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Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove is to axe rules which force companies to build a set number of “affordable”…

   News / 19 Apr 2022

Published: 19 April 2022
Location: London, UK

By Suzanne Evans, Director, Political Insight

The Telegraph claimed at the weekend that Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove is to axe rules which force companies to build a set number of “affordable” homes on their developments themselves and instead order them to pay into a £7 billion infrastructure fund that can be used by councils for their own projects. Gove has held talks with industry about the proposals, the newspaper said, and executives are preparing for them to be included in the Queen’s Speech next month if approved by Cabinet.
Michael Gove is also said to be planning retribution on property developers who refuse to contribute to his supposedly voluntary fund to fix dangerous cladding. He is citing powers in the new Building Safety Bill that stops “uncooperative” developers from getting planning permission or selling homes. Earlier this month Gove, who was tasked by No 10 with addressing the cladding scandal – which has involved thousands of leaseholders facing crippling bills for the removal of dangerous cladding – signed an agreement with 35 developers, which collectively agreed to contribute £2bn towards fixing buildings they had a role in constructing. The Guardian says understands that Galliard Homes is one major developer who has so far refused to sign up. The new bill was introduced to create a new regulatory framework for building safety after the Grenfell Tower fire and, as the punitive measures were introduced as amendments by Gove as it was going through its final stages in the House of Lords.
Jacob Rees-Mogg, the minister for government efficiency, says it is time civil servants all returned to their offices. He has written to all secretaries of state calling on them oversee the “rapid return” of officials to their workplaces. “Now that we are learning to live with Covid and have lifted all legal restrictions in England, we must continue to accelerate the return of civil servants to office buildings to realise the benefits of face-to-face, collaborative working and the wider benefits for the economy,” he wrote. The Telegraph says Rees-Mogg has also released a “league table” of departments, based on the number of government workers going into the office during the week beginning 4 April. The Department for Education had just a quarter of its staff going in each day on average. The figures were similar at the Department for Work and Pensions (27%) and the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office(31%). 73% of employees travelled into work at the Department for International Trade.
A government-backed “Great British Rail sale” to tempt travellers back to trains will slash the cost of a million journeys next month, but has been dismissed as a “gimmick” The Guardian says. Cut prices fares will be available for a five-week period before the next half-term holiday, from 25 April to 27 May, including a single journey from London to Edinburgh for £22, Manchester to Newcastle for £10.30, and Birmingham to Bristol Temple Meads for £12.60. Labour said it would offer little relief to families as only about 1% of all journeys taken are likely to benefit from the promotion, which is targeted at intercity travel at quiet times, meaning even fewer commuters will see any reduction in fares. Transport secretary Grant Shapps has endorsed the scheme in what the newspaper calls a “bizarre” promotional video, in which he dons a hoodie, sunglasses, rucksack and handles a rubber crab before declaring: “It’s time to get real,” and boarding an LNER train.
The Guardian said yesterday that new laws are to be announced aimed at protecting Britons who use savings clubs to pay for goods and services in instalments throughout the year instead of in one go, for example to put money aside for Christmas. They are often used by people on low incomes. The government also said it would also look at whether there were other sectors posing risks to people who prepay for goods or services, and whether similar protections were needed. Home improvements and weddings are two examples of big-ticket items where people frequently hand over substantial sums in advance. The move comes 16 years after the collapse of the Christmas savings club Farepak, which left about 100,000 customers unable to access the cash they had put aside and led to calls for better protection for users of these schemes. The government said that with households facing rising costs, “now more than ever, families’ hard-earned savings need to be protected”.
The UK medicines watchdog has been urged to strengthen its conflict of interest policy after it emerged that six of its board members are receiving payments from the pharmaceutical industry. Board members involved in overseeing the regulator’s “strategic direction” also have financial interests in companies including US and Saudi drug giants and firms with ambitions to break into the UK’s healthcare market, The Guardian reported. Some offer consultancy services while others help run or own shares in drug and medical device firms, according to official transparency records. There is no suggestion of wrongdoing, but the findings have led to concerns about perceived conflicts of interest among senior figures at the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), an executive agency of the Department of Health and Social Care responsible for regulating drugs and medical devices and ensuring they are safe.
Energy regulator Ofgem says it has seen "troubling signs" that suppliers may have been increasing direct debit payments by "more than is necessary," as households face significant increases in their energy bills. CEO Jonathan Brearley, said in a blog post that he had received information from consumer groups and the public about "bad practices" by some suppliers, as well as “troubling signs that some companies are reacting to these changes by allowing levels of customer service to deteriorate".  He said Ofgem planned to issue "substantial fines" to such firms.  
Almost one in 10 parents say they are “very likely” to need to use a food bankin the next three months, a survey for Deliveroo has found. Some 9% of parents – or 1.3 million when extrapolated nationwide – said they expect to visit a food bank to cope with the soaring cost of living, with 88% saying their monthly food shop has increased in price over the past three months. Of those parents who reported a rise in their household bills in the survey, 58% have cut back on heating as a result. Food bank charity Trussell Trust is teaming up with Deliveroo, who will enable customers to add a round-up donation to their in-app food orders, and Deliveroo employees will also volunteer for the charity. Stack Data Strategy surveyed 3,200 UK parents with dependent children between March 18 and 31 on behalf of Deliveroo.

