Highlights of the Week (06/01/2020)

Image Source: Chris Toward/christoward10

Our editors give us the breakdown of this week’s biggest news stories

Economics: Lucy Wright

Train passengers may be able to capitalise on cheaper rail fares as “split tickets” – a practice previously carried out by only a select group of consumers – becomes mainstream.

Instead of buying one ticket, say from London to Edinburgh, users will instead have the opportunity to purchase multiple tickets along the same route e.g. buying a ticket from London to Leeds and another ticket from Leeds to Edinburgh. Provided that the train stops at all the locations on the purchased tickets, this method is completely legal, and users will not have to leave the train to validate this new way of purchasing tickets.

While this may seem like a convoluted way of paying for your travel, experts have suggested that “split tickets” may save consumers up to a third on their train travel cost. The industry is starting to see the emergence of websites and apps, able to find combinations of tickets to save passengers money on most routes across the UK, by automatically splitting the trip into multiple legs. Trainline, for example, has released a SplitSave tool to help consumers find cheaper journeys by splitting trips into legs.

Despite this new development, the Rail Delivery Group (RDG) has called for a reform to the whole rail fares structure, describing the split-ticket feature as a “sticking plaster” solution to a “system in need of major surgery”. Critics point to the rules governing the way in which tickets are sold, dating back to the 1990s, arguing that ticket sales have failed to keep up to pace with new technology and changing consumer behaviours when it comes to work and leisure travel.

Scotland: Ryan Morrice

MSPs voted to say that the Scottish Parliament “does not consent” to the UK Government’s EU Withdrawal bill. 92 MSPs backed the motion and 29 voted against it. The Scottish Parliament has no power to stop the bill; the vote is indicative of Scotland’s continued opposition to Brexit as the UK Government prepares to leave the EU on 31 January.

New powers are to be given to councils from Spring 2021 to regulate short-term lets, such as those offered by Airbnb, the Scottish Government has announced. A new licensing scheme will introduce new safety requirements and councils will be able to designate areas where planning permission will be required before properties are used as short-term lets. The proliferation of short-term lets in tourist hotspots, particularly in Edinburgh, has drawn ire from local residents.

United Kingdom: Jurin Katayama

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle stepping back as senior members of the Royal Family has – to say the least – shaken and outraged the institution. Although there are discussions that the Highnesses would not be financially capable of covering their office expenses and security costs, after consideration, it seems that there would not be any financial issues. Only 5% of their office expenses are funded by the Sovereign Grant (£2 million per annum), whereas the rest of the 95% are covered via Duchy of Cornwall as a gift generated by the income of the Prince of Wales. The couple becoming “financially independent” thus entails losing only the Sovereign Grant, which is estimated to be easily covered by their personal wealth from past inheritances and future endeavours.

In other news, it is estimated that 143,128 retail jobs were lost in 2019 – an increase of more than 25,000 jobs than in 2018. With traditional retailers such as Mothercare, Debenhams, and Links of London closing many of its stores this week, the job losses are a wake-up call to the suppliers on the two following factors. First, is that the demand has moved towards a more automated and online market where currently, one in every £5 is spent online. Secondly, the increase in operating costs and the National Living Wage means that it is more beneficial for large corporations to reduce labor costs by trying to make their business as automated as possible.

For some happy news: Greggs has awarded their employees with a £7 million bonus thanks to their tremendous success in their vegan sausage roll.

Asia: Max Dowden

This week, tensions continued to rise in India as successive waves of increasingly violent confrontations between police and protestors erupted regarding several divisive citizenship and immigration laws which have provoked widespread backlash for their perceived targeting of Muslims and other minority groups. These protests expose a country that is in many ways still deeply fractured by cultural, religious, and linguistic lines.

Meanwhile, Japan also witnessed a shift on the cultural front. The government announcing that Latinised Japanese names will now be ordered in accordance with native, rather than western conventions (i.e. family, then personal name as opposed to personal and then family). To the south, in Indonesia, the capital of Jakarta witnessed its worst flooding in over a decade. Finally, China has formally announced that they will be sending Liu Hu, the vice-premier and chief Chinese negotiator to the phase I trade deal signing in Washington next week.

Americas: Alex Watt

In a week engulfed by the story – and subsequent ramifications – of the killing of Qasem Soleimani, President Trump has claimed he deserved to win the Nobel Peace Prize instead of its recipient Abiy Ahmed. Mr Abiy – Africa’s youngest head of State – managed to reach a peace deal with neighbouring Eritrea in July 2018, something the President believes he deserves credit for. In the campaign event, the President stated “I made a deal, I saved a country, and I just heard that the head of that country is now getting the Nobel Peace Prize for saving the country. I said, ‘what, did I have something do with it?'”. According to the BBC’s former Ethiopia correspondent Emmanuel Iganza, the US’s influence in the peace talks was minimal, and credits the UAE with being instrumental in bringing the nations together. The Prize was awarded in October of last year, so it is unclear why the President chose now to discuss his thoughts on the matter.

Domestically, the US Wine Industry has voiced concerns their businesses will not survive if the President’s decision to increase tariffs on European wine by 100% goes ahead. The US imports approximately $5bn of European wine per year, but this has seen a downturn since October following the introduction of a 25% tax on European wines as part of the fallout from a row over EU subsidies to Airbus, which the WTO ruled illegal.

In Venezuela, opposition leader Juan Guaidó – backed up by 100 other lawmakers – broke through a riot police cordon surrounding the National Assembly on Tuesday. This followed Mr Guaidó’s prevention from attending a vote to re-elect him as speaker. In a tweet, he showed footage of when he and his supporters finally broke through the police blockade into the National Assembly. In his forced absence from the assembly, opposition lawmaker Luis Parra was made speaker, but a vote held outside the chamber by the lawmakers blocked from entering the assembly affirmed their support for Mr Guaidó.

Africa: Beatrice Omotosho

Whilst raging fires are continually destroying vast areas in Australia, Angola faces heavy torrential rains that have flooded the capital, Luanda, leading to 41 fatal deaths and unprecedented amounts of social and economic damage over the last week with not so much as even drinking water available in some areas. Over 300 homes have been destroyed and more than 2000 families have been affected thus far.

Meanwhile, Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan have been unable to agree on terms for Ethiopia’s $4.6 billion dam construction plans on the Nile, following two days of negotiations in Addis Ababa.

Middle East: Luca Delpippo

The US government is imposing additional sanctions on eight top Iranian officials and companies following Iranian attacks on a US military base in Iraq. This is following a statement released by Canadian Prime Minister claiming to have intelligence showing that the downed Ukranian Airliner plane that killed 63 Candians, was shot down by an Iranian missile. Despite this, PM Trudeau urged caution and a full investigation, claiming it could have been ‘unintentional.’

Markets reacted to these heightened tensions in the Middle East with a surge in ‘safe haven’ investing, with fixed-income bonds seeing a record amount of cash inflow for the week ending Wednesday. Together with this trend, International Equities seem to have rebounded after Iran and US have deescalated their positions.

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