Thursday, 26 May 2016

Thursday, May 26, 2016 Posted by Hari No comments Labels:
HS2 rail link 'over-priced' say transport experts
The academics - including some leading lights in transport - support high-speed rail overall, but say HS2 is five times more expensive than its French equivalent. HS2 has been designed to increase capacity and connections, regenerate the North and reduce climate impacts change. Yet the critics say it will only achieve one of these - capacity. Many key rail journeys, they say, would be worse, including to Nottingham, Stockport and Wakefield. The academics are especially baffled by the decision to design HS2 to run ultra-fast at 240mph - that's much faster than the 190mph normal for continental high-speed trains covering much greater distances. One of them, Professor James Croll of UCL, told BBC News: "It is just vanity... The UK is far too small geographically to need an ultra-high speed network - by the time the trains get up to speed it will be almost time to slow them down again... The decision to design for 240mph has led to a succession of needlessly expensive knock-on effects in construction which will be saddling taxpayers with huge bills for a generation." The group says the ultra-fast trains will also push up carbon emissions. They say the extra speed from ultra-fast services requires 23% more energy, but saves just 3.5 minutes from London to Birmingham. Professor Tony May from Leeds University said we need "...a less damaging version of HS2, a better-connected new line from London and transport investment in the North rather than to the North.” BBC NEWS

Top model agencies colluded to fix prices, competition regulator says
Some of Britain’s top model agencies colluded to fix prices charged to retailers, fashion brands and other customers, the competition regulator has alleged. FM Models, Models 1, Premier, Storm and Viva agreed to exchange competitively sensitive information, including future prices, from April 2013 to March 2015, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) alleged. In some cases, agencies agreed a common approach to pricing, the CMA added. The allegations are aimed at the pinnacle of the British modelling industry: Premier was the agency that launched Naomi Campbell’s career, Storm discovered Kate Moss and Cara Delevingne, and Models 1 represents Sophie Dahl and Yasmin Le Bon. The agencies allegedly used the Association of Model Agents (AMA) trade association as a vehicle for price co-ordination when their representatives controlled the AMA’s managing council. The association circulated regular “AMA alerts” encouraging agencies to reject fees offered by customers and negotiate higher payments, the CMA said. The CMA published its provisional findings after an investigation that began in March 2015. The regulator reportedly raided agencies’ offices, interviewed staff and seized computer hard drives and files last year. Stephen Blake, the senior director of the CMA’s cartels and criminal group, said the investigation was the first competition enforcement case in the creative industries, which are an important part of the UK economy. All sectors should have vigorous competition to encourage better services, lower prices and efficiency to benefit the economy. GUARDIAN

New London mayor Sadiq Khan condemns foreign millionaires who buy UK flats as ‘gold bricks for investment’ but never live in them
Speaking at a question time event in London, Mr Khan said ‘It is possible to build 50,000 new homes a year, some people say, but there is no point if they are all built by investors in the Middle East and Asia and they are used as second homes or sit empty. The important thing is to build the right sort of homes...that are affordable to Londoners to buy or rent. That is what I intend to do.' It comes amid claimed Britain's tallest residential skyscraper - St George Wharf Tower in London - is mostly owned by wealthy foreign investors who do not actually live in the property. Nearly two thirds of the 214 apartments, most worth around £1million, are owed by overseas buyers, who include controversial oligarchs and foreign politicians. The five-storey penthouse was reportedly bought by Russian billionaire Andrei Guriev for £51million. Sadiq Khan's administration today vowed to crack down on buyers who snap up property as an investment, and to give Londoners 'first dibs' on new homes. DAILY MAIL

NHS hospitals in England reveal £2.45bn record deficit
The combined deficit is almost three times bigger than the £822m overspend incurred the year before, and more than 20 times the size of the £115m deficit in 2013-14. The overspend is a major embarrassment for the government, because the Treasury told the NHS last year that it should not be more than £1.8bn. The size of the figure threatens to wreck this year’s financial planning for the NHS, which was based on wiping out a deficit of that size. The service, already strapped for cash as it negotiates a decade-long period of historically low annual increases in its budget, will now have to find £700m to bridge that gap. NHS finance experts said the true scale of the deficit was much worse than the £2.45bn headline total but had been masked by a series of accounting devices. Tom Kibasi, director of the IPPR thinktank, criticised “crisis-driven decisions” to use “accounting tricks”, such as selling assets, to disguise the true extent of their financial plight. He called for an investigation by the National Audit Office to ascertain the NHS’s true financial situation. Around £1bn originally earmarked for capital spending last year – for building and maintaining hospitals and buying equipment – was transferred into the NHS’s resource budget to help cover normal running costs. Chris Hopson, the chief executive of NHS Providers, which represents hospital trusts, said: “Today’s report reveals how the combination of increasing demand and the longest and deepest financial squeeze in NHS history is maxing out the health service.”  Hopson pointed out that Britain spent a lower percentage of its national wealth on health than France, Germany, Sweden or Greece, and that investment as a proportion of overall public spending would fall even further over the next few years to less than 7% by 2020. GUARDIAN

Rip-off pension exit fees banned at last: Regulator caps exit fees at 1% for savers who want to enjoy new freedoms
The move could save around three-quarters of a million savers thousands of pounds towards their retirement. Firms will not be able to apply any exit fee at all on contracts entered into after the new rules come into force. New pension freedoms were announced last year to great fanfare, offering over-55s greater control over their retirement savings than ever before. Until then, most people would have to convert their nest eggs upon retirement into an annuity – a product that guarantees an income for life. Annuities have been falling out of favour as they are often poor value and allow little flexibility. However plans to ditch annuities and allow savers to spend, invest or save their pension pots as they choose were thwarted by eye-watering exit fees imposed by firms that made taking advantage of the new freedoms prohibitively expensive for some. Earlier this year Chancellor George Osborne pledged to change the law so savers using new freedoms to access their cash early would not be stung by the huge fees that could snatch up to 20 per cent of their nest eggs. DAILY MAIL

