Nearly a third of all energy companies fitting smart meters are still installing old technology.

Government guidance says that since the middle of March 2019 customers should only have been given second generation smart meters.

However eight companies who are still installing first generation smart meters say the network is not reliable enough to switch customers onto.

They say this is particularly a problem in northern England and Scotland.

The switching service LookAfterMyBills has discovered that Bristol Energy, British Gas, Ecotricity, EON and Octopus are still installing some first generation meters in the North, and Nabuh Energy, Simplicity and Utilita are only installing the first generation after encountering difficulties with the new system.

The second generation of meters is supposed to be able to connect remotely to a national network, which should make switching supplier possible, for the first time for many customers.

When contacted by the BBC, the companies emphasised that the issues were industry-wide problems.

“We are not ignoring government guidance” said a spokesperson for Ecotricity. “In fact it’s clear that in documented instances where a SMETS2 meter cannot be used, or in areas where connection is not possible, we are encouraged to use SMETS1, or non-smart meters.”

Two different contracts were given out by the government to install those networks. The Southern Communications Network is being run on pre-existing mobile technology, while the Northern Communications Network is being run via specialist radio signal.

Northern connection

A number of the companies claim that problems with the signal in that Northern Communications Network mean that they cannot reliably connect customers to it. Therefore customers living in the South of England and Wales are much more likely to receive a second generation meter, than those living in the North of England and Scotland.

Octopus energy said the priority was to ensure customers needs were met.

“Where a second generation meter can be reliably installed and commissioned, we’ll do that,” the firm said. “Otherwise we’ll offer customers the choice between first generation or waiting until second generation is available.”

Some firms also highlighted problems with the connection in high-rise flats and for those on pre-payment meters.

The company responsible for the operation of the data networks across the UK, Smart DCC, said thousands of second generation meters were being installed the North every day.

“DCC is supporting the energy industry as it rolls out second-generation smart meters across the country,” it said. “There are now more than two million operating on our smart, secure network,” Smart DCC said.

‘Social purpose’

Utilita supplies energy almost exclusively to pre-payment customers. The firm said it is waiting for the result of a judicial review into government policy, as it says companies should not be compelled to install the new meters.

Utilita believes the new system has significant connectivity problems and “provides a vastly inferior service for pay-as-you-go customers, many of whom are vulnerable”.

Bristol Energy said any installations of SMETS1 meters since March have been because customers are on pre-payment meters.

“As part of our social purpose, we have a fair proportion of customers who are in this payment category,” it said.

British Gas agrees, adding there “have been some industry-wide delays with the infrastructure for SMETS2 pre-payment meters which means we’re not yet installing SMETS2 to all of these customers.”

Simplicity energy said it is waiting for the first generation meters to have an upgrade, rather than install the newer version, which it believes will happen shortly. The firm said “our strategy is to complete our roll-out programme and run down our stocks of SMETS 1 meters to avoid them becoming landfill”.

Any first generation meters installed after the 15th March 2019 do not count towards the companies’ smart meter roll-out obligations, and the regulator OFGEM could take enforcement action against any company not meeting those obligations.

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy said “the network for the North is fully operational, with thousands of second generation meters being installed every day.

“Smart meters provide a much better service for customers over traditional meters. This is particularly the case for pre-payment customers by cutting costs,” it added.

Sainsbury’s has become the latest supermarket to target packaging waste, pledging to halve the amount of plastic used in its stores by 2025.

Its customers will have to change their behaviour to achieve the “bold ambition” it said, for example by buying milk in plastic pouches.

It is also inviting the public and business partners to submit new ideas.

“Reducing plastic and packaging is not easy,” said Mike Coupe, Sainsbury’s chief executive.

“We can’t do this on our own and we will be asking our suppliers and our customers to work with us.”

MPs said this week reducing packaging should be the priority for retailers, rather than replacing plastic with compostable or recyclable alternatives.

The infrastructure is not in place in the UK to dispose of compostable or biodegradable materials effectively, parliament’s committee for environment, food and rural affairs found. The committee said wider environmental considerations also needed to be taken into account when replacing plastic packaging, including its carbon footprint.

Bring your own

On Friday, Sainsbury’s is meeting with food manufacturers, packaging suppliers, material scientists and the waste and recycling industry to kick-start the process of identifying new solutions.

