What does 2011 have in store?

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For what will 2011 be remembered? What are going to be the year's most important themes and stories? Here some experts give their considered predictions...

Security and foreign policy

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The threat posed by al-Qaeda 'is not going to go away in 2011'

Afghanistan, al-Qaeda and cyber-terrorism will be the main threats to the UK in 2011, says Paul Cornish, head of international security policy at the Chatham House foreign affairs think tank.

And while the first two have been centre-stage since 9/11, we can expect to be discussing the cyber-threat a lot more in the months ahead.

Mr Cornish says: "Cyber operations are deniable - it can be a lone hacker, a terrorist group or even a state who is responsible but it is very difficult to pin down who is doing it, how they are doing it, and how to fight back or pre-empt it."

He warns organisations are "very vulnerable to vigilante-style cyber-attacks" such as the ones recently on companies which refused to do business with Wikileaks.

'Enormous and never ending'

The virtual threat, of course, exists alongside the one posed by al-Qaeda and its affiliates.

"That threat is not going to go away in 2011," says Mr Cornish, but he adds that security services are working flat out, identifying operations. "It is an enormous and never-ending task."

He says that for terrorists to successfully carry out a 'big ticket' operation, such as a nuclear or chemical attack, they need to get lucky perhaps 25 times. "This creates opportunities for switched-on police and security services to catch them."

Mr Cornish says, on balance, that Afghanistan "is going reasonably well at the moment", in terms of meeting the ambition of handing over security responsibility to the Afghans by 2014.

He says he hopes progress would continue in 2011 so that "we can look at the wider regional picture" - meaning closely monitoring developments in Pakistan.


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Rising fares, overcrowded trains - not a happy return to work for commuters in the new year

Rising rail fares, cuts in bus services and an increasingly bumpy and expensive drive to and from work - hardly the most optimistic prediction for 2011 from the Campaign for Better Transport pressure group.

Campaigns director Richard Hebditch paints a bleak picture for the year ahead, not least for rail users: "We've already got above-inflation increases, and from 2012 it will get even worse, with fares rising by 3% on top of inflation."

In May, the government will set out its long-term vision for the railways, with speculation that there may be a return to pre-British Rail days in that train operating companies would take more responsibility for maintaining the signals, track and stations in their areas.

On the buses, Mr Hebditch says: "We are very worried that there will be big cuts in [non-profit making] services, especially in rural areas. At the moment these are subsidised by local authorities, but they are under threat because of councils' wider budgetary pressures."

The wider financial climate, he said, will tempt many councils into reducing road maintenance budgets.

Fuel duty will increase but there is speculation that as a concession to their coalition partners, the Tories may agree to Lib Dem demands for a lower rate for rural areas.


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Paradise cost: Long-haul exotic destinations will be more expensive to reach

Life for holiday-makers is likely to reflect the tough economic times we are still in, says Simon Calder, travel editor of The Independent.

He says governments around the world see tourists as relatively easy cash-cows ripe for milking: "There's also the bonus that international visitors don't vote, and therefore can't make their unhappiness felt at the ballot box."

A few examples of tourists being taxed more include:

  • A bed tax of two to three euros (£1.70 to £2.55) per night in Rome
  • A new 3.75% tax on just about everything tourists spend their money on will be introduced on 1 January in the Maldives
  • Kenya doubles its visa-on-arrival fee to $50 (£31.50) from the same day

Here in the UK, the recent rise in Air Passenger Duty, especially for longer-haul flights, makes destinations like Egypt seem less attractive on price grounds.

The pound has recovered from its low against the euro in 2009 when a pound barely bought you a single euro. But in mid-December it still only bought you around 1.20 euros, compared to 1.50 euros in 2007.

Those seeking a bargain all-inclusive deal may continue to head away from the euro-zone, with Mr Calder saying Turkey is an ideal destination.

'Harsh economic realities'

But Turkey still has a long way to go before it troubles Britons' traditional favourite. Mr Calder predicts Spain will easily keep its place as "by far the biggest package-holiday destination".

Everybody books their holiday hoping for a fantastic time, but what happens when things go wrong?

Harsh economic realities have forced a number of holiday providers to the wall over the last couple of years, and have highlighted some problems with the existing consumer protection laws, says Mr Calder.

He says: "The present Atol scheme was designed for a very different era, when no-one had heard of low-cost airlines etc. Everyone agrees that it's not fit for purpose - but no-one can agree what should replace it.

"I predict a messy compromise when the government finally reveals its plans."


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An 80s throwback: shoulder pads will be back with a vengeance in 2011

Women with an hourglass figure who love the 1980s will be in luck during the spring and summer.

Shoulder pads will make a major return to the High Street, predicts fashion guru Julian Bennett, as will skin-tones, pale colours and "flowing, asymmetrical lines".

Tops will be fitted and bottoms will be flowing, he says, while a perfect summer's day outfit will be a floral-patterned maxi dress with wedges or Grecian sandals.

Come next autumn and winter, flat-heeled boots will still be a staple item for many, and the 2011 Christmas party season will see a return of the little black dress.

For men, dark denim and checked shirts will be very popular, the former Queer Eye For The Straight Guy presenter predicts.

During the summer, he says: "The Abercrombie-look will be very tired, so it'll be more Ralph Lauren... checked print tennis-style shorts rather than army shorts, and proper shirts rather than T-shirts."

And it seems Premier League footballers are ahead of the fashion curve. "Next winter, woollen snoods will be big, as will thick woolly jumpers," he adds.


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You'll soon see consumers scanning barcodes in shops to see whether they are offering the best price

Our relationship with technology may help us cope with the difficult economic times, says Tamar Kasriel, founder of Futureal consumer trends consultants.

She says that the real impact of the spending cuts will only be seen in 2011, for example when your local playground closes down, but people will respond as consumers by becoming even savvier.

"We're going to see a lot more location-specific interaction between retailers and consumers, and it's going to have a real impact on the way we shop."

Examples include mobile phone apps which can offer discounted deals at retailers in your vicinity, and apps which allow you to scan the barcode of any product and then tells you the cheapest stockist.

Ms Kasriel says: "The majority of us haven't done this yet, but by this time next year you could imagine that there will be a name coined for somebody who scans barcodes in one shop to see if it is cheaper elsewhere."

Retailers will respond, she thinks, by adopting "pricing 2.0". Simply put, this means they will be moving towards tailoring their pricing to each consumer.

Fran Walton, director of The Futures Company, agrees that brands will need to work harder to retain customer loyalty.


Examples include banks sending text messages to customers nearing their overdraft limit, and food manufacturers sending recipes.

She says: "While we used to be a cash-rich, time-poor society, this is no longer the case, hence the increasing number of people who cook from scratch as opposed to buying ready-meals.

"Consumers want more control, and are willing to spend time searching for the best offers."

So there are good deals for those who spend time looking for them. But do we really have the time or the inclination to spend our whole lives online?

Partly as a backlash, Ms Kasriel predicts "techno yoyo" will become a well-known term for people who have a real love-hate relationship with technology.

She says she would not be surprised if there were be calls for areas to be set up where people cannot connect or go online. "People will be voicing more fears about what technology is doing to us as people, and to our brains," she said.

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