Boots is consulting on plans to restructure head office and store teams and shut 48 Boots Opticians stores.
John Lewis said department stores in Birmingham and Watford will not reopen as the coronavirus lockdown eases. It also plans to shut down its At Home stores in Croydon, Newbury, Swindon and Tamworth and travel sites at Heathrow airport and London St Pancras.
The department store chain said it was acting to «secure the business’s long-term future and respond to customers’ shopping needs».
The announcements come a day after Chancellor Rishi Sunak unveiled a series of measures aimed at saving jobs, including a one-off £1,000 payment to employers for every furloughed employee retained to the end of January 2021.
The managing director of Boots UK, Sebastian James, described the latest cuts as «decisive actions to accelerate our transformation plan».
Most Boots outlets remained open throughout the lockdown to provide pharmacy and healthcare services, but the firm said footfall had «dramatically reduced».
«These factors severely impacted comparable retail sales, which decreased 48% for Boots UK and 72% for Boots Opticians in the third quarter,» the firm said.
«Restrictions are beginning to lift, but with an uncertain economic outlook, it is anticipated that the High Street will take considerable time to recover.»
Unions and analysts have warned that the virus could mean millions of people end up out of work, warning that government incentives to save jobs were not large enough to persuade bosses to keep workers.
Len McCluskey, general secretary of the Unite union, said: «With no modification to the jobs retention scheme, that dreaded October cliff edge for businesses and workers has now been set in stone.
«Our fear is the summer jobs loss tsunami we have been pleading with the government to avoid will now surely only gather pace.»
Vivienne King, chief executive at Revo, which represents the retail property sector, warned that 3million retail jobs remained in jeopardy unless the government undertook «a fundamental review of business rates and direct financial support to underwrite rents».
Airlines UK said the airline industry had also been left out of the chancellor’s pans.
«Tens of thousands of jobs lost in aviation and a winter season where we’re likely to see connectivity slashed,» a spokesman said.
«Something needs to give and if the government continues to ignore aviation we’re going to see our regional airports with fewer connections and more jobs lost across aviation and aerospace.»
Chancellor Rishi Sunak himself told BBC Breakfast: «Is unemployment going to rise, are people going to lose their jobs?’ Yes, and the scale of this is significant.
«We are entering one of the most severe recessions this country has ever seen. That is of course going to have a significant impact on unemployment and on job losses.»
John Lewis is the latest in a long line of companies to have made cuts during the pandemic. Other lay-offs announced include:
A number of NHS leaders have said people working in health and care roles should be tested at least once, if not twice, a week to catch these asymptomatic cases and isolate them, stopping them from unwittingly passing the virus on.
This is now available to care homes, but in the NHS staff without symptoms are only tested if there is spare capacity – not systematically.
This trial will now look at what role asymptomatic testing could play for other occupations who have a lot of contact with the public.
It’s not known for sure what proportion of people have the virus without showing symptoms, and exactly what role they play in spreading it to others.
A third of people taking part in the Office for National Statistics’ surveillance study tested positive without reporting any symptoms either at the time of the test or immediately before or after.
This is based on a relatively small number of positive tests and does not show how many transmitted the virus onwards – but there is a growing understanding that people can pass on the virus causing Covid-19 without knowing they have it.
The latest test and trace figures for England, for 25 June- 1 July were published on Thursday. They show:
Of everyone who had their case transferred to the contact-tracing system after testing positive, 3, 366 (77%) were reached and 2,552 provided details for at least one close contact
From the 77% of positive cases who were reached, 14,892 close contacts were identified, of whom 10,547 (71%) were reached and asked to self-isolate
Over this period, just over 300,000 new people were tested for Covid-19 under in England, with 1.3% testing positive.
More people were transferred into the contact tracing system than tested positive over this time period because of a time lag in getting results and putting them into the system.
Rum distiller Mark Watkins is reflecting on his disastrous first attempt at making his own spirits when he was a teenager.
The then 16-year-old had set up a rudimentary distillery at the back of his parents’ banana farm in the small town of Walkamin, in north-eastern Queensland, Australia.
His questionable safety standards nearly saw the family’s crop go up in flames, and he almost poisoned his school friend.
«He’s still alive, but he doesn’t talk to me anymore,» says Mr Watkins, now 39.
Nevertheless, this stumble out of the starting blocks left him unperturbed. He was on a mission to make top-quality spirits, with the ultimate goal of creating the best rum in the world. Two decades later, he’s accomplished his mission.
Last year, the World Rum Awards named Mr Watkins’ Iridium rum «the world’s best pot still rum, five years old and under». It put his small business, Mt Uncle Distillery, on the global map.
Although the company is a tiny drop in the global spirits pool, Mt Uncle is one of a small but growing number of rum distilleries around the world taking the spirit in a new direction – low volume, premium production.
But first a reminder – what exactly is rum? It is a spirit made from distilling sugarcane juice, sugar cane syrup (concentrated juice), or sugarcane molasses, which is the thick, dark treacle you are left with after granulated sugar has been produced. It can be drunk neat, with water, a mixer or as a cocktail base.
