Aston Martin announced plans to raise emergency funding worth £500m

( via – – Fri, 31st Jan 2020) London, Uk – –

Struggling luxury UK carmaker Aston Martin has announced plans to raise emergency funding worth £500m.

A consortium led by billionaire Lawrence Stroll will put in £182m, with the rest of the money coming from existing investors.

Mr Stroll partly owns the Racing Point Formula 1 team, which will be branded Aston Martin from 2021 under the deal.

The move comes hours after a board meeting held to discuss how to prop up the ailing firm.

Aston Martin's best known customer is fictional spy James Bond and the company recently revealed that four of its cars will feature in the next Bond movie, No Time To Die.

The carmaker said its latest financial moves were aimed at strengthening its balance sheet after its “disappointing performance” in 2019.

Mr Stroll's consortium will take a 20% stake in the company and he will become its executive chairman.

As a result, Penny Hughes will be stepping down as Aston Martin's chairman once the deal is completed.

She said: “The difficult trading performance in 2019 resulted in severe pressure on liquidity which has left the company with no alternative but to seek substantial additional equity financing.

“Without this, the balance sheet is not robust enough to support the operations of the group.

“Notwithstanding recent weak trading, the strength of the Aston Martin brand and our expanding portfolio of cars has allowed us to attract a strong new partner in Mr Stroll to support the turnaround of the business.”

Earlier this month, the 106-year-old firm issued a profit warning, saying annual earnings were expected to fall by nearly half from a year earlier.

It said core retail sales – which covers sales from Aston Martin dealers to consumers – were up 12% from a year earlier. However, wholesale volumes – which covers how many cars the dealers are ordering from Aston Martin itself – were down 7% to 5,809.

The company said it was expecting earnings of between £130m and £140m, well below the £247.3m it reported last year.View comments127

Jeff Bezos Amazon founder interviewed by FBI in 2019 over alleged Saudi hack

( via – – Fri, 31st Jan 2020) London, Uk – –

Amazon founder interviewed as FBI conducts inquiry into Israeli firm linked to malware

Jeff Bezos met federal investigators in April 2019 after they received information about the alleged hack of the billionaire’s mobile phone by Saudi Arabia, the Guardian has been told.

Bezos was interviewed by investigators at a time when the FBI was conducting an investigation into the Israeli technology company NSO Group, according to a person who was present at the meeting.

Reuters first reported on Thursday that the FBI was investigating the role of NSO in possible hacks of US residents and companies, citing four people familiar with the inquiry. Reuters also reported that the FBI had met Bezos in connection with the alleged hacking of his phone.

The FBI investigation into NSO has been under way since 2017, when officials were seeking information about whether the company had received any of the code it needed to infect smartphones from US hackers, Reuters reported.

In a statement provided by the strategy firm Mercury Public Affairs, NSO said: “We have not been contacted by any US law enforcement agencies at all about any such matters and have no knowledge or awareness of any investigative actions. Therefore, we cannot comment further.”

NSO has previously said government customers are the ones who do the hacking.

Two independent investigators at the United Nations, Agnes Callamard and David Kaye, revealed last week that they have launched their own inquiry into allegations that Bezos’s phone was hacked on 1 May 2018 after he apparently received a video file from a WhatsApp account belonging to Mohammed bin Salman, the Saudi crown prince. The investigators are examining whether the alleged hack occurred in connection to Bezos’s role as the owner of the Washington Post.

An analysis of the alleged hack that was commissioned by the Amazon founder has not concluded what kind of spyware was used.

NSO said last week it was “shocked and appalled” by allegations that Bezos’s phone had been hacked. The company also said: “We can say unequivocally that our technology was not used in this instance.”

Saudi Arabia has called the claim that it was involved in the hack “absurd”.

A person who was present at the April 2019 meeting between Bezos and investigators said it took place at the offices of Bezos’s lawyer, Matthew Schwartz, at the firm of Boies Schiller Flexner.

An attorney for Bezos did not immediately return a request for comment.

WhatsApp, which is owned by Facebook, has separately referred a civil claim it filed against NSO last year to the Department of Justice. WhatsApp has said it believed NSO has violated criminal laws, including the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, a federal law that is used to prosecute hackers.Advertisement

WhatsApp has claimed 1,400 users were hacked using NSO technology over a two-week period in April-May last year, after NSO was allegedly able to exploit a WhatsApp vulnerability that was later fixed. NSO has staunchly denied the claim and has said it would vigorously defend itself in court.

NSO has faced scrutiny after multiple claims that its technology has been used against journalists, human rights campaigners, academics and high-ranking government officials. Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto Munk school, which investigates hacking cases, said this week it believed the New York Times reporter Ben Hubbard, who has written a book about Prince Mohammed, had been targeted by spyware known as Pegasus, which is made by NSO.

NSO has said its technology is used by clients to combat crime and terrorism. It has said it investigates claims of abuse of its technology. The company has previously denied ever being contacted by the US Department of Justice. NSO has also said its technology cannot be used against US mobile phone numbers, though WhatsApp has disputed that claim in its lawsuit against NSO.

The Guardian has been told that federal investigators received further information about NSO technology in early 2019, including detailed information about how Pegasus works, ways the malware can self-destruct and become undetectable, and that it can automatically uninstall.

New revelations about the alleged hacking of Bezos’s phone have caught the attention of a handful of politicians in Washington who have sought more information about the alleged hack, including whether there was any evidence that Saudi Arabia had infected phones of any members of the Trump administration.

By Stephanie Kirchgaessner

Ralf Speth Jaguar Land Rover boss to step down in September

( via — Thur, 30th Jan 2020) London, UK —

LONDON (Reuters) – The boss of Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) (TAMO.NS) will step down from his role at the end of his contract term in September as Britain’s biggest carmaker shows signs of improvement after a torrid 2019 of job cuts, deep losses and falling sales.

Ralf Speth has led the company since 2010 during which it has pursued a major global expansion with new factories in China, Brazil and Slovakia putting it on course to make 1 million cars per year.

