Cancer breakthroughs missed because virtual meetings are stifling ‘light-bulb moments’, say experts

Cancer breakthroughs are being missed because ‘light-bulb moments’ between scientists are less likely during virtual conferencing, experts have warned.

A study by the Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) has estimated major advances, such as the discovery of new medicines, have been set back by 17 months due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Restrictions have made it difficult to recruit patients into trials of new drugs and treatments, and to collect samples, a report found.

Meanwhile academic conferences have been cancelled and day-to-day discussion between scientists moved online.

While the research community is adapting to the pandemic, many of the great moments of discovery happen as a result of informal discussions, according to the ICR.

Dr Sebastian Guettler, deputy head of structural biology at the ICR, said: "The coronavirus has also reduced or stopped the spontaneous interactions with colleagues that science is so dependent on for generating new ideas.

"Video conferencing has helped us stay connected as a lab and a community, but it’s not a true replacement for those light-bulb moments you might get from chatting with someone at a conference or over coffee in the canteen."

The body conducted a survey, of 239 researchers, which found that the ICR’s own research advances would be pushed back by an average of six months.

It also estimated that when broader effects on charity funding and other factors were taken into account, major advances into cancer research could be delayed by an average of 17 months.

Those who took part in the survey said they had lost an average of 10 weeks of research time due to the first lockdown.

The majority also said that the virus had had an effect on their work with more than a third describing the effect as "substantial".

The biggest problem, according to 90 per cent of respondents, was the closure of labs in the first lockdown and restrictions in access to facilities and equipment.

The average ICR researcher spent more than half of their working time in a lab before lockdown but this dropped to just 5 per cent during the shutdown and has since recovered to around a third, the survey showed.

Professor Paul Workman, ICR chief executive, said: "It is sobering to see that our researchers are estimating that their own research advances will be delayed by six months – and that the wider impact, because of the interconnectedness of science, is likely to push back major advances for patients by nearly a year and a half.

"Our survey though does provide solutions to mitigate the impact – in the form of investment in staffing, new technologies and computing power.

"For that, we need more of the generous donations we have been receiving to our emergency appeal, along with a commitment from the Government to help fill the funding gap for the life sciences left by the pandemic."

Royal Society of Literature looks to rewrite rules to become ‘less elitist’

The Royal Society of Literature (RSL) will change its 200-year-old rules and allow the public to choose its Fellows in a bid to become less “formidably elitist”.

For two centuries the organisation has picked its future Fellows on literary merit judged by an internal caucus of renowned writers.  

However, the learned society which boasts Samuel Talyor Coleridge and TS Eliot among its former members found the time-honoured selection system struggling to reflect modern diversity in a year marked by Black Lives Matter protests.

It has thrown open its doors to writers from overlooked minority ethnic and economic backgrounds by allowing the public to choose who enters the literary body.

Man Booker Prize-winner Dame Hilary Mantel, who is a Fellow of the RSL, said the society has traditionally appeared exclusive and reform will give it the “authority of being representative”.

She told The Telegraph: “We pride ourselves that we are a more equal and diverse country than a generation ago.

“But the world of literature and the arts can still look formidably elitist, and discouraging to those without cash and connections.”

To mark 200 years since its inception and to prevent aspiring writers being “discouraged by lack of examples” Dame Hilary said the RSL will: “Open up to the public the process by which Fellows are recommended and elected.”

Currently new Fellows are elected by current Fellows, and must be a writer who has published two works of literary merit.

Nominations must be seconded by an RSL Fellow, then they are presented to members of the Council of the Royal Society of Literature who vote to elect.

Under new rules, readers and writers from across the UK, as well as RSL Fellows, publishers, agents and arts administrators, are invited to recommend writers for nomination.

They will then be considered by a panel made up of some of the UK’s most renowned writers, including Val McDermid.

The recommendation will be available through an online form on the RSL’s website

Along with the new procedure for inclusion 29 new fellows have been appointed including broadcaster Michael Palin, writers Max Porter and Kate Mosse.

