadband network available, nearly 2m more people than previously estimated could choose to work from home in the long-term. To achieve this, Openreach is recruiting 2,500 people for engineering jobs and estimates its construction partners will take on 2,800 more. The firm aims to connect 20 million homes and firms by the late 2020s, and the £12bn project has been accelerated in part due to the pandemic. Openreach said people will not need engineering skills to apply for the jobs. 

Thursday 17 December

3.15pm Furlough scheme extended until end of April 2021

The furlough scheme has been extended until the end of April 2021, with the government continuing to contribute 80 per cent towards wages. The chancellor, Rishi Sunak, also confirmed the government-guaranteed Covid-19 business loan scheme would be extended until the end of March.

“We know the premium businesses place on certainty, so it is right that we enable businesses to plan ahead regardless of the path the virus takes, which is why we’re providing certainty and clarity by extending this support,” said Sunak.

The announcement was welcomed by Peter Cheese, chief executive of the CIPD. But Cheese called on the government to set out its plan for jobs beyond April early in the new year. “Setting out a clear plan to extend the [job retention scheme] to the end of June would boost business confidence and mitigate the numerous uncertainties firms are facing as a result of the pandemic, as well as any challenges they may face arising from the end of the Brexit transition and over the timing of economic recovery,” Cheese said.

12.15pm More English areas go into tier three

Health secretary Matt Hancock has announced that more areas in England will be moved into tier three, the highest level of restrictions, as Covid cases rise once more. Speaking before the House of Commons, Hancock said coronavirus cases were up 46 per cent in the past week in the south-east of England and up by two-thirds in the east of England.

He confirmed that from midnight on Saturday, 19 December, the following areas would be placed into tier three: Bedfordshire; Buckinghamshire; Berkshire; Peterborough; the whole of Hertfordshire; Surrey – except Waverley; Hastings and Rother; and Portsmouth, Gosport and Havant.

Only two areas were moved down a tier as a result of falling infection rates. Hancock said Bristol and North Somerset would move into tier two. Meanwhile, Herefordshire would move from tier two to tier one.

10.30am Test and Trace firm hands £5m bonus to workers

Serco, one of the UK companies that runs the coronavirus Test and Trace scheme, said it will award bonuses totalling £5m to its staff. The outsourcing firm said its 50,000 workers will be given £100 each to recognise “the extraordinary efforts of our staff around the world during the pandemic”. 

Rupert Soames, chief executive of Serco, said: “In what will be remembered as one of the most challenging periods for businesses since the Second World War, Serco’s people have proved themselves to be resilient, flexible and dedicated to ensuring the delivery of public services.” Serco said it will also hand back £3m in furlough payments to the government and has already returned £38m in deferred taxes. 

9.15am Areas in England await Covid tier changes

Towns and cities in England will find out later today if they will be moved to a different tier of Covid restrictions. Health secretary Matt Hancock is expected to make a statement at 11.30am on the outcome of the latest review of the three-tier system, after government officials met on Wednesday (16 December). 

More than 34million people are living under tier three rules, including large parts of the Midlands, Yorkshire, the North East and the North West. On Wednesday, London and parts of Essex and Hertfordshire moved to tier three amid a rise in infection rates.

8.15am Quarter of pub and bar businesses have low confidence of surviving the next three months

More than a quarter (28 per cent) of pub and bar businesses reported having low or no confidence of surviving the next three months, according to data published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS). The ONS found a fifth (19 per cent) of pubs and bars had high confidence of surviving the next three months. The survey also found 24 per cent of pub and bar businesses had no remaining cash reserves or less than one month of cash reserves remaining, while 21 per cent had more than three months of cash reserves.

Wednesday 16 December 

2pm Quarter of employers have no plans to hire young people in 2021, research finds

A quarter of employees are not planning to hire any young people or trainees next year, a CIPD poll has found, as experts warn that failing to bring in and develop new employees could block talent pipelines and exacerbate the skills crisis.

The survey of more than 1,000 employers, conducted for the CIPD’s Covid-19 and the youth labour market report, found 25 per cent of businesses were not planning to hire anyone between the ages of 16 and 24-years-old in the next 12 months. Just 46 per cent of employers said they did have plans to recruit from that age group, while 29 per cent said they did not know.

Responding to the findings, Helen Astill, founder of Cherington HR, said: “There will be lots of people out of work who will be looking to apply for those roles when they appear, but the smart employers will look at taking on the less experienced candidates, perhaps as apprentices or new graduates, to develop and train them to be the future of their businesses.”

1.45pm How businesses can stop the pandemic wiping out workplace gender equality

Anne Pritam and Leanne Raven round up the key steps employers can take to support their female staff – and protect themselves. 

1.30pm Victorian Plumbing to hand back furlough payments

Bathroom retailer Victorian Plumbing has said they will repay all furlough payments claimed through the government’s coronavirus job retention scheme. Mark Radcliffe, chairman of Victorian Plumbing, said now that the business has more of an understanding of the impact of Covid, it felt right to “review the support we received in the early part of the year”. As a result, the firm decided to return the money it had received in government support through the furlough scheme.

12.45pm Non-essential shops in Wales to close on Christmas Eve 

All non-essential shops will close on Christmas Eve as the country enters a stay-at-home lockdown four days later. Hair salons and other close-contact services will also have to shut before Christmas, while hospitality will close at 6pm on Christmas Day. 

First minister Mark Drakeford described the situation in Wales as “extremely serious”, adding that more than 2,100 people – “equivalent to five full general hospitals” – were being treated for Covid by the NHS. 

Tuesday 15 December 

3pm Parts of Scotland face tougher restrictions

Aberdeen, Aberdeenshire and East Lothian will move up to tier three of Scotland’s five-tier system as of Friday because of rising cases. The new restrictions mean people will not be permitted to travel outside of their own council area unless it is essential. Indoor entertainment venues such as cinemas will have to close and while pubs, cafes and restaurants will remain open with earlier closing times of 6pm, they will not be permitted to serve alcohol. 

The levels will be reviewed again on Tuesday before the festive period. 

1.45pm Low-paid jobs at risk as coronavirus speeds up automation, report finds

The coronavirus pandemic is accelerating the uptake of automation in the workplace, putting jobs at risk in the sectors that have been hit hardest, research has found.

A report by the Fabian Society and trade union Community warned that Covid-19 had sped up the pace of existing job disruption and dislocation, and that low-paid workers in sectors most affected by social restrictions faced a “double whammy” from the economic impact of the virus and increasing technological change. It estimated 61 per cent of jobs furloughed in the first half of 2020 were in sectors already at high risk of automation, and that many of the roles affected by lockdown measures were unlikely to be brought back after Covid as consumers shift permanently towards online.

Commenting on the report, Hayfa Mohdzaini, senior research adviser at the CIPD, said HR needed to be involved in any decisions to invest in technology that might significantly affect the number of jobs or the nature of work. “It is important to consult employees early on the proposed changes,” she said.

12.30pm Redundancies hit record high amid second Covid wave

The number of redundancies in the UK rose to a record high in October amid the second Covid wave, and as the government scaled back its furlough scheme before the decision was made to extend it. Data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) found redundancies soared to 370,000 in the three months to October, fuelled mainly by job losses in the retail and hospitality sectors – an increase of a record 217,000 redundancies when compared to the previous quarter.

The ONS said the number of employees on payroll had fallen by 819,000 since February 2020, when the pandemic first hit the UK. Gerwyn Davies, senior labour market adviser at the CIPD, said the worry for employers, and the UK more broadly, was the record increase in redundancies would “add fuel” to the rising jobless count in the coming months. “Pain is still being inflicted on significant parts of the workforce, especially young male jobseekers and the self-employed,” he said.

11.45am Can employers force staff to have the Covid vaccine?

Making the jab mandatory or pressurising employees to have it could lead to criminal implications, says David Sheppard.

11.30am Looking back at 2020 – the year HR stepped up

Katie Jacobs reflects on what has been a challenging yet momentous 12 months for the people profession, and explores its priorities for 2021.

9.30am Industry figures warn of ‘catastrophic financial difficulty’ following theatre closures 

West End theatre closures as London enters tier three on Wednesday will cause serious financial problems for the sector, according to industry figures. An estimated 30 theatres opened at the beginning of this month, with some investing thousands in socially distanced Christmas shows, but will now close under tougher restrictions. 

The Society of London Theatre’s chief executive, Julian Bird, said the move would mean “catastrophic financial difficulties” for thousands of theatre workers. Bird urged the government to consider “rapid compensation” to protect theatres and staff in tier three.

Monday 14 December 

1.30pm CIPD calls for further extension of furlough scheme

The government should not introduce employer contributions when the furlough scheme is reviewed at the end of January, the CIPD has said, or risk causing disruption to businesses.

The body has also called for a further extension of the scheme beyond its planned end date of 31 March 2021, and said support should be gradually phased out to give employers more certainty while vaccinations are being rolled out.

