As the New Year dawns do you know the difference between a UXB and an XBB?

UXB – This is simple it refers to an unexploded bomb

XBB – This could be a ticking bomb as it refers to the latest Omicron subvariant of “concern”.

Here is all you need to know ( – extract):

XBB is a subvariant of the Omicron BA.2 variant, and XBB.1.5 is a subvariant of XBB.

It emerged as a “recombinant lineage between the second generation Omicron variants”, Professor Kei Sato wrote in a study by University of Tokyo, Hokkaido University and Kyoto University, posted to preprint server bioRxiv.

The Japanese researchers studied XBB’s characteristics in hamsters including transmissibility and immune resistance.

Their results suggested that the subvariant is highly transmissible and has developed resistance to immunity.

In October 2022, the World Health Organisation (WHO) also said there was early evidence to suggest that XBB has a higher reinfection risk, compared to other circulating Omicron subvariants.

However, in a fact-checking article conducted by Reuters in November, its team concluded that there was no evidence that XBB “is more deadly or causes more severe COVID-19 than the Delta variant”.

Where have cases of XBB been reported?

The Omicron subvariants have taken the US by storm as together they accounted for 44.1per cent of the total cases in the country for the week ending December 31.

The subvariants were previously reported as just XBB before this week.

Though the subvariants are currently dominant in the Northeast, they account for fewer than 10 per cent of infections in many other parts of the country, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday (CDC).

XBB.1.5 has been detected in at least 74 countries and 43 US states, according to which uses data from the Global Initiative on Sharing Avian Influenza Data (GISAID).

These countries include the UK, China, India, Pakistan, Indonesia and Australia.

End of year report: Simon Jupp

Simon continues to make a lot of noise in his support for the hospitality sector, his chosen specialist subject. But he continues to disappoint in his choice of drinking partners. He would benefit by widening his circle of friends.

Simon with “three homes” Robert Jenrick and “tractor porn” Neil Parish

UK retailers, restaurants and clubs brace for tough run-up to Christmas

(There are reports of a £1.5bn loss to the sector in December alone)

Sarah Butler 

UK retailers, restaurants and nightclubs are braced for a tough run-up to Christmas as poor weather and strikes hinder shopping and socialising.

The number of visitors to UK high streets was down by a fifth on pre-pandemic levels last week, and almost 1% down on last year when the Omicron variant and some government restrictions led to a very quiet end of the year, according to the latest data from the shopper tracking agency Springboard.

Despite the men’s football World Cup final, pubs, restaurants and bars experienced a 50% fall in takings this weekend, according to the Night Time Industries Association (NTIA), on what should have been one of the busiest weekends of the year.

Michael Kill, the chief executive of the NTIA, said the industry had lost out on an estimated £2bn of revenue as a result of rail strikes creating a situation that was “untenable for businesses”.

He called on the government to provide further support or risk “a huge swathe of businesses going into insolvency in January”.

Towns and London office locations fared the worst last week, as a cold snap and strikes combined to keep people at home. Central London and regional cities bounced back from last year – with visitor numbers up almost 9% – but were still about a fifth down on pre-pandemic levels, according to Springboard.

Diane Wehrle, the insights director at Springboard, said: “Last week – the week prior to Christmas – should have been a peak trading week for retail destinations and stores, with footfall expected to rise from the week before as Christmas shopping moves towards its zenith. Instead, footfall across UK retail destinations took a tumble last week.

“While the cold weather prevailed, which would undoubtedly have had some impact, the contrast with the results for the week before clearly demonstrate that it was the rail strikes that were the key impact on footfall.”

UK retailers have already reported lower sales than expected in the lead-up to Christmas. On Friday, figures from the Office for National Statistics showed that the amount spent on retail in Great Britain dropped by 0.4% in November, against a forecast by industry analysts of a 0.3% rise.

The boss of one big national retailer said, with heavy irony, that the “potentially lethal” combination of snow and strikes had “perfect timing”. “Around about now is the point that customers switch from e-commerce to stores, and the next [few] days are usually much more about the store experience,” he said.

The prospects for an acceleration in sales during December to make up for lost ground are being hindered by the cold snap and a series of rail strikes. There are further strikes planned, including one by Network Rail staff starting on Christmas Eve, when passenger trains will finish by 3pm.

Some online retailers are also likely to be affected by strikes, with 115,000 Royal Mail workers due to start a two-day strike over pay, jobs and conditions on Friday, running over to Christmas Eve.

