ASOS new fulfilment centre to employ 2,000 people

( via– Fri, 8th Jan 2021) London, Uk – –

The news comes a few months after ASOS reported a 329% rise in annual profits thanks to demand for casual clothing in lockdown.

Online fashion retailer ASOS will invest £90m in a new fulfilment centre in Staffordshire.

The 437,000sqft centre just outside Lichfield will employ 2,000 people over the next three years, the business said.

It will open within the next 12 months and is expected to reach peak trade by 2023.

The Lichfield fulfilment centre will be the company's fourth. It already has sites in Barnsley, Berlin and Atlanta.

In October, ASOS reported a 329% rise in annual profits after sales held up thanks to demand for casual clothing and sportswear during lockdown.Advertisement

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

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

ASOS saw slowing growth over the summer and government restrictions aimed at limiting the spread of the coronavirus pandemic resulted in lower demand for occasion wear.

The retailer said it had instead expanded its casual wear offering to adapt to the “shift in 20-something lifestyle”.

Marks & Spencer sales of sleepwear soared as people spend more time at home

( via – – Fri, 8th Jan 2021) London, Uk – –

Marks & Spencer says sales of sleepwear have soared as people spend more time at home because of Covid restrictions.

The retailer sold 20% more women's pyjamas during the 13 weeks to 26 December, with many of them being bought as Christmas presents.

“The great British public are back in their pyjamas,” said chief executive Steve Rowe.

Despite this, clothing sales as a whole fell nearly a quarter, although food sales showed modest growth.

M&S said its trading was “robust” over the Christmas period, but UK revenues for the quarter were £2.52bn, 8.2% lower than last year.

M&S blamed “on-off restrictions and distortions in demand patterns” due to the coronavirus crisis.

International revenues also took a big hit, falling 10.4%.

M&S also said that potential post-Brexit tariffs on part of its range exported to the EU, together with “very complex” administrative processes, would “significantly impact” its businesses in Ireland and the Czech Republic, as well as its franchise business in France.

Mr Rowe said the chain's popular Peppa Pig sweets, made in Germany, were one product that could face tax rises.

It said it was “actively working to mitigate” those effects.

Mr Rowe thanked staff for “a first-class execution of Christmas for our customers in near impossible conditions”.

The High Street stalwart said customers had responded to its “innovative seasonal product” during the four-week run-up to Christmas.

Like-for-like food sales had risen 2.6% during the period, it said.

However, clothing and home sales fell by 24.1%, and UK sales overall were down 7.6% on a like-for-like basis.

Trading was hit particularly badly in November by the national lockdown in England, with clothing and home sales slumping 40.5% in the month and food sales down 4.5%.

“Near-term trading remains very challenging, but we are continuing to accelerate change under our Never the Same Again programme to ensure the business emerges from the pandemic in very different shape,” Mr Rowe said.

Multi-brand shift

On the positive side, M&S said its tie-up with online firm Ocado had produced “very strong” results, while customers had responded to its “innovative seasonal product” during the four-week run-up to Christmas.

Ross Hindle, retail sector analyst at Third Bridge, said: “Despite the pressure faced by their clothing division, the M&S food division is expected to deliver solid results, propelled by both stockpiling and its Ocado partnership.

He pointed to reports that M&S was poised to acquire the Jaeger clothing brand as a possible way forward, saying it “hints at the potential for a more aggressive shift into the multi-brand space”.

“M&S have numerous large stores which could be filled with non-M&S merchandise in order to drive their top-line. The risk here is whether such brands might cannibalise M&S branded products,” he added.

Emily Salter, retail analyst at GlobalData, said M&S was “paying the cost for its inability to adapt fast enough to changing shopping habits”.

“M&S's recovery is slow versus other apparel players, as it continues to be hurt by an online platform unable to make up for lost store sales,” she added.

She saw little point in a potential purchase of Jaeger, as it would be “costly to turn around and do little to boost the retailer's fortunes”.

However, she said M&S's focus on value in food had “started to pay off, with decent sales growth, especially considering dampened footfall on High Streets”.

Ryanair to roll-out 737 MAX with UK market – CEO

( via — Thur, 7th Jan 2021) London, UK —

DUBLIN (Reuters) – Ryanair plans to begin deploying its Boeing 737 MAX aircraft in the United Kingdom following its first deliveries in the coming months, CEO Eddie Wilson said on Thursday.

The airline has said it expects to receive around 30 of the MAX aircraft, which were ungrounded in the United States late last year after a 20-month safety ban that followed two fatal crashes.

“We will deploying those probably initially in the UK,” Eddie Wilson told Newstalk radio.

Reporting by Conor Humphries

Sainsbury’s annual profit forecast raises by £60m after a surge in online sales

( via– Thur, 7th Jan 2021) London, Uk – –

The company's performance is lifted by a surge in online sales, topping one million Christmas orders for the first time.

Sainsbury's has credited a surge in sales in the run-up to Christmas for an upgrade to its annual profit forecast.

The UK's second-largest supermarket chain by market share said underlying pre-tax profits for the year to March were now tipped to hit £330m – a rise of £60m on its previous expectations.

That came despite the company's decision to follow Tesco and its other grocery rivals in handing back business rates relief thanks to the industry's essential status during the COVID-19 crisis that has boosted business during tiered restrictions and national lockdowns.

In Sainsbury's case, it gave up £410m of government aid.

The group, which includes Argos, reported a like-for-like rise in sales of 8.6% in the 15 weeks to 2 January – hitting 9.3% over the core Christmas season.

The company, which has hired 68,000 staff during the crisis to date to help manage demand for orders, said its online business was up 128% as 1.1 million orders for food were delivered in the 10 days leading up to Christmas.

