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Thursday, 26 May 2016

Thursday, May 26, 2016 Posted by Hari No comments Labels:
Posted by Hari on Thursday, May 26, 2016 with 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

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