In a letter to chancellor Rishi Sunak, CIPD chief executive Peter Cheese said: “We have been consulting with HR leaders, particularly from those in sectors hardest hit by Covid-19, [and] the message that has come back strongly is that an extension beyond March will be needed to help prevent further significant redundancies given the uncertainty around both the pandemic’s trajectory and the timing and speed of any economic recovery.”

12.45pm How to manage furlough and holiday accrual at Christmas

Helena Rosenstein explores what employers can and can’t do if their business slows or shuts down over the festive season.

1pm Tough HR lessons being learned in schools

The Covid pandemic has increased compliance work for people teams in the education sector – and refocused their approach, says Samantha Hulson.

11.45am London facing tier-three restrictions

London is likely to be placed under tougher tier-three restrictions this week as Covid cases surge in the capital. The mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, told Sky News that an announcement could be made later today. “My understanding is that Covid-O is meeting as we speak – that’s the sub-committee of the cabinet that makes the recommendations. We will have to wait and see what the government decides – it’s a government decision, not my decision or London leaders’ decision,” he said. 

Health secretary Matt Hancock is expected to give a statement this afternoon.

9.15am BDO makes U-turn on furlough payback

Accountancy firm BDO has performed a U-turn and will pay back £4.1m in money it received through the coronavirus job retention scheme after a backlash about payouts to partners. BDO, which employs 6,000 people across the UK, said it would be returning the furlough cash to HMRC within days after “recognising the public mood”. 

The firm prompted a row last week after it decided to keep the furlough money despite paying a total of £137m across 264 partners. BDO initially refused to pay back the money, saying that while there had been a “moral debate” internally about what it should do, the company had concluded it had a greater responsibility “to invest in jobs”.

Paul Eagland, BDO’s managing partner, said: “BDO accepted £4.1m of furlough money from the government to protect jobs that were otherwise at risk. We were planning to review paying this back at the end of our current financial year, which is June 2021. Recognising the public mood requires a much quicker process; we have accelerated this and we will be returning the money before Christmas.”

8.45am Leon proposes cost-cutting measures, but says no jobs cuts on the table

High street food chain Leon has launched a company voluntary arrangement (CVA) aimed at slashing business costs across its sites in a bid to stay afloat amid the pandemic. Leon said it has seen footfall and sales drop as many of its outlets are located at transport hubs and city or town centres. But despite the need to cut costs, the company said no job losses were planned and the “majority” of its restaurants would remain open throughout the process. 

John Vincent, founder and chief executive of Leon, said: “The CVA is intended to provide the company with a foundation to first survive and then carefully rebuild. We had a growing and profitable business before Covid. Despite taking many actions to reduce cost and optimise revenue during the crisis, the continued lockdowns and restrictions have made this CVA a necessity.”

Friday 11 December 

4.40pm Self-isolation period shortened to 10 days 

The self-isolation period for contacts of people with coronavirus, and those returning from high-risk countries, will be shortened from 14 days to 10 across the UK from Monday. The change was announced in a statement from the four UK chief medical officers, who said that they were “confident” in the reduction, which will also apply to anyone who has already self-isolated for 10 days or more. 

However, the NHS app in England will not update its 14-day counter until next Thursday, so those with three days left on their time between Monday and Thursday can leave isolation. Deputy chief medical officer for England, Dr Jenny Harries, said the “tail end” of an infection was the period someone was least likely to transmit infection.

12.40pm Remuneration in 2021: what employers need to consider

This time last year, nobody could have predicted what 2020 had in store, and nine months on from the start of the pandemic in the UK, this year has seen the complete overhaul of many thousands of working lives. Changes to working habits that would otherwise have taken years to materialise have been massively expedited by the coronavirus crisis and employers that may once have been sceptical about remote working were forced to implement it regardless.

And as we head into the new year, many of these new ways of working – though introduced in a hurry – are likely to be sticking around, with many employees potentially reluctant to relinquish their new-found flexibility even after the mass rollout of a vaccine. And new ways of working potentially means new ways of paying those workers too.

With the new year looming, People Management spoke to employment and HR experts about what they think employers should consider when it comes to pay and progression in 2021 and beyond.

12.15pm Remote and flexible working will be the new normal

Majority of employees want to continue working flexibly post-covid and businesses must adapt in order to stay viable, says Niall Eyre.

12.10pm Fatal workplace injuries have dropped, but businesses need to remain vigilant

While the figures show workplaces are safer, employers should be cautious and not let the challenges posed by Covid come at the expense of other hazards, says Nick Wilson.

9.20am Non-essential shops in Scotland reopen 

Non-essential shops are reopening in western Scotland for the first time in three weeks, as areas move from level four to three in its tiered system. Retailers – including those in Glasgow – are now able to welcome customers with pubs, cafes and restaurants reopening tomorrow. Shops were able to reopen from 6am but many staggered opening times to avoid a rush of customers. 

Close contact businesses such as hairdressers and barbers will be able to reopen, alongside visitor attractions and gyms. But soft play, funfairs, indoor bowling alleys, casinos and bingo halls will remain closed. 

8.40am £165m in emergency loans given to arts organisations

More than £165m in emergency loans to some of the UK’s biggest arts and heritage organisations has been announced to ensure they survive the pandemic. The loans are part of the government’s £1.57bn cultural recovery fund to help a sector which has been one of the hardest hit by Covid.

In total, 11 “nationally and internationally significant organisations” which provide work for more than 9,000 people will get the loans. Each will have an initial repayment holiday of up to four years, a low interest rate and a repayment term of up to 20 years.

The Royal Opera House will get £21.7m, the National Theatre £19.7m, the Royal Shakespeare Company £19.4m, the Royal Albert Hall £20.7m, the Southbank Centre £10.9m and English National Opera £8.5m.

Thursday 10 December

1.15pm Employee happiness dropped dramatically during lockdown, report finds

Employee happiness has dropped dramatically and presenteeism has increased during the pandemic, a survey of workers has found, as experts urge business to address a growing ‘always on’ culture caused by home working.

The report by Aviva, Embracing the Age of Ambiguity, which polled 2,000 people in February and August this year, found more employees were happier before the pandemic. In February, one fifth (20 per cent) said they felt complete happiness, compared to just 13 per cent in August.

It also found a significant trend of presenteeism and an ‘always on’ culture among employees. Almost half (44 per cent) felt they never fully switched off from work. The problem was worse among 18 to 24-year-olds, 63 per cent of whom said they regularly checked their emails outside working hours, up from 48 per cent in February.

12.45pm How to continue CSR activities during Covid

Employees’ perception of their workplace is often based on its charitable initiatives – and despite the pandemic, there are still projects firms can carry out, says Andrew Jones.

12.30pm How can businesses protect remote staff from harassment?

Workplace bullying can occur even when employees are at home, but there are steps firms can take, say Gillian Maclellan and Molly Grace.

10.15am South Western Railway cuts onboard catering, putting 130-plus jobs at risk

Rail union RMT has called on the government to reverse South Western Railway’s (SWR) decision to cut onboard catering, putting more than 130 jobs at risk. RMT said SWR planned to terminate its contract with Elior. Elior staff on the SWR contract have been told that the termination of their contract means they will be made redundant on 17 January.

In a letter to the secretary of state for transport, Grant Shapps, RMT said the removal of SWR’s onboard catering provision was “completely counterproductive at a time when the rail industry should be focusing its efforts on encouraging passengers back to the railway”. It continued: “RMT is demanding that the affected staff are brought in-house if SWR is not willing to reinstate the Elior contract, and deployed to other duties until such time as on-board catering can resume. Ultimately, RMT will not allow its members to be made to pay the price of the coronavirus crisis.”

9.45am Frasers Group confirms interest in Arcadia brands

Frasers Group has confirmed it is considering buying Arcadia brands such as Topshop. Speaking to BBC’s Today programme, Chris Wootton, chief financial officer at Frasers Group, said the company was interested in Arcadia brands, but added: “The process has only just started so there’s a long way to go as to ascertain what – if anything – we look at with that.”

Wootton also said Frasers Group was still in discussions around potentially buying Debenhams.

8.30am Asda to close on Boxing Day as a thank you to staff

Supermarket chain Asda is to close on Boxing Day as part of a thank you to staff who have worked throughout the coronavirus crisis. Asda said all of its 631 stores would close for two days over the Christmas break, and frontline staff will also get 100 per cent of their bonus entitlement regardless of whether they have reached sales quotas.

In a message to staff, Roger Burnley, chief executive, said: “This has been a challenging year and you have all done an incredible job, continuing to serve our customers and communities while juggling so many other commitments. But it’s also been challenging from a personal perspective as we have not been able to spend time with our families and friends, which has been hard for us all.

“This is of course our busiest time of year but it was important for us to give as many of you as possible the opportunity to spend this time with those loved ones that you may not have not seen for many months so, uniquely for this year, we will not reopen our stores until 27 December.”

Asda follows other retailers including Marks & Spencer, Pets at Home and toy store The Entertainer in closing. Sainsbury’s said it planned to open stores on Boxing Day, but that most staff would have the day off.

Wednesday 9 November

1.45pm Government reveals 400 free courses to boost skills after pandemic

The government has released a list of nearly 400 free courses to be offered to adults without A-levels as part of its plan to develop in-demand skills after the pandemic.

