Taxpayers paid more than £300,000 to keep each rail worker in their job during Covid, the Transport Secretary has claimed.
Mark Harper cited the bill to keep services during the pandemic as the reason that the railways must be reformed during questioning by a parliamentary committee.
The rail industry was exempt from putting workers on furlough during the health crisis, meaning staff did not have to suffer a 20pc cut in pay like millions of other Britons.
Recently published figures revealed propping up the railways has cost taxpayers more than £50bn over the last six years, equivalent to £1,800 per household, the Telegraph reported last week.
Mr Harper referenced the two most recent years, during which time the subsidy rose significantly as passenger numbers fell to just 5pc of normal levels.
Being questioned by the House of Commons Transport committee Mr Harper said the rail bosses had to stand firm when pushing for changes to working practices to cut the cost of running the railways.
He said: "It's not just a pay dispute. It’s about reform of the rail industry, in the context of the fact that the taxpayer's put £31bn of support into the rail industry over the past two years – obviously driven by Covid and the fact that a significant number of passengers have not returned to the railways.
"That's equivalent to... over £300,000 per rail worker."
Read the latest updates below.
That's all from us today, we shall see you tomorrow! Before you go, have a look at the latest stories from our reporters:
FTSE 100 slips to one-week low
The FTSE 100 slipped to a one-week low this evening, dragged down by growing worries of a recession.
Oil and gas, industrial miners, chemical and banks led the declines. Among the biggest fallers were Glencore, BT Group, Centrica and Shell.
Pharmaceutical companies saw the biggest rise including GSK, Dechra Pharmaceuticals and AstraZeneca.
The blue-chip index closed down 0.4pc, its weakest level since Nov 29.
The Bank of England looks set to raise interest rates to 3.5pc or more next week, but policymakers appear increasingly split on how much tightening is needed to tame double-digit inflation as the economy heads into recession.
FCA hits three bond traders for Brexit ‘market manipulation’
The City watchdog has hit three bond traders with bans and fines worth £600,000 for “market manipulation” in the weeks before and after the 2016 Brexit vote.
Simon Foy reports:
The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) said it has fined Diego Urra £395,000, and Jorge López González and Poojan Sheth £100,000 each for market abuse and banned them from carrying out any regulated activity.
The trio worked at the London office of Japanese bank Mizuho International at the time of the misconduct.
The FCA said the traders placed “large misleading orders” for Italian sovereign bond futures that “they did not intend to execute, giving false and misleading signals and a false or misleading impression as to the supply or demand” of the bonds between June 1 and July 29 in 2016.
It added: “At the same time, they placed small orders which they did intend to execute on the opposite side of the order book.”
The traders repeated this pattern of “deliberate and intentional market manipulation on a number of occasions and were dishonest”, the FCA said.
Bentley orders slump in China
Bentley sales have fallen in China as the country continues to bounce in and out of lockdown.
The car producer’s sales elsewhere however have soared. The Bentley’s sales in China have dropped from as many as 800 a month when Covid restrictions were first lifted in 2020 to around 150 to 200 units a month.
Adrian Hallmark, Bentley’s chief executive said that sales around the world, excluding China “is now about the same as it was before Covid”.
“Customers are just not shopping while in lockdown”, Mr Hallmark added.
Bentley plans to offer only plug-in hybrid and electric cars by 2026 and switch its entire lineup to fully battery-powered vehicles by the end of the decade.
That's all from me today. My colleague Riya Makwana will take you through the evening.
Crypto was 'bubble of a generation', says ECB chief
Crypto-assets have turned into the "bubble of a generation," according to a European Central Bank (ECB) chief.
The decline in digital currencies that promised radical change in how people pay, save and invest highlights the need for stricter regulation and risk management, according to ECB executive board member Fabio Panetta.
Bitcoin has lost some two-thirds of its value over the past year, trading at less than $16,000 from a high of more than $68,000 last year. The crypto exchange FTX collapsed last month, having been valued at $32bn earlier this year.
