Thursday 9 April 2015

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Drug firm Novartis tried to 'scupper' trials of a cheaper version of eye medicine
Avastin, which costs just $50 (£34) a dose, could save the NHS £102m if used instead of the standard treatment, ranibizumab, or Lucentis, which costs $1098. The drugs giant Roche holds the intellectual property rights for both, but Novartis has the rights to market Lucentis in Europe. In one of several examples given in a report by the British Medical Journal (BMJ), a senior researcher from Bristol University, who took part in a UK trial of Avastin said that Novartis had “tried to prevent UK ophthalmologists joining [the trial]”. The chief investigator in another trial, known as Tandem, told the BMJ that a Novartis representative had tried to divert him, during the trial’s planning stage in 2009, to trial work funded by Novartis and had opened up the prospect of funding for his future research projects. Despite positive trial evidence, Avastin is not licensed for use to treat wet AMD, a leading cause of blindness. And the General Medical Council has issued guidance telling doctors it is unlawful to prescribe unlicensed medicines on grounds of cost. INDEPENDENT

Has Austerity caused the UK’s first decline in life expectancy in 20 years?
Life expectancies for women aged 65, 75, 85 and 95 all fell in 2012 compared with a year earlier, the first slip in all age groups in nearly two decades. There was also a small drop in life expectancy for men at ages 85 and 95, while longevity for men in the two younger age groups stagnated, according to a report published on Tuesday by Public Health England (PHE). Although the figures for 2013 did not show any further falls, the life expectancies for men and women aged 85 and 95 failed to recover to 2011 levels, which were the highest to date. Age campaigners warned the unexpected decrease in life expectancies was a “canary in the coal mine”, showing how five years of austerity was beginning to take its toll on elderly people. But PHE said it was too early to conclude there was a significant change in the three-decade-old upward trend in life expectancy. Its report suggested the falls could be due to flu or bad weather, or even a statistical blip, although it noted that they were reflected elsewhere in Europe. To take one example, the life expectancy of an average 75-year-old woman in 2013 was 13 years and five weeks, which is five weeks fewer than people of that age in 2011. The falls in life expectancy come after three decades in which life expectancy has on average increased by 1.2% for men aged 65 and 0.7% for women. It is the first time since 1995 that life expectancy has fallen among women of all four age groups studied. GUARDIAN

A&E waiting in England hits new worst level
The NHS in England has missed its four-hour A&E wait target for the past three months with performance dropping to its lowest level for a decade. Just 91.8% of patients were seen in four hours between January and March - below the 95% target. That is the worst three-month performance since the target was introduced at the end of 2004. The figures were widely expected as the weekly performance has been below 95% since September. Figures released in Scotland showed that in the 12 months up to the end of February 92% of patients were seen in four hours. Monthly waiting times have been even worse in Northern Ireland and Wales, although the latest yearly figures are not yet available. Labour immediately linked the figures to cuts in GP services, forcing people to go to A&E instead. BBC NEWS

Kellogg's effectively paid no corporation tax in the UK in 2013
Tax experts said the complex web of companies it uses to do business in the UK generates 'significant opacity' which makes it hard to tell if it is paying its fair share of tax in this country. Other American firms, in the technology sector, such as Google, Apple and Amazon have been heavily criticised in recent years over alleged tax avoidance. Kellogg's is being accused of acting like these 'classic US-owned IT company' with bases in Ireland and Luxembourg rather than as a food manufacturer known around the world for its cereals. Kellogg's has three factories in Britain – two in Wrexham and the third in Manchester – where it makes cereals and snacks. It sells in the UK through two main subsidiaries owned by Irish-based Kellogg Europe Trading Ltd. The two subsidiaries paid corporation tax of £8.4million on profits of nearly £50million in 2013. It also has six Luxembourg-registered companies which paid corporation tax of £210,000 on profits of about £57million. But the £210,000 and £8.4million figures were offset by an £11.8million tax credit at another UK registered operation, Kellogg Group. DAILY MAIL

Kellogg's says tax dodge clampdown will harm profits
The US-based maker of Corn Flakes, Rice Krispies and Coco Pops is worried that international attempts to close tax loopholes would lead to a “material” increase in its income tax bill. The chancellor, George Osborne, promised last month that government measures against tax avoidance would raise £3.1bn for the public purse, including a so-called Google tax aimed at profits that are shifted abroad by multinationals to avoid payments to HM Revenue and Customs. The UK is targeting tax structures used by international companies as part of a broader campaign led by the OECD - the economic thinktank for developed nations - to limit tax avoidance and use of offshore tax havens. The warning from Kellogg’s, thought to be the first of its kind by a multinational, was contained in its latest annual report. “Due to economic and political conditions, tax rates in various foreign jurisdictions may be subject to significant change,” the annual report said. It added: “Contemplated changes in the UK and other countries of long-standing tax principles if finalized and adopted could have a material impact on our income tax expense.” In 2013, UK consumers spent £622m on Kellogg’s products, such as Crunchy Nut Cornflakes and Pringles crisps, buying more cereal per person than any other country in Europe. Kellogg’s two UK subsidiaries paid corporation tax of £8.4m on declared profits of nearly £50m in 2013, but this was offset by a tax credit worth £11.8m, recorded by another UK-registered Kellogg company. GUARDIAN