The courses – available to adults without a full qualification at Level 3 or A-level equivalent from April 2021 – have been selected to help meet the needs of the economy and will be under regular review as the economy changes, the Department for Education has said.

The government has estimated that “tens of thousands” of adults will be able to benefit from the fully funded courses, which mark the first major announcement as part of what prime minister Boris Johnson has dubbed his ‘lifetime skills guarantee’.

1.15pm ‘Woefully inadequate’ SSP preventing workers from self-isolating, report claims

The government’s furlough scheme should be extended to help support employees who need to self-isolate but might choose not to because of the financial burden it poses, a report has said.

The research, published by think tank the Resolution Foundation, has warned that being asked to self-isolate because they may have been exposed to coronavirus can pose a serious financial risk to some workers, which means they may refuse to stay away from work.

It added that the current levels of statutory sick pay – which is worth £96 a week – is “woefully inadequate”, and that the minimum earnings threshold of £120 a week excludes too many people. The charity estimated some two million employees earn below this – including one in four part-time workers, and one in seven workers in retail, hospitality and leisure – leaving them with no income at all if they self-isolate at home.

12.30pm How Aviva supports those facing domestic abuse

As charities brace themselves for an increase in people seeking help over Christmas, Danny Harmer explains the measures the insurance firm has put in place to tackle the problem.

11.30am Amount of time spent working from home outstrips pre-pandemic levels, ONS data shows

The amount of time that people have spent working from home has outstripped pre-pandemic levels, according to data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), with increases in both March/April 2020 and September/October 2020. The ONS found people in employment in 2014-15 were only working from home for an overall average of 22 minutes per day. By March/April 2020, this had increased to an hour and 21 minutes (81 minutes), and by September/October, it rose to an hour and 47 minutes (107 minutes).

The ONS report also found that parents spent more time working in September and October, when compared to the first lockdown. According to the data, parents were doing more paid work on average (up by 54 minutes), while at the same time spent less time on childcare and unpaid housework (down by 51 minutes on average). On an average day, the increase in paid work for parents was almost fully driven by time spent working from home, showing an increase by 90 per cent to 1 hour and 45 minutes on an average day across the week.

10.45am Mother to return furlough payments

Independent creative agency Mother has said it has voluntarily returned all payments received through the government’s job retention scheme to HMRC. When the furlough scheme was launched in April, the London-based firm said it had asked those earning over £30,000 to defer part of their salary, which was due to be repaid in December 2021. Alongside this, Mother said it furloughed 32 people through the scheme – who have since returned from furlough.

Mother said it believed returning the job retention scheme money back to the UK government was the “right thing to do”. Michael Wall, global chief executive, said: “We were grateful to the UK government for releasing these funds at the start of the pandemic. As our year went on, and thanks to the hard work and commitment of our team, we found ourselves in the fortunate position of not needing the financial support. So we’re returning the money.”

9.45am Gateshead tech firm axes 67 jobs

Zytronic, manufacturer of touch screen sensors for cash machines, casinos and rail ticketing machines, has made 67 of its 164 staff redundant after the pandemic severely damaged its sales. The Gateshead-based firm said it underwent a major restructure of its business, which resulted in 40 per cent of its workforce being cut. According to an article on ChronicleLive, Zytronic saw a lack of sales when casinos were forced to shut their doors during the pandemic, and this led to revenue dropping from £20.1m in 2019 to just £12.68m for the year ending 30 September 2020.

9.15am Leeds council to cut 914 jobs 

Leeds Council has announced plans to cut 914 jobs because of Covid pressures. Judith Blake, leader of Leeds City Council, said the redundancies were necessary because the recent government spending review had failed to “fully close the gap caused by pressures associated with Covid-19”, calling the shortfall a “failure of central government”.

Blake said the local authority would be engaging with the government to secure further funding, but currently had no option but to look for further savings. She added that she would do “everything possible” to avoid compulsory redundancies.

“We have already seen a number of valued colleagues leave the council and that impact will continue to be felt as more leave over the coming year,” said Blake. “These are incredibly difficult times for Leeds City Council and none of these recommendations have been made lightly.”

8.30am UK extends ban on evicting commercial tenants

The ban on commercial landlords evicting tenants has been extended until 31 March 2021, the UK government has announced. The eviction moratorium was introduced by the government in March to protect businesses after their revenues were cut as a result of the pandemic and lockdown restrictions.

The moratorium, which has already been extended twice, prevents property owners from pursuing commercial tenants for unpaid rent by legal means or from evicting them. The government has said that this latest extension to the arrangements will be the last. 

Tuesday 8 December

3pm Poundland defends not repaying business rates relief

Poundland said it plans to hold back on repaying business rates relief. Responding to an enquiry by The Grocer, the discount retailer said it should not be judged on the same terms as other chains that saw business increase during lockdown like many of the supermarkets. A spokesman for Poundland said the business did not see a growth in trade because it largely traded on the high street where footfall had dropped by up to 40 per cent. 

The spokesman said it was “hard to understate the importance of the rates holiday” as it helped Poundland “protect its business, invest in the measures it put in place to trade safely and maintain employment”. He added: “Poundland remains of the view there needs to be a rebalancing of the cost of doing business between those online and supermarket retailers who were winners from Covid and able to pay large dividends, and those who continue to support the high streets that are important to communities.”

1pm Three-quarters of job descriptions still failing to offer flexible working

More than three-quarters of job adverts this year made no mention of flexible working, research has found, suggesting recruitment practices are not keeping up with the changing way of working created by the coronavirus pandemic. Analysis of more than six million job vacancies posted between December 2019 and October 2020 found that 78 per cent did not mention any form of flexible working, including job sharing, part-time hours or late starts.

In contrast, the Timewise Flexible Jobs Index found there had been a minimal increase in the number of roles advertised as flexible since the pandemic took hold. In 2019, 15 per cent of jobs were advertised as flexible, rising to 19 per cent in the three months to 23 March, just before the first lockdown.

1pm Booths defers decision on returning business rates relief

Northern supermarket chain Booths has said it will wait until the new year before deciding whether to return its business rates relief. The retailer, which operates 28 stores across the north-west of England, said the increased costs associated with coronavirus safety measures were still ongoing and it would come to a final decision on the issue of rates relief once there was a “clearer picture from the government about what lies ahead”.

Booths said it had so far used the extra funding to support employees self-isolating because of coronavirus. It also paid staff a 10 per cent bonus as a thank you for their work through the pandemic. A spokeswoman for Booths told The Grocer the chain would make “the right decision at the right time”, but that it believed it was “too soon to ‘close the books’ on Covid”.

She added: “The circumstances of the Covid pandemic has had a dramatic effect on retailers and not every business has had the same experience. Not all retailers entered this crisis with the same financial strength or reserves to implement the measures required to keep colleagues, customers and communities safe.”

12.30pm What can the Covid crisis teach us about gender equality?

The pandemic has blurred the boundaries between personal and work life, and this has disadvantaged some women, says Joy Burnford.

12pm Irish soap company triples workforce after surge in hand sanitiser sales

The Handmade Soap Company, based in Slane, Co Meath, has tripled its workforce in 2020 because of the increased sales of hand sanitiser. The company said it saw a spike in sales in March after they began selling hand sanitiser because of the pandemic, and it was able to increase its workforce from 22 to 65 as a result. 

In an article for, Donagh Quigley, founder of the Handmade Soap Company, said: “Things went a bit crazy for us in March – very, very busy – then in April we doubled the workforce, we went from 22 to 45, and since then we’ve increased our workforce to 65, because all the people who bought hand sanitiser came back for our other products.”

11.30am 200 new jobs created at software company Flipdish because of pandemic

Two-hundred jobs will be created in the next year at Flipdish, a food-ordering software company based in Dublin, because of the rapid growth in online food ordering as a result of coronavirus. Flipdish said 50 vacancies are to be filled immediately with the remaining 150 jobs to be filled by the end of 2021. The company, which operates in 15 countries, said it has already added 100 new jobs in 2020.

Roles will be created in areas such as software engineering, product design, data science and mobile engineering. Leo Varadkar, the Irish Tánaiste (deputy to the Taoiseach), welcomed the announcement in a tweet. “Great example of an Irish company adapting quickly to the changes brought about by Covid. They have enabled thousands of businesses in the hard-hit hospitality sector to pivot online,” he said.

11am Ted Baker reveals 950 job cuts since June

Ted Baker has recorded ongoing pre-tax losses as revenues dropped and costs increased linked to the pandemic. The retailer’s revenue fell 45.9 per cent to £169.5m for the 28 weeks ended 8 August, driven by the ongoing impact of Covid on trading. Ted Baker also revealed it had made 953 job cuts across its head offices and stores since June.

In June, the retailer launched a three-year strategic transformation programme, which included the sale of its head office earlier this year and a reduction in its head office costs in the UK and US. Rachel Osborne, chief executive of Ted Baker, said: “While these are still very early days in Ted’s transformation, and the economic outlook remains uncertain, we are confident that we have the right strategy and team in place and that we are setting the business up for future success.”

