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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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‘Error’ in £21m public land sale

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‘Error’ in £21m public land sale

RIFW £21m land sale ‘error’ admitted by civil servant

Image caption

The 15 sites sold in one deal included farmland and former industrial locations

The civil servant behind the creation of a fund that sold millions of pounds of publicly-owned land has admitted it was wrong to include the most valuable site in the deal.

Chris Munday said, with hindsight, 120 acres (50 hectares) of farm on the edge of Cardiff should have been omitted.

The Regeneration Investment Fund for Wales (RIFW) is being investigated by the assembly public accounts committee.

Auditors found taxpayers may have lost £15m on the sale of 15 sites.

RIFW, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Welsh government, sold 15 sites in one deal for £21m in March 2012 to a Guernsey-based company called South Wales Land Developments.

In June, auditors said they found flaws in the sale process, weaknesses in advice to the board, and potential conflicts of interest.

The District Valuer, in the Wales Audit Office report, valued them at £36m, if they had been sold separately.

The most valuable site in the village of Lisvane, near Cardiff, was sold for £15,000 an acre (£6,000 per hectare).

Large parts of that land could now be worth up to £2m an acre (£800,000 per hectare) if planning permission is agreed.

The site, earmarked for housing by Cardiff council, is currently at the centre of a planning appeal.

‘Fire sale’

Mr Munday told the committee on Tuesday: “Hindsight is a great educator. With the benefit of hindsight we would not have included Lisvane.”

Image caption

Chris Munday was selling publicly-owned land to raise funds for re-investment elsewhere

He defended the decision because he said they were forced to sell the land within a specific time-frame to follow EU guidelines.

Another senior civil servant told AMs the background was one of officials considering a “fire sale” of all the Welsh government’s assets in the recession.

Deputy permanent secretary James Price said: “That was seriously being considered at the time – put the whole lot up in one block – and discussions about the fact we might lose half of it being completely acceptable from a policy perspective, because there was such a need to get investment into the economy.

“That’s not what happened here, but that must have been at the back of people’s minds who were thinking of putting this land in.”

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DUP ‘in-out’ minister remains in post

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DUP ‘in-out’ minister remains in post

DUP ‘in-out’ minister Jonathan Bell remains in post

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The DUP has been moving its ministers in and out of the Northern Ireland Executive

DUP Enterprise Minister Jonathan Bell has been continuously in post since Friday despite his party’s Stormont “in-out” policy, it has emerged.

The party has been moving its ministers in and out of the executive after the murder of Kevin McGuigan sparked a political crisis over the IRA’s status.

Last month, the government appointed an independent panel to assess the current status of paramilitary organisations.

On Tuesday, MLAs again criticised the DUP’s “in-out” tactic.


During an assembly debate on workforce planning in the health service, Sinn Féin MLA Daithi McKay said the enterprise minister had been at work for the past four days while Health Minister Simon Hamilton had not.

“I don’t know what the priorities are within the DUP, but it is becoming increasingly clear that health is not a number-one priority,” said Mr McKay.

Last week, Northern Ireland’s Acting First Minister Arlene Foster told the BBC that the DUP could drop its policy when a report is published on paramilitary activity.

She is standing in for DUP leader Peter Robinson, who stood aside as first minister while warning it would not be “business as usual” at Stormont until the issue of paramilitaries was dealt with.

She said: “If we believe there has been substantial progress in relation to it, then we will seriously consider making that move.”

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UK pulls out of £5.9m Saudi jail deal

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UK pulls out of £5.9m Saudi jail deal

UK pulls out of £5.9m Saudi jail deal

  • 13 October 2015
  • From the section UK

The UK government has withdrawn from a controversial £5.9m prisons deal with Saudi Arabia, Downing Street has said.

The prime minister’s official spokeswoman said it reflected the government’s decision to focus on domestic priorities.

The Ministry of Justice had established it could withdraw from the bid process with no financial penalties, she said.

The government submitted an initial bid to provide a “training needs analysis” for Saudi prison service staff in 2014.

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‘No open cheque book’ for Stormont

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‘No open cheque book’ for Stormont

NIO Minister Ben Wallace warns of ‘no open cheque book’.

Image caption

NIO minister Ben Wallace said the Stormont House Agreement must be implemented

The Stormont talks process will not lead to extra cash for the executive, a Northern Ireland Office minister has warned.

NIO minister Ben Wallace was speaking during a House of Commons debate on the political situation in Northern Ireland.

Ben Wallace told MPs: “There is no more money – there is no open cheque book.

“The options are clear – to implement in full the Stormont House Agreement.”

Stormont’s political crisis was sparked by allegations Provisional IRA members were involved in the murder of Belfast man Kevin McGuigan.


Ulster Unionist Danny Kinahan, who called for the Westminster debate, used the occasion to highlight what he saw as the reasons why political relations in Northern Ireland were poor.

He said: “The current impasse, which is nothing more than the outworkings of this mismanagement and the mistrust of the major parties leading the assembly, has placed Northern Ireland in a precarious position, not only economically – as political parties have failed to agree the implementation of welfare reform – but socially “.

The South Antrim UUP MP said: “The continued bickering and public statements of dislike and intolerance further drives a wedge between the sections of nationalist and unionist communities.”

Referring to the killing of Kevin McGuigan in August, DUP MP Ian Paisley said the current dispute was not about “bickering” but about “bloodshed on our streets and the murder of an individual”.

“We will fight about the minor points, but this House needs to hear about the growth of criminality in Northern Ireland,” the North Antrim MP said.

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SDLP MP Mark Durkan said the Treasury had created budget stress for Stormont

SDLP MP Mark Durkan talked about the “financial crisis in Belfast”, and said the pressures placed on the executive had come from London.

He said that by imposing a fine on the bloc grant given to the Northern Ireland Executive because of difficulties over welfare, the Treasury had “created a budget stress on the Stormont assembly”.

“The budget stress became a budget crisis, that in turn became a political crisis,” he said.

The Foyle MP added: “The Treasury needs to take a different course. If the Treasury wouldn’t treat Scotland in this way, they should not be treating Northern Ireland in that way now.”

Image caption

DUP MP Nigel Dodds said the government must get tough on advocates of paramilitary violence

Speaking for the DUP, deputy leader Nigel Dodds said: “We will not sit idly by and let terrorists return us to to the dark days of the Troubles.”

The North Belfast MP called on the Conservative administration to get tough with those who advocated paramilitary violence.

“A new mechanism for ridding us at last of the scourge of republicanism and so-called loyalist criminal gangs has to be credible, independent, robust and transparent,” he said.

Shadow Northern Ireland Minister Stephen Pound said: “This is not an abstract matter, not a political game, not a constitutional discussion – it is a matter of life and death.

The Labour MP said it was “much more important that we be talking about these problems here and in Northern Ireland than resorting to the alternative”.

SNP MP Deidre Brock said “the continued impasse surpasses understanding”.

“Politicians should be able to work together even when they don’t agree,” she said.

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Backlash at Labour budget vote U-turn

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Backlash at Labour budget vote U-turn

Labour fiscal charter U-turn sparks backlash

  • 13 October 2015
  • From the section UK Politics
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Shadow chancellor John McDonnell has sparked a backlash from some Labour MPs after ditching the party’s support for the government’s fiscal charter.

Mr McDonnell said Labour would oppose the bid to force future governments to run a budget surplus, having recently said the party would vote in favour.

The situation was branded a “shambles” after MPs were told about the U-turn at a stormy meeting at Westminster.

But an ally of leader Jeremy Corbyn predicted angry MPs would “calm down”.

Mr McDonnell said the U-turn would “underline our position as an anti-austerity party”.

The BBC’s Eleanor Garnier said some at the meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party had reacted in fury at the decision.

Former shadow chancellor Chris Leslie criticised the U-turn and said Labour should set out its own motion.

“To go from one extreme to the other is wrong in economic terms but also it sends the wrong message to the general public as well,” Mr Leslie told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

“I think to be fair to John McDonnell this is a very difficult balancing act, it’s a very difficult topic, but it’s incredibly important that he is clear and consistent and explains fully not just what Labour’s position is but also why he backed George Osborne’s surplus a couple of weeks ago and is now against it apparently.”

Analysis by BBC political correspondent Iain Watson

The vast majority of Labour MPs didn’t want Jeremy Corbyn as their leader – and they anticipated that divisions would be inevitable on everything from nuclear weapons to Syria. But what rattled them at last night’s meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party wasn’t the politics of the leadership, but a perceived lack of competence.

They assumed at the very least that the straight-talking of the leadership election would have become embedded. Instead they had a lack of clarity from a leader who largely remained silent while some of his supporters were verbally savaged by sceptical MPs – as his shadow chancellor reversed his position of just a fortnight ago not to oppose George Osborne’s fiscal charter. They were also dismayed at the lack of consultation about a potentially significant change of direction.

So they are now nervous about what else might go wrong and whether the approach of near-peaceful co-existence is sustainable. Yet the U-turn, however badly effected, wasn’t without logic. If Labour gets an even worse result in next year’s Scottish elections – and polls suggest it might – than in 2011, pressure will mount on the Corbyn leadership. The SNP will vote against the fiscal charter this week and would have been delighted to see Labour pay lip service to it. Nicola Sturgeon could then portray her party as the only major political force that opposed austerity.

So while still insisting he isn’t a “deficit denier” John McDonnell had to protect his party’s left flank. But the manner and speed of his manoeuvre has left many of his own MPs dazed and confused.

But one of leader Jeremy Corbyn’s allies, shadow international development secretary Diane Abbott, said some in the party were “only slowly coming to terms with the fact that Jeremy won” the leadership contest.

She said the row over Mr McDonnell’s change of heart was “a process story” and said most of the Parliamentary Labour Party were comfortable with the position being taken.

Media captionDiane Abbott MP says the Labour party is “in the right position now” on the vote

“I suspect my colleagues, on reflection, will calm down,” she added.

MPs will debate and vote on Chancellor George Osborne’s Charter for Budget Responsibility on Wednesday.

The charter would legally prevent future governments from spending more than they receive in tax revenue when the economy is growing.

The proposal commits the government to keep debt falling as a share of GDP each year and achieve a budget surplus by 2019-20. Governments will then be required to ensure there is a surplus in “normal times”.

Austerity battle

Labour’s turnaround comes two weeks after Mr McDonnell pledged support for Mr Osborne’s plans, saying Labour were not “deficit deniers”, at the Labour Party conference.

He also described the charter as a “trap for us to fall into”.

Media captionJohn McDonnell, speaking on 28 September: “We will vote for it on the basis that we want to assure people that we will tackle the deficit, we will balance the budget, we will live within our means”

Explaining his change in position, Mr McDonnell said there was a “growing reaction” to the “nature and scale” of public spending cuts, which had prompted the change of position.

