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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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Sporting success ‘becoming the norm’

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Sporting success ‘becoming the norm’

Wales’ sporting success ‘becoming the norm’, says Carwyn Jones

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Welsh Government

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Carwyn Jones celebrates the 2012 Grand Slam with Wales captain Sam Warburton

World sporting success for Wales is “fast becoming the norm”, First Minister Carwyn Jones has said.

He was speaking as Wales face Australia in the Rugby World Cup and the football team play Bosnia-Herzegovina for a place in the European Championship.

For a decade Wales had attracted “premier sporting events”, while its sportsmen and women had achieved “incredible success”, Mr Jones said.

He said it had helped Wales to achieve an “unprecedented global profile”.

Sporting events hosted in Wales have included the Olympic and Paralympic Games, the Ashes, World Cups, the Champions League final, Rally GB, the Heineken Cup final, Ironman, the Volvo Ocean race and the Ryder Cup.

“What’s even more remarkable is that this period has coincided with the incredible success of our sportsmen and women across a number of sports, watched by an ever increasing global audience,” the first minister said.

He added that the combination of being “increasingly recognised as a dynamic, positive place to do business” and sporting success had ensured that the “view of Wales from abroad has never been better”.

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Election ‘opportunity’ for Greens

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Election ‘opportunity’ for Greens

Harvie sees ‘unprecedented election opportunity’ for Greens

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The Scottish Greens have “an unprecedented opportunity” at next year’s Holyrood election, the party’s co-convener will tell their annual conference later.

Patrick Harvie will say a surging membership could see at least eight Green MSPs voted in next May.

That would be a record high and represent one MSP per regional list.

Mr Harvie will tell the conference at Glasgow’s SECC the party offers a clear choice on environmental issues.

In his keynote speech, he is expected to say: “Holyrood needs a bold voice to ensure we close the wealth gap, build strong local economies, restore truly progressive taxation and start meeting our world-leading climate change targets. Scottish Greens are trusted, credible and our time is now.”

The Scottish Greens have accused the Scottish government of sitting on the fence with the moratorium on fracking and underground coal gasification.

Mr Harvie said his party was unique in offering a clear “no” on these key environmental concerns.

‘Fairer Scotland’

He will tell the conference, which is expected to attract about 700 members over the weekend, that parties do not have to be in government to be relevant.

Mr Harvie will say: “We will campaign on our track record and our vision of a fairer, greener Scotland. We’ve been at Holyrood since the start and we’ve got transformational ideas onto the agenda.

“We’ve helped cut fuel bills by pushing for energy efficiency programmes, we’ve empowered local communities with the Climate Challenge Fund, we’re giving football fans the prospect of ownership of their club, and we’re a step closer to gaining rent controls to protect tenants from spiralling costs.

“And on unconventional gas extraction, we have relentlessly pursued ministers to protect our communities. Scottish Greens should be proud of the role we have played and we can offer voters in May a clear choice of opposing extreme energy industries.”

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Thatcher was urged to soften image

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Thatcher was urged to soften image

Margaret Thatcher was urged to soften image

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Margaret Thatcher shied away from words like “compassion” and “caring”

Former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was urged to soften her image, newly released personal documents reveal.

The warning came in a memo from chief press secretary Bernard Ingham setting out her strengths and weaknesses.

Other papers from 1985 contain reports of a Commons “scuffle” between Labour MP Robert Kilroy-Silk and future party leader Jeremy Corbyn.

Plans to exclude Mrs Thatcher from the unveiling of a Falklands War memorial at St Paul’s Cathedral also feature.

The Margaret Thatcher Archive Trust is in charge of the gradual release of her private files.

‘Dominant person’

Mr Ingham’s five-page memo to Mrs Thatcher states that she had gained a reputation among the public of being “hectoring, strident and bossy”.

On the positive side he described her as a “decisive, strong-minded person” and “someone who is clearly going to be very hard to beat”.

“In short, you remain the dominant person in British politics,” he added.

Mr Ingham tried to get her to change her style for the Conservative Party conference in Blackpool but she declined to use words such as “compassion” and “caring” in her speech.

Chris Collins, from the trust, said: “Her public image was so fixed that she couldn’t win – if she had suddenly shown a softer side, people would not have believed it.”

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Bernard Ingham said Mrs Thatcher was the “dominant person in British politics”

The spat between Mr Corbyn and Mr Kilroy-Silk is detailed in a press digest dated 31 October 1985.

Coverage at the time suggested Mr Kilroy-Silk had attempted to punch Mr Corbyn.

Earlier this year Mr Corbyn told the Guardian Mr Kilroy-Silk was angered by him arguing on television against the expulsion of members of hard-left Militant Tendency group from the party. Mr Corbyn added that he had “walked off”.

Explosive response

An exchange of memos and letters reveal that the Church of England and Downing Street clashed over proposals to exclude Mrs Thatcher from the Falklands ceremony.

She is said to have responded “explosively” after being told ecclesiastical protocol and limited space meant there would not be room for politicians in the cathedral’s crypt for the memorial unveiling by the Queen.

Mrs Thatcher had accused the then Archbishop of Canterbury, Robert Runcie, of a lack of patriotism for praying for the Argentine dead in 1982.

Her Principal Private Secretary Robin Butler wrote: “Let me have a word. I think that the PM should be present at the unveiling.”

But the then Defence Secretary Michael Heseltine signed off the arrangement – he later apologised, saying: “I am satisfied that this matter was not well handled.”

The documents do not make clear what the outcome was or whether Mrs Thatcher attended.

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The papers describe a dispute between Robert Kilroy-Silk (left) and Jeremy Corbyn

The papers also say Mrs Thatcher considered a comeback to the cabinet for Cecil Parkinson in 1985.

The married trade and industry secretary had been forced to stand down in 1983 after it emerged his former secretary Sara Keays was carrying his child. He did eventually return to the cabinet in 1987.

Members of the public will be able to access the archives from Monday at

Baroness Thatcher, who was prime minister from 1979 to 1990, died aged 87 in 2013.

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Parliament to review EU membership

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Parliament to review EU membership

Treasury Committee to review UK’s EU membership

  • 10 October 2015
  • From the section Business

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A review of the “costs and benefits” of the UK’s EU membership is to be conducted by the Treasury Select Committee.

The government is to hold a referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU by the end of 2017.

The prime minister is attempting to renegotiate the terms of Britain’s membership and the committee said it would examine the potential impact.

Other topics include the effect on the free movement of people and goods.

MPs will also look at the terms under which the UK could leave the EU, and “the likelihood of it securing continued access to EU goods, services and capital markets,” it said.

Another area of interest will be the impact of a “Brexit” on the UK’s trade in the service industry, and financial services “in particular”.

No date has yet been set for the referendum but David Cameron has promised to hold the vote by the end of 2017.

The prime minister has said he will campaign for Britain to remain in the EU if he secures the reforms he wants.

The committee’s chairman, Conservative MP Andrew Tyrie, said: “This inquiry will be wide-ranging, dealing with all the economic and financial consequences of the UK’s EU membership, and the impact of departure.

“The committee’s job will be to attempt to marshal the evidence on this important question into a coherent form, enabling the electorate to make a more informed decision. It welcomes evidence from all those with views and expertise.”

It has been announced that Lord Stuart Rose will lead the In Campaign, which wants the UK to remain in the EU.

And Vote.Leave, made up of Conservative, Labour and UKIP MPs and donors, has launched a cross-party campaign to take the UK out of the EU.

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PM hosts talks with Angela Merkel

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PM hosts talks with Angela Merkel

David Cameron hosts talks with German Chancellor Merkel

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David Cameron is holding talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Britain’s EU reform aims, the situation in Syria and the migrant crisis.

The prime minister has invited his German counterpart for a working dinner at his country residence, Chequers.

The wide-ranging talks also cover the threat of so-called Islamic State, the situation in Iraq and Ukraine.

Mr Cameron earlier welcomed Estonian Prime Minister Taavi Roivas to Downing Street for bilateral talks.

‘Grave situation’

The meetings with his European counterparts come on the day that a new campaign to get the UK to leave the European Union is being launched ahead of the in-out referendum, promised by 2017.

Vote Leave, made up of Conservative, Labour and UKIP MPs and donors, says it wants to negotiate a new deal based on free trade and friendly co-operation.

Mr Cameron has pledged to reform Britain’s relationship with the EU before holding a vote on membership and will discuss his aims with Mrs Merkel as part of his continuing negotiations with European leaders.

The pair will also discuss the migrant crisis affecting Europe, as European countries continue to struggle to cope with the influx of people reaching the continent from the Middle East and Africa.

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Mr Cameron and the Estonian PM discussed the UK’s EU renegotiation aims and the migration crisis

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Russia’s bombing campaign in Syria is also likely to be raised at the meeting, as concerns grow about Moscow’s involvement in the war-torn country – as well as its backing for separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine.

During talks with the PM at Downing Street, Estonian Prime Minister Mr Roivas thanked Mr Cameron for the UK’s commitment to send 100 British military personnel to the Baltic region.

Defence Secretary Michael Fallon has said the troops will deter Russian aggression beyond Ukraine and reassure eastern European Nato members.

Speaking at a press conference on Friday, Mr Fallon – who held talks with his US counterpart Ash Carter in London – said the UK government was committed to building support for air strikes against IS in Syria.

He said Russia’s military action had made a “grave situation even worse”.

The UK is currently involved in coalition air strikes against IS targets in Iraq but not Syria, after Parliament voted against the move in 2013.

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New DUP MLA to get SPAD severance pay

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New DUP MLA to get SPAD severance pay

New DUP MLA Emma Pengelly to get SPAD severance pay

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Press Eye

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Emma Pengelly, second left, formerly worked as a special advisor in First Minister Peter Robinson’s department

The DUP have confirmed their new South Belfast MLA is to receive a severance payment from her previous job as a special advisor.

The Irish News reported that Emma Pengelly, who was co-opted into the assembly seat, was to receive the payment.

She used to work in the Office of the First and Deputy First Ministers.

Special advisors are civil servants that are appointed by ministers to work on party political matters.

‘Contractual obligation’

A DUP spokesperson said: “Emma Pengelly receives a severance payment in accordance with the terms and conditions of her contract of employment.

“Mrs Pengelly will receive her severance payment from her former employer in due course as it is a contractual obligation to resign upon having become identified as an election candidate.”

The new MLA will contest the Stormont election scheduled for next May.

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Jim Allister does not believe that Mrs Pengelly should receive a severance payment

While the exact amount has not been published, special advisors who have been in the job at least four years and leave the post under these circumstances are entitled to a severance payment of six months’ salary.

