Amazon UK employees stage first formal walkout

(qlmbusinessnews.com via news.sky.com– Wed, 25th Jan 2023) London, Uk – –

Darren Westwood speaks to Sky News about corralling colleagues to strike over low pay and conditions that see staff stand on their feet all day and get warnings if they fail to sort through a set number of items per hour.

Darren Westwood knows how to stick up for himself.

As a kid, he was bullied in the playground and beaten up in his local town centre. Now he doesn't take stick from anyone, no matter how big or strong they appear, even if they happen to be one of the biggest companies in the world.


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Mr Westwood believes his employer, Amazon, is a bully.

Having slowly grown fed up with pay and working conditions at the company's warehouse in Coventry – where workers are on their feet all day sorting through goods to send to other warehouses – he has been corralling colleagues to support a strike.

After some initial reluctance, he gradually won them over and almost 300 workers are poised to walk out today – marking the first formal strike on British soil for the online giant.

“I don't get fazed by things. I spent my life growing up and I'm at that stage where I'm not intimidated or worried,” the 57-year-old said.

“During the pandemic, people were thanking us and we appreciated that but Amazon were still making money, while we feel like we've been left behind.”

“The money is there. I know people say that it's the politics of envy but we're not asking for his [Jeff Bezos'] yacht or his rocket. We just want to be able to pay our way. And that's all we're asking.”

Unions have traditionally had a hard time penetrating Amazon but the mood among the company's workforce shifted in August after it offered its workers what many considered to be a paltry pay rise. The online giant lifted the hourly wage by 50p to £10.50 an hour.

Upon hearing the news, workers staged an informal walkout. They were expecting more, especially as the company has enjoyed stellar profits in recent years and inflation is rising at its fastest pace in 40 years.

The GMB union seized the opportunity and helped arrange a strike, with workers voting in favour of formal action just before Christmas.

It's not just about money, however. Amazon has long been criticised for employing tough productivity targets that require workers to sort through a set number of items per hour.

Failure to do so can result in an “adapt”, a type of warning. Staff are given two 30-minute breaks a day, only one of which is paid.

“When you think you've got to queue up to clock out and then queue up to go through the metal detectors and security, and queue to get your food, that time does evaporate very, very quickly,” Mr Westwood said. “I've been one minute late back from a break before and have been given an adapt.”

The loss of up to 300 of its 1,400 workforce in Coventry is unlikely to cause Amazon any major operational problems but management will be keeping a close eye on developments. Across the globe, its workforce has started agitating. In the US, workers at a New York warehouse recently voted to start the company's first-ever labour union.

The GMB union is calling on Amazon to pay its UK workers £15 an hour to bring their wages in line with their American counterparts, who earn $18 an hour. However, Mr Westwood accepted that it would probably take a lot less than that to settle the dispute.

‘£2 an hour extra would be acceptable'

“I'd be happy if they just increased it by £2. I think £2 an hour extra or £2.50 an hour extra would be acceptable. I think everyone would stop then and people would be happy,” he said.

The company told Sky News that it pays a competitive local wage that has risen by 29% since 2018.

A spokesperson added: “We appreciate the great work our teams do throughout the year and we're proud to offer competitive pay which starts at a minimum of between £10.50 and £11.45 per hour, depending on location.

“Employees are also offered comprehensive benefits that are worth thousands more – including private medical insurance, life assurance, subsidised meals and an employee discount, to name a few.”

However, workers accuse it of cutting other benefits in the process. Crucially, the 5% pay rise it has given its staff amounts to a real-terms pay cut because inflation, which peaked at over 11% last year, has risen at more than double the pace.

Mr Westwood pointed out that the company has put the cost of its services up to reflect higher rates of inflation, while neglecting to fairly share the spoils with its workforce.

A similar story is playing out across the economy, especially in the public sector, where industrial relations are fracturing under the strain of rampant inflation. Nurses, ambulance drivers, railway workers, teachers and postal workers have all voted to down their tools and march out.

‘Some nights I can't sleep'

Like some of Amazon's employees, many of them were repeatedly reminded of their value during the pandemic, when they went out to work when others stayed at home.

“These are good people,” Mr Westwood said. “I know that some people think that we're unskilled and this is a minimum wage for a ‘minimum job'. But you need us during the pandemic. You applauded us and painted rainbows in the street. We're the same people.”

“It's 10 hours a day, standing on your feet. I do 18,000 steps and it takes its toll on people. I've got an injury to my shoulder. Some days it's just so painful. Some nights I can't sleep, it just keeps me awake. And that's from the repetitive strain of doing the same job over and over and over and over.”


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While Mr Westwood is hopeful that both sides can thrash out a deal, he believes that the major gain will be to increase unionisation within the Amazon workforce to ensure workers continue to stick up for themselves.

He accepts that working for Amazon comes with benefits and many people enjoy their time there but believes the company has a long way to go.

“Colleagues are struggling to pay their bills,” he said. “But we work for one of the richest men in the world, at one of the richest companies in the world, in one of the richest countries in the world… it's not fair.”

Lloyds and Halifax to shut 40 branches with a shift to online banking

(qlmbusinessnews.com via news.sky.com– Fri, 20th Jan 2023) London, Uk – –

Lloyds Banking Group, which owns both high street lenders, says the sites to go have seen the number of visits drop by about 60% on average in the last five years, but it will fuel concerns about the impact on a significant minority for whom cash remains vital as well as small businesses.


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Lloyds and Halifax have become the latest banks to announce branch closures with 40 to be axed in the face of a significant drop-off in footfall.

The high street lenders said the sites, all but one of which are in England, will shut their doors between April and June.

It brings the total number of branch closures that have been announced so far this year to 64.

Earlier this month TSB said it would be shutting nine sites, while Barclays has earmarked 15 for the chop.

