Tui UK committed to paying outstanding refunds by October

( via – – Wed, 16th Sept 2020) London, Uk – –

Thousands said company was not paying refunds within required 14 days, says CMA

Tui UK has committed to paying any outstanding refunds for package holidays cancelled because of the coronavirus pandemic by 30 September after the regulator received a deluge of complaints that the travel company was breaching consumer law.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) said thousands of people had complained that Tui UK was not paying refunds within the 14 days mandated by consumer protection law.

Tui, Europe’s biggest holiday company and the biggest tour operator in the UK, will also write to all customers who have accepted credit notes in place of a refund to give them the option of converting it into a cash refund.

Tui has committed to regularly reporting the time it has taken to make refunds to customers over the coming year. The measures apply to all of Tui’s brands, including First Choice, Marella Cruises, Crystal and Skytours.

The pandemic has caused chaos for the global travel industry and has put severe financial pressures on companies as they struggled to refund customers for holidays that were no longer possible.

Tui last month reported a loss of €2bn (£1.8bn) in the first nine months of its financial year after revenues crashed by 98% between April and June, the period of the most intense lockdown restrictions in its main markets. It is cutting 8,000 jobs and has closed 166 UK and Ireland stores to cut costs.

However, the CMA has insisted that companies must abide by consumer protection laws.

Andrea Coscelli, the CMA’s chief executive, said: “It’s absolutely essential that people have trust and confidence when booking package holidays and know that if a cancellation is necessary as a result of coronavirus, businesses will give them a full, prompt refund.”

Coscelli also raised the prospect of further action against the package holiday industry as the CMA investigates its response to the Covid-19 crisis.

The regulator has written to more than 100 package holiday businesses to remind them of their obligations to comply with consumer protection law and has opened investigations into a number of operators, it said.

A Tui spokeswoman said: “We remain sorry that holiday refunds took longer to process during the height of Covid-19. The volume of cancellations and customer contacts was unprecedented and at a time when retail stores, contact centres and offices were closed because of the nationwide lockdown.”

By Jasper Jolly

Domino’s Pizza to hire an additional 5,000 staff after virus sales boost

( via– Tue, 15th Sept 2020) London, Uk – –

Domino's is benefiting from its takeaway business model as dine-in rivals continue to reel from the lockdown earlier this year.

Domino's Pizza says it is hiring an additional 5,000 staff following the surge in demand for takeaway meals during the coronavirus crisis.

The chain, which reported a 5% leap in sales over the first half of its financial year covering the full UK lockdown, said its ability to remain open in that time meant more people had an opportunity to join the business.

The new jobs, which include chef and delivery driver roles, are on top of 6,000 positions previously announced by Domino's during the pandemic as its franchisees continue to open more outlets.

It builds on the recent trend of services with lockdown immunity, such as supermarkets and delivery firms, taking people on at a time when the wider economy is gearing up for a jobs crisis as the government's furlough scheme winds down.

The Bank of England has forecast that three million could be out of work by the year's end, given the damage that COVID-19 has inflicted on livelihoods.

Analysis by Sky News shows hospitality to be the third worst-hit part of the economy despite the lift from the government's Eat Out to Help Out scheme.

Domino's, as a takeaway venture, was not able to take part but had previously said sales growth was not damaged by the discount offering during August because demand was boosted by staycationers.

Its fortunes are in stark contrast to those of dine-in rivals Pizza Express and Pizza Hut Restaurants which are cutting outlets as a result of the lockdown damage and collectively placing more than 1,500 jobs at risk.

In its announcement on Tuesday, Domino's said it would also create 1,000 apprenticeships under the government's Kickstart scheme aimed at helping young people find careers.

Chief executive Dominic Paul said: “Together, these over 6,000 new roles will help Domino's continue to safely
serve our local communities as we head towards the busy festive period.”

By James Sillars

FCA seeks to overhaul scandal-hit consumer investment market

( via –Tue, 15th Sept 2020) London, UK —

LONDON (Reuters) – There have been too many scams and scandals in Britain’s financial services market and a fundamental review is needed, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) said on Tuesday.

Consumers have suffered from a string of financial scandals going back decades, from endowment mortgages to pensions and the sale of payment protection insurance, costing banks billions of pounds in compensation and raising questions about the competence of regulators.

The FCA has issued a “call for input” to help it decide how existing rules can address such “harms” and identify where other authorities could help, or if the government should consider extra powers for the watchdog.

“The consumer investment market is not working as well as it should,” said Christopher Woolard, the FCA’s interim chief executive.

“There have been too many scams and scandals and too often consumers are offered unsuitable products or advice. As a result, many consumers lack confidence in the investment market.”

Feedback will be used to shape the FCA’s work over the next three years.

The FCA said consumers only start to sense that a financial product is “too good to be true” when the promised return is around 30% or more, and there is a need to reduce the amount of unsuitable advice being given.

“This is challenging in a market with more than 5,000 advice firms and over 27,000 advisers, where the majority of advisers are meeting our standards,” the FCA said.

The watchdog said it wanted to look into a “polluter pays” model whereby a firm giving bad advice foots the compensation bill, rather than the current system of every firm paying towards the industry-wide Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS).

Firms could hold more capital based on the risks they pose, or riskier firms pay more towards the FSCS, the FCA said.

More safeguards may be needed for the increasing numbers of consumers using platforms to buy financial products, which can tempt them into investments that may not be right for them, the watchdog said.

