Published: 18 February 2022
Location: London, UK
The government is expected to scrap so-called “golden visas”, launched in 2008 for wealthy foreign investors, according to the BBC. To obtain a tier one investor visa, foreign nationals must have at least £2m in investment funds and hold a UK bank account. The rules have been under review due to concerns the system could be exploited because of too few background checks on applicants. An unnamed government source has now told the BBC that Home Secretary Priti Patel has decided to close the route because of “long-standing concerns” over abuse of the scheme by criminal groups and the super-rich from several countries, including Russia, China and Kazakhstan. The source said an announcement will be made next week. The government issued 798 investor visas in the 12 months to September 2021, of which 82 were given to Russians and 210 to Chinese nationals.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak is being urged by unions to extend statutory sick pay to all UK workers. The Trades Union Congress (TUC) and the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) join forces today to call on the chancellor to remove the lower earnings limit for sick pay so that all employees can receive it, regardless of their earnings. At the moment, the limit means that it's only available to employees earning £120 per week or more, Yahoo Finance UK reports, leaving out an estimated two million low-paid workers, mostly women, who are more likely to have lower paid jobs than men. TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “No one should be forced to choose between doing the right thing and self-isolating or putting food on the table. But millions of low-paid workers have faced this impossible choice. Two years into the pandemic, it’s time ministers stopped turning a blind eye to this obvious problem and fixed our broken sick pay system".
The Office for National Statistics says its latest data shows retail sales volumes rose by an estimated 1.9% in January 2022 compared with December 2021. This is 3.6% higher than their pre-pandemic levels (February 2020). Department stores, garden centres and other non-food shops saw strong growth with a 3.4% rise, although clothing stores reported a fall of 5.0% over the month to rest 12.5% below levels in February 2020. January's better-than expected growth followed a 4% fall in December when new pandemic restrictions were imposed.
The hospitality sector has asked the Chancellor to extend VAT support beyond April because rising inflation threatens to inflict yet more damage on an industry already battered by coronavirus restrictions. UKHospitality said the sector has lost almost £115bn in sales since March 2020 from coffee shops, hotels, pubs, restaurants, leisure parks and nightclubs, and that the £140bn-a-year industry is 43% down on what it would normally expect. The trade body says the industry is also grappling with 400,000 job vacancies on top on inflations risks, meaning it is “imperative” that the government maintains VAT at its current level of 12.5% beyond April, when the tapering of the tax support is due to end. Chief executive Kate Nicholls said: "These figures lay bare the utter devastation that two years of this terrible pandemic has wreaked on the third largest private sector employer in the UK, with thousands of businesses closed, many on the brink of collapse, and countless jobs lost. The last thing operators need - and which a lot of them simply wouldn't survive - is a VAT increase."
British energy supplier Centrica said yesterday that it is committed to protecting its customers' deposits – money held after customers made advanced payments for their energy supply - which stands currently at £294 million. Centrica urged energy watchdog Ofgem to regulate so all providers do the same and ensure there is a stronger regulatory framework in place for energy suppliers to prevent a repeat of the current energy crisis. "The current UK energy market crisis has seen a large number of suppliers use customers’ credit to fund unsustainable commercial models and subsequently collapse, resulting in the disappearance of more than £500 million of UK consumers' money," Centrica said in a statement reported by Reuters. "As a responsible, sustainable supplier, Centrica protects customer deposits, and currently holds [the] £294m in a separate bank account". "The cost of energy company failures, including the lost consumer money, is added to the energy bills of every UK consumer and was responsible for 10% of Ofgem’s recent price increase," Centrica added.
Centrica's British Gas said yesterday it will raise its standard variable tariff from April 1 in line with energy market regulator Ofgem's price cap increase. Ofgem is to raise its cap on the most widely used tariffs, which cover around 22 million households, by 54% from April due to the increase in global wholesale gas prices. EDF Energy, owned by France's EDF, has also said it is increasing prices for its standard variable tariff customers by 54% from April 1.
Cryptocurrency exchange CoinJar has partnered with Mastercard to deliver the UK’s first crypto-to-pound debit card, with almost 50 cryptocurrencies available. The new card will allow users to make purchases by converting cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin or Ethereum into cash. CoinJar, founded in 2013, operates in the UK and Australia and is the first exchange registered with the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) to launch such a card. It is available as a digital and physical card with Google Pay integration, with no ongoing fees and a flat 1% conversion rate returned to users as an in-house rewards programme. "CoinJar Card is the next step in our mission to make crypto both accessible and useful, to everyone, every day," Asher Tan, chief executive officer at CoinJar, told Yahoo Finance UK. Coinjar launched a similar crypto-to-cash Mastercard in Australia last year.
Sky is to hike its broadband and TV bills from 1st April. The average TV and broadband customer will pay an additional £3.60 a month, according to the firm, although the exact amount will depend on their Sky plan. Sky TV and BT Sportpackages will rise by £1 a month to £27 and £28 in April, respectively. The box office deal will jump from £11 to £12 a month and Sky HD customers will see a £1 increase from £7 to £8. Sky’s Essential broadband package will increase 10% to £27.50 a month from 1 April, while the Superfast service rises 9% to £30.50 a month. Landline customers are also facing increases of 2p per minute to 22p and Sky Mobile will also reintroduce roaming charges in the UK, with a daily cost cap of £2. The price increase follows rises announced by other companies such as O2, which is increasing prices by up to £48 per year for a pay monthly mobile customers, and Virgin Media, which is set to hike prices by an average of 4% from March 1st.