Mrs Pengelly’s annual salary was just under £92,000.

The TUV leader Jim Allister has said Mrs Pengelly should not take the payment.

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Sports Direct chief charged over USC

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Sports Direct chief charged over USC

Sports Direct chief charged over USC redundancies

  • 9 October 2015
  • From the section Business

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Sports Direct chief executive David Forsey has been charged with a criminal offence following the collapse of fashion retailer USC.

He is alleged to have broken rules about notifying authorities ahead of laying off workers at a warehouse.

Sports Direct declined to comment.

The government’s Insolvency Service said: “We can confirm that criminal proceedings have been commenced against David Michael Forsey.”

“He is charged with an offence contrary to section 194 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992. We will not be commenting until the criminal proceedings have been concluded,” said the Insolvency Service.

Chesterfield Magistrates Court is due to hear the case on 14 October and the maximum penalty for the offence is £5,000.

Earlier this year, Parliament investigated how Sports Direct laid off 83 staff at the USC distribution depot in South Ayrshire.

Almost immediately after it went into administration, the fashion retailer was bought by another part of Sports Direct, through a so-called pre-pack administration. It is now trading again, but with less debt, according to the committee, which met in March.

Keith Hellawell, the company’s chairman, told the Parliamentary committee he and the board had not known anything about the collapse of USC until the day before it folded.

But, he said, Mr Forsey had begun “consulting” with administrators Duff and Phelps as early as 14 November. Dr Hellawell insisted the firm “didn’t want” USC to fold.

Workers were given even less notice, 15 minutes, before they heard they had lost their jobs, the committee was told.

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Lib Dems win Highland by-election

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Lib Dems win Highland by-election

Lib Dems win Highland’s Aird and Loch Ness by-election

The Liberal Democrats have won a by-election in Highland Council’s Aird and Loch Ness ward.

Jean Davis narrowly defeated her closest rival SNP candidate Emma Knox.

The by-election in the ward, which is represented by four councillors, was triggered by Drew Hendry’s election as an MP for the SNP in May.

He was elected as the new MP for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey, the seat previously held by Liberal Democrat Danny Alexander.

The turnout was 32.35%.

Ms Davis said the victory marked the start of a Lib Dem “fight back” in the Highlands.

The SNP said it was a close contest up until the final stage “when Tory votes swung to the Lib Dems”.

Voting was by the single transferable vote.

Ms Davis emerged as the winner at the fourth and final stage of the count, gaining 1,511 votes against second placed Ms Knox with 1,167.

The ward’s other councillors are independents Helen Carmichael and Margaret Davidson and Liberal Democrat Hamish Wood.

The by-election result has not changed the running of the local authority. Its ruling administration remains under the control of 32 independent councillors.

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1MDB ‘should face criminal prosecution’

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1MDB ‘should face criminal prosecution’

1MDB should be prosecuted, says Malaysia Central Bank

  • 9 October 2015
  • From the section Business

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Malaysia’s Central Bank has recommended criminal prosecutions in connection with the controversial state investment fund 1MDB.

The bank said the fund, which was set up by Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, had invested nearly $1.83bn abroad without using proper procedures.

It wants the money brought back to Malaysia.

There has been a series of sensational revelations about 1DMB that have threatened Mr Najib’s position.

Documents leaked in July indicated that Mr Najib received some $700m in his private accounts from entities linked to the fund. Mr Najib denies doing anything wrong. He says the money was a donation from the Middle East.

The fund has debts of 42bn ringgit ($11.5bn) and is the subject of several investigations by different authorities, including the Central Bank.

The bank’s statement comes just a day after the country’s attorney general, appointed to look into the matter by the prime minister, said he had seen a report of the central bank’s investigation and judged that 1MDB officials had not committed any offence.

The central bank said 1MDB had gained permits for investment abroad, but these were based on inaccurate or incomplete disclosure of information.

The political scandal has drawn in the former prime minister, Mahathir Mohamad. He alleged that ruling party leaders accepted bribes and the police should take action.

Dr Mahathir and the Bersih pro-democracy movement have called for Mr Najib to resign over corruption allegations.

Tens of thousands of Malaysians have attended rallies across the country.

What is 1MDB?

  • The 1Malaysia Development Berhad state investment fund was established under Prime Minister Najib Razak in 2009 to transform Malaysia into a high-income economy.
  • Critics say the fund overpaid for many of its investments and spent millions on fees to investment bank Goldman Sachs
  • It began attracting attention at the end of 2014 when it started missing payments to creditors. It later emerged that the fund was mired in $11bn (£7bn) of debt
  • Mr Najib has been accused of taking $700m (£455m) from the fund – a charge which he has denied
  • Malaysia anti-corruption commission said it had verified that the money was a donation from unnamed foreign donors.

Read more: 1MDB, the case that’s riveting Malaysia.

Why Malaysians are disillusioned with Najib Razak

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Plaid Cymru to fight police election

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Plaid Cymru to fight police election

Plaid Cymru to fight police and crime commissioner elections

Plaid Cymru will put up candidates for the police and crime commissioner elections in 2016, unlike 2012.

A spokeswoman said the party wanted to abolish the posts, objecting to the cost, “lack of accountability”, and “politicisation” of the police.

But she said Plaid would contest the elections in May to make the case for protecting community policing.

Of the four Welsh commissioners, Labour and the Tories have one each, with two independents.

“Plaid Cymru rejects the politicisation of our police forces, the lack of accountability of the Police and Crime Commissioners and the cost of the current system, which is why we believe the posts should be abolished,” the spokeswoman said.

“Plaid believes that policing should be devolved to the National Assembly for Wales, with more resources being put towards front line policing for the benefit of our communities.

“In order to be able to make the case for protecting community policing we have decided to field candidates in this election in all police force areas throughout Wales.”

Budget powers

Candidates seeking Plaid Cymru nomination for the four posts in Wales will take part in hustings at the party’s annual conference in Aberystwyth later in October.

The commissioners have a range of powers including appointing the force’s chief constable and setting the force budget, although they have no say over day-to-day policing decisions.

The next elections will be held in May, on the same day as elections to the Welsh assembly.

The Liberal Democrats, who also did not put up candidates in 2012, said they had not decided whether to do so in 2016.

UKIP contested the election for one of the four Welsh posts – North Wales – in 2012.

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MP will not face parliamentary probe

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MP will not face parliamentary probe

Michelle Thomson will not face parliamentary probe over property deals

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Ms Thomson denies acting illegally and has offered to help police with their inquiries

Westminster’s standards watchdog will not be investigating allegations surrounding property deals linked to the MP Michelle Thomson.

A complaint had been made to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards by former Liberal Democrat MP John Barrett.

But the commissioner’s office said that the allegations related to before Ms Thomson became an MP.

It said it could not therefore investigate the claims.

A police inquiry is being carried out into a solicitor who was struck off by the Law Society of Scotland over property deals carried out on Ms Thomson’s behalf.

Ms Thomson, who had been the SNP’s business spokeswoman in the House of Commons, denies any wrongdoing or illegal activity and has offered to help police with their inquiries.

She has resigned the party whip until the investigation into the property deals is concluded.

Written response

Mr Barrett, who represented Ms Thomson’s Edinburgh West constituency from 2001 to 2010, told BBC Scotland that he had emailed the standards commissioner when the allegations were first reported in the Sunday Times newspaper.

In a written response, the commissioner stated: “The allegations relate to purchases made in 2009/10.

“Ms Thomson first became subject to the House of Commons Code of Conduct in May 2015, when she became a member of parliament.

“I do not, therefore, think that the commissioner could investigate this matter.”

Earlier this week, the Conservative backbencher Andrew Bridgen said he would be writing to the standards commissioner, Kathryn Hudson, asking her to look into the matter.

However, BBC Scotland understands that Mr Barrett’s complaint is the only one to have been received by the commissioner so far.

Ms Thomson made no comment on the controversy surrounding her as she arrived to host her constituency surgery in Edinburgh on Friday morning.

She did not respond to a question about whether she would stand down from parliament.

And when asked if she had anything to say about the row over her business dealings, she said “I’ve got a surgery to run”.

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Standard Chartered ‘to cut 1,000 jobs’

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Standard Chartered ‘to cut 1,000 jobs’

Standard Chartered ‘to cut 1,000 senior jobs’

  • 9 October 2015
  • From the section Business

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Standard Chartered bank, a London-based lender that makes most of its profit in Asia, could cut up to 1,000 senior jobs, according to an internal memo sent to staff.

The move from chief executive Bill Winters is meant to cut costs.

The bank has grown very quickly since the financial crisis and some roles are now not needed, sources told the BBC.

Standard Chartered said it had disclosed before “that there would be further personnel changes to come”.

“We have already acted to reduce management layers, and a result will have up to 25% fewer senior staff,” the bank said in a statement.

Mr Winters told staff in the memo that about a quarter of senior managers, of director level or above, would be cut. There are about 4,000 bankers in the grades affected by the decision.

Strengthening finances

The bank employs about 88,000 people in total. It has grown rapidly, from about 44,000 in 2005.

Mr Winters took over from former diplomat Peter Sands in June and said he would simplify Standard Chartered with a “new management team and simpler organisational structure”.

The bank has already shed some businesses, in Hong Kong, China and Korea, booking a gain of $219m and improving its capital position.

Standard Chartered hired Mark Smith from Asia-focused rival HSBC to join as new chief risk officer.

Mr Winters also cut the dividend to help the bank strengthen its capital base – a safety net protecting it from unexpected financial knocks. He has also not ruled out raising more capital if needed.

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Amazon launches handicraft store

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Amazon launches handicraft store

Amazon launches handicraft store

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ollie and olina

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US crafters Ollie & Olina, who make baby bibs and quilts, are one of the first retailers on Handmade at Amazon

Amazon is entering the handicraft market with the launch of a new online store for handmade goods.

Handmade at Amazon is currently invitation-only, with an initial 5,000 sellers on the site.

Goods must be “factory-free”, with items such as wooden cufflinks and handstitched baby bibs already on sale from around the world.

Its competitor, artisan website Etsy, was valued at $1.8bn (£1.2bn) when it launched on the stock market in April.

“We had thousands of searches every day from customers looking for handmade or handcrafted items,” said Peter Faricy, vice-president for Amazon Marketplace.

“Knowing an item has a unique story behind it creates a personal experience that customers have told us makes owning handmade items special.”

The firm will initially take a 12% sales fee from its handmade retailers with no other charges.

