Amazon warehouses accident reports raises safety concerns

( via – – Tue, 18th Feb 2020) London, Uk – –

Figures obtained by GMB show safety at its UK warehouses could be worsening

More than 600 Amazon workers have been seriously injured or narrowly escaped an accident in the past three years, prompting calls for a parliamentary inquiry into safety at the online retailer’s vast UK warehouses.

Amazon, whose largest shareholder is the world’s richest man Jeff Bezos, recently launched an advertising campaign fronted by contented staff members, after a string of embarrassing revelations about working conditions.

But new figures obtained by the GMB trade union under the Freedom of Information Act suggest safety at its more than 50 UK warehouses has not improved, and may be worsening.

Local authorities have received 622 accident reports involving Amazon warehouses over the past three years. The annual total has risen from 152 in 2016-17 to 230 the following year and 240 last year.Advertisement

In one case, a self-employed contractor at a London warehouse lost consciousness and appeared to stop breathing following a head injury, having attempted to restart work.

The accident investigation report found that sorting baskets had been overfilled and that “the main root cause of this incident was failing to provide a safe working environment”.

A report covering an incident in 2015, before the period covered by the figures, concluded that a lapse of concentration due to “long working hours” was behind an incident in which a forklift truck driver reversed into a steel structure, bringing some of it down.

Internal emails from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) show that the accident was reported by an Amazon worker who would not give their name because they were “worried about getting sacked”.

Lisa Nandy, the MP for Wigan and a Labour leadership contender, called for an investigation into Amazon. She said: “The warehouse injuries suffered by Amazon workers are beyond appalling. I stand ready, if and when Amazon’s workers take strike action and protest, I will be there with them.

“The Tories need to start taking workers’ rights seriously and standing up to businesses like Amazon. I call on an urgent investigation – workers simply cannot wait for their conditions to improve.”

Jack Dromey, MP for Birmingham Erdington, said: “In my 30 years in the world of work I cannot remember any company clock up so many injuries to its workers.

“I have been inside the giant Rugeley depot and heard first-hand from frightened workers of the 77 serious incidents in Rugeley alone.

“Amazon purports to be a 21st century company. It behaves like a 19th century mill-owner. [Its] owner, the American billionaire, Jeff Bezos, should be called to account by parliament for his actions.

“How can he or Amazon justify refusing to talk to their workers’ union, the GMB, on safety? Their behaviour is disgraceful.”

The GMB said the escalation in the number of accidents and near-misses demonstrated the need for parliament to investigate the online retailer.

Mick Rix, GMB national officer, said: “Amazon are spending millions on PR campaigns trying to persuade people its warehouses are great places to work. But the facts are there for all to see – things are getting worse.

“Hundreds of stricken Amazon workers are needing urgent medical attention. Conditions are hellish.

“We’ve tried over and over again to get Amazon to talk to us to try and improve safety for workers. But enough is enough – it’s now time for a full parliamentary inquiry.”

Amazon became the second company in the world to be valued by Wall Street at $1tn, while its founder Jeff Bezos is the world’s richest man with an estimated net worth of $137bn (£104tn).

But the company has been dogged by allegations that its success is founded on the backs of workers enduring poor safety and low pay, leading to claims that Scottish staff resorted to living in tents to cut commuting costs.

Bezos is paying $165m for a house in the exclusive Beverly Hills area of Los Angeles, according to the Wall Street Journal, more than Amazon is due to pay in US federal taxes in 2019.

An Amazon spokesman said: “Amazon is a safe place to work. Yet again, our critics seem determined to paint a false picture of what it’s like to work for Amazon. They repeat the same sensationalised allegations time and time again.

“Our doors are open to the public, to politicians, and indeed to anyone who truly wants to see the modern, innovate and, most importantly, safe environment we provide to our people. The fact is we benchmark against UK national data, published by the Health & Safety Executive, confirming we have over 40% fewer injuries on average than other transportation and warehousing businesses in the UK.”

By Rob Davies

Laura Ashley in talks with lender to secure enough funds to keep trading

( via– Mon, 17th Feb 2020) London, Uk – –

Shares in the retailer fell by more than 40% after it said it was in talks over securing “immediate funding requirements”.

The owner of struggling retailer Laura Ashley is in talks with its lender to secure enough funds to keep trading as it battles “challenging” high street conditions.

Laura Ashley said the discussions between majority shareholder MUI Asia and US bank Wells Fargo came after a tough period in the last six months of 2019 in which sales fell 10.8% to £109.6m.

