Aerospace and defence company Babcock win £1.3bn contract for fleet of Royal Navy frigates

(qlmbusinessnews.com via news.sky.com– Wed, 12 Sept 2019) London, Uk – –

Prime Minister Boris Johnson says the £1.3bn contract for at least five ships will help “bring shipbuilding home”.

Aerospace and defence company Babcock has been chosen as the preferred bidder for a new fleet of Royal Navy frigates.

The government has committed to buying at least five of the warships, as well as hoping to sell them to other governments, with the first ship expected to begin sea trials in 2023.

The £1.3bn Type 31 contract will see the ships built exclusively in the UK, with different elements being fabricated and assembled at various British shipyards.

It will guarantee at least 2,500 jobs across the country, including 150 new technical apprenticeships.

The fleet will be based on Babcock's Arrowhead 140 design at an average cost of £250m per ship.

Babcock chief executive Archie Bethel said it was a “modern warship that will meet the maritime threats of today and tomorrow with British ingenuity and engineering at its core”.

The ships will be fitted with the world-leading Sea Ceptor missile system, as well as being able to operate a Merlin or Wildcat helicopter.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who will mark the announcement by visiting a ship on the Thames later on Thursday, said: “The UK is an outward-looking island nation, and we need a shipbuilding industry and Royal Navy that reflect the importance of the seas to our security and prosperity.

“This is an industry with a deep and visceral connection to so many parts of the UK and to the union itself.

“My government will do all it can to develop this aspect of our heritage and the men and women who make up its workforce – from apprentices embarking on a long career, to those families who have worked in shipyards for generations.

“I look forward to the restoration of British influence and excellence across the world's oceans.

“I am convinced that by working together we will see a renaissance in this industry which is so much part of our island story – so let's bring shipbuilding home.”

The frigate-building programme is part of a wider plan to breathe new life into the UK shipbuilding industry.

To that end, Mr Johnson has named Defence Secretary Ben Wallace as the new shipbuilding tsar.

Mr Wallace said: “These mighty ships will form the next generation of the Royal Navy fleet.

“The Type 31 frigates will be a fast, agile and versatile warship, projecting power and influence across the globe.

“The ships will be vital to the Royal Navy's mission to keeping peace, providing life-saving humanitarian aid and safeguarding the economy across the world from the North Atlantic, to the Gulf, and in the Asia Pacific.”

By Alan McGuinness, political reporter

UK jobs via agencies fell at the fastest pace in more than three years in August -recruiters’ survey

(qlmbusinessnews.com via uk.reuters.com — Fri, 6th Sept 2019) London, UK —

LONDON (Reuters) – The number of workers hired for permanent jobs via recruitment agencies in Britain fell at the fastest pace in more than three years in August as the Brexit crisis deepened, a survey showed on Friday.

The Recruitment and Employment Confederation and KPMG said hiring of temporary workers rose but remained close to its slowest pace in 75 months while permanent placements fell for the sixth month in a row as employers postponed hiring.

“Brexit uncertainty continues to take its toll on the jobs market,” James Stewart, vice chair at KPMG, said.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who took office in July, has said he will take Britain out of the European Union on Oct. 31 without a transition deal to smooth the economic shock, unless Brussels gives in to his demands for concessions.

But this week, lawmakers rushed to approve a bill which would require Johnson to ask for an extension of the Brexit deadline, prompting him to demand an early election.

“The first priority should be avoiding a damaging no-deal Brexit and giving some stability back to British businesses, so they can drive the prosperity of the whole country,” REC Chief Executive Neil Carberry said.

August saw the smallest increase in job vacancies since January 2012, the survey showed.

Starting salaries of permanent staff rose at the weakest pace since December 2016 as a squeeze on candidates eased – the availability of staff fell at the most moderate pace for over two-and-a-half years.

Britain’s labour market has strengthened since the Brexit referendum in 2016, bringing unemployment down to its lowest rate in more than 40 years and pushing up pay. The Bank of England is watching pay growth closely as it tries to work out what to do next with interest rates.

Reporting by Makenzie Katz

Bank of England: The negative impact of a no-deal Brexit not as severe as originally thought

(qlmbusinessnews.com via bbc.co.uk – – Thur, 5th Sept 2019) London, Uk – –

The Bank of England updates analysis on the potential impact of a no-deal Brexit on the economy as Mark Carney goes before MPs.

The negative impact of a no-deal Brexit will not be as severe as originally thought because of improved planning by the government, businesses and the financial sector, the Bank of England has said.

Governor Mark Carney told the Treasury select committee that the Bank now believes GDP will fall by 5.5% in the worst-case scenario following a no-deal Brexit – less than the 8% contraction it predicted in last November.

The Bank's revised assessment of the possible scenarios also says unemployment could increase by 7% and inflation may peak at 5.25% if the UK leaves the European Union without a deal.

While he warned that there would still be an economic impact, with food bills likely to rise, Mr Carney said preparations for no-deal since the end of last year had informed the improved picture.

These include work undertaken at Dover and Calais to reduce disruption to cross-Channel trade, the government's proposed tariff regime, and work to reduce disruption in the financial markets.

In a letter to the committee, Mr Carney said: “Advancements In preparations for a No Deal No Transition scenario mean that the Bank's assessment of a worst case No Deal No Transition scenarios has become less severe.”

Giving evidence to the committee, he said that while risks of economic disruption remain, the work undertaken to reduce delays at Dover and Calais had been significant.

These include the automatic registration of UK companies to trade with the EU, simplified customs procedures and a temporary waiver on security checks at the border.

The government's own assessment of disruption, set out in the Operation Yellowhammer documents leaked last month, is that between 40% and 60% of freight trade will be disrupted, less than the 75% previously predicted.

Mr Carney said the Bank's forecast was based on less than half of freight being disrupted, with every 5% of freight traffic processed equating to about 0.25% of GDP.

The announcement of a no-deal tariff regime that would see 87% of imports by value eligible for a tariff-free increase, and work to reduce disruption to UK and European derivative markets, has also improved the worst-case scenario.

Mr Carney said: “There's real progress on the ground, there's real progress in the financial system and that has some positive knock on effect on confidence on financial markets as a whole. All of that adds up to 2.5% to 3% of GDP that we would not otherwise lose.”