Etsy, which was founded 10 years ago, takes a 3.5% sales fee from its 1.5 million sellers and also charges a listing fee of $0.20 per item.

The firm’s chief executive, Chad Dickerson, told the Associated Press that almost half of the site’s sellers already used other retail outlets in addition to Etsy but that the site was still “usually” their main source of income.

“We believe that Etsy is the best platform for the creative entrepreneur,” he said.

“Etsy has a decade of experience understanding the needs of artists and sellers and supporting them in ways that no other marketplace can.”

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Australian capital city rents see slowest annual growth ever

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Australian capital city rents see slowest annual growth ever

Weekly rental rates in Australian capital cities were unchanged in September but in the last three months have risen at their slowest annual pace ever.

Indeed, the latest CoreLogic RP data report shows that the annual pace of rental growth across all capital cities is at a new record low of 0.5% in the year to September.

Despite recording the strongest growth, Melbourne rents rose just 2.1% over the year and rents have fallen over the year in Perth and Darwin. They have increased by just 0.3% over the first three quarter of the year.

Overall the combined capital city rental rates are recorded at $487 per week for houses and $462 per week for apartment units and the firm says that it is anticipated that the rate of rental growth will continue to slow over the coming months due to increased supply of housing and rental stock and slower migration rates.

The report points to an ongoing softening of rental growth and explains that the construction boom across the capital cities coupled with slowing population growth, low mortgage rates and the heightened level of activity from investors are the major contributing factors to the slowing rental growth.

Three of the cities which have seen the largest growth in new housing supply and investor activity over recent years; Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane, have continued to record rental rises over the past year however, each city is seeing a slowing in the pace of rental growth.

‘It is clear that the increase in investment stock is providing landlords with little scope to lift rental rates while the low mortgage rate environment provides little incentive to push yields higher,’ the report says.

Looking across the individual capital cities, over the past year, Sydney and Melbourne have recorded the greatest increases in weekly rents however, their rates of growth have slowed relative to a year ago.

Over the past month, weekly rents have moved lower across every capital city except Sydney where they were unchanged and in Melbourne and Hobart where they rose.

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NHS deficits hit ‘massive’ £930m

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NHS deficits hit ‘massive’ £930m

NHS deficits hit ‘massive’ £930m

  • 9 October 2015
  • From the section Health

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NHS trusts in England have racked up a £930m deficit in the first three months of the financial year -that is more than the entire overspend last year.

Regulators said the figures for April to June showed the sector was “under massive pressure” and could no longer afford to go on as it was.

The figures cover hospital, mental health, ambulance and some community services.

They account for about two-thirds of the NHS’s £116bn budget.

Last year, NHS trusts overspent by £820m – with the health service as a whole balancing the books only after a cash injection from the Treasury and by raiding the capital budget earmarked for buildings.

It has been suggested the deficit among the 239 NHS trusts could top £2bn this year, and the figures released by the two regulators – Monitor and the Trust Development Authority – show the NHS is on track for that. Financial performance tends to improve as the year goes on.

At this stage last year NHS trusts were £451m in the red.

David Bennett, chief executive of Monitor, said: “Today figures reiterate the sector is under massive pressure and must change to counter it.

“The NHS simply can no longer afford operationally and financially to operate in the way it has been and must act now to deliver the substantial efficiency gains required.”

The release of these figures has already been delayed several times – the financial year is half-way through yet they only cover the first three months of 2015-16.

It was already known that the regulators were concerned about the financial picture – they wrote to trusts in the summer, urging them to see where they could make more savings.


However, most experts believe the NHS has little wriggle room to improve its performance.

Do deficits matter?

It is easy to be blase about NHS deficits and think the money will always be found to bail out the health service.

That is the case – but only to a certain extent.

While there are a number of trusts that have been overspending for years and have been kept afloat by the wider system, the support is not endless.

Three years ago, South London Healthcare, which ran three hospitals, was allowed to go under after racking up large deficits.

However, the problem this year goes beyond individual NHS trusts and to the very heart of government.

A deficit on the scale of £2bn among trusts will make it incredibly difficult for the Department of Health to balance the books overall.

If that happens, it will have to go cap in hand to the Treasury. For a service that is being protected from cuts to have to do this raises some very difficult questions all round.

Alongside the financial data, the regulators have also warned about worsening waiting times for hospital treatment.

Latest figures show:

  • The number waiting for non-emergency operations, such as knee and hip replacements, is 3.3 million – the highest level since early 2008
  • The 62-day cancer waiting time target has been missed for the past 16 months
  • The four-hour A&E target has been missed for 11 of the past 12 months

Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust chief executive Sir Len Fenwick, the longest-serving hospitals boss in the health service, told the BBC the pressures were likely to mean winter would be extremely difficult.

He predicted non-emergency operations would need to be delayed to help hospitals cope.

“In the coming winter, we do believe there will be greater pressures than ever before,” he added.

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Farmland prices in England reach new record, but prices are stabilising

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Farmland prices in England reach new record, but prices are stabilising

The average price of English farmland hit a new record price of £8,306 an acre in the third quarter of the year, but values rose by just 0.5%, the latest index shows.

Year on year growth the sector has seen price growth of 8% but this has slowed after a period of exceptional growth, according to the data from real estate firm Knight Frank.

The report shows that over five years growth has averaged 43% and 198% over the last decade so a slowdown was to be expected, particularly as availability has started to increase and agricultural commodity markets remain weak.

The big question now is whether prices will actually start to fall. ‘Our view is that in terms of supply and demand the farmland market has now reached a state of equilibrium,’ said Andrew Shirley, head of rural research at Knight Frank.

‘This means that while prices may rise or fall slightly on a quarter by quarter basis over the next year or two, we are unlikely to see the price growth of the past 10 years significantly eroded, unless supply increases substantially or demand drops off drastically,’ he added.

The report forecasts a period of potential price stability and points out that over the past five years farmland has outperformed many other asset classes, including gold which is down 10%, and it has even kept pace with London’s luxury residential market which has seen growth of 43% over the same period.

‘This strong performance brought new buyers into the market, including a wide range of investors from both the UK and abroad. However, potential purchasers, particularly farmers, have gradually become more considered in their approach to acquisitions since the beginning of 2015,’ the report says.

‘This is partly due to a prolonged period of low commodity prices, but also reflects the perception that the market was reaching a peak,’ it adds.

The report explains that the availability of farmland has also increased. So far this year around 20% more land has been advertised publicly compared with 2014. ‘As a result, what we are experiencing now is a market that is much more in equilibrium in terms of the balance between supply and demand. Prices are unlikely to fall or rise to any great extent over the next few years because buyer demand remains strong, albeit cautious,’ said Shirley.

‘Supply, while up on the year, is also low in historic terms and the market is unlikely to be saturated,’ he commented, adding that a sudden upwards shift in interest rates could put some pressure on more farmers to sell up, but the indications from the Bank of England seem to point to a gradual rising of rates starting in the second half of 2016.

Price variability on a local, as well as a regional level, is also likely to grow as a dominant theme of the market, he suggests. ‘Extremely high prices will continue to be paid for large blocks of top quality land where a number of buyers are in the running. Where interest is more limited, vendors will need to temper their expectations,’ he pointed out.

He added that while neither seems likely at present, the ongoing commodity price slump may dent farmer and investor confidence more seriously if it continues for too much longer and a vote to leave the European Union in the upcoming referendum could also have interesting consequences for agriculture.

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Watson ‘must apologise’ over Brittan

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Watson ‘must apologise’ over Brittan

Tom Watson ‘must apologise’ over Lord Brittan claims

  • 9 October 2015
  • From the section UK

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Tom Watson should “apologise in public”, Sir Samuel Brittan says

Labour’s deputy leader Tom Watson should apologise after police dropped a rape inquiry against Leon Brittan, the former home secretary’s brother says.

Sir Samuel Brittan said Mr Watson, who demanded prosecutors review abuse allegations made against Lord Brittan, had made “unfounded accusations”.

Lord Brittan died in January without being told there was no case for him to answer over an alleged rape in 1967.

Mr Watson has previously said his motivation was to help victims.

He also argued he had helped bring historical sex abuse cases to court.

The BBC has tried to contact Mr Watson but he has not responded.

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Lord Brittan died before hearing the case against him would not proceed

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

The case was reopened last year after Mr Watson wrote to the Director of Public Prosecutions. While seriously ill, Lord Brittan was interviewed under caution.

No charges were brought and police said they would not have taken further action.

But the fact he was questioned enabled the media to name Lord Brittan as a suspect in a sex abuse case.

‘Judge and jury’

Journalist Sir Samuel said Mr Watson “should apologise to my sister-in-law for making unfounded accusations against my brother”.

“And he should apologise in public as well,” he told the Daily Mail.

Tory MP Nigel Evans, himself cleared of sexual abuse, agreed Mr Watson should apologise to Lord Brittan’s family.

“Even when Leon had died, Tom Watson decided to repeat the allegations,” Mr Evans said. “It is totally unfounded.”

Mr Evans told the BBC Mr Watson had “set himself up as judge and jury”.


He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “As vocal as he was at that time, it is amazing that we have heard nothing from him since the revelation that the allegations were not going to be proceeded with.”

Former Chancellor Norman Lamont said police investigations into historical abuse risked becoming a “witch-hunt”.

Writing in the Daily Telegraph, he said: “I visited Lord Brittan several times in his last days and saw the suffering of a man under the shadow of the vilest accusations. This was an extremely painful time for his wife.”

Earlier this week, a vulnerable man who made sex abuse allegations against high-profile figures including Lord Brittan told the BBC he may have been led into making the claims by campaigners.

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Auctions struggle with large numbers of poor condition vans

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Auctions struggle with large numbers of poor condition vans

Used van auctions are being hit by large numbers of poor condition vehicles which are achieving low conversion rates.

That’s the view of BCA’s LCV operations director, Duncan Ward, who said: “We continue to see a large number of vehicles in poor condition and this has a significant impact on price and conversion rates.

“The difference in average value between a condition five and a condition four van is several hundred pounds and around 12 percentage points when compared to CAP.

“Average conversion rates rise sharply as condition improves, underlining that condition equates directly with saleability and demand.”

BCA recorded an “exceptionally strong” month in the light commercial sector in September as average values rose across the board, reversing a two month decline.

It said despite rising volumes of stock continuing to reach the wholesale markets, increased levels of demand saw values rise dealer part-exchange vehicles.

Ward said: “We are now seeing the return of more typical market conditions with balanced supply and demand and elements of seasonality taking effect.

“The market was strong in September with average values increasing across the board and good levels of demand from buyers for well presented, good quality commercial vehicles.”