Google Paris offices raided in £1.2 billion tax probe
The dawn raid, which involved around 100 investigators, is part of a probe into whether the internet giant has evaded corporation tax in France by diverting profits to its European base in Ireland.  French authorities believe that Google owes some €1.6bn (£1.2bn) in corporation tax and VAT. The raid comes months after the company agreed to pay £130m in back taxes to the UK Government and amid growing scrutiny of the tax affairs of Silicon Valley’s multinationals. In January, after years of pressure, Google agreed to pay six years of UK back taxes to the Treasury and said it would book sales from domestic advertisers in the UK. The agreement with the Treasury was criticised by Labour for allegedly understating the true amount it should owe. Google, like many major tech groups, bases its European operations in Ireland, where corporation taxes are lower than much of Europe, and registers sales from many other countries there. But the company is now facing increasing scrutiny amid growing anger at multinationals’ tax affairs. French authorities are now trying to establish whether sales registered in Ireland were in fact conducted in France. TELEGRAPH

Friday, 20 May 2016

Friday, May 20, 2016 Posted by Hari No comments Labels: , , , , ,
Fee, Chris and KJ work out what's behind it all...

SOURCE GUARDIAN: Gove's prison reform cannot undo the harm already inflicted by cuts
In the 12 months leading up to March 2013 there were 52 self-inflicted deaths in custody, three years later there were 100 – an increase of 92%. In 2012 there were 23,158 incidents of self-harm and three years later there were 32,313 – an increase of 39%. The number of serious assaults in the same period was approximately 1,200 and three years later it was 2,813 – an increase of approximately 130%. Between 2010-11 and 2014-15 the National Offender Management Service (Noms) made cumulative savings of almost £1bn and the savings made in public sector prisons were £334m. A large chunk of these savings was made by shedding staff while the prison population continued to grow.


Osborne's budget protects the wealthiest while the most vulnerable suffer. See the stats

Tory promises of "Low Tax, High Pay" has given us higher taxes & lower pay. See the stats

Is your Cost of Living crisis over?! Average wages are still back where they were 10 years ago

Graphs at a glance: Budget 2014 document shows we’re growing through borrowing. Again. That's why Britain needs a pay rise

Thursday, 19 May 2016

Thursday, May 19, 2016 Posted by Hari No comments Labels:
High pay for bosses hurting economy says Bank of England's top economist
Excessive pay for top bosses is holding back economic growth in Britain, the chief economist of the Bank of England, Andy Haldane, has warned. Mr Haldane, who has earned a reputation as one of the central bank’s most radical minds, highlighted in a speech in Westminster the fact that FTSE 100 bosses are now paid 150 times the average UK worker. Mr Haldane, in a speech to the annual dinner of the reformist New City Agenda think tank, added that the damage done to social capital by the bad behaviour of banks in the run-up up to the financial crisis was one of the reasons the economy’s recovery has been so disappointing by historical standards. “A lack of trust in finance potentially hobbles both economic growth and financial stability” he said. “Unaddressed, that jeopardises future wealth and well-being”. Social capital refers to trust and relationships in a society and Mr Haldane argued this matters “every bit as much to wealth and well-being” as financial capital such as stocks and shares and other such assets. So far in 2016 there have been major pay revolts by shareholders at the oil giant BP, the mining group Anglo-American and the engineering company Weir, all over the level and structure of proposed remuneration packages to chief executives. A focal point of protest next month is expected to be the annual general meeting of the advertising conglomerate WPP where the annual pay of its chief executive and founder Sir Martin Sorrell is expected to soar to £70m. But Mr Haldane, who is paid £215,627 a year by the Bank of England, was sceptical about the efforts of shareholder groups, alone, to rein in top pay since their votes were often non-binding on managements. “With very few exceptions, no differences were made to executive compensation packages as a result of investor action” he said, referring to pay insurrections in recent years. Instead, he suggested politicians should consider reforming the 2006 Companies Act, and requiring managements to place more weight on the interests of employees and customers alongside shareholders. “The shareholder-centric model may have become a recipe for depleting long-term company wealth-creation and, thus, societal well-being” he said. INDEPENDENT

George Osborne'S 2003 pledge to scrap 'very unfair' tuition fees comes to light
A letter by a young Conservative MP called George Osborne, in which the writer criticises the introduction of university tuition fees, describing them as very unfair and a “tax on learning”, has been discovered by a former constituent. Violinist Rosy Williams was looking through a box of old papers on Monday when she came across the letter, written in 2003 on House of Commons-headed notepaper. In it the up-and-coming MP for Tatton - now chancellor of the exchequer – thanks her for responding to an earlier letter seeking her views, and those of other young people in Cheshire, on national issues. He writes: “It is clear from the hundreds of replies I had that one of the issues that most concerns people your age is university tuition fees. It is hardly surprising... When I was at university 10 years ago, my education was free. Since then, the government has imposed fees, which mean that most students today pay more than £1,000 a year to go to university. Now they want to go further and introduce so-called ‘top-up fees’, which will mean students paying £3,000 a year for their education. To my mind, this is a tax on learning and is very unfair.” Osborne goes on to say that with the abolition of grants, students faced leaving college with debts of around £18,000. “There is lots of evidence that it is this fear of going into debt that most puts people from poorer backgrounds off going to university … As a result of listening to students and their families across the country, I thought you would be interested to know that the Conservatives have just announced that we will scrap tuition fees altogether when we are next in government. Education will once again be free for students.” At that time Osborne was toeing the party line – the Conservatives opposed tuition fees, which were first introduced by the Labour government in 1998 at £1,000, and subsequently raised to £3,000. Williams discovered the letter the day the current Conservative government’s latest thinking on tuition fees was published in its higher education white paper. It announced that from next year universities will be allowed to increase annual fees above the current £9,000-a-year cap in line with inflation. GUARDIAN