Banks have been reducing their branch networks across the country as increasing numbers of people use online banking leading to a decline in the use of over-the-counter services.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, which led to lockdowns and social distancing measures, this trend accelerated.

But it has fuelled concerns about the impact on a significant minority for whom cash remains vital as well as small businesses that continue to rely on in-person facilities.

Lloyds Banking Group, which owns both banks, said the branches to be closed have seen the number of visits drop by about 60% on average in the last five years.

A spokesman said: “Branches play an important part in our strategy but we need to have them in the right places, where they are well-used.

“We'll continue to invest in branches that are being used regularly, alongside our online, mobile app and telephone services.”

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The bank branches that will close include 18 Halifax sites in Golders Green, north London, Maldon, Essex, and Bletchley, Buckinghamshire, among others.

The 22 Lloyds branches to be lost include those in Dagenham, east London, Ipswich, Suffolk, Twickenham in southwest London and Harrow in northwest London.


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The only site not in England is Halifax's Bangor branch, in Wales.

All the branches are within a third of a mile of at least one free-to-use cashpoint and a Post Office, the group said.

The closures will not lead to any job losses, it added.

 

Ocado says shoppers buying fewer items as costs rise

(qlmbusinessnews.com via news.sky.com– Wed, 18th Jan 2023) London, Uk –

Shoppers using online grocer Ocado are buying fewer items as they struggle with the soaring cost of living.

The retailer also said its customers were shopping less frequently as it reported a fall in revenues last year.


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Prices are rising at the fastest rate in around 40 years and outstripping wage growth, which is putting household budgets under pressure.

Ocado also said shopping patterns seen during the pandemic – when online sales surged – had begun to “unwind”.

Last week, Sainsbury's said people were shopping more in-store, as many found it easier to shop around for the best deals in shops rather than online.

Pay rises at fastest pace for over 20 years
Fresh food prices rose at record rate pre-Christmas
Ocado Retail – a joint venture between Ocado and Marks & Spencer – said its revenues fell by 3.8% in 2022 to £2.2bn.

It blamed the fall on “an unwind of pandemic shopping behaviours, accelerated by the onset of the current cost of living crisis”.

It added that this meant shopping basket volumes fell by 12.1% last year, or six fewer items, and shopping frequency also declined.

Ocado added that the average value of orders in the three months to the end of November was £117 – a drop of 1.3% compared with the same period in 2021.

However, Ocado said it had enjoyed record festive sales, which were up 15% over the five days before Christmas. On one of the days it received more than 72,000 orders – a record high.


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Ocado Retail chief executive Hannah Gibson said the current market was “challenging for everyone”, and the retailer is expecting to see lower basket sizes in the first half of this year.

“In 2023 we will continue to strengthen and improve our leading customer proposition, including investing in value to help customers manage cost of living pressures, while keeping tight control of our costs,” Ms Gibson added.

 

Battery startup Britishvolt enters administration as rescue talks fail

(qlmbusinessnews.com via theguardian.com – – Tue, 17th Jan 2023) London, Uk – –

Staff told majority of firm’s 300 employees would be immediately made redundant on Tuesday morning

The battery startup Britishvolt has collapsed into administration with the majority of its 300 staff made immediately redundant after talks about a rescue bid from several investors failed.

Britishvolt filed notice to appoint an administrator in the insolvency courts on Tuesday and the accountancy firm EY has confirmed it has taken on the administration.


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Staff were told the “majority” of its 300 employees would be immediately made redundant on Tuesday morning.

The company’s efforts to build a large facility near Blyth in Northumberland had stalled in recent months as it struggled to find a cash injection to pursue the project.

EY said the company had entered administration “due to insufficient equity investment for both the ongoing research it was undertaking and the development of its sites in the Midlands and the north-east of England”.

The administrators, one of the big four accountancy firms, will now assess the company’s assets, including its intellectual property and research, in an effort to pay creditors and will subsequently wind down its affairs.

Britishvolt had said on Monday that it was in talks over a “majority sale” of the business but those discussions appear to have failed.

Shareholders had been voting on potential new investors in the £3.8bn “gigafactory” project, which was seen as a key pillar in supplying the next generation of electric vehicles built in the UK.

The company’s management had been in talks with a number of potential investors, including existing investors keen to prevent the value of their holdings from being wiped out, and an obscure Indonesia-linked group with little experience in manufacturing.

The Guardian revealed last week that DeaLab Group, a UK-based private equity investor, and an associated metals business, Barracuda Group, were in talks over a £160m rescue deal.

Sources close to the situation said the existing investors had been closer to securing a deal than the Indonesia-linked consortium which “did not have the necessary funding” required to take on Britishvolt. However, ultimately, both appear to have failed to reach a deal.

The administration came after numerous delays to expected announcements in recent days as executives weighed weaknesses in the bids. Most notably, the company’s leadership had concerns that it had no guarantees that promised follow-on funding would materialise, according to two sources with knowledge of internal discussions.

Dan Hurd, joint administrator and partner at EY-Parthenon, said: “Britishvolt provided a significant opportunity to create jobs and employment, as well as support the development of technology and infrastructure needed to help with the UK’s energy transition.

“It is disappointing that the company has been unable to fulfil its ambitions and secure the equity funding needed to continue.

“Our priorities as joint administrators are now to protect the interests of the company’s creditors, explore options for a sale of the business and assets, and to support the impacted employees.”

Britishvolt was hoping to build the 30 gigawatt hours gigafactory in phases, manufacturing enough battery cells a year for more than 300,000 electric vehicle battery packs, equivalent to about a quarter of current UK vehicle manufacturing. However, construction work stopped last autumn as its focus turned to staving off collapse.

Building gigafactories is seen as a key aim by the government, which had promised £100m support to the project.

Britishvolt asked for a £30m advance on the funds last year but was rejected as the company had not hit certain milestones needed to access the funds. That was reportedly followed by two further requests, for £11.5m and then just £3m, raising concerns in government about the financial stability of the project.

