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SharecloseShare pageCopy linkAbout sharingImage source, Getty ImagesBillionaire Patrick Drahi has raised his investment in BT amid growing speculation that the telecoms giant could face a takeover bid.The Israeli-French businessman took his stake from 12% to 18%, prompting an immediate government response that it would intervene if necessary.His company, Altice, said it had no plans to make a full bid, but that could change if circumstances do.Mr Drahi stake-building in BT sparked rumours about other possible bidders.The businessman, who also owns auction house Sotheby’s, first began buying BT shares in June.Altice said in a statement: “Over recent months we have engaged constructively with the board and management of BT and look forward to continuing that dialogue.”We continue to hold them in high regard and remain fully supportive of their strategy, principally to play the pivotal role in delivering the expansion of access to a full fibre broadband network – an investment programme which is so important to both BT and to the UK.”However, his move prompted the government to warn it could intervene if required, with ministers concerned that any pressure on BT to cut costs could affect the ongoing broadband rollout.A spokesman said: “The government notes the latest acquisition of BT shares by Altice. We are monitoring the situation carefully.”The government is committed to levelling up the country through digital infrastructure, and will not hesitate to act if required to protect our critical national telecoms infrastructure.”BT said it noted the purchase, adding that it would “continue to operate the business in the interest of all shareholders and remains focused on the successful execution of its strategy and building on recent performance momentum”.Altice said “it does not intend to make an offer for BT”.Under British takeover rules, that bars Mr Drahi from making such a move for six months.Mr Drahi announced in June that he had bought a 12.1% stake in BT, worth £2.2bn at the time.UK companies ‘perform better’ with overseas ownersGigabit broadband: Internet seen as top homebuyer priorityAfter the Brexit referendum, the pound slumped against the dollar and the euro, and it is still below 2016 levels.This gives foreign firms interested in getting hold of UK firms more buying power than prior to Brexit.Due to low interest rates, debt is very cheap, and before Omicron concerns surfaced, investors were also cheered by a global economic recovery from the Covid pandemic.In the first seven months of 2021, UK takeovers hit a 14-year high.The 175-year-old BT is in the middle of a transformational programme to build a national broadband fibre network, a strategy crucial both to the company and the government, which says it wants to boost regional growth.Online shopping and home working using the internet have increased in importance due to the pandemic, all of which make BT a tempting takeover target.While British governments have in the past welcomed foreign investment and takeovers, any full bid for BT would put ministers in a difficult position due to the company’s role in protecting national security.Any bidder for BT would also have to face competition scrutiny.

SharecloseShare pageCopy linkAbout sharingImage source, Getty ImagesToyota has announced that it will extend production stoppages at some factories in Japan as it continues to feel the impact of supply chain issues.The world’s largest carmaker said its components factories in South East Asia had faced disruptions due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Land Cruiser and Lexus production will be hit by the delays.The company said that lost production from the latest halts will total about 14,000 vehicles in December.In an email sent to the BBC, Toyota said the stoppages were due to “lower attendance rate at suppliers in South East Asia due to the re-spread of Covid-19 and tight logistics situation in Japan.”However, company also said it aimed to stick to its annual global production target for the year ending on 31 March: “We would like to maintain 9 million units, but we will keep a close eye on the situation.”In August, the Japanese automaker slashed its global production forecast due to the computer chip shortage.Japan export growth hit by supply chain crisisFactory blaze adds to computer chip supply crisisToyota’s rivals, including General Motors, Ford, Nissan, Daimler, BMW and Renault, have also been forced to scale back production as they struggled to secure enough semiconductors.As well as disruptions caused by the pandemic, car makers have also been impacted after one of the industry’s biggest suppliers of computer chips suffered a major fire at one of its factories in Japan. In March, Renesas warned it could have a “massive impact” on its ability to fulfil orders.Economic impactThe global supply chain crisis hitting Japan’s motor industry is also having an impact on the country’s economy as a whole.Japan’s exports broke a seven month streak of double-digit expansion, rising by 9.4% in the year to October.It was the slowest growth in eight months and lower than forecasts.Shipments of cars were hit particularly hard, down by almost 37% from the same time in 2020.Car exports to Japan’s two largest trading partners, China and the US, dropped by almost half, according to data from the country’s Ministry of Finance.You may also be interested in:This video can not be playedTo play this video you need to enable JavaScript in your browser.