The discussions are aimed at finding a way for the clothing and homewares retailer to access the cash it needs to meet “immediate funding requirements” as well as capital for the short to medium term.

“If the group remains unable to access the requisite level of funding, then the company will need to consider all appropriate options,” Laura Ashley said.

Shares plunged by 45% on Monday.

The retailer negotiated a £20m loan from Wells Fargo last year but restrictions on how much it can draw on this money have come into force as stock and customer deposit levels have dropped.

It comes after a latter half of 2019 in which the retailer said it was hit by “market headwinds and weak consumer spending” resulting in a decline in sales of big-ticket items.

Laura Ashley said it was in the early stages of a plan to turn around its fortunes, but “encouraged” by the early signs.

Sales for the first seven weeks of 2020 were flat on the same period a year ago.

Chairman Andrew Khoo said: “We acknowledge that recent trading conditions, in line with the overall UK retail market, have indeed been challenging.

“There is however a robust plan in place to turn the business around.”

The update comes as the retailer prepares to report half-year financial results on Thursday.

Last August, Laura Ashley reported an annual loss of £14.3m as dwindling demand for its furniture and decorating products dragged sales lower.

By John-Paul Ford Rojas

Shoe Zone warns closure of a fifth of its stores if business rates do not change

( via – – Mon, 17th Feb 2020) London, Uk – –

Shoe Zone has warned that it could be forced to close a fifth of its stores if business rates do not change.

The retailer will close 100 of its UK stores unless the property tax is overhauled.

Boss Anthony Smith told the BBC: “If people want vibrant High Streets, they really do need retailers like us to keep our shops open in smaller towns.”

Retailers have called on HM Treasury to reform business rates in the Budget scheduled for next month.

Business rates are similar to council tax for business properties. They are paid by businesses, or landlords if a property is empty.

Mr Smith told Wake Up to Money that although rents had fallen across its 500 shops, the amount it pays in business rates had increased from 26% to 54% over the last 10 years.

High Street regeneration

Mr Smith said: “There is a lot of talk about the regeneration and repurposing of town centres, which we are all up for. But whatever goes into those shops, the rateable value is still simply too high.”

The rateable value is set by the government's Valuation Office Agency. It determines how much a firm has to pay in business rates, based on the value of the property.

He added: “It's a simple maths question. Every time a lease comes up, we'll look at the mathematics of it. If we are not making any money out of it… the shop will unfortunately close.”

In 2019, the firm's former chief executive Nick Davis stepped down, warning that profits would be lower than expected.

Anthony Smith was previously chief executive of the brand for 20 years, and last year took the role on again.

He told the BBC that the firm is closing about 20 stores each year, but pointed out that sales online and in out-of-town areas were “going well”.

High Street stores have recently been under pressure due to a squeeze on consumer spending and the rise of online shopping.

Major supermarkets, department stores and others recently called on the government to overhaul the business rates system, saying they place an unfair burden on shops.

However, it is not clear whether the Budget scheduled for 11 March will go ahead as planned following last week's the resignation of former Chancellor Sajid Javid.

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Source: Alux

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RBS Group plans to change its name to NatWest later this year

( via – – Fri, 14th Feb2020) London, Uk – –

Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) Group has said it plans to change its name later this year, as it reported a near doubling of annual profits.

The Edinburgh-based bank, which owns RBS, NatWest and Ulster Bank, said it would rename itself as NatWest Group.

The bank reported profits of £3.1bn for 2019, nearly double the £1.6bn seen the year before.

New RBS chief executive Alison Rose called the results the “start of a new era” for the bank.

It is thought that Ms Rose is hoping a rebrand will help shift the lender's image away from its association with the financial crisis.

The bank was rescued by the government in 2008 in the aftermath of the financial crisis at a cost of £45bn and it is still 62% state-owned.

Ms Rose told the BBC's Today programme that the name change would not alter any services for RBS or NatWest customers.

About 80% of the bank's customers are thought to use NatWest. Names of individual NatWest and RBS branches will remain the same.

She also said that the name change would not result in any job cuts across the group.

This is Ms Rose's first set of results for the lender. She became the first woman to lead one of the so-called big four largest UK banks when she was appointed last year.

Analysis: Dharshini David

Crucial questions unanswered

Today's announcement was not just the first set of full-year results unveiled by new chief executive Alison Rose but also the long-awaited unveiling of her strategy.

But many crucial questions remain unanswered, with Ms Rose failing to address recent press reports that claimed job cuts may be in store.

