Published: 31 January 2022
Location: London, UK
Sky News says it has obtained the list of 28 members of the prime minister's new Build Back Better Council, convened by Mr Johnson and Rishi Sunak, the chancellor, in January 2021, and that it is a completely 50/50 gender-balanced line-up. The new council will include Alice Bentinck of Entrepreneur First, Greg Jackson, founder and chief executive of Octopus, the energy supplier, and Dame Anne Richards, chief executive of Fidelity International. Baroness Shields, the Conservative peer who runs Benevolent AI, Joanna Swash, founder of the professional services business Moneypenny, and Nigel Toon, boss of the artificial intelligence-led chipmaker Graphcore, are also on the list. FTSE-100 chiefs involved in the new council are Amanda Blanc, the Aviva chief executive; Ben van Beurden, the Shellchief executive; Alison Brittain, CEO of Whitbread; Charlie Nunn, CEO of Lloyds Banking Group; Julie Brown, the Burberry finance and operating chief; Paula Rosput Reynolds, National Grid chair; and Anita Frew, the Rolls-Royce chair.
Plans to "breathe fresh life into disadvantaged communities" across England have been announced as part of the government's Levelling Up White Paper. Wolverhampton and Sheffield will be the first of 20 areas picked to benefit from a "radical new regeneration programme" launched by the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC), Sky News says. The Treasury last year allocated a £1.8bn sum for brownfield regeneration.
UK firms are being urged to check their cyber defences by spy agency GCHQamid concerns over potential Russian cyberattacks linked to growing tensions with Ukraine. The National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), part of the UK’s signals intelligence body GCHQ, updated its guidance also says it is investigating recent reports of “malicious cyber incidents in Ukraine”. "While we are unaware of any specific cyber threats to UK organisations in relation to events in Ukraine, we are monitoring the situation closely and it is vital that organisations follow the guidance to ensure they are resilient,” the NCSC’s director of operations, Paul Chichester, said. "Over several years, we have observed a pattern of malicious Russian behaviour in cyber space. Last week's incidents in Ukraine bear the hallmarks of similar Russian activity we have observed before," Chichester added. GCHQ has previously warned businesses involved in the UK’s critical national infrastructure – i.e. energy, water supply, transportation and telecommunications – about specific vulnerabilities Russian hackers have been known to exploit.
The government is announcing changes to how airline passengers on UK domestic flights are to be compensated for delays due to circumstances within their airlines’ control. Passengers will have the right to a partial refund of their fare after a one-hour delay instead of the current three-hour minimum, rising to 50% after two and a full refund after waiting three hours. The Guardian says this could see many people receive less money than before as, under EU regulations, which Britain has retained after Brexit, passengers are entitled to at least a £220 payout after three hours’ delay. However, the Department for Transport says the new model, based on the way rail and ferry operatorsoffer compensation for delays, would be a significant shift and fairer. Budget airlines have long argued levels of compensation mandated can outstrip the fare paid. The government may also force all airlines to be part of the aviation industry’s alternative dispute resolution [ADR] scheme, which allows passengers to escalate complaints without recourse to legal action. Membership is currently voluntary and Ryanair quit the scheme in 2019.
Home Secretary Priti Patel has approved the extradition of British entrepreneur Mike Lynch to the US to answer criminal fraud charges. The technology tycoon has just lost a multi-billion pound fraud action brought over the sale of his software company Autonomy to Hewlett-Packard (HP) in 2011, in which Dr Lynch stood accused of deliberately overstating the value of his business before it was acquired by HP more than a decade ago. In what was believed to be the UK's biggest civil fraud trial, a High Court judge found HP had "substantially" succeeded in its lawsuit but indicated the US firm would get considerably less than the $5bn (£3.7bn) it had sought in damages. Now the Briton faces criminal charges including wire fraud and securities fraud, relating to the deal, in the US. Lynch’s lawyers say they will fight the Home Secretary’s order at the High Court.