Non-food sales grew by 6% over the 15 week period. Shares rose by 5% in early deals.

It updated the market days after Aldi and Morrisons revealed similar uplifts for sales over the festive season.

Industry data has suggested the latter was the only one of the so-called ‘big four' chains to grow its market share over Christmas amid signs that the price war of recent years is to set to intensify.

Sainsbury's chief executive Simon Roberts said of the performance: “We made a strong start to delivering our Food First plan and we are also clear on the opportunities to further improve our offer as we look ahead for 2021.

“At Christmas we focused on offering our customers great prices, great quality and great service and I feel really proud that Sainsbury's customer satisfaction scores were the highest ever in the key Christmas week.

“We have started the new year with a strong value offer, with Price Lock currently on over 2,500 everyday products.”

John Moore, senior investment manager at Brewin Dolphin, said of the company's outlook: “Sainsbury's appears well placed given the self-help measures it has taken and investment the company continues to administer to its core business and wider offering, which remains open and highly relevant to consumers in the present circumstances.”

By James Sillars

Neil Young sells half of the rights to his song catalogue to Hipgnosis

( via – – Wed, 6th Jan 2021) London, Uk – –

Publishing house makes third major deal in a week, following acquisition of catalogues by Jimmy Iovine and Fleetwood Mac’s Lindsay Buckingham

Neil Young has sold half of the rights to his song catalogue to Hipgnosis, in the same week the publishing house has acquired catalogues by former Fleetwood Mac guitarist Lindsay Buckingham and super-producer Jimmy Iovine.

The deal comprises Young’s entire song catalogue of 1,180 compositions, with Hipgnosis taking on 50% of the worldwide copyright and income from the catalogue in exchange for an undisclosed cash sum that will certainly run into nine figures.

Hipgnosis Songs Fund was founded in 2018 by Merck Mercuriadis, who has previously managed artists including Elton John, Guns N’ Roses and Beyoncé. In December, after floating the company on the London Stock Exchange in 2018, he announced the company’s market value had reached £1.25bn. In the first six months of 2020, the company generated £50m in revenue, twice the amount for the same period in 2019.

Part of that growing Hipgnosis income is from use of its song catalogue in film and television, as well as advertising. Young is famously resistant to his music being used on adverts, singing in 1988 on This Note’s for You: “Ain’t singing for Pepsi / Ain’t singing for Coke / I don’t sing for nobody / Makes me look like a joke.”

Mercuriadis acknowledged Young’s stance, saying: “We have a common integrity, ethos and passion born out of a belief in music and these important songs. There will never be a ‘Burger of Gold’ but we will work together to make sure everyone gets to hear them on Neil’s terms.”

“Burger of Gold” is a reference to a 1973 Neil Young concert, where he revealed he’d been asked by an unnamed company to use hit song Heart of Gold on an advert, and joked he would have had to rename the song Burger of Gold if he’d agreed.

Mercuriadis said he had been a Young fan since the age of seven when he bought the album Harvest. He referred to his albums as “part of who I am, they’re in many ways responsible for who I’ve become and they’re most certainly in my DNA”.

Earlier this week, Hipgnosis also acquired 100% of Lindsay Buckingham’s 161-song catalogue, including hits he wrote for Fleetwood Mac such as Go Your Own Way, plus 50% of any as-yet unreleased songs. Mercuriadis hailed him as “one of the greatest guitarists, songwriters and producers of all time yet is still so underrated”.

He also acquired the worldwide producer royalties from 259 songs by Jimmy Iovine, who produced artists including Bruce Springsteen, U2 and Patti Smith before founding the Beats Electronics technology firm that was bought out by Apple for $3bn in 2014. Iovine said his work had found “the right home”, and that he would use the proceeds to fund the building of a high school in Los Angeles.

Hipgnosis started out buying the catalogues of star songwriters and producers such as Timbaland, The-Dream, TMS and Rodney Jerkins, before acquiring artist catalogues including Mark Ronson, Barry Manilow, Steve Winwood and Blondie.

Stars selling their catalogues has become a major music industry trend in recent years, including Buckingham’s former bandmate Stevie Nicks, who sold 80% of her song publishing rights to a rival publishing house, Primary Wave, in December.

Later that month came the most eye-catching deal of all: Bob Dylan selling his entire catalogue to Universal Music Group for a sum believed to be over $300m (£225m). Universal called it “the most significant music publishing agreement this century and one of the most important of all time”.

By Ben Beaumont-Thomas

Greggs forecasts first annual loss up to £15m since the 1980s

( via – – Wed, 6th Jan 2021) London, Uk – –

Greggs expects up to a £15m loss for the year, which would be its first annual loss since it floated in the 1980s.

The bakery chain said it does not expect profits to return to pre-Covid levels until 2022 at the earliest.

It has been battling a sales slump due to the coronavirus pandemic, but sales declines have been lessening.

Greggs made 820 job cuts at the end of last year, after its sales were hit by coronavirus lockdowns and restrictions.

Chief executive Roger Whiteside said the impact of the Covid-19 crisis had been “enormous” and that a fresh lockdown meant “significant uncertainties remain in the near term”.

Coronavirus restrictions towards the end of last year led to “variable trading conditions across the UK”, he said.

Sales in the final three months of the year fell by nearly a fifth, but this decline was less than its sales slump in the third quarter.

In September, the bakery business said it was in talks with staff to cut hours in an effort to minimise job losses.

But it still decided to cut 820 jobs because of “lockdown levels of business” as High Streets were hit by the crisis.

“Looking ahead, the significant uncertainty over the duration of social restrictions, along with the impact of higher unemployment levels, makes it difficult to predict performance,” the firm said.