SharecloseShare pageCopy linkAbout sharingImage source, Getty ImagesA powerful US Senate committee has warned of serious weaknesses in the way new aircraft have been built by Boeing.It also criticised how the company’s aircraft were certified as safe to fly by the regulator, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation report was based on the testimony of seven whistleblowers from the industry.It came in response to two Boeing 737 Max crashes, which killed 346 people.Boeing said it was reviewing the report: “Boeing teammates are encouraged to speak up whenever they have safety or quality concerns,” the planemaker said.It also said that many issues in the report “have been previously publicized, and Boeing has worked to address them with oversight” by the FAA.On Monday, the FAA said it “takes all whistleblower allegations seriously and does not tolerate retaliation against those who raise safety concerns.”Risk of ‘catastrophic failure’The 97-page Aviation Safety Whistleblower Report highlighted allegations that the FAA’s safety certification process “suffers from undue pressure on line engineers and production staff”. It also described conflicts of interest, where for example the same engineer had been responsible for preparing equipment for official tests, as well as carrying out those same tests. It claimed that engineers with specific technical expertise were ignored or sidelined during the development of both Boeing’s 737 Max and of the 787 Dreamliner.Boeing refutes safety concerns over 737 MaxBoeing 737 Max sees first firm order since crashesBoeing’s 737 Max wins approval to fly in the US In one case, it says, an FAA engineer warned his superiors that the 787 faced a risk of “catastrophic failure due to uncontrolled fire” due to the way its batteries were installed. In 2013, the 787 was grounded due to battery fires.The report also includes claims by whistleblowers that there are gaps in the FAA’s processes, that “have resulted in aircraft designs that do not meet the most recent airworthiness standards”.It said this allowed the 737 Max to be approved to fly while equipped with software – later implicated in both crashes – that “did not receive proper scrutiny”. Flaws in the aircraft’s systems were “creatively hidden or outright withheld” from the FAA during the certification process, the report said.The report went on to say that the FAA had failed to provide enough safety engineers to oversee the much-criticised “Organization Designation Authorization” programme, under which Boeing itself was responsible for carrying out a significant amount of safety certification work on its own products, on behalf of the regulator. Critics have described this process as being like Boeing “marking its own homework”.The committee report also draws on testimony that suggests the FAA has prioritised efficiencies, by delegating increasing amounts of work – and its safety oversight has been eroded as a result.The document pointed out that in recent years the regulator certified two aircraft – the 787 and the 737 Max – which were later grounded for safety reasons.In the case of the 737 Max this led to the loss of hundreds of lives and is estimated to have cost Boeing more than $20bn (£15.2bn).In January, Boeing agreed to a deferred prosecution agreement with the US Justice Department, including $2.5bn in fines and compensation linked to the 737 Max crashes.You may also be interested in:This video can not be playedTo play this video you need to enable JavaScript in your browser.