Monday 7 December

2.15pm Pandemic highlights lack of soft skills among business leaders, poll finds

The coronavirus outbreak has highlighted the lack of soft skills among many business leaders, a report has found, as experts warn employees’ relationships with their managers have never been more important. A poll of 3,500 UK professionals, conducted by City & Guilds, found nearly two-thirds (73 per cent) felt their organisation’s leadership had been lacking during the pandemic.

More than a third (36 per cent) of survey respondents said the leadership failed to empower teams, while a similar percentage (31 per cent) said a lack of empathy could impact on motivation and performance.

1.45pm Increase in mental health-related sickness absence during lockdown, analysis finds

Lockdown has resulted in fewer fit notes being issued to workers, according to an analysis of official data, but a marked increase in mental health-related illnesses, which has resulted in time taken off work. 

The latest data on the number of statements of fitness to work signed by GPs, published by NHS Digital, showed mental health problems now account for four in 10 (41 per cent) of all sick notes signed by GPs during the pandemic.

The research found that overall employees took less time off work during lockdown, which lasted from 23 March to 4 July in England. Analysis by NTT Data found the number of fit notes issued in April, May and June 2020 dropped by 34 per cent when compared to the 12-month average.

12.15pm Older workers are essential to UK businesses

More needs to be done to prevent the over-50s from becoming casualties of the coronavirus crisis, says Emily Andrews.

11am Amazon-owned Whole Foods joins in repaying business rates relief

Amazon has reportedly agreed to pay the UK government £2m worth of business rates relief from its grocery chain, Whole Foods. A source from Amazon told the Retail Gazette that the online giant decided to hand over the savings from the rates holiday to the UK government, following moves from other grocery chains that returned business rates relief.

9.30am B&Q owner Kingfisher to repay £130m of Covid business rates relief

B&Q owner Kingfisher has joined other retailers in returning business support. Kingfisher has said it will repay £130m it received in business rates relief. Last week, Tesco became the first company to say it would return business rates relief, followed by Morrisons, Sainsbury’s, Asda, Aldi, Lidl, Pets at Home and discounter B&M. In total, they have vowed to pay back more than £2bn to the UK government.

8.15am Frasers Group in talks to rescue Debenhams

Frasers Group has confirmed it is working on a possible last-minute rescue of Debenhams. Debenhams is currently set to shut all its stores by the end of next March, putting 12,000 jobs at risk. But Frasers said there was “no certainty” it could save the chain. 

In a statement, Frasers said: “While Frasers Group hopes that a rescue package can be put in place and jobs saved, time is short and the position is further complicated by the recent administration of the Arcadia Group. There is no certainty that any transaction will take place, particularly if discussions cannot be concluded swiftly.”

Friday 4 December 

1.40pm Private sector will see ‘cautiously optimistic’ pay rises in 2021, report predicts

Employees working in the private sector are set to receive inflation-busting pay rises of 2.4 per cent on average next year, according to a new report by Willis Towers Watson.

However, the survey of more than 550 UK companies, revealed wide variations between different sectors, reflecting the ways in which some parts of the economy have fared better than others during the pandemic. Companies in the leisure and hospitality sectors are planning average wage increases of just 1.4 per cent in 2021, while construction, property and engineering firms intend to raise salaries by 1.8 per cent and those in the automotive sector by 1.9 per cent.

Keith Coull, senior director in Willis Towers Watson’s Global Data Services business, said: “Not all industries have been impacted in the same way. While many technology and banking firms have been successful due to their ability to aid digital acceleration and financial liquidity, companies in the hospitality, leisure and airline industries have suffered.

12.30pm UK ‘confident’ of having 800,000 vaccine doses by next week

The government is “absolutely confident” the UK will have 800,000 coronavirus vaccine doses by next week, the business secretary has said. Alok Sharma said some of the Pfizer/BioNTech doses had arrived and more will be coming in the coming week in time for when the UK-wide vaccination programme will start. He added more doses will be expected by the end of the year, but he was unable to say how many that will be.

Sharma told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “We will have – I’m absolutely confident – that we will have 800,000 doses available at the point next week when we start the vaccination programme. Of course, by the end of this year we will expect some more doses to come through – I can’t give you a number on that.”

The UK has ordered 40 million doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine – enough to vaccinate 20 million people. Elderly people in care homes and care home staff have been placed top of the priority list for vaccines, followed by over-80s and frontline health and care staff. Sharma said the bulk of the vaccination programme would be carried out next year, adding that the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) was also reviewing the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine.

12.15pm Lidl to repay £100m business rates relief

Discount supermarket chain Lidl has decided to repay more than £100m business rates relief which it received in the UK during the pandemic. Lidl insists that it has been considering the issue for some time, but has now “brought forward plans to return the relief” to the UK government and the devolved administrations.

Lidl said it was “incredibly grateful” for the support, which let it quickly introduce safety measures, buy 4 million masks and 5,000 protective checkout screens, raise stock levels and hire 2,500 temporary staff.

12pm John Lewis Partnership will not return Covid relief

The John Lewis Partnership – which owns Waitrose and John Lewis – said on Thursday (3 December) that it would not return business rates relief it claimed during the pandemic. The retailer said the government support had helped counteract the devastating impact of the coronavirus crisis on its respective clothing arms. 

11.15am B&M to follow other retailers in returning Covid relief

Discount retailer B&M said it will repay the government its business rates saving of “around £80m”. The move follows a similar decision by Pets at Home, Tesco, Asda and Morrisons. B&M said: “Although significant uncertainty remains, the group believes it is now right to forego the business rates relief granted to B&M”.

Simon Arora, chief executive of the company, added: “We request urgent reform of the outdated business rates system that is contributing to job losses across the retail sector and is acting as a deterrent to B&M and other potential occupiers taking up vacant space in many locations.”

10.05am Pets at Home to hand back Covid rates relief

Pets at Home has said it will repay in full £28.9m of business rates relief it received during the pandemic. It follows similar moves by the UK biggest supermarkets including Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Asda. Pets at Home has been classed as an essential retailer, and its shops were allowed to stay open during lockdown restrictions.

Peter Pritchard, chief executive of Pets at Home, said the company was “very grateful” for the relief provided back in March, and that the cash had helped the firm take the decision to keep its stores, online operations and veterinary practices open during the pandemic. He added Pets at Home was “a robust business, both operationally and financially”, and its decision to return the business rates relief “demonstrates our clear commitment to acting responsibly and treating all of our stakeholders fairly”.

10am New rules allow ‘high-value’ business travellers to skip 14-day quarantine

Senior company executives and City of London dealmakers returning from business trips abroad will be allowed to skip the Covid-19 quarantine restrictions for arrivals in England from Saturday. Currently, travellers coming from non-exempt nations have to quarantine for two weeks, but from tomorrow, some professionals will be able to forgo the fortnight precautionary quarantine.

Exempt professions include senior executives of multinational companies visiting their subsidiaries in England and executives who have left the country on business and are returning for essential company activity, according to the Financial Times report. The exemption will also apply to foreign-based executives seeking to make a financial investment or place a contract in England. Performing arts professionals, TV staff and elite sports persons will also be exempt under the new rules, in hopes to boost the economy.

Thursday 3 December

3pm Rolls-Royce aerospace arm announces 140 further redundancies

A further 140 job cuts have been announced at the Barnoldswick Rolls-Royce site in Lancashire, which manufactures aeroplane fan blades. These recent cuts are in addition 

to the 350 proposed job losses as a result of transferring fan blade work to Singapore.

In a statement, the company said the pandemic had “severely impacted the whole commercial aviation industry” and it must now reduce its manufacturing capacity and cost base to protect its remaining workforce. Chris Cholerton, president of Rolls Royce’s civil aerospace arm said: “This is a very difficult proposal to make, but we cannot afford to retain every Rolls-Royce factory that was supported by demand that has been dramatically reduced by the pandemic.”

Unite the Union described Rolls-Royce’s announcement as “choking the company’s future”, and said proposals to transfer or run down parts of the business were akin to “selling the family silver”.

1.15pm Asda to return £340m of business rate relief

Asda has joined the rush of supermarkets handing back their business rate relief back. Asda has just announced that it will pay its business rates of £340m in full to the UK government and devolved administrations. It comes hours after Sainsbury’s and Aldi announced they would hand back a combined £540m after Tesco and Morrisons did so the day before. 

1.10pm How businesses can rewrite leadership excellence by putting wellbeing first

Managing the blurred boundaries of employees’ personal and work lives will be vital for success beyond Covid, says Helen Grover.

12.25pm Tate to cut 12 per cent of workforce

Tate has announced plans to reduce its workforce by 12 per cent —equivalent to around 120 full-time roles — because of the pandemic. In a statement online from senior management, the museum has launched a voluntary redundancy scheme “in all departments and at all levels” to save the £4.8m required to “survive the crisis”. Though management hoped this voluntary process will “help us make these significant savings”, management said they cannot rule out having to move to compulsory redundancy in 2021 to meet the necessary level of reductions.