Ian Lavery, the Labour MP for Wansbeck, where the factory was to have been built, said the situation was “deeply concerning” and noted that the project was “once the crown jewel of the government’s levelling up policy in the north-east”.


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Britishvolt narrowly avoided entering administration in October after it secured a last-minute injection of £5m from the FTSE 100 mining company Glencore, which was already an investor. Glencore had a deal with Britishvolt to supply cobalt to the factory.

A Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy spokesman said: “We remained hopeful that Britishvolt would find a suitable investor and are disappointed to hear that this has not been possible, and therefore no ATF [Automotive Transformation Fund] grant has been paid out.

“Our thoughts are with the company’s employees and their families at this time, and we stand ready to support those affected.”

By Alex Lawson and Jasper Jolly

 

Charity warns Christmas debt could take years to repay

(qlmbusinessnews.com via bbc.co.uk – – Mon, 16th Jan 2023) London, Uk – –

Money borrowed to pay for Christmas could take years to repay, according to debt advice charity StepChange.

The charity said worries about debt had led to a surge in enquiries as soon as the festive season was over.

Its warning comes as a poll for the BBC suggests fears over unmanageable debt.


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A third of respondents to the poll who used credit to help get through Christmas and the holiday season said they were not confident about their ability to repay.

StepChange said it had advised more people on 3 January, the first working day after the festive break, than on any day last year.

“Christmas can put great financial pressure on people, causing some to rely on credit and spend more than they can afford. In some cases, this can lead to a debt hangover in the new year that may take many months or even years to repay,” said Richard Lane, from StepChange.

He said many people were unable to adjust their spending habits or have a sufficient income as bills and prices soared, and he urged those struggling not to “suffer in silence”.

The government has promised support payments to those most in need.

The online poll of 4,187 UK adults by Savanta Comres for BBC News, Morning Live and Rip Off Britain was carried out on 4-6 January. It found that more than eight in 10 of those asked were worried about the rising cost of living, with some losing sleep over it.

But it suggests people are finding different ways to cut costs to pay their bills. A majority of respondents have been turning the heating down and lights off, or reducing their grocery shop.

That is also the case for Natasha Miller and her mum Linda, who spoke to BBC News as they took six-month-old Lana and two-year-old Penny to a free story and rhyme session in Garforth, Leeds.

“We try not to bath the girls every night, that's the big one,” Natasha said.

Linda added: “Week by week, with food prices, we've tried to budget, to only buy the things we need and not waste as much. We switch off the lights, and we keep the temperature at 16C to 18C in the house. We're conscious of what we're using.

“Normally we buy each other presents but we did a Secret Santa this year so we weren't buying for everyone.”

The poll for the BBC shows half those asked paid for at least some of their Christmas and holiday season spending on credit, and many would have received credit card bills in recent days.


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Many turn to credit at expensive times of year because they have little in savings.

Official data from the Office for National Statistics shows almost one in 10 people (8%) have had a direct debit, bill or standing order they have been unable to pay in the past month, rising to 10% of those aged 16 to 29, and 13% of those aged 30-49.

By Kevin Peachey

 

UK’s economic growth beats expectations in November boosted by the World Cup

(qlmbusinessnews.com via bbc.co.uk – – Fri, 13th Jan 2023) London, Uk – –

The UK economy unexpectedly grew in November, helped by a boost from the World Cup, official figures show.

The economy expanded by 0.1%, helped by demand for services in the tech sector and in spite of households being squeezed by rising prices.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) said pubs and restaurants also boosted growth as people went out to watch the football.

But it is still unclear whether soaring costs will tip the UK into recession.


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Although the November reading of gross domestic product – a measure of all the activity by businesses, the government and people in the UK – was much better than anticipated, the overall picture still suggests the economy is stagnating as food and energy bills go up and people cut back.

The November increase marks a slowdown from a 0.5% rise in October, which was largely as a result of a bounceback from businesses shuttering to mark Queen Elizabeth II's funeral in September.

Economists have suggested that the latest data makes it less clear whether the UK will have entered a recession at the end of last year.

A recession is defined as two three-month periods, or quarters, of shrinking economic output in a row.

When a country is in recession, it is a sign that its economy is doing badly. During a downturn, companies typically make less money and the number of people unemployed rises. Graduates and school leavers also find it harder to get their first job.

Between July and September, UK economic output shrank by 0.3%.

Economic growth slowed sharply from October, partly due to strike action.

Rail workers and Royal Mail staff staged walkouts over pay and working conditions in November. Darren Morgan, director of economic statistics at the ONS, told the BBC's Today programme: “We definitely saw the impact of industrial action in today's figures.

“We saw reasonably large falls in rail transport, postal work and warehousing and this sector had the biggest drag on the economy in November.”

There was continued industrial action in December, which widened to include NHS workers as well as Border Force staff at six UK airports. It could have a knock-on effect on next month's figures, which will reveal if the technical definition of a recession has been met.

Mr Morgan said the economy would have to shrink by 0.6% in December to send the UK into a recession.

Although there might have been a brief improvement in November, the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) warned that concerns over the economy haven't yet been laid to rest.

The national chair of the FSB, Martin McTague, said: “With costs remaining high for small firms and households alike, policymakers cannot rest on their laurels. Inflation needs to be brought down, there remains huge uncertainty over energy prices and consumer confidence remains stubbornly low.”

‘The next 12 months are going to be tough'
Business owner Nick Grey says December was “very, very slow”

At Gtech in Worcester, staff have definitely noticed the economy slowing down.

The company designs and sells cordless vacuum cleaners and other tools. After a busy pandemic, when people were keen to invest in keeping their homes and gardens looking nice, demand has begun to decline.