Reporting by Huw Jones

London City airport to cut a third of staff in restructuring plan

( via – – Mon, 14th Sept 2020) London, Uk – –

Airport says loss of up to 239 jobs will help it to bounce back when post-Covid growth returns

London City airport is to make more than a third of its staff redundant in the latest job cuts in the battered aviation sector.

The airport, situated in east London and serving a largely business clientele, has started consulting over up to 239 job losses in what it called a restructuring plan to safeguard its future.

London City shut down for three months at the height of the pandemic and, after reopening in late June, is now operating only 17 routes. Most staff were furloughed and the airport has until now avoided the kind of widespread job cuts seen elsewhere.

The chief executive, Robert Sinclair,said:“The aviation sector is in the throes of the biggest downturn it has ever experienced as a result of the pandemic. We have held off looking at job losses for as long as possible, but sadly we are not immune from the devastating impact of this virus.”

He said the airport’s focus in the coming weeks would be to help its staff through this period, but added: “We believe that the difficult decisions we are taking now will enable the airport to bounce back in a better shape when growth returns.”

Last month the airport suspended most of its £500m redevelopment programme, including an extended terminal, bar works already under way.

The UK’s biggest airport, Heathrow, has already laid off a third of its managers and told frontline staff to accept pay cuts or further job losses, as its chief executive warned that the surrounding borough of Hounslow risked ending up like a mining town in the 1980s unless flying resumed.

Gatwick said last month it would cut 600 jobs, amid calls across the aviation sector for government help. Airlines are now not expecting passenger demand to return to normal levels until at least 2023 or 2024.

By Gwyn Topham 

JD Wetherspoon report 66 staff across 50 pubs test positive for coronavirus

( via – – Mon, 14th Sept 2020) London, Uk – –

JD Wetherspoon has said that 66 of its workers have tested positive for the coronavirus but maintains that visiting pubs is safe.

The company, which employs more than 41,000 people, said the vast majority of its pubs had recorded no positive tests for the virus.

There had been one or more cases among staff at 50 of its pubs.

Wetherspoon's boss Tim Martin dismissed claims by disease expert Professor Hugh Pennington that pubs are “dangerous”.

He said: “The situation with regard to pubs has been widely misunderstood.”

Aberdeen University's Prof Pennington said last month that pubs are “far, far more dangerous places to be” when discussing sending children back to school during the pandemic.

Since reopening on 4 July, the company said some 32 million people have visited its 861 open pubs.

Forty of its pubs have reported one worker testing positive for the coronavirus and six have disclosed two.

In addition, two pubs reported three staff testing positive and another two said four workers had.

Wetherspoon said 28 of the affected employees had returned to work. A spokesman for the company said the workers, as well as those who worked in close proximity to them, self-isolated for 14 days and were paid in full.

The chain said signing up to the NHS track-and-trace system was mandatory in its premises.

Mr Martin said there was no list of the pubs that had been affected. “Whenever there has been a situation we have dealt with the local press, public health and the council,” he said.

Rule of six

The company said it has invested £15m in hygiene and social distancing measures at its premises. Mr Martin argued that pubs and shops were safer than homes.

“It is much easier to inadvertently pass on the virus in someone's house, where people are more relaxed and less vigilant,” he said.

From Monday, social gatherings of more than six people have been banned both indoors and outdoors in England and Scotland and indoors only in Wales.

It follows a rise in new coronavirus cases, with a further 3,330 positive cases recorded in the UK on Sunday.

Mr Martin said there had not been a rush of people coming to its pubs before the so-called “rule of six” was introduced and trade was 22.5% below the equivalent Saturday last year.

He added: “If pubs are closed, or restricted so much that they become unprofitable, a great deal of the strenuous effort of the hospitality industry's 3.2 million employees, currently engaged on upholding hygiene and social distancing standards, will be lost.”

Gravity Industries Aerodynamic Jet Suit Latest Flight Test

Source: Gravity Industries

Latest wing testing and the evolution of our aerodynamic control at speed with the #JetSuit never stops at Gravity. Here with the awesome Benjamin Kenobi chasing with his Inspire drone.
With a rich family history in Aviation, former Oil Trader & Royal Marines Reservist, Richard Browning, founded pioneering Aeronautical Innovation company, Gravity Industries in March 2017 to launch human flight into an entirely new era. The Gravity #JetSuit uses over 1000bhp of Jet Engine power combined with natural human balance to deliver the most intense and enthralling spectacle, often likened to the real life Ironman. Gravity has to date been experienced by over a billion people globally and covered by virtually every media platform. The Gravity Team, based in the UK, have delivered over 100 flight & Speaking events across 30 countries including 5 TED talks.

How Etsy Became A $14 Billion Hand-Made Empire

Source: CNBC

When Etsy launched in 2005, it reported $1 million in gross merchandise sales. By 2019, that number had grown to $5 billion. But the company has also gone through a massive evolution as it transitioned from a private business to a publicly traded behemo

UK economy continues recovery in July according to official figures

( via – – Fri, 11th Sept 2020) London, Uk – –

By Dearbail Jordan Business reporter

The UK economy grew by 6.6% in July, according to official figures, but remains far below pre-pandemic levels.

It is the third month in a row that the economy has expanded.

But the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said that the UK “has still only recovered just over half of the lost output caused by the coronavirus”.

Hairdressers, pubs and restaurants contributed to growth after companies were allowed to reopen in July.