Britain's second biggest energy firm SSE posts profits of £1.5bn despite losing 370,000 customers
Profits from SSE’s retail business, which sells direct to families, were £455.2m. This was virtually identical to the year before, despite the loss of 370,000 customers, most of whom switched to cheaper deals with rivals. The fact the company was able to protect its profits while losing customers provides further evidence of unfair prices, according to critics. All the ‘big six’ energy companies have been accused of bolstering profits by failing to pass on sharp falls in the wholesale cost of gas and electricity over the past two years. SSE confirmed its profit margin per customer last year was 5.2 per cent, which was up from an average of 4.1 per cent for the past four years. Mark Todd, the co-founder of price comparison site Energy Helpline, said: ‘SSE has lost customers yet is making the same amount of money as last year. This is not a magic trick, it’s a cunning trick. SSE has simply passed on price cuts as slowly as possible and has made more money per customer.’ SSE, which also trades under the names Southern Electric and SWALEC, has 8.2m customers, making it second only to British Gas. Yesterday it revealed adjusted profit before tax of £1.5bn for the whole company during the 2015/16 financial year, which was down marginally on the year before. DAILY MAIL

Company pension black hole inquiry: After BHS crisis, MPs will quiz FTSE bosses over multi-billion deficits
Blue chip firms such as BAE Systems, Tesco and BT have all run up massive deficits due to an underperforming stock market and what some have described as over-generous schemes. It follows the crisis surrounding the BHS pension scheme which has a £571m black hole. Although the firm had been taking steps to add extra money, it has been criticised because it would have taken 23 years to clear the deficit. Experts warn the country is now on the brink of a pension crisis, with some schemes facing collapse unless urgent action is taken. Senior MP Frank Field has pledged to launch an investigation into the issue. His influential Work and Pensions Committee will examine the private pension system and could recommend a change in the law. It will particularly focus on schemes which have large black holes – meaning the amount of assets they hold is far less than the pensions they have promised to pay savers. Bosses of firms with major deficits could be hauled into Parliament to explain how they plan to ensure that workers get the pensions they saved for. Worst on the list was defence giant BAE Systems, which had a £5.4bn deficit – more than a third of the total size of the £15bn company. It has around 125,500 current and former employees with savings in the scheme. BT is also high up on the list. Its £7bn deficit was nearly a quarter the size of the £30bn company. There is more than 308,000 people in its pension scheme. Tesco’s deficit stood at £3.2bn, or 12 per cent of its £26.5bn value. Its scheme has around 350,000 members. BP’s worldwide deficit was £5.5bn, or 7 per cent of its £75bn value. A spokesman said he didn’t know how many people were in the oil company’s various schemes. Britain’s largest water company, Thames Water Utilities, has run up a £250m black hole in its pension pot since it was taken over by a consortium led by Australian bank Macquarie which extracted at least £1.6bn in dividends and interest. DAILY MAIL

Ryanair revolt takes off as more than 5,000 disgruntled customers join court case against rip-off admin fees
Online firm CaseHub is looking for people stung with charges of up to €70 (£55) to check in or replace a boarding card and €160 (£126) to amend documents. CaseHub argues that these fees are illegal under EU rules and that passengers who have paid them should be refunded. Another 70,000 passengers need to sign up before the case will be heard. Casehub will take 35 per cent of any cash won as a fee. Ryanair says it does not comment on ‘speculation’. Casehub is bringing a separate law suit against other airlines including British Airways, Virgin and Monarch over excessive fees for reclaiming Air Passenger Duty. You only pay this tax — which costs up to £73 for economy trips — if you board a flight from the UK. If you miss your flight or it’s cancelled, you can reclaim it, but the admin fees can swallow up the refund. A BA spokesman says it is ‘clear during the booking process’ that a fee may apply. Monarch says the charge reflects the cost in making refunds. Virgin says it charges, as making the refund is a ‘manual procedure’. DAILY MAIL

PPI victims 'should have got £5bn more'
£5bn is the total amount that claims management companies charged clients to process their complaints. MPs on the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) said they were disappointed the money did not go to the victims of the scandal. Their report said this amounted to "a failure of regulation and redress". Consumers can complain directly to the Ombudsman free of charge - yet so far, 80% of those who have done so, have chosen to go through claims management companies, which take up to a third of any money paid out. Since April 2011, more than £22bn has been paid out in compensation to those who were sold the insurance policies by banks, but did not necessarily need them. Members of the PAC were critical of the role of the regulator, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), and the Treasury. It said they, and others, were too slow in taking responsibility for the situation and "too passive in allowing it to happen". The committee said it was also concerned about future potential mis-selling - for example, with people who have accessed money from their pension savings. BBC NEWS

Thursday, 12 May 2016

Thursday, May 12, 2016 Posted by Hari No comments Labels:
Anti-Money Laundering: Cameron to name secret foreign property owners
Foreign firms that own property in the UK will have to declare their assets publicly in a bid to stamp out money-laundering, the government says. Companies will have to be on a new register if they hold property or want to compete for government contracts. The register would mean "corrupt individuals and countries will no longer be able to move, launder and hide illicit funds through London's property market, and will not benefit from our public funds". Foreign companies owned about 100,000 properties in England and Wales and that more than 44,000 of these were in London. The move comes as Prime Minister David Cameron attempts to lead a wider effort to crack down on global corruption. World leaders gathered in London for a summit aimed at stepping up action to tackle the problem. Mr Cameron will also say that some of Britain's overseas territories and crown dependencies will join 33 other countries in agreeing to share automatically their own registers of company ownership, information that will be accessible to the police. But Jude Scott, the head of Cayman Finance, said the register would only be really effective if it was global and all G20 and international financial centres took part. Wayne Panton, the Cayman Islands' financial services minister, said a public register would also only work if the information was verified. He said the Cayman Islands had required company providers to collect and verify information for the past 15 years, but he ruled out putting it into the public domain. BBC NEWS