“We can feel that, yes, there's probably a recession coming on, people are finding things difficult,” suggests Nick Grey, founder of the business. “They're kind of worried about their basic costs of heating and fuel and all the rest of it and the worries of inflation.”

Despite that, the firm gave its staff a £1,000 cost-of-living payment in December, and gave its lower-paid staff a relatively more generous pay rise than the senior workers, as they are more affected by rising costs.

“I think the next 12 months are going to be tough,” says Mr Grey. “We're just trying to make sure we do the basics well, and that when all this blows over, we're positioned well to grow and recover.”

Analysis box by Faisal Islam, economics editor

While the surprise today was that the economy grew in the month of November, the trend over three months is still down, by 0.3%. Overall the UK economy still appears to be weak but it is not certain it is in formal recession, and depends on the next set of figures released in a month.

The World Cup boosted pubs, pizza delivery and the ad industry helping the economy more than normal. But a series of previous monthly figures from the past year were revised down, leaving the less volatile three-month measure heading downwards. The impact of strikes was partly behind falls in transport and postal services of 4.7% and 3.1% respectively.

So a mixed bag of new and one-off factors, and statistical revisions that will probably still leave the Bank of England further raising rates next month, as it does its most thorough assessment of the state of the economy.

Speaking on Friday, Chancellor Jeremy Hunt said he had a “clear plan” to halve inflation, which measures the rate at which prices rise and is at a 40-year high.

But shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves said the latest figures would “be deeply concerning to families already struggling with the soaring cost of living.”

Pantheon Macroeconomics said whether or not the UK is already in recession, potentially causing more pain for households, is “hanging in the balance”.


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The ONS's Mr Morgan said that one in six businesses have told the ONS “they have been affected as a result of industrial action so we would have to see how the impact of industrial action feeds into our December figure in a few weeks' time”.

While the manufacturing sector shrank in November and construction stagnated, the services sector, which includes a wide range of industries from hospitality to accountancy, grew.

By Dearbail Jordan

 

Boxing Day sales set for shoppers to cut back on spending

Shoppers are expected to spend less at the Boxing Day sales as households are squeezed by the high cost of living.

Credit card firm Barclaycard predicts that the average person is set to spend £229 in the post-Christmas sales, £18 less than last year.


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Bargain-hunters could also face disruption from further rail strikes which is likely to cause a build-up of traffic around shopping centres.

The AA forecasts that 15.2 million cars will be on the roads during the day.

The motoring organisation said: “Traffic is likely to build around shopping centres as lots of people seek a bargain in the sales. Meanwhile, football fans will travel to see their teams.”

It said there could be “localised” congestion, but added: “Traffic should be dispersed throughout the day as people take their time after Christmas Day.”

Network Rail workers who are members of the RMT union are holding strike action until 06:00 GMT on 27 December. Rail firms warn that services could be disrupted for much of the coming week.

A survey of 2,000 would-be shoppers by Barclaycard found that 42% said the higher cost of living would temper spending in the post-Christmas sales, with many of those saying they would spend less compared to previous years.

The rate of price rises – also known as inflation – hit 10.7% in November which was lower than October but is still at its highest for 40 years.

Dr Sarah Montano, retail expert and senior lecturer of marketing at the University of Birmingham, said: “For many consumers, obviously they would've been shopping pre-Christmas, as we had the Black Friday sales and things like that.

“As we move into the new year, we expect consumers to be a bit cautious because of course, the heating bills will still be to come for consumers and that will impact on their discretionary spending.”

Harshna Cayley, head of online payments at Barclaycard Payments, said: “The rising cost of living and inflationary pressures have naturally had an impact on the amount being spent in the post-Christmas sales this year.

“Having said that, retailers can take confidence knowing that shoppers still plan to make the most of the deals and discounts on offer.”

Mike Ranson, general manager at Tessuti, a clothing store in Liverpool, told the BBC that Boxing Day remained “one of the most important days of the year for us” and was upbeat about trading in the hours ahead.

He said that the store has introduced steep discounts across its goods. “We are doing up to 50% across all brands, so we've got discounts across I'd say 90% of the brands across the stores. We have gone pretty big on sales this year.”

Many people, especially teenagers and young adults, will have received cash or gift vouchers and may look to spend them in the Boxing Day sales.

“Retailers will be wanting to attract them and get a nice boost post Christmas,” said Dr Montano

Some of the High Street's biggest names – including Next, John Lewis and Marks & Spencer – have decided to stay closed this year on Boxing Day. However, people can still shop online.


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Barclaycard also found that people intend to make use of re-selling websites, such as eBay, to get rid of unwanted Christmas presents and look for bargains.

It said that 28 per cent of the people it surveyed expect to sell gifts with luxury food and drink as well as personal technology goods the most likely to be flogged-off first.

By Dearbail Jordan & Noor Nanji

 

House prices: Growth slows with higher mortgage rates especially impacting more expensive areas

(qlmbusinessnews.com via news.sky.com– Fri, 23rd Dec 2022) London, Uk – –

With London house prices down nearly 25% over the last five years, Zoopla is seeing renewed demand for urban properties and flats and a waning of COVID-19 era appetite for coastal and rural homes.

The average UK property is £17,500 more expensive now than a year ago though house price growth has slowed and London properties are nearly 25% cheaper than five years ago, according to data from property website Zoopla.


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House prices have risen 7.5% over the past year, though the increase has slowed in the past three months to 0.3%, Zoopla said.

That slowdown is expected to continue into 2023 when prices will start to decline by mid-year.

House prices have increased 22% over the course of the past five years, outpacing average earnings growth, the Zoopla figures say.

But the cost of a property is expected to drop as demand weakens due to a combination of higher mortgage ratescost of living pressures and low consumer confidence.

The impact of higher mortgage rates is being felt least in more affordable markets and most keenly in the most expensive parts of the UK, Zoopla found.