SharecloseShare pageCopy linkAbout sharingImage source, Jeroen van LoonShopkeeper, Jackson Opati, has stopped selling packaged milk from his store and instead switched to using a vending machine dispensing fresh milk. “This ATM is a more lucrative business,” he explains.Mr Opati runs a small grocery store in the crowded settlement of Kibera in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi.For the last year, or so, his shop – built from wooden poles and corrugated sheets – has hosted a milk vending machine from US-Kenyan company Zaidi Technologies. It is one of nine such machines that Zaidi has operating in Kenya.Using a small panel on the front of the machine, he keys in the amount of money that a customer wants to spend and seconds later the corresponding quantity of milk pours into a recycled plastic bottle or bag that the customer brings from home.”Since I got the vending machine, the number of customers has sharply increased,” he says.Image source, Jeroen van LoonMonday to Thursday, Mr Opati sells 150 litres of milk a day. On Fridays and weekends that jumps to 300 litres, giving him 6,000 Kenyan shillings ($53; £40) in profit a week. “For me, it’s a good business,” he says. “These vending machines have become very important for us in Kibera,” says one of his customers, Caroline Atieno, while queuing in front of the tall machine, which is decorated with pictures of black and white Friesian cows.She has five children and says she gets through a lot of milk: “With this ATM, I can spend whatever I want on milk, even as little as 10 Kenyan shillings (9 cents; 7p), based on the money that I have in my pocket.”This is a key attraction of the selling in this way, Kenyans who live in such settlements, often earn less than a dollar a day, so being able to buy fresh produce in small quantities is a huge bonus.”The milk is also much cheaper than the packed long life milk which is sold at most places in Kibera, and [it] tastes better,” Ms Atieno adds. Image source, Getty ImagesThe pasteurised milk from Zaidi’s ATM goes for 65 Kenyan shillings a litre, while packed ultra-heated (UHT) long life-milk normally costs around 110 Kenyan shillings a litre and is only sold in packages of 200ml, 300ml or larger. In recent years, vending machines have been popping up across Nairobi’s numerous informal settlements – selling milk, cooking oil, clean renewable cooking fuel and sanitary pads. “We decided to start selling milk through ATMs as it removes the cost of packaging, improves the costs of logistics and allows us to sell milk without attracting VAT,” says Graham Benton, co-founder and chief executive of Zaidi Technologies.”The ATMs also help us to unlock the 80% of the market that has remained untapped by larger, regulated businesses.”This video can not be playedTo play this video you need to enable JavaScript in your browser.More technology of business:The country that is Europe’s hub for cargo bikesWhy broken African phones are shipped to EuropeMoon missions spur the search for new spacesuitsHow tech is supporting smallholders in South AfricaZap and zoom: The new electric racing vehiclesThe machines have also provided new business opportunities, explains Vivian Kenyatta. The 28-year-old single mum formed a youth group of 20 members. “With our savings, we wanted to start a business to uplift ourselves and these ATMs appeared to be rather affordable.” While they did not have enough pooled cash to open a whole shop, they were able to buy a cooking oil vending machine for 100,000 Kenyan shillings ($890; £670) this year and rent a small space, from where they sell the oil. “We make a profit of around 400 Kenyan shillings a day, which we put on a bank account and we might use for emergencies, like when one of our group members needs to go to a hospital,” the single mother explains this while she dispenses cooking oil from the machine into a recycled plastic cooking oil bottle for her next customer.Image source, Jeroen van LoonAlthough operating vending machines in deprived areas of Africa comes with challenges.Often, shop owners can only afford the very cheapest machines, which might not be suitable for food. They also may not be able to pay for proper maintenance. To save money they might turn machines off when they are empty – meaning any residue goes bad or congeals in the system.Power cuts, which are very common in Kenya and neighbouring countries, are an added disruption.Zaidi Technologies has developed a different business model to counter some of these issues: it owns and installs the vending machines, the shopkeeper then pays for the electricity and provides water for cleaning. In return they receive a commission of 4 shillings for every litre of milk they sell. Unscrupulous shopkeepers have also been known to dilute milk, but Zaidi Technologies are working on a tamper-proof system – after pasteurisation, the milk containers will be delivered to shops and slotted into the machines by the delivery drivers, who will then lock the vending machines.”The systems will be automated, so that we can see if the door is tampered with, or, if the milk violates our temperature thresholds, allowing us to take the system offline until a technician can come and service it,” explains Mr Benton.Image source, KOKO NetworksTechnology company, KOKO Networks, has developed its own vending machine system specifically for the African market, to supply its bioethanol cooking fuel.Like the milk machines, the KOKO machines can dispense very small amounts of fuel, to cater for cash-strapped customers.”To protect fuel quality and ensure safe handling… our ATM’s have lots of safety features and sensors. Our fuel can only be dispensed into a registered KOKO fuel canister and with the ATM we avoid creating mountains of plastic bottling waste”, says Sagun Saxena, executive director at KOKO Kenya.When customers refill their fuel canister, they buy the fuel directly from KOKO, using mobile money payments, while KOKO pays a commission to the shopkeeper. The company was launched in Nairobi in partnership with Shell in 2019 and now runs more than 750 bioethanol vending machines in Kenya and will enter other East African countries in the coming year. Mr Saxena sees lots of opportunities for vending machines in the food sector as well. “Currently packaging, handling and trading via small shops adds a lot of costs,” he says.”That’s why retail prices for food are higher in small, local shops versus even the larger supermarkets in Nairobi. Bringing these costs down through the use of vending machines, will benefit many households.”