Nine vice-presidents including Poet Laureate Simon Armitage, classicist Mary Beard, Turkish-British writer Elif Shafak, and Booker Prize winner Bernardine Evaristo have also been announced as part of the drive to open up the organisation.

Dame Hilary explained the need for the appointments and reforms: “Not all writers come from cultured or academic backgrounds, or identify with the mainstream.

“Not all writers see other writers every day, or have professional advice and experience to draw on. Some of us are not too strong, and some of us live in unfashionable places.

“Some of us who have been blessed with success never forget what it means to feel we are on the outside looking in.

“I am happy to be able to support and endorse the RSL’s Open Programme to elect … new Fellows, drawing them from groups who are often marginalised in our cultural life.”

It is hoped the changes will help new talent to emerge by showing literary renown is not limited to the privileged, and the current programme under new entry rules will run for at least two years.

The first black woman to win the Booker Prize, Ms Evaristo said: “It’s so important to create new initiatives designed to help make our culture more inclusive for writers from underrepresented communities.”

Dame Marina Warner, President of the RSL said: ‘In the 200th year of the RSL, here and all over the world, literature …  is more crucial than ever."

The institution, founded by George IV and patronised by the Duchess of Cornwall, will work to elevate the reputations of the writers who become Fellows, and share their talents with the public.

The institution has once before called for new Fellows through a rules change, temporarily altering entry requirements to bring in more writers under the age of 40.

Abuse of older people reaches ‘unprecedented level’ during pandemic

Abuse of older people is at "unprecedented levels" — with almost 2.7 million victims thought to be affected in the UK, a charity has said.

Hourglass gave the warning after it commissioned a survey which said 22 per cent of UK residents have personal experience of abuse of an older person, or know someone who has been targeted.

The charity, which promotes safer ageing, believes attitudes regarding what counts as abuse is fuelling the problem.

Its survey conducted in June suggested that 35 per cent of people in the UK do not believe "inappropriate sexual acts directed at older people" count as abuse, and nearly 30 per cent do not view "pushing, hitting, or beating an older person" as abuse.

Almost one third also said they do not see "taking precious items from an older relative’s home without asking" as abuse.

In March, Hourglass warned that isolation would act like a "pressure cooker" for the abuse of older people, due to situations where older people are locked down with their abusers or isolated without care.

More than half of the poll’s 2,505 respondents said they believe abuse and neglect of older people has increased because of lockdown.

Hourglass chief executive Richard Robinson said he was "genuinely shocked" by the results of the survey which "really shine a light on the true scale of the crisis".

"Our polling shows that while people know that abuse of older people is a problem in the UK today, there’s a complete disconnect between awareness of the issue and a true understanding of the role we all play in preventing abuse," he said.

"While I’ve no doubt that the vast majority of people don’t consider themselves to be abusers, the truth is that a troubling proportion of those we surveyed don’t actually see some very harmful behaviours as abuse.

"Without countering these perceptions, people are far more likely to perpetuate the cycle of abuse and are part of the problem."

Dame Vera Baird, Victims’ Commissioner for England and Wales, said the Hourglass findings were "both concerning and unacceptable" and thanked the charity for its work in ending harm and exploitation of older people.

She said: "Lockdown has undoubtedly been difficult for many of us, but for some staying at home is more than a temporary hardship — it can be downright dangerous."

"It also bears repeating: if you, or someone you know, is suffering abuse, isolation rules do not apply.

"You can and should break lockdown rules to escape injury or harm. Lockdown will not stop you getting help."

Hourglass, the only UK-wide charity focussed on addressing the abuse and neglect of older people, said it will expand its support, including an instant messaging service to assist people in finding help.

Police launch investigations after officers tackle large illegal gatherings in Nottinghamshire

Police have said there are no excuses for breaching Covid-19 laws after being called to break up a 200-strong gathering at a university hall of residence.

Investigations are ongoing into the incident, after officers were called to a courtyard at the student block in Nottingham.

Police said partygoers across Nottinghamshire had their evenings "interrupted" on Saturday, as officers tackled several illegal gatherings and issued multiple fines.

