The UK has seen the strongest two quarters of productivity growth since the recession of 2008, according to the latest data.
Output per hour rose 0.8% in the three months to December, the Office for National Statistics said. It follows growth of 0.9% in the previous period.
There was also a better than expected rise in wages. Excluding bonuses, earnings rose by 2.5% year-on-year.
However, unemployment edged higher, but still remains low at 4.4%.
The increase in unemployment for the three months to the end of December was the first rise in two years.
The total number of people in work also continued to rise, jumping by 88,000 in the same period.
Some of that increase was due to people previously classed as inactive and not looking for work moving into the workforce or registering as unemployed.
The ONS said the slight rise in the number of people out of work raised the question of whether the UK’s long run of falling unemployment had come to an end.
Economists say that the rise in wages is significant:
Yael Selfin, chief economist at KPMG in the UK, said: “There are signs that average weekly earnings, which rose by 2.5% in the fourth quarter, are beginning to respond to the tightness of the labour market, although households are still feeling the squeeze when accounting for inflation, with real earnings falling by 0.3%.”
He also described the productivity figures as “very encouraging”.
“If stronger productivity continues into 2018, the Bank of England may decide to hold at least once on raising rates this year,” he added.
How is unemployment calculated? Anthony Reuben Reality Check
The rate of employment and the rate of unemployment are both up, which doesn’t make any sense until you remember how these figures are worked out.
Everyone over 16 is either employed, unemployed or economically inactive. Inactive people are not in work and they are also not looking for work. This includes people such as students, carers and long-term sick people.
What’s happened according to the latest estimates is that a number of people who were previously economically inactive have started working or looking for work.
Campaigners have won a third High Court victory over the UK government’s plans to tackle air pollution.
The judge in the case said the Government plan was “unlawful” and that more action was needed in Wales and 45 English local authority areas.
He said ministers had to ensure that in each of the areas, steps were taken to comply with the law as soon as possible.
The case was brought by ClientEarth, a group of activist lawyers.
Mr Justice Garnham said: “Because the obligation is zone-specific, the fact that each of the 45 local authority areas will achieve compliance in any event by 2021 is of no immediate significance.
“The Environment Secretary must ensure that, in each of the 45 areas, steps are taken to achieve compliance as soon as possible, by the quickest route possible and by a means that makes that outcome likely.”
He added: “In effect, these local authorities are being urged and encouraged to come up with proposals to improve air quality over the next three years, but are not being required to do so. In my judgment, that sort of exhortation is not sufficient.”
A raft of recent studies and reports have linked air pollution to heart disease and lung problems, including asthma.
The Royal Colleges of Physicians and of Paediatrics and Child Health says that outdoor air pollution is contributing to some 40,000 early deaths a year in the UK.
The UK is sticking to its demand for a transition period of about two years after Brexit – or longer if necessary, according to a leaked document.
The EU has said it wants the transition to end no later than 31 December 2020, 21 months after Brexit in March 2019.
But the UK has set out what it wants in a response to an EU list of demands published last month.
In the document, due to be published later on Wednesday, the UK says it wants at least 24 months.
“The UK believes the period’s duration should be determined simply by how long it will take to prepare and implement the new processes and new systems that will underpin the future partnership,” the document says.
“The UK agrees this points to a period of around two years, but wishes to discuss with the EU the assessment that supports its proposed end date.”
EU sets out Brexit transition demands
Pro-Brexit Tories set out demands
The UK also wants a mechanism to object to new European legislation introduced during the implementation phase.
The prime minister had suggested that EU nationals who arrive during the transition period should not have the right to settle permanently in the UK.
But BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg said the leak suggested the UK “has softened its position”.
Skip Twitter post by @bbclaurak
Govt source accepts UK has softened its position on EU citizens being able to come and settle in UK after Brexit during transition period – faced EU brick wall altho PM has always said it had to be different
— Laura Kuenssberg (@bbclaurak) February 21, 2018
End of Twitter post by @bbclaurak
She added that the UK side thinks the positions are close:
Skip Twitter post 2 by @bbclaurak
Belief in govt UK text and EU text side by side demonstrate not huge distance btw the two sides over the transition period – their political priority for March is getting that bit done
— Laura Kuenssberg (@bbclaurak) February 21, 2018
End of Twitter post 2 by @bbclaurak
It comes after more than 60 Brexit-supporting Tory MPs have written to Theresa May to insist the UK make a clean break with the EU.