But sales ended last year at just over 550,000 vehicles as the firm was slower than some rivals in electrifying its line-up whilst large drops in diesel demand and a slump in China, the world’s biggest autos market, hit its performance.

JLR posted a 6% decline in 2019 sales but it has bounced back in China in recent months and overall company sales rose by 1.3% in December.

Speth will stay on as non-executive vice chairman at JLR and will remain on the board of Tata Sons, the parent group of Tata Motors which owns JLR, the firm said in a statement.

“A search committee has been formed which will work with me to identify a suitable successor in the coming months,” said Tata Sons Chairman N Chandrasekaran.

JLR posts third-quarter results as part of Tata Motors later on Thursday.

Reporting by Costas Pitas

BT Chief executive Philip Jansen warns Huawei decision could cost £500m

( via– Thur, 30th Jan 2020) London, Uk – –

Chief executive Philip Jansen has a warning following the government's decision to involve Huawei in the UK's 5G network.

BT says the government's decision to involve Huawei in the UK's 5G network will cost them around half a billion pounds over the next five years.

Chief executive Philip Jansen welcomed the “clarity” shown in the government's decision to give the Chinese tech company a limited role.

But he said the move would have “an impact of around £500m over the next five years” for BT, as the company posted a fall in profits.

BT, which also owns and runs the EE mobile network, revealed sales fell 2% to £17.2bn in the nine months to 31 December, with underlying pre-tax profits down 3% to £5.9bn.

Mr Jansen said BT would look through the government's recommendations regarding Huawei, which limit the firm to involvement in only some non-sensitive infrastructure.

He said: “The security of our network is paramount for BT.

“We therefore welcome and are supportive of the clarity provided by government around the use of certain vendors in networks across the UK and agree that the priority should be the security of the UK's communications infrastructure.”

BT is already rolling out 5G using Huawei radio equipment, although it is not using it in core systems, and is removing Huawei's kit from the core of its 4G network.

Meanwhile, BT blamed competition, regulation and higher running costs for its poor results, warning the government that free-flowing trade must be a priority after the Brexit transition period ends next year.

It said: “Our contingency planning is focused on ensuring we can continue to provide uninterrupted service to our customers, including sufficient inventory to protect against potential import delays.”

Will Ryder, equity analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown said: “The government's decision on Huawei's role in the UK's 5G network was always going to leave someone worse off – BT thinks it's going to cost them an extra £500m.

“It's likely the regulator will try to limit the amount that gets passed onto the consumer, so BT may end up taking a lot of it on the chin.

“BT's trading results were disappointing, but not overly so. Ultimately, we don't think the group's long term outlook is changed dramatically by today's announcement, though it hasn't improved.”

Shares were down 5.7% in Thursday morning trading.

Ovo Energy to pay £8.9m after sending inaccurate bills to more than 500,000 customers

( via – – Wed, 29th Jan 2020) London, Uk – –

Supplier criticised by Ofgem over problems that affected more than 500,000 customers

Ovo Energy is to pay £8.9m after the energy watchdog uncovered a series of issues including misbilling more than 500,000 customers for three years.

Ofgem heavily criticised Ovo, which recently became the UK’s second largest energy supplier after completing a £500m takeover of SSE’s energy supply arm, saying the company knowingly ignored the problems while it focused on the expansion of its business.

Ofgem said that Ovo Energy did not “self-report the majority of the issues despite being aware of them and was slow to put things right”.

Anthony Pygram, the director for conduct and enforcement at Ofgem, said: “Ovo Energy billed a number of its customers incorrectly and issued them with inaccurate information. The supplier did not prioritise putting these issues right while its business was expanding.”

Ofgem’s investigation uncovered a string of long-running problems, including more than 500,000 customers being sent inaccurate annual statements for three years. Many did not even receive a statement. Other problems included about 10,000 customers not being given renewal terms when their tariffs were ending, or not being moved to new tariffs, and inaccurate charges relating to 25,500 customers and the prepayment meter cap.

Ovo Energy accepted that for a period of more than five years, failings in its IT systems and compliance processes resulted in too many customers receiving inaccurate or incomplete information. However, the company also defended its track record with customers.Advertisement

“Ovo Energy holds itself to high standards but we have not always got it right,” the company said in a statement. “Since the day we were founded, serving our customers has been our number one priority. We strive to give them the best experience by working hard to provide the latest digital innovations and excellent service.”

The energy company has fixed the problems, including refunding customers affected by overcharging on the prepayment meter cap. The company has agreed to pay £8.9m into a voluntary redress fund to help vulnerable customers.

“Our enforcement action sends a strong message that suppliers must get basic services right for all their customers,” Pygram said. “Ovo Energy has accepted the breaches and put processes in place to comply with the rules in future.”

In a second Ofgem ruling, Utility Warehouse is to pay £650,000 for overcharging 3,430 customers because of a system error when the price cap was applied.

Utility Warehouse self-reported the glitch to Ofgem, confirming overcharges of £150,000. The company has refunded the affected customers and also compensated them with an extra £300,000 in proactive goodwill payments. In addition, Utility Warehouse is paying £200,000 into Ofgem’s voluntary redress fund.

Ofgem said it had decided against ordering a larger overall payment, or taking formal enforcement, because of the steps Utility Warehouse took to report the matter, correct the situation and put measures in place to ensure it does not happen again.

By Mark Sweney

Starbucks closes 2,000 Chinese branches to support efforts to contain the coronavirus

( via – – Wed, 29th Jan 2020) London, Uk – –

Starbucks has closed half of its outlets in China to protect its staff and support government efforts to contain the coronavirus.

The coffee shop chain warned that the rapidly expanding infection is likely to affect its financial performance.

Starbucks has almost 4,300 outlets in China, making it the company's largest market outside the US.

The number of deaths from the virus has risen to more than 130 and almost 6,000 confirmed infections.