A brief history of rum
Rum is synonymous with the Caribbean, where the first modern rums were distilled on sugarcane plantations in the 17th Century
The history of the spirit is intrinsically linked to slavery, as it was slaves working on the plantations who discovered that molasses, the dark treacle left over after sugar has been refined, could be fermented and then distilled into a spirit
Rum also became associated with the British Royal Navy, with sailors being given a daily «rum ration» from 1850 until the practice was ended in 1970. A type of dark rum called «navy rum» is still made and sold by a number of producers
Assessed in its entirety, global rum production – which is dominated by mass market brands produced in huge volumes – has flat-lined in recent years.
Total worldwide sales by volume of standard or value-priced rum grew just 0.6% from 2014 to 2019, according to the latest figures from research group IWSR Drinks Market Analysis.
Yet at the same time, «high-end rum» bottles costing $28 (£22.50) or above grew by 8.3% over the same period, says the organisation.
«I think, in general, new generations of [rum drinkers] are drinking less, but they’re drinking better,» says Roberto Serralles, a sixth-generation rum-maker. His family own and run Puerto Rican business Destileria Serralles, which has been making rum since 1865.
«The rum category is heavily weighted at the lower end, so the higher premium end is growing, but with small volume, and that’s why it gets lost.»
Many rum aficionados, like Mr Watkins, say that rum still has an inferior image, purveyed by cheap brands, and often, their subsequent hangovers.
«Lots of people got smashed on rum when they were 17, and haven’t given it another chance,» says the Australian. «Lots of people are familiar with cheaper brands, and [for small distilleries] it can be a hard game to crack into, as there are so many big multinational companies involved.»
Rum consultant, and World Rum Awards chair of judges, Peter Holland agrees that the rum industry has some repositioning to do. «A problem that we have in the rum world is that it’s represented invariably by price, and that price is low,» he says. «When you race to the bottom you’re not really driving up quality.»
Thus, Mr Holland’s passion lies in re-educating the market about rum. He feels it is a spirit that has enormous potential, and a level of complexity – attained through different distillation and aging techniques – that is currently not well marketed or understood.
As Queensland is a big grower of sugar cane, Mt Uncle has a ready source of sugar syrup from which to make its rum. In fact, Mr Watkins’ family farm in Walkamin, which is home to Mt Uncle Distillery, is right next to a sugar mill.
For rum producers in cooler countries where sugarcane cannot be grown, they typically rely on easily transportable and readily available molasses. This is the case at the UK’s Two Drifters Rum.
Located outside the city of Exeter in the south west of England, the company is run by husband and wife team Russ and Gemma Wakeham.
They started out making beer in 2019, with a small distillery on the side «for a bit of fun» but have now switched to solely making rum.
«It was completely driven by the fact that we couldn’t make enough of it,» says Russ.
The company buys its molasses from UK sugar producers including Tate & Lyle. It now produces a range of rums, with the spiced version being the bestseller – though Mr Wakeham admits that purists would not see spiced rum as a true representation of the spirit.
Mr Holland says that if rum wants to cement its move upmarket, the industry should stop categorising the drink by its colour.
«Colour is not a flavour,» he says. «I think white, gold and dark are very disingenuous terms to categorise a very diverse market.
«You don’t order gold whisky or dark cognac, so why should rum be tarred with that brush? If we can make the language around rum a bit more grown up, then I think we have a better chance of bringing people over [to the rum market].»
Mr Serralles says the industry also needs to better educate drinkers. «Most people don’t know what to do with rum.
«They’ve usually always thought of it as something you drink with Coke, or with an umbrella on vacation.»
With global rum sales totalling $16.5bn in 2019, according to the IWSR, it trails far behind vodka ($43.6bn) and whiskies ($74bn), but is still ahead of gin ($10.8bn).
So is rum really about to mirror gin’s huge growth in sales, and see a significant rise in the number of small producers as it surges in popularity?
«That’s the question on everyone’s lips,» says Mr Watkins. «I think rum could be the next boom spirit. It’s definitely due for it.»
Taxpayers face a day of reckoning when the government’s massive coronavirus support measures have to be paid off, experts warn.
The Institute of Fiscal Studies think tank says the economy will remain in a «support and recovery» phase for some time, but higher taxes are inevitable.
On Wednesday, the chancellor unveiled another £30bn of support, bringing the total cost to £190bn.
But it was revealed the UK’s tax authority queried its value for money.
The most senior civil servant at HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) wrote to Chancellor Rishi Sunak about the value of two measures in his summer statement – the Job Retention Bonus and the eating out support.
‘No normal recession’
Wednesday’s additional spending announced by Mr Sunak is worth nearly £3,000 for every person in the UK – and more than the entire planned health budget for 2020-21.
It also means that the cost of the crisis so far has risen by more than 40% since last month, when the government’s spending watchdog, the Office for Budget Responsibility, estimated it at £133bn.