The MPs say the UK must not be stopped from negotiating trade deals with other countries, once it leaves the EU, and must gain full “regulatory autonomy”.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said it was time for Mrs May to spell out clearly what kind of relationship she wanted with the EU after Brexit, accusing her of “waffle and empty rhetoric” at Prime Minister’s Questions.
“Business needs to know. People need to know. Even Tory backbenchers are demanding to know.”
He suggested the PM had downgraded her negotiation goals from a tariff-free trade agreement to “as much tariff-free trade as possible”.
But Mrs May said this was not the case and her desired outcome remained a “bespoke economic partnership” with the EU which also enabled the UK to “take back control” of its laws, money and borders.
“We want to have a good trade agreement with the EU…but we also want to ensure this country takes the opportunities that will be open to us outside the EU to boost our economy.”
She rejected Mr Corbyn’s claims that Brexit would result in a “bonfire of regulations”, insisting the Conservatives record in government showed it was committed to protecting and extending workers’ rights.
The government has ordered a review into how UK authorities responded to concerns over three major medical problems.
He has asked Baroness Julia Cumberlege to look at the pregnancy test Primodos, vaginal mesh implants and epilepsy drug sodium valproate cases.
All three have been in the news in recent months with campaigners unhappy at the official response to each.
There could even be public inquiries if it was warranted.
The move was announced by Prime Minister Theresa May at Prime Minister’s Questions.
The government has already agreed to carry out a full audit of how many women in England have suffered complications as a result of vaginal mesh implants, while a European review is examining whether warnings about risks to unborn babies from the mother’s use of sodium valproate are strong enough.
And last year the Commission on Human Medicines said the evidence did not support a “causal link” between use of Primodos and birth defects and miscarriages after carrying out an inquiry.
This new review will not repeat the work done previously.
Instead, it will look at:
The robustness and speed of the authorities’ response to each
Whether regulators did enough to engage those affected to ensure their concerns were escalated and acted upon
Whether there needs to be an independent system – even a public inquiry – into any of the cases
Victims of serious crime may now be able to sue police for breach of their human rights if they fail to investigate their cases effectively.
It comes after a Supreme Court ruling against the Metropolitan Police over its handling of the John Worboys case.
Two women who were both raped by the black cab driver, had argued their treatment by police – who did not believe them – caused them mental harm.
The Metropolitan Police said it fully accepts the decision.
Human rights organisation Liberty said it was a “landmark” ruling.
Cabbie who preyed on young women
Ministers won’t challenge Worboys release
One of the victims, known as DSD, who was the first of Worboys’ victims to make a complaint to the police in 2003, said: “It has been an emotional day. Fifteen years.”
Referring to the police, she added: “Had you done your job properly, there wouldn’t be 105 victims, there would be one.
“I can take the one. I can’t take the 105.”
Her lawyer Harriet Wistrich said: “It’s a very, very important judgment – very important for vindicating the rights of my two clients but also for the other victims of Worboys.”
The women are also separately pursuing a judicial review of the Parole Board’s decision to release Worboys.
Skip Twitter post by @BBCDomC
This will almost certainly have profound long-term implications for police forces across the UK – and something that many of them have been dreading, given their resources and the changing nature of modern crime.
— Dominic Casciani (@BBCDomC) February 21, 2018
End of Twitter post by @BBCDomC
Worboys was able to continue to attack women until he was convicted of 19 offences in 2009, when he was ordered to serve at least eight years in jail.
The Met believe he may have carried out more than 100 rapes and sexual assaults on women in London between 2002 and 2008.
Analysis: Legal correspondent Clive Coleman
The ruling is highly significant for both victims of serious violent crime and for the police forces that investigate it.
It means that if a police force conducts an investigation into the crime which fails in a way which is deemed sufficiently serious, it will be liable to a human rights action brought by the victim.
Successful claims will result in compensation to the victims. The ruling means that there is an additional rigour placed on police forces to ensure they properly investigate violent crime.
The 2010 report by the Independent Police Complaints Commission disclosed many serious failings in the police investigation in Worboys.
So the ruling is likely to lead to more claims by his victims.
However there will be many other victims of violent crime who feel that they were let down by serious police failings, who will now want to consider bringing claims for breach of their human rights.
The women brought their claims under article three of the Human Rights Act – the right not to be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment.
Until then, police could not be found to be negligent for generally failing to identify and apprehend an unknown suspect.