The force said in a statement that officers were called to a flat in Pilcher Gate, Nottingham, shortly before 10.30pm and issued £200 fixed penalty notices to 21 people found inside.

"Investigations are ongoing to establish the identity of the organiser, who could face additional punishment," police said.

"Another large party was broken up shortly after midnight at an address in Corporation Oaks, St Ann’s, and the organiser was issued with a summons to appear in court at a later date."

Elsewhere in the county, officers issued another five £200 fixed penalty notices after responding to reports of a party in a field in Gonalston, near Lowdham, shortly after 9pm.

Investigations are under way to identify the organiser of the event, and a driver who crashed into a police car as they fled the scene.

The force statement added: "Investigations are also ongoing after officers dispersed a gathering of around 200 young people in an outdoor courtyard at a student halls of residence in St Peter’s Street, Nottingham."

Detective Superintendent Andrew Gowan said: "The very last thing we want to be doing as police officers is to be punishing people for gathering together and having fun.

"However, the current national restrictions are in place to protect the wider public from harm and we will keep enforcing them for as long as we need to.

"Whilst it is heartening that the vast majority of people clearly understand and are obeying the current restrictions, it is deeply disappointing that so many others needed such an expensive reminder that the rules apply equally to everyone.

"We understand that this is a difficult time but there really are no excuses for this kind of behaviour where people are blatantly ignoring the restrictions in such large numbers."

Australia demands apology from China after fake image posted on social media | Reuters

3 Min Read

SYDNEY (Reuters) — Australia’s prime minister said a fake image of an Australian soldier posted on a Chinese official’s Twitter account was “truly repugnant” and Canberra was demanding it be taken down, amid deteriorating relations between the two countries.

FILE PHOTO: Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison arrives at Haneda airport in Tokyo, Japan, November 17, 2020. REUTERS/Issei Kato

Scott Morrison called a media briefing to condemn the posting of the image, which depicted an Australian soldier holding a knife to the throat of an Afghan child, and said Canberra was seeking an apology from Beijing.

The Australian government has asked Twitter to remove the tweet, posted on Monday by China’s foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian, Morrison said.

“It is utterly outrageous and cannot be justified on any basis,” Morrison said. “The Chinese government should be utterly ashamed of this post. It diminishes them in the world’s eyes.”

Australia’s relationship with China has deteriorated since Canberra called for an international inquiry into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic.

Earlier this month, China outlined a list of grievances about Australia’s foreign investment, national security and human rights policy, saying Canberra needed to correct its actions to restore the bilateral relationship with its largest trading partner.

Morrison said countries around the world were watching how Beijing responded to tensions in Australia’s relationship with China.

In the latest in a series of trade sanctions, China announced on Friday it will impose temporary anti-dumping tariffs of up to 212.1% on wine imported from Australia, a move Canberra has labelled unjustified and linked to diplomatic grievances.

Australia has told 13 special forces soldiers they face dismissal in relation to an independent report on alleged unlawful killings in Afghanistan, the head of the country’s army said on Friday.

Zhao wrote on Twitter: “Shocked by murder of Afghan civilians & prisoners by Australian soldiers. We strongly condemn such acts, & call for holding them accountable.”

His Twitter account had posted the same message, but without the fake image of the soldier and child, on Friday.

Morrison said Australia had established a “transparent and honest” process for investigating the allegations against the accused soldiers and this “is what a free, democratic, liberal country does”.

Australia had “patiently sought” to address tensions in the relationship with China and wanted direct discussion between ministers, he said.

Reporting by Kirsty Needham; Editing by Shri Navaratnam and Lincoln Feast.

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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Shares take a breather after stellar month, China data upbeat | Reuters

4 Min Read

SYDNEY (Reuters) — World shares paused to assess a record-busting month on Monday as the prospect of a vaccine-driven economic recovery next year and yet more free money from central banks eclipsed concerns about the coronavirus pandemic in the near-term.

FILE PHOTO: Passersby wearing protective face masks are reflected on a stock quotation board outside a brokerage, in Tokyo, Japan November 10, 2020. REUTERS/Issei Kato

Helping sentiment was a survey showing factory activity in China handily beat forecasts in November, leaving blue chips 6.6% higher for the month.