RBS was the subject of a £45bn state bailout during the financial crisis, and remains 62% taxpayer-owned. A 25-year veteran of the bank, Alison Rose is one of the few senior executives left from the pre-crisis era, when former boss Fred Goodwin's overambitious expansion plans left the bank in a perilous state.

More than a decade on, it falls to her to complete the clean-up operation. She says the name change for the parent company marks a new era, but the real challenge is to prove she can get the bank back into a state where the remaining stake can be sold without incurring a hefty loss for taxpayers.

Climate commitment

RBS also announced it was committed to “at least halve the climate impact” of its financing activity by 2030.

It says it will stop lending to coal companies by the end of the decade.

The bank also confirmed it would make its own operations “net carbon zero” by the end of this year.

That follows on from a pledge by Lloyds Banking Group to halve the amount of carbon emissions it finances through personal and business loans by 2030.

A continuity candidate

Ms Rose has been at RBS for more than 25 years, mainly in a number of roles in its investment bank.

She was previously deputy chief executive of NatWest Holdings, and before Ms Rose was appointed chief executive of the RBS group she was head of commercial and private banking.

She worked her way up after joining the bank as a graduate trainee in 1992.

Unlike her predecessor Ross McEwan, she is based solely in London, although the bank has its headquarters in Edinburgh.

Ms Rose is also paid more than her predecessor, with her annual salary set at £1.1m compared with Mr McEwan's £1m.

Shares hit

RBS's share price fell by nearly 5% after its results.

Neil Wilson, chief market analyst at, said markets needed “some convincing”, despite the jump in profits.

But he said “it's clear RBS is putting legacy conduct issues behind it and has got the payment protection insurance (PPI) monkey off its back”.

The bank took a £900m charge for mis-sold PPI in 2019, which was at the top end of its expectations.

Mr Wilson added: “Now that the PPI deadline has passed, the bank has much greater visibility of future cash generation.”

Ford gears up for the future as the car giant unveils its first all-electric model

( via– Fri, 14th Feb 2020) London, Uk – –

The US giant that pioneered mass car production unveils its first all-electric model as the industry finally embraces change.

In the farthest corner of a basement gallery at the Victoria & Albert Museum is an object that may have changed the world more than any other in the museum's vast collection.

A 1926 Ford Model-T Tourer is the starting point of an exhibition examining the impact of car design.

It's there because it was transformative: for manufacturing, industry, travel, leisure, economies, cities and the environment.

The car ushered in the age of mass production and the democratisation of vehicle ownership and established Ford as an industrial giant, a position it retains to this day.

Its founder aimed the vehicle unashamedly at the American everyman.

“I will build a motor car for the great multitude,” Henry Ford promised.

“But it will be so low in price that no man making a good salary will be unable to own one – and enjoy with his family the blessing of hours of pleasure in God's great open spaces.”

He was as good as his word and in 19 years of production, 15 million Model T's were made and sold around the world.

More than a century on however there is no question the age of the motor car has come at a price, with the climate the principal victim of Ford's success.

Today the motor industry is finally grappling with the emissions crisis, and Ford has launched its first all-electric model, the Mustang Mach-E.

Tellingly this is not an ‘electric Model T' aiming to repeat the universal affordability of the car that made the marque.

The name is a giveaway.

Mustang is Ford's best-known brand, the badge on the noisy, thirsty sports coupe driven into Hollywood lore by Steve McQueen in Bullitt.

The Mach-E is not an electric version of a gas-guzzling US classic.

Instead the Mustang name is there to burnish the sporty credentials of an SUV designed to be sleek enough to catch the eye of petrolheads but with enough room in the back to make it a viable family car.

With a starting price of around £46,000 for the entry level model, rising to £56,000 and more for a battery with longer range, it is closer to the top end of the electric market created by Tesla than the mass market into which Ford sells its best seller, the Fiesta.

There are practical and economic reasons for the positioning.

The Mach-E's battery costs around £10,000, which is a quick way of making a £15,000 Fiesta unaffordable.

And it is heavy, so an SUV makes it a good starting point for electrification.

Ford follows Jaguar, Audi and others in focusing on larger battery-powered vehicles.

Tesla has also demonstrated there is a market for electric vehicles at the upper end, one Ford hopes to reverse into with a more affordable offer.

But with the British government having imposed a 2035 deadline for a ban on new diesel and petrol cars, mass-producers like Ford need to bring electric technology into the reach of their founder's “great multitudes”.