Price growth has been slower in the upper end of the market but where prices are more expensive, higher rates have a greater impact on borrowers.

Mortgage rate increases began in the wake of the September mini-budget as expectations rose that the Bank of England would increase interest rates further than expected in an effort to bring down inflation, which many feared would spiral due to unfunded tax cuts and spending on energy supports.

Rail fares in England to increase up to 5.9% in March

(qlmbusinessnews.com via theguardian.com – – Thu, 22nd Dec 2022) London, Uk – –

Government says it has made its biggest ever intervention to keep rise below inflation, but Labour condemns ‘sick joke’

Rail fares in England will rise by up to 5.9% in March after what the government called “its biggest ever intervention” to keep the cost of travel below soaring inflation.

It is the first time in more than 25 years that regulated rail fares have increased by less than inflation. The leap in the cost of rail travel, the biggest in the last decade, will take effect from 5 March.

Campaigners and businesses said the increase was a blow to travellers while Labour called it a “sick joke” with many rail companies, especially in the north, failing to run adequate services.


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The increase is 6.4 percentage points below the July 2022 inflation figure based on the retail prices index (RPI), which the fare rises have normally matched.

Instead, the government said it had for this year only aligned the increase to that month’s growth in average earnings instead of RPI.

The transport secretary, Mark Harper, said: “This is the biggest ever government intervention in rail fares. It has been a difficult year and the impact of inflation is being felt across the UK economy. We do not want to add to the problem.

“This is a fair balance between the passengers who use our trains and the taxpayers who help pay for them.”

The Department for Transport said taxpayers had subsidised the railways by £31bn since the start of the pandemic – a figure that is at least £16bn more than it would have expected under normal conditions.

The shadow transport secretary, Louise Haigh, said: “This savage fare hike will be a sick joke for millions reliant on crumbling services. People up and down this country are paying the price for 12 years of Tory failure.”

David Sidebottom, the director of the independent watchdog Transport Focus, said research showed most passengers did not think railways were delivering value for the fares. He said: “After months of unreliable services and strike disruption, it’s clear that too many passengers are not getting a value for money service.

“Capping fares below inflation and the delay until March is welcome and will go some way to easing the pain, but the need for reform of fares and ticketing in the longer term must not be forgotten.”

Campaigners contrasted the fares policy with the government’s action on motoring and aviation. Norman Baker of the Campaign for Better Transport said that while the increase could have been much worse, “this is still a large rise which will deter some people from using the railways”.

He said: “This increase stands in stark contrast to the situation with fuel duty, which was cut earlier this year after being frozen for years.”

Baker said fares should be frozen to encourage a return to rail, funded by taxing fuel on domestic flights.

Clive Wratten, the chief executive of the Business Travel Association, said: “People travelling for work have been hammered by strikes, inconsistent timetables and cancelled trains in the run-up to Christmas – this is another grab for their wallets.”


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Rail strikes, in the long-running dispute over pay and conditions, resulted in only 20% of trains running last week, with more strikes on Christmas Eve and from 3 January across Network Rail and train operators. An overtime ban by Rail, Maritime and Transport workers’ union and Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association members at train operators has also massively affected services in some areas, notably on South Western and Chiltern railways. On top of staffing issues, TransPennine Express said IT problems caused it to cancel a third of trains and warn passengers to stay away on Wednesday.

By Gwyn Topham

100,000 NHS nurses strike over bitter pay dispute

(qlmbusinessnews.com via uk.reuters.com — Thur, 15th Dec, 2022) London, UK —

By Farouq Suleiman

National Health Service nurses in Britain staged a strike on Thursday, their first ever national walkout, as a bitter dispute with the government over pay ramps up pressure on already-stretched hospitals at one of the busiest times of the year.

An estimated 100,000 nurses will strike at 76 hospitals and health centres, cancelling an estimated 70,000 appointments, procedures and surgeries in Britain's state-funded NHS.


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Britain is facing a wave of industrial action this winter, with strikes crippling the rail network and postal service, and airports bracing for disruption over Christmas.

Inflation running at more than 10%, trailed by pay offers of around 4%, is stoking tensions between unions and employers.

Of all the strikes though, it will be the sight of nurses on picket lines that will be the stand-out image for many Britons this winter.

“What a tragic day. This is a tragic day for nursing, it is a tragic day for patients, patients in hospitals like this, and it is a tragic day for people of this society and for our NHS,” Pat Cullen, the head of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) union, said to the BBC on a picket line on Thursday.

The widely admired nursing profession will shut down parts of the NHS, which since its founding in 1948 has developed national treasure status for being free at the point of use, hitting healthcare provision when it is already stretched in winter and with backlogs at record levels due to COVID delays.

Health minister Steve Barclay said it was deeply regrettable that the strike was going ahead.

“I’ve been working across government and with medics outside the public sector to ensure safe staffing levels – but I do remain concerned about the risk that strikes pose to patients,” he said.

Barclay said patients should continue to seek urgent medical care and attend appointments unless they have been told not to.

MORE STRIKES AHEAD?

The industrial action by nurses on Dec. 15 and Dec. 20 is unprecedented in the British nursing union's 106-year history, but the RCN says it has no choice as workers struggle to make ends meet.

Nurses want a 19% pay rise, arguing they have suffered a decade of real-terms cuts and that low pay means staff shortages and unsafe care for patients.

The government has refused to discuss pay, which Cullen said raised the prospect of more strikes.

“Every room I go into with the secretary of state, he tells me he can talk about anything but pay,” she said. “What it is going to do is continue with days like this.”

Outside St Thomas' Hospital in central London, Ethnea Vaughan, 50, a practice development nurse from London said she felt nurses had no option but to strike, blaming a government that had ignored their concerns for years.

“Nothing is changing and I've been in nursing for 27 years and all I can see is a steady decline in morale,” she told Reuters.

