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Nearly 50,000 businesses have signed up for the government's free workplace COVID tests. Business, Media…

   News / 15 Mar 2021

Published: 15 March 2021

By Suzanne Evans, Director, Political Insight

Nearly 50,000 businesses have signed up for the government's free workplace COVID tests, Health Secretary Matt Hancock has announced.

Covid-19 Home Test Kit
The Department for Transport has announced a £3bn plan to make ‘studying bus timetables a thing of the past,’ promising hundreds of miles of new bus lanes and more frequent services in England. It says buses across the country will be cheaper and so frequent that passengers will be able to ‘turn up and go.’
The communications regulator Ofcom is today opening an auction for potions of the 5G spectrum, with a reserve price of £20m each. Mobile networks EE, Vodafone, Three and O2 are expected to compete to win exclusive use of slices of the airwaves for their customers.
Two of the biggest names in hospitality have threatened to take the government to court over its plans to release England from lockdown, the BBC reports. Pizza Express investor Hugh Osmond and Greater Manchester's night-time economy adviser, Sacha Lord, said the industry is losing £200m a day. In a letter to the prime minister, they said there is no "evidence or justification" to open shops five weeks before pubs and restaurants. They said it is "plainly irrational".
Outsourcing company Serco has reported revenues for the year to 31 December of £3.88bn, a 20% increase on the previous year. Underlying trading profit came in at £163.1m, a 36% improvement. The results were boosted by Serco's 2019 acquisition of US naval and submarine specialist NSBU, and by winning a number of NHS Test and Trace contracts.
Billionaire Richard Branson's flagship company Virgin Atlantic is said to be close to finalising a deal with creditors and shareholders to access an additional £160m bailout package. The company received a £1.2bn rescue deal six months ago. According to Sky News, this will include a £100m loan from Branson's Virgin Group, the airline's majority owner, and some £60m in further deferrals to avoid further cashflow pressure.
British Airways says it will introduce digital global vaccine passports for those who have had both doses of the covid vaccine. However, BA’s boss has also called for unrestricted travel for those who have been vaccinated and for non-vaccinated people with a negative coronavirus test, as the industry gears up for overseas travel to recommence. The company, owned by International Consolidated Airlines Group, is also considering deploying some of its bigger planes to add capacity for an anticipated post-pandemic holiday rush. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said that foreign travel can resume no sooner than 17 May.
Boeing announced on Friday that the Miami-based private investment firm 777 Partners has agreed to buy 24 of its 737 MAX airplanes, with the possibility of purchasing a further 60. 777 plans to lease the planes to Canadian ultra-low-cost carrier Flair Airlines in which it already has a big stake. The 737 MAX was grounded until recently for 20 months following two fatal crashes.
A year-long dispute over compulsory redundancies and site closures means BT could see its first national strike in more than 30 years. The Communication Workers Union (CWU) has said that 45,000 members in BT, Openreach and EE will be balloted, and warn a "yes" vote would have a "massive impact" on the network.
Shopping centre owner Hammerson has more than doubled its annual loss as rental income plunged by 49% during Covid-19 lockdowns. The group reported a loss of £1.7bn for the year to the end of December compared with a £781m loss the year before. The value of Hammerson's portfolio, which includes London's Brent Cross shopping centre and Birmingham's Bullring, also dropped, from £6.34bn down to £8.3bn.
Iconic British luxury brand Burberry hit the top of the FTSE 100 on Friday, with shares rallying 8% after the firm said it now expects fourth quarter sales to be up 28%-32% on last year, meaning full year revenues would fall by only about 10% despite COVID-19 disruption.
Hollywood Bowl has raised around £30m in a share placing to accelerate expansion plans. Despite pretax profit falling for the year by 96% as bowling alleys were forced to close for most of last year and during the current lockdown, Hollywood Bowl says it is confident about the future given the strong demand for bookings experienced following reopening after the first lockdown in August 2020.
Mitchells and Butler is facing a fresh shareholder revolt over plans to bolster the guaranteed pay awards of its top executives. Sky News reports that several major institutional investors are planning to oppose the firm’s remuneration policy because it plans to replace a performance-based share scheme with more certain annual awards. M&B, which owns the All Bar One and Harvester chains, has seen finances badly affected, with more than 1600 sites closed for the vast majority of the last year. There have been a series of shareholder revolts at the firm in the past.
Tesco has received approval from the Polish Competition Authority for the sale of its business there for around £181m to Danish retailer Salling Group.
German luxury automaker Daimler is recalling 2.6 million Mercedes-Benz vehicles in China due to a software design issue which means a vehicle's correct location may not be identified in the event of a crash. Last month Mercedes-Benz USA said it was recalling 1.29 million vehicles sold since 2016 for a similar reason.
Online payments company Stripe Inc.’s valuation has almost tripled in less than a year to $95bn, making it the most valuable US startup. The valuation overtook billionaire Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Instacart Inc., according to CBInsights data. Stripe was founded in 2010 by two Irish siblings whose net worth surged to $11.4 billion each on the news, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, up from $4.3 billion in the last funding round.
Global arms exports were unaffected by the coronavirus pandemic, with imports and exports remaining close to their highest level since the end of the cold war, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (Sipri). The US increased its global share of arms exports to 37% during the last five years, with almost half (47%) of exports going to the Middle East - Saudi Arabia alone accounted for 24% of total US arms exports. France increased its exports of major arms by 44%, while Germany expanded its exports by 21%. The biggest growth in arms imports internationally was seen in the Middle East.
Pakistan has banned TikTok again. The high court in Peshawar ordered the Pakistan Telecom Authority (PTA) to shut the app because it hosts ‘immoral and objectionable content’ that was ‘peddling vulgarity.’ TikTok was banned briefly by the PTA last year. The app had around 33m users in Pakistan as of February 2021, according to TechCrunch.
And…..Bitcoin has gone above $60,000 for the first time. Sky News illustrates the staggering increase in the value of the cryptocurrency with the story of US developer Laszlo Hanyecz: in 2010 he bought two pizzas for 10,000 bitcoin, an amount that at $60,000 a pop was worth £440m. Today, one bitcoin is worth just shy of $58,000 (£41,700).

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