However the supermarket said it was already rolling out some measures, including removing all plastic bags from its fruit and veg sections by the end of this month.

Instead customers will be invited to bring their own bags, buy reusable bags made from recycled plastic bottles, or put a price sticker onto loose items.

The supermarket considered introducing paper bags, but spokeswoman, Rebecca Reilly said the net impact would have been worse for the environment.

“There’s the deforestation link, and they are heavier and bulkier [than plastic]. They take up space in transport, so there are knock-on carbon emissions,” she said.

Sainsbury’s will encourage customers to bring their own containers for products from shampoo to raw meat and fish, and will sell more products loose by weight, something Waitrose began trialling earlier this year.

Bags of milk

In many areas it was a question of reducing plastic rather than eliminating it, suggested Ms Reilly. For example milk might be sold in pouches, using less plastic than the current bottles.

But Helen Bird from packaging campaign group, Wrap, said plastic milk bottles were one of the items being widely recycled in the UK.

Plastic pouches aren’t currently recyclable, she said, although they would probably produce lower carbon emissions.

But she praised the scale of Sainsbury’s ambition and said accepting that it did not yet have all the answers was a sensible approach to the challenge ahead.

“We need to not take decisions like this lightly,” she said. “To achieve this they’ll need significant levels of innovation.

“They’ll also require suppliers to come to them with fresh business models for how they can deliver products to customers in a way that will not have a significant effect on prices as well as carbon and food waste implications.”

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Some 65,000 fire-prone tumble dryers have been found during a recall campaign by Whirlpool, but hundreds of thousands still remain in UK homes.

The manufacturer extended its safety programme to offer free replacements in July after the regulator stepped in, four years after the issue emerged.

Dangerous dryers under the Hotpoint, Indesit, Creda, Swan and Proline brands were sold in the UK for 11 years.

Up to 800,000 were estimated to still be in use when the full recall began.

Machines were blamed for at least 750 fires over an 11-year period, the government has said. The fires have burnt out homes and destroyed possessions of victims – some of whom had no insurance.

Before the recall, Whirlpool primarily offered to modify affected dryers – a decision widely criticised by consumer and safety groups and which itself has led to concern over the safety of supposedly fixed machines.

What the full recall means for consumers

Anyone who thinks they bought a potentially dangerous dryer should call 0800 151 0905 or visit a dedicated website to check if their dryer is affected. If it is on the recall list, they should stop using it and unplug it immediately.

They can then choose:

  • A free replacement dryer with no extra charges for collection or disposal of the old machine
  • A free, one-hour modification of the old machine
  • A discounted upgrade to a higher specification model than the free replacement
  • A partial refund of up to £150, with owners of older machines getting less than those with newer ones

Since the start of the recall 65,000 affected dryers have been located, offers for a resolution have been made on 63,000 of them, with 42,000 of them having been repaired, replaced or refunded so far.

Whirlpool said it took a week, on average, for customers to receive a new dryer, modification, or refund from the point they make their choice. The majority (73%) had requested a replacement, the company said.

“Nothing matters more to us than people’s safety, so it is absolutely vital that we can identify where these affected dryers are and resolve the issue,” said Jeff Noel, Whirlpool vice-president.

‘Our scary experience’

Engineer Mark Garner and his wife Deborah owned an affected dryer and were eventually given a replacement, marked with a green sticker to identify it as safe.

Then, one day, Deborah, who was in the kitchen near the dryer, smelt smoke and when she opened the dryer door she was met with a cloud of black smoke and could clearly see flames at the back of the dryer.

“The truly scary part is that, assuming this was a safe machine, it had been turned on the previous night as we went to bed,” said Mark.

They were offered a replacement machine for £99 but were so unhappy with the situation they chose a refund instead.

A letter arrived, with a cheque for £220 enclosed. The trouble was, the cheque was unsigned.

A signed cheque eventually arrived, two months after the incident, but only after calls to Whirlpool chasing them up for the money.

Initial response ‘woeful’

Whirlpool said the number of owners with affected machines who had contacted the company since July amid a huge awareness campaign had risen sharply from fewer than 10,000 throughout the first half of the year.

It said its campaign over the past four years had resolved the issue for more than 1.7 million people, making it up to five times more successful than a typical product recall.

However, high-profile critics said that Whirlpool, as the owner of these brands, had a responsibility to deal with the situation adequately. Their initial response had been described as “woeful”.

