Colors: Purple Color

The Government’s Help to Buy scheme, designed to help first-time buyers on to the property ladder, is changing soon, offering fresh opportunities to would-be home buyers in Birmingham, says Persimmon Homes.

Introduced in 2013, Help to Buy enabled purchasers to put down just a 5% deposit on a newly-built home, with up to 20% of the full cost of the home being funded by a shared equity loan, which is interest-free for the first five years.

Originally aimed at both first-time buyers and existing homeowners, the new equity loan scheme will be limited to those new to the housing market from April 2021.

Neil Williams, managing direct of Persimmon Homes Central, said: “Starting on 1 April next year, the new Help to Buy programme lets eligible first-time buyers in this area borrow up to 20% of the cost of a new Persimmon home from the Government. This applies to new homes up to £255,600 in value on many of our developments.

“At Persimmon we are registered for the new scheme and believe it can bring home ownership within the reach of thousands who may otherwise have struggled, especially after the unique circumstances we’ve all faced over the past year.

“Across the UK, Help to Buy has already helped more than 270,000 into home ownership, of which four-in-five are first-time buyers. The revised scheme aims to build further on this success.”

 

How Help to Buy works:

·         You pay a deposit of 5% of the purchase price of your new home when contracts are exchanged

·         You take out a repayment mortgage of at least 25% of the purchase price of your new home

·         You are not charged interest on the loan for the first five years

·         Interest fees start at 1.75% and rise each year in April by the Consumer Prices Index (CPI) plus 2%

·         You pay a monthly management fee of £1 for the life of the equity loan

·         The equity loan is secured against your property in the same way as a repayment mortgage. You must repay the equity loan when you sell the home, pay off your repayment mortgage or reach the end of your equity loan term. But, you can repay all or part of the equity loan any time before then

·         Buyers can apply for a Help to Buy: Equity Loan from 16 December 2020

  

Persimmon Homes operates new build homes developments at more than 380 sites across England, Scotland and Wales. The company is currently rated four stars in the Home Builders Federation (HBF) rating system.

To poorly paraphrase Mark Twain, reports of the death of the office are greatly exaggerated but at the end of 2020 when ‘Zoom’ and ‘remote’ appear in the list of words of the year, there are few who think everyone will return to working exactly as we all did twelve months ago.

Colmore Business Improvement District (Colmore BID) is leading a unique study on The Future Business District to inform its response to long term recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic and to offer policy directions on best practice for this and other central business districts in the UK.

The Study will have a strong emphasis on place, not just on the future of office working, but where workplaces co-locate and the important linkages with recovery of the High Street, city living, and the future of our cultural institutions, as well as the transport, air quality and climate challenges cities face.

Colmore BID is curating the study in partnership with Birmingham City Council and West Midlands Combined Authority. The Greater Birmingham and Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership (GBSLEP) and neighbouring city centre BIDs – Westside, Retail, Jewellery Quarter and Southside – are also supporting the Study. City-REDI at the University of Birmingham has been appointed as lead Research Partner. It will work alongside the Office of Data Analytics at the West Midlands Combined Authority to undertake the major research programme. Support will also come from UK Research and Innovation and the Centre for Cities think tank.

The Study will adopt a commission style approach with an independent Advisory Panel being established to provide expert guidance to Colmore BID and the project team. Colmore BID director Mike Best, Senior Director at national planning consultancy Turley, developed the Study with Kevin Johnson of Birmingham-based strategic communications firm Urban Communications. Mike will chair its Working Group overseeing the Study whilst Kevin will serve as Project Director. The project will review data and trends along with existing literature and commentary as well as undertaking primary research through interviews, surveys, workshops and a Call for Evidence, ensuring the Study engages a wide audience and produces an independent, evidence-based report.

Mike Best, director at Colmore BID, commented: “The central business district is facing a potential existential crisis because of the Covid-19 pandemic. The future for offices and city centres has been the subject of lively debate since the first lockdown in March 2020. Much has focussed on remote working and the extent to which this may be a long-term behavioural shift.

“Less well debated is the future of business districts themselves – the places where offices locate together with the supporting infrastructure of business networking, conferencing, hotels, retail, hospitality and cultural attractions and in close proximity to town halls and the corridors of power.

“These areas of our major city centres should be considered as having a value beyond their rents or supplying customers to coffee shops and after work bars. They are an ecosystem of large corporates, SMEs and small independent businesses that have historically thrived by each other. The questions now are what is the future role of business districts and how can we ensure they remain successful as places to connect people and businesses?”

The Study will set out to answer two key questions:

 

·         What is the likely long-term impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on city centre business districts?

·         How can we ensure they remain successful as places to attract businesses and people and contribute to vibrant city centres?

Andy Street, the Mayor of the West Midlands, said: “Business improvement districts have been a key part of the success of town and city centres in the West Midlands, and they must continue to be so as we move out of the pandemic and look to recovery economically. This study is a great way to work out what this future may look like for BIDs, and I am pleased the WMCA could lend its hand to the study through our Office of Data Analytics.”

Councillor Brigid Jones, Deputy Leader of Birmingham City Council said: “The repercussions of the global pandemic and the way in which businesses have had to adapt are unlike anything we have experienced in modern history. We fully support the work being undertaken by Colmore BID to ascertain the long-term impact of Covid on our city centres and what steps need to be taken to protect and preserve their future.”

