Lloyds may cut 9,000 jobs; UK interest rate to stay at historic low; Reforms the real test for India’s Modi

1 Lloyds may cut 9,000 jobs (BBC) Lloyds Banking Group is planning to cut around 9,000 jobs – around a tenth of its entire workforce – over the next three years, the BBC understands. The announcement is seen as part of chief executive Antonio Horta-Osorio’s strategic review of the business. The three-year plan is also expected to include some branch closures.

The cuts are believed to be in response to the shift of many customers from physical branches to online banking. More job losses would mark the continuing decline in headcount at the bank since its near-collapse and bailout in 2008 and 2009, at the height of the financial crisis. Since then it has axed 30,000 jobs, and announced a further 15,000 job cuts as part of a three-year plan in 2011.

The government still holds a 25% stake in the bank, but has reduced its holding from about 39% through two separate share sales since September last year. Lloyds has already divested itself of more than 630 branches through its flotation of the TSB business earlier this year. It currently operates more than 2,000 branches across the country through its remaining Lloyds Bank, Bank of Scotland, and Halifax brands.

According to the banking trade body the BBA, digital banking transactions are now worth almost £1bn a day, with almost 40 million mobile and internet banking transactions every week. The bank has returned to profitability under the stewardship of chief executive Antonio Horta-Osorio. It posted its first annual profit since the financial crisis last year, although it has also been hit by Payment Protection mis-selling costs, and a multi-million pound settlement related to the Libor scandal.


2 UK interest rate to stay at historic low (Angela Monaghan in The Guardian) Bank of England policymakers have signalled that there will be no rise in interest rates soon amid slowing economic recovery and heightened risks from the eurozone. Minutes of the October meeting of the Bank’s rate-setting Monetary Policy Committee showed seven members voted to leave rates unchanged at the historic low of 0.5% they fell to at the height of the financial crisis in March 2009.

The majority of the MPC felt the risks associated with a rate rise were too great amid signs the UK recovery was losing momentum. They also believed there was little justification for an increase with inflation below the 2% target at 1.2% and persistently weak wage growth.


3 Reforms the real test for India’s Modi (Straits Times) Come next month, when the Indian Parliament sits, it will be looking to not just legislate new laws but also axe old, obsolete ones. On the table will be a Bill for repealing nearly 300 statutes that the Law Ministry is expected to submit. This is on top of another Bill for repealing 36 archaic laws that was tabled during the parliamentary session that ended last month.

This exercise is aimed not only at improving governance but, just as crucially, also at making it easier to do business in India. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had pledged in the run-up to May’s general election to fix the country’s flagging economy. One way he is looking at is cutting red tape, including outdated laws, that has placed India at 134th out of 189 nations in the World Bank’s “ease of doing business” ranking.

The easy ones on the chopping block include a Treasure Trove Act enacted in 1838 when India was under British rule that requires anyone who discovers treasure worth as little as 10 rupees to turn it in to the government as it belongs to “Her Majesty”.

The real test of Mr Modi’s resolve, however, is whether he will deal with labour laws that make it hard to fire workers, which will bring his government up against strong labour unions. Rigid labour laws have meant that more than 90 per cent of Indian workers are hired informally as firms dodge the laws. They have also led to zombie companies: loss-making state-run firms that have stopped operations but continue to pay staff. One is the British India Corporation, a textile firm that stopped operating nine years ago but whose 1,800 workers continue to clock in each workday to be paid and promoted.


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China as the wild card in world economy; Apple sells 40m iPhones in three months; US coalition-building — on Ebola

1 China as the wild card in world economy (Neil Gough in The New York Times) Markets around the world have been jolted by fears that slowing growth and deflationary pressures in Europe, Japan and other major economies could derail the United States. But the health of China, for decades an engine of growth, has emerged as one of the most significant wild cards in the global economy.

It is hard to be certain just exactly how the Chinese economy is faring, given mixed signals in the data. Chinese inflation is at its weakest levels in nearly five years. Commodity prices are plunging. New home sales are declining. Foreign investment is contracting.