Ford's European President Stuart Rowley acknowledges the challenge, but says governments and consumers, still wedded to our planet polluting cars, have to change too.

“We will be investing in lower-priced full battery electric vehicles as we move forward,” he told Sky News.

“Our first European-built battery electric vehicle will be coming to market in 2023, and as we gain scale the cost of the technology will reduce and it will become more accessible

“But you have got to remember today the charging infrastructure isn't in there, so even if you can afford an expensive vehicle you wouldn't necessarily be able to use it.

“So many people will want different solutions.

“We'll have a mild, a full and a plug-in hybrid Cougar, and we're electrifying our commercial vehicles – we have a plug-in Transit custom one tonne van and next year we'll have a two tonne full-battery electric Transit.”

Like its counterparts Ford wants governments to do more to incentivise and support the market, building charging infrastructure and offering tax breaks to buyers.

It will push back on some targets however, with Rowley arguing there should still be a place for “clean diesel” in their Transit and other light goods vehicles.

But strikingly, he says he can see the day the Ford Motor Company no longer makes petrol and diesel cars.

“I'm sure that day will come, I don't know what date that is and it will be different in different countries but the technology will evolve.

“I don't know when, there will be many forces at play in that, but that's the direction of travel we're going in.

“That's what governments want, it's what society wants and we will be a part of that.”

They will have to be if the internal combustion engine is to join the Model T as a museum piece.

By Paul Kelso

Switching blunders by energy firms will cost £30 automatic payment to customers

( via – – Wed, 12th Feb 2020) London, Uk – –

Gas and electricity customers will receive automatic compensation of £30 from May if their switch to a new provider goes wrong, Ofgem has said.

The regulator said the new rules should give “peace of mind” to those shopping around. More than six million people switched energy firms last year.

Payments will be made if the switch is not completed within 15 working days.

A mistaken switch or a failure by the old supplier to provide a final bill within six weeks will also qualify.

‘First time success'

Mary Starks, from Ofgem, said: “We are introducing these new standards to give customers further peace of mind, and to challenge suppliers to get it right first time.”

The move was described as a “welcome intervention” by David Pilling, from the Energy Ombudsman – the independent referee of unresolved disputes between customers and providers.

“Switching is now second only to billing as a source of complaints that we handle, so it's clear that for too many people the process of changing supplier doesn't go as smoothly as it should,” he said.

Since Ofgem introduced minimum standards last year, more than £700,000 has been paid out to customers from suppliers.

Of these payments, 27% have been for mistaken switches, while 73% have been for late credit balance refunds. This system will now be extended by making compensation payments automatic.

“Households can still save hundreds of pounds by switching and shouldn't be put through the hassle and stress of having to claim compensation when energy suppliers make mistakes,” said Dame Gillian Guy, boss of Citizens Advice.

Cameo by Spanish crisp firm in Oscar-winning comedy thriller Parasite leads to sales boom

( via – – Wed, 12th Feb 2020) London, Uk – –

Bonilla a la vista sees sales surge after its distinctive tins feature in Bong Joon-ho’s Oscar-winning comedy thriller

Parasite’s Oscar-night triumphs may have been celebrated mainly in its native South Korea and in the many outposts of the country’s diaspora, but the film has also been toasted on an industrial estate in north-west Spain.

The Galician town of Arteixo is home to a family-owned business that exports 40 tonnes of its crisps to South Korea each year, and whose products have won over more mouths thanks to an unexpected cameo role in Bong Joon-ho’s comedy thriller.

Bonilla a la vista, which has been making crisps and churros for almost a century, first realised something odd was going on last month when people began posting screen grabs of one of its distinctive blue-and-white crisp tins on social media.

It soon emerged that their products had cropped up in Parasite, appearing in a scene in which the infiltrating Kim family eat snacks and drink whisky in the living room of their wealthy employers, the Parks.

Bonilla’s crisps were already popular in South Korea, but their brief role in Parasite has led to them being feted by social media influencers. It has also resulted in a 150% surge in online sales, meaning more work for the company’s 100 employees.

“It was a total coincidence that the tin of crisps appeared in the film,” said a spokeswoman for Bonilla.

“We actually only found our about the tin being in the film through friends and customers who clocked it. It was a complete surprise, but rather a lovely one. Sales have gone up a lot but, oddly, it’s mainly been in Spain. Our distributors have asked us for more merchandise to meet the demand.”