Starbucks chief executive Kevin Johnson said the firm was “navigating a very dynamic situation”.

The firm told Wall Street analysts that it had been planning to upgrade its annual profit forecasts after a better-than-expected first quarter performance but decided against changing its projections due to the virus.

Starbucks opened its first Chinese store in Beijing in January 1999. Chinese sales account for about 10% of Starbucks' global revenue, making the country its most important global growth engine.

The move highlights the major challenges facing global corporations from the spread of the deadly virus.

Apple boss Tim Cook has said his company is “closely monitoring” the coronavirus outbreak, which has clouded its forecast for the upcoming quarter.

The technology giant has limited travel and reduced store hours in China, while its suppliers' factories remain closed longer than expected.

Earlier this week Facebook became the first big US firm to tell staff to avoid travelling to China.

The social media giant said it was acting “out of an abundance of caution” to protect its employees.


Other global companies have introduced travel restrictions and car makers are taking staff out of the country.

Toyota said on Wednesday that its production plants in China will stay closed until 9 February, in response to the coronavirus. The Japanese car maker said the closures were in line with transport lockdowns imposed by Chinese authorities and as the company assesses its supply chain.

Toyota has plants in the northern city of Tianjin and the southern province of Guangdong.

Hundreds of foreign nationals have been evacuated from the central Chinese city of Wuhan, the epicentre of the outbreak.

Flights have left the city with Japanese and US citizens while the European Commission said it would help repatriate European nationals after a request from France.

At the same time companies in China have advised staff to work from home in an attempt to slow the spread of the deadly virus.

Businesses are also offering workers longer holidays, as well as telling employees returning from the most affected areas to stay away from work.

PM Boris John grants Huawei ‘limited’ role in Britain’s 5G network

( via– Tue, 28th Jan, 2020) London, Uk – –

The Chinese technology company scores a win but it comes with conditions designed to placate those with security fears.

Huawei will be allowed to play a limited role in the UK's 5G network, the government has said.

Among the conditions for the Chinese company's involvement are:

  • It will be excluded from all safety related and safety critical networks
  • It will be excluded from sensitive geographic locations such as nuclear sites and military bases
  • It will have a 35% cap in periphery (non-sensitive parts) of the 5G network

Sky's defence and security correspondent Alistair Bunkall said: “The National Security Council, on the advice of intelligence agencies, particularly GCHQ, has concluded that having Huawei on the peripheries of 5G can be managed and the security risks can be mitigated.

“It won't be a part of the core elements of 5G provision – that means in theory it won't have oversight of messages, data sharing, for example. Instead it will be limited to the non-core factors – things like provision of aerials and antennas. Even in that respect, its share will be limited to 35%.Huawei decision: Sky correspondents share their take

Analysis: Is 5G safe?

“Actually Huawei's involvement overall will be really pretty limited but it reflects the influence the Chinese telecoms firm has in the technology market – an influence that few others are able to rival.”

He added: “Britain's decision today is likely to be watched very carefully by a lot of other partners, particularly in Europe, who might decide if Britain can include Huawei in their infrastructure, why can't everyone else?”

UK Culture Secretary Baroness Morgan said: “This is a UK-specific solution for UK-specific reasons and the decision deals with the challenges we face right now.

“It not only paves the way for secure and resilient networks, with our sovereignty over data protected, but it also builds on our strategy to develop a diversity of suppliers.

“We can now move forward and seize the huge opportunities of 21st-century technology.”Huawei: The risks explained

Opponents of the idea had feared that allowing the Chinese tech company to build the network would be handing control of infrastructure to Beijing.

There were also concerns that, with Huawei's close links to the Chinese government, the equipment could be used for espionage, something the company has always denied.

After the government's announcement, Huawei vice president Victor Zhang said the company was “reassured”.

He added: “This evidence-based decision will result in a more advanced, more secure and more cost-effective telecoms infrastructure that is fit for the future. It gives the UK access to world-leading technology and ensures a competitive market.”

The debate has caused tension with the US, which had warned Prime Minister Boris Johnson not to approve Huawei, saying it could jeopardise future intelligence-sharing between the members of Five Eyes, an alliance which comprises Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the UK and US.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is in London on Wednesday and will meet Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab.

Sharing an article about the decision on Huawei, Democratic US Senator Chris Murphy tweeted: “America has never been weaker. We have never had less influence.

“Not even our closest ally Britain, with a Trump soulmate in Downing Street, listens to us anymore.”

A number of MPs had also voiced their concerns, among them Tom Tugendhat, who warned that the UK would be “allowing the fox into the hen house”.

After the decision was announced, he tweeted: “Overall, this statement leaves many concerns and does not close the UK's networks to a frequently malign international actor.”

Ciaran Martin, the chief executive of the National Cyber Security Centre, said the limits on Huawei's involvement would ensure the UK had a “very strong, practical and technically sound framework for digital security in the years ahead”.

The implementation of 5G is expected to bring download speeds 10 times faster than 4G and is seen as critical to the country's economic future as it leaves the European Union.

Reporting by Sharon Marris

FCA orders UK banks to explain overdraft rates or face regulatory action

( via — Tue, 28th Jan 2020) London, UK —

LONDON (Reuters) – Britain’s banks have two weeks to explain changes to their overdraft pricing that will leave about 8 million consumers worse off, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) said, warning that those causing harm will face regulatory action.

The watchdog wrote to banks after lenders including HSBC (HSBA.L), RBS (RBS.L), Nationwide (POB_p.L) and Santander (SAN.MC) announced plans to charge customers a flat interest rate of nearly 40% on overdrafts – more than double some of their previous charges – ahead of new rules in April.

Other lenders plan to price overdrafts based on risk, with Lloyds (LLOY.L) announcing plans that could result in rates as hi8gh as 49.9% for consumers with poor credit histories.

The FCA rule changes were designed to fix a “dysfunctional” overdraft market, banning lenders from imposing fixed daily or monthly fees and from charging more for unauthorised overdrafts than for those that have been authorised.