Blacklisted for 30 years: construction workers win up to £75m compensation from Balfour Beatty, McAlpine etc.
A long-running campaign to win compensation for construction workers who were blacklisted by firms for union activities has finally ended, with millions of pounds set to be paid out. Unite announced it had reached a settlement with construction companies which will see 256 workers receive more than £10m between them in compensation. The Unite union said payouts could range from £25,000 to £200,000 per claimant, depending on such factors as the loss of income and the seriousness of the defamation. But the GMB union, which reached a settlement last month, said it understood the total value of compensation in the case was around £75m for 771 claimants, with legal costs on both sides estimated at £25 million. Blacklisting came to light in 2009 when the Information Commissioner's Office seized a Consulting Association database of 3,213 construction workers and environmental activists used by 44 companies to vet new recruits and keep out trade union and health and safety activists. Some of those on the list said they were denied work, while a handful moved abroad because they could not find jobs in this country. Unite director of legal services Howard Beckett said: "In addition to financial compensation, admissions of guilt and formal apologies, the companies have agreed, as a result of this litigation, to issue guidance to site managers to ensure blacklisting is not occurring on a local level and to ensure that Unite members receive no less favourable treatment for job applications, as a result of this litigation." Tim Roache, GMB general secretary said: "We have secured £5.4 million of justice for the GMB members blacklisted by powerful construction companies who thought they were above the law. "For decades household name construction companies implemented an illegal blacklisting system, which denied a generation of trade union activists and health and safety reps an opportunity to provide for themselves and their families.” INDEPENDENT

'Dangerous' payday loans join guns and drugs on Google's banned ad list
Banning ads from payday lenders is a big move for Google, the most visited website in the world, against a massive and mostly legal market. Payday lending is a $46bn industry, and there are more payday loan storefronts in the US than McDonald’s and Starbucks combined. The lenders – who generally give out small loans – use extremely high interest rates and target vulnerable, low-income communities, often entrapping people in circles of debt. “Financial services is an area we look at very closely because we want to protect users from deceptive or harmful financial products,” said David Graff, director of global product policy for Google. The ban will go into effect on 13 July 2016. Google will also no longer allow ads for loans where repayment is due within 60 days of the date of issue or ads for loans with an annual percentage rate (APR) of 36% or higher. Ads for payday loans appear not only on searches for lenders but also on related searches such as “I need money to pay rent.” “If you’re broke and search the internet for help, you should not be hit with ads for payday lenders charging 1,000% interest,” said Alvaro Bedoya, executive director of the Center on Privacy and Technology at Georgetown Law. Janet Murguía, president and CEO of the National Council of La Raza, an advocacy group for Latinos, said the ban was an example of civil rights organizations and tech companies coming together “to help protect the rights of all Americans online”. GUARDIAN

Tenant evictions up in England and Wales
The number of households evicted from rental accommodation in England and Wales rose by 5% in the first three months of the year, while the repossession rate for homeowners fell to a record low. Seasonally adjusted figures from the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) show there were 10,732 repossessions of rented homes by bailiffs between January and March, up from 10,253 in the final three months of 2015. The number was, however, down on the 10,855 in the first quarter of 2015. Meanwhile, separate figures from banks and building societies show that the repossession rate among mortgage customers has fallen to its lowest level. The Council of Mortgage Lenders (CML) said 2,100 properties were repossessed by its members between January and March, made up of 1,500 homeowners and 600 buy-to-let borrowers. Since the financial crash the cost of servicing a mortgage has fallen significantly, with lenders cutting their standard variable rates as the base rate plummeted, and more recently launching record low rates for new customers. Lenders have also helped struggling borrowers stay in their homes. As a result, even during the recession the number of repossessions remained well below the peak of 75,540 recorded in 1991. While mortgage costs have fallen, rents in the private and social rented sectors have risen. The latest figures from rental referencing agency Homelet showed a 7.7% increase in the monthly rent for new private tenancies over the year to April. A cap on local housing allowance that came into force in April could lead to an increase in the number of social tenants who are evicted, warned the housing charity Shelter. Campbell Robb, chief executive of Shelter, said: “Today’s figures are a painful reminder of the catastrophic impact welfare cuts and our drought of affordable homes are having on thousands of people in England.” GUARDIAN

UK industry in recession for third time in eight years
It is the third time UK industry has been in recession in eight years. Although industrial production rose 0.3% from February to March, it fell 0.4% both in the first three months of 2016 and in the last three of 2015. Compared with a year ago, manufacturing production in the first quarter fell 1.9%, the biggest fall since 2013. The biggest fall in output came from the basic iron and steel sector which saw production drop in March by 37.3% percent compared with a year earlier. Manufacturing and construction is proving to be a drag on the whole economy, helping slow UK economic growth from 0.6% in the last three months of 2015 to 0.4% between January and March, according to the ONS. BBC NEWS

Britain staring into a £309bn pension black hole with eight in ten final salary schemes in deficit
Figures from the Pension Protection Fund show 4,804 pension schemes now have a black hole – up from 4,679 a year ago and 80.1 per cent of the total. The issue has hit the headlines in recent weeks following the collapse of High Street chain BHS, which went into administration with a £571million black hole in its pension fund. The retirements of 134,000 steel workers are also at risk after Tata Steel put its UK operations up for sale. The PPF report shows that once the 1,141 pension schemes that are in surplus are included in the calculations, there is an aggregate deficit of £270.2billion, up from £230.8billion a year ago. The Pension Protection Fund pays compensation to members of eligible defined benefit pension schemes, when there is an insolvency and where there are insufficient assets in the pension scheme to cover pension costs. DAILY MAIL

