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The start of formal trade talks between the UK and India will be announced in New Delhi today

   News / 13 Jan 2022

Published: 13 January 2022
Location: London, UK

By Suzanne Evans, Director, Political Insight

The start of formal trade talks between the UK and India will be announced in New Delhi today. India is on course to become the third largest economy in the world by 2050, and the government hopes UK-India trade will double over the course of this decade, the BBC says. Trade Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan calls the prospect of a free trade deal with India "a golden opportunity". British officials say both sides are keen to get a UK-India deal agreed by the end of the year.
The US is in no rush to agree a deal to ease tariffs on British steel, the country's top trade official indicated yesterday. Trade Representative Katherine Tai said the border taxes on British steel and aluminium exports would be addressed "when the time is right". British exporters currently pay a 25% duty on steel shipments to the US, while their European counterparts are able to export to the US tariff-free. A deal was struck last year suspending Florida Man-era tariffs of 25% on steel and 10% on aluminium levied on European products but leaving them in place on UK exports.
The government has paused the rollout of new "all-lane running" “smart” motorways while their safety is assessed, putting on hold a previous announcement that up to 400 miles of so-called smart motorway would be rolled out across England by 2025. The practice of using the hard shoulder as a permanent live traffic lane increases capacity but Transport Committee MPs investigating concluded in November that the scheme contributes to road deaths and injuries to such an extent that it cannot be justified by either safety or economic data, and recommended the programme was suspended. Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said on LinkedIn: “Today, I am pausing the rollout of new ALR motorways until 5 years of safety data is available. We will use the time while schemes are paused to ensure existing smart motorways are equipped with best-in-class technology and resources and are as safe as they can possibly be.” Highways England said there are roughly 400 miles of smart motorway already in action, and that hard shoulders will not be reinstated on these stretches while the review takes place. A Freedom of Information request in 2020 revealed 38 people had been killed on smart motorways in the previous five years, Sky News says. It also showed the number of "near misses" had increased on one section of motorway by 2,000% to 1,485 in the five years since it had been converted.
Startups raised more venture capital funding worldwide than ever last year, Bloomberg reports. In 2021, investors more than doubled the amount of cash they handed out to new businesses, hitting $621 billion globally, according to new data from research firm CB Insights. The US accounted for about half of the world’s funding total, with startups in the country raising about $311 billion, according to the report. The Silicon Valley region and New York retained their top spots for both the most money raised and the most deals completed.
Ovo Energy, the UK's third-biggest gas and electricity supplier, is to cut a quarter of its workforce as part of a restructuring aimed at saving costs amid the deepening industry crisis. Sky News has learnt that Ovo could announce details of its plans as soon as today, with roughly 1,700 out of 6,200 roles expected to be lost as part of a voluntary redundancy programme.
The Independent reports that chemicals and engineering company Johnson Matthey (JM) has revealed plans to close its battery materials arm in a move that is set to affect around 430 staff. The FTSE 250 firm put the division up for sale in November, saying it was unable to compete with alternative technologies and larger, lower cost manufacturers, but has been unable to strike a deal. JM says it is now in active talks over asset sales and hopes to transfer some jobs as part of any potential deals, while redeploying remaining workers internally to “minimise” redundancies. The majority of the division’s staff are based in the UK, across offices in Billingham in the North East, Royston near Cambridge, and a technology centre outside Oxford. There are also some overseas staff in Poland, Finland and Canada.
French-owned Veolia is set to open new electric vehicle battery recycling plant in the UK. The West Midlands facility will have sufficient capacity to process 20% of the UK’s end of life electric vehicle batteries by 2024.
The head of Sainsbury’s has warned that households face a “challenging” year as the supermarket escalated a grocery price war by promising to keep food bills as low as possible. The UK’s second-largest supermarket pledged a renewed focus on value as it relaunched its Aldi price match campaign to include more fresh products across fish, meat and poultry. CEO Simon Roberts said Sainsbury’s will strive to offer the best value amid a cost of living squeeze crisis. Both Aldi and Lidl have vowed to undercut all supermarket competitors on prices this year.
Sainsbury’s says it will make £60m more in annual profits than predicted after enjoying better than expected food and drink sales over Christmas. Underlying profits of £720m for the year to 8 January, are now expected, up from £660m, boosted by better than hoped for grocery sales, improved profit margins on non-food items, and lower than feared bad debts at its banking arm. The UK’s second largest supermarket says shoppers bought more champagne than ever before and that despite online grocery sales being down 15% year on year, they are still almost double pre-pandemic levels. 
Premier Inn owner Whitbread says it expects cost inflation for the hospitality sector to reach 7-8% in the coming months. Higher labour costs, rising energy bills and increased construction costs for its new hotels are putting pressure on the FTSE 100 company, says CEO Alison Brittain. The group said it expected to offset increased costs by charging higher rates for rooms in its 800 Premier Inn hotels, as well as through cost efficiencies and by growing its estate. The company, which also owns restaurant chains including Beefeater, Bar + Block, and Brewers Fayre, said higher levels of inflation would affect about £1.4bn of its cost base until April 2023. Brittain said the company had brought in a 5% staff pay rise in the last quarter of 2021, in order to retain workers and attract new ones amid a squeeze on hospitality staff, and that she anticipated increasing wages again in the spring for staff who are paid hourly rates. The firm also revealed it had delayed about £20 million of planned spending on marketing and refurbishments this year due to supply chain and trading challenges, especially with some materials being hard to source.
Whitbread has also revealed around 3,000 of its employees – some 10% of the groups workforce - are off work as the Omicron variant takes its toll on workforces and hits trading across its chain. The chain said it was too early to tell the impact of the Omicron hit to trade over the full year, with January and February already traditionally the quietest months for the group. It said it still hopes Premier Inn hotel trading will recover to pre-Covid levels this year, despite the current woes. 
