Meet Dwight Neptune, 22-years-old CEO and co-founder of Beagle Drones

Source: CNBC

Meet Dwight Neptune, 22-year-old CEO and co-founder of Beagle Drones. Neptune began studying electrical engineering in high school and picked up drones as a hobby. When he and his co-founders built their first drone, it actually caught on fire because it wasn't wired properly. The New Jersey-based company has come a long way since. Neptune dropped out of college after three semesters to work on Beagle full time. Beagle is currently in the process of raising $1 million at a $4 million valuation. Watch the video to hear more about what it’s like raising funding as a Black founder.

KFC to create 5,400 jobs in the UK and Ireland despite some outlets in covid restricted areas

( via – – Fri, 23rd Oct 2020) London, Uk – –

KFC says it plans to add 5,400 jobs in the UK and Ireland by the end of 2020, despite many of its outlets being in areas affected by Covid restrictions.

The fast food chain has 965 restaurants across the UK and Ireland.

The company says some of the new jobs will be funded by the UK government's Kickstart scheme, which is designed to help young people.

The 16-24 year old age group has been disproportionately hit by job losses in the pandemic.

The new jobs come at a time when the UK's hospitality sector is reeling from the effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

Local lockdowns and restrictions have forced many restaurants, bars and pubs to close, or work at reduced capacity, prompting Chancellor Rishi Sunak to introduce new measures to prevent mass job losses, when the furlough scheme ends in November.

The unemployment rate in the UK rose to 4.5% in the June-to-August period, the highest level in three years.

But amongst 16-24 year olds who are able to work the figure is 13.5%.

“This year is going to be even more challenging for young people looking for job opportunities,” said Paula Mackenzie, general manager at KFC for the UK and Ireland.

“But we know that all the skills the hospitality sector teaches – the importance of hard work , delivering great service and working as part of a team – will hugely help them in the long run.”

The government's Kickstart scheme, which KFC says will fund some of the new jobs, pays employers £1,500 for every 16-24 year-old they train. It is aimed at young people who are on Universal Credit and at risk of long-term unemployment.

The new posts will be in addition to the 4,300 new recruits the fried chicken chain says it has taken on since the first lockdown in March.

Virgin Holidays ordered to meet refund deadlines or face court action

( via – – Fri, 23rd Oct 2020) London, Uk – –

Virgin Holidays has been ordered to meet refund deadlines following Covid-related cancellations or face court action by the regulator.

The company has agreed to pay refunds by 30 October for any holidays cancelled before September.

Those cancelled last month or this month will be refunded by 20 November.

By law, package holidays cancelled by an operator should be refunded within 14 days, but some people have waited three months to get their money back.


Virgin Holidays has received 53,000 refund requests since the start of March, totalling £203m – a situation which it said had put the company under “extraordinary pressure”. The company said it had 1,300 claims left to process.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) said it had received hundreds of complaints that people were not receiving refunds for holidays cancelled owing to the pandemic.

It said many customers had been forced to wait for an “unreasonably long time”, with some told the refunds would take three months.

If Virgin Holidays fails to hit its deadlines, the regulator said it was prepared to take the company to court. This included refunds for Virgin Holiday Cruises.

Your Virgin refund nightmares

Holidaymakers have spoken to the BBC in recent months over the stress of getting refunds from Virgin Holidays.

Newlyweds David and Natalie Rogers, from Dudley, saved for two years for their dream honeymoon safari trip in Kenya but coronavirus ruined their plans.

“We were quite angry about having to wait on hold [to Virgin Holidays] for over eight hours, and a message on the line saying that travellers should have already received a voucher for their missed holidays. It just felt like we'd been forgotten about,” they said.

Lynn and Martin Fox had remortgaged their home to pay for a holiday of a lifetime with their two children in Florida.

“If only they [Virgin Holidays] would have been honest with us and communicated with us, we would have been happy. If they put a date on the refund, we could have planned. But the phone cut off calls and emails were ignored,” Mrs Fox said.

Hannah Nash and her family paid nearly £7,000 for a holiday to Disney World in Florida but struggled to get a refund.

“The stress is making me ill. These are not small amounts for normal people,” she told the BBC in June.

Andrea Coscelli, chief executive at the CMA, said: “Our action means that Virgin Holidays customers should receive all their money back without further delay.

“We are continuing to investigate package holidays in relation to the coronavirus crisis. Should we find that any business is not complying with consumer protection law, we won't hesitate to take action.”

The regulator has issued similar warnings to other companies including Sykes Cottages and Vacation Rentals.

A spokesman for Virgin Holidays said: “We have gradually reduced refund timeframes and are now 98% through the refund queue.

“Our focus now is on rebuilding trust with our customers, recognising that it has regrettably taken much longer than normal to process their refunds. We thank them sincerely for their patience throughout.”

What are my rights?