Upmarket baby clothing and maternity wear retailer JoJo Maman Bébé has been bought by Next – which has taken on 44% of the firm’s shares - and investment companies managed or advised by the hedge fund Davidson Kempner Capital Management, which acquired the other 56%. The business was started by Laura Tenison in 1993 from her flatshare kitchen table. She said the new owners had “exciting plans to expand and grow the brand much faster than we ever could, giving us the opportunity to open in new markets”. However, she will leave the business, which, in addition to its websites, has 87 retail outlets and employs more than 950 people in the UK.
The rising cost of living in Britain has led to households cancelling their streaming subscriptions, market research firm Kantar has said. A total of 1.51 million services were cancelled in the first three months of 2022, more than half a million of them attributed to "money saving", with households budgeting for higher prices and energy bills instead. About 58% of Britain's homes now have at least one paid streaming service, the BBC says. The height of coronavirus pandemic and lockdowns saw surges in subscriptions for platforms such as Netflix, Disney+ and Amazon Prime. But researchers said the proportion of consumers planning to cancel subscriptions stating the primary reason as "wanting to save money" had risen to its highest ever level at 38%, up from 29% in final three months of 2021.
Protests in Libya against Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah have contributed to further oil price rises. The country was forced to halt some exports and close oil fields when protestors entered sites and stopped production. Brent crude futures rose 61 cents, or 0.5%, to $113.77 (£87.39) a barrel this morning, while U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude futures gained 33 cents, or 0.3%, to $108.54 (£83.38) a barrel. Libya currently has two rival governments after the eastern-based parliament in February appointed a new prime minister in a direct challenge to the UN-backed government in Tripoli. Fathi Bashagha, a former interior minister, was named prime minister in February by the House of Representatives, which has been based in Tobruk. Abdul Hamid Dbeibah, who is based in the capital, Tripoli, has refused to step down as interim prime minister and insists he will hand over power only to an elected government, MSN reports.
Ocado has been ordered to pay a former employee £20,000 in damages after he was subjected to a “witch hunt” and labelled a “complainer” for raising concerns about safety in one of its warehouses. The judge at Thomas Cooley’s employment tribunal ruled that his resignation amounted to constructive dismissal because his “mental health deteriorated, he suffered anxiety, nightmares and dreaded going to work. Ultimately, he had suicidal thoughts. He resigned his position due to his mental health and underwent counselling and took medication to assist him.” Ocado has said it is asking for the claim to be reconsidered on the basis that it did not receive any paperwork related to the case.
George Osborne, the former chancellor, has been parachuted in to help the Los Angeles Dodgers part-owner Todd Boehly clinch a takeover of Chelsea Football Club, Sky News  has learnt. Robey Warshaw, the City advisory firm that Osborne joined last year, has signed up as an adviser to the consortium fronted by Boehly. Osborne is a life-long Blues fan and season ticket holder.
Major luxury brands including Burberry, Cartier, Hermès, Versace and Louis Vuitton have seized thousands of items from unauthorised traders in New York in a crackdown on counterfeit goods. The fashion houses took possession of almost 3,000 fake products in the city last month, from defendants “doing business” at two locations including “back rooms” and “a basement” as well as two vans, according to court documents. The judge at the hearing concluded that “the public interest would be best served” by giving the order against the defendants and subsequently allowing the goods to be destroyed. The OECDestimates that the volume of international trade in counterfeit and pirated products amounts to as much as $464bn (£355bn) in 2019 or 2.5% of world trade, with luxury goods accounting for a significant proportion of that sum.
China’s ongoing “zero covid” policy with harsh lockdowns means now more than a tenth of goods being shipped globally are stuck at ports, causing a fresh supply chain crisis. The Telegraph says some 12% of goods are stuck in harbours with the number of ships waiting outside ports rising sharply again in Shanghai, Hong Kong and the North Sea, according to Liberum and Fleetmondata. This is only just below last year’s supply chain crisis peak when just under 14% of goods were blocked in ports. Last week almost 500 ships were stuck outside Shanghai, the world’s largest container port, according to Bloombergdata. Meanwhile, congestion in the North Sea has jumped to the peaks hit during the supply crisis last year at around 1.5% of global capacity. Shipping costs are also on the rise again as congestion builds after falling sharply from last year’s peaks: the Baltic Dry Index, a closely watched trade barometer tracking shipping costs, is up more than 60% since its nadir in January and is beginning a fresh uptick.
Soaring fertilizer costs have rice farmers across Asia scaling back their use, a move that threatens harvests of a staple that feeds half of humanity and could lead to a full-blown food crisis if prices aren’t curbed, Bloomberg reports. The International Rice Research Institute predicts that yields could drop 10% in the next season, translating to a loss of 36 million tons of rice, or the equivalent of feeding 500 million people. That’s a “very conservative estimate,” said Humnath Bhandari, a senior agricultural economist at the institute, adding that the impact could be far more severe should the war in Ukraine continue.
The World Bank is preparing a $170bn (£130.59bn) package of financial help in response to the overlapping global crises of war, pandemic and inflationthat are hitting the poorest countries particularly hard, its president has said. David Malpass warned that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine had added to pressures caused by the Covid-19 crisis and soaring cost of living, and there was a need to provide assistance quickly. Under proposals that will be discussed with the World Bank’s member governments at this week’s spring meeting of the Washington-based organisation, $50bn would be spent over the next three months, with a further $120bn of financing provided over the following year. “I’m deeply concerned about developing countries,” Malpass told reporters. “They are facing sudden price increases for energy, fertiliser, and food, and the likelihood of interest rate increases. Each one hits them hard.” The World Bank is also reducing its global growth forecast for 2022 by nearly a full percentage point, to 3.2% from 4.1%, due to the impacts from Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
Workers at Apple's Grand Central Station store in New York have announced a plan to start a union. If their bid is successful, it would be the first union at one of the tech giant's US stores, the BBC reports. The group of staff known as Fruit Stand Workers United must get signatures of support from 30% of colleagues at the store to qualify for a union election.

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