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Nissan e-NV200 electric people carriers added to Merseytravel fleet

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Nissan e-NV200 electric people carriers added to Merseytravel fleet

Merseytravel has added three Nissan e-NV200 Combi passenger vans to its maintenance fleet.

The local transport executive has added the vehicles to its fleet of 40 for use by maintenance teams.

The eNV200s – which cost an average of 2p a mile to run – are being used to transport workers and their tools around the Merseytravel estate including the various bus stations, three ferry terminals, seven tunnel ventilation stations and the two Mersey road tunnels: the Queensway and Kingsway.

With 90,000 vehicles crossing underneath the River Mersey every day, it’s Merseytravel’s job to ensure that the tunnels are effectively maintained in the most cost effective way.

By using the e-NV200, fuel costs are substantially reduced while it also helps to improve the local air quality as they do not emit any exhaust emissions.

Councillor Liam Robinson, chair of Merseytravel, said: “Our vision is for electric and other low emission vehicles to play a role in developing a vibrant low carbon economy across the region.

“The introduction of more electric vehicles to our own fleet is another major step forward.”

Last year Merseytravel took an all-electric Nissan Leaf as one of its pool cars.

It has also launched its ‘Recharge’ initiative, a government-funded project to provide a network of charging points at key locations to encourage and support electric vehicle ownership throughout the Liverpool City Region and West Cheshire. Additionally passenger van or minibus insurance premiums can differ and insurance providers should be made aware of the fuel type.

So far 30 chargers have been installed at locations including ​Seacombe  Ferry Terminal, Alder Hey Children’s Hospital, Broad Green Hospital, and Liverpool John Lennon Airport.

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Inchcape delivers ‘robust’ Q3 UK performance

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Inchcape delivers ‘robust’ Q3 UK performance

Inchcape delivered a “robust” performance in Q3 with turnover up 9.4% to £1.739bn at constant currency and by 2.5% at actual currency compared to the same period last year.

Like for like revenue was up 10.1% at constant currency and by 3.1% at actual currency.

Its aftersales activities, which account for 50% of the group’s gross profit, performed well and in line with expectations. Strong new car sales in recent years have grown the 1-5 year car parc in the majority of markets.

In the UK revenue growth was robust with the corporate sector particularly strong in new car sales. Used Vehicle margins declined year on year in the quarter but aftersales activities performed strongly.

Stefan Bomhard, group CEO of Inchcape, said: “Our growth continues to be supported by the group’s strong portfolio of distribution and retail businesses, in attractive markets, across five continents, where we typically have strong long-standing positions. In line with our earlier expectations, we are set to deliver a robust underlying constant currency performance in 2015.

“We delivered a strong performance in Australasia, reflecting our increased Subaru market share supported by an improved supply of vehicles. Our premium and luxury brand partners in our Retail operations continued to grow ahead of the market.

“In Europe our revenue performance was solid and in line with our expectations. The Belgium market was benign and we saw a sequentially stronger revenue trend. Although the Greek New Vehicle market was down in the quarter, we managed to gain market share.”

Inchcape said the outlook was positive and in line with earlier expectations.

“We are well positioned to take advantage of the attractive growth prospects in the premium and luxury segments across our diverse market portfolio and are set to deliver a robust underlying constant currency performance in 2015, in line with expectations,” said Bomhard.

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UK mortgage sector competition to be examined

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UK mortgage sector competition to be examined

The UK’s financial watchdog has launched a consultation process on competition in the mortgage sector to seek input from interested parties to identify both good points and potential areas for improvement.

‘For millions of consumers a mortgage is one of the biggest, if not the biggest, financial transaction they will enter into in their lifetime. The mortgage sector also plays a vital role in the financial services industry and many areas of the economy,’ said Christopher Woolard, director of strategy and competition at the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA).

He explained that competition can play a key role in ensuring that the sector works well, delivering consumer benefits through lower prices, better customer service, and more product choice.

‘We are seeking stakeholders’ views on competition in the mortgage sector. These views, together with evidence from the FCA’s wider programme of work on mortgages, will help inform any future FCA work on this key sector of the economy, including any future competition market study,’ he added.

The FCA is interested in the range of factors that might affect competition in the provision of loans secured against a property, whether regulated or unregulated, including as a result of changes introduced following the Mortgage Market Review and any other barriers to entry, expansion or innovation.

It also wants to examine consumers’ ability to effectively access, assess and act on information about mortgage products and services and firms’ conduct and relationships and the deadline for input is 18 December 2015 with feedback scheduled for the first quarter of 2016.

The Council of Mortgage Lenders welcomed the announcement and described it is an excellent opportunity for the regulator to review the effect of regulation, as well as market practice, on lenders as well as their customers.

‘The FCA’s role in promoting competitive markets is the part of regulation that best helps foster creativity, innovation and a sharp focus on what drives customers,’ said CML director general Paul Smee.

‘It’s also essential in delivering the kind of environment in which reputable lenders of all shapes and sizes can thrive. We will be working with all our members to ensure that their perspectives are fully reflected as we work with the FCA on this vital issue,’ he added.

He went on further to say ‘It is also essential that adequate unoccupied property insurance is arranged as standard property insurance isnt suitable and lenders will insist on this’.

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Michael Pooley to succeed James McCarthy as President of CHEP Europe

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Michael Pooley to succeed James McCarthy as President of CHEP Europe

CHEP today announced a transition of leadership for its European operations. James McCarthy, is leaving the company after seven-and-a-half years. CHEP has appointed Michael Pooley, who has previously led the company’s UK & Ireland business as well as its Sales & Customer Operations team in the USA, as James’ successor as President, CHEP Europe.

The Group President of CHEP’s worldwide Pallets operations, Peter Mackie, said: “James McCarthy has done a great job leading CHEP Europe, driving our business closer to its customers, overseeing the launch of a number of new pallet solutions and developing our focus on assisting customers with their sustainability efforts. The entire CHEP family will miss James and wishes him and his family very well for the future. In Mike Pooley, we are delighted to appoint a strong successor to James. During his time as head of our Sales & Customer Operations for CHEP USA, he was integral to strengthening key customer relationships and energizing our teams. His appointment will provide both continuity and fresh impetus for CHEP in Europe as we continue to work together with our customers to make their supply chains more efficient and sustainable.”

Mr McCarthy will remain with CHEP until December 2015 to work alongside Mr Pooley to enable a smooth leadership transition. Mr McCarthy has led CHEP Europe since March 2013 and also held the roles of President, CHEP Western Europe and Chief Financial Officer, CHEP Europe, Middle East & Africa since joining the company in 2008. Mr McCarthy said: “I have worked for CHEP for seven-and-a-half years and it has been a great experience but now is the right time for me to move on. I am delighted to welcome Mike back to the business and look forward to watching CHEP Europe and its customers thrive under his leadership.”

Mr Pooley rejoins CHEP on 1 November 2015 from materials testing company Exova Europe, where he was Managing Director since April 2013. Mr Pooley worked for CHEP from 2002 until 2013, in leadership positions including: Senior Vice President, Sales & Customer Operations for CHEP USA; Managing Director, CHEP UK & Ireland; and Vice President, European Key Accounts. Before joining CHEP in 2002, he spent 12 years with industrial gases business BOC in a number of business development, design, development and production engineering roles. Mike is a Chartered Mechanical Engineer and holds a master’s degree in Business Administration from Henley Management College.

Mr Pooley said: “I am delighted to be returning to the CHEP family at a time when there are  so many opportunities to work with customers throughout Europe on developing solutions that make the supply chain better. I am excited at the prospect of again working with our wonderful portfolio of customers and our passionate teams of supply chain experts.”

About CHEP

CHEP is the global leader in managed, returnable and reusable packaging solutions, serving many of the world’s largest companies in sectors such as consumer goods, fresh produce, beverage and automotive. CHEP’s service is environmentally sustainable and increases efficiency for customers while reducing operating risk and product damage. CHEP’s 7,500-plus employees and 300 million pallets and containers offer unbeatable coverage and exceptional value, supporting more than 500,000 customer touch-points in more than 50 countries. Our customer portfolio includes global companies and brands such as Procter & Gamble, Sysco, Kellogg’s, Kraft, Nestlé, Ford and GM. CHEP is part of Brambles Limited. For further information, visit

For further information, please contact:

Víctor Collado

Director, Corporate Communications

CHEP Europe, Middle East & Africa

Phone: +34915579401

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New record for September plate-change market

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New record for September plate-change market

As widely expected the September plate-change hit a new high with registrations up 8.6% to 462,517 units, according to the SMMT.

The rise marked the 43rd consecutive month of growth for the new car market and pushed the year to date total up 7.08% to 2,096,886 units. This was the first time the 2 million barrier has been exceeded in September since 2004.

“September is traditionally one of the year’s biggest months for new car registrations, and last month set an autumn record,” said Mike Hawes, SMMT chief executive, who reiterated his belief that the market will soon level off.

“With plenty of attractive, affordable deals available on the new 65-plate, Britain’s car buyers – whether private, fleet or business consumers – were busier than ever. The market reached pre-recession levels some time ago, and we anticipate some levelling off in the coming months. It is too early to draw conclusions, but customer demand for diesel remained strong, accounting for one in two cars registered.”

The retail sector led the market accounting for 49.3% of registrations, a year on year rise of 3%. Fleet demand grew 15.2% taking 44.9%, while the sub 25 fleet business sector grew 10.6% and accounted for 5.8% of the market.

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Ridgeway Group profits rocket 26% to £10.3m

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Ridgeway Group profits rocket 26% to £10.3m

Ridgeway Group turned in a strong performance in 2014 with pre-tax profits up 26% to £10.3m on turnover up 18% to £647.7m.

Results filed at Companies House showed that like-for-like new car retail sales rose 7% for the period and 15% overall.

The group, under chief executive John O Hanlon (pictured) saw average new car price increased by £574 per unit, gross profit per unit fell slightly but total gross profit increased by £1.75m.

Like-for-like used vehicle sales rose 11% in the year to 31 December and 21% overall.

The company said it had improved stock management and used car processes, which had lifted profitability.

Average used car prices increased by £735 on average with gross profit per unit up 16% and overall gross profit increased by £5.4m.

Ridgeways said that aftersales revenues and profitability grew in 2014 with increased customer engagement through service plans and the use of technology.

The group won the Motor Trader Digital Initiative of the Year award in 2014 for the development and implementation of Workshop Window.

During 2014 the group rolled out a programme of training modules in the Ridgeway Academy, covering sales, aftersales, communications and management for staff at all levels. To date almost 900 employees have attended one or more sessions.

Ridgeway continues to invest heavily in its facilities with a new Audi showroom opening in Oxford in July 2014 and refurbishment of VW dealerships.

It also relocated Skoda in Oxford to Kidington and refurbished a Maserati dealership and Select used car showrooms during the period.

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JJ Foodservice updates fleet with 7.5t Isuzu Forward rigids

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JJ Foodservice updates fleet with 7.5t Isuzu Forward rigids

JJ Food Service has taken delivery of new Isuzu Forward 7.5 tonne rigid trucks.

Mick Montague from JJ Food Service said: “All our Isuzus have served us really well in the past. They are an excellent workhorse with outstanding payload capability.

“In fact, we have still got some 06 plate Isuzus running around on a daily basis within our fleet today. For our new bespoke service for home deliveries, we felt that the Isuzu Euro VI 7.5tonner would be the ideal vehicle to handle the requirements of this specific operation.”

The latest replacement Isuzu Forward N75.190 4×2 rigids feature the popular Easyshift automated transmission and are specified with a Solomon’s dual compartment refrigerated body that has a movable bulkhead. The trucks each use Carrier Transicold Xarios refrigeration systems as standard and the bodies have all been fitted with the latest JJ Food Service wrap livery.

“For the last few years, we have concentrated on adding 18 tonne rigids to our fleet, however recently, our product range has changed considerably, in terms of product categories and higher price points. To accommodate these changes, we needed to go back to putting more 7.5 tonne vehicles into the fleet. This gives us a better, more efficient, utilisation of these types of products,” added Montague.

Based at the JJ Food Service depot in Enfield, the latest Isuzus are being used for a range of the company’s distribution services, mainly delivering to customers in West London and the City.

As the delivery routes are not particularly high mileage, JJ Food Service anticipates that the new Isuzu delivery vehicles will have a long working life in its fleet.