“It is likely that food bills will rise in the event of a no-deal Brexit, that is almost exclusively because of the exchange rate impact. Movements are quickly translated onto the shop shelf, and domestic prices, imperfect substitutes, also increase. That impact has lessened because of the new tariff regime the government has put in place.”

By Paul Kelso

Chancellor Sajid Javid set to unveil government spending plans

(qlmbusinessnews.com via bbc.co.uk – – Wed, 4th Sept 2019) London, Uk – –

Chancellor Sajid Javid is set to unveil the government's spending plans for the coming year on Wednesday.

The statement will set departmental budgets for just one year rather than the usual three years, due to uncertainty over the impact of Brexit.

Mr Javid will announce a further £2bn of Brexit funding for the government, as well as confirm additional funds for health, schools and the police.

The extra spending will be funded by borrowing rather than tax rises.

Independent think-tank the Institute for Government (IFG) says the government is likely to favour vote-winning measures ahead of a “potentially imminent” election.

But it argues the government should be prioritising other areas of spending, such as social care and prisons which it says are the services most in need of extra money.

Here we look at each of the public services, and which needs the most funding, according to the IFG's report.

It has graded services, according to need based on which are able to keep up with demand: amber for some concerns and red for significant concerns.

Health

What has already been announced? Theresa May's government announced that annual funding would rise by £20 billion by 2023. Boris Johnson also announced a one-off injection of £1.8bn, but not all of that is agreed to be new money.

Spending on hospitals and GP services in England has risen since 2009-10, although more slowly than in the past.

IFG estimates suggest that the workload of GPs has risen faster than spending, meaning they have had to do more for less.

Despite practices increasing the number of telephone consultations and pooling resources, patients have been waiting longer for appointments.

This suggests that GPs, despite becoming more efficient, have not been able to keep up with demand.

However, the amount of work hospitals do has risen faster.

While hospitals have made efficiencies, hospitals have not been able to keep pace with the growing cost and demand for care, according to the IFG.

The result has been financial deficits and longer waiting times for treatment.

Analysis: By Nick Tiggle

The frontline of the NHS knows what its budget is until 2023-24: it was given a five-year settlement last summer.

The rises, an average of 3.4% a year, are generous compared to what the rest of the public sector can expect and reflect the fact the health service is constantly among the top priorities for voters and facing rising demand from the ageing population.

But there are still question marks around more than £13bn of funding that goes to things like staff training, buildings and healthy lifestyle initiatives, such as stop smoking.

Schools

What has already been announced? The government has announced that funding will rise by £2.6bn in 2020-21, £4.8bn in 2021-22 and £7.1bn in 2022-23.

Schools in England have not faced the same financial pressures as many other public services, according to the IFG.

However, after a rise in spending per pupil in most years since 2009-10, since 2014-15 the growth in pupil numbers has outpaced spending growth, meaning the per-pupil spending has fallen in both primary and secondary schools.

On top of this, schools have increasingly been paying for services that would have been previously provided by local authorities – such as educational psychology and extra support for special educational needs – following cuts to local authority budgets.

There are also signs that this increased workload is putting pressure on the workforce, with schools finding it harder to recruit and retain teachers, the IFG says.

But overall, schools have become more productive, it adds, with more pupils per teacher and pupil attainment increasing – particularly in primary schools.

Analysis: By Branwen Jeffreys

School funding in England had become a political headache and vote loser for the government, with both headteachers and parents campaigning. Rising costs such as national insurance and teachers pensions, as well as running costs such as utility bills, have contributed to an 8% real terms reduction in money spent in schools since 2010.

The extra money promised for 5-to-16 year-olds' education will almost reverse that squeeze by 2023. But that leaves financial pressures in England in other areas such as early years, and despite some extra cash for colleges educating 16-19 year-olds, an historic legacy under many governments of relative underfunding of further education.

Police

What has already been announced? The government has promised 20,000 extra police officers over three years at a likely cost of £0.5 billion next year but has not yet confirmed how this will be funded.

Spending on the police in England and Wales has fallen sharply since 2009-10, says the IFG.

The number of police officers has also declined, with total police reserves now 9% lower in real terms than they were in 2009-10.

“Victim-reported crime has fallen over this period, but police-recorded crime has increased,” the IFG says.

“Overall police performance – as judged by inspection reports – has improved, although other indicators – such as public confidence in the police and the length of time taken to bring charges – have deteriorated.

“There is evidence that the police are struggling to maintain performance with current levels of spending.”

Analysis: By Dominic Casciani

The strength of policing reached a record high at the end of the Labour government that left office in 2010 – and then fell back by 21,000 as older officers left and cuts restricted recruitment.

The prime minister's pledge to re-recruit 20,000 officers in the coming three years is a huge task, because natural loss means forces may need to recruit more than double that number to hit the target.

Prisons

What has already been announced? £0.1 billion pledged to boost security; promise of 10,000 extra prison places, but funding arrangements unclear

Prisons have experienced large spending cuts and a reduction in staff numbers since 2009-10.

This means prison safety has declined dramatically since 2012-13, according to the IFG.

Violence has risen and prisoners are less likely to have access to learning and development activities.

The 2016 Autumn Statement saw an injection of extra cash to tackle these safety issues and spending has risen again recently.

As a result, staff numbers are starting to rise again.

The IFG hailed a pilot programme to curb violence and drug use in 10 prisons, undertaken last year by the then Prisons Minister, Rory Stewart.

“This was largely successful, but replicating it across the whole prison system will require extra spending in every future year,” the IFG says.

Analysis: Dominic Casciani

The Ministry of Justice was one of the first big spending departments to settle with the Treasury in 2010, when the then Chancellor, George Osborne, demanded major cuts to public spending. Today, it has 25% fewer staff than back then.

The departure of experienced prison officers under the cuts coincided with a rise in smuggling of new psychoactive drugs into jails, leading to an increase in violence that the remaining prison officers struggled to control.

Adult social care

What has already been announced? In a Sunday Times interview, Boris Johnson said he would give councils £1bn for adult social care, but no formal announcement has yet been made.

Spending on adult social care in England fell between 2010-11 and 2014-15, but has since seen a rise.

The number of adults receiving publicly funded care packages has decreased, according to the IFG, even though an ageing population would suggest that demand is increasing.