If you have a package holiday cancelled by the provider, then a refund should be provided for the whole holiday within 14 days

If your flight is cancelled, you are entitled to a full refund to the original form of payment within seven days, although many airlines are struggling to meet that deadline. You can accept, or refuse, vouchers or a rebooking but a voucher will probably be invalid if the airline later goes bust

If you decide against going on a future flight, which is not yet cancelled, then there is no right to a refund. Different airlines have different rules over what you can do, but many are waiving any charges for changing to a later flight or having a voucher instead. Your travel insurance is unlikely to cover you

Regulation of holidays and flights is divided between the CMA and the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).

The CAA has now announced that refund credit notes (RCNs) will have greater protection than normal until the end of the year.

RCNs were handed out by some companies instead of refunds early in the coronavirus crisis, as the businesses found themselves stretched by the level of claims. Customers must be given a cash refund if they ask for one.

RCNs can be used to book another holiday, or a refund is given when the note expires.

They have been temporarily protected under the Atol scheme, which is government-guaranteed and administered by the CAA.

Protection has been extended to cover any issued between 1 October and 31 December. It will apply to all relevant vouchers issued by Atol holders operating within the UK.

This means that the refund will be honoured, and can be drawn from a central pot, even if the provider goes bust.

By Kevin Peachey

Viagogo’s $4bn takeover of StubHub provisionally blocked by competition watchdog

( via – – Thur, 22nd Oct 2020) London, Uk – –

Regulator says deal between controversial ticket resale firms would harm consumers

The UK element of the takeover of ticket resale website StubHub by its rival Viagogo has been provisionally blocked by the competition watchdog, throwing the future of the controversial $4bn tie-up into doubt.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) said Viagogo, which pressed ahead with the deal despite a warning from the watchdog, must now address its concerns, potentially by selling all or part of StubHub.

Stuart McIntosh, the chair of the CMA inquiry group, said: “The evidence we’ve seen so far consistently points in the same direction – that Viagogo and StubHub have a market share of more than 90% combined and compete closely with each other.

“We are therefore concerned that their merger could lead to secondary ticketing customers facing higher fees and lower quality services. We’re now inviting comments on our provisional findings and possible remedies.”

The takeover has already been described as the “worst deal in history” after it was completed shortly before the pandemic shut down the vast majority of live events around the world.

The CMA is understood to have received submissions from music industry groups concerned about the power the combined company would wield.

Both firms have drawn fire from musicians such as Ed Sheeran, as well as from MPs, for repeatedly misleading consumers and exploiting alliances with powerful ticket touts to profit from fans’ devotion to their idols.

By Rob Davies

FTSE 100 slips to five-month low following a glum quarterly report from firms

(Reuters) – London’s FTSE 100 hit a five-month low on Thursday as glum quarterly reports from firms, including British Airways-owner IAG, weighed on sentiment ahead of a parliament address by finance minister Rishi Sunak on the economic outlook.

The blue-chip FTSE 100 index .FTSE fell 0.2%, with IAG ICAG.L slipping 1.3% after the airline group posted a quarterly loss and further downgraded its capacity outlook for the rest of the year.

The domestically-focussed mid-cap FTSE 250 index .FTMC lost 0.1%, dragged by a 16.5% slump in real estate firm Shaftesbury Plc SHB.L following a share offering.

“A lot of doom and gloom of earnings is quite priced into the markets and when we’re heading into a second wave (of the coronavirus), that’s going to create a lot more uncertainty, especially around businesses’ ability to open their doors,” said Craig Erlam, senior market analyst at Oanda in London.

UK stock markets are set for a second straight weekly loss, with investors fearful that a new round of coronavirus restrictions could hammer a nascent economic recovery.

With the UK’s main furlough scheme ending this month, Sunak is due to address parliament around 1030 GMT where he is probably going to adjust course slightly on job support, police minister Kit Malthouse said.

Meanwhile, Britain will resume talks on a post-Brexit trade deal with the European Union on Thursday, marking a new push by the two sides to protect billions of dollars worth of trade from the beginning of next year.

In company news, Unilever Plc ULVR.L rose 1.2% after it reported a stronger-than-expected return to sales growth in the third quarter, led by emerging markets where it generates the bulk of its revenue.

Rentokil Initial Plc RTO.L gained 2.5% as the pest control firm posted a 9.8% rise in third-quarter revenue due to higher demand for its disinfection services.

Reporting by Devik Jain 

Sky to open retail stores ‘across the UK’ to boost beleaguered high street

( via– Wed, 21st Oct 2020) London, Uk – –

A rare event for the high street as Sky invests in bricks and mortar stores to showcase its products and provide a “social hub”.

Sky, the owner of Sky News, has announced plans to open its first retail stores in a boost for the beleaguered high street.

The company said it was to start off in Liverpool next week and slowly expand the operation in the coming years “across the UK”.

It was unable to put a figure on the number of stores it was targeting or say how many jobs might be created in the process, given the continuing disruption to retail from the COVID-19 crisis.

The media and entertainment firm said the shops would offer its pay TV, mobile and broadband products under one roof but also prove a “departure” from traditional stores.

Sky said they would place the customer experience at their heart, including interactive experiences, and be a new social hub for shoppers.

In addition to its own advisers, the company said a tie-up with technology repair chain iSmash would offer professional repair and support services for smart devices.