“We will underline our position as an anti-austerity party by voting against the charter on Wednesday,” he said.

“Labour will set out our plan for tackling the deficit, not through punishing the most vulnerable and decimating our public services but by ending the unfair tax cuts to the wealthy, tackling tax evasion and investing for growth.”

Mr Osborne said Labour’s economic policy had “lurched from chaos to incredibility”.

“Two weeks ago ‎they said they were going to vote for a surplus – now we know they want to keep on borrowing forever. That would be a grave threat to the economic security of working people‎,” he said.

The mood at Monday’s meeting

By BBC political correspondent Eleanor Garnier

It was a long and difficult meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party. One MP said it was the worst they had ever been to. Jeremy Corbyn was apparently “read the riot act” and said nothing. Another described it as lacking “any aspect of democratic politics”.

A former shadow cabinet member told me that it was “without doubt one of the most heated” PLPs and “passions were running high”. Others were clearly outraged at the shadow chancellor’s change of plan. As he left the meeting, former cabinet minister Ben Bradshaw branded it a “total shambles”.

John Mann MP was furious; he shouted so loudly at the party’s leadership that he was easily audible in the corridor outside. Despite that anger, a spokesman for Mr Corbyn said the meeting had been “warm and friendly” claiming the only disagreement had been on the need for there to be more discussion on the issue. It all shows the seriousness of the cracks within the party and many in Labour will worry about how much worse it could all get.

At the weekend, SNP leader and Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon challenged Labour to join her party in voting against the charter.

Welcoming the U-turn, Angus Robertson, SNP leader at Westminster, said it was “promising” but added it was “disgraceful there has had to be any doubt that the Labour Party would oppose Tory cuts”.

He said the vote would be a major test for Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, claiming Labour’s credibility “would be in ruins” unless every one of its MPs voted against the charter.

The independent Office for Budget Responsibility would be responsible for policing the new rules.

It would also have the power to decide when the government should be able to spend more than it is taking in revenue – for example, when the country is in a recession.

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House prices rising fastest in England

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House prices rising fastest in England

House prices rising fastest in England

  • 13 October 2015
  • From the section Business

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House prices in England have risen considerably faster than in the rest of the UK in the last year, official figures show.

Property prices in England rose by 5.6% in the 12 months to the end of August, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said.

This was higher than a 2.9% rise in Northern Ireland, a 0.8% rise in Wales and a fall of 0.9% in Scotland.

The average price of a home in the UK rose to £284,000.


Overall, the pace of UK house price rises was unchanged in August compared with July.

The annual rise in prices of 5.2% was still much faster than consumer prices in general, which were unchanged over the same period.

Richard Snook, senior economist at accountants PwC, said: “The figures show a robust housing market, providing further ammunition for those calling for an interest rate rise in the near term.

“With inflation likely to rise over the coming months as last winter’s energy price decline drops out of the equation, we expect pressure to continue to build on the Monetary Policy Committee.”

The ONS said that house prices were rising faster for owner-occupiers (up 5.8%) than they were for first-time buyers (up 3.8%).

Regionally, the fastest property price rise was seen in the East of England (up 8.8%), with Scotland registering the only fall in average prices.

House price change – nations and regions
Region Annual change
East of England Up 8.8%
South East of England Up 7.4%
South West of England Up 6.1%
Yorkshire and the Humber Up 4.8%
North West of England Up 4.7%
London Up 4.2%
West Midlands Up 3.6%
East Midlands Up 3.1%
North East of England Up 2.9%
Northern Ireland Up 2.9%
Wales Up 0.8%
Scotland Down 0.9%
Source: ONS, August 2015

Separate figures from the Council of Mortgage Lenders (CML) show that activity in the home loans market dipped in August compared with the previous month.

There were 62,300 mortgages approved for house purchases in the UK during the month.

This total was down 9.3% compared with July, but 1.5% higher than in August 2014.

Analysts said that there was generally a lull in activity during August as potential homebuyers took time out for summer holidays.

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UK house prices up 5.2% year on year, says latest ONS index

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UK house prices up 5.2% year on year, says latest ONS index

UK house prices increased by 5.2% in the year to August 2015, unchanged from the previous month but excluding London and the South East the increase was 4.8%, the latest official figures show.

House prices increased by 5.6% in England, 0.8% in Wales, 2.9% in Northern Ireland and fell 0.9% in Scotland, according to the figures from the Office of National Statistics (ONS).

The data also shows that annual house price increases in England were driven by an annual increase in the East of 8.8% and the South East at 7.4% while month on month they increased by 0.7% nationwide.

In August 2015, prices paid by first time buyers were 3.8% higher on average than in August 2014 and for existing owners prices increased by 5.8% for the same period.

The North East recovered from an annual fall in house prices in the year to July 2015 of 0.7% to show annual growth of 2.9% in the year to August and London prices increased by 4.2% over the year to August 2015, down from 5.5% in the year to July 2015.

Average mix-adjusted house prices in August 2015 stood at £298,000 in England, £174,000 in Wales, £151,000 in Northern Ireland and £198,000 in Scotland. Excluding London and the South East, the average UK mix-adjusted house price was £217,000.

London continued to be the English region with the highest average house price at £522,000 and the North East had the lowest average house price at £160,000. London, the South East and the East all had prices higher than the UK average price of £284,000.

According to Adrian Gill, director of Reeds Rains and Your Move estate agents, growth is primarily being underpinned by sturdy demand and solid activity at the bottom of the property ladder. ‘The cheaper northern regions are experiencing the fastest growth in property sales, while a shortage of property stock on the market in the south is slowing activity,’ he said.

‘The most frequently paid property price across England and Wales is just £125,000, mirroring the level at which stamp duty becomes payable, and reflecting the impetus that has been injected in the first-time buyer market recently,’ he pointed out.

‘It is also the lower to mid-range properties priced between £180,000 and £360,000 which are seeing the fastest increases in value, while the shift in stamp duty bands continues to slow growth at the higher end of the market, and prices above £600,000 are largely stationary,’ he explained.

‘Despite this, London is firmly back in the driving seat of property price rises, following a slight pit stop, and is having a much greater influence on national measures of price growth on an annual basis. As in the rest of the country, it’s the more affordably priced London boroughs which are behind this renaissance, as the strengthening of sterling, rising stamp duty rates and moves against non-doms take their toll on the high end market,’ he added.

Lora Roberts, portfolio manager at estate agent Ascend Properties, said that while on the surface, news that’s prices paid by first time buyers are up 3.8% on the same day that inflation has been announced as turning negative again might appear bleak on paper. ‘But the reality is that we are seeing a healthy and fluid market across both sales and lettings. We are seeing signs of increased confidence across the board, with enquiries up for both segments of the market,’ she added.

A shortage of stock has pushed prices up, according to Martin Robinson, director of sales at Hunters Property Group but he pointed out that there has been a reduction in sales falling through, which is another good indicator that people are confident in what they are buying.

Jonathan Hopper, managing director of the buying agents Garrington Property Finders, believes that while the UK’s rate of annual price growth was unchanged, the progress is slowly becoming more broad based with East and South East England emerging as the star performers.

‘But it’s far too early to talk of an end to Britain’s two speed property market. Prices in Scotland have failed to make up the ground lost in spring, and in the North East of England prices are still languishing 1.7% below their pre-crash levels,’ he said.

‘Despite the slight softening of prices in the capital, a wave of bullish sentiment plus the ever more imminent prospect of an interest rate rise has inspired thousands of would be buyers in southern England that now is the time to act,’ he explained.

‘With ultra-hotspots like Cambridge powering East Anglia to a level of annual price growth that was once typical of London, north/south divide remains firmly in place. The picture across much of the south is of an acute shortage of supply at all but the highest price points, and steadily increasing prices is the inevitable result,’ he added.

Nicholas Leeming, Chairman of national agents Jackson-Stops & Staff, with 44 offices nationwide, said that record levels of prices reflect the combination of restricted supply and sustained demand.

‘There remains a stand-off between buyers and sellers at the top end of the market, with neither party prepared to accept the higher cost of stamp duty. London has been particularly affected by the stand-off because of the prevailing, higher values in the capital.  The number of properties coming on to the market remains low at the top end,’ he added.

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VW Group to waiver dealer stocking charges and pay bonuses

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VW Group to waiver dealer stocking charges and pay bonuses

Volkswagen Group dealers will have their customer satisfaction bonuses paid and stocking charges waivered as a result of the emissions crisis affecting the brands, according to managing director Paul Willis (pictured).

Addressing questions from the Commons Transport Select Committee, Willis said the group had moved to protect its dealers who he described as the “backbone of our business” and it would not charge them for stocking the 4,000 vehicles it withdrew from sale.

“The situation with dealers is one of great deal of concern. In my company we employ less than 900 people but in the dealers there is over 21,000,” he said.

“What we’ve done to help them already is to change the stocking plan so the vehicles that are on sales stop, a stock of around 4,000 units, we will take all the interest for that; we will definitely not charge our retailer network interest on that and we’ve started to make changes in some of our earnings potentials straight away so for example customer satisfaction bonuses we will pay.”

“We introduced this immediately when we knew the extent of this issue. In the coming days my team are meeting with all the retailers to see precisely what we need to do next. Of course we could not exist without our dealers, our retailers are the backbone of our business, and therefore it’s really important that we look after them and support them. They’re at the forefront of the pressure and questions from customers and its absolutely imperative that we work with them and help them.”

Willis said vehicle owners affected by the recall will be offered loan cars by their dealers while their vehicles are being fixed.

Willis also confirmed that out of the 1.2 million affected UK vehicles, which have been sold since 2008, about 400,000 with EU5 1.6-litre engines will need fuel injectors modified as well as a software fix. While vehicles with EU5 2.0-litre engines will just require a software update.

It has emerged that 60 different models are affected over the VW, Audi, Skoda, Seat and VW Commercials brands across three different engines and two different transmissions. An eight day gap between the start of the crisis and the identification of affected vehicles meant dealers sold more than 1,000 vehicles which will now be recalled.

Willis confirmed that the recall will start at the beginning of 2016 and run to the end of the year although he acknowledged there was “some risk” of its target being missed.

“The goal is to try to get it finished by the end of 2016,” he said.

When asked about the possibility of compensating customers over potential lost residual values to their vehicles, he said: “I think it’s premature to think about that.”

Click here to see a full video of the testimony.

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Tax cuts on table for Irish budget

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Tax cuts on table for Irish budget

Irish budget: Michael Noonan expected to announce cuts in personal taxation

  • 13 October 2015
  • From the section Europe

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Brian Lawless

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Finance Minister Michael Noonan is expected to announce a cut in personal taxation in Tuesday’s budget

The Republic of Ireland’s finance minister is due to announce tax cuts and spending increases in the country’s last budget before an election.