The police appealed, arguing that its duty was fulfilled simply by having practices and procedures to investigate in place, although it was agreed that the damages awarded to the women would not be recouped if the appeal succeeded.
Giving the Supreme Court’s ruling, Lord Kerr said: “By a majority, we have held that failures in the investigation of the crimes, provided they are sufficiently serious, will give rise to liability on the part of the police.
He continued: “The important point to make is that, if the investigation is seriously defective, even if no systemic failures are present, this will be enough to render the police liable.”
The Met Police said it “unreservedly apologises to the victims we failed”.
Sir Craig Mackey, deputy commissioner of the Met Police, said in a statement that it had appealed because “police forces needed absolute clarity on the boundaries of police responsibility and liability for their investigations”.
He added: “There is no doubt that it will have implications for how we resource and prioritise our investigations.”
Victims let down ‘horrifically’
The appeal followed a 2013 High Court ruling which found the Met was liable to the women – known as DSD and NBV – for failures in its investigation.
DSD said she suffered a depressive disorder as a result of her treatment by officers during the 2003 investigation and was awarded £22,250.
NBV claimed she suffered serious distress, anxiety, guilt and an exacerbation of post-traumatic disorder and depression because of her treatment by police. She was awarded £19,000.
Martha Spurrier, director of Liberty, said: “Having already let these women down in the most horrific way, the Met could have accepted the High Court’s ruling four years ago.
“Instead, they used taxpayers’ money to drag them all the way to the highest court in the land.”
The case comes a month after the government announced it would not challenge the Parole Board’s decision to release Worboys after he had served less than 10 years in prison.
Venue: Pyeongchang, South Korea Dates: 9-25 February
Coverage: Watch live on BBC TV, Red Button, Connected TVs, BBC Sport website and mobile app. Full coverage times
Sofia Goggia saw off the challenge of American Lindsey Vonn to become the first Italian to win the women’s downhill.
The 25-year-old, who leads the World Cup downhill standings, clocked one minute 39.22 seconds to clinch gold.
Norway’s Ragnhild Mowinckel was just 0.09 secs behind Goggia, while Vonn took bronze.
The 33-year-old won downhill gold in 2010 and finished sixth in the super G on Saturday.
Mowinckel, 25, also won silver in the giant slalom behind American Mikaela Shiffrin, who withdrew from the downhill to focus on the alpine combined event, which has been brought forward from Friday to Thursday.
This is set to be the last Games for Vonn, who hung on for a third Olympic medal after being 0.47 secs slower than Goggia.
“I was really giving attention to every little detail, moving like a samurai – usually I’m pretty chaotic,” Goggia said.
“Samurai are really perfect. They move with elegance. I’m not elegant but I paid attention at every moment to what I was doing.”
Liechtenstein’s Tina Weirather just missed out on adding to the bronze she won in the super G event as she was 0.63 slower in fourth.
Switzerland’s Lara Gut was the only skier that finished in the top 10 at Sochi 2014 to compete this time around and it looked like she would post a competitive time until she missed a gate.
Elsewhere, Canada’s Christopher Del Bosco was taken to hospital after crashing during the men’s ski cross.
Del Bosco lost control in mid-air during a jump and fell heavily onto his right side. He was taken off the hill on a stretcher and went to hospital for treatment on a suspected broken pelvis.
‘We faced each other on a human level’
Shin So-jung, a member of the combined Korean women’s ice hockey squad, has said that “bonding over sports” means that the two sides “don’t feel the difference between the North and South”.
The team lost all five of their matches but their show of unity led International Olympic Committee member Angela Ruggiero to suggest they be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
Sarah Murray, who coached the side, said she was unsure if the unified team would play together again.
“If we had just one player who decided that they weren’t accepting the North on our team, it would have made things really difficult,” she said.
“Even the players that didn’t get the chance to play in every game, they were still being a great member of the team.”
Captain Park Jong-ah added: “We were floundering at the beginning, but once we played together as one team, we established camaraderie and we faced each other on a human level.”
Petition to ban speed skaters grows
A petition to ban two South Korean speed skaters has been signed by over 500,000 people.
Kim Bo-reum and Park Ji-woo are accused of bullying Noh Seon-yeong after they missed out on the semi-finals of the 500m team pursuit heats.
Noh – who had been hoping to win gold to honour her brother, who died of bone cancer in 2016 – cried after the race, with her team-mates appearing to ignore her as she left the arena.