But the regulator admitted last week that about three out of 10 of the 18.2 million customers using overdrafts would be worse off after lenders increased prices for arranged overdrafts.

The two-week deadline is unusually short for an FCA request, putting pressure on banks to defend their actions.

British lenders earned more than 2.4 billion pounds ($3.2 billion) from overdrafts in 2017, an FCA study found last year, with charges falling disproportionately on vulnerable consumers.

The watchdog said that banks and building societies needed to take positive steps to help customers who may be worse off or in financial difficulties as a result of high overdraft charges.


“We have asked to see their plans for how they are dealing with the most affected customers,” it said in a statement. “We will be keeping a close eye on the market and we will act should we see continued harm.”

Banking trade body UK Finance said lenders would contact repeat overdraft users to discuss alternative options to reduce borrowing costs.

“The banking industry is committed to helping customers manage their money and has been working closely with the FCA to implement these new rules,” UK Finance’s Eric Leenders said in a statement.

Martin Lewis, founder of, said the FCA intervention was “a slap on the wrist for the banks”.

“It’s an admission that the FCA’s overdraft changes haven’t worked entirely as it wanted, and now the regulator is baring its teeth,” he said.

Lewis said someone with a 2,000 pound authorised overdraft could see their costs more than triple from about 180 pounds a year to around 680 pounds.

Gareth Shaw, head of money for consumer group Which?, said: “The current lack of competition on overdraft pricing is disappointing, so it is right the regulator is taking a closer look.”

Additional reporting by Pamela Barbaglia and Huw Jones

Coronavirus fears cause shares and oil price to fall

( via – – Mon, 27th Jan 2020) London, Uk – –

Worries over the continued spread of the coronavirus have hit the financial markets, with London's FTSE 100 share index dropping more than 2%.

Airlines and companies with significant sales in China saw some of the biggest share price falls.

The coronavirus has killed 81 people in China with almost 3,000 confirmed ill, while at least 44 cases have been confirmed abroad.

The price of oil also fell, with Brent crude dropping 3% to $58.65 a barrel.

Among the biggest share price declines was luxury clothes maker Burberry, which fell 5.5%. It makes about 16% of its sales in China, one of its fastest-growing markets, and has warned investors that a drop in Chinese spending could spell a decline in its own revenues.

Shares in InterContinental Hotels Group dropped 4.7%. It says China and Hong Kong are a “growing share of our business” and contributes 8% of the firm's profit.

British Airways owner IAG, which also contains Iberia, fell 5.6%, while HSBC Holdings, which takes most of its profit from Asia, fell 3.5%.

Shares across Europe saw similar declines, with the German Dax and French Cac 40 indexes both down by about 2%.

Analysts at research firm Bernstein say Chinese consumers had spent $149bn (£114bn) during the Chinese New Year celebrations last year and that will probably be smaller this year due to travel curbs.

Companies in China have advised staff to work from home in an attempt to slow the spread of the deadly coronavirus.

Businesses are also offering workers longer holidays, as well as telling employees returning from the most affected areas to stay away from work.

Janet Mui, global economist at Cazenove Capital, told the BBC's Today programme that China's economy could suffer as the outbreak has happened over Chinese New Year, when a lot of shopping is done and gifts exchanged.

“If you look at history the most comparable example would be the Sars episode in 2003,” she said.

China's annual growth slumped from 11% to 9% in the wake of that outbreak.

UK government prepares to renationalise failed Northern franchise

( via – – Mon, 27th Jan 2020) London, Uk – –

Transport secretary due to announce this week decision to terminate Northern’s franchise

Ministers will pledge to reopen closed rail lines in the north this week as the government prepares to renationalise the failed Northern franchise.

The promise of hundreds of millions in investment to restore some lines axed in the Beeching closures in the early 1960s will come at about the same time as the expected announcement of the termination of the Northern franchise, operated by Arriva.

Blyth Valley, a former Labour stronghold in the north-east that turned Conservative in the election and presaged the collapse of the “red wall”, is likely to be among the first places to benefit from the reopening of passenger services.

The decision to renationalise Northern, which the transport secretary, Grant Shapps, is due to deliver by Thursday, is likely to be welcomed in the north, but it represents another embarrassing failure of the privatised rail system.

Northern politicians and transport bodies said a possible short-term management contract for Arriva – still yet to be officially ruled out by Shapps – would be unacceptable, leaving it almost certain that it will become the second major franchise to be renationalised by the Conservatives in less than two years. The state-owned “operator of last resort”, which has run LNER since June 2018, would take over the running of Northern.

The franchise was awarded in 2016, but plans to improve services have foundered on the back of delays to infrastructure, including track electrification, and a long-running dispute with unions leading to widespread strikes. Punctuality and reliability collapsed around the introduction of the May 2018 timetable and have largely failed to recover.Advertisement

The results of the national rail passenger survey, due on Tuesday morning, are – despite official questions over its statistical relevance – likely to highlight increasing dissatisfaction with the Deutsche Bahn-owned train operator, as well as widespread discontent around the network.

But in an effort to regain political impetus, and following the promise of “levelling up” the regions post-Brexit, the Department for Transport will this week set out details of lines that could be reopened.

Earlier this month, Shapps visited Blyth, where he discussed a £100m council blueprint for the reintroduction of passenger services on a Northumberland rail line linking Newcastle to Ashington via Blyth, currently partly used for freight services. He said there was £500m set aside for reopening lines.

A project to restore the line linking Blackpool to Fleetwood, visited by Boris Johnson in November on the election campaign, is also likely to be a prime candidate for funding.

It could be the second time in a little over two years that the government has talked of reversing Beeching cuts to mask the collapse of a rail franchise. In November 2017, the plan to reopen old lines was announced by Chris Grayling, the then transport secretary, on the same day the government published plans to rip up the Virgin-Stagecoach East Coast rail franchise – which was eventually nationalised in June 2018.

