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The Government has been ordered by the High Court to review its refusal to grant development consent…

   News / 25 Jan 2023

Published: 25 January 2023

By Suzanne Evans, Director, Political Insight

The Government has been ordered by the High Court to review its refusal to grant development consent for a high-voltage undersea power cable project linking Britain and France. Investment firm Aquind, which says its undersea cable linking England and Normandy would be able to transmit 16,000,000 MWh of electricity each year, took legal action after then-Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng refused consent in January 2022. A government spokesperson said: "The UK Government is disappointed by the outcome but we will be considering the judgment carefully before deciding next steps." Paula-Ann Savage, of the Stop Aquind campaign group, said she was "disappointed" with the court's decision. But she added: "We will continue to raise awareness of the dangers to the environment and our national security. "Aquind are not an appropriate company to carry out any energy infrastructure project in the UK." InOctober 2021, the BBC's Panorama programme revealed that Aquind is part-owned by Russian-born former oil executive Victor Fedotov. The company has donated more than £700,000 to 34 Conservative MPs since the Aquind project began. Aquind's co-owner, Ukrainian-born businessman Alexander Temerko, has donated a further £700,000 to the party.

Private-sector economic activity fell at its fastest rate in two years in January, with businesses blaming higher Bank of England interest rates,strikes and weak consumer demand for the slowdown. The S&P Global/CIPS flash composite Purchasing Managers' Index (PMI) seen as a good gauge of overall economic health, dropped to 47.8 from 49.0 inDecember, at the bottom end of economists' forecasts in a Reuters poll and the lowest since January 2021. Readings below 50 indicate falling output. "Weaker-than-expected PMI numbers in January underscore the risk of the UK slipping into recession," S&P Global's Chief Business Economist, Chris Williamson, said. "Industrial disputes, staff shortages, export losses, the rising cost of living and higher interest rates all meant the rate of economic decline gathered pace again at the start of the year," he added. The fall contrasted with a slight rise in business activity tracked by S&P Global in the eurozone, where business activity made a surprise return to modest growth in January. The PMI climbed to 50.2 in January, up from 49.3 in December. January was the first time the index has been above the 50 mark - which separates growth from contraction - since June.  "The rise in the purchasing managers' indices is likely to fuel hopes among many that the economy in the euro area might just escape a recessionafter all," Christoph Weil at Commerzbank told Reuters.

Britain's manufacturers reduced their prices in December by the most since April 2020, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) says this morning, with output prices falling by 0.8% in December from November.  Input prices paid by factories also fell by 1.1% in month-on-month terms, again the biggest drop since April 2020, when much of Britain's economy was shut down at the start of the coronavirus crisis, the ONS said. The ONS data suggests the surge in inflation has probably peaked. The ONS survey also chimes with another from The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) released today, which says manufacturers' average unit costs in the three months to January grew at the slowest pace since April 2021 and the increase in their sales prices was the slowest since July 2021. Global supply chain pressures, labour shortages and energy costs were easing, helping slow the increase in costs, Anna Leach, CBI Deputy Chief Economist, said. However, she also noted that new order books remain weak.

An estimated 101,920 homes were sold in December 2022, which was 1% more than in December 2021 but 3% fewer than in November 2022, according to HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) figures. The report said house sales had generally been stable in recent months but were slightly weaker in December. “The impact of the recent increases in mortgage rates may now be being observed within these statistics,” HMRC said. Inthe financial year to date (April to December 2022), around 938,350 house sales have taken place. During the same period year earlier, 1,049,450 house sales had taken place. Meanwhile, according to Halifax, the average UK house price for first-time buyers jumped 13% to £302,010 last year, with more than six in 10 teaming up with someone else to get on the property ladder. The number of first-time buyers also fell by 11% to 362,461 in 2022 compared to the year prior, the mortgage providers analysis concludes.

The CEO, Chair, and three directors of Capricorn Energy have stepped down with immediate effect, all victims of a row with its third largest shareholder, activist investor, Palliser Capital. The FTSE 250 oil explorerrevealed the board exodus on Tuesday as it postponed a vote on a proposed merger with Israeli group NewMed from 1 February to 22 February, a merger Palliser has been opposing, arguing it does not sufficiently compensate investors. Palliser has also been calling for board resignations, and earlier this month, Capricorn told Palliser it could have 'a number' of its nominees on the board ahead of its general meeting. Yesterday, Capricorn said these directors will be appointed at the deferred meeting, adding: 'A further announcement on Board reconstitution will be made in due course'.

Associated British Foods is planning to open 17 new Primark stores after posting strong Christmas sales. The latest trading update from the FTSE 100 retailer said the London-headquartered group said it was on track to add 1 million square foot of retail selling space in this financial year, in different parts of the world. New store openings include the first store inSlovakia and the first in Hungary. At least seven new stores are planned forthe US, but none for the UK. Sales at Primark increased by 15% in the 16 weeks to 7 January 2023, helping push Primark's share of the UK’s clothing and footwear market from 6.5% to 7%.