“Isuzu and JJ Food Service have enjoyed a really successful working relationship that goes back over many years. This is part and parcel of the ITUK approach to its customers. By working closely with our customers such as JJ Food Service, we are able to develop long-term partnerships. We strive to deliver great customer service and care and provide vehicles that are ideally suited to the specific distribution requirements,” added Keith Child, marketing director at Isuzu Truck.

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BT warned over internet provision

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BT warned over internet provision

Ofcom warns BT change is ahead over internet provision

  • 1 December 2015
  • From the section Business

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The status quo between BT and its subsidiary Openreach, which provides the infrastructure connecting people to the internet, is unlikely to continue warns the head of the telecoms regulator, Ofcom.

Critics of BT say it has not invested enough in Openreach and want it sold.

Ofcom’s chief executive, Sharon White, is currently reviewing the company’s provision of superfast broadband.

She said one option was “the structural separation” of Openreach from BT.

Ms White explained this was among four possible options being explored. They are:

  • Whether to maintain the status quo which she said was “unlikely.”
  • More deregulation
  • The “structural separation” of Openreach and BT – in particular whether Openreach could be spun out more fully from BT.
  • Adjusting the existing system to make it “more fit for purpose”. That could include improving services, repairs, and laying new superfast lines.

Ms White said it was unacceptable that 2.5 million homes did not have access to minimal broadband speed of 10 megabytes per second.

Her report is expected next year.

Analysis: Rory Cellan-Jones, technology correspondent

Ms White, a high-flying Treasury civil servant before she arrived at Ofcom, is used to making these kind of decisions, though not under quite the same spotlight.

When I interviewed her she told me that Ofcom was still examining all options – but suggested that she was minded to act rather than let things carry on as before:

” I think there will be change,” she tells me. “We’re looking at a number of options, but I think it is very unlikely we will conclude that the status quo which has worked over the last 10 years is where we are likely to be over the next decade.”

Now, it is still far from certain that Ofcom’s Sharon White will recommend that Openreach is split off – and the digital minister Ed Vaizey has already indicated that the government is sceptical about such radical action. But BT knows that it is now under the microscope of a regulator determined to prove that it is the consumer’s friend.

Read Rory’s blog in full

Previously Openreach’s chief executive Joe Garner has defended their record saying they were installing broadband throughout the country at a “tremendous” rate.

BT also maintains splitting the Openreach service off would be a “mistake”.

Following Ofcom’s last strategic review 10 years ago, BT was obliged to create Openreach, through which it provided access to its telephone and broadband network to “competing providers on equal terms”.

Essentially, those providers pay a wholesale price to BT for use of the network and then charge telecoms customers for services.

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Faulty part ‘factor’ in AirAsia crash

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Faulty part ‘factor’ in AirAsia crash

AirAsia crash: Faulty part ‘major factor’

  • 1 December 2015
  • From the section Asia

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The wreckage of the plane was located days after the crash

A faulty component was a “major factor” when an AirAsia plane crashed into the Java Sea last December, killing 162 people, Indonesian officials say.

The first major report into the crash found that actions by the crew in response to the malfunction also contributed to the disaster.

The Airbus A320-200, going from Surabaya to Singapore, was 40 minutes into the flight when contact was lost.

The report is the result of a year-long investigation.

Investigators had initially indicated that bad weather was a major factor in the crash.

But the new report has found that the soldering on a tiny electronic part in the system that controlled the rudder was cracked, causing it to send four warning signals to the pilots.

The crew tried to fix the problem by resetting the computer, but this disabled the autopilot. They then lost control of the plane.

The plane then entered “a prolonged stall condition that was beyond the capability of the flight crew to recover,” said Indonesia’s national transport safety committee.

Maintenance crews were aware of the problem as it had occurred 23 times in 2014, and resetting the system was one of several methods used previously to address it, the report said.

Malaysia-based AirAsia’s Chief Executive Tony Fernandes thanked investigators on Twitter and added that “there is much to be learned here for AirAsia, the manufacturer and the aviation industry”.

“We will not leave any stone unturned to make sure the industry learns from this tragic incident.”

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Only 106 bodies have been retrieved

Analysis: Karishma Vaswani, BBC News, Singapore

Families of the 162 people on board AirAsia flight QZ8501 have been waiting anxiously for the results of this investigation.

Indonesian investigators did not release their preliminary findings earlier this year, saying they were under no legal obligation to do so.

Covering the crash at the time, the working theory was that pilot error must have been a major contributor, or that bad weather was a factor.

But this report shows that it was actually the response of the crew to a chronically faulty component on the plane that caused the plane to crash and that bad weather had nothing to do with it.

AirAsia will now have many questions to answer about why the aircraft was not better maintained and why its pilots were not better prepared to handle these problems.

Read more: Who were the victims of the AirAsia crash?

The plane’s wreckage was found days after the crash at the bottom of the Java Sea near Borneo.

Most of the passengers were Indonesian, and others on board included a Frenchman, a Singaporean, a Malaysian, a Briton, and three South Koreans.

Only 106 bodies have been retrieved so far.

The crash capped a year of major air disasters including the disappearance of MH370 and the shooting of MH17- both flights operated by Malaysia Airlines.

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Mugabe welcomes Chinese leader

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Mugabe welcomes Chinese leader

China’s Xi Jinping in Zimbabwe for talks with Mugabe

  • 1 December 2015
  • From the section Africa

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President Xi Jinping is on his first visit to Zimbabwe

China’s President Xi Jinping has arrived in Zimbabwe, making him the most prominent global leader in many years to visit the country.

The two nations had a “deep and firm” friendship, Mr Xi said in an article in Zimbabwe’s state-run Herald newspaper.

Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe has strongly pursued a “Look East” policy since the West isolated him over his controversial land reform programme.

China is major investor in Zimbabwe, helping to keep its economy afloat.

The BBC’s Brian Hungwe in the capital, Harare, says President Robert Mugabe was at the airport to welcome the Chinese leader, who received a 21-gun salute before inspecting a guard of honour.

Chinese nationals, waving both Zimbabwean and Chinese flags, were also there to welcome Mr Xi.

The two governments are expected to sign agreements to boost Zimbabwe’s agriculture, mining and manufacturing sectors.

Mr Xi, who is on his first visit to Zimbabwe, said it remained a cornerstone of China’s foreign policy to consolidate its relationship with Zimbabwe and other African states.

“This will never change,” he added.

Mr Xi and a large Chinese delegation will fly to South Africa on Wednesday, where he will attend the first China-Africa summit to be held in Africa. It is expected to be attended by leaders from across the continent.

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Report identifies 18 areas in the UK with new home development opportunities

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Report identifies 18 areas in the UK with new home development opportunities

There are 18 areas in the UK where economic fundamentals suggest there are good opportunities for developers at a time when the government wants to build more homes than ever.

An analysis from international real estate firm Knight Frank and planning consultancy Barton Willmore names them as Leeds, Manchester, York, Durham, Birmingham, Nottingham, Warwick, Leicester, Brentwood, South Cambridgeshire, Bristol, Bath and North East Somerset, Exeter, Cherwell, South Oxfordshire, Guildford, Reigate and Banstead and Tunbridge Wells.

Factors examined included economic growth, employment growth, stock to sales ratios, affordability and liveability. These rankings were then placed alongside the latest conditions in the local planning environment as well as local knowledge, to highlight areas which suggest there is the possibility for outperformance for developers, not only in terms of pricing but also market absorption.

Justin Gaze, joint head of residential development at Knight Frank, said developer interest is now much wider than just London. ‘Increasingly, our clients are looking at regional cities and districts for future potential and the report demonstrates from an economic and planning perspective where these development opportunities are likely to be,’ he explained.

According to Iain Painting, planning partner at Barton Willmore, these opportunity areas are aligned with the increased emphasis on urbanisation, focusing on many of England’s key cities, but also demonstrate that development opportunities are not purely based in the South East.

In the North of England it is Manchester and Leeds that are expected to be among the areas which will experience the strongest rates of household growth over the next 10 years, while York scores particularly highly on liveability rankings.

The report suggests that the green belt will pose constraints for developers in and around Durham and York but at the same time, there is a need for more site identification, as these two areas do not yet have a five year land supply. York boasts policies to boost housing supply as it has been identified as one of the first Housing Zones in England.

Meanwhile, Leeds plays host to an Enterprise Zone and the North East Combined Authority, of which Durham is one of the constituent boroughs, has also bid for 175 hectares of Enterprise Zone over 10 sites. The report points out that this new combined authority has just been granted extended powers over housing.

Of the four Development Opportunity areas, only Leeds has an approved local plan and as policymakers push ahead with the ‘Northern Powerhouse’, especially the transport infrastructure to support this, the opportunities in the North of England will widen, it adds.

The report explains that not only does Birmingham have an Enterprise Zone, but also a planning department committed to large scale regeneration of many parts of the city. Nottingham is also an Enterprise Zone area and has a local plan and five year land supply in place. ‘However, our data shows that the current pipeline supply of schemes in this local authority may fall short of household growth projections,’ the report says.

Further south, Warwick scores highly on liveability, and also has strong employment growth forecasts, while strong household growth is projected in Leicester. In the East the arrival of Crossrail in 2018 will make Brentwood, an already attractive area of Essex even more so. Direct trains to Bond Street will take 44 minutes, cutting nearly 10 minutes from the journey time as well as the need to change trains.

The report also points out that Brentwood has one of the strongest forecasts for employment growth, as well as showing one of the largest imbalances between pipeline supply and household growth over the next five years.

South Cambridgeshire also has a particularly strong forecast for employment growth, and has been rated the best place to live in an independent survey of rural locations across the UK. But it does not yet have an approved local plan in place for housing, and has not quite met its five year housing supply. There are questions about whether more green belt land should be released for development.

In the South West both Bristol and Bath and North East Somerset have a local plan and a five year housing supply, and the determination to step up development is underlined by the policy environment, with a local enterprise zone in Bristol’s Temple Quarter. Exeter doesn’t yet have a post NPPF local plan, but has identified three sustainable urban extensions.

The report explains that South East Cherwell and South Oxfordshire will both benefit from transport infrastructure improvements with a new train line taking passengers from Oxford Parkway and Bicester Village to London Marylebone, and a possible new junction to the M40 at Bicester.

Indeed, Bicester has also been identified as a Garden Town, which will translate into more funding and support for housing. ‘The Science Vale in South Oxfordshire is positioning itself as a global hotspot for enterprise and technology. Parts of the Vale have been granted Enterprise Zone status,’ the report adds.

Guildford and Reigate and Banstead are described as being in a position to take advantage of the housing need in the capital. ‘Sitting just beyond the M25, these local authorities, which have strong forecast economic growth over the next five years and which are well above average in the liveability rankings, both have a shortfall in their five year land supply, and Guildford does not yet have an approved local plan in place,’ the report says.

Tunbridge Wells has one of the highest liveability scores in the country and is also forecast to have strong economic growth. The pressure for more housing is well documented, however the report suggests that the green belt is a constraint. There is as yet no local plan in place and there is a shortfall in the identified five year land supply.

The report also explains how there has been a cumulative shortfall in housing of around 330,000 units since 2008. However, the situation is improving. Construction starts in England in the second quarter of this year were 94% higher than in the same quarter in 2009, but there is still some way to go. In the year to July, around 113,000 units were started, down from 152,000 during the same period a decade ago.

Another measure of future activity, pipeline planning, suggests that the upward trend will continue. Data from Glenigan, the construction analysts, shows that there were more than 293,000 units with planning permission across the UK in April this year, up from 253,000 in April last year, and 184,000 in April 2013.

‘However, it is worth noting that there is no guarantee that all schemes with planning will come to fruition, especially due to the increasing number of planning conditions applied to successful planning applications which can affect the final viability of a scheme. Development land prices are also moderating, although this partly reflects the increased costs of development, with a sharp rise in the cost of materials and labour in recent years,’ the report concludes.

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RBS warned in bank stress test

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RBS warned in bank stress test

RBS and Standard Chartered weakest in bank stress test

  • 1 December 2015
  • From the section Business

Royal Bank of Scotland and Standard Chartered were the weakest of Britain’s seven largest lenders in a Bank of England stress test.

For the second year, the central bank has subjected the lenders to economic tests to measure whether they would survive a downturn.

This time, it was assumed oil fell to $38 a barrel and the global economy slumped.

No bank was ordered to come up with a new capital plan.