Rachel Reeves, who chairs the influential Business Committee of MPs, told the BBC that – despite an improvement in Whirlpool’s handling of the case – concerns remained.

She said that the committee was worried about the number of potentially dangerous machines that remained in people’s homes, and that the modification process was “not as good as it should be”, with reports of supposedly safe dryers still catching fire – something with Whirlpool denies. It also wants policing of the second-hand market of white goods to be improved.

She added that the wider concerns were not helped by the lack of a fully independent product safety regulator.

Where Cecilia Manduca works there is a “pay self-assessment process”. In other words, she gets to decide how much she should be paid.

The firm, GrantTree, helps UK business get government funding.

And all 45 of its staff set their own salary, which they can review as often as they like.

It’s the latest innovation among companies that are competing for the top talent and want to show they offer the most attractive employment terms.

For some businesses, that has meant trendy offices or unlimited holiday, but now some are allowing their staff to pick their own pay.

‘No-one says no’

The exact process varies from company to company.

At GrantTree staff first gather information about what others are paid elsewhere for roles similar to their own, Cecilia told BBC Radio 5 Live’s Wake Up To Money, in other words how much the firm would have to spend to replace them.

Then they look at how much the company can afford to pay them, and think about how much they have grown as individuals since they first started.

“Based on this data you make a proposal that is reviewed by colleagues,” says Cecilia.

“This is quite important, because colleagues are not there to say yes or no, or to approve it. They are there to ask questions and give you some feedback.

After that feedback the employee decides on a figure.

“The key point is that nobody has to prove it; once you make a decision that pay now happens,” she says.

What goes up

Cecilia says that two members of staff at GrantTree actually chose to voluntarily reduce their pay after their responsibilities changed.

Most companies operating pick-your-own pay schemes have some sort of check, whether that’s scrutiny from colleagues or an upper limit on the total salaries paid out.

The human resources professionals organisation, the CIPD, told the BBC that this way of working can increase pay transparency.

However, it warned the strategy could also backfire without careful implementation, just as unlimited holiday meant some staff actually took less time off than before.

For Charles Towers-Clark, the boss of software firm, the Pod Group, the system seems to work smoothly.

His 40 employees have chosen their own pay for two years now, leading to a 10% increase in total salaries paid and a huge increase in staff retention.

‘Are you worth it?’

If someone at the Pod Group wants to increase their salary, they tell the HR director who appoints six staff to provide feedback.

Occasionally staff have asked for far more than the market rate, he admits.

“It’s not people being greedy, it’s a lack of understanding,” he says.

“A fairly junior person didn’t comprehend that the salary increase she was asking for was too much, she was asking for a 50% increase on her salary, which was far more than the role was worth.

“It was her decision but I told her: ‘you can take it but if you become uneconomical or your value is not justified then that will only end one way’.

“She reduced what she was asking for after that.”

Within budget

Tom Hardman is chief operating officer for Smarkets, where 120 staff set their own salaries. Like the Pod Group, they share data and company information with staff to ensure their salary requests are informed and reasonable.

“A very important part of the salary process is making sure employees understand budgets need to be adhered to,” he explains.

“So as part of any salary process we have a discussion about what resources are available, what cash we have in the bank and how much we can afford to spend on salaries.

“As long as we bring people along on that discussion we tend to find that people are very responsible when given this power.”

Battle over

At the moment, the trend for allowing employees to set their own pay is limited to just a handful of companies, mostly in the tech sector.

But if it is a success, then it could spread, helping to end the traditional workplace taboo against discussing your salary with colleagues.

Certainly for Cecilia, this method of setting pay has transformed her relationship with her co-workers, making it more open and less adversarial.

“The colleagues who give you feedback make sure you are not underselling yourself and that you are getting rewarded for as much as you are worth.

“That doesn’t really happen in a normal company where you negotiate for your salary and you are trying to get as much as you can but the other person is trying to give you as little as possible.”

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YouTube’s algorithm promotes fake cancer cures in a number of languages and the site runs adverts for major brands and universities next to misleading videos, a BBC investigation has found.

Searching YouTube across 10 languages, the BBC found more than 80 videos containing health misinformation – mainly bogus cancer cures. Ten of the videos found had more than a million views. Many were accompanied by adverts.

