Firms pledge to recruit more over-50s

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Aviva, Barclays, Atos and five other firms have agreed to promote over-50s employment by publishing data about the age of their workforce.

They are responding to a call from the government’s Business Champion for Older Workers, Andy Briggs.

In February, he asked firms to increase older worker numbers by 12% by 2022.

Mr Briggs warned that by then, there will be 14.5 million more jobs, but only seven million younger workers entering the workplace.

He said older workers were vital in filling the UK’s “colossal skills gap”.

Diverse team

Mr Briggs, who is also chief executive of Aviva UK Life, wants more companies to commit to his pledge and publish data about the age of their workforce to help ensure his target of one million more older workers by 2022.

“Businesses can show leadership here, through committing to real change and actively seeking to recruit more over-50s into their organisations,” he said.

“By being open about the progress they are making, they can also lead the way in demonstrating the benefits of having a diverse team of employees that represents all sections of society.”

The eight companies that have signed up are: Aviva, Atos, Barclays, the Co-operative Group, Home Instead Senior Care, the Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS), Mercer and Walgreens Boots Alliance.

In the newly published data, the figures for Atos show 33% of its workforce are between 50 and 64. Aviva employ 18.3% in this age group, Barclays 17% and the Co-op Group 26%.

Ageing population

While it is still uncertain what sort of agreement the next government will strike with the EU over freedom of movement, many employers are concerned about filling skilled and non-skilled jobs after Brexit.

Mr Briggs said the average age in the UK is now 40, 10 years older than it was in 1974.

By 2030, it is estimated half of all adults in the UK will be over 50.

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Further signs of UK property slowdown in April

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There were further signs of a slowdown in the property market in April, as the number of sales fell significantly, while fewer people took out mortgages.

The number of residential property transactions in the UK dropped by 22.5% between March and April, according to HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC).

Analysis by the data firm Equifax also suggests that mortgage sales declined by 16% over the same period.

But the figures are skewed by a series of tax changes this year and last.

In April 2016, landlords became liable for a higher rate of stamp duty. And since last month, they have been able to claim less in tax relief on mortgage interest payments.

The effect of the changes was to boost sales in March 2016 and March 2017.

As a result, the number of sales fell from 107,090 in March to 83,010 in April on a non-adjusted basis, HMRC said.

Once seasonal factors are taken into consideration, the number of transactions fell by 3.2%.

Both the Halifax and Nationwide have reported that prices fell in April.


Some commentators said the figures showed that the market was holding up relatively well.

“At first glance, one might think these figures are hugely disappointing, but when you consider what was happening this time last year and what has happened to property transactions in the past few months, they represent steady progress for the housing market,” said Jeremy Leaf, a London estate agent.

The number of landlords taking out mortgages last month saw a particular drop, with sales falling by 20.4% to £2.15bn, according to Equifax.

But ordinary buyers also shied away from the market, with mortgage sales dropping by 15.1%.

“Mortgage figures have nosedived following a strong first quarter, with every single region experiencing a notable slump in sales,” said John Driscoll, director at Equifax Touchstone.

“Government measures to cool buy-to-let property sales, including the phased cuts to mortgage interest tax relief which started on 1 April, have no doubt played a role in diminishing sales figures last month.”

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Government borrowing at three-year April high

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Government borrowing was at its highest April level for three years, according to the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

Public sector net borrowing, excluding public sector banks, was £10.4bn last month, up by £1.2bn from April 2016.

The ONS also adjusted the shortfall total from the last financial year from £52bn to £48.7bn.

Public sector net debt was £1.72 trillion, equivalent to 86% of GDP.

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FTSE 100 bolstered by Severn Trent

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London’s stock market edged higher, with shares in Severn Trent rising after the water company reported an increase in full-year profits.

Severn Trent shares rose 1.7% after it said underlying pre-tax profits rose 4.3% to £525m, helped by fewer leaks following an investment programme.

Severn was one of the biggest risers on the FTSE 100, with the index up 4.36 points at 7,500.70 in early trade.

EasyJet was the biggest riser in the FTSE 100 following a broker upgrade.

Shares in the airline climbed 1.9% after RBC Capital Markets raised its rating on the company to “sector perform”, arguing it was “increasingly probable EasyJet has reached its profit nadir”.

After a strong performance on Monday, Marks and Spencer fell back, dropping 1.7%. The High Street retail giant is due to report its full-year results on Wednesday.

On the currency markets, the pound slipped 0.1% against the dollar to $1.2987, and was down 0.2% against the euro to 1.1540 euros.

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Nationwide profits hit by low interest rates

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Profits have fallen at Nationwide after the building society sought to protect savers from the impact of last year’s interest rate cut.

Statutory pre-tax profits for the year to March to £1.054bn, down 17% from last year’s figure of £1.279bn.

However, Nationwide said 795,000 new current accounts had been opened in the six months to March.

That was a record for the society, it said, and more than any other provider in the UK.

The rise of 35% represented one in seven of all new accounts opened. It added that nearly one in five people switching their accounts became customers of the building society.

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Debt fears remain despite manifesto 'breathing space' plans

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People in serious debt can expect more legal protection from bailiffs, charges and interest after pledges in the major parties’ manifestos.

The Conservatives and Labour have vowed to extend a “breathing space” scheme used in Scotland to allow people time to organise repayments.

Others, including the Lib Dems, want more regulation in the debt sector.

There is widespread concern over the levels of personal debt among working households.


The City regulator – the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) – has warned of an acceleration in consumer borrowing, such as loans, overdrafts, credit card debt and car finance. This echoes concerns raised by the Bank of England.

The total amount of consumer debt tops £1.5 trillion. Although this is dominated by mortgage borrowing, there is a vast array of debt products creating concern.

A Lords committee also recently called for stronger controls such as a cap on “rent to own” products.

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Car sales have boomed in recent years

The FCA is already conducting is own inquiry into overdrafts, door-to-door lending and other forms of loans. Consumer groups have consistently argued there should be an overdraft cap in place.

The regulator estimates that 3.3 million people are in persistent credit card debt.

The biggest focus in recent times has been on car finance deals. The value of finance deals used to buy new cars has soared to a new monthly record, according to latest figures, with motorists having spent £3.6bn on deals in March.


The fear is that households, with a regular but stagnant salary, are using their income to fund an increasing amount of debt, leaving them at risk if interest rates were to rise from historic lows.

Mike O’Connor, chief executive of debt charity StepChange, said: “In addition to better protections for people in debt, the next government should commit to action to prevent the 8.8 million people currently showing signs of financial difficulty from falling into serious hardship.

“It should work to ensure better alternatives to dangerous forms of high-cost credit, and it should act to help families build up savings to insulate them from problem debt.”