The government in Scotland avoided a nursing strike by holding talks on pay, an outcome that the RCN had hoped for in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

But the government has said it cannot afford to pay more than the 4-5% offered to nurses, which was recommended by an independent body, and that further pay increases would mean taking money away from frontline services.


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Some treatment areas will be exempt from strike action the RCN has said, including chemotherapy, dialysis and intensive care.

Polling ahead of the nursing strike showed that a majority of Britons support the action, but once the walk-outs are underway politicians will be closely monitoring public opinion.

Writing by Sarah Young, additional reporting by Kylie MacLellan and Andrew MacAskill

Inflation eases to 10.7% but the cost of a night out surges ahead of Christmas

(qlmbusinessnews.com via news.sky.com– Wed, 14th Dec 2022) London, Uk – –

The ONS says the cost of a Christmas party has risen at its fastest rate since 1991, but charts a decline in the overall pace of inflation, led by motor fuels.

The rate of inflation eased to 10.7% from 11.1% last month, according to official figures showing that food and the cost of a night out continue to rise in price ahead of Christmas.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) said falling motor fuel prices led the decline in the core consumer prices index (CPI) measure of inflation.


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It reflected falling oil costs and a meaningful recovery in the value of the pound versus the dollar on which oil costs are pegged.

Overall, fuel prices rose by 17.2% in the year to November – down from 22.2% in the year to October, the ONS said.

It reported that the largest upwards contribution to the inflation number last month came from rising prices in restaurants, hotels, cafes and pubs – led by alcoholic drinks.

The ONS added that the annual rate of inflation in this particular sector of hospitality was running at its highest level since 1991, at 10.2%.

The overall CPI rate came in lower than economists had expected.

Many suggested we may now be past the peak, which was running at a 41-year high in October.

The cost of living crisis, however, shows little sign of easing up in any substantial way given that household energy bills are running at record levels, despite government support, amid the first cold snap of the 2022/23 winter.

The ONS said energy and food costs remained the main drivers of inflation, with food running at an annual rate of 16.4%.

The Bank of England is widely expected by economists to add to the bills of borrowers on Thursday by raising Bank rate again as part of its battle against inflation.

A hike of at least 0.5 percentage points is forecast by the bulk of experts as policymakers across the West continue to bear down on the price threats posed to their economies from Russia's war in Ukraine.

The invasion in February exacerbated the rising tide of price rises caused by economies reopening after COVID disruption, as many commodities, including food staples, widely produced in both countries soared in cost.

The cost of manufacturing goods has added to the bills substantially too because of Russia's historic role in supplying oil and gas – now reduced to a trickle in comparison amid sanctions regimes.

The Bank of England can do nothing to bear down on these prices, but it can act to take demand out of the economy – helping prices fall back – through Bank rate increases.

It believes that the country is already in the grip of a recession, defined by two consecutive quarters of negative growth.

A contraction in the third quarter of the year – July to September – is expected to be followed by a further dip in the current October to December quarter.

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt responded to the ONS price figures by declaring inflation as “the number one enemy”.


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He said: “The aftershocks of COVID-19 and (Vladimir) Putin's weaponisation of gas mean high inflation is plaguing economies across Europe and I know families and businesses are struggling here in the UK.

“Getting inflation down so people's wages go further is my top priority, which is why we are holding down energy bills this winter through our energy price guarantee scheme and implementing a plan to help halve inflation next year.

“I know it is tough for many right now but it is vital that we take the tough decisions needed to tackle inflation – the number one enemy that makes everyone poorer.

“If we make the wrong choices now, high prices will persist and prolong the pain for millions.”

By James Sillars

 

 

BoE to stress test hedge funds and private equity lending

(qlmbusinessnews.com via theguardian.com – – Tue, 13th Dec 2022) London, Uk – –

Central bank to examine shadow banking sector amid fears it could put UK financial stability at risk

Hedge fund and private equity lending will be scrutinised by the Bank of England in the world’s first stress test of the shadow banking sector, amid fears the underregulated industry could put the UK’s financial stability at risk.

The tests are meant to help the Bank understand the weaknesses within, and risks posed by, non-bank lenders including hedge funds and money market investment funds, a sector that has doubled in size since the 2007-08 financial crisis and accounts for about half of the loans currently issued to companies globally.


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While international regulators such as the Financial Stability Board have been voicing concerns about the threat of shadow banking for more than a decade, the fact the central bank is pushing ahead with its own stress tests signals how serious it views the potential threats posed by the industry, which does not face as stringent oversight as traditional banks.

While international regulators such as the Financial Stability Board have been voicing concerns about the threat of shadow banking for more than a decade, the fact the central bank is pushing ahead with its own stress tests signals how serious it views the potential threats posed by the industry, which does not face as stringent oversight as traditional banks.

The Bank of England governor, Andrew Bailey, said the issue had become “more pressing”, given how the shadow banking sector had amplified a series of recent market shocks. “I think it is different now because of … a whole series of non-bank ‘incidents’,” he said.

They include the UK’s pension fund crisis in September that was originally sparked by the government’s disastrous mini-budget, but caused UK bond prices to plunge at a record rate. It eventually forced the Bank to step in with £65bn in emergency funding to prop up the bond market and avoid risks spilling out to other parts of the financial sector.

The Bank is now pushing for more stringent regulation of the pensions market, partly because of the apparent problems caused by high levels of borrowing.

But it said the potential threat posed by the shadow banking sector was much wider, and had also been illustrated by the market turmoil caused by the collapse of the hedge fund Archegos last year, the dash for cash at the start of the pandemic in 2020 – which resulted in investors pulling their money at speed – and the wider impact of commodity market stress that followed Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February this year.

The increased scrutiny of the shadow banking sector comes as the UK government faces criticism over its plans to relax regulation for traditional banks and other financial institutions across the City in an attempt to increase growth.