The country exited its international bailout programme in 2013 and is now Europe’s fastest growing economy.

Finance Minister Michael Noonan is expected to announce a cut in personal taxation.

However, some analysts have warned that Mr Noonan should do more to tackle high levels of government debt.


The governing coalition has indicated that there will be a modest giveaway of about 1.5bn euro (£1.1bn).

About half of that will reportedly be used to cut the unpopular Universal Social Charge (USC) which is sometimes called “the bailout tax”.

The threshold at which people pay USC is expected to rise to 13,000 euros (£9,646).

There is also expected to be a new tax credit for self-employed people and an increased threshold for inheritance tax.

There are reports that the old age pension will go up by 3 euros (£2.22) a week. There will also be an increase in the fuel allowance.

It is understood that the government plans to create 2,200 new teaching posts and at least 500 additional jobs in policing.

Mr Noonan is to address the Dáil at 14:15 BST. Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin will set out spending plans when he speaks at 15:00 BST.

The Republic of Ireland’s economy, as measured by Gross Domestic Product (GDP), is growing at an annual rate of more than 6%.

The Gross National Product (GNP) measurement, which strips out some of the distorting activities of multi-national firms, is showing growth of about 5%.

Unemployment has come down from over 14% in 2012 to 9.4% in September, bringing welfare spending down significantly.

Government debt has fallen to about 100% of GDP compared to a peak of 120% in 2012.

The country’s independent Fiscal Advisory Council has said the government’s proposed package is “at the upper end of the range of prudent policies”.

It warns that the country’s debt to GDP ratio “remains extremely high leaving the economy vulnerable to adverse growth and interest rate shocks”.

Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny has said that he intends to hold a general election in Spring 2016.

His centre-right Fine Gael party is the senior partner in coalition with the centre-left Labour Party.

Both parties are struggling in the polls despite the improving economy.

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Pendragon opens relocated BMW and Mini Leeds site

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Pendragon opens relocated BMW and Mini Leeds site

Pendragon has opened its relocated Stratstone BMW and Mini Leeds centres following a 12 month development programme.

The new location, on Gelderd Road, offers more square feet, a larger outdoor used car display area and an increased number of parking spaces for visitors.

The existing 85 BMW and 35 MINI team members have moved to the new location, with additional recruitment for a variety of job roles set to follow.

“The new site has been a year in the making and we are delighted to open our doors to customers,” said Trevor Fussey, Stratstone’s national franchise director.

 “The location provides a fantastic experience for our customers, allowing us to showcase a wider choice of new and used cars. We look forward to welcoming familiar and new faces to take a look around.”

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Royal Mail stake sale raises £591m

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Royal Mail stake sale raises £591m

Royal Mail: Final stake sale raises £591m

  • 13 October 2015
  • From the section Business

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The government says it has raised £591.1m from selling its final stake in Royal Mail at 455p a share.

The money was raised from selling a 13% stake in the business, while a 1% stake was awarded to Royal Mail workers.

The sale means the government has received a total of £3.3bn from the Royal Mail privatisation.

The privatisation of Royal Mail began in December 2013, but it was criticised after the shares almost doubled from their initial price of 330p.

Following the latest stake sale, Business Secretary Sajid Javid said it was “a truly historic day for Royal Mail”.

“We have delivered on our promise to sell the government’s entire remaining stake, which means that for the very first time, the company is now wholly owned by its employees and private investors.”

The government said employees now owned 12% of Royal Mail.

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Concerns voiced about new simplified tenancies bill in Scotland

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Concerns voiced about new simplified tenancies bill in Scotland

Simplified residential tenancies are now being introduced in Scotland but experts warn that more needs to be done to maintain supply in the private rented sector and attract more investment.

Scottish Housing Minister Margaret Burgess said the changes outlined in the Private Tenancy Bill will give tenants greater security and stability in their home and community. ‘It will also give landlords reassurance that their tenants will treat their property as a long term home, rather than somewhere temporary,’ she pointed out.

‘The private rented sector is changing. It is now home to a growing number of people in Scotland, and we recognise there are some areas where rents are increasing significantly. It is right and responsible to give local authorities the ability to introduce rent controls in order to ease areas under pressure,’ she added.

The Scottish Association of Landlords said there while there is a broad agreement that the rental regime in the private rented sector needed to be modernised as part of a drive to increase standards and protect tenants, there are concerns that it could harm investment in a sector which is said to have a key role to play in solving Scotland’s long term housing crisis.

‘We have particular concerns about measures such as rent controls, as well as removing the right of a landlord to end a lease naturally, subject to a reasonable notice period,’ said SAL chief executive John Blackwood.

‘While we understand the political pressure to tackle rent rises in hotspots such as Aberdeen and Edinburgh, we are concerned these measures could harm investor confidence and drive landlords out of the market, leaving a vacuum that could be filled with less than scrupulous individuals,’ he explained.

‘The way to reduce rent levels in a sustainable manner is to increase housing supply, not punishing landlords that are investing tens of thousands of pounds in their properties,’ he added.

According to Scottish Land & Estates the sector also needs to attract new investment, especially in rural areas. Its members are at the forefront of supplying rural housing across the country, many at affordable rents, and the organisation said there were many positive elements to the Bill but that certain elements could impact on rural housing supply.
‘We welcome the degree of clarity that the introduction of the Bill has provided and we can see that there are many positive elements to the government’s proposals. The simplification of the tenancy regime is something that we have long argued for and it is pleasing that the Scottish Government has made a concerted effort to address the need for reform,’ said Katy Dickson, policy officer for business and property at Scottish Land & Estates.

She explained that the introduction of a single notice to leave system, with robust and reasonable grounds on which to end a tenancy is to be welcomed, and increased notice periods will hopefully address many of the concerns regarding security and certainty raised during the consultation.
‘As we have pointed out throughout the consultation process, the removal of the no-fault ground for repossession would leave a significant gap where landlords may struggle to deal to remove tenants, especially where there are issues of anti-social behaviour that affect both the landlord and neighbouring properties,’ she said.

‘We hope the new system will address these concerns but we will need to study the Bill in more detail over the coming days. In particular we hope that the progressive repossession grounds for rent arrears cases will actually deliver an effective measure for the many landlords who routinely face this issue,’ she added.
The organisation also wants to see a new regime that delivers for these issues and Dickson said there is disappointment that the ground to recover possession because the property is required for an agricultural worker is not included.
‘The Scottish rental sector has long faced issues with high demand, low supply and problems enforcing the current legislation. We hope the current legislation will not reduce supply or exacerbate the lack of investment in the sector,’ she concluded.

But homeless charity Shelter Scotland said that the new legislation is the biggest move forward in private tenancy law in the last quarter of a century and should rebalance the relationship between tenant and landlord.

‘The abolition of no fault eviction is a very big step forward and, combined with a flexible and secure tenancy, it will help families in particular put down roots in their communities and help people to stay in their home for as long as they need,’ said its director Graeme Brown.

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Irish property prices continue to see sustained growth

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Irish property prices continue to see sustained growth

Property prices in Ireland increased nationwide by 2.3% in August and are up 9.5% compared to a year ago, the latest official data shows.

In Dublin property prices rose by 2.8% in August and were 8.2% higher than in August 2014. A breakdown shows that house prices are rising faster than apartments at 3% and 0.3% respectively.

However, the index report from the Central Statistics Office says that it should be noted that the sub-indices for apartments are based on low volumes of observed transactions and consequently suffer from greater volatility than other series.

In the rest of Ireland, excluding Dublin, prices rose by 1.9% in August and were up 10.8% compared with August 2014.

This means that at a national level residential property prices were 35.4% lower than their peak level in 2007 and excluding Dublin residential prices were 38.7% lower than their highest level in 2007.

In Dublin house prices were 34.4% lower than the peak, apartment prices 40.4% lower and Dublin residential property prices overall 36.2% lower than their highest level. 

However, there are concerns that house prices are growing too fast. The Irish economy grew by a Eurozone record of 7.2% in the second quarter and according to the Organisation for Economic Development and Coordination (OECD) is set to grow by 5% overall in 2015 and 4% in 2016.

But the OECD is concerned that rapidly rising house prices still pose one of the biggest risks to financial stability and an uncontrolled property boom would ‘increase vulnerabilities, especially if it were associated with further indebtedness’.

Its latest review says that such strong price rises may again spark a reinforcing spiral of higher property prices and credit leading to another misalignment of property prices and eventual burst that causes large losses in the banking sector.

‘To avoid repeating past mistakes, now is the time to build resilience against future nasty surprises while ensuring the recovery is sustained, and its benefits broadly shared,’ said Angel Gurría, secretary general of the OECD.

The OECD suggested that the Irish government should take measures to cool the market, such as avoiding subsiding first time buyers and encouraging growth in the rental market.

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UK residential housing market sees highest activity for six months

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UK residential housing market sees highest activity for six months

UK housing market activity has climbed to its highest level in six months and the second highest monthly level on record, new data shows.

September saw just 0.5% fewer valuations carried out than in March 2015 which was the highest on record, according to the latest research from Connells Survey & Valuation.

On an annual basis, total valuation activity is up 29% compared to September 2014, after a 23% month on month rebound since August 2015.

‘Britain’s housing market is going from strength to strength. Against a brightening economic background, players in all parts of the market are feeling more confident about their prospects. Valuation activity is growing beyond the seasonal pick-up at the end of August, with year-on-year growth gathering momentum,’ said John Bagshaw, the firm’s corporate services director.

The data also shows that the number of valuations carried out specifically for first time buyers rose by 25% in September compared to the previous month and an 18% increase compared to September 2014.

Valuation activity among established home movers performed even better. The number of valuations carried out for those moving house rose 26% when compared to last month and 23% since September 2014.

‘First time buyers aren’t just feeling more confident, they are now following this up with real action and contributing a good portion of growth in the UK housing market. There are no signs yet that schemes such as Help to Buy are going to be phased out, helping to suppress the barriers to setting a first foot on the ladder,’ Bagshaw explained.

‘Meanwhile, wages are growing faster than inflation and purchase prices have cooled a little in recent months, all contributing to an acceleration in numbers of first time buyers. Moreover, the latest focus from the government on starter homes is a promising sign there is at least a strong intention to maintain support at the bottom of the ladder,’ he pointed out.

‘Home movers have also been buoyed by the same trends. Rising real term wages combined with steadily increasing property values mean that many of those who are already fortunate enough to have a place of their own feel it’s a great time to buy,’ he added.

The data also shows that remortgaging experienced another stand out month. The number of valuations for those thinking of taking a fresh mortgage out against the value of their current home rose 16% on August of this year and 49% since September 2014.