Brits in the lowest income bracket are struggling with the rising cost of living, spending a third of their budgets on food and household bills, while the richest spend only a fifth of their money on these items, according to the latest experimental figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS). Meanwhile, high-income households’ experience of inflation is most affected by rising transport costs, on which they spend a larger proportion of the expenditure in comparison, as well as spending more on restaurants, accommodation, recreation and culture. The ONS estimates that low-income households in December experienced annual consumer price inflation of 5.3%, while high-income households saw inflation of 5.5%.
A planned rise in National Insurance from April will "unquestionably place a further squeeze" on budgets and risk stunting economic growth, the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) says. The CBI said firms "weren't supportive" of the tax increase when it was first announced, and "they're still not". The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) also says the rise could "spell the end for a lot of small firms". The government has said the increase will help clear the NHS backlog.
Private sector growth slowed in the three months to January, according to the latest indicator from the Confederation of British Industry (CBI). It was the second consecutive survey in which growth had eased, with the figure coming in at 12% compared to 21% in the quarter to December. The figures were also the slowest rate of growth since the three months to April 2021. Only the distribution sector saw faster growth than the previous rolling quarter, up 38% from a previous 21%. In contrast, growth in manufacturing output eased, up just 14% compared to 29%, and business and professional services volumes also slowed to 9% from 16%. Consumer services activity fell for the first time since the three months to June 2021, a reading of -23% from +23% in December, bearing the brunt of Plan B restrictions and general Omicron caution. Private sector activity is expected to grow at a similarly modest pace in the next three months at 10%, the CBI said, marking the lowest expectations for growth since the quarter to February 2021.
Business confidence in the UK has remained steady despite concerns around rising prices and inflation, according to the latest business barometer from Lloyds Bank. Although confidence took a marginal dip in January, down one point to 39%, confidence remains above the long-term average of 28%.
The British Airways (BA) CEO Sean Doyle has written to customers explaining how the airline hopes to “emerge from the worst crisis in our 102-year history.” “To be frank, we’ve been moving from one set of restrictions to another and the amount of change we’ve been dealing with over the past couple of years from week to week has been relentless,” he said in an email sent yesterday afternoon, adding: “After the recent news from the UK Government around the removal of restrictions, it’s time to get Britain moving again.” He also said BA will be continuing to provide the free water and snacks the company has been offering on short-haul flights in its Euro Traveller cabin during the pandemic. Complimentary food and drink in economy class was ditched on short-haul flights in a £400 million-a-year cost-cutting exercise six years ago.
The owner of Britain's biggest chain of upmarket holiday villages is to launch a £4bn auction of the business after recording the most profitable half-year in its history despite pandemic-related operating constraints. Sky News has learnt that Brookfield Property Partners, the Canadian property giant, is paving the way to sell Center Parcs UK potentially as soon as this year.
Virgin Media O2 plans to launch a fibre network-building joint venture with owners Liberty Global and Telefonica SA, as the group aims to take on BT Group in the high-speed broadband market, the Financial Times reported on Sunday. The new company is seeking a substantial sum from third-party investors and the external capital injection could eventually total as much as 1 billion pounds, another report from Sky news said.
One of the largest shareholders in De La Rue has criticised management strategy and pushed the board to consider a break-up or sale after the banknote printer's profit warning this week. Richard Bernstein, head of activist investor Crystal Amber, told the Financial Times (FT) the company had lost money for shareholders by focusing on volume sales of its currency rather than on gross profit. Bernstein told the FT that De La Rue had sacrificed most of its £36m of cost savings by reducing prices, leading to a commodification of its banknotes. The industry required consolidation, he argued, saying it was "highly likely" that in the coming months De La Rue "will be the subject of a takeover bid from one or more of its overseas competitors" and confirmed he had held talks with a number of rival groups about a potential bid.
The owner of British Gas is bracing for an assault from activist investors eager to take advantage of the global energy crisis. The Telegraph says Centrica is understood to be preparing contingency plans with investment bankers from Goldman Sachs against a raid by hedge funds, having been alerted to the possibility after large stakes worth hundreds of millions of pounds changed hands through accounts fronted by investment banks last week. A 5% tranche of Centrica stock was also bought a fortnight ago through a Bank of Americanominee account. Industry insiders said that Centrica’s board, led by chairman Scott Wheway, a former director of Boots, is preparing its defence ahead of an activist investor appearing on the company's share register. Centrica declined to comment.
