Keurboom cold-calling firm fined record £400,000 over nuisance calls

( via – – Thur, 11 May, 2017) London, Uk – –

More than 1,000 people complained to ICO over automated calls about road accident claims and PPI compensation

A company that made almost 100m nuisance calls in 18 months has been fined a record £400,000 by the data watchdog.

The information commissioner’s office said the automated calls by Keurboom Communications had caused “upset and distress” and led to more than 1,000 complaints.

Keurboom, registered in Dunstable, Bedfordshire, has been placed in voluntary liquidation and the ICO intends to recover the fine through liquidators and insolvency practitioners.

The ICO was unable to fine the company’s director, Gregory Rudd, but the government is set to introduce a law allowing the watchdog to fine the bosses of nuisance call firms.

The calls from Keurboom related to schemes including road traffic accident claims and PPI compensation. Some people received repeat calls, sometimes on the same day, and calls during unsociable hours. The company hid its identity, making it harder for people to complain.

Companies can make automated marketing calls to people only if they have their specific consent. Keurboom did not have consent.

Steve Eckerlsey, head of enforcement at the ICO, said: “Keurboom showed scant regard for the rules, causing upset and distress to people unfortunate enough to be on the receiving end of one its 100 million calls.

“The unprecedented scale of its campaign and Keurboom’s failure to cooperate with our investigation has resulted in the largest fine issued by the information commissioner for nuisance calls.”

He added: “These calls have now stopped – as has Keurboom – but our work has not. We’ll continue to track down companies that blight people’s lives with nuisance calls, texts and emails.”

During the investigation, the ICO issued seven information notices ordering the company to provide information. When it failed to comply, Keurboom and Rudd were prosecuted and fined £1,500 and £1,000 respectively at Luton magistrates court in April 2016.

In 2016/17 the ICO fined 23 companies a total of £1.9m for nuisance marketing.

The previous record nuisance call fine was in February 2016 when the ICO fined Prodial, a lead generation company, £350,000 for making 46m nuisance calls.

In September 2016 the ICO fined TalkTalk £400,000 under the Data Protection Act for failing to prevent an attack on its systems.
By Jamie Grierson

Eurostar makes a strong start in the first quarter with Sales up 15%


It's been a tough couple of years for Eurostar, with a series of terror attacks in France and Belgium having hit travel, but the high speed rail service between the UK and mainland Europe has started 2017 strongly.
Sales during the first three months of the year were up 15%.
Ian King took a trip to St Pancras International station where chief executive Nicolas Petrovic told him what was behind the rebound.

Barratt to build 17,000 new homes the highest in nine years

( via – – Wed, 10 May, 2017) London, Uk – –

Barratt is on track to build more homes this year than in any of the previous nine, boosting its profits to the high end of the City's expectations.

Shares in the UK's largest house builder rose 4pc on the news that its completion levels for the year to June are now expected to be around 17,350, which is the highest since 2008. This is a 55pc increase over the last six years.

The FTSE 100 builder said its pre-tax profits would meet the high end of City expectations, at around £733m.

It went on to say, despite data elsewhere that the market is slowing, that conditions remain “good”, with the company benefiting hugely from the Government's Help to Buy scheme, which allows first-time buyers to purchase a home with a 5pc deposit, as well as wider availability of mortgages.

David Thomas, chief executive, said he is not concerned about the future of Help to Buy, which is due to end in 2021.

Barratt sells one third of its homes using the scheme, but he said he is sure there will be a “sensible dialogue” on the issue after the election.

He added: “I maintain that if you want to build houses you have to have an effective scheme, like Help to Buy, to complement the mortgage market.”

However he emphasised the need for visibility, saying the 2021 date “is in the relatively near future. We’re buying land now that we will be trading on in four to five years.”

Barratt's forward sales rate also rose, and Mr Thomas said that the greatest challenge was not a lack of supply but instead a shortage of skilled labour and access to materials, which is pushing up build cost. He said: “That has shifted dramatically from six years ago when the challenge was on the sales side.”

Anthony Codling, an analyst at Jefferies, said: “Our view of a two speed housing market continues to be validated: whilst the second hand market continues to face headwinds, Barratt will deliver its highest number of home sales in nine years.