Grayling invited proposals from local partners to pitch for funds to reopen lines where there was a strong business case.

More than 4,000 miles of track were removed from the British railway – about a third of the entire network at the time – on the guidance of the reports by Richard Beeching in the 1960s.

Labour’s shadow transport secretary, Andy McDonald, said: “The Tory claim to be reversing the Beeching cuts is risible. Passengers haven’t forgotten that this is a government which has cut hundreds of millions of pounds of rail investment.”

Meanwhile, there are fears in the north that it could be the victim of cuts to the HS2 high-speed rail network, as the government considers whether to proceed with the full route. Forecast costs are now reported to be estimated as high as £106bn in the Oakervee review, and the second phase north of Birmingham would be easier to cut.

By Gwyn Topham

Inside the home of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and wife Priscilla Chan

Source: CBS

Only on “CBS This Morning,” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, philanthropist Priscilla Chan, invited us into their home. They have never allowed a TV camera crew inside before. Gayle King was able to see first-hand who this couple is outside their Facebook lives. They discussed raising their two young daughters and how family inspires the work they do.

How Aramco Became Saudi’s $2 Trillion Cash Cow

Source: Bloomberg

The world’s most valuable company is not Apple, Amazon, or Google. That crown instead belongs to Saudi Aramco. This is the story of how an oil company that started out as an American dream became Saudi Arabia's cash cow.

Do Smaller Internet Rivals Offer Greater Privacy Compared to Google and Facebook?

( via – – Sat, 25th Jan 2020) London, Uk – –

“We agree to give these companies ownership of our lives and they are cashing in,” says Edward Armstrong, a freelance copywriter and consultant originally from Newcastle, UK, but now based in London.

He has abandoned using the services of internet giants like Google and Facebook and is using smaller rivals, which promise greater privacy.

“I'm uncomfortable with the power of the major service providers such as Google and Facebook. We think everything is free, but the cost is our data and privacy,” he says.

If Google knows everything you have ever searched for, it has a detailed catalogue of your interests, hopes and fears. Facebook knows who your friends are, what you like and what you talk about online.

Online data scandals have raised concerns about the power that information brings. Facebook is facing a fine of $5bn for its part in the notorious misuse of data by political consultancy Cambridge Analytica.

Concern is growing. A survey by the Washington-based digital agency Rad Campaign and analytics firm Lincoln Park Strategies last year, for example, found three out of five responders in the US distrust social media when it comes to protecting their privacy.

But amid that distrust, some see opportunity. Is there a demand for a search engine that doesn't store data?

DuckDuckGo was founded in 2008 by Gabriel Weinberg, who wanted to create a new search engine, with better results and less spam.

The search engine, which registers around 50 million searches per day, works in the same way as Google but maintains a simple privacy policy of not storing or sharing personal information.

“We share our most intimate information with search engines – financial, medical, etc – and that information deserves to be private and not used for profiling or data targeting,” the company's communications manager Daniel Davis says.

“People deserve a private alternative to the services they use. They deserve simple tools that empower them to take back their privacy, without any tradeoffs.

“DuckDuckGo Search gets its results from various sources, so we're able to offer relevant results without storing search history or user profiles.”

The technology in the company's app and browser extension goes a step further, protecting users wherever they go on the web by silently blocking third-party trackers in the background, automatically using secure connections to websites, and showing a privacy grade for each website visited.

DuckDuckGo is free, and makes its money through advertising, but the adverts it displays are not based on your history or behaviour. If you search for “car” on DuckDuckGo, you may see a car-related advert, but it will not be influenced by anything you have searched for or browsed in the past.

“We believe the Internet shouldn't feel so creepy, and getting the privacy you deserve online should be as simple as closing the blinds,” Mr Davis says. “We're setting an example that we hope others will follow.”

And others are following. ProtonMail has become the world's largest provider of encrypted email, with 20 million users.

Emails between ProtonMail accounts are automatically protected with end-to-end encryption, meaning the messages are only viewable by the sender and the recipient.

“The messages are encrypted before they reach our servers meaning that even we are unable to read them!” says ProtonMail's founder Andy Yen.

“This also means users' data is safe even in a scenario where ProtonMail's servers are breached as there wouldn't be any usable data to steal.”

ProtonMail is also free to use, and makes its money by charging for upgrades and additional storage.

“Over the last couple of years we're seeing more and more members of the general public and small businesses joining us, most of whom have become more aware of how their data is being gathered and used – and often lost – by companies and governments,” says Mr Yen.

The service has proven popular enough that it has spun out another service, ProtonVPN, which allows users to browse the internet securely and privately.

A similar free, secure browsing service, Brave, blocks the tracking and profiling of users, protecting privacy and making browsing faster, it claims.

It makes money by through advertising, but users have the option to redirect some of those funds back to their favourite sites.

Brave says it has 8.7 million monthly active users and chief product officer David Temkin believes this number will only grow as the world wakes up to what he calls “the negative effects of the surveillance economy”.

“There's a growing sense that something needs to be done and Brave offers a concrete solution now,” Mr Temkin says.

Despite the alternatives, Facebook is growing at an ever-faster rate, hitting 2.45 billion monthly users in the third quarter of 2019, while the likes of WhatsApp, owned by Facebook, and Google are also still increasing their user bases.

It isn't easy to leave services like that behind and Mr Armstrong says that most of his peer group are happy to continue using them.

“I use ProtonMail instead of Gmail; DuckDuckGo instead of Google Search; Firefox for my browser instead of Chrome; and then Signal in place of WhatsApp,” he says.

“The usual reaction is friends don't care. They are pretty happy using the [mainstream] services. I've talked my girlfriend into using [the messaging service] Slack, but she just uses WhatsApp for all her other friends still,” he says.

He hopes this will change over time.

“It is not from lack of education, as the Facebook scandals caused quite a few to get rid of it, so I think it will just take more awareness for people to start moving away.”