Mr Panetta said:
It is now obvious to everyone that the promise of easy crypto-money and high returns was a bubble doomed to burst.
"It turns out that crypto-assets are not money. Many are just a new way of gambling.
He argued that there's an "urgent need" for regulation to protect consumers from the risks of crypto-assets globally.
Border force staff to strike over Christmas
Border force workers are due to strike over Christmas in a row over pay, jobs and conditions, the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union announced.
PCS workers will strike for eight days from December 23 to New Year's Eve at airports including Heathrow and Gatwick.
The union has already announced strikes at the Department for Work and Pensions, the Highways Agency and among driving examiners.
US markets hit by recession fears
Wall Street stocks retreated again in early trading as deepening recession worries added to angst over the Federal Reserve 's next interest rate move.
After a buoyant stretch from mid-October to the end of November, stocks have been on the back foot most of this month as investors worry they have misread the likelihood of a shift from the Fed's aggressive stance on monetary policy.
Investors now fear the central bank will increase rates higher than previously thought.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average was down 0.2pc at 33,535.00.
The broad-based S&P 500 shed 0.3pc to 3,930.00 while the tech-rich Nasdaq Composite Index dropped 0.7pc to 10,943.01.
Among individual companies, Lowe's rose 2.1pc as the home-improvement retailer announced a new $15bn (£12.3bn) stock repurchase authorisation. It also said it was targeting profit margins of 14.5pc in 2025, up from 12.6 pc in 2021.
Tim Davie: BBC needs more money to avoid further cuts
The director-general of the BBC has called for "serious public service investment" if it is to compete with international rivals in the coming years.
Tim Davie said during a Royal Television Society event in London that the BBC needs more money to support the World Service and "avoid further cuts".
Some 382 jobs at the service, often regarded as a source of soft power for the UK, are being lost as part of plans to move to a digital-led offering, with the Arabic and Persian radio services among those closing.
He said he plans to discuss the issue with the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office and warned that Russia and China are "investing hundreds of millions in state backed services".
The BBC has said that due to a freeze in the licence fee and inflation it faces a £400 million funding gap by 2026/2027 and must make savings.
Bus drivers call off strike as workers accept pay offer
Industrial action involving more than 2,000 bus drivers in London has been called off after the workers accepted an improved pay offer.
Unite said its members, employed by Metroline, have accepted an 11pc pay increase, which the union said was a "significant improvement" on the 4pc drivers were originally offered.
As a result of the workers accepting the improved offer, the planned strike action for later this month has been called off.
Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said:
This is a significant victory for our members at Metroline who by standing together and being prepared to take industrial action, have secured a greatly improved pay offer.
This pay deal exemplifies how Unite's commitment to always prioritise the jobs, pay and conditions of its members is delivering noteworthy financial dividends.
Unite regional officer Laura Johnson added: "From the outset, Unite members were aware that Metroline could afford a better pay rise than it was offering and once our members announced strike action, fresh negotiations were held and an improved offer was made."
Pound on the rise
The pound has gained against the dollar and traded near its highest level in almost six months.
Policymakers have entered a quiet period ahead of crucial Bank of England, Federal Reserve and European Central Bank meetings next week.
It has gained 0.6pc against the dollar to be worth a little over $1.22, and has gained 0.1pc against the euro, which is worth a slightly more than 86p.
Cost of energy surges as Britain faces freezing temperatures
Power prices have surged by nearly a fifth with cold weather to hit Britain in the next few days.
Freezing temperatures and a blanket of snow will boost energy demand just as output from the nation's fleet of wind parks is slumping.
Power prices for tomorrow jumped 18pc to £364.21 per megawatt-hour, the highest since Aug 31 in an auction.
UK next-month gas futures jumped as much as 4.5pc to the highest in almost a week.
The Met Office issued yellow severe weather warnings for ice and snow for parts of Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales and the east coast of the UK for today and tomorrow, with temperatures to drop as low as -10 Celsius (14 Fahrenheit) by the end of the week.