Professor Simon Collinson, Deputy Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Regional Engagement and the Director of City-REDI / WM REDI, University of Birmingham, commented: “As we look ahead to recovery, from an unprecedented series of shocks to our economy, society and communities, we need a combined effort to rebuild the regional economic growth momentum. So many businesses, jobs and households depend on a thriving central business district and these have been hit hardest by this year’s events.

“This is why we are so pleased at City-REDI to be appointed as lead Research Partner in this critical project to understand the impacts on our city centres and work with other stakeholders to help rebuild these economic engines. City-REDI is part of a great civic institution which has stepped up its efforts across many fronts to support the city-region in difficult times.“The University of Birmingham is also at the forefront of healthcare innovations which are essential to our current recovery and will improve our resilience in the face of future pandemics.”

Andrew Carter, Chief Executive of Centre for Cities, said: “City centres are just 0.1 per cent of the UK’s land but are central both to urban life and the national economy. They are where we come together to work, shop and play but the pandemic has put paid to much of that.

“This year will be make or break for their future with implications for how we live and do business in the longer term, so we are delighted to be supporting Colmore BID on the future of central business districts.”

A dedicated website for the Study is launched in this month at www.futurebusinessdistrict.co.uk.

It will contain details of how people can engage with the Study, including how to respond to a Call for Evidence.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson will urge MPs to "open a new chapter in our national story" by backing his post-Brexit trade deal with the EU in a Commons vote today. Parliament is being recalled to put the deal into law, a day before the UK severs ties with the European Union.

In a speech to MPs, the prime minister will say the deal - agreed on Christmas Eve - allows the UK to take "control of our laws and our national destiny".

But he will also stress the UK intends to be the EU's "best friend and ally".

The deal hammered out with Brussels over nine tortuous months sets out a new business and security relationship between the UK and its biggest trading partner. The EU (future relationship) Bill - which puts it into UK law - is expected to receive the backing of Parliament, thanks to Mr Johnson's large Commons majority and the support of the opposition Labour Party.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer - who campaigned against Brexit - has said the "thin" agreement does not do enough to protect jobs, the environment and workers' rights. But - despite objections from leading members of his own party - he will order his MPs to vote for it, as the only alternative at this stage would be a no-deal exit, which he argues would be even more damaging to the UK economy. All other opposition parties, including the SNP, the Lib Dems, Plaid Cymru and all Northern Ireland parties that take seats at Westminster, have indicated they will be voting against the deal. But the prime minister received a boost from a powerful group of backbench Tory Brexiteers and serial rebels, who have indicated they will back the deal.

The European Research Group (ERG) said it had examined the text in detail and concluded that it "preserves the UK's sovereignty as a matter of law". In a speech opening five hours of Commons debate, Mr Johnson is expected to say: "The central purpose of this bill is to accomplish something which the British people always knew in their hearts could be done, but which we were told was impossible - namely that we could trade and cooperate with our European neighbours on the closest terms of friendship and goodwill, whilst retaining sovereign control of our laws and our national destiny." He will claim the deal - which comes four and half years after Britain voted to leave the EU and a year after it officially left - had been reached in record time, when compared to other trade treaties.

"We have done this in less than a year, in the teeth of a pandemic, and we have pressed ahead with this task, resisting all calls for delay, precisely because creating certainty about our future provides the best chance of beating Covid and bouncing back even more strongly next year," he is expected to tell MPs. And he will stress that the UK intends to be "a friendly neighbour - the best friend and ally the EU could have - working hand-in-glove whenever our values and interests coincide while fulfilling the sovereign wish of the British people to live under their own laws, made by their own elected Parliament".

"That is the historic resolution delivered by this bill," he will add, calling it a "a new chapter in our national story" that will reassert Britain as "a liberal, outward-looking force for good".

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and European Council President Charles Michel are due to sign the international treaty ratifying the deal this morning in Brussels. The document will then be flown across the Channel in an RAF plane for Mr Johnson to sign it in Downing Street, a No 10 spokesman said. The European Parliament has begun its scrutiny of the agreement but will not get a chance to ratify it before the UK leaves the EU single market and customs union at midnight tomorrow.

The deal has, however, been given the unanimous backing of ambassadors from the 27 nations and the member states gave their written approval. MPs are set to debate the bill for five hours, starting at 09:30 GMT, before a vote. It will then move on to the Lords, which is also expected to back it, before receiving Royal Assent. Labour has called on the government to provide help to British businesses facing upheaval in the new year, including "clear communications", an acceleration in the recruitment of customs officials, forbearance for firms coming to terms with new rules, commitment to

British supply chains and financial support for affected firms.

Shadow chancellor Anneliese Dodd's said: "The fact that a catastrophic no-deal scenario has been avoided means that many businesses across the country are now breathing a sigh of relief. "But the government's irresponsible, eleventh-hour approach to the negotiations means there are many questions still unanswered with just days to go until the end of the transition period."

The deal comes as the UK government announced it has signed a deal that will allow British businesses to continue trading with Turkey on the same terms after Brexit. The tariff-free arrangements underpin a trading relationship which the UK government said was worth £18.6bn last year.