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Heathrow conditions ‘must be met’

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Heathrow conditions ‘must be met’

Heathrow Airport expansion: Environmental conditions ‘must be met’

  • 1 December 2015
  • From the section UK

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The government should not support the building of a third runway at Heathrow until a number of environmental conditions can be met, MPs have said.

The Airports Commission published a report backing a third runway in July.

But the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee report said firm plans to deal with climate-changing emissions, air quality and noise need to be put in place.

A final government decision is expected by the end of the year.

Labour MP Huw Irranca-Davies, chairman of the committee, said it would be “irresponsible” to postpone dealing with the environmental impact of expansion at Heathrow.

He warned that to do so “could lead to legal challenges as a result of the potential damage to public health from increased air pollution and noise”.

“If the government decides to accept the commission’s recommendation for a third runway in principle, we will seek assurances from the secretary of state for transport that environmental conditions will be met before it is given final approval,” he added.

BBC business editor Kamal Ahmed said senior sources at the company that runs Heathrow have told him the “mood music” around the decision to expand is in favour of the third runway being approved.

The cross-party committee said legal air pollution limits would have to be reached if the west London airport expands and also called for a ban on night flights to ease noise.

The MPs said the airport had to show that an expanded Heathrow would be less noisy than it is with two runways. Their report also called for Heathrow to say it would cover the costs of surface transport improvements.

The Airports Commission has already called for flights between 23:30 and 06:00 to be banned.

Heathrow currently has said it wants a “review” of the issue and has not made any pledges over night flights. The airport has also said it plans to ensure more people arrive by public transport to keep emissions down.

‘Policy vacuum’

Mr Irranca-Davies said: “The communities living near to the roads around Heathrow already put up with noise and extra traffic.

“It would be quite unacceptable to subject them to a potentially significant deterioration in air quality as well.”

A strategy to deliver aviation emissions at no higher than 2005 levels by 2050 should be put in place by the government, the committee’s report recommended.

It also called for a Community Engagement Board to be set up to increase trust between local residents and the government.

Mr Irranca-Davies said: “Planes are becoming more fuel efficient, but this alone will not keep aviation emissions in line with the government’s climate change targets given the growth in passenger numbers.

“Even without expansion, aviation is on track to exceed its climate change target. We heard evidence that those targets might be met in theory, but at present there is a policy vacuum and evidence-based scepticism as to whether they can be met in practice.”

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The new north-west runway would be built about two miles north of the airport’s current two

Heathrow’s chief executive John Holland-Kaye told the committee earlier this month that the airport could comfortably expand to include a third runway and still stay within environmental targets.

At the time, he said the issue of night flights was one that Heathrow was looking at and would comment on “in due course”.

The issue of Heathrow’s expansion has been a long-running and contentious issue.

In 2009, while in opposition, David Cameron ruled out Heathrow expansion, saying “no ifs, no buts”.

The Airport Commission’s recommendation in July was criticised by competing airport Gatwick, and by London Mayor Boris Johnson, who has argued for a whole new airport.

Environmentalists and residents who live near the flight path of the proposed third runway have also campaigned against it.

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Chinese manufacturing activity worsens

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Chinese manufacturing activity worsens

Chinese manufacturing activity worsens

  • 1 December 2015
  • From the section Business

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China’s vast manufacturing sector has struggled to gain momentum amid a slowing economy

Factory activity in the world’s second largest economy, China, deteriorated in November as the manufacturing sector continued to shrink.

The official purchasing managers’ index (PMI) fell below forecasts to 49.6 in November, down from the previous month’s reading of 49.8.

A reading below the 50-mark indicates contraction in the sector, while one above suggests growth.

China’s factories have struggled to gain momentum in a slowing economy.

The Asian giant is headed for its slowest growth in a quarter of a century this year and economists are concerned that it will miss Beijing’s official growth target of 7%.

Activity in its vast manufacturing sector shrank for the fourth consecutive month in November

The government is trying to move China from an export-driven economy to a consumption-based one.

Activity in the country’s services sector did pick up last month which helped offset the decline in manufacturing.

The services PMI rose to 53.6 from 53.1 in October.

The Caixin private manufacturing survey, which focuses more on small to medium-size businesses, is due out later in the morning.

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Asia shares rise ahead of China data

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Asia shares rise ahead of China data

Asian shares rise ahead of China manufacturing data

  • 1 December 2015
  • From the section Business

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Asian shares headed higher, recovering from the previous session’s losses, as investors looked ahead to manufacturing data from China.

The manufacturing purchasing managers index (PMI) surveys for November will be analysed by market watchers for signs of the extent of the slowdown affecting the world’s second largest economy.

Factory activity is expected to remain steady, according to economists.

The Nikkei was up 0.5% to 19,851.33.

The rise came despite government data that showed profit at Japanese companies rose 9% in the third quarter, compared with 23.8% in the prior one.

Sales also slowed compared with the previous quarter, up 0.1% compared with 1.1%.

Firms have been battling poor demand at home and abroad as the economy fell into a recession in the quarter.

In Australia, the S&P/ASX 200 index was up 1.3% to 5,231.70 – leading the region’s gains.

South Korea’s benchmark Kospi index rose 0.8% to 2,007.12.

Sentiment was boosted by a steady recovery in consumption that led the country’s annual inflation in November to jump to its highest in a year – an annual rate of 1%.

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Tonga facing up to rising seas

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Tonga facing up to rising seas

Tonga facing up to rising sea levels

  • 1 December 2015
  • From the section Business
Media captionClimate conference: The view from Tonga

The vulnerability of the Kingdom of Tonga to any rise in sea level is starkly evident from the moment your plane begins its descent.

From the air, the flat, small island of Tongatapu doesn’t look much like land at all, with the astonishingly blue Pacific Ocean dominating the view.

But it is home to Tonga’s capital, Nuku’alofa, and to the majority of the country’s population – 70,000 or so out of around 90,000.

And for Tongans – who have lived here since the 9th Century, when the first settlers arrived by boat, the issue of rising sea levels and climate change is not just one for discussion at an abstract level – it proves a threat to their very existence.

Tonga’s economy is weak – based to a large extent on remittances from expatriates, and on foreign aid.

Agriculture is mainly at subsistence level, and fishing – which is done by traditional spear – has lost some popularity over the previous decades, as cheap imported off-cuts of meats have replaced much of the traditional diet.

Highly religious, and well educated, Tongans’ attachment to their fragile land is something evident in their pride and discussion of traditions and culture.

‘Fighting the inevitable’

Tourism is barely visible on Tongatapu, where most land is owned by the King and the nobility (33 families).

Foreign investment is not much in evidence either; though what is evident is that many people from Tonga’s 150 outer islands, which scatter over hundreds of miles of sea, are relocating to the main island as their own fragile habitats face an uncertain future.

Image caption

Most Tongans live on the coast

These are often in informal settlements, which can suffer from a lack of infrastructure, and some of which are in tsunami “red zones”.

Yet at Fafa Island Resort, a tiny, picture-perfect island merely 20 minutes by boat from Nuku’alofa, tourists enjoy the luxury of sleeping in a traditional Polynesian hut – right by the beach. Or they do – for now.

Vincent Morrish, who manages the hotel with his wife, points out the erosion that will mean the huts will eventually have to be moved back into the centre of the island.

“We’re already having to move the restaurant and bar area back,” he says, pointing out at what was once the beach, but is now between 5-10m (16-32ft) out to sea.

“We’re fighting the inevitable,” he adds, as he walks around the makeshift defences the resort has put in place to hold back the increasingly fierce tides.

When asked if in 100 years the island will still exist, he replies: “Absolutely not”. And the tourists? It’s a question not answered.

Mr Morrish says the kitchen was rebuilt further back from the water a year ago, and they’ll be shutting in February to relocate the restaurant and the decking – otherwise, their guests will be dining in the water before too long.

Coping mechanism

Living by the sea is a proud part of Tongan culture and identity, with 80% of Tongans living right on the coast.

Yet rising tides and increasingly unpredictable weather is making life difficult.

Image caption

Many roads in Tonga are washed away by rising tides

Siali Lola Heeya the executive director of the Civil Society Forum of Tonga, a local non-government organisation, visits a road near the capital, where a coastal community with little infrastructure exists.

“This road was washed away by the rising tides,” says Ms Heeya. We rebuilt it but it’s going again.”

The road is a thin strip of land separating a small swamp where mangroves have been washed away – leaving the land unprotected from winter cyclones – and a lagoon leading to the vast Pacific.

It is a stunning spot. A short distance from the road is a tiny speck of an island – just one tree remains.

Ms Heeya looks troubled as she points it out: “People used to fish from there – they used it as a base. It was a [proper] island not long ago.”

The families dotted along this coast have few sources of income – and many still fish for their food – with spears – as they have done for millennia.

Do they fear the rising seas? Not necessarily, says Ms Heeya.

“Many people just accept changes here – nature changes – it is just part of life and they don’t really have much choice.

“There are cyclones, there is a rising sea – but for many of us, getting on with life as normal is a way of not accepting the problem – and just coping.”

But a problem it is.

‘Extinct culture’

Sione Fulavai is Tonga’s senior climate finance analyst. He is in no doubt that the problem of small island economies vulnerable to changes in climate is urgent, and that the rest of the world is duty-bound to pay attention.

He is in Paris – along with many other pacific island states – at this week’s UN climate change talks, where a legally binding agreement on carbon emissions is sought. What will he be asking?

Image caption

Sea defences are being built across the islands

“A lot of countries and governments are in Paris negotiating their economies – we’re just asking for survival,” he says.

“We don’t want to become another extinct culture.”

Does Mr Fulavai feel dwarfed by the size and might of other global economies on this issue?

“We’re fighting against the dollar, against the pound… we are tiny – we haven’t got the size or the money – but we are suffering the most.”

What about relocation? Something often talked about with small island communities. Relocation has already taken place within Tonga across its string of small islands.

Mr Fulavai is firm – relocating Tonga is unthinkable, and besides, where would the whole population of over 90,000 relocate to?

The nearest land is Samoa, Fiji and New Zealand. He says none of these are viable options.

“Where would we go? We are tied to our land – to our culture,” he says. “Without our lands who are we?”

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Fairy lights ‘slow’ wi-fi speeds

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Fairy lights ‘slow’ wi-fi speeds

Fairy lights could ‘slow’ wi-fi speeds warns Ofcom

Media captionThe BBC’s Rory Cellan-Jones tests Ofcom’s new wi-fi app

Christmas tree lights can slow your wi-fi warns watchdog Ofcom as it releases an app that can check home broadband.

The app samples wireless signals to see if data is flowing uninterrupted from routers to phones and tablets.

The app is released alongside research which suggests wi-fi in six million homes and offices is not running as fast as it could do.

The app also provides tips to help people spot what might be slowing down their wi-fi speed.

Interference could come from other electronic devices such as baby monitors, microwaves or Christmas fairy lights, said Ofcom in a statement.

Data deluge

Statistics about home wi-fi speeds are in Ofcom’s 2015 Connected Nations report that looks at the state of telecoms and wireless networks in the UK.

The report said there had been “good progress” on the availability and use of telecoms services. About 27% of UK homes now have super-fast broadband that runs at speeds in excess of 30 Megabits per second (Mbps). Last year the figure was 21%.

Super-fast broadband is now available to more than 83% of UK homes – up from 75% in the same period in 2014.

The research also found that those with the higher speed connections to the net are doing more with them. People with faster connections were now making significant use of catch-up TV services, online film rental services and video calls, it said.

Much of the UK’s appetite for data was being driven by households that have the super-fast services, said Ofcom.

However, despite the growing use of high-speed broadband it also acknowledged there was “still more to do”.

The research found that 2.4 million UK homes, about 8%, cannot get speeds of 10Mbps or more. Many of these homes were in rural areas.

It also said broadband speeds needed to increase for those on the move and said small businesses were being particularly poorly served when it came to access to services of 10Mbps or more. About half of all small or medium-sized firms based in business parks do not have access to net links of such speeds.

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Cloud storage services to face enquiry

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Cloud storage services to face enquiry

Cloud storage providers to face investigation by regulators

  • 1 December 2015
  • From the section Business

Image copyright

An investigation is to be launched into whether internet users are being charged unfairly when they use cloud storage services.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) said some providers may be breaching consumer laws.

It will look into complaints that prices can go up after a customer has taken out a contract – or that the amount of data storage can be changed.