More than 16 million people in the UK have savings of less than £100, according to the Money Advice Service, leaving them further exposed to a financial shock.

In five areas – Northern Ireland, the West Midlands, Yorkshire and Humber, North East England and Wales – more than half the adult population has savings below £100.

There is a risk to UK economic stability too, with lenders standing to lose much more on their consumer credit loans than they would on mortgage lending if there is an economic downturn and their borrowers default on their credit card and other personal loans.

Proposed action includes:

  • A commitment from Labour and the Conservatives for a legal right to “breathing space”, echoing the Scottish system in which borrowers can apply to have six weeks free from further interest, charges or debt collection to get debt advice and set up a repayment plan
  • Widespread pledges across political parties to tackle financial exclusion
  • FCA proposals that could mean credit card companies cancelling any interest or charges in extreme cases
  • An investigation by the regulator into car finance deals, over worries about a “lack of transparency, potential conflicts of interest and irresponsible lending in the motor finance industry”

StepChange welcomed the breathing space scheme for those in serious debt – but said this should be extended to a year.

It said this would allow those in debt owing to issues such as family breakdown or a reduction in working hours to be allowed time to rebuild their income to prepare to repay what they borrowed.

Campaigners have also called for greater protection for those facing mental health difficulties, particularly regarding store cards and “impulse” borrowing.

Polly Mackenzie, director of the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute, said: “Customers are encouraged to take out complex new credit deals on the spur of the moment, at the front of a queue in a shop or in a few clicks at an online checkout.

“For people with mental health problems in particular this is leading to real financial difficulty, encouraging impulsive spending that can be a symptom of a number of mental health problems, and setting people up in credit arrangements that they often don’t fully understand.”

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Reality Check: What do manifestos say about productivity?

Productivity is a measure of how much stuff is getting produced for each hour that people work and it’s enormously important.

Improvements in living standards and average earnings tend to come from increased productivity.

In the UK, productivity has only just returned to its pre-crisis level. But it is still almost a fifth lower than in the rest of the G7 advanced economies and almost a third lower than in France the US and Germany.

So what are some of the parties planning to do about it?

Conservative Manifesto – seven mentions of productivity

The Conservative plan for productivity is mainly the introduction of a National Productivity Investment Fund.

Solving the productivity puzzle is tricky – there’s no definite way of doing it, but the Tories plan to spend money on housing, research and development, economic infrastructure and skills.

The specifics are £740m on digital infrastructure (that’s things like broadband), £1.1bn to improve local transport, £250m on skills training by the end of 2020 and more investment in railways.

The spending is all meant to add up to £23bn by the end of the parliament, but there are no other details of what it will be spent on.

Labour Manifesto – two mentions of productivity

Labour’s solution to the productivity problem is via its industrial strategy.

It has undertaken by 2030 to:

  • Get 60% of energy from zero carbon or renewable sources
  • Develop the highest proportion of high-skilled jobs among OECD countries
  • Spend 3% of GDP on research and development

It plans to promote skills through its National Education Service and improve infrastructure by investing £250bn in it over the next decade.

Liberal Democrats – no mentions of productivity

The LibDem manifesto does not specifically mention productivity, but it’s promising investment in many of the same areas as the Conservatives and Labour.

It’s planning to:

  • Help build 300,000 homes a year by 2022
  • Have a major programme of capital investment aimed at stimulating growth across all areas of the UK
  • Install hyperfast, fibre-optic broadband across the UK
  • Investment in road and rail infrastructure
  • Bring more private investment into renewable energy
  • Put £5bn of initial capital into a new British Housing and Infrastructure Development Bank.

Green Party – no mentions of productivity

There’s nothing about productivity in the Green manifesto, but the big idea is the introduction of a four-day working week up to a maximum of 35 hours.

Caroline Lucas told the Andrew Marr Show last month: “I think there’s a lot of evidence that suggests that when people are exhausted their productivity goes down.”

Everyone would be assured a living wage and the Greens would also take steps towards the introduction of a universal basic income.

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Election 2017: What jobs do UK workers actually do?

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Politicians of all parties spend election campaigns fighting for the votes of what they call “ordinary” or “hard-working” people.

There are record numbers of people in work in the UK, but what exactly do they do and what might be on their minds when they head out to vote?

A nation of service industry workers

When politicians want to appeal to working people they tend to don hard hats and head to factories or construction sites.

These workplaces may look good in pictures, but they do not chime with most people’s experience of work.

Fewer than one in 10 people work in manufacturing and even fewer in construction.

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The vast majority of the UK’s workers are employed in service jobs

In contrast, four out of five people work in service industries.

This covers everything from bank workers to plumbers and restaurant staff – the businesses that provide work for customers, but which don’t manufacture things.

These service sector jobs have grown over time: 20 years ago they made up less than three-quarters of employment.

The biggest growth since then has been in public administration, education and health.

Over the same period, the biggest fall has been in manufacturing, where the share of jobs has halved since the 1990s. The sector now provides employment for just under three million workers.

Workers are older and more likely to be female

The world of work may once have been a man’s world, but that is no longer the case.

At the start of the 1970s, a little over one third of workers were women.

But rapid growth in female employment during the 1970s and 1980s means that women now make up almost half of the workforce.

However, there are still big challenges in terms of how men and women experience work, like the enduring gender pay gap – which is 18% for all workers and 9% among full-time staff.

Nonetheless, rising female employment has been one of the key drivers of improvements in living standards over the past 50 years.

More recently, the workforce has also grown older.

Nearly one in three people in work is now aged 50 and over, compared to just over one in five back in 1992.

This trend is being driven by rising life expectancy, the progress of the large baby boomer generation through their careers and policy changes like the increasing state pension age.

A work life less ordinary

The changing nature of work and the jobs people do to make ends meet has become an increasingly important issue.

At present, there is a particular focus on the emerging gig economy.

The term is often used to describe short-term casual work, although there is some disagreement about exactly what it means and the number of jobs it includes.

However, what is clear is that ways of working that might be thought of as atypical have increased.

In the UK there are nearly five million self-employed people, from highly-paid management consultants to delivery drivers – an increase of 50% since the turn of the millennium.

In addition, there are 900,000 workers on zero hours contracts and 800,000 agency workers. Both groups have grown markedly in recent years.

Less clear is what is driving this and whether these jobs provide an acceptable balance between flexibility and security for workers.

As a result, the government has commissioned a high-profile review of employment practices in the modern economy which will report later this year.

But a traditional full-time job is still the norm

Although the world of work is changing, it is still the case that most people have what might be called traditional jobs.