Pret A Manger is raising basic pay for thousands of workers for the second time since September, this time to more than £10 per hour. The move follows the lead of other retailers and complains by some Pret staff about pay and workloads during the pandemic. Basic pay rates will inrease from between £9.40 and £9.56 to between £9.80 and £10.15 per hour, with baristas being paid more. That means at least 6,900 of its more than 8,500 staff will be paid over £10 per hour, the BBC says. Pret has 550 shops around the world. 
Student property firm Unite Group says it has already sold 60% of its entire property portfolio for the next academic year, up from 58% at the same time last year, and that it expects to see strong student demand for the 2022-23 year from both domestic and international students. The FTSE 250-listed firm said this was supportive of its guidance for full occupancy and rental growth of 3-3.5% for the 2022-23 academic year.
Food delivery company Just Eat Takeaway.com remained upbeat about the year ahead as it announced that the number of orders last year grew 33% to 1.1 billion. The gross transaction value for the orders was €28.2bn (£23.5bn) for the full year, representing an increase of 31% compared with 2020. The UK & Ireland was the fastest growing segment for the year, as Just Eat announced several on-demand grocery delivery partnerships, including with Asda and One Stop in the UK. The company plans to continue to invest heavily, especially in its London network, and expects to further improve profitability in 2022. Chief executive Jitse Groen said: "Following the merger of Just Eat and Takeaway.com nearly two years ago, we made significant investments to grow our leadership positions and the company is now six times bigger in terms of orders.”
FTSE 250 electronic and software tech company Ultra Electronics has been awarded a major contract with the Indian Navy, in partnership with Mahindra Defence Systems. Ultra said yesterday it had been chosen for the navy's Integrated Anti-Submarine Warfare Defence Suite programme for selected frontline warships, a powerful multi-sensor ASW capability using an in-line active and passive towed low-frequency variable depth sonar, as well as torpedo defence with embedded detection, classification and localisation to defeat detected torpedo threats. The contract was said to be worth approximately £60m to Ultra, with deliveries due to commence in 2024 and be completed by 2030.
Advertising and communications agency S4 Capital announced a merger of its Media Monks division with 4 Mile Analytics yesterday. The London-listed firm, led by industry veteran Sir Martin Sorrell, said the combination of 4 Mile Analytics with Media Monks would "significantly expand" the capabilities of its data and digital media practice, augment its global analytics capabilities, and expand its client base.
Facebook and Twitter are failing to tackle fake review factories that are rife on both platforms, according to a new investigation by consumer group Which? This "fake and incentivised" industry uses the social media giants to find people to give five-star ratings to mediocre products sold on Amazon to give them a higher overall rating, in return for free items, Yahoo Finance UK reports. Fake review groups on Facebook with hundreds of thousands of members between them were found to be using the site to get fake positive ratings for tens of thousands of products across more than 130 brands posted on Amazon. Trading, or facilitating the trading of, fake reviews, is likely to be in breach of consumer law. The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) first started examining the problem in 2019 but sites such as Facebook have failed to bring an end to this kind of activity, with implications for consumer trust in online reviews. The government has also proposed measures to tackle the trading of bogus reviews as part of its consumer and competition reforms.
Plans by Amazon to stop accepting UK-issued Visa credit cards appear to remain on track as it was reported in yesterday’s Mirror that the two sides had yet to reach agreement. Amazon first announced in November that it would no longer accept Visa from 19 January 2022 because of the "high" fees Visa charged for processing credit card transactions. It also offered customers £20 off their next item if they swapped to an alternative payment method. Visa responded by saying it was disappointed by the decision, and that it would "continue to work toward a resolution". Visa debit cards will still be accepted.
Making a single claim on your home insurance can push up insurance costs by more than 50%, according to a new study from consumer group Which? Customers who have made one claim on their home insurance pay an average 57% — or £91 — more than those who have not made any claims. In comparison, motorists with two recent car insurance claims only paid an average of 8% — or £69 — more than those who hadn’t made any claims. Almost a third (30%) of home claims were for accidental loss or damage at home, a quarter (25%) were because of escape of water and 9% were to cover thefts from the home, all of which could call for complex or expensive replacements, or potential concerns about the security of the claimant's home, Whch? said.
The UK’s commercial property market needs stronger oversight and stricter rules governing property valuation in order to bolster trust in the process, a review commissioned by the Standards and Regulation Board of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) concludes. Recommendations include the introduction of a valuation compliance officer role for RICS regulated firms undertaking valuation, the creation of a dedicated valuation panel and further guidance on the culture within this sector and the behaviour expected of valuation professionals. The proposals would apply to major UK and global assets such as shopping centres, offices and business parks. “The recommended changes for stronger oversight will underpin future stability and market confidence in this major asset class – much of which is funded through pensions and savings – and are therefore very much in the public interest,” said the Standards and Regulation Board’s chair, Janet Paraskeva.
The Insolvency Service has decided to take no further action against former directors of Thomas Cook, the 178 year-old tour operator which fell into compulsory liquidation in 2019, Sky News has been told. Former directors of what was one of Britain's biggest travel companies will be formally cleared of wrongdoing by the government's bankruptcy watchdog after a probe lasting more than two years, the broadcaster says. The collapse of Thomas Cook triggered thousands of job losses and a huge repatriation effort led by the Civil Aviation Authority which was the largest of its kind in peacetime. An inquiry by the Commons business select committee - chaired at the time by the Labour MP Rachel Reeves - said its directors had exhibited "a lack of challenge in the boardroom as the company piled up debt and Thomas Cook management missed opportunities to reduce debt levels and give the business a viable future".

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