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British Chambers of Commerce warns Businesses will struggle to pay energy bills.

   News / 03 Apr 2023

Published: 03 April 2023

By Suzanne Evans, Director, Political Insight

Oil prices have soared this morning because OPEC+ oil producers have announced a surprise production cut of around 1.15m barrels a day, on top of the 2m barrels per day cuts agreed last November, which will kick in from next month. Saudi Arabia alone has pledged to cut production by 500,000 daily barrels. West Texas Intermediate soared as much as 8% in early trading and stood above $79 per barrel at 7am, while Brent crude shot up almost 5% to come close to $84. The move threatens higher inflation.

The British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) says firms will struggle to pay energy bills now that the Energy Bill Relief Scheme has ended. Businesses now face an 85% decrease in energy support, the business group said. Alex Veitch, director of policy and public affairs at the BCC said: “Of the seven energy policies we advocated for the Government to include in [last] month’s spring Budget, not one was acted upon. Flexibility to increase support for those who desperately need it – ignored. Easing the burden of claiming VAT on energy – ignored. Funding for improved business energy efficiency – ignored. And so the list goes on. Government also failed to heed our calls to increase regulation of the business energy sector.” He also noted several other challenges facing small businesses from 1st April, including increases in corporation tax and the national living wage. “These changes will have a significant impact, but Government is yet to offer any meaningful support to offset the challenges currently facing so many UK businesses”. The Department for Net Zero and Energy Security told the Press Association: “We have been helping businesses throughout the winter, enabling some to only pay around half of the predicted wholesale energy costs. Global energy prices have fallen significantly and are now at their lowest level since before Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine. The new level of government support reflects this welcome fall in prices, but we will continue to stand by businesses, as we have done over the winter.”

The CEO of the newly formed audit watchdog will be based in Birmingham – a more than hour long train journey away from the country’s major auditors in London, City A.M. understands. A new auditor body, referred to as ARGA, to replace the Financial Reporting Council (FRC), has been planned for a number of years, the newspaper says, adding that although the new CEO will initially be recruited into London he or she will soon move to Birmingham, where ARGA will be opening up a second office by the second half of this year. The FRC will also move out of its current London Wall headquarters prior to its lease running out in early 2025, and the goal is to have a 50/50 balance between the two locations by 2029. “The move will raise eyebrows, with the vast majority of the nation’s biggest audit, accountancy and professional services firms based in London, within easy reach of the FRC’s current offices,” City A.M. says, as the FRC is obliged through its work to spend a significant amount of time ‘on site’ at the firms it regulates.

Apple Inc has won its appeal against the decision by The Competition and Market Authority (CMA) to launch an investigation into its mobile browser and cloud gaming services. Apple had argued that the CMA had "no power" to launch such a probe because it did so too late, and the Competition Appeal Tribunal (CAT) agreed, saying that in declining to take action last June, at the same time the CMA published a report on mobile ecosystems, which found Apple and Google had an "effective duopoly,” the CMA "erred in law".

Teachers in England have rejected a pay offer from the Government aimed at ending a series of disruptive strikes, The National Education Union, Britain's largest education union, has just said. It means further walkouts on 27th April and 2nd May will now go ahead. 98% of teachers who voted in the ballot on a 66% turnout favoured rejecting the offer of a one-off payment this year of £1,000 and an average pay rise of 4.5% in the next financial year.

Passport Office workers are beginning a five-week strike today. More than 1,000 members of the Public and Commercial Services union (PCS) at eight sites are walking out in an escalation of a long-running dispute over jobs, pay, pensions and conditions.

Scottish Power, British Gas and Eon have lost their High Court challenge to the Government’s decision to sell failed energy supplier Bulb to Octopus Energy. The claimants had argued that an “unfair sale process” led to decisions “to commit billions of pounds of taxpayer money to facilitate the acquisition of a failed business” in a decision-making process that was “flawed and unlawful”. British Gas’s legal team also claimed “the process by which the subsidy was granted was seriously lacking in transparency, openness, fairness and equal treatment”. However, on Friday, Lord Justice Singh and Mr Justice Foxton rejected the challenge saying that in circumstances in which the Octopus transaction was the only bid to emerge, “it was open to the Secretary of State on the material before him to conclude that the other options were inferior to proceeding with the Octopus bid, involving significant execution risks and higher forecast costs.” The Judges also said the application was refused due to “undue delay,” as proceedings were not brought promptly enough. British Gas owner Centrica said the ruling was “disappointing” and that it would now “consider our options. A spokesperson said: “We think state bailouts for energy companies puts a burden on the UK taxpayer and is avoidable They added: “We felt the original bailout of Bulb was unnecessary and the National Audit Office report this week concluded there were risks and uncertainties in recovering these funds from Octopus.” E.ON also said it would “analyse the detail of today’s ruling and consider our next steps”. Octopus argued its rivals’ complaints were a “rewriting of history”. The Press Association says it understands Scottish Power will not seek to appeal the ruling.

High street retailer Marks and Spencer has dismissed a Sunday Times report that it will cut hundreds of jobs at its London HQ as “simply inaccurate”.