SharecloseShare pageCopy linkAbout sharingImage source, Getty ImagesNew criminal offences and major changes have been proposed in the UK’s landmark Online Safety Bill, which seeks to regulate social media and tech giants.A new parliamentary report calls for adding scams and offences, like sending unwanted sexual images and promoting violence against women and girls.A named senior manager at the tech giants should also be made personally liable in court for failures, it said.Those behind the report said “we need to call time on the Wild West online”.Damian Collins, chairman of the joint committee issuing the report, said: “What’s illegal offline should be regulated online. “For too long, big tech has gotten away with being the land of the lawless…. the era of self-regulation for big tech has come to an end.”New offences, more finesThe Online Safety Bill is seen as one of the most far-reaching attempts to date to regulate online content, which could have global implications. The first draft, published in May, put a “duty of care” on large social websites to remove harmful or illegal content and protect children. But it was largely left up to the tech giants themselves to police, with oversight from media regulator Ofcom. Image source, ReutersBut the parliamentary report calls for Ofcom to set much more explicit standards, and have even greater powers to investigate and fine big tech firms.Among the many recommendations made over its 191 pages are:An explicit duty for all pornography sites to make sure children cannot access themScams and fraud – such as fake adverts designed to trick users – should be coveredThe bill should cover not just content, but “the potential harmful impact of algorithms”It should also be expanded to cover paid-for advertising, such as those involving scamsThe report also recommends that a wide range of new criminal offences should be created, based on proposals from the Law Commission, and carried in the bill, including:Promoting or “stirring up” violence against women, or based on gender or disabilityKnowingly distributing seriously harmful misinformationContent “promoting self-harm” should be made illegal”Cyber-flashing” – the sending of unwanted naked images – should be illegalSo should deliberately sending flashing images to those with epilepsy, with the goal of causing a seizureMr Collins said these changes would “bring more offences clearly within the scope of the Online Safety Bill, give Ofcom the power in law to set minimum safety standards for the services they will regulate, and to take enforcement action against companies if they don’t comply”.Prison sentencesAnother major addition is the recommendation that tech firms must appoint a “safety controller” who would be made liable for an offence if there were “repeated and systemic failings”. The idea has recently been pushed by the new Digital Secretary Nadine Dorries – who warned of potential prison sentences for serious offenders, and that the planned two-year grace period would end up being three to six months.Image source, PA MediaBut Ms Dorries’ sweeping powers in the first draft should also be limited, the report says. It argues the draft bill’s definition of “illegal content” is “too dependent on the discretion of the secretary of state”.It was planned that Ms Dorries and her successors would have the power to exempt some services, modify codes of conduct, give “guidance” to Ofcom, and exercise powers on national security grounds – which the committee says should be variously restricted, removed, or subject to oversight.Cyber-flashing likely to be made illegal – DorriesThe unlikely rise of Nadine DorriesAnd while many of the changes were welcomed by child protection advocates including the NSPCC, others remain concerned about potential free speech issues.’Remains worrying’The draft bill and this report both lay out exemptions for journalism, public interest, and free speech.But think tank the Adam Smith Institute (ASI) said the report “fails to alleviate the gigantic threats posed by the draft Online Safety Bill to freedom of speech, privacy and innovation”.The report recommends removing a controversial section dealing with “legal but harmful” content for adults, which critics had feared could lead to unintended widespread censorship.Image source, PA Media”The replacement – defining a series of ‘reasonable foreseeable risks’ – remains worrying,” said ASI’s research head Matthew Lesh. “It would still mean speech being less free online compared to offline.”The report also did not make any moves to ban the use of end-to-end encryption, which has been criticised by some politicians and child safety advocates as enabling criminal activity.Facebook encryption ‘must not cause children harm’Children ‘at risk’ from encrypted message appsMet: Tech giants make it harder to stop terroristsInstead, it recommends that the use of encryption should be a “risk factor” included in risk assessments the tech companies must complete under the bill.But the Internet Society, a non-profit organisation which campaigns for an open internet, said the committee “has been too eager to ignore” the risks of any move to undermine encryption.”The findings released today are, sadly, a reflection of a public debate largely framed in misleading and emotive terms of child safety,” the group said in a statement.”As a consequence, we see a bill that will result in more complex, less secure systems for online safety, exposing our lives to greater risk from criminals and hostile governments.”The government now has two months to respond to the committee on this report, and the bill is expected to reach Parliament – the next stage of becoming law – early next year.

