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Eurostar is in crunch talks with its bankers to avoid collapse ahead of a June deadline to repay £400m…

   NEWS / 29 Mar 2021

Published: 29 March 2021

By Suzanne Evans, Director, Political Insight


PM Boris Johnson has told the Conservatives' virtual spring forum that the roadmap out of lockdown is still on track and that there was nothing in the data to dissuade him from "continuing along our roadmap to freedom." The government also announced on Friday that non-essential retailers will be given extended opening hours of 7am – 10pm Monday to Saturday to help businesses recover and for customers to shop safely.
 
A third coronavirus vaccine from US firm Moderna will be rolled out in the UK from April, culture secretary Oliver Dowden confirmed yesterday. Around 500,000 doses of the jab are expected to arrive in the first batch, the Mail on Sunday said. Overall, Britain has ordered 17 million doses of the Moderna vaccine, which has a 94% efficacy rate in trials. Britain has also ordered 100 million doses of AztraZeneca and 40 million doses of the vaccine by US drugmaker Pfizer and German biotech firm BioNTech.

Norway is to delay its decision on whether to resume Covid-19 vaccinations with the AstraZeneca jab by another three weeks, the country's Institute of Public Health said on Friday.
 
The Department for Work and Pensions has released figures showing the number of Britons living in poverty hit a record high just before the onset of the covid pandemic. A total of 14.5 million individuals were estimated to be in relative low income — calculated as being below 60% of the average household income — in the year to March 2020, up from 14.4 million the previous year.
The number of children living in poverty also reached a record high, up year on year from 4.1 million to 4.3 million. The stats also reveal that 11% of households had no savings at all at the start of the pandemic, rising to 31% among lone parents, while half of families, and 84% of lone parents, had less than £1,500 in savings.
 
Chancellor Rishi Sunak has warned UK businesses that staff members could quit their jobs if forced to stay at home after the pandemic. In an interview with the Telegraph, he said workers may “vote with their feet” and move to competitors offering jobs at physical workplaces. “You can’t beat the spontaneity, the team building, the culture that you create in a firm or an organisation from people actually spending physical time together,” he said, and argued that an office environment was particularly vital for younger employees that are looking to understand how a company works and keen to progress their careers.
 
The UKs banking system is strong enough to withstand the shock of COVID-19 and should continue to lend, according to the Bank of England which said on Friday: "Banks have high levels of capital. This would allow them to absorb very big losses while continuing to lend."
 
Britain and the EU have struck a deal in principle on financial services regulation. The Treasury announced the deal on Friday, saying a memorandum of understanding will create the framework needed for "voluntary regulatory cooperation." The UK and EU will create a forum for regulatory talks about financial services, meeting at least twice a year, attended by a minister from Britain and their EU equivalent. Separate discussion will be held on equivalence, the amount of access Brussels grants other nations to its markets. The deal will not automatically grant any long-term direct access to the EU for UK firms.
 
A survey of 1400 small firms by the Federation of Small Businesses concludes one in five (23%) exporters have temporarily paused sales to the EU and a further 11% are considering doing so permanently. This is the same proportion which have established, or are considering establishing, a presence within a country in the EU to ease their exporting processes. Additionally, 9% of respondents said they were thinking about securing, or are already using, warehousing space in the EU or Northern Ireland for the same purpose.

The CBI says it expects private sector activity in the UK to rebound sharply in the next quarter as Britain slowly opens up, saying expectations for growth over the next three months are the strongest since February 2018. Business and professional services are expected to grow by 32%,
consumer services by 10%, distribution firms 11%, and manufacturing is expected to remain broadly flat. This was the most positive balance for tall sectors since May 2019, the CBI said.
 
Regulators in Britain and the EU have approved the registration of a 20-second rapid covid test called Virolens, the product’s distributor, Histate, has revealed.  It was piloted at Heathrow Airport and uses swabs of the cheeks instead of through the nose and tonsils. The company said it was hoping for a wider rollout over the coming months after trials indicated that the test had 98.1% sensitivity, meaning it returns few false negatives, and 99.7% specificity, meaning few false positives.
 
Heathrow Airport has lodged proposals with the UK government's Global Travel Taskforce (GTT) to bring in a four-tier ‘traffic light’ system in a bid to ease COVID-19 restrictions sooner. Reports from several outlets yesterday said the submission would back hotel quarantining and tests for incoming flights from the worst-affected countries on a sliding scale. Foreign travel in and out of the UK is banned from today, however the GTT is due to report on potential new rules at the start of April. These would come into effect in accordance with the unlocking roadmap from 17 May.
 
Phone companies must do more to stop fraudsters who spoof phone numbers to trap victims, one of the UK's top law enforcement officers has told the BBC. Graeme Biggar, director general of the National Crime Agency's National Economic Crime Centre, says the UK needs "a step change in our response" to fraud costing the economy up to £190bn each year.
 