Bonilla a la vista was founded in 1932 when Salvador Bonilla began travelling around Galicia to sell his crisps and churros at fairs.

Today, it produces about 540 tonnes of crisps each year, of which 60 tonnes are sold overseas – two-thirds in South Korea. A 500g tin costs €13 in Spain and €23 in South Korea.

Salvador’s son César, who started off frying crisps and churros and delivering them by motorbike, still heads the family business at the age of 87.

Things have changed since the days when he would be up all night frying before heading out first thing the next day to drop off the snacks at bars and cafes.

But even if Bonilla is as startled by his firm’s Oscar boost as anyone, he says his crisps have always spoken for themselves.

“We’ve always used good potatoes, good olive oil and sea salt – that gives them a great taste and texture,” he said.Advertisement

“Still, it was a huge surprise and you just can’t get better publicity than being in an Oscar-winning film. We export to 20 countries but we’ve never had a boom like this.”

The company’s Korean market opened up four years ago following a few fact-finding missions from would-be importers.

“They came over three or four times and we chatted and negotiated,” said Bonilla. “They visited a few factories but in the end, they went for this one. Ours were the crisps they liked and we became friends almost before we started doing business.”

Between colds and dialysis appointments, the businessman has not managed to see Parasite yet, but insists that he will. “I have to because it’ll be such a great moment.”

There are also plans to send “Mr Bong Joon-ho” a blue-and-white can or two to sit alongside his golden statues. “He certainly deserves them,” said Bonilla.

By Sam Jones in Madrid

HS2 rail project giving the go-ahead despite spiralling costs

( via– Tue, 11th Feb 2020) London, Uk – –

The government will also announce billions of pounds of investment in greener bus services and cycle paths.

Boris Johnson is heading for a rebellion by up to 60 Conservative MPs by giving the go-ahead for the controversial £100bn flagship rail project, HS2.

The hugely expensive scheme is expected to be approved at a special meeting of the cabinet and then the prime minister will announce the decision in a statement in the Commons.

In a bid to placate potential rebel MPs, the PM's statement will also include the announcement of £5bn of new funding to overhaul bus and cycle links for every UK region outside London.

The package includes at least 4,000 new zero emission buses to promote greener commuting, over 250 miles of new cycle routes and dozens of new ‘Mini-Holland' schemes, designed to make town centres safer and greener for cyclists and pedestrians. HS2 explained: What is it and how much will it cost?John-Paul Ford Rojas looks at the detail of one of the UK's biggest infrastructure projects in decades

The go-ahead for HS2, which will eventually slash journey times between London and the north of England, is seen as a move to repay northern voters who swept Mr Johnson into Number 10 in December.

As a result, it has become a political imperative for the prime minister, who won his 80-seat Commons majority with pledges to improve infrastructure in the north of England and the Midlands.

But it risks a furious backlash from Conservative MPs in the home counties and middle England, who are bitterly opposed to the project on grounds of its ballooning cost and the destruction of rural beauty spots.

Nearly 60 Conservative MPs are backing an HS2 Review Group, a caucus of Tories opposed to the scheme including a number of new MPs elected to the Commons in the December election.

The Taxpayers' Alliance has also condemned the go-ahead. Spokesman Harry Fone said: “This announcement is a massive blow to the taxpayers of today and tomorrow who will be left paying for the HS2 white elephant with no light at the end of the tunnel.”

Meanwhile, Greenpeace said Boris Johnson's decision will give him “the dubious honour of being this century's largest destroyer of irreplaceable ancient woodlands in the UK”.

But Mr Johnson's decision to back HS2 after months of wrangling and the cost trebling since it was first conceived more than a decade ago reflects his determination to go ahead with major infrastructure projects.

The prime minister is said to want to see the biggest infrastructure revolution since Victorian times and has even ordered civil servants to carry out a feasibility study for a £20bn bridge between Scotland and Northern Ireland.

On HS2, he is likely to announce that work on the London to Birmingham and Birmingham to Crewe sections can begin immediately, opening in 2036. But it is thought that a phase from Manchester to Leeds will be delayed until 2040 to make sure it is cost-effective.

This review is likely to recommend integrating HS2 with the new Northern Powerhouse line linking cities including Liverpool, Manchester, Bradford, Sheffield, Leeds and Hull.

Other projects expected to be given the go-ahead include the repeatedly delayed electrification of the Trans-Pennine route between Manchester and York, a £3bn upgrade that will enable more trains to run and cut journey times.

