Virgin Money sold for £1.7bn

Wikimedia

(qlmbusinessnews.com via bbc.co.uk – – Mon, 18 June 2018) London, Uk – –

The owner of Clydesdale Bank and Yorkshire Bank, CYBG, has agreed to buy Virgin Money for £1.7bn.

Under the deal, all the group's retail customers will be moved to Virgin Money over the next three years.

It will be the UK's sixth-largest bank, with about six million customers, but 1,500 jobs are likely to go.

CYBG said it had agreed with Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Group to license the Virgin Money brand for £12m a year, rising to £15m later.

Virgin Group is Virgin Money's biggest shareholder with a 34.8% stake in the business.

Under the terms of the deal, Virgin Money shareholders will get 1.2125 new CYBG shares for every Virgin Money share they hold, and will end up owning about 38% of the combined business.

CYBG said the combined group would have about 9,500 employees, but it intended to reduce that total by about one-sixth, suggesting about 1,500 jobs would go.

It said some of those job losses would be achieved “via natural attrition”.

Virgin Money, which was founded in 1995, expanded its business in 2011 when it bought the remnants of Northern Rock for about £747m.

Analysis:
By Kevin Peachey, personal finance reporter

Nimbleness and the ability to attract customers through new technology have been seen as challenger banks' main attributes.

That is why the Open Banking scheme – opening traditional accounts to specialist services from smaller players – appeared to be a potential game changer for fintechs and banking upstarts.

But the TSB fiasco may well have damaged consumer confidence in these companies being able to provide more customer-friendly tech than the big banks.

With this deal, the focus shifts to a more traditional form of competition – growing a business to a sufficient size to take on the incumbents at their own game.

Key figures

CYBG

2.8 million customers
169 branches
£2.6bn market capitalisation
Virgin Money

3.3 million customers
74 branches
£1.5bn market capitalisation

Competitor of scale'
CYBG said the takeover would “bring together the complementary strengths of two successful challenger banks to create the UK's first true national competitor to the large incumbent banks”.

Its chief executive, David Duffy, told the BBC's Today programme: “We're going to become a competitor of scale.”

He added that “technology and agility” were the factors that would decide the future of banking.

“I think we have sufficient scale – the brands, the product and the technology,” he said.

“We can be agile enough to deliver a much better deal for the customer.”

Mr Duffy will retain his current position in the combined group, as will CYBG chairman Jim Pettigrew.

Virgin Money chief executive Jayne-Anne Gadhia has agreed in principle to stay on as a consultant for a limited time after the deal goes through.

 

 

Uk city leaders plan to bring forward ban on new petrol and diesel cars by 10 years

Wikimedia/ Mayor of London Sidiq Khan

(qlmbusinessnews.com via uk.reuters.com — Mon, 18 June 2018) London, UK —

LONDON (Reuters) – London Mayor Sadiq Khan and other city leaders from across Britain said on Monday a government plan to ban the sale of new diesel and petrol cars should be brought forward by 10 years to 2030, in the latest push to improve air quality.

Prime Minister Theresa May’s Conservative government said last year it would ban the sale of new petrol and diesel cars from 2040 although it is unclear whether that includes hybrid vehicles, which have both an electric and combustion engine.

The government is due to detail the proposals in a “Road to Zero” plan shortly, but on Monday, Khan joined mayors and city leaders from Manchester, Liverpool, Oxford, Sheffield and Bristol to call for the measures to be implemented quicker.

“Banning the sale of new petrol and diesel vehicles by 2030, providing support to deliver Clean Air Zones in cities and introducing a national vehicle renewal scheme will dramatically improve our air quality and our health,” said Khan, who is from the opposition Labour Party.

Cities and nations around the world are introducing restrictions or bans on the use of vehicles
powered by combustion engines in the years ahead to cut high levels of pollution.

Carmakers have argued that cleaner diesel models play a part in bringing down overall carbon dioxide emissions but demand for the segment has nosedived in much of Europe for over a year as many authorities plan clampdowns and tax hikes.

 

 

The Worlds Luxury Trains Designed Specifically With Elegance in Mind

 

Luxury trains are special trains designed specifically to offer an elegant train ride, and evoke a strong sense of association as in history, heritage and decadence of a leisurely ride. Luxury trains operate in several countries and offer a luxurious and comfortable traveling option to luxury travelers. Whereas some luxury trains like the Orient Express promote tourism in major destinations of an entire continent other trains take guests on a long leisure ride, cutting across state borders but limited to one specific country.

Nowadays there is an increase in the trend of luxury train travel around the world. Luxury train travel proponents assert that it has several advantages over travel on airplanes. Whereas during air travel the monotony of the journey is occasionally broken by the view of clouds through the plane's window, a winding luxury ride on board the trains provides ample opportunity to the guests to witness the local environment, social and economic conditions, and myriad colours of the places they are traveling to. There are a number of reasons for the growing popularity of the luxury trains over air travel, which includes ample space, restaurants and bars, spacious and comfortable sleeping and seating area and even wash/bath rooms. Since the time of introduction of Pioneer in 1864 by American industrialist George Mortimer Pullman,[1] luxury train travel has come a long way.

 

Sotheby’s own in-house fraud-busting expert: The world’s top art forgery detective

(qlmbusinessnews.com via theguardian.com – – Sat, 16 June 2018) London, Uk – –

Forgeries have got so good – and so costly – that Sotheby’s has brought in its own in-house fraud-busting expert.

The unravelling of a string of shocking old master forgeries began in the winter of 2015, when French police appeared at a gallery in Aix-en-Provence and seized a painting from display. Venus, by the German Renaissance master Lucas Cranach the Elder, to describe the work more fully: oil on oak, 38cm by 25cm, and dated to 1531. Purchased in 2013 by the Prince of Liechtenstein for about £6m, Venus was the inescapable star of the exhibition of works from his collection; she glowed on the cover of the catalogue. But an anonymous tip to the police suggested she was, in fact, a modern fake – so they scooped her up and took her away.

The painting had been placed in the market by Giuliano Ruffini, a French collector, and its seizure hoisted the first flag of concern about a wave of impeccable fakes. Ruffini has sold at least 25 works, their sale values totalling about £179m, and doubts now shadow every one of these paintings. The authenticity of four, in particular, including the Cranach, has been contested; the art historian Bendor Grosvenor said they may turn out to be “the best old master fakes the world has ever seen.” Ruffini, who remains the subject of a French police investigation, has denied presenting these paintings as old masters at all. To the Art Newspaper, he protested: “I am a collector, not an expert.”

 

 

The quality of these paintings – their faithful duplicity – jolted the market. The sums of money at stake in art, never paltry to begin with, have grown monstrous. Thirty years ago, the highest auction price for a painting was $10.4m, paid by the J Paul Getty Museum for Andrea Mantegna’s Adoration of the Magi in 1985. In contrast, while the $450m paid for Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi in 2017 counts as an outlier, abstract expressionists and impressionists frequently come, in auctions or private deals, with nine-figure price tags.

In lockstep, the incentive to be a proficient forger has soared; a single, expertly executed old master knockoff can finance a long, comfortable retirement. The technologies available to abet the aspiring forger have also improved. Naturally, then, the frauds are getting better, touching off a crisis of authentication for the institutions of the art world: the museums and galleries and auction houses and experts who are expected to know the real thing from its imitation.

What was most unnerving about the alleged fakes sold by Ruffini was how many people they fooled. The National Gallery in London displayed a small oil painting thought to be by the 16th-century artist Orazio Gentileschi – a battle-weary David, painted on an electric-blue slice of lapis lazuli; the work is now suspect. A portrait of a nobleman against a muddy background was sold by Sotheby’s in 2011, to a private collector, as a Frans Hals; the buyer paid £8.5m. Sotheby’s also sold an oil named Saint Jerome, attributed to the 16th-century artist Parmigianino, in a 2012 auction, for $842,500. With care, the catalogue only ventured that the work was from the “circle of” Parmigianino– an idiom to convey that it was painted by an artist influenced by, and perhaps a pupil of, Parmigianino. But the entry also cited several experts who believed it was by Parmigianino himself.