However, output from Britain's wind turbines will gradually drop to just above 500 megawatts on Saturday, according to Bloomberg. That compares with more than 7,000 megawatts this morning.
Hunt to meet North Sea producers to discuss windfall tax
Jeremy Hunt will attend a meeting on Friday with leaders of North Sea oil and gas producers to discuss the Government's windfall tax.
The Chancellor last month announced plans to boost the Energy Profits Levy (EPL) on oil and gas companies from 25pc to 35pc, bringing the total taxes on the sector to 75pc, one of the highest rates in the world.
Friday's meeting, which will be held in either Aberdeen or Edinburgh, will be attended by senior representatives from more than a dozen North Sea producers as well as industry bodies, according to a list seen by Reuters.
Mr Hunt is also expected to attend the meeting, along with senior officials from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.
Macron's plan to ban French domestic flights derided as 'complete and utter nonsense'
Emmanuel Macron's flagship environmental policy to ban domestic flying in France has been condemned as "complete and utter nonsense" by the body that represents global airlines.
Chief business correspondent Oliver Gill has the details:
France is to outlaw flights between destinations where there is an existing rail connection that takes less than two-and-a-half hours, such as between Orly airport, south of Paris, and Nantes or Bordeaux.
The European Commission signed off the rules earlier this week, which are expected to come into force in the New Year.
It comes as the boss of Dutch flag carrier KLM yesterday encouraged customers to swap flights for trains to cut carbon emissions.
Read what Willie Walsh, head of airlines body IATA, said after research showed that banning flights of 500km or less would only be reduced by 3.8pc.
PM promises 'tough laws' if strikes not resolved
Rishi Sunak has vowed to "take action to protect the lives and livelihoods of the British public" in the wake of the strikes gripping the UK.
Until the end of the year, there is not a day when there is not a walkout scheduled to take place.
With soaring inflation fuelling a cost of living crisis, unions are demanding bumper pay increases for their members. Inflation is at 11.1pc, a 41-year high.
Speaking at Prime Minister's Questions, Mr Sunak said he would introduce "tough laws" to protect people from strike disruption if union leaders "continue to be unreasonable".
Naked Wines shares rise as it prioritises profits
Naked Wines slipped to a loss for the past half year as it made the first steps in its turnaround programme.
Shares in the online wine retailer have risen by nearly 5pc despite posting a £0.2m pre-tax loss for the half-year to September 26, compared with a £1.3m profit over the same period last year.
The firm told shareholders the loss came after it was impacted by inventory provisions.
In October, the group set out a new strategy to prioritise growing profits through an overhaul of its board and spending plans.
The company said it cut 32 roles as part of the shake-up and slashed its marketing spend in order to reduce its costs.
Nick Devlin, group chief executive, said: "Ultimately, we are laying the foundation for a return to our ambition of sustained, profitable growth, whilst also providing ourselves with greater resilience."
Wall Street expected to open lower
Wall Street is expected to open lower, even as Beijing announced it was scaling back its zero-Covid policies.
US futures were in retreat, driven by fears the Federal Reserve will need to keep the brakes on the US economy to get inflation under control, risking a sharp recession.
On Tuesday, the S&P 500 fell 1.4pc, its fourth straight loss, and the Dow Jones Industrial Average lost 1pc.
Small company stocks also fell, pulling the Russell 2000 index 1.5pc lower. The major indexes are on pace for a weekly loss after posting two straight weekly gains.
Oil's fall 'hard to understand'
The wallowing oil price has surprised many commentators.
Concerns about the global growth outlook, alongside a soft physical market and falling liquidity have weighed on prices.
Usually, China's easing of Covid-19 restrictions would have sent prices higher, given that should have increased demand, but investors are not sure sure in light of the downbeat economic outlook.
Oil struggles despite China loosening restrictions amid economic gloom
Oil fell for a fourth session as warnings from major US banks of a tough outlook for 2023 stoked concerns about the prospects for demand, even as China revealed it was easing its zero-Covid restrictions.