The overall economy, though, continues to chug along at a steady, albeit more modest, pace. China’s gross domestic product increased by 7.3 percent in the third quarter, compared with 7.5 percent in the previous quarter.

“The question or problem we are all facing at the moment is, ‘What is right picture for the economy as a whole?’ ” said Louis Kuijs, the chief China economist at the Royal Bank of Scotland in Hong Kong. “It’s complicated by negative forces that show up very strongly in industry but not in the service sector.”

Making sense of China’s economic health is challenging because the slowdown is partly by design. The Communist leadership has pledged to reduce China’s dependence on credit-fueled growth and investment, to instead emphasize domestic consumption. It is a risky proposal, and leaders have signaled a willingness to live with slower growth, provided employment holds up and systemic risks are contained.

“We didn’t have any new recruits this year,” Huang Xinqun, 48, a manager at a large ocean-shipping company, said last week. “Usually when the manufacturing business is not doing so well, it would be directly reflected on us,” he said. “We’re like a signal post on how the economy is doing,” Mr. Huang said. “If companies don’t have that many orders and products to transport, then we don’t have as much work.


2 Apple sells 40m iPhones in three months (Dominic Rushe in The Guardian) Apple sold a record 39.3m iPhones in the last three months, the company has said, helping the tech giant win its highest revenues of the year. Entering the Christmas shopping season, its strongest sales period of the year, Apple predicted its latest iPhones would help boost sales by at least 10% during the crucial holiday quarter.

Overall, the company’s profit rose more than 12% from a year ago, to $8.5bn. Total sales also rose more than 12%, to $42.1bn. The one blemish on Apple’s quarter came from iPad sales, which slipped 13% compared to the same period last year, the third quarter in a row that sales of the tablets have fallen.

“Our fiscal 2014 was one for the record books, including the biggest iPhone launch ever with iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus,” Tim Cook, Apple’s chief executive said. Demand for the new iPhones “has been staggering”, said Cook. “At this point we are selling everything we’ve made.” The company ended the year with $155.2bn in cash and marketable securities. Revenues at Apple’s retail rose 15% to $5.1bn. Apple is planning to open 25 new stores in fiscal year 2015. Most will be outside the US.

The results were ahead of forecasts. Wall Street had predicted that Apple would sell 38m iPhones in the three months to the end of September, a 12% rise on the 34m mobiles sold by in the same period last year.


3 US coalition-building – on Ebola (Khaleej Times) After rallying dozens of nations to join the fight against ISIS militants, President Barack Obama is back in the coalition-building business — this time to fight the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. Obama is working the phones with world leaders, appealing to them via videoconference and publicly jawboning with one clear message: Stopping the deadly virus at its source is the single best way to prevent the outbreak from spreading. And that requires an infusion of additional money and resources to the hard-hit countries of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.

Obama is sending up to 4,000 troops to West Africa to supply medical, logistical and training support to the region’s overwhelmed healthcare systems. The US military also is building more than a dozen treatment centres in Liberia with hundreds of beds. The president hoped the commitment of US forces would spur other countries to follow its example. But while some countries have and continue to contribute to the effort, Obama says too many others have not, and he has been venting his frustrations with those that he says are holding back even though they have the resources to help.

Obama isn’t the only one spreading the word. The European Union has stepped up efforts to raise more than $1 billion to fight Ebola in West Africa. The president, as he works to calm the fears of nervous Americans at home, says he’s been reaching out “directly to heads of state and government, who, I believe, have the capacities to do more” to fight Ebola abroad.

Obama has discussed the issue by videoconference with the leaders of Britain, France, Germany and Italy, and they agreed to work together on Ebola to “enlist greater support from more countries” and coordinate their ground efforts, the White House said. Obama also reviewed the matter with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who said late last week that a trust fund he launched to fight Ebola has just $100,000. The president also had a one-on-one conversation with French President Francois Hollande.


