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The Labour party is calling for business rates to be scrapped

   News / 10 Jan 2022

Published: 10 January 2022
Location: London, UK

By Suzanne Evans, Director, Political Insight


The Labour party is calling for business rates to be scrapped to help firms struggling to cope with rising energy prices. The party is also urging the government to introduce a windfall tax on North Sea gas and oil producers to create a £600m fund to support companies. It said it will attempt to force a vote in parliament on the proposal tomorrow.
 
Former Home Secretary Amber Rudd is joining the board of British Gas owner Centrica. Rudd is also a previous energy secretary who oversaw the development of the energy price cap, so finds herself joining the energy supplier at a time when the government is under intense pressure to change it. She was also a high-profile opponent of Brexit before the referendum, warning during the campaign that electricity costs could soar if the UK quit the EU single energy market.
 
The government is under pressure from two energy suppliers to scrap both the 5% VAT levy and the green levies imposed on bills to help customers facing higher prices. The founder of Ecotricity described the green levies on energy bills as a "stealth tax" of hundreds of pounds a year, and Centrica's boss is urging government to fund green programmes through general taxation instead. Ecotricity CEO Dale Vince told the BBC's Wake up to Money programme: "The government talk about high energy prices and bemoan them... but what they don't talk about is the fact they take £9bn a year from our energy bills in a combination of VAT and about five social and environmental policies." Meanwhile, writing in the Sun on Friday, Centrica's chief executive Chris O'Shea suggested one way forward would be to strip the environmental and social levies out of energy bills and "fund 'green' programmes through general taxation instead". O'Shea argued the move would reduce annual bills by £170 and spread the cost more fairly. He also called on the government to consider suspending VAT on energy bills to help struggling households. Centrica-owned British Gas says suspending value-added tax on energy bills could shave 100 pounds of a typical bill, while cutting environmental and social levies could reduce bills by 170 pounds "overnight". Currently, about 12% of an energy bill set at the level of the Energy Price Cap of £1,277 goes towards funding green energy programmes, such as support for low-carbon electricity generation, the BBC says.
 
Better insulation could save UK households more than £500 a year on energy bills, according to a group of business organisations and charities. The BBCsays the Energy Efficiency Infrastructure Group is calling on the prime minister to prioritise energy saving through home improvements. It could save the UK £7.8bn a year, the group says.
 
One of Scotland's two nuclear power plants has shut down after almost 46 years of generating electricity. Over its lifetime, Hunterston B had produced enough energy to power every home in Scotland for nearly 31 years. The plant was originally scheduled to only be in operation for 25 years, but investment meant its lifespan could be extended.
 
Bookmaker Ladbrokes claimed £102m from the government furlough scheme, despite rapid growth in online betting making up for all losses from the closure of stores, the BBC said on Saturday. Accounts for Ladbrokes Gaming and Betting Ltd, a subsidiary company of Entain, filed with Companies House and published on Thursday show a claim for £57.5m of furlough cash in 2020. The firm is believed to have claimed a further £44m in 2021. Since the pandemic began, Entain has increased revenues because of strong online growth. Entain said the furlough money protected 14,000 jobs and is “under review.” There is no suggestion the company did anything wrong in making the claim or retaining the money.
 
Tony and Cherie Blair are also coming under pressure over furlough payments totalling £76,000 that were claimed on behalf of employees during Covid lockdowns over the past two years. Both were named as recipients, rather than any specific company, however a spokesperson for the couple said the payments were made for staff at Cherie Blair’s law firm. Although there is no suggestion that the couple broke any rules, some MPs have said they should consider returning the money. Norman Baker, the Liberal DemocratMP, said: 'Why can't a law firm work from home? There can be no justification. This looks like an attempt to grab as much money as possible from the public purse irrespective of need and it leaves a very sour taste in the mouth.' Former Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron MP said: 'The Blairs are not the only people on the scheme who don't appear to need it but have accessed it. I think there are a lot of people out there who need to have a long hard look at themselves and ask whether they took advantage of a scheme that they could afford not to use.' The controversy comes just as the number of people demanding that Sir Tony be stripped of his New Year knighthood has topped one million signatures
 
The Unite union is claiming the Government is “playing Russian roulette” with road safety because of a “panicked” change to cabotage rules last year to address the haulage driver shortage. Unite says its Freedom of Information request to the Department for Transport proves the new scheme - which allows companies from anywhere in the world to send lorries with foreign drivers to the UK to work unlimited hours in any 14-day period - is not being monitored. Unite General secretary Sharon Graham said: "This is sheer incompetence by the government, which is playing Russian roulette with British road users…It introduced this knee-jerk reaction to the lorry driver crisis last year; now they tell us they don't know how many foreign lorry drivers have come, how many hours they work when they are here, and if they go home after the 14-day working period.
 
Virgin Media O2 has ruled out bringing back European roaming chargespost-Brexit in a move that will heap pressure on its rivals to scrap their fees. The Telegraph said on Friday that the newly-combined company is poised to become the only mobile network not to bring back the charges, as it tries to take on BT's dominance of the mobile and broadband markets. Mobile operators Three, Vodafone and BT's EE have all said they will reapply roaming charges this year.
 
Sainsbury’s is increasing hourly pay by more than 12% for grocery delivery drivers and more than 5% for its lowest paid shop workers. Basic pay for shop workers at Sainsbury’s supermarkets and the Argos catalogue chain will rise to a minimum of £10 an hour from the current £9.50 from 6 March. The company said the change would cost £100m. Grocery delivery drivers’ meanwhile will see pay rise to £11.50 an hour. Argos drivers will receive an extra 25p an hour on top of basic pay in addition to a 75p existing supplement, taking their total to £11 an hour. Sainsbury’s staff will also get a 15% discount in stores for five days around each payday. Argos, Sainsbury’s and Habitat staff will continue to get a 10% discount at other times. The new rates of pay exceed the legal minimum wage for people aged 25 and older, which rises from £8.91 to £9.50 an hour from April.
 