The rush to risk has benefited oil and industrial commodities while undermining the safe-haven dollar and gold.

“November looks set to be an awesome month for equity investors with Europe leading the charge at a country/regional level,” said NAB analyst Rodrigo Catril.

Many European bourses are boasting their best month ever with France up 21% and Italy almost 26%. The MSCI measure of world stocks is up 13% for November so far, while the S&P 500 has climbed 11% to all-time peaks.

Early Monday, MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan held steady, to be up more than 11% for the month in its best performance since late 2011.

Japan’s Nikkei firmed 0.1%, bringing its gains for the month to 16% for the largest rise since 1994.

E-Mini futures for the S&P 500 dipped 0.2%, and NASDAQ futures edged up 0.1%.

“Markets are overbought and at risk of a short term pause,” said Shane Oliver, head of investment strategy at AMP Capital.

“However, we are now in a seasonally strong time of year and investors are yet to fully discount the potential for a very strong recovery next year in growth and profits as stimulus combines with vaccines.”

Cyclical recovery shares including resources, industrials and financials were likely to be relative outperformers, he added.

The surge in stocks has put some competitive pressure on safe-haven bonds but much of that has been cushioned by expectations of more asset buying by central banks.

Sweden’s Riksbank surprised last week by expanding its bond purchase program and the European Central Bank is likely to follow in December.

DOLLAR IN DECLINE

Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell testifies to Congress on Tuesday amid speculation of further policy action at its next meeting in mid-December.

As a result U.S. 10-year yields are ending the month almost exactly where they started at 0.84%, a solid performance given the exuberance in equities.

The U.S. dollar has not been as lucky.

“The idea that a potential Treasury Secretary (Janet) Yellen and Fed chair Powell could work more closely to shape and coordinate super easy monetary policy and massive fiscal stimulus that could drive a rapid post pandemic recovery saw the dollar under pressure,” said Robert Rennie, head of financial market strategy at Westpac.

Against a basket of currencies, the dollar index was pinned at 91.771 having shed 2.4% for the month to suffer its lowest close in two years on Friday.

The euro has caught a tailwind from the relative outperformance of European stocks and climbed 2.7% for the month so far to reach $1.1964. A break of the September peak at $1.2011 would open the way to a 2018 top at $1.2555.

The dollar has even declined against the Japanese yen, a safe-haven of its own, losing 0.7% in November to reach 103.89 yen, though it remains well above key support at 103.16.

Sterling stood at $1.3330, having climbed steadily this month to its highest since September, as investors wagered a Brexit deal would be brokered even as the deadline for talks loomed ever larger.

One major casualty of the rush to risk has been gold, which was near a five-month trough at $1,783 an ounce having shed 4.7% so far in November.

Oil, in contrast, has benefited from the prospect of a demand revival should the vaccines allow travel and transport to resume next year. [O/R]

Some profit-taking set in early Monday ahead of an OPEC+ meeting to decide whether the producers’ group will extend large output cuts. Brent crude futures fell 67 cents to $47.51, while U.S. crude eased 41 cents to $45.12 a barrel.

Editing by Lincoln Feast

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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Monolith mystery deepens as Utah desert object vanishes | Reuters

2 Min Read

(Reuters) — No word as to whether Star Trek’s Scotty “beamed it up,” but the mysterious, shiny monolith that was spotted in a remote southeastern Utah desert two weeks ago is gone.

Slideshow ( 2 images )

A state crew that buzzed through the wilderness, counting bighorn sheep from a helicopter, found the alien-looking object on Nov. 18 and touched off international sci-fi speculation, harkening to the classic Stanley Kubrick 1968 film, “2001: A Space Odyssey.”

In the Kubrick movie, an alien monolith is a recurring symbol that appears to play a role in the development of human evolution.

The riddle in the desert, twice as tall as an average adult, drew scores of the curious to see it, even though its exact location was not made public, according to accounts on social media.

No one seems to know where it went.