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Mining firms pull FTSE 100 higher

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Mining firms pull FTSE 100 higher

FTSE 100 rises as Glencore move lifts mining sector

  • 9 October 2015
  • From the section Business

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(Open): Mining shares pulled the market higher after Glencore announced it was cutting its zinc production by a third.

Shares in Glencore rose more than 5% on the news, and elsewhere in the mining sector Anglo American climbed 3.6% while BHP Billiton added 2.7%.

Mining shares have been under pressure for some time because of declining commodity prices, but Glencore’s action sent zinc prices up 6%.

The FTSE 100 index was up 38.12 points at 6,412.94.

Sentiment on the market was also lifted by the minutes of the US Federal Reserve’s latest meeting, which analysts interpreted as indicating the US central bank is not in a hurry to raise rates.

The Fed minutes revealed it believed that the US economy could have coped with an interest rate rise at its September meeting.

However, it decided it was “prudent to wait” for more information before raising rates from near zero.

Shares in Lloyds rose 0.5% to 76.64p. The UK government announced on Friday it had sold another 1% stake in Lloyds Banking Group, taking its stake in the bank to below 11%.

On the currency markets, the pound rose 0.13% against the dollar to $1.5367 but dipped 0.14% against the euro to €1.3593.

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Vauxhall launches scrappage scheme deal for new cars

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Vauxhall launches scrappage scheme deal for new cars

Vauxhall has launched a Scrappage Allowance scheme, five years after the ending of the official government-backed initiative that helped jump start new car sales during the recession.

The Vauxhall scheme will offer customers £2,000, including VAT, as a scrappage trade-in against new a new car. Models excluded from the scheme are the Viva range, Corsa Sting and Corsa Sting R and Adam Jam.

To qualify for the scheme, customers must have owned their trade-in vehicle for a minimum of 90 days. There is no upper age limit for cars and any manufacturer’s vehicle will be accepted.

“Vauxhall’s Scrappage Allowance scheme makes buying a new car even more affordable,” said Leon Caruso, Vauxhall’s retail sales director.

“Even customers who think that their current car is only worth a few pounds can now turn it into a £2,000 contribution towards the cost of a new Vauxhall – and that’s over and above any other deals they negotiate with the retailer.”

As part of the scheme, vehicles must be traded-in and scrapped to be eligible for the allowance.  All surrendered vehicles will be handled by Vauxhall’s official contracted end of life vehicle partner Autogreen through its online platform

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New law to tackle ‘revenge porn’

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New law to tackle ‘revenge porn’

New law to tackle ‘revenge porn’ and domestic abuse

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A bill to tackle the rise of so-called “revenge porn” has been published by the Scottish government.

The new law will make it a criminal offence to publish explicit images of someone without their consent.

The Abusive Behaviour and Sexual Harm Bill will also strengthen police powers to tackle domestic abuse.

Revenge porn often involves someone posting, or threatening to post, intimate photographs or video of a former partner online.

Scotland’s senior prosecutor, the Lord Advocate Frank Mulholland, has described it as “a form of insidious abuse designed to inflict humiliation and suffering on its victims”.

The government said its measures reflected the way modern technology could be used to perpetrate abuse.

The bill also includes measures to improve justice for victims of domestic abuse, with juries to be given specific directions to ensure they understand the complexity of the law.

‘Bold approach’

If passed by parliament, it would ensure child sexual offences committed in England and Wales by Scottish residents can be prosecuted in Scotland.

The Scottish government said the system of civil orders would also be reformed “to improve protections for communities from sex offenders and to help prevent sexual harm”.

Justice Secretary Michael Matheson said: “Domestic abuse and harassment are appalling crimes which often affect some of the most vulnerable members of our society.

“I am proud of the bold and unapologetic approach we’re taking to tackle these crimes in Scotland and this bill sends out a strong message that domestic violence will simply not be tolerated.

“These proposals will improve the way the justice system responds to abusive behaviour, holding perpetrators to account for their actions and improving public safety.

“It will also remove some of the current barriers to justice by improving understanding of domestic abuse and sexual harm, something we know is lacking in the current system.”

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Glencore cuts zinc output by a third

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Glencore cuts zinc output by a third

Glencore slashes zinc production by 30%

  • 9 October 2015
  • From the section Business

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Embattled mining giant Glencore is dramatically cutting its zinc production in reaction to a 30% plummet in the price in the past few months.

The company is cutting 500,000 tonnes of zinc production, 4% of the world’s total supply.

Zinc prices have been at five-year lows, but news of Glencore’s actions sent its price up 6%.

Most of the cutbacks will be in Australia where more than 500 jobs will be lost.

Other centres of output that will be trimmed are in South America and Kazakhstan.

Glencore is in the throes of trying to reduce $30bn of debt, created by its ambitious 2013 takeover of Xstrata. That deal added dozens of mines in numerous countries to the commodity trader’s business.

It has so far cut copper production, suspended dividend payments to shareholders and is issuing new shares to raise money.

Glencore said in a statement: “Glencore remains positive about the medium and long term outlook for zinc, lead and silver, however we are taking a proactive approach to manage our production in response to current prices.”

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Central banks ‘need to be courageous’

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Central banks ‘need to be courageous’

Central banks need to be courageous on rates, Sentance says

  • 9 October 2015
  • From the section Business

Central banks in the UK and the US “need to be courageous” and raise interest rates, a former Bank of England policymaker has said.

The banks are focusing too much on short term factors such as falling oil prices, Andrew Sentance said.

The Bank of England held rates at historic lows on Thursday.

Separately, Bank of England governor Mark Carney said a UK rate rise was not necessarily dependent on the timing of an increase in the US.

“The exact timing of the Fed move is not decisive for the timing of the move by the Bank of England,” Mr Carney told a seminar at the annual meeting of the International Monetary Fund on Thursday.

Mr Sentance, a former member of the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee who now works for PwC, told BBC’s Today programme that central banks needed to take a long view, and not focus on short terms factors such as oil prices or market volatility.

“We have independent central banks because they are meant to be courageous, they are meant to try and get ahead of the curve, they are meant to do things that politicians might find difficult and they don’t seem to behaving in that way at the moment,” he said.

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Market town home owners pay a premium of £24,000

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Market town home owners pay a premium of £24,000

People buying a home in a market town in England face a premium of £24,000 with one in ten such towns having a price premium of at least £100,000, new research shows.

Overall house prices in market towns have increased by an average of £460 per month since 2005 and the average house price in an English market town, at £250,686, is 7.2 times average gross earnings of all full time workers.

The research from Lloyds Bank shows that prices in market towns across England are on average £23,938 or 11% higher than their county average.

However, with its location close to the Chiltern Hills and within a 40 minute commute to London Beaconsfield in South Buckinghamshire has the largest house price premium across England, with homes selling at 189% or £652,178 above the county average.

Bakewell in the Derbyshire Dales, close to the famous Chatsworth House, and Wetherby in West Yorkshire both have an average house price that is double their county average; in cash terms the premiums are £175,327 and £162,995 respectively.

In fact, one in 10 of the market towns in the survey have a house price premium of at least £100,000. They include Southwell in Nottinghamshire with an average premium of £131,419), Keswick in Cumbria at £130,100, Cheltenham in Gloucestershire at £128,591 and Ringwood in Hampshire at £125,175.

Southern England dominates the top 10 most expensive market towns. With
Beaconsfield top with an average house price of £997,222, next is Lewes at £408,641 and Midhurst at £403,893, both in Sussex.

Outside southern England, Bakewell is the most expensive market town with an average property value of £351,092, the research also shows.

The average house price in market towns across England has risen by £55,179 or 28% from £195,507 in 2005 to £250,686 in 2015. This is equivalent to an average rise of £460 per month over the past decade.

The biggest increase in prices over the past decade was in Beaconsfield where the average price rose by 71% or £414,126 followed by Didcot in Oxfordshire at 52% or £101,374, Lewes on the south coast at 51% or £138,733, Yateley at 45% or £105,262, then Thame, Petersfield, Ferryhill, and Cirencester all at 43%.

‘Homes in market towns typically command a significant premium over their neighbouring towns. The quality of life benefits often associated with living in such locations are still proving popular among home buyers,’ said Andy Mason, mortgages director at Lloyds Bank.

‘Market towns are often particularly attractive for those looking to move into more idyllic surroundings without sacrificing many of the important amenities they currently enjoy,’ he added.

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UK property sales up to 16 month high, says RICS report

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UK property sales up to 16 month high, says RICS report

Property sales in the UK have picked up across the country, reaching a 16 month high, according to the latest index report from the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS).

There were also further price increases nationwide in September, a modest improvement in mortgage availability but no improvement in the supply situation with new buyer demand continuing to outweigh instructions to sell.

Across the UK, agreed sales rose at the quickest pace since May 2014, with 14% more chartered surveyors seeing a rise. This is a 16 month high and the fifth consecutive month that sales have increased.

The North, East Anglia and Scotland posted the sharpest rises in activity over the month with the East Midlands the only region to see a material drop in sales albeit following an increase in the region in August.

The report says that the stronger sales trend in the UK is broadly reflective of an upturn in demand which has been visible in the data since the early spring. Indeed, the number of new buyer enquiries rose for a sixth consecutive month across the country with 18% more chartered surveyors reporting a rise in demand.

The pattern being seen by chartered surveyors echoes recent lending data including that highlighted by the Bank of England, showing mortgage approvals at an 18 month high and up 12% compared to a year ago.
As the availability of mortgage finance appears to be improving, the average ‘perceived’ LTV ratio captured by respondents to our survey edged up to 79.3% with first time buyers seeing credit conditions relax most noticeably over the month, the report also reveals.

Although activity is picking up, the ongoing lack of new instructions and the resulting limited stock on the market continue to be an issue for the sustainability of the market. The number of new instructions has fallen in 13 of the last 14 months.

RICS says that it is significant that 40% of respondents feel the biggest factor behind the negative trend in new instructions is the lack of stock already for sale which is deterring would be movers as they struggle to find a suitable property to move on to. The next most cited influence was economic uncertainty, followed by stretched affordability.

As a result of the persistent supply demand imbalance, the national house price indicator continues to rise strongly which is likely to be reflected in key house price indices over coming months and into the first half of 2016, according to the report.

In the lettings market, tenant demand increased once more continuing the pattern seen by respondents since December 2014, and while new landlord instructions increased slightly for the third month in a row, they were still significantly outstripped by tenant demand.

Indeed, over the next 12 months, chartered surveyors are forecasting rents to rise by 3% at the headline level.