Is the UK economy back to pre-coronavirus levels?

Definitely not. The UK's economy – which is measured by the value and the volume of goods and services it produces – is still 11.7% smaller than it was in February, before lockdown was imposed.

Growth in July was also slower than the 8.7% expansion seen in June.

There are encouraging signs, however. Thomas Pugh, UK economist at Capital Economics, said the reopening of restaurants and pubs meant the accommodation and food services sector “rose by a whopping 140.8%” between June and July.

This had a knock-on effect for the alcohol industry which grew by 32.7%.

Keeping youngsters occupied while at home also continued to boost demand for toys and games, said the ONS, while holidaying in the UK supported campsites, cottages and caravan parks “because of a large increase in staycations”.

However, activity in the accommodation and food services sector was still 60.1% below the level recorded in February.

And while Mr Pugh expects the Eat Out to Help Out scheme to provide a further boost in August, “now that most sectors in the economy are open again there is little scope for further large rises in monthly GDP”.

Meanwhile, the car sector saw demand return to pre-pandemic levels.

“Car sales exceeded pre-crisis levels for the first time with showrooms having a particularly busy time,” said Darren Morgan, director of economic statistics at the ONS.

Analysis: By Faisal Islam

Up, up, but not away. The UK economy continued a sharp recovery from lockdown in July, growing by a bumper 6.6% in the month. But the rate of recovery was a little slower than in June, raising some concerns about the ongoing strength of the bounce back.

The economy is still nearly 12% smaller than before the pandemic crisis, and has recovered just over half of the lost output during the shutdowns.

While the third quarter is on course to see a record number for growth and the official end of recession, fears remain that the recovery could peter out.

Business groups continue to push for extensions to government support packages that are due to close. The figures in July reflected the partial reopening of retail, manufacturing, and some public sector activities such as schools.

How long will recovery take?

Forecasts vary but the consensus is it won't be swift.

The UK fell into recession after activity shrank for the first and second quarters of this year after the government announced a lockdown to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

And in the three months to July, the economy shrank by 7.6%.

Mr Pugh questioned how strong the UK's recovery would be throughout the rest of the year.

“Talk of tax rises at the next Budget, a further deterioration in the Brexit negotiations and a worrying rise in the number of virus cases and tighter social distancing restrictions will all conspire to slow the recovery even further,” he said.

Dean Turner, economist at UBS Global Wealth Management, predicts that it will take until the end of 2021 before the UK recovers to pre-pandemic levels.

“Even with a managed exit from the Brexit transition agreement, it is unlikely that the lost output would be recovered before the end of next year,” he said.

“The latest twist in negotiations raises the prospect that any recovery may take longer.”

What risks lie ahead?

The number of coronavirus cases in the UK have begun rising again and social gatherings of more than six people will be illegal in England from Monday.

“The recovery likely will stall if, as looks likely, new Covid-19 infections continue to rise, keeping people working from home and avoiding consuming services that require close human contact,” said Samuel Tombs chief UK economist, Pantheon Macroeconomics.

“Accordingly, we continue to expect GDP to be about 5% below its peak at the end of this year.”

Meanwhile, the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme is due to end on 31 October.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak has been emphatic that it will not continue. However, the Resolution Foundation think tank said he “needs to reconsider his plans to swiftly phase out support given that the economic crisis will be with us for some time to come”.

Former prime minister and chancellor Gordon Brown, warned that ending the furlough scheme was a “cliff-edge” that could trigger “a tsunami of unemployment”.

“The government's got to change course here,” he told the BBC's Today programme.

UK and Japan agree “historic” free trade deal

( via – – Fri, 11th Sept 2020) London, Uk – –

Agreement in principle comes as Britain races to secure deals before Brexit transition ends

Liz Truss said the deal was an improvement on the Japan-EU free trade agreement. 

Japan and the UK have agreed a “historic” free trade deal, as Britain races to secure easy access to overseas markets as it prepares to leave the European Union.

“This is a historic moment for the UK and Japan as our first major post-Brexit trade deal,” Liz Truss, the international trade secretary, said after a video call on Friday with the Japanese foreign minister, Toshimitsu Motegi.

Truss and Motegi agreed the deal “in principle”, the Department for International Trade (DIT) said in a statement, adding that the agreement was expected to increase trade with Japan by an estimated £12.5bn.

Truss touted the deal as an improvement on the Japan-EU free trade agreement, which will no longer cover the UK when its transition period out of the EU ends on 31 December.Advertisement

Truss added: “The agreement we have negotiated – in record time and in challenging circumstances – goes far beyond the existing EU deal, as it secures new wins for British businesses in our great manufacturing, food and drink, and tech industries.

“From our automotive workers in Wales to our shoemakers in the north of England, this deal will help build back better as we create new opportunities for people throughout the whole of the UK and help level up our country.”

She said the agreement was “an important step” towards the UK eventually joining the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, which would secure the country access to markets in 11 countries in the Asia-Pacific region.

Japan and Britain have been negotiating a free trade deal since June, and reached a “substantial agreement” the following month after talks between Truss and Motegi in London.

They missed their original deadline, however, after Truss insisted on preferential treatment for stilton cheese amid pressure on Boris Johnson from British farmers concerned about the imminent loss of EU subsidies, according to the Nikkei Asian Review business newspaper.

Britain exported £18m of blue cheese globally last year, the FT said, citing data from the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board, but just £102,000 of that went to Japan.