“However, we do not expect that profits will return to pre-Covid levels until 2022 at the earliest.”

Greggs said on Wednesday that total sales for the year were down nearly a third to £811m, but government support had helped to limit pre-tax losses.

It said it had developed its takeaway business and a delivery tie-up with Just Eat, and had also seen “strong sales” through its partnership with retailer Iceland.

“We have taken action to position Greggs to withstand further short-term shocks and are optimistic about our prospects for growth once social restrictions are lifted,” Mr Whiteside added.

Greggs wants to open about 100 new stores, on a net basis, over the year ahead.

Julie Palmer, a partner at insolvency consultants Begbies Traynor, said: “The latest national lockdown will be unwelcome news for Greggs, which has operated shrewdly during the past year in spite of a lack of footfall, with non-essential stores forced to close and millions working from home.

“The bakery chain has had to adapt its business model and invest digitally to accommodate for the rapid change in shopping habits, offering click-and-collect purchases, as well as a nationwide delivery service through its partnership with Just Eat.

“This should provide a solid base for the business to expand when government restrictions are eased and the world returns to some normality.”

Chancellor Rishi Sunak unveils £4.6bn relief package for UK retail and hospitality sectors

( via – – Tue, 5th Jan, 2021) London, Uk – –

Retail, hospitality and leisure sectors to be given one-off grants worth up to £9,000

Larry Elliott Economics editor

Firms in those sectors of the economy hardest hit by stringent new lockdown measures will receive grants of up to £9,000 in a £4.6bn Treasury package designed to keep them afloat to the spring.

The chancellor, Rishi Sunak, said he expected 600,000 business properties in retail, leisure and hospitality to receive financial support from the government through a one-off grant.

Acknowledging that the period ahead would be “difficult”, the chancellor said the government was bolstering its efforts to protect jobs and to prevent businesses from collapsing.

In addition to grants worth £4bn, a further £594m will be made available to local councils to assist businesses impacted by the lockdown but not eligible for the new payments. As part of the package, the Scottish government will receive £375m, the Welsh government £227m and the Northern Ireland executive £127m.

The director general of the British Chambers of Commerce, Adam Marshall, said: “While this immediate cash flow support for business is welcome, it is not going to be enough to save many firms. We need to see a clear support package for the whole of 2021, not just another incremental intervention.

“The government must move away from this drip-feed approach and set out a long-term plan that allows all businesses of all shapes and sizes to plan, and ultimately survive.”

Sunak, who has already spent close to £300bn tackling the economic fallout from the Covid-19 crisis, said: “The new strain of the virus presents us all with a huge challenge – and, while the vaccine is being rolled out, we have needed to tighten restrictions further.

“Throughout the pandemic we’ve taken swift action to protect lives and livelihoods and today we’re announcing a further cash injection to support businesses and jobs until the spring.A

“This will help businesses to get through the months ahead – and crucially it will help sustain jobs, so workers can be ready to return when they are able to reopen.”

The Treasury said there would be a £4,000 grant for businesses with a rateable value of £15,000 or under, £6,000 for businesses with a rateable value of between £15,000 and £51,000, and £9,000 for businesses with a rateable value of more than £51,000.

Some business groups have been calling on the government to extend a business rates holiday for a further year to help firms with their cashflow or to prolong the temporary cut in VAT, which is due to end this month.

Treasury sources did not rule out further announcements but said the grants were intended to tide the worst-affected businesses over until it was clear whether the new lockdowns had been effective. Sunak dropped strong hints that the budget on 3 March would provide the opportunity for a more comprehensive package of economic support.

Many analysts are forecasting that after collapsing by almost a quarter in the first half of 2020 the UK economy will again contract in both the final three months of last year and the first three months of 2021 – thus meeting the definition of a double-dip recession.

Sunak expects more employees to be placed on the furlough scheme – which runs until the end of April – as a result of the measures deemed necessary to control the spread of the virus.

The Treasury said the new one-off grants came on top of existing business support, including grants worth up to £3,000 for closed businesses, and up to £2,100 a month for impacted businesses once they reopen.

Roger Barker, the director of policy at the Institute of Directors, said: “This new grant package is welcome, and will go some way to reassuring the worst affected businesses.

“We are particularly pleased the Treasury has taken on board our recommendation to increase the discretionary local authority grant fund. This policy has helped to reach those who haven’t been able to access other support. The government should be prepared to top up the fund if necessary.

“The chancellor must remain wary of a spring cliff-edge in business support as the furlough scheme and other support measures unwind.”

By Larry Elliott Economics editor

Next’s to close 90% of stores after £58m lockdown hit to profits

( via– Tue, 5th Jan 2021) London, Uk – –

The fashion retailer says 90% of stores will be closed in January after latest restrictions announced by the government.

Next has pencilled in a £58m lockdown hit to profits – taking the shine off a better than expected sales performance over Christmas boosted by demand for children's clothes and casual wear.

The closure of 90% of stores this month is expected to knock £18m off its bottom line with a further £40m hit on the assumption that closures continue into February and March.

Next reported a 1.1% fall in full-price sales for the nine weeks to 26 December – with a 43% collapse in demand in stores nearly made up for by a 38% increase for online.

That was much better than the 8% overall decline for the period that the retailer had expected.

Shares rose 8% in early trading.

Next sounded a further gloomy note about the performance of stores, saying it has previously been “overly optimistic” about them.

It now expects to see annual sales declines “for the foreseeable future” and will take a further £40m charge against the value of its stores, taking the total to just under £100m for the year.

The retailer also revealed that it had seen supply disruption as the pandemic affected shipping from the Far East – with many deliveries currently running two to three weeks late – but said it had not experienced problems due to Brexit.