11.35am Sainsbury’s and Aldi to hand back £540m of business rates relief

Sainsbury’s and Aldi have said they will hand back a combined £540m of business rates relief they received as support in the pandemic. They follow Tesco and Morrisons, who promised to repay £850m between them. Both Sainsbury’s and Aldi said the decision reflected the fact both supermarket chains had been allowed to stay open during the lockdown.

7.40am Morrisons repay rates relief

Morrisons will pay back £274m worth of business rates relief it received as support during the coronavirus crisis. The decision came just just hours after Tesco said it would repay £585m of Covid business rates relief the chain had received from the government. 

David Potts, chief executive of Morrisons, said the supermarket chain had “done its best work” to meet the “enormous challenges” the pandemic had brought. He added: “We are grateful for the government’s swift action at the start of the pandemic which enabled the whole sector to face squarely into the challenges and disruption caused by Covid-19.”

Wednesday 2 December

3.40pm Virgin Money introduces flexible working week 

Virgin Money has announced it will put an end to the traditional working week as it hails home working during the pandemic a success. The British lender will now let most staff be more flexible over when and where they work.

Discussions are still taking place and further details are yet to be revealed. However, speaking to the Telegraph, chief executive David Duffy said the level of flexibility offered would vary between roles and that the bank would not be putting out “some generic bland statement ”. He claimed the new arrangements would allow staff to “live their best life”. 

The announcement follows Deutsche Bank considering letting all staff work from home twice a week, and Standard Chartered allowing all 75,000 employees they can work from home whenever they want.

2.50pm AIB to cut 1,500 jobs

Allied Irish Banks (AIB) has announced plans to cut 1,500 jobs, closing some of its branches and pulling out of much of its UK lending as part weir plants to save costs. The banking group had paused its voluntary redundancy programme in March because of the pandemic, but AID said it will to restart the programme early next year. The restructure is expected to be completed by 2023.

Colin Hunt, chief executive of AIB, said the group’s restructure has been “influenced by the accelerating effect of Covid-19” on customers’ preference for digital banking and emerging new trends in how and where our people work. He added: “Our heightened focus on cost controls, the pursuit of new growth opportunities and our investment in digital innovation will enhance the range of financial services and products for our customers, while generating value for our shareholders and putting the bank on an even stronger footing to meet the challenges ahead.”

John O’Connell, general secretary of the Financial Services Union, said the announcement of the redundancies was poorly timed and called for them to be postponed. “We are still in the middle of a worldwide pandemic. No major announcements on job cuts should be made at this stage, particularly by a bank that is part owned by the Irish government.” he said.

1.25pm One in eight older workers delaying retirement because of coronavirus, poll finds

The pandemic is causing older workers to delay their retirement plans, a survey has found, raising concerns that the financial impact of coronavirus could be forcing people to work for longer.

A YouGov poll of 2,114 UK adults found that, among over-55s who planned to retire in the future, one in eight (13 per cent) had made the decision to delay their retirement plans because of the pandemic.

The poll, conducted for Smart, also highlighted financial concerns among older employees planning to retire. More than half (52 per cent) of all UK adults said they were concerned about only being able to afford a limited lifestyle in retirement.

11.55am Use Tesco’s money to help pubs, says industry body

The Society of Independent Brewers (SIBA) is urging the government to redistribute Tesco’s £585m business rates relief to pubs and breweries. Earlier today, Tesco said it would be returning business rates relief it received from the government during the pandemic. The SIBA said the redistributed funds could help offset some of the lost sales due to tier 2 and 3 restrictions over the Christmas period.

The SIBA said the funding would be worth £14,000 to each of the UK’s 40,000 pubs and 2,000 breweries. James Calder, chief executive of the SIBA, said supermarkets have “thrived” during the crisis, and that UK’s pubs and brewers “have been left behind”. He said: “Other supermarkets should follow the good example set by Tesco’s, return the relief they didn’t need and the government should use the money wisely to give us a chance to see in the New Year.”

11.50am What challenges will 2021 bring for HR teams?

Change has been a constant theme in 2020, and next year will be no different, says Ross Seychell.

10.35am Bonmarché falls into administration

Women’s fashion chain Bonmarché has fallen into administration, putting more than 1,500 jobs at risk. Administrators said the brand’s 225 stores would continue to trade while options for the business were explored. Bonmarché was owned by retail tycoon Philip Day, who also owns Edinburgh Woollen Mill, Peacocks and Ponden Home stores which collapsed into administration last month.

9.45am Pfizer vaccine approved for use next week in UK

The UK has approved the Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccine for widespread use, making it the first country to do so. The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) said the jab – which offers up to 95 per cent protection against coronavirus – is safe to rollout for nationwide use next week. The UK has already ordered 40m doses, enough to vaccinate 20m people.

Experts have drawn up a provisional priority list for those who will be prioritised for vaccinations first. It targets people at highest risk including care home residents and staff, people over 80 and other health and social care workers.

Speaking to BBC Breakfast this morning, health secretary Matt Hancock said: “I’m confident now with the news today that from spring, from Easter onwards, things are going to be better and we’re going to have a summer next year that everybody can enjoy.”

Prime minister Boris Johnson tweeted: “It’s the protection of vaccines that will ultimately allow us to reclaim our lives and get the economy moving again.”

9.10am New tier system comes into force in England

England has returned to a tiered system of coronavirus restrictions after its second national lockdown ended. The tougher new system has come into force hours after being approved by MPs in a Commons vote. The government said the move would help “safeguard the gains made during the past month”.

Non-essential shops and other businesses, including personal care services such as hairdressers and beauty salons, can now reopen for the first time in four weeks. Pubs and restaurants can reopen in tier one and two areas, although in tier two alcohol can only be served with a “substantial meal”.

8.40am Tesco to repay Covid-19 business rates relief

Tesco is repaying £585m of business rates relief it received during the coronavirus pandemic. The grocery chain announced the move this morning (2 December), saying it was “immensely grateful” for the financial and policy support provided by the government. This included utilising the government’s 12-month break on business rates granted to all retailers.

Tesco and other supermarkets faced uncertainty earlier this year as panic buying, severe pressure on supply lines, major safety concerns and the risk of mass absences from work caused strain on the sector.

In a statement today Tesco said: “Ten months into the pandemic, our business has proven resilient in the most challenging of circumstances. While all businesses have been impacted – many severely so – we have been able to continue trading throughout, serving many millions of customers every day and although uncertainties still exist, some of the potential risks faced earlier in the year are now behind us.”

Tuesday 1 December 

5pm Gove debunks ‘vaccine passport’ rumour

Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove has confirmed there are no plans to introduce a coronavirus “vaccine passport”, amid rumours that hospitality venues could deny entry for those without. Gove told the BBC “that’s not the plan”, after the vaccine minister Nadhim Zahawi – appointed as the new health minister to oversee the vaccine rollout in England – suggested businesses could bar unvaccinated customers.

When asked about the need to provide an immunity passport post-vaccine, Zahawi said: “I think you’ll probably find that restaurants and bars and cinemas and other venues, sports venues, will probably also use that system [immunity passport].” However, Gove cautioned against “getting ahead of ourselves” as the “most important thing” is making sure the vaccine is rolled out, but he added that businesses would “of course” have “capacity to make decisions about who they will admit and why.” 

3pm Welsh brewery chain to close more than 100 pubs

The boss of Brains – Wales’ biggest brewery chain – has said it will close more than 100 pubs and furlough the majority of its 1,500 staff, calling the country’s new alcohol rules “closure by stealth”. Welsh pubs and restaurants will be banned from selling alcohol from Friday (4 December) and must close after 6pm. Mark Drakeford, first minister of Wales, said the new rules would tackle a rise in coronavirus cases.

Alistair Darby, chief executive of Brains, said the new rules were “insulting” and “a huge slap in the face” for the sector. Brains directly employs around 1,500 people and has 300 tenants as well as suppliers and regular trades people.

2pm Edinburgh Zoo starts redundancy process

Edinburgh Zoo has started making job cuts and has warned it could even be forced to sell animals if it does not get government funding support, an MP told the Edinburgh Evening News. Christine Jardine, MP for Edinburgh West, called on both the UK and Scottish governments to provide funding as vital conservation work is under threat after the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS) confirmed the zoo had started the redundancy process.

Jardine said she was “at a loss” to understand why the governments were not doing more to protect jobs at the RZSS and the vital work it does to conserve species like the Scottish wildcat. She said: “I am in regular contact with the RZSS, [which has] confirmed that the redundancy process has begun, so I would urge both governments to think carefully and extend emergency funding to tide the charity through the coming months.”

1.15pm Trade fair specialist Reed Exhibitions cuts staff

Trade fair company Reed Exhibitions has begun a redundancy programme that includes senior director jobs. According to a report in the Financial Times, at least 500 staff – just over 10 per cent of the company’s total – have already left or will leave Reed Exhibitions by the end of the year. The chief executive of Reed Exhibitions UK business and its regional head of finance are among senior executives who are set to leave. Other executive roles in marketing, sales and commercial are being merged with only three of the nine people on Reed Exhibitions’ UK boardroom expected to remain.

