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The UK's powerhouse services sector contracted for the first time in 20 months during December after snow and public sector cuts impacted trading, new research has revealed.

The latest Markit/CIPS Purchasing Managers' Index (PMI) survey - where a reading above 50 indicates growth - slipped to 49.7 in December from 53 in November and also came in well below City expectations.

Arctic weather conditions were blamed for the first fall in new business since mid 2009, with hotels, restaurants, caterers and personal services bearing the brunt of the disruption.

Photo by Jonah G.S.

 

Free nicotine patches are to be offered on the NHS as part of a major drive to help smokers quit their habit in the New Year.

Coupons giving smokers a week's free trial of the patches will be added to "Quit Kits" for the first time, the Department of Health announced.

The kits, which also contain items such as calming audio downloads and "health and wealth" wheels showing the benefits of giving up, will be available at participating pharmacies across the country.

The Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT) patches work by gradually releasing nicotine into the bloodstream without the cancer-causing substances found in cigarettes. Smokers can double their chances of giving up successfully by using them, and research shows that two-thirds of smokers want to stop.

Health Secretary Andrew Lansley said: "January is the most popular time of year to try and quit smoking. To give smokers some extra help, we've launched a new Quit Kit with a free one-week trial of NRT patches.

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Are you looking to find your one true love in London? The best way to get out there is to find an online dating site. You can search for locals in your area. Make sure that you are totally honest on these sites. Fill it all out the best you can and tell all about yourself. You can browse other members and see if you like them. Make sure you put a picture up and be honest! Many people will not even look at your profile without a picture posted. If it is not you, then you will end up finding someone looking for someone different. Honesty is always the best policy if you want to find a lasting relationship out of this attempt.

Keep in touch with several people on the site and keep your options open. Get to know them over several e-mails and see if they are someone you want to get to know in a more intimate relationship outside of the internet. Be safe when telling them all of your information until you know this person a bit better. You do not want to let out all your secrets before you even get a chance to meet in person. Remember you can only get to know someone so well this way, so you will learn more when you meet them outside the comforts of the keyboard. Don't be afraid to set up dates with more than one person and feel out which one is best for you!

Once you meet someone you would like to go on a date with, make sure you make the date perfect! Find something you will both enjoy. If you are into the arts, go to a museum. Movies don't make a great first date, because then you don't have to talk. Dinner is always good, but make sure they will enjoy the type of restaurant that you choose to go to that evening. Spend time talking and getting to know each other so you know if this is someone that you are interested in pursuing further. Lunch dates can be nice and a bit less pressure also. There is so much to offer in London so be creative!

There are also many dating agencies in London. You can search the internet or yellow pages to find one that you like. They will help set you up with someone they see as a great match for you! There are so many different kinds of people in London that this can be a great way to meet someone you wouldn't normally cross paths with on a day to day basis.

Just remember to be open to the experience! Try something new. Meet with someone a little out of your comfort zone that normally wouldn't be your type. You could just be dating the wrong type of people and having the assistance of an outside person can help. They might see things about you that you don't even realize about yourself. Have fun and enjoy finding your one true love in London!

Susan Lancaster

 

 

Photo by Discount City Hotels

 

Does London pop up in your travel plans occasionally but you end up putting off a visit to one of the most exciting and historical cities in the world due to cost issues? The biggest consideration might be the cost of your accommodation, which is widely known to be pricey just like everything else in the city.

However, a little research on the cheapest hotels in London would always do you some good in snagging a comfortable yet affordable budget hotel in London, which can be found in almost all parts of London, including Central London as well as the outskirts. Hence, with the countless accommodation options for budget travelers readily available, especially on the Internet, you do not have to spend more than you should on your accommodation in London as the rest of your expenditure is better spent on food, entertainment or business in this vibrant city.

So, where and how do you start researching on these cheap London hotels, you may ask? You can start right here, as I will provide some useful tips on the types of budget accommodation that is available in London, where they can be found, and which website we recommend for booking your hotels in London.

 

Business Secretary Vince Cable has pledged to take "robust action" on the "scandalous" and "completely unjustified" payouts by banks in Britain.

The Liberal Democrat MP vowed to press ahead with plans to curb City worker's lavish pay and bonuses, despite fears that many financial firms could relocate abroad as a result.

Speaking to the Sunday Times, he said: "The banks shouldn't underestimate our determination to act. They are deluding themselves, really seriously deluding themselves, if they believe the Government is not going to take this seriously."