SharecloseShare pageCopy linkAbout sharingImage source, Getty ImagesFood industry representatives have warned that the UK is facing a “worsening food supply chain crisis” without sufficient help from the government.The National Farmers’ Union (NFU) has called for the government to commit to keeping the country’s self sufficiency in food production at 60%. The NFU has convened a summit of organisations to discuss the issues on Tuesday.Staff shortages will also be discussed. A spokesperson for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said: “The government acted quickly to tackle the challenges to our supply chains”.Half of families £110 a year worse off since 2019Christmas dinner costs rise as inflation bitesFamily spending predicted to rise £1,700 a yearThe rising cost of living, spiking energy prices and worker shortages have all combined to increase the pressures on the food industry throughout the pandemic. Businesses have struggled to recruit workers, partly due to the pandemic, but this is also compounded by Brexit, according to the leading international agency the The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.”Britain’s farmers are world-leaders in producing climate-friendly food and, over the past 18 months, have been working hard to keep shelves and fridges full despite many being impacted by severe supply chain issues,” said NFU president Minette Batters. “Government has tried to paper over the cracks with short-term fixes, but if we want to avoid this crisis continuing, long-term solutions are urgently needed to ensure a resilient supply chain,” she added. Andrew Opie, director of food and sustainability at the British Retail Consortium also urged the government to give a “clear strategy” for solving labour shortage issues and a “coherent food policy” to maintain UK production. The Defra spokesperson pointed out that the government had expanded the number of visas available under the agricultural Seasonal Workers Pilot scheme to 30,000. Pig sector still in ‘meltdown’But Dr Zoe Davies, chief executive of the National Pig Association, said: “The UK pig sector is still in meltdown as worker shortages continue to impact our ability to process the number of pigs we already have on farms.”Labour shortages in abattoirs meant adult pigs were not being killed fast enough during October. Farmers had to kill healthy livestock as mature pigs continued to “back up” on farms.Image source, Getty ImagesThe industry blames the shortage of people to slaughter pigs in abattoirs on factors including the pandemic and Britain’s exit from the European Union.”The entire food supply chain and government must pull together and resolve the backlog now or we will have no independent pig producers left,” Dr Davies added. Bob Carnell, chief executive of ABP UK (Anglo Beef Processors), agreed that more help was needed to attract and retain more skilled workers from the UK and abroad in order to “ensure a level playing field for quality British meat when compared to imports”. Focus on local supply chainsChief executive of the National Sheep Association Phil Stocker also supported the call for the government to commit to maintaining that 60% of the UK’s food supply is self-sufficient. Mr Stocker said the sheep industry had not been as badly impacted as other sectors, thanks to it having more diversity in its supply chain, with a high proportion of about 45,000 small family farm businesses. While he said that some of the sheep industry’s meat processors were not operating at the same efficiency as a result of staff shortages, he said a reliance on smaller family farms meant that the sector was more resilient. “Our domestic supply chains are the most environmentally friendly and secure way of ensuring food security so we need to focus on keeping it local,” he added. The calls come after recent analysis by the independent economic consultancy Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR) projected that the UK’s inflation rate would rise to 4.6% by Christmas, mainly due to higher fuel and energy prices.Compared with December 2020, the CEBR said a UK family of two adults and two children is predicted to spend £33.60 more per week, due to inflation, adding up to £1,700 per year. Alongside labour shortages, supply chain problems affecting the availability of many goods have increased prices, while demand for oil and gas has pushed up energy prices worldwide too.