Nearly two-thirds of people in work have full-time roles for an employer – a proportion that has fallen only slightly since the early 1990s.

The average working week is 32 hours long, only an hour shorter than it was a quarter of a century ago.

Even if we only focus on workers aged under 30, it remains the case that two-thirds – more than five million of them – have full-time employee jobs. However, this proportion has fallen a bit faster since the early 1990s.

But with 32 million people in work overall and the employment rate at a record high, job numbers have never been stronger going into an election.

The minimum wage has helped low earners

For most people, living standards are determined by whether they have a job – and how much they get paid.

For the lowest-paid workers, the introduction of the National Minimum Wage in 1999 set a minimum hourly rate for the first time.

It has since risen faster than both inflation and average earnings.

The bar was raised further with the introduction of the National Living Wage in April 2016, bringing a 70p hourly pay rise to millions of minimum wage workers aged 25 and over.

This meant that the earnings of the lowest-paid are growing faster than average earnings – a trend which is forecast to continue.

But pay rises haven’t been worse since the Napoleonic wars

The wider picture for earnings is not so positive.

The UK experienced a pay squeeze following the financial crisis of 2008, with wages growing more slowly than prices for five years.

Helped by low inflation, a couple of recovery years followed, but real wages are once again falling as pay fails to keep up with inflation.

Combined with the Office for Budget Responsibility’s gloomy economic forecasts for the coming years, it looks likely that average real pay will be lower in the years 2011 to 2020 than it was between 2001 and 2010.

That would make this the worst decade for earnings in over 200 years.

Average earnings are £480 per week, but they would be closer to £600 per week if these two periods of pay squeeze had been avoided.

Improving productivity is going to be key for any government if it wants to deliver for the hard-working people it champions.

Achieving that, however, will not be straightforward.

About this piece

This analysis piece was commissioned by the BBC from an expert working for an outside organisation.

Laura Gardiner is a senior research and policy analyst at the Resolution Foundation, specialising in the labour market.

The Resolution Foundation describes itself as a think tank that works to improve the living standards of those on low to middle incomes.

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Business is blooming for women start-ups

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Media captionThe mum whose home-based business is blooming

More and more women in the UK are setting up their own businesses as a way of reconciling the demands of work and family.

How to balance those differing pressures? Dani Bolser thought she’d finally cracked it when she started her new job as a receptionist for an events company.

“It started off quite well, but suddenly my bosses were asking me to come in a little bit earlier or can you work a little bit later,” she says. “It just turned into something very high-pressured.”

It wasn’t her first attempt to get back into work.

“After the birth of my first child, I’ve tried part-time, full-time and working weekends. And no matter what I tried, it either broke into precious family time or it just wasn’t financially viable for our family.”

So at the age of 28, Dani started her own business, DeluxeBlooms, last year. She now designs and sells luxury faux flowers from her kitchen table in Ilkley, west Yorkshire.

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Dani Bolsover is working to establish her business

“My husband encouraged me,” she says. “I’ve always been creative. It kind of fits with my love of flowers. Now I can choose how much work I do.

“It’s basically about that flexibility, to say, for instance, you know what, the kids are sick, work just gets put on hold and allows you to be a mum first and for me that’s just priceless.”

Work transformed

It turns out there are thousands of women just like Dani, who are shunning the traditional nine-to-five job in search of flexibility and more control over their working lives.

New research from Oxford Economics shows that one in 170 people in the UK now works for a small creative business, making and selling unique products or gifts.

  • 134,000 such businesses in the UK

  • 1 in 40 of all businesses are in this sector

  • 192,000 people employed

Deluxe Blooms

The report was commissioned by, the online marketplace. Since it was founded 10 years ago, it’s seen a huge growth in partners, or creative entrepreneurs, using its services to sell their products, up from 287 in 2006 to more than 5,700 today.

“In the last 10 years, thousands of creative small businesses have emerged all over the UK, creating jobs, driving wealth creation and contributing significantly to the economy,” says’s chief executive Simon Belsham.

“Perhaps most importantly, however, these businesses are highlighting the huge change under way in the UK workforce – a transformation that is seeing more women in work and more people turning to self-employment and flexible working.”

Going digital

Some 89% of partners are owned by women like Dani Bolser.

But can they make a living out of it? “Absolutely,” says Simon Belsham.

“Last year, we had more than 20 businesses which made more than £1m in sales. It’s a genuine way to make a living. It doesn’t matter with age or gender.

“We’ve seen opportunities for recent graduates to people who have retired – ‘second-halfers’ as we like to call them – who are starting a business once they’ve retired from their first career.”

Technology is driving these new ways of working.

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Laura Hutton realised she needed to keep up with the digital world

For 53-year-old Laura Hutton, going digital was her route back into work.

She took a career break from publishing once she became a mum. Laura then dabbled in estate agency work, as well as writing a host of cookbooks.

But last year, she decided to gain some new skills through Digital Mums, a company which trains mums to be “job-ready”, to kick-start their careers in digital and social media, and crucially to keep a healthy work-life balance.

“I realised that the world was moving, that the kind of jobs I wanted to get, I wasn’t going to get unless I kept up with the digital world,” says Laura.

She now manages social media for Wyevale Garden Centres and says she can work from anywhere.

Who’s the boss?

Digital Mums has so far helped nearly 1,000 mums and businesses.

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Work on the go: Laura loves the flexibility her job offers

“I’m not chained to a desk,” says Laura. “I do work at home, but being freelance and mobile means I can go to a cafe if I have to meet someone.

“I can work as I go. Having that flexibility is important. It means I am there when my family is there. It’s important to be around, especially as children grow up.”

And she’s not concerned about working remotely. “I’ve never actually met my boss,” she says.

“I work within marketing and for the head of marketing, who I’ve never met. So I miss out on the office banter.

“It doesn’t bother me because I feel I’ve done that bit, the office job. I’m not interested any more. I like the fact that it doesn’t really matter what I wear or whether I’ve brushed my hair in the morning.

“I’m lucky because I have a nice working relationship with my company.”

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Laura definitely isn’t chained to a desk

Laura and Dani are thriving on their newfound paths as they set their own work-life agenda.

“It’s pushed me into assessing my life a bit more, what do I really want to do? I think the minute you strip that back and look at what makes you happy, you can achieve great things,” says Dani.

She admits her turnover is tiny so far, but she hopes perhaps one day to have her own shop and employ a mum like her who has struggled to get back into work.

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Greece fails to secure fresh bailout funds

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Greece is due to make its debt repayments in July.

Greece has failed to secure a deal to unlock the next instalment of its multi-billion-dollar bailout after talks with eurozone finance ministers broke down.