An expansion to bricks and mortar stores is rare for the high street landscape as participants have been prioritising investment in online services for many years – a move exacerbated by more recent disruption to trading from coronavirus restrictions.

A Sky News jobs tracker shows the retail sector among the hardest hit to date.

Stephen van Rooyen, Sky's chief executive for the UK and Europe, said: “Our new Sky shops are a great way for us to showcase the amazing benefits and customer service we have to offer new and existing customers.

“We're proud to see our shops opening at a challenging time for the UK high street, and alongside our partners at iSmash, we'll bring service, innovation and convenience all in one place, under one roof, at a time when keeping people connected has never been more important.”

Waitrose and Co-op announced price cuts in the run-up to Christmas

( via – – Wed, 21st Oct 2020) London, Uk – –

Waitrose and Co-op have both announced they are cutting food prices in the run-up to Christmas in recognition of tough economic times.

The coronavirus crisis continues to hit many parts of the UK economy hard, with unemployment rising.

Companies are expected to cut more jobs after the government's furlough scheme ends on 31 October.

Supermarket prices rose after lockdown, but are now only 0.5% higher than the beginning of the year, analysts said.

The coronavirus lockdown in March tipped the economy into recession and triggered panic-buying in many large food stores, which were forced to limit the number of items people could buy.

At the time, supermarkets scrapped many special offers, while prices rose 2.5% nationwide in the first month of lockdown, according to analysis by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS).

However, as panic-buying eased, those prices drifted back down again.

In the run-up to Christmas and beyond, many people in the UK are facing tough economic times, said Waitrose, which is cutting prices on 200 of its most popular own-label products.

James Bailey, executive director at Waitrose, said: “This year has been incredibly challenging for consumers and we know times are tough for many, so we're reducing prices to provide our customers with great value on the items they buy most.

“Despite offering lower prices, we're maintaining the quality, high welfare and ethical sourcing that we're renowned for, so shoppers can spend less without compromising on what they value.”

Similarly, Co-op is investing £50m to lower prices on 300 branded and own-brand products and is launching a value range.

Jo Whitfield, Co-op Food chief executive, said: “Value is uppermost in the minds of shoppers and offering good, honest prices and fairly sourced products is important to help shoppers balance their budgets.”

A spokesperson for Co-op added: “The economic uncertainty means shoppers are looking for value for essential everyday products.

“Price has become a key driver for value-conscious consumers, particularly with rising uncertainty given the economic impact of the pandemic and as employees move from furlough to the new job support scheme in the run-up to Christmas.”

The price cuts follow similar moves by the main UK supermarkets Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury's and Morrisons.

Airlines could have covid ‘test-and-release’ system in place by December

( via – – Tue, 20th Oct 2020) London, Uk – –

Grant Shapps hopeful over timeframe but critics say plan ‘not going to cut the mustard’

A ‘test-and-release system’ to cut the quarantine period for international arrivals to the UK should be in place by 1 December, the transport secretary has said.

Grant Shapps said he was “extremely hopeful” that the system, which would require a single coronavirus test to be taken about a week after arrival and paid for privately, would be ready in six weeks’ time, depending on sufficient tests being available through the private sector.

Speaking to the aviation industry Airlines 2050 summit, Shapps said the government travel taskforce he chairs had been “working extensively with health experts and the private testing sector on the practicalities” of such a regime, as well as discussing possible pre-departure test and isolation schemes with partner countries.

He said the taskforce was in contact with more than a dozen firms about different rapid tests. The taskforce is due to report to the prime minister at the start of November on a reformed entry regime.

Asked if the test-and-release system could be running by 1 December, Shapps said: “As long as the [testing] capacity is there through the private sector to do it, I’m extremely hopeful.”

However, the new boss of British Airways signalled that even a seven-day quarantine period would not do much to restart travel.

Sean Doyle, who replaced Álex Cruz as BA chief executive last week, said: “It’s our view that even if that quarantine period is reduced to seven days, people won’t travel here and the UK will get left behind.”

He said BA wanted to see pre-departure testing, particularly to restore major transatlantic routes. BA is now flying two planes a day between London and New York, instead of the normal 12, carrying just 200 passengers, Doyle said.

Doyle quoted recent research by the global airline body Iata that showed there had been only 44 confirmed cases of aircraft passengers contracting Covid-19 onboard, including in the period before wearing face masks was mandatory. He said: “I find that pretty reassuring. That’s one in 27 million, and mostly before people wore face masks.”

Speaking to the summit, Doyle said: “We do not believe quarantine is the solution. The best way to reassure people is to introduce a reliable and affordable test before flying.

“If we look abroad to our near neighbours, we see that business travel and indeed tourism is being prioritised by some countries. We need to get the economy moving again and this just isn’t possible when you’re asking people to quarantine for 14 days.”

The trade body Airlines UK also questioned the value of the proposed regime. Its chief executive, Tim Alderslade, said: “Eight days, plus one or two days to get the results, isn’t going to have the impact we want. If you look at the average number of days people stay in the UK, from the US it’s about four days. Eight days isn’t going to cut the mustard.”