In backing HS2, the prime minister is overruling his controversial special adviser Dominic Cummings, who has described it as “a disaster zone” and his transport adviser Andrew Gilligan, who have both argued for the project to be scrapped.

But the decisive moment in the Whitehall wrangling over the project came last month when the Chancellor Sajid Javid let it be known that after a Treasury analysis that he backed it ahead of a crucial meeting with the PM and the Transport Secretary Grant Shapps.

Mr Javid refused to confirm the final decision in the hours leading up to the announcement, but balked at the suggestion the splurge would be better spent improving east-west transport links.

“It's not about instead of,” he told Sky News' Kay Burley@Breakfast, adding: “We can still as a country invest in better connectivity across our cities.”

Two of the biggest backers of HS2 have been the big-city mayors, Labour's Andy Burnham of Greater Manchester and the Tories' Andy Street in the West Midlands. Senior Tories believe the go-ahead is crucial to Mr Street's chances of re-election in May.

Travelling at up to 250mph, HS2 is designed to reduce journey times between London and Birmingham from 80 to 45 minutes and between London and Manchester from 128 to 68 minutes.

The cost was originally estimated at £3bn in 2009, then £56bn in 2013, but is now expected to cost £106bn, though the National Audit Office has said it is impossible to estimated with certainty what the final cost will be.

By Jon Craig

Independent group set up to improve Lloyd’s of London culture

( via — Tue, 11th Feb 2020) London, UK —

(Reuters) – Lloyd’s of London said on Tuesday that former Virgin Money boss Jayne-Anne Gadhia would be part of a committee to “drive long-term culture change” in the world’s oldest insurance market.

Mental Health UK Chief Executive Officer Brian Dow and Lloyd’s Market Association CEO Sheila Cameron are also on the independent Culture Advisory Group, which will be chaired by Lloyd’s board member Fiona Luck and held its first meeting on Jan 30.

Lloyd’s has been fighting a storm over diversity in the past year, acknowledging issues with sexual harassment and day-time drinking in the commercial insurance market, which employs around 45,000 people.

The Financial Conduct Authority last month wrote to the chief executives of commercial insurance companies, telling them to stamp out bad behaviour in the industry and improve diversity, or risk losing their jobs.

By Muvija M and Carolyn Cohn

UK’s taxi app market stepped up a gear as Ola enters London market

( via – -Mon, 10th Feb 2020) London, Uk – –

The UK's taxi app market has stepped up a gear with the launch of Indian firm Ola's services in London.

The ride-hailing company began operating in Cardiff in 2018 and has since spread to other UK locations.

It has its sights trained on US-based rival Uber, which is appealing against a decision to end its London licence following repeated safety failures.

But one expert sees the sector as a “winner-take-all” market that can only be profitable as a monopoly business.

Ola says it already has three million customers across the UK and hopes to be number one in London within a year.

However, it is not the only challenger to have moved in since Transport for London (TfL) said Uber was “not fit and proper” to be a licence holder.

So what are Ola's chances of knocking out its competitors? And how does it compare with other services?

What is the state of the market?

Ola's services in London began on Monday and its licence will initially run until the end of 2020.

It already offers its services in large parts of the country, including seven big UK towns and cities: Bath, Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Exeter, Liverpool and Reading.

Across the UK, there are now about a dozen app-based ways to book a cab.

Some work with traditional licensed taxi drivers and are merely an alternative to making a phone call. But the majority are hoping to displace Uber by building their own networks of drivers.

Uber is still operating in London after appealing against the decision not to renew its licence.

But however bleak its long-term prospects may seem, it still has the advantage of brand recognition – and it still has more registered drivers in London than any of its rivals.

Uber has 45,000 drivers in the capital, as against 35,000 for its closest rival, Bolt. Ola has recruited 25,000 drivers in London, while another contender, Kapten, has 20,000.

What does Ola say?

Ola's head of international, Simon Smith, told the BBC: “We are confident that we can become the market leader in London within a year.”

He said the number of Londoners who had downloaded the firm's app so far was “in six figures” and stressed that Ola was “very much focused on safety and reliability”.

“It's in our DNA to always follow the law, whether that's in Birmingham, Brisbane or Bangalore,” he added.

Mr Smith said Ola aimed to cover the whole of the UK: “The only limit on the pace of our expansion in the UK is how quickly we can get the relevant licences.”

And what makes it so hopeful?

The Indian firm is clearly striving to learn from the experience of Uber, which was upbraided for failing to screen its drivers properly, potentially putting passengers at risk.