A week-by-week breakdown of the latest sales period showed how demand bounced back after November's lockdown in England ended but took a further hit as Tier 4 restrictions came into force days before Christmas.

Next said products that did well were children's clothes, home ware, loungewear and sportswear while those that did badly were work and party outfits – mirroring trends seen earlier in the year.

The group is now pencilling in a full-year pre-tax profit of £342m for the year to January, less than half of the £728m reported for the previous year, with sales expected to be 16% down.

For 2020/21, Next expects annual profits to recover to £670m with sales returning to the same levels of two years before.

The retailer is the latest to try to put a figure on the impact of lockdowns on business with Primark owner Associated British Foods saying last month that it expected a £650m sales hit and Mike Ashley's Frasers Group – owner of House of Fraser and Sports Direct – issuing a profit warning.

Both of those came ahead of the January lockdown announcements.

By John-Paul Ford Rojas

Peugeot shareholders gave the green light for mega-merger with Fiat Chrysler

( via – – Mon, 4th Jan 2021) London, Uk – –

PARIS (Reuters) -Shareholders in Peugeot owner PSA gave the green light on Monday to the French company’s merger with Fiat Chrysler (FCA), one of the last steps towards creating the world’s fourth largest automaker.

At a special shareholder meeting, the deal to form the new company called Stellantis was first backed by top investors with double voting rights, including the Peugeot family, China’s Dongfeng and the French state, via Bpifrance.

All other PSA shareholders backed the deal at a second meeting held online with a 99.85% approval rate among votes cast. FCA investors are due to give their verdict later on Monday.

“We are ready for this merger,” PSA Chief Executive Carlos Tavares said, adding that the date for the closure of the deal would be announced shortly if all shareholder approvals were granted. He said the deal had now passed all regulatory tests.

The shareholding structure will be altered as part of the merger, and existing double voting rights – which are accrued over time and give investors more weight in decisions – will not be carried over.

Tavares, who will take the helm of the merged group, will have to revive the carmaker’s fortunes in China, rationalise a sprawling global empire and address massive overcapacity, as well as focus like rivals on creating cleaner cars.

Stellantis will have 14 brands, from FCA’s Fiat, Maserati and U.S.-focused Jeep, Dodge and Ram to PSA’s Peugeot, Citroen, Opel and DS. PSA has traditionally been more focused on Europe.

Reporting by Gilles Guillaume and Sarah White

Ladbrokes owner Entain offered $11bn by MGM Resorts

( via – – Mon, 4th Jan 2021) London, Uk – –

US casino giant MGM Resorts has made an $11bn (£8.1bn) offer for British gaming company Entain, which owns Ladbrokes.

The move is the latest attempt by a casino operator to move into the online gambling business.

In addition to its chain of High Street betting shops, UK-based Entain also owns a number of online sports betting and gambling sites.

Entain confirmed the offer, first reported by the Wall Street Journal, but said the price was too low.

It had recently rebuffed an earlier $10bn (£7.3bn) all-cash approach from MGM, the newspaper said.

In a statement, Entain said the latest bid approach “significantly undervalues the company and its prospects”.

MGM Resorts, which runs the Bellagio casino in Las Vegas, now has until the beginning of next month to decide whether to make a formal bid or to walk away.

FTSE 100-listed Entain. which renamed itself from GVC Holdings last month, describes itself as “one of the world's largest sports betting and gaming groups operating in the online and retail sector”.

Along with Ladbrokes, it also owns brands such as Bwin, Partypoker, Coral, Eurobet, Gala and Foxy Bingo.

After news of the latest offer for the firm, investors started betting on Entain, pushing its share price up by more than 25% to £14.30 a share – above MGM's offer of roughly £13.83 a share – a sign that market watchers are expecting a higher bid.

If the two firms do reach an agreement, it would follow another deal in September when MGM rival Caesars Entertainment agreed to buy UK-based William Hill for £3.7bn.

“Following Caesar's offer for William Hill last year, a bid by MGM for Ladbroke's owner Entain isn't exactly a surprise,” said Nicholas Hyett an analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown.

“The two are working together to take advantage of the recent legalisation of sports betting in the US, a market worth many billions of dollars a year.”

Analysis: By Dominic O'Connell

Predictions about the stockmarket have a habit of making the person trying to guess the future look foolish. No such problem for Laura Foll, a fund manager at the investment firm Janus Henderson. On the Today programme on Monday, she forecast more takeover offers for household names in Britain, noting that the UK markets remained unloved by investors and so – perhaps – undervalued.

An hour after the prediction a big offer duly landed, with Entain, the London-listed company that owns Ladbrokes and other gambling brands, saying it had received a takeover proposal from MGM Resorts, an American rival.

The US company is offering to pay shareholders in Entain not in cash, but in new MGM shares – an obvious move given the sky-high rating of US shares compared to those listed in London.

It looks a carbon copy of last year's deal where Caesars, best known for its Las Vegas properties, bought another venerable name in British bookmaking, William Hill. Get ready for more acquisitive foreign companies looking for deals in bargain basement London.

Covid headwinds

The new bid for Entain comes with financial backing from MGM's largest shareholder, InterActiveCorp (IAC), which took a 12% stake in MGM Resorts last August.

At the time, IAC's chief executive Barry Diller said it planned to work with MGM to expand its online gambling portfolio.

The attempted acquisition comes as the casino industry faces headwinds from the Covid-19 pandemic.

Bricks-and-mortar casino operators have struggled under travel restrictions.

The economy of Asian casino hub Macau shrank 49% in the first quarter of this year, while unemployment in Las Vegas reached 30% earlier in the year and remains well above the US average.