Britain's third largest steelmaker, Liberty Steel’s request for £170m in government cash to prevent its collapse has been refused, according to reports from the BBC, The Times and the Financial Times yesterday, reports which the government has neither confirmed or denied. Liberty steel owner Sanjeev Gupta's GFG Alliance requested the bailout for day-to-day operating costs and to absorb recent losses across Liberty Steel’s nine UK sites. Business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng has met with company bosses and trade unions on several occasions. The collapse of the group could put as many as 5,000 jobs at risk. Gupta's empire has been marred since one of its major donors, Greensill Capital, filed for insolvency.
 
Eurostar is in crunch talks with its bankers to avoid collapse ahead of a June deadline to repay £400m in debt.  While there is an option to extend for 12 months, this requires Eurostar to adhere to strict covenants, including retaining a minimum cash balance of £35m. The Telegraph reports Eurostar is focusing its efforts on restructuring loans after several weeks of lobbying ministers from both countries yielded no success. In February, transport secretary Grant Shapps told ministers that the government is "very keen for Eurostar to survive" but insisted "it’s not our company."

Kings Cross St Pancras, Euston Road
 
Jessops has become the latest victim of the government’s response to coronavirus, filing a notice to appoint administrators for the second time in just over a year. The camera retailer employs 120 staff members across 17 stores and has hired FRP Advisory to help restructure the business. Jessops has been owned by Dragons’ Den star Peter Jones’ PJ Investment Group since 2013, when he bought it from administrators after it collapsed under £81m of debt.
 
Wetherspoons boss Tim Martin has warned the rollout of any vaccine passport scheme would force reluctant bar staff on to the front line of the battle for civil liberties and could be “the last straw” for hundreds of struggling pubs. Writing for The Daily Telegraph, Mr Martin says pubs are “hanging on for dear life” and have been “devastated by G-force changes of direction.” There are fears the scheme could create a “two-tier” system that prevents unvaccinated people, including those who are advised not to have the jab such as expectant mothers and those with allergies, from returning to pubs.
 
Honda is to sell its manufacturing plant in Swindon after 36 years in the city. The Japanese firm had been building 160,000 Honda Civics at the plant — its only car factory in the EU – and the move is likely to see 3,500 jobs go before the sale of the 370-acre plant to European logistics company Panattoni completes next spring.
 
Britain's two fastest-growing online used-car marketplaces are seeking new funding to reshape an industry boasting £343bn in annual sales across Europe. Sky News reports that Cinch, which is part of the private equity-backed Constellation Automotive Group, is in talks with private investors to raise approximately £500m of new funding, while Cazoo is finalising a £5bn merger with a US SPAC.
 
Asda store workers have won the first stage of a legal battle in the UK Supreme Court over equal pay, which could lead to a £500m compensation claim, reports Yahoo Finance UK. The case hinges on whether some 40,000 store workers – most of them women - are entitled to compare themselves with mostly male distribution staff for equal pay purposes. Asda bosses argued they are not, but the court disagreed. Now the workers must prove in the second stage that the roles are of "equal value" before a potential third round to examine whether any other factors — other than gender — suggest the roles should not be paid equally.
 
BP has rejected a shareholder resolution calling on the company to set stricter targets to meet goals to combat global warming. Follow This, a group of more than 6,000 shareholders, has submitted a resolution to BP's AGM calling for targets consistent with the Paris climate agreement. BP responded by saying that its strategy was consistent with the Paris goals; that it had set detailed targets; and that changing those would be “an unwelcome distraction.”
 
Two cryptocurrency companies have announced what they say will be the world's first "green" bitcoin mining pool. London-listed Argo Blockchain has signed a preliminary deal with Canada's DMG Blockchain Solutions to combine their computational power to create the Terra Pool, a new bitcoin mining pool powered solely by green hydroelectric power. The move comes amid growing scrutiny of the environmental impact of bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. Research from Digiconomist suggests the annual carbon footprint of cryptocurrencies is comparable to that of the whole of Slovakia, with 5.5 million people, and that the electricity it takes to complete a single Bitcoin transaction would be enough to power an average American household for 25 days.
 
Volkswagen says it plans to claim damages from its former chief executive officer, Martin Winterkorn, and former Audi boss Rupert Stadler over the diesel emissions scandal. Volkswagen admitted in 2015 that it has used illegal software to rig diesel engine tests in the United States. The company has already spent €32bn in fines and other costs.
 
The huge container ship that has been stuck across the Suez Canal for almost a week has reportedly been freed from the shoreline. The course of the 400m-long Ever Given has been corrected by 80%, according to the Suez Canal Authority, raising hopes that traffic along the canal could resume within hours, clearing the way for an estimated $9.6bn (£7bn) of goods being held up each day.
 
China has banned several British MPs and members of the House of Lords from entering any Chinese jurisdiction, or doing any business in China, in response to what is claims are “lies and disinformation" in relating to human rights abuses in Xinjiang. Former Tory party leader Iain Duncan Smith and the Foreign Affairs select committee chair Tom Tugehdhat are among the MPs sanctioned by Beijing, along with Lord David Alton and Baroness Helena Kennedy. Iain Duncan Smith said his inclusion on the list was a "badge of honour".


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