Published: 17 March 2021
PM Boris Johnson’s long-awaited review of the UK's defence, security and foreign policy has come under fire for calling for 'deeper trade links' and cooperation with China, despite warning it is 'systemic threat' to West. MI6 chief Alex Younger warns this morning that China poses a 'generational threat' and the idea it will adopt Western values on freedom and democracy is 'for the birds'. The defence review commits to spending 0.7% of GDP on defence, also promising a £24billion rise in spending on space, laser and cyber warfare, and expansion of the UK’s nuclear arsenal. The Army, however, is expected to cut 10,000 personnel. The document also says another pandemic is a 'realistic possibility' this decade: 'Infectious disease outbreaks are likely to be more frequent to 2030,' it says.
A report published today by the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) Committee calls upon the government to toughen anti-modern slavery requirements for business, singling out Chinese supply chains for particular criticism. The report says MPs are appalled that major brands still cannot guarantee that their supply chains are free from forced labour, and highlights mounting evidence of human rights abuses affecting Uyghur and other ethnic minorities in Xinjiang. The report also raises concerns about the potential flow of information between TikTok UK, its parent company ByteDance Ltd and other Chinese subsidiary companies which could be subject to China's National Intelligence Law.
The government says this morning that it raised £1.36bn from its auction of new tranches of the 5G mobile network spectrum. EE, owned by BT, paid a total of £452m; Hutchison 3G UK £280m; Vodafone £176.4m; and Telefonica UK, which trades as O2, £168m in the auction run by regulator Ofcom.
The BBC reports that a blueprint to cut industrial carbon emissions by two-thirds within 15 years has been announced by the government, which wants firms to waste less energy, develop low-carbon technologies and invest in equipment that can store carbon emissions in rocks underground.
It's offering £1bn to help industrial buildings, schools and hospitals get better insulation and conserve energy.
The energy regulator Ofgem has revealed a crackdown on household suppliers to prevent them hoarding credit balances for customers who pay by direct debit. Ofgem found £1.4bn of customers' money was languishing in the hands of companies in 2018 through overpayment. It said a series of reforms would lead to sums being returned to customers - the equivalent of £65 per household on average.
MPs on the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Gambling Related Harm have written to Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden calling for a public inquiry into the collapse of gambling website Football Index. The firm has suspended operations and appointed administrators, sparking an outcry as there are reports gamblers could lose more than £90m still locked up in the business. In their letter, MPs estimate that Football Index punters have lost £3,000 each on average.
London mayor Sadiq Khan is pledging £544m worth of investment to create jobs and revitalise areas of city but says government must match his plans for the capital if the country is to recover. At his inaugural ‘London Recovery Summit’ Khan said he is putting revitalising high streets, supporting communities and boosting jobs at the centre of his plan to rebuild the capital. He added that utility companies in London are to bring forward an additional £499m of investment – on top of the £1.5bn announced last year – to create over 1,400 jobs, and programmes to support jobs for young and BAME Londoners.
A study by financial mutual Scottish Friendly and the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR) suggests that nearly half of Brits have seen their cash savings increase over the past year. Collectively they are estimated to be holding an extra £192bn. The research also found that households plan to spend more than a quarter – £50bn in total – of their lockdown savings over the course of 2021; one third say their cash will go towards travel and accommodation for overseas holidays, and 29% plan to spend more on domestic holidays this year.
26% of UK small businesses have said poor cashflow is their biggest financial concern. The Business Challenges report, carried out by card payments company Takepayments limited, found that these businesses are constantly chasing late payments during the pandemic. Businesses within the insurance and pensions sector (46%) and charity and voluntary sector (42%) are the most fearful of late payments, with nearly half expecting to chase late payment of invoices throughout the year (46% and 42% respectively).
Tech venture capital investment in the UK hit a record high of $15bn (£10.8bn) in 2020, according to Tech Nation's latest report. Health and wellness companies raised $38bn in 2020, an increase from $28bn in 2019, and augmented reality, e-sports and gaming accounted for over $2.4bn of total venture capitalist investment. Tech Nation’s report says the UK is now third in the world behind the US and China when it comes to tech investment, noting that the gap between the UK and the two global powers is closing compared to previous years. The report quoted UK prime minister Boris Johnson as stating that 2020 was "a year in which the brutal necessity of restricting human contact has escalated the importance of tech of all kinds, from the NHS app to Zoom calls."
Investment platform AJ Bell said on Tuesday that Baroness Helena Morrissey will be appointed chair of the company on 1 July. Morrissey, who recently stepped down as non-executive director at St James's Place, will succeed Les Platts. She is currently lead non-executive director for the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, reporting to the Foreign Secretary. Previously, Morrissey was head of Personal Investing at Legal & General Investment Management and chief executive at Newton Investment Management.
Basketball legend LeBron James has become a minor partner in Fenway Sports Group, the owners of Liverpool FC. James has been a part-owner of Liverpool FC since 2011 and has a 2% stake in the club, which he bought for £4.7m. He and his business partner Maverick Carter are now taking a more active role in global sports ownership.
Sky News reports that outsourcer Capita PLC will today unveil a fresh restructuring programme and a plan to raise £400m from a string of disposals. The company has been trying to sell its non-core assets for the past year to shore up its finances.