The DIT statement released on Friday said Britain would “continue to benefit from access to the low tariffs for key food and drink products covered by quotas”, including stilton cheese.

Japanese business leaders have voiced alarm over the potential impact of a no-deal Brexit. About 1,000 Japanese companies employing 180,000 people have a presence in the UK, according to the Japanese foreign ministry.

Total bilateral trade was worth a total of £31.6bn last year, with 9,500 UK-based businesses exporting goods to Japan, according to British government figures.

Morrisons reported a £155m hit to profits

( via– Thur, 10th Sept 2020) London, Uk – –

The chain moves to reward staff and investors as it slaps itself on the back for its response to the coronavirus crisis to date.

Morrisons has reported a £155m hit to profits from costs related to the coronavirus crisis.

The UK's fourth-largest supermarket chain said – like rivals – it had seen a surge in sales during the first half of its financial year in the run-up to – and during – the COVID-19 lockdown that began in March, which saw all non-essential retail shuttered.

It revealed an 8.7% increase in like-for-like sales, when fuel sales were excluded, in the six months to 2 August compared to the same period last year.Where jobs are being lost in UK economyWhere jobs are being lost in UK economy

But it said total revenues were down 1.1% to £8.73bn, reflecting the loss of fuel sales during the period as roads remained largely empty.

Morrisons reported profit before tax and exceptional items of £148m – down 25.3%.

It blamed the coronavirus costs bill but said the net hit came in at £62m because of business rates relief of £93m.

The chain took on an additional 45,000 staff to cope with demand as the crisis gathered pace – with in-store customers stripping aisles of essentials such as toilet roll ahead of the lockdown itself.

It reported that online and home delivery order capacity rose five-fold to help meet demand, with five new growth channels – store pick, food boxes, doorstep, Morrisons on Amazon and Deliveroo – now operating.

Its results statement said: “The mix of the very strong first-half sales growth was weighted towards online channels and lower margin categories. In addition, fuel sales growth was very negative, our cafes were temporarily closed, and we invested in supporting our colleagues, NHS workers and farmers with extra discounts.”

Morrisons said it was to reward staff with a guaranteed annual bonus of 6%.

It raised its interim dividend by 5.7% and forecast continued sales momentum in the second half of the year, part-aided by fuel sales starting to build.

Listed supermarket chains have largely been spared the bloodbath for share values witnessed by many during the COVID crisis.

Morrisons – down almost 3% in the year to date – saw its stock fall by 4% in early trading on Thursday.

Arlene Ewing, investment manager at Brewin Dolphin, said of the company's update: “Morrisons' results are indicative of the wider challenge facing supermarkets – while many expected them to thrive in the current environment, buoyed by business rates relief among other things, that hasn't quite turned out to be the case.”

She added: “There are, nevertheless, positives to be taken in the form of expectations that COVID-19 costs will fall significantly in the second half, an increase to the dividend, and a relatively bullish outlook from management in this latest update.”

Chief executive David Potts said of the performance: “From the start of the pandemic we stepped up and put the company's assets at the disposal of the country to help feed the nation.

“Morrisons is at the heart of local communities and responded quickly when it mattered most, and we are very grateful for the British public's appreciation of all the vital work our colleagues are doing.

“I believe we are seeing the renaissance of British supermarkets.”

IAG owner of British Airways to cut more flights

( via – – Thur, 10th Sept 2020) London, Uk – –

British Airways owner IAG is cutting more flights over the next three months as it adjusts to the continuing collapse in demand for air travel.

IAG, which also runs Aer Lingus and Iberia, said quarantine restrictions meant capacity this autumn would be 60% below 2019 levels.

The group said it had seen a “delayed recovery”, and did not expect business to return to 2019 levels until 2023.

IAG also said BA had reached the outline of a jobs agreement with Unite.

The union has been in a bitter dispute with BA over redundancies and pay cuts.

The airline, which is aiming to shed up to 13,000 jobs, said that by the end of August some 8,236 employees had left the business, “mostly as a result of voluntary redundancy”.

Unite is expected to hold a ballot on the agreement soon.

Bookings slow

IAG's decision to cut more flights than planned follows its previous forecast of a 46% reduction for the October-to-December period compared with the same quarter last year.

It said it had seen an “almost complete cessation of new booking activity” in April and May due to the pandemic, but the easing of country lockdowns boosted ticket sales in June.

However, since July there had been an “overall levelling off in bookings” as the UK and other European countries re-imposed quarantine requirements for travellers returning from countries such as Spain.

On Tuesday, EasyJet revealed it will have flown “slightly less” than the 40% of pre-coronavirus pandemic capacity it previously said it would operate between July and September following the government's decision to impose quarantine restrictions for seven Greek islands.

Boris Johnson appeal

Airlines are among the firms hardest hit by the impact of the pandemic. British Airways plans to cut up to 13,000 jobs due to the crisis, while EasyJet and Virgin Atlantic are slashing 4,500 roles each.

Operators say the UK's travel quarantine policy – which requires visitors to high risk countries to isolate on their return – is crushing demand and want the government to back testing at airports instead.

UK government sources have indicated that they are looking at system where the two tests would be eight days apart to further minimise the risk of “false negative” results.

They are yet to approve the idea, however, while the prime minister last week warned testing at airports could give a “false sense of security”.