The works were full of striking, scrupulous detail. On Jerome’s arm, for example, dozens of faint horizontal cracks have appeared; every so often, a clean, vertical split intersects them. In French canvases from the 18th century, cracks in paint tend to develop like spider webs; in Flemish panels, like tree bark. In Italian paintings of the Renaissance, the patterns resemble rows of untidy brickwork. On the Saint Jerome, the cracks match perfectly. Prof David Ekserdjian, one of the few art historians who doubted that the painting was a Parmigianino, said he just didn’t feel the prickle of recognition that scholars claim as their gift: the intimacy with an artist that they liken to our ability to spot a friend in a crowd. “But I have to be frank, I didn’t look at it and say: ‘Oh, that’s a forgery.’”

When Sotheby’s sells an artwork, it offers a five-year guarantee of refund if the object proves to be a counterfeit – “a modern forgery intended to deceive”, as its terms specify. In 2016, after uncertainty crackled over the Hals and the Parmigianino, the auction-house sent them to Orion Analytical, a conservation science lab in Williamstown, Massachusetts. Orion was run, and staffed almost solely by, James Martin, who has loaned his forensic skills to the FBI for many art forgery investigations. Within days, Martin had an answer for Sotheby’s: both the Hals and the Parmigianino were fakes.

The “Hals” contained synthetic pigments that the artist, in the 17th century, could not have used. In Saint Jerome, similarly, Martin found phthalocyanine green, a pigment first synthesised four centuries after Parmigianino died. It showed up consistently across 21 paint samples from various parts of the painting – “a bit like taking the pulse of a corpse 21 times,” Martin told the New York Times last year. Sotheby’s refunded both buyers, and filed suits against the sellers, demanding they return their proceeds from the sales.

In December 2016, in a signal of how attribution scandals have spooked the market, Sotheby’s took the unprecedented step of buying Orion Analytical, becoming the first auctioneer to have an in-house conservation and analysis unit. The company had seen enough disputes over attribution to mar its bottom line, its CEO, Tad Smith, said: “If you looked at earnings reports from a year or two ago, you’d see little blips here and there. These were expenses coming from settlements – not a slew, the number was small and statistically insignificant, but they’re expensive.” The cost of insurance that covers such settlements was also rising. With Martin in the building, “the pictures and other objects moving through Sotheby’s now have a much higher chance of being checked”, Smith said. Last year, Martin analysed more than $100m worth of artworks before they went under the hammer or into private sales. Sotheby’s employs him, in part, as a conservator, so he ministers to the health of the paintings and sculptures that pass through. But over the past two decades, Martin has also become the art world’s foremost forensic art detective. He has worked so many forgery cases with such success that he also serves Sotheby’s as a line of fortification against the swells of duff art lapping into the market.

The first major painting sold by Sotheby’s was also a Hals – a real one: Man in Black, a half-length portrait of a hatted gent. Until 1913, Sotheby’s had dealt in books for a century or thereabouts; art made up only a wan side business. In that year, though, a Sotheby’s partner found a Hals consigned to the firm, and rather than forwarding it to Christie’s, as was often the practice, decided to auction it. After a spirited contest of bids, Man in Black sold for £9,000 – a 26% rate of return per annum since Christie’s had last auctioned the work, in 1885, for around £5. It was the first signal, for Sotheby’s, that there was profit to be mined from paintings. Last year, it sold $5.5bn worth of art, jewellery and real estate.

For Sotheby’s, the question of authenticity is not merely, or even primarily, academic. There is more at stake than a satisfying answer to the fundamental conundrum of whether authenticity matters at all – a debate that has been fought and refought in the history of western art. “If a fake is so expert that even after the most thorough and trustworthy examination its authenticity is still open to doubt,” the critic Aline Saarinen once wondered, “is it or is it not as satisfactory a work of art as if it were unequivocally genuine?” Typically, this debate comes to rest at the same place every time. Of course authenticity matters; to study a false Rembrandt as a true one would be to hobble our understanding of Rembrandt as an artist, and of the evolution of art. Now, however, the question’s philosophical whimsy has been replaced by financial urgency. At a time when the art market is synonymous with art itself, a lack of regard for attribution would derail a trade that traffics in the scarcity of authentic Rembrandts.

Leaving straight forgeries aside, any discussion about the “authenticity” of an artwork opens suddenly, like a trapdoor, into the murk of semantics. On the sliding scale of attribution that art historians use – painted by; hand of; studio of; circle of; style of; copy of – each step takes the artist further from the painting. These variations, often subtle, are compounded by the unease about overpainting; Salvator Mundi had been worked over so many times and so heavily, critics argued, that it was less by Da Vinci than by his restorers. Deliberate fakes, misattributions and poor restorations all encroach into the realm of the authentic. In two decades at the Met in New York, Thomas Hoving, the museum’s director until 1977, must have examined at least 50,000 objects, he wrote in his book False Impressions. “I almost believe that there are as many bogus works as genuine ones.”

Like criminals of every stripe, modern forgers have kept easy pace with the techniques that attempt to trap them. The mismatch between the purported age of a painting and the true age of its ingredients is the workhorse of Martin’s technique. So forgers have grown more rigorous in their harvesting of materials, taking the trouble, for instance, to source wooden panels from furniture they know is dateable to the year of the fake they are creating. (The trick isn’t wholly new; Terenzio da Urbino, a 17th-century conman, scrabbled around for filthy old canvases and frames, cleaned them up, and turned them into “Raphaels”.) Forgers also test their own fakes to ensure they’ll pass. Wolfgang Beltracchi, a German artist who served three years in prison for forging paintings worth $45m, surveyed the chemical elements in his works by running them under X-ray fluorescence guns – the same handheld devices, resembling Star Trek phasers, that many art fairs now train upon their exhibits.

Georgina Adam, who wrote Dark Side of the Boom, a book about the art market’s excesses, told me that many forgers are sensibly choosing to falsify 20th-century painters, who used paints and canvases that can still be obtained, and whose abstractions are easier to imitate. “The technical skill needed to forge a Leonardo is colossal, but with someone like Modigliani, it isn’t,” she said. “Now, scholars will say it’s easy to distinguish, but the fact is that it’s just not that easy at all.” In January, in a celebrated Modigliani exhibition in Genoa, 20 out of 21 paintings were revealed to be counterfeits.

As the tide of money in the market has risen, making decisions about authenticity has turned into a fraught venture. Collectors, realising how much they stand to lose, are now happy to take scholars and connoisseurs – traditionally the final authorities on the authenticity of a work – to court for their mistakes. Realising that their reputations, as well as their bank balances, may wilt under the heat,these experts have begun to subtract themselves from the game entirely.

The estates of several 20th-century artists had once taken on the duty of resolving doubts over attribution, setting up authentication committees, consisting of experts or the artist’s former colleagues or friends – people expected to know the work best. In 2007, a collector named Joe Simon-Whelan sued the Andy Warhol estate’s authentication committee, claiming it had twice rejected a Warhol silkscreen he owned because it wanted to maintain scarcity in the Warhol market. Four years later, after spending $7m in legal fees, the estate dissolved the committee. The authentication boards of other modern artists – Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring, Roy Lichtenstein, Alexander Calder – have followed. Individual connoisseurs – as the art world calls its experts – won’t always challenge popular identifications, wrote the critic Jerry Saltz in a scorching essay on the vertiginous price of Salvator Mundi. They are reluctant to “rock the already splintering institutional boat. As in the wider world, where people sit by for fear of losing position, it’s no wonder that many old master experts are keeping quiet, not saying much of anything.”