Eurogroup head Jeroen Dijsselbloem said there was still a gap “between what could be done and what some of us had expected should be done”.

Nonetheless, he said they were “very close” to an agreement.

Informal talks are expected to continue ahead of the group’s 15 June meeting.

The Brussels-based meeting was aimed at deciding whether Greece had done enough to receive a €7.5bn (£6.4bn; $8.3bn) loan plus debt relief.

The cash is vital for Greece to avoid defaulting on a debt repayment due in July.

To secure the funds, the country has had to enact a series of economic reforms.

The International Monetary Fund and Germany are reported to have disagreed over how to help ease the country’s debts once its rescue programme ends next year.

The IMF’s participation in Greece’s latest bailout hinges on resolving this issue.

“The feeling was…. more work was needed to be able to have that kind of clarity that the financial markets understood and the Greek people understood (of) what to expect at the end of the programme period in terms of debt relief,” Greek Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos said.

However, he also said he was optimistic that a definitive deal could be brokered by the time of the next formal meeting in June.

Figures released earlier this month showed that Greece had fallen back into recession for the first time since 2012.

The country’s gross domestic product (GDP) fell by 0.1% in the first three months of the year after shrinking by 1.2% in the final quarter of 2016, the Eurostat figures showed.

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Cuban revolution

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Cubazon’s Bernardo Romero Gonzalez is counting on the Cuban diaspora to help grow his business

As the internet becomes more widespread in Cuba, online start-ups are emerging. But the problems many of the companies hope to address are also a reminder of how far the island has to go.

Bernardo Romero Gonzalez, a 33-year-old software engineer from Cuba, launched his new business this month: a website where people can order island-made products such as soap, bouquets of flowers and cakes for home delivery.

“It’s like Amazon for Cuba, but with a difference,” he told an audience of New York techies at a conference this month.

The summary was a classic start-up pitch, but it also underscored the obstacles when it comes to starting an online business in the Caribbean country.

Mr Gonzalez is counting on buyers from the Cuban diaspora, which already plays a role in the economy, sending money and other products to the island.

But the infrastructure doesn’t exist for domestic buyers to sustain the market.

Growing internet

Internet access among Cuba’s 11.2 million people is growing.

Between 2013 and 2015, the share of the Cuban population using the internet jumped from about a quarter to more than 35%, according to estimates from the International Telecommunications Union.

The growing market has helped draw the attention of internet giants, such as Airbnb, Netflix and Google, which installed servers on the island and started hosting data there last month.

The rise is also fuelling activity among local entrepreneurs, who are launching domestic versions of sites such as the crowd-review business directory Yelp.

But there’s a long way to go.

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Public wi-fi hotspots remain the primary way for Cubans to access the internet

‘Third world conditions’

Less than 6% of Cuban households had internet access at home in 2015, one of the lowest rates in the western hemisphere, according to the ITU. (In the UK, that figure tops 91%.)

Wi-fi hotspots in parks and other public places operated by the state-run telecom company remain the primary way to log on.

Service at the hotspots is often slow, expensive and selective, with the government restricting access to the full range of internet sites.

The constraints are shaping the emerging Cuban start-ups.

At this month’s TechCrunch conference in New York, Mr Gonzalez shared a stage with Kewelta, a firm focusing on advertising within decentralised online and offline networks, and Knales, which provides updates on weather, news and other events via text messages and phone calls.

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Knales co-founder Diana Elianne Benitez Perera called Cubans ‘disrupters by definition’

Knales co-founder Diana Elianne Benitez Perera told the audience that “Cubans are disrupters by definition. We always find the way to have first world conditions with third world conditions.”

‘Change in the air’

The government in recent years has taken some steps to boost internet access, increasing wi-fi hotspots in parks and other places, lowering prices and experimenting with home installations.

The measures come amid broader economic changes in Cuba, after the Castro regime loosened rules for private enterprise and the Obama administration eased the US embargo, unleashing large numbers of US travellers.

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US travel to Cuba has increased since the Obama administration eased the US embargo

The Cuba Emprende Foundation started working with the Catholic Church in Cuba about five years ago as the reforms started, funding four-week courses in entrepreneurship from which more than 3,000 people have graduated.

The Foundation helped organise the 10x10KCuba start-up competition in which both Diana and Bernardo participated last year, that led to the invitation to the Tech Crunch conference in New York in May.

“There’s change in the air,” says Anna Maria Alejo, one of the people who helped organise the TechCrunch panel and helped raise about $10,000 (£7,700) to pay for eight entrepreneurs to attend the conference.

“We’re not exactly sure where things will go, but there’s a lot of optimism among these young people,” she says.

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Three start-ups participated in a panel at the TechCrunch conference in New York in May


Cuba has a relatively high number of well-trained software engineers, especially for a country with its size and degree of internet access, said Kirk Laughlin, managing director of NearShore Americas.

The media advisory company published a report in 2015 that highlighted the island’s potential as a hub for cheap IT labour.

But Mr Laughlin says he’s been disappointed by how slowly the Cuban government has moved to improve the broadband network, especially given interest from international companies and numbers of educated Cubans opting to leave and take their chances elsewhere.

“There is such an opportunity to leapfrog ahead and really light up the island with really robust broadband. That is just not happening,” he says.

“When it comes to online start-ups, there’s a lot of workarounds”.

“That’s great that people have the ingenuity and creativity and in some ways we should applaud that,” he says.

“But it’s still a long way to go to get into the league that Cuba has great qualifications to participate in.”

‘The companies are waiting’

Some say the changes could accelerate after Raul Castro retires next year.

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Miguel Diaz-Canel Bermudez is expected to succeed Raul Castro in Cuba

In speeches, Mr Castro’s presumed successor, vice president Miguel Diaz-Canel, has indicated a more open attitude, said Larry Press, a professor emeritus at California State University Dominguez Hills, who has researched the internet in the developing world and writes a blog on Cuba.

Mr Press said media recently praised Revolico, a Craigslist-like site that was blocked by the government after its launch in 2007. More recently, it has been celebrated and has inspired competitors.

But those steps aside, a lot of work remains, he says.

“Those indicate a change of attitude, not a giant change of reality.”

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Less than 6% of Cuban households are estimated to have internet access at home

Mr Gonzalez, who has also started computer repair and web development businesses, said he thinks the moment for Cubazon is now, while shipping to Cuba from the US remains limited.

He and the staff from his current business are working to sign up more businesses to sell their wares on Cubazon.

Many of the people he’s talking to don’t have an online presence, he says, but can see the possibility: “The companies are waiting for us.”

Still, he adds, his primary focus for the moment is a basic one: “My goal currently is working.”