By Tom Jackson

UK-Africa summit up to 90% deal struck went into fossil fuels

( via – -Fri, 24th Jan 2020) London, Uk – –

Exclusive: Almost £2bn went to oil and gas despite a UK pledge to support cleaner energy in African countries

More than 90% of the £2bn in energy deals struck at this week’s UK-Africa investment summit were for fossil fuels, despite a government commitment to “support African countries in their transition to cleaner energy”.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson opened the summit on Monday, citing the climate emergency: “We all breathe the same air, we live beneath the same sky, and we all suffer when carbon emissions rise and the planet warms.”

But the commercial energy deals revealed later were dominated by oil and gas production. The official UK government statement on the summit and a press release failed to mention these, citing only the far smaller support for clean energy. Green Party MP Caroline Lucas said the “hypocrisy of the government’s position is breath-taking”.Advertisement

Johnson also announced that UK taxpayers’ money would no longer support overseas coal-fired power plants and coal mining. Yet MPs on the environmental select committee reported in 2019 that “UK Export Finance (UKEF) has not supported a coal project since 2002”.

A report by Greenpeace and Newsnight also found that UKEF spent billions of pounds abroad supporting fossil fuel projects that will emit an estimated 69 million tonnes of carbon a year.

The UK will host a critical UN climate summit in Glasgow in November, at which nations must dramatically increase their pledges to cut carbon emissions to avoid a disastrous 3o-4oC rise in global temperatures.

Before the summit, Lucas asked ministers which companies would attend, but the Department of Trade refused to reveal the names, citing “commercial interests”.

“Now we know why the government was so secretive,” said Lucas. “The hypocrisy of the government’s position is breathtaking. It boasts of its green credentials one minute, and then hosts an investment summit which sees billions being invested in carbon-intensive industries in Africa. This government’s promises on climate action are completely hollow.

“As hosts of this year’s UN climate summit, the UK needs to show international leadership and bring other countries with us. We can’t do that while UK money and business is supporting dirty energy around the world.”

A spokesman for the Department for International Trade (DIT) said: “The UK is committed to tackling climate change and supporting African countries in their transition to cleaner energy. Less than one-third [of the total £6.5bn in deals] were in oil and gas.”

At the summit, Johnson said the UK would help African nations “extract and use oil and gas in the cleanest, greenest way possible”, while also delivering “an electro-convulsive lightning bolt through our renewables industry”.

Other deals struck at the summit included a total of £170m for aircraft and airports and £224m for a new Kenyan gold mine. The biggest deal was £3.2bn for Bombardier to construct and operate two monorail lines in Cairo, Egypt.

The UK taxpayer is directly funding £50m of clean energy projects, including energy storage batteries and energy-efficient housing. “The government is stepping up our offer to work with African countries to unlock their massive renewable energy potential,” said the DIT spokesman.

Nick Dearden, director of campaign group Global Justice Now, said: “The supposedly transformative £6.5bn UK investment in Africa includes oil, gas, gold mining and airlines. So much for fostering ‘climate-friendly’ development.

“In the 19th century, the ‘scramble for Africa’ was carefully disguised as a humanitarian project. Now, 150 years later, what we saw at the UK-Africa summit was a desperate and unseemly grab for markets, dressed up as ‘development’.”

By Damian Carrington 

HS2 high-speed rail project complex and risky from the start, says watchdog

( via – – Fri, 24th Jan 2020) London, Uk – –

No-one took full account of how complex and risky the HS2 high-speed rail project was likely to be, the government spending watchdog has said.

The Department for Transport (DfT) and HS2 Ltd did not allow for all uncertainties when estimating initial costs, the National Audit Office (NAO) said.

In 2015, HS2 was due to cost £56bn.

Earlier this week, however, a leaked government-commissioned review suggested the total could reach £106bn.

The findings of the independent review, conducted by former HS2 Ltd chair Doug Oakervee, have not yet been officially published.

The government will use the report to inform its final decision on whether to give the go-ahead to the HS2 project, and has said a final decision on whether to continue with it will be made in February.

In its progress update, the NAO said that the DfT and HS2 Ltd “have not adequately managed risks to taxpayer money”.

This led to the project being over budget and behind schedule, it added.

“Significant challenges to completing the programme and delivering value for taxpayers and shareholders remain,” the NAO report said.

Lessons to learn

The first phase of the project, between London and Birmingham, is due to open at the end of 2026, with the second phase to Leeds and Manchester expected to be completed by 2032-33.

Despite concerns about the rail link, Europe's largest infrastructure project, work is not on hold and the project currently gets through about £250m a month.

Gareth Davies, the head of the NAO, said: “There are important lessons to be learned from HS2, not only for the Department for Transport and HS2 Ltd, but for other major infrastructure programmes.

“To ensure public trust, the Department and HS2 Ltd must be transparent and provide realistic assessments of costs and completion dates as the programme develops, recognising the many risks to the successful delivery of the railway that remain.”

A DfT spokesperson said: “The department has supported this review and is already acting on many of its recommendations. To ensure transparency around the project, we have worked closely with the NAO to provide information on the latest cost and schedule estimates for HS2.

“We recognise that there have been significant underestimations of both the cost and schedule of HS2 in the past, which is why we commissioned the Oakervee review to provide advice on whether and how to proceed with HS2.”

Employers' organisation the CBI said that whatever the misgivings, the project should go ahead.

Matthew Fell, the CBI's chief UK policy director, said: “HS2 is an ambitious project and the National Audit Office's report usefully highlights the challenges of delivering large-scale infrastructure. But what is clear to the CBI, and business generally, is the colossal cost of not delivering HS2.

“If the government truly believes in levelling up the regions, especially the Midlands and the North, it should deliver HS2 in full.

“It is exactly the post-Brexit project the government should be championing.”

Analysis: Tom Burridge

This is a slap on the wrist for HS2 Ltd and the Department for Transport.

When you consider the massive overspend on HS2, headlines about underestimating the scale of the project and not acknowledging associated risks are hardly surprising.

