Ford to investment £140 mln in Uk EV plants to boost output

(qlmbusinessnews.com via uk.reuters.com — Thur, 1st Dec 2022) London, UK —

Ford Motor Co (F.N) will invest an extra 149 million pounds ($180 million) to boost output of electric vehicle (EV) power units by 70% at its engine factory in northern England as the U.S. carmaker accelerates its push to go electric.

Electric drive unit production capacity at the Halewood plant will increase to 420,000 units a year, from 250,000 units, starting in 2024, the Detroit-based carmaker said on Thursday.


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The move will bring Ford's total investment in the combustion engine factory's transition to production of EV parts to 380 million pounds.

“This is a very significant and important part of scaling up for our transformation,” said Tim Slatter, head of Ford in Britain. “This is a really big deal for Ford’s business in Europe.”

The EV power unit, which consists of an electric motor and gearbox, replaces the engine and transmission of a fossil-fuel vehicle.

Ford has committed to selling only fully electric cars in Europe by 2030 and only electric commercial vans by 2035. That puts it ahead of the European Union's plans to effectively ban the sale of new fossil-fuel passenger cars by 2035.

Slatter said Ford plans to have nine fully electric models on sale in Europe by 2024, with Halewood supplying power units to assembly plants in Romania and Turkey for five high-volume models, including an electric version of the popular Puma SUV.

Halewood is expected to supply 70% of the 600,000 EVs the company aims to sell in Europe annually by 2026, Ford said.

The latest Ford investment includes 125 million pounds in the plant itself and 24 million pounds in the development and testing of new EV parts for production at Halewood.


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Ford said the investment will safeguard more than 500 jobs.

The UK government contributed to the initial EV power unit investment at Halewood, which was announced by Ford last year.

By Nick Carey

Ofwat refuses to limit soaring debts by Water firms’ as borrowing hit £54bn

(qlmbusinessnews.com via theguardian.com – – Thur, 1st Dec 2022) London, Uk – –

Customers pay on average 20% of their bill towards servicing debt and rewarding shareholders, says CMA

Ofwat is refusing to limit the soaring debts run up by water companies as research reveals the firms have outstanding borrowing of almost £54bn accrued since privatisation.

Customers are paying on average £80 or 20% of their water bill towards servicing debt and rewarding shareholders, according to the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA).


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The scale of debt, or gearing, taken on by the nine main water and sewerage companies in England is raising concerns about their financial stability as interest rates rise.

The level of net debt held by water companies is revealed as Guardian data shows the main water and sewerage firms in England have paid dividends to shareholders of £65.9bn up to 2022.

They have been running ratios of debt to capital value from 60% to more than 80%, according to Ofwat data. The regulator has considered inserting conditions into water company licences to limit the debt a water company can take on in order to protect the public from the impact of financial collapse because of high levels of borrowing. But Ofwat has so far rejected the idea.

The Guardian revealed on Wednesday more than 70% of all water companies in England are owned by international investment funds, private equity, banks, the super-rich, and in some cases businesses registered in tax havens.

When the Conservative prime minister Margaret Thatcher sold off the water industry in 1989, the government wrote off all debts amounting to £5bn and granted the water companies a further £1.5bn of public money, known as a “green dowry”. As of this year net debt of the main water and sewerage companies was £53.9bn.

David Hall, visiting professor at the Public Services International Research Unit at Greenwich University, who has updated groundbreaking research by Karol Yearwood, said the evidence suggested the high level of gearing was being taken on in order for the companies to pay dividends, rather than to fund investment.

“It is very different from a more traditional company structure, where the operating expenditure comes out of the flows of revenue from customers but the investment in plant, machinery etc is paid for by investing capital from shareholders and creditors. Dividends are then paid out of the company’s profit, as a return on their capital investment.

“With the water companies, since day one there has been hardly any shareholder capital put into the companies. Customers pay for everything, and the companies are borrowing to pay the dividends often to themselves, because their shareholders are parent companies.”

With rising interest rates and a cost of living crisis, the scale of debt is raising alarm about the financial fragility of some water companies. Anglian, Northumbrian, Severn Trent, Thames and Southern have interest cover ratios below the 1.6 threshold that indicates a strong credit rating, according to Ofwat’s most recent financial resilience report.

Some companies have been forced to ask shareholders to urgently inject cash to bolster their financial resilience. Anglian Water was given an injection of cash by shareholders to reduce its net debt, in order to protect its credit rating and reduce its debt gearing from 82% to 64.8%.

Thames Water was also given an injection of £1.5bn by shareholders in order to improve its financial resilience.

Ofwat said this summer: “We have become increasingly concerned about the impact of the financing decisions made by some companies on their long term financial position … and how this could affect service to customers. This is a particular issue where companies need to finance a turnaround plan or to improve performance.”

Ofwat can put water companies into special administration to protect services for the public. But Prof Robin Mason, of the University of Birmingham, said this had never happened, even in the most extreme of cases. Citing the example of Southern Water, he said in a paper for the regulator: “Underperformance by Southern Water has continued for a number of years.

“Southern Water’s gearing, including derivative liabilities, has been very high; its credit rating has dropped to the lowest level consistent with (Moody’s) investment grade; and it has recently received the largest fine for any water company and is subject to ongoing investigation by the Environment Agency.

“Nevertheless, the special administration procedures have not been triggered for Southern Water; and indeed, special administration arrangements have yet to be used in the UK water sector.”

Ofwat said companies must do more to better protect customers from the consequences of weak levels of financial resilience. But in its clampdown on water company finances, which is out to consultation, the regulator has stopped short of putting a cap on the amount of debt each company can take on.