SharecloseShare pageCopy linkAbout sharingThis video can not be playedTo play this video you need to enable JavaScript in your browser.Amazon is facing questions over health and safety policies at a warehouse in the US state of Illinois after six workers died when the building was destroyed by a tornado.”This never would have happened if they cared about lives over productivity,” the sister of one of the victims commented on social media.The company says its team had “worked quickly” in response to the tornado.The roof collapsed as the storm hit the warehouse on Friday.Kelly Nantel, an Amazon spokesperson said in a statement the company is “deeply saddened” by the deaths. One of those who died, Clayton Cope, 29, spoke to his family on the phone shortly before the building in the town of Edwardsville, Illinois was struck.Clayton’s mother Carla, said she had called her son to warn him of the tornado’s approach.”We told him it looked like the storm was heading that way and that he needed to get to shelter,” Carla told NBC affiliated television station KSDK.Clayton, who had previously trained in the Navy, told his mother he would first warn his co-workers.Image source, Cope familyNow, questions are being raised over whether adequate shelter was available, whether workers were advised to go there immediately, and whether the shifts should have gone ahead that evening at all, given the warnings of severe weather.The Edwardsville site received tornado warnings between 20:06 and 20:16 local time (01:06 and 01:16 GMT) before the tornado struck the building at 20:27, Amazon said in a statement when contacted by the BBC, with events “happening incredibly fast”.The company said that the team worked “incredibly quickly” to ensure as many employees and partners could reach the “shelter in place” site. One cargo driver, Austin J McEwen, 26, died in the bathroom, where many workers said they had been directed to shelter after receiving emergency alerts on their mobile phones.”I was just getting in the building and they started screaming, “Shelter in place!'” said David Kosiak, 26, who has worked at the facility for three months. “We were in the bathrooms. That’s where they sent us.””It sounded like a train came through the building. The ceiling tiles came flying down. It was very loud. They made us shelter in place ’til we left – it was at least two-and-a-half hours in there,” Mr Kosiak said.Amazon said following a tornado warning company procedure was for all employees to be “notified and directed to move to a designated and marked shelter in place location”. The majority of the team had taken shelter at “the primary designated location”, the firm said, but a small group had taken shelter in a part of the building that was hit by the tornado. “This is where most of the tragic loss of life occurred,” Amazon said. But Clayton’s sister Rachel told the BBC that she understood from the conversation between her brother and her parents that he and the other workers were not immediately told to shelter after the first warning siren sounded.She posted an comment on Facebook calling for publicity around the firm’s approach to health and safety.”Everyone knows that all Amazon cares about is productivity,” she wrote. She said she didn’t believe her brother would have died if the company “got them [the employees] to safety after the storm started to get bad and took it seriously”. “No-one would have been frantically getting to the shelter last minute and my brother wouldn’t have had to help people get to the shelter and put his life at risk,” she wrote. “I want them to answer for this, I want this to be a starting point of places taking the lives of their employees seriously and treating them as more than a number.”The deadly storms swept through six US states on Friday evening causing the deaths of almost 100 people and damaging homes and businesses over a 200 mile (322 km) area. In Mayfield, Kentucky eight deaths were confirmed at a candle factory.The National Weather Service said the storm had intensified rapidly as it struck the Amazon warehouse with winds peaking at 150 miles per hour (241 km-per-hour), ripping the roof off the football field-sized structure. The 11-inch (28-cm) thick concrete walls fell in on themselves.Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, which is trying to unionise Amazon workers in different parts of the US, said it was “inexcusable” that the company required people to work despite the tornado warning. On Monday, US Department of Labor said an investigation into the building collapse has been opened by the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Image source, Getty ImagesRebecca Givan, associate professor at Rutgers University’s School of Management and Labour Relations, said companies have a legal requirement to maintain a safe workplace but the penalties for violating it is very weak.From an ethical standpoint, she said companies should “prioritise the health of their employees and if they need to communicate to customers that delivery will take a little longer, they should be willing to do that”.Amazon doesn’t employ many of these workers directly she added, using subcontractors instead, potentially allowing them to sidestep questions over whether those workers should have been called to work on Friday evening.The firm’s founder, Jeff Bezos, has also been criticised after posting pictures of astronauts who had just returned from a space tourism trip aboard his Blue Origin rocket.Later he tweeted: “The news from Edwardsville is tragic. We’re heartbroken over the loss of our teammates there, and our thoughts and prayers are with their families and loved ones.”Amazon said it was donating $1m (£757,000) to the Edwardsville Community Foundation as well as providing relief supplies including transport, food and water.