As the government decides the fate of the project, there are a few interesting nuggets.

The report paints a picture of a high speed line like no other in Europe. HS2 plans 18 trains per hour. Other lines in Europe typically run between two and six trains an hour.

The incredibly high spec justifies the high price tag, supporters say.

Critics say it's one reason why the project is flawed.

The government's review of HS2 has looked at a series of options, like reducing the spec of HS2.

But as this report acknowledges, civil servants have looked at ways of making the project more affordable before.

In short, tinkering with aspects of this project, like reducing the very high speed of the trains, wouldn't save huge amounts of money.

There is a stark contrast in its assessment of the two phases.

Although it criticises the substantial overspend on phase one – London to Birmingham – the National Audit Office does now believe that the costings on that part of the project are “robust”.

Inevitably phase two – Birmingham to Manchester and Birmingham to Leeds – which is at a very early stage, is in a very different position.

In fact phase two is at such an early stage that this report concludes that no assessment for the overall cost of HS2 can be made with any real certainty.

We visited two vast construction sites at Curzon Street in Birmingham and in Solihull.

When you see the scale and type of work underway, like moving a bridge over a motorway, then it is hard to imagine that the government will pull the plug on phase one.

Given the scepticism of some figures within government and recent leaks in the media, the future of phase two is less certain.

Morrisons supermarket chain to create 4,000 new jobs in its latest shake-up

( via– Thur, 23rd Jan 2020) London, Uk – –

The supermarket chain says it wants to further improve the customer experience through the latest shake-up of its pay structures.

Morrisons says it is creating 4,000 net new jobs in its latest shake-up that could see 3,000 managers either leave the company or have their roles downgraded.

The supermarket chain said the aim of its decision was to “serve customers better” within its stores by changing the way they are staffed.

The plan will see managers who are retained “concentrate on helping frontline colleagues to do their job and run their stores”, the company said.

Morrisons said: “Many of the new jobs will be on Morrisons renowned Market Street counters where skilled butchers, bakers, fishmongers and other fresh food specialists serve customers.”

Its retail director, David Lepley, said: “Whilst there will be a short period of uncertainty for some managers affected by these proposals we will be supporting them through this process and there are jobs available for everybody who wants to continue to work at Morrisons.

“There will also be more roles with greater flexibility that are very attractive to colleagues with families.”

The news was announced just days after rival Sainsbury's announced it was cutting hundreds of roles as it completes the integration of Argos into its store network.

It was almost two years ago that Morrisons cut 1,500 managerial roles as it first moved to bolster the customer experience amid a customer drift from the so-called ‘big four' chains to discounters Aldi and Lidl.

The pair have eaten into the market dominance of Tesco, Sainsbury's, Asda and Morrisons since the financial crisis as they have expanded aggressively.

That has forced the big four to cut costs and invest more in price.

Just weeks ago, Morrisons reported a sharp slowdown in sales growth over the crucial Christmas season.

It had blamed the performance on Brexit and election uncertainty in the nine weeks to 6 January.

By James Sillars

UK regulator warn markets: be ready in case no trade agreement is struck with the EU

( via — Wed, 23rd Jan 2020) London, UK —

LONDON (Reuters) – Financial firms in Britain should be ready in case no trade agreement is struck with the European Union by December, a senior UK regulator said on Thursday.

Britain leaves the EU next week, followed by a “business as usual” transition that ends in December. Britain and the EU will formally begin trade talks in coming weeks.

“Firms still need to ensure they are prepared for a range of scenarios that may happen at the end of 2020,” said Nausicaa Delfas, executive director of international at the Financial Conduct Authority.

Britain’s banks, trading platforms and insurers hope to get access to the EU market after December under the EU equivalence system, through which Brussels grants access to countries whose regulatory regimes it deems comparable to its own.

Britain has already put all EU financial rules into UK law, which means it will have “the most equivalent framework to the EU of any country in the world,” Delfas told an event held by law firm BCLP.

Britain will also need to decide whether EU-based financial firms can have access to UK investors under the same equivalence system it has inherited by adopting the EU laws.

“This provides a strong basis for the EU and UK to find each other equivalent across the full range of equivalence provisions,” Delfas said.

The EU’s financial laws include about 40 equivalence provisions, ranging from trading shares to insurance, but access remains more limited than the unfettered “passporting” UK firms enjoyed inside the EU.

“As both the UK and EU are committed to open markets, there is also a strong rationale for both sides to discuss broadening their respective equivalence frameworks,” Delfas said.

The EU is committed to completing its equivalence assessments by the end of June, but banks fear it will be overshadowed by broader UK-EU trade talks.

“We believe that equivalence decisions should be based on technical assessments,” Delfas said.

Equivalence should be determined on the “outcomes” of respective rules rather than a need to be written identically, Delfas said.

Reporting by Huw Jones

Sainsbury’s chief executive Mike Coupe to retire after six years

( via – – Wed, 22nd Jan 2020) London, Uk – –

Sainsbury's has announced its chief executive Mike Coupe will retire from the supermarket group.

Mr Coupe has led Sainsbury's for almost six years, during which time he oversaw a failed attempt to merge with rival supermarket Asda.

The head of Sainsbury's retail and operations, Simon Roberts, will take over from Mr Coupe.

“This has been a very difficult decision for me personally,” Mr Coupe said.

“There is never a good time to move on, but as we and the industry continue to evolve, I believe now is the right time for me to hand over to my successor.”

Mr Coupe will step down as chief executive at the end of May and retire from Sainsbury's in July.

Job cuts

His exit was announced a day after Sainsbury's said it was cutting “hundreds” of management roles to reduce costs.

It said the cuts were largely due to its integration of Argos, the catalogue store that it bought in 2016.

Mr Roberts, who is due to take over on 1 June, has been involved in integrating Sainsbury's and Argos. He was also the former president of retailer Boots UK.