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Britain’s young the new have-nots; Five benefits of being an introvert at work; Demand climbs for ethical hackers

1 Britian’s young the new have-nots (Daniel Boffey in The Guardian) Britain is on the verge of becoming permanently divided between tribes of haves and have-nots as the young increasingly miss out on the opportunities enjoyed by their parents’ generation, the government’s social mobility tsar claim. The under-30s in particular are being priced out of owning their own homes, paid lower wages and left with diminishing job prospects, despite a strong economic recovery being enjoyed by some.

Those without the benefits of wealthy parents are condemned to languish on “the wrong side of the divide that is opening up in British society”, according to Alan Milburn, the former Labour cabinet minister. In an illustration of how the less affluent young have been abandoned, Milburn notes that even the Saturday job has become a thing of the past. The proportion of 16- to 17-year-olds in full-time education who also work has fallen from 37% to 18% in a decade.

Milburn spoke out as tens of thousands of people, including public sector workers such as teachers and nurses opposed to a below-inflation 1% pay offer from the government, protested in London, Glasgow and Belfast about pay and austerity. The TUC, which organised the protests under the slogan “Britain Needs a Pay Rise”, said that between 80,000 and 90,000 people took part in the London march.

He said that only a radical change would save a generation of Britons buffeted by an economic downturn and condemned by a fundamental change in the labour market that left them without hope of better lives. Milburn said: “It is depressing. The current generation of young people are educated better and for longer than any previous one. But young people are losing out on jobs, earnings and housing.

“This recession has been particularly hard on young people. The ratio of youth to adult unemployment rates was just over two to one in 1996, compared to just under three to one today. Young people are the losers in the recovery to date.” The median pay of a 22- to 29-year-old, £9.73 an hour, was more than 10% lower today than it was in 2006, according to Milburn. The pay of 18- to 21-year-olds, £6.73, is 8.8% lower. Both are at the same wage level as they were in 1998.


2 Five benefits of being an introvert at work (Belo Cipriani in San Francisco Chronicle) In a competitive job market it may seem as though being an introvert may count as a strike against you. After all, extroverts seem to get everything they want. But even though it may be hard to immediately recognize, being quiet or soft-spoken can be an advantage at the office. Here are five benefits of being an introvert at work.

Colleagues get more done around you. Even extroverts need quiet time to think and be creative. By not engaging in constant chatter, introverts help colleagues stay focused. People confide in you. Whether you are a person who enjoys being a listener or not, being an introvert automatically makes you a person people can trust. You rarely speak without thinking. Although introverts can make mistakes at the office, being shy often keeps them from saying something inappropriate in a meeting, company function or industry event.

Colleagues find you very professional. Because you don’t interrupt coworkers at meetings, yell your personal plans across the office, or talk so loudly on the phone that even people in other departments can hear everything you say, colleagues find you more professional; something that will play in your favor when being considered for a promotion.

Management respects your opinion. One of the biggest pluses of being an introvert is that because you rarely comment on company culture or procedures, whenever you do speak up, people will listen. This is especially true when it comes to discussing issues with management.


3 Demand up for ethical hackers (Aw Cheng Wei in Straits Times) Calling yourself a penetration tester might invite some laughs at dinner parties, but the job of a cyber security expert is anything but funny. It is serious business.

Just ask American bank JPMorgan Chase. The names and addresses of its clients – more than 76 million households and seven million small businesses – were stolen by hackers this month in one of the worst intrusions ever.
In the fight to stay safe online, penetration testers are the necessary foot soldiers. They are external consultants or in-house workers who try to find loopholes in their employers’ computer security systems before others with malicious aims do so.


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UK banks slash mortgage rates; Bishops scrap gay-friendly move; Mars for the masses

1 UK Banks slash mortgage rates (The Guardian) The battle to tempt mortgage customers with attractive deals is heating up again as major lenders put more rate cuts into action. Barclays is preparing to offer what it said are some of its lowest ever rates, including a three-year fixed rate at 2.29%, a five-year fix at 2.85% and a 10-year fix at 3.49%. All of these deals are aimed at people with 40% deposits and come with a £999 fee.