Ofwat said: “We are unequivocal that companies have a responsibility to maintain their financial resilience. Where that is not the case, we will not hesitate to intervene. Over the past 18 months we have overseen substantial equity committed to going into three companies, totalling over £3.5bn.

“We are introducing new requirements to raise the bar further on financial resilience across the sector and will continue to monitor financial resilience closely, taking action where necessary.”

Critics say Ofwat is belatedly trying to curb the excesses of the water companies and question whether a regulator is able to control an industry now managed in the interests of offshore investors, not the public and the environment.

Dr Kate Bayliss, of the department of economics at Soas University of London, said: “I can’t see that regulation is going to manage it in the interests of society and the environment when you have these very powerful interests making returns for their investors. The assumptions of the regulator are really quite limited compared to the financial sophistication of these investors.”

Water companies defended their financial controls. Anglian Water said it had made a number of investments in order to improve infrastructure, reduce leakage and improve drinking water quality, made possible by private financing. “The fact that we can finance multimillion pound schemes demonstrates our robust financial platform and the long-standing support we have from our owners.”


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Southern Water said: “We operate in a tightly regulated environment and our step up in investment – totalling £2bn between 2020 and 2025 – has been assessed and approved by Ofwat to ensure we deliver the performance our customers want and deserve, at an affordable price, and in a sustainable way.”

Sarah Bentley, who took over as chief executive at Thames Water in September 2020, has spoken about her plan to invest billions in the network, with the shareholders “underwriting a turnaround plan” and urged the regulators “to encourage responsible long-term investment into our sector” by “more patient investors, such as pension funds”. The responses of the other companies are here.

By Sandra Laville and Anna Leach

HSBC announce plans to shut a further 114 UK branches

(qlmbusinessnews.com via news.sky.com– Wed, 30th Nov 2022) London, Uk – –

Europe's biggest bank can expect to face a backlash from business and community groups, but it says some of the branches affected were getting fewer than 250 customers a week.

HSBC has announced plans to shut a further 114 UK branches, or more than a quarter of its surviving sites.


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The UK-based but mainly Asia-focused bank said they would begin to shut from April next year.

The decision, as the wider banking sector has consistently claimed over many years, is the result of the surge in online banking.

It has led to declining demand for over-the-counter transactions, with HSBC saying that some of those to be shut were dealing with fewer than 250 people a week.

Around 100 jobs were expected to be lost.

The bank said it was to invest tens of millions of pounds in updating and improving its remaining branch network, which will total 327 once the closures have been completed.

Jackie Uhi, HSBC UK's managing director of UK distribution, said: “People are changing the way they bank and footfall in many branches is at an all-time low, with no signs of it returning.

“Banking remotely is becoming the norm for the vast majority of us.

“The decision to close a branch is never easy or taken lightly, especially if we are the last branch in an area, so we've invested heavily in our ‘post-closure' strategy, including providing free tablet devices to selected branch customers who do not already have a device to bank digitally, alongside one-to-one coaching to help them migrate to digital banking.”

Unite the union has called on HSBC to withdraw the closures to protect vulnerable users. To progress with the closures would “abandon the most vulnerable in our society and leave them without a neighbourhood bank served by experienced knowledgeable staff”.

“This hugely profitable financial institution is walking away from the customers and communities who most need access to local banking services,” Unite national officer Dominic Hook said.

“Of the total 114 closures proposed today the vast majority (108) of the closures will result in no HSBC branch within 3 miles and it is disgraceful that 25 communities will be left to travel over 15 miles to the nearest branch.


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“Without any corporate social responsibility to require banks to stay on our high streets to help the elderly, disabled or vulnerable, then access to cash and banking will be lost forever.”

By James Sillars

 

Eurostar security staff to strike in run-up to Christmas

(qlmbusinessnews.com via bbc.co.uk – – Wed, 30th Nov 2022) London, Uk – –

Security staff who work on the Eurostar train service are to strike for four days in the run-up to Christmas in a dispute over pay.

The walkouts are planned to take place on 16, 18, 22 and 23 December.

Members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union, employed by a private contractor, voted overwhelmingly in favour of the action.


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Eurostar said it would update customers as soon as possible if there was any impact on services.

However, the union said the strike would “severely affect” passengers.

More than 100 security staff employed by facilities management company Mitie are due to walk out, following a 4-1 vote in favour of strike action.

RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said the security staff were “essential” to the running of Eurostar, and “it is disgraceful they are not being paid a decent wage”.

“They work long, unsocial hours and a multimillion-pound company like Mitie can easily afford to pay them decently for the essential work they do.”

However, Mitie said that on Tuesday it had offered staff a “significant” 10% pay increase, and that it was “disappointed” that RMT had decided to take strike action.

“As always, our priority is to ensure that exceptional services are delivered as normal so that passengers are able to continue their journeys with minimal disruption,” a Mitie spokesperson said.

A wave of strikes have hit the UK's railways in the past few months as workers demand better pay deals and try to stop job cuts and changes to working conditions.

More action is planned in the coming weeks.

The RMT has announced strikes at Network Rail and 14 train companies on 13-14 December, 16-17 December, 3-4 January and 6-7 January.

The train drivers' union Aslef has also staged walkouts in a dispute over pay, although no further strikes are planned at the moment.

Workers in other sectors of the economy have also either taken industrial action or planned it, in protest about working conditions, pensions and pay.

Royal Mail staff, members of the University and College Union and airline ground handlers are among those who have already been on strike, while nurses and paramedics are planning walkouts in the future.


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The industrial action has been prompted by soaring prices – inflation is running at more than 11% a year – meaning workers are being squeezed as living costs rise faster than wages.