The collapse of these committees feels like a victory of the market over the academy, like a blow to the very cause of trustworthy authentication. (In New York, a small band of lawyers is lobbying for legislation that will protect scholars from being sued merely for expressing their opinion.) In this void of opinion, Martin’s abilities – premised not on the mysterious instincts of connoisseurship, but on the verifiable results of the scientific process – have an even higher valence.

 

 

Martin, a tall man with lumber-beam shoulders, has a voice that never surpasses a murmur. He is a consummate nerd; find someone who looks at you the way Martin looks at his Fourier-transform infrared microscope. He trained as a conservator of paintings, but now he assays them: picks out their chemical constituents, inspects pigments and binders, peers under their washes of colour. From a painting’s materials, he can extract the vital detail of when it could, or could not, have been created.

The field of scientific art conservation is not a crowded one; Martin, who set up the first for-profit art lab in the US, has been consulted in nearly every major fraud case in the past 25 years, often working alongside the FBI or other investigators. When he is described as the premier forensic detective working in art today, the accolade comes not only from people such as John Cahill, a New York lawyer who has managed dozens of art transactions, and who called Martin “hands-down the best in the business,” but also from those on the other side of the fence, so to speak. Beltracchi, the German forger, told me that, after his arrest, he had seen an assortment of technical studies collected by the police and the prosecution. He remembered Martin’s well. “His reports contained the most accurate results. His reports were factually neutral and without unrealistic guesses.” By folding Martin into its staff, Sotheby’s has given itself a muscular chance to stamp out problems of attribution before they flare into spectacular, expensive affairs. But it’s hard not to feel, at the same time, that it has cornered a precious resource, at a moment when the art world needs him most.

Martin spent much of last year setting up a new lab in what used to be a photo studio on the fifth floor of the Sotheby’s headquarters in Manhattan. Soon, he will also have a London facility, in the building where the Beatles once recorded A Taste of Honey for the BBC. The New York lab, one large room, is as white and aseptic as a dentist’s clinic. Many of the cabinets are still empty, and the desk surfaces often bear nothing apart from one red pack of Martin’s Dentyne Fire gum. Outside the lab, above the lead-lined double doors, is a warning light; if it’s on, so to is the giant x-ray fluorescence machine, and no one is allowed in.

One Friday in mid-February, the room held only two items of art. A carved wooden chair sat on a counter; on a stand was a painting that, for reasons of confidentiality, may be described here only as “a late-19th century American work”. When a painting checks into the lab, it is first submitted to a visual examination in bright, white light; then the lamp is moved to one side, so that the light rakes over the surface at an angle, showing up restored or altered areas. The canvas in Martin’s lab was at the next stage; it had been photographed under ultraviolet and infrared, and then under x-rays to discover some of the painting’s chemical elements.

On a computer, one of Martin’s two colleagues cycled through the images. Under infrared, the painting’s browns and yellows and greens turned into shades of grey, but no spectral underdrawings peered back out. (Not that underdrawings would have suggested anything about authenticity one way or another; they’d merely have been a further nugget of information to consider.) Mapped for lead by the x-ray fluorescence unit, the painting looked faded and streaked with dark rust; the streaks betrayed where restorers had perhaps applied touchups with modern, lead-free paint. Mapped for calcium, the painting showed yellow-green splashes where conservators had made repairs with a calcium carbonate filler.

Not every object needs to move beyond these non-invasive phases. (At Orion, Martin was once able to unmask a fake Modigliani after seeing, under infrared, a faint grid, which had been drawn by a forger who wanted to guide his work.) If Martin has to disturb the painting, he will place it under a stereo microscope and, squinting through the two eyepieces, pick out a grain of paint with a scalpel. He demonstrated with a sample of phthalocyanine blue, a synthetic pigment he picked out of a box that held paint cakes of different colours. Working with the same steady, cautious manner in which he speaks, he teased out a particle smaller than the width of a human hair, flattened it gently, then nudged it on to a slim, small rectangle of metal, where it was held in place between two tiny diamonds.

“You don’t drink a lot of coffee before you do this,” he said, grimacing.

The metal plate then goes into the Fourier-transform infrared microscope, like a slide. The spectrometer pumps infrared light through the flecks of pigment; a computer analyses the light’s behavior and returns a tidy spectrum graph. Martin has looked at so many of these spectra that he recognises on sight the patterns thrown up by different pigments, but even if he didn’t, the computer could rifle through databases of the spectrum patterns of other known chemicals, find the nearest match, and tell Martin what, in this case, he already knew: that his sample was phthalocyanine blue.

By a system of triage – sorting, for instance, for artists with a high incidence of being faked in the past, or for works accompanied by scientific analysis reports that are suspiciously long – only a small percentage of the tens of thousands of objects passing through Sotheby’s is diverted to the lab. Martin thinks of them as patients showing symptoms. Sometimes, like a doctor doing general checkups, he will tour the galleries at Sotheby’s just before a sale, reading every work with a handheld infrared camera. In the past year, his lab has stopped several lots from going to market, preventing possible disputes after the sale. In one case, a painting valued at $7m was removed from sale after the lab found that it had been completely and irretrievably overpainted by a restorer. “An appraiser would’ve said it’s worthless,” Martin said. “So it wasn’t sold.”

The arduous process of Martin’s work divorces art from its aesthetic. It reduces compositions of great prestige or high beauty to their very particles; it frees Martin up to think of art as pure matter. In this way, he comes closer to the artist than anyone has before, often becoming only the second person to think as intensely about the materiality of the object, about the chemical nature of its pigments or the physical properties of its canvas. The art he analyses derives its worth from unique, flashing inspiration. His own talent, if anything, has more in common with the forger. It lies in his capacity to be unflashy but diligent – to perform a step time after time without a slackening of attention, to never leave a molecule unturned, to never conclude more about a work than what it tells him about itself.

When Martin turned 13, his father gifted him a microscope, a chemistry kit, and art lessons – a splendid piece of foreshadowing. He used them all, but he was particularly attracted to art. The family lived in Baltimore, and whenever they visited Washington DC, Martin spent his time at the National Museum of Natural History, drawing the dioramas, while the others wandered the capital. His father worked in army intelligence. “As a child, I’m not sure I understood what he did. I do remember being in airports and trying to guess who was a spy,” Martin said. He devoured detective stories and loves them still, particularly Patricia Cornwell’s novels about Kay Scarpetta, the forensic pathologist. “We both examine patients that cannot speak their past,” he said.

In a universe a twist away from ours, Martin might have become a forger himself. Late in his teens, he joined an art school where students were taught how to grind their own pigments and stretch their own canvases. For practice, he set up an easel in the Baltimore Museum of Art and copied the works he liked; he grew so accomplished that once, as he was leaving with his copy of William Merritt Chase’s Broken Jug, the museum director spotted him and asked if he was returning the painting to storage.

“I was very good technically,” Martin said, “but like most art forgers, I didn’t have my own creative way of doing things.” He thought he’d become an illustrator of medical textbooks, but then heard about a conservation programme at the Winterthur Museum in Delaware. The portfolio he submitted included his copy of the Chase, as well as of other painters – all at such a high level of craft, said Richard Wolbers, who taught him at Winterthur, “that we were blown away”. He was such a good copyist, in fact, that he was almost rejected. “Later, I heard that the committee worried that if they trained me to be a conservator and taught me all the science, I’d be a natural forger.”