In a joint letter to Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Thursday, Airlines UK, whose members include BA, Virgin, Ryanair and EasyJet, called for an extensions of the jobs furlough scheme and air passenger duty waiver.

“Our industry is in crisis,” the letter said. “In sum, we ask you to act urgently to implement a programme of recovery for our sector.”

Raising money

IAG also announced on Thursday that it was tapping shareholders for €2.7bn (£2.5bn) to help shore up its finances.

The company said the money would be used to reduce debt and help it withstand a prolonged downturn in travel.

Under the fundraising, existing investors will buy new shares at a deeply discounted price – 36% below the closing price on Wednesday.

The group's largest shareholder, Qatar Airways, which has a 25.1% holding, has said it will buy its full entitlement.

Details of the rights issue, which was announced in July, come two days after new chief executive Luis Gallego took over from long-time boss Willie Walsh.

Oxford vaccine trial volunteer suffers suspected serious adverse reaction

( via– Wed, 9th Sept 2020) London, Uk – –

Researchers are investigating whether the unexplained illness is linked to the vaccine.

The Oxford coronavirus vaccine trial is facing a “challenge”, the health secretary has admitted, after it was put on hold due to a suspected serious adverse reaction in one of its volunteers.

Researchers have paused the trial while they investigate the reaction in one of the participants in the UK, it was announced on Tuesday night.

“As part of the ongoing randomised, controlled global trials of the Oxford coronavirus vaccine, our standard review process was triggered and we voluntarily paused vaccination to allow review of safety data by an independent committee,” a spokesperson for AstraZeneca – the drugmaker working with Oxford University – said.

They explained it was a “routine action” and that it is speeding up the investigation to minimise any potential impact on the trial's timeline.

“We are committed to the safety of our participants and the highest standards of conduct in our trials,” they added.Advertisement

Health Secretary Matt Hancock told Sky News' Kay Burley programme the pause is not necessarily cause for concern and that it has already overcome one such delay.

“It is obviously a challenge to this particular vaccine,” he says.

“It's not actually the first time it has happened to the Oxford vaccine and it's a standard process in clinical trials.”

Asked if it is a setback, Mr Hancock replied: “Not necessarily, it depends on what they find when they do the investigation.

“There was a pause earlier in the summer and that was resolved without a problem.”

The nature of the adverse reaction and when it happened are not currently known.

Clinical holds usually mean there is a pause in recruiting new participants and dosing current ones.

It is not uncommon for trials to be put on hold, but scientists are under pressure to develop a vaccine to help curb the pandemic.

Most serious adverse reactions that occur after vaccination are not related to the injection and are coincidental health problems, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has said.

When a vaccine is given to a large number of people, it is likely that a few people will experience a medical problem around the time of vaccination – but this does not prove any cause and effect.

Even so, researchers will need to investigate if there is any link.

In July, early results from the trial showed the vaccine was safe and produced strong immune responses in volunteers.

No unexpected adverse reactions were recorded at the time, although more than half of 1,000 participants reported mild or moderate side effects including fever, headaches, muscle pain and soreness at the injection site.

Phase three trials of the Oxford vaccine had recently expanded to the US, recruiting up to 30,000 adults.

Trials were also underway in South Africa and Brazil.

Experts believe finding a vaccine is the only way for the world to return to normal in the future and there are currently nine vaccine candidates in larger phase three trials.

But it is not known how well a vaccine will work, and the top US infectious diseases expert Dr Anthony Fauci recently warned the chances of it being almost 100% effective are “not great”.

“We don't know yet what the efficacy might be. We don't know if it will be 50% or 60%. I'd like it to be 75% or more,” he said.

By Emily Mee

David Beckham’s Guild Esports to float on London stock market

( via – – Wed, 9th Sept 2020) London, Uk – –

An e-sports company in which David Beckham owns a significant stake is seeking to raise £20m by listing its shares on the London Stock Exchange.

Guild Esports will be the first in the UK to offer fans the chance to put money into backing its teams of gamers.

Esports, where spectators watch players video gaming, has seen its popularity rise even further during lockdown.

The company plans to field teams in the global online games Fortnite, CS:Go, Rocket League and Fifa.

It wants to build up its teams' skills using systems similar to the Premier League's talent academics.

Prize and sponsorship money for e-sports run in the millions and audiences run to more than 100 million for some events, outstripping those for major sporting events such as Wimbledon and the Tour de France.

Guild Esports said that by 2019, e-sports had a total of 443 million viewers, and the market is projected to grow to 646 million viewers by 2023.

‘Global influence'

The shares will initially be offered to large investors next month, but afterwards will trade freely on the stock market where anyone can buy them.

Money raised from the initial share placing will be used to expand the business, including recruiting new players.

The investment further extends David Beckham's wide-ranging business interests, which include fashion, fragrances, whisky and a football club in Florida that he co-owns.

Guild Esports said he would use his “global influence and following to support the development of the company's brand and business”.

Beckham is one of the founding shareholders in the business, holding what is described as a “significant minority stake”, although the exact investment is undisclosed.

He is not the first footballer to spot the potential opportunities in e-sports. Wales and Real Madrid player Gareth Bale launched his e-sports organisation, Ellevens Esports, earlier this year.

Carleton Curtis, the executive chairman of Guild Esports, said: “Guild will be the first e-sports franchise to join the London stock market.

“It will provide us with the cache, credibility and capital to fulfil our ambition to become one of the world's top 10 e-sports franchises within three years.”