Many workers are now calling for pay increases in line with the higher cost of living.

Energy and food prices have been rising since last year because of the war in Ukraine and the impact of the Covid pandemic.

By Karen Hoggan

 

BlackRock CEO Larry Fink Says Firm Had Invested $24 Million in FTX

 

(qlmbusinessnews.com via coindesk.com — Wed, 30th Nov 2022) London, Uk – –

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BlackRock CEO Larry Fink specified that the asset management giant had invested $24 million in FTX before its collapse, according to Reuters. Fink was speaking at the New York Times Dealbook conference on Wednesday.

Fink also said it looked like there were misbehaviors in FTX, but would not speculate on whether BlackRock and venture capital firm Sequoia, which had invested $213.5 million in FTX and has since marked that amount down to zero, had been misled by FTX, Reuters reported.

FTX owes its top 50 creditors more than $3 billion and has an estimated 1 million creditors in total.

By Nelson Wang

Sizewell C nuclear plant confirmed by UK government with £700m public stake

(qlmbusinessnews.com via theguardian.com – – Tue, 29th Nov 2022) London, Uk – –

EDF’s Suffolk plant will create 10,000 highly skilled jobs and help secure UK energy security, ministers say

The government has confirmed the Sizewell C nuclear power plant in Suffolk will go ahead, backing the scheme with a £700m stake.

Ministers said the move, first announced in Jeremy Hunt’s autumn statement, would create 10,000 highly skilled jobs, provide reliable low-carbon power to the equivalent of 6m homes for more than 50 years and would help secure UK energy security.


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The government also said it would set up an arm’s-length body, Great British Nuclear, which would develop a pipeline of nuclear projects beyond Sizewell C.

The plant in Suffolk, developed by the French energy company EDF, will be the second of a new generation of UK nuclear power reactors, after the delayed Hinkley Point C scheme in Somerset, which is under construction but has experienced delays and climbing costs since it was first given the go-ahead.

The EDF chief executive, Simone Rossi, said replicating Hinkley Point C’s design at Sizewell would provide more certainty over schedule and costs, adding: “It will deliver another big boost to jobs and skills in the nuclear industry and provide huge new opportunities for communities in Suffolk.”

However, opponents of the scheme criticised the approval decision on cost and environmental grounds. The Greenpeace UK policy director, Doug Parr, said: “The launch of Great British Nuclear is clearly ironic as new nuclear is neither great nor British. Projects have been plagued by massive delays and ballooning costs while the government is seeking to have Sizewell C – a French-designed and built reactor – funded by foreign investment funds.

“It’s hard to work out what drives the government’s enthusiasm for new nuclear. It‘s not cheap, or clean, or necessary as there are better, quicker and less expensive options to deliver electricity. Not to mention that technology is steadily becoming available to cover the periods when the wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t shine. On top of all that, there’s no value-for-money assessment available for Sizewell C so UK taxpayers are essentially buying it sight unseen.”

A spokesperson for the Stop Sizewell C campaign said: “Sizewell C can neither lower energy bills nor give the UK energy independence. Despite the government’s paltry £700m, there is still a huge amount of money to find, and no one is prepared to come clean about what the ultimate cost will be.”

The Sizewell announcement comes after ministers also set out plans to reduce energy demand by 15% by 2030, with a new £1bn Eco+ energy efficiency scheme, and a public awareness campaign – previously blocked under Liz Truss’s administration as being too “nanny state” – to help save energy this winter.

It also comes as Rishi Sunak is facing pressure, including from some Tory MPs, to U-turn on plans to keep the ban on onshore windfarms in England – one of the cheapest forms of energy.

The business and energy secretary, Grant Shapps, said: “We need more clean, affordable power generated within our borders … today’s historic deal giving government backing to Sizewell C’s development is crucial to this, moving us towards greater energy independence.”

The Nuclear Industry Association chief executive, Tom Greatrex, hailed the announcement as “a defining moment for UK energy security”. He said: “Sizewell C will be one of the UK’s most important green energy projects ever, cutting fossil fuels, providing clean, affordable power for a very long time, and creating thousands of highly skilled jobs.


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“This investment, alongside the support for Great British Nuclear and the energy security bill, shows the government is serious about building new nuclear capacity alongside renewables and paves the way for the development of a pipeline of new nuclear projects, including small modular reactors, to strengthen energy independence.”

The chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, said: “Today’s investment in Sizewell C represents the biggest step on our journey to energy independence – the first state backing for a nuclear project in over 30 years.

“Once complete, this mega project will power millions of homes with clean, affordable, homegrown energy for decades to come.

By Guardian staff and agency

UK ditches ban on ‘legal but harmful’ online content in favour of free speech

(qlmbusinessnews.com via news.sky.com– Tue, 29th Nov 2022) London, Uk – –

Britain will not force tech giants to remove content that is “legal but harmful” from their platforms after campaigners and lawmakers raised concerns that the move could curtail free speech, the government said.

Online safety laws would instead focus on the protection of children and on ensuring companies removed content that was illegal or prohibited in their terms of service, it said, adding that it would not specify what legal content should be censored.


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Britain, like the European Union and other countries, has been grappling to protect social media users, and in particular children, from harmful content without damaging free speech.

Digital Secretary Michelle Donelan said rather than watering down the bill, she had strengthened protection for children by making companies enforce the age limits they had already set.

“Companies can't just say ‘yes we only allow children over 13 to join our platform', then they allow 10-year-olds and actively promote it to them,” she told BBC radio. “We're stopping that from happening.”

She said companies could face fines of up to 10% of their turnover if they did not have systems in place to restrict underage access.