The UK has rolled over dozens of trade deals with countries around the world since deciding to leave the EU's trading arrangements. The vast majority of the 63 trade deals the UK has signed over the past two years have retained the same terms as before Brexit.

Almost 8 in 10 UK adults will be carrying debt into 2021, new research has revealed. And, while the average amount owed has reduced compared to the previous year, the most common reason for 2020 debt is, worryingly, ‘normal living expenses’, according to the research.

Just 22% of the nation won’t be carrying debt into 2021, according to the study by financial comparison experts money.co.uk. What’s interesting is that 2% fewer people will be carrying over debt into the new year than this time last year. That means, mortgages aside, 78% will go into the New Year with some form of personal debt - including money owed on credit cards, personal loans, car loans, bank overdrafts and payday loans.

Experts say the really concerning figure is that 35% of people’s personal debt is largely due to ‘normal’ living expenses. A further 15% say their debt is due to Christmas spending and 31% have identified that their personal debt is due to changed financial circumstances caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The study of British adults was commissioned by financial comparison experts money.co.uk in December 2020 and shows that the average British adult ended 2020 with £9,246 worth of total debt – down 33% compared to last year’s average of £13,910.

Men are taking more debt into 2021 than women – UK males have an average of £11,581 debt at the end of 2020 compared to women, who have an average debt of £7,016 which they’ll carry over into 2021. Salman Haqqi, personal finance expert at money.co.uk, said: “Our research shows that it has been a particularly difficult year for the country financially. There’s been the coronavirus pandemic, and with it, unemployment and furlough, plus the rising cost of everyday living to consider.

“Yet, despite this, the good news is that people are generally carrying less debt across into 2021 than they did the previous year. However, our study also shows that one in four people are paying off the minimum amount in repayments but less than the full amount on their credit card every month, which will be costing them.

"It's worrying to see that so many never move their debt around to take advantage of better interest rates, something that could save them hundreds of pounds a year and help them pay off their debts sooner. One of the most troubling stats is that 35% of people are using debt to pay for household essentials, showing that the cost of living just isn’t covered by their regular income.

"It's always worth going online and investigating what options are available to you, especially as the new year starts, as there may be cheaper alternatives and strong offers from lenders." One in five Brits plan on paying off their debt by consolidating the different debts they owe, up 7% compared to 2019. But 44% of people say they don’t move debts to take advantage of better interest rates.

Some £2,465 of the average debt is owed on credit cards, according to the research. Those aged 45-54 have the most credit card debt (£3,121) with those aged 16-24 having the least (£1,640). Geographically, people living in Northern Ireland have the most credit card debt (£8,323) whilst those in the south-west have the least (£1,473). But UK adults have actually reduced the amount of debt on their credit card by an average of £500 compared to the previous year, according to the money.co.uk research.

Some 15% of people say they have personal loans (down over 3% from last year), 14% have overdraft debt (down 4% from the previous year), just over 11% have car loans and just over 15% have payment plan loans for home goods or white goods. A further 7% have store cards and 6% have payday loans to repay. In terms of repaying, the average time needed to pay off debts is almost three years (2.9). However, 27% of people say it will take between one and two years to pay off their debt and 15% say they can pay it off in less than a year. Those in Wales will take the longest to repay their debut - an average of 3.3 years.

Those living in London are most likely to carry debt into the new year. According to the study, 36% of those living in the Greater London area will carry debt into 2021. But the number of people, countrywide, carrying debt across from the previous year into this year, is actually down 10% year-on-year.

Salman Haqqi added: “Nearly 20% of those we polled say they have taken out a credit card to cover the personal cost of the COVID-19 pandemic, while 12% say they have taken out more than one additional card.

“And it is clear that the debt situation is causing worry right across the country – with one in four people admitting they’re worried about their debt this year. And although this is 4% fewer people who are worried than there were at this time last year, it is clearly still a concern.” The money.co.uk research also shows that for 21% of people their debt repayments account for 11-20% of their salary.

Specialist graffiti clean-up teams have been ridding the railway of unsightly vandalism between Euston, the Midlands and the North West this Christmas. Network Rail staff in the North West and Central region spent the holiday working to improve the look and feel of the railway for passengers and those who live beside it.

It supports Transport Secretary Grant Shapps’ recent commitment to remove graffiti as part of an extra £1m provided by the Government to clean vandalism hotspots. One of the jobs this Christmas involved cleaning graffitied walls and railway equipment at Digbeth in Birmingham.

Tim Shoveller, managing director for Network Rail’s North West and Central region, said: “It’s very frustrating money has to be spent undoing damage done by railway vandals.

It’s money which could be being spent making the railway better and improving passengers’ journeys.

“Graffiti makes the place look messy for neighbours and passengers. We want the railway to be a clean, welcoming environment for people who travel on it and live and work near it.  That’s why we’re declaring a war on graffiti.

“There’s a safety aspect here too. Graffiti vandals risk their lives trespassing on the railway. It’s a seriously dangerous place to be. Our advice is to always stay off the tracks.” In recent weeks residents in Camden were sent postcards to show progress Network Rail teams there have made to clear graffiti on the approach to Euston station.

Trains leave Euston every three minutes powered by overhead wires carrying 25,000 volts of electricity making it a dangerous place to be for trespassers. This also makes it difficult to remove graffiti for Network Rail’s maintenance team, who can only access the track when trains aren’t running, mostly overnight.