On Thursday, in its analysis of the latest measures, the IFS predicted that government borrowing would surge to about £350bn this year. In March, the government forecast a deficit of about £50bn to £60bn this year.
The IFS said it expected further spending support in the autumn Budget, perhaps through targeted tax cuts.
However, IFS director Paul Johnson said: «Let’s hold in the back of our minds that a reckoning, in the form of higher taxes, will come eventually.
«This is no normal recession. It’s the deepest in history,» Mr Johnson said. The IFS said annual borrowing as a share of the economy was on course to be its highest outside wartime in more than 300 years.
There are some things no chancellor can prepare for – such as what to do if your economy wipes out 18 years’ gains in two months of lockdown.
His solution was to temporarily deep freeze the economy, and pump money into crisis response. And the thawing process needs more funds, to prevent long term damage.
Now economists are talking about a deficit, a shortfall of way more than the £300bn previously expected. It’s equivalent to a bigger slice of the economy than at any time since the Second World War.
And it could get bigger; if more is needed to support the recovery – or in the event of a severe second wave.
But it’s a cost worth bearing if it carries the economy through a devastating crisis, safeguard the damage to output and jobs – and ensure taxes get paid.
For at some point, there will have to be a discussion about how we pay this back.
The government is currently borrowing record amounts on the financial markets to plug the gap – but that may not be enough. There may have to be tax hikes, possibly less generous rises in pensions.
But it may be a while until the economy is robust enough to bear that.
‘Value for money issue’
Of the policy measures announced in Wednesday’s summer statement, the biggest was the plan to pay employers £1,000 for every furloughed worker they retain past January. The total bill could rise as high as £9.4bn, but only if every furloughed worker keeps their job.
But Mr Johnson said there was a «value for money issue» about the scheme.
«A lot, probably a majority, of the job retention bonus money will go in respect of jobs that would have been, indeed already have been, returned from furlough anyway,» he said. And he said much of the planned cuts in VAT and stamp duty «will be deadweight».
It has also emerged that the UK tax authority had some doubts. Jim Harra, HMRC’s permanent secretary, wrote to the chancellor earlier this week about the Job Retention Bonus and Eat Out To Help Out policies.
On both, he said, advice received by HMRC and the Treasury «highlights uncertainty around the value for money» of the proposals.
However, the correspondence showed the chancellor said the plans should go ahead because there was a «compelling case».
Businessman Charlie Mullins, founder of Pimlico Plumbers, also questioned if the job retention bonus was money well spent, as he thought some firms would only retain staff until they get the cash.
«Firms will either want their staff back, or they won’t. I just feel some employers will take advantage of this scheme,» he told the BBC.
Meanwhile, Torsten Bell, chief executive of the Resolution Foundation think tank, said the financial cost of the crisis, at £190bn so far, was «approaching the amount we spend on the day-to-day running of our NHS, schools and colleges each year».
He welcomed the focus on supporting young people and sectors most affected by lockdown, but added: «The scale of support… risks falling short of what will be required. The chancellor is taking quite a gamble on the strength of the recovery in the months ahead.»
United Airlines says up to 36,000 of its workers could be furloughed due to the coronavirus pandemic.
That amounts to almost half of the company’s total US-based frontline workforce.
“Throughout this crisis, we have been honest and direct with you about our need to right-size our workforce to match travel demand,” it said.
The carrier said it expects capacity for this month to be down 75% compared to July last year.
The company also said that not everyone who receives a warning letter will definitely be furloughed, with the final number depending on whether trading conditions improve and how many workers accept offers of redundancy and temporary leave.
“Our primary goal throughout this crisis has been to ensure United – and the jobs it supports – are here when customers are flying again,” United Airlines said in a statement to employees.
In response to the announcement the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA union said: «The United Airlines projected furlough numbers are a gut punch, but they are also the most honest assessment we’ve seen on the state of the industry.”
The US government has offered $50bn (£40bn) to support the airline industry which has agreed to not lay off staff or cut pay until 30 September.
United Airlines is receiving $5bn of those funds and won’t make any cutbacks until 1 October, it said.
Pilar Wolfsteller, Americas Air Transport Editor at FlightGlobal, told the BBC that United’s announcement is an indicator of the aviation industry’s post-coronavirus future.
«It is the first of the major US airlines to come out and clearly say ‘we are going to be a much smaller airline after all of this is over’.»
«Now we’ve got to see what the other airlines will do but we’re expecting the industry as a whole is going to shrink and it’s probably going to be about a third smaller than it was coming into this crisis,» she added.
Last week, American Airlines said it could have 20,000 more front-line workers than it needs to operate, but that not all of them would be furloughed in October.
Airlines globally are in the same situation, with thousands of jobs under threat across the industry.
“We can expect that this crisis will have a long shadow,” said Alexandre de Juniac, director general of the airline trade group AITA. It expects global airlines to lose as much as $84bn this year.
Although airports and airlines have introduced new social distancing measure such as the wearing of masks on flights, many people are still nervous about flying.