MGM Resorts, which is the operator of the Bellagio casino in Las Vegas, laid off 18,000 furloughed employees in the US in August.

Many online gambling companies, by contrast, saw a boost during Covid-19 restrictions, prompting many casino owners to pivot their businesses towards online.

How The Air Force 1 Became Nike’s Top-Selling sneaker of all time

Source: CNBC

Air Force 1’s are Nike's top-selling sneaker of all time. And that isn’t surprising. Everyone from Jay Z to Kendall Jenner has a relationship with the classic shoe. But the Air Force 1 had a different fate when Nike released it in 1982. In fact, Nike planned to cancel the shoe altogether in 1984. That is until a trio of retailers in Baltimore banned together to extend the life of the beloved basketball sneaker. Through inventive color of the month shoe drops, the Baltimore retailers not only saved the Air Force 1, but they influenced Nike’s distribution strategy forever.

The United Kingdom exits the EU entering a post-Brexit future still uncertain

( via — Thur, 31st Dec 2020) London, UK —

LONDON (Reuters) – The United Kingdom exits the European Union’s orbit on Thursday, turning its back on a tempestuous 48-year liaison with the European project and entering a post-Brexit future whose details are still uncertain after years of drama over the departure.

Brexit, in essence, takes place at the strike of midnight in Brussels, or 2300 London time (GMT), when the United Kingdom leaves de-facto membership that continued for a transition period after it formally left the bloc on Jan. 31.

For five years, the frenzied gyrations of the Brexit crisis dominated European affairs, haunted the sterling markets and tarnished the United Kingdom’s reputation as a confident pillar of Western economic and political stability.

Supporters cast Brexit as the dawn of a newly independent “global Britain”, but it has weakened the bonds that tie England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland into a $3 trillion economy.

“Brexit is not an end but a beginning,” Prime Minister Boris Johnson, 56, told parliament just hours before it approved his post-Brexit EU trade deal. Grinning, he later jokingly assured reporters that he had read the lengthy agreement that was reached only on Dec. 24.

Johnson said there would be no bonfire of regulations to build a “bargain basement Dickensian Britain” and told Europe that the United Kingdom would remain the “quintessential European civilization”.

But Johnson, the face of the Brexit campaign, has been short on detail about what he wants to build with Britain’s “independence” – or how to do it while borrowing record amounts to pay for the COVID-19 crisis.

His 80-year-old father, Stanley Johnson, who voted to remain in 2016, said he was in the process of applying for a French passport.


In the June 23, 2016, referendum, 17.4 million voters, or 52%, backed Brexit while 16.1 million, or 48%, backed staying in the bloc. Few have changed their minds since. England and Wales voted out but Scotland and Northern Ireland voted in.

The referendum showed a United Kingdom divided about much more than the European Union, and fuelled soul-searching about everything from secession and immigration to capitalism, the legacy of empire and what it now means to be British.

Leaving was once the far-fetched dream of a motley crew of “eurosceptics” on the fringes of British politics: the UK joined in 1973 as “the sick man of Europe” and two decades ago British leaders were arguing about whether to join the euro.

“The UK establishment had basically lost its mojo and we went into what was then the Common Market, really, for reasons of self-protection – we thought that was the best future for us, we couldn’t see another way forward,” Johnson said.Slideshow ( 4 images )

Fast forward 48 years.

“We see a global future for ourselves,” said Johnson who won power in 2019 and, against the odds, clinched a Brexit divorce treaty and a trade deal, as well as the biggest Conservative majority since Margaret Thatcher, in the 2019 election.

Supporters see Brexit as an escape from a project that had fallen far behind global powers the United States and China. Opponents say it will weaken the West, further reduce Britain’s global clout, undermine its economy and lessen its cosmopolitanism.Slideshow ( 4 images )

But when the Great Bell known as Big Ben strikes 11 in London, there will be few outward displays of emotion as gatherings are banned due to COVID-19 restrictions.


After the United Kingdom leaves the Single Market or the Customs Union, there is almost certain to be some disruption at borders. More red tape means more cost for those importing and exporting goods across the EU-UK border.

The Port of Dover expects volumes to drop off in early January. The most worrisome period, it says, will be in mid- to late January when volumes pick up again.

The exit also means changes to everything from pet passports and driving licence rules for the British in Europe to data rules.

Support for Scottish independence has risen, partly due to Brexit and partly due to COVID-19, threatening the 300-year-old political union between England and Scotland.

Scottish leader Nicola Sturgeon has said an independence referendum should take place in the earlier part of the devolved parliament’s next term, which begins next year.

After clinching the Christmas Eve trade deal that will smooth out the worst disruption, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen quoted both William Shakespeare and T.S. Eliot.

“Parting is such sweet sorrow,” she said. “What we call the beginning is often the end. And to make an end is to make a beginning.”

By Guy Faulconbridge

Major UK firms ‘named and shamed’ for failing to pay workers the legal minimum wage

( via– Thur, 31st Dec 2020) London, Uk – –

The supermarket said it was “disappointed and surprised” to have been included on the list after a “technical issue” in 2017.

Tesco, Pizza Hut and Superdrug are among 139 companies that have been named and shamed by the government for failing to pay the minimum wage.

The employers short-changed more than 95,000 workers by a total of £6.7m during the period investigated between 2016 and 2018, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) said.

Firms identified ranged from big household name companies to smaller operators including hotels, hairdressers and shops found to have underpaid just a handful of employees or just one.

Tesco was by far the biggest employer – and offender – on the list.

The supermarket giant was found to have underpaid 78,199 workers by just under £5.1m.

Tesco said its breach was the result of a “technical issue” identified in 2017 which meant that some workers' pay “inadvertently fell below the national minimum wage”.