By Rebecca Marston


Labour request furlough extension for pubs and bars to be granted

( via – – Tue, 8th Sept 2020) London, Uk – –

Blanket approach to ending scheme will mean a wave of closures, says shadow minister

Labour has warned that many pubs and bars will be forced to close unless the government agrees to extend the furlough wage support scheme, which is due to be withdrawn next month.

Night-time hospitality businesses have struggled as punters remain cautious about heading back to their local and Labour warned that the sector would suffer a wave of closures unless it received further help.

“Pubs are a vital part of our high streets and social fabric in communities up and down the country,” said Lucy Powell, the shadow business minister. “They have been hit hard by the pandemic, and Tory indifference and incompetence over many years means that many have gone to the wall.Advertisement

“Ministers’ blanket approach to ending the furlough scheme further threatens the future of many more. The furlough scheme must be extended for hard hit sectors to save jobs now.”

Labour, which reckons 5,500 pubs and bars have closed since the Conservatives came to power in 2010, is also calling for funds leftover from the government’s business grant scheme to be funnelled into a new Hospitality and High Street Fightback Fund to help ailing businesses.

Figures released last month showed that sales at pub, restaurant and bar chains halved in July compared with last summer. Trade in bars was down almost two-thirds (63%) and pubs saw a 45% slump in the first month that businesses were able to reopen after the government eased lockdown restrictions.

Last month, the British Beer and Pub Association said more than a third of pubs failed to break even in July, and a quarter of pubs and bars were uncertain their businesses would still be viable by March next year.

“With our pubs grappling with the ongoing challenge of returning to the trading levels they were at before the lockdown, hundreds of thousands of jobs hang in the balance,” said Emma McClarkin, chief executive of the BBPA. “A sector specific extension of the furlough scheme would be greatly welcomed by our sector.”

While the BBPA threw its weight behind an extension of the furlough scheme, industry figures have also identified other areas where the government could help.

Publicans have expressed bitter complaints about the financial impact of the“beer tie” arrangement that governs the relationship between large pub companies that own thousands of pub premises and the tenants who run the business.

Many publicans also expressed dismay after alcohol was excluded from the government’s six month VAT cut from 20% to 5% designed to stimulate the hospitality industry. More than 60% of the UK’s 47,000 pubs are “wet-led”, meaning they make more money from alcohol than food. Pubs are also facing huge rent bills with nearly all of the major pub companies opting to defer their demands, or offer a discounted rate, instead of cancelling payments as business has dried up during the pandemic.

Pubs, bars and restaurants also no longer enjoy the extra custom the government’s highly successful eat out to help out scheme brought in during August.

Last week, the government revealed that at least 100m meals were eaten by diners taking advantage of the scheme, which gave 50% off the price of a meal up to a maximum of £10 per head on Mondays to Wednesdays. The government has said the success of the scheme meant it would cost more than the £500m Rishi Sunak set aside in the July mini-budget.

A Treasury spokesperson said: “We have stood by pubs and the communities they serve throughout the pandemic, providing targeted support for the sector including business rates holidays and cash grants of up to £25,000.

“The coronavirus job retention scheme will have been open for eight months from start to finish – with the government helping to pay the wages of over 9.6 million jobs so far. And support doesn’t end in October with the furlough bonus paying £1,000 per employee for those brought back to work and kept in employment into 2021.”

By Mark Sweney

Amazon self-driving vehicles might soon be delivering parcels in the UK

( via– Tue, 8th Sept, 2020) London, Uk – –

The Amazon Scout has been developed to avoid obstacles in the street such as pedestrians and bins.

Britons could soon see their Amazon parcels delivered by a small self-driven vehicle. 

The online giant is hiring a team of engineers to develop its Amazon Scout vehicles for use in the UK following the growth in online shopping.

The Scout rolls along the pavement at walking pace before delivering to a customer's door.

It has been developed with a camera and sensor to help it navigate around pedestrians, pets and obstacles such as bins and sign posts.

The technology is already being tested out in small areas in the States, including the area just outside Amazon's headquarters in Washington state.Advertisement

Engineers in the UK will be working with the Amazon Scout research lab in Seattle to develop the software.

“Our investment in this new Amazon Scout team in the UK, which will consist of dozens of engineers, is driven by our partnership with the Cambridge community and made possible by the talented people who live here,” the company said.

Last week, Amazon said it would create 7,000 jobs by the end of the year, taking its permanent UK workforce to more than 40,000 people.

But thousands of jobs have been lost in the retail sector since March, as non-essential shops were forced to close during lockdown and many turned to online shopping.

By Emily Mee

Primark High Street fashion chain sales head for £2bn

( via – – Mon, 7th Sept 2020) London, Uk – –

The owner of High Street fashion chain Primark has said sales have been higher than expected since stores reopened after lockdown, but are still lower than last year.

Associated British Foods said sales since reopening would hit £2bn by the end of the year.

However, that would be 12% lower on a like-for-like basis than in 2019.

Primark's four biggest stores, in Birmingham, Manchester and London, were especially hard hit, it said.

“If the four large UK destination city centre stores are excluded, the decline is 5%,” it added.

Primark's biggest UK store is in Birmingham and has 160,000 sq ft of floorspace. The next largest, in Manchester, is 155,000 sq ft.

Its two stores on London's Oxford Street are 82,000 sq ft and 70,000 sq ft respectively.

“After a period of store closure, we are encouraged by the strength of our sales,” AB Foods said in its latest trading update.