SharecloseShare pageCopy linkAbout sharingImage source, Getty ImagesThe government has agreed to foot the bill for the compensation of former Post Office workers who were falsely convicted of theft in the long-running Horizon saga.The Post Office has said they are unable to cover the payments for the exonerated individuals. As the Post Office’s only shareholder, the government has now agreed to pay, as first reported by Sky News.Details are set to be announced in Parliament as early as Tuesday.After that, discussions about final settlement figures can begin with the individuals involved. The Department for Business said that the impact on postmasters’ lives and livelihoods “cannot be overstated”.Post Office scandal: ‘It’s been a strange 15 years’Why were hundreds of sub-postmasters prosecuted?Postmasters in IT scandal to get up to £100,000Between 2000 and 2014, the Post Office prosecuted 736 sub-postmasters and sub-postmistresses – an average of one a week – based on information from a recently-installed computer system called Horizon.Some went to prison following convictions for false accounting and theft, many were financially ruined and have described being shunned by their communities. But it was the software at fault, containing “bugs, errors and defects” according to the High Court judgement which quashed many of the convictions.Some died before campaigners won the legal battle to have their cases reconsidered. The government’s bill keeps growing as more elements of this scandal emerge. Despite having spent millions on their own legal costs pursuing sub-postmasters through the courts, the Post Office has essentially said it can’t afford to pay for any of the clear-up. As the sole shareholder, it’s up to the government to settle up. They had already agreed to pay the costs of the scheme that refunds the money that branch managers put in to cover the holes that the IT was incorrectly showing. That bill will run into the millions and cash advances are now being paid to some of those people.Now the government has agreed to fund whatever financial settlements are reached with those who were wrongly convicted in court.Money can never cover the loss of livelihoods, family relationships and the loss of freedom for some of those convicted, but it’s likely some will see settlements worth multimillions.After decades of overlooking reports of problems at the Post Office, the government is now having to use the deep-pockets of the taxpayer to make amends.A spokesperson from the Department for Business said that the government was “committed to seeing these longstanding Horizon issues resolved” and that it would provide financial support as well as interim compensation payments for those workers with overturned convictions. “We are also learning what went wrong through the Post Office Horizon IT Inquiry, and ensuring something like this cannot happen again,” they added.The Post Office declined to comment when asked by BBC News.But in a speech in April, its chief executive Nick Read admitted that: “We have to accept that it is the Post Office that caused what for some has been very deep pain.”Absent the possibility of turning the clock back, compensation appropriate to that pain must follow.”He also urged the government to ensure funding is paid to those former Post Officer workers quickly and efficiently.A scheme, backed by the government, had already been set up to arrange financial redress and compensation for those affected. As of June, about 400 payments had been made to those affected.’It’s been a strange 15 years’A former Post Office worker who waited 15 years for justice celebrated having his conviction overturned in November with “a nice cup of tea”.Anthony Gant, of Newtown in Powys, was wrongly convicted of false accounting back in 2007, when software showed his branch to be short of more than £14,550.He was one of six more former Post Office workers to have their criminal convictions overturned at Southwark Crown Court last month.”It has been a very strange 15 years,” Mr Gant told the BBC. He was left in utter disbelief when the sums stopped adding up each week.”I thought it was a mistake. I was making good the losses myself, topping it up. I was drawing out money on credit cards, but in the end I had no funds to keep doing it,” Mr Gant explained. “I buried my head in the sand.”Read more about his story here.

SharecloseShare pageCopy linkAbout sharingImage source, ReutersUK households have remained “resilient” despite the end of the furlough scheme and other Covid support measures, the Bank of England has said.But uncertainty over health risks and the economic outlook remains, said its latest Financial Stability Report.Covid could still have “a greater impact” on the economy, especially in light of new variants, it said.The report comes three days before Bank policymakers announce their next decision on interest rates.The cost of living rose by 4.2% in October, its highest rate in almost 10 years.This surge in inflation, which tracks the cost of living over time, has led analysts to predict an increase in interest rates from their current record low of 0.1%. But doubts have recently set in because of the spread of the Omicron variant.Image source, Getty Images”The UK and global economies have continued to recover from the effects of the pandemic. But uncertainty over risks to public health and the economic outlook remains,” said the Bank.”For example, there are near-term pressures on supply and inflation, and there could be a greater impact from Covid on activity, especially given uncertainties about whether new variants of the virus reduce vaccine efficacy.”The Bank of England’s financial stability committee said the risks to the financial system had returned to their levels before the pandemic began. “Major UK banks are strong enough to keep supporting households and businesses, even in severe scenarios,” the Bank said.Interest rate rise hangs in balance amid OmicronUK prices soar at fastest rate for almost 10 yearsBank of England sorry for rising cost of livingIt is consulting on lifting emergency measures introduced to give banks more room for manoeuvre at the start of last year. Banks will now once again have to build up an extra buffer of capital to guard against future shocks, worth 1% of all their loans (known as a counter-cyclical capital buffer). That will rise to 2% next year.The Bank is also consulting on loosening affordability limits on mortgages. It is examining whether to drop a requirement that lenders should test whether borrowers could still afford repayments if interest rates rose by 3% above the standard variable rate.It added in its report that getting funds together for a deposit is still the most significant barrier to home-ownership.