Meanwhile the buy to let sector has seen steadier growth, with the number of valuations growing 13% since September last year. On a monthly basis, valuations activity carried out on behalf of buy to let investors grew by 21% compared to August.

‘The remortgaging sector is continuing to power ahead with plenty of people still opting to improve rather than move. High demand in this sector is still being driven by the large number of good mortgage deals out there, as homeowners rush to capitalise on the value of their home, while it’s still relatively cheap to do so,’ Bagshaw explained.

‘Meanwhile landlords are proving resilient. Many thought the buy to let market might be in full retreat after a Summer Budget aimed at clamping down on the sector. But most investors’ panic was short lived as they realised that the fundamentals of buy to let’s profitability, namely large demand from tenants and low mortgage rates, were still in place. Far from being a drag, the sector capped off what has been a very good month for total valuations,’ he added.

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£11m childcare plan helps job hunters

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£11m childcare plan helps job hunters

£11m childcare plan helps job hunters

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Unemployed parents are being offered help to look for work with a new £11m scheme to assist with childcare costs.

It aims to help 6,400 parents across Wales over the age of 25 take up jobs or training over the next three years.

Parents will be offered up to 25 hours of childcare for eight weeks, with the option to apply for longer-term help.

Communities Minister Lesley Griffiths said the cost of childcare had been identified as the “biggest barrier” stopping many parents taking up jobs.

Support will be extended to parents aged 16 to 24 later in the year.

The scheme will run for three years at a cost of £10.9m.

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China’s imports and exports down

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China’s imports and exports down

China’s imports down 17.7% in yuan-denominated terms

  • 13 October 2015
  • From the section Business

Image copyright
Sean Gallup

Image caption

China is trying to move away from an export-led economy to one supported by domestic demand

China’s September imports fell a more-than-expected 17.7% in yuan-denominated terms, while exports fell 1.1% from a year earlier, official figures show.

The numbers leave the country with a trade surplus of 376.2bn yuan ($59.4bn; £38.8bn).

The steep fall in imports compares with a fall of 14.3% in August and continues to reflect lower commodity prices globally.

China recently revised down its 2014 economic growth from 7.4% to 7.3%.

The revision marks its weakest growth for almost 25 years. After decades of double-digit growth, the government is expecting to see growth of about 7% in 2015.

Domestic-led growth

China is attempting to shift from an export-led economy to a consumer-led one.

Exports in September held up better than expected, after some had forecast a fall of as much as 7%.

However the significant fall in imports means domestic demand is not as strong as the government would have hoped.

China’s trade numbers in US dollar denominated terms will be reported later on Tuesday.

Currency conversion factors based on US dollar and Chinese yuan movements over the last year mean some official numbers from the mainland are now reported in both currencies.

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Legal cannabis ‘worth millions’ to UK

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Legal cannabis ‘worth millions’ to UK

Cannabis legalisation worth millions – government report

Legalising cannabis could generate hundreds of millions of pounds a year in tax and cut costs for the police and prisons, a government study has found.

The internal Treasury report, obtained by BBC Newsnight, said regulating the market would “generate notable tax revenue” and “lead to overall savings to the criminal justice system”.

MPs debated the issue on Monday, after a petition calling for legalisation drew more than 220,000 signatures.

Ministers do not plan to alter the law.

The Home Office said it had “no plans” to change the law on cannabis, which is currently classified as a Class B illegal drug, adding that cannabis use was falling gradually.

‘216 tonnes’

The Treasury study was undertaken earlier this year at the behest of the Liberal Democrats when they were in coalition, but was not published.

Civil servants were asked to consider the “potential fiscal impacts of introducing a regulated cannabis market in the UK”.

The study notes that 2.2 million people aged 16 to 59 are thought to have used cannabis last year – smoking a total of 216 tonnes.

Government analysts reviewed the work of the Institute for Social and Economic Research, which has estimated that licensing cannabis could help reduce the UK budget deficit by up to £1.25bn a year – from taxes raised and cost reductions.

The Treasury report argues that sum is probably an over-estimate.

But it agrees that regulating cannabis would raise significant amounts in tax, as well as saving the state up to £200m in court and police costs a year.

‘Ludicrous criminalisation’

Liberal Democrat health spokesman Norman Lamb said his party wanted to consider regulating and taxing cannabis, pointing to the example of changes in some US states.

He said: “The whole debate has shifted dramatically now… as we see state after state starting this debate, with many states in the US deciding to establish legalised regulated markets.

“And of course the basic principle it seems to me is, do you put a potentially dangerous product into the hands of criminals who have no interest in your welfare at all or do you seek to regulate it?

“And I think in terms of public health protection of individuals and avoiding the ludicrous criminalisation of so many young people, a legalised regulated market makes a lot of sense.”

But the Home Office said in a statement: “The government has no plans to legalise or decriminalise cannabis.

“There is clear scientific and medical evidence that cannabis is a harmful drug which can damage people’s mental and physical health, and harms individuals and communities.”

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More female-friendly online dating

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More female-friendly online dating

Making online dating a lot more female friendly

  • 13 October 2015
  • From the section Business
Media captionCan Whitney Wolfe repeat the success of Tinder with her dating app Bumble where women take the lead?

Women who use online dating websites often complain of receiving unwanted, unsolicited photographs of “crotch shots” from men.

The practice has become so common that many women don’t even consider it harassment – many consider it a mere annoyance, a necessary evil in the modern cyber quest for love.

Whitney Wolfe, a co-founder of dating app Tinder, says she wants her new company to disrupt the sector, and cut back on the amount of online harassment directed towards women.

She describes her start-up Bumble as a “feminist dating app”, where men are typically more polite, because women make the first move.

Image caption

Whitney Wolfe founded Bumble after leaving her previous dating app start-up Tinder

‘Men are flattered’

“In every other facet of a young woman’s life we are owning our worlds in a very independent way,” Ms Wolfe says from her hip, co-working space in Austin, Texas.

“We work, we create, we support ourselves, and it’s encouraged to do so. The only thing that hasn’t caught up to that is how we date.”

The 26-year-old entrepreneur founded Bumble a year ago. She says the restrictions in the app which block men from driving the conversations are pushing social change.

The word feminism has been co-opted and contorted, she says, but “what it really means is equality between men and women”. When women make the first move, she says, men are often flattered and behave much more politely.

Image caption

Female founders are a tiny minority during the current technology boom

In the world of dating apps, Ms Wolfe is famous for co-founding and then being ousted from Tinder, the wildly popular dating tool that first started in 2012.

She then sued her fellow co-founders last year for sexual harassment. Ms Wolfe refused to discuss details of the case with the BBC, but she maintained her “co-founder” status, and she reportedly received about $1m (£650,000) when the lawsuit was settled with no admission of wrong doing.

Maintaining the “founder” title is important. Female founders and chief executives are rare. Fewer than 3% of venture capital-backed companies are run by women, according to a 2014 study by Babson College about bridging the gender gap in entrepreneurship.

“Only a small portion of early-stage investment is going to women entrepreneurs, yet our data suggest that venture capital-funded businesses with women on the executive team perform better on multiple dimensions,” the report’s author Candida Brush said when it was released.

“The venture capital community, therefore, may be missing good investment opportunities by not investing in women entrepreneurs.”

Ms Wolfe says it’s important for women to feel empowered in dating as well as in business, where women too often “hesitate” to start their own companies.

“Sometimes there’s this hesitation involved with women” when it comes to starting businesses, she says.

“There’s this hold back there, and until we break the mould – and there are positive examples set, and it’s something that is achievable – I don’t think we’re going to see much of a change.”

Niche dating

Ms Wolfe isn’t the only entrepreneur breaking the mould when it comes to dating apps where women call the shots.

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Image caption

Bumble is one of a number of niche dating apps that have followed in the wake of Tinder’s success

Siren is a dating platform made by women and marketed to women users. It allows women to control their visibility, so they can block their profile from other users.

For example, some users only make their profile visible to social media contacts.

How pervasive is harassment online? A Pew Research Centre report in 2013 found that 28% of online daters have been harassed or made to feel uncomfortable.

For women, 42% have experienced negative contact, compared with just 17% of men.

One online dating user, Mandy Tugwell, says she removed her online dating profile from a mainstream dating site after she got naked pictures of men, and was repeatedly asked if she was into sexual fetishes.

“I was like, OK this isn’t going to work,” she says. “I got really creeped out.”

But Ms Tugwell did find a serious relationship on a niche dating site targeted at black women and Asian men.

Ms Wolfe says the crowded field of online dating and social media networking sites isn’t intimidating. Tinder is a juggernaut, and there are dozens of other niche sites to choose from, she says.

Finding love and connections is “a huge, huge need” she adds.

“It’s part of who we are as human, to date and find people to share time with.

“I don’t think we need to compete with anyone. I think we can be a standalone entity that is trying to fill a void.

“It’s a unique mission. I’m happy to compete in a field that’s crowded.”

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Facebook paid £4,327 corporation tax

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Facebook paid £4,327 corporation tax

Facebook paid £4,327 corporation tax in 2014

  • 12 October 2015
  • From the section Business
Media captionBBC News explains why Facebook paid just £4,327 in corporation tax in the UK in 2014

Social network giant Facebook paid just £4,327 ($6,643) in corporation tax in 2014, its latest UK results show.

Its most recent Companies House filing shows the company as making a pre-tax loss of £28.5m last year, but the firm also paid its 362 UK staff a total of £35.4m in share bonuses.

The share bonuses amount to £96,000 on average per UK Facebook employee.

It means Facebook’s UK corporation tax bill was less than the tax the average UK employee paid on their salary.

The average UK salary is £26,500 on which employees pay a total of £5,392.80 in income tax and national insurance contributions.

In January, Facebook reported global fourth-quarter profits of $701m (£462m), a 34% increase on the same period a year earlier.

Total profits for the year were $2.9bn, almost double its profit for 2013.

Facebook said at the time that advertising revenue grew by 53% to $3.59bn, with nearly 70% of that coming from mobile ad sales.

The social networking giant says it now has 1.39 billion active users each month, a 13% increase from a year ago.

EU probe

The latest revelations will reignite the debate about how much UK corporation tax companies pay at a time when several multinational corporations are being investigated by the European Commission over the tax arrangements they have with European Union member states.

Google, Amazon, a division of the Fiat motor company and Starbucks are all subject to the investigation and the European Commission has said it could widen its probe further.

The investigation came after Starbucks was revealed to have paid just £8.6m in UK corporation tax in the 14 years between 1998 and 2012, despite making more than £3bn in UK sales in the same period.