“In the latest four-week UK market data for sales in all channels, Primark achieved our highest-ever value and volume shares for this time of year.”

The firm said trading in its food divisions had also been better than predicted so far in the fourth quarter.

“Since reopening Primark stores, we have seen increasing numbers of transactions driven by footfall,” it added.

“The average basket size was initially significantly higher than last year, reflecting some pent-up demand, and while this out-performance has reduced in recent weeks, it remains higher than a year ago.

“We have continued our policy of offering the best prices, and markdowns for the period since reopening have been low.”

Primark had made it clear before its stores reopened on 15 June that there would be no special discounts to shift stock.

AB Foods said full-year profits at Primark in the year to 12 September would be at least at the top end of its previously advised £300m to £350m range.

Last year, the equivalent figure was £913m.

AB Foods said its grocery revenues would be bigger than last year, with growth in brands such as Twinings tea and Ryvita crispbread.

However, it said sales of Ovaltine were held back by the impact of coronavirus on impulse sales, particularly in Thailand and Vietnam.

Napster sold to Uk’s Melody VR for $70m

( via – – Mon, 7th Sept 2020) London, Uk – –

MelodyVR’s £52m purchase of the infamous disruptor turned heads, but investors are liking what they see (and hear)

“Going up against a Spotify, I don’t think anyone wants to be doing that,” says Anthony Matchett, the new owner of Napster. Last month, the 32-year-old’s London-based music tech startup, MelodyVR, made waves by announcing a surprise $70m (£52m) reverse takeover of the music streaming pioneer of the streaming revolution. Matchett is hoping that a marriage of MelodyVR, which films and streams gigs, with the 21-year-old Napster will be music to the ears, and eyes, of fans and investors alike.

“There is something very apt about a disruptive company that works with technology like MelodyVR and the original music industry disrupter,” he says. “We see synergies for a service that combines music streaming, immersive content, live events. Something that an Apple Music, a Spotify, or any other service doesn’t provide. Everything a music fan might really want.”

For the time being, the two companies will operate separately, although Matchett doesn’t rule out a potential renaming of his AIM-listed company in line with the well-known Napster brand in future. 

It is the fourth incarnation of Napster, founded in 1999 when Britney Spears and Backstreet Boys topped the charts, and it is now a relative minnow among the global music streamers. Napster, with 3 million subscribers, delivered 10.8bn streams and made $113m in revenue last year. “It is a shame, because a lot of people don’t realise they have a thriving business,” says an undeterred Matchett. “Although it is not the scale of a Spotify, it is growing and it is profitable. We are delighted to acquire it.”

Matchett is right to be confident. After more than a decade of plummeting CD sales and rampant piracy, the streaming revolution has put the music business back at the top of the charts for investors. Last year, global music sales grew for a fifth consecutive year, to $20.2bn, driven by a 23% growth in streaming (which accounted for $11.4bn of the total), having hit a low of $14bn in 2013.

Another British success is Hipgnosis, a London-listed company offering the chance to make money from the royalties of songs by artists from Beyoncé to Bon Jovi. Investors have been happy to front up more than £230m during the pandemic to allow it to continue its music catalogue-buying spree.

The music majors are also faring well. Earlier this summer, Warner Music, the world’s third largest music company and home to artists including Ed Sheeran, floated in the US, selling $1.9bn worth shares and achieving a market value of more than $12bn. Owner Len Blavatnik paid just $3.3bn for the company in 2011. And Universal Music, the biggest label home of stars including Taylor Swift, Lady Gaga and the Beatles, sold a 10% stake to Chinese tech giant Tencent that valued the business at €30bn (£26.7bn). 

And while the live music industry has ground to a halt, streaming has proved to be coronavirus-proof. Spotify, the world’s largest music streaming service, reported a jump in paying subscribers of more than 27% year-on-year to 138m in the second quarter.

The lockdown has also proved to be the best thing to have happened to MelodyVR, which has raised almost $30m from investors in recent months. “I probably wouldn’t phrase it in that way, but that said, naturally, as a virtual events company, we are one business that is continuing to grow,” says Matchett. “Since the start of coronavirus, our app installs and our usage has gone through the roof. We have seen a lot more people looking for live music. Our app installs are up 1,000% since the start of quarantine. And our month-on-month usage is growing at 36%.”

As the pandemic took hold, the company set up safe studios in London and Los Angeles to enable artists to perform gigs, with fans paying to watch via its app. The gigs can also be watched on virtual reality headsets, an experience that allows fans to choose what part of the auditorium they watch the performance from. The company has had 100 artists perform virtual gigs during lockdown, including Emeli Sandé, Liam Payne, The Chainsmokers and Cypress Hill. It also has a back catalogue of gigs performed in front of live audiences. To date, the company has charged on a per-gig basis, the average price being £9.99, but is now belatedly adding a monthly subscription option, the preferred model for digital content services from Netflix and Spotify to pay-

“When we launched, no one had really seen immersive or VR content and no one knew what it was worth,” says Matchett. “We didn’t want to overprice or underprice. Now we are in a place we feel confident about launching a monthly fee.”

While swallowing Napster has transformed the scale of its business, the Soho-based company has some way to go to reach profitability. Last year it made a loss of £16m and revenues plunged to £200,000, while Napster’s thin margins meant the streaming firm made just $1.8m in profits.