HSBC is 'cast-iron certain' to breach banking rules again, admits top executive
Global head of sanctions Lee Hale’s comments appear to contrast with public statements from HSBC’s chief executive that the bank has fundamentally transformed itself after recent scandals. CEO Stuart Gulliver and Rona Fairhead, chair of HSBC North America (as well as the BBC Trust), have repeatedly assured the UK parliament that the bank today is markedly different from when its Swiss branch facilitated large-scale tax evasion, or when its Mexican branch was found by US authorities to be complicit in multimillion-dollar money-laundering for drug cartels. The comments come from a recording of a confidential meeting, which lasted several hours. Hale was meeting with independent lawyers monitoring HSBC as part of a controversial 2012 deal with the US Department of Justice, in which the bank avoided prosecution over sanctions-busting and money-laundering in its Mexican branch in exchange for paying a $1.9bn fine and receiving additional regulatory scrutiny for a period of five years. Hale told the monitors that the bank’s size made large-scale breaches a virtual inevitability, and said he was not yet “comfortable” with compliance in some significant areas of its operations. Hale told the regulator that “given the size and scale of HSBC”, in his view “it is a cast-iron certain[ty] this will happen, at some point in the future we’re going to have some big breach, some regulatory breach”. Under pressure from regulators and investors alike, CEO Gulliver has repeatedly insisted HSBC is not too big to manage. GUARDIAN

E.On fined £7.75m for charging illegal exit fees and overcharging on bills
Under Ofgem rules, suppliers have to give customers 30 days' notice of price rises to allow customers to switch before the increase takes effect. If a customer signals their intention to move supplier within the 30 days, they do not incur exit fees or the higher charge even if the switch occurs after the price rise. E.On was found to have billed customers for price rises in error in both January 2013 and January 2014, failing to refund an average of £3.42 on price rises to customers. Ofgem, the energy regulator, has therefore forced the energy company to pay back around £400,000 to customers that may have been affected, issuing refunds of between £8 and £12. The separate £7.75m fine will be paid to Citizens Advice, the community charity, to help vulnerable consumers. In May last year E.On was fined £12m for misselling energy contracts to customers, following a two-year investigation by Ofgem. Up to half a million households were affected. "The level of penalty package today reflects that E.On has made the same error previously as well as making senior level commitments that it rectified its processes," the regulator said. TELEGRAPH

Serious Fraud Office under fire for launching just 12 investigations last year despite 2,500 reports of corruption
The figures, which are for the year ending June 2014, have raised fresh concerns that the SFO does not have enough money to do its job properly. Law firm Pinsent Masons has warned that 'it is possible that large numbers of credible cases are being shelved'. The SFO’s core funding has been cut from £35.1million in 2009-10 to £33.2million in 2014-15. But it has received extra funds from the Treasury for 'blockbuster' cases such as Libor and, more recently, its probe into the manipulation of foreign exchange rates. This has bumped up its total funding last year to £58.3million, which is up from £44.6million in 2009-10. But critics have raised concerns that the SFO is still overstretched, after taking on a number of huge cases, including allegations GlaxoSmithKline paid bribes to doctors in China, Iraq and Poland. Pinsent Masons warned of the danger of failing to properly follow up on leads, pointing out that several high-profile investigations – including the Rolls Royce bribery case and the probe into Barclays' Qatar fundraising during the financial crisis – had to come from tip-offs from whistleblowers instead. The SFO hit back and said it was set up specifically to investigate big fraud cases. It said it hands many leads from whistleblowers to other agencies, such as the Financial Conduct Authority and Action Fraud. DAILY MAIL

Staff shortages are making it harder to tackle Islamic radicalisation in England's prisons, says former terrorism head
Chris Phillips, the former head of the National Counter Terrorism Security Office, said shortages meant extremists were not properly monitored, enabling them to recruit others. The Justice Select Committee recently criticised the government for cutting the number of prison officers by almost 30%, a reduction of 12,530 staff, between 31 March 2010 and 30 June 2014. The committee's report also said the prisoner-to-staff ratio rose from 3.8 in September 2010 to 4.9 in September 2014. It claims that this has led to a significant deterioration in safety - with fewer staff to monitor inmates. More than 100 Muslims are in jail for terrorism offences in Great Britain. The worry particularly concerns converts to Islam, as research from the former chief inspector of prisons, Dame Anne Owers, suggests they are more vulnerable to extremism. But her report also said suspicion of Muslim prisoners could be both unfair and counter-productive, fuelling resentment and causing even more trouble. The latest prison population statistics from the Ministry of Justice show there were 85,681 people in jail in the week ending 27 March, up from 85,252 in the same period last year. BBC NEWS


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