“We are pleased to see that Barratt has a clean bill of health with respect to leasehold issues that have hampered others.” It comes after fellow FTSE 100 house builder Taylor Wimpey had to set aside £130m to settle disputes over homes sold with “doubling” ground rents.
By Isabelle Fraser


Small and medium sized businesses risk losing out on billions in EU funding

( via – – Wed, 10 May, 2017) London, Uk – –

LONDON – Small and medium sized businesses risk losing out on billions in European Union funding when the UK formally leaves the trading bloc in 2019.

The EU has earmarked £3.6 billion in regional development funds for UK firms until 2020, but nothing beyond 2021, according to a report from the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB).

Regional development funds are EU funds meant to help correct regional imbalances across the 28-nation bloc. The funding is meant to help “support job creation, business competitiveness, economic growth, sustainable development, and improve citizens’ quality of life.”

Mike Cherry, FSB National Chairman, said: “Small businesses across the country are staring into a business support black hole from 2021.

“This is a particularly pressing issue for the many small firms with growth ambitions and those in less economically developed regions.”

The FSB found that businesses in Yorkshire and the North East were most likely have requested EU funds and therefore the most likely to be hit once EU funding is cut off.

Cherry said: “If the next Government is serious about developing an Industrial Strategy that delivers prosperity across all areas of England, it must replace EU funding dedicated to small business support and access to finance after we leave the EU.”

Businesses of all sizes are already beginning to suffer from a Brexit-driven skills shortage. The Recruitment and Employment Confederation said on Tuesday that the number of suitable job candidates has fallen to its lowest level in 16 months.

By Ben Moshinsky

John Lewis set aside £36 million for potential wage error


Roberto Herrett/Flickr
( via – – Tue, 9 May, 2016) London, UK – –

British retailer John Lewis said it has set aside 36 million pounds ($47 million) to cover possible costs as it may have breached UK wage rules, a potential embarrassment for a company lauded for the way it treats its staff.

The John Lewis Partnership, owner of the John Lewis department store chain and upmarket Waitrose supermarkets, said on Tuesday that while its contractual hourly rates of pay have never been below the national minimum wage (NMW), it plans to work with Britain's revenue and customs department to see if all its arrangements meet the specific criteria of the complex regulations.

Last year the government announced a series of increases in the minimum wage, which will make it 13 percent higher than it would otherwise have been by 2020.

The John Lewis Partnership [JLP.UL] [JLPLC.UL] is often held up in Britain as an exemplary employer. It calls its staff partners and its employee-owned business model has been praised by government.

It said it is specifically looking at its practice of “pay averaging” which aims to smooth out a partner's pay over a year to ensure a consistent amount is paid to them each month in respect of their basic pay.

“This arrangement was implemented to support partners with a steady and reliable monthly income, but we now believe this arrangement may not meet the strict timing requirements for calculating compliance with the NMW regulations,” it said.

The company said that once it has completed a review, it will make any retrospective payments required to current and former partners.

Since there is a wide range of potential outcomes it said it has made the 36 million pounds an exceptional charge in its financial year to Jan. 28 2017.

The provision was detailed in the partnership's annual report and accounts for 2016-17.

They also revealed that Chairman Charlie Mayfield has waived his bonus for 2016-17, which would have been 66,000 pounds. That decision reflected the performance of the group in the period.

Mayfield's total reward fell by 7.4 percent to 1.41 million pounds.

In March the group reported a fall in the trading profits of both Waitrose and John Lewis department stores for 2016-17. It also cut its staff bonus to 6 percent, the lowest percentage payout since 1954, saying it needed to preserve cash to brace for difficult times ahead.

In April the department store business said it would cut hundreds of jobs in a reorganization of its soft furnishings business and changes to the way it operates its in-store restaurants.

By James Davey

Facebook deletes thousands of UK accounts to tackle fake news

( via – – Mon, 8 May, 2017) London, Uk – –

Facebook has deleted thousands of UK accounts and overhauled its news feed in an attempt to battle fake news, following vocal criticism of the internet giant’s role in the phenomenon.

The social network has been under pressure to address “false news” in recent months, following concerns about its impact on elections in the US and Europe and fears that it could undermine advertisers’ confidence in Facebook.

