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Barclays as Big Brother, storms batter insurance companies, Redcar steels itself for renewal

The TUC says Barclays’ surveillance of its employees is ‘dystopian’ after it was revealed the bank uses software to monitor how long employees spend at their desks and issues warnings if they are away for too long. Bosses have been running a test of the system in the London office of the investment banking arm, and anyone spending too long in the loo or at meetings can come in for black marks of “unaccounted activity” against their performance.

The programme was developed by a US firm called Sapience Analytics, and it automatically generates handy suggestions to employees falling foul, like switching off their phone, disabling the chat feature in their email programme, and making sure breaks do not last more than 20 minutes. The story was first covered by London’s banking newspaper, City AM, which quoted an anonymous whistle-blower as saying “the stress this is causing is beyond belief”.

They added: “Employees are worried to step away from their desks, have full lunch breaks, take bathroom breaks or even get up for water as we are not aware of the repercussions this might have on our statistics.” Apparently the software refers to satisfactory productivity as being in “the Zone”, and admonishes employees who are not in said zone for long enough. Big Brother indeed.

Insurances are being pounded by waves of claims amid Storm Dennis and are expected to have to fork out around £225m in claims. The estimate comes from analysts at PwC who included damage to houses, business premises and losses, and cars, caused by the two-day storm of 15-16 February. The difference between Dennis and Ciara is the flooding: the latter was mainly wind-battering which although still devastating in some cases, is less destructive on average. Very large rivers have broken records with the recent weather, with the Severn and Wye particular offenders, and which remain very high as water continues to seep of vast areas of land.

However, as you might expect there are some flipsides to this and many poor souls who are simply not insured. A think-tank called Bright Blue reckons around 70,000 new-build homes sited on high risk land since 2009 and 20,000 that do not benefit from any nearby flood defences may not be insured at all. There is a government scheme in place for insurance called Flood Re, which came into force in 2015 to cover around 350,000 houses. But it doesn’t cover this tranche of new-builds. It is thought that housing stock worth over £30 billion has been built on flood-prone land since 2008, though the Thames Barrier installation in London protects most of them.

The Conservative mayor of Tees Valley says steelmaking will return within three years after negotiations to acquire a huge parcel of land from SSI reached an agreement. A site totalling 840 acres on the south bank of the Tees is to be sold to the South Tees Development Corporation (STDC) as part of the deal, the plans include a scheme to build an electric arc furnace on the corporations Lackenby site. The mayor, Ben Houchen, has not revealed at what cost the land was acquired, and had previously said he would not be prepared to “write a blank cheque”, but insists people will be “more than happy” with this deal. No doubt The Guardian will do a Freedom of Information Request and the figure will come out to much scandal further down the line.

For now though it looks like a positive piece of news. The steelworks are Redcar switched off its coke ovens back in 2015 and was considered a great national loss given the long heritage of steelmaking in the area, the strategic disappointment of losing a key industry, and of course the many jobs which went to the wall as a result. The local development corporation now owns the majority of the land pertaining to the facility (there was another part to this deal last January to acquire 1,000 acres from Tata), and it paves the way (forgive the pun) for the land to be cleaned up, modernised, and recommissioned.

That’s all for today.

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