Local authorities, responsible for providing adult social care, have driven down the price of care commissioned from private and voluntary sector providers following cuts to funding.

However, this has not enabled them to meet demand, the IFG says, and unpaid care – such as by family, friends or neighbours – has partially filled the gap.

In his first speech from Downing Street, Boris Johnson promised to “fix the crisis in social care once and for all”.

However, the IFG says there are no signs that plans to do so will be unveiled in the Spending Review.

Analysis: By Nick Tiggle

Not only has adult social care lost out in terms of funding, the long-awaited reform of the system has also been dodged.

Care services for the elderly and disabled simply do not have the profile of the NHS, although that is beginning to change a little as the problems worsen. But the challenge remains what to do about money.

Only the poorest and neediest get support from the state. But that means four-fifths of older people who need care go without, rely on family and friends or pay for it themselves.

Each of the areas covered by the IFG's report are devolved: the governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland run their own services.

So announcements on Wednesday will effect England (or England and Wales for policing and justice).

The devolved governments will receive extra money proportionate to the increases in spending, but they will decide how that money is spent.

Since 2010, the Westminster parliament has increased health spending faster and cut education and local government spending faster than the devolved governments.


No-deal Brexit ‘could hit house prices’ – KPMG

(qlmbusinessnews.com via bbc.co.uk – – Mon, 2nd Sept 2019) London, Uk – –

UK house prices could drop by 6.2% next year if the UK leaves the EU without a deal on 31 October, according to accountants KPMG.

However, if a deal is reached, KPMG predicts that house prices will rise by 1.3%.

London will probably see a fall in prices with or without an exit deal this year and next, it said, with sharper declines if no deal is reached.

However, the low supply of new housing stock could prop up prices over time.

“Overall, while a no-deal Brexit could dent property values in the short term, it may make less impact on one of the fundamental factors driving the market: the stock of regional housing,” said the report.

“Housebuilders are expected to reduce the supply of new housing in some regions in the short term as a response to a deteriorating economic outlook.

“So, while there will be fallout from the initial economic shock following a no-deal Brexit, the market is expected to recover most ground in the long run,” it said, assuming the economy recovers.

With the housing market hard to predict, KPMG said prices could drop in a no-deal scenario by as much as 10-20%.

“Transactions volumes will likely fall much more than prices – making government housing delivery targets impossible to achieve and slowing new building across the sector,” said Jan Crosby, UK head of housing at KPMG.

Assuming no agreement is reached, KPMG says Northern Ireland will be the hardest hit next year, with average price declines of 7.5%, followed by London at 7%. The least-hit will be Wales and the East Midlands, with 5.4% declines apiece.

This year, most regions will see changes of less than 2%, KPMG says, with the exception of London, down 4.8%, and Northern Ireland, down 2.2%.

If a deal is struck, prices in London and Northern Ireland are still predicted to fall this year, by 4.7% and 1.2%, while most other regions will be largely unchanged. Scotland and the North West will see gains of 1.4% and 1.6%.

And next year, all regions will gain aside from London's predicted 0.2% slide. The average increase will be 1.3%.

KPMG noted that the UK housing market is healthier than it was at the time of the last housing crash – when prices fell by 15% in 2008. House prices are lower as a percentage of earnings in most regions outside London and the South East.

In addition, compared with the aftermath of the 1991 recession – when housing prices dropped 20% over about four years – mortgages are much cheaper. Back then, the Bank of England's base rate was about 14%.

UK’s reliance on electricity imports climbs to a record high

(qlmbusinessnews.com via theguardian.com – – Mon, 2nd Sept 2019) London, Uk – –

Reliance on European power would bring extra costs after no-deal Brexit, say experts

The UK’s reliance on electricity imports has climbed to a record high amid fears that homes and businesses could face higher energy bills if the UK crashes out of Europe.

The latest government figures, released just weeks before Britain’s exit from the EU, show that the UK’s net electricity imports reached their highest ever level in the first quarter of this year.

The four high-voltage power cables linking the UK to Europe’s energy markets imported a sixth more electricity than the year before, after a new interconnector opened in January.

In total, European electricity imports made up almost 7% of the UK’s total demand, and the government hopes to increase imports to about 20% by 2025.Advertisement

Although this is a small share of the UK’s electricity, experts have warned that higher import prices could lead to higher energy bills.

The government’s leaked no-deal planning report, Operation Yellowhammer,predicted a marked increase in energy prices for homes and businesses if the UK crashes out without a deal.

The market price for electricity could climb because of a fall in the value of the pound against the euro, but also because of potentially costly complications of severing ties with EU energy markets.

Gas and electricity bills rose by £2bn in the year after the 2016 referendum result because of the plummeting value of the pound, according to a report from University College London.

This translated into an average household’s bill increasing by £35 for electricity and £40 for gas, and researchers predicted bills would climb by a further £61 every year in the years following the referendum.

A report commissioned by National Grid before the referendum predicted that energy bills could climb by £500m every year by the 2020s if the UK left the EU’s internal energy market.

Kristian Ruby, the head of pan-European trade association Eurelectric, said a no-deal exit could mean the UK faces third-party costs to use the power lines connecting Britain to European power markets, which would raise the overall cost of the energy.

Ruby said the UK might also find it more difficult to trade if it were left out of the complex pan-European trading system, and this could place a “risk premium” on UK prices.

“When you throw all rules up in the air at the same time, this lack of clarity, predictability and rule of law is what is very concerning for us,” he added.

A spokesperson said the government had taken steps to make sure energy trading continued and that energy laws “work effectively and provide value for money”.

The Guardian understands that a pan-European network of energy system operators has agreed a plan for the UK to remain within the internal market on a voluntary basis which would offer the same commercial terms.

A spokesman for National Grid, which runs the UK’s power cables, said it was “not anticipating any additional charges for interconnectors in the event of a no-deal Brexit”.

However, the plan has not been agreed by the European commission and could be cast in doubt if the UK leaves without an agreement or without paying the £39bn exit fee.

Alexander Temerko, a major Conservative party donor, said he feared electricity market prices could jump by almost a third if the UK does not remain part of the EU’s internal energy market after a no-deal Brexit.