Shapps said the taskforce was still pursuing an alternative pre-departure testing scheme, but he could give no guarantees of a timescale as it would require international cooperation through the International Civil Aviation Organization.

“We’re talking to the US homeland security and others. We’d like to get trials set up. That could involve a series of tests that could involve quarantine before and after flights – or ultimately no quarantine at all if the technology is there for a rapid tests. But that requires international cooperation.”

Shapps said that the Department for Transport was still working on a long-awaited aviation recovery plan for the sector, which he promised would arrive later in the autumn, setting out more measures to boost air travel.

By Gwyn Topham

No deal in Brexit trade talks would be ‘Extremely damaging’ cutting Bentley’s profits

( via — Tue, 20th Oct 2020) London, UK —

(Reuters) – Failure to strike a Brexit trade deal with the EU would be “extremely damaging” and cut profits by up to a quarter at carmaker Bentley, its boss told Reuters, as the government urges firms to plan for potential disruption.

Britain said on Monday there was still no basis for talks with Brussels to resume, just over two months before free and unfettered trade is due to end, leading to possible tariffs, customs checks and long delays for imports and exports.

The Volkswagen-owned luxury brand has spent millions to prepare, including stockpiling, switching ports and a provisional air freight contract, but warned on failure to find an agreement.

“It would be extremely damaging,” Chief Executive Adrian Hallmark told Reuters on Tuesday.

“If you took the duties on components, 45% of the bits we buy in, and the 10% tariff on cars, worst-case scenario, it would take out a significant percentage of our profits,” he said. “(It) would probably cost us 20% to 25%.”

After a 288 million euro (263 million pound) operating loss in 2018, the firm returned to the black in 2019 with a 65 million euro profit following a turnaround plan with record sales of 11,006 vehicles.

Disruption between Britain, the world’s sixth-biggest economy, and the EU, the largest trading bloc, would come on top of the hit caused by COVID-19, which prompted Bentley to stop production between mid-March and early May.

Output has neared full capacity since mid-September, as distancing measures in the factory are enforced, and the firm has seen a strong bounceback in major markets such as China.

“In August, September, October, we’ve been running at about 20-25% above the pre-crisis planned level of orders … in China,” said Hallmark.

There have been smaller increases in Europe and the U.S. and flat levels in Britain, South Asia and the Middle East.

“They didn’t close China down,” he said. “The coronavirus didn’t suppress economic activity anywhere near as much as we put the brakes on and the fundamentals have been strong.”

Reporting by Costas Pitas

Ofgem to introduce new rules to help vulnerable customers pay their energy bills

( via – – Mon, 19th Oct 2020) London, Uk – –

Energy regulator Ofgem is introducing new rules from 15 December to help vulnerable customers who struggle to pay their energy bills this winter.

Suppliers will be required to offer emergency credit to customers who cannot top up prepayment meters.

And if customers are in debt, suppliers must put them on “realistic and sustainable” repayment plans.

In March, suppliers voluntarily agreed with the government to support people affected by the pandemic.

Now Ofgem has updated its licence rules to formally require suppliers to help customers in financial difficulty.

The industry watchdog said those in financial distress would get some breathing space, but ultimately all customers will need to pay for the energy they use.

This follows Ofgem cutting the price cap on default tariffs and prepayment meters, due to falling gas wholesale prices, which means cheaper energy bills for millions of people this winter.

“Suppliers have stepped up to the challenge of supporting their customers during the Covid-19 crisis, especially those in vulnerable situations,” said Ofgem's director of retail Philippa Pickford.

“Customers who are struggling to pay their bills should contact their supplier as soon as possible. The extra protections we have announced today will help ensure they get some breathing space this winter.”

From 15 December, suppliers will be required to offer emergency credit or extra prepayment credit to households in vulnerable circumstances.

This could be because people are temporarily unable to afford to top up their prepayment meters, or are unable to visit their local shop due to having to self-isolate or having a mobility issue.

Ofgem wants to reduce the number of prepayment customers who run out of credit and end up being without energy.

The regulator also wants to make sure that suppliers have appropriate credit management policies, make proactive contact with customers, and set repayment rates based on their ability to pay.

In September, Citizens Advice estimated that 6 million people in the UK have fallen behind on paying at least one household bill during the pandemic, and that many more are on the cusp of being unable to afford to make ends meet.

“This raft of new protections from Ofgem should help more people who are struggling to stay afloat,” said Citizen Advice's chief executive Dame Gillian Guy.

“Energy is an essential service and everyone should be confident they can adequately heat their home and protect their health – especially during a global pandemic.

“We've been pressing for the measures agreed between government and energy suppliers to help people through the coronavirus pandemic to be extended and widened, so we're very pleased to see this announcement from the regulator.”

However, she warned that many consumers will still struggle to “pay for the basics”, even with help from energy suppliers.

Dame Gillian added: “Government needs to do more to support those who need it most, including making the temporary uplift to Universal Credit and Working Tax Credit permanent.”

Flybe sold to Thyme Opco for an undisclosed sum

( via– Mon, 19th Oct 2020) London, Uk – –

The new owners hope to relaunch services next year when the virus-damaged industry hopes to see some recovery in demand.