Last week, EU finance ministers agreed to boost information sharing in response to the so-called LuxLeaks scandal that emerged last year. The scandal showed Luxembourg had issued hundreds of tax rulings allowing companies to lower their tax bill by funnelling their profits through the country.

A spokesperson for Facebook said: “We are compliant with UK tax law, and in fact in all countries where we have operations and offices. We continue to grow our business activities in the UK.”

They added that all the firm’s employees paid UK income tax on their payouts.

The company recently secured the lease on a high-profile 227,324 sq ft office space in Rathbone Square, near Tottenham Court Road in London, where it plans to open a new headquarters in 2017.

John O’Connell, director of the Taxpayers’ Alliance, said: “Taxpayers will be justifiably confused and angry about this tax bill. But Facebook is right to say that it is complying with UK law, which shows that the problem lies with our complex tax code, and that is what politicians should address as a matter of urgency.

“We have to ensure our taxes are simple to eliminate loopholes, and that taxes are low to increase our competitiveness, so that companies choose to base themselves here.”

Conservative MP Mark Garnier, a member of Parliament’s Treasury Select Committee told the BBC that even if companies were not breaking any laws, they should think about their moral responsibility.

“It’s about the spirit of the law versus the letter of the law. At the end of the day tax evasion is illegal, when you’re deliberately setting out to not pay your tax by hiding your money,” he said.

“Tax planning is what most people will be doing with their pensions. And tax avoidance is where you take the letter of the law, to get around the spirit of the law, where you’re actively seeking a way of using the letters to not pay tax.”

In his March Budget, Chancellor George Osborne pressed ahead with plans to introduce a diverted profits tax on companies that moved their profits overseas.

He added that firms that aided tax evasion would also face new penalties and criminal prosecutions.

The so-called “Google Tax” is designed to discourage large companies diverting profits out of the UK to avoid tax.

And last week, an OECD/G20 report found that laws allowing companies to shift profits to low-tax jurisdictions meant between $100bn and $240bn was lost in tax revenues every year – equivalent to between 4% and 10% of global corporate tax revenues.

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Draft Wales Bill ‘expected next week’

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Draft Wales Bill ‘expected next week’

UK government ‘aims to publish draft Wales Bill next week’

The UK government aims to publish a draft Wales Bill next week, Welsh Secretary Stephen Crabb has said.

It comes a week after First Minister Carwyn Jones called on him to postpone the process.

The two met in Cardiff on Monday, with Mr Crabb vowing to reach agreement with the Welsh government on the content of new devolution legislation.

A spokesman for the first minister said it was “a constructive discussion”.

The UK government hopes to publish the final bill in February, with Royal Assent anticipated for early 2017.

Mr Crabb said both he and the first minister were “on the same book, not quite on the same page” regarding any future devolution settlement.

“We have made progress in the last seven days and I think there is greater understanding certainly on our side of the concerns that the Welsh government have got – I think there is more understanding on the Welsh government side of the concerns that we’ve got,” he said.

“I think what we need to do now is continue the talks and work purposefully towards a successful outcome and I think that is achievable.”

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Image caption

Wales’ First Minister Carwyn Jones

The first minster had called for the publication of the draft Wales Bill to be postponed in order to reach a settlement “that stands the test of time” – but that request has been denied.

“We haven’t changed the timetable for publishing at all, it’s my aim to publish a draft bill next week which won’t be the final bill but we’ll provide people with the opportunity to feed in their thoughts, ideas and concerns,” Mr Crabb added.

A spokesman for the first minister said: “It was a constructive discussion. It will be difficult to come to a settlement without properly addressing the issue of a single jurisdiction, but talks will continue.”

The Welsh government wants to see a a separate Welsh legal jurisdiction, saying that such a move “would simplify devolution to everyone’s benefit”.

But the UK government and former Labour Attorney General Lord Morris of Aberavon have questioned the need and the cost of such a change.

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Government to sell rest of Royal Mail

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Government to sell rest of Royal Mail

Government to sell remaining 14% stake in Royal Mail to investors

  • 12 October 2015
  • From the section Business

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The Government is selling the last 14% of its holding in Royal Mail to professional investors, two years after its initial privatisation.

It will start the process immediately.

At its Monday price of 470.3p, the Government’s stake is valued at £660m. There was no market reaction as the announcement came after the close of daily share trading.

Royal Mail’s privatisation was heavily criticised after the shares almost doubled from their initial valuation.

In June, the Government sold a similar-sized stake, which raised £750m.

As part of that sale, postal workers received a 1% stake in the company worth about £50m, in addition to the 10% given to them when the government started its sell-off in 2013.

It said in the summer that it intended to divest the rest of its holding before the end of the financial year.

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Boris: Price of EU exit ‘lowest ever’

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Boris: Price of EU exit ‘lowest ever’

Boris Johnson: Price of quitting EU is ‘lower than ever’

The price of quitting the European Union is “lower than it’s ever been”, Boris Johnson has claimed.

Speaking in Japan, the London Mayor and Conservative MP refused to rule out spearheading the ‘Out’ campaign.

But he argued it was better for the UK to stay in a reformed EU, saying he backed David Cameron in his efforts to secure change ahead of the referendum.

Mr Johnson’s comments come on the day the In campaign, Britain Stronger in Europe, launched its campaign.

He also indicated the prime minister would be setting out more details about Britain’s attempts to renegotiation its terms of membership of the EU “in the next few weeks”.

‘Fantastic negotiator’

A date has not been set for the referendum, but Mr Cameron has promised to hold the in-out vote by the end of 2017 at the latest.

During a visit to Osaka in Japan, Mr Johnson was asked where he stood on Britain’s in-out referendum on EU membership.

“I think I am exactly where the prime minister is and, I think, actually a huge number of the proportion of the British public.

“We want, in an ideal world, to stay in a reformed European Union but I think the price of getting out is lower than it’s ever been. It’s better for us to stay in, but to stay in a reformed EU. That’s where I am,” he said.

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David Cameron discussed his EU reform aims with German Chancellor Angela Merkel last week

The MP, who is touted as a potential future Conservative leader, said he had “great faith” in Mr Cameron’s negotiations to secure EU reform, describing him as “a fantastic bridge player [and] negotiator”.

“In our party we’re backing the prime minister. I think he’s got every chance of getting a good deal,” he said.

But Mr Johnson also cautioned that it was sensible not to rule out walking away from the table in the negotiations.

“You have to wait and see what the deal is going to be. But I’ve got great faith in the prime minister,” he said.

On Sunday, UKIP leader Nigel Farage said it was possible that Mr Johnson could head the Leave.EU campaign, but the London mayor told the BBC he was unaware of the Eurosceptic’s overtures.

“News of this pronouncement has not detonated over [Japan] like a thunderclap. I don’t know about these invitations,” he said.

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The work of economist Angus Deaton

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The work of economist Angus Deaton

The work of Nobel prize-winning economist Angus Deaton

  • 12 October 2015
  • From the section Business

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The 2015 Nobel Prize for Economics has been awarded to Scottish-born economist Angus Deaton.

Prof Deaton, 69, is currently professor of economics and international affairs at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University, in New Jersey.

What did he do to win the prize?

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, which awards the prize, said that Prof Deaton’s work has transformed several fields of economics.

More specifically, the organisation said he had made an impact on economic theory, and on the practical application of data to investigate poverty, and devise economic policy.

The headline to the statement from the academy that announced that Prof Deaton was its 2015 winner said: “Consumption, great and small”. What does this mean?

Consumption, to an economist, means spending on goods and services by individuals and households.

Understanding it means looking at how consumers allocate spending between different things, how they divide their incomes between spending and saving, and how these patterns vary over time.

The “great and small” in the academy’s headline reflects Prof Deaton’s analysis of consumer spending across a whole economy, and at the level of the individual and the household.

One theme that runs through the academy’s analysis of his work is the extensive use of data on spending taken from household surveys. Previously, economists worked much more from aggregate data for the whole economy.

This focus enabled Prof Deaton to produce a theoretical approach that was more consistent with the fluctuations in consumer spending that he found.

A more arcane achievement was in developing (with another economist John Muellbauer) a theory of demand for goods and services – how people allocate their spending between different products – that was motivated by problems in earlier analysis.

Their system, and subsequent improvements by other researchers, “has had an immense impact in academia as well as being greatly influential in practical policy evaluation”.

Prof Deaton has been an influential figure in development economics. The academy describes him as an important driving force in the transformation of this area of economics – in moving from aggregate data to household surveys.

To take one example – his research shed light on the question of whether rising incomes do lead to more calories being consumed, in other words to reducing malnutrition.

His work suggests that it does – so encouraging economic growth can help tackle malnutrition. If that were not the case it would be an argument for reorienting policy towards direct food aid.

What does Prof Deaton win?

In addition to the greater recognition of his work, and the further respect of his peers, Prof Deaton receives a financial price of 8m Swedish krona ($966,000; £630,000).

What is his background?

Born in the Scottish capital of Edinburgh, Prof Deaton attended Fettes College, a private school in the city, before going on to study at Cambridge University.

After teaching at Cambridge and the University of Bristol, he continued his economics career in the US.

He holds both British and American citizenship.

When was the award created?

Unlike the other five annual Nobel prizes, the economics one was not established by Swedish industrialist Alfred Nobel, although like the Physics and Chemistry prizes it is awarded by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.

Instead it was set up by Sweden’s central bank in 1968 as a memorial to Mr Nobel, who died in 1896.

Its official title is the Riksbank’s Prize in Economic Sciences.

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Who are the EU ‘In’ campaigners?

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Who are the EU ‘In’ campaigners?

EU referendum: Guide to the ‘In’ campaign

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Launching the campaign in East London were (left to right) Richard Reed, Karren Brady, Stuart Rose, Roland Rudd, Brendan Barber, Caroline Lucas and June Sarpong

A campaign to keep the UK in the European Union has been launched. Here is a guide to the key people involved with the cross-party group, which is called Britain Stronger in Europe.


Stuart Rose, a former Marks and Spencer chief executive who joined the company as a management trainee, is chairman of the campaign. He has also been chief executive of Burton Group, Argos and Arcadia Group and is now chairman of online supermarket Ocado. He was knighted in 2008 for “services to the retail industry”, and became a Tory peer in 2014. Launching the campaign, he said the EU was not perfect, but said staying in was the “patriotic course for Britain”.

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Stuart Rose put forward a business case for remaining in the EU

The chief executive of the campaign is Will Straw, son of former Labour home secretary Jack Straw. He has worked for the the IPPR think tank and was a Labour candidate in the general election.

Lord Rose was introduced on stage by television presenter June Sarpong, who appears on ITV’s Loose Women and once presented Channel 4’s youth/’hangover TV’ strand T4. Other board members of the campaign featured in a panel discussion, including Baroness Brady, West Ham United’s vice chairwoman and star of the TV show The Apprentice, Karren Brady joined the Lords in September 2014 as a Conservative peer and is a board member for the “In” campaign.