Recharge Industries Pty Ltd's attempt to buy the Britishvolt site is at risk of collapsing due to a dispute with administrator EY over a power supply contract signed by the failed battery startup, the Financial Times said on Friday. Australia-based Recharge Industries and the British accounting firm hit an impasse over payments related to transferring a grid connection contract with the UK's National Grid, the report said, citing people familiar with the matter. EY, Britishvolt and Recharge Industries did not immediately respond to Reuters' requests for comment.

Outsourcer Capita says a cyber incident impacted its internal Microsoft Office 365 applications on Friday. Capita holds numerous Government contracts worth hundreds of millions of pounds. It manages primary care support services for the NHS, recruitment for the British army, maintenance at Britain's Submarine Training Centre, and fire and rescue operations for the Ministry of Defence. It also operates Transport for London's road charging system, covering the city's congestion charge and ultra-low emissions zone, as well as the Department for Work and Pensions' disability payment assessments and a contract with HM Revenue and Customs to automate certain processes. It also manages TV Licensing. No data was compromised, but disruption was caused to some services provided to individual clients, Capita says.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has launched an investigation into whether consumer deals website Wowcher has been using unfair pressure tactics on customers using methods such as countdown timers. Last week, the CMA announced a crackdown on online pressure-selling tactics used by retailers to potentially speed up decision-making by shoppers. "People who buy online should not be pressurised by practices implying that they must act quickly to avoid missing out, when this is not the case," said CMA chief executive Sarah Cardell.

The CEO of Home REIT’s now-bankrupt biggest tenant controlled nearly a quarter of the firm’s rental income via three different companies – none of which have paid rent to the firm, City A.M. reveals this morning. Gurpaal Judge is also head of Home REIT’s collapsed biggest tenant Lotus Housing, and also ran tenants Redemption and Eden Safe, which collectively accounted for 23.5% of its total rental income, but both are in arrears to Home Reit. A source close to Judge told the newspaper that he founded Redemption and Eden Safe as vehicles to skirt restrictions on the amount of leases that one tenant could sign. The fresh rent arrears revelations pose major questions about how Judge was able to sign leases on such huge swathes of its portfolio. Last week, City A.M. revealed that Judge paid himself and Lotus directors £1.2m the year before the firm collapsed. Neither Home REIT and Gurpal Judge responded to requests for comment.

Cineworld has dropped plans to sell its businesses in the US, UK and Ireland after failing to find a buyer, and says it has reached a conditional deal with lenders to exit bankruptcy. The sinema chain has also announced plans to raise £1.8bn in new funding. "This agreement with our lenders represents a 'vote-of-confidence' in our business and significantly advances Cineworld towards achieving its long-term strategy in a changing entertainment environment," CEO Mooky Greidinger said in a statement. Cineworld will continue to consider proposals for the sale of its business outside the US, UK and Ireland.

Metro Bank has drawn up plans for an orderly wind-down if it were to fail, having been told to do so by the Financial Conduct Authority. The troubled bank, whose share price has fallen by 97% in the past five years, has seen losses totalling £627m in the past three years. It is one of the most thinly capitalised of the smaller challenger and specialist banks, a recent survey by consultants EY found. A proposal to create a 'clean' holding company for a so-called 'bail-in' if the lender failed will be put to shareholders next month. It will need court approval. A spokeswoman told the Daily Mail the bank had remained above minimum capital requirements and its capital strength is twice the regulatory minimum.

John Lewis boss Dame Sharon White is under fresh pressure after an ex-chairman called the possible sale of a stake to an outside investor 'highly undesirable'. Sir Stuart Hampson said the proposal – aimed at raising as much as £2bn – could kill off the 'spirit' of the retailer's partnership model. Dame Sharon has faced a chorus of criticism about the idea of bringing in external funding, thereby threatening John Lewis's famous employee ownership structure.

David Richards and Erik Miller, the CEO and CFO of computing services company WANdisco have stepped down after an internal investigation into suspected major fraud found more than $115m in missing bookings. The probe confirmed its published purchase orders and sales bookings for last year were false. Revenue for 2022 should have been $9.7m rather than $24m, and bookings should have been $11.4m rather than $127m. WANdisco asked for its shares on the London Stock Exchange to be suspended earlier this month when it an investigation to identify its "true financial position" after sales booked by an employee appeared to have been inflated in what it described as "significant, sophisticated and potentially fraudulent irregularities." WANdisco said the ongoing investigation supported the view that one employee was responsible. Today’s resignations were not connected to the findings, but the plan to restore share trading was best pursued under new leadership, it said. Ken Lever, appointed interim chair last month, will run the company until a new CEO is appointed. Ijoma Maluza, previously CFO of Blue Prism, is now interim CFO.

Drinks company Britvic appointed Rebecca Napier as its new chief financial officer. She is currently CFO at British Airways. Rolls-Royce Holdings, meanwhile, says that Helen McCabe will join its board as CFO later in the year. She was previously CFO of oil giant BP Downstream's fuels and refining businesses in Europe and Southern Africa.  

The Swiss authorities have launched an investigation into the emergency £2.6bn takeover of Credit Suisse by rival UBS. The federal prosecutor is looking into possible breaches of criminal law by government officials, regulators and executives at the two banks, various media reports say. UBS and Credit Suisse agreed the deal over a frantic weekend a fortnight ago when it was feared that without a rescue deal, Credit Suisse could implode and spur a meltdown for the wider global banking sector.


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