By James Sillars, business reporter

The first major corporate casualty of the coronavirus crisis in the UK, Flybe, could be back in the air next year.

It was announced that the company, which folded in March as a collapse in demand for air travel exacerbated already deep financial turbulence, had been effectively bought out of administration by a firm affiliated to a former shareholder.

Sky News revealed on Saturday how hedge fund Cyrus Capital had entered talks with the regional airline's administrators.

EY said it agreed to a sale of Flybe's business and assets, including the brand, intellectual property, stock and equipment, to Thyme Opco for an undisclosed sum.

The administrator's statement said: “While the transaction is still subject to certain confidential conditions, the deal is expected to allow the Flybe business to restart operations as a regional airline in the UK under the Flybe brand in early 2021.

“Following today's announcement, the administrators will work together with Thyme Opco, the Flybe management team and the UK Civil Aviation Authority to prepare for the relaunch of Flybe's airline operations.”

Flybe would be expected to emerge from the process a much leaner organisation – focusing on the most profitable routes.

That is because any restart of flying operations would be expected to only follow a recovery in demand as the aviation sector continues to be hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Analysis by Sky News of the employment landscape shows the industry has so far been worst affected by the disruption, with more than 34,000 jobs lost to date.

Flybe was Europe's largest regional airline, carrying around nine million passengers annually at its peak and accounting for 40% of domestic UK flights.

But a rescue deal early last year failed to stem mounting losses and talks over a £100m state loan floundered.

The collapse led to the loss of 2,400 jobs.

The pilots' union, BALPA, said of Monday's announcement: “A renewed Flybe would hopefully restore the vital air connections in the regions and nations of the UK and boost the economic recovery.

“Flybe staff were the first and most badly affected by the Coronavirus crisis which has gone on to ravage the entire industry.

“This news will give everyone a degree of confidence that recovery is coming soon, and that their skills and knowledge are still going to be vital.”

How Reebok’s 3D Technology Is Breaking the Mold

Source: Bloomberg

Reebok is using 3D technology to break the mold. Bloomberg's Anne Mostue visited the Boston-based company's headquarters to see how it's using proprietary liquid material, software and robotics to draw shoes in three-dimensional layers.

The Exceptional Growth of Online Grocery Delivery Amid The Coronavirus

Source: CNBC

Online grocery delivery is seeing exceptional growth amid the coronavirus. Over the last few weeks, Instacart has seen customer order volume increase more than 500% year-over-year. But after the coronavirus, will demand for these online services stick? Thousands of small businesses have closed due to the coronavirus outbreak in the United States. But one sector that's seen exceptional growth is online grocery delivery.

A recent survey by RBC Capital Markets in March found that 55% of respondents had purchased groceries online, up from just 36% in 2018 and 15% in 2015 . Online grocery delivery service Instacart told CNBC that demand over the last few weeks has been the highest in the company's history and that customer order volume is up more than 500% year-over-year.

Once a luxury, the coronavirus pandemic has transformed grocery delivery services like Instacart and Amazon Fresh into essential seemingly overnight. But whether or not grocery delivery will become mainstream in the long run will depend on how ther perform now. “This has been a major potential customer acquisition opportunity for the Instacarts of the world, the Amazon Freshes of the world.

All consumers are turning towards them to try them out,” says Mark Mahaney, managing director at RBC. “They'll have some patience for a service that isn't a hundred percent. I think people will be somewhat realistic about that. But if in a month or two, if Instacart and Amazon Fresh aren't able to get their act together, you're going to have a lot of people who'll have tried to service, found it wanting and will go right back to the grocery stores.”

JD Wetherspoon reports first annual pre-tax loss since 1984

( via – – Fri, 16th Oct 2020) London, Uk – –

JD Wetherspoon has reported its first annual pre-tax loss since 1984 as it laid bare the impact of coronavirus restrictions on the pubs industry.

It revealed a £105.4m loss on sharply lower sales in the year to 26 July.

Wetherspoon's chairman Tim Martin railed against changes in rules to stop the spread of the coronavirus, which he said were “confusing”.

From Saturday, households in London will not be allowed to mix indoors, including in pubs and restaurants.

London and Essex will come under Tier 2 restrictions while Liverpool has already been placed under tougher Tier 3 rules.

Speaking to the BBC's Today programme, Mr Martin said: “There's massive confusion in the UK now because you've got the ‘rule of six', Tier 2, Tier 3 – everyone's confused.

“I think you should concentrate on the basics which is social distancing. If you don't get too close to someone you won't get infected, that works better.”

The loss after exceptional items is a sharp reversal from the £95.4m pre-tax profit reported in the previous year.

Wetherspoon's full-year results – which cover the first weeks after pubs were allowed to reopen on 4 July – also revealed that sales dropped by 30.6% to £1.2bn.

The company said that since reopening, like-for-like sales at its pubs were 15% lower compared to last year: “With strong sales in the first few weeks, followed by a marked slowdown since the introduction of a curfew and other regulations.”