Well over three million items of vital personal protective equipment (PPE) have now been distributed to frontline staff by the City of Wolverhampton Council since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

Latest figures show 3,380,642 items of PPE have been allocated to local care providers, health workers and funeral directors as well as to council social care workers, bin crews, rapid testing teams and leisure, education, transport and housing staff so that they can continue delivering essential services. They include face masks, gloves, eyewear, aprons, gowns and gallons of hand sanitiser.

The council has purchased millions of items of PPE since the end of March, and it also received a wide range of donations from businesses and individuals who responded to a city-wide appeal in April. It is now being supplemented by fortnightly deliveries from the Government.

Councillor Linda Leach, the City of Wolverhampton Council’s Cabinet Member for Adult Services, said: “Despite a global shortage of personal protective equipment throughout this pandemic, we've been able to source millions of vital items of PPE.

“We’re continuing to work as quickly as we can to ensure we get the kit out to those frontline staff who need it, not just those working for the council but also for local care providers and other organisations who have found it hard to get PPE through their usual channels – and the fact that we’ve provided close to three and a half million items over the last nine months shows just how desperately needed it has been.

“The usual supply routes are still not back to normal, so while care homes can obtain stock direct from the Government, we are still able to top up and we are delighted to help. I would like to thank everyone who has been involved in this enormous undertaking.”

Following the agreement announced on Christmas Eve, after months of fraught talks on issues such as fishing rights and business rules, Prime Minister Boris Johnson's chief Brexit negotiator, Lord Frost, has said the new trade deal between the UK and the EU marks the beginning of a moment of national renewal.

He (Lord Frost) described the agreement as "one of the biggest and broadest" ever, with MPs voting on the deal in Parliament on December 30, as the UK prepares to exit existing trading rules on December 31. The European Parliament also needs to ratify it, while EU ambassadors received a Christmas Day briefing on the trade deal from EU negotiator Michel Barnier. A 1,246-page document, which has been published on the UK government's website, sets out the post-Brexit relationship with the EU and includes about 800 pages of annexes and footnotes.

When speaking to reporters, Lord Frost said: "There's no more role for the European Court of Justice, there's no direct effects of EU law, there's no alignment of any kind, and we're out of the single market and out of the customs union just as the manifesto said we would. "All choices are in our hands as a country and it's now up to us to decide how we use them and how we go forward in the future."

Senior members of the UK negotiating team added the deal allowed for a "managed divergence" from EU rules and standards. A free trade agreement usually rules out tariffs being applied to imported goods. Under the terms of this deal if either party acts in a way the other views as anti-competitive, they can go to an independent arbitrator. If that doesn't resolve the complaint, either party can impose tariffs.

The French Minister for Europe Clément Beaune said: "There is no country in the world that will be subject to as many export rules to us as the UK."

But the UK negotiators described the rules as "standard" for third party trade deals.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer - who campaigned against Brexit - said the deal did not provide adequate protections for jobs, manufacturing, financial services or workplace rights and was "not the deal the government promised". But with no time left to renegotiate, the only choice was between "this deal or no deal", he added.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen described it as "fair" and "balanced", saying it was now "time to turn the page and look to the future".

Over-65s saw their property wealth increase by more than £9,200 each on average in the past year as the housing market benefited from strong demand partly driven by the temporary Stamp Duty holiday, analysis from UK’s leading independent equity release adviser Key shows. Total property wealth owned by over-65s who have paid off mortgages is valued at £1.224 trillion and has increased by £46.135 billion in the past year equivalent to a gain of £9,214 for homeowners, Key’s Pensioner Property Equity Index reveals.

Key’s data shows over the long-term their gains have been even more impressive. Since Key started analysing the mortgage-free property wealth of the over-65s in 2010 homeowners have seen growth of 57% - a total of more than £444 billion which is equivalent to £88,735 per household in the past decade. The biggest gains in the past year have come in London where over-65s homeowners are more than £21,000 better off over the year while pensioners in the South West have gained £15,618 and over-65s in the South East are more than £10,000 ahead.  The only region to see property values drop was Wales with losses of nearly £2,000 the year.

The South East accounts for a fifth of all property wealth held by the over-65s with the South West and East Anglia accounting for nearly a third. London, which has the wealthiest over-65s homeowners, only accounts for 10% due to lower numbers of over-65s owning homes outright. Will Hale, CEO at Key said: “The property market has performed strongly despite the economic uncertainty caused by the pandemic with the Stamp Duty holiday on homes worth under £500,000 providing a material boost to demand. However, the Stamp Duty holiday is due to end on March 31and continued uncertainty around the economic environment may mean that the housing market is set for period of increased volatility.

“However, short or medium-term volatility in the housing market does not change the basic fact that millions of over-65s retain considerable property wealth which can transform their standard of living in retirement and enable them to address a wide range of needs and wants.  Equity release is one way that older customers can tap into their property wealth. Demand for later life lending products has remained strong throughout the coronavirus crisis and with an increasing number of options available it is vital that customers seek specialist advice in order to find the product that best fits their individual circumstances.”

A Solihull-based business is spreading some much-needed Christmas cheer for those who need it most after donating £500 worth of toys and goodies ahead of the festive season to two Birmingham-based charities, Birmingham City Mission and Birmingham Irish.