Brent crude, the international benchmark, was down 1pc to $78.50 while West Texas Intermediate (WTI) traded down 1.1pc near $73 a barrel, as optimism surrounding China's move to loosen strict virus curbs was tempered by data showing shrinking exports.
Among the gloomy predictions, Goldman Sachs chief executive David Solomon said that he saw "bumpy times ahead".
Crude is limping into the end of the year, with the US benchmark heading for the first back-to-back quarterly drop since mid-2019 as central banks tighten monetary policy.
There 'haven't been preconditions' to rail deal, insists Transport Secretary
Mr Harper insisted there "haven't been preconditions" when asked about whether introducing driver-only trains was a precondition for a deal being demanded by Number 10, as reported in the Telegraph.
He said: "It is not the Government's role to micromanage the details of the reform."
He said RMT general secretary Mick Lynch had told him when they met that he had not received an offer on the train operating side of the dispute.
He said there "haven't been preconditions" in the negotiations.
He added: "I am not going to provide a running commentary on things the newspapers have said.
"No one is trying to stop a deal. It is the RMT who have rejected it and I think that's regrettable."
Harper: Christmas Eve strike will affect reliability
Mr Harper said the walkout by Network Rail workers between Christmas Eve and December 27 will cause "more inconvenience to passengers" because it means planned maintenance will need to be rescheduled.
He told the Commons Transport Select Committee:
One of the things that Network Rail is now looking at, given the strikes that were called by the RMT on Network Rail, is looking at that £120m worth of essential maintenance work to see the extent to which that's affected.
Of course, even though that may not impact passenger services, it absolutely will affect the reliability of the railway.
Of course it's done at Christmas because - although I recognise it sometimes causes inconvenience to people at Christmas - it is done then because that is the least busy time.
If that work isn't done at the Christmas period, it means it will have to be done at other times of the year, which will cause more inconvenience to passengers.
Transport Secretary says rejected pay deal was 'fair'
The Transport Secretary has said he believes most people think the pay deal rejected to the RMT "was fair".
The union rejected an offer from the Rail Delivery Group, which represents train operators, to allow a 4pc pay rise this year and another 4pc next year.
Mark Harper has been speaking to the transport committee of MPs. Asked if there is value in his meetings with the RMT, Mr Harper said:
I always think it is better to keep talking than not talking .
I found that they were constructive meetings. I think the Government said what we were going to do, which was to facilitate that communication between the unions and employers.
Following my meeting, the employers made a revised offer, which I think most people looking at it - given that it involves a reasonable, far pay settlement, and protection against compulsory redundancies for a period, but does insist on workforce reform - I think most people would think that was fair.
One trade union is putting that deal to its members with a recommendation to accept. That is what I hope the RMT would do, even at this stage, looking at the inconvenience they are going to cause to passengers.
Tesla offers subsidies in bid to crack Chinese market
Tesla is offering further incentives to Chinese customers who buy and take delivery of new cars this month, in the latest move to boost sales in the world's biggest electric vehicle market.
Elon Musk's company will subsidize purchases by 6,000 yuan (£709) for Model 3 sedans and Model Y sports utility vehicles, which currently start at 265,900 yuan (£31,400) and 288,900 (£34,100) yuan respectively after government subsidies, a company representative said.
The offer is in addition to a slew of incentives Tesla has launched recently amid intensifying competition from local carmakers and concerns about production overcapacity after an upgrade of its Shanghai factory.
While cutting prices across its lineup in late October, Tesla has also offered insurance subsidies and reinstated a user-referral program.
Ministers to stop saying 'Big Bang 2.0' amid muted reforms
The Government will move away from talking about a "Big Bang 2.0" for the City of London, in part a recognition of the fact that changes will be gradual due to their complexity and opposition from critics.
Ministers are expected to stop using the phrase, a reference to dramatic reforms in the 1980s that made London a global financial centre, sources told Bloomberg.
Andrew Griffith, the City minister, will unveil a relatively muted package of post-Brexit reforms on Friday to boost the UK's financial services industry.