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EU's Barnier refuses to imagine UK Brexit talks walkout

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Michel Barnier spoke of seeking a new partnership between the UK and EU

The European Union’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, has said he does not want to consider the chance that talks on the UK’s exit from the EU could collapse.

He was speaking after his UK counterpart, David Davis, made clear the threat to walk out was genuine if the EU’s “divorce bill” was too high.

EU ministers on Monday gave Mr Barnier the green light for talks to start in June, after the UK election.

“No deal” was not an option, he said.

UK ministers have reacted angrily to reports that the EU may demand as much as €100bn (£86bn; $112bn) from the UK.

The EU is also insisting that “sufficient progress” be made on the bill, citizens’ rights and the UK-Irish border before talks begin on a future trade deal.

The first round of talks will start on 19 June and Mr Barnier will report to EU leaders at a summit three days later. In a communique on Monday, EU officials stressed that a key to the talks’ success would be their transparency for all sides.

UK Prime Minister Theresa May emphasised the importance of the negotiations in the days after voters choose a new government on 8 June. “There will be no time to waste and no time for a new government to find its way,” she said.

“If we don’t get this right, the consequences for the United Kingdom and for the economic security of ordinary working people will be dire. If we do, then the opportunities ahead are great.”

Mr Barnier told reporters in Brussels that the facts and figures behind Brexit had to be explained objectively, and it would not be “business as usual”.

“We just need to be able to wind up the accounts – that’s it. It’s really a question of trust to build our future relations.”

A range of figures has emerged for the amount the UK will be asked to pay when it leaves the EU, covering agreed commitments and liabilities.

Asked a second time what he would do if the British walked out of the talks, Mr Barnier said there would be moments of tension but things had to be put in perspective. “The new partnership is what’s important. Nobody should lose that perspective,” he emphasised.

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CMA to examine Aberdeen/Standard Life merger

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The Competition and Markets Authority has opened an investigation into the planned £11bn merger of Standard Life and Aberdeen Asset Management.

The regulator said it wanted to determine if the deal would result in a “substantial lessening of competition”.

The two companies agreed the terms of the merger, which will create the UK’s biggest asset manager, in March.

If it goes ahead, Aberdeen shareholders will own 33.3% and Standard Life shareholders 66.7% of the merged firm.

The two companies have a combined worldwide workforce of about 9,000 people.

It is expected that about 800 jobs will go in a three-year integration period.

Leadership plans

The plan is for the company to be renamed Standard Life Aberdeen plc.

Both companies have agreed on a 16-strong board made up of an equal number of Standard Life and Aberdeen directors.

Standard Life chairman Sir Gerry Grimstone is to be the chairman of the new firm, while Aberdeen’s chairman, Simon Troughton, will become deputy chairman.

Keith Skeoch, the Standard Life chief executive, and Aberdeen boss Martin Gilbert will become co-chief executives of the new firm.

A general meeting has been scheduled for June at which shareholders will be asked to approve the merger. The two firms want to conclude the deal by mid-August.

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Reality Check: Government borrowing

The claim: The governments since 2010 have borrowed more than all the Labour governments in history.

Reality Check verdict: That’s true in cash terms but not when you take into account the growing economy.

Among the more eye-catching claims of the campaign so far has been Jeremy Corbyn’s repeated assertion that the Conservative-led governments since 2010 have borrowed more money than all Labour governments in history.

This can be checked using the Bank of England’s handy three centuries of economic data spreadsheet.

The simplest way to examine this claim is to compare the amounts in cash terms, add up the amounts borrowed by all Labour governments and compare the total with the amount borrowed since 2010.

By this calculation, the combined Labour governments borrowed a little more than £500bn over their 33 years while the governments since 2010 have borrowed a bit more than £670bn.

So it’s true in cash terms, but is that a fair or useful comparison?

During the first Labour government under Ramsay MacDonald in 1924, a loaf of bread cost less than 2d on average. Also, our economy produces very considerably more today than it did in 1924, which means it is not unreasonable for the government to borrow more.

So a better comparison to make is government borrowing as a proportion of GDP, which is a measure of everything produced in the economy.

By that measure it turns out that all Labour governments borrowed about 70% of GDP while the governments since 2010 borrowed about 40% of GDP, which is a very different picture.

Even that is not necessarily a fair comparison. For example, there was a big fall in debt as a proportion of GDP after 1976, despite Jim Callaghan’s government going to the International Monetary Fund for a big loan.

That happened because the following years of very high inflation reduced the value of the government’s debts.

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AA calls for crackdown on sharing dashcam video

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New rules may be needed to control the use of video taken by dashboard cameras, the AA has warned.

Motorists who persistently share dashcam video could be accused of voyeurism, according to the motoring organisation.

It said too many drivers post videos on social media without considering the impact on the motorists shown.

In many cases drivers are pilloried for actions that are not their fault, the AA said.

As many as 15% of British motorists now use a dashcam, according to a poll of AA members, with one in a hundred planning to share their footage on social media like YouTube.

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Media caption‘Driver rams family car on A140’ footage

Edmund King, the AA president, told The Times: “While most drivers with dashcams fit them to protect themselves from ‘crash for cash’ fraudsters or dangerous drivers, there is an element of vehicular voyeurism from some individuals.”

The motoring organisation said it was not in favour of banning dashcam use, but said the next government should consider tighter rules, like those in force in other European countries:

  • In Luxembourg, dashcam use is prohibited
  • In Germany and Austria their use is “highly discouraged”
  • In Portugal and Belgium users need the other person’s permission to share video online
  • In Italy, number plates are private, and must be blurred in footage

On the other hand, the AA said sharing footage of bad driving can have its advantages.

Such publicity can send a warning to stupid and irresponsible drivers, it said. The organisation recommends sending such footage to the police, who can investigate any incident fairly.

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FTSE 100 rises as sterling weakens

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London’s stock market began the week higher as the pound fluctuated around the $1.30 mark.

Shortly after midday, the FTSE 100 was up 39.41 points at 7,510.12.

Shares in product testing company Intertek led the index higher, up 2.4%, after analysts at Kepler Cheuvreux raised their rating on the company to “buy” from “hold”.

Shares in Marks and Spencer rose 1.8% ahead of the High Street giant’s results on Wednesday.

Worldpay Group was the biggest faller on the index, down 3.4%, after Bryan Garnier cut its rating on the company to “sell” from “neutral”.

A change in broker ratings was also behind a 3.2% rise in Cairn Energy’s shares. The FTSE 250 company was boosted after Macquarie lifted its rating to “outperform” from “neutral”.

On the currency markets, the pound fell back below the $1.30 mark in early trade, but then recovered to stand at $1.3010, still down 0.2% for the day. Against the euro, sterling slid 0.5% to 1.1573 euros.