“[Profitability] is not something we are worried about,” says Matchett. “For a company like us, growth and investment is key, which is why we are buying Napster.”

• The image on this article was changed on 7 September 2020. A previous photograph purporting to show the group Cypress Hill was of the late rap artist Ty performing as support act for that band in 2018.

By Mark Sweney

Astronaut Jeanette Epps To Become The First African American Onboard The International Space Station

Source: TDIB

NASA astronaut Jeanette Epps will join astronauts Sunita Williams and Josh Cassada as a crew member on the first operational flight of Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft to the International Space Station (ISS), announced NASA. The six-month expedition, which is planned to launch in 2021, will make Epps the first Black woman to live and work in space for an extended period of time. Epps responded to her new assignment in a Twitter video, saying she’s “looking forward to the mission” alongside Williams and Cassada. NASA assigned Williams and Cassada to the Starliner-1 mission in August 2018. The spaceflight will be the first for Cassada and third for Williams, who spent long-duration stays aboard the space station on Expeditions 14/15 and 32/33.

HS2 rail project pledge 22,000 jobs as work officially begins

( via – – Fri, 4th Sept 2020) London, Uk – –

Construction work on HS2 officially begins on Friday, with companies behind the controversial high-speed rail project expecting to create 22,000 jobs in the next few years.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said HS2 would “fire up economic growth and help to rebalance opportunity”.

He endorsed the rail link in February, with formal government approval granted in April despite lockdown.

But critics said HS2 will also cost jobs, and vowed to continue protesting.

HS2 is set to link London, Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds. It is hoped the 20-year project will reduce passenger overcrowding and help rebalance the UK's economy through investment in transport links outside London.

HS2 Ltd chief executive Mark Thurston said the reality of high-speed journeys between Britain's biggest cities had moved a step closer.

When the project was mooted in 2009, it was expected to cost an estimated £37.5bn and when the official price tag was set out in the 2015 Budget it came in at just under £56bn.

But an official government report has since warned that it could cost more than £100bn and be up to five years behind schedule.

Some critics of HS2 describe it as a “vanity project” and say the money would be better spent on better connections between different parts of northern England. Others, such as the Stop HS2 pressure group, say it will cause considerable environmental damage.

When will HS2 open and how much will it cost?

The prime minister said HS2 was at the heart of government plans to “build back better” and would form “the spine of our country's transport network”.

“But HS2's transformational potential goes even further,” he added. “By creating hundreds of apprenticeships and thousands of skilled jobs, HS2 will fire up economic growth and help to rebalance opportunity across this country for years to come.”

HS2's main works contractor for the West Midlands, the Balfour Beatty Vinci Joint Venture, has said it expects to be one of the biggest recruiters in the West Midlands over the next two years.

Up to 7,000 skilled jobs would be required to complete its section of the HS2 route, it said, with women and under-25s the core focus for recruitment and skills investment.

Other firms hiring include:

Another joint venture partner, EKFB, said it would recruit more than 4,000 people over the next two years for its section from Long Itchington Wood site in Warwickshire south to the Chiltern tunnel portals

Skanska Costain Strabag, Balfour Beatty Vinci Systra, Align JV and Mace Dragados JV, based in Greater London, will collectively recruit more than 10,000

HS2 Ltd itself is already directly recruiting for 500 new roles over the next three months, with the majority based in Birmingham.

HS2 Ltd's Mr Thurston said the railway would be “transformative” for the UK.

“With the start of construction, the reality of high speed journeys joining up Britain's biggest cities in the North and Midlands and using that connectivity to help level up the country has just moved a step closer,” he added.


Campaign group Stop HS2 said Boris Johnson and others who hail the creation of 22,000 jobs are “rather less keen to mention that HS2 is projected to permanently displace almost that many jobs”.

Stop HS2 campaign manager Joe Rukin said: “Trying to spin HS2 as a job creation scheme is beyond desperate. Creating 22,000 jobs works out at almost £2m just to create a single job.”

But speaking on the BBC's Breakfast programme, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps disputed those figures.

“I can't see how there's an argument that making it easier to get about this country is somehow going to destroy jobs, quite the opposite in fact. It's clearly going to make the economy level up”, he said.

“Find those left behind areas, that have found themselves too disconnected before and join it together.”

Stop HS2 chairwoman Penny Gaines called the project “environmentally destructive” to wildlife: “This is why there are currently hundreds of activists camped out along the HS2 route. We don't expect them to go away any time soon.”

However, the Northern Powerhouse Partnership (NPP), which fights for investment in the regional economy, said such major infrastructure projects are transformative and called for the planned extensions of HS2 to be started as soon as possible.

“Increasing capacity on the North's rail network and better connecting our towns and cities will be vital in the economic regeneration of the Northern Powerhouse – both now and long in the future,” said Henri Murison, director of the NPP.

Same dispute, new arguments

Analysis: By Theo Leggett

This is an important symbolic move for HS2, but in the real world it changes very little.

Work preparing for the new line – demolishing buildings and clearing sites for example – has already been going on for the past three years. And in some areas, construction work has also begun.

But the arguments over whether or not the railway should actually be built are continuing to rage.

The government has long insisted that it will help re-balance the country's economy, by promoting investment outside London. It now says the jobs created by the scheme will support the post-Covid recovery.

But opponents claim that lockdown has undermined the case for HS2 – by showing how easily people can work remotely, and how little business travel is really needed.

Same dispute, new arguments. But now shovels are – officially – in the ground.