The changes include relaxing ring-fencing capital rules to lighten the burden on smaller banks.
Jeremy Hunt, the Chancellor, is also due to meet finance executives in Edinburgh to discuss opportunities for the sector.
Gas prices rise amid cold snap and China rules easing
Natural gas prices in Europe increased as colder-than-average weather and risks of higher competition for energy supplies with China spark jitters across markets.
Benchmark futures rose as much as 3pc today.
Europeans are starting to heat their homes and businesses as the northern part of the region faces freezing temperatures for the next two weeks, according to weather forecasts.
In addition, China's move away from its long-held Covid Zero approach signals possibly higher competition for liquefied natural gas.
FTSE 250 dragged down by Weir and Moonpig
The FTSE 250 is 0.1pc lower in early trading, pulled down by Scottish engineering company Weir Group.
Its shares were down 2.9pc, or 7.5 points, after Morgan Stanley suggested its shares were underweight, indicating investors should hold less of the stock in their portfolios.
The biggest faller on the midcap index was Moonpig, down 16.3pc after cutting its sales forecast amid Royal Mail strikes.
The FTSE 250 stands at 19,077.29.
Mitchells & Butlers leads way on FTSE 250
Pub and bar owner Mitchells & Butlers (M&B) has swung back to a profit following the easing of pandemic restrictions despite the "highly challenging" trading backdrop.
The All Bar One and Toby Carvery owner was the strongest performer on the FTSE 250 this morning, surging by 10.5pc.
It told investors that like-for-like sales have increased by 6.5pc since the end of its latest financial year in late September.
M&B said the recovery of sales has been "encouraging" as it has benefited from the return to office working, which has boosted city centre locations.
The company is "cautiously optimistic" but said it remains mindful of cost-of-living challenges for customers, which are expected at least through the current year.
It highlighted cost inflation as a particularly significant challenge, warning that it expects its roughly £1.8bn cost base to increase by between 10pc and 12pc before efforts to mitigate this.
GSK shares surge as judge dismisses Zantac case
GSK shares surged as much as 16pc higher in early trading after a US judge rejected the scientific evidence behind claims a heartburn drug can cause cancer, meaning it does not have to face more than 5,000 lawsuits.
The drugmaker welcomed the decision, saying the ruling slapped down "unreliable and litigation-driven science" against the drug Zantac.
The company held drive the FTSE 100 higher by 0.2pc to 7,539.41, with other strong performers including Haleon, up 7pc, and Ocado, up 2.2pc.
Moonpig cuts forecasts amid Royal Mail strikes
Moonpig has cut its sales forecast for the year after it was impacted by Royal Mail postal strikes and pressure on consumers.
The greeting card and gifts business told shareholders that "conditions have become progressively more challenging through October and November" due to the economic backdrop and industrial action.
It said the strike action hit last-minute card orders around each strike day in September and October.
As a result, the firm said it expects revenues of £320m for the current financial year, trimming back previous guidance of around £350m.
The card seller revealed a 21pc fall in adjusted pre-tax profits for the six months to the end of October to £18.9m.
Chief executive Nickyl Raithatha said:
As the clear online leader in greetings cards, Moonpig Group is positioned to benefit as the market continues the long-term structural shift to online.
Despite the difficult trading environment, we have delivered a robust set of results and with our data-led model we are ideally positioned to capture the significant long term opportunities in our markets.
Stock markets open lower
Britain's stock markets have opened lower on growing fears the US Federal Reserve's monetary tightening will tip the US economy into recession.
The internationally-focused FTSE 100 was down 0.2pc to 7,509.55 while the midcap FTSE 250 fell 0.1pc to 19,082.58.
Britain secures energy deal with US
The US will double its gas exports to the UK under plans to clamp down on rising living costs by weaning Britain off Russian energy.
Rishi Sunak has pledged that the new partnership to boost energy security, efficiency and affordability will cut prices for Britons and ensure the UK's national supply can "never again be manipulated by the whims of a failing regime".