Earlier this year the ONS reported that 40% of UK adults now use cloud storage.

Users of lap-tops, mobiles and tablets are increasingly taking advantage of such services, to store photos, documents, TV programmes and films.

By storing such files in the cloud, rather than on the device itself, users get more memory, and the ability to access them from anywhere in the world.

Usually cloud storage providers offer a certain amount of memory for free, but can charge up to £40 a month for extra gigabytes.

Amongst the biggest providers are Dropbox, Google Drive and Apple’s iCloud.

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The CMA said it was particularly concerned about:

  • Unexpected price increases, after a contract has been taken out
  • Changes or reductions to unlimited storage capacity deals
  • Consumers’ data being lost or deleted
  • How contracts are automatically renewed at the end of the period
  • What happens to consumers’ data when they cancel a contract

“If our review finds breaches of consumer protection laws, we will take further action to address these,” said Nisha Arora, the CMA’s senior director for consumer.

That could include “enforcement action using our consumer law powers, seeking voluntary change from the sector, or providing guidance to business or consumers.”

The law on price transparency has been tightened since the Consumer Rights Act came into force on 1 October.

The CMA’s consultation on the issue will be open until 15 January 2016, with an initial report on its findings expected in May.

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The secret bribes of big tobacco

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The secret bribes of big tobacco

The secret bribes of big tobacco

  • 30 November 2015
  • From the section Business

A BBC investigation has uncovered evidence of bribery at one of the UK’s biggest companies.

Panorama found British American Tobacco illegally paid politicians and civil servants in countries in East Africa.

The payments were revealed when a whistleblower shared hundreds of secret documents.

BAT told the BBC: “The truth is that we do not and will not tolerate corruption, no matter where it takes place.”

Paul Hopkins, who worked for BAT, a British company, in Kenya for 13 years, said he had begun paying bribes after being told it was the cost of doing business in Africa.

“BAT is bribing people, and I’m facilitating it,” he said.

“The reality is if… they have to break the rules, they will break the rules.”

Emails now shared by Mr Hopkins reveal BAT made illegal payments to two members and one former member of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), a United Nations campaign supported by 180 countries, aimed at reducing deaths from tobacco-related illness.

Image caption

Paul Hopkins says he was told bribery was the cost of doing business in Africa

An FCTC representative from Burundi, Godefroid Kamwenubusa, and a representative from the Comoros Islands, Chaibou Bedja Abdou, were both paid $3,000 (£2,000). A former representative from Rwanda, Bonaventure Nzeyimana, was paid $20,000. All three men deny taking bribes from BAT.

Dr Vera Da Costa e Silva, from the WHO, said BAT “is irresponsible to say the least”.

“It is using bribery to profit at the cost of people’s lives, simple as that,” he said.

“BAT should be investigated by the government and should be punished accordingly.”

Secret recording

The secret documents also show the company paid bribes to undermine anti-smoking legislation.

In return for the illegal payment to Mr Kamwenubusa, a Burundian senior civil servant, BAT also wanted a draft copy of the country’s Tobacco Control Bill.

And an email from a contractor working for BAT says Mr Kamwenubusa would be able to “accommodate any amendments before the president signs”.

Under the UK Bribery Act, British companies can be prosecuted for bribery anywhere in the world if they fail to take steps to prevent it.

BAT could also face prosecution and huge fines in the US.

Bribery expert Jeremy Carver said: “It will set inquires in train about their operations globally, so that suddenly everything they’re doing all over the world is now being scrutinised and not just by prosecutors in this country but in the United States and anywhere they are operating.”

Image caption

BAT told the BBC: “We do not and will not tolerate corruption, no matter where it takes place.”

BAT said any company could fall victim to an employee acting inappropriately.

“We are rightly proud that any alleged breach of our very high expectations of transparency and honesty is swiftly investigated,” its statement added.

“Any proven transgression will lead to appropriate disciplinary action.

“Our accusers in this programme left us in acrimonious circumstances and have a vendetta against us, clearly demonstrated by the false picture they present of how we do business.”

Shortly before he left the company, Mr Hopkins secretly recorded a discussion with a BAT lawyer about making final payments to his informants.

He can be heard telling the lawyer some contacts would need paying “to keep their mouths shut”.

The lawyer, Naushad Ramoly, is recorded saying: “That is what we are going to be paying. Yeah, OK, fine. Anything else that you think we will need to be paying for?”

Mr Ramoly, who no longer works for BAT, said he had never been involved in illegal activities or with bribes and he had reported Mr Hopkins to senior BAT management.

Mr Hopkins plans to meet with investigators from the Serious Fraud Office in the UK this week.

Panorama: The Secret Bribes of Big Tobacco, is on BBC One at 20:30 GMT on 30 November 2015 and available later via BBC iPlayer.

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London announces more council owned land for new home building

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London announces more council owned land for new home building

London is leading the way in the UK in terms of releasing land for new housing development and encouraging institutional investment in the city’s residential property market.

Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London has pledged to release all City Hall-owned land for development by the end of his Mayoral term in 2016 and almost all these sites are now up for development.

They include the regeneration of four former hospital sites and industrial land at Greenwich Peninsula and Barking Riverside. Around 50,000 homes will be delivered on City Hall’s land interests.

In the latest announcement a total of 3,500 new homes, a school and a park will transform a disused Parcelforce depot in east London on a 10 hectare site in Stephenson Street, Newham. It will also include nearly 30,000 square feet of retail space.

The development will provide homes to buy and rent, including a significant proportion of shared ownership and purpose built private rented homes. More than 1,200 of the 3,500 homes will be affordable.

It is part of the Johnson’s wider push to strengthen institutional investment in the residential market in London, with City Hall initiatives aimed at boosting both shared ownership and purpose built private rent.

‘This huge chunk of disused land will be put to the best possible use, creating a whole new neighbourhood including 3,500 much needed new homes, a new school and a park. This ambitious development will help to further the continuing transformation of east London as part of our Olympic legacy,’ said Johnson.

Chairman of the Berkeley Group Tony Pidgley, said that the Stephenson Street development will be a new village for London. ‘It will have all the qualities that a successful community needs: shops, workspaces and a school, links between neighbours, a beautiful park where people can play and great transport connections. Above all, this site will create homes for people regardless of their age, background or income. It will be a place for everyone,’ he added.

A key part of the Mayor’s Housing Strategy is to encourage institutional investors, such as pension funds and insurance companies, to invest in housebuilding. This includes efforts to support extended leases and more stability for tenants as well as top quality, well designed, new developments.

Some 132,000 properties have now signed up to his London Rental Standard, which sets out basic duties for landlords to ensure a higher-quality experience for the city’s tenants. These plans sit alongside efforts to boost home ownership for low and middle income households, with the Mayor exceeding his manifesto commitment by helping 52,000 Londoners into low cost home ownership through his First Steps scheme with plans to help a quarter of a million Londoners over the next decade.

The latest development is subject to planning approvals. Following a planning application in 2016, a site start is targeted for early 2017 which would see the first homes delivered in the summer of 2018.

Stephenson Street was acquired by the Mayor through the London Development Agency in 2004 and was used temporarily for relocations connected to the 2012 Olympic Games, before being cleared. It is situated in the fast-growing east London borough of Newham with excellent tube, train and DLR links.

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Consumers get choice of water services

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Consumers get choice of water services

Consumers in England to get choice of water services

  • 30 November 2015
  • From the section Business

Image copyright

Millions of householders in England could soon be given more choice over which company supplies part of their water services.

The government has announced that there could be limited competition between suppliers by the end of the parliament in 2020.

The choice will involve services such as billing and customer services, but not the water supply itself.

In Scotland, business customers can already choose such suppliers.

From April 2017, companies and big organisations in England will also have the ability to switch to a different provider.

Now the regulator, Ofwat, is to examine the costs and benefits of household customers having some degree of choice.

Ofwat’s chief executive, Cathryn Ross, said it could mean cheaper services for consumers.

“Such a market in the water and wastewater sector could see customers become more engaged, push prices down, service up, and encourage more efficient use of an increasingly stretched resource,” she said.

Ofwat will report back by the summer of 2016.

‘Click and collect’ pharmacies

The action on competition in the water industry was one of a number of measures announced by the Treasury.

It said it also wanted to reduce barriers in legal services, in order to provide more competition for solicitors.

As a result, legal services such as conveyancing, probate and litigation could be offered by other providers, such as accountancy firms.

Some of the big ones – KPMG, Ernst and Young and PwC – already provide legal services to their clients.

The Treasury also said it wanted more competition between pharmacies, with a better online delivery system, such as click-and-collect.

Image copyright

Image caption

The practice of locking mobile phones could be brought to an end

‘£470 savings’

The government is also considering forcing dentists to be more transparent about their prices.

At the moment, dentists have to display their NHS prices clearly, but they do not have to show the prices for private treatment.

In addition, the mobile phone industry is being told that it may have to end the practice of locking phones to a network at the end of a contract.

The government will begin a consultation next year on whether the locking of phones should be banned outside any initial contract period.

At the moment some phone companies charge as much as £20 to unlock a phone.

Such a change would make it easier for consumers to switch to another provider at the end of a contract.

Consumer groups have already campaigned in favour of such a change.

Overall the Treasury said that, in total, consumers could save as much as £470 a year, as a result of increased competition and price transparency across the range of services.

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Storopack optimizes packaging processes at iHerb

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Storopack optimizes packaging processes at iHerb

AIRplus® Air pillows improve both efficiencies and ergonomics

iHerb sells and distributes close to 35,000 different products online to customers in the US and around the world

The American company iHerb has had great success over the years in marketing and selling dietary supplements online to customers in the US and around the world. iHerb sells and distributes close to 35,000 different products, such as vitamins, supplements and natural health products. Over 1,000 brands make up the business platform for the rapidly growing e-commerce business established in 1996. Many of the products are packed for shipping in Hebron, Kentucky. iHerb also has another distribution center located in Perris, CA. Storopack, the expert in protective packaging, based in Metzingen, Germany, has been supporting iHerb in their goal of optimizing their packaging processes since mid-2014. By filling the packaging cavities with AIRplus® air pillows instead of paper, iHerb has increased packaging process efficiencies by around 30 percent.

The packaging solution implemented by Storopack resulted in iHerb’s packaging process becoming much more simple and ergonomic.

The packaging solution implemented by Storopack resulted in iHerb’s packaging process becoming much more simple and ergonomic.

iHerb approached Storopack with the objective of optimizing the efficiency of its protective packaging process, while reducing costs and damages occurring during transportation. Previously, iHerb had worked with a competitor’s packing paper. However, the protective packaging process was too time-consuming. The paper packaging came out of the machine flat and had to be manually crumpled by the operators, and then inserted into the open spaces within the box. Furthermore, there were frequent paper jams which led to interruptions in the production and shipping process. Export shipments were at times damaged since the paper did not protect the goods properly.

Since there were no sharp-edged or heavy products in the iHerb product range, a decision was made in favor of air pillows from the AIRplus® Void brand and the corresponding AIRplus® Mini machine

Since there were no sharp-edged or heavy products in the iHerb product range, a decision was made in favor of air pillows from the AIRplus® Void brand and the corresponding AIRplus® Mini machine

Pursuant to the process flow developed by the company, Storopack first ran a detailed analysis of the currently used packaging materials, the means of transportation, and the organization of existing intralogistics processes. For this purpose, protective packaging specialist Jason Leimberger from Storopack US, analyzed the packaging process at iHerb’s warehouse in Kentucky, took stock of the products shipped, and evaluated feedback for the packing staff. “It came to light that each packer used a different amount of paper and crumpled the paper in their own way,” said Leimberger. The first objective was then defined as the standardization of the packaging process, which included both the amount of packaging material used and the packing process itself.

Since there were no sharp-edged or heavy products in the iHerb product range, a decision was made in favor of air pillows from the AIRplus® Void brand and the corresponding AIRplus® Mini machine. This decision not only met the standardization objective, with the same amount of air pillows always being used to fill a certain void. This meant the packaging process was no longer being influenced by individual packers. Another major advantage was that the packaging process became much more simple and ergonomic. Whereas the staff had previously worked with a foot pedal to produce the paper, which was then followed by manually crumpling and inserting the paper into the voids, the protective packaging solution provided by Storopack is almost fully automated. The packers simply pull the air cushions from an overhead hopper and place them into the shipping carton, while all other process steps are performed automatically.