The unproven “cures” often involved consuming specific substances, such as turmeric or baking soda. Juice diets or extreme fasting were also common themes. Some YouTubers advocated drinking donkey’s milk or boiling water. None of the so-called cures offered are clinically proven to treat cancer.

Appearing before the fake cancer cure videos were adverts for well-known brands including Samsung, Heinz and Clinique.

YouTube’s advertising system means that both the Google-owned company and the video makers are making money from the misleading clips.

Shut down in English – but not other languages

In January, YouTube announced they would be “reducing recommendations of borderline content and content that could misinform users in harmful ways—such as videos promoting a phony miracle cure for a serious illness.”

But the company said the change would initially only affect recommendations of a very small set of videos in the United States, and does not apply in languages other than English.

The BBC search covered English, Portuguese, Russian, Arabic, Persian, Hindi, German, Ukrainian, French and Italian.

We found, for example, that in Russian, a simple search for “cancer treatment” leads to videos advocating drinking baking soda. Watching these videos in turn led to recommendations for other unproven “treatments” such as carrot juice or extreme fasting.

Erin McAweeney, a research analyst at the Data & Society institute, explained that because YouTube’s algorithm recommends similar videos to the ones you have just watched, it is continuously “carving a path” from one video to the next, regardless of the credibility of the advice offered within.

“Someone can start out on a credible video and be suggested to watch a juice cure video next. A recommendation system doesn’t know credible from non-credible content.” McAweeney says.

YouTube has stated that its recommendation system – which has been accused of leading users down rabbit holes of conspiracy theories and radicalisation – would change, recommending videos that are credible and trustworthy to people that are watching videos that might not be.

YouTube’s Community Guidelines ban harmful content including: “Promoting dangerous remedies or cures: content which claims that harmful substances or treatments can have health benefits.”

Many of the fake cancer cures the BBC found, such as juicing, were not in themselves harmful, but could indirectly damage a cancer sufferer’s health – for instance, if they neglect conventional medical approaches in favour of the so-called cures.

Making money with misinformation

Researchers from BBC Monitoring and BBC News Brasil were served a range of adverts before the fake cure videos.

In addition to Samsung, Heinz and Clinique, the BBC saw adverts for travel website Booking.com and writing app Grammarly, for Hollywood films, and for British universities including the University of East Anglia and the University of Gloucestershire. All of the ads appeared alongside potentially harmful misinformation.

The companies and universities distanced themselves from the misleading content.

Samsung said the campaign they were running had “no connection or correlation” with the fake cancer cure video ran after it. “Samsung follows and insists on the highest brand safety guidelines on all advertising platforms it uses,” the company said in a statement.

Kraft Heinz said that it “has a number of both automated and human controls continuously in place to ensure we avoid our advertising running with inappropriate content.

“This particular instance is concerning to us and we have taken steps to block this channel.”

Grammarly, a company whose adverts appeared 20 times alongside fake cancer cure videos views by BBC researchers, said: “Upon learning of this, we immediately contacted YouTube to pull our ads from any such channels and to ensure the ads will not appear alongside content promulgating misinformation.”

Clinique owner Estee Lauder and Booking.com did not respond to requests for comment.

The two universities said that their adverts appeared next to misleading videos just once each, and that the channels were blocked from their advertising campaigns after being contacted by the BBC.

The University of East Anglia, which has its own cancer research programme, said: “No payment was made by the university [specifically for the advert which ran next to the fake cure video] and we have contacted Google to ensure that placement does not happen again.”

The University of Gloucestershire said: “When advertising on YouTube, content changes quickly and even the most attentive human and technological effort can require constant diligence. As such we are continuously working with Google to ensure this type of placement doesn’t occur again.”

How does YouTube decide what adverts you see?

Adverts on YouTube can be targeted to particular regions or audiences. The systems that determine which ad to show to which person at which time are complicated, explains Tim Schmoyer, founder of the YouTube consultancy Video Creators.

“YouTube optimizes the experience to show the right ads to the right people at the right time in order to minimize abandonment from the platform and provide most value to the advertiser, creator, and to themselves, of course,” he says.

YouTube also has the power to “demonetise” certain channels – in other words, to prevent video makers from making any revenue from advertising.

The site has made moves to demonetise channels which spreading anti-vaccine misinformation, for example.