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Portugal back to fiscal health, says EU

Portugal has become the first bailed-out eurozone country to receive a clean bill of health from the European Commission after its budget deficit fell to 2% of GDP last year.

This brings it well below the EU limit of 3% and allows it to exit the Commission’s excessive debt procedure.

After its 2011 bailout, Portugal saw austerity policies under a centre-right government until elections in 2015.

Since then, a Socialist-led coalition has reversed those austerity measures.

EU economy commissioner Pierre Moscovici said the outcome was “extremely good news” for Portugal.

The Portuguese finance ministry hailed the Commission’s decision, calling it a “turning point”.

“It expresses the evaluation of the Commission that Portugal’s excessive budget deficit has been corrected in a sustainable and lasting way,” the ministry said in a statement.

“Confidence in the Portuguese economy is beginning to be reflected by international institutions.”

Under EU rules, member states are not supposed to run annual deficits greater than 3% of their total economic output.

Portugal now complies with those rules, but some other member states are less fortunate.

On Monday, the Commission, which has the power to oversee eurozone countries’ draft budgets, said France and Spain were still subject to the disciplinary procedure.

France’s deficit hit 3.4% last year, while Spain’s was even worse at 4.5%.

Although all EU countries are required to observe the 3% limit, only the 19 countries that use the euro as a currency can be fined.

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Billionaire makes 'biggest philanthropic gift' by living Australian

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Andrew Forrest, an Australian iron ore magnate and philanthropist

Australian mining magnate Andrew Forrest and his wife, Nicola, have announced they will give A$400m (£229m; $298m) to charity.

PM Malcolm Turnbull said the donation was “the biggest single philanthropic gift” in the nation’s history, and the largest by a living Australian.

The money will fund causes including cancer research, university education and ending indigenous disadvantage.

The Fortescue Metals chairman has a history of philanthropy.

“I have been very fortunate, with my wife, Nicola, to be able to accumulate capital, and then as soon as we can to commence giving it away,” said Mr Forrest, who is estimated by Forbes to have a net worth of almost A$5.8bn.

“We had a slightly unsustainable business model previously, where we would actually borrow money to give it away. Fortunately, we don’t have to do that now, thanks to the strength of the iron ore sector.”

Who is Andrew Forrest?

A 55-year-old entrepreneur, Mr Forrest graduated from the University of Western Australia with an economics degree in 1983.

Known by his schoolboy nickname “Twiggy”, he started his first mining business in 1994 and founded iron ore company Fortescue nine years later.

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A Fortescue iron ore mining operation in the Pilbara region of Western Australia

Mr Forrest was once Australia’s richest man, with his wealth peaking in 2008 during the nation’s mining boom.

In 2013, he pledged at least 50% of his wealth to charity after joining the Giving Pledge campaign launched by US billionaires Bill Gates and Warren Buffett.

How will the donations be spent?

Mr Turnbull described the donation as an “extraordinary act”, and said it would be spent in various ways:

  • A$75m would go to international cancer institutes;
  • A$75m to end modern slavery;
  • A$75m to university education and research;
  • A$75m to childhood education;
  • A$50m to “create equal opportunities for all Australians”;
  • A$50m to “build stronger communities”.

“It will change the lives of thousands of people here in Australia and around the world,” Mr Turnbull said at a briefing in Canberra.

“All of us should seek to do as much as we can with what we have. So, this is real leadership and leading by example.”

Others who have made large philanthropic offers include Indian tech billionaire Azim Premji, Irish-American businessman Chuck Feeney and Saudi Arabia’s Prince Alwaleed bin Talal.

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Arsenal: Stan Kroenke says Gunners shares 'are not, and have never been, for sale'

Stan Kroenke has a 67% stake in Arsenal

Arsenal majority shareholder Stan Kroenke says his shares “are not, and have never been, for sale”.

The American’s company released a statement on Monday following the recent £1bn bid by Alisher Usmanov to take full control of the Gunners.

Kroenke Sports and Entertainment added it was “a committed, long-term investor in Arsenal and will remain so”.

The statement comes a day after Arsenal failed to qualify for the Champions League for the first time in 20 years.

Kroenke has a 67% stake in Arsenal. Usmanov owns 30% but is not part of the board or decision-making at the club.

The Uzbek-born Russian said in April that Kroenke must “bear huge responsibility” for the club’s failures on the pitch.

Read more: Wenger admits uncertainty over his future affected Arsenal

Metal magnate Alisher Usmanov owns 30% of Arsenal shares

The Gunners, who finished fifth in the Premier League this season, face Chelsea in the FA Cup final on Saturday.

Arsenal legend Ian Wright says the club needs the spending power of a billionaire such as Usmanov, adding “something has to change”.

The statement from Kroenke did not mention the future of Gunners boss Arsene Wenger, whose contract expires in the summer.

Wenger, who has been the target of protests from some of the club’s fans, says the situation will be decided after the FA Cup final.

However, he blamed the uncertainty over his future for contributing to the club failing to qualify for the Champions League.

‘Arsenal need a winner like Abramovich’

Chelsea have won 14 major trophies since Roman Abramovich (second right) took control

The Gunners’ London rivals Chelsea won the Premier League this season – the fifth time they have done so under the ownership of billionaire Roman Abramovich, who has spent heavily since taking control in 2003.

“Abramovich is a winner,” added Wright, who scored 185 goals in 288 appearances for Arsenal.

“Stan Kroenke sees it as another asset. If you look at all his other franchises, they are doing the same. They are mediocre, with poor attendances and aren’t achieving anything as a team. That is where Arsenal are at the moment.

“We need an owner like Abramovich, who wants to win. I would swap Arsenal’s last 10 years for what Chelsea have done.”

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UK firm designs 'world's most affordable solar lamp'

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A UK design consultancy has teamed up with a giant Chinese manufacturer to produce what they say is the world’s most affordable solar lamp.

Manchester-based firm Inventid designed the SM100 solar light, which retails for $5 (£3.85) in African countries.

It was developed in collaboration with China’s Yingli and charity Solar Aid.

The hand-sized lamp runs for eight hours when fully charged. As well as a stand, it has strap slots so it can be used as a head torch or tied to a bike.

Currently kerosene burning lamps are the sole source of lighting for some 600 million African people living without electricity.

But they are expensive to run and there is the constant danger of potential fires.


“Kerosene keeps families locked in a cycle of extreme poverty with almost one quarter of their monthly income spent burning the fuel,” explains Inventid co-founder Henry James.

“To break this cycle we worked with Solar Aid, the UK’s leading solar charity to design a light that the poorest families could afford. This meant designing a light that could retail for five dollars in Africa.”

