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Thursday, 22 January 2015

Thursday, January 22, 2015 Posted by Jake No comments Labels:
Posted by Jake on Thursday, January 22, 2015 with No comments | Labels:

Firms benefiting from lower oil price should raise wages, says Cameron 
A glut in global oil supplies has caused Brent crude prices to more than halve in little more than six months. Britain's political parties are competing to try to show they can best help voters benefit from the fall, as a national election looms in May. "I want to see companies' success passed through in terms of wage increases," he was quoted as saying by the BBC on Saturday. "It has to be done in a way that's affordable, and in a way that companies can continue to grow. We need to see productivity increase." Cheaper oil has handed Cameron and his ruling Conservative Party a political gift ahead of the election by helping to lower prices for everything from petrol to food and thereby blunting rival Labour's attack over a "cost of living crisis". Sliding oil prices have driven down inflation, so that wages are finally rising faster than prices in the UK, but the main opposition Labour Party argues that, in real terms, workers are worse off now than they were five years ago. REUTERS

Jobcentre ‘hit squads’ are tricking claimants into failing tests and losing benefits, says former official
The written statement, by a former jobcentre official, John Longden, says frontline staff were ordered to “agitate and inconvenience” customers so they fell foul of the rules, enabling staff to stop their benefits payments. Longden claims that staff used several tricks to set up claimants. On several occasions jobcentre advisers purposefully booked job appointments without informing the claimant, ensuring they could be sanctioned when they failed to attend. Claimants would be set unreasonable job search targets, referred for jobs for which they were clearly unsuited, or ordered to sign on every day in the hope they would fail in a task, miss an appointment or be late. He added: “Customers were being deliberately treated inappropriately in order to achieve [staff] performance [targets] without regard for natural justice and their welfare.” Staff who failed to meet sanctions targets each month were threatened with disciplinary action. Longden claimed: “Staff were threatened by the cluster manager that their jobs would be taken by other people if they didn’t do what they were told.” Longden’s evidence covers events he says he witnessed at Salford and Rochdale jobcentres between 2011 and 2013. The PCS union, which represents jobcentre staff, said the evidence chimed with its own straw poll of members, which found almost two-thirds had experienced pressure to refer claimants for a sanction inappropriately, while more than a third had been placed on a formal performance improvement plan for not making enough referrals. A sanction involves the stopping of claimants’ benefit payments for at least four weeks – equivalent to almost £300 – as a penalty for breach of benefit rules and conditions, typically failure to look for work or attend jobcentre appointments. Ministers introduced tighter rules for claiming benefits in October 2012, saying sanctions were a “last resort” that would encourage claimants to “engage” with jobcentres. However, this evidence, being collected by the Commons work and pensions select committee, which is investigating benefit sanctions policy, seems to show that jobcentres are increasingly neglecting to help claimants find jobs and are instead focusing on finding ways to impose financial penalties on them. GUARDIAN

Amazon tax dodge clawback? European Commission investigates online retailer's special tax deal with Luxembourg
Brussels alleges that Amazon’s European hub was founded on favourable and selective tax treatment that amounts to an illicit state subsidy, which may need to be clawed back. The cap on income taxable in Luxembourg is less than 1 per cent — approximately €75m in 2013 on Amazon operating company turnover of around €13.6bn. The investigation has political significance because Amazon’s tax deal was negotiated in 2003 while Jean-Claude Juncker, the commission president, was serving as Luxembourg’s premier. It follows thousands of pages of leaks that have piled pressure on Mr Juncker by showing how other multinationals operating in the Grand Duchy pay negligible tax. Other deals under investigation include Ireland’s arrangements with Apple and Luxembourg’s clearance of structures used by Fiat, and Holland’s approval of Starbucks’ tax base. The commission is empowered to order countries to recoup any illegal aid stretching back up to 10 years. It is aiming to conclude some of its investigations in the Spring. FINANCIAL TIMES

Fine supermarkets if they have unfairly squeezed milk suppliers, say MPs
The environment and rural affairs select committee said ministers must bring forward measures before the general election to give more powers to Christine Tacon, the groceries code adjudicator, a position that was created after years of investigations into the big supermarkets using their muscle to squeeze farming suppliers. The MPs want the watchdog to be able to punish the big retailers if they are found to have misused their market muscle to overly depress prices to dairy farmers. This could be done quickly using parliamentary procedures and would not require new legislation. Large numbers of smaller dairy farmers in particular are unable to meet the costs of milk production after prices plummeted from nearly 34p a litre a year ago to as low as 20p a litre. Dairy farmers have been hurt by increasing volatility on the international markets for milk products, including fresh and frozen milk, cheese, dried milk, cultured milk and other products. This has been driven bumper production in key areas, such as New Zealand, flooding the market while prices have also taken a hit from the Russian trade ban and faltering demand in China as the rate of economic growth there has stuttered. GUARDIAN