Neither the federal Bureau of Land Management nor the state’s Department of Public Safety said they had any idea.

“We have received reports that the illegally installed structure, referred to as the ‘monolith’ has been removed from Bureau of Land Management public lands by an unknown party,” the state agency posted on Saturday on its website.

It said the object was reportedly removed on Friday evening. A representative was not immediately available for comment on Sunday.

Guesses as to what happened ran wild online, with one person postulating, “The space aliens returned to remove it.”

The art world has speculated that the object was the work of John McCracken, a sculptor fond who died in 2011. His son, Patrick McCracken, has told The New York Times his father told him in 2002 that “he would like to leave his artwork in remote places to be discovered later.”

Reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta; Editing by Daniel Wallis

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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China’s factory activity expands at fastest pace in over three years | Reuters

3 Min Read

BEIJING (Reuters) — China’s factory activity expanded at the fastest pace in more than three years in November, keeping it on track to be the first major economy to fully recover from the coronavirus crisis.

Slideshow ( 2 images )

The official manufacturing Purchasing Manager’s Index (PMI) rose to 52.1 in November from 51.4 in October, data from the National Bureau of Statistics showed on Monday. It was the highest PMI reading since September 2017 and remained above the 50-point mark that separates growth from contraction on a monthly basis.

Analysts had expected it to climb slightly to 51.5.

China’s vast industrial sector is steadily returning to the levels of activity seen before the pandemic and tough containment measures paralysed huge swathes of the economy early this year.

But surging infections and fresh lockdowns in many of its key trading partners could dent demand for Chinese exports, which have been surprisingly resilient so far.

The official PMI, which largely focuses on big- and state-owned firms, showed the sub-index for new export orders stood at 51.5 in November, improving further from 51.0 a month earlier.

Economic indicators ranging from trade to producer prices all suggest a further pick up in the industrial sector.

A sub-index for the activity of small firms stood at 50.1 in November, up from October’s 49.4.

A strong November e-commerce shopping festival in China unleashed strong consumer demand, bolstering confidence for small and medium firms.

Analysts at Nomura expect economic growth will quicken to 5.7% in the fourth quarter year-on-year, from 4.9% in the third quarter.

It is expected to expand around 2% for the full year — the weakest in over three decades but still much stronger than other major economies that are still struggling to bring their coronavirus outbreaks under control.

In particular, China has seen a robust rebound in vehicle sales, fuelled by surging demand for trucks and electric vehicles.

In the services sector, activity expanded for the ninth straight month and at the fastest pace since June 2012, as consumer confidence further improves amid few COVID infections. Railway and air transportation, telecommunication and satellite transmission service and the financial industry are among the best performing sectors in November.

A sub-index for construction activity stood at 60.5 in November, improving from 59.8 in October.

Reporting by Stella Qiu and Ryan Woo; Editing by Sam Holmes

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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Global shares take a breather after stellar month, China data upbeat | Reuters

4 Min Read

SYDNEY (Reuters) — World shares paused to assess a record-busting month on Monday as the prospect of a vaccine-driven economic recovery next year and yet more free money from central banks eclipsed concerns about the coronavirus pandemic in the near-term.

FILE PHOTO: Investors look at screens showing stock information at a brokerage house in Shanghai, China January 16, 2020. REUTERS/Aly Song

Helping sentiment was a survey showing factory activity in China handily beat forecasts in November, leaving blue chips 6.6% higher for the month.

The rush to risk has benefited oil and industrial commodities while undermining the safe-haven dollar and gold.

“November looks set to be an awesome month for equity investors with Europe leading the charge at a country/regional level,” said NAB analyst Rodrigo Catril.

Many European bourses are boasting their best month ever with France up 21% and Italy almost 26%. The MSCI measure of world stocks is up 13% for November so far, while the S&P 500 has climbed 11% to all-time peaks.

Early Monday, MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan held steady, to be up more than 11% for the month in its best performance since late 2011.

Japan’s Nikkei firmed 0.1%, bringing its gains for the month to 16% for the largest rise since 1994.