Ola has announced a raft of safety features, including one that traces a driver's route and flags up any “irregular vehicle activity”. The app also has a “panic button” that users can push if anything goes wrong.

The firm also bars drivers who have more than six penalty points on their licence.

And it is making an effort to fix the brand recognition problem too, with a lavish advertising campaign.

What do analysts think?

Transport commentator Christian Wolmar is deeply sceptical about the entire ride-hailing sector, which he believes has an unsustainable business model.

He told the BBC that Ola, Uber and other such firms offered little that was not already provided by existing minicab firms or licensed taxi drivers.

“They have flooded the market, spending vast amounts of money, and the only way they can win is to create a monopoly that allows them to control the price,” he said.

“Clearly, that's their strategy – to wipe out the competition.”

Mr Wolmar compared the current free-for-all in the ride-hailing market to the deregulation of UK buses in the 1980s, which saw the brief rise of small operators such as “Mr Bloggs running buses down Sheffield High Street”.

But in the end, he said, the small operators were all bought up by bigger firms who “carved out” local monopolies.

Ride-hailing services were popular with young people because they were cheap, he said. “But that can't last.”

By Robert Plummer

Waitrose to launch thousands of new and revamped products aimed at online customers

( via – – Mon, 10th Feb 2020) London, Uk – –

Supermarket will launch thousands of new and revamped products aiming to retain online customers

Waitrose is to launch thousands of new and revamped products in the coming months as the battle for the hearts and minds of Ocado shoppers moves up a gear.

The supermarket’s deal with the online grocer will finish at the end of August, when it will be replaced by Marks & Spencer. The switchover is high risk for all the brands involved: Ocado risks losing loyal Waitrose shoppers while the supermarket, which is part of the John Lewis Partnership, will have to persuade shoppers to use its own website instead.

Last year, Ocado fired the opening salvo stating its product range would be bigger, cheaper and better quality under the M&S deal. The online grocer will stock 6,000 M&S products, compared with the 4,000 it sells as part of its supply deal with Waitrose. The alternatives would be the “same price or lower, and of the same quality or better” than the Waitrose ones, Ocado said.

Waitrose on the other hand says it is working on 5,000 new or reformulated products – a figure that equates to nearly a third of the 17,000 own-label products sold under house brands such as Duchy, Essential Waitrose and No.1. To come up with more distinctive products the retailer has made a multimillion-pound investment in the kitchens at its Bracknell headquarters in Berkshire.

The supermarket is also running a “you can taste when it’s Waitrose” advertising campaign to underline its foodie credentials. With short ads focused on “hand-rolled white sourdough bread made in London” and “100% Italian” olive oil produced in Umbria, the marketing push aims to claim the high ground as the UK’s “leading quality food retailer” selling products “unrivalled on quality and taste”.

The charm offensive comes ahead of Ocado’s full-year results on Tuesday when an update on the M&S joint venture is anticipated. After nearly a decade as an unloved listed company, Ocado has become a stock market darling after its chief executive, Tim Steiner, sold its grocery-picking expertise to several foreign supermarkets.

Ocado’s shares have risen 40% over the past 12 months with the company worth more than £8bn, primarily thanks to the overseas deals banked by its tech arm Ocado Solutions (M&S paid £750m for 50% of Ocado Retail, the subsidiary that operates robotic warehouses in the UK). The year was not without its setbacks: its hi-tech warehouse in Andover, Hampshire, was destroyed in a fire. Analysts at Bernstein expect pre-tax losses to have widened to £204m on sales of £1.8bn in 2019.

Waitrose had enlisted Today Development Partners, a technology business run by Ocado co-founder Jonathan Faiman, to help grow its online operation without Ocado. However, the deal ended after just four months and it subsequently emerged Faiman, who left the online business in 2009, was being sued by Ocado.

Thomas Davies, a retail analyst at Berenberg bank, expects some Waitrose shoppers to defect but suggests they will be replaced by M&S customers who can’t buy its food online at the moment. Ocado owns the customer data so “will be able to target those customers that it views to be most at risk from switching”, he suggested.

“While everyone is looking at the potential impact from Ocado’s perspective, we believe investors are failing to acknowledge the negative impact on Waitrose, from ending the Ocado contract,” continued Davies who said the tie-up generated 6% of Waitrose’s sales. “This will have a material impact on Waitrose’s owner, the John Lewis Partnership, which is already struggling with margins that have fallen.”