Reed Exhibitions did not disclose the number of job cuts to the FT but said it was “implementing necessary cost reductions across our global organisation”. It added that it was planning to run 90 per cent of events originally scheduled for 2021, with most of them taking place in the second half of the year.

11.30am Sturgeon pledges £500 bonus to NHS and care workers 

Nicola Sturgeon has promised to pay a £500 bonus to Scottish NHS and care workers and has called on Boris Johnson to make the payment tax-free. During a speech at the Scottish National Party conference, the first minister said health and social care workers deserved recognition. “We are asking nothing of the UK government – with this one exception. Please allow our health and care heroes to keep every penny of Scotland’s thank you to them. Do not take any of it away in tax,” she said. 

Sturgeon’s aides admitted they did not know whether the UK tax system would allow the bonus to be made tax free, with one suggesting it was up to the prime minister to work out the logistics. She also unveiled funding pledges to apprentices, which included a  £100-a-week apprenticeship bonus for school leavers under 18 and £5,000 to firms for each new apprentice they hire.

10am Debenhams and Arcadia Group fall into administration 

Two prominent high street shopping chains have fallen into administration today, putting at risk a total of 25,000 jobs. Retailer Debenhams has said it will go into liquidation after efforts to resuscitate the department store failed, which could result in all 12,000 employees losing their jobs over the coming months unless administrators secure a deal for all parts of the business.

The news comes hours after Topshop owner Arcadia group announced its administration – which had been expected for a number of days – putting 13,000 jobs at risk.

Geoff Rowley, partner at FRP Advisory, joint administrator to Debenhams, said: “All reasonable steps were taken to complete a transaction that would secure the future of Debenhams. However, the economic landscape is extremely challenging and, coupled with the uncertainty facing the UK retail industry, a viable deal could not be reached.”

Monday 30 November

1.15pm Wales to reintroduce curfew to hospitality

After Friday, pubs, bars and restaurants in Wales will no longer be allowed to serve alcohol and will be required to close by 6pm.

The devolved government has said that without the new rules, which will come into force at 6pm on Friday and will also affect other indoor venues including soft play areas, bingo halls and casinos, Wales could see a spike in hospitalisations and preventable deaths caused by the virus in early January.

Currently non-essential shops, hairdressers, gyms and leisure centres are not affected by the new restrictions, but the Welsh government has not ruled out expanding the curfew if necessary. The new rules come less than a month after the end of its two-week ‘firebreak’ lockdown.

1pm Weight Watchers to cut half of UK coaches 

Weight Watchers – which rebranded as WW International in 2018 – is attempting to slim down its organisational costs, with plans to shed up to half its UK coaches as soon as next week. Sources told The Telegraph that the US company could make up to 50 per cent of its nearly 800 UK-based coaches redundant, although some of the departures will be voluntary.

WW coaches motivate members through their programmes via live chats and in-person sessions; however, a spokesperson for the company said the pandemic had shifted its focus to digital offerings.

A WW spokesperson said: “As the ongoing Covid crisis has forced the closure of our workshops around the world, we have had to make difficult decisions that will impact some of our valued team members. With the accelerated growth of our digital offerings in both our WW app and the launch of virtual workshops, we are taking this time to look at our physical footprint.”

12.45pm One in seven workers say employer monitoring has increased during Covid

More than one in seven (15 per cent) employees have reported that monitoring by their employer has increased since the pandemic began in March, according to new research.

In the poll of more than 3,000 workers across the UK – part of a survey commissioned by the TUC – more than a quarter (27 per cent) reported having their work communication screened, while 13 per cent had experienced desktop monitoring. A further 8 per cent of workers said their social media had been screened.

The research also found employers were using technologies to assess when employees started and finished work (26 per cent) and the amount of time taken on breaks (13 per cent).

12.15pm No last-minute deal for Arcadia Group, sources warn

Arcadia Group could collapse within hours, the BBC has reported, putting thousands of jobs on the line. The retail group, which includes Topshop, Burton and Dorothy Perkins, could enter administration today, as senior sources at the company said they did not expect any last-minute rescue deals or a cash injection to help plug the gap from lost sales during the pandemic. 

The BBC first reported on Friday that the group – which has been hit hard by the coronavirus outbreak and subsequent lockdowns – could be entering administration, putting some 13,000 jobs at risk. It had already announced 500 job cuts to its head office earlier this year. 

12pm The latest furlough updates – explained

Melanie Lane and Tracey Marsden outline the implications for employers of the government’s job retention scheme guidelines.

8.45am Qantas confirms 2,000 more job cuts

Airline Qantas has confirmed a further 2,000 jobs will be made redundant as it moves to outsource ground handling operations. It brings the total job losses at the Australian-based business to around 8,500 after it made more than 6,000 staff redundant when Covid-19 border restrictions were introduced earlier this year. The new round of job cuts will mainly affect ground handling operations at 10 airports across Australia.

Andrew David, chief executive of Qantas domestic and international, said the job cuts signified “another tough day” for the airline, but the redundancies were a result of the pandemic turning the aviation industry “upside down”. David added: “Airlines around the world are having to make dramatic decisions in order to survive and the damage will take years to repair.” Quantas said all affected ground handling staff will be entitled to a redundancy package and be given support to transition to new jobs outside the business.

Friday 27 November

9.25am Fullers cuts 350 roles

Pub operator Fullers has shed 20 per cent of its workforce – nearly 1,000 people – since March, including 350 redundancies, Sky News has reported. The brewer and pub chain said its pre-tax losses rose to £22.2m for the six months to the end of September, compared with a £17.9m profit a year earlier.

Chief executive Simon Emeny said the imminent rollout of a Covid-19 vaccine meant “a return to normality is in sight”, but warned business would be difficult in the interim. “We are optimistic about the future in the medium term and beyond but there is no doubt that this will be a tough winter and a very different looking Christmas,” he said.

Thursday 26 November

1.40pm One in five employers monitoring remote workers or planning to do so, poll finds

One in five employers (20 per cent) are already using, or plan to introduce, software to monitor employees who are working from home, according to a new report released today, despite evidence that employees are now more engaged and loyal compared to the start of the pandemic.

The YouGov survey of 2,000 employers, commissioned by Skillcast, found 12 per cent of firms were already monitoring their staff remotely, while 8 per cent had plans to implement monitoring. Another 6 per cent were considering whether to implement monitoring in the future. Surveillance was also more prevalent among larger companies, 12 per cent of which were already monitoring their workforce, while 11 per cent have plans to introduce monitoring.

12.55pm Spending review leaves ‘big gap’ in skills investment, says CIPD

The chancellor’s spending review has not done enough to support businesses to develop the skills they need beyond the coronavirus crisis, experts have warned, despite plans to inject billions into helping the long-term unemployed back into work.

In his spending review yesterday (25 November), Rishi Sunak pledged to spend £3bn on a new ‘Restart’ programme to provide those who have been out of work for more than 12 months with tailored job-seeking support. Sunak also announced plans to increase both the national living wage and the national minimum wage, as well as pay rises for some NHS staff and the lowest-paid public sector workers.

However, Ben Willmott, head of public policy at the CIPD, said the spending review revealed a “big gap” on its promise to prioritise skills. He said the government’s ambition and level of investment in this area “fails to do enough” in the current crisis.

12.45pm Could Covid boost gender-balanced cultures?

The pandemic could signal an opportunity to improve equality in businesses, says Caroline Gosling.

10.55am Dentons starts redundancy consultation 

International law firm Dentons has opened a redundancy consultation which could affect up to 24 workers, but says job losses should be limited by the creation of “virtual roles”. The firm said the pandemic had accelerated its digital strategy, and the business is looking to create a “small number” of non office-based roles in its energy, transport and infrastructure and non-contentious construction practices. Other jobs will be relocated to Scotland.

Dentons said it is reviewing its approach to salaries for virtual roles, to ensure that they are “fair and equitable”. It did not provide details on whether the content of the jobs themselves would change. In July, Dentons announced the closure of two UK offices to cater for full-time remote working and shrink its real estate footprint. 

9.10am Mitchells & Butlers confirms around 1,300 jobs cut

Mitchells & Butlers has confirmed around 1,300 jobs have been axed as it revealed the pandemic resulted in a £123 million annual loss for the pubs giant. The group – which owns All Bar One, Harvester and Toby Carvery – said earlier this month it was closing up to 20 of its pubs and restaurants and started redundancy consultations with staff, but did not at the time disclose how many roles were at risk.

Mitchells & Butlers said: “Despite our best efforts to protect as many jobs as we can, we have had to make circa 1,300 redundancies following the end of the financial period. The reduced levels of activity and closure of a small number of our sites meant that we could no longer support these roles.”

8.25am Eurostar appeals to UK government for urgent financial support 

Eurostar has appealed to the UK government for urgent financial support, warning it was “fighting for survival” with just one train a day now running from London to Paris as a result of the coronavirus. Eurostar chief executive Jacques Damas has written to the chancellor, Rishi Sunak, asking for assistance after the Treasury announced it would help struggling airports with up to £8m each, based on their equivalent business rates. 