UVA UK is set to launch its new app-based ride hailing service in Birmingham in early 2021 and has committed to lending a helping hand to local charities and community groups across the areas it operates. As part of these plans, the company has pledged to donate 3% of its overall profits to charities in the UK. The delivery of the Christmas presents to Birmingham City Mission and Birmingham Irish marks the start of its long-term charitable commitments.

Each of the charities have received packages stuffed with Christmas presents from UVA, which includes toys, chocolates and clothes. Each set will also include an age-appropriate book to support the newly launched Marcus Rashford Book Club, which aims to give children from disadvantaged backgrounds the chance to embrace reading from a young age.

The curated packs, which have been tailored by gender and age range, will be gifted to children and families in the region who need them most and otherwise would not have gifts to open on Christmas morning. Alongside the toy donation, UVA UK has also donated £180 worth of food to Smethwick Foodbank to support BBC WM’s Adrian Goldberg’s pledge to donate for every West Bromwich Albion goal. This is to ensure no family goes hungry and can enjoy a hearty Christmas dinner together during the festive period.

Ayesha Rees, CEO of UVA UK, said: “No one should go without, especially over Christmas. In a challenging year, it’s vital to give back and support those in our community who need it most. We hope that the donations make the festive period a little brighter for families across Birmingham.

“As a start-up business, we knew from the beginning that charity and community would be put at the heart of our operations. Working with organisations such as Birmingham City Mission, Birmingham Irish, Smethwick Food Bank and the The Trussell Trust, who are all doing amazing work for families across the region, marks the start of a long term commitment at UVA UK of giving back to our society and creating a positive impact in our communities.”

Trudy McGroarty at Birmingham Irish Association said: “More families than ever are experiencing financial worries this year. We are extremely grateful to companies like  UVA who have donated to our toy appeal to make sure that every child has a new toy to open under their tree on Christmas Day this year.”

Negotiators from the UK and EU are to begin a new push to reach agreement on post-Brexit trade after both sides agreed "to go the extra mile". A UK source said the "process still has some legs" but Boris Johnson has warned no-deal is the "most likely" outcome. A deadline to finish talks had been set for Sunday, but the prime minister and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen agreed to an extension. They did not say how long these latest talks would continue, but the ultimate deadline is 31 December, when the UK is due to stop following EU trading rules.

Talks will continue and many, especially in financial services, will hope to reach a deal that will allow them to continue to do business with the EU. Even with a deal in place, there will be significant changes for firms to adapt to in almost every area of their firms. Back in October, the House of Lords' EU subcommittee published a report stating the UK’s accountants, lawyers, recruiters, architects and advertisers are under risk of losing contracts and jobs when Britain formally leaves the bloc in January. 

Despite this, there were reports that corporate lobby group insiders said that the discussions on Brexit preparations by professional services firms were constructive. A Brexit trade deal could run to 600 pages of legal text and must be rapidly translated into easily accessible and readable guidance for businesses, a source said after the meeting of the Government’s Brexit business taskforce.

Chris Biggs, Partner at Theta Global Advisors, commented on the role that professional services have in the Brexit process and what they could look like come January: "With businesses having to prepare for a new supranational trading environment in a matter of weeks, there is still a huge amount of speculation of what it could mean for a number of sectors that trade nationally and globally. In the professional services space, many clients will be impacted heavily by Brexit, so they are trying to understand their new working rules and regulations as quickly as possible. 

“Legal and consulting firms hold an important role in deciphering a deal if it comes, and the framework and intricacies that it entails, or what the rules will be around a no-deal and future trade. Many firms will have used this time to try and prepare the best they can for 2021, but when the new rules are in practice, many will call on the professional services market to ensure that there are adhering to both the UK and European rules of the future. One large area that is bound to be heavily impacted by Brexit is systems and data. Questions have already been asked about the adequacies of the UK's data laws, so firms may be looking to implement new systems to deal with both EU and UK law if a compromise isn't agreed.

“Therefore, consulting firms that can help businesses with this will be in demand in the coming weeks, and while the House of Lords' EU sub-committee raised potential concerns in the sectors, businesses will be relying on these firms to help them get through this period. If firms correctly pivot and provide support to their clients in a timely fashion, the sector could find itself in a new business arena, helping to secure the next generation of clients both at home and on the continent." 

City of Wolverhampton Council has confirmed details of how city businesses can gain access to the Tier 3 local restrictions support grant - and the Christmas Support Payment for wet-led pubs. Local Restrictions Support Grants for Tier 3 restrictions will be based on the rateable value and ratepayer of the property as it was on Wednesday, December 2.

The grant will be paid for the period from Wednesday, December 2 every 14 days while the restrictions remain in place. Businesses required to close by Government will receive the following amounts based on their rateable value as set out in the table below:

Rateable value

Grant sum paid every 14 days

£15,000 and below

£667

£15,001 to £50,999

£1,000

£51,000 and above

£1,500

Businesses that are not legally required to close but are severely impacted by the localised restrictions on socialising can also apply for the grant and could receive the following:

Rateable value

Grant sum paid every 14 days

£15,000 and below

£467

£15,001 to £50,999

£700

£51,000 and above

£1,050

The mandatory Christmas Support Payment for wet-led pubs is now also available and is applicable for the period December 2 to December 29, 2020, for pubs that derived under 50% of their income from food sales prior to March 11, 2020. These grants are in addition to the various Local Restrictions Support Grants and the Additional Restrictions Grant, which are already receiving applications.

