Published: 28 April 2022
Location: London, UK
Following yesterday’s criticism of the government by the Public Accounts Committee over the extend of fraud under the covid Bounce Back Loan Scheme, Chancellor Rishi Sunak has announced a new Public Sector Fraud Authority backed by £25m in funding will begin work in July. Sunak said the new body will recruit data analytics experts and economic crime investigators to recover money stolen from Covid support schemes and identify suspicious companies. “We will chase down fraudsters who rip off the taxpayer,” he said. Separately, the British Business Bank which administered the loans, confirmed that the Government has already repaid banks £62 million for unpaid loans so far. Some of these will be companies that went out of business, but others will be loans to fraudsters. Chief Commercial Officer Patrick Magee told MPs yesterday that the latest estimate of the amount of fraud in the £47 billion Bounce Back Loan Scheme is now 7.5%, more than £3.5bn.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak last night threatened energy companies with a windfall tax on their profits unless they "support the economy" by increasing investment in UK energy supply. In a Q&A session with users of the Mumsnetwebsite, he said that, unless big firms do more to protect energy security, levying a windfall tax was "something I'd look at". Just hours earlier however, Boris Johnson described the idea as a "tax on business" at Prime Ministers Questions, while Deputy PM Dominic Raab called a windfall tax "disastrous" and "damaging".
Meanwhile, Sunak was yesterday cleared of any breach of ministerial codes by the government's ethics advisor, after investigating his family's tax affairs. His wife found herself at the centre of political controversy having been exposed as a ‘non-dom.’ Christopher Geidt concluded: "I advise that the requirements of the ministerial code have been adhered to by the Chancellor, and that he has been assiduous in meeting his obligations and in engaging with this investigation". Geidt also ruled that there was no conflict of interest in Sunak having once held a US permanent resident Green Card, which he has since given up.
Netflix and other streaming behemoths will face judgment over controversial shows from Britain's broadcasting watchdog for the first time under sweeping proposals put forward by the Government, The Telegraph reports. Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries will today seek to level the playing field between internet services and traditional broadcasters such as the BBC by bringing them under the supervision of Ofcom, the newspaper says. In a white paper, she will also set out plans to update public service broadcasting rules with a reduced focus on programmes about gardening and cookery, ensure sporting events such as the Olympics can be watched for free on catch-up services, and privatise Channel 4 by the end of next year. Dorries insists the package of measures will ensure that Britain’s public broadcasters are fit for the future and trigger a “golden age” of television and radio.
P&O Ferries has told Transport Secretary Grant Shapps that he “needs to stop” demanding its CEO Peter Hebblethwaite resigns over the sacking of nearly 800 seafarers. Giving evidence to the Commons Transport Select Committee yesterday, Shapps said it is “completely unsustainable” for Hebblethwaite to keep his role and again issued his latest demand he step down, saying “he will have to go”. In response, P&O issued a statement saying: “Despite the attempts from some parties to undermine our business by creating false rumours and uninformed commentary, our morale is high and our spirit as a company is strong. The actions our company took on March 17, whilst unpopular, saved 2,200 jobs and a British company. “P&O Ferries is now a modern, dynamic, competitive and viable business which can meet customer needs flexibly in a way that has not been possible in the past. “We call on Government to have a constructive dialogue with P&O Ferries about the future and how we get this country moving in a positive direction after two very difficult years for business. Calls for our CEO to go need to stop”.
Shapps also told the Commons Transport Select Committee yesterday that he will permit new recruits in the aviation sector to begin training before passing security checks to ease the flight disruption that has plagued airports in recent weeks. British Airways is having to axe around 100 short-haul flights at Heathrow every day due to staff shortages, and travellers have reported waits of several hours at security and passport control at airports across the country. Shapps said: “I have looked at the rules and found an area where we can assist with the bureaucracy, particularly with regard to new people coming into the industry, and their need to be security checked. We can begin the training, without exposing them to the parts of the training which are security-related, without having the security check complete, as long as it’s complete before they start the security-related stuff. I have a Statutory Instrument – I think it comes to the House today – to do exactly that.”
e-scooters are also to be licensed for use on public roads in due course, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has said, although first he will “crack down” on illegal e-scooter sales in England, with such legislation introduced in the Queen’s Speech on 10 May. Although widely used already on the streets, they are currently only legal for use on private land. “I want to crack down on the private market and make it illegal to sell e-scooters which don’t meet the regulatory standards which we will bring in,” he told MPs on the Transport Select Committee. e-scooters are currently only legal for use on the roads if they are hired as part of government trials, which have safety features such as speed limits of 15.5mph and automatic lights, the BBC says.
The Serious Fraud Office raided offices of Sanjeev Gupta’s Liberty Steelacross England, Scotland and Wales yesterday, demanding documents such as balance sheets, annual reports and correspondence, in an escalation of the criminal inquiry into suspected fraud, fraudulent trading and money laundering within Gupta’s metals empire, and the financing arrangements it had with Greensill Capital UK. Just days ago, French police raided Gupta’s Paris offices in a separate investigation into his business dealings.