Samuel Tombs, the chief UK economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics, a consultancy, said the November sales decline came as “consumers tightened their belts in the face of surging prices”.

“We expect further weakness ahead due to the snow and a further hit to real incomes,” he added, with higher energy costs an important factor in reducing households’ disposable incomes.

Amarveer Singh and Maria Nurgaziyeva, analysts at CreditSights, a debt rating agency, wrote: “December should see more support from Christmas shopping for both food and non-food retailing, although cold weather and ongoing rail strikes are expected to put a dent into it.”

Inflation has meant that consumers are getting less for their money. Singh and Nurgaziyeva said November sales by value in pounds were up by 14% compared with February 2020 – before the first UK pandemic lockdowns – but the volume of goods sold was 0.7% lower.

End of year report: Alison Hernandez

Alison once again has devoted much of her time to engineering photo opportunities and she excels in the “selfie”. Unfortunately about a third of the new “Bozzer” recruits she boasted about in 2019 (and we are paying for) are voting with their feet and leaving. She should concentrate on the day job.

(Devon & Cornwall sixth worst force for which data are available – see table at the bottom) – Owl

Police recruits who signed up under Boris Johnson’s ‘20,000 officers’ scheme quit in droves

Steve Robson

Thousands of police officers recruited under Boris Johnson’s flagship manifesto pledge to boost numbers have already resigned, i can reveal.

The former prime minister promised to add 20,000 officers to forces in England and Wales under the Police Uplift Programme (PUP) by March 2023 in a bid to reverse a decade of austerity cuts made by his Conservative predecessors.

The policy has cost £3.6bn since 2019, according to the National Audit Office, and is projected to cost £18.5bn over the next ten years.

With three months to go until the deadline, the Government says more than 15,000 officers have been recruited, around 77 per cent of the target.

But figures obtained by i via Freedom of Information requests reveal that at least 1,837 of those officers who joined under the scheme have already voluntarily resigned.

The true figure is likely to be much higher, as 19 of the 43 forces in England and Wales failed to provide data, including the largest force, the Metropolitan Police.

The data obtained by i suggests that more than one in 10 police recruits who joined under the Conservative-led recruitment drive have already quit.

The forces with the highest number of recruits who had resigned include Greater Manchester Police with 206, West Midlands Police with 173, Thames Valley Police with 160, Surrey Police with 129 and Hampshire Police with 124.

Publicly available figures show the Metropolitan Police lost at least 2,123 officers to voluntary resignation between 2019-2022, although this includes all officers, not just those recruited under the PUP programme.

Mr Johnson and his former home secretary, Priti Patel, repeatedly claimed that replacing the 20,000 officers lost as a result of austerity cuts would tackle violent crime, which has escalated in recent years.

Back in August, Mr Johnson said: “We are cracking down on vile gangs and putting dangerous offenders behind bars for longer – and at the heart of these efforts are the 20,000 new officers who will be out on the streets providing the firepower for years to come in the fight against crime.”

However, during a speech to the Police Federation in May, Ms Patel acknowledged that officer “attrition”, the human resources term used to describe people leaving an employer voluntarily, is becoming an issue.

Rishi Sunak also championed the policy during his first Prime Minister’s Questions in October.

Senior policing leaders are now working with academics to understand why so many officers are voluntarily resigning early in their careers.

Some chief constables have suggested that too many people have joined police forces in recent years with unrealistic expectations of the job, including the requirement to work anti-social hours and deal with confrontation.

There has also been criticism of the decision to make recruits complete either an apprenticeship, degree or diploma on top of regular police officer training.

Dr Sarah Charman, professor of criminology at the University of Portsmouth, is currently leading a research project to understand the high number of police leavers.

She argues the data shows policing is no longer a “job for life” where people regularly serve for more than 30 years before retiring.

The number of voluntary resignations, regardless of length of service, has increased by almost 200 per cent in the past decade, from 1,158 in 2012 to 3,433 in 2022.

But the figures obtained by i will fuel concerns that the newest generation of officers are among the most likely to leave.

Dr Sarah Charman has interviewed 62 people who have resigned since 2021, of which eleven were officers with two years’ service or less. One lasted only six months in the job.

Several new recruits highlighted struggling to juggle academic learning on top of police training, she said. “They were talking about the pressure of uni work alongside training and a full time job,” Dr Charman told i.