Oil major BP’s plans to build a vast carbon capture and storage (CCS) project beneath the North Sea has hit problems because part of the seabed where it plans the project has been “double-booked,” with power giant Orsted, which aims to build a huge offshore windfarm in the same place. Reuters says Britain granted preliminary licences for both proposed projects more than a decade ago, when an overlap of about 110 km2 on the sea floor wasn't seen as posing an insurmountable obstacle to either technology, according to planning documents reviewed by the news agency, the companies involved and government authorities. "At the time these rights were granted, it was unclear how the emergent technologies would develop," the Crown Estate licensing agency said, referring to the windfarm and CCS licences the government awarded in 2010 and 2011, respectively. Now, however, a dispute is unfolding between BP and Orsted over primacy in this "Overlap Zone," a dispute fuelled by studies that highlighted the risk of boats used to monitor carbon leaks colliding with wind turbines fixed to the sea floor. Last year the North Sea Transition Authority (NSTA), which regulates offshore energy activity, concluded that large crossovers between such ventures were currently unfeasible. BP is unwilling to switch to a costlier boat-free monitoring system, and Orsted is unwilling to cede territory, with both saying such concessions would hit their commercial prospects.

According to Sky News, the trustees of the Arcadia Group pension scheme are close to striking a binding deal with Aviva to guarantee its members' incomes. Thousands of pensioners have been left facing an uncertain retirement since the collapse of Sir Philip Green's high street empire – which included retailers Topshop, Burton and Dorothy Perkins - when he put Arcadia into administration in 2020. Green was in talks with The Pensions Regulator for months before Arcadia's collapse, and agreed to inject a substantial sum into the scheme. Sky says the exact structure of the deal between the Arcadia trustees and Aviva is unclear, but one insider said it was expected to involve members receiving full benefits - albeit potentially with more limited future increases than current inflation levels would justify. Arcadia members are, however, certain to receive superior payouts to those they would have got through the Pension Protection Fund lifeboat scheme, which guarantees benefits worth 90% ofpension pots to unretired members, Sky said.

A company has been ordered to pay more than £100,000 after a worker was left with life-changing injuries when a pallet of glass fell on top of him, the BBC reports. Andrew Potts, from Nottingham, broke his neck in five places in the incident at a depot in Lichfield, Staffordshire, on 30 September 2016. The 58-year-old was left disabled after the pallet, weighing more than one tonne, fell on him from a lorry. Leicester-based United Pallet Network (UK) has admitted safety breaches.

Around 300 Amazon workers will stage their first-ever UK strike today, in a protest over pay and conditions.  Members of the GMB union at the online retail giant’s Coventry warehouse say they have been offered only a "derisory" 50p an hour pay rise, and that the robots in the warehouse "are treated better than us". Workers told the BBC about "severe" conditions, claiming they are constantly monitored and upbraided for "idle time" lasting just a few minutes. Amazon said it has a system "that recognises great performance".

Marks & Spencer Chairman Archie Norman is warning the government that separate labelling for goods being sold in Northern Ireland would not be a viable change to the Northern Ireland Protocol. Both the UK and the EU have previously suggested labelling could have a role in reducing checks and controls on goods., but Norman has told Foreign Secretary James Cleverley that labelling would mean "overbearing and prohibitive costs" for retailers.

Eurostar CEO Gwendoline Cazenave says trains between the UK and Paris are carrying 30% fewer passengers because there are too few border staff, the ongoing impact of covid, and post-Brexit border checks - with more time needed to stamp UK passengers' passports - all of which are were causing "bottlenecks" in stations. Eurostar is currently running 14 services per day between London and Paris, compared with 18 in 2019. Last year, Eurostar announced it was halting its direct service from London to Disneyland Paris and also stopped services calling at Ebbsfleet or Ashford International stations. Now, it says these services may not be restored.

The European Parliament's economic affairs committee has approved a draft law that will add “prohibitive" requirements to cover risks fromcryptoassets to banking capital rules. The new elements include requiring banks to hold enough capital to cover holdings of cryptoassets infull. "Banks will be required to hold a euro of their own capital for every euro they hold in crypto," said Markus Ferber, a centre-right German member of the committee. "Such prohibitive capital requirements will help prevent instability in the crypto world from spilling over into the financial system," Ferber said.

The US Department of Justice (DOJ) and eight US states have filed a case against Google alleging it has too much power over the online ad market. Its anti-competitive actions had "weakened if not destroyed competition in the ad tech industry", US Attorney General Merrick Garland said. The case alleges that because Google controls the technology used by nearly all major website publishers to offer ad space forsale, and controls the leading tool used by advertisers to buy ad space, as well aas the largest ad exchange that matches publishers and advertisers, "website creators earn less and advertisers pay more". Online advertising accounts for the lion's share of Google's multibillion dollar revenue. Google accused the DOJ of "doubling down on a flawed argument" and said the case attempted to "pick winners and losers" in a competitive industry.

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