Marks & Spencer (M&S) began selling 32 Hotter Shoes products yesterday, on its "Brands at M&S" platform, and the final number of Hotter Shoes products to be sold will rise to 75 in due course. Hotter owner Unbound said the tie-up follows similar agreements with John Lewis, Next and other retailers. Shares in the firm jumped some 13% after the company made the announcement that M&S would sell its comfort shoes, and that annual revenue for the year to the end of January rose 16% to about £51.9m. Unbound’s annual pretax profit will be at least £0.2m compared with a £6.6m loss the year before. Banking net debt fell by more than £6m to £8.5m.
Sales of condoms have shot up since lockdown restrictions eased in the UK, according to the maker of Durex, as have sales of KY lubricants and Veet hair removal products. British consumer goods giant Reckitt Benckiser’s financial results suffered in 2021 compared with 2020 due to the spike in sales of disinfectant products such as Dettol that accompanied the arrival of Covid-19. However, the company said yesterday that as more people mingled in bars and restaurants again it had seen strong demand for intimate products as well as cold and flu medicine such as Lemsip and Strepsils. Reckitt said it expected to see sales of its products grow in 2022, but would be forced to raise prices to offset the costs of more expensive raw materials, acknowledging in its financial results that expenses rose 11% in 2021 due to cost inflation.
Russian Oligarch and Chelsea FC owner Roman Abramovich has bought 28.7% of Evraz shares from Greenleas International, a company registered in the British Virgin Islands. The FTSE 100 mining and steel giant’s shares have fluctuated in February, affected by the demerger of its coal assets and tensions between Russia and western governments over Ukraine.
John Menzies has struck a deal with National Aviation Services (NAS), a subsidiary of Kuwait's Agility Public Warehousing, to sell a 13.2% stake in the aviation services group. NAS has previously made two takeover proposals, both of which have been rejected on the basis that they were ‘opportunistic and undervalued the business’. The first approach was made at 460p a share and the second at 510p. After talks with Menzies’ shareholders, contracts have now been exchanged for NAS to buy just over 12.1m shares at 605p each. This would represent a 109% premium to the Menzies closing share price on 2ndFebruary, the day before NAS made its second proposal to the company's board.
One of Britain's most successful telecoms entrepreneurs has pulled off his latest transformational deal with the £210m purchase of rival XLN Telecom. Sky News has learnt that Daisy Group, which was founded and is chaired by Matthew Riley, will announce the acquisition of XLN before the end of the week. By adding XLN's 120,000 small business customers, to which it supplies business broadband, phones and card payment services, Daisy will become second only to BT Group in the UK's SME telecoms market. A source close to the deal said that it would create around 200 jobs, and expand Daisy's customer base in the small and medium business (SMB) sector to over 200,000.
European aircraft giant Airbus posted record profits in 2021 and restored its dividend, after two years of losses during the pandemic. The plane-maker reported a net income for 2021 of €4.2bn (£3.5bn) with deliveries of aircraft rising 8% to 611 planes. Optimistic on a sustained rebound in the aviation industry, Airbus also raised its delivery forecast for the coming year, saying it expected to dispatch 720 commercial aircrafts.
Insurer Hiscox has appointed former Allianz UK boss Jon Dye as its new UK chief executive with effect from September. Dye also served as chair of the Association of British Industry between 2019 and 2021.
Former Lib Dem Leader and Deputy Prime Minister Sir Nick Clegg has been promoted: he is now President for Global Affairs at Meta, formerly Facebook, where he has worked since 2018. Sky News says the 55-year-old will now work exclusively on regulatory issues as chief executive Mark Zuckerbergsteps back from making policy decisions. Clegg will still report to Zuckerberg, although his new job puts him on the same level as Zuckerberg and chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg, the firm's two most senior bosses.
The boss of one of Asia's biggest airlines has called on governments in the region to open their borders for the sake of people's livelihoods. "Politicians have to be brave," AirAsia founder Tony Fernandes told the BBC. Cross-border tourism, which accounted for 12% of South East Asia's GDP in 2019, was hit hard by Covid-19 rules. Fernandes was speaking at the Singapore Airshow, which returned this week to the city-state after two years of tough travel restrictions. "It's time to take a deep breath and assess the facts... Having borders closed isn't logical anymore because Omicron is in society," the Malaysian low-cost carrier's chief executive said. "Now we have to protect people's livelihoods and economies".
Billionaire Elon Musk and Tesla, the firm he founded, have accused the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) of engaging in "outsized efforts" to monitor the firm that "seem calculated to chill his exercise" of free speech. The allegations surfaced in a lawyer's letter to US District Judge Alison Nathan, who presided over a 2018 SEC settlement stemming from Musk's tweet about a potential buyout of Tesla. Lawyer Alex Spiro wrote: "The SEC seems to be targeting Mr Musk and Tesla for unrelenting investigation largely because Mr Musk remains an outspoken critic of the government,” adding that the SEC aimed to chill his exercise of First Amendment rights. Musk’s tweets have frequently moved equity and currency exchange markets, and he has used Twitter to criticise the SEC, saying oversight at the agency was "broken". He also complained that Florida Man Joe Biden had failed to acknowledge the contributions of SpaceX or Tesla, and recently dismissed him as a "damp [sock emoji] puppet". The SEC has not commented on the allegations.
The BBC reports that investors are being urged to vote against a $99m (£73m) pay package awarded to Apple boss Tim Cook last year. Institutional Shareholder Services said it has "significant concerns" over the size of the award, up from $14.8m the year before. Cook, whose net worth is reportedly more than £1bn, received the pay in shares, salary, and for other costs.
The Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) has added sites operated by Chinese technology giants Alibaba and Tencent to its "Notorious Markets List" of businesses it believes are involved with trading counterfeit goods. The list identifies 42 online sites and 35 physical stores, including e-commerce platforms, run by the firms. The US trade agency says they "engage in or facilitate substantial trademark counterfeiting or copyright privacy".
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