SharecloseShare pageCopy linkAbout sharingImage source, Getty ImagesNatWest has been fined £265m after admitting it failed to prevent money-laundering of nearly £400m by one firm.A gold trading business suspected of money-laundering deposited £700,000 in cash into one NatWest branch in black bin bags, a court heard on Monday.A criminal gang deposited huge sums of cash across about 50 branches, prosecutors for the UK’s financial watchdog said.NatWest said it deeply regrets failing to monitor the customer properly.It is the first time a financial institution has faced criminal prosecution by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) under anti-money laundering laws in the UK.The fine would have been much higher, but it was reduced because the bank had pleaded guilty, the judge said at the sentencing hearing.Image source, ReutersNatWest, which is part of the Royal Bank of Scotland group, pleaded guilty to three offences under UK money-laundering regulations in October.The bank’s chief executive Alison Rose said: “NatWest takes its responsibility to prevent and detect financial crime extremely seriously. “We deeply regret that we failed to adequately monitor one of our customers between 2012 and 2016 for the purpose of preventing money-laundering.”She added that while the case had come to an end, the bank would continue to invest in fighting financial crime.Lack of reportingBradford jewellers Fowler Oldfield’s predicted annual turnover when taken on as a client by NatWest was £15m. But it deposited about £365m over five years, including £264m in cash.The company, which was shut down following a police raid in 2016, was initially marked as “high-risk”, but that was downgraded in December 2013.The FCA’s lawyer Clare Montgomery said there “was a rapid escalation in the amount of cash” being deposited from November 2013, with figures reaching up to £1.8m a day. By 2014, Fowler Oldfield was NatWest’s “single most lucrative” client in the Bradford area. Southall received about £42m in cash between January 2015 and March 2016, for example, but no report was made that it was suspicious.That is despite lawyers saying earlier on Monday that one person in Walsall arrived at a branch with so much cash, packed in bin-liners, that they broke and the money had to be repacked.Image source, Getty ImagesMs Montgomery added that the cash did not even fit in the branch’s floor-to-ceiling safes.NatWest did not properly look into numerous warnings generated by its systems, the FCA lawyer said earlier on Monday.One rule designed to flag suspicious activity was disabled by the bank because it created too many alerts, “so the bank decided it should be deactivated”, Ms Montgomery added, while NatWest also recorded cash deposits by Fowler Oldfield as cheques between 2008 and March 2017.The National Crime Agency also raised concerns at one point because of the high number of Scottish banknotes being deposited in England, the court heard.And a NatWest cash centre in north-eastern England raised queries about Scottish banknotes, saying that they had a “musty smell”, suggesting they might have been stored rather than in normal circulation.New 159 fraud hotline launched to counter threatNatWest sets aside £3.2bn to cover bad loansThe state-backed bank was “in no way complicit in the money-laundering which took place”, the judge said at Southwark Crown Court on Monday.But they added: “Without the bank’s failings, the money could not have been laundered.”Sara George, partner at Sidley and a former prosecutor for the Financial Services Authority, told the BBC that it was clear there were failings at every level.”It’s hard to imagine a much more clear indication of criminal proceeds than black bin-liners of money. It’s extraordinary,” she said.She added that the “landmark” case showed that the UK’s financial watchdog was “committed to using a fuller spread of its enforcement powers” to stop money-laundering, which she described as “anything but a victimless crime”.