“Some found it rushed, some mentioned the attitude of tutors. The ones that came out quite quickly talked about it not being the job that they thought it was going to be. They found it too challenging trying to study and do the job at the same time.

“For a few of them, they were doing training to be a police officer during the dark days of the lockdown and a lot of it moved online which was difficult.”

The Police Federation has also expressed concern that there is now too much emphasis on academic learning and not enough on-the-job training, leaving recruits ill-prepared for the reality when it hits them.

One training supervisor previously told The Times that they are encountering students who can’t pass a fitness test, get anxious talking to the public and “literally run away” from physical violence.

Ché Donald, the vice-chairman of the Police Federation, also claimed that recruits who “don’t have a scooby” were being hired in the uplift.

“You’ve got parents phoning up the chief inspector to say, it’s my son’s birthday tonight, he’s not going to work the night shift, you can put him on a day shift,” he told The Times.

Speaking to the Police Oracle last year, Nick Adderly, Chief Constable of Northants Police, revealed his force is losing around 120 people a year, of which a significant number are new recruits.

“I flagged this before and the chiefs pooh-poohed it,” Mr Adderley said.

“Now they’re recognising it as an issue themselves – young people coming into the police, not really knowing what it’s about, realising after just a few weeks and months that it’s not for them.”

However, Dr Charman believes this characterisation is unfair and says most leavers she has interviewed knew what they were signing up for.

“Whenever we raise this [police resignations], you hear these comments that they didn’t know they were going to have to work nights shifts and weekends, it can be quite patronising,” she said.

“It’s not the job to be honest – only one person I interviewed said they were leaving because of the nature of the job itself.

“Most are quite prepared to go out there and do the dark and dirty work many of us wouldn’t want to do, it’s the organisation itself. If people are quitting like this, something is wrong.”

Dr Charman uses the term “organisational injustice” to describe a sense that many police leavers felt when they were not progressing, being supported or looked after in their job.

Personal factors such as women struggling to fit childcare responsibilities around shifts were also significant. Pay and pension complaints were mentioned, but not frequently, she added.

Low morale was also cited as a major factor by those leaving.

Thames Valley Police told i it is among several forces to have become “aware” that it is losing student officers. A spokesperson said the role of a police officer “comes with challenges, particularly within the first three years when student officers are learning their craft”.

In September, the National Police Chiefs Council commissioned “deep-dive” research into the issue of police leavers and Thames Valley said it will be “implementing some of the recommendations from this project in due course”.

Surrey Police, however, denied that the number of student officers leaving was “notably higher than previous entry paths”.

And Hampshire and the Isle of Wight Constabulary said it “not surprising” that the force has one of the highest numbers of student officers leaving because it has recruited more officers under the national uplift programme than almost any other force.

The exodus of police officers comes after the service has faced sustained criticism over allegations of sexism, racism and corruption in recent years.

Dr Charman says the retention crisis is a “fairly new thing”. She said: “I think the attitude of the police service has been to concentrate on recruitment and less so on retention and they need to focus on that.

“Poor retention is as much of a problem and they really need to look at why officers are leaving… It’s a huge issue.”

It comes as Labour tries to set out its stall as the party toughest on crime. Shadow Justice Secretary, Steve Reed, told The Times the party would crack down on antisocial behaviour and give victims the power to decide how perpetrators are punished.

The shadow Home Secretary, Yvette Cooper, told i: “The country is still paying the price for this Government’s deeply damaging decision to cut 20,000 police officers. Even their promise to reverse those cuts isn’t working properly – there are still 6,000 fewer neighbourhood police, there’s a shortage of 1,000 detectives and now many new recruits are dropping out.

“The appalling consequence of twelve years of Conservative policies on policing and crime is that far fewer criminals are being arrested, far fewer crimes are being solved and far more victims are being let down.

“Labour has a fully-funded plan to put 13,000 extra neighbourhood police and PCSOs (police community support officers) back on our streets to fight crime at its source. Only Labour will give police and communities the support they need.”

The Home Office said the retention of police officers is a “priority” and it recently carried out a survey of 3,500 new recruits which showed a “positive onboarding experience overall”.

Job satisfaction was at 90 per cent for new recruits and 81 per cent intend to continue as police officers for the rest of their working lives, the Government said.

A Home Office spokesperson added: “Policing is a career like no other and now more than ever we need dedicated and talented officers to keep communities safe and cut crime.