389 LSE-listed companies are based in tax havens linked to UK
Research shows that 389 companies trading their shares in London are registered in British overseas territories or crown protectorates. The findings illustrate the scale of the relationship between the City and offshore tax havens, which were in the spotlight at David Cameron’s anti-corruption conference in London on Thursday. The prime minister has been under pressure to invoke special powers that would force British tax havens to end their fiercely protected secrecy since the emergence of the Panama Papers. The files leaked from the Panama law firm Mossack Fonseca revealed the extent to which UK overseas territories, including the British Virgin Islands (BVI), were being used to hide money offshore. The overseas territories have said they will not sign up to central registers of beneficial ownership which would be available to the public and are one of the key demands of the charities and anti-corruption campaign groups eager to expose money launderers hiding their gains offshore. To counter the rising criticism, Cameron said all foreign companies buying property in the UK would be required to disclose their true owners in a public register for the first time, though this falls short of proposals for a central register. Nick Dearden, the director of Global Justice Now, which produced the findings, said “If companies want to get the legitimacy and reputational enhancement of being listed on the London Stock Exchange, then they shouldn’t be allowed to be registered in known secrecy jurisdictions.” GUARDIAN

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

Tuesday, May 10, 2016 Posted by Hari No comments Labels: , , ,

The last 10 years have seen a great degree of change. But despite this change, one thing has remained constant – cities in the South have continued to outstrip their counterparts in the rest of the country across a range of measures: On population, cities in the South have expanded at twice the rate of cities elsewhere in the UK; The number of businesses increased by almost 27 per cent in southern cities, compared to 14 percent in other UK cities; The most marked figure is for jobs – for every one extra job in cities elsewhere in Britain between 2004 and 2013, there were 12 extra jobs in cities in the South.


See the Stats: Osborne's 2016 budget protects the wealthiest while the most vulnerable suffer

Inequality: the UK has 9 of the 10 poorest regions in Northern Europe. But Inner London is the richest

Graphs at a glance: With highest pay and highest job growth is London sucking the life out of Britain?

Londoners earn 15% more 'cos London is damn expensive! But the poorest 5th in London are paid only 4% more

Graphs at a glance: Britain is already a low-pay economy with falling average wages

Is your Cost of Living crisis over?! Average wages are still back where they were 10 years ago

Thursday, 5 May 2016

Thursday, May 05, 2016 Posted by Hari 1 comment Labels:
Councils 'to sell up to £145m of housing a year to fund right-to-buy'
Under plans unveiled in 2015, local authorities will be required to sell “higher value” council homes when these become vacant. A chunk of the money raised would be used to fund discounts of up to £103,900 for housing association tenants who want to buy their homes. Some MPs have already argued that it is wrong to fund a national policy with what was effectively a levy on councils, and now the housing charity Shelter has estimated that this could force the sale of 23,500 council homes in England in just one year. The policy is currently going through parliament as part of the government’s Housing and Planning Bill. Shelter said it had calculated that in order to reach the £4.5bn figure, each local authority would need to sell off the top 30% of each vacated property size by number of bedrooms. In its new report, Shelter said that in order to raise the £4.5bn per year needed to fund the extension of right-to-buy as calculated by the Conservatives, each local authority could be asked to raise an average of £26m. However, this average disguises wide variations. The housing and homelessness charity said Birmingham was set to be the hardest-hit area, as it would have to raise around £145m a year – which would involve selling off 1,190 homes. Leeds and the London borough of Southwark would have to raise around £129m and £122m per year respectively. Meanwhile, the estimated figures for the London boroughs of Islington and Hackney were £99m and £90m. These figures are a lot higher than the average because the areas have some of the highest numbers of council homes and the highest turnover rates, said the report. By contrast, the annual bill for some local authorities could be much lower than the average: £197,000 for Hartlepool and £372,000 for Coventry, for example. GUARDIAN

Banks nab your new £1,000 savings tax perk by immediately cutting your savings rates
Four weeks ago, savers were told they would no longer have to pay tax on up to £1,000 interest from ordinary deposit accounts. It was supposed to put more money in their pockets, turning an £80 return into a £100 return for a basic-rate taxpayer. But banks and building societies have grabbed part, if not all, of the new tax break by slashing the rates they pay savers. In some cases, rates have fallen by 20 per cent or more. For basic-rate taxpayers, this effectively cancels out the extra interest they’d have received under the new rules. The personal savings allowance gives basic-rate taxpayers the right to earn their first £1,000 of interest in a tax year without paying any tax. It comes on top of any interest you earn on your cash Isas. Higher-rate taxpayers have a £500 allowance. Under the old rules, an interest rate of 1.25 per cent meant you got £100 interest on £10,000. The bank would deduct £25 tax automatically and hand it over to HM Revenue & Customs. Under the new rules, you’d get the full £125 if it falls within your personal savings allowance. But if the rate is cut to 1 per cent, you will still see only £100, even though you no longer have to pay tax. Susan Hannums, of comparison site, says: ‘Providers appear to have lost interest in savers. In many cases, they have stolen their much-needed tax breaks by paying lower rates.’ Banks can defend the cuts because cash is pouring in and when they are awash with money they can’t lend. So it sits on their books, not making any profit. Figures from the Bank of England show a huge £4.9billion went into savings accounts with banks and building societies in March. DAILY MAIL

