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The government is to form a new state-owned body, Great British Railways. Business, Media & Marketing…

   NEWS / 21 May 2021

Published: 21 May 2021

By Suzanne Evans, Director, Political Insight


Transport Secretary Grant Shapps announced yesterday that the government is to form a new state-owned body, Great British Railways, to replace an "overcomplicated and fragmented" system, set rail timetables and prices, sell tickets in England, and manage rail infrastructure. The move - the biggest shake-up since the 1990s - will mean that the rail industry will still be run by private companies but under a management contract, similar to the system in place on the London Overground. According to the Telegraph, it will take around nine months to get the new site up and running. Britain's 26 rail operators will migrate onto the platform as existing contracts expire.
 
Shares in the online ticket platform Trainline plunged by as much as a third on news that Great British Railways will sell tickets, although they ended the day down 23%, but falling some 3% further this morning. Trainline said government plans to introduce a rival web service would take "several years" to develop, adding that its own app is a "huge differentiator and hard to replicate". "As a long-term partner and technology provider to the UK rail industry, we look forward to working with the government in formulating the detail around future ticketing proposals," the company said in a statement.
 
The Competition and Markets Authority yesterday gave the go-ahead to a multi-billion-pound merger between broadband company Virgin Media and UK mobile network O2 after a month-long review. Virgin Media, which has around 5.3m customers is owned by John Malone's Liberty Global. O2, a unit of Spain's Telefonica, is the UK's biggest mobile phone operator with around 36.6m customers across its networks, which also include giffgaff, Tesco Mobile, Sky Mobile and Lycamobile.
 
EasyJet has been forced to scale back its summer schedule following confusion from government ministers over when holidaymakers should jet off on holiday. Chief executive Johan Lundgren admitted to being baffled by advice on flying abroad.  “There's a traffic system where green doesn't mean green because you have restrictions, and amber is sometimes red, and sometimes it is green, but with more restrictions,” he said. “You have to respect the fact that people are confused about this.” He said ministers will face tough questions from the travel industry if they refused to put more countries on the green list soon. EasyJet expects to fly just 15pc of its pre-pandemic flight schedule before the end of June, lower than the 20pc guided last month.
 
Four in 10 UK companies expect their annual trade with the EU to fall in the coming year, according to a survey of 738 Insititute of Directors' members who trade with the EU or who have temporarily suspended EU trade. One in five believed trade would increase. The survey also found some 60% of British firms are still finding it challenging to adjust to new trading arrangements brought on by Brexit.
 
Debenhams' remaining stores will close for the final time tomorrow, ending more than 240 years of retail history. The department store chain, a staple of high streets since 1778, collapsed amid the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic when repeated shutdowns took shoppers away from traditional department store models and moved them online.
 
Virgin Galactic Holdings has set its next test flight for tomorrow, pending weather and technical checks. The company had hoped to begin its space tourism enterprise by the end of this year but has faced huge setbacks because of pandemic-related delays and engineering issues. If the flight goes ahead, it will be crewed by two pilots and carry research payloads for NASA, meaning Virgin Galactic will generate revenue for the first time.
 
Pub chain Young & Co's Brewery swung to a before tax loss of £44.1m in the year to March 29, down from a profit of £37.7m the year prior. Revenue fell 70% to £90.6m. However bosses say they are hopeful business will return to pre-pandemic levels by next month. The company invested £17m in its properties, which included upgrades to outdoor spaces, adding boutique rooms and relaunching its Burger Shack brand. Outdoor trading in the 144 pubs that it was able to open on 12 April was "encouraging, achieving 85% of normal trade over a five-week period," the company said in a statement, adding that "we are pleased to have opened all our remaining pubs this week."
 
UK-listed National Grid, which owns and operates electricity and gas transmission and distribution networks in Britain and the United States, has partnered with German utility RWE to develop offshore wind projects in America.
 
Travis Perkins is to dispose of its Plumbing & Heating distribution business to an affiliate of H.I.G. Capital, a global alternative investment firm, for a cash consideration of £325m. The transaction is expected to be completed within the next three months. Alongside the recent demerger of Wickes, this sale completes the Group's portfolio actions as outlined in December 2018. Shareholders will benefit from a 35p per share special dividend and, subject to market conditions, a share buyback programme.
 
Real estate company St Modwen, which is based in Birmingham and develops and manages industrial properties, has agreed a £1.2bn buyout deal with US private equity and investment firm BlackStone. The offer of 542p a share represented a 21% premium to the company’s closing price of 448p a day before the deal was first announced. The company’s board is recommending shareholders accept the bid.
 
Almost a quarter of shareholder votes opposed 888's pay policy at its AGM yesterday in a protest against a potential £1.3m annual bonus for Chief Executive John Mendelsohn. 68.1 million votes were cast against the policy and a further 2.8m abstained. The gaming company awarded Mendelsohn a 9% pay rise this year, taking his salary to £650,000, and increased his maximum annual bonus to 200% of salary from 150%. The company said it did so to reflect its bigger size and Mendelsohn's extra responsibilities. The revolt at 888 is the latest in a series of shareholder protests. Two days ago Pendragon, the car dealership, received only 57.6% support for its pay report, which awarded CEO Mike Wright a big bonus after the company cut 1,800 jobs and accepted government financial support during the pandemic.
 
Daimler Truck and Shell New Energies have signed an agreement whereby Shell has committed to setting up hydrogen-refuelling stations at the Port of Rotterdam in the Netherlands, and in Cologne and Hamburg ports in Germany, for the heavy-duty trucks Daimler will sell to its customers. Daimler Truck aims to start delivering the hydrogen trucks to customers in 2025.
 
Ford launched the electric version of its bestselling F-150 pickup truck late on Wednesday in a move seen by experts as a "huge" step in the company's shift towards low-emission cars. Ford's F-Series has been the US's best-selling vehicle since the 1970s.
 
Spotify is expanding further into audiobooks through a partnership with Storytel which will allow existing Storytel subscribers to access their audiobooks within Spotify's app. The partnership is the first example of what is possible with Spotify's recently introduced Open Access Platform, which aims to give creators and publishers a way to extend their reach. “Storytel offers more than 500,000 audiobooks on a global basis across 25 markets," said Jonas Tellander, Storytel founder and chief executive officer.
 
Google is to open its first retail store in New York this summer to sell Pixel phones, Fitbit wearables, PixelbooksNest thermostats, speakers, and more. The store will also offer technical support for the company's devices, including fixing cracked phone screens.
 
Oatly, the plant-based milk company whose celebrity backers include Oprah Winfrey and Natalie Portman, saw its shares soar on its US stock market launch. The Swedish-based firm set its debut share price at $17 each, but that shot to $22 in opening trading, valuing Oatly at more than $13bn (£9.2bn). Oatly is raising $1.43bn through the initial public offering, which chief executive Toni Petersson said would be used to expand production.


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