A defiant Mr Cable insisted he would not be blackmailed by bank bosses threatening to move their bases to more favourable tax regimes, passing some threats off as "not credible".

He also indicated he would accept some firms leaving if it meant a fairer and more stable banking system.

"We're not going to be bullied. I meet all kinds of companies who say, 'give us something or we'll go somewhere else', but you can't just give in the whole time," he said.

"We don't want to lose firms from the UK. But you're dealing with internationally mobile companies and some come and some go."

Chancellor George Osborne and Mr Cable will meet chief executives of the major banks this week for talks in which excessive bonuses and lending to small businesses will be high on the agenda.

Mr Cable said the issue of tackling the culture of secrecy around banking pay would also be discussed.

"We've got to have strong disclosure rules: start shining light on what's actually going on at the top of the leading banking institutions," he added.

 

Copyright (c) Press Association Ltd. 2010, All Rights Reserved.

 

 

Parliament's expenses watchdog has insisted it would not step back from its duty to protect taxpayers' money, after David Cameron backed MPs' complaints about the tough new regime it has introduced.

While expenses rules should be "workable and fair to MPs", the much-criticised Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa) said its "overriding responsibility" was not to MPs but to the taxpayers who pay for the system.

Since it took over paying expenses in April, Ipsa has been accused of imposing administrative burdens on MPs and stopping them doing their jobs properly.

The Prime Minister stoked the controversy by branding its rules "anti-family" and warning that it must improve by April or he would force changes.

Mr Cameron's spokesman declined to rule out the option of scrapping the new body, but told reporters: "I don't think we are there yet, I think we need to look at what can be done."

The Government was not setting out a position on how the system should be reformed, which was primarily a matter for Parliament, said the spokesman.

Complaints about the excessive bureaucracy of the new rules on expenses have been voiced by MPs from all parties, including Tory backbenchers who raised the issue with Mr Cameron at a meeting of the 1922 Committee. The PM told them he "recognised that (Ipsa) has caused a lot of pain and difficulty", and criticised the new arrangements. "It is anti-family and it is not acceptable," he said.

According to aides, Mr Cameron said a "better system" needs to be in place by April 1, otherwise it "would be changed".

In a statement, Ipsa said: "When we made the new rules, we gave the public a say in setting them - for the first time ever. And it is worth remembering that all the main parties and political leaders welcomed the rules and the changes we introduced.

"We have a duty to administer a system which is workable and fair to MPs. But we also have an overriding responsibility to the public. We take very seriously the task of trying to restore public confidence in how MPs are supported by the taxpayer. We will not step back from our duties to the public."

 

Copyright (c) Press Association Ltd. 2010, All Rights Reserved

 

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Two brothers could have made more than £1 million by misleading thousands of customers into visiting a Lapland-style theme park, a court has heard.

Visitors to Lapland New Forest were offered a winter wonderland with snow-covered log cabins, a nativity scene, husky dogs, polar bears and other animals, as well as a bustling Christmas market.

Instead of the promised magical festive treat, visitors experienced fairy lights hung from trees and a broken ice rink.

Within days of the attraction opening in November 2008, hundreds of disgruntled visitors to the park on the Hampshire-Dorset border complained to trading standards they had been ripped off, Bristol Crown Court heard.

Less than a week later the attraction closed, with the theme park's owners blaming the media and sabotage from "New Forest villains" for the decision.

With visitors charged £30 a ticket and with up to 10,000 advance bookings online, the owners were set to make £1.2 million, prosecutor Malcolm Gibney told the court.

The two men behind Lapland New Forest, brothers Victor and Henry Mears, faced a jury accused of eight charges of selling misleading advertising.

The brothers face five charges of engaging in a commercial practice which is a misleading action and three charges of engaging in a commercial practice which is a misleading omission.

Victor Mears, 67, of Selsfield Drive, and Henry Mears, 60, of Coombe Road, both of Brighton, deny all the charges.

The court heard that Victor Mears was the company's sole director but was being assisted by his younger brother, who was managing Lapland, and was responsible for the promotion of the event.

 

Copyright (c) Press Association Ltd. 2010, All Rights Reserved

 

 

Drilling company Transocean had an incident on one of its North Sea rigs similar to the problem which caused the biggest oil spill in US history earlier this year, it has emerged.