‘Activity is now picking up which is encouraging, but unless the stock being sold is replenished there is a limit to how sustainable this modest improvement in market turnover will prove to be. And, unfortunately, the indications are that we are locked in a cycle where the lack of available properties on agents’ books is itself deterring some potential vendors from thinking about putting their own property on the market,’ said Simon Rubinsohn, RICS chief economist.

‘Against this backdrop, it is hard not to see prices continuing to move higher over the coming months and into the early part of 2016, notwithstanding the present concerns regarding the affordability of housing in some areas of the UK that are being highlighted by respondents,’ he added.

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Councils’ roads spend at 11-year low

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Councils’ roads spend at 11-year low

Welsh council roads spending hits 11-year low

  • 9 October 2015
  • From the section Wales

Spending by local councils on roads and highways has fallen to an 11-year low, according to new figures.

Just under £171.8m was spent in the year to April – a drop of £18m on 2013/14, Welsh government figures show.

Only four out of 22 councils managed to maintain or increase their spending.

The Welsh Local Government Association (WLGA) said less than 12% of roads are rated as being in a poor condition, which was “remarkable” given extreme pressures on budgets.

Councils are responsible for 32,000km – or 95% – of roads in Wales.

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Conwy, Gwynedd, Newport and Monmouthshire managed to increase slightly their spending on roads and highways.

Powys council’s spending on roads and highways went down from £11.4m to £7.4m and it has already warned its overall highways budget faces a possible £6.2m cut next year

It is looking at setting up a joint venture company or outsourcing as a solution.

The WLGA said latest performance figures showed 11.9% of the highways network was in a poor condition in 2014, an improvement on the 13.2% a year before.

“This trend of service improvement is remarkable considering the extreme pressures being placed on local budgets,” said a spokesman.

“It clearly demonstrates local government’s commitment to investing in our highways network.”

‘Real danger’

He said Welsh councils were facing a projected budget shortfall of over £900m by 2019-20.

“Unfortunately, this means that it will be increasingly difficult for councils to maintain current levels of highways investment, especially in light of the continued policy of public sector austerity,” said the spokesman.

The WLGA also said it was unfortunate the Welsh government was ending the local government borrowing initiative last April, which saw £172m invested into Wales’ highways over the last three years.

This allowed councils to borrow for road repairs and plan for the long term.

“Without it there is a very real danger that we will be storing up significant maintenance problems for Wales’ highway network in the future,” said the spokesman.

Earlier this year, the Asphalt Industry Alliance’s 2015 survey of councils estimated the average shortfall in highways budgets was £3.7m and that it would take 13 years for the Welsh roads maintenance backlog to be cleared.

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Britain faces tough call on Syrian bombing

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Britain faces tough call on Syrian bombing

Syria crisis: Britain faces tough call on bombing

  • 9 October 2015
  • From the section UK

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Image caption

Michal Fallon and Ash Carter will want to present a united front

Britain’s Defence Secretary Michael Fallon and US Defense Secretary Ash Carter are in London, displaying a united front.

First in working together in the fight against the extremists known as Islamic State (IS), but also in condemning Russia’s recent military intervention in Syria.

The US and UK shoulder to shoulder and all that. Though the truth is – not quite.

Britain is so far only bombing IS in Iraq.

Mr Fallon says the government is working hard to build a consensus to get parliamentary support for airstrikes in Syria.

He argues there is a moral case to do more, saying: “Is it really right that to keep the streets of Britain safe we should be relying on Australian, French or American aircraft?”

France has recently taken the decision to bomb targets in Syria (though so far it’s happened just once).

France has more manned aircraft carrying out strike missions against IS than the UK – 12 versus eight.

It has also sent an aircraft carrier to help in the fight and the Charles de Gaulle may soon be returning to the region.

UK impact

So would British military intervention in Syria really make a difference?

Sir Nick Harvey, a defence minister in the last coalition government, thinks the answer is no – beyond a bit of symbolism.

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The UK has 10 Reaper unmanned aircraft in the Middle East campaign

He said: “We are making a modest contribution in Iraq, so I suppose it would be more of the same.”

Defence cuts mean the RAF can offer little more in terms of strike capability beyond the eight Tornado jets and 10 Reaper unmanned aircraft already taking part in the air campaign.

The RAF would be hard pressed to offer more – it only has three Tornado squadrons with a total of about 40 front-line jets.

The Tornado is the only British aircraft capable of dropping both Brimstone missiles and Paveway IV bombs, as well as carrying the large raptor pods for aerial reconnaissance.

Over the past year, during “Operation Inherent Resolve”, US Central Command (Centcom) estimates the US-led coalition has killed 10-15,000 IS fighters.

In contrast the Ministry of Defence estimates that RAF strikes have killed around 330.

A recent Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) report, entitled “Inherently Unresolved” estimates that Britain has spent around £13m on munitions over the past year.

In contrast, it says, the US has spent more than $1.5bn (£981m).

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Brimstone missiles can hit fast-moving targets

The gulf in numbers tells the story that Britain’s contribution is limited, though Mr Fallon is keen to point out the RAF is also providing 30% of the total coalition surveillance and reconnaissance effort over both Syria and Iraq.

The RUSI report concludes that “…while the RAF’s contribution will not make much difference to the coalition’s strike capability (in Syria), the availability of the Tornado would provide a greater range of options”.

Though the Tornado is an ageing warplane, it does carry the Brimstone Missile, which can hit fast-moving targets.

But it is hardly a game changer and the US has similar, if slightly less capable weapons.

Exit strategy

This all suggests David Cameron might have a tough sell persuading MPs to back military action in Syria – just as he did in 2013 (though that vote was about authorising military action against the Assad regime rather than IS).

Sir Nick Harvey says ministers will have to answer a number of questions that so far have not properly been addressed: What’s the purpose? What does success look like? And what’s the exit strategy?

He asks: “Do we really want to take on the 30 or maybe 50 years liability of sorting Syria?” adding that it would be an even greater liability than Iraq or Afghanistan.

The lesson from Libya is you can’t win wars entirely from the air.

Media captionDavid Cameron: “It is clear to me that the British parliament…does not want to see British military action”

And there is no desire to put British boots on the ground.

Russia’s intervention will make it an even tougher sell.

Even before its airstrikes, and salvo of cruise missiles, there were already added dangers to flying over Syria.

President Assad’s forces have long had sophisticated, Russian-made, air defences.

Now he is being backed by Russian warplanes, warships and troops.

They do not have the same objectives as the US-led coalition.

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Vladimir Putin appears to have a clear military strategy in Syria

Russian planes appear to have deliberately crossed into Turkish airspace.

And Russia is bombing “moderate” Syrian rebels backed by the US.

There is little common ground and lots of potential for something serious to go wrong.

Moscow also appears to have a much clearer military strategy.

It wants to help Assad and views all groups fighting him as “terrorists”.

In contrast Julian Lewis, chairman of the House of Commons Defence Select Committee, says Britain (and the coalition) still needs a “credible strategy leading to a realistic objective”.

Media captionWho’s fighting whom in Syria? Explained in 90 seconds

He concludes that at present “we have neither”.

Mr Lewis argues the West cannot achieve both goals of destroying IS and forcing President Assad out of office simultaneously.

The Conservative MP believes the priority must be to defeat IS and if necessary to work with others to achieve that objective.

Dent to prestige

Michael Fallon would dearly love to stand beside the US Defence Secretary and assure him that Britain too will soon be taking part in airstrikes over Syria.

But he can’t and that will hurt.

Britain likes to think of itself as America’s closest ally.

Not being part of the coalition hitting IS targets in Syria will rankle with ministers.

Not just for moral and military reasons, but ones of prestige too.

Will America view Britain’s reticence as another example of “strategic shrinkage”?

The original article can be found at

The pain (and relief) of losing political office

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The pain (and relief) of losing political office

The pain (and relief) of losing political office

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Ed Balls, left, was the highest profile MP to lose at the 2015 election

On one day in May they’re respected representatives of the voters in parliament, the next they’re out on their ear. For those MPs elected in the 2010 intake who lost their seats in 2015, five months of “resettlement” pay has just come to an end. What does it feel like to lose office and what does an ex-MP do next?

The then shadow chancellor Ed Balls said his reaction on election night “wasn’t anger or tears – more a dawning disappointment and sense of loss”.

On 7 May cabinet and shadow cabinet ministers looked on from town hall platforms as results were announced that would send them back to civvy street overnight.

Employment Minister Esther McVey was the big Conservative name to lose in an otherwise good night for the Tories. Labour lost two big figures in Balls and their key political strategist Douglas Alexander – who lost to the 20-year-old SNP candidate Mhairi Black. Among the 49 Liberal Democrats who lost their seats were the Business Secretary Vince Cable and the Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander.

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Danny Alexander, left, and Vince Cable, right, became ex-ministers and ex-MPs

But it was not only high profile names who lost on the night.

A total of 111 MPs found themselves out of a job the next day. Politicians who lose their seats do get a month’s pay per year served – so around £30,000 for those elected in 2010. And they get five working days after polling day to clear out their offices before their security passes are deactivated.

Former Labour MP for Bolton West, Julie Hilling says losing her job in front of 50 million people was “devastating” and that being an MP had been her dream job. Hilling says she doesn’t expect sympathy from the public but there should be more support from the parties.

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Labour Party

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Julie Hilling was elected as an MP in 2010

She says: “In retrospect, the Labour Party would expect an employer to help employees made redundant into new roles and that’s something the party should start to do.”

That’s a sentiment that is echoed in the Open University report Losing Political Office. The study draws on interviews with current and former MPs and reveals a mix of difficulties for those who lose their seats, as well as a small number who feel a huge sense of relief at no longer being in parliament.

‘Like rotting fish’

Author of the report, psychiatrist Jane Roberts, says MPs feel they have been “dropped like a stone” by parties and report not receiving a letter or phone call despite years of party work.

Roberts says losing office is not just about party politics, “they’ve got a team of people who suddenly they have to make redundant”.

“All these people have slogged their guts out pounding the street on their behalf. There is shame and humiliation.”

Despite this Roberts is also quick to point out that her report is not “special pleading” for politicians, she says we must be able to kick them out, but argues that they ought to be able to leave “without heavy penalties, both professionally and personally”.

However not all the subjects of the report were upset to lose their position. One of the case studies had come to find the job immensely less appealing than it had been following the expenses scandal and was grateful to be released from it.

Some had flourished in new jobs but a number felt isolated and forgotten. One subject said “Ex-MPs are like rotting fish. Failed politicians are the worst of the worst. That’s what I feel and there’s an unspoken feeling that the failure is contagious.”