Demonitising may prevent video makers from making money, but it does not necessarily prevent their videos from going viral, according to McAweeney from Data & Society, who says that says “no evidence shows that demonetising solves the issue of audience size and reach”.

“There are many motivations behind spreading health misinformation and disinformation, money is only one among them,” she says. “In most cases, getting attention and views on a video is more valuable for these actors than the money it generates.”

The BBC passed on details of the fake cure videos to YouTube, and contacted the creators of five of them.

One Russian YouTuber, Tatyana Efimova, who advocated the baking soda “cure”, made clear in her video that she is not a doctor. She said that she was telling a personal story of someone she knew and that it is up to viewers to decide whether to take baking soda or not. After being contacted by the BBC she removed the video and said: “It is not that important for me.”

Elizeu Correia, a Brazilian YouTuber, said his video claiming that bitter gourd tea can fight tumours “is not about a dangerous or poisonous tea”. He then made the video private, so it is not available to view to the general public.

Shunyakal, a Hindi-language media organisation, didn’t respond directly to the BBC’s request for comment, but their video about a non-medical cancer treatment centre was removed from their public channel after we contacted them. Before its removal, it had been viewed more than 1.4 million times.

The BBC also contacted Khawla Aissane, who promoted donkey’s milk as a cure, but she didn’t respond.

YouTube declined a request for an interview. In a statement the company said: “Misinformation is a difficult challenge, and we have taken a number of steps to address this including showing more authoritative content on medical issues, showing information panels with credible sources, and removing ads from videos that promote harmful health claims.

“Our systems are not perfect but we’re constantly making improvements, and we remain committed to progress in this space.”

Health community

Some YouTube videos found in the BBC’s research included caveats about the need to seek professional medical advice, but many promoted their cures as an alternative to conventional cancer treatments.

“Some of the things on YouTube and the internet are really, positively dangerous, and it’s unfiltered,” commented Prof Justin Stebbing, a leading cancer specialist at Imperial College London.

Experts also pointed to the perils of a user-generated site like YouTube, where video producers and the people within the company making decisions about content in many cases do not have a medical background.

“We are asking corporations with people who are not experts in healthcare and public health to make those judgements on behalf of all citizens,” says Isaac Chun-Hai Fung, an associate professor of epidemiology at Georgia Southern University.

Dr Fung and his students researched health information in English on YouTube. They found that regardless of the topic, the majority of the 100 most popular YouTube videos were uploaded by amateurs – people who are not healthcare or science professionals.

Part of the solution, he says, is for professionals to create more content.

“There should be high-quality education videos in multiple languages for non-professionals. Healthcare professionals should work with media professionals. I don’t think there’s enough investment in that.”

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British Airways has started emailing passengers to cancel flights two weeks ahead of another strike by pilots.

The industrial action on 27 September is expected to affect hundreds of flights and tens of thousands of passengers.

The dispute is over a pay-rise which pilots say is not high enough.

Pilots staged a 48-hour walkout earlier this week, forcing nearly 200,000 passengers to change their travel plans.

A spokeswoman for BA said the decision had been made “to give customers as much certainty as possible”. Passengers were being offered a full refund or to rebook on an alternative date or airline.

“We are very sorry that Balpa’s actions will affect thousands more travel plans,” she said. “We urge them to call off their strike and return to negotiations.”

The airline had previously estimated the strike would cost it £40m a day.

Balpa called the decision to cancel flights “irresponsible and inconsiderate to its customers” and said it was a strategy designed to save the airline money.

By giving passengers two weeks’ notice, the airline avoids having to pay compensation.

Balpa said it had set the second strike period at the later date to allow time for negotiations to take place, but that BA had not responded to its latest proposals.

The union said it had given BA “multiple opportunities” to work with them to avoid the strike.

British Airways (BA) has offered pilots a pay rise of 11.5% over three years, which it says would boost the pay of some captains to £200,000.

However, Balpa says many of its members earn much less than that, with new pilots starting on less than £30,000.

When BA cancelled flights a fortnight ahead of the two-day strike earlier this week, it mistakenly cancelled extra flights as well.

The airline was forced to draft in extra customer relations staff over the August bank holiday weekend to deal with hundreds of thousands of phone calls and messages, after customers found they could not get through to change their flights.

Google is to pay French authorities almost €1bn (£900m) to end a long-running investigation into its taxes.