After Winterthur, Martin was hired by the Clark Art Institute, a museum in Williamstown, Massachusetts, to conserve paintings. A couple of years later, he set up the museum’s first conservation lab, filled with equipment that he bought or begged from chemistry departments in nearby universities. At the time, in 1990, the apparatus of analysis – the microscopes, the spectroscopes, the infrared cameras – was bulky, expensive and difficult to operate. Few museums had their own labs, Martin said. “The Guggenheim, the Brooklyn Museum, MoMA [Museum of Modern Art], the museums in San Francisco – none of them had the facilities.”

 

 

In getting to know a painting, conservators in these museums relied first on the tactility of their craft – “listening to the sound of the swab on the canvas”, Martin said, or “feeling the pull of the swab in the varnish”. Most conservation departments owned microscopes, some perhaps even x-ray machines. But if they needed some serious technology – Fourier-transform infrared microscopes, say, or scanning electron microscopes – they could turn only to the lab in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, or to those in universities. Even then, an expert was still needed to interpret the data. “Small museums really didn’t have any place to go. Some people took paintings to the vet to get them x-rayed.”

Martin’s lab began by assisting conservators who had no equipment of their own. “If someone was trying to get a varnish off a painting and didn’t want to damage it by using a solvent that was too strong, they’d send me a sample,” he said. “I’d tell them: ‘It’s polyurethane. You’re not going to get it off.’ Or: ‘It’s shellac. You need to use alcohol.’” A conservator wondering if the strange sky in a landscape was overpaint – paint applied by later restorers – could mail Martin a tiny cross-section tweezed out of the work, so that he could examine it under a microscope. “We’d see the layers in the cross-section: varnish, varnish, varnish, then blue sky, then more varnish, then more sky. So we’d establish that the topmost layer of blue was overpaint.”

In its materials, an artwork holds its biography, so inevitably, Martin became an arbiter of authenticity. Nearly all of the privately owned art labs in Europe and the US have been founded in the past decade – not coincidentally, around the time that the world’s multi-millionaires realised how hollow their lives had been without art. But in the 1990s, at Clark, and then again at Orion, which he founded in 2000, Martin was often the sole resource for collectors and merchants.

Some of his stories from these years have the baroque pulpiness of Elmore Leonard plots. Martin narrates these with care; he is alive to the sensational aspects of his work, but by default, he wears an air of studious detachment. There were the two questionable gentlemen from Tel Aviv, who slipped a pair of paintings out of architects’ tubes, shook them open as if they were rugs, and asked him to confirm that they were Modiglianis. (They weren’t.) There was the client who sent Martin to test a painting at an auction house, claiming he wished to bid on it, but then also had Martin stop by a warehouse to assess “a horrible copy” of the same painting. (Martin now thinks the client wanted to know how close the fake was to the genuine work.) There were the two ferocious dogs chained near the front door of a house in Los Angeles, guarding the stolen Chinese sculptures held within. There was the collector who offered to fly Martin to an undisclosed location, have him picked up by a security detail, and bring him in to examine an old Mexican stele, a stone carving supposedly worth $50m. The night before his flight, Martin was unable to sleep, so he Googled the collector and found that he had recently been released from federal prison after serving time on weapons charges.

Next morning, Martin called the collector and turned down the case.

“Oh,” the collector said. “Did you read about the murders?”

“No,” Martin said. “What murders?” The collector, it turned out, had once been implicated in the killings of two people over a matter of Mexican steles. Martin never got on that plane.

The FBI first came to Martin in 1994. A suspicious number of works ascribed to the 19th-century artist William Aiken Walker, who often painted black sharecroppers in the American south, were emerging in the market. “They’d sell at really small country auctions for $5,000 or $10,000 – so low that nobody would pay for analysis,” Martin said. From the paintings, Martin sampled a yellow pigment called PY3, which had been manufactured in Germany and was not available to American artists until the late 1940s, decades after Walker died. Walker also used lead white paint, Martin found; the forger used zinc white. A former vitamin salesman named Charles Heller was eventually indicted for a spree of counterfeiting, but he pleaded guilty to lesser charges and served one year in prison.

With even a little study, a con artist would know not to use zinc white; some forgers go on to become diligent researchers, accessing technical journals and case studies to learn what experts search for. Martin recalled a painting once referred to him, around 3.5 sq metres in size and dated to 1932. In a first round of study, he discovered nothing amiss. But the work’s provenance – its documented history of ownership – was shaky, so he ran a second pass under a microscope. For most of a day, he scanned the painting in dime-sized increments, until his eyes dried up. Was anything embedded in the paint: dust, or hair, or an insect wing? Did the dirt look as if it had been smeared on deliberately? Finally, embedded in a speckle of blue, he found a slim fibre; with a scalpel, he snipped it off and subjected it to infrared spectroscopy. The fibre turned out to be polypropylene. Perhaps someone had worn a polar fleece while painting the forgery?

 

 

For a while, Martin cited this example in a two-day course he taught. Last year, though, he read a translation of Faussaire (or Forger), a French novel written in 2015 and containing a wealth of sound wisdom for forgers. “If you want to get hold of antique lead,” one character advises another, for instance, “then you can just pick up bits of it from the old buildings in Rome.” The same character warns of the dangers from “microparticles from your clothes … You must always work in an old smock. Never nylon or a modern apron.” Martin is convinced the detail came from his anecdote; it was one reason he decided to stop teaching his course altogether.

As a crime, art forgery can seem trifling – less a sinister outrage than a half-complete Robin Hood jape that merely robs the rich. After Beltracchi’s arrest in 2010, the Frankfurter Allgemeine called art forgery “the most moral way to embezzle €16m”; Der Spiegel noted that, unlike crooked bankers, Beltracchi hadn’t swindled the common man. But the crime can have real victims, and Martin has met so many of them that he has developed a gentle bedside manner to break bad news. He has seen people who used the money set aside for their children’s education to buy a painting, only to find it to be fake. “So we aren’t just talking rich people. In some situations, it’s a person’s whole life.”

The inflation of the art market, and its attendant litigiousness, imposes fierce pressures upon anyone called to judge the authenticity of an artwork. Martin’s harshest experience of this came during the bitter legal battle over the fate of the Knoedler gallery. The Knoedler, once New York’s oldest gallery, closed in 2011, days after Martin issued a report concluding that a Jackson Pollock it had sold for $17m was fake.

The bogus Pollock was only the inauguration of a scandal. Over 15 years, Knoedler had sourced and sold 40 paintings ascribed to a range of leading modern artists: Willem de Kooning, Mark Rothko, Richard Diebenkorn and Robert Motherwell, among others, earning roughly $80m in the process. When the ambiguity of the works’ provenance raised needles of suspicion, 10 buyers sued Knoedler and its director, Ann Freedman; all but one of these lawsuits have been settled out of court. In 2013, investigators learned that the forgeries had been painted by a Chinese immigrant, who was by then 73 years old, in his garage in Queens, and placed with Knoedler by an art dealer who pleaded guilty. Knoedler’s executives claimed they had no knowledge of the fraud, and argued that scholars had verified the works before sale.

In at least four of the lawsuits, which carried on for years, the plaintiffs hired Martin to test the paintings they had purchased. He found them all to be forgeries. A purported Rothko from 1956, which sold for $8.3m, used a ground layer of white paint between the canvas and the oils; through that decade, though, Rothko had used a transparent ground layer. In an apparent Pollock, the artist seemed to have misspelled his own signature as “Pollok”. Further, in 16 Knoedler paintings he analysed, Martin found the same ground layer of white paint and other anachronistic pigments repeating themselves across the works of several artists, as if Motherwell, De Kooning and Rothko had all travelled forward in time, met in a bar, and swapped tubes of paint.