Barclays is also cutting the rate on its innovative family springboard mortgage, which helps people with only a 5% deposit get on the property ladder by allowing their parents to put some money into a savings account which is then linked to the mortgage. The savings money is later released back to their parents with interest, provided that the mortgage payments are kept up to date.

Meanwhile, a new 0.99% deal from HSBC will be launched on Monday. HSBC has said the product, which is available for borrowers with a 40% deposit, has the lowest rate it has ever offered. The 0.99% deal is in effect a 2.95% discount off HSBC’s 3.94% standard variable rate (SVR), which lasts for two years.
Experts have put the new battle for mortgage holders’ business down to lenders looking to meet end-of-year targets as well as trying to play catch up after the introduction of stricter mortgage lending rules earlier this year, which caused some disruption to the market.


2 Bishops scrap gay-friendly move (San Francisco Chronicle) Catholic bishops have scrapped their landmark welcome to gays, showing deep divisions at the end of a two-week meeting sought by Pope Francis to chart a more merciful approach to ministering to Catholic families.

The bishops approved a final report covering a host of issues related to Catholic family life, acknowledging there were “positive elements” in civil heterosexual unions outside the church and even in cases when men and women were living together outside marriage.

But the bishops failed to reach consensus on a watered-down section on ministering to homosexuals. The new section had stripped away the welcoming tone of acceptance contained in a draft document earlier. Rather than considering gays as individuals who had gifts to offer the church, the revised paragraph referred to homosexuality as one of the problems Catholic families face. It said “people with homosexual tendencies must be welcomed with respect and sensitivity,” but repeated church teaching that marriage is only between a man and a woman.

The revised paragraph failed to reach the two-thirds majority needed to pass. The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said the failure of the paragraphs to pass meant that they have to be discussed further to arrive at a consensus at a meeting of bishops next October.

A coalition of small pro-life groups, Voice of the Family, said the outcome of the meeting had only contributed to “deepening the confusion that has already damaged families since the sexual revolution of the 1960s.” The gay section of the draft report had been written by a Francis appointee, Monsignor Bruno Forte, a theologian known for pushing the pastoral envelope on ministering to people in “irregular” unions.


3 Mars for the masses (Allan Jacob in Khaleej Times) Space technology is coming home to earth as mortals like us reach for the stars and settle for the planets. Nasa recently announced 1.2 million names were submitted on their website, while others signed their names on pages which were scanned and made into microscopic scale. These were then etched on two chips the size of a coin to be shipped to Mars aboard the Curiosity Rover spacecraft. The agency said people from 246 countries participated in this mass digital movement to the Red Planet.

Some weeks ago, India’s tight-fisted $74 million state-funded package for an epic journey to the mysterious planet earned plaudits. It was a cheap leap for spatial technology and its applications here on earth.The Mars Orbiter Mission was a budgeted blockbuster for it tempered expenses without lowering expectations, while its benefits for humanity must be measured once the applause has died down.

It was at once inexpensive, inhouse, innovative and got the fundamentals of exploration and human enquiry right — to probe (not conquer) a distant planet for the benefit of all people. Take the case of an auto-rickshaw (Indian commercial three-wheeler city commute vehicle) driver in the Indian city of Bengaluru who declined the fare offered by a scientist who hired him for a ride to the space organisation’s headquarters.

He gushed at how they managed to restart the spacecraft’s engine after 10 months for the final fling into the Martian orbit. The driver asked the scientist, who had by now acquired rockstar status, if he could improve the electronics of the humble rickshaw and help it survive potholes without him having to incur additional expenses on maintenance during the monsoons.