The settlement includes a €500m fine and additional taxes of €465m, but it is less than the tax bill authorities had accused Google of evading.

It rounds off a four year investigation that saw authorities raid Google’s Paris headquarters in 2016.

Investigators said Google owed about €1.6bn in unpaid taxes amid a wider crackdown on tax planning of big firms.

French authorities had been seeking to establish whether Google, which has its European headquarters in Dublin, failed to declare some of its activities in the country.

The search giant, which is part of Alphabet, pays little tax in most European countries because it reports almost all of its sales in Ireland.

It is able to do that thanks to a loophole in international tax law. However, that loophole hinges on staff in Dublin concluding all sales contracts.

The agreement allows Google “to settle once for all these past disputes,” said Antonin Levy, one of the firm’s lawyers.

In March, the EU hit Google with a €1.5bn fine for blocking rival online search advertisers and last year the European Commission levelled a record €4.3bn fine against the firm over its Android mobile operating system.

In January, France fined Google €50m a breach of the EU’s data protection rules.

Sir Philip Green’s Topshop and Topman fashion chains suffered an almost £500m net loss last year, amid tumbling sales and a raft of one-off charges.

Its latest accounts showed a £498.5m loss for 2018, a sharp rise on the £15.6m loss in 2017.

The results also showed that sales fell 9% to £846.7m.

The figures lay bare the extent of the problems at parent company Arcadia, which recently had to strike a rescue deal to keep its retail empire afloat.

Arcadia, which also owns other High Street names including Miss Selfridge and Burton, is shutting 48 stores and cutting rents at other outlets.

Last week, Arcadia reported a smaller loss of £169.2m for 2018, suggesting some parts of Sir Philip’s empire are offsetting the poor performance of others.

However, despite the group’s restructuring, Arcadia warned last week that it may need fresh funding to support its business.

Topshop was long the jewel in Arcadia’s crown. It became a trendsetter and attracted celebrity endorsements during the 2000s.

Kate Moss has twice worked with Sir Philip on Topshop lines, while Cara Delevingne, the model-turned-actress, became the face of the brand in 2014.

But like other traditional retailers, it has struggled with the rise of more nimble fast fashion players.

In terms of sales, most of the damage last year occurred in Topshop’s dominant UK business, where revenue fell by £83m.

However, it blamed most of its heavy losses on one-off charges, such as onerous shop leases on loss-making stores and writedowns on the value of assets. It also revealed a sharp fall in staff numbers, down 12% to 3,853.

There is increasing speculation that the Arcadia group could be broken up, in the hope new owners can resuscitate its brands.

Before agreeing the most recent shop closures, Arcadia had closed 200 of its UK stores over the preceding three years.

Drug-making giant Purdue Pharma has reportedly reached a tentative multi-billion dollar agreement in the US to settle a host of lawsuits against it.

The firm owned by the billionaire Sackler family is accused of helping fuel the US opioid crisis through drugs like painkiller OxyContin.

The deal would remove Purdue from the first federal trial over the opioids crisis, set to open in Ohio in October.

But the company could still face legal battles with states not in the deal.

Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Wisconsin are among those states saying they are not party to the agreement, the Associated Press reports.

The reported settlement is expected to be the largest ever paid out by an opioid manufacturer.

What is in the deal?

Purdue Pharma has been in negotiation to settle a case brought against it by more than 2,000 plaintiffs – including half the states, local governments and Native American tribes.

US media report the deal would involve the Sacklers exiting the company before it would file for bankruptcy, dissolve and reform.

Profits from the business would then be directed to pay plaintiffs an amount – thought to be around $10bn-12bn (£8bn-10bn) – as well as donating drugs for addiction and overdose recovery, multiple reports say.

The Sackler family are expected to directly contribute at least $3bn of their own personal fortune to the deal, according to the reports.

The tentative agreement is thought to have the support of 23 states and about 2,000 local governments – but falls short of the national settlement Purdue had been seeking, according to the Washington Post newspaper.

A number of state attorney generals have publicly pledged to continue their legal fight against the firm.

“This apparent settlement is a slap in the face to everyone who has had to bury a loved one due to this family’s destruction and greed,” said Josh Shapiro, Pennsylvania’s top lawyer.

“It allows the Sackler family to walk away billionaires and admit no wrongdoing.”

What is the opioid crisis?