A spokesman for Eurostar said: “The new scheme of rates relief for airports puts Eurostar at a direct disadvantage against its airline competitors. Eurostar has been left fighting for its survival against a 95 per cent drop in demand, whilst aviation has received over £1.8bn in support through loans, tax deferrals and financing. We would ask this scheme to be extended to include international rail services, and more generally for the government to incorporate high-speed rail in its support for the travel sector, and in doing so help protect the green gateway to Europe.”

A Department for Transport spokesperson said ministers recognised the significant financial challenges facing Eurostar, adding: “The government has been engaging extensively with Eurostar on a regular basis since the beginning of the outbreak. We will continue to work closely with them as we support the safe recovery of international travel.”

7.45am Venues claimed more than £849m through government subsidised dining scheme

More than 49,000 businesses took advantage of a government-funded initiative to draw diners back after Covid lockdown, according to official HMRC figures. Restaurants, cafes and pubs claimed more than £849m through the government’s month-long ‘eat out to help out’ scheme, as diners bought more than 160m discounted meals in August. 

Official figures showed more than half (55 per cent) of claims were made by restaurants, while just under a third (28 per cent) were made by pubs. The figures showed less than 1 per cent of claims were filed by businesses with more than 25 outlets, although these companies accounted for a third of the meals claimed for and a quarter of total discount claims.

Wednesday 25 November 

2.15pm Chancellor announces £3bn unemployment scheme and minimum wage increases

Chancellor Rishi Sunak has pledged billions of pounds in funding to help the long-term unemployed into work as part of plans to support the economy during the coming year.

Setting out the government’s spending review this afternoon, Sunak announced he would be creating a £3bn ‘Restart’ programme to provide those who have been out of work for more than 12 months with tailored job-seeking support.

However, the chancellor said he expected unemployment to continue to rise well into 2021. “Despite the extraordinary support we’ve provided, the [Office for Budget Responsibility] expects unemployment to rise to a peak in the second quarter of next year of 7.5 per cent – 2.6 million people,” he said.

1.30pm Employer efforts helped curb Covid redundancies, figures suggest

The latest official employment figures suggest efforts by employers to avoid redundancies caused by the economic fallout of coronavirus have been paying off, experts have said, despite a rise in the number of workless households.

Figures released today by the Office for National Statistics have shown that, between July and September this year, there were 2.7 million workless households in the UK – 13.4 per cent of of the total – reflecting an increase of 20,000 on the same period in 2019.

The figures also showed a drop in the number of households where all adults were in work, down from 12.5 million to 12.2 million, equivalent to 58.9 per cent of households. Similarly, the proportion of households where at least one adult was out of work rose from 26.9 per cent in 2019 to 27.7 per cent this year – with 153,000 additional homes falling into this category.

12.45pm Are redundant employees allowed paid time off for job hunting?

With cuts increasing as businesses seek to reduce costs, James Tamm explains the legal position on leave for staff to find their next role.

11.45am Debenhams may close up to 60 stores, putting thousands of jobs at risk

Up to 60 Debenhams shops could close next year as part of a rescue deal for the department store chain, putting thousands of jobs at risk.

The Guardian has reported that JD Sports has entered talks to buy the department store and is thought to be mainly interested in its website. However, analysts told the paper the sports retailer could also take on almost half of Debenhams’s 124 outlets. 

Debenhams has been considering a potential sale since the summer after going into administration in April, for the second time in a year. As part of a pack for potential buyers, the store – which employs 12,000 people – outlined plans for the possible closure of between 20 and 60 stores over time. 

10am One in five North Sea oil companies ‘expect job cuts in 2021’

Around one in five British oil and gas companies expect to cut more jobs in 2021 after the pandemic wreaked havoc on the sector, according to a survey. Research by Aberdeen & Grampian Chamber of Commerce, in partnership with the Fraser of Allander Institute and KPMG, found 22 per cent of contractors in the oil and gas sector laid off more than 10 per cent of their workforce in 2020.

In 2020, 83 per cent of firms used the job retention scheme, with employers on average furloughing 35 per cent of their workforce. The majority of operators (78 per cent) said the outlook for the future wasn’t much better, with more than half (58 per cent) expecting the situation to worsen in 2021. Just 1 per cent of companies felt more confident. 

Tuesday 24 November

4pm Don’t go to work when sick, heath secretary tells workers

Speaking at a joint session of the Health and Social Care and Science and Technology committees, health secretary Matt Hancock urged workers to stop going to their workplace when sick and making others ill, describing the UK workforce as “peculiarly unusual and outliers” compared to other countries when it comes to going to work when sick.

“I want to have a change in the British way of doing things where ‘if in doubt, get a test’ doesn’t just refer to coronavirus but refers to any illness that you might have,” he said, “Why in Britain do we think it’s acceptable to soldier on and go into work if you have flu symptoms or a runny nose, thus making your colleagues ill?”

3pm Video game developer making job cuts

Video game developer Bossa has announced a round of redundancies. The studio – which created the video game Surgeon Simulator – told Eurogamer that initially 13 positions out of the 85-strong London company were at risk, but this figure has reduced to 10 and could be lower by the time the consultation period ends. A source at the studio said Bossa had suffered a number of internal issues throughout 2020 as the company shifted to work from home and then crunched in the months leading up to the August release of the sequel to Surgeon Simulator.

In a prepared statement, Bossa’s management admitted some at the studio were unhappy with the company’s new direction. The statement read: “A small number of people are unhappy with these changes and, as unfortunate as that is, there’s little we can do other than be candid about our motives and support them as much as possible. They have the right to feel the way they do about these decisions if so they chose to, and criticise us for it. That’s just the way things work.”

1pm What does the new tiered lockdown scheme mean for employers?

As the end of the national lockdown in England approaches, prime minister Boris Johnson outlined plans last night (23 November) for what happens next. As many expected, on 2 December the country will return to a localised three-tiered system, similar to the scheme introduced in October, with employees who are able to do so being asked to continue working from home for the foreseeable future.

Employers have been specifically warned not to expect a sudden change, with Johnson saying yesterday that he expected things “will look and feel very different” after Easter – leading to speculation that the work from home advice could stay in place until April.

While it is still unclear which areas of the country will go into which tier next week, the government has published its 60-page winter plan, outlining in detail what each level involves – with each tier in this iteration of the system notably stricter than before the England-wide lockdown. But what will this mean in practice for employers, and how can they manage the transition from lockdown to the new tier system? People Management consulted the experts.

12.30pm Five ways to help your staff deal with seasonal affective disorder

With lockdown coinciding with shorter days and lower temperatures, many employees are struggling with mental ill-health. Jake Third explains how managers can support them.

11.45am Cineworld secures £560m cash lifelines to weather pandemic

Cineworld has secured financial lifelines worth $750m (£560m) to weather the coronavirus pandemic. The chain, which shut all of its 660 movie theatres in the US and the UK in October, said the financial agreements meant it had enough liquidity to make it through next year as long as cinemas are allowed to reopen by May. The company said it had managed to cut rental costs after agreeing abatements and deferrals with key landlords.

10.15am Redundancies at Ffestiniog & Welsh Highland Railways

Ffestiniog & Welsh Highland Railways have announced the decision to make 32 staff redundant. Paul Lewin, director and general manager, said the tourism operator’s income had gone from making £6m this year to just £1m because of the pandemic, adding that the commercial side of operation – including train trips and cafes – were also forced to close. “We expect spring to still be difficult but are pinning our hopes on summer and autumn returning to some sort of normality,” he said.

The railway lines are a major tourist attraction and employer in Gwynedd, Wales – bringing a £25m annual contribution to the local economy. It employed 97 staff at the start of 2020, but the total headcount is now 60.

9.30am Haven Holidays and Swanage Railway to cut jobs

Haven Holidays and Swanage Railway have said they will be cutting jobs amid warnings that the tourism industry is being “hit incredibly hard” by the Covid crisis. Haven Holidays – which operates Weymouth Bay, Littlesea and Seaview parks in Weymouth as well as Rockley Park in Poole – is making an unspecified number of people redundant amid the “seismic effect” of the pandemic. The board of Swanage Railway Company is making six compulsory redundancies after an offer of voluntary redundancy found only two takers, meaning the company will see eight redundancies in total. 

A spokesperson for Haven’s parent company, Bourne Leisure, said: “The pandemic has had a seismic effect on the tourism and hospitality sector and we are saddened that it is leading to significant change and jobs being at risk. As a company, we are committed to redeploying as many of our highly valued team members as possible to other roles within our brands.”

7.40am Danone will axe up to 2,000 jobs globally

Yogurt maker Danone has announced it is cutting between 1,500 and 2,000 jobs globally – including one in four workers at its global headquarters in Paris – as part of a major cost-saving restructuring programme. The company, which owns brands Alpro, Actimel and So Delicious, said it plans to reach €1bn (£1.07bn) in annual cost savings by 2023 by reducing its overhead costs by 20 per cent and procuring goods more efficiently. Danone currently employs around 100,000 staff globally.