Inventid, co-founded by Mr James and Bryn Morgan in 2012, worked closely with charities in Africa to develop the light.

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The hand-sized lamp runs for eight hours when fully charged

“We gathered local insights into family routines, the layout of dwellings and environmental conditions. We listened to the aspirations and ideas of people whose personal experiences have shaped a product that is co-created in Africa.”

The SM100 was trialled with 9,000 families in three African countries, Malawi, Uganda, and Zambia.

“We are talking about parts of the world where people live on $350 a year,” says 31-year-old Mr James.

“We have never heard of a sales trial this so far-reaching. It had to be totally right if people were going to adopt the light, and introduce it into their lives and their daily routines.”

Earlier this year, the SM100 won a silver award in the Design for Society and Design for Sustainability categories at the European Product Design Awards.

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'Car boot-sale' diamond set to fetch £350,000 at auction

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The diamond is believed to have been cut in the 19th Century, but no-one knows how it got to the car-boot sale

A diamond ring bought for £10 at a car-boot sale 30 years ago is expected to fetch £350,000 at auction.

The owner believed the “exceptionally sized” stone was a piece of costume jewellery when she bought it at West Middlesex Hospital in Isleworth, west London, in the 1980s.

Unaware it was a 26 carat, cushion-shaped white diamond from the 19th Century, she wore it daily for decades.

The stone goes under the hammer at Sotheby’s in July.

The head of the auction house’s London jewellery department, Jessica Wyndham, said: “The owner would wear it out shopping, wear it day-to-day. It’s a good looking ring.

“But it was bought as a costume jewel. No-one had any idea it had any intrinsic value at all. They enjoyed it all this time.

“They’d been to quite a few car-boot sales over the years. But they don’t have any history of collecting antiques and they don’t have any history of collecting diamonds. This is a one-off windfall, an amazing find.”

Cut differently

Ms Wyndham said the owner – who does not want to be identified – assumed it was not a genuine gemstone because it was in a “filthy” mount and it did not have the sparkle of a diamond.

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The diamond will be auctioned off on 7 July

She added that because the older style of diamond cutting was “slightly duller and deeper” than nowadays “it could trick people into thinking it’s not a genuine stone”.

“With an old style of cutting, an antique cushion shape, the light doesn’t reflect back as much as it would from a modern stone cutting. Cutters worked more with the natural shape of the crystal, to conserve as much weight rather than make it as brilliant as possible.”

After about 30 years of wearing the ring, the owners took it to Sotheby’s when a jeweller told them it may be valuable.

“They came in with the idea that it might be real and they had no idea of its value,” Ms Wyndham said.

“We had a look and… got it tested at the Gemological Institute of America.”

She added: “The majority of us can’t even begin to dream of owning a diamond that large.”

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Workers 'suffer £200 pay cut' to fund pension deficits

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Workers may be suffering from lower pay as a result of their employers spending millions of pounds to keep their pension schemes afloat.

A report by the Resolution Foundation says such employees are unfairly losing an average of £200 a year.

It said those most affected are younger workers, many of whom will never benefit from the defined benefit pension schemes being protected.

In 2016, UK firms spent roughly £24bn trying to plug their deficits, it said.

Among the companies ploughing millions of pounds into their pension schemes were BT, Shell, Tesco, Unilever and Royal Bank of Scotland.

The current deficit of all defined benefit schemes in the UK is currently thought to be about £500bn.

‘Losing out’

The report says older workers, and those already in retirement, have the most to gain when companies top up their pension funds.

Of the 11 million workers still in defined benefit schemes, less than 2% are under 30 and still contributing.

Half the 6,000 schemes in existence are closed to new members, with a further third closed to further contributions.

“This drag on pay has important implications across generations as low – and often younger – earners in affected firms are losing out on pay even when they are not entitled to the pension pots they are plugging,” said Matt Whittaker, chief economist at the Resolution Foundation.

“With average earnings still £16 a week below their pre-crisis peak and prospects for a return to strong pay growth looking shaky, it’s important that younger and low- paid workers don’t take a hit to their pay because of deficit payments to pension schemes that they’re not even entitled to.”

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Ford to replace chief executive Mark Fields, reports say

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Mark Fields took up his role in 2014

Ford chief executive Mark Fields is to leave the car giant in a major reshuffle at the top, reports say.

The change, reported by Forbes and the New York Times, come as Ford faces weak sales and declining profits. Its share price is down nearly 40% since Mr Fields took up his role in 2014.

He will reportedly be replaced by James Hackett of Ford’s Smart Mobility unit.

In recent years, Ford has invested heavily in self-driving technology and ride-sharing services.

Last week, the carmaker said it planned to cut around 10% of its global workforce.

Ford employed more than 200,000 people globally at the end of 2016, including about 101,000 in North America and 23,000 in Asia.

Sales in April were down 7% in the US and 11% lower in Europe compared with a year earlier. The firm has also been hit by costs related to safety recalls.

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Cathay Pacific cuts hundreds of jobs in major shake-up

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Hong Kong’s flagship carrier Cathay Pacific has said it will cut nearly 600 jobs as part of the airline’s biggest restructuring in 20 years.

The cuts include 190 management jobs and 400 non-management staff working at its head office in Hong Kong.

In March, the airline set a target of saving 30% in employee costs at its head office after it posted its first annual loss in eight years.

The cuts are part of a three year programme to turn around the losses.

The airline said in a statement that the job cuts would be complete by the end of the year, with most of the affected employees to be informed on Monday, and over the next month.

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Chief Executive Rupert Hogg is overseeing the airline’s biggest restructure in two decades

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Dough kidding

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Media captionThe pizza chain that’s a hit in Vietnam

While proud Italians might balk at some of the pizza toppings Yosuke Masuko offers, they’d have to appreciate his obsession with quality control.

The 38-year-old Japanese expat is the founder of one of the most popular pizza chains in Vietnam, Pizza 4Ps.

With six busy restaurants in the country’s three largest cities – Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon), Hanoi and Da Nang – it serves more than 3,000 customers every day.

They flock to the outlets to try such pizza delights as salmon miso cream, teriyaki chicken, and ginger fried pork.

With more traditional pizzas also available, such as margarita and Parma ham, such is Yosuke’s attention to detail that when the first restaurant opened in Ho Chi Minh City in 2011, he would refuse to accept payment for any pizzas that weren’t perfectly round.

And importing key ingredients from Italy, including the flour and tomato sauce, he worried that the imported Italian mozzarella wasn’t fresh enough because of the long cargo flight, and the fact he could only get deliveries twice a week.