In a statement, Mr Coupe said he was “confident” his chosen successor was “the right choice for our customers, our colleagues and our investors”.

Mr Coupe will continue to collect his £962,000 a year salary until he leaves. His successor will begin the role with a smaller £875,000 pay cheque.

‘We're in the money'

Mr Coupe gained a reputation for being deal-hungry after he successfully led talks to buy Argos and Nectar, the loyalty-card scheme used by Sainsbury's.

But other deals were less fruitful – most notably the proposed £12bn merger with Asda.

News of the deal sent the supermarket's share price up by as much as 20% and Mr Coupe had appeared confident when it was announced in 2018.

He was even caught on camera singing “We're in the money” ahead of a media interview to discuss the merger.

But Mr Coupe's optimism was short-lived. And, in April last year, the UK competition regulator blocked the merger.

“Just when you thought being caught on camera singing ‘We're in the money' was a low point, the Asda merger subsequently didn't happen and Coupe was left scrabbling for a plan B,” said Russ Mould, investment director at AJ Bell.

He said Mr Coupe “may unfortunately be remembered for his singing rather than retailing”.

“He did the dance with Argos and Nectar but tripped up with attempts to marry Asda,” he said.

In the past year, the value of Sainsbury's shares has fallen by 22%. On Wednesday, its share price fell by 1.3% to 210p.

Analysis: Domonic O'Connell

Mike Coupe took the reins at J Sainsbury at what should have been an auspicious moment.

A few months earlier Philip Clarke had been forced out as chief executive of Tesco, and Sainsbury's biggest commercial rival was in upheaval. Not only had Mr Clarke's chaotic reign left internal morale and profits at a low ebb, but there was a looming accounting scandal. All should have been set fair for Mr Coupe, but the reality was much tougher.

There was a new competitive threat in the shape of Aldi and Lidl, German-owned discounters that have steadily taken market share in the UK. Morrisons was beginning its revival, and once Dave Lewis was established at Tesco it quickly got back into its stride. Sainsbury's was again in a fiercely competitive battle, squeezed by large mainstream rivals and upstart competitors.

Mr Coupe's answer was to try to diversify the company's sources of income, a plan that became real with the successful purchase of Argos. He then thought he could add scale through a merger with Asda. The time was right – Asda's American owner, Walmart, was eager to sell, and the UK competition regulator had approved Tesco's purchase of the wholesaler Booker.

A deal would have created a chain big enough to frighten Tesco, but Mr Coupe misjudged the situation. The Competition and Markets Authority rejected the tie-up in brutal fashion, leaving many investors wondering how the board could ever have thought it would go through.

From that moment the clock was ticking for Mr Coupe, and his departure is not a surprise. His successor, Simon Roberts, inherits the same basic problem – how to make Sainsbury's stand out in the crowded middle ground of the UK grocery market.

Mr Coupe's exit did not come as a shock to Maureen Hinton, a retail analyst at GlobalData.

She thought the timing had been planned to allow for a period of stability at the supermarket following the failed Asda deal.

“The fact that they've got a candidate to take over makes it seem much more like it's been planned,” she told the BBC.

She said Sainsbury's had probably timed the announcement to give customers, staff and investors a period of “stability” after the failure of the Asda tie-up.

She expected Mr Roberts would try to make further cost cuts and attract more shoppers, although she said some believed the grocery market was becoming saturated.

“There's only so much we can eat,” she said.

By Phillip Inman

Bank of England to examine how UK could adopt a bitcoin-style digital currency

( via – -Wed, 22nd Jan 2020) London, Uk – –

BoE one of central banks weighing potential benefits amid decline of cash and emergence of Facebook’s libra

The Bank of England will examine how Britain could adopt a bitcoin-style digital currency as part of a global group of central banks that have joined together to examine the possible pitfalls of relying on electronic money.

Bank officials will meet with the Bank of Japan, the European Central Bank (ECB), the Sveriges Riksbank, the Bank of Canada, the Swiss National Bank and the Bank for International Settlements (BIS) to pool research and experiences of the potential for a central bank digital currency (CBDC).

The BoE deputy governor Sir Jon Cunliffe will co-chair the group with Benoît Cœuré, a former ECB board member and head of the BIS innovation hub.

The move comes amid the emergence of private sector digital currencies, such as bitcoin and Facebook’s libra, which is due to be launched this year.

Facebook’s plans for its libra coin and a digital wallet have caught the attention of regulators and central banks worldwide, with Threadneedle Street being among those vowing tough new rules.

The BoE was among several central banks to warn that libra would need to be regulated, leading many supporters to end their relationship with the digital currency.

The idea of a central bank digital currency has been increasingly mooted worldwide to help improve payment systems and cross-border transactions.

The Bank said the new working group would look at “CBDC use cases; economic, functional and technical design choices, including cross-border interoperability; and the sharing of knowledge on emerging technologies”.

It will also work closely with other global forums and groups, such as the Financial Stability Board and the committee on payments and market infrastructures (CPMI), which is also chaired by Cunliffe.

Just last month, Sweden’s central bank said it would sign a deal with the consultancy firm Accenture to create a pilot platform for a digital currency, known as the e-krona.

The Riksbank has been exploring the idea of its own digital currency for some time, especially given the rapid decline in the use of cash in Sweden.

The European Central Bank has also been investigating the possible benefits of CBDC since last year.

Fran Boait, executive director of Positive Money, said policymakers had been slow to realise how much enthusiasm there was for digital money.

“They have been asleep at the wheel over the future of our money system being determined by a small number of banks, payment companies and now tech giants.

“The rapid decline of cash and threat of private digital currencies like Facebook’s libra have served as a much-needed wake-up call, but central bankers have a lot of catching up to do.

“Central banks need to accelerate plans for a central bank digital currency, which would both ensure that people have the choice of a safe public banking option and prevent our monetary system being completely surrendered to unaccountable private interests. This new group must serve as a vehicle for doing so.”

By Phillip Inman