That’s a feeling that clearly doesn’t bother the members of the Association of Former Members of Parliament who can boast former prime ministers John Major and Tony Blair among their ranks. Formed in 2003, the Association is for former politicians to make contact with friends and colleagues and to provide outreach to schools, colleges and universities.

A gem of a change

The Association chair, ex-Conservative MP Elizabeth Peacock, says the outreach work is popular both with the students who learn more about parliament and with ex-MPs who “feel they are using their experience to pass on to younger people”.

Having lost her seat in 1997 Mrs Peacock has had plenty of time to reflect on life after the Commons. She says: “It can be hard when the opposition are crowing and all the people around you in your constituency know you’ve lost. You have to come back and face everyone. There is no point sitting by the wayside expecting someone to come and pick you up.”

For Peacock her first step after losing was to go to college at Hatton Garden and learn to make jewellery.

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Lib Dem Sarah Teather has been working in South Sudan

Five months after the 2015 election and ex-MPs’ fortunes are a mixed bag. Twenty three ex-MPs have been awarded a peerage so their new workplace is a short trip down the hall to the House of Lords. Some MPs have quickly found their way back into work, for example former Cambridge MP Julian Huppert had been on long-term leave from his lectureship at Cambridge University, while former education minister Sarah Teather – who stood down at the election by choice – has joined the Jesuit Refugee Service to deliver educational services in South Sudan.

Other former MPs have yet to settle into a new job.

Earlier this month Liberal Democrat Jenny Willott said she was “still looking for a paid job in either the voluntary or private sector” and is “doing bits and bobs of freelance work”.

However for some there’s always another election on the horizon. Julie Hilling is setting up a training and consultancy business but says she won’t stop campaigning and hopes to go back to parliament as soon as she can.

The original article can be found at

Cross-party EU exit group launches

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Cross-party EU exit group launches

Cross-party UK EU exit group launches

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A new cross-party campaign aimed at taking the UK out of the European Union is due to be launched.

Vote Leave is made up of Conservative, Labour and UKIP MPs and donors.

It is the second eurosceptic campaign to launch ahead of a referendum which is due by 2017 at the latest.

The group, whose supporters include Labour’s Kate Hoey and UKIP’s Douglas Carswell, says it wants to negotiate a new deal based on free trade and friendly co-operation.

Vote Leave, due to be launched on Friday, is funded by people of different party affiliations, such as the City millionaire and Tory donor Peter Cruddas, Labour’s biggest private backer John Mills and the former UKIP treasurer Stuart Wheeler.

Its core message is about sovereignty, with “take control” the main slogan – it is planning to spend about £20m.

Ms Hoey called for an end to the “supremacy” of EU legislation over UK law.

“If we vote to leave, then the £350m we send to Brussels every week can be spent on our priorities like the NHS,” she said.


By Laura Kuenssberg, BBC political editor

The arguments over whether we really gain or lose economically will be a central strand of the referendum debate, with the government, most of the Labour Party, the SNP, the Liberal Democrats and much of the business world pressing the case that the rewards of being in the EU are much greater than the costs.

But Vote Leave has money, campaign muscle, a plan to build a politically broad-based group, and a clear message.

It is also confident it will end up becoming the official campaign, designated by the Electoral Commission, rather than the campaign Leave.EU that includes the UKIP leader, Nigel Farage and UKIP’s multi-millionaire donor, Aaron Banks.

The two groups, Vote Leave and Leave.EU, have had talks and may eventually join forces, but for now they are being run as separate campaigns.

On the other side, the In campaign, which makes the case for the UK’s EU membership, is expected to launch early next week.

Read more on Laura Kuenssberg’s blog

Another member of Vote Leave, Tory MP Steve Baker, is co-chairman of the Conservatives for Britain group.

He said: “Conservatives for Britain supports the prime minister’s attempt to negotiate a fundamentally different relationship with the EU.

“But we also support the creation of a professional cross-party campaign that can fight the referendum if the EU does not give the PM fundamental change.”

UKIP’s Douglas Carswell said he would be voting for the UK to leave the EU to “end the supremacy of EU law and the British public can take back control”.

“That is the safer choice – safer for our democracy and our economy.”

Another group promoting an EU exit – Leave.EU – is already running, with a UKIP donor behind it and party leader Nigel Farage playing a prominent role.

PM seeks reforms

Talks between the two groups over joining forces have not reached any agreement so far.

No date has yet been set for the referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU but David Cameron has promised to hold the vote by the end of 2017.

The prime minister has said he will campaign for Britain to remain in the EU if he secures the reforms he wants.

Mr Cameron has not disclosed the full details of what he is seeking but he has indicated that he wants the UK to be able to opt-out from an EU ambition to forge an “ever closer union” of people across Europe.

He will also try to get restrictions on welfare benefits – in particular, tax credits – for migrants and more powers to block or opt out of new EU laws.

The original article can be found at

Dealer Profile: RMB Automotive

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Dealer Profile: RMB Automotive

The rebuilding of the Renault dealer network has continued apace, the latest opening being the RMB Automotive outlet in Northallerton, North Yorkshire. For RMB managing director and owner Robert Bennett, the opening brings him back to a brand he knows well having spent 32 years with Renault, eventually running the Renault Retail Group, before leaving to set up his own business.

RMB Automotive launched in 2003 with Toyota and Lexus franchises in Teeside. Since then it has added two more Toyota sites, a Ford outlet and an RMB Autoparc used-car centre.

The new Renault and Dacia site, which opened in June, is one of the first to offer the Renault Store retail concept, featuring themed zones and interactive displays. The group is already planning its second Renault/Dacia site in Darlington in 2016.

What was the attraction of adding Renault and Dacia to your brand portfolio?
Well we all know Renault has had its problems in the recent past and effectively it is now the same in name only compared to when I knew it 13 years ago. I’ve watched the brand with interest, and yes some sentimentality creeps into one’s thoughts – I am glad to see the brand has come back good and strong.

Going forward Renault has a fantastic range of products, with more coming in the next couple of years. Also, despite what’s happened before, the brand also has incredible customer loyalty. We are also pleased that Renault now features in the top 10 of the JD Power surveys – that’s something that we are used to running Toyota and Lexus centres.

Is Dacia bringing in a different kind of customer to what you are used to?
I don’t think so – we’ve been quite surprised at the customers attracted to the brand. Contrary to what we expected Dacia is not necessarily attracting budget buyers but instead people that are simply looking for good value – the brand probably resonates quite well with Yorkshire people.

You have been ranked top for Toyota customer satisfaction in the last three years – how will this help you with your new Renault business?
The two sites where we are putting Renault and Dacia, Northallerton and Darlington, are currently number one and two for Toyota customer satisfaction. We have very much a customer-centric mentality that translates into customer-centric business processing. Our processes consider the customer before the bottom line and we coach and train all our staff to focus on identifying the needs of our customers.

Firstly our staff needs to listen to what the customer has to say and then deliver and over-deliver on what they are looking for in an honest and transparent way. That’s easily said, but more challenging to achieve – staff need to fully understand that the sale is probably only half the job in terms of bringing the customer back to maintain the relationship with the dealership.

We have been unusual in that in some instances, our customer satisfaction in the service department has actually exceeded that of sales – currently our customer service recommendation score and follow-up is within one percentage point of sales.

Does this focused approach to sales require a lot of training?
Not so much training but more coaching, on the showroom floor rather than in a classroom environment. I set out, wherever possible, to speak to any customer I come into contact with, whether in the showroom, the used car pitch or the workshop and that helps with top-to-bottom communication.

What are the issues you’ve encountered with staff recruitment?
Recruiting technicians has been a particular problem – the brand has suffered from its recent difficult history in that many Renault-trained technicians have gone off to other brands. But historically they’ve been trained to very high standards and attracting them back to the brand isn’t so much of an issue.

What focus are you giving to the sale of added-value products such as GAP/RTI insurance?
A fair amount – we’re currently going through a period of change and some people are nervous about selling such products. But we work from a background of transparency and honesty, selling a customer what they need rather than what we want to sell, so we don’t find it so much of a challenge.

How important are such products to your business both in terms of profit and the impact on CSI and retention?
Very strong – the impact on customer satisfaction is very hard to measure, but we do know that customers that do have to claim on such products, particularly GAP, are very happy that they invested in them and they then become very good ambassadors for the business. The customer satisfaction aspect of it is a bit of a slow burn but it is there.

What steps have your business taken to adapt to the new regulatory framework for F&I?
Our manufacturer partners have obviously adapted to the regime and are very much compliant with it. Toyota and Lexus are probably ahead of the rest in terms of compliance and Renault seems to be the same. We follow suit, so we are comfortable with what we are doing.

How do you see the new car market performing?
I find it quite challenging at the moment. Manufacturers are pushing for a slice of an ever-growing pie but I’m not sure that’s sustainable in the medium term. I think the slowdown predicted by the SMMT is now happening, and going forward the successful manufacturers will be those who realise quickly what their true volume potential is, whilst maintaining a stable network. I’m confident in the manufacturers we are with. It’s always going to be difficult where there are relatively new entrants into the marketplace wanting to push for what is more than their natural share of the market.

Meanwhile you are already planning the opening of a second Renault/Dacia outlet.
Yes. We have over the last couple of years purchased additional land at our Darlington centre. The new outlet is part of our organic growth that we see continuing, certainly with our existing brands.

We would also consider adding another brand wherever there is a good fit with our ethos.

The original article can be found at

Water is a high price for Lima’s poor

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Water is a high price for Lima’s poor

In Peru water is a high price for Lima’s poor

  • 9 October 2015
  • From the section Business

The IMF and World Bank are holding their annual meetings in Lima, Peru, and one of the issues delegates are considering is the problem of income inequality.

One of the cruellest insults of inequality in the capital Lima, for the poor, is how cheaply the rich often seem to live.

Nowhere is this more apparent than on a walk through the neighbourhood of Nueva Rinconada. It’s a slum that spreads across one of the hills above the city.

Here, Lydia Sevillano and her neighbours pay a high price just to stay alive.

Take water. It costs Lydia 80 sol – $25 (£16.50) – per month to buy water for her family.

It doesn’t come from the tap. It’s delivered by truck, every day, to plastic tanks outside the small shack that is the family home.

Lydia admits that other essentials are sometimes foregone to pay for water.

Steep Gradations

“We have to save any way we can,” she says. “Even if we have to take food from my children, because we can’t live without water.”

Even within the slum there are steep gradations of inequality.