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Baroness Brady is backing the campaign to stay in the EU

She was joined on stage by Innocent Drinks founder Richard Reed, Sir Hugh Orde, the former president of the Association of chief police officers, and Stephanie Flanders, the BBC’s former economics editor who now works for JP Morgan Asset Management.

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Innocent drinks founder Richard Reed spoke at the “In” launch event

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Sir Hugh Orde warned that deporting foreign criminals would be harder outside the EU

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Virgin founder Sir Richard Branson features in the ‘In’ campaign video

Brendan Barber, the former general secretary of the Trades Union Congress, is also backing the campaign, as are former Conservative minister Damian Green, Finsbury PR founder Roland Rudd, and Green Party MP Caroline Lucas, while Megan Dunn, president of the National Union of Students, is another board member.

Other campaigns

Unlike the “Out” movement, where two distinct campaigns have been formed, just one organisation has been presented to call for the UK to stay in the EU, and Britain Stronger in Europe looks set to receive the official designation from the Electoral Commission. But there is also a separate Labour Party campaign, which is fronted by ex-Home Secretary Alan Johnson, who promises to “put the country’s future above party machinations”.

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Watson has questions to answer, PM says

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Watson has questions to answer, PM says

Tom Watson has questions to answer in Lord Brittan case, PM says

  • 12 October 2015
  • From the section UK

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The prime minister said Tom Watson (L) should “examine his conscience” over his comments about sex abuse claims against Leon Brittan

Labour deputy leader Tom Watson has “questions to answer” over his comments about sex abuse allegations against former Home Secretary Leon Brittan, David Cameron has said.

The prime minister said Mr Watson should “examine his conscience” after Lord Brittan’s brother called for an apology over “unfounded accusations”.

Mr Watson said on Friday he had had a “duty” to inform police of the claims.

Lord Brittan died in January unaware that police had dropped a rape inquiry.

The BBC understands that four Conservative MPs have asked Home Affairs Select Committee chairman Keith Vaz to put Mr Watson’s actions on the agenda when it meets on Tuesday.

Mr Cameron told LBC radio: “The House of Commons select committees are quite rightly going to ask him some questions so I’m sure he should answer those questions and examine his conscience about whether he’s said enough so far.”

‘Sorry for distress’

On Friday Mr Watson admitted he should not have repeated a claim that Lord Brittan was “close to evil” and said he was sorry for causing distress to the Brittan family.

But the MP said he had wanted the claims against Lord Brittan, whose career included two years as home secretary in Margaret Thatcher’s government, “properly investigated”.

The Crown Prosecution Service found in July 2013 that there was not enough evidence for a prosecution over the claim Lord Brittan had raped a 19-year-old female student in 1967.

Mr Watson later called for a full review of all abuse allegations made against the peer.

Officers subsequently interviewed Lord Brittan, who had terminal cancer at the time, but no charges were brought.

Police have since said they would not have taken further action over the rape claim.

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BMA stands ground in contract row

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BMA stands ground in contract row

BMA stands ground in contract row

  • 12 October 2015
  • From the section Health

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Industrial action by junior doctors in England is still on the cards after union leaders refused to re-enter talks over a new contract.

The British Medical Association announced last month it would be balloting members over taking action.

It prompted Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt to intervene last week, suggesting he could give ground.

But the union’s leaders said the offer did “not yet have the concrete assurances we asked for”.

In a letter to Mr Hunt, the BMA is asking for more detail on unsociable hours payments and whether some doctors will be worse off.

The dispute is over a new contract due to be introduced in August 2016.

Critics have argued the deal could mean 15% pay cuts, with “normal hours” reclassified as being from 07:00 to 22:00, Monday to Saturday.

It means extra payments for unsociable working will be earned only outside of these times, rather than the current arrangements of 07:00 to 19:00 Monday to Friday.


But Mr Hunt’s letter last week suggested he would be “pleased to discuss” a compromise on the definition of normal hours on a Saturday.

The letter also sought to reassure doctors that the contract was not a “cost-cutting exercise” and that the “great majority” of doctors would remain as well paid as they were now.

The BMA’s letter on Monday in response said there was still a lack of clarity and asked for further guarantees.

These include – among others – asking for a commitment that no doctor will lose out.

Earlier, it was reported that 2,000 rank-and-file doctors had also written to Mr Hunt asking for further concessions.

The government has described the current contracts as “outdated” and “unfair”, pointing out they were introduced in the 1990s.

Ministers drew up plans to change the contract in 2012, but talks broke down last year.

The government has indicated it will impose the new contract next year in England, prompting the BMA to ask its 50,000 junior doctor members about industrial action.

Scotland and Wales have said they do not want to introduce the changes, while Northern Ireland has yet to make a decision.

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Residential sales fall in Hong Kong but prices holding up, latest research shows

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Residential sales fall in Hong Kong but prices holding up, latest research shows

Residential sales in Hong Kong fell almost 30% in one month as weak demand hit the property market but prices are still going up, the latest data shows.

Figures from the Land Registry shows a 27.8% drop in transactions in August from the previous month and according to international real estate firm Knight Frank this was due to weakened demand caused by the slump in both the Mainland and local stock markets.

However, home prices still recorded minor growth, due to strong end user demand and Knight Frank expects prices to remain firm for the rest of the year.

Indeed the firm is predicting that at the top end luxury property prices are likely to grow between 2% and 5% this year while the rest of the market could see price growth of 5% to 8%.

Residential land prices also remained firm, with the asking land premium for Lohas Park phase eight in Tseung Kwan O hitting a record high for a residential project in the area at HK$2.955 billion, or an accommodation value of HK$2,830 per square foot.

The latest analysis report from Knight Frank suggest that the primary sector remained the market focus, with developers active in launching new flats and offering beneficial packages, including discounts and second mortgages.

For example, discounts of 10% to 20% were offered for the latest batch of units at High Park Grand in Mong Kok. In Aspen Crest in Diamond Hill, meanwhile, second mortgages worth 30% of the total purchase price were offered, meaning homebuyers only needed to pay a 10% down payment.

A breakdown of the figures in the Knight Frank report show that in the prime property market prices have held up but rents have fallen in some locations. In The Peak district prices were flat month on month but are 5.2% higher than August 2014. Prices were also flat in Island South month on month but up 2.6% year on year.

Mid-Levels saw month on month price growth of 0.3% and year on year of 8.1%, Jardine’s Lookout/Happy Valley also saw month on month growth of 0.3% and annual growth of 9.8% while Pokfulam recorded monthly price growth of 0.1% and year on year growth of 9.5%.

In the prime rental market there has been little growth. In The Peak rents fell 0.2% compared to July and are flat compared to August 2014, while in Island South rents are also flat compared to a year ago and down 0.3% month on month.

Mid-Levels has seen growth of 0.5% year on year but rental prices were flat month on month, Jardine’s Lookout/Happy Valley has seen rents fall 0.2% month on month but up 0.2% year on year and in Pokfulam rents are flat month on month and up 0.5% year on year.

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Air ambulance best legacy for Doc John

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Air ambulance best legacy for Doc John

Dr John Hinds: Medic’s partner in air ambulance plea

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Dr Janet Acheson with Shaun McCann, 7, at Stormont on Monday

The partner of the late motorcycle medic Dr John Hinds has said there could be no better legacy for her “incredible other half” than saving lives.

Janet Acheson was speaking at Stormont on Monday, at an event to promote a Northern Ireland Air Ambulance.

“John would be incredibly proud at the groundswell of support shown for this life-saving cause,” she said.

Dr Hinds, 35, died as the result of a motorcycle crash in July.

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Family photo

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Dr Janet Acheson made a passionate call for support in making her partner, Dr John Hinds’ vision of an air ambulance service, into a reality

He had been providing medical cover at a road racing meeting at Skerries, County Dublin, on 4 July. He was known as a “flying doctor” of Irish motorcycle sport.

Shortly after his death, his family announced plans to set up a charity to support his vision of a Northern Ireland air ambulance.

Last month, the then Health Minister Simon Hamilton said he was committed to establishing an emergency medical helicopter service in Northern Ireland.

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Dr Janet Acheson speaking at Stormont on Monday

At Stormont on Monday, Dr Acheson said: “The support for John’s work – which he was so passionate about – has been humbling, at times overwhelming, but most of all inspiring. It has also given us strength through some very tough days.”

A helicopter emergency medical service should be funded by government in the long term, she said. It should also be based in the Greater Belfast area.

“A properly structured helicopter emergency medical service will make a lasting difference to the people of this country,” she said.

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Dr Hinds was killed in an accident while providing medical cover at the Skerries 100

Among those at Stormont was Shaun McCann, 7, who suffered a life-threatening head injury as a result of a fall at his County Roscommon home.

Dr John attended the scene along with the air ambulance team from Roscommon.

“Doc John provided Shaun with a general anaesthetic and placed him in an induced coma to protect his brain,” said Ms Acheson.

“He provided mobile intensive care level support whilst Shaun was being flown to a hospital with the specialities necessary to deal with his injuries.

“Shaun made a full recovery and two weeks ago welcomed his baby sister, Alana, to the family. But things could have been different.

“Without a pre-hospital doctor, delivered to his home in a timely fashion, Shaun would not have received this intervention until he reached hospital, meaning if Shaun had survived at all, he was unlikely to be the Shaun we have before us today.

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Motorcyclists joined the cortege as a tribute to Dr Hinds, the man known as one of Irish motorsports ‘flying doctors’

“Without an air ambulance Shaun’s family would be marking a very different anniversary on 14 July each year.”

She urged everyone to do everything they could to make her partner’s dream a reality.

A few weeks before he died, Dr Hinds and the leader of the Traditional Unionist Party (TUV), Jim Allister, met with the then health minister Simon Hamilton to discuss the issue.

Dr Hinds was originally from Portaferry, County Down.

He was a consultant at Craigavon Area Hospital, County Armagh, but also volunteered as a motorcycling medic on Ireland’s road racing circuit.

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Indonesia’s costly haze problem

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Indonesia’s costly haze problem

Indonesia’s costly haze problem

  • 12 October 2015
  • From the section Business
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A fireman works to contain a wildfire on a field in Ogan Ilir, South Sumatra, IndonesiaImage copyright

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Indonesian authorities are fighting both physical and political fires over illegal forest clearing that causes a choking haze every year

Flights cancelled, agricultural land destroyed and hundreds of thousands of people around the region suffering from respiratory illnesses.

This is something that has happened pretty much every year – for the last 18 years.

Indonesia’s forest fires and the resulting haze have caused havoc and headlines across Asia, which has put the government there under pressure to put the fires out.