Transocean was operating BP's Deepwater Horizon rig when it suffered a blow-out, killing 11 workers and releasing millions of barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

An internal company report obtained by the BBC shows that four months before the US disaster the Sedco 711 rig in the North Sea, which is leased by Shell and operated by Transocean, experienced similar problems.

In this case, however, the blow-out preventer - which is believed to have failed on the Deepwater Horizon - worked effectively, preventing oil and gas from spurting uncontrolled up the rig's pipe.

The incident on December 23 2009 was investigated by the Health and Safety Executive and Transocean drew up an internal report.

Oil expert Dr Greville Williams of the Institution of Chemical Engineers, who has seen the report, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "It is the story of a blow-out occurring during a completion exercise. They had drilled the well, they had got the end of the pipe sorted out.

"What's happened is that the flow valve at the bottom looks like it has been unseated during operations. When they started to displace the mud which is holding the reservoir back, the pressure started to move that mud and sea-water back up the column. That's the blow-out starting to happen."

Dr Williams said the report showed that key indicators that something was going wrong were misinterpreted or discounted, while undue weight was given to a positive pressure test at the base of the well.

"It seems to me from this that they were accepting that they didn't do enough pressure testing of the flow control valve and probably didn't allow for more than one barrier to prevent the reservoir from communicating," he said. "Normally, you would like to have at least two, but they were relying at this point on one barrier."

In a statement, Transocean told the BBC: "Any (safety-) related events that occur on a rig anywhere in the world, including the one on December 23 2009, are immediately reported to management, fully investigated and the valuable information gleaned from that investigation is used to improve existing safety systems across the fleet."

 

Copyright (c) Press Association Ltd. 2010, All Rights Reserved

 

 

The RSPCA has challenged a ruling which overturned a will leaving it a £2 million estate.

University lecturer Christine Gill, from Northallerton, North Yorkshire, won a High Court battle last year to overturn the will which left her parents' 287-acre farm to the charity.

In a ruling given in Leeds, a judge found that Dr Gill's "domineering" father had coerced her mother into making the will.

But the findings of Judge James Allen QC have been appealed against by the RSPCA during proceedings before the Master of the Rolls, Lord Neuberger, sitting with Lord Justice Lloyd and Lord Justice Jackson in London.

Elspeth Talbot Rice QC, for the RSPCA, told the court that one of the issues for decision was whether the judge was "wrong to find that Mr Gill unduly influenced Mrs Gill into executing her will". Another question was whether the judge was "wrong to find that Mrs Gill knew and approved of her will".

Judge Allen said it would be "unconscionable" if Dr Gill did not inherit Potto Carr Farm, near Northallerton, where she voluntarily helped out during her spare time over a period of more than 30 years.

Mr Gill died in 1999, aged 82. It was only when her mother died in 2006, also aged 82, that Dr Gill saw the will, in which her parents had left the farm to each other and then to the RSPCA when both died.

The judge found that Dr Gill's mother had wanted her daughter to inherit the farm but Mr Gill - who he described as a "bully" - had exerted pressure over his wife to favour the RSPCA.

The appeal is being closely watched by other charities who say they are "very concerned at its possible implications for the charity sector".

The RSPCA said in a statement: "The Gills had already provided substantially for their daughter during their lifetime, which included a large contribution towards the purchase of the farmhouse in which she now lives. The RSPCA carefully considered the merits of its action before taking the decision to defend Dr Gill's claims and subsequently to appeal in order to honour Mrs Gill's wishes."

 

Copyright (c) Press Association Ltd. 2010, All Rights Reserved.

 

 

The new head of the country's biggest trade union has launched an angry attack against the Government for "dismantling the very fabric of society" and pledged to lead a resistance to the massive spending cuts now costing thousands of jobs.

Len McCluskey, who was elected general secretary of Unite, said he also wanted to make his union more effective and united after years of having two leaders and suggestions that the organisation had been "divided".

He told the Press Association that Unite would play a central role in fighting the spending cuts, but he added that this was a "watershed moment" for the TUC.

"Union membership has fallen from 13 million to 6.5 million over the past 20 years and if the TUC does not demonstrate its importance to ordinary members, people will start to question its relevance.

"The TUC has to make certain that we co-ordinate the anger that is now building up against what the Government is doing. The very fabric of our society is being dismantled before our very eyes and we have a duty to lead a resistance against this attack. It is slaughter by stealth."