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Lydia Sevillano and her three-year-old son Andy stand by their water tanks

Scramble a few hundred yards up the hillside and the dwellings are just as densely packed, but even more flimsily built.

Here water costs three times what Lydia pays lower down the slope.

The added problem (and cost) for someone like Flor Quinteros on the higher ground is that the water truck can’t reach her door, so steep is the unpaved hill.

So, the water must be carried by hand.

Oxfam estimates that a poor person in Lima pays ten times more for their water than someone living in an affluent residential area.

Money is only part of the cost, of course. There is also the hard physical labour of pouring and carrying the water from the tanks, which themselves must be cleaned.

There’s also the time that Lydia and Flor, and thousands like them must spend waiting for the water trucks to make their erratic way up the steep, dirt tracks of the slum.

Other Costs

That’s time that cannot be spent in paid employment.

The cost is also counted in the health problems that plague the world of carried water, and the haphazardly cleaned containers.

Disease is a debilitating, impoverishing fact of life in Nueva Rinconada. So too are the mudslides caused by earth tremors or severe storms.

Then, all of a sudden, too much water turns the hillside’s sand to mud, sweeping many from their precarious perch in this world.

Wall of Shame

At the very top of the hill, is the final insult that Lima adds to the injurious effects of poverty: a wall, ten feet high, garlanded with razor wire.

It was built with one purpose – to keep Lydia and Flor and their families from straying into the neighbourhood on the other side of the hill.

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The Wall which divides the poor Nueva Rinconada, from the affluent Casuarinas neighbourhood.

They call it the Wall of Shame.

Casuarinas, the neighbourhood over the wall, is naturally a rather different place.

Here there aren’t shacks clinging to the loose topsoil of a hillside, but properly engineered structures with running water which afford ocean views and security to their affluent, healthy inhabitants.

And the water which pours from their taps? It’s cheap and abundant enough to fill the neighbourhood’s hundreds of swimming pools.

Down in the city, the delegates to the annual meetings of the IMF and World Bank gather.

In recent years, both organisations have been at pains to stress how damaging severe income inequality can be to national economies.

For evidence of this, delegates need only lift their gaze from the conference hall to the hills surrounding the city.

The original article can be found at

DUP ministers could end in-out policy

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DUP ministers could end in-out policy

Stormont crisis: DUP ministers could end in-out policy

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Northern Ireland’s Acting First Minister Arlene Foster is the only unionist minister in the Stormont Executive after a protest over alleged IRA involvement in a murder

The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) has said it could drop its policy of in-out ministerial positions when a report is published on paramilitary activity.

Northern Ireland’s Acting First Minister Arlene Foster told the BBC’s The View programme the policy could end when the report is published next week.

The DUP is currently moving its ministers in and out of the Executive in response to Kevin McGuigan’s murder.

His killing sparked a political crisis at Stormont over the status of the IRA.

It led to a breakdown in trust between unionist ministers and Sinn Féin, which has repeatedly condemned Mr McGuigan’s murder.

Mrs Foster is the only unionist minister left in the Executive after a police assessment that members of the Provisional IRA may have been involved in the fatal shooting.

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

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

Mrs Foster told The View: “We will look at the panel’s report.

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

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IRA-Libya inquiry wants Blair evidence

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IRA-Libya inquiry wants Blair evidence

IRA-Libya compensation inquiry asks Tony Blair for written evidence

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Westminster’s Northern Ireland Affairs Committee has written to Tony Blair asking him to clarify his role in the lead up to a US compensation deal that precluded UK victims

Former Prime Minister Tony Blair has been asked to give evidence to a parliamentary inquiry into compensation for Libyan-sponsored IRA violence.

The late Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi supplied arms to the IRA during the Troubles and Libyan Semtex was a key weapon in its bombing campaign.

Westminster’s Northern Ireland Affairs Committee is examining government efforts to seek redress for UK victims.

It has asked Mr Blair to respond to concerns raised about his role.

The committee’s chair, Laurence Robertson, has written to the former prime minister to ask about his involvement in negotiations that led to a compensation deal between the US and Libya eight years ago.

Libya compensated US victims of terrorism but UK victims were left out of the deal.

Mr Robertson’s letter states: “There is a real sense amongst the victims that an opportunity to include them in the agreement reached between the US and Libya was missed in 2008.”

He told Mr Blair the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee was offering him the “opportunity to submit written evidence to its inquiry to respond to the concerns raised and to clarify your role at the time”.

“Based on this, the committee may decide to invite you to give oral evidence,” the letter added.

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Cross-party UK EU exit group launches

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Cross-party UK EU exit group launches

Cross-party UK EU exit group launches

  • 8 October 2015
  • From the section UK

UK and EU flagsImage copyright

“Vote leave – take control.”

The message of a new, cross-party campaign vying to get the UK to leave the EU could hardly be clearer.

On Friday, the group, which contains politicians and, crucially, financial backers from across the political spectrum, launches officially.

The date of the actual referendum on our membership of the EU is not yet set, but it is becoming clear who will shape up on each side.

This new campaign, Vote Leave, is funded by major Conservative donor and City millionaire Peter Cruddas, John Mills, Labour’s biggest private financial backer, and Stuart Wheeler, for years a Tory donor but more recently a supporter of UKIP.

Clashes ahead

The expectation is that they will spend up to £20m, around half the amount the Tories spent in the 12 months before the election.

And it will fold in three existing campaign groups: Conservatives for Britain, Business for Britain and the Labour Leave campaign.

They already have the backing of politicians like Lord Lawson, Kate Hoey from Labour, and Douglas Carswell from UKIP, and their hope is to build support and credibility across the spectrum.

The campaign will begin with its “take control” plea to voters – citing the £350m it will claim is paid by UK taxpayers each week to the EU.

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The Leave.EU campaign, being run by UKIP’s leader Nigel Farage and party donor Aaron Banks (left and right) will be run separately to Vote Leave

The campaign’s argument is simply that the EU has too much control over too much of our lives.

But stand by for clashes over how much money we get back, compared with what we put in.

The arguments over whether we really gain or lose economically will be a central strand of the referendum debate, with the government, most of the Labour Party, the SNP, the Liberal Democrats and much of the business world pressing the case that the rewards are much greater than the costs.

‘Campaign muscle’

But Vote Leave has money, campaign muscle, a plan to build a politically broad-based group, and a clear message.

It is also confident it will end up becoming the official campaign, designated by the Electoral Commission, rather than the campaign Leave.EU that includes the UKIP leader, Nigel Farage.

The two groups, Vote Leave and Leave.EU, have had talks and may eventually join forces, but for now Mr Farage and UKIP’s multi-millionaire donor, Aaron Banks, are running their campaigns separately.

On the other side, the In campaign, which makes the case for the UK’s EU membership, is expected to launch early next week.

But, by the time you are reading this, Vote Leave will already be trying to flood the internet with its message, trying to establish not just its arguments but itself as the established campaign group making that side of the argument.

This debate may last as long as two years, but the race is already on.

The original article can be found at

Clinton takes aim at Wall Street abuse

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Clinton takes aim at Wall Street abuse

Clinton unveils plan for Wall Street accountability

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US presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has outlined her plan to curb Wall Street abuses.

Her proposals include harsher penalties for executives, including forcing them to share fines imposed against their institutions.

The former Secretary of State said there was still too much risk in the financial system.

“‘Too big to fail’ is still too big a problem,” Mrs Clinton said.

The plan focuses on reining in Wall Street and holding individuals more accountable. If a bank engaged in trading that risked its financial stability, senior managers would not be eligible for bonuses.

Her plan included imposing a “risk fee” on big financial institutions to discourage short-term borrowing and encourage them to hold more cash.

Volcker rule

Mrs Clinton would also impose new taxes on high frequency trading, which has been blamed for market disruptions.

The proposals also strengthen the Volcker rule, which prevents banks from using their own money in certain trades.

Senator Barney Frank helped the Clinton camp draft the proposal. He was the co-author of the Dodd-Frank Act, the most significant Wall Street regulation to emerge since the financial crisis.

However, Mrs Clinton stopped short of calling for the reinstatement of the Glass Steagall Act – a law that separated high street banks from investment banks – saying she prefers “a different way”. Glass Steagall was repealed by her husband Bill Clinton during his Presidency.

“We need a comprehensive strategy to reduce risk everywhere in the financial system,” Mrs Clinton said in her plan.

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Property market recovery in the Alps spreads out from top resorts

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Property market recovery in the Alps spreads out from top resorts

The recovery in the Alpine residential real estate market, led by the ultra-prime resorts, has spread to the rest of the region with infrastructure investment spurring new development, according to a new report.

British buyers are returning as a weak euro poses buying opportunities in France, Austria and Italy but a strong Swiss franc has made property in Switzerland more expensive for foreign buyers, says the report from Savills World Research and Alpine Homes.

Courchevel 1850 tops the Savills ultra-prime ski resorts index with typical prices of €31,340 per square meter for the best properties. The French resort is followed by the Swiss resorts of Gstaad, St Moritz, Zermatt and Verbier at between €26,450 and €31,220 per square meter.

In spite of limited price growth, a strong Swiss franc has pushed these markets up the rankings in currency terms, the report explains. In North America, only Vail is on par with the top European competition at €25,200 per square meter.

‘A home in a top tier Alpine resort is a key component of global property portfolios for the world’s wealthy. A property in Courchevel 1850, Gstaad or St Moritz complements a city residence in London, Paris or Moscow,’ said Paul Tostevin, associate director of Savills World Research.

According to Jeremy Rollason, managing director, Alpine Homes, 2015 has been a tale of two currencies for UK buyers in the Alps. ‘The de-peg of the Swiss franc caught markets off guard, but sterling has since recovered and now trades within a 5% range of the pre-January 2015 exchange rate,’ he said.

‘The weakening euro has helped buyers in euro denominated countries. Currency swings have the effect of either suppressing or stimulating markets through affordability, but the net effect has little influence on property values per se,’ he added.

The report shows that buying activity in the Swiss resorts cooled in 2015 with foreign buyers, particularly important to the top end of the market, impacted by the strong Swiss franc. However, despite limited supply of second homes, investment in infrastructure continues and the cache of Swiss resorts remains.

Grimentz gained a new lift in the 2014/2015 season linking to neighbouring Zinal and new apartment schemes have followed. La Tzoumaz is also set for revival thanks to a planned lift upgrade, improving connectivity with neighbouring Verbier.

Villars, a year round resort with high quality international schools, has seen high levels of new supply in recent years and has suffered from poor snowfall. This has had some impact on pricing and, for those who shop around, there are deals to be done. Prime apartments here trade at between CHF10,000 and CHF12,000 per square meter.