'Bank Of Mum And Dad' Now Fund 25% Of Mortgages
The 'Bank of Mum and Dad' will pump £5bn into mortgages to help their kids this year, according to a report which blames weak wage growth versus soaring house prices. Legal & General (L&G) said parental aid would help finance 25% of UK mortgage transactions - making mums and dads a "top ten" lender. The financial services firm estimated they would provide deposits for more than 300,000 mortgages, purchasing homes worth £77bn. But the report warned that relying on parental support might soon be unsustainable as parents could be giving away more than they can afford. A separate study by the National Institute for Economic and Social Research (NIESR) also identified risks to pensions and savings from the housing market. It said that rising house prices were diverting investment in retirement, with purchasers using a mortgage receiving about 15% less pension income than those who do not, on average. L&G pointed to the disparity between wage growth and house prices - with the latest official figures showing average annual pay rises of around 2% currently at a time of house price increases of 7.6%. Its report said parental contributions already made up more than 50% of the wealth of the average household in London when property was excluded. It described that scenario as a "tipping point" - adding: "Families clearly cannot continue to use all of their net wealth to help their offspring onto the housing ladder without putting their own financial stability at risk". Nigel Wilson, L&G’s chief executive, said: "The generosity being displayed by UK families doesn't make up for intergenerational unfairness - younger people today don't have the advantages the baby-boomers had, including cheap housing that delivered windfall gains". He added: "We have a supply-side problem in housing - we are simply not building enough houses. We need to build more, especially as the Bank of Mum and Dad could soon start to experience a funding crisis of its own". SKY NEWS

Proposals to stop restaurants from keeping staff tips may become law
Announcing a two-month consultation on proposals that the government said would stamp out unfairness, Business Secretary Sajid Javid told the BBC: "Too many people were finding that when they were leaving tips for hardworking people they weren't actually going to those people... That's unacceptable. It's got to go to the people you intended it to go to, it's got to be a transparent process, it's also got to be voluntary for good service." It follows claims that some restaurant chains were regularly holding back some or all of the tips meant for staff. Currently, there is no legal requirement for firms to hand over gratuities to their waiting staff. There are almost 150,000 hotels, pubs and restaurants in Britain, employing about two million people. The Unite union said the proposals were a "victory" for staff but should be backed in law. Mr Javid said the government would also look at legislation "if necessary". Unite had been campaigning for action after complaining that some firms were counting tips as part of a worker's pay. Food critic Jay Rayner told the BBC that the system of service charges and tipping "has outlived its usefulness". He believes tipping should be scrapped, with waiters receiving a rise in their basic wage instead. Last year, restaurant chain Pizza Express announced it would stop deducting an 8% administration fee from staff tips made by card following pressure from unions and staff. Restaurant chain Giraffe scrapped its 10% admin fee on tips last year, joining the Restaurant Group, Carluccio's, Garfunkel's and Jamie Oliver's which do not deduct a fee. BBC NEWS

TTIP trade talks: Greenpeace leak shows deal undermines environment, public health
EU standards on the environment and public health risk being undermined by compromises with the US, Greenpeace has warned, citing leaked documents. The environmental group obtained 248 pages of classified documents from the TTIP trade talks, aimed at clinching a far-reaching EU-US free trade deal. Secrecy surrounding the talks has fuelled fears that US corporations may erode Europe's consumer protections. Greenpeace says the texts reveal that the US wants to replace the EU's "precautionary principle" for potentially harmful products with the less strict US approach, which aims to manage risks rather than avoid them altogether. The precautionary principle can force a manufacturer to prove the absence of danger from a product. It applies, for example, to genetically modified organisms (GMOs), whose possible risks to the ecosystem and the food chain are hotly debated. The US permits cultivation of more than 170 GM plants, whereas only one type - a maize variety - is approved for commercial cultivation in the EU. Greenpeace says the TTIP texts do not refer to the global commitment to cut CO2 emissions, as agreed at the Paris Summit on global warming. Yet the European Commission had pledged to make environmental sustainability part of any TTIP deal. There is also widespread concern in the EU about the role of commercial arbitration courts, independent of national courts, where firms can sue governments. It is one of the thorniest issues in the TTIP talks. There are fears that big US corporations could put excessive legal pressure on some EU states. The threat of being sued could have a "chilling" effect on legislators, forcing them to water down welfare protections, critics argue. But the EU's top trade official denied any agenda to lower EU standards. TTIP's supporters say a deal would create many new business opportunities. TTIP stands for Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. It would harmonise regulations across a huge range of business sectors, providing a boost to exporters on both sides of the Atlantic. The European Commission says it hopes to achieve a deal later this year. BBC NEWS

Offshore tax dodge: Australia to hit multinationals with 'Google tax'
Multinational firms that shift profits offshore will be taxed at a penalty rate of 40% under a diverted profits tax, similar to the so-called "Google tax" introduced in the UK last year. Companies caught shifting profits will be taxed at a penalty rate of 40%, rather than the usual 30% rate. Treasurer Scott Morrison's first budget doubles as the government's pitch to voters at an early election slated for 2 July. The government is seeking to raise additional revenue to pay for tax cuts. "Everyone has to pay their fair share of tax, especially large corporates and multinationals," Mr Morrison said during his address to parliament. The Australian Tax Office will get a 1,000-person strong team of tax avoidance specialists who will target large companies and wealthy individuals avoiding tax. BBC NEWS

'Independent' pharmacist's letter edited by Boots senior execs
Boots stands accused of “trying to deceive the public”, after a letter sent to the Guardian purporting to be from an independent pharmacist was found to have been processed and extensively revised by the retailer’s senior executives. Submitted this week by a self-described “independent pharmacist”, the letter takes issue with the Guardian’s “portrayal of Boots” for doing “damage ... to a profession I love”. In an investigation published earlier this month, the Guardian revealed how managers at Britain’s biggest chain of chemists have been forcing staff to milk NHS schemes to increase company profits. The correspondent adds: “My plea is that some balance is put back into your articles.” The letter was emailed for publication as a Word document. On opening, it turned out to have a string of edits, amendments and corrections left in as “track changes”. The changes were made by Laura Vergani, a vice-president at Walgreens Boots Alliance, the multinational company that owns Boots. The letter makes no mention of Boots’s involvement in its production, even though it repeatedly defends the company and the NHS schemes it has been exploiting for profit. The Guardian’s investigation prompted a flood of letters from Boots chemists, who condemned the company’s working practices and scalping of the health service. Some even claimed that they had been driven to contemplate suicide. When its writer, Nick Kaye, was contacted by the Guardian he initially denied that Boots had touched the letter. On being told that the changes and who had made them were visible, he said: “The only amendment I thought they added was the [publication] date of the story.” The publication date was just one of 17 amendments made by Vergani, along with numerous deletions, corrections and spelling changes. GUARDIAN