Total packaging costs were significantly decreased thanks to the new solution. Efficiency increased close to 30 percent per carton. It took an average of 9.3 seconds to fill a shipment with the previously used paper. With Storopack’s air pillows, the time required for packaging was reduced to an average of 6.6 seconds. Up to 2,000 shipping boxes can now be completed per hour. The Storopack solution enabled personnel costs to be reduced by 19 percent.

As per Storopack’s overall sales process, the production and supply of a protective packaging solution is always followed by ongoing customer support and consulting on further improvements. Following the customer’s request, Storopack developed proposals to further automate the packing process.

iHerb is very satisfied with the results of collaboration. “Storopack understands our business and develops pragmatic solutions that perform very well in our workflows,” says Kurt Cheek, Facility Director at iHerb. “The services provided go beyond the personal attention given by packaging specialists like Jason Leimberger and the on-site service. They also include the ongoing development of our protective packaging solutions in terms of new technologies, materials and processes. During our time working together, I have become a big fan of Storopack and I am very interested in Storopack supporting us in optimizing our delivery processes.”

Further information is available at

Storopack is a specialist in the field of protective packaging. Its product portfolio encompasses both customized and flexible packaging systems and their integration into customer packaging processes. The services provided by the internationally active company group based in Metzingen (Germany) are performed by the two divisions Molding and Packaging.

The Packaging Division offers flexible protective packaging systems encompassing air cushions (AIRplus®), paper pads (PAPERplus®), PU-foam-in-place packaging systems (FOAMplus®) and Loose Fill (PELASPAN® and PELASPAN® BIO) packaging materials. It supplies demand-driven equipment solutions covering everything from single workstations through to the design and implementation of packaging lines integrated into a company’s intralogistics and equipped with manual, semi- and fully automated infeed packaging systems. Specialized application engineers

of Storopack ensure that the entire work flow takes place in keeping with economic and ergonomic principles (working comfort) in order to constantly improve the customers’ protective packaging process. The Packaging Division is represented by locations in North America, South America, Europe and Asia. The products are available through dealers in over 40 countries.

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Sales to first time buyers up in the UK, latest estate agent data shows

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Sales to first time buyers up in the UK, latest estate agent data shows

The number of sales made to first time buyers in the UK rose for the second month running, to the highest level in six years, according to the latest housing market report from the National Association of Estate Agents (NAEA).

The October report show that there was an average of nine sales made per estate agent branch in total and 31% of these sales were to first time buyers. Last month, the group accounted for 29% of all sales, and in August just 20%, showing an 11% jump in just two months.
‘It’s really promising that, for the second month running, the number of sales being made to first time buyers has risen. Competitive mortgage products and the increasing pressure of an interest rate rise could be encouraging first steppers to take the plunge, as well as the dwindling supply of rental housing stock, putting pressure on renters to buy,’ said Mark Hayward, NAEA managing director.
The report also points out that the supply of available housing increased in October, ahead of the Christmas slowdown. The number of properties available to buy per branch increased by 16% from 37 in September to 43 in October. On the other hand, demand for property dropped slightly from an average 342 house hunters per branch in September, to 336 in October.
‘Although it is great to see supply growing and demand falling, albeit by just 2%, we cannot rest in the knowledge that the housing market is on the ‘road to recovery’. What we’re seeing is a seasonal uplift,’ said Hayward.

‘Those selling their homes are keen to push through sales before Christmas, hence the uplift in properties entering the market but with the average sale taking between nine and 12 weeks, it’s unlikely transactions will be pushed through before Christmas now. Buyers are holding off until January to kick off the New Year with a house hunt,’ he explained.
‘The only way we can attempt to repair the market is simply by building more houses. Osborne’s pledge last week to build 200,000 new and affordable starter homes, with a discount for those under the age of 40, and his promises to offer loans to small builders, reform the planning system and re-designate commercial land to build new homes are all a step in the right direction. But until it’s all put into motion and we see the walls of new properties going up, we’re not holding our breath,’ he added.

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County towns in the UK lead price growth for five bed family homes, new research shows

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County towns in the UK lead price growth for five bed family homes, new research shows

Family homes in quintessential county towns in England have seen prices rise more than seven times the national average in key regional locations, according to new research.

Warwick has seen the highest price growth for five plus bedroom homes in the past 12 months with York, Hertford, Bristol, Gloucester, Exeter, Chelmsford, Shrewsbury, Chester and Northampton making up the top 10.

Overall, average growth for the top 10 markets in five bedroom homes was 27.68%, the study from national estate agents Jackson-Stops & Staff which has 44 offices across the country.

In Warwick prices for five bedroom family homes rose from £519,129 to £799,777 in the past 12 months with York, Hertford, Bristol, Gloucester and Exeter showing 33.9%, 33.8%, 33.6%, 29.6% and 27.7% growth respectively.

The report says that these towns highlight a strong geographical spread across the UK and show the strength of the town market away from London and the Home Counties.

Whilst these towns have performed strongly in the family home market, it is Exeter, Bristol and York which have seen the highest levels of price growth across all property types. Exeter with price growth of 23.2% in the past year, more than three times the national average, with Bristol and York also performing extremely strongly.

Indeed, saw growth of 22.6% with the average property taking just 46 days to sell whilst York had growth of 19.9%, featuring in the top 10 markets for nearly all property types. Aylesbury, Maidstone, Brentford, Huntingdon, Reading, Cambridge and Oxford make up the top 10 performing markets across all property types.

However, when analysing price, the commuter hubs continue to outperform the rest of the country. Brentford, Guildford and Cambridge are the most expensive county towns in the country across all property types with average asking prices currently in excess of £600,000.

Of all 41 county towns analysed just 11 reported price deflation in the past 12 months, four of which was 0.7% or less, further highlighting the strength of the markets in these regional hubs. With the majority of county towns recording above average growth it is hoped that this will have a ripple effect to the rest of the region.

Offering a huge variety of amenities, cultural activities as well as the best services and infrastructure, county towns are popular choices amongst property buyers, particularly those with children looking for large family homes, according to the report.

It adds that as the second generation become more independent and want to socialise with their friends, parents are increasingly looking for a home within a regional centre in order to satisfy their offspring’s demand to be more self-sufficient. In regions outside of the London catchment, county towns provide the perfect compromise.

‘County towns have for centuries formed a central hub for the communities in the surrounding smaller towns and hamlets,’ said Nicholas Leeming, chairman of Jackson-Stops & Staff.

‘As such, these regional centres typically benefit from excellent transport links and continue to offer the best infrastructure, schools, services and a variety of amenities making them a popular choice for property buyers. Offering the ideal compromise between rural tranquillity and easy access to the area’s best cultural hotspots, these centres command a premium and are driving up prices in locations outside of London and the commuter belt,’ he added.

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New Help to Buy scheme for London will make renting more costly

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New Help to Buy scheme for London will make renting more costly

Monthly costs for purchasers of a new build property using the new London Help To Buy scheme will be significantly less than rental costs of a comparable property, it has emerged.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborn announced that from early the government will increase the upper limit for the equity loan it gives new buyers within Greater London from 20% to 40%.

It means that Londoners with just a 5% deposit will be able to get an interest-free loan worth up to 40% of the value of a newly built home. People then need to get a mortgage of up to 55% to cover the rest.

On top of this the current restrictions on who can buy a home through shared ownership will be removed from April 2016. Shared ownership allows people to buy a share of a home rather than the whole house and then buy a greater share over time as they can afford to. They pay rent on the rest of the property.

Currently, these are allocated in several different ways including criteria set by local councils, for example whether potential buyers work in the local area or if they are already in council housing.

Help to Buy Shared Ownership will lift the limits so that anyone who has a household income of less than £80,000 outside London, and £90,000 inside London, can buy a home through shared ownership. Only military personnel will be given be priority over other groups. The scheme will apply across England.

People can buy a share between 25% and 75% of a home. The rent on the rest of the property won’t be more than 3% of the amount left. For example, on a house worth £227,000 where the buyer has bought a 40% share, the rent won’t be more than 3% of the remaining 60% – in this case £4,000 a year, or £340 a month.

Help to Buy Equity Loans are already open to both first time buyers and home movers on new build homes in England with a purchase price up to £600,000. Currently, if you’re able to pay at least 5% the value of your home as a deposit, the government will lend you up to 20% of the rest of the value of the property, alongside your mortgage of up to 75%.

Equity Loan will be now available until 2021 and, to reflect the current property market in London, from early 2016 the government will increase the upper limit for the equity loan it gives new buyers within Greater London from 20% to 40%.

Ray Boulger, senior technical manager at John Charcol, explained that monthly costs for buyers of a new build property using the new London Help To Buy scheme will be significantly less than rental costs of a comparable property, massively incentivising Londoners to find the 5% deposit and other costs.

He also pointed out that the London HTB scheme will also result in much lower monthly costs for a comparable property than using the Starter Home scheme, unless the HTB Equity Share scheme is made available to purchasers of Starter Homes Initiative properties.

The first charge mortgage for purchasers will be below the 60% maximum LTV to qualify for most lender’s best rates and so borrowers in London will be able to access even cheaper rates than on the current HTB scheme.

Over five years a buyer using the HTB Equity Share scheme would save £56,460 in monthly payments but a buyer using the Starter Homes Initiative would benefit by recouping the initial £100,000 discount.

‘Many buyers who will not be able to obtain a mortgage of £380,000 will qualify for a mortgage of £275,000 and this, plus the much lower monthly payments, will result in the Starter Homes Initiative flopping in London unless the Government allows buyers to combine it with at least the original Help to Buy scheme,’ he said.

Peter Rollings, chief executive officer of Marsh & Parsons, pointed out that currently the London housing market is a law unto itself. ‘It is encouraging to see the Government recognise the added affordability pressures at work in the capital, and tackle these with a designated London Help to Buy scheme,’ he said.

‘With rumours that interest rates might rise earlier than expected, this will inject renewed confidence and should help thousands of prospective homeowners realise their aspirations of getting on the property ladder,’ he explained.

‘But the Government needs to be careful not to put all its eggs in the first time buyer basket. Its narrow focus on frontloading people onto the property ladder, is causing a lot of drag in the rest of the market, and doing nothing to buoy up sinking supply. Last year’s Stamp Duty changes have marooned the top end of the property market and Osborne has missed a trick by not acknowledging this,’ he added.

However, Patrick Bamford, director of mortgage insurance Europe for Genworth, believes that the new Help to Buy initiatives still leave questions hanging over the future of the mortgage guarantee, which has been one of its success stories so far.
‘The Government clearly has no shortage of ideas to support first time buyers, and the London Help to Buy scheme will help to tackle some of the challenges faced by hopeful owners in the capital. To have the biggest impact on overall home ownership, these additions must run alongside the continued use of a mortgage guarantee or private mortgage insurance to boost access to high LTV mortgages across the entire market beyond 2016,’ he said.
‘New data shows that the first time buyer numbers picking up again, but it would be remiss to assume that this segment of the market is back to full health. High LTV lending has been an essential tool to support home ownership in the past and Government must take steps to ensure this continues in future,’ he added.

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Asian shares fall in cautious trade

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Asian shares fall in cautious trade

Asian shares fall in cautious trade

  • 30 November 2015
  • From the section Business

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Asian shares traded mostly lower on Monday with positive economic data from Japan failing to inspire investors about growth in the world’s third largest economy.

Japan’s factory output rose 1.4% in October from a month ago, marking the second consecutive monthly rise, but the figure fell short of forecasts.

Retail sales grew more than expected, up 1.1% from a month ago.

However, Japan’s Nikkei 225 index was down 0.2% to 19,847.03 points.

Investors were cautious about good economic news from Japan, because it fell into a recession in the third quarter.

But economists at research firm Capital Economics said the second monthly rise in industrial production following two months of contraction suggested the economy returned to growth in the fourth quarter.

“In particular, the rebound in core capital goods shipments last month suggests that business investment should start to recover this quarter,” Japan economist Marcel Thieliant said.

Eyes on China

Investors were also cautious after mainland Chinese markets plunged more than 5% on Friday over investigations into the country’s major brokerages.

But the Shanghai Composite index recovered some of those losses to trade up 0.8% at 3,463.23

Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index was down by 0.7% to 21,911.41, following the global trend as investors were looking ahead to US jobs data and a European Central Bank meeting later this week.