Nasa’s space shuttle missions cost $450 million per trip — and there have been 130 of them. Compare this to MOM which does not go over the head. That, however, will be of little interest to the auto-rickshaw driver who wants a less bumpier ride on the road, or the farmer who tills the field. Modern odysseys for them are about social upliftment through the wonders of technology from above. MOM’s the word for a universal space mascot. Who said Mars isn’t for the masses?


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Ebola as the next HIV; No endgame in Hong Kong; Islamic dogma and decline

1 Ebola as the next HIV (The Guardian) Britain and the US have issued stark warnings that the international community will be responsible for a substantial loss of life in west Africa and a greater threat across the world unless the financial and medical response to the Ebola crisis is intensified.

As the World Health Organisation admitted mishandling the early stages of the Ebola outbreak in west Africa, US secretary of state John Kerry said a failure to respond could turn Ebola into “a scourge like HIV or polio”. Kerry criticised the international community for providing only a third of the UN target of $1bn. Kerry called on world leaders to provide cash, helicopters and treatment centres.

David Cameron wrote to the European council president, Herman Van Rompuy, to call on EU leaders to agree at a summit next week to donate an extra €1bn and to despatch 2,000 European clinicians and workers to the region within a month.

US President Barack Obama named an Ebola “tsar” to take charge of combating the virus in the US and health officials revealed they were monitoring 16 people connected to a nurse who has the virus. GlaxoSmithKline, the pharmaceutical group, said a vaccine it was working on would be “too late for this epidemic”. The death toll rose to 4,546 out of 9,191 cases in west Africa.

Médecins Sans Frontières warned that international pledges were not having any impact on the spread of the virus. Christopher Stokes, who is leading the charity’s response, welcomed pledges of help, but said they were “not having any significant impact on the epidemic and it won’t now for maybe another month or month and a half”.


2 No endgame in Hong Kong (San Francisco Chronicle) The movement for greater democracy in Hong Kong has spiraled into a volatile and dangerous crisis over three weeks with no clear endgame. Support for protesters is fast waning, as days of violent clashes between activists, their opponents and police overshadow the movement. Vast differences over political reforms divide the students and the government. Key thoroughfares remain closed.

Some protesters are digging in for the long haul at the main occupation zone, while others fight to retake ground lost to police. Against this backdrop, a government offer to negotiate with students appears highly unlikely to resolve the largest uprising since the former British colony returned to Chinese control 17 years ago.

“The endgame is nowhere in sight,” said Willy Lam, a China expert at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. “Short of using a high degree of force, which might exacerbate dissatisfaction among the public, it looks like neither Beijing nor the Hong Kong government has what it takes to defuse the crisis.” With Beijing appearing to want to avoid both bloodshed and a compromise with the student leaders, Lam said, “we have the making of a stalemate.”


3 Islamic dogma and decline (Irfan Husain in Dawn) We blame the world for our woes while feeling sorry for ourselves. The long decline of Islamic civilisation is placed at the door of scheming Westerners, and our backwardness is the fault of our colonial experience. But the reality is that much of North Africa and the Middle East was colonised by Ottoman Turkey, a Muslim empire. And our fall into despair and irrelevance began long before the heyday of European colonialism in the 19th century.

The Islamic civilisation had, until a millennium ago, been a beacon to the world in the sciences and the arts. In a period of great bigotry in Europe, Muslims had been tolerant of other faiths and had nurtured ancient Greek learning. The siege and destruction of Baghdad by the Mongol army under Halaku Khan in 1258 only hastened the decline of the caliphate as its power had dissipated long ago.

But the decline had begun earlier when Muslim rulers and clerics turned away from reason and internalised a rigid dogma. Before this hinge moment in Islamic history, the Mu’tazilah movement had influenced thought and policy with its emphasis on reason between the eighth and tenth centuries.

The enlightened view was challenged by the orthodoxy. Led by Abu al-Hasan al-Ashari in the 10th century, this school argued that “Human reason in and by itself is not capable of establishing with absolute certainty any truth with respect to morality, the physical world, or metaphysical ideas”. At around this time, the gates of ijtihad, or independent reasoning, were firmly shut.