Eventually, Martin was proved right; when the FBI raided the Queens garage, it even found the tubs of white that had coated the canvas in the fake Rothko. But, until then, the trials were a torrid experience. Knoedler recruited experts to attack Martin in court. “They went after him with a vengeance, saying he’d soiled the evidence, accidentally or on purpose,” said the lawyer John Cahill, who represented some of Martin’s clients. Knoedler’s attorneys served six subpoenas on Martin, to extract more than 8,000 documents and emails related to the case. Instead of being an expert witness, he was forced to defend himself – the care and soundness of his methods, his very character – in court.

When Martin talks about the Knoedler trials, even the memory of the ordeal draws a look of horror on his face. “He’s a real boy scout, and his integrity means a lot to him, so he suffered,” Cahill said. It was an attempted impeachment of Martin’s whole career. “His entire power relies on being objective, on not being part of the party,” said Narayan Khandekar, who runs Harvard’s Straus Center for Conservation and Technical Studies. “He comes under a lot of pressure, because people have a lot of money at stake on the outcome of his analyses. But he’s been very, very brave to stand up and stay stolidly on track with what he does.”

Martin had always loved science for its ability to guide him in pursuit of truth, and he felt a deep distress when his objective facts were countered with dirty tricks and personal vilification. In 2016, after his clients settled with Knoedler, Martin found it difficult to return to work. He wanted to never have to provide expert testimony again, and to go away to paint for a while; he’d already primed a set of boards.

“It was surreal, what happened to me,” he said. “No scientist should have to go to through this.” When, later that year, negotiations began for Sotheby’s to buy Orion, Martin was ready to be cocooned within a larger institution. He’d rather probe works before they hit the market, he decided, than go through the acrimonious aftermath of a sale even once more. Above his desk in Sotheby’s, Martin keeps pinned a pair of sketches of himself from his time in the Knoedler courtroom, as if to remind himself of what he has gratefully left behind.

In conversation, Martin uses many homespun metaphors, but his favourite is that of the three-legged stool. Deciding the authorship of artworks, he says, relies on connoisseurship, technical analysis and provenance. He values the opinions of connoisseurs, considers them complementary to his own skills; his tests can definitively reveal if a painting is not by Da Vinci or Modigliani, but they are unable to affirm authorship, except in rare cases.

Science has a habit, though, of showing up the sagacity of scholars. In a 1932 trial in Berlin – the first in which a forensic exam was used to scrutinise art – two connoisseurs squabbled about the authenticity of a set of 33 canvases, all purportedly by Vincent van Gogh, all sold by an art dealer named Otto Wacker. It took a chemist, Martin de Wild, to trace resins in the paint that Van Gogh had never used, and to prove the paintings fake. Since then, the science has improved, even as human judgment has remained the same, vulnerable to the potential thrill of discovering new work, and to market pressures. During the Knoedler trial, Cahill remembered, one expert admitted that he couldn’t tell one Rothko canvas from another, or indeed whether a Rothko had been hung upside-down or right side up.

 

In any case, however fond he is of the three-legged stool, Martin may have to think soon of a different item of furniture. The humanities are in decline everywhere; in England, the last art history A-level was cut in 2016. The populace of connoisseurs is thinning out. “In British art now, for a major artist like George Stubbs, there’s no recognised figure that we can all go to and say: ‘Is this by George Stubbs or not?’ Because various specialists have died recently, and there’s no one to replace them,” Bendor Grosvenor, the art historian, said. Meanwhile, researchers at Rutgers University have developed an AI system that, in tests, detected forged paintings with 100% accuracy by scanning and comparing individual brushstrokes. One leg is growing longer, another growing shorter, the stool becoming decidedly imbalanced. And so, if the art market wants to beat back the threats posed by sophisticated forgeries – if it wants to preserve its financial vigour, rooted as it is so absolutely in the notion of authenticity – it will have to turn more and more to the resources of science.

As a thought experiment, it is possible to envision the immaculate forgery – the one that defeats scientist and connoisseur alike. Our villain is a talented copyist, well practised in the style and the themes of his chosen artist. He is also a resourceful procurer of materials, able to rustle up every kind of age-appropriate canvas and frame, pigment and binder. He fits his forgery neatly into a chain of provenance – giving it the title of a now-lost work, or providing false documents to claim that it had been part of a well known private collection.

In theory, if each of these steps is perfectly performed, there should be no way to expose the painting as fake. It will be a work of art in every way save one. But the world of today, the world in which the forgery is being created, is likely to fix itself in some form within the painting – as radioactive dust, perhaps, or as cat hair, or a stray polypropylene fibre. When that happens, only the scientist can hope to nab it.

 

 

By Samanth Subramanian

U.S. readies second wave of duties as trade war with China looms

(qlmbusinessnews.com via uk.reuters.com — Fri, 15 June 2018) London, UK —

BEIJING/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States has nearly completed a second list of tariffs on $100 billion (75.44 billion pounds) in Chinese goods, as President Donald Trump prepares to enact an initial round of duties that is expected to trigger an in-kind response from Beijing, several sources said.

The second wave of products has been cued up as Washington prepares to announce on Friday a list of about $50 billion of goods to be targeted. They are part of Trump’s decision to go forward with “pretty significant” tariffs, an administration official said on Thursday.

The $100 billion list will be subject to the same public comment and hearing process as the $50 billion list, so it could take 60 days or more to put into effect, three sources familiar with the Trump administration’s thinking on tariff plans told Reuters.

The list is intended to minimise the impact on U.S. consumers and businesses by selecting goods where there are ample alternative supplies from other countries. Eliminating any impact may be impossible.

“There’s no question, that to get to $100 billion you’re going to hit consumer products coming in from China,” a person briefed by Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross told Reuters.

This person also said Ross had said the list would take aim at products for which China supplied 33 percent or less of total U.S. imports in individual product categories, making it easier to shift to other countries’ supplies.

The person, like the other sources familiar with the administration’s thinking, declined to be identified because they were not authorised to speak to the media.

A Reuters analysis of U.S. Census Bureau import data in April showed that there were about 7,600 consumer and industrial goods still available for tariffs with a combined value of $101 billion in which China accounts for 40 percent or less of U.S. imports.

Another person familiar with the administration’s thinking said it could be difficult to reach $100 billion with a 33 percent threshold.

Press officials at the U.S. Commerce Department and U.S. Trade Representative’s office declined to comment on the tariff list plans.

Trump has pledged to enforce fair and reciprocal trading relations with China, with the U.S. bilateral trade in goods deficit having reached $375 billion last year, and amid long-running complaints of what foreign companies see as forced technology transfers and market restrictions.

On Thursday, China reiterated its preference for dialogue to resolve differences, but said it was ready to respond if Trump moved forward with tariffs.

Speaking alongside U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Beijing, Chinese State Councillor Wang Yi said there were two choices when it came to trade.

“The first choice is cooperation and mutual benefit. The other choice is confrontation and mutual loss. China chooses the first,” Wang told reporters. “We hope the U.S. side can also make the same wise choice. Of course, we have also made preparations to respond to the second kind of choice.”

China has published its own list of threatened tariffs on $50 billion in U.S. goods, including soybeans, aircraft, and autos, and has said it would hit back if Washington followed up with further measures.

By Michael Martina in BEIJING and David Lawder

 

 

Transcend Packaging in Ebbw Vale Lands Major McDonald’s Straw Contract

(qlmbusinessnews.com via bbc.co.uk – – Fri, 15 June 2018) London, Uk – –

A packaging firm set up only seven months ago is set to more than double its workforce after McDonald's became its first major customer.

The fast food giant will replace plastic straws with paper ones in all UK and Ireland outlets this autumn.

Transcend Packaging in Ebbw Vale, Blaenau Gwent, is one of two companies that landed a contract to supply them.

The company currently employs 20 people and said its new contract will lead to an extra 30 jobs.