North-South divide worsens: one job created in the North for every 12 in the South since 2004
As the General election looms, the UK's main political parties battle to engage in a 'race to the top' on cities policy and devolution. Now a report from the Centre for Cities has found that the north-south divide widened between 2004 and 2013. The starkest reflection of this can be seen in the jobs sector, where Southern cities had 12.4 per cent more jobs available in 2013 than they did in 2014. This far outstripped the 0.9 per cent growth seen in cities elsewhere in the UK, the report says. Dividing jobs growth between the private and public sector puts the North-South city divide into even sharper focus. Southern cities had 12.6 per cent more private sector jobs in 2013 than in 2004. But cities elsewhere in the UK had 1.1 per cent fewer private sector jobs in 2013 than they did ten years ago. London enjoyed the biggest increase in private sector jobs, with an 18.4 per cent increase from 2004 to 2013.  Meanwhile the population of cities in the South grew at double the rate of cities elsewhere in the UK. Milton Keynes was the fastest growing city, with its population surging by 16.5 per cent between 2004 and 2013. As well as Milton Keynes, four other cities - Peterborough, Swindon, Luton and Cambridge - saw their populations grow even faster than London when considered in proportion to their size. Outside of the South, only two cities, Northampton and Cardiff, feature in the top 10 cities for population growth. A surge in demand has pushed housing across up across Southern cities, the report says. Back in 2004, the average house in a city in the South was nine times average earnings. Meanwhile wages are still 12.6 per cent lower now than they were at the beginning of 2008, the report says. Despite this, by 2014 the price of a house in the South surged to more than 13 times the average wage in the UK. But, in other cities across the UK, there was virtually no change in terms of housing affordability, the report says. By 2014, the average price of a house in London (£501,500) was nearly 16 times average wages, up from 9.5 times in 2004. DAILY MAIL

Big Brands screw small suppliers: delaying payments by up to 4 months amounts to 'abuse'
US consumer giant Heinz has more than doubled the length of time it is making small British suppliers wait for bills to be settled. It is understood to have told suppliers they must wait up to 97 days for their invoices to be paid, up from 45 days previously. In a separate development, beer company AB InBev, which brews Stella Artois and Boddingtons, was slammed for routinely taking up to four months to pay its small suppliers. Brewpack, based in Egham, Surrey, which supplies conveyor belt systems to drink manufacturers, told the BBC that it could no longer afford to take orders from AB Inbev because of delays in payment. Premier Foods last year climbed down on demands for suppliers to stump up cash under a plan dubbed ‘pay to stay’, following an outcry. The company, whose brands include Mr Kipling cakes, said the policy had been misinterpreted. Mothercare, which tightened its terms to suppliers in 2012, and Halfords are among others whose practices have attracted criticism. Unease has been mounting during the economic downturn about the behaviour of large firms towards their suppliers. Critics point out that ultra-long payment terms amount to an interest free loan to big companies at the expense of small firms. Leading lobby group the Federation of Small Businesses said large companies were being ‘tarnished’ by their treatment of small suppliers and that their behaviour is damaging the reputation of business as a whole. The FSB has called a meeting with politicians from the main parties to stamp out poor payment practice. ‘No-one should expect to wait four months to get paid, not least smaller companies that simply cannot absorb the impact these terms have on their cash flow,’ said Mike Cherry, national policy chairman of the FSB. DAILY MAIL

Election rigging: one million voters are "missing" from the electoral register in England and Wales, says Labour
Ed Miliband, the Labour leader, blamed the "hasty" introduction of the new system of individual voter registration for the problem, saying students were particularly affected. People must now register to vote individually rather than one member of a household filling in a form. Labour has claimed the number of people registered to vote has fallen sharply in many university towns, blaming in part changes which mean universities and colleges can no longer block-register students living in halls of residence to vote. Labour said 307 of 373 local authorities that provided data had recorded a reduction in their electoral roll. Overall, there had been a reduction of 950,845, the party said. According to the Electoral Commission, about 30% of 18 to 24-year-olds are currently not registered to vote compared with fewer than 5% of those aged over 65. The government said 4.5 million people had applied to register since the new system came into place in June and it was spending £14m this year on national and local initiatives to "maximise" voter registration before 7 May. BBC NEWS

Specialist products for over-50s including car insurance often a 'rip-off' claims new research from consumer watchdog Which? 
These products, often advertised by older celebrities, are are presented as being tailored to this age group, with the implication of lower prices, but the consumer watchdog found this is often not the case. In terms of car cover, some specialist insurers quoted prices which were four times higher than the most competitive deals for the same age group. It tested five over-50s specialists – Age UK, Castle Cover, Insure4Retirement, Rias and Saga – and 10 leading non-specialists for low and high-risk scenarios. For a low-risk 60 year-old driving a Ford Focus, of the six cheapest quotes, only one was from a specialist – Age UK. The cheapest was from the Co-op at £177 while Saga quoted a far higher £329. On the higher-risk scenario of a 70 year-old with a BMW 120d, the most reasonably priced policies were from Direct Line at £367 and LV at £398. But shockingly, some of the quotes from the specialists were nearly four times higher, with Castle Cover coming back with £1,442, Rias £1,426 and Age UK £1,147. Saga was more reasonable with a £524 quote. When it came to home insurance, Which? found a similar pattern. Admiral and LV quoted £176 and £198 for cover on a five-bedroom house in Croydon for a 70 year-old. Rias and Insure4Retirement offered quotes at £262 and £272, while Saga came in at £540. The Which? research revealed that over-50s life insurance plans usually offer poor value compared to whole-of-life plans. It also shows that equity release schemes are an expensive way to borrow money, even if as a last resort. DAILY MAIL

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