“The overwhelming majority of new recruits recently surveyed report positive job satisfaction and want to remain officers for the rest of their working lives.

“The Police Uplift Programme is on track, with 15,343 additional officers already recruited, ensuring police have the support and training they need to bear down on crime.”

A spokesperson for the College of Policing added: “The Policing Educations Qualifications Framework (PEQF) provides standardised training for new officers who are being recruited as part of the Uplift programme. With the PEQF offering a number of different routes for entry, aspiring new recruits can join the force using the route they feel is best suited to them, with work continuing to be done to consider a fourth entry route which will maintain high standards of training fit for the 21st century but not result in the student being recognised for a degree.

“The PEQF training is largely practical with new recruits spending 75 per cent of their time on the job and recognises the shifting demands of modern policing with new modules covering criminal activity in new and emerging areas such as fraud and digital crime as well as retaining modules in the more traditional crimes such as burglary and violence.

“In a recent survey of almost 4,000 new police recruits, 75 per cent undergoing the updated training said it prepared them well for the job, compared with 60 per cent for the previous course. Similarly, 82 per cent undergoing the updated training said they were provided with the skills for the job, compared with 66 per cent for the previous training.”

The Police Federation added: “We are aware of the pressure on the new police student officers and are working with forces to make sure that they are supported through their probation period. The Police Federation of England and Wales is concerned that the overall uplift programme to replace officers does not go far enough to help police deal with the increasing amount of crime that we need to keep the public safe.”

The National Police Chiefs Council was also contacted for comment. A spokesman for Boris Johnson was approached for comment.

Number of officers recruited under the Government’s Police Uplift Programme to have voluntarily resigned since December 2019, per police force

Northumbria: 82

North Yorkshire: 49

North Wales: 19

Devon and Cornwall: 92

West Midlands: 173

Cheshire: 88

West Mercia: 75

Surrey: 129

Cumbria: 37

Lancashire: 89

Northants: 35

Derbyshire: 24

Lincolnshire: 37

Staffordshire: 61

Hampshire: 124

Greater Manchester: 206

Humberside: 90

Gloucester: 37

Warwickshire: 22

South Wales: 54

Merseyside: 85

Dorset: 46

Thames Valley: 160

Dyfed-Powys: 23

Total: 1,837

The apparent surge in second homes around East Devon (and how Jupp hopes to end it)

Simon Jupp reveals how proud he is to have helped navigate the “Levelling Up and Regeneration Bil” through Parliament when he worked as a PPS in the department. (That is between 14 October when he sold his soul to Fizzy Lizzy and 20  October when she resigned. Rishi Sunak became PM on 25 October and sacked the Levelling Up minister.) – A week really is a long time in politics.

He claims this bill will help to damp down the market for second homes, let’s hope EDDC takes advantage of it and it does.

What he doesn’t discuss are the various mortgage guarantee schemes and tax benefits introduced by the government in recent times that have only served to pump up an already buoyant housing market, including by Chancellor Sunak. – Owl

Simon Jupp

When I walk around the villages and towns of East Devon, the number of holiday lets and second homes is becoming ever more apparent.

Figures reveal a surge in second home ownership since the pandemic hit. There are 13,363 second homes in Devon, 11 per cent more than a year ago. It is undoubtedly warping the local long-term rent and buy market as a wander past any estate agent window will amply demonstrate.

As I’ve said many times before, homes for long-term rent and buy are increasingly out of reach for people who grew up in East Devon – including key workers who need to work in the NHS or in local schools. It’s right to take proportionate action.

Last month, I voted for the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill. It’s a bill I was proud to help navigate through Parliament when I worked in the Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities. It’s a wide-ranging bill, including eye-catching powers for councils to double council tax on second homes and double council tax on homes empty for more than a year.

East Devon District Council is discussing how to bring these powers into place locally. I hope they use the new powers offered by the Conservative government once brought into law.

After a hard-fought campaign by Conservative MPs in the South West, the government has also closed a loophole that lets second homes avoid paying council tax by registering as a holiday rental, signing up for business rates, and then receiving business rates relief. To be business rated, properties will need to be available to let commercially for 140 days a year and actually let commercially for 70 days a year.

I understand these changes won’t be welcomed by everyone. I do believe people have the right to spend their money purchasing properties available to them. However, I believe higher council tax on second homes and making sure genuine short-term lets can carry on as businesses is fair and proportionate action to take.

As your MP, I want to make sure local people can get on the housing ladder, too.