During that time, 66 Wetherspoon's staff across 50 pubs tested positive for coronavirus. The company employs 41,000 staff and had reopened 861 of its pubs.

Mr Martin said that although the safety measures introduced to allow reopening were tough on pubs “because it reduced capacity dramatically”, the industry was “gradually getting used to it”.

“Trade was improving and social distancing was working and infections were low,” he said. “But what's happened under emergency powers, the government is making a lot of changes which we think in the industry are arbitrary [and] don't work, like the curfew and that's making life almost impossible.”

UK Hospitality, which represents the industry, has warned that the new Tier 2 restrictions due to come into force in London and Essex could lead to 250,000 people losing their jobs unless firms are given additional financial support.

The hospitality industry has been one of the worst hit sectors during the pandemic. Earlier this week, Marston's, the pubs and brewery group, said up to 2,150 furloughed staff were at risk of losing their jobs.

Wetherspoon said recently that up to 450 of its staff who work at pubs in airports were facing cuts as “sales are generally much lower and where a high percentage is closed”.

The company confirmed on Friday that 108 head office staff have been made redundant.

John Lewis to build rental homes in strategic plan to rebuild profits

( via – – Fri 16th, Oct 2020) London, Uk – –

Retailer’s plan is part of strategy to rebuild profits to £400m within five years

John Lewis is to become a major landlord, aiming to build rental homes at 20 of its sites around the UK as part of a strategy to rebuild profits to £400m within five years.

The retailer, which also owns Waitrose, said the new homes could be built above or beside stores or on other land it owns, and would be furnished with products from John Lewis department stores. Residents would also be able to order food deliveries from Waitrose supermarkets. It is aiming to make planning applications for two sites in Greater London in the new year.

“We’re a landlord already at three of our properties, so this is an obvious extension for us. And we’re now talking to developers and investors who can help us achieve our ambitions,” the company said.

It is launching a new strategy under the chairman, Sharon White, who is aiming to pull the company back from what is expected to be its first-ever annual loss in the current financial year.

As well as moving into the home rental market, John Lewis plans to add more financial services and is looking at extending its horticultural offering, possibly via acquisitions. These new areas are intended to boost retail profits, which it said would no longer be sufficient to “pay the wages we would like, or invest in our customers and communities”.

The retail group is also investing £1bn in extending its online services, including increasing delivery capacity for Waitrose by almost a third to 250,000 a week. It said up to 70% of its sales were likely to be online within five years.

Other measures include ditching its “never knowingly undersold” pledge, which will be replaced by a different “value for money” promise to be finalised next year.

The company is also stepping its environmentally beneficial services, including products that can be taken back or sold back to the store in every category stocked by its John Lewis department stores by 2025.

The group, which is owned by its employees, known as partners, said it was aiming to make £400m in profit by 2025 and would pay every staff member the independently verified real leaving wage by the time it had achieved £200m in profit.

But it also paved the way for further potential job cuts as it said it wanted to save £300m in costs a year by making its head office and other operations “simpler and more efficient”.

White said: “We’ve seen five years of change in the past five months and Waitrose and John Lewis have responded with great agility. Our plan means the John Lewis Partnership will thrive for the next century, as it has the last.

“We’re adapting successfully to how customers want to shop today, while showing the partnership is improving lives and building a more sustainable future. We’ll share our success with our customers, partners – who own the business – and our communities.”

By Sarah Butler 

Retail sector concerned shops could be the cash machines of the future

( via– Thur, 15th Oct 2020) London, Uk – –

The Treasury consults on an expansion in cashback, but a retail industry body says it has a number of concerns.

By James Sillars, business reporter

The retail sector has expressed concerns at government proposals to protect access to cash that would see shops offering cashback services more widely.

The plan builds on a budget pledge by the chancellor to protect the cash system, as ATM numbers and bank branches continue to decline rapidly in the face of the challenge posed by digital payments and contactless cards.

The Treasury's main proposal – the subject of a six-week consultation – is that retailers' tills effectively become cash machines, and customers would be under no obligation to buy anything at the same time.

Shoppers received £3.8bn in cashback last year, mainly via supermarkets, and it is hoped that more stores can offer the service in future in a bid to keep cash flowing and distribution costs down at the same time.

However, the British Retail Consortium (BRC) suggested that an industry – reeling from the effects of the coronavirus crisis – was unlikely to want to invest in the potentially costly provision of cash.

Andrew Cregan, the BRC's payments policy adviser, welcomed scrutiny of the issue but said: “The government and regulators should ensure that, where cashback services are provided by retailers, there are appropriate mechanisms in place to ensure that merchants are compensated fairly.

“Furthermore, government plans to allow cashback at all shops would pose challenges for retailers who would often have to hold significantly more cash than normal – putting them at an increased crime risk.”

The government's wider proposals include giving the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), oversight of the retail cash system to protect small and medium-sized businesses in addition to its current obligations to the consumer.

The City regulator fired a warning shot at banks during the summer, warning against renewed branch closures after usage collapsed during the coronavirus lockdown as customers were forced to stay home.

It highlighted data from the consumer group Which? that showed 3,500 sites had been lost over five years.