Britain had previously said social media companies could be fined if they failed to stamp out harmful content such as abuse even if it fell below the criminal threshold, while senior managers could have also faced criminal action.

Donelan said the “harmful but legal” provision, which had been opposed by some lawmakers and had delayed progress of the legislation, would have had “unintended consequences” and eroded free speech.

The government said removing it would also avoid the risk of platforms taking down legitimate posts to avoid sanctions.

The new iteration goes further to protect free speech by stopping companies, such as Facebook-owner Meta and Twitter, removing content or suspending or banning users where there is no breach of their terms of service or the law.

FREE PASS

The opposition Labour Party said replacing the “prevention of harm” with an emphasis on free speech undermined the bill's purpose.

“Removing ‘legal but harmful' gives a free pass to abusers and takes the public for a ride,” said Lucy Powell, Labour's culture spokesperson. “The government has bowed to vested interests, over keeping users and consumers safe.”

The government, however, said the bill, which returns to parliament next month, put the onus on tech companies to take down material that was illegal or was in breach of their own terms of service.

If users were likely to encounter controversial content such as the glorification of eating disorders, racism, anti-Semitism or misogyny not meeting the criminal threshold, the platform would have to offer tools to help avoid it, it said.


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Donelan said specific types of harmful material could also be outlawed, compelling social media companies to tackle it or face large fines.

“We all agree that stuff should be illegal, let's make it illegal,” she told BBC News, adding that the government had already pledged to make the promotion of self harm unlawful.

Reporting by Paul Sandle

 

BT and unions agree £1,500 pay rise next year to stop further strikes

(qlmbusinessnews.com via bbc.co.uk – – Mon, 28th Nov 2022) London, Uk – –

Telecoms giant BT has agreed a pay deal with union bosses that will see workers who earn £50,000 or less get a £1,500 pay rise next year.

The agreement, which will be put to union members, could lead to the end of strike action at the company.


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BT said 85% of its UK-based staff would benefit from the wage increase.

Combined with a pay rise made in April, the total increase for the lowest paid employees at BT will be more than 15% since this time last year.

Both the Communication Workers' Union (CWU) and Prospect will ballot their members and recommend backing the deal.

Dave Ward, general secretary of the CWU, said the pay deal “would not have happened” without the walkouts of thousands of BT Group workers in the summer.

“The bravery these workers displayed caught the sympathy of the country, and shocked the company out of its complacency,” he added.

The pay rises cover all frontline staff, and 51% of managers in the UK. It also includes Openreach workers.

The CWU said the deal would mean wage rises ranging from 6% to 16% for workers of different grades.

In the summer, thousands of workers walked out over pay in what was believed to be the first national telecoms strike since 1987.

The telecoms industry is one of several sectors that has seen workers strike over pay, with rail workers and Royal Mail staff also walking out.

UK inflation, which is the rate prices rise at, is currently 11.1% and most unions have called for wage hikes in line with the rising cost of living.

BT Group chief executive Philip Jansen said the deal favoured lower-paid workers.


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“Whatever our differences, our unions are vital partners. We will now build on this collaboration,” he said.

Mr Jansen said the company would now work with unions to “lean into the opportunities and challenges the future will bring, specifically our transformation plans and the delivery of the £3bn cost savings” by the end of the 2025 financial year.

By Michael Race

Rolls-Royce and EasyJet test hydrogen run aircraft engine

(qlmbusinessnews.com via news.sky.com– Mon, 28th Nov 2022) London, Uk – –

The two aerospace firms hope the green fuel will pave the way for a greener way of flying, which is currently one of the most polluting industries.

An aircraft engine has successfully been powered with hydrogen fuel in what is thought to be a world first, Rolls-Royce has said, in an attempt to reduce the enormous carbon footprint of flying.


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The aerospace manufacturer and partner easyJet, the low-cost airline, say the ground test marks a “major step” towards proving that hydrogen could be used as a zero-carbon aviation fuel.

The trial took place at the Ministry of Defence's Boscombe Down site in Amesbury, Wiltshire, using a converted Rolls-Royce AE 2100-A regional aircraft engine.

Flying dumps climate-heating gases and other pollutants into the air and is recognised as one of the hardest sectors to decarbonise.

A return flight from London to Barcelona releases around 350kg of carbon dioxide per passenger, while the same journey by train would emit around 18kg.

The two companies hope hydrogen can be used in a range of aircraft from the mid-2030s onwards.

EasyJet chief executive Johan Lundgren said the fuel offers “great possibilities for a range of aircraft, including easyJet-sized aircraft”, and could make a “huge step forward in meeting the challenge of net zero by 2050”.

Net zero means cutting emissions as much as possible and offsetting or compensating for the rest elsewhere. Scientists agree it is necessary to reach net zero by 2050 to stave off the worst impacts of climate breakdown.
Rolls-Royce chief technology officer Grazia Vittadini said: “We are pushing the boundaries to discover the zero carbon possibilities of hydrogen, which could help reshape the future of flight.”

A switch to hydrogen-powered engines would require a complete redesign of airframes and infrastructure at airports.

The only waste product from using hydrogen as a fuel is water. But green experts warn the hydrogen must be generated sustainably.

While so-called “green” hydrogen is made using renewable power with no emissions, other forms are made from natural gas and emit carbon dioxide in the production process.

The hydrogen in the test engine was produced using tidal and wind energy from the Orkney Islands.

Business secretary Grant Shapps said the UK is “leading the global shift to guilt-free flying”.

But Dr Arnold Gad-Briggs, who sits on the transport panel at the Institution of Engineering and Technology, said we are still “a long way from applying it to a real-life scenario, such as a flying testbed powered by hydrogen engines.”