On Monday, Facebook will announce a new drive to tackle fake news in the UK, just a month before Brits go to the polls. It says it has introduced technology to better identify accounts that spread spam or fake news, such as detecting patterns of those that repeatedly post the same things, and deleted “tens of thousands” in response.

It will also demote suspicious articles on its website and apps so that users see them less often in the Facebook news feed. The company has been testing technology that identifies if people read an article but do not share it with their friends, suggesting it may be misleading. From Monday, it will apply the change in the UK, and run a series of adverts in newspapers with tips on how to spot “false news”.

Facebook reported a 76pc increase in profits last week, with soaring advertising revenue suggesting the fake news scandal had not dented enthusiasm. But politicians have raised the prospect of regulating or fining the company if it fails to deal with the problem.

Germany has threatened to fine social media sites up to €50m (£42m) for spreading fake news, and an inquiry had been launched into the phenomenon by the Culture, Media and Sports committee before the election was called.

“People want to see accurate information on Facebook and so do we,” the company’s UK policy director Simon Milner said. “That is why we are doing everything we can to tackle the problem of false news.”

The company has also announced partnerships with Full Fact and First Draft, non-profit fact-checking organisations, to tackle fake news in the run-up to the election.

Facebook’s chief executive Mark Zuckerberg originally attempted to play down the fake news problem, saying that it made up just a fraction of what appeared on the site. But in recent months it has introduced a series of initiatives, including restricting advertising on fake news websites, giving users tips about spotting fake news, and putting alerts on disputed stories.

Fears around fake news peaked around the US election, with claims that far-right internet groups had spread lies about Hillary Clinton to influence the vote. This has led to concerns that June’s election, as well as votes in France and Germany, could be affected.

By James Titcomb

Britain’s financial sector formulate contingency plans after Brexit


Britain's financial sector – the City of London – is abuzz with contingency plans.

In the near future, a raft of banks are expected to announce what they will do when Britain leaves the European Union, including moving staff to places like Frankfurt and Paris.

The man whose job it is to talk up London's role as Europe's international financial centre says we should not exaggerate the numbers that will leave but admits the UK economy could suffer.

Discover The Next Level in Luxury Train Travel



A new luxury sleeper train is charging $10,000 for a top class suite for a 4-day train trip. The Shiki Shima train offers a gold coloured train for the journey from Tokyo to Hokkaido. Those aboard can enjoy fine dining and live music. Demand for high-quality train service is growing in Japan as railway companies compete for customers. All seats on the Shiki Shima are booked until March 2018. The first 33 passengers will be treated to several hot spring resort stops.

US multinational Johnson and Johnson ordered to pay 100 million Euros in Lawsuit


US multinational Johnson and Johnson has been ordered to pay around 100 million euros to a woman who says the firm's talcum powder caused her to develop ovarian cancer.

The verdict by a state court in St Louis, Missouri is the largest in terms of damages awarded so far.

The Virginia woman says she developed cancer after using J & J's talc based products over four decades.

Volkswagen profits jump 44% Post Dieselgate Cost Cutting


Volkswagen says its profits have soared so far this year as a huge cost-cutting effort starts to pay off and as it prepares to invests billions of euros in developing electric cars, new mobility services and self-driving technology.

For the VW brand alone operating profit surged to 869 million euros between January and March from 73 million a year earlier even as its sales slipped 1.3 percent to 1.44 million vehicles.

M&S Possible Surrender to Online Food Delivery With Ocado Partnership

Simon D/

Marks & Spencer could do a deal with Ocado for online food delivery, according to reports.

Marks & Spencer announced last week that it is planning to launch an online grocery service this autumn. The Telegraph reported on Sunday that the department store and food retailer is considering partnering with online grocer Ocado to handle the fulfilment of the orders.

The tie-up makes sense (I flagged it as a possibility when M&S first announced its plans).

M&S has a strong own-brand food business but has never done online groceries before and has struggled with online delivery in the past. Ocado, meanwhile, is a pioneer of online groceries in the UK and has the logistical know-how to pull it off. It has done similar deals with Morrisons and Waitrose in the past.

Credit Suisse said in a note published on Tuesday that it believes the most likely deal would see M&S products stocked on Ocado's website, rather than have Ocado provide the white label plumbing for a new M&S Food website.