Many non-bank lenders have their headquarters abroad, or fall outside the Bank of England’s remit. While it could mean the Bank of England will be limited in the policies it can roll out after the stress tests, it is hoping the exercise will provide more information and help accelerate international coordination.

The central bank said it would run the tests “to inform understanding of these risks and future policy approaches. There is also a need to develop stress-testing approaches to understand better the resilience of NBFIs [non-bank financial institutions] to shocks and their interconnections with banks and core markets.”

Although the Bank hopes to roll out the tests as soon as possible, particularly in light of the looming recession, it has not yet settled on which institutions will be included in the tests or how it will deliver the results.

It will start designing the tests for non-bank financial institutions in early 2023, meaning the sector will probably face its first tests more than a decade after traditional banks first came under similar scrutiny in 2014.


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The stress tests were announced alongside the release of the Bank’s biannual financial stability report on Tuesday, which showed that traditional British banks, such as NatWest and Lloyds, were resilient enough to continue lending through the oncoming downturn.

However, that is despite a deterioration in the UK’s economic performance, and the substantial increase in the rate of inflation, which has led to challenging conditions for many households and businesses. The bank noted that a drop in real incomes, surging mortgage cost and higher unemployment would place “significant pressure” on household finances” and weigh on their ability to repay debts.

By Kalyeena Makortoff

 

National Grid: Coal plants put on standby to supply electricity

(qlmbusinessnews.com via bbc.co.uk – – Mon 12th Dec 2022) London, Uk – –

National Grid has ordered two coal plants to begin warming up in case electricity supplies to the UK are disrupted because of the cold weather.

The company said it asked Drax, which owns Britain's biggest power station, to prepare two coal-fired units.

It also said it was running a test of its scheme that offers discounts on bills for households who cut peak-time electricity use on Monday evening.


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The move comes as the UK experiences a snap of freezing temperatures.

It means demand for energy rises as more people heat their homes, and a lack of wind has reduced the amount of renewable energy available.

It is understood because of the cold temperatures, Monday will be the highest demand day for electricity so far this winter.

National Grid said that while it had asked Drax to warm up its two coal-fired units at its site near Selby, North Yorkshire, the plants might not be used.

It said the move “should give the public confidence in Monday's energy supply” and added households should “continue to use energy as normal”.

The UK receives electricity via subsea cables from European countries including France, Norway, Belgium and the Netherlands, but higher demand in Europe could potentially disrupt supplies to the UK and would trigger the need for coal-generated energy.

In October, National Grid warned there was a risk of blackouts over the winter months as a last resort if energy supplies reach low levels.

Fintan Slye, executive director of National Grid, told the BBC on Monday that power outages were “still a possibility”, but said the network operators remained “cautiously optimistic through the winter that we will be able to manage it”.

“We have enough supplies secured through the rest of the day that we can manage that and ensure there's no disruption to customers' supplies,” he told the BBC's Today programme.

However, the electricity system operator (ESO) arm of National Grid said it was running a test of a scheme on Monday that offers discounts on bills for households who cut their electricity use at peak times between 17:00 and 19:00.

It allows people to save cash if they avoid high-power activities, such as cooking or using washing machines, when demand is high. National Grid has said this could save households up to £100 over the winter.

But only homes with smart meters and whose supplier is signed up to the “Demand Flexibility Scheme” will be able to take part. About 14 million homes, less than half of all households in England, Scotland and Wales, have a smart meter installed.

Mr Slye said the test had been triggered because National Grid wanted to “test how consumers would respond when the weather was really cold”. It is understood a decision was made by National Grid at 14:30 GMT on Sunday.

According to National Grid ESO's website, British Gas, EDF, Eon and Octopus are signed up to the scheme but Scottish Power appears not to be.


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Octopus told the BBC that almost 250,000 of its customers had signed up to Monday's two-hour test so far, adding that its customers across the country had been paid £1m so far from taking part in previous “saving sessions”.

British Gas also confirmed it would be contacting customers to take part in Monday's scheme, but EDF said it would not be participating as it was finalising its plans.

By Michael Race & Dearbail Jordan

 

UK agree to double US gas imports under new deal

(qlmbusinessnews.com via bbc.co.uk – – Wed, 7th Dec 2022) London, Uk – –

The UK has agreed to double imports of US gas over the next year as it tries to stabilise soaring energy prices.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said the plan would “bring down prices for British consumers and help end Europe's dependence on Russian energy”.

Russia has cut off the majority of its gas supplies to Europe over the past year after its invasion of Ukraine.


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The UK does not import gas from Russia directly, but has been hit by rising wholesale prices on the Continent.

Under the agreement, the UK aims to double imports of liquefied natural gas (LNG) from the US to 9-10 billion cubic metres over the next year.

That is equivalent to about an eighth of the gas the UK uses every year.

The two countries will also boost collaboration over the development of new nuclear and green energy technologies.

The partnership will be steered by a new UK-US joint action group, led by senior officials from the British government and the White House, with the first meeting held virtually on Thursday.

Citing the war in Ukraine, Mr Sunak and Mr Biden said in a joint statement that it is “more important than ever” for allies to work together to build “resilient international systems”.

“Our immediate shared goal to stabilise energy markets, reduce demand, and ensure short-term security of supply is underpinned by the longer-term objective of supporting a stable energy transition to achieving net zero emissions by 2050, which in itself will strengthen our energy security,” they said.

Nathan Piper, an oil and gas analyst at Investec, said the deal would help to secure gas supplies across Europe, where Russian gas imports are down by more than 80% compared to last year.

The UK has limited gas storage capacity, so any excess gas is likely to be exported through interconnecting pipes to Holland and Belgium, he said.

However, he said the plan is unlikely to bring down wholesale prices significantly this winter as demand soars. He also said the deal was more or a statement of intent, adding “it's an ambition and not certain”.