Councillor Stephen Simkins, Cabinet Member for City Economy, said: “Varying Covid-19 restrictions have made it difficult for businesses to navigate through these difficult times and there are now further grants available. I am urging Wolverhampton businesses to head to the Wolves in Business website and find out what funding and support is available to them.

“As a council, we have ensured thousands of eligible businesses have had quick access to vital funding to help them through this most difficult time. We are ensuring these new grants are allocated swiftly and that no business is left behind as our city looks to recover from the financial impact of Covid-19.”

In coming weeks businesses are also being asked for their patience in waiting for their applications to be processed due to the break between Christmas Day and New Year’s Day.

British cyber technology company VST Enterprises (VSTE) has today launched the world’s first public ‘FIT TO FLY’ secure health passport designed for air travel. The cross border platform called V-Health Passport can already be downloaded from the Apple App Store or Google Play by searching for ‘VPassport’ or by visiting www.v-healthpassport.co.uk. It is the world’s first publicly available secure digital health passport that the public can download and use alongside any form of Covid 19 testing and vaccination that does NOT use unsecure bar codes and QR code technology. Airlines and transport carriers can also download and use the system.

It comes at a time when security over the use of bar codes and QR codes in airline travel has come under intense scrutiny following the cyber-attack on the former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbot. The former PM had his Qantas airline boarding pass hacked. Details including his passport, mobile phone and messages between Qantas staff about him were intercepted. The wider threats of fake Covid 19 test certificates have also been prevalent with an alarming rise in the sales of fake Covid 19 certificates booming in Russia and the Middle East.

VST Enterprises the Manchester based cyber security and technology is the first company in the world to have a fully functioning LIVE heath passport that can be used cross border and across all transport by air, land and sea.

The V-Health Passport is the world’s most secure health passport using next generation VCode code scanning cyber security technology. Using the most advanced closed loop technology with end to end encryption, V-Health Passport has 2.2 Quintillion collision free combination codes. These decode based on geo location, time & date, device type and user login… meaning it cannot be hacked.

It can provide airline passengers and airlines with a secure digital passport that validates the passengers’s identity, authenticates their Covid 19 test result and vaccination/immunisation details in one secure app. The V-Health Passport also uniquely provides airline passengers and airlines with a contact tracing technology which uses anonymised data. Unlike other health passports, V-Health Passport has been designed with a citizen’s privacy front and centre. The technology does not track your live location and provides all data in a secure GDPR compliant framework giving citizens a unique ‘self-sovereign identity’ style technology putting them in control of who when and how they share their data.

VSTE CEO and inventor of the VCode technology and V-Health Passport Louis-James Davis said; “We are the first technology company in the world to have developed a secure, multipurpose, cross corporate & cross government digital health passport that does not rely on using bar codes or QR codes as its authentication technology. Both bar codes and QR codes have huge potential security implications as they can be cloned and hacked with the latter being subject to a process called ‘Attagging’. Therefore any suggestion of using this type of technology in a health passport for air travel has very real security risks. Not only is a citizen’s personal information at risk, but their Covid test status, vaccination records and also their credit card information. All of this can lead to the very real potential of a massive data breach and a person’s personal information and data hacked and stolen. This is of particular concern when using a bar code or QR code technology designed for use to authenticate a person’s Covid 19 testing and/or vaccinations records.”

With the alarming increase and black market trade in fake Covid 19 test certificates this also puts a very real threat and risk to passenger safety on airline carriers with the potential to infect and contaminate other passengers on what would be a Covid safe bubble onboard an aircraft. It is well documented that bar codes and QR codes can be hacked so any airline who considers using a health passport for Covid 19 is testing and vaccination using this method of authentication risks a serious potential breach of its passenger data. In 2018 British Airways was fined a record £20M for a data breach on 400,000 of its customers which affected their personal and credit card data.

Louis-James Davis went on to state that both bar codes and QR codes - which represent first and second generation technology - are unsecure and vulnerable to hacking.

“QR codes were originally developed as a scanning technology for close proximity car parts tracking, a world away from identity and banking use cases and now digital health passports. It was then used to skip the input of websites in marketing and promotional purposes. They were never designed with security or privacy in mind… they are simply not fit for purpose and should not be used at all in any form for delivery of sensitive information, travel or event tickets or health passport.

“QR codes can be subject to a process called ‘Attagging’ or ‘cloning.’ The process of ‘Attagging’ is where a ‘genuine QR code’ is replaced by a ‘cloned QR code’ which then redirects the person scanning that code to a similar website where personal data can be intercepted and breached. The problem is that serious that in India alone there are over 1 BILLION fraudulent financial transactions each day using QR codes. As the scanning user journey is the same, it is only tech savvy individuals that may notice the domain name has changed.”

As reported by a recent Forbes Magazine investigation, it is predicted that over 11 Million households in the US alone will scan a QR code this year and the majority of them, some 71% of people who have interacted with a QR code will not know if it is the start of a malicious hack. It is envisaged that over 5.3 Billion QR codes will be redeemed this year making it one of the fastest growing tech scanning interactions and also posing one of the greatest cyber threats.