“But moments like this create the building blocks to realise zero-emissions flying,” he added.


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The partnership is planning further work before embarking on a ground test of a Rolls-Royce Pearl 15 engine, which is a model used to power business jets.

Other technologies in the mix to decarbonise flying include electric engines, which might eventually be able to power short flights, and sustainable aviation fuel (SAF).

SAF works in existing engines but is currently only produced in tiny amounts.

Victoria Seabrook

 

Black Friday sales off to a ‘steady start’ despite higher cost of living predictions

(qlmbusinessnews.com via bbc.co.uk – – Fri, 25th Nov 2022) London, Uk – –

Black Friday sales are “off to a steady start”, latest data suggests, despite predictions the higher cost of living would dampen the sales event.

Barclaycard Payments, which processes £1 in every £3 spent using cards in the UK, said transactions so far were similar to the amount made last year.

Currys said energy-efficient products were leading its sales as customers look to save money on energy bills.

Shop footfall is up on 2021 due to there being no Covid rules this year.

But experts have predicted overall sales and profits will be lower than last year, due to customers tightening their purse strings as prices rise at the fastest rate for 41 years.


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However, Marc Pettican, head of Barclaycard Payments, said: “Our data shows that Black Friday is off to a steady start this year, despite the challenging economic backdrop.

“When looking at spending on the morning of Black Friday, so far today, transaction volumes are broadly in line with what we saw this time last year.”

Meanwhile, Mark Nalder, director of payment strategy at Nationwide Building Society, said early indications were that this Black Friday “will be the busiest shopping day of the year” with purchases currently up 16% on an average Friday.

“Despite cost of living pressures, transactions are already up 7% on last year,” he said.

Black Friday has morphed from its former one-day shopping frenzy of a decade ago, to offers stretched over the week. Consumer group Which? found that many of the discounts found on Black Friday in 2021 could be found at other times of the year too.

Ed Connolly, chief commercial officer at electrical retailer Currys, said more people were paying by credit compared with last year.

Currys said it had seen sales soar for energy-efficient cooking appliances, with the company selling more than 18,000 air fryers in the past week.

The company said microwaves and heatpump tumble dryers were also in demand, with sales up significantly on last year.

“I think you can draw from that that customers are worried about their finances and more concerned perhaps about their future finances than they were this time last year,” Mr Connolly told the BBC's Today programme.

Footfall in shops across the UK as of midday was up 4.6% compared to last year's Black Friday, according to analysis firm Springboard.

It said shoppers were heading to large city centres rather than smaller high streets, but its figures showed that footfall across high streets, retail parks and shopping centres this year was well below Black Friday events before the pandemic, which may be a sign more people are shopping online.

Diane Wehrle, marketing and insights director at Springboard, said 2022's footfall showed while trading conditions were “challenging, Black Friday is certainly not a disaster”.

“We are also expecting footfall to strengthen this afternoon as those consumers who are working from home go shopping after lunch,” she said.

“The dry and sunny weather will also help drive up activity, as will the England v USA World Cup match this evening as shoppers may well head into towns and cities and do some shopping and then watch the match from bars in town centres.”

The promising sales for retailers appears to have exceeded predictions from industry analysts, who had forecast a dampened day of trading.

Retail expert Richard Lim told the BBC he was expecting Black Friday to be a more “muted affair”, with sales down on last year.

“Inevitably, I think what we're going to see is consumers being much more careful with their spending,” he said.

Mr Pettican, of Barclaycard Payments, said there had been an increase in transactions in the week leading up to Black Friday compared to last year.

He suggested this could be down to the “feel good factor in the run-up to the World Cup” giving retail and hospitality a boost.

Louise, 40, from Suffolk, said she would not be rushing out for this year's Black Friday sales.

“I use price trackers and can see that some things I want are cheaper in advance, about four to six weeks ahead of the sales, so I do my Christmas shopping around then,” she said.

Louise, who has two children, said all of her household bills were going up. Now shopping feels like a luxury, when she feels like she should be saving.

But some people are still keen to find a bargain.

Faye Thomson told the BBC she had been awake since 5:30am to join a queue of about 100 people outside one department store.

“I saw this one Stella McCartney bag online and I know there's only two in store so I thought I'd get here early,” she said.

Argos expecting a ‘strong day'

Business correspondent Emma Simpson at Argos distribution centre

Black Friday is in full swing at Argos's vast distribution site in Kettering. It's a 24/7 operation with some 850 workers picking and packing goods for dispatch from 100 loading bays.


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They reckon today will still be their busiest day of the year and demand is strong.

Despite the squeeze on household budgets, lots of big TVs and Sonos soundbars are flying off the pallets.

Argos believes 41% of shoppers are planning to use Black Friday for Christmas shopping. With the cost of living crisis shoppers are on the hunt for deals.

 

Primark to invest £140m leading to the opening of four new stores and 850 jobs

(qlmbusinessnews.com via news.sky.com– Fri, 25th Nov 2022) London, Uk – –

Primark has announced a £140m investment leading to the opening of four new shops and the creation of at least 850 jobs.

Parent company Associated British Food said it plans to make the investment over the next two years in its UK operations.

As part of that investment, the company said “at least” four news shops will be opened.

The locations announced on Friday are:

• Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk

• Teesside Park in North Yorkshire

The new shops will increase selling space by more than 160,000 square feet.

Investment is also being put into existing locations and a dedicated Primark Home space will open in Liverpool.

Alongside the new stores, Primark will extend and invest in existing stores and will relocate its stores in Bradford and High Wycombe. In Bradford, Primark will move from its existing Kirkgate Shopping Centre location to The Broadway in the city centre.