The Ukrainian-born billionaire, who is planning to build a new electricity cable between the UK and mainland Europe, said the price hike could mean higher bills and negative consequences for UK business.

Temerko publicly dropped his support for Boris Johnson during the Conservative leadership campaign earlier this year over fears he could steer Britain towards a no-deal Brexit.

“If we have a no-deal Brexit all existing regulations for the transmission of electricity will be terminated with immediate effect. I don’t know how quickly, or how high, the price of electricity would jump. My expert opinion is that prices could jump by 30%. But there are no scenarios for this. We are not ready,” he said.

By Jillian Ambrose

British Steel unit sold to Systra saving hundreds of jobs

(qlmbusinessnews.com via news.sky.com–Fri, 30th Aug 2019) London, Uk – –

The French group's purchase of York-based TSP Projects will be announced by the Official Receiver on Friday, Sky News learns.

Hundreds of jobs at a British Steel subsidiary will be saved on Friday when a French engineering giant confirms the acquisition of TSP Projects, an infrastructure design consultancy.

Sky News has learnt that Systra, which has been engaged in talks to buy TSP for three months, has clinched a deal to buy the business, along with its £70m-plus pension liabilities.

The agreement is expected to be announced by Systra and the Official Receiver, which has been managing British Steel since it collapsed into compulsory liquidation in May.

A much larger transaction involving the sale of British Steel's wider business, including its vast steelworks in Scunthorpe, remains subject to several weeks of due diligence by Ataer Holding, a subsidiary of Turkey's military pension fund.

Confirmation of the deal between Systra and TSP will make it the first British Steel division to be sold to new owners since the group's collapse in the wake of a government decision not to provide further state funding.

Sky News revealed last week that the sale of TSP was being held up by the need for a secured lender to agree to the transaction.

The lender, PNC, agreed to do so earlier this week, according to insiders.

The sale safeguards the interests of roughly 500 pension scheme members and 400 TSP employees, many of whom are based at its York headquarters.

TSP has contracts to work on railway systems at Gatwick Airport‎ and broader infrastructure design in aviation, construction, energy and security.

Its biggest clients include Network Rail, Siemens and Costain.

Systra is owned by the French state railway SNCF, RATP and a consortium of French banks.

The company counts Andrew McNaughton, the former chief executive of Balfour Beatty, among its top management.

Its attempt to buy TSP Projects has drawn the attention of the UK's Pensions Regulator because of the roughly £70m deficit in its retirement scheme.

TSP Projects' pension scheme has only 14 active members, about 400 deferred members and 133 members who are receiving pensions from the company, according to information circulated to bidders.

British Steel's collapse into insolvency came just weeks after Greg Clark, the then business secretary, handed a £120m government loan to the company to help it meet its obligations under an EU scheme for industrial polluters.

A further support package was due to be given to British Steel but was withdrawn at the 11th hour amid concerns that it would breach state aid rules.

Sky News revealed earlier this month that ministers had signed off a support package worth around £300m to aid Ataer's efforts to buy British Steel.

Systra could not be reached for comment.

By Mark Kleinman, City editor

British households expectations for inflation rise to highest since 2013 – Citi/Yougov

(qlmbusinessnews.com via uk.reuters.com — Fri, 30th Aug 2019) London, UK —

LONDON (Reuters) – British households’ expectations for inflation in the year ahead rose in August to their highest level since 2013, possibly reflecting the rising chance of a no-deal Brexit, a survey from U.S. bank Citi and pollsters YouGov showed on Friday.

The public expects inflation over the next 12 months to rise to 3.2%, up from 2.9% in July.

“Such high levels have previously usually been associated with high energy prices,” economists at Citi said in a research note.

“However, in the absence of those at the moment, the increase could be driven by rising chances of a rupture with the EU on Oct. 31, which could lead to higher consumer prices via tariffs, supply disruptions and weaker sterling.”

Reporting by Andy Bruce

Pound falls more than 0.70% against the euro and US dollar as Queen asked to suspend Parliament

(qlmbusinessnews.com via bbc.co.uk – – Wed, 28th Aug 2019) London, Uk – –

The value of the pound has fallen following news that Prime Minister Boris Johnson is planning to suspend Parliament on 9 September.

The move is expected to prevent opposition leaders from passing a law to stop a no-deal Brexit.

The pound is down more than 0.70% against the euro and US dollar. So £1 is now worth €1.10 and $1.22.

The FTSE 100, largely made up of stocks that could benefit from a devaluation of the pound, was up 0.34% at 7,113.47.

That is because many of those firms book much of their earnings in foreign currencies and benefit from a weak pound.

But the FTSE 250, a stock index that is seen as more representative of the UK economy, has fallen by 0.5%.

Pound falls below $1.22

Firms that are exposed to the domestic economy such as house builders and airlines were hit: Taylor Wimpey, Persimmon and Barratt Developments were down between 2% and 2.3%.

Meanwhile, British Airways owner IAG fell 1.7% and easyJet dropped 3.2%.

‘Sterling under pressure'

“As far as the markets are concerned, there's a fair bit of bad news already baked in to the pound,” according to David Cheetham, an analyst at currency trader XTB Online Trading.

“It is telling that after the knee-jerk move lower in recent trade, the selling we've seen is far from panic stations.”

Sterling drops below €1.10

Discussing the prime minister's decision to suspend parliament, Mr Cheetham said: “This seems like a pre-emptive strike from [Mr Johnson] against those seeking to block a no-deal Brexit and once more it seems that the opposition are in danger of fluffing a big opportunity to have an impact.

“If the government is successful in this, then a no-deal Brexit wouldn't be taken off the table until the 11th hour at the earliest and this keeps a significant downside risk to the pound in play.”

And Michael Hewson, chief markets analyst at CMC, said: “Sterling is under pressure as a consequence of the prospect of a no-deal Brexit increasing, while the FTSE 100 has jumped higher.

“Overall, though, this appears part and parcel of the ongoing battle between the various caucuses of MPs who want to block a no-deal Brexit at all costs, and those who want to retain the option as part of the ongoing attempts to renegotiate the withdrawal agreement.”

The government has asked the Queen to suspend Parliament just days after MPs return to work in September – and only a few weeks before the Brexit deadline.

Boris Johnson said a Queen's Speech would take place after the suspension, on 14 October, to outline his “very exciting agenda”.