BT said in a blog post yesterday that it will phase out its name as the "flagship" brand for millions of residential consumers from today, and instead focus on promoting its EE division. The comms firm said it will be keeping BT as the primary brand for business customers and that there are no plans to change the company's name. BT bought EE from Deutsche Telekom and France’s Orange in 2015, in a £12.5 billion deal, creating two rival operations targeting similar markets under different names. Marc Allera, BT head of consumer, said: “Having both BT and EE in an already crowded consumer market means we must have two of everything, and that makes life harder for our customers and our people - two accounts, two apps, two product roadmaps, and multiple systems. We need to simplify things, for everyone". BT came into being as British Telecom in 1980 when it was still part of the Post Office, and adopted BT as its name and corporate brand in 1991.
FTSE 100 industrial software company Aveva announced a hit to revenue because of sanctions on Russia yesterday, saying wage inflation, increased travel costs and investment in cloud would also take a toll. Shares in the company consequentially fell as much as 21% to a four-year low.
Barclays’ profits have dropped 7% and the lender has warned about the difficulties households and businesses face because of the cost-of-living crisis. The high street bank reported a profit before tax of £2.2bn for the first three months of 2022, down from £2.4bn a year ago. Barclays has also put share buyback plans on hold following the exposure by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission of a trading blunder last month which meant the bank sold more products to investors in the US than it was allowed to, triggering litigation payments and conduct costs the bank expects to reach £540 million.
Nicky Hughes, the communications chief at Network Rail is in trouble for suggesting that tens of thousands of rail workers “should have probably worked harder at school” after missing out on a pay rise. He has been forced to apologise for the remarks on an internal social media website.
All but one of the top jobs at the UK’s FTSE-listed water companies are held by women, now Louise Beardmore has been promoted to CEO at United Utilities.
Russian gas giant Gazprom has stopped supplies to Poland and Bulgaria, after both countries refused to acquiesce to President Vladimir Putin’sdemand last month that all “hostile” countries pay for their oil and gas imports in roubles or contracts would be suspended. This has prompted Hungary and Slovakia to become the first countries to use a work-around scheme created by the European Commission that allows them to send euros to Russia’s third-largest bank which then uses the funds to make rouble deposits in Gazprom’s account in Moscow. EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen idodged the issue when asked about it yesterday, saying countries paying for gas in roubles would be in violation of the bloc’s sanctions on Moscow but making no reference to the work-around scheme invented by her officials. 10 European gas buyers, including Germany company Uniper and Austria’s OMV, were reportedly preparing to meet Putin’s payment demands through Brussels' work-around scheme. Poland’s PM Mateusz Morawieckihowever, dug in his heels, branding the Russian move a “direct attack” on his country. “From the autumn, Poland will not need Russian gas at all,” he said. “We will cope with this blackmail, with this gun to our head, in such a way that Poles will not feel it.”
US prosecutors charged the founder and chief financial officer of collapsed investor Archegos Capital Management with fraud on Wednesday morning in a move that is likely to start one of the biggest Wall Street white-collar prosecutions in years, The Guardian says. Bill Hwang and Patrick Halliganwere arrested at their homes and are expected to appear in court later today. The family-owned investment company imploded last year – losing $20bn in just two days – and causing billions in losses for banks, investors and its own employees.
Elon Musk’s purchase of Twitter continues to make headlines. Yesterday, former Twitter CEO Dick Costolo accused Musk of making using Vijaya Gadde, the social media platform’s head of legal, policy and trust, a “target of harassment and threats” after he appeared to suggest the
company had a “left-wing bias”. Costolo, who ran Twitter between 2010 and 2015, replied to Mr Musk: “What’s going on? You’re making an executive at the company you just bought the target of harassment and threats,” then later posted: “Bullying is not leadership.” Musk hit back tweeting: “What are talking about? I’m just saying Twitter needs to be politically neutral.” Gadde has been the driving force behind efforts to censor posts considered to lead to real-world harms – such as the former US President Donald Trump support for the January 6 attack on the Capitol which led to his permanent ban from the platform, and decisions such as removing political advertising from Twitter. She also took down a New York Post story about the overseas business dealings of President Joe Biden's son Hunter ahead of the 2020 election, meaning anyone trying to post or send the story received a notice saying: “We can't complete this request because this link has been identified by Twitter or our partners as being potentially harmful.” The Twitter accounts of White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany and the New York Post itself were suspended at the time. Musk tweeted: "Suspending the Twitter account of a major news organization for publishing a truthful story was obviously incredibly inappropriate.” Current Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal said he was proud of “our people” who managed to stay focused despite the “noise”.
Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of Twitter users appear to have deactivated their accounts in the days after Elon Musk’s takeover deal. According to data from analytics site Social Blade, some of the social network’s biggest left-wing voices – such as Barak and Michelle Obama - have seen their public follower counts decline, while more right-wing Twitter users have gained followers. Taylor Swift lost 15,000 followers in 48 hours. However, Republican senator Ted Cruz added more than 60,000 followers, and congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene gained more than 100,000 followers in the last week, a tenfold increase in the normal rate. Boris Johnson has added nearly 10,000 followers, but the Twitter account of the former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is down by 1,000.
Tesla shares have also fallen after investor concerns that boss Elon Muskmay have to sell shares in the electric car maker to help pay for the takeover of Twitter. Tesla had more than $125bn (£99.3bn) wiped off its market value on Tuesday as shares dropped 12.2% from just over $1tn to $906bn.
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