Existing high street, shopping centre and retail parks stores are to be refurbished and upgraded with the funding.

The retailer has been boosting its in store offering in recent years by adding beauty treatments, home ranges and cafes to shops. Collaborations with Greggs are in Primark shops in Birmingham and London.

As of this week Primark customers have been able to purchase products online and collect in store as a click and collect trial was launched in 25 stores across the North of England and Wales.

Earlier this month the retailer said it would not further raise prices despite significant costs as it announced a return to pre-COVID sales and market share in the UK.


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Commenting on Primark's full-year results, the chief executive of Associated British Foods, said: “We have decided to hold prices for the new financial year at the levels already implemented and planned and to stand by our customers, rather than set pricing against these highly volatile input costs and exchange rates.”

Next year will mark 50 years since Primark opened its first store in England, in Derby in 1973. Today, it has 190 stores and employs more than 30,000 colleagues across the UK.

By Sarah Taaffe-Maguire, business reporter

 

Volkswagen says all brands have halted paid activities on Twitter

(qlmbusinessnews.com via uk.reuters.com — Thur, 24th Nov 2022) London, UK —

Volkswagen's (VOWG_p.DE) brands have halted all paid activities on Twitter until further notice, a spokesperson for the company said on Wednesday.


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Earlier this month, Volkswagen, which owns Audi together with the VW, Seat, Cupra, Lamborghini, Bentley, Ducati and Porsche (P911_p.DE), said it had recommended the brands pause paid advertising on Twitter until further notice following Elon Musk's takeover of the platform.

A spokesperson for Volkswagen said all the brands had followed the advice, while Audi had opted to halt organic activities, such as direct posts, and only respond to questions from clients on the website.

WirtschaftsWoche had previously reported that Audi had halted all activities on the social media platform, citing company sources.

“We are monitoring the situation closely and will decide on the next steps depending on developments,” an Audi spokesperson added in an emailed statement to Reuters.


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Audi has not tweeted since Nov. 1 after previously tweeting almost every day. Elon Musk took ownership of Twitter in late October.

Reporting by Riham Alkousaa and Victoria Waldersee

Dr Martens says boot prices to rise by 6% to cover increasing costs

(qlmbusinessnews.com via theguardian.com – – Thur, 24th Nov 2022) London, Uk – –

Northamptonshire-based footwear group’s half-year results show 5% fall in profits despite 13% rise in sales

Dr Martens is to step up the price of its boots by 6%, as it says the cost of labour, energy and supplies, including the bouncy soles and leather, has risen.

The Northamptonshire-based footwear group will increase prices for the second year in a row on the classic boot, which currently costs about £159, adding £10 to the price. The rise will come next autumn to reflect higher production costs that the company has now locked in over the course of next year.


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Announcing its half-year results, Dr Martens revealed a disappointing 5% fall in pretax profits in the six months to 30 September despite a 13% rise in sales, as the company said it had invested more in marketing, staff and new stores.

The firm said about £10m of sales expected during the period were delayed because of strikes at the port in Felixstowe and staff shortages at its distribution centre in the Netherlands.

Kenny Wilson, the chief executive of Dr Martens, said he was “very confident about our outlook for Christmas”.

He said the group was still seeing inflation in the cost of supplies “across the board”, from the oil-based product used to make its soles, to leather and energy.

“We will only put prices up to cover inflation. This year we put prices up for the first time in two years and will cover inflation next year,” Wilson added.

Staff costs are rising, and Dr Martens is offering a £500 cost of living bonus – paid out over October and November – to about 2,000 of its 3,500 workers around the world. The payment will go to staff who work at least 20 hours a week and earn less than the equivalent of £45,000 a year – from the UK factory and head office to buying teams in the US, Europe, South Korea and Bangladesh.

Wilson said the company was making the payment as its workers were facing “very tough levels of inflation” around the world: “At the end of the day, people are the differentiator. We have a highly engaged workforce and wanted to show we cared for people who work for Dr Martens, and actions speak louder than words.”


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Shares dived almost 24% as the company warned of “variable trading” in recent weeks, partly because of mild autumn weather in the UK and Europe, and said that profit margins would take a hit.

John Stevenson, a retail analyst at the brokers Peel Hunt, said the figures indicated “some worry for apparel stocks into peak trading, reflecting those higher stock levels and adverse weather patterns”.

By Sarah Butler

 

Binance.US to Bid for Crypto Lender Voyager, CZ Confirms

(qlmbusinessnews.com via coindesk.com — Thur, 24th Nov 2022) London, Uk – –

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CoinDesk reported last week that Binance.US would be preparing a bid for the bankrupt lending platform

Binance CEO Changpeng “CZ” Zhao has confirmed that the exchange's U.S. wing will be making a fresh bid for crypto lender Voyager now that the defunct FTX is unable to follow through with acquiring it.


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CoinDesk reported last week that Binance.US would be preparing a bid for the bankrupt lending platform, which Zhao confirmed in an interview with Bloomberg on Thursday.

“Binance.US will make another bid for Voyager now, given FTX is no longer able to follow through on that commitment,” he said.

Following Voyager's bankruptcy, FTX emerged as the front runner to acquire the lender, with Binance's bid said to be held back by concerns that it would represent a national security concern for the U.S. government.


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“I think the U.S. national security concerns were rumors spread by FTX to try and push us out of the bid,” Zhao said. “There was never any concerns about us participating in the bid.”

Binance has been dogged by claims that it is a Chinese company, given it is the country of Zhao's birth, though he grew up in Canada. “I am a Canadian citizen, period,” he wrote in a blog post in September.