Outsourcing contractor Serco has been awarded a contract extension worth a potential £870m to provide support services at the 5 Wing Canadian Forces base in Goose Bay.
Upper Crust owner SSP says it is looking to raise £475m via a rights issue as it anticipates slower recovery from the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the travel industry. The company says it expects a near full return of passenger numbers to pre Covid levels by 2024, led by a rebound in domestic and leisure short-haul air and rail travel.
Promotional products marketeer 4Imprint reported a 93% slump in full-year pre-tax profits yesterday, saying 2020 results were "significantly" impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic. Pre-tax profit tumbled to £3.84m from £53.99m a year earlier. The firm said 960,000 total orders were processed during the year, down from 1.59m in 2019.
Infrastructure specialist Costain has tumbled to a £96.1 loss after an "exceptionally challenging" year, its pre-tax loss widening from £6.6m in 2019. The firm was also hit by £94.7m of charges relating to the A465 Heads of the Valley project with the Welsh government and the Peterborough & Huntingdon gas compressor project with National Grid. A further £5.0m was also taken to settle the legacy contract ASF South with Highways England.
Shopping centre owner Hammerson is seeking to convert a former flagship Debenhams store in Leicester into housing for rent. Hammerson has submitted a planning application in conjunction with Packaged Living, a specialist in the private rental sector founded in 2018 and backed by investment management firm Fiera Real Estate.
ScS Group reported a surge in profits yesterday after pent-up demand post-lockdown boosted demand for home furnishings. The retailer said gross sales in the 26 weeks to 23 January increased 14% to £182.3m, while revenue rose 14% to £173.9m. Operating profits jumped from £1.2m a year previously to £19.8m, while pre-tax profits swung back into the black, coming in at £17.7m compared to 2020's £600,000 loss.
BP has backed out of three offshore projects in Kazakhstan involving the exploration and production of oil and gas in the offshore fields of the Caspian Sea. BP has divested a series of productive assets and has been investing in offshore wind as part of its strategy to focus on renewable energy and shrink its hydrocarbon business by 40% in the coming years, and this is the latest divestment in that programme.
Ford has announced that diesel engines for a new generation of its Transit Custom van will be built at its factory in Dagenham. The company says the move will help to safeguard jobs at the site, which currently employs 1,900 people. Last year, Ford closed its other major UK engine plant at Bridgend in Wales.
Wizz Air was in trouble yesterday after US private equity firm Indigo Partners sold just over 7.69 million of its 15 million shares in the budget airline to institutional investors.
P&O Cruises has said that anyone wanting to take its cruises around the British Isles this summer will need to be vaccinated first and prove they have had two coronavirus jabs to take trips restarting in June. Saga Cruises and Virgin Voyages in the US have made similar announcements.
Uber is to treat its 70,000 drivers in the UK as workers, meaning they will be entitled to a number of basic employment protections, following the Supreme Court case the ride-hailing taxi app lost last month. A judge ruled that drivers should be classed as workers, not as independent third-party contractors. Drivers will now have access to holiday pay and a pension scheme, as well as earning at least the minimum wage, starting from today.
UK fintech startup SumUp has raised £643m from several investors including Goldman Sachs and Bain Capital Credit. SumUp allows businesses to receive payments in-store and online via its card terminal and competes with iZettle, among others. It has also diversified into building online shops and taking payments over the web. The firm will use the funds to accelerate growth, expand its product, and acquire and support its existing merchants in 33 markets: it was launched most recently in Chile, Colombia, and Romania.
Finnish telecoms giant Nokia has announced plans for a sweeping overhaul of its business that could see up to 10,000 jobs cut, 11% of its total headcount. Nokia plans to "reset its cost base" by cutting back on legacy business lines and investing in growth areas like cloud computing and 5G. The transformation is forecast to cost up to €700m.
Cash machine withdrawals have fallen by £37bn and the number of visits by 43% during the 12 months of the Covid pandemic, according to Link, which oversees the UK's cash machine network. However the amount withdrawn has gone up from an average of £67 to £84. Less demand and Covid restrictions mean 4,000 fewer free ATMs are currently in operation.
The number of bitcoin ATMs around the world has increased by 70% in the last six months, hitting 16,500 in March, according to Trading Platforms. There are currently 195 machines in the UK, however the number has fallen here by 25% over the last six months. 84% of all bitcoin ATMs are in the US, far and away the largest market, with Canada not even a close second at 7.7% of global machines. Trading Platforms’ research also shows that Genesis Coin is the largest bitcoin ATM manufacturer, with 6,346 BTS operating worldwide, a 38% market share.
Amsterdam city council must immediately allow residents of its historic centre to offer their homes to tourists, after a court ordered it to scrap a ban placed on vacation rentals. In a vindication for the ‘Airbnb’ industry, the judge hearing the case brought by an association of property owners, agreed the ban had no legal basis. In response, the city said that residents could apply for the same permit available to homeowners elsewhere in town, giving them the right to rent out their homes for up to 30 nights per year to a group of no more than four at a time. However, in its verdict, the court indicated the city could cap the number of houses available for vacation rentals in any district and could also opt to determine that certain properties were meant for residents only.
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