But it means MPs are unlikely to have time to pass laws to stop a no-deal Brexit on 31 October.

UK bank mortgage approvals hit nearly 2-1/2-year high in July – UK Finance

(qlmbusinessnews.com via bbc.co.uk – – Wed, 28th Aug 2019) London, Uk – –

British banks last month approved the most mortgages since February 2017, adding to signs that the housing market has picked up from its recent pre-Brexit slowdown, a survey showed on Tuesday.

Banks approved 43,342 mortgages in July, up from 42,775 in March and 10.6% higher than a year earlier, according to seasonally-adjusted figures from industry body UK Finance.

Net mortgage lending rose by 2.947 billion pounds last month, the biggest increase since March 2016 and up from an increase of 1.764 billion pounds in June.

Britain’s housing market slowed sharply in the run-up to the original March Brexit deadline but there have been signs that buyers and sellers are taking advantage of the delay to act ahead of the new Oct. 31 deadline.

Consumer spending has remained solid, sustaining the economy since the 2016 Brexit referendum while businesses have cut investment spending due to uncertainty.

UK Finance said consumer lending rose 4.3% year-on-year in July, the strongest increase since February 2018.

Lending figures from the Bank of England, which cover a broader section of Britain’s finance industry, are due on Friday.

Almost 100 companies relocated from UK to Netherlands ahead of Brexit – Dutch agency

(qlmbusinessnews.com via uk.reuters.com — Mon, 26th Aug 2019) London, UK —

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) – Nearly 100 companies have relocated from Britain to the Netherlands or set up offices there to be within the European Union due to the United Kingdom’s planned departure from the bloc, a Dutch government agency said on Monday.

Another 325 companies worried about losing access to the European market are considering a move, the Netherlands Foreign Investment Agency said.

“The ongoing growing uncertainty in the United Kingdom, and the increasingly clearer possibility of a no deal, is causing major economic unrest for these companies,” said Jeroen Nijland, NFIA commissioner. “That is why more and more companies are orienting themselves in the Netherlands as a potential new base in the European market.”

The businesses are in finance, information technology, media, advertising, life sciences and health, the NFIA said.

The Netherlands has been competing with Germany, France, Belgium and Ireland to attract Brexit-related moves.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who took office last month, has pledged to take Britain out of the European Union at the end of October with or without an exit deal.

Reporting by Anthony Deutsch

UK will automatically enrol up to 90,000 companies in customs system as it readies for Brexit

(qlmbusinessnews.com via uk.reuters.com — Wed, 21st Aug 2019) London, UK —

LONDON (Reuters) – Britain will automatically enrol nearly 90,000 companies in a customs system in order to reduce the risk of Brexit disruption, the government said, its latest attempt to show it can leave the European Union without a deal if necessary.

More than 88,000 companies which are in Britain’s value-added tax register will be allocated an Economic Operator Registration and Identification (EORI) number in the next two weeks, the finance ministry said on Wednesday.

So far, around 72,000 firms have registered for EORI numbers which identify them for customs authorities.

“As the government accelerates its preparation to leave the EU on Oct. 31, it’s right businesses are prepared too,” finance minister Sajid Javid said.

“This will help ease the flow of goods at border points and support businesses to trade and grow.”

A group representing small businesses welcomed the move but said companies also urgently needed tax measures to boost cash-flow and adapt to any new trading circumstances from Nov. 1.

“If the nightmare of a chaotic no-deal Brexit on Oct. 31 becomes a reality, our small traders will be the first ones off the cliff,” Mike Cherry, chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses, said.

The FSB and the Confederation of British Industry, another employers group, have previously urged the government to issue EURI numbers automatically to businesses.

New Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said he wants Britain to leave the EU with a transition deal but he says he is prepared for a no-deal Brexit if the bloc does not renegotiate the deal it struck with his predecessor Theresa May.

Bank of England Governor Mark Carney has warned that many companies are not ready for the shock of a no-deal Brexit, adding to the risk of a shock for the economy.

Johnson’s government plans to double the support available for customs agents to train new staff or invest in technology to help businesses complete customs declarations.

By William Schomberg

Weak pound attracts investors from the US and Asia to UK tech

(qlmbusinessnews.com via bbc.co.uk – – Wed, 21st Aug 2019) London, Uk – –

The UK tech sector has attracted more investment from the US and Asia in the first seven months of this year than it did during the whole of last year.

Japan and Singapore are the biggest Asian investors into UK tech, beating China,figures from the UK's Digital Economy Council and Tech Nation show.

Industry players say lower valuations in the UK due to the weaker pound are attracting investors to the sector.

The pound is currently trading at about a two-year low against the dollar.

Increasingly, UK companies are also heading to Asia to raise capital.

“I've seen a lot more requests from UK start-ups tapping Asian markets capital financing in comparison to a year ago,” said Aditya Mathur, founder and managing director of Singapore based venture capital fund elev8.vc.

“They typically want access to the Asian market that is large and diverse, and for that they need an Asian investor to help them understand these markets, and also provide the kind of financing they're looking for.”

Hedging tool

UK tech firms also provide Asian investors with a way to hedge against the trade war, analysts say.

“Foreign investment into both the US and Chinese tech sectors has gone down because of the trade war and because Europe has provided several attractive investment opportunities lately” said Yoram Wijngaarde, founder and chief executive of Dealroom, the company that pulled together the figures for the research.

“The UK provides an attractive opportunity for funds looking to grow their investments.”

Investment from the US and Asia into the UK tech sector totals $3.7bn (£3.02bn; €3.31bn) so far this year. That's in comparison to $2.9bn for the whole of last year.

In total, Asia invested $1.8bn into the UK tech sector in the first half of this year, compared to $0.6bn the year before.

Companies in the UK's fintech and financial sector are amongst those that attracted the most interest from Asia's investors.

In May, Japan's Softbank bought an $800m stake in Britain's Greensill, which provides short term loans to companies to help with their operational needs.

Softbank and the Singapore-based Clermont Group also invested $400m in UK firm OakNorth Bank, a digital-only bank providing loans for small and medium-sized companies.

And Japan's Mitsubishi Corporation spent $220m buying a 20% stake in UK power firm Ovo Energy.