“We are very sorry this happened and proactively reported the issue to HMRC at the time,” it added.

Tesco said those affected had been reimbursed – with the sums involved £10 or less in most cases – and that it had taken a “proactive, transparent and cooperative approach”.

“We are therefore extremely disappointed and surprised to have been included in this list as none of the examples shared by BEIS relate to Tesco, and it was Tesco that self-reported this issue to HMRC in the first instance,” the supermarket said.Where jobs have been lost across the economy

Pizza Hut failed to pay about £846,000 to 10,980 workers, according to the investigation.

It said that several years ago it had been made aware by HM Revenue and Customs of an “error relating to a historic uniform policy” and that there was “never any intent to underpay our employees”, while processes had been fixed to ensure it did not happen again.

Another well-known employer, Superdrug, short-changed 2,222 workers by just over £15,000.

Superdrug said after its breach of the rules, related to uniform, those affected were “swiftly reimbursed” and the uniform policy changed.

Business minister Paul Scully said: “It is never acceptable for any employer to short-change their workers, but it is especially disappointing to see huge household names who absolutely should know better on this list.”

BEIS said the list should “serve as a warning to rogue employers”.

Penalties for breaching the rules can be up to 200% of the arrears, capped at £10,000 per worker.

The government said each of the companies named has now paid the money to their workers and had also been forced to pay financial penalties.

Reasons for wage rules being broken included employees being made to cover work costs, such as for uniform or parking fees, out of their pay packet.

In other cases, employers failed to raise pay after they had a birthday which should have moved them up into a different bracket.

TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady said: “It's a national scandal that so many workers, many of whom are key workers, aren't being paid the minimum wage.”

The National Minimum Wage (NMW) applies to workers from school leaving age at rates rising from £4.15 an hour for an apprentice starting out to £8.20 for those aged 21-24.

From 25, the National Living Wage (NLW) – currently at £8.72 – takes effect.

The latest investigation covered breaches of minimum wage legislation under both NMW and NLW.

The latest “name and shame” list is the first published since 2018, after which the government decided to reform the process to target only the biggest offenders.

By John-Paul Ford Rojas

Government urged to use pharmacies to give vaccine

( via – – Wed, 30th Dec 2020) London, Uk – –

The pharmacy industry is urging the government to use its high street network to accelerate the delivery of the newly approved vaccine.

The head of a leading pharmaceutical chain told the BBC roll out could be doubled if the government used the same supply chain as seasonal flu jabs.

There are over 11,000 local pharmacies around the UK.

The Department of Health told the BBC it was having “very positive discussions” with pharmacists.

A large number of pharmacies have the staff and expertise available to deliver the new vaccine.

So far, the industry has told the BBC the government has not considered them in its initial front line plans, nor counted them towards its delivery target of one million a week.

‘Overcoming hurdles'

Simon Dukes, the chief executive of the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee, which represents NHS pharmacies, said his members were ready to help.

The approval of a second vaccine, and one that has less complex handling characteristics when compared with the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, is a positive step.'

“The rollout of the vaccination programme will not be without its challenges, but community pharmacists and their teams are used to overcoming hurdles to provide the best care to their patients, so we believe their skills should be used by the NHS to help administer the tens of millions of vaccinations that will be needed to help England escape from the grip of the pandemic.”

The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine has insisted that two million a week is needed to get ahead of the spread.

There are other advantages to using local pharmacies. Many vulnerable people already visit their pharmacies on a regular basis and trust the staff there. As one pharmacy chief told the BBC: “People will trust their local chemist more than someone in a military uniform.”

‘Haven't thought of us'

The new vaccine is considered a very different proposition to the Pfizer vaccine – which has to be stored at -70C, comes in batches of 975 doses and must be delivered within a few days of delivery.

The more transport and storage friendly AZ/Oxford vaccine has turned “a medical challenge into a logistics challenge which we can help with” according to the head of a leading chain.

“The government knows we are here, but so far haven't thought of us as a primary point of delivery in the way they do the traditional annual flu jab”.

The Department of Health said it had been talking to pharmacists about how they could support the Covid vaccine delivery plan.

It added: “They have been fantastic through this pandemic.”

By Simon Jack

Four-day week with no loss of pay would be affordable for most firms reckons new study

( via – – Wed, 30th Dec 2020) London, Uk – –

Phil, an IT worker in the Midlands, has worked a four day week for two years.

“I fit my 36 hours into those days, which works very well,” he said.

“The biggest bonus is being able to schedule personal chores – those ‘must be done on a week-day jobs' for the Friday, so I don't have to waste precious holiday on them.”

Many firms are resistant to the idea of a four-day week but the think tank Autonomy, which looks at work-related issues, reckons it would work well.

It claims a reduction in hours would be entirely offset by increases in productivity and price increases, in the best-cases.

Even under the worst-case, a four-day week with no loss of pay would be affordable for most firms once the initial phase of the Covid-19 crisis has passed, it said.

However it warned that some firms in high-labour cost industries could experience cash flow problems if a four day week was implemented too quickly.

“For the large majority of firms, reducing working hours is an entirely realistic goal for the near future,” said Will Stronge, director of research at Autonomy, which is campaigning for a shorter working week with no loss of pay.

He said the government should investigate ways of rolling out a four-day week, starting with the public sector.


While IT worker Phil has enjoyed working just four days a week, he conceded it has its challenges for workers.

“Days can be long, especially if something crops up that needs me to work until stuff is complete or can be left,” he told the BBC.

“Also being on call can be a challenge, but it's nothing that's not fixable.”

The best days are when he works from home, he said. “It means the working day isn't top and tailed with an hour each-way commute.”

Pay cut

Alan Rae works in Switzerland for a tech start-up specialising in the Internet of Things.