The watchdog also expressed concerns about plunging numbers of free-to-use cash machines – with almost 10,000 lost over two years. The BRC said it believed there were just 10,000 left.

The FCA's own proposals include a requirement that it is notified of any closures in advance and that customers are given at least three months' notice to allow them to make any alternative arrangements.

It cited this year's Financial Lives survey which found one in ten people, many of them elderly, did not know how they would cope in a cashless society.

John Glen, economic secretary to the Treasury, said: “We want to harness the same creative thinking that has driven innovation in digital payments to maintain the UK's cash system and make sure people can easily access cash in their local area.”

The Community Access to Cash Pilots (CACP) initiative is working on a number of pilot projects, including the use of cash back without purchase, to test solutions to the cash crunch.

Link, which operates the UK's largest cash machine network, is among the bodies taking part in the trials.

Its chief executive, John Howells, said of the Treasury's intervention: “The UK is not ready to go cashless yet and Link welcomes the government's intention to legislate to support cash access.”

BP raise $500 million from the sale of land leases of 199 British petrol stations

( via — Thur, 15th Oct, 2020) London, UK —

LONDON (Reuters) – BP BP.L has raised £400 million ($517 million) from the sale of a stake in land leases of 199 British petrol stations to a UK pension fund.

The Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) acquired a 49% of the freehold leases, USS said in a statement dated Oct. 7.

BP will hold the remaining 51% stake in a newly created limited partnership, Exmoor Properties PFLP.

It will also continue to operate the sites under long-term leases, the London-based energy company said in a statement.

BP aims to sell $25 billion in assets by 2025, around half of which it says have been sold or agreed on, in order to reduce a ballooning debt pile and pay for its plans to rapidly grow its renewables business.

BP has 300 company-owned petrol stations in Britain and a further 900 dealer-owned and operated sites.

The USS deal follows similar retail property transactions we have agreed previously in both Australia and New Zealand.

Reporting by Ron Bousso

ASOS profits soars as demand for casual clothing up by 329%

( via– Wed, 14th Oct 2020) London, Uk – –

Sales were up for the year but shares fell on the company's cautious outlook as consumers switched to cheaper “loungewear”.

By John-Paul Ford Rojas, business reporter

Online fashion retailer Asos has reported a 329% rise in annual profits after sales held up thanks to demand for casual clothing and sportswear during lockdown.

Revenues rose 19% for the year to the end of August – a slight slowdown compared to the 21% growth in the first half of the year, with smart and “going out” clothes becoming harder to shift.

The group faced higher costs to implement safety measures at warehouses but saved money as “more deliberate purchasing behaviour” from customers meant fewer items were returned.

It added up to a £45m boost to the business's bottom line, helping pre-tax profits grow to £142m compared to £33m a year earlier.

Asos said its customer base grew by 3.1 million to 23.4 million including 7.1 million in the UK.

But the company said its “average basket value” of purchases, while up 1% for the year, declined in the second half as “customers mixed into lower ASP [average selling price] product categories such as loungewear”.

Chief executive Nick Beighton cautioned that “life for our 20-something customers is unlikely to return to normal for quite some time” amid the pandemic.

Shares fell 7% in early trading.

Asos had revealed slowing growth over the summer and in its latest statement said trading since the end of June had been solid but with “continued reduced demand for occasion wear”.

The company said during the year the pandemic had hit supply chains as well as causing a “dramatic shift in consumer demand”.

“Whilst demand for certain types of product, particularly occasion and formal-wear, remained constrained, we saw strong growth in casualwear and other lockdown relevant products,” Asos said.

Asos said the market for “going out” clothes had been “severely impacted by lifestyle restrictions” but it has expanded its casual wear offering to adapt to the “shift in 20-something lifestyle”.

Susannah Streeter, senior investment analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown, described the results as “impressive”.

But she added: “A depressed economic outlook may push down demand to refresh wardrobes.

“With venues forced to close at 10pm and the Christmas party season cancelled, profits from party wear will be thin.

“Job prospects are uncertain for its core group of customers in their 20s and so the company will have to be very choosy about the ranges and prices it offers to maintain demand and stop returns being a major headache once again.”

Asos said in July that it would repay £1.8m claimed from government furlough schemes.

EU to formally reject UK plea for Brexit electric car deal

( via – – Wed, 14th Oct 2020) London, Uk – –

The European Union is about to formally reject a UK plea for special allowances for exports of electric cars in a post-Brexit trade deal.

A draft addition to the deal says electric and hybrid cars will only get zero tariffs if a majority of the parts' value is from the two areas.

The draft, seen by the BBC, means that even if there is a deal, some UK car exports to the EU will not be eligible.

And this means tariffs of 10% will apply from January.

The draft, was circulated among EU member states on Tuesday, says that Annex II of the agreement on “Product Specific Rules of Origin” will specify the “maximum content of non-originating [that is non EU and UK] materials of 45% of the ex-works price of the vehicle” for “electrified vehicles” from January 1st 2021.

Last month, the UK circulated a proposal, also seen by the BBC, that in the case of electric and hybrid cars, only a minority of parts would at first need to be either from the UK or the EU – and up to 70% could come from elsewhere.