In Australia, the S&P/ASX 200 index was down 0.5% to 5,177.50 as the resources sector was weighed down by rising costs for BHP Billiton from a dam disaster in Brazil.

The top miner’s shares were down 2.6%.

Meanwhile, shares of electronics retailer Dick Smith plunged as much as 70% after it said it would take a 60m Australian dollar ($43m; £28m) impairment on inventories after disappointing sales.

South Korea’s benchmark Kospi index was down 1.2% to 2,004.59 after data showed industrial output posted a surprise decline in October.

Factory output fell by a seasonally adjusted 1.4% from September, marking the fastest drop since May despite expectations of a rise.

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The woman who built a coffee empire

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The woman who built a coffee empire

The woman who built a coffee empire from a small town

  • 30 November 2015
  • From the section Business

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Kicking Horse Coffee

Image caption

Elana Rosenfeld has built a coffee empire from a small town in rural British Columbia

Elana Rosenfeld was not even remotely prepared for her first wholesale orders.

Kicking Horse Coffee, a Canadian firm she had started with her partner Leo Johnson was getting some orders from gourmet stores in Calgary, Alberta, 172 miles (277km) away from their base in the tiny town of Invermere in British Columbia’s Rocky Mountains.

They didn’t have any cardboard boxes to pack the coffee in, so they scoured the town’s lone back alley for any they could use.

When they’d finally taped the package shut, they took it to Skinny’s Shoe Repair – the spot where the Greyhound buses stopped in Invermere – and put it on a bus to its destination.

That was in 1996. Since then, Kicking Horse Coffee has become one of the biggest retail success stories in Canada, its distinct black packaging appearing in grocery stores and cafes across the country, as well as in the US.

The company is tight-lipped about its finances, but expects to roast more than 1.3 million tons of coffee this year and has over 70 employees.

And in 2012, marketing research firm AC Nielsen ranked it as one of the top ten commercial brands in Canada, alongside national stalwarts like bakery chain Tim Hortons.

Image copyright
Alan Maudie

Image caption

Kicking Horse Coffee is available across Canada, and at its very own cafe in Invermere

Despite all its success, Kicking Horse Coffee is still based in the same town in which it started.

While the population of Invermere swells in the summer when tourists visit its hot springs and nearby wildlife parks, for the rest of the year it is home to just 3,000 people.

It is not the kind of place you’d expect to find one of Canada’s biggest retails businesses – now housed in a modern 60,000 sq ft (5,570 sq m) facility just east of the Columbia River that bisects the town as it drains into Windermere Lake.

‘Show some grit’

Ms Rosenfeld says she never planned to run a successful business.

After university in Montreal, she wanted nothing more than to immerse herself in small-town Canadian life. Building an empire was the last thing on her mind.

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Kicking Horse Coffee

Image caption

Elana Rosenfeld and her former partner Leo Johnson started the business from their garage

So following her graduation in the early 1990s, Ms Rosenfeld and Mr Johnson drove their orange 1972 Volkswagen campervan to Invermere, where they had decided to settle.

“I was really a little bit naive about it,” says Ms Rosenfeld, now 46. “I planned to do anything, pump gas, whatever.”

But with jobs hard to come by in small town British Columbia, the couple – who had moved into a cabin with no electricity or running water – initially ran a fruit stand that catered to tourists during the summer months.

However, they quickly realised that they needed to set up a business that could be successful all year round.

Ms Rosenfeld says: “You have to be creative and show some grit. The jobs aren’t going to come to you.”

So taking out a loan they bought a local cafe, which turned a modest profit and enabled them to save up to spend a year travelling the world.

Image copyright
Alan Maudie

Image caption

The view from Kicking Horse’s factory isn’t too shabby

Returning to Invermere in 1996 they took out another loan, and began roasting organic and fair trade coffee beans in their garage, giving the business the name Kicking Horse Coffee.

As sales quickly took off, it soon became apparent that their product was going to be bigger than the town from which it came.

“We realised it was getting big pretty early on, when we started getting feedback and reaction from people,” Ms Rosenfeld says.

“We realised it had a ton of potential. Once we got our first grocery account, which was Thrifty Foods on Vancouver Island, and started working that segment of the market we saw the potential to go across Canada.”

US difficulties

After positive world of mouth helped Kicking Horse grow in its early days, the ambitious company started to appoint sales representatives across Canada. Major contracts with Canadian retailers soon followed.

However, Kicking Horse’s first few attempts to crack the crowded US market failed, and it only started to see success south of the border in 2014.

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Kicking Horse Coffee

Image caption

Kicking Horse was a pioneer in Canada of selling both free trade and organic coffee

“There was no full plan or investment in place,” Ms Rosenfeld says of its first moves into the US.

“The market there is so massive and diverse… You’ve really got to pick your areas that you want to focus on.

“There are so many retailers there. The Canadian landscape is really very simple and there are very few players. In the US it’s wild, and it’s a lot more expensive to go into the marketplace there than in Canada.”

Kicking Horse Coffee also faced a potential blip in 2010 when Ms Rosenfeld and Mr Johnson separated and he left the company. Yet Ms Rosenfeld says the firm’s growth was unaffected.

To greatly increase the company’s further expansion, Ms Rosenfeld sold a minority stake in the business in 2012.

Although the exact value of the deal and the amount of equity involved has not been revealed, private equity firm Branch Brook Holdings has invested millions of dollars in Kicking Horse.

“We’ve basically doubled the business since then,” says Ms Rosenfeld.

Image copyright
Kicking Horse Coffee

Image caption

It helps if Kicking Horse’s staff – seen here on a work walk – like outdoor pursuits

With Kicking Horse Coffee now a household name across Canada, coffee industry expert Colin Newell says there are a number of factors behind its success.

Mr Newell, who runs the CoffeeCrew blog, says it benefitted from being “the first out of the gate” in Canada, being at the vanguard of selling free trade, organic coffee.

“They had a vision and a tireless amount of energy, and ran with the idea. They kept scaling it up and they’ve continuously grown and pushed their brand around western Canada.

“I don’t know if ‘aggressive’ is really the right word, but they believed in their concept. In 2015, a lot of companies are doing what they’re doing on a smaller scale, but they were the first.”

Back at Kicking Horse Coffee, Ms Rosenfeld admits that her role as the boss has had to change over the years, specifically in terms of it taking longer to make decisions.

“You know that saying ‘ready, aim, fire’? In the beginning, when you’re just an entrepreneur, you just fire,” she says.

“Now, it’s more about ready, and aim. It’s been about forming that structure and organisation, and being able to execute.”

But despite the changes to the business, Ms Rosenfeld says her enthusiasm remains undimmed.

“It has never felt like work, it has always been fun and continues to be.”

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HS2 section to open six years early

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HS2 section to open six years early

HS2 Birmingham to Crewe link to open six years early

  • 30 November 2015
  • From the section Business

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An artist’s impression shows how the proposed station in Crewe would look

The proposed high-speed rail link between Birmingham and Crewe will be opened six years earlier than planned, in 2027, Chancellor George Osborne has said.

Improving transport links with the North is a key part of the government’s transport policy.

Mr Osborne also announced that ex-head of the CBI business group John Cridland would chair Transport for the North.

This new body will look to improve transport links across the North.

The new timetable means a part of the second phase of the project is due to open only a year after the first phase from London to Birmingham is due to be operational.

“Bringing forward this part of the HS2 route by six years is a massive step in the right direction for the Northern Powerhouse where high-speed rail will play a big role in connecting up the entire region with the rest of the country,” the chancellor said.

The Treasury said journey times between Crewe and London would be cut by 45 minutes once the new route was open.

In his Spending Review last week, Mr Osborne confirmed that the government would spend £13bn on improving transport links in the North.

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Rate-setter wants growth to stabilise

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Rate-setter wants growth to stabilise

Rate-setter wants growth to stabilise

  • 29 November 2015
  • From the section Business

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Bank of England

The newest member of the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) has said growth and wages are the things that will persuade him it is time for an interest rate rise.

Gertjan “Jan” Vlieghe, who joined the rate-setting committee in September, was speaking to the Sunday Times.

He said that he wanted economic growth to “stabilise, or even pick up a bit” before rates rise.

He also wanted a clearer “direction of travel” towards higher growth in wages.

The job of the MPC’s nine members is to set interest rates at a level that will keep the rate of inflation close to the target of 2%.

Mr Vlieghe said he was “relaxed” about waiting a little longer before starting to raise rates and that he expected rates to remain lower in the long term as a result of continuing high debts and demographics.

The Bank of England’s key interest rate has been at its record low level of 0.5% since early 2009.

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Rate-setter wants growth to stabilise

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Rate-setter wants growth to stabilise

Rate-setter wants growth to stabilise

  • 29 November 2015
  • From the section Business

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Bank of England

The newest member of the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) has said growth and wages are the things that will persuade him it is time for an interest rate rise.

Gertjan “Jan” Vlieghe, who joined the rate-setting committee in September, was speaking to the Sunday Times.

He said that he wanted economic growth to “stabilise, or even pick up a bit” before rates rise.

He also wanted a clearer “direction of travel” towards higher growth in wages.

The job of the MPC’s nine members is to set interest rates at a level that will keep the rate of inflation close to the target of 2%.

Mr Vlieghe said he was “relaxed” about waiting a little longer before starting to raise rates and that he expected rates to remain lower in the long term as a result of continuing high debts and demographics.

The Bank of England’s key interest rate has been at its record low level of 0.5% since early 2009.

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BHP braces for Brazil dam lawsuit

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BHP braces for Brazil dam lawsuit

BHP braces for $5.2bn Brazil dam lawsuit

  • 29 November 2015
  • From the section Business

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More than 100 houses were destroyed in the Brazilian village of Bento Rodrigues

Mining giant BHP is bracing itself for a $5.2bn (£3.4bn) lawsuit from Brazil’s government over the devastating collapse at the Samarco iron-ore mine.

A company spokesman said BHP would assess the case, announced by Brazil’s environment minister on Friday night, once it has been filed.

BHP is “committed to supporting Samarco to rebuild the community”, he added.

The Brazil government said it will sue mine operator Samarco, co-owned by BHP and Brazilian iron-ore producer Vale.

The lawsuit will be filed on Monday, according to attorney general Luis Adams.

At least 13 people died and a village was destroyed when a dam burst at the mine earlier this month.

‘Emergency Fund’

BHP and Vale announced an Emergency Fund on Friday to help with the recuperation of the Rio Doce river, but has not revealed the size of the fund.

“The total cost of damage has not been calculated yet,” the BHP spokesman said.

The dam’s collapse led to millions of tonnes of mud and waste entering the river and trailing 500km into the Atlantic Ocean.

The company agreed last week to pay the Brazilian government $260m (£170m) in compensation, and has already been fined $66.3m (£43.6m) by Brazilian environmental agency Ibama.

BHP has said the waste water in the dam, a by-product of iron ore extraction known as tailings, does not pose any threat to humans.

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Iran seeks $30bn of new oil contracts

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Iran seeks $30bn of new oil contracts

Iran seeks $30bn of new oil contracts

  • 29 November 2015
  • From the section Business

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European Photopress

Iran has overhauled the way in which it offers contracts to foreign energy companies in a bid to attract up to $30bn of new investment.

The terms of the new oil contracts will be more favourable to foreign investors, who will be allowed a greater stake in long-term profits.

Iran is gearing up for the lifting of sanctions following the nuclear deal with six world powers in July.

The country has some of the biggest oil and gas reserves in the world.

The new contracts were announced at a conference in Tehran attended by many of the world’s major energy companies, including BP, Shell, Total, Statoil and Sinopec. There were, however, no US companies present.

The energy majors are keen to exploit Iran’s abundant reserves of oil.

‘Not perfect’

The new contracts put an end to the so-called buyback model, which has historically deterred foreign investors, where overseas contractors developed and operated an oil field before handing it over to Iran.

Now, more lucrative longer-term contracts will be offered, where foreign companies can retain a stake in the field.

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European Photopress

Image caption

Mr Zanganeh said the new contracts would be mutually beneficial for Iran and foreign investors

About 50 oil and gas projects are expected to be unveiled during the Tehran conference, taking place on Saturday and Sunday.

“The contract models introduced today are not perfect or ideal, but an effective and responsive model for both sides,” Oil Minister Bijan Namdar Zanganeh said.

“To continue to play a role [as a major oil supplier], we hope to enjoy working with reputable international oil companies under a win-win situation.”