Thus, while the printing press came into use in Europe in 1460, the Islamic world waited until 1727 before permitting its introduction. Pervez Hoodbhoy, the physicist and author of Muslims and Science, an incisive study of the decline of science in the Muslim world, has documented some depressing facts: with a population of 1.6 billion, Muslims have produced only two Nobel laureates in the sciences. Forty-six Muslim countries contribute a mere 1pc of scientific literature.

But while Europe went through its Reformation, Renaissance and Enlightenment, we are still locked into our Ashari mindset, determined to stick to a literal interpretation of the faith, and unable to restore ijtihad to its rightful place. Until we can learn the lessons of the past thousand years, we are doomed to fall even further behind.


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Helping Africa to help stop Ebola spread; First Japanese passenger jet in four decades; China’s violent land disputes

1 Helping Africa to stop Ebola spread (BBC) The World Health Organization is to “ramp up” efforts to prevent Ebola spreading beyond the three countries most affected by the deadly virus. Fifteen African countries are being prioritised, top WHO official Isabelle Nuttall said. They will receive more help in areas including prevention and protection.

But former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has said he is “bitterly disappointed” with the international community’s response. Mr Annan said richer countries should have moved faster. “If the crisis had hit some other region it probably would have been handled very differently.

In Geneva, the WHO’s Dr Nutall said the transmission of the Ebola virus remained intense in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea – the three countries at the centre of the Ebola outbreak. There was a “spike” in the Guinean capital, Conakry, she said, and “intense transmission” in Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone. In the Liberian capital, Monrovia, she spoke of “significant underreporting” and problems with data-gathering making it hard to reach firm conclusions.


2 First Japanese passenger jet in four decades (Yuri Kageyama in San Francisco Chronicle) The first made in Japan passenger jet in four decades reaches a development milestone later this week. A “rolling out” ceremony in Nagoya, central Japan on Saturday will unveil the long awaited Mitsubishi Regional Jet, or MRJ, a fuel-efficient lightweight carbon-fiber composite passenger plane.

Major Japanese machinery maker Mitsubishi Heavy Industries says the MRJ90 will seat 88 people, while the MRJ70 will seat 76, and the planned MRJ100X will have 100 seats. The plane is billed as fuel-efficient, quiet and green, with a comfortable cabin of relatively wide seats and high ceilings. The first flight is planned for the second quarter of next year, with test flights to follow totaling 2,500 hours, and the first deliveries are set for 2017.

MRJ has received 191 orders, from All Nippon Airways, Trans State Holdings, SkyWest, Air Mandalay and Eastern Air Line with 184 additional purchase options. The MRJ is Japan’s first nationally funded, domestically manufactured passenger aircraft since the YS-11, a turboprop airplane that was discontinued in 1973.

More than 5,000 deliveries of regional jets are expected over the next 20 years, according to Mitsubishi, whose aircraft division is called Mitsubishi Aircraft Corp. Japan’s regional rival China has two commercial jet aircraft projects underway, the first of which, the ARJ21, is now ready for delivery, according to manufacturer Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China, also known as Comac. The plane, with room for up to 90 passengers, had been promised for 2007, but technical problems led to years of delay.


3 China’s violent land disputes (The Guardian) Villagers in a bitter standoff with a property developer in rural south-western China burned four construction workers to death in a clash that left eight people dead, authorities have said. The incident in Yunnan province was one of the most violent land conflicts to strike the country’s vast rural hinterland in recent years, casting a spotlight on the plight and anger of residents who see their livelihoods threatened when their lands are seized by developers with the backing of local governments.

Alarmed by such violence, the ruling Communist party is expected to grant more independence to local courts in the hope of extending justice and alleviating tensions between members of the public and local governments.