By Jamie Crawley

 

Royal Mail: Strikes over Christmas and Black Friday to go ahead

(qlmbusinessnews.com via bbc.co.uk – – Wed, 23rd Nov 2022) London, Uk – –

Strikes planned for the Black Friday weekend and the run-up to Christmas will go ahead after talks between Royal Mail and the Communication Workers Union (CWU) ended without agreement.

Deliveries will be disrupted by ten more strike days at the busiest time of the year for the postal service.


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Royal Mail said it had made its “best and final offer” and accused the union of “holding Christmas to ransom”.

But the CWU said the offer would “spell the end of Royal Mail as we know it”.

Fresh strikes are scheduled for Thursday and Friday with further stoppages planned for 30 November and 1 December – just two days after Cyber Monday, one of the busiest online shopping days – and on six days in December, including Christmas Eve.

The long-running dispute revolves around pay, jobs and conditions. The CWU said Royal Mail's plans to change the way the postal system worked, would turn it into “a gig economy-style parcel courier, reliant on casual labour”.

The company said in a statement that it had offered staff a 9% pay rise over 18 months, was committing to make Sunday working voluntary, and would make no compulsory redundancies before March next year.

“We want to reach a deal, but time is running out for the CWU to change their position and avoid further damaging strike action,” Royal Mail's chief executive, Simon Thompson, said earlier.

Royal Mail said strikes had already cost the firm more than £100m and that the pay offer may need to be withdrawn if there is “further deterioration in the company's financial position caused by industrial action”.

“In a materially loss-making company, with every additional day of strike action we are facing the difficult choice of whether we spend our money on pay and protecting jobs, or on the cost of strikes,” Mr Thompson said.

The CWU represents 115,000 workers at Royal Mail. Last month they rejected a 7% pay offer over two years.

Analysis: Zoe Conway, BBC Employment Correspondent

For both sides this dispute is existential. That's why it's so hard to solve. Royal Mail says it is in such financial peril that without immediate changes to working practices it could go out of business. For the Communication Workers Union, this is a last stand to stop postal workers being turned into “gig-economy couriers”.

Letters don't make the company money. People are sending 60% fewer of them than they were in 2005. So the company wants to switch its focus to parcels and in particular to next-day parcel delivery. That means changing working practices.

Pay is of course an issue. The company says it's offering 9% more over 18 months with conditions attached, though the union disputes this figure.

Royal Mail also wants to end the extra payments that postal workers get for doing things like driving bigger trucks. Postal workers I've spoken to say they'd lose £50 a week if those allowances were to end. The company is offering to compensate them.

Both sides have incurred heavy losses. Royal Mail says eight days of strike action has cost it £100m whilst striking posties have each lost, on average, £1,000. The mood is very sour indeed.

The union criticised Royal Mail's “aggressive” stance over the talks and called for an improved pay deal, a guarantee of no compulsory redundancies and other improvements to the offer.


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CWU general secretary Dave Ward said the offer represented a “devastating blow” to postal workers' livelihoods and urged the public to “stand with their postie”.

“These proposals spell the end of Royal Mail as we know it, and its degradation from a national institution into an unreliable, Uber-style gig economy company,” he said.

 

 

 

Halfords target Retirees and women in drive for 1,000 new car repair technicians

(qlmbusinessnews.com via news.sky.com– Wed, 123rd Nov 2022) London, Uk – –

The company has said a competitive labour market has led to capacity constraints, though supply chain and lockdown challenges had “almost entirely subsided”.

UK oil and gas sector faces $24 bln bill to plug old wells -report

(qlmbusinessnews.com via uk.reuters.com — Tue, 22nd Nov 2022) London, UK —

British North Sea oil and gas producers will spend around 20 billion pounds ($24 billion) on dismantling over 2,000 unused wells and facilities in the ageing basin over the next decade, an industry group said on Tuesday.

The cost burden for plugging wells and removing platforms, in what is known as decommissioning, is set to rise sharply over the next three to four years as more fields stop production, Offshore Energies UK (OEUK) warned in a report.


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The growing bill coincides with British finance minister Jeremy Hunt's decision last week to increase a windfall tax on North Sea producers to 35% from 25%, bringing total taxes on the sector to 75%, among the highest in the world.

OEUK estimates around 2,100 North Sea wells will be decommissioned over the next decade at an average cost of 7.8 million pounds per well, for a total of 19.7 billion pounds.

The proportion of spending on decommissioning in companies' budgets is set to rise from 14% in 2022 to 19% by 2031.

Over 75% of total decommissioning spend will be within the central and northern North Sea.

Oil and gas production in the North Sea, a major deepwater production hub since the 1970s, has been in steady decline since peaking at around 4.4 million barrels of oil equivalent per day in the 1990s.

Decommissioning costs can be offset against some taxes, but not against the latest windfall tax.

OEUK also warned the growing number of oil and gas workers turning to the fast-growing offshore wind industry in the region could create shortages of skilled workers for decommissioning.


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“The UK's decommissioning sector is snowballing and will continue growing for years to come,” OEUK Decommissioning Manager Ricky Thomson said in a statement.

“But this poses a challenge as well as an opportunity. The growth of renewables and demand for decommissioning services and expertise will create increasing pressure for resources.”

Reporting by Ron Bousso

Paramount scraps $2.2bn sale of Simon & Schuster publishing to Penguin

(qlmbusinessnews.com via theguardian.com – – Tue, 22nd Nov 2022) London, Uk – –

Penguin owner Bertelsmann will not appeal US judge’s ruling that merger would be illegal because it would hit authors’ pay

Penguin owner Bertelsmann will not appeal US judge’s ruling that merger would be illegal because it would hit authors’ pay

Penguin Random House, the world’s largest book publisher, and rival Simon & Schuster have scrapped a $2.2bn deal to merge, Penguin’s owner said in a statement on Monday.