Still, the US is by far the biggest investor in the UK's tech sector, figures show, with $2bn worth of investments so far this year.

Online food delivery businesses like Deliveroo and digital payment platforms are among the areas that caught the attention of American investors.

‘Investor confidence'

“Today's figures demonstrate investors' confidence in the UK tech sector,” Natalie Black, the UK Trade Commissioner to Asia Pacific said.

“By attracting a broader mix of investors, particularly from Asia, we are showing that the UK's tech sector is one of the most competitive in the world, with a stable, bright future.”

Still, worries about what impact Brexit will have on the UK's tech talent pool are worrying investors and companies, who are concerned the UK will see a brain drain if EU nationals aren't able to work in the UK in the event of a no deal Brexit.

“It's our biggest concern right now,” said Russ Shaw, founder of Tech London Advocates, a campaign group promoting London's technology sector.

“One in five tech workers in London is from the EU. We're growing these businesses, and the money is flowing in, but we don't have enough talent in the country.

“We need a transition plan for companies who need to know what to do about staffing after October 31. Otherwise it undermines our credibility.”

Mr Shaw has said one of the ways the UK could mitigate these risks is by making the immigration process for overseas workers easier and more welcoming in the future.

By Karishma Vaswani

National Grid faces Ofgem investigation over lightning strike power outage

(qlmbusinessnews.com via bbc.co.uk – – Tue, 20th Aug 2019) London, Uk – –

The regulator is looking into whether electricity firms breached licence conditions after a blackout which hit 1.1 million homes.

National Grid is facing an investigation by Ofgem over a major power cut earlier this month – as it blamed a lightning strike for the outage.

The regulator – which has the power to fine firms up to 10% of UK turnover – said it was looking into whether the Grid and other electricity companies breached their licence conditions.

Ofgem said it would focus on whether National Grid complied with requirements to hold sufficient backup power as well as how separate generation and distribution companies met their obligations.

It announced the investigation at the same time as it published National Grid's interim report into the power failure on 9 August, which left more than a million homes without power and caused major rail disruption.

The report blamed an “extremely rare and unexpected” outage at two power stations caused by one lightning strike at 4.52pm that day.

That resulted in a combined power loss to the network which was greater than the backup capacity held in case of emergency.

The report said the system automatically turned off 5% of Britain's electricity demand to protect the other 95% – a situation which it said had not happened in over a decade.

Ofgem's investigation will include questions over whether the companies involved made the right decisions about the number of customers who were cut off and if they were the right ones.

National Grid also admitted that the government, the regulator and the media were not made aware of what had happened as quickly as they should have been “impacted by the availability of key personnel given it was 5pm on a Friday evening”.

The business department was not updated until 5.40pm and Ofgem at 5.50pm, nearly an hour after the initial event.

The outage left 1.1 million customers without power for between 15 and 50 minutes as well as affecting trains in the South East.

Problems on the railways were mainly blamed on one particular type of train, of which there were around 60 in use, reacting unexpectedly to the outage, and half of them failing to restart – requiring an engineer to attend to do so.Sky Views: Who was to blame for the power cut?How black-outs may have boosted the argument for renationalisation

Other “critical facilities” hit by the power cut included Ipswich hospital and Newcastle airport.

National Grid must submit its final detailed technical report to Ofgem by 6 September.

Jonathan Brearley, Ofgem's executive director of systems and networks, said: “The power cuts of Friday 9 August caused interruptions to consumers' energy and significant disruption to commuters.

“It's important that the industry takes all possible steps to prevent this happening again.

“Having now received National Grid ESO's [Electricity System Operator] interim report, we believe there are still areas where we need to use our statutory powers to investigate these outages.

“This will ensure the industry learns the relevant lessons and to clearly establish whether any firm breached their obligations to deliver secure power supplies to consumers.”

The power cut came after a lightning strike just before 5pm, resulting in disruption for many commuters travelling home from work or going away for the weekend.

It knocked out Hornsea off-shore windfarm, off the Yorkshire coast – owned by Danish company Orsted – as well as Little Barford gas power station in Bedfordshire – owned by the Germany's RWE – resulting in the loss of 1,378MW.

That was more than the 1,000MW being kept by National Grid at that time – a level designed to cover the loss of the single biggest power generator to the grid.

Its report said that after the lightning strike at 4.52pm, National Grid restored the system to a “normal stable state” by 5.06pm and distribution network operators returned supply to all customers by 5.37pm.

However some major electricity users including rail services were affected for a number of hours “by the action of their own systems”.

By John-Paul Ford Rojas, business reporter

Chancellor Sajid Javid: I won’t shift stamp duty to sellers

(qlmbusinessnews.com via bbc.co.uk – – Mon, 19th Aug 2019) London, Uk – –

Chancellor Sajid Javid has said he has no plans to make house sellers rather than buyers pay stamp duty tax.

“I wouldn't support that,” the chancellor said in a tweet on Sunday.

His comments came after the Times reported on Saturday that Mr Javid was considering the idea, to save first-time buyers from paying the tax.

“I know from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government that we need bold measures on housing – but this isn't one of them,” Mr Javid said.

Stamp duty – a purchase tax paid in England and Northern Ireland on properties worth more than £125,000 – was abolished in 2017 for first-time buyers spending up to £300,000 on a house.

Forcing home sellers rather than buyers to pay the stamp duty tax would have made house purchases cheaper for those buying their first home or people trying to upgrade to larger homes, but could have made owners of larger homes reluctant to downsize.

The latest housing figures suggest that both house prices and sales are losing momentum amid Brexit uncertainty.

Key aspects of the housing market were “pretty much flatlining”, the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (Rics) said earlier this month.

In the interview with the Times, Mr Javid refused to give details of his plans to reform the tax system, instead saying “wait and see for the Budget” which is due to take place in the autumn.

According to the newspaper Mr Javid said: “I'm a low-tax guy. I want to see simpler taxes.”

The report added: “he said that he was looking at various options when asked about stamp duty reforms including reversing liability from those buying property to those selling”.

Mr Javid also said he had not yet decided whether to hold the Budget before 31 October, the date the UK is expected to leave the EU.


What is Stamp Duty?

It's a tax that people who buy property or land must pay. In England and Northern Ireland buyers pay Stamp Duty Land Tax, in Scotland it is Land and Buildings Transaction Tax while in Wales buyers pay Land Transaction Tax.