Monday 23 November

4.45pm England to return to three-tier system after lockdown

Prime minister Boris Johnson has announced that England will revert back to a three-tier system after lockdown ends on 2 December, while shops and gyms will be permitted to reopen. However, Johnson added he was “sorry to say” areas may temporarily fall into higher levels of restrictions than they were previously.

Under the new system, individuals will be asked to continue to work from home where possible under the lowest level tier-one restrictions. Tier two will see that only pubs serving meals are allowed to reopen and the highest level, tier three, will see indoor entertainment and hospitality venues close except for delivery and takeaway.

Johnson added that tiers will now be a “uniform set of measures” with no local negotiations. The specifics of which areas will fall into which tier are expected to be announced later this week.

1.45pm Number of unemployed older workers increased by a third during lockdown, data suggests

The number of unemployed people aged over 50 in the UK has increased by a third in the past year, according to new data. There were 371,000 unemployed older people in July to September 2020, a 33 per cent rise from the 280,000 unemployed over-50s during the same period last year. 

The figures, provided in the latest Labour Market Statistics issued by the Office for National Statistics and analysed by job site Rest Less, suggested this was the biggest percentage increase of all age groups and significantly more than the national average increase of 24 per cent. Stuart Lewis, founder of Rest Less, said the UK was facing a “less well-documented” long-term unemployment “disaster” among older workers. 

“In the year that the state pension age moves to 66 and universal credit claims among the over-50s have surged to more than 600,000, more needs to be done to tackle systemic ageism in the workplace to help these talented, life-rich workers find meaningful employment,” Lewis said. 

1.30pm Why we need a fresh approach to fair flexibility

Lockdown restrictions have forced businesses to rethink what flexible working looks like for different types of employee, says Sarah Jackson.

1pm Covid has pushed mental health to a tipping point

Working from home for long periods can seriously damage your state of mind, so employers must up their game on wellbeing, says Daniel Stander.

9.45am Mining company rolls out social distancing tech to employees 

Employees at Anglo American have been given security passes that flash red if they stand too close together. In a bid to keep on the right side of social distancing rules, staff at its Trafalgar Square-based headquarters have been asked to wear the traffic light-style passes that measure the distance between people. 

The passes turn amber when staff are between 1.5 metres and three metres of each other, flashing red and beeping when the distance is below 1.5 metres. Rohan Davidson, chief information officer at Anglo American, told The Mail on Sunday: “The wearables remind people they need to stay distant. People are social animals and we can remind them as much as we like.” 

9.15am Heathrow Airport to furlough all managers

Heathrow Airport has launched a new voluntary redundancy scheme, furloughing its entire head office staff with the exception of its chief executive. According to emails sent by Heathrow executives on Friday (20 November), seen by Sky News, the company outlined a new voluntary redundancy scheme and a requirement for staff to be placed on furlough for at least four weeks between the beginning of December and the end of March

Sources told Sky News that the furlough requirement would apply to every Heathrow employee other than John Holland-Kaye, the airport’s chief executive. The news comes after workers at the airport voted in favour of industrial action over four days next month, which unions have warned will mean that Heathrow “will grind to a halt”.

In an email to Heathrow employees, Paula Stannett, the airport’s chief people officer, said: “With the extension of the furlough scheme until 31 March 2021, all non-operational colleagues (negotiated and non-negotiated grades) and operational colleagues in non-negotiated grades will be required to take a minimum of four weeks (20 days) of furlough between 1 December and 31 March (pro-rated for part-time colleagues).This furlough could be taken in one continuous block or as flexi-furlough; for example, as one or two days each week. Reduced workload in some teams will mean that some colleagues will also continue to be asked to take longer periods on furlough.”

8.15am Gyms and all shops to reopen after English lockdown

Non-essential shops and gyms in all areas are expected to be allowed to reopen to the public when England’s lockdown ends. This afternoon (23 November) the prime minister will explain the details of England’s return to the ‘three-tier system’ when lockdown ends on 2 December. More areas are set to be placed in the higher tiers – high risk or very high risk – after lockdown, the government has said, but details of which tier every region of England will be put into are expected on Thursday.

While parts of the tier system will be tougher, Johnson is expected to announce that the 10pm closing time for pubs and restaurants will be relaxed, alongside gyms and shops reopening. Additionally, Johnson will lay out plays for mass testing to be introduced in all tier-three areas. He will say rapid testing with military support, as used in Liverpool, will form part of the stricter system.

It had been hoped that the government would announce arrangements for the Christmas period this afternoon, but this has been reportedly delayed until at least Tuesday (24 November) to allow the Scottish and Welsh cabinets to agree the plans. It comes hours after the government said the UK’s four nations had backed plans to allow some household mixing “for a small number of days” over Christmas.

7.30am Leeds council set to cut 200 more jobs

Almost 200 more jobs are set to be cut by Leeds City Council as the authority struggles to balance its finances during the pandemic. In October the council revealed 600 jobs were at risk of being made redundant. But last week the local authority was presented with a report that found it faces an estimated £118.8m shortfall for the next two years. 

The report also outlined potential savings Leeds City Council could make with the additional job cuts. Judith Blake, leader of Leeds City Council, said local authorities needed additional support from the central government during Covid. She said: “The impact of coronavirus, combined with national reductions to local government budgets over the last decade, has been of a scale nobody could have predicted. We will make every effort to protect frontline services and we will do everything possible to not make compulsory redundancies.”

Friday 20 November 

1.45pm UK at ‘coronavirus crossroads’ for gender equality, report warns

Workplace equality is suffering from the devastating impact of Covid-19, with women falling further behind men in their treatment by employers, a charity has warned. In a new report released to mark Equal Pay Day today – the date in the calendar year when women effectively stop being paid because of the gender pay gap – the Fawcett Society warned women were more likely to have been furloughed and will be at higher risk of unfair redundancies when the furlough scheme ends. It said more than four in 10 (43 per cent) working women were worried about their job or promotion prospects, while one in three (35 per cent) working mothers had lost work or seen their hours cut due to childcare responsibilities. Sam Smethers, chief executive at the Fawcett Society, said: “The Second World War gave birth to the welfare state; the winter of discontent led to a new Thatcherite era. The coronavirus crisis puts us at a crossroads again and it is clear that this applies to the gender pay gap.” 

1.30pm Covid renewing employers’ focus on internal talent pools, research finds

A survey of more than 250 UK business leaders by LinkedIn found that nearly a third of employers (31 per cent) said they would be focusing on giving employees the opportunity to move into different roles internally in the next six months. A similar number (32 per cent) said that reskilling and upskilling employees is a top priority for 2021. Janine Chamberlin, senior director at LinkedIn, said the continued uncertainty around Covid-19 has meant many companies are looking to “tap existing employees for new opportunities within their organisations” instead of hiring external candidates. “Encouraging internal mobility not only boosts retention and improves employee engagement, but it can also help companies evolve their businesses from within and bridge any existing skills gaps,” Chamberlain said. 

1pm Will coronavirus widen the pay divide?

Previous crises have hit women’s earning power more than men’s, say Tracey Marsden and Catriona Aldridge. There are signs that Covid might do the same 

12.30pm “Lockdown forced us to take our recruitment online – but now it’s staying that way”

For Duncan Short, the pandemic meant making some radical changes to hiring – but many of those changes have become permanent 

11.10am Hundreds of Facebook workers accuse firm of forcing staff into the office 

Hundreds of Facebook workers have accused the firm of forcing content moderators back into the office amid the pandemic. An open letter from 334 staff around the world has accused the social media platform of “needlessly risking” lives to maintain profits, and called for staff to be given the ability to work remotely, alongside hazard pay.  According to BBC reports, Facebook said “a majority” of content reviewers were working from home. “While we believe in having an open internal dialogue, these discussions need to be honest,” a spokesperson said. “The majority of these 15,000 global content reviewers have been working from home and will continue to do so for the duration of the pandemic.” 

9am Fieldfisher makes 20 administrative roles redundant 

Law firm Fieldfisher has made 20 secretaries and personal assistants redundant, as the pandemic caused a fall in demand for administrative support. A total of five staff have also been redeployed in other roles.  A spokesperson for Fieldfisher told Law Gazette that Covid-19 accelerated  long-term plans that were already under consideration. They said: “The pandemic highlighted that with new ways of working flexibly there was less demand for administrative support and as such, sadly, the secretarial pool needed to be reduced.”  

8.25am Peacocks and Jaeger collapse puts 4,700 jobs at risk

Fashion chains Peacocks and Jaeger have fallen into administration, putting more than 4,700 jobs and almost 500 shops at risk. It comes after the chains’ owner Edinburgh Woollen Mill (EWM) Group failed to find a buyer for both businesses. The EWM Group blamed the pandemic for a collapse in trade, but said it was still in talks with potential buyers.  In a statement, the EWM Group said: “In recent weeks we have had constructive discussions with a number of potential buyers for Peacocks and Jaeger. But the continuing deterioration of the retail sector due to the impact of the pandemic and second lockdown have made this process longer and more complex than we would have hoped.”  The news comes two weeks after EWM Group called in administrators for its eponymous clothing chain and its homeware brand Ponden Home, putting almost 3,000 more jobs at risk.

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