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Bertelsmann, a German media group which owns Penguin, initially said it would appeal a US judge’s decision that said its purchase of Simon & Schuster would be illegal because it would hit authors’ pay.

But Bertelsmann said in a statement on Monday that it “will advance the growth of its global book publishing business without the previously planned merger of Penguin Random House and Simon & Schuster”.

Reuters reported on Sunday that the German company was unable to convince Paramount Global, Simon & Schuster’s owner, to extend their deal agreement and appeal the judge’s decision.

Judge Florence Pan of the US district court for the District of Columbia ruled on 31 October that the justice department had shown the deal could substantially lessen competition “in the market for the US publishing rights to anticipated top-selling books”.

With the deal’s dissolution, Penguin will pay a $200m termination fee to Paramount.

Paramount said on Monday that Simon & Schuster was a “non-core asset” to Paramount. “It is not video-based and therefore does not fit strategically within Paramount’s broader portfolio,” the company said in a filing on the deal’s termination.

The justice department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Unlike most merger fights, which focus on what consumers pay, the Biden administration argued the deal should be stopped because it would lead to less competition for blockbuster books and lower advances for authors who earn $250,000 or more.

The decision comes as the Biden administration has made clear it intends to tackle what it sees as monopoly positions, blaming them, among other things, for rising meat prices and soaring concert ticket prices.


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The book industry has gone through a series of consolidations in recent years and critics feared another big merger would reduce competition while making life harder for smaller publishers.

Penguin is by far the US’s largest publisher already. Its writers include the cookbook author Ina Garten and novelists Zadie Smith and Danielle Steel, while Simon & Schuster publishes Stephen King, Jennifer Weiner and Hillary Rodham Clinton, among others.

By Guardian staff and agencies

Bank of England says better regulations needed after FTX collapse

Better regulations are needed to protect the financial system after the collapse of the FTX cryptocurrency exchange, a senior Bank of England official has said.

Digital currencies are still too small to pose a threat but that will soon change, said Sir Jon Cunliffe.

FTX filed for bankruptcy last week and owes its largest creditors almost $3.1bn (£2.6bn).

Thousands of its users are also waiting to get their money back.


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Sir Jon, who is deputy governor for financial stability at the Bank, also said the recent volatility in the value of cryptocurrencies posed a threat.

The value of Bitcoin, the world's largest digital currency, has dived by almost 70% in the last year.

He said the crypto world was, at present, not “large enough or interconnected enough with mainstream finance to threaten the stability of the financial system”.

But he said its links with mainstream finance were developing rapidly.

“We should not wait until it is large and connected to develop the regulatory frameworks necessary to prevent a crypto shock that could have a much greater destabilising impact.

“The experience in other areas of digitalisation has demonstrated the difficulty of retrofitting regulation on new technologies and new business models after they have reached systemic scale,” he told an audience at a Warwick Business School event.

It comes as the UK is set to approve laws in the Financial Services and Markets Bill, which is currently in Parliament. The bill will introduce regulation for stable coins – a cryptoasset backed by an asset such as a currency – and the marketing of cryptoassets.

In his speech, Sir Jon noted that the UK's financial regulator, the Financial Conduct Authority, had been warning for several weeks before FTX's collapse that “this firm may be providing financial services or products in the UK without our authorisation… you are unlikely to get your money back if things go wrong”.

FTX did not have a licence to operate in the UK, but its implosion has caused shockwaves around the world.

The company's filings have revealed that more than one million people and businesses could be owed money following its collapse.

Analysis: Joe Tidy

Before FTX collapsed, its then-CEO Sam Bankman-Fried took every chance he could to describe his firm as “the most regulated” in the industry.

It's true that FTX had collected dozens of permissions to operate in many countries and to offer many different crypto services.

But clearly, in the end, those certificates were useless at protecting customers and investors.

Every time there is a major crisis in crypto the cries for regulation grow, but it's the type of regulation that matters.

The chief concerns for authorities seem to be about protecting customers from crypto firms going bust and ensuring that they don't run off with people's money.

But as ever with cryptocurrency there is a tension between safety and freedom.

Regulating crypto firms to ensure they are safe and responsible entities would bring them a step closer to the traditional financial system – a huge no-no for crypto believers.

But whatever the true believers want, the FTX chaos may well be the point of no return.

On Saturday, FTX said it had launched a review of its global assets and was preparing for the sale or reorganisation of some businesses.

Last week, new FTX chief executive John Ray hit out at the way the failed crypto exchange was run, saying he had never “seen such a complete failure of corporate controls”.

Mr Ray, who replaced the company's founder Sam Bankman-Fried, criticised what he called a “complete absence of trustworthy financial information”.

Mr Bankman-Fried was one of the crypto world's most high-profile personalities, with the 30-year-old becoming a billionaire in 2021.

His FTX crypto exchange grew to be the second largest in the world, with $10bn-$15bn traded a day.

It spent millions on advertising, including during the Superbowl, and last year it acquired the naming rights for the Miami Heat NBA team's arena.

Mr Bankman-Fried also projected an unconventional approach to business, tweeting pictures of himself sleeping on a beanbag next to his desk in the office.

Digital pound

Despite the ructions in the crypto world caused by FTX's collapse, Sir Jon said the need for a UK digital currency was still being considered by the Bank of England.


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He said the work on a digital pound was driven by “the reducing role of cash, and more generally in the increasing digitalisation of daily life”.

Sir Jon said the Bank planned to issue a consultative report around the end of the year setting out the possible next steps.