“I am delighted that McDonald's has taken this visionary step towards reducing the environmental impact of the food industry,” managing director Lorenzo Angelucci said.

Sales director Mark Varney said Transcend, formed in October 2017 and based at Rassau, secured the McDonald's deal because of the contacts of the four board members.

“Although we are a new company, between us the board of directors has more than 250 years in the packaging industry,” he said.

“There wasn't a Dragons' Den style pitch involved, but we got together with McDonald's and talked about how we could supply environmentally friendly products.

“We talked about Sir David Attenborough's Blue Planet II series as well – and the big effect that it has had.”

Transcend – which received a Welsh Government grant – is due to start production of the straws in August and it is expected to create an extra 30 jobs for the Blaenau Gwent business.

McDonald's, which uses 1.8 million straws a day in the UK, said the change to paper straws came following “wider public debate”.

Most straws are made from plastics such as polypropylene and polystyrene, which unless recycled take hundreds of years to decompose.

Many end up in landfill and the oceans, harming marine wildlife in the process.

The switch does not yet extend to the rest of McDonald's global empire, but trials will begin in selected restaurants in the US, France and Norway.

 

 

Rolls-Royce jet engine maker to cut 4,600 jobs

 

(qlmbusinessnews.com via news.sky.com– Thur, 14 June, 2018) London, Uk – –

The engineering firm, which has struggled to come to terms with problems with its Trent 1000 engine, hopes to save £400m a year.

Rolls-Royce is to cut 4,600 managerial and support jobs as the jet engine maker introduces its latest restructuring plan.

Most of the jobs will be axed in the UK, where the FTSE 100 company employs 23,000 out of a global workforce of 50,000.

A third of the jobs are expected to go by the end of this year and the rest by the middle of 2020.

Rolls-Royce chief executive Warren East signalled the move in March as the company battled to keep to its financial targets as it struggles to get on top of problems with its Trent 1000 engines.

It has replaced the fan blades on turbines powering Boeing 787 airplanes after cracks and corrosion were found on jets operated by Japan's ANA airline.

Mr East said: “It is never an easy decision to reduce our workforce, but we must create a commercial organisation that is as world-leading as our technologies. To do this we are fundamentally changing how we work.”

“These changes will help us deliver over the mid and longer-term a level of free cash flow well beyond our near-term ambition of around £1bn by around 2020,” he added.

The latest restructuring plan will cost the company £500m and is expected to save it as much as £400m a year by the end of 2020.

Rolls-Royce has already seen around 600 managers leave since 2015 under a previous cost-cutting programme initiated by Mr East. But this is the biggest cull since 2001, when 5,000 jobs were cut, including 1,000 contractors.

Unions said the job losses were likely to hit communities where the firm operates hardest.

Rolls-Royce's UK bases are in Derby, Bristol, Barnoldswick (Lancashire), Ansty (Warwickshire), Hucknall (Nottinghamshire), Inchinnan (Renfrewshire) and Sunderland, as well as London.

Unite assistant general secretary Steve Turner said: “This announcement will be deeply unsettling for Rolls-Royce workers and their families and could have a dire economic impact on local communities reliant on Roll-Royce jobs.

“There is a real danger that Rolls-Royce will cut too deep and too fast with these jobs cuts, which could ultimately damage the smooth running of the company and see vital skills and experience lost.

“Over the coming days Unite will be working with Rolls-Royce, relevant agencies and other employers to find people affected alternative employment and to retain skills in the aerospace sector.”

Earlier this week, the company said it had identified more “durability issues” with some engines and it would “incur some additional costs.”

Before the latest issues, it had expected a £340m hit for this year to cover the cost of carrying out repairs on existing engines. The company is also compensating airlines for the repairs and leasing replacement aircraft.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which is the civil aviation watchdog in the United States, warned operators of the 787 to fly within 60 minutes of an airport in case of an emergency.

Shares in Rolls-Royce rose 3.5%, or 27p, to 855p in early trading.

“Reducing costs is typically applauded by shareholders as it tends, in the short-term at least, to boost the profit and cash flow of which they are part owners,” Russ Mould, investment director at AJ Bell, said.

“Although it will be little compensation to those affected, it would be inaccurate to describe this as a slash and burn exercise by Rolls-Royce management.”

“Chief executive Warren East has been arguing for some time that there is duplication of roles within the business and the company's cash generation has consistently disappointed.

By Abid Ali

 

 

Comcast offers $65 billion to entice 21st Century Fox from Disney bid


Wikimedia

(qlmbusinessnews.com via uk.reuters.com — Thur, 14 June 2018) London, UK —

(Reuters) – Comcast Corp (CMCSA.O) offered $65 billion on Wednesday to lure Twenty-First Century Fox Inc (FOXA.O) away from a merger with Walt Disney Co (DIS.N), setting up a bidding war between two of the largest U.S. media companies with its 20 percent higher offer.

Comcast Chief Executive Brian Roberts said he was highly confident regulators would allow Comcast to acquire most of Fox’s media assets after AT&T Inc’s (T.N) court victory on Tuesday, which allowed it to buy Time Warner Inc (TWX.N) for $85 billion.

The fight to win Fox’s assets is shaping up to be a summer blockbuster starring well-known media moguls, led by Rupert Murdoch who built Fox into a global media empire. Comcast’s Roberts, who led a failed bid for Disney in 2004, now faces off against Disney Chief Executive Robert Iger, whose own dealmaking has added heroes from Pixar, Star Wars and Marvel comics to the home of Mickey Mouse.

Fox’s board will now have to decide whether Comcast’s offer beats Disney’s. If Fox prefers Comcast, Disney will have five business days to respond.

Comcast may have a tough time winning over Fox’s largest shareholder, the Murdoch family. They own a 17-percent stake and would face a multi-billion dollar capital gains tax bill by accepting an all-cash offer from Comcast, tax experts previously told Reuters.

Fox shareholders will vote July 10 on the Disney transaction but the company could postpone the meeting, Fox said in a statement.

Some analysts see difficulties for Comcast-Fox, which would add Fox’s movie and television studios to Comcast’s NBC Universal, but Roberts said in a letter to Fox that he would offer the same conditions as Disney and promised to fight for the deal in court if necessary.

Comcast is expected to lead a wave of traditional media companies trying to combine distribution and production to compete with Netflix Inc (NFLX.O) and Alphabet Inc’s (GOOGL.O) Google. The younger firms produce content, sell it online directly to consumers and often offer lucrative targeted advertising.

A merger between Fox and Comcast would create a company with a stable of well-known media brands and franchises, such as the X-Men superheroes. A combined company would hold the rights to air Fox’s long running TV show “The Simpsons”, the U.S. rights to the Olympics and Premier League Soccer.

Fox’s international assets such as Star India appeal to both Disney and Comcast, which want to expand their global presence.

Major sports and news assets including Fox News, Fox Business Network and Fox Sports would be spun off into a separate company.

Shares of Comcast, Fox and Disney were barely changed in after-hours trade.

Comcast in a statement outlined an offer that was similar to Disney’s, including a commitment to the same divestitures. It said that it would go to court and fight if the Justice Department tried to block the deal.

Comcast offered $35 per Fox share for the media assets, compared with Disney’s stock offer, worth $29.18 per share at the close of trade on Wednesday.

Comcast offered a $2.5 billion reverse termination fee if the deal did not go through, the same as Disney. It also offered to pay Fox’s $1.525 billion breakup fee owed Disney, if Fox went with Comcast.

Comcast said it intended to pursue its $30 billion acquisition of Sky Plc (SKYB.L) in parallel with its Fox bid. Comcast bid for Sky in April, after Fox’s bid for the remainder of European pay-TV group it did not already own was delayed by regulators.

Fox in a statement said it had received the proposal and would review it.