That might explain why Indonesian police are on a roll. On Monday they’ve named another 12 companies as suspects in starting the forest fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan.

But while Indonesia’s police chief Badrodin Haiti was unwilling to tell the BBC who the companies are, he was happy to stress that two of them are from Malaysia and China and that another one under investigation is from Singapore.

Pointing the finger outside of Indonesia can be useful especially at a time when the government there is under pressure to show that’s it’s serious about stopping the haze.

In an exclusive interview with me last month, Indonesian President Joko Widodo said that the haze was a problem that would take a long time to solve.

He said that it might take as long as three years before it was completely under control.

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Wildfires caused by illegal land clearing in Indonesias Sumatra and Borneo islands often spread choking haze to neighbouring countries Singapore and Malaysia.

Since then he’s changed his tune and has accepted regional assistance after weeks of refusing the offers from his counterparts in Malaysia, Singapore and Australia.

The police’s announcements that they’re clamping down on companies responsible will also no doubt be seen as a sign that Indonesia is trying to be a responsible neighbour.

But environmental activists say that although these companies have been charged with breaking several laws – including Indonesia’s environmental law, which carries a prison sentence of up to 10 years and a fine of $8m – none of that makes a difference unless authorities actually start enforcing the law.

Yuyun Indradi, a political forest campaigner with Greenpeace based in Jakarta told me that out of the 40 or so companies that have been named as suspects for starting the fires so far only one case has ever been brought to court.

He added that if Indonesia really wants to stop the forest fires, it must revoke the permits of companies found guilty.

This is a problem that affects Indonesia every year. But scientists say this year is shaping up to be the worst on record since 1997.

The last time this part of Asia was hit by a major haze crisis it cost the region an estimated $9bn dollars due to losses from cancelled flights, agricultural damage, tourism and healthcare costs.

This time, some economists estimate it could cost the region more than twice that.

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Former SNP MSP to stand for Greens

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Former SNP MSP to stand for Greens

Former SNP MSP John Wilson to stand for Greens

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Scottish Greens

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John Wilson will stand in the Coatbridge and Chryston constituency for the Scottish Greens

A former SNP MSP who quit the party last year is to stand for the Scottish Greens in next year’s Holyrood election.

John Wilson will contest the Coatbridge and Chryston constituency.

Mr Wilson, an MSP for Central Scotland, left the SNP after it ended its opposition to Nato membership in 2012.

He joined the Scottish Greens last December but is currently classed as an independent member of the Scottish Parliament.

Mr Wilson said he was confident of a “positive result” in next year’s election.

He added: “The Scottish Greens are on course to elect a record number of MSPs come May.

“The Greens have always punched above their weight in the Scottish Parliament and I am confident that returning a large group of Greens in May can only have a positive influence.

“We need to hold the government to account whoever that may be.”

Mr Wilson was first elected to the Scottish Parliament in 2007, and was subsequently re-elected four years later.

Two other MSPs – John Finnie and Jean Urquhart – also left the SNP over the Nato issue.

Mr Finnie is also now a member of the Scottish Greens.

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Five Air France employees arrested

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Five Air France employees arrested

Air France employees arrested after violent protest

  • 12 October 2015
  • From the section Business

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Five Air France employees have been arrested following violent scenes at the company’s headquarters in Roissy last week.

Workers were protesting against mass job cuts when two managers had their clothes ripped, with one being forced to flee over a fence. Several others were injured.

Reports suggest the five arrested staff were members of the CGT labour union.

They were identified by video footage, police said.

Hundreds of workers were protesting against plans to cut 2,900 jobs, increase pilots’ working hours and reduce the size of the fleet, all designed to cut costs by €1.8bn ($2bn; £1.3bn) over two years.

Two managers in particular were targeted – human resources manager Xavier Broseta and senior official Pierre Plissonnier.

One union official said Mr Broseta had “narrowly escaped being lynched”. Parent firm Air France-KLM said last week it would take legal action over the protesters’ “aggregated violence”.

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Human resources manager Xavier Broseta was escorted away after his jacket and shirt were torn off

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Mr Plissonnier, director of Air France at Orly airport, was eventually led to safety with his shirt torn

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More jobs paying below living wage

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More jobs paying below living wage

More jobs paying below living wage

  • 12 October 2015
  • From the section Business

Nearly one in four jobs outside of London pay less than the living wage – the pay level suggested for an adequate standard of living.

Some 23% of jobs outside London paid less than the living wage in 2014, compared with 19% in London, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said.

The living wage in April 2014 was £8.80 an hour in London and £7.65 an hour outside London.

This wage is set by the Living Wage Foundation and Mayor of London.

The living wage rates have since been increased to £7.85 an hour outside London and £9.15 in London, and are expected to be uprated next month.

‘Prevalent’ low pay

The ONS figures show that the proportion of jobs paying below the living wage has grown.

In 2014, young adults were most likely to be paid less than the living wage. Some 58% of jobs carried out by 18 to 24-year-olds outside of London and 48% of jobs in this age group in London were paid less than the living wage.

In accommodation and food services in 2014, an estimated 65% of jobs paid less than the living wage in London and 70% in the rest of the UK.

Northern Ireland had 29% of jobs paying below the living wage, the highest in the country. At the other end of the scale, 19% of jobs in the South East of England, London and Scotland paid below the living wage.

On a local level, west Somerset had the highest proportion of jobs paying below the living wage, at 41.9%. Runnymede had the lowest proportion, at 8.5%,

A spokesman for the Living Wage Foundation said: “Despite significant progress in many sectors, more jobs than ever are below the voluntary living wage rates that we recommend.

“These figures demonstrate that while the economy may be recovering as a whole, there is a real problem with ensuring everyone benefits, and low pay in still prevalent in Britain today.”

The living wage is a voluntary code – different from the national minimum wage, which stands at £6.70 an hour, and the new National Living Wage announced by the government of £7.20 an hour which will come into force for over 25-year-olds in April.

There are more than 1,800 accredited living wage employers in the UK, with 200 having agreed to pay at this level in recent months.

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Robo money advice under the microscope

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Robo money advice under the microscope

Robo money advice under the microscope

  • 12 October 2015
  • From the section Business

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Computer algorithms that offer financial advice will be studied as part of a review into the money advice sector.

So-called robo-advice uses computers to help individuals find products that suit their finances and attitude to risk.

They are used relatively widely in the US.

A consultation, starting on Monday, will see the Treasury and City watchdog take views about the cost of advice.

“There is lots of innovation going on already,” said Tracey McDermott, acting chief executive of the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA).

“We need to assess whether or not [robo-advice] can provide the services that people need, and to ensure that the regulatory and legal framework allows this to happen.”

The suggestion is that automated robo-advice could allow people to make decisions without having to pay more for a dedicated financial adviser.


The consultation is part of an inquiry that will consider consumers’ access to financial advice, and particularly the gap for those who do not have significant wealth.

It comes after the change in pension rules, which came into effect in April.

The changes, allowing access to pension savings, has prompted questions about the suitability of advice.

The review will consider all types of retail financial products including pensions, savings, mortgages, and insurance. It will publish its findings before next year’s Budget.

Ms McDermott told the BBC that as people were living for longer, long-term financial decisions were becoming more complex. She said that many people needed to be encouraged to engage with money services for their long-term financial health.

Harriett Baldwin, economic secretary to the Treasury, said: “We are exploring what more can be done to make sure consumers can access high quality and affordable advice so they can make informed decisions with their hard-earned money.”

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Cheaper to buy than rent in over a third of cities in the UK

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Cheaper to buy than rent in over a third of cities in the UK

It is cheaper to buy than rent in more than a third of cities in the UK with buying most effective in the north of the country, new research shows.

Mortgage payments are less expensive than monthly rent in 36% of British cities and home owners in Glasgow are more than £100 per month better off than their renting counterparts.

However, in the south renting still beats buying, with buyers in London, Reading and Cambridge forking out hundreds more to own property there, according to the research from property search firm Zoopla.

But overall the analysis of the cost of renting a two bedroom home compared to servicing a mortgage shows that nationwide, renters still pay £58 less per month than buyers.
Buyers did particularly well compared to their renting counterparts in Scotland and the North of England. In Glasgow, rental payments amount to an average of £596 per month, whereas monthly mortgage payments only totaled £447. This means Glaswegian buyers are paying 25% or £149 a month less to own property than rent it.

The research also shows that in Hull, buyers who pay on average £397 a month are £55 better off than renters in the city who pay an average of £452 per month to rent.
Conversely, the south eastern corner of the UK represents the best value for money for renters. The average London tenant pays rent of £2,218 per month, whereas the capital’s home owners pay an average of £3,302 on servicing their mortgages, meaning buyers there are paying 49% or £1,084 a month more than the city’s renters.

Buyers in Reading and Cambridge can also expect to pay more. On average, owners in Reading typically pay £3,600 a year more than tenants, while servicing a mortgage in Cambridge costs £3,700 more a year on average.

Nationwide, the current average asking rent for a two bedroom home is £666 per month, compared to an average asking price of £145,840. As a result, servicing a 90% LTV mortgage typically costs £58 more per month than the average tenant would pay for renting such a property.
Aside from the initial deposit, and all the fees associated with the actual house purchase, the financial strain of buying can be overstated. In addition to the peace of mind that home buying brings, many owners enjoy more disposable income at the end of every month than their renting counterparts, said Lawrence Hall of Zoopla.

‘If they can make the leap, and are willing to relinquish the flexibility that comes with renting, tenants up north in particular would be much better off buying and paying off a mortgage every month,’ he explained.

He pointed out that Scotland and the North of England are cementing their standing as international university hubs with top universities in York, Edinburgh and Durham. ‘This means increasingly high numbers of students are flock to these areas, all looking for places to stay and driving up rents as a result,’ he added.

He also pointed out that London and the South East are by no means cheap places to rent either. ‘However, growing pressure on housing supply in this corner of the UK from professionals, families and overseas investors means that getting a foothold onto the property ladder in these areas is only becoming a more costly endeavor, and the mortgage payments attached to this are rising to bridge this gap,’ Hall concluded.

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Dealers groups fly high in Sunday Times Top Track 250 survey

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Dealers groups fly high in Sunday Times Top Track 250 survey

Automotive was the biggest single sector in the 2015 Sunday Times Top Track 250, the annual review of Britain’s private mid-market growth companies by sales.

Franchised dealers formed the biggest group within the automotive sector with 45 out of the 59 listings, the balance was made up of car supermakets, manufacturers and suppliers.

The highest ranked dealer group was John Clark Motors (pictured) rated third overall with sales up 28% to £604.1m and profits up 39% to £12.3m. The Aberdeen-based group represents 11 franchises across 24 sites across north and east Scotland.