QR codes can be cloned and redirected to other information points or websites. Often criminals and hackers will exploit this by putting a fake QR code over a genuine QR code. So a QR code for example on scanning would link to the genuine website: www.similardomain.com but a fake QR code can be made up printed off and placed over the genuine code to redirect to: www.similar-domain.com at this point the member of the public is tricked into entering their personal information, private data and financial information. The rogue website looks and feels exactly like the genuine one and is made to mirror it precisely.

VCode which is the ultra-secure digital code which powers the V-Health Passport cannot be cloned. Even if it was printed off, or a photograph was taken and placed over a VCode or V-Health Passport it simply won’t scan as it works on a call and response system of information between the code and web platform to verify location of the code, user ID and time and date and much more.” He added; “We developed and built the V-Health Passport and health wallet to be the most secure technology on the planet that you could use as a health passport where you could combine your test status, vaccination record, boarding pass, airline ticket, music or sports ticket all in one app.

“With V-Health Passport we wanted to provide functionality and greater mobility to allow citizens to return to work, be fit to fly or return to the sports stadiums. But at the heart of the technology was the ability to protect and respect data privacy of the individual.

“The lack of engagement and interaction by the public with Government track and trace app/s over the pandemic was over privacy, security of data and the tracking of a person’s live location. This is why we have built a unique system in the vein of ‘Self Sovereign ID’ with the ethics of privacy & security by design. The V-Health Passport puts the citizen in control in a way which they share information with who, when and where.”

V-Health Passport™ will help employers safely return their employees back to their offices, factories and warehouses. It will facilitate airlines to allow their passengers to be fit to fly and avoid the need for quarantine restrictions. At the same time it will ensure their airline ticket or boarding pass is secure and won’t be hacked.

A citizen will be able to share their health pass and confirm their Covid test status, or present their vaccination record. They will also be able to show their credit score, work permit or visa, scan their travel or event pass. At the heart of each interaction they will have peace of mind that their data and information is highly secure and ultimately, they control who sees what, who scans what, where and when.

 

Following the success of the biggest jobs support trial of its kind in the world, the Black Country is getting more support to help people who have health conditions into work.

The West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) has secured £1.1million from the Government to continue Thrive into Work which helps unemployed people who have have mental or physical health conditions get back into the workplace. Between June 2018 and October this year the WMCA led the research study which has helped more than 600 people back into work.

Working with primary and community health teams, jobs support and health services were integrated. Employment specialists based in GP surgeries and other health and community settings across the region provided intensive guidance to help individuals find and apply for jobs, and prepare for interviews. Due to the success of the trial Thrive into Work is now being extended to run till July 2021.

Andy Street, Mayor of the West Midlands said: “Getting 600 people back into work is an outstanding achievement, creating positive health, social and economic benefits allowing residents to thrive. The pandemic has had a damaging effect on employment but schemes like Thrive into Work show that the targeted, hard work being put in by the WMCA is contributing to a fairer, healthier West Midlands.”

Research from the Centre for Mental Health on mental health at work shows that mental ill health is responsible for 72 million working days lost and costs £34.9 billion each year and is  strongly associated with social and economic circumstances, including living in povertylow-quality work and unemployment.

Father of two young children, Matt Wagg, is one of the people who benefitted from Thrive Into Work. In 2018 he had to leave his job as a delivery driver after osteoarthritis in his knees made it too painful to do his job. Being unemployed left the 47-year-old from Oldbury feeling he was on the scrapheap. However, after six months of support Matt gained a job as a school caretaker, playing an invaluable role in keeping the school operating during the coronavirus outbreak. He said: “I feel so much better compared to how I was before I enrolled on Thrive into Work, it provided me with someone to push me in the right direction and I’m like a different person to how I was then.”

The Thrive into Work trial was originally set up to test if support in primary care settings would help people with a health condition return to employment. It helped people with a variety of conditions including arthritis, cancer and depression. The Trial was based on a tried and tested model called Independent Placement Support (IPS) which traditionally supports people with severe and enduring mental health difficulties to find work. Thrive into Work is currently provided by Black Country Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust to people living in Dudley and Walsall, and Prospects part of Shaw Trust deliver the service to people in Wolverhampton, Sandwell and West Birmingham.

WMCA Portfolio lead for health and wellbeing and leader of Warwickshire County Council, Izzi Seccombe, said: “Thrive into Work is important because it can help citizens regain confidence, independence and a sense of purpose.

“I am delighted it’s previous success will be built upon, helping to support people in our region rebuild their lives and get back into the workplace.”

Local contractor Willmott Dixon was the UK’s highest placed construction company in the Financial Time’s annual European leaders for workplace diversity and inclusion list – ranking at number 43 out of 850 organisations listed for their approach to inclusivity.  

This is the West Midlands-based construction firm’s second time on the Diversity Leaders list, and saw it once again score higher ratings than any other peer company for its approach to diversity following online responses from over 100,000 employees at 15,000 companies across 16 European countries.

The 15,000 companies were rated on employee feedback which, along with the opinions of human resources and recruitment experts to refine the analysis, enabled the number to be whittled down to the top 850 companies. Willmott Dixon was also one of only 13 UK companies that appeared in the Diversity Leaders 2021 top 50.