State media reports said the latest dispute at Fuyou village was over land compensation. Villagers detained eight construction workers on Tuesday when the developer attempted to restart work on the site, the government statement said. The villagers then bound the workers’ hands and feet, beat them up, and poured petrol on them. The government said the villagers threw homemade petrol bombs and set fire to the petrol-drenched detainees. Four workers burned to death and two others died from unspecified injuries, it said.

The violence has not been unconditionally condemned by members of the public, many of whom are instead questioning what led to the conflict. State media, meanwhile, are blaming the local government. “It shows the local government has not made effective efforts to resolve the conflict between the developer and the villagers,” said a Beijing Times editorial, pointing out that the villagers had lost fertile lands that once provided them with handsome profits.


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UK unemployment falls below 2m; The ground shakes for the AAA-club; Vatican and the mystery of the gay welcome

1 UK unemployment falls below 2m (BBC) The UK unemployment total has fallen below two million for the first time in almost six years, official figures show. The number of jobless people fell by 154,000 to 1.97 million in the three months to the end of August, the Office for National Statistics said. The drop, which is bigger than analysts expected, took the unemployment rate to 6%, its lowest level since late 2008.

But wage growth remained stubbornly below the current 1.2% inflation rate. In total, there are now 30.76 million people in work. Chancellor George Osborne said the fall in unemployment was “evidence that our long-term economic plan is working”.

The proportion of people aged between 16 and 64 in work is now 73%, close to its all-time high of 73.2%. Over the year to the end of August, the number of unemployed people fell by 538,000, the largest annual fall since records began. But the number of people choosing not to seek work increased.

“Real pay continues to drop, carrying on the trend that began six years ago. Weak pay is bad news for household budgets, but also for the levels of income tax receipts and the UK’s fiscal position,” said Martin Beck, senior economic advisor to the EY ITEM Club.


2 The ground shakes for the AAA-club (Angela Monaghan in The Guardian) Finland has become the latest country to be stripped of its coveted AAA credit rating, after Standard & Poor’s downgraded it one notch to AA+. The Finnish prime minister, Alexander Stubb, described it as a “wake-up call”.

Countries including the UK and US were among those to be dealt the humiliating blow of losing the top rating after the financial crisis. Germany and Luxembourg are the only two eurozone members still worthy of AAA status, according to Standard & Poor’s.

While the three main ratings agencies – Standard & Poor’s, Moody’s and Fitch – are divided on the credit worthiness of numerous countries, they are unanimous that the following are AAA rated: Australia, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Luxembourg, Norway, Singapore, Sweden and Switzerland.

The world’s largest economy suffered credit rating humiliation in 2011 when Standard & Poor’s stripped it of its AAA rating. The US had been AAA rated by S&P since 1941, but the political stalemate that took the economy to the brink of default brought an end to that. Moody’s and Fitch have kept the faith however, and maintain their AAA ratings.


3 Vatican and the mystery of gay welcome (San Francisco Chronicle) It’s one of the great mysteries of the meeting on family life taking place behind closed doors at the Vatican this week: Just where did the authors of a draft report come up with such ground-breaking language that gays had gifts to offer the church and that even homosexual partnerships had merit?

Officially speaking, the draft report was a synthesis of the interventions from more than 200 bishops. But conservative cardinals have said their views were not reflected in the draft, they blasted the report as “unacceptable” and said it was in sore need of an overhaul.

The most contentious passage is contained in three paragraphs of the 58-paragraph report under the heading “Welcoming homosexuals.” It starts off by saying gays “have gifts and qualities to offer the Christian community.” There was no reference to Catholic doctrine that gay sex is “intrinsically disordered,” sinful or that homosexual orientation was “objectively disordered.”

There is no real way to know which bishop or bishops had proposed such ground-breaking language. The controversy over the document has crystalized the deepening divisions in the church over Francis’ revolutionary agenda to make it a more welcoming place.

What remains to be seen is if Francis can ensure that the final report continues to reflect that view after all the amendments are in. None of Francis’ appointees are Africans, who are among the most conservative on family issues.


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