“M&S's range is too narrow and its basket size too small to offer a credible standalone online grocery service,” said analyst Stewart McGuire in a note.

However, Bernstein believes that an “in-store picking” model is more likely. Rather than having all of M&S' food stock stored in Ocado's central warehouse to be distributed as part of bigger orders, an “in-store picking” model allows M&S to pick products for home delivery from its own stores, using Ocado's technology.

Bernstein's Bruno Monteyne said in a note on Tuesday: “Typically M&S has customers shop smaller baskets, serving customers in the ‘something-for-tonight' or ‘top-up' shopping missions rather than the ‘main shop.'

“The economics of central fulfilment are hugely in favour of bigger baskets. Hence, it's more likely that a solution would be in store pick for M&S.”

Amazon & Waitrose could stand in the way
Credit Suisse flagged two major obstacles for any deal being done between the two: Amazon and Waitrose.

On the Amazon front, Credit Suisse said that the online retail Goliath could be tempted to make an attractive offer to get M&S' high-end food onto its platform.

“The potential to access a loyal and lucrative segment of the market may provide enough of a draw to offer lucrative terms to M&S,” said McGuire. But he adds that the fact M&S has already pulled its clothing from Amazon makes a deal less likely.

McGuire also warned that Ocado's contract with Waitrose could make a deal with M&S difficult. Under the terms of the deal, 70% of all non-own brand products sold on Ocado have to come from Waitrose. If you count M&S as a brand, this would make a deal impossible as Waitrose can't and won't stock its competitor's products.

McGuire said: “It is unclear whether M&S product would be considered ‘branded', thereby preventing their listing, but the ability to renegotiate the contract is always available.”

What does it mean for both companies?
If a deal does go through, what would it mean for M&S and Ocado's businesses?

Credit Suisse said that for M&S “it might be better for sentiment than its financials as we would assume 25-50% of online sales would be cannibalised from stores, and the split with Ocado would reduce margins below 33% retail gross margin.”

Meanwhile, Bernstein forecasted that Ocado could make £2-4 million in profit over the medium term from a deal with M&S. However, Monteyne added: “This could be significantly lower if there was a competitive bid process with other players vying to provide an in-store pick solution for M&S.”

By Oscar Williams-Grut




Bank of Mum and Dad UK’s 10th Biggest Mortgage Lender


The burden on parents to help fúnd their children's property purchases has increased dramatically this year, effectively making the Bank of Mum and Dad the UK's 10th biggest mortgage lender.

Parents will lend more than £6.5bn in 2017 – that's up from £5bn calculated in last year's survey for the financial services group Legal & General.

That's just under the £6.6bn lent by Yorkshire Building Society – the country's ninth biggest mortgage lender – and means parents are involved in more than a quarter of all UK property transactions.

Legal & General's chief executive Nigel Wilson tells Ian King Live why they carried out the research.

Tata Steel Sale Creates 300 UK Jobs


( via – – Tue, 2 May, 2017) London, Uk – –

Britain’s steel industry has been given a vote of confidence with a pledge to create hundreds of new jobs at a business sold by Tata.

Industrials and commodities group Liberty House has said it will add 300 roles at the speciality steels operations it is has bought from Tata.

The new jobs were revealed as Liberty and Tata completed the £100m deal that will protect the existing 1,700 staff at the business’s main sites in Rotherham, Stocksbridge and Brinsworth in South Yorkshire, smaller operations in Bolton, Lancashire, and Wednesbury, West Midlands, and distribution centres in China.

Liberty, headed by entrepreneur Sanjeev Gupta, said it would invest £20m in the first year of its ownership the business, which will be renamed Liberty Speciality Steels, with plans to increase production to 1m tonnes a year.

The business supplies high-value steel that is used in the automotive, aerospace and energy industries.

“The speciality steels business is a global leader in its field with a highly skilled and motivated workforce and we are eager to invest so it can grow to its full potential,” said Mr Gupta.

“By acquiring it we are casting a big vote of confidence in the future of British industry. With the right business model and an innovative approach, the UK steel and engineering sectors can recover and thrive.”

The purchase comes after Tata started a wholesale disposal of its loss-making UK steel businesses – including the giant Port Talbot plant – last year as the crisis in the UK steel industry resulted in thousands of job losses. Tata later did a U-turn, instead deciding to hive off parts of the business piecemeal.