Her team-mates then appeared to blame her for their disappointing finish, saying she “could not keep up” with them.
If a petition receives over 200,000 signatures within 30 days, the Blue House – the residence of South Korea’s head of state – must address the issue, but it has yet to comment.
Noh almost missed out on competing in the Pyeongchang Games after an “administrative error” by the sport’s governing body.
A doctor working in the Syrian rebel enclave of the Eastern Ghouta says the situation is “catastrophic” – and he believes the international community has abandoned the people living there.
“We don’t have anything – no food, no medicine, no shelter,” Dr Bassam told the BBC. “We don’t have bread. We don’t have anything.”
“Maybe every minute we have 10 or 20 air strikes,” Dr Bassam said.
Three days of bombing in the area has reportedly killed nearly 300 people.
The Syrian military says it is trying to liberate the area from terrorists – but it has also been accused of targeting civilians.
“They targeted everything: shops, markets, hospitals, schools, mosques, everything,” Dr Bassam said. “I will treat someone – and after a day or two they come again, injured again.”
“Where is the international community, where is (the UN) Security Council… they abandoned us. They leave us to be killed,” he said.
What’s happening in the Eastern Ghouta?
Pro-government forces – backed by Russia – intensified their efforts to retake the last major rebel stronghold on Sunday night.
Since then, activists say more than 60 children have died and at least 1,400 people have been injured.
Fresh government air strikes on Wednesday killed at least 24 people raising the total death toll in three days to at least 296, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. Barrel bombs – containers filled with explosives and shrapnel – were used in raids on the towns of Jisreen and Kfar Batna, it added.
It follows the bombardment on Tuesday of at least 10 towns and villages across the Eastern Ghouta.
The UN has called for a ceasefire to allow humanitarian aid to be delivered and the wounded to be evacuated.
The Eastern Ghouta is dominated by the Islamist faction Jaysh al-Islam. But Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, a jihadist alliance led by al-Qaeda’s former affiliate in Syria, also has a presence there.
Syrian state television reported that at least six people living in government-controlled areas of eastern Damascus were killed earlier this week – and 28 others wounded – by shells fired from the Eastern Ghouta.
The Syrian military said it carried out “precision strikes” on areas from which the shells were launched.
What can the international community do about it?
By Jonathan Marcus, BBC diplomatic correspondent
The catastrophe in eastern Ghouta is unfolding as the war in Syria enters a new and even more dangerous phase. The international community is impotent to act, not least because key members of that community are deeply implicated in what is going on, not least Russia.
Other regional players like Turkey and Iran are acting to secure their own long-term strategic interests. So too is Washington though its goals seem uncertain now that IS is defeated and the Assad regime remains in power.
There is no consensus in the international community, no great leadership in evidence, and no shared sense of what Syria’s future should be. Just as the international community has failed to halt the use of chemical weapons, so too it has been unable to secure humanitarian access to those at greatest risk.
How bad is the situation in the enclave?
The violence in the region – designated as a “de-escalation zone” by Syria’s main allies, Russia and Iran, as well as Turkey – is the worst since 2013, when a chemical attack killed hundreds of people, activists say.
“People have nowhere to turn,” a local doctor told the Union of Medical Care and Relief Organisations, which supports medical facilities in the Eastern Ghouta
“They are trying to survive but their hunger from the siege has weakened them significantly.”
Mr Moumtzis said at least six hospitals had been hit in the area on Monday and Tuesday, and warned that such attacks might amount to war crimes.
The government has allowed one humanitarian convoy into the Eastern Ghouta since late November, and there are severe shortages of food.
A bundle of bread now costs close to 22 times the national average and 12% of children under five years old are said to be acutely malnourished.
What else is going on in Syria?
Meanwhile, pro-government fighters have been sent to the Kurdish enclave of Afrin in northern Syria to confront an offensive by Turkish troops and Syrian rebels.
Turkey fired shells near the advancing columns, which, it says, forced the pro-government fighters into retreat.
Afrin lies just south of the Turkish border. Turkey is trying to oust the Kurdish YPG militia, which controls the area and which has called on the Syrian military for help.
Syria has denounced the Turkish offensive as a “blatant attack” on its sovereignty, while Turkey has insisted it will not back down.
Syrian government forces are also carrying out offensives on the rebel-held north-western province of Idlib. The UN says more than 300,000 people have been displaced by the fighting there since December.