Thursday, 28 April 2016

Thursday, April 28, 2016 Posted by Hari No comments Labels:
Legal aid cuts have led to surge in DIY defence, wasting time and costing more
A new report, Justice Denied, suggests that a combination of legal aid cuts, complex bureaucracy and inadequate support and information for defendants have led to a surge in people appearing in court without a lawyer. In one example given to the charity behind the report, Transform Justice, an unrepresented defendant remained silent during his appearance via video link from a police station. Only after he had been sent to prison did it emerge that he was deaf. According to the Magistrates Association survey, its members reported that 25% of defendants who came before them in 2014 were unrepresented. Of 143 responses, drawn largely from members of the legal profession, to a Transform Justice poll, 90% felt there had been an increase in unrepresented defendants in the courts over the last two years. Judges interviewed for the report agreed that unrepresented defendants considerably increased the time needed for hearings. Mark Fenhalls QC, the chairman of the Criminal Bar Association, said: “There is increasing evidence from civil and criminal courts that restricting legal aid is counter-productive and has made the court system less efficient and more expensive. An unrepresented defendant in a criminal trial is like having an unqualified person performing surgery. The patient, our justice system, is bound to suffer and in the long run society will spend more money picking up the pieces.” GUARDIAN

TTIP secret courts: Unpublished UK Government report concluded it has 'lots of risk and no benefit'
The warning was disclosed in response to a Freedom of Information request by anti-TTIP campaigners Global Justice Now. Supporters of TTIP say it could boost the European and US economies by hundreds of billions of dollars by making it easier for companies on either side of the Atlantic to trade with one another. Opponents say the deal could give corporations the power to sue governments when they pass regulation that could hit firms' profits through these secret courts of the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS). United Nations figures show US companies have made billions of dollars by suing other governments nearly 130 times in the past 15 years under similar free-trade agreements. Details of the cases are often secret, but notorious precedents include tobacco giant Philip Morris suing Australia and Uruguay for putting health warnings on cigarette packets. "Ultimately, we conclude that an EU-US investment treaty that does contain ISDS is likely to have few or no benefits to the UK, while having meaningful economic and political costs," the report said. INDEPENDENT

Graduates paid 9% less than in 2006, say government figures
The latest official statistics show that the long ice age of wage stagnation is grinding on - and that graduate earnings have been in a deep freeze stretching back for the past decade. Graduates earn more on average than non-graduates and are much less likely to be unemployed. Postgraduates earn even more and those with higher grades of degrees are paid more than those with lower. But the big backdrop - so big that it's sometimes not seen - is the long-term flatlining in earnings. The latest graduate earnings figures track median salaries back to 2006. There was a slight upwards nudge between 2006 and 2008, for young and older graduates - and since then barely a flicker. What is really tough about these figures is that they are not real-terms numbers, taking into account inflation. These are salaries in cash terms. A young graduate in 2008 was typically earning about £24,000 and in 2015 a young graduate was still typically earning £24,000. Apart from the rising costs of bills and underlying inflation, think about the other extra factors hitting graduate finances. They will have £27,000 in tuition fee debt, not to mention sky-rocketing rent and property prices. More money is going out, without any more going in. Across the whole graduate population, there has been a similar glacial freeze in earnings. The typical salary of graduates in 2015 was £31,500, about £500 more than six years earlier. The Centre for Economic Performance at the London School of Economics has described this stagnation in earnings as unlike anything since the 1920s - with an estimated 9% real-terms drop in average earnings since the recession. This pay-rise drought stretches across the last years of the Labour administration and through the coalition and into the current government. The figures also reveal something of a qualifications arms race. Those with postgraduate degrees have the kind of benefits that once accrued to those with first degrees. They are likely to earn considerably more than either graduates or non-graduates and can be very confident of entering high-skilled careers. BBC NEWS

Boardroom pay system is not fit for purpose, says top investor group
The system for setting boardroom pay at the biggest companies on the London stock market is not fit for purpose and needs to be overhauled, according to an analysis for the Investment Association, a leading group of shareholders and companies. The review – chaired by Nigel Wilson, the chief executive of Legal & General – comes after executive pay has tripled over the past 18 years, a period in which the level of the FTSE 100 has barely changed. There is also an increasing disparity between executive pay and that of ordinary staff. The committee that led the review also included the chairman of Sainsbury’s, David Tyler, and Helena Morrissey, who chairs the association and runs Newton Investment Management. The report says: “Failure has sometimes been rewarded, and use of median comparators has driven disproportionate rises in executive remuneration. This is ultimately damaging to the listed company sector. At the same time, boards have sometimes outsourced remuneration to consultants, reducing accountability and creating unwanted outcomes.” GUARDIAN

Secret offshore owners of UK property may be forced into spotlight
Offshore companies buying UK property could be forced to reveal their ultimate owners under plans being considered by ministers to crack down on tax evasion and money laundering. The proposals would shine a spotlight on the foreign firms that hold billions of pounds in British property without having to declare who is behind them. It could also require foreign companies bidding for public sector contracts to do the same. David Cameron is already forcing all UK companies to reveal their ultimate owners under the new plans for a register of beneficial ownership from June, so the plans would bring foreign owners of British property into line with those rules. It comes after the Guardian and other global media organisations published the leaked Panama Papers from law firm Mossack Fonseca revealing how some of the world’s wealthy and powerful used offshore companies to hide their assets. The consultation document, published by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, said: “Property can provide a convenient vehicle for hiding the proceeds of crime. A recent study found that a quarter of solicitors’ firms surveyed had experienced clients attempting to use property transactions to launder money or commit fraud. GUARDIAN

