Published: 09 August 2022
Location: London, UK
Train operator Avanti West Coast announced yesterday that it will only run a radically reduced timetable “until further notice” because of "severe staff shortages in some grades through increased sickness levels, as well as unofficial strike action by Aslef members". London Euston and Manchester services are the worst affected with trains reduced from three per hour to one, while elsewhere on the West Coast Main Line trains have been reduced to four per hour down from seven. In a letter to the rail industry, Avanti West Coast managing director Phil Whittingham blamed the "current industrial relations climate" ahead of a planned walkout on Saturday over pay and conditions. However, Aslef General Secretary Mick Whelan told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme that there was no unofficial strike action, and that Avanti had simply not recruited sufficient staff.
John Lewis CEO and former Treasury Civil Servant Dame Sharon White has told the BBC she has "never seen anything quite like" the country's current economic situation throughout her entire career, saying that people who retired in the wake of the pandemic – mostly those in their 50s - has caused significant problems. With "one million fewer people in work or looking for work" higher inflation was inevitable, she said, and urged the future government to encourage recent younger retirees to return to work. "There's not a business in the UK that's not finding it very difficult to recruit at the moment because there are so many more jobs and so far fewer people looking for work,” she said. “It's a big issue." The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has previously said the number of "economically inactive" people - those without a job and not seeking to work - has remained higher than before Covid struck, with retiring being the most popular reason for people aged between 50 and 70 years to not work.
Retail sales climbed last month on the back of demand for summer clothing and picnic food during the hot weather, but record high inflation is masking a much larger drop in volumes, according to the British Retail Consortium(BRC). July’s 2.3% rise in sales brought an end to three consecutive months of decline, but this figure is not adjusted for inflation, which is currently running above 9%, meaning that “many retailers are still contending with falling sales volumes during what remains an incredibly difficult trading period,” according to BRC CEO Helen Dickinson. “Consumer confidence remains weak, and the rise in interest rates coupled with talk of recession will do little to improve the situation,” she said.
The price of olive oil is set to rise because heatwaves have hit production in Spain, which produces nearly half of the world's olive oil. Leading exporter Acesur, which sells olive oil to more than 100 countries, told the BBC that customers could see prices rise by 20-25% in the next three to four months when companies renew their contracts. Acesur sells around 20,000 tonnes a year in the UK and packs own-label brands for Sainsbury's, Tesco, Waitrose, Morrisons and Asda. The supermarkets also stock its La Espanola brand, which is the third biggest in the UK. According to retail research firm Assosia,the average price of own-label olive oil in the four largest UK supermarket chains was already up 50.2% on last year at the beginning of August.
The average cost of a new motor insurance policy was £129 higher on average than a policy renewal in the second quarter of this year, new data from the Association of British Insurers (ABI) shows. Overall, average premiums for new policies rose 3% to £500 and average premiums for renewed policies increased by 0.5% to £371 over the three months, according to the ABI. The typical price for private motor insurance now stands at £419, the ABI says, as insurers are finding it increasingly challenging to absorb rising inflationary pressures.
Accounting firm PwC has been fined £1.8m by the Financial Reporting Council (FRC) for failing to properly scrutinise BT’s Italian operations and failing to present sufficient or solid audit evidence. The fine from stems from a £513m fraud claim the FRC discovered during its audit of the telecom’s accounts in 2017. Audit partner Richard Hughes was also personally fined £42,000. According to the FRC, PwC and Hughes admitted breaching the rules in relation to the audit of adjustments disclosed by BT in its accounts for the year to the end of March 2017, which were made after the Italian fraud was uncovered. The penalties were reduced from £2.5m and £60,000 respectively after both PwC and Hughes admitted failing to do their jobs properly. PwC issued a statement saying: "The FRC’s finding relates to a narrow element of the audit and the regulator has not found that the 2017 financial statements for BT were misstated, or that the sum of the BT Italy adjustments was wrong."
French utility firm Veolia has agreed to sell Suez's UK waste business to Australia's Macquarie for around €2.4bn to address the concerns of the UK's Competition and Markets Authority (CMA). Veolia agreed to buy Suez last year in a €13bn (£10.97bn) deal, after a heated takeover battle, but announced in June that it would sell the business after the CMA said its acquisition could reduce competition in the sector and push up prices for local councils. Both companies have already had to sell off several businesses to clear anti-trust issues with 17 other competition authorities, including the European Commission. Suez UK has about 6,000 employees and makes about €900m (£759.4m) of its €17.2bn (£14.51bn) global turnover in the UK. Veolia made €2.1bn (£1.77bn) in the UK and Ireland in 2020, out of global sales of €26bn (£21.94bn).
Fashion brand Joules confirmed yesterday that it is in talks with retailer Nextabout the acquisition of a £15m stake in its business which would result in Next becoming a strategic minority shareholder. The equity investment would be subject to shareholder approval and Joules said: "There can be no certainty these discussions will lead to any agreement," adding that a further announcement will be made if and when appropriate.
Ryanair says it will challenge the Hungarian government in the EU courts if it is fined for passing an "unjustified" windfall tax onto customers. Hungarian Justice minister Judit Varga wrote on Facebook that an investigation against the Irish airline started in June and found “unfair trade practices”, triggering a fine of 300 million Hungarian forints (£643,000) because Ryanair added around €10 (£8.44) onto the price of flights in response to a new tax on "extra profits" introduced by Prime Minister Viktor Orban. Budapest said it did not expect the tax to trigger price rises for consumers, and acted when Ryanair decided to pass some of the cost on. Ryanair said that it had not yet received notice of the fine but was readying an appeal as the penalty was "baseless" and the airline should have the power to set airfares as it wished "without any interference from national governments or their consumer protection agencies". Ryanair CEO Michael O'Leary said it was "beyond stupid" to levy a tax on airlines just as they were recovering from losses inflicted by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Pfizer has agreed to buy biopharmaceutical group Global Blood Therapeutics (GBT) for $5.4bn (£4.46bn) in cash. GBT is focused on the discovery, development and delivery of treatments for patient communities starting with the inherited blood disorder sickle cell disease.
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