Overall, US exports of LNG have been restricted since a fire damaged the country's second largest freeport in June. The Freeport LNG facility in Texas is not expected to be fully operational again until March next year.


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There are concerns that Europe's increasing reliance on LNG could hamper efforts to tackle global warming.

Recent research showed that the production and transport of LNG causes up to ten times the carbon emissions compared to pipeline gas.

In addition, most of the increases in US gas production since 2005 have come from fracking, which has proven controversial in the UK.

 

Asda to create 10,000 jobs, with 300 new UK convenience stores

(qlmbusinessnews.com via theguardian.com – – Tue, 6th Dec 2022) London, Uk – –

Supermarket hopes to grab bigger share of burgeoning sector, possibly threatening Sainsbury’s second position

Asda is planning to open 300 convenience stores and create 10,000 new jobs in the next four years as it tries to grab a bigger share of the grocery market and potentially overtake rival Sainsbury’s to become the UK’s second largest supermarket.


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The retailer, which is controlled by the billionaire Issa brothers and private equity firm TDR Capital, currently has just two Asda Express stores – in Sutton Coldfield, near Birmingham, and Tottenham Hale, in north London.

It has already said it plans to have 30 by October next year and has now laid out a much bigger ambition. The 300 planned Asda Express sites will be in addition to the 132 convenience stores the group is acquiring from the Co-op.

Mohsin Issa, Asda’s co-owner, said: “A key part of our growth strategy is to provide customers with more opportunities to shop at Asda closer to where they live or work. With more than three-quarters of the UK population visiting a convenience store in the last 12 months, the potential for growth in this market is significant. Our ambition is to become the convenience destination of choice by providing shoppers great value and a comprehensive and convenient range of products and services under one roof.”

The shift into convenience stores in residential areas comes after EG Group, which is also owned by the Issas and TDR, said it planned to open 200 Asda On the Move convenience sites on its petrol forecourts.

Asda has historically focused on large stores. It made a foray into smaller sites in 2010 when it bought Netto’s 200-strong UK chain for more than £750m but these outlets are much larger than the planned Asda Express stores.

If the group realises its plans, it will have a similar number of Asda-branded convenience stores to Sainsbury’s, which has 800 small stores as well as its major supermarkets, but leave it well behind Tesco, which has almost 2,000 Express stores and 700 One Stop outlets.

The busy market also includes Little Waitrose and the Co-op which vie for custom with the likes of McColl’s and thousands of independents, many of which trade under brands such as Londis, Spar and Budgens.


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Morrisons, the UK’s fifth largest supermarket behind Aldi, has been expanding into the market, supplying independents under the Morrisons Daily banner, after an abortive attempt in 2015 to run its own convenience store chain, M Local.

Amazon has, meanwhile, tested several checkout-free Fresh stores, where shoppers can pay via a phone app, but has paused expansion in the UK where it appears to have struggled to win over shoppers.

By Sarah Butler

Tesco shoppers switching from fresh to frozen food

(qlmbusinessnews.com via bbc.co.uk – – Fri, 2nd Dec 2022) London, Uk – –

Households are switching from buying fresh food to cheaper frozen goods as the cost of living bites into budgets, the boss of Tesco has said.

Ken Murphy, chief executive of the UK's largest supermarket, said some shoppers were also swapping pricier red meat for cheaper white protein to save money.


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He added that people were using barcode scanners more when shopping to avoid being “embarrassed” at the tills.

Food prices are rising at their fastest rate for 45 years.

In an interview with the BBC, Mr Murphy said shoppers were “managing their budgets much more tightly” and had changed their behaviour by “trading down” to cheaper food and own brand products.

Other examples he said included seeking out cheaper frozen meat and vegetables instead of fresh produce, batch cooking meals and cutting back on eating out.

The Tesco boss said the hand-held barcode scanners allowed people to “keep to a specific budget” by being able to keep an eye on the running total, instead of being “worried about being embarrassed at the till” if it turned out they could not afford their shopping or were over budget.

The hand-held scanners allow shoppers to scan the barcodes on food and other goods as they pick it up – and keep an eye on the running total – instead of waiting until the checkout and potentially discovering they cannot afford their groceries.

Tesco said it has sold double the number of frozen turkeys this year compared to the amount in 2019, due to shoppers cutting back.

There has also been a huge spike in luxury frozen desserts, and searches for frozen food in general on Tesco's website are up 40% from last year.

Mr Murphy said that the UK was living in “times of turbulence and times of change” and people were worried about the “affordability of life today”.

But he said he believed customers were “really determined to enjoy Christmas this year”, with 2022 being the first festive period for three years without Covid restrictions.

He said shoppers had been spreading out the cost of Christmas by purchasing goods earlier and had also bought “more modest gifts”.

“People will spend less. That is inevitable,” he said.

Latest official figures revealed food price inflation hit 16.2% in the year to October, up from 14.5% in September.

Inflation is the rate at which prices are rising. To calculate it the Office for National Statistics (ONS) keeps track of the prices of hundreds of everyday items, known as a “basket of goods”.

The ONS said that food prices had risen sharply in October with milk, pasta, margarine, eggs and cereals all going up.

Higher electricity and gas bills have left many households facing hardship heading into the festive season.

Asked when he thought food price inflation would slow down, Mr Murphy said it depended on a “number of factors”.

He said the global energy crisis was the main driver behind high food prices, but added the squeeze on goods since the pandemic was having an impact, as well as the pound's weakness against the US dollar.


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Tesco has overhauled its “reduced to clear” line – which includes food approaching its use-by date – and created “Reduced in Price, Just as Nice” sections, which will be rolled out to 100 stores by the end of the year.

The supermarket has also launched its food collection drive in UK stores, asking customers to buy items needed for food banks.

By Michael Race

 

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

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

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.

 

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.