“I work a four day week, or 80% job as it's called here in Switzerland,” he told the BBC.

“Monday-Thursday is super productive, and I spend Friday with my children.”

Alan's wife works a similar 50-70% of the working week, “which means we both get to have careers and spend full solo days with our children during the week. Weekends are longer too, which means we have a great work/life balance.

He, however, is technically part time. “The downside is I earn 80% of a 100% salary, but with my wife working too and us both sharing childcare, it works for us.”


The Autonomy report believes four day working, properly arranged, is possible on full pay. It used profitability statistics drawn from a database of more 50,000 UK firms and simulated best- and worst-case scenarios regarding profit rates under a sudden imposition of a four-day week.

“By providing a hypothetical ‘stress test', we can dispel any myths about the affordability of a four-day working week,” said Mr Stronge.

“Any policy push will have to be carefully designed, and different strategies would need to be deployed for different industries,” he said, adding that if it happened overnight, with no planning, most firms would still remain profitable.

“Covid-19 has thrown the world of work totally up in the air and we must take this opportunity to move away from the outdated and old ways of working,” said Joe Ryle, a campaigner with the 4-Day Week Campaign.

“The four-day working week with no reduction in pay is good for the economy, good for workers and good for the environment. It's an idea whose time has come.”

By Simon Read

Ryanair restricts voting rights of non-EU shareholders in Brexit move

( via — Tue, 29th Dec 2020) London, UK —

DUBLIN (Reuters) – Ryanair on Tuesday confirmed it would restrict the voting rights of British shareholders from Jan. 1 in a bid to ensure it remains majority EU-owned and retain full licensing and flight rights in the bloc.

The plan to restrict British shareholders was approved by the airline last year, subject to the terms of a final agreement on Britain’s post-Brexit relationship with the European Union, which was agreed last week.

“Restricted Share Notices will be issued to the registered holder(s) of each Restricted Share in due course, specifying that the holder(s) of such shares shall not be entitled to attend, speak or vote at any general meeting of the Company,” Ryanair said in a statement.

“These resolutions will remain in place until the Board of the Company determines that the ownership and control of the Company is no longer such that there is any risk to the airline licences held by the Company’s subsidiaries,” the statement said.

UK nationals, like all other non-EU nationals, will not be permitted to acquire ordinary shares, the statement said.

Ryanair last February said that while the airline was 55% EU-owned, Britain-based shareholders at the time controlled around 20% of its stock.

Chief Financial Officer Neil Sorahan said at the time he expected half of those to re-domicile to the EU if Britain chose to make a sharp break with the EU.

Reporting by Conor Humphries

Admiral to sell to Uswitch owner for £500m

( via – – Tue, 29th Dec 2020) London, Uk – –

ZPG will acquire all of Admiral’s comparison website business with shareholders to receive majority of funds

The insurance group Admiral has agreed to sell its comparison website business, which includes, to the owner of its rival Uswitch in a deal worth just over £500m.

Admiral has agreed to sell the Penguin Portals arm, which also includes,, the group’s technology operation, and its 50% share in Preminen Price Comparison Holdings to ZPG (Zoopla Property Group).

ZPG said it will control the acquired businesses through its comparison site division, RVU. The Spanish insurance group Mapfre said it will also sell its stake in and Preminen as part of the deal.

The deal is worth £508m in total, although the proceeds for Admiral will be about £450m after accounting for minority interests and transaction costs.

Admiral said it expects to return a majority of the funds to shareholders, although some cash will be kept to “support investment in new business development over the coming years”.

The deal is subject to regulatory approval and is expected to close in the first half of 2021.

David Stevens, the chief executive of Admiral Group, said: “The purchase of the UK and European comparison businesses by RVU offers a positive outcome for our customers and our employees, and also provides good value for our shareholders.

“The combination of Penguin’s strengths, notably in insurance comparison across much of Europe, with RVU’s strengths beyond insurance and experience in growth through acquisition provides a solid foundation for the combined businesses to grow and prosper.

“Admiral will continue to focus on what Admiral has consistently done well, namely designing and underwriting good value mass market financial service products.”

Tariq Syed, the chief executive of RVU, said: “Penguin Portals offers an exciting opportunity for us to expand our comparison brand portfolio and geographic reach. With its strong brand heritage and focus on insurance, perfectly complements Uswitch’s expertise in the home services category.”

By Press Association

UK Shoppers splurge on luxury food and drink to see out dismal 2020 in style

( via – – Mon, 28th Dec 2020) London, Uk – –

Shoppers splurge on champagne, gold-flecked smoked salmon and posh New Year’s Eve takeaways

After years of decline, champagne sales are starting to pick up.

From champagne to gold-flecked smoked salmon and even posh New Year’s Eve takeaways, Britons in lockdown are popping more premium corks and splashing out on luxury food treats to help them see out a miserable year in style.

Figures show that many shoppers have traded up to premium fizz – spending nearly a quarter more in the last three months than the same time last year – to tide them over Christmas and celebrate the new year.

Overall, sales of champagne in supermarkets and shops were up 16% by volume and 22% by value in the last 12 weeks, equivalent to 2.3m bottles worth £63m, the Wine and Spirit Trade Association reported on Monday.

“This has been an incredibly difficult year, so it’s great that we can end on a positive note that champagne sales, after years of decline, are starting to pick up,” said Miles Beale, the WSTA’s chief executive. “There is no better way to celebrate than with a bottle of fizz, and our numbers show that, even with everything that has gone on this year, many of us are still looking to celebrate or bring a little extra sparkle with a bottle of bubbly. Many will consider it a little luxury for a festive period when we are having to celebrate at home.”