How Philip Green's family made millions as value of BHS plummeted
When Sir Philip Green bought BHS in May 2000, he insisted it would not be rocket science to revive the ailing high street retailer. After paying £200m, he was convinced he had the skills to secure its future and make it the foundation of a sprawling retail empire. But last year, after failing in his mission, Green sold BHS for £1 to a little known group of investors who have steered it into collapse in just over 12 months. His dreams for the chain may have come to nothing, but Green’s family have still been big winners from BHS, taking out more than £580m in dividends, rental payments and interest on loans to help fund a lavish lifestyle. As the pensions regulator considers whether to pursue Green for between £200m and £300m – to help fill the black hole in BHS’s pension schemes that had developed since 2000 – he is awaiting delivery of his latest toy: a $150m (£100m) superyacht named Lionheart. The 90-metre vessel will join Green’s two other yachts, speedboat, helicopter and Gulfstream jet, which comes in handy for his weekly trips to and from Monaco to visit his family. Green and his wife Tina were listed as the UK’s 29th richest family in last weekend’s Sunday Times rich list, which estimated their worth as £3.22bn. That total excludes the £280m which researchers suggested Greens might have to hand over to the pensions regulator. Tina, who since 2004 has been the legal owner of BHS – and the Arcadia Group, which includes Topshop, Miss Selfridge and Dorothy Perkins – is based in Monaco. The handover of BHS to Green’s wife was completed just before the family paid themselves £1.2bn in dividends from Arcadia in 2005, the biggest pay cheque in British corporate history, equivalent to four times the group’s then profits. GUARDIAN

London skyscraper rents rising faster than the rest of the world
The upmarket estate agent Knight Frank said the cost of renting in office towers such as the Shard, Walkie Talkie and Cheesegrater rose 9.7% to $126 (£87.50) per square foot in the second half of 2015 from the previous six months and by 21.4% from a year earlier. London rents rose twice as fast as those in San Francisco, at 4.76%, and three times quicker than in Hong Kong and Mumbai, where rents went up by 3%. The 21-city skyscraper index compared the rental performance of commercial buildings of more than 30 storeys across the world against the first half of 2015. The UK capital also topped the table between January and June 2015, with an 11% rise in rents. The skyscraper index shows that Hong Kong remains the most expensive place to rent in the world – the average rent is more than twice as high as in London, at $263.25 per sq ft per year. New York remains in second place at $155, followed by Tokyo at $128.75 and London at $126. Until about 10 years ago, there were few skyscrapers in London. Between the NatWest tower in 1979 and the Gherkin in 2003, not a single one was built in the City. But now there are 436 buildings above 20 storeys in the pipeline across London. The high-rise boom has provoked controversy over its impact on the skyline, while residents and businesses are concerned about wind tunnels and a lack of light. Bruce Dear, the head of London real estate at Eversheds, said: “There is a floating city above London in the Canary Wharf and City tower clusters. Space in these towers is scarce and high status, like high-rise white truffles. So the towers rental market obeys different laws to the rents of ground dwellers. Ultimately, scarcity is allowing these towers to defy the slowing global economy.” GUARDIAN

Asda shamed by UK competition authority over promotions - but watchdog admits it cannot ban dodgy special offers
In a bid to stamp out 'confusing and misleading' special offers, Asda has agreed to stop advertising 'now' prices for longer than the 'was' price was applied and ensure multi-buy offers represent better value than a single product before the offer. But while this may seem like progress, the Competition & Markets Authority stressed it 'has no intention (nor is it empowered) to "ban" particular types of special offers, such as multi-buy promotions'. The CMA’s response follows a 'super complaint' lodged by consumer group Which? in April last year, accusing supermarkets of using 'misleading' pricing tactics, including confusing multi-buy offers and shrinking pack sizes without any corresponding price reductions. The CMA reported last July that it had found that supermarkets were misleading customers with confusing pricing promotions that could be against the law. Examples include: Hovis Medium Sliced Soft White Bread (800g), which was sold at “£1 (was £1.20)” even though the price before the offer started was £1, and the product had not been sold at £1.20 for 116 days; Asda increased the regular price of Uncle Ben's rice from £1 to £1.58 as it went onto a '2 for £3' multi-buy, then returned it to £1 when the multi-buy ended - making it 50p more expensive per pack (2013); Online grocer Ocado increased the price of Waitrose blueberries to £3.99 for a week, before selling them on offer at £2.66 for over a month (2013); Tesco sold Flash All Purpose Cleaning Spray on offer for £1 for 47 days but it had only been at the higher price of £2 for 17 days (2013). Which? found that around 40 per cent of groceries in the UK are sold on promotion. DAILY MAIL

Friday, 22 April 2016

Chris and KJ work themselves up over the EU referendum...


Election 2015: more voters swung left than right. It was the constituency boundaries wot won it!

Osborne's 2016 budget protects the wealthiest while the most vulnerable suffer

Department of Health consultation embarrassingly shows public strongly against Tory plans for NHS

Our NHS is expensive? Comparable countries' public/private mix costs them even more

The poorest 10% get 18 fewer years of health than the top 10%, and 9 fewer years of life

NHS budget is protected? Not per head, which is what counts. Our growing and ageing population means it's a £5bn/year cut

Cuts to the NHS, Military, the Courts, Prisons, Benefits, Passports... Will fixing the chaos end up costing more than the cuts saved?

Liebrary: PFI saves us virtually nothing, if you believe the NAO’s figures. If you believe the Commons Treasury Committee, it costs us a vast amount that nobody has yet quantified

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