Business confidence surges and private sector output is up again.

Business confidence has surged in the past month while private sector output in the north west has increased for the sixth month in a row, two reports showed today.

The latest Business Trends report by accountants BDO showed the highest level of optimism for nine months and the biggest single monthly increase since December 2009.

BDO said the findings showed confidence was especially marked in the services sector while it also jumped among manufacturers.

February saw an easing of inflationary pressures but today’s report warned a hike in oil prices to an all-time high of 125 US dollars a barrel and the continuing crisis in the eurozone could yet derail the UK’s economic recovery.

Jeff Jones, head of BDO’s Manchester office, said: “It is encouraging to see business confidence improving considerably in the first few months of the year.

“It has been a tough few years for business but the north west has shown real tenacity. The services and manufacturing sectors in particular have had to be flexible and innovative, concentrating on core activities while sourcing new opportunities in emerging markets.”

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Jeremy Paxman on Gordon of Khartoum: so laughably inaccurate that I thought I must be hearing things

A little learning can be a stressful thing if you have to watch Jeremy Paxman expounding on a subject you know a bit about. Last night, his new BBC One programme covered the British Empire and Sudan.

Well, I’ve been to Sudan a few times and I happen to have an interest in the country’s history. Paxman’s version of the story of General Gordon in Khartoum was so laughably inaccurate that I thought I must be hearing things. I had to watch again on BBC iPlayer to check that my ears hadn’t been playing tricks.

In a few minutes of television, Paxman managed to misunderstand every stage of the tale. So here goes:

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David Cameron in Washington: keeping the UK-US relationship special, but not too special

There will be much talk over the next couple of days, at least on our side, about the state of Britain’s “special relationship” with America, with David Cameron touching down later today at Andrews Air Force Base for a three-day visit to the US with his foreign secretary and Chancellor in tow.

As always, the question of just how “special” is the relationship hangs over the visit?

Perhaps there is a nod to the new global ground realities created by a rising Asia in the title of an article jointly penned by the Prime Minister and the President in this morning’s Washington Post which re-brands the relationship for modern times “an essential relationship”.

We Brits could take umbrage at the use of that indefinite article – so, no longer “the” special relationship, but merely “an” essential one, but in truth, there can be no point in denying that the world has moved on since 1945.

Their article makes the obligatory nod to Winston Churchill, as well as more recent joint engagements in Libya, without getting so gushing about what Britain and America can achieve together as to stretch credulity.

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Barack Obama’s warm welcome for David Cameron signals revival of ‘special relationship’

The president and Prime Minister will say that the “essential relationship” is a “partnership of the heart”, as Mr Cameron flies to America for a three-day visit.

Official talks are likely to focus on the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, with a handover to Afghan troops now expected as soon as mid-2013.

Mr Cameron will today become the first foreign leader to accompany Mr Obama on board Air Force One, the official presidential aeroplane.

The pair will attend the finals of the college basketball season in Ohio, and the reception being offered to Mr Cameron is being taken as a sign that the “special relationship” has been restored.

In a joint article for today’s Washington Post newspaper, the two leaders pay tribute to Sir Winston Churchill, before writing: “The alliance between the United States and Great Britain is a partnership of the heart, bound by the history, traditions and values we share.

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Syria: Bashar al-Assad calls parliamentary election on May 7

The announcement came as UN-Arab League peace envoy Kofi Annan said he was expecting a response from Assad on Tuesday to “concrete proposals” to halt Syria’s bloodshed and Russia stepped in with a proposal for international observers.

State news agency SANA said Assad, who has proposed a programme of reforms in the face of an unprecedented revolt, has set May 7 as the date for legislative elections under a new constitution passed in a February referendum.

The elections would be the third time a legislative vote has taken place in Syria since Assad came to power in 2000, but the first under a multiparty system as authorised under the new law.

Human Rights Watch said on Tuesday that Syria has planted landmines near its borders with both countries, along routes used by refugees fleeing the country.

“The Syrian regime is trying to prevent people from going in and from fleeing the country,” said Nadim Houry, deputy director of the group’s Middle East and North Africa division.

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Jobs, the BBC and the Socialist Workers Party

Hands up all those who actually know someone in the

Socialist Workers’ Party.

Hmm, just as I thought.

Now hands up all those who think the Socialist Workers’ Party plays a significant role in British public life.

Exactly. The SWP is a marginal, far-left revolutionary grouping of placard-toting obsessives and droning Marxist bores which until very recently had zero public impact except in the context of raucous and occasionally violent demonstrations.

Yet astonishingly, it has all but derailed a key government policy designed to bring jobless youngsters back into the workplace.

This scheme targets 16 to 24-year-olds who have been unemployed for three to nine months, and gives them a work experience placement lasting between two and eight weeks to make them more attractive to employers.

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