Similarly, sales of luxury foods such as smoked salmon, patés, fine cheeses and chocolates soared in the run-up to Christmas as Britons indulged in pick-me-up “treats”.

The East End-based smoked salmon specialist H Forman & Son, whose supplies of its award-winning London Cure smoked salmon to top restaurants collapsed following lockdown in March, has enjoyed record sales through its Forman & Field home delivery arm, more than double those of last year. Shoppers stocked up on smoked salmon and paté, British artisan cheeses and its sellout “ultimate care package” hamper, aimed at elderly relatives and student offspring.

Its owner, Lance Forman, said: “Forman’s has been around a long time – since 1905 – and we’ve seen a few recessions. When times are tough, people still need a touch of luxury to lighten those darker days. They may not be able to travel as much or may have to hold back on large purchases, but a little taste of luxury doesn’t need to break the bank.”

Waitrose said sales of deluxe salmon, including its gin-infused smoked salmon adorned with gold lustre, were up 18% on last year, and those of its premium own-brand No 1 cheeses and Christmas confectionery up 55% and 19%.

“The holiday period is the perfect time to indulge in a little luxury, and despite no celebratory events this year, shoppers are still embracing the sheer decadence of a glass of fizz,” said Rebecca Hull, the supermarket’s champagne and sparkling wine buyer. “While champagne remains a popular choice, it’s fantastic to see shoppers broadening their sparkling horizons as the popularity of our English sparkling wine continues to grow.”

At the Co-op, sales of champagne doubled over Christmas, with alternatives such as pink prosecco also popular. Simon Cairns, the retailer’s head of drinks, said: “Champagne sales have been bubbling over this year as shoppers have been choosing more premium bottles of wine to make the most of more at-home drinking occasions.”

Top UK hotels forced by lockdown restrictions to switch to takeaway services have been striving to offer the full New Year’s Eve restaurant experience in the comfort of diners’ homes. In London, the Savoy’s celebration meal for two comprises five courses for an eye-watering £350. Homemade foie gras terrine or chilled lobster, beef wellington or Scottish salmon, a selection of British cheeses and chocolate fondant can be washed down with the bottle of Louis Roederer champagne included in the price.

The Michelin-starred L’Enclume in Cartmel, Cumbria, has sold out of its £95 five-course meal for one, although three-course options are still available for delivery nationwide.

By Rebecca Smithers

What will happen to mobile roaming charges after Brexit?

( via – – Mon, 28th Dec 2020) London, Uk – –

Travellers heading for European Union countries should check their mobile phone provider's roaming charges, government minister Michael Gove has said.

That's because the UK's trade deal with the EU does not rule out additional costs when heading abroad in future.

Can I use my mobile in the EU?

Since 2017, UK consumers have, within reason, been able to use the minutes, texts and data included on their mobile phone tariffs when travelling in the EU.

The same is true for consumers from other EU countries visiting the UK.

There are fair use limits, which mean you can use your mobile phone while travelling in another EU country, but you could not, for example, get a mobile phone contract from Greece and then use it all year round in the UK.

Before the rules changed, using a mobile phone in Europe was expensive, with cases of people returning from trips to find bills for hundreds or even thousands of pounds waiting for them.

Will roaming charges return?

After leaving the EU on 31 January 2020, the UK entered a transition period during which virtually all EU rules and regulations – including on mobile phone roaming – still apply.

The transition will end on 31 December 2020.

The UK's trade deal with the EU does not say that the ban on additional roaming charges will continue.

It says that both sides will encourage operators to have “transparent and reasonable rates” for roaming.

That means that mobile operators will be able to implement roaming charges after the end of the transition period if they want to.

The government's guidance says: “Check with your phone operator to find out about any roaming charges you might get from 1 January 2021.”

It has already passed legislation that would provide some safeguards for consumers:

  • A £45-a-month limit on the amount that customers could be charged for using mobile data abroad before having to opt into further use
  • Requirements for customers to be informed when they have reached 80% and 100% of their data allowance
  • Operators would have to take “reasonable steps” to avoid customers being charged for accidental roaming in Northern Ireland, which would happen if a phone in Northern Ireland locked onto the mobile signal coming from the Republic of Ireland.

What are mobile companies planning?

Of course, just because the operators might be allowed to reintroduce roaming charges, it does not necessarily mean that they would do so.

The problem is that without the EU rules in place, the charges would depend on agreements between UK operators and their counterparts in EU countries.

While they may have such deals in place to prevent charges increasing straight away at the start of 2021, there is no guarantee that they would be able to maintain them indefinitely.

There are three factors that mean there is a reasonable chance of UK operators being able to continue to offer inclusive roaming:

  • Bilateral deals – so a UK operator would make an agreement with a French operator, for example, to allow inclusive roaming for UK customers visiting France and for French customers visiting the UK
  • Each EU country has more than one operator, so UK operators will have a choice of companies to deal with
  • Some of the UK operators are parts of groups that also operate in EU countries.

The four main operators in the UK declined to comment on the specifics of the commercial deals they have done with other operators, but said they did not plan to reintroduce roaming charges.

Three said it “already offers roaming at no extra cost for its customers in over 70 destinations including the US, Australia and New Zealand. We will retain this great customer benefit regardless of Brexit negotiations.”

Vodafone said it had no plans to reintroduce roaming charges.

EE said: “Our customers enjoy inclusive roaming in Europe and beyond, and we don't have any plans to change this based on the Brexit outcome. So our customers going on holiday and travelling in the EU will continue to enjoy inclusive roaming.”

And O2 said: “We're committed to providing our customers with great connectivity and value when they travel outside the UK. We currently have no plans to change our roaming services across Europe.”

By Anthony Reuben