In England and Northern Ireland the tax falls due on homes sold for £125,000 or more. However, first-time buyers pay no tax up to £300,000 and 5% on any portion between £300,000 and £500,000.

For people who have bought a home before, the rates are 2% on £125,001-£250,000, 5% on £250,001-£925,000, 10% on £925,001-£1.5m, and 12% on any value above £1.5m.

So if you are not a first-time buyer, and you buy a house for £275,000, the Stamp Duty you owe is calculated as follows:

•0% on the first £125,000 = £0

•2% on the next £125,000 = £2,500

•5% on the final £25,000 = £1,250

•Total Stamp Duty = £3,750

In Scotland, the rates on Land and Buildings Transaction Tax are 2% on £145,001-£250,000, 5% on £250,001-£325,000, 10% on £325,001-£750,000, and 12% on any value above £750,000.

In Wales, the rates on Land Transaction Tax are 3.5% on £180,001-£250,000, 5% on £250,001-£400,000, 7.5% on £400,001-£750,000, 10% on £750,001-£1.5m, and 12% on any value above £1.5m.

Will Chatbots Automate Call Centers replace the livelihood of millions of agents around the world?

Source: Bloomberg

At a call center in the Dominican Republic, Laura Morales is designing chatbots to respond to customer service requests. A former call center agent herself, Morales has benefited from her new job that is better paid and higher skilled than what she used to do. But will these chatbots end up replacing the livelihoods of millions of agents around the world? This is an episode of Next Jobs, a mini-documentary series hosted by Bloomberg Technology's Aki Ito.

Turkey’s military pension fund in exclusive talks for the takeover of British Steel

(qlmbusinessnews.com via news.sky.com– Mon, 12 Dec, 2019) London, Uk – –

The Scunthorpe-based steel maker, which has 5,000 staff, collapsed into insolvency in May.

Turkey's military pension fund has entered into exclusive talks for the takeover of British Steel.

Sky News first revealed that Ataer, a unit of Oyak which looks after the pension pots of Turkey's military personnel, had entered into exclusive talks with advisers to the government who have been running the auction of the ailing steelmakeron behalf of the Official Receiver.

British Steel, which has its largest manufacturing site in Scunthorpe, collapsed into insolvency in May after the government chose not to give £30m to the company under its then-owner, Greybull Capital.

In a statement, Ataer Holding said it was now exclusively conducting a detailed financial, legal and operational review for a period of two months.

It said: “During the exclusivity period, close negotiations to be held with customers, suppliers, employees and trade unions is significant for the future success of British Steel.”

Ataer said since British Seel went bankrupt on 21 May and entered a formal auction process, nearly 80 bidders across the world have expressed an interest.

The Official Receiver, a government agency responsible for the auction process, said the talks were for the whole of British Steel.

It said: “Following discussions with a number of potential purchasers for the British Steel group over the past few weeks I am pleased to say I have now received an acceptable offer from Ataer Holdings A.S. for the purchase of the whole business and I am now focusing on finalising the sale.

“I will be looking to conclude this process in the coming weeks, during which time British Steel continues to trade and supply its customers as normal.”

OYAK general manager Suleyman Savas Erdem said: “We have achieved one of the biggest achievements of the Turkish steel industry and signed a preliminary agreement to buy the industrial giant of UK, British Steel.

“We will continue to evaluate opportunities globally inline with our growth-oriented vision and we will continue our investments to provide sustainable high benefit to our members.”

Around 4,000 people are employed at Scunthorpe, with more than 700 employees in Teesside and an estimated 20,000 in its supply chain.

Sky's City Editor Mark Kleinman exclusively revealed that Ataer's bid in British Steel came after lenders to the steelmaker put pressure on EY, the adviser to the government, to seal a takeover or begin closing down the Scunthorpe site.

Since its collapse into liquidation, British Steel ‎has been funded through a taxpayer-backed indemnity and is estimated to be losing around £5m a week.

By Ganesh Rao, business reporter

UK retail sales unexpectedly rise in July helped by strong growth in online spending

(qlmbusinessnews.com via uk.reuters.com — Thur, 15th Aug 2019) London, UK —

LONDON, Aug 15 (Reuters) – British retail sales edged up unexpectedly in July, helped by the strongest growth in online spending in three years, suggesting consumers continued to support the economy ahead of the Oct. 31 Brexit deadline.

Monthly retail sales volumes rose 0.2%, the Office for National Statistics said on Thursday, compared with a median forecast for a 0.2% decline in a Reuters poll of economists and following a 0.9% surge in June.

Compared with July 2018, sales were up by 3.3%, slowing from robust growth of 3.8% in June. The Reuters poll had pointed to annual sales growth of 2.6%.

Consumers have so far largely taken Brexit in their stride, helped by modest inflation and wages growing at their fastest rate in 11 years.

That has aided the world’s fifth-biggest economy at a time when many companies have been cutting back on investment because of escalating uncertainty about Brexit.

The figures contrasted with a British Retail Consortium survey that showed spending fell in the year to July at the fastest pace on record for that month.

The ONS said retail sales grew 0.5% in the three months to July, the smallest increase this year and reflecting a drop in sales volumes in May.

“Although still declining across the quarter, there was an increase in sales for department stores in July for the first time this year,” ONS statistician Rhian Murphy said.

“Strong online sales growth on the month was driven by promotions.”

Online sales jumped 6.9% on the month, their biggest rise in volume terms since May 2016. Amazon (AMZN.O) held its annual “Prime Day” sales promotion last month, a major driver of sales for the company.

However, household goods stores reported their biggest monthly drop in sales in two years, down 5.4%, with anecdotal evidence that warm weather had kept shoppers out of furniture and lighting stores.

Stable inflation, the strongest rise in wages since 2008 and some of the lowest unemployment rates since the mid-1970s have continued to boost household incomes, although after inflation wages are still below their peak before the financial crisis.

But there have been signs that consumers could turn more cautious as Britain’s political crisis drags on.

The amount households are saving relative to their income is not far off record low levels.

News from retailers has been mixed of late. Fashion chain Next (NXT.L) shrugged off Britain’s retail gloom on Wednesday and has also reported a surprise rise in full-price sales.