E-Mini futures for the S&P 500 dipped 0.2%, and NASDAQ futures edged up 0.1%.

“Markets are overbought and at risk of a short term pause,” said Shane Oliver, head of investment strategy at AMP Capital.

“However, we are now in a seasonally strong time of year and investors are yet to fully discount the potential for a very strong recovery next year in growth and profits as stimulus combines with vaccines.”

Cyclical recovery shares including resources, industrials and financials were likely to be relative outperformers, he added.

The surge in stocks has put some competitive pressure on safe-haven bonds but much of that has been cushioned by expectations of more asset buying by central banks.

Sweden’s Riksbank surprised last week by expanding its bond purchase program and the European Central Bank is likely to follow in December.

DOLLAR IN DECLINE

Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell testifies to Congress on Tuesday amid speculation of further policy action at its next meeting in mid-December.

As a result U.S. 10-year yields are ending the month almost exactly where they started at 0.84%, a solid performance given the exuberance in equities.

The U.S. dollar has not been as lucky.

“The idea that a potential Treasury Secretary (Janet) Yellen and Fed chair Powell could work more closely to shape and coordinate super easy monetary policy and massive fiscal stimulus that could drive a rapid post pandemic recovery saw the dollar under pressure,” said Robert Rennie, head of financial market strategy at Westpac.

Against a basket of currencies, the dollar index was pinned at 91.771 having shed 2.4% for the month to suffer its lowest close in two years on Friday.

The euro has caught a tailwind from the relative outperformance of European stocks and climbed 2.7% for the month so far to reach $1.1964. A break of the September peak at $1.2011 would open the way to a 2018 top at $1.2555.

The dollar has even declined against the Japanese yen, a safe-haven of its own, losing 0.7% in November to reach 103.89 yen, though it remains well above key support at 103.16.

Sterling stood at $1.3330, having climbed steadily this month to its highest since September, as investors wagered a Brexit deal would be brokered even as the deadline for talks loomed ever larger.

One major casualty of the rush to risk has been gold, which was near a five-month trough at $1,783 an ounce having shed 4.7% so far in November.

Oil, in contrast, has benefited from the prospect of a demand revival should the vaccines allow travel and transport to resume next year. [O/R]

Some profit-taking set in early Monday ahead of an OPEC+ meeting to decide whether the producers’ group will extend large output cuts. Brent crude futures fell 67 cents to $47.51, while U.S. crude eased 41 cents to $45.12 a barrel.

Editing by Lincoln Feast

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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Fears Arcadia could be ‘Carillion of retail’ with suppliers left on the hook for £250m

There are fears Arcadia could become “the Carillion of retail” after it emerged Sir Philip Green’s business empire may go bust owing over half a billion pounds to pension scheme members and suppliers.

It comes as Sports Direct supremo Mike Ashley moved centre stage in a pivotal week for the UK high street by offering a £50m emergency lifeline to the Top Shop owner, while experts predicted he is now also in pole position to buy Debenhams after JD Sports retreated from the fray.

The Arcadia Group, which has 13,000 staff and 550 stores across brands including Topshop, Burton, and Dorothy Perkins, is on the brink and could enter administration as early as Monday, according to sources.

The company’s pension fund has a blackhole that could be as large as £350m. Additionally, around £250m worth of invoices from suppliers could go unpaid should Arcadia collapse, according to estimates from insurance firm Nimbla.

On Sunday, Sir Philip faced calls from Stephen Timms, the work and pensions committee chair, and from the Labour Party to use his personal fortune to meet the pension shortfall, as he belatedly did after BHS went bust in 2016.

Arcadia swings to a loss

Flemming Bengtsen, the chief executive of Nimbla, highlighted that BHS also left £1bn worth of unpaid invoices when it fell into administration. 

“Around £250m of unpaid invoices owed to Arcadia’s suppliers may threaten the existence of hundreds of small businesses and jobs further down the supply chain,” said Mr Bengtsen. “At a time when small businesses are more precarious than ever this could be the fatal blow to many SMEs.”

Nimbla calculated the figure using a model that was based on prior public accounts and past retailer defaults of a similar scale.