Trans-Tasman T20 tri-series final, Eden Park, Auckland
New Zealand 150-9: Taylor 43*, Agar 3-27
Australia 121-3 (14.4 overs): Short 50
Australia won by 19 runs (DLS method)
Australia won the Trans-Tasman Twenty20 tri-series with a 19-run DLS victory against New Zealand in Auckland.
After a brief flurry from openers Martin Guptill and Colin Munro, left-arm spinner Ashton Agar’s 3-27 helped restrict the Black Caps to 150-9.
Ross Taylor’s 43 not out from 38 balls was New Zealand’s only score over 30.
David Warner and D’Arcy Short (50) took Australia to 72-0 in reply and they were 121-3 in the 15th over when a second rain delay ended the match.
Australia maintained a 100% record with their fifth victory in a series also featuring England, with their seventh win in eight matches.
New Zealand, who won only one game during the series and lost to England last weekend, begin a five-match one-day series against England in Hamilton at 01:00 GMT on Sunday.
Kiwis fail to build on promising start
The previous meeting between the teams, also at Eden Park, saw Guptill and Munro hit 15 sixes between them in an opening stand of 132, when Australia went on to pass New Zealand’s 243 for a record T20 run chase.
Kane Williamson opted to give his big-hitting openers the chance to post another big total on a perfectly flat wicket, with boundaries of 55m and 56m down the ground, and they started brightly in the evening sunshine with five fours and a six in the first three overs.
But Guptill mistimed a ball from giant pace bowler Billy Stanlake to mid-off in the fifth over and left-hander Munro departed in the next, misfiring to mid-on.
Warner, who heads for Australia’s four-Test tour to South Africa in the early hours of Thursday, marshalled his troops expertly, making 16 bowling changes with the five bowlers he employed.
Agar was introduced during the powerplay phase and, though his first ball was dispatched unceremoniously over mid-wicket for six by Guptill, the 24-year-old returned to dismiss Williamson and Mark Chapman within three balls in the eighth over.
Taylor came to the crease during that spell and as wickets continued to tumble he was unable to provide much acceleration to the scoring, a towering 91m six down the ground in the penultimate over one of his few highlights.
Australia close in on top ranking
Any suggestions that Australia may lose focus in pursuit of a modest target were quickly dispelled as explosive left-hander Short hit three sweetly timed sixes in four balls and reached fifty from 28 deliveries.
But when play resumed after a brief rain delay with the Australians needing 96 from 14 overs, Short hit out to long-on and Warner soon followed, beaten by a short, quicker one from leg-spinner Ish Sodhi.
Agar, who made nine in his only previous T20 international innings, was surprisingly elevated to number three and was stumped off a wide from Mitchell Santner, bringing the men with the two highest individual T20 international scores – Glenn Maxwell and Aaron Finch – together at the crease.
Man of the series Maxwell, who hit 233 runs in five matches, had made only two when he flayed at a wide one and sliced to point but Taylor was unable to cling on over his shoulder.
Finch would have been easily run out for five by a superb sliding stop and throw in one movement from Williamson which narrowly missed the stumps.
There was time for an enormous trademark Maxwell six down the ground, but with 30 required from 32 balls there was a much heavier rain shower and play could not resume within the allotted time frame.
Australia, who have never won the World Twenty20 in six attempts, were sufficiently far enough ahead in their 100th international for a victory which takes them to 125.65 points in the International Cricket Council world rankings, 0.19 behind Pakistan.
Their only note of concern was an injury to Chris Lynn, who dislocated his right shoulder while diving in the field.
‘I couldn’t be prouder’ – post-match reaction
Australia captain David Warner: “We played superb cricket throughout the series. I asked the guys to be clinical and execute all their skills and I can’t complain. They’ve been absolutely amazing.
“In the last 18-24 months they’ve talked about us not taking this format too seriously by resting our guys, but they’ve come out of Big Bash in superb form here and I couldn’t be prouder of them.
“It proves the great depth we have in Australia cricket.
New Zealand captain Kane Williamson: “Australia have been outstanding throughout this campaign – they deserved to win. We weren’t able to get that momentum.
“The pitch was quite different from the game before. Perhaps we thought we needed a few more. If we had another 20 out there, it would have been competitive.”
Former England batsman James Taylor on BBC Test Match Special: “Australia are such a versatile side. They are as dynamic as you get.”