But baby products retailer Mothercare (MTC.L) blamed an uncertain and volatile home market coupled with fragile consumer confidence as reasons why it will not report a rise in annual profit.

Reporting by Andy Bruce and David Milliken

British retailers urge government to freeze business rates

(qlmbusinessnews.com via uk.reuters.com — Tue, 13th Aug 2019) London, UK —

LONDON (Reuters) – More than 50 British retailers, including Sainsbury’s (SBRY.L), Marks & Spencer (MKS.L), Asda (WMT.N) and Morrisons (MRW.L) have urged the government to freeze business rates to help out the struggling sector.

In a letter to the new finance minister Sajid Javid, published on Tuesday, the retailers called on the government to take action to “fix the broken business rates system”.

Business rates are taxes to help pay for local services, charged on most commercial properties, including shops, warehouses, pubs, cafes and restaurants. They are currently calculated according to the rental value of properties and have an annual inflationary uplift or multiplier.

The letter asks for a freeze in the business rates multiplier to stop another tax rise.

The retailers’ letter was coordinated by lobby group, the British Retail Consortium (BRC), which has for years complained the current system is unfair.

It points out that the industry is the largest private sector employer in Britain, employing about three million people. While it accounts for 5% of the UK economy, it is burdened with 10% of all business taxes, and 25% of business rates.

“This disparity is damaging our high streets and harming the communities they support,” said BRC chief executive Helen Dickinson.

The letter comes a day after BRC-Springboard data showed 10.3% of shops in Britain were vacant, the highest rate in four years, adding to the growing gloom in the sector.

Another survey from the BRC published earlier this month showed British retailers reported the weakest July sales growth since records began.

Last month new prime minister Boris Johnson announced a 3.6 billion pound fund to support town centres.

Javid is due to set out his spending for the 2020-21 financial year next month.

Reporting by James Davey

National Grid ‘had three blackout near-misses in as many months’

(qlmbusinessnews.com via theguardian.com – – Tue, 13th Aug 2019) London, Uk – –

Exclusive: Industry sources say system operator aware of growing potential of blackouts ‘for years’

  • What are the questions are raised by the UK’s recent blackout?

National Grid had experienced three blackout “near-misses” in as many months before Friday’s major outage left almost a million homes in the dark and forced trains to a standstill around the UK.

The system operator, already under investigation by the energy watchdog, faces criticism from within the industry that it has not done enough to guard against the risk of blackouts.

National Grid blamed the “incredibly rare” nationwide power cut on a severe slump in the grid’s frequency – a measure of energy intensity – following the unexpected shutdown of two power generators.

It will face an investigation into its handling of the energy system after the first blackout in more than a decade following the shutdown of a gas-fired power plant in Bedfordshire and the Hornsea windfarm in the North Sea at about 5pm of Friday.

It said it would work with the regulator and energy companies to “understand the lessons learned” after two power plants shut down unexpectedly within minutes of each other, causing severe rush hour travel disruption across the country.

But industry sources claim National Grid has been aware of the growing potential for a wide-scale blackout “for years”, and has suffered a spate of near-misses in recent weeks.

The Guardian understands that in every month since May there has been a severe dip in the grid’s frequency from its normal range around 50Hz. Industry sources have confirmed that the grid’s frequency has fallen below 49.6Hz on three different occasions in recent months, the deepest falls seen on the UK grid since 2015. On Friday the blackout was triggered when the frequency slumped to 48.88Hz.

In June, the frequency of the grid plummeted to within a whisker of National Grid’s legal limit of 49.5Hz after all three units of EDF Energy’s West Burton gas-fired power plant in Nottinghamshire tripped offline without warning.

The unexpected outage triggered an emergency call for backup electricity supplies which stabilised the energy grid’s frequency before a blackout was triggered.

In addition, the grid’s frequency fell to 49.55Hz on 9 May, and 49.58Hz of 11 July.

A spokesman for National Grid said these events were “independent”. He added that there was “no trend or prediction of more frequency excursions”.

“Over the past four years frequency has regularly fluctuated between the agreed limits, as part of the normal day-to-day operation of the electricity system,” he added.

Steve Shine, chairman of Anesco, a battery company, said: “It would be easy for National Grid to write this incident off as a fluke event, but they have actually been aware of this potential issue for many years.”

National Grid has managed to avoid wide scale blackouts by triggering last-minute contracts to help it stabilise the grid and avoid breaching the crucial 49.5Hz limit set by the regulator.

It contracts energy suppliers to ramp up their output from generators and batteries to make up for an outage, and offers contracts to companies such as factories and supermarkets, which can temporarily cut their energy demand to help stabilise the frequency of the grid.

But many of the companies tasked with supplying the “safety net services” – such as batteries and diesel farms, which are banks of small-scale generators – have warned that National Grid is not doing enough to safeguard the system against blackouts.

The UK’s booming renewable energy output can make it more difficult for National Grid to balance the frequency of the grid, which was originally built to accommodate fossil fuel power plants, which generate more intensive energy.

National Grid said it had embraced the UK’s renewable industry by developing “frequency response” tools – such as quick-fire back-up supplies of extra electricity – which should make it technically possible to run the energy system without any fossil fuels by 2025.

Shine said: “What is needed is a greater volume of faster response services, which can be called into action when the frequency drops. This would have prevented the need to turn the power off.

“It’s worrying that with just two generation sources dropping out of the supply mix, National Grid was still unable to deliver power to all areas, with no proper contingency plan in place,” he said.

“It’s exactly this kind of scenario the UK needs to be prepared for – these recent events demonstrate how important it is to have more, faster response services available, which can be called into action when the frequency drops,” he said.

Steven Meerman, the founder of battery firm Zenobe, called on National Grid to “update its old rules of thumb” to determine how many reserve services it kept on standby in the future.

“It may be the energy system is changing faster than expected,” he said.

John Pettigrew, National Grid’s chief executive, defended the grid’s response in a post on social media site LinkedIn entitled “there is never a good time for a power cut”.

He said: “Contrary to some erroneous media reports, I am not on holiday – indeed, I’ve been at my desk all weekend.

“As CEO of National Grid plc ultimately the buck stops with me.”Topics

By Jillian Ambrose Energy correspondent