Bimlendra Jha, chief executive of Tata Steel UK, said: “As a responsible owner, Tata Steel in the last couple of years has undertaken a transformation plan at speciality steels. We thank employees, trade unions and management for their diligent hard work in the journey to turn around the business in difficult times and we wish them a successful future under new ownership.”

Privately owned Liberty has a strategy of buying up distressed businesses as it seeks to build up its portfolio, and in the UK has acquired other units from Tata, as well as an aluminium smelter from Rio Tinto, and much of the collapsed Caparo engineering group.

The latest deal will make it one of the largest engineering and steel companies in Britain with more than 4,500 staff. In the year to the end of March Liberty’s industrial business had revenue of $410m (£330m) and earnings of $29m.

By  Alan Tovey

Barclays Shares Slide on Missed Out Bond Trading Boom

Roberto Herrett/flickr

( via — Tue, 2 May 2017) London, UK —

Barclays shares fell sharply on Friday as investors focused on a poor performance at its markets business, a key part of its growth strategy, that missed out on a bond trading boom enjoyed by Wall Street rivals in the first three months of 2017.

The British bank is seeking to press ahead with restructuring plans which have seen it shift towards a transatlantic U.S.-UK focus and an emphasis on investment banking under its American Chief Executive Jes Staley.

In its trading division, income from its markets business fell 4 percent to 1.35 billion pounds, as macro income fell 14 percent due to a weaker performance by its U.S. rates business and the impact of exiting energy-related commodities.

Equities trading income also fell 10 percent, driven by lower revenue from U.S. equity derivatives.

By contrast, Barclays' Wall Street rivals saw bond trading revenues rise by an average of 21 percent in the first quarter, with investors adjusting their portfolios in response to rising interest rates, and elections in Europe.

Deutsche Bank reported on Thursday that its markets business also lagged its U.S. peers last quarter, but reported an increase nonetheless in revenues.

Analysts were unimpressed by Barclays' results.

“After a strong set of fixed income results from U.S. and European peers, Barclays Q1 results are disappointing,” Bank of America Merrill Lynch analysts said in a note.

Barclays shares traded 4 percent lower at 0850 GMT, their worst day since the aftermath of the Brexit vote last June.

Staley attributed the poor performance to weakness in the bank's U.S. rates business and a tough comparison with the previous year and said that it would be wrong to start questioning the business based on one-quarter's performance.

“You can't make a judgement on the investment bank based on one-quarter,” he said on a conference call with reporters.


Staley's attempts to revitalise the investment banking business have been clouded by probes in the U.S. and Britain and criticism from investors following his attempts to unmask a whistleblower, which Barclays insiders fear could unseat Staley if the investigations' findings are damning.

Former JPMorgan banker Staley told reporters he had not offered his resignation to the board over the affair and that he was fully cooperating with the regulators.

Barclays said its profit before tax was 1.7 billion pounds, up from 793 million pounds a year ago and better than the 1.46 billion pounds average estimate of analysts' forecasts compiled by the bank.

But part of that increase was driven by proceeds of sales of a credit card portfolio and a gain in the value of the bank's preference shares in Visa Inc, with underlying earnings growth more muted.

Barclays still faces a series of regulatory obstacles, with an ongoing probe by Britain's Serious Fraud Office (SFO) over its 2008 cash call at the height of the financial crisis and accusations by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) over mortgage misselling.

Barclays also faces a further headache from political upheaval in South Africa, which is hindering the bank's efforts to sell its business there – a key element in its strategy to boost capital levels to meet regulators' demands.

Barclays said it would take a one-off goodwill impairment charge of 884 million pounds on its stake in Barclays Africa Group, which it has given itself 2-3 years to sell down.

Its core capital ratio, a key measure of financial strength, rose to 12.5 percent from 12.4 percent last quarter, making it the most thinly capitalised of the major UK banks.

“The bank continues to ride a capital tightrope,” Bernstein analysts wrote in a note.

“UK macro and South African politics will dictate whether Barclays escapes another capital raise,” they added.

The bank said it would create 1,000 new roles in the UK in operations and technology, with a further 1,000 to come over the next three years.

By Anjuli Davies