This had been requested by key car export factories, dependent on electric batteries, hybrid systems, and other technology, mainly from Japan.

Prof David Bailey, automotive specialist at the Birmingham Business School and UK in a Changing Europe, told the BBC: “This will catch out some UK based car assemblers, particularly as the industry electrifies.

“The car industry is going through fundamental change, the EU see a threat from China, Korea and Japan, and is trying to build an electric vehicle supply chain in Europe.”

Nissan, Toyota and Honda all have substantial manufacturing facilities in the UK, although Honda says it will close its Swindon factory next year with the loss of about 3,500 jobs.

Alongside a separate but related request to treat Japanese parts as if they were British, which Lord Frost, the UK's chief Brexit negotiator, told the car industry he “obviously cannot insist upon”, the BBC understands that some in the car industry are planning for the introduction from January of tariffs on some of their vehicle exports to the EU, even with an agreed deal.

These more relaxed arrangements had been requested by both the British and EU automotive sector in a letter last month.

The draft annexe to the deal also goes even further from 2027, only allowing the use of car batteries manufactured either in the EU or the UK in tariff free vehicle trade between the two.

Both sides are in a race to build “gigafactories” to service exploding demand for electric vehicles. The EU position would prevent the UK using a trade deal with the EU to become an offshore assembly hub for the export into the Single Market using mainly Asian or American parts, whilst guaranteeing long term tariff free access to the UK for EU manufacturers.

“A strong stable and predictable battery supply is of strategic importance for the long term competitiveness of the EU automotive sector,” the draft annexe says. The terms of the proposal seeks to phase out reliance on non-European batteries.

By Faisal Islam
Economics editor

The European Commission and Number 10 have been approached for comment.

UK Amazon Prime Day shoppers urged to support small businesses

( via – – Tue, 13th Oct 2020) London, Uk – –

Campaigners ask consumers to consider plight of retailers struggling due to Covid

Campaign groups and small business representatives have called on consumers to shun this week’s Amazon Prime extravaganza and support small retailers instead.

On Tuesday and Wednesday the tech giant will host its annual Prime Day event, with thousands of tempting bargains – many at up to half price.

However, campaigners are calling on consumers to consider the plight of local businesses that were already struggling to compete with Amazon ahead of lockdown.

Ethical Consumer, which has long campaigned to persuade shoppers to boycott Amazon on the basis that it aggressively avoids paying taxes, has urged online shoppers to stop, pause and “think of the cost to vital public services before they click to check out”.

Meanwhile, the British Independent Retailers Association (Bira) has asked consumers to consider the small retailers who need their support “more than ever” if their local high street is not going to become a boarded-up wasteland.

Amazon Prime Day started in 2015 as a flash sale of mostly technology products and normally happens in July.

It has grown rapidly, and last year’s Prime Day was the largest shopping event in the company’s history as it sold more than 100,000 laptops, 200,000 televisions and more than 1m toys.

To take advantage of the offers, customers need to be Prime members, which costs £79 a year.

Tim Hunt, director at Ethical Consumer, said there were a host of reasons why consumers should take their business elsewhere.

“Aside from tax avoidance, Amazon has a dubious track record on many issues including workers’ rights and the environment. We urge consumers to think about whether they really need to make that purchase on Amazon Prime Day and instead how they can use their money in way that benefits society and the environment.

“There are a number of more ethical big name brands that pay a fairer rate of tax including Richer Sounds and Lush cosmetics (both of whom have been awarded the Fair Tax Mark), we call on those consumers who need to make purchases to seek out more ethical companies such as these.”

Andrew Goodacre, Bira’s chief executive, said almost a quarter of independent retailers failed to reopen after the lockdown, with many others under severe strain.

“Despite the lure of the internet, nothing can beat the positive experience of buying from a local independent retailer knowing that money spent in a local shop will in turn be spent in the local economy. Independent retailers are part of the community and need the support of shoppers now more than ever,” he said.

Meryl Halls, who runs the Bookseller Association, said the pandemic’s impact on high streets had been “catastrophic” for some, and was a continuing challenge for all retailers, including bookshops.

“It is crucial that consumers shop local to ensure the future of the retail sector this Christmas,” she said. “There are now even more ways to shop from local bookshops: booksellers have developed websites, and adapted to offer ordering by phone, email and online, with home delivery often an option. We are actively encouraging book lovers to start their Christmas shopping early to spread out demand. Shopping locally and early will help secure jobs and support a thriving community high street.”

During lockdown it emerged Amazon shoppers had been spending almost £9,000 a second on its products and services.

An Amazon spokesman said this year’s Prime Day would see its “biggest small business promotion ever”.

“We are investing heavily in creating jobs and infrastructure across the UK – more than £23bn since 2010. The UK has now become one of Amazon’s largest global hubs for talent and this year we announced plans to create 10,000 new jobs in the country by the end of 2020, taking our total workforce to over 40,000. This continued investment helped contribute to a total tax contribution of £1.1bn during 2019 – £293m in direct taxes and £854m in indirect taxes.”