Opioids are a group of drugs that range from codeine to illegal drugs like heroin. Prescription opioids are primarily used for pain relief but can be highly addictive.

On average, 130 Americans die from an opioid overdose every day, according to the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention, which says more than 200,000 Americans have died from opioid-related overdoses in the last two decades.

Purdue is one of the opioid makers, distributors and pharmacies named in more than 2,000 lawsuits represented in the federal trial scheduled to begin in Ohio next month.

The cases allege the companies are responsible for fuelling an opioid addiction crisis in the US.

Firms including Purdue are accused of using deceptive practices to sell opioids including downplaying their addictive quality.

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Purdue argued the US regulator, the Food and Drug Administration, had approved labels for OxyContin that had warnings about the risks.

In a separate case, Drugmaker Johnson & Johnson was ordered by a US judge to pay $572m for its part in fuelling Oklahoma’s opioid addiction crisis last month. Purdue had already settled with the state for $270m earlier this year.

Who are the Sackler family?

Brothers Arthur, Mortimer, and Raymond Sackler were all doctors from Brooklyn, New York, who in the early 1950s bought a medicine company called Purdue Frederick which would become Purdue Pharma.

Today, the Sacklers’ fortune is estimated at about $13bn. The family are prolific philanthropists and their name adorns a wing of the cultural buildings around the world – including the Louvre in Paris.

As the opioid scandal has engulfed the family, a number of high-profile museums – including the Tate in the UK – have announced they will no longer take money from the family.

The Sacklers have argued they were passive board members of Purdue Pharma, who approved routine management requests and were not involved with the marketing of OxyContin.

Women have been hardest hit by the wave of job losses that has swept the retail industry since 2011, a study from the Royal Society of the Arts has found.

Of the 108,000 retail jobs lost to automation and ecommerce, 70% were among female employees, it found.

The think tank also said that regions outside London were disproportionately affected by the retail downturn.

The RSA said new jobs could be created, however, if retailers offered more “experiential” shopping.

“Our research shows that the economic pain that comes with the decline of the High Street is not being felt evenly,” said Fabian Wallace-Stephens, one of the report’s authors.

The UK’s High Streets have come under pressure from the rise of online shopping, high business rates in some parts of the country, and the squeeze on incomes during the years since the financial crisis.

The pace of shop closures rose in the first half of 2019, with about 16 shops closing every day.

However the North East and East Midlands saw an 11% drop in the retail workforce, while London had a 16% increase, according to the RSA’s report.

The RSA’s study covered the years from 2011 to 2018, and found that 40,000 new warehouse and distribution jobs had been created by online retailers, but three quarters of those roles had been taken by men.

“As ever more people are shopping online, and businesses are introducing automated technology like self-service checkouts, this is changing the types of jobs available,” said Fabian Wallace-Stephens, one of the report authors.

“Women are being hit particularly hard, with jobs growth being contained to roles usually filled by men such as delivery drivers.

However, the High Street’s decline could be reversed if retailers began offering more exciting in-store experiences, and customer service staff became more like “in-store influencers” he argued.

An in-store “influencer” would provide a mixture of concierge and stylist roles at some retailers, or shop-floor workers in supermarkets providing nutrition or cooking demonstrations, said report co-author Alan Lockey.

The RSA report also gave the example of the Lego store in Beijing, which it said felt like one of the Danish toy giant’s theme parks.

“Many of these experiences cleverly utilise new technologies such as virtual reality to immerse customers in a world made of Lego, or to envisage what customers may look like as a Lego character,” the think tank said.

Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium, said it was disappointing that job losses in retail had fallen hardest on women and less affluent regions.

“If the government wishes to support less affluent regions, it should reform the broken business rate system which holds back investment in physical space, and widens regional disparities,” she said.

Sophie Walker, chief executive of Young Women’s Trust, said young women were losing out after being “encouraged into the sector by sexist career advice and the need to find work that fits around the caring responsibilities they disproportionately shoulder”.

Around one million young women are trapped in positions of no pay or low pay, she said.

High Streets minister Jake Berry said the government was tackling the challenges facing the High Streets including putting £1bn into a Future High Streets Fund.

“We’ve slashed business rates by a third for many retailers – worth an estimated £1 billion – bringing the total amount of business rate support to over £13 billion and ensuring our High Streets are fit for the future,” the minister said.