Aarati called Andy from the NTI newsroom office this morning to tell him she had finally worked out remote working. It seems that ever since her TV remote fell into a punchbowl on Boxing Day it has had a mind of its own, selecting channels at random and turning off programmes she and her family had chosen to watch (for example, her husband still thinks that Liverpool drew against Burnley at Anfield on Thursday evening, poor sod). Now it has dried out she can watch the BBC News again, although still tries to adjust her set every time Laura Kuenssberg wears one of her daft coats.
Aarati trudged in through 5mm of snow this Sunday (24 January) to witness our splendid capital grinding to a standstill under the weight of what must be 179 flakes.
We are going to start with Debenhams this morning, just to get it out of the way. A new record has been set in the negotiations to sell fragments of the fallen monolith of nameless brands; they have now overtaken both the Brexit talks and Edward III's attempts to end the 100 Years War at its inception in 1338, saying: "This will be over by the weekend", and are now the longest and most tedious talks in the history of language.
The media reports this morning that the titan of acquired beauty, Estée Lauder, is pulling out of selling its cosmetic ranges in the stores, which is a little harsh at this stage in Debenhams' death throes - not unlike levering open a coffin lid at a funeral and giving the corpse a smack around the face. The owner of Mac and Clinique has told affected employees they will be made redundant at the end of the month. This will not help negotiations which cannot be detected by the human eye and ear, as we know that Mike Ashley has been in talks to buy bits of Debenhams for more than six weeks, having now apparently reached the first 'e' in Debenhams, as he slowly writes its name at the top of his piece of paper. It is rumoured that the FRP Advisory Liquidation team left the room at the start of the meeting with Mike Ashley's negotiation team, returning after four weeks to see him look up and say: "Oh, did you just pop out?"
Much speedier is the data published by our old friends at the Office for National Statistics (ONR), who report that a further 90,000 people were out of work in the three months to the end of November, pushing the unemployment rate above 5 per cent for the first time since 2016. To give you some context, the unemployment rate was at 4.9 per cent for the three months to the end of October, when 1.7 million people were counted as being out of work. With no-one working in offices, restaurants, shops and coffee houses and the virus chasing us all up the Kyber, that doesn't seem too terrible. This is except for the desperate straights of the 1.8 million people who are not working and claiming benefits over which the cabinet are arguing about £20 a throw.
It is fair to say that we don't really know what is going on beneath the dark veneer of those numbers. With furlough payments continuing until at least the end of April this can only be a very fuzzy snapshot by the ONR. Paul Dales, who is an in-work economist at Capital Economics, took his gloves off to estimate on his fingers that the number of people on furlough will have jumped from 2.5 million in October to 4.5 million in November. This all puts the skew into skew-whiff.
Three men who will, by now, be beginning to regret not being part of the non-working are in a dark room somewhere in London helping the National Crime Agency (NCA) with their investigations. These three chaps were working for the same London 'financial institution and have been arrested under the umbrella code 'Furlough F***kers', suspected of using "specialist knowledge" to facilitate criminal activity relating to fraudulent bounceback loans. Their parents may have been briefly chuffed to hear their sons have been labelled "professional enablers", as no-one had ever been regarded as "professional" from their families before, but the NCA are said to be displeased with the activities they are uncovering, amounting to £6 million in bogus claims. Dirty little Fu ... loughers.
If the NCA are going to stick the boot in they should make it a Doc Marten. Dr Martens is set to launch a £3.5 billion stock market float tomorrow, which is terriifc news for those working for the company (well, if you have the word 'senior' in your title), as such will receive multimillion-pound windfall. This includes a £58 million payment to Kenny Wilson, its chief executive, who joined less than three years ago and is rubbing his hands together this morning, not just to keep them warm.
Bankers at Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley are understood to have indicated that Dr Martens will be valued at about £3.5 billion. That would mean a combined payment of £350 million for 22 senior staff, who we are sure will share their good fortune with their less senior colleagues, allowing them to see the new cars they buy with the windfalls in the senior car-park at the back of the main factory premises.
We are being unfair, of course. It is also understood that "special cash bonuses" will be given to about 2,200 more junior staff, which they will be permitted to use to buy laces for the boots they can buy from the Dr Martens Employee Shop at a discount amounting to almost 5 per cent.