The initiative has an "immediate goal" of stabilising energy markets and reducing demand, while seeking to build long-term resilience by accelerating the shift to clean alternatives.
This will involve promoting nuclear fuels as a "safe" and "reliable" part of the transition, expediting the development of clean hydrogen, and driving international investment in offshore wind and carbon capture.
As part of efforts to drive down the cost of living, the US will aim to export at least nine to 10 billion cubic metres of liquified natural gas to UK terminals over the next year, more than doubling the level in 2021.
House prices fell 2pc in a month
House prices fell 2.3pc in November, their biggest monthly drop since the global financial crisis in 2008.
The average sale price fell to £285,579 in November, down from £292,406 in October, according to Halifax, in the third largest drop since the lender's records started in 1983.
It is the third consecutive month that house prices have declined. Over the quarter, house prices have fallen 1pc.
The figures confirm data published by Nationwide earlier this month.
It comes as interest rates reached 3pc, their highest level since November 2008, increasing borrowing costs for people seeking to take out a mortgage.
The annual rate of house price growth slowed to 4.7pc, from 8.2pc in October.
The Halifax figures showing a monthly fall in house prices add to evidence that housing market may be headed into a more protracted downturn.
Mortgage lender Nationwide Building Society last week said that home prices fell 1.4pc in November, which, excluding the pandemic, represents the fastest drop since the global financial crisis.
Mortgage rates soared above 6pc in the past few weeks, also the highest level since the global financial crisis, making it harder to get onto the property ladder.
While they have ticked just below that level in the past few days, they remain substantially higher than the near 1pc deals that were available in 2021.
The Bank of England has signalled it will continue to raise interest rates, prompting investors to anticipate a half-point increase to 3.5pc next week. Kim Kinnaird, director at Halifax Mortgages, said:
Some potential home moves have been paused as homebuyers feel increased pressure on affordability.
Industry data continues to suggest that many buyers and sellers are taking stock while the market continues to stabilize.
China rolls back on zero-Covid policy
China has announced the scaling back of a series of Covid-19 restrictions in a move that investors hope will demand in the world's second largest economy.
The announcement this morning includes limiting the scale of lockdown to individual apartment floors and buildings, rather than entire districts and neighbourhoods.
People who test positive for the virus will be able to isolate at home rather than in overcrowded and unsanitary field hospitals, and schools where there have been no outbreaks must return to in-class teaching.
The announcement follows recent street protests in several cities over the strict zero-Covid policy now entering its fourth year, which has been blamed for upending ordinary life, travel and employment while dealing a harsh blow to the national economy.
House prices in the UK fell at the sharpest pace in 14 years in November after interest rates surged.
Halifax said prices fell 2.3pc in November, the third straight decline.
5 things to start your day
1) Ofcom attacked over BBC ‘conflict of interest’ for senior executive - Ofcom dismisses the allegations as 'completely unfounded'
2) Oil tanker traffic jam threatens diplomatic row with Turkey - Demands for additional paperwork following Russia price cap leaves oil tankers stuck in Turkish waters
3) Britain’s blackout plans put to the test as temperatures drop - Tightening supplies worry households as National Grid is brought ‘close to the limit’
4) Grant Shapps accused of refusing to meet farmers as crop crisis looms - Growers may be forced to stop producing fruit and vegetables in worst case scenario
5) Train strikes: Mick Lynch turns the screw on ministers and rail bosses - Almost one in three trains face cancellation on non-strike days over Christmas
What happened overnight
Asia's stock markets slipped as reality bit on hopes for a soft economic landing in the United States, curbing investors' enthusiasm about China's major shift in its tough zero-COVID policy.
Warnings from big US banks about a likely recession next year pushed the S&P 500 lower for a fourth straight session on Tuesday and the brakes have come on a rally that has lasted almost two months.
Oil also fell sharply and, with Brent futures at $79.50 a barrel, is back where it began the year.
MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan fell 0.2pc and Japan's Nikkei fell 0.7pc.