Justice Department lawyers who tried to stop AT&T’s $85 billion deal expect consumers will lose out as bigger companies raise prices, and some lawyers saw that as a concern in a Comcast-Fox deal which would put two movie studios and two major television brands under one roof.

“One cannot ignore the fact that there’s less independent content to go around,” after the AT&T deal, said Henry Su, an antitrust expert with Constantine Cannon LLP.

Still, the AT&T court fight gave Comcast valuable information about how to structure a Fox deal, said David Scharf, a litigation expert with Morrison Cohen.

Disney itself has “surgically” structured a transaction that “might be doable,” avoiding Fox Broadcasting and big Fox sports channels, U.S. antitrust chief Makan Delrahim said last week.

“I don’t think either will have a significant advantage over the other,” given that both Disney and Comcast seem motivated to divest what they need to win a deal with Fox, said Ketan Jhaveri, a former Justice Department attorney who served on the telecommunications task force.

Reporting Carl O'Donnell and Liana B. Baker in New York; Additional reporting by Sheila Dang in New York; Diane Bartz in Washington; and Vibhuti Sharma and Arjun Panchadar in Bengaluru; Writing by Peter Henderson; Editing by Lisa Shumaker

 

 

Dixons Carphone reveal unauthorised data breach of 5.9 million customers

(qlmbusinessnews.com via theguardian.com – – Wed, 13 June 2018) London, Uk – –

Dixons Carphone has revealed a major breach of data involving unauthorised access to 5.9 million customers cards and 1.2 million personal records.

The consumer electronics retailer said it was investigating an attempt to compromise the cards in a processing system at Currys PC World and Dixons Travel, but said there was no evidence of fraud as a result of the incident.

In a second breach, personal data such as name, address or email addresses, have been accessed. Again, Dixons said there was no evidence that it had resulted in fraud.

Alex Baldock, the company’s new chief executive, apologised for the data breach and admitted the firm had failed its customers.

“We are extremely disappointed and sorry for any upset this may cause. The protection of our data has to be at the heart of our business, and we’ve fallen short here.

“We’ve taken action to close off this unauthorised access and though we have currently no evidence of fraud as a result of these incidents, we are taking this extremely seriously.”

Baldock said the company had engaged cyber security experts to handle the matter and had added extra security measures to its systems.

The retailer will be writing over the coming days to those customers whose personal data was breached, “to inform them, to apologise, and to give them advice on any protective steps they should take”.

Of the 5.9 million cards that were accessed illegally, 5.8 million were chip and pin protected, and no pin codes, card verification values (CVV) or authentication data were accessed, meaning purchases could not be made.

However, about 105,000 payment cards from outside the EU and without chip and pin protection were accessed. The retailer said it had notified the banks concerned and they had not detected any fraudulent purchases on customer accounts.

Shares in Dixons Carphone fell 5.5% after the data breach was announced, as investors factored in a potential fine facing the firm.

The retailer said the data breach was discovered over the past week as part of a review of its systems and data. Although the breach occurred within the last year, it was before 25 May when the new European General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) rules came into force.

As the data breach pre-dated GDPR, any financial penalty on Dixons Carphone would be imposed under the previous data protection act rules, where the maximum fine imposed would be £500,000.

Under the new rules, firms could faces fines of up to €20m (£17.6m) for a major data breach.

Dixons Carphone said the investigation into the cyber attack was ongoing and that the culprit or culprits had not been identified. The retailer has informed the relevant authorities, including the police, the Information Commissioner’s Office, and the Financial Conduct Authority.

A spokesman for the ICO said: “An incident involving Dixons Carphone has been reported to us and we are liaising with the National Cyber Security Centre, the Financial Conduct Authority and other relevant agencies to ascertain the details and impact on customers.

“Anyone concerned about lost data and how it may be used should follow the advice of Action Fraud.”

By Angela Monaghan

 

 

Plumber wins legal battle for ‘ workers rights’ against Pimlico Plumbers

(qlmbusinessnews.com via bbc.co.uk – – Wed, 13 June 2018) London, Uk – –

A plumber has won a legal battle for working rights in a Supreme Court ruling expected to have huge ramifications for freelance workers.

Gary Smith had worked solely for Pimlico Plumbers for six years.

Despite being VAT-registered and paying self-employed tax, he was entitled to workers' rights, the court ruled.

The ruling will be closely read by others with similar disputes, many of whom work for firms in the so-called gig economy.

An employment tribunal was “entitled to conclude” that Mr Smith was a worker, the court ruled.

As a worker Mr Smith would be entitled to employment rights, such as holiday and sick pay.

The Supreme Court ruling means that an employment tribunal can now proceed to examine his action against Pimlico Plumbers as a worker, including a claim that he was unfairly dismissed.

Pimlico Plumbers chief executive Charlie Mullins said he was “disgusted by the approach taken to this case by the highest court in the United Kingdom”.

“This was a poor decision that will potentially leave thousands of companies, employing millions of contractors, wondering if one day soon they will get nasty surprise from a former contractor demanding more money, despite having been paid in full years ago.

“It can only lead to a tsunami of claims,” he added.

‘Up in the air'
However, Tim Goodwin of law firm Winckworth Sherwood said the ruling may not apply to other complaints.

“Even with a high level decision like this, to a degree the issue of employment status in the gig economy is up in the air.

“The government is consulting on this issue, and may bring forward legislation. So it's quite possible that Parliament may overrule this decision within the next few months or years.”

TUC General Secretary Frances O'Grady said the case had exposed “how widely sham self-employment has spread”.

Ms O'Grady said the TUC wanted the government to act quickly to “crackdown on bogus self-employment” and ensure workers benefit from rights unless the employer can show they are genuinely self-employed.

“It's time to end the Wild West in the gig economy,” she said.

Cut working week
Mr Smith, from Kent, began his battle with Pimlico Plumbers when he wanted to reduce his hours following a heart attack in 2010.

He wanted to cut the five-day week, which he had been signed up to work with the firm, to three.

However, the firm refused and took away his branded van, which he had hired. He claims he was dismissed.

 

 

Fall in UK wage growth reduces pressure for interest rate rise on BoE

(qlmbusinessnews.com via theguardian.com – – Tue, 12 June 2018) London, Uk – –

Workers’ pay packets still increasing slowly despite fresh fall in unemployment

Pressures has eased on the Bank of England to raise interest rates after the latest official figures showed a fall in wage inflation despite a fresh drop in unemployment.

Both measures of earnings growth – including and excluding bonuses – edged lower in the three months to the end of April, according to the Office for National Statistics.

The Bank’s latest quarterly inflation report signalled that the fall in unemployment to its lowest level since the 1970s would lead to stronger earnings growth and necessitate a gradual increase in borrowing costs from 0.5%.

As a result, financial markets have been gearing up for an August increase in interest rates to coincide with the publication of the next inflation report.

The ONS’s report on the state of the labour market said unemployment had dropped by 38,000 in the three months to April, leaving the jobless total at 1.42 million.

The unchanged unemployment rate of 4.2% was the lowest since 1975, while the proportion of the population of 16- to 64-year-olds in work – 75.6% – was the highest since modern records began in 1971.

Even though the economy barely grew in early 2018, the ONS said there were 146,000 more people in work between February and April than in the previous three months.

Despite the healthier jobs outlook, however, earnings growth including bonuses dipped by 0.1 points to 2.5%, while earnings growth excluding bonuses dipped by a similar amount to 2.8%.

Although earnings are rising slightly faster than prices, the TUC general secretary, Frances O’Grady, said: “Wage growth is stuck in the slow lane. At this rate pay packets won’t recover to their pre-recession levels for years.

“We need to speed things up. Extending collective bargaining would boost living standards and help workers get a fairer share of the wealth they create. Ministers must allow unions the right to go into every workplace.”