Northampton-based Perrys was the second highest group at 16 on sales up 8% to £530.9m and profits up 42% to £11m. West Sussex-based Harwoods was rated at 31 on sales up 16% to £474.6m and profits up 45% to £13.1m. Cornwall-based Helston Garages was rated at 34 with sales up 19% to £471.1m and profits up 5% to £13.5m. Lancashire-based Park’s Motor Groups was rated 39 on sales up 12% to £448m nad profits up 12% to £17.1m.

The highest rated car supermarket was Motorpoint at eight on sales up 22% to £564.5m and profits up 39% to £12.9m. London’s Car Giant was 36 on sales up 18% to £485.9m and profits up 21% £36.8m.

Commenting on the survey Richard Lowe, Barclays’ head of industry, said: “Britain’s love affair with the car shows little sign of waning with automotive being the largest single sector in the league table.

“Car dealerships are seeing consolidation as the larger players pursue expansion through acquisitions.”

Other automotive firms making the listing included Aston Martin at 20, McLaren Automotive at 30 and IM Group at 33.

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Vertu adds new Renault and Dacia site in Mansfield

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Vertu adds new Renault and Dacia site in Mansfield

Vertu Motors has opened its second new Renault and Dacia dealership in the space of six months.

The new site in Mansfield will operate under the Bristol Street banner and is Vertu’s sixth Renault and Dacia outlet, following the opening of its new Nottingham showroom in March.

“We are delighted to further strengthen our long and successful relationship with Renault Group UK with the opening of this new dealership in Mansfield,” said Robert Forrester, CEO of Vertu Motors.

“We are also very pleased to secure our position as the number one Renault and Dacia retailer in the East Midlands and we see a very bright future ahead.

“Now we look forward to delivering the very best experience of Renault and Dacia models alongside Bristol Street Motors’ commitment to excellent customer service to customers in and around Mansfield.”

Vertu also represents Renault and Dacia in Bradford, Derby, Exeter and Gloucester.

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Broadband Britain – is it working?

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Broadband Britain – is it working?

Broadband Britain – is it working?

  • 12 October 2015
  • From the section Technology
  • comments

Man's hands with smartphoneImage copyright

“Notspot” – according to one dictionary definition, “an area that has no broadband Internet or 3G mobile phone coverage, or where this is very slow and unreliable.”

What should perhaps be added is the clause, “… and guaranteed to cause fury and to fill up the postbags of members of parliament.” Today the House of Commons holds a debate on the issue of poor coverage, a chance for MPs to vent their constituents’ grievances.

For three hours, they will debate the roll-out of fixed and mobile broadband across the UK and, whatever the government’s claims about the success of that project, you can expect politicians from all sides and from all parts of the country to say it isn’t working in their areas.

The motion before the House notes variations in the effectiveness of superfast broadband and calls on the government to host a “not-spot summit.” Matt Warman, a former Daily Telegraph technology correspondent who is now a Conservative MP, was instrumental in arranging the debate.

He says the focus will be on connecting the final 5% of households not reached either by the market or the government’s rural broadband programme. But overshadowing the debate – and that notspot summit if it happens – will be the bigger question of whether the whole broadband strategy is working, and at the heart of that is the future of BT.

For the last five years, the government has effectively contracted out the job of making sure the UK has a decent superfast broadband network to one company. BT has won all of the contracts in the £830m programme to ensure 95% of households are hooked up by 2017.

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Many of BT’s rivals want it to sell off its Openreach division

Local campaigners will disagree, but the government, the regulator and even some of BT”s rivals feel that the UK is not in a bad place right now, with the availability and price of superfast broadband comparing quite well with our European neighbours. It is what happens next which is at stake, in a battle over technology and free market economics.

The technology debate is about copper versus fibre. BT’s roll-out of the fibre optic cables on which superfast broadband depends has stopped so far at the street cabinet, from where it’s piped into homes via the ancient copper network. But that copper, according to BT, has proved amazingly adaptable so far, first delivering higher speeds than expected via ADSL and VDSL, and now promising over 300Mbps with a new technology called

But for its rivals, fibre direct to the home is the only long-term answer and BT’s continued embrace of copper is a betrayal of Britain’s broadband ambitions. “It will stop working every time it rains,” says one telecoms executive sniffily of the technology.

For them, the only answer is competition, and that means splitting up BT. They want Openreach, the “arm’s length” division of BT which manages its copper and fibre network. to be sold off.

Their argument is that this would result in more money being invested in the network and a better service for all of its customers.

BT disagrees, arguing that breaking it up would damage a British technology champion. On a recent visit by journalists and analysts to the company’s vast research headquarters at Martlesham in Suffolk, that message came across loud and clear. Force us to sell Openreach, and the innovation you see here might stop happening, was the argument as we heard about the soaring number of patents for inventions by BT boffins.

But the regulator Ofcom seems open-minded. It is just completing a public consultation on the future of Openreach, and in a recent speech its new CEO Sharon White made it clear that her priority was greater competition in the broadband market. “We could have written it ourselves,” says an executive at one of the firms calling for a break up.

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Digital economy minister Ed Vaizey is reportedly sceptical about splitting up BT

The government appears less enthusiastic. The digital economy minister Ed Vaizey told the Financial Times that he was sceptical about splitting up BT, and that it would be “incredibly time-consuming” and have “lots of potential to backfire”. This intervention by a minister in an ongoing independent regulatory process was unusual, and was seen by BT’s rivals as unwise.

This afternoon Ed Vaizey will reply to the debate on notspots. His words will be examined carefully, but the future of broadband in the UK will not be in his hands. It will be for Sharon White of Ofcom to decide whether to refer the broadband market to the Competition and Markets Authority. Whatever her decision, don’t expect complaints about poor or non-existent internet connections to go away any time soon.

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Average rent of newly let home in UK now close to £1,000 per month

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Average rent of newly let home in UK now close to £1,000 per month

The average rent of a newly let home in the UK has increased by 3.6% year on year to £941 per month, according to the latest rental market index.

The gap between the places where people can afford to rent and where they can afford to buy has widened in every year since the market downturn in 2008, the data from Countrywide plc also shows.
People are also moving further away if they buy a home. The index report says that 51% who took their first steps on the housing ladder in 2015 bought outside the town or city where they had been renting, up from 39% in 2008.

With house prices rising faster than rents, an increasing number of households find themselves renting in places where they couldn’t afford to buy and tenants in the South of England tend to move furthest to get on the housing ladder.

This is where the gap between where people can afford to rent and buy is largest and has widened the most since 2012. Across London and the South East house prices have increased 42% since 2012, rising from £218,000 to £375,000. Over the same period rents have only increased 19% from £1,000 to reach £1,234 a month.
The growing number of tenants moving further to buy is both a product of stretched affordability and first time buyers getting older, the report suggests, adding that tenants are increasingly choosing to compromise on location in in order to own their first home. Those renters who bought a home in the last year, bought in a place where the average house price was £35,000 lower than where they were renting.
Across the UK as a whole, two thirds of tenants bought in a cheaper area but there were even more in the most expensive housing markets. In London some three quarters of tenants who bought in the last year, ended up living somewhere cheaper than where they had been renting with an average price gap between the two places of £93,000.
Further north, however, a rather different picture starts to emerge. In some of the less expensive areas of the country, tenants tend to be less constrained by affordability when making the move into home ownership.

Tenants buying in the North East, North West and Yorkshire, tend to buy in similarly priced areas to where they are renting. The average difference in price between where they were renting and where they bought is just £8,000. In a number of the cheapest northern cities such as Newcastle, the average tenant buying their first home actually moves from a cheaper area to a more expensive one.

In addition to affordability, space is a deciding factor of where tenants choose to purchase, according to the report. Irrespective of location, those tenants making the move further afield also tend to buy the largest homes. Nationally, 32% of renters who buy in the same town buy a home with three or more bedrooms, a figure which rises to 45% amongst those buying elsewhere.
‘Renting enables many tenants to live in areas where they could not afford to buy but that means aspiring home owners often have to look elsewhere to find a home they can afford,’ said Johnny Morris, Research Director at Countrywide.

‘It’s common for first time buyers to make sacrifices to buy their first home, so with price rises in recent years outstripping income growth, more are choosing to bypass rising prices by looking further for cheaper areas,’ he explained.
He pointed out that renters are getting older too. ‘With over 30s and families the fastest growing types of tenants, renters buying their first home are getting older and are more likely to do so at a later stage of life. They’re skipping owning the small central city flat, in favour of the larger family home the first time around,’ he said.
‘Rents continue their growth over the year, with prices supported by falling numbers of homes available to rent and sustained demand from tenants. Seasonal factors usually see the rate of price growth slow in the second half of the year, after the rush in activity over summer starts to subside, hence small month on month falls in September,’ he added.

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Glencore bucks FTSE’s downward trend

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Glencore bucks FTSE’s downward trend

Glencore bucks FTSE 100’s downward trend

  • 12 October 2015
  • From the section Business

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(Open): London’s leading shares dipped in early Monday trading, indicating that an eight-day run of gains might be coming to an end.

In the opening minutes, the benchmark FTSE 100 index fell 6.31 points, or 0.1%, to 6,409.85.

Mining giant Glencore bucked the trend after it said it had started the sales process for two of its copper mines.

Shares in Glencore jumped 1.55% on the news that the mines, in Australia and Chile, were up for sale.

Glencore is attempting to reduce $30bn (£19.5bn) of debt created by its 2013 takeover of Xstrata.

On the losers’ list, aerospace firm Rolls-Royce notched up the biggest decline, shedding 1.72%.

Against the dollar, the pound was 0.17% higher at $1.5342 and gained 0.18% against the euro to €1.3498.

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Dealer finance sales continue to rise

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Dealer finance sales continue to rise

New car finance sold by dealers was up 8% by volume and 11% by value in August, compared with the same month last year, according to the Finance & Leasing Association.

Point-of-sale used car finance also grew in August, up 7% by volume and 12% by value.

“Both consumer new and used car finance markets reported relatively robust growth in August, ahead of the introduction of the new 65 registration plate in September. We expect this growth to continue in the final quarter of 2015,” said Geraldine Kilkelly, head of research and chief economist at the FLA.

Cars bought on finance by consumers through dealerships
New business Aug 2015 % change on prev. year 3 months to Aug 2015 % change on prev. year 12 months to Aug 2015 % change on prev. year
New cars
Value of advances (£m) 738 +11 3,298 +17 15,227 +14
Number of cars 47,271 +8 202,241 +13 943,175 +10
Used cars
Value of advances (£m) 954 +12 3,078 +13 11,556 +14
Number of cars 90,909 +7 290,847 +8 1,104,265 +8

Source: FLA

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