Morrisons says it will scrap "use by" dates on most of its milk in a bid to reduce food waste. From the end of January, the supermarket chain will state "best before" dates on 90% of its own-brand milk and will encourage customers to use a sniff test to check quality instead.
 
Dublin-based drinks group C&C, the company behind the Magners and Bulmers cider brands have said trading was significantly hit last month by fresh covid restrictions brought in to tackle the spread of Omicron. It said "on-trade" conditions last month were "significantly impacted" by rules outlined by governments in the UK and Ireland, which dented hopes pre-Christmas trading would see sales recover to close to pre-pandemic levels. C&C, which also owns brands including Tennent's Scottish lager, said December, its "key festive trading period" saw it trade with 81% of the outlets it sold drinks to before the pandemic and deliver 64% of the volume. C&C said annual profits would be affected by the "nature, extent and duration" of restrictions. Wetherspoons has claimed previously that the action amounted to a "lockdown by stealth".
 
Aston Martin has said sales to dealers surged 82% in 2021 on the back of sales of its DBX sports utility model. Chief executive Tobias Moers said: "With a full year of Aston Martin Valkyrie programme deliveries in 2022 we are expecting to deliver significant growth, in addition to the launch of our second DBX derivative, intended to disrupt the performance luxury SUV market and the final edition of the V12 Vantage." Aston Martin sold 6,182 cars to dealers last year and executive chairman Lawrence Stroll said retail sales were well ahead of wholesales "supported by strong pricing and improving residual values". "It is a very long time since the core business was in such good health as it is today," he added.
 
Norfolk-based Lotus sold 1,710 cars worldwide in 2021 - its best performance in a decade - despite this being the year the iconic Elise, Exige and Evoraended production. This compares with 1,378 sales in 2020, an increase of 24%, the firm said. Most cars were bought by US customers, followed by the Japanese, and then Brits. Last year, the British marque invested £100 million in its UK sites, launched the Emira sports car and created hundreds of new jobs.
 
Sky News has learnt that Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Group is drawing up detailed plans to list a new special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) in Amsterdam in the coming months. The choice of Amsterdam's stock market may be interpreted as a snub to the London market given that Virgin Group is based in the UK and that British regulators have reformed listing rules to make it easier to pursue SPAC deals in London. One source said the Amsterdam-listed vehicle would probably seek to raise an initial sum of around €200m, although the final details have yet to be determined. SPACs, which are listed pools of blind capital raised from investors to pursue a merger with a private company, have been an engine of global deal-making activity for the last two years, resulting in hundreds of billions of dollars-worth of corporate tie-ups, Sky says.
 
A former Lloyds Bank employee who claimed he was discriminated against for being a “white heterosexual male” has had his case thrown out by a judge, the Telegraph reported on Friday. The claimant, referred to as Mr B Drummond in court filings, accused the UK's largest high street bank of discriminating against "white heterosexual males" after he scored poorly at work and missed out on various jobs. He argued that because of "direct sex and race discrimination" he was ranked in the bottom 5% of large corporate employees, was put at risk of redundancy and was rejected for a secondment. He also claimed that he missed out on a job as a result of "race discrimination" as the successful candidate was "not white British", and said individuals involved in his complaints were a "close-knit management group" who "operated under the same cultural mores". However, the case was rejected as Drummond waited over a year to take his case to the employment tribunal, meaning he missed the official deadline to file a claim, and his application for an extension was dismissed.
 
Real estate investment trust Segro has tapped the current chairman of Dunelm Group, Andy Harrison, to succeed Gerald Corbett as chairman, effective from 30 June. Harrison was previously the chief executive of Whitbread, EasyJet and the RAC, and will join the board as a non-executive director on 1 April before taking over as chair when Corbett departs the firm later in the year.
 
WH Smith is seeking a new Chairman and has appointed Lygon Group to handle the search.  Henry Staunton, a former ITV finance chief, has been on the WH Smith board since 2010 and has chaired the business since 2013. City best practice means he can stay on no longer.
 
The president of crisis-hit Sri Lanka has asked China to restructure its debt repayments as part of efforts to help the South Asian country navigate its worsening financial situation, the BBC reports. In recent months, Sri Lanka has been experiencing a severe debt and foreign exchange crisis, which has been made worse by the loss of tourist income during the pandemic. Gotabaya Rajapaksa made the request during a meeting with Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi on Sunday. In the last decade China has lent Sri Lanka over $5bn (£3.7bn) for projects including roads, an airport and ports. But critics say the money was used for unnecessary schemes with low returns.  China was also asked to provide "concessional" terms for its exports to Sri Lanka, which amounted to around $3.5bn last year, and Rajapaksa also offered to allow Chinese tourists to return to Sri Lanka provided they adhere to strict coronavirus regulations. Before the pandemic China was Sri Lanka's main source of tourists and it imports more goods from China than from any other country. China is Sri Lanka's fourth biggest lender, behind international financial markets, the Asian Development Bank and Japan. Last month a Sri Lankan government minister said the country planned to settle a debt for past oil imports from Iran by paying it off in tea. It plans to send $5m worth of tea to Iran each month to clear a $251m debt. In September, Sri Lanka declared an economic emergency, after a steep fall in the value of its currency, the rupee, caused a spike in food prices. Authorities said they would take control of the supply of basic food items, including rice and sugar, and set prices in an attempt to control rising inflation.


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