Mr Zaganeh added that Iran had “no objection to or problem with the participation of US companies”.

Iran has big plans to increase oil production in the coming years, from about three million barrels a day now to five million by the end of the decade.

It has already pledged to increase output by 500,000 barrels a day once sanctions are lifted.

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Solar cuts ‘threat to hundreds of jobs’

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Solar cuts ‘threat to hundreds of jobs’

Solar power lobby warns of subsidy cuts threat to jobs

  • 29 November 2015
  • From the section Business

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Some 576 jobs in the solar power industry have been axed and 1,600 more are at risk because of planned cuts to subsidies, a trade body has found.

These are on top of about 1,200 already lost in high-profile company failures.

The Solar Trade Association surveyed more than 200 solar firms – estimated to be fewer than 10% of the total.

It said if its findings were reflected across the industry, some 6,500 jobs may already have been lost and a a further 18,500 could be at risk.

The government says that the decision on the size of the cut to a key solar subsidy is expected in the coming weeks.

‘Silently disappeared’

The survey offers the most up-to-date account of the potential impact on jobs of proposed cuts.

The survey found that 90% of firms say that jobs are at risk.

A quarter of firms say that their business is at risk of closure.

“When your local solar company around the corner makes one of its installers redundant, it doesn’t hit the headlines like when a company goes bust,” said Leonie Green of the Solar Trade Association.

“But we now know that over 500 of these jobs, and probably thousands more, have already silently disappeared in communities up and down the country.”

About 1,200 jobs have already gone with the collapses at the Mark Group, Southern Solar & Climate Energy.

Subsidy cuts

The industry has been hit by a series of government plans aimed at cutting financial support to renewable energy.

In July the government proposed an 87% cut to the feed-in-tariff – the key subsidy which supports domestic and commercial rooftop solar and some small solar farms.

It has also proposed to exclude solar from the Renewables Obligation, a scheme which supports larger-scale projects.

The solar industry insists it can, by the end of this Parliament, compete without subsidy for rooftop solar if support is tapered off slowly.

Budget burden?

Despite the planned cuts, Energy Secretary Amber Rudd has said that she believes the solar industry will “continue to thrive”.

The government believes the technology is almost ready to stand on its own feet without subsidy.

Without the cuts, it says there would have been higher deployment of solar, leading to an increased burden on the renewables budget and our domestic energy bills.

But the ultimate impact of the subsidy cut will depend upon the level at which it is set. A decision is due within the next month.

“Our priority is to keep bills as low as possible for hardworking families and businesses, while reducing our emissions in the most cost-effective way”, DECC said.

“We have engaged extensively with industry and the public via the Feed-in Tariff consultation and we intend to publish a Government Response later in the year.”

The Solar Trade Association say that the survey represents 9% of the 2,380 UK solar companies.

It claims that if the findings reflect the whole industry then 6,500 jobs may already have been lost with a further 18,500 at risk.

It concludes that an estimated 25,500 jobs have either been lost or are at risk since the election in May.

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Hundreds more jobs saved at Caparo

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Hundreds more jobs saved at Caparo

Hundreds more jobs saved at Caparo

  • 28 November 2015
  • From the section England

Further 333 UK jobs saved at steel group Caparo, administrators PwC say

This breaking news story is being updated and more details will be published shortly. Please refresh the page for the fullest version.

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HSBC whistleblower jailed in absentia

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HSBC whistleblower jailed in absentia

HSBC whistleblower jailed in absentia by Swiss court

  • 27 November 2015
  • From the section Business

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A Swiss court has convicted a former HSBC worker of economic espionage and sentenced him to five years in jail.

Herve Falciani was on trial for leaking bank data that led to tax evasion probes worldwide against prominent clients with accounts in Switzerland.

Falciani did not attend the trial and because France does not extradite its own citizens, it is unlikely he will serve the sentence.

He told AP news agency he had “no reaction” to the sentencing.

Falciani had refused to travel from France to appear before the Swiss Federal Tribunal in Bellinzona for a trial that began last month.

He was charged with illegally obtaining data, economic espionage, breach of business confidentiality and breach of bank secrecy while working at a Swiss HSBC subsidiary between 2006 and 2008.

The court rejected all the charges except for one alleging a violation of economic intelligence, for having made public information about foreign entities in Lebanon, France, Germany, and the UK.

HSBC, which argued that he had illegally downloaded details from clients and accounts, welcomed the decision against Falciani, who was an IT worker at HSBC Private Bank (Suisse).

“HSBC has always maintained that Falciani systematically stole clients’ information in order to sell it for his own personal financial gain,” HSBC said in a statement.

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Dutch to appeal Starbucks tax ruling

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Dutch to appeal Starbucks tax ruling

Dutch government to appeal Starbucks tax ruling

  • 27 November 2015
  • From the section Business

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The Dutch finance ministry says it will fight a ruling ordering it to recover as much as €30m (£21.2m) in tax from Starbucks.

European competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager ordered the country to recover €20m-€30m in back taxes from the coffee chain, accusing it of benefiting from an illegal tax deal.

Starbucks has already said it would appeal against the EU’s decision.

The finance ministry said it supports the fight against tax avoidance.

However, it “greatly values its practice of offering certainty in advance,” by providing so-called tax rulings to multinational corporations, it said in a statement.

The Netherlands is under pressure to reform its tax system, which has attracted international firms with tax rates of less than 10% in some instances.

The European Commission said the tax deal with Starbucks is a form of state aid. But the ministry disagrees.

“The government is of the opinion that the Commission does not convincingly demonstrate that the tax authority deviated from the statutory provisions. It follows that there is no state aid involved,” the ministry said.

The Dutch government said it will appeal the ruling in order to get certainty on the case law. That case law is the basis for thousands of tax rulings it has already made.

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Home renovations sector in Australia seeing a slow recovery, says new report

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Home renovations sector in Australia seeing a slow recovery, says new report

The home renovations sector in Australia is being held up and frustrated by the hesitant pace of the current real estate market, according to a new report.

The comprehensive review of the country’s renovations market from the Housing Industry Association shows that the current recovery has been slow since the slump in activity between 2011 and 2013.

Indeed, the hesitant pace of the current recovery is mainly due to patchy consumer sentiment and challenging labour market conditions in several states, according to HIA senior economist Shane Garrett. .

‘Dwelling price growth is also pretty unspectacular in a number of important markets,’ he said, adding that there is considerable geographic variation.

The report says that demand for renovations in New South Wales has been greatly boosted by the strength of prices. Many Sydney households that had been planning on moving house find that it is now much more affordable to undertake a major renovations job instead.

‘Australia’s home renovations market is a major strand of consumer spending and will be worth just under $30 billion this year. Its labour intensive nature means that it has substantially positive knock-on effects for employment,’ said Garrett.

‘Over the coming years, the modest recovery will continue. This will be spurred on by very favourable interest rate settings as well as improvements in economic growth and the labour market over the medium term. However, the recent tightening of mortgage credit conditions casts an unwelcome shadow,’ he explained.

The Spring 2015 edition of the HIA’s Renovations Roundup projects that renovations activity will increase by 3.9% this year with a slight 0.4% increase forecast for 2016. The HIA is forecasting that activity will grow by 0.

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German shoppers’ confidence ‘dips’

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German shoppers’ confidence ‘dips’

German shoppers’ confidence ‘dips’ amid economic fears

  • 27 November 2015
  • From the section Business

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Confidence among shoppers in Germany has dipped according to a survey, amid worries over Europe’s largest economy.

The forward-looking GfK consumer sentiment indicator fell to 9.3 points for December from 9.4 points in the previous month.

The score is the lowest since February, but was above analysts’ predictions.

Confidence in the economy among German consumers dropped for the sixth consecutive month, although the pace reduced.

Concern about the labour market led the way, according to the survey of 2,000 shoppers, with 69% of all those surveyed expecting an increase in unemployment due to the influx of asylum seekers this year.

This month’s survey was conducted before the attacks in Paris on 13 November.

In contrast to general sentiment, optimism for making a big purchase improved, with the sub-index for willingness to buy climbing by three points to 48.9.

GfK analyst Rolf Buerkl said he was optimistic for this year’s Christmas sales, as customers might be tempted to shop online if they are concerned for public safety.

“It is possible that a few people here and there will avoid going to the Christmas market or visiting a shopping mall,” Mr Buerkl said.

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House prices up 0.1% in the UK in November, latest growth index shows

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House prices up 0.1% in the UK in November, latest growth index shows

House prices across the UK increased by 0.1% in November but softened slightly year on year with annual growth of 3.7%, down from 3.9% in October.

The latest data from lender the Nationwide shows it was the weakest performance in monthly price growth since June 2015. The latest increase takes the average house price to £196,807.

But Nationwide chief economist Robert Gardner pointed out that growth rates have fluctuated throughout the year. Annual growth has been in a fairly narrow range between 3% and 4% over the past six months, which he said is broadly consistent with earnings growth over the longer term.

‘While this bodes well for a sustainable increase in housing market activity in the period ahead, much will depend on whether building activity can keep pace with increasing demand. Surveyors have continued to report a dearth of properties on the market in recent months, with the number of available homes reportedly at the lowest level since the late 1970s,’ said Gardner.

‘Therefore it is positive that policymakers are focusing on the need to increase home building, with the Chancellor announcing a range of measures aimed at boosting housing supply in his Autumn Statement,’ he explained.

‘The current rate of construction activity is well below the projected rate of household formation. Only 135,000 new homes were built in England in the 12 months to September 2015, well below the 220,000 new households that are projected to form each year over the next decade,’ he added.

Neal Hudson, associate director at Savills research, described the figures as showing a relatively strong end to the year. ‘Previous trends suggest that prices tend to weaken in December and so the 4.1% total growth seen in the year to date may be closer to 4% by the end of the year. These price rises are in a large part due to increased competition in the mortgage market which have led to record low mortgage rates and record high lending multiples,’ he added.

According to Alex Gosling, chief executive officer of online estate agents HouseSimple, the main issue in today’s market is that demand continues to massively outstripping supply. ‘We have an immediate supply crisis in the UK and it’s hard to see how home builders can build houses fast enough to free up the demand supply bottleneck,’ he said.

‘We need measures to stimulate the housing market and it can’t be just about building more homes to meet demand in the future. Sellers need to be encouraged back to the market. But home owners are finding it harder to climb up the property ladder, which means people are renovating and extending rather than moving,’ he pointed out.

‘High prices remain a barrier for first time buyers but also second and third steppers and price growth is unlikely to cool in the coming months, especially with more investors expected to come to the market to buy before the new buy to let stamp duty rates come into force,’ he added.

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Residential property prices in London up over 10% year on year

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Residential property prices in London up over 10% year on year

House prices in England and Wales increased by 0.4% month on month and 5.6% year on year in October, taking the average value to £186,350, according to the latest data, but much higher in London.

On a regional basis London experienced the greatest increase in its average property value over the last 12 months with a rise of 10.6%, well above other parts of the country, the figures from the Land Registry show.

The North East saw the greatest monthly growth with an increase of 1.9% while Yorkshire and the Humber saw the lowest annual price growth at 1.4% and the most significant monthly price fall with a decline of 1.8%.

Sales and repossessions during August 2015, the most up to date figures available, show that the number of completed house sales in England and Wales decreased by 15% to 74,596 compared with 87,895 in August 2014.

Repossessions in England and Wales decreased by 54% to 376 compared with 826 in August 2014 and the region with the greatest fall in the number of repossession sales was Yorkshire and the Humber.

The data also shows that the number of properties sold in England and Wales for over £1 million decreased by 13% to 1,280 from 1,473 a year earlier.

Adrian Gill, director of Reeds Rains and Your Move estate agents, pointed out that the average price of a home in London is now above half a million and already rising in value much faster than elsewhere across the country.
‘In addition, the reverberations from last year’s stamp duty surprise are still echoing around the market, and million pound property sales have suffered significantly,’ he added.

Regarding future price increases, he also pointed out that only time will tell whether the extra 3% stamp duty levy on buy to let and second home buyers will affect the market.

‘In the meantime, there will be a scramble for second home purchases before the April deadline, which will only amp up the existing competition between landlords and first time buyers in the housing market,’ he said.

‘While intending to help more households get that crucial foothold onto the ladder, the Chancellor may find himself responsible for pushing up prices in the short term, and pricing out many prospective homeowners, despite the other initiatives in place. Any hit against the supply of rental homes will hurt tenants’ finances, and delay their realisations of home ownership,’ Gill added.