The Austrian Alpine resort market has remained strong on the back of a vibrant local economy, which has generated house price growth nationally of 41% since 2008 and the report says that Austria continues to offer excellent value for money compared to the more established French and Swiss resorts. Committed investment in resort infrastructure and investor appetite means there is still room for upward price movement.
It also points out that many Austrian resorts are dual season. Zell am See property prices continue to rise due to high demand and low supply, yet still represent value for money. Prices here range from €5,000 to €7,000 per square meter and a planned lift linking Zell am See to neighbouring Saalbach will only serve to increase its appeal.

Sales volumes in the ski regions of Haute-Savoie and Savoie have held up better than the rest of France whilst a weaker euro has opened up investment opportunities for dollar and sterling denominated buyers.

Val d’Isere has seen premium restaurants and boutiques open. Popular with the UK market, there is strong rental potential with yields of around 3.5% gross achievable for top chalets while the Chamonix Valley continues to see demand led recovery and prices are now at or around the pre-crisis peak of €10,000 per square meter.

US and Canadian ski resorts are spread across three major mountain ranges, a geographic area ten times the size of the Alps but while Vail and Whistler are resorts of worldwide renown, both are reliant mainly on domestic buyers, the report points out.

Prices in North American resorts remain below their 2007 high but top tier US resorts do offer potential, according to Tostevin. ‘The US is home to the largest number of wealthy individuals globally, so with the right product there remains a ready demand base to tap in the home market,’ he said.

The report identified five emerging destinations and resorts opening up to an international market. The Balkans, on the edge of the large European market, already attract British and Russian skiers and Pyeongchang, South Korea, is the 2018 host for the Winter Olympics.

It explains that international investors have been attracted by special visa investor programmes for South Korea and Japan’s Niseko has an established luxury residential market, supported by those from China, Singapore, Malaysia and Korea, as well as domestic demand.

‘We anticipate a continued globalisation of Europe’s top ski resorts as the customer base broadens and attracts a more diverse and market savvy investor,’ Rollason concluded.

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‘Bond King’ Bill Gross sues Pimco

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‘Bond King’ Bill Gross sues Pimco

‘Bond King’ Bill Gross sues Pimco for $200m

  • 8 October 2015
  • From the section Business

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Bill Gross, Wall Street’s “Bond King”, is suing Pimco for $200m (£130m) after resigning as head of the bond fund last year.

He claimed colleagues forced him out so they could get his share of the $1.3bn bonus pool.

Mr Gross said the Pimco bosses were “driven by a lust for power, greed, and a desire to improve their own financial position”.

The action was filed in the California Superior Court in Orange County.

Mr Gross, 71, said he had been “on track” to receive a bonus of more than $250m last year out of Pimco’s $1.3bn bonus pool.

He claimed that younger Pimco executives plotted to force him out and get his 20% stake in the bonus pool.

The lawsuit takes to new levels the animosity between Mr Gross and Pimco, which he co-founded and expanded over four decades into the largest US bond fund.

Management style

Pimco’s flagship Total Return Fund performed poorly last year and many investors withdrew funds, with assets falling below $100bn after peaking at close to $300bn in April 2013.

Mr Gross’s management style was also questioned after his deputy, Mohamed El-Erian, resigned in early 2014.

Mr Gross now runs a bond fund for Janus Capital.

Pimco spokesman Mike Reid declined to comment, while a spokesman for Mr Gross also declined to comment.

The lawsuit accuses Pimco of constructive termination, breach of contract, and exercising bad faith.

Patty Glaser, Mr Gross’s lawyer, said any damages won would be donated to charity.

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BBC to screen live e-sports tournament

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BBC to screen live e-sports tournament

BBC to screen live e-sports tournament

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Riot Games

Image caption

The League of Legends World Championships features teams from Europe, North America and Asia

The BBC is to stream live coverage of a major e-gaming contest for the first time.

BBC Three will show highlights of the quarter-finals of the League of Legends World Championships on its website.

The event, at Wembley Stadium next week, will be presented by BBC Radio 1 DJ Dev Griffin.

League of Legends is an online role-playing battle game played by some 27 million users every day, according to US developers Riot Games.

Multiple European cities

Teams compete in a 3D battle arena and each game lasts between 20 and 60 minutes.

This year’s championship, which sees gamers compete with each other live on stage, is spread out across multiple European cities.

Teams from Europe, Asia and North America will take part, and the finals will be hosted at the Mercedes-Benz Arena in Berlin on 31 October.

The total prize pool for the championship is $2m (£1.3m), with the winning team set to take home $1m.

In 2014, some 70 million hours of footage from the games were watched worldwide, according to the game’s developers.

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Riot Games

Image caption

League of Legends is played by 27 million gamers daily, according its developers

‘Massive UK event’

BBC Three will collaborate with BBC Sport on the broadcast, using the platform previously used for live sporting events and the Glastonbury festival.

Live and pre-recorded video would “sit side by side” with text, audio and social-network commentary, said the channel.

BBC Three controller Damian Kavanagh said: “We jumped at the chance to collaborate with BBC Sport and bring this massive UK event to a wider audience.

“BBC Three will always experiment with new ways to deliver content that young people want, in ways they want.

“I think this is an exciting way to cover something millions of young Brits love, in a BBC Three way.”

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UK firms develop drone-freezing ray

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UK firms develop drone-freezing ray

UK firms develop drone-freezing ray

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Blighter Surveillance Systems

Image caption

The Auds system uses a strong radio signal to freeze a drone mid-flight

Three British companies have created a device to deter drones from entering sensitive areas by freezing them in mid-flight.

The Anti-UAV Defense System (Auds) works by covertly jamming a drone’s signal, making it unresponsive.

After this disruption, the operator is likely to retrieve the drone believing that it has malfunctioned.

The system joins a host of recently announced technologies which can blast larger drones out of the sky.

A drone flying in sensitive airspace can be detected by the Auds radar and then sighted via a camera equipped with thermal imaging capabilities so that it can be targeted visually.

Then, a high-powered radio signal can be focused on the drone – essentially overriding the connection to whoever is operating it.

The whole process takes as little as 25 seconds, according to the manufacturers.

Radio jam

“It’s a radio signal. There are a number of frequency bands that are used by all of the manufacturers,” explained Paul Taylor of Enterprise Control Systems, which developed the product along with Blighter Surveillance Systems and Chess Dynamics.

“We transmit into those frequencies in the direction of the UAV using a directional antenna,” he told the BBC.

“There’s quite a lot of radio power on to the UAV – so much so that it can only hear our Auds signal.”

The Auds operator can then choose to freeze the drone just for a short time – to convince its owner that there’s something wrong with it – or for a longer period, until its battery dies and it crashes.

Auds has been tested in the UK, the USA and France, said Mr Taylor, and government organisations in all three countries had been involved in those tests.

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Blighter Surveillance Systems

Image caption

By training the jamming signal on the drone for a long time, Auds can halt it until the batteries run out

Aviation authorities are increasingly concerned about nuisance hobbyists flying drones close to large aircraft at airports.

The US Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) is now receiving around 100 reports per month from pilots who have sighted drones within a five-mile radius of their aircraft.

Last year the sightings numbered only a few per month.

In response, the FAA recently signed an agreement to test new technology which detects drones and identifies the location of their operator.

A spokesman for UK’s Civil Aviation Authority, however, told the BBC that the organisation was not likely to consider investigating similar technologies any time soon.

“It’s not something that we really feel the need to be doing,” he said. “Our focus is on educating consumers.

“We’ve had our rules in place for over six years now.

“The FAA are a little late to the party in many ways – they developed their regulations only recently.”

Drone killers

Beyond simply halting a small quadcopter drone while in flight, there are also military grade weapons now available to blast larger UAVs out of the sky.

The US Army recently demonstrated a prototype weapon which fires special projectiles at UAVs to damage them.

These projectiles can be steered on approach to the drone, which is tracked on the ground with radar.

Once close enough, warheads on the projectiles can be detonated, theoretically destroying the target vehicle.

Alternatively, militaries around the world could also soon be swatting UAVs out of the air with lasers thanks to Boeing’s Compact Laser Weapons System.

A recent video published on the company’s YouTube profile shows the weapon in action as it burns through the tail of an airborne drone.

Although the technology might sound futuristic, earlier prototypes of so-called “beam weapons” were being tested as long ago as 1974.

It’s taken decades of development for them to be considered viable weapon systems for the military today.

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German prosecutors search VW offices

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German prosecutors search VW offices

Volkswagen scandal: German prosecutors search VW offices

  • 8 October 2015
  • From the section Business
Media captionLive: Volkswagen’s US boss Michael Horn appears at congressional hearing

German public prosecutors have searched Volkswagen’s Wolfsburg headquarters as part of their investigation into the emissions scandal.

The prosecutor’s office said they were looking for data linked to the manipulation of diesel emissions.

The search comes shortly before Michael Horn, VW’s US boss, is due to appear before a US Congressional committee.

On Wednesday, he admitted he was aware early last year of the VW group’s emissions cheating.

Michael Horn said he was told about a “possible emissions non-compliance” in the spring of 2014.

The revelation was made in testimony due to be presented to a committee of the US House of Representatives investigating the scandal on Thursday.

German prosecutors launched their investigation into the scandal last week after receiving about a dozen criminal complaints from citizens and one from VW itself.

They say they are trying to find out who was responsible for the alleged manipulation and how it was carried out.

Defeat device

Mr Horn said he was told about the emissions cheating after the publication of a study by West Virginia University.

“I was informed that EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] regulations included various penalties for non-compliance with the emissions standards and that the agencies can conduct engineering tests which could include ‘defeat device’ testing or analysis,” he said.

“I was also informed that the company engineers would work with the agencies to resolve the issue.”

Mr Horn said in the written evidence it was not until 3 September this year that Volkswagen told US authorities about the “defeat device” in emissions software in diesel vehicles for the model years 2009 to 2015.

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‘Deeply troubling’

The software allowed a vehicle to recognise whether it was being driven on the road or running in a test laboratory, and turn engine emissions controls on or off.

Mr Horn said the events had been “deeply troubling”, adding: “I did not think that something like this was possible at the Volkswagen Group.

“We have broken the trust of our customers, dealerships, and employees, as well as the public and regulators.”

He said the company took full responsibility for its actions and was co-operating with all relevant authorities.

The executive will give evidence to the House Energy committee and Commerce subcommittee on oversight and investigations before being questioned by the politicians about the scandal, which affects half a million cars in the US.

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