Jeremy Thomson-Cook, the chief economist at WorldFirst, said: “The juxtaposition of today’s increase in the employment rate to a record 75.6% and yesterday’s news of lay-offs at both Poundworld and Jaguar Land Rover will be lost on nobody and we think that today’s jobs report could soon be revealed as a high water mark for job creation.”

By Larry Elliott

 

 

Fashion chain New Look report heavy operating loss in ‘very difficult year’

(qlmbusinessnews.com via telegraph.co.uk – – Tue, 12 June 2018) London, Uk – –

Fashion chain New Look has swung to a full-year loss amid plunging sales on the high street and online.

The retailer reported an operating loss of £74.3m for the year to March 24, having made £97.6m profit in the previous year.

New Look's sales in the UK fell by 11.7pc on a like-for-like basis, accelerating from a decline of 6.8pc the year before. Website sales slumped by 19.2pc.

Total revenue was £1.34bn, down from £1.45bn year on year.

The business was hit with a £34.2m one-off cost, which included an exceptional charge from stock clearances.

Alistair McGeorge, New Look's executive chairman, said: “Last year was undoubtedly very difficult for New Look, with a well-documented combination of external and self-inflicted issues impacting our performance.

“Trading conditions will remain tough in the year ahead, but further operational efficiencies and a resolute focus on our core strengths and heartland customer will help to ensure we remain on the right track.”

New Look launched a restructuring plan in March, announcing that it would shut 60 stores as part of a company voluntary agreement (CVA), affecting 980 jobs.

The company said on Tuesday that the CVA would allow the business to save £40m.

The poor trading news from New Look comes after House of Fraser proposed a CVA, saying it intended to shut 31 stores, putting 6,000 jobs at risk.

Mothercare and Carpetright have also undertaken CVAs so far this year in a bid to save on costs.

Torrid trading on the high street has triggered a swathe of retail failures, with Toys R Us, Maplin and Poundworld all entering administration.

By Press Association

 

 

Poundworld expected to appoint administrators after rescue talks fail


Wikimedia

(qlmbusinessnews.com via bbc.co.uk – – Mon, 11 June 2018) London, Uk – –

Discount retailer Poundworld is expected to appoint administrators, putting 5,100 jobs at risk.

Talks with a potential buyer R Capital have collapsed meaning that the chain felt it had no other option but to put the company into administration.

Poundworld, which has 355 stores, and serves two million customers a week, also trades under the Bargain Buys brand name.

Deloitte is expected to be appointed to oversee the administration.

It will be hoping to sell the business as a going concern.

Poundworld has been losing money for the past two years. Losses for the financial year 2016-17 were £17.1m, up from £5.4m the year before.

Tough
It's the latest High Street retailer to run into trouble.

Just last week, department store chain House of Fraser said it would close 31 of its 59 shops, citing the need to adapt to “fundamental change” in the retail industry.

A combination of falling consumer confidence, rising overheads, the weaker pound and the growth of online shopping have made it tough for traditional retailers.

Electronics chain Maplin and toy chain Toys ‘R' Us both collapsed into administration earlier this year.

Other High Street chains such as Mothercare and Carpetright have been forced to close stores in order to survive.

Restaurant chains such as Italian chain Carluccio's, pizza restaurant Prezzo and burger chain Byron have also had to close stores as they battle a triple-whammy of falling trade, higher costs and increased competition.

‘Too many mouths'
Independent retail analyst Richard Hyman said Poundworld was simply not managing its business well enough. “The clue's in the name: These days having a fixed price in the title is a disadvantage but it is not a killing disadvantage.

“Importing products is not peculiar to Poundworld but others have been getting round this by getting manufacturers to put in a few less biscuits in the pack, for example.

“The bigger picture is there are too many retailers with too many stores for the market to feed.”

Poundworld, which has its headquarters in West Yorkshire, was formed in 2004, but it says it can trace its origins “back to 1974 and a market stall in Wakefield, West Yorkshire”.

In 2014 Poundland's founder Chris Edwards took a central part in a BBC documentary about the intense competition between the company and its rivals Poundstretcher and Poundland.

Investment company TPG, which bought a majority stake in Poundworld in 2015, also controls the restaurant chain Prezzo whose landlords and creditors agreed a restructuring last month.

A formal administration announcement will be made at 10am when the court opens.

 

 

Proposed new laws for companies to justify pay gap between bosses and staff

(qlmbusinessnews.com via news.sky.com– Mon, 11 June 2018) London, Uk – –

The move follows concerns that some chief executives have been receiving salaries that are out of step with company performance.

Large firms will have to publish and justify their chief executives' salaries and reveal the gap to their average workers under proposed new laws.

UK listed companies with over 250 staff will have to annually disclose and explain the so-called “pay ratios” in their organisation.

The move comes after years of shareholder and public outrage over bumper chief executive pay at firms such as Persimmon, WPP, BP, Shell, Lloyds, Astrazeneca, Playtech and William Hill.

Last week housebuilder Persimmon admitted a raft of failures that led to an embarrassing shareholder rebellion over pay as MPs slammed an “egregious” pay deal for top bosses worth over £100m.

The company's chairman and the head of the remuneration committee resigned after anger over their bonuses

Business Secretary Greg Clark said: “Most of the UK's largest companies get their business practices right but we understand the anger of workers and shareholders when bosses' pay is out of step with company performance.

“Requiring large companies to publish their pay gaps will build on that reputation by improving transparency and boosting accountability at the highest levels, while helping build a fairer economy that works for everyone.”

The new regulations, which will come into effect from January 2019 subject to parliamentary approval, also require listed companies to show what effect an increase in share prices will have on executive pay.

Government minister Lord Duncan said: “It only takes poor behaviour from a small number of companies to damage the public's trust in big business.

“Improving transparency and accountability in this way, plus other initiatives such as giving employees a voice in the boardroom, will help create a more equal and fair society while ensuring that the UK remains a world-leading place to invest and do business.”

TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady said the move was “a first step, but more is needed”.

“Fat-cat bosses are masters of self-justification and shrugging off public outcry. New rules are needed to make sure they change,” he said.

“We need guaranteed places for worker representatives on boardroom pay committees. That would bring a bit of common sense and fairness to decision-making when boardroom pay packets are approved.

“The Government should put an end to phoney incentive schemes that reward executives above and beyond the actual results they get.”

Rebecca Long Bailey, shadow business and industrial secretary, said: “The Tories have missed the mark again, reannouncing half-baked, rehashed policies that do nothing to tackle the entrenched inequality that's crippling our society.”

 

 

 

Oprah Winfrey’s Legacy Celebrated at Smithsonian’s Museum Exhibit

 

The Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture is opening a new exhibit this week called “Watching Oprah.” It's a celebration of Oprah Winfrey's legacy. Gayle King previewed the exhibit with Oprah on Wednesday where the media mogul saw it for the first time.

 

The Wave-free Electric Surfboard

 

 

The Carver by Oneon is an electric jet board that lets you surf without waves. Riders can use a wireless remote to control the speed, which maxes out at 21mph. At full speed, the battery can last for 20 minutes and then takes two hours to recharge. The starting price for the board is $5,595.

 

What Makes Stradivarius violins worth millions and are they actually worth it?

Many musicians prefer these 300-year-old instruments, but are they actually worth it?

Antonio Stradivari is generally considered the greatest violin maker of all time. His violins are played by some of the top musicians in the world and sell for as much as $16 million. For centuries people have puzzled over what makes his violins so great and they are the most scientifically studied instruments in history. Two world class violinists who play Stradivarius violins as well as a violin-discuss  what makes Stradivari so great.

Special thanks to Stefan Avalos for the Stradivari research footage.