With more and more businesses working hard to demonstrate how their activities have a positive impact on society and within local communities, promoting an inclusive work environment is essential to meeting these aims.

The Financial Times list is the third major national accolade this year that recognises Willmott Dixon’s people-first approach – after the contractor was ranked 5th in the Sunday Times Top 100 Best Companies to Work for list and was also named in The Times Top 50 Employers for Women list.

Willmott Dixon has pledged to have 50/50 parity of gender across all management levels by 2030 and is rolling out a series of initiatives to support inclusivity. 

Rick Willmott, group chief executive, said: "Our inclusion in the latest Financial Times Diversity Leaders list again puts construction on the corporate map as an industry that is making huge strides in its approach to diversity and inclusion. This is important, as the industry is facing a skills shortage so broadening the talent pool available is fundamental to ensure a sustainable flow of future skills

"The Diversity Leaders 2021 list shines a welcome spotlight on the business’ imperative of workplace diversity, which will serve as an inspiration to us in how we continue as a company where our people feel valued and a key part of our growth. Successful companies are those that provide a diverse and inclusive environment where people feel challenged, contented and included within complementary teams. It is something that is embedded in our values.”

 

The latest data from the latest research from new build snagging experts, HouseScan, has revealed where the new build sector has made the most significant contribution to housing stock across the property market over the last year.

HouseScan analysed the recently released net additional dwellings data for 2019-2020 from the Ministry of Housing Communities and Local Government, looking at where the delivery of new homes has provided the biggest boost to total dwellings stock when taking the wider context of the market into account. Not just the sheer volume of new homes delivered.

The research shows that across England, the 243,770 net homes delivered has brought a 1% boost to the total levels of dwelling stock across the market.

London has seen the largest boost regionally, with 41,718 new homes increasing dwellings stock by 1.16%.

The South East (1.04%) and East of England (1.03%) have also seen some of the largest increases in overall housing stock as a result of new build delivery over the last year.

When drilling into the regional figures, the new build sector has provided the biggest increase in the number of dwellings across the City of London. While just 297 new homes have been delivered, estimated housing stock levels sit at just 6,506 meaning the new build sector has increased housing availability by 4.57% in the City.

Tower Hamlets has also benefited from a notable boost due to the delivery of new homes. The borough has seen 4,564 new homes delivered, a 3.76% improvement to total housing stock.

Bracknell Forest (3.36%), Salford (3.24%), Newham (2.88%), South Derbyshire (2.83%), Greenwich (2.67%), Vale of White Horse (2.39%), South Oxfordshire (2.29%) and Wokingham (2.27%) also rank within the top 10 areas to have enjoyed the best boost to housing stock via new homes delivery.

At the opposite end of the scale, just 13 new builds have been delivered in Adur, helping to increase housing availability by only 0.05% in the area. Southend (0.12%) and Portsmouth (0.12%) also rank amongst the lowest areas where a new build housing boost is concerned.

Founder and Managing Director of HouseScan, Harry Yates, commented: “The successful delivery of new build housing delivery isn’t solely focussed around volume, and each area of the market will present its own challenges in terms of land availability and building restrictions.

“So while we desperately need more properties to address our appetite for homeownership, it’s important to analyse the delivery of new homes not just on total properties delivered but also within the wider context of a given area

“While the City of London has seen a very low volume of homes delivered, it has actually made the biggest difference in terms of the overall housing stock in the City and so in this respect, the area has seen the biggest contribution from the new build sector.”

Priti Patel has criticised Labour MPs and celebrities for invoking the Windrush scandal in their efforts to stop a flight deporting convicted criminals to Jamaica.

The plane containing 13 prisoners took off on Wednesday - 23 were left off it following legal challenges.

Campaigners said there was a risk people were being wrongly removed as had happened in the Windrush scandal.

The home secretary said their reference to Windrush was "deeply offensive".

She said that it was "misjudged and upsetting" for "ill-informed Labour politicians and do-gooding celebrities" to invoke it in their campaign.

The Windrush scandal, which emerged in 2018, saw people who came to the UK from Commonwealth countries wrongly told they were in the country illegally.

It was cited in an open letter last month, signed by 90 public figures, including model Naomi Campbell and actress Thandie Newton.

Warning that issues linked to Windrush have "not been resolved," they argued the planned deportation flight brought "credible risks of unlawful and wrongful deportations" and urged airlines to boycott it.

The campaigners warned the UK "frequently" seeks to deport people whose crimes are linked to forced labour, and processes for identifying victims of trafficking were in "disarray".

A separate letter last month signed by over 60 mostly Labour MPs and peers also called for the flight to be cancelled.

The MPs said some children would "forced apart" from their parents and the flight posed a Covid-19 risk, adding that the government had "so far failed to learn any lessons" from a March review into the Windrush scandal.

But during a Commons debate, Immigration Minister Chris Philp told MPs the flight was about "criminality, not nationality," and had "nothing to do" with the Windrush scandal.

He added that "not a single individual on the flight" had been found eligible for the government scheme set up to compensate victims of the scandal in March.

Downing Street said all of the people on the flight were "dangerous foreign criminals", who had been born in Jamaica, adding: "Each week we remove foreign criminals - this is no different."