Mr Bengtsen pointed out that BHS creditors ended up receiving 3.6p on the pound but that this time he doubts “they will get anything”.

Mike Cherry, the chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses, said: “Arcadia’s latest reporting shows that it pays most of its invoices outside of agreed terms, and those terms are already long at 60 or 90 days. In response to Covid, Arcadia protected its cashflow further by processing invoices less frequently and lengthening payment terms by a further 30 days, both at the expense of the cashflow of small suppliers.

“We are concerned that Arcadia is starting to look like the Carillion of retail.”

Carillion was a construction and outsourcing company that went bust in 2018 owing nearly £7bn.

Sir Philip, pictured in 2014, belatedly agreed to top up BHS's pension fund after that business ran into trouble. MPs want him to do the same again here.

Credit: David M. Benett/Getty 

One Arcadia supplier said: “Arcadia still owes us a lot of money and we are still sitting on a lot of stock that they should have taken this year. “If all they needed was £30m to see them through I am staggered that Sir Philip has not used his own money, especially with the news of the vaccines.”

Sir Philip and his wife Lady Tina are believed to have a combined fortune of around £930m.

Clive Black at Shore Capital Markets sounded a note of optimism, saying Arcadia’s suppliers could end up in a “more secure home” were the company to collapse.

“Although it’s a worrying time now on the stock they have committed to and may not have been paid for, if Arcadia ends up in the right hands then those suppliers will actually ultimately have greater security going forward,” he said.

A spokesman for Arcadia made no comment on either estimate and dismissed the prospect of Frasers Group owner Mike Ashley providing a lifeline, calling the offer a “publicity stunt”.

In a letter to the board of directors, Mr Ashley’s Fraser Group said that it was willing to provide a loan of up to £50m to address Arcadia’s cash-flow difficulties.

The company said that it would not be seeking security for the emergency funding and that it was open to providing more loans in the future if needed.

“We have, on many occasions, publicly expressed our concern over the destruction of the retail landscape, and these concerns have only been heightened by the current Covid-19 crisis,” Chris Wooton, Frasers’ chief financial officer said in the letter yesterday.

“Our offer would allow you to retain employment for many thousands of your staff, reopen hundreds of stores when the current lockdown ends, and protect the financial position of thousands of members of your pension schemes.”

Mr Wooton urged the board to consider the offer and stated that it would be “immediately withdrawn” if the group, or any part of it, enters an insolvency process.

Arcadia set to slash far more jobs than rivals

The potential collapse of Sir Philip’s empire also threatens to have a domino effect on the high street.

JD Sports backed away from its own exclusive talks around a potential deal to acquire troubled chain Debenhams.

Arcadia is Debenhams’ biggest concession holder and City sources linked its potential demise to JD’s withdrawal from the process to buy the department store.

Shore Capital’s Mr Black said that Mr Ashley, who has made no secret of his desire to buy Debenhams, now had the “potential to take full control” of the company.

“He may be on the threshold if JD does walk on picking up Debenhams for whatever price he has to pay to be honest,” said Mr Black.

Stephen Timms MP called on Sir Philip to dip into his own pocket again, three years after he agreed to pump £363m into the pension fund of the collapsed BHS.

Mr Timms, who wrote to the pensions regulator on Sunday to underline the importance of protecting pension scheme members, said: “This is a dreadful time for Arcadia staff to be worrying about their jobs and their pension. Whatever happens to the group, the Green family must make good the deficit in the Arcadia pension fund.”

Lucy Powell MP, Labour’s shadow minister for business and consumers, called on the Monaco-based billionaire to “do what is right and cover Arcadia’s pension deficit”, and said the Government needs to do more for small businesses left in the lurch.

“Most government grants are worth less than a third of what they were, other business cash support has been pulled away, and businesses face a growing mountain of debts,” she said.

A spokesperson from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy said: “We understand this will be deeply worrying news for Arcadia’s employees and their families, and the Government stands ready to support them.

“We are in touch with Arcadia and are working closely with them to gain a full understanding of the situation.”