Rob Weaver, director of investments at property crowdfunding platform Property Partner, believes that although the prime central London market seems to be faltering partially due to affordability and last year’s stamp duty changes, the outer boroughs are powering ahead, driven by regeneration in places like Thamesmead and Newham, and of course, the Crossrail effect.

‘This is clear evidence that the UK housing market is incredibly diverse across the regions, highlighting a north-south divide with Yorkshire and The Humber seeing a relatively tiny annual increase. However, the issue of supply still hangs around like a bad smell despite the Chancellor’s attempts on Wednesday to help first time buyers with tax raids on second homes and buy to lets,’ he explained.

‘Landlords have become an easy target, hit by a double whammy, first in the Summer with a cut in mortgage tax relief and now with a hike in stamp duty next April. The surcharge people will have to pay for the average London buy to let property will effectively double. There are fears this could be trigger a rush to buy before April’s deadline, freezing out first time buyers even more,’ he added.

Jonathan Hopper, managing director of the buying agents Garrington Property Finders, pointed out that London property is once again making money faster than most of its inhabitants can earn it with the average home price in the capital jumping in value by more than £3,400 in a month.

He also pointed out that sales in London are down by a fifth in a year, and squeezed supply has sent annual price growth rocketing back into double digits and the drop in sales is particularly acute in the £1.5 million to £2 million price bracket that was hit so hard by last year’s rise in Stamp Duty. Here transactions are down by more than a third as buyers balk at the likely tax bill and would-be sellers hold off.

‘Outside London, the North/South divide remains largely intact, with a notable exception in North East England, where a recent spell of bullishness is now verging on over exuberance. With average prices up 1.9% in just a month, some sellers are starting to get carried away with asking prices,’ he said.

‘This week the Chancellor announced a raft of incentives designed to get Britain building more homes. With the shortage of supply now endemic in several areas, these measures can’t come quickly enough. With consumer prices still falling and the Bank of England in no hurry to raise interest rates, the cost of borrowing will stay low and buyer confidence high well into 2016,’ he added.

‘Together these factors will continue to stoke demand well beyond what current supply can meet. The inevitable result is continued inflationary pressure,’ he concluded.

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HSBC ends private banking in India

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HSBC ends private banking in India

HSBC to shut its private banking operation in India

  • 27 November 2015
  • From the section Business

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HSBC is closing its private banking arm in India, where the increasing number of wealthy individuals has led to intense competition for their business.

Clients will be given the choice to move to HSBC’s retail arm.

The future of the wealth management unit’s 70 staff will be decided early next year, when it is due to close.

It follows the lead of RBS and Morgan Stanley, which have sold their onshore private operations in Asia’s third-largest economy.

Despite the growth of multi-millionaires in India, it has been hard for foreign wealth managers to attract business.

An HSBC spokesperson in India said: “This marks further progress in the HSBC group strategy to simplify business and deliver sustainable growth.”

The bank employs about 32,000 people in India where it offers corporate, retail and investment banking services.

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Growth of 0.5% confirmed for UK

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Growth of 0.5% confirmed for UK

Growth of 0.5% confirmed for UK

  • 27 November 2015
  • From the section Business

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The UK economy grew 0.5% between July and September, official figures have confirmed, unchanged from the initial estimate.

It is the second estimate for GDP growth from the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

It was a slowdown from the 0.7% rate in the second quarter, but still marked the 11th consecutive quarter of growth.

Construction output was the only component of GDP that did not grow during the period.

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China’s stock market drops more than 5%

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China’s stock market drops more than 5%

China’s Shanghai Composite drops more than 5%

  • 27 November 2015
  • From the section Business

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China’s main share index closed down by more than 5% after several major brokerage firms announced they were under investigation.

The Shanghai Composite index ended the day 5.5% lower at 3,436.3 points – marking its biggest drop since August.

Late on Thursday, it was announced that China’s securities regulator was investigating the country’s largest brokerage, Citic Securities.

The firm is being probed over the possible breaking of market rules.

Rival brokerage Guosen Securities is also being investigated, and shares in both Citic and Guosen fell by 10%, the maximum allowed in one day.

In addition, trading in China Haitong Securities was halted earlier on Friday as some reports indicated that the firm was also under investigation.

Chen Xingyu, an analyst at Phillip Securities, told the AFP news agency: “The biggest reason for such a sudden drop today is because of regulator’s investigation of the top brokers. It has triggered a broader sell-off.”

Market sentiment was already wavering ahead of a new batch of initial public offerings set to make their debut next week.

Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index finished down 1.9% at 22,068.32. The index fell 3% over the week, its worst weekly performance for two months.

Elsewhere in Asia

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In Japan, the benchmark Nikkei 225 index closed down 0.3% at 19,883.94. Data released on Friday showed the country’s core consumer prices index (CPI) recorded its third straight month of falls – down 0.1% in October from a year earlier.

Household spending in the country fell 2.4% during the period.

On a brighter note, jobs numbers indicated the country’s jobless rate may fall in the near future.

“Taking the labour market first, the unemployment rate fell from 3.4% to a twenty-year low of 3.1%… [which] suggests that the jobless rate may drop below 3% in coming months,” said Japan economist Marcel Theiliant.

“However, today’s other data were rather disappointing,” he said. “Core household spending dipped by 0.4% month on month in October following a 1.8% month-on-month decline in September.

In South Korea, the Kospi share index closed down 0.08% at 2,028.99.

Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 ended the day 0.2% lower at 5,202.60.

Sydney-listed shares of mining giant BHP Billiton closed down 0.9%.

On Thursday, the United Nations said the dam burst at the Samarco mine in Brazil earlier this month had unleashed a flood equivalent to “20,000 Olympic swimming pools of toxic mud”. The dam is a joint venture between BHP and Vale. However, BHP has said the mud spilled was not toxic.

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Conveyancer jailed for fraud over stamp duty scam

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Conveyancer jailed for fraud over stamp duty scam

A warning has gone out to property industry professionals in the UK to make sure they carry out correct Stamp Duty returns after a conveyancer was jailed for stealing money paid by his clients.

Anthony Maragh, 57, from Harrow in London, consistently undervalued his clients’ properties so that less stamp duty land tax was paid to Revenue and Customs (HMRC) while he kept the difference.

He swindled his clients and HMRC out of almost £352,500 in stamp duty land tax between 2008 and 2013. Tax investigators found that he lied on paperwork to undervalue his clients’ properties meaning the amount of tax owed was reduced. But he charged them the full amount and kept the difference.

He under declared the stamp duty land tax due on 43 property transactions, transferring £297,000 directly from the solicitor’s company accounts into his personal bank account. He also spent a further £55,000 directly from the Client Account on collectable antique Chinese gold bonds.

‘As a conveyancer, Maragh knew only too well that he was breaking the law and what the consequences of his actions would be,’ said Martin Brown, assistant director of the Fraud Investigation Service at HMRC.

‘He abused the trust of his clients, stealing money that had been paid by them in good faith to meet their tax liabilities, to line his own pockets. Maragh thought that his scheme would go undetected, but he was wrong and is now behind bars with his reputation and career in tatters,’ he added.

Anyone with information on suspected tax fraud should contact the Customs Hotline on 0800 59 5000.

Maragh was sentenced to three years and four months in prison and confiscation proceedings to recover the proceeds of crime are underway.

‘This was repeated offending and an abuse of position and trust with a large number of victims exposed to risk,’ said Her Honour Judge Poulet in court.

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UK house price growth ‘slows’

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UK house price growth ‘slows’

UK house price growth slowed in November, Nationwide says

  • 27 November 2015
  • From the section Business

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Growth in UK house prices slowed slightly in November, according to the latest survey from the Nationwide.

Prices were 3.7% higher than a year earlier, the building society said, down from 3.9% in October.

House prices rose by 0.1% in November from the previous month, and the average property now costs £196,305.

Nationwide said the annual rate of house price growth for the past few months had been broadly in line with earnings growth over the longer term.

“While this bodes well for a sustainable increase in housing market activity in the period ahead, much will depend on whether building activity can keep pace with increasing demand,” said Nationwide chief economist Robert Gardner.

The Nationwide noted that there were a number of measures announced in Chancellor George Osborne’s Autumn Statement to encourage building, but construction was well below the rate at which new households were formed and needed homes.

“It is positive that policymakers are focusing on the need to increase home building,” Mr Gardner said.

Howard Archer, UK economist at IHS Global Insight, said: “Despite the muted November performance reported by the Nationwide, we retain the view that house prices are likely to see solid increases over the coming months. We expect house prices to rise by around 6% to 7% over 2016.”

Various surveys record UK house prices on a monthly basis, but they all have slightly different methodology.

The house price index by the Nationwide is the quickest to be released. It uses an average value for properties after considering components such as location and size. The survey is based on its own mortgage lending, which represents about 13% of the market.

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Minister to make fracking decision

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Minister to make fracking decision

Minister to decide over Lancashire fracking appeal

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Lancashire County Council rejected two fracking applications in June

The decision to allow shale gas drilling – or fracking – in Lancashire will be made directly by the government, it has emerged.

Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government Greg Clark informed Lancashire County Council of his decision on Thursday.

Energy firm Cuadrilla is appealing against the council’s refusal in June to allow fracking on two sites.

Most planning appeals are usually decided by a planning inspector.

Mr Clark is using the “recovery” procedure which allows the Secretary of State to decide the outcome following the appeal rather a government planning inspector.

The inspector will still hear the appeal next year and will forward recommendations to the government.

Two appeals

The secretary of state said he took the decision because the appeals involved “proposals for exploring and developing shale gas which amount to proposals for development of major importance having more than local significance and proposals which raise important or novel issues of development control, and/or legal difficulties”.

Mr Clark will also rule on two appeals, at the same time as the main fracking appeals, against a refusal to allow Cuadrilla seismic monitoring in the county.


Judy Hobson, Environment Correspondent, BBC North West Tonight

This was the news some residents in Roseacre and Little Plumpton didn’t want to hear. But it won’t have come as a big surprise.

Cuadrilla’s appeal against Lancashire County Council’s decision to reject its plans for fracking will be heard in February.

The appeal will be heard by planning inspector Wendy McKay. But we now know she won’t be the one making a decision. Instead, she’ll write a report, make a recommendation and hand it to the government. The Secretary of State will have the final say.

Residents against fracking knew this might happen, but they hoped it wouldn’t. The government says it wants to decide the future of fracking because it’s an issue of “major importance”. Anti fracking groups say they fear that means local opinion will count for nothing.

The government decided in September to include shale gas drilling in the categories of planning appeal decisions that can be decided directly by the minister.

In June Lancashire County Council rejected Cuadrilla’s fracking applications on two sites in Lancashire – Roseacre Wood and Little Plumpton.

Donna Hume, senior energy campaigner from Friends of the Earth said: “People in Lancashire, and anywhere threatened by fracking, will be very worried that the government’s determination to pursue fracking could come at the cost of ignoring local democracy, and the concerns of local people. “

Cuadrilla said it “noted” the decision and “looked forward” to presenting its case at the appeals next year.

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Continued low interest rates boosting UK property sales

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Continued low interest rates boosting UK property sales

Home sales in the UK have exceeded 100,000 per month for a fifth month in a row with buyers attracted by low interest rates and attractive mortgage products.

The latest official transaction data from HMRC shows that the provisional seasonally adjusted UK property transaction count for October 2015 was 105,490 residential and 10,160 non-residential transactions.

The seasonally adjusted estimate of the number of residential property transactions decreased by 0.2% between September 2015 and October 2015. This month’s seasonally adjusted figure is 6.3% higher compared with the same month last year.

The data also shows that the number of non-adjusted residential transactions was 2.6% higher than in October 2014.

Peter Rollings, chief executive officer of Marsh & Parsons, pointed out that October marks the fifth consecutive month that home sales have cleared 100,000, putting activity in a whole other league to the first half of 2015. 

‘There has been a slight correction on a monthly basis, but we’re still head and shoulders above a year ago, as buyers ride high on the wave of low interest rates and attractive mortgage products,’ he said.
He also pointed out that in London, supply and demand are moving in different directions. ‘We’ve seen the number of available properties for sale fall 5% during the third quarter of 2015 compared to a 4% boost in buyers over the same period,’ he explained.

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