Education group Pearson has agreed to buy the certification company Credlyto expand its offering to businesses looking to train and retain workers at a time of tight labour markets and rapid technological innovation. The FTSE-100global learning company says it is buying Credly in a deal that valued it at $200 million. Pearson already owned 20% of Credly and will have around 1,000 enterprise clients when it adds Credly to its Workforce Skills division.
FTSE-250 cell and gene therapy specialist Oxford Biomedica has announced it is to acquire an 80% interest in a newly formed adeno-associated virus vector (AAV)-focussed firm Homology Medicines, and that it will be issuing a placing of new shares to raise £80m. on 4th February.
London-listed Sabre Insurance said on Friday that it has signed a five-year agreement with Freeway, a UK distributor of taxi insurance, to become the exclusive underwriter for policies issued by the company's managing general agent. Sabre is not paying a financial consideration to Freeway and will not be liable for any historical policies, claims or activities of business written previously by Freeway, Sharecast News says. The agreement, which will become effective 1 March, will provide Sabre to grow its taxi book in conjunction with an expert partner. Taxi insurance currently accounts for around £1m of its total annual premium, but the deal with
Freeway is expected to generate an additional annual gross written premium of approximately £20m, and generate an additional £2-4m of annual profit.
FTSE-250 British food producer Cranswick said this morning that it had acquired dry dog food manufacturer Grove Pet Foods for an undisclosed sum. Cranswick stated the addition of Grove Pet Foods, which owns the Vitalin and Alpha Feeds brands and operates predominantly from Lincolnshire, represented a "platform for future growth" in the "attractive UK pet food market".
Indian-owned Ola Electric is set to open a new £100 million electric vehicle engineering and design centre in the UK. The Coventry-based 'Futurefoundry' facility is expected to create 200 jobs.
A German court has halted a case brought by Ocado against Norwegian robotics company AutoStore. The two firms, both of which make robots to use for food picking in warehouses, have been locked in legal battles around the world over patent infringement claims. Last month, a US court threw out AutoStore's attempts to claim patent infringement by Ocado but now the tables are turned, as the German court says it believes Ocado’s Intellectual Propertyrights in the legal action may be invalid because the claim was seeking to cover more than had been disclosed in the application for the utility models as originally filed.
Smart Metering Systems say chief executive Alan Foy is to step down on 1stMarch to be replaced by Chief Operating Officer Tim Mortlock.
Swedish fashion chain H&M is to cut 2,950 jobs “mostly due to the expiry of temporary contracts, probationary employment coming to an end and natural attrition”. Figures from its full-year report show that staff numbers dropped around 3% last year. Jobs will also go as the firm continues a programme of store openings and closures: last year the firm opened up 104 new stores and closed 321 spaces, and this year plans to open around 120 new stores and close around 240 stores globally. It will also launch in six new markets: Ecuador, Kosovo, North Macedonia and, via franchise, in Costa Rica, Guatemala and Cambodia.
Rightmove data for January shows that Bexhill-on-Sea was the biggest property supply hotspot - the number of new properties coming to market in the area nearly doubled. High Peak, Derbyshire, came second in the list of new supply hotspots with an 82% increase in new sellers coming to market, while Chelmsford, Essex was third with a 58% rise in new properties for sale in January. Hotspots are defined as areas where more new properties are coming onto the market for sale than the same period last year. The average asking price in Bexhill-on-Sea jumped 13% to £342,265. Properties in High Peak command an average £278,672 while in Chelmsford asking prices are around £407,200. St. Albans, in Hertfordshire, has the highest average asking price from all the new year supply hotspots, at £629,000. The number of new properties for sale in the area increased 36%. At the other end of that price list is Burton-On-Trent, Staffordshire. With an asking price of £200,785, it experienced a 54% increase in new properties for sale. The average asking price in the UK stood at £341,019, in January.
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