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Source: CNBC

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Credit Suisse boss Tidjane Thiam resigns

( via – – Fri, 7th Feb 2020) London, Uk – –

Credit Suisse boss Tidjane Thiam had to resign to protect the bank's reputation following a spying scandal, its chairman has said.

Mr Thiam is leaving the Swiss bank amid a reported power struggle with chairman Urs Rohner.

It emerged that two former employees had been put under surveillance, although Mr Thiam denied knowledge of the operations.

Mr Rohner said things “became more difficult” when a second case emerged.

Speaking to Swiss radio, Mr Rohner said Mr Thiam's departure was to maintain the bank's credibility, and denied there was ill-feeling between the two.

“At some point we realised that we couldn't get out of this situation unless we made a change and Tidjane Thiam understood that too,” he said.

Credit Suisse's board has unanimously backed Mr Rohner, despite high profile pledges of support for Mr Thiam from key investors.

The surveillance scandal initially came to light in September when a probe found the bank's former chief operating officer, Pierre-Olivier Bouée, had hired private detectives to track its former head of wealth management, Iqbal Khan.

Credit Suisse later admitted its former human resources head Peter Goerke had also been tailed, prompting an investigation by Swiss financial watchdog FINMA.

The bank's board unanimously accepted Mr Thiam's resignation.

This week a number of shareholders in Credit Suisse, such as Harris Associates, had backed Mr Thiam to stay on as chief executive and for Mr Rohner to go.

And on Wednesday, Mr Thiam posted a smiling photo of himself on Instagram with Credit Suisse's executive team.

However, the bank's board has thrown its support behind Mr Rohner.

Credit Suisse's lead independent director Severin Schwan said: “After careful deliberations, the board has been unanimous in its actions, as well as in reaffirming its full support for the chairman to complete his term until April 2021.”

Mr Rohner told Swiss broadcaster SRF on Friday: “I have spoken with many [shareholders], also with the big ones. Many have confirmed to me that they support the course of the board of directors.”

End of Instagram post by tidjane.thiam

Mr Thiam will leave on 14 February and is being replaced by Thomas Gottstein, who is head of the bank's Swiss business.

Relations between the chief executive and chairman had been increasingly strained following the spying scandal.

In a statement, Mr Thiam said: “I had no knowledge of the observation of two former colleagues.

” It undoubtedly disturbed Credit Suisse and caused anxiety and hurt. I regret that this happened and it should never have taken place.”

Analysis: Dharshini David

The spying scandal, which involved Iqbal Khan, Credit Suisse's former head of wealth management being chased through the streets of Zurich, rocked the rather staid world of Swiss banking, overshadowing Tidjane Thiam's attempts to overhaul the bank.

Mr Thiam and Mr Khan had previously been close allies, with the wealth management business a cornerstone in the chief executive's turnaround plan. He pivoted the bank away from riskier trading activities, stabilising revenue.

The scandal, which emerged after Mr Khan defected to rival UBS, claimed the jobs of two senior Credit Suisse executives and resulted in a probe from the regulators – but Mr Thiam was cleared of involvement at the time.

But as the accusations escalated, a showdown between Mr Thiam and the board ensued. Urs Rohner triumphed: the man responsible for appointing Mr Thiam also determined his departure. Tidjane Thiam has for many years been a high profile figure in the financial world, even resorting to Instagram to put his message out, and denies any wrongdoing

The bank's largest shareholders had publicly called for him to be retained; now the challenge for Credit Suisse is to persuade shareholders that his successor, bank veteran Thomas Gottstein, can continue to restore its fortunes.

Mr Thiam has had an illustrious and varied career. The French Ivorian studied in France and worked in management consultancy before serving as Ivory Coast's Minister of Planning and Development, until a military coup led to him being placed under house arrest.

He later became boss of financial services firms Aviva Europe and Prudential before joining Credit Suisse five years ago.

Mr Thiam had attempted to overhaul the Swiss bank, including increased focus on Mr Khan's wealth management division.

While he had initially praised and promoted Mr Khan, there were reports a personal animosity had developed.

This intensified after Mr Khan redeveloped a property near Lake Zurich neighbouring that of his boss.

Media reports suggested there was an altercation between Mr Khan and Mr Thiam's girlfriend at a cocktail party held by the chief executive at his home, over trees planted on Mr Thiam's property.

Shortly after that Mr Khan announced his departure from Credit Suisse.

It later emerged private detectives were hired to track him due to fears he might poach clients when he started work at UBS.

Mr Khan, after noticing he was being tailed, had confronted the person observing him.