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Aaron Joel Santos

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Yosuke runs the business with his wife Sanae

So Yosuke decided he would make his own. As the cheese didn’t exist in Vietnam he couldn’t ask anyone locally for help, so instead he learned to make it himself by studying YouTube videos.

Then unhappy with the quality of milk he was able to buy in Vietnam, he bought a farm and his own cows.

Some might say this is a little too obsessive, but Yosuke says he wouldn’t have it any other way.

“The mission of our restaurant is ‘delivering wow, sharing happiness’,” he says. “To pursue our mission we keep in mind to always go beyond customer expectations.”

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The company also sells more traditional, Italian-style pizzas

While neither the Japanese nor the Vietnamese are renowned for their pizza eating, Yosuke first started making them in 2004 when he installed a wood-fired pizza oven in his garden in Tokyo.

“The experience of making your own pizza with friends every weekend made me realise that I can make people happy by serving good food in a good space,” he says.

However, it wasn’t until seven years later that Yosuke decided to start making pizza for a living. By that time he was living in Vietnam where he worked for a Japanese investment firm.

Fascinated by Vietnam’s rising middle class, he noticed that global pizza chains such as Pizza Hut and Domino’s were opening up in the country and proving popular. As Vietnam had been a former French colony, the country was used to bread products, particularly baguettes, so pizza didn’t prove too much of a jump for most people.

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The restaurants are popular among Vietnam’s growing middle class

So with fond memories of his own pizza-making exploits Yosuke quit his job and used his $100,000 (£77,000) savings to open the first branch of Pizza 4Ps in central Ho Chi Minh City.

The 4Ps part of the unusual name stands “for peace”. Yosuke explains: “In the name 4Ps is our wish for inner peace and richness of hearts.”

Looking back, Yosuke says that quitting his investment job was not a decision he took lightly.

“Everything was fine with my previous job back then,” he says. “The company even provided accommodation, and my eldest daughter was three when we opened the first restaurant.

“Of course I was afraid that the restaurant wasn’t going to work, but at the same time I felt like I needed to take the challenge.”

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The restaurants are located in busy central locations

Thankfully for Yosuke his restaurant was an immediate hit, and the company has grown steadily ever since.

From 10 workers to begin with, it now has 700 full-time Vietnamese staff and 13 Japanese employees, five of whom have management roles.

Yosuke says that when the first restaurant opened, 90% of its customers were Japanese expats, 5% Vietnamese and 5% other foreign nationals.

Today more than 70% of diners are Vietnamese.

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Pizza 4Ps also sells sweet, dessert pizzas

In addition to making its own cheese, Pizza 4Ps also arranges for Vietnamese farmers to grow it vegetables such as rocket and lettuces. The company also sells some of its cheese to hotels and other restaurants.

Yosuke says: “In 2016 we had a turnover of $7.5m, and in 2017 we expect $15m.”

Ultimately the aim is to float the company on a stock exchange, and open branches in other countries.

To help run the business Yosuke relies on his wife Sanae, whom he met when they both worked for the same Japanese investment fund.

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The business has both Vietnamese and Japanese staff

While Yosuke has the chief executive role, Sanae looks after staffing matters and marketing.

Rather than pick Japanese or Vietnamese as the working language at Pizza 4Ps, staff are instead encouraged to talk to each other in English.

Yosuke admits that this can occasionally cause communication problems, but says that cultural differences can sometimes be the biggest problem.

Sanae explains: “We found the gap of working culture between Vietnamese and Japanese is the one that is difficult to bridge… but things are improving.”

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Yosuke meditates every day before work

Hang Do, vice president of Seedcom, a Vietnamese investment fund, says she wasn’t surprised that Pizza 4Ps has done so well.

“For the past five years, as the economy has grown, the middle class has grown very fast as well, and people have just been more open-minded to the diversity of food and beverages,” she says. “Pizza 4Ps offers a very unique flavour.”

Yosuke says he is confident that the Vietnamese pizza market will continue to grow, and he is putting in the hours to ensure that Pizza 4Ps continues to be a success.

“I go to the office at 9am, and I do work 13 hours a day. I am devoting my life to working.”

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Ex-RBS boss Fred Goodwin to face investors in court

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Former RBS boss Fred Goodwin was dubbed “Fred the Shred” for his aggressive cost-cutting

Former Royal Bank of Scotland boss Fred Goodwin is expected to face investors in court later for the first time since the bank’s near collapse in 2008.

Some 9,000 people who lost money on shares are demanding £520m in compensation from the bank and four former directors, including Mr Goodwin.

They say they were misled over the bank’s financial health in the run up to its £45bn government bailout.

The bank and former directors deny any wrongdoing.

Mr Goodwin, who was stripped of his knighthood in 2012, oversaw the multi-billion-pound deal to buy Dutch rival ABN Amro at the height of the financial crisis in 2007, which led to the RBS bailout.

The case at London’s High Court is expected to last 14 weeks and centres on the rights issue aimed at funding the deal which asked existing shareholders to pump £12bn into the bank in exchange for discounted extra shares.

Goodwin ‘sorry’

The bank has already settled the majority of claims over the issue, but has not admitted liability.

The case is being heard by a High Court judge without a jury and will involve the remaining 9,000 individuals and 18 institutions. If they are successful the final payment could be up to £700m if interest is added.

Mr Goodwin is due to be cross examined on 8 June, the day of the general election. It will be the first time he has spoken about his role at RBS since 2009 when he told MPs on the Treasury select committee that he “could not be more sorry” for what had happened.

RBS has been loss-making ever since its £45.5bn bailout at the height of the crisis and remains 72% taxpayer-owned.

In February, the bank reported a £7bn annual loss for 2016.

The bank is also yet to settle with the US Department of Justice over claims it mis-sold toxic residential mortgage-backed securities.

In April, Chancellor Philip Hammond said the government was prepared to sell its stake at a loss.

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Reproductive rebels

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The contraceptive pill had profound social consequences. Everyone agrees with that.

In fact, that was the point. Margaret Sanger, the birth control activist who urged scientists to develop it, wanted to liberate women sexually and socially, to put them on a more equal footing with men.

But the pill wasn’t just socially revolutionary. It also sparked an economic revolution – perhaps the most significant economic change of the late 20th Century.

50 Things That Made the Modern Economy highlights the inventions, ideas and innovations which have helped create the economic world in which we live.

It is broadcast on the BBC World Service. You can find more information about the programme’s sources and listen online or subscribe to the programme podcast.

To see why, first consider what the pill offered to women. For a start, it worked – unlike many of the other options.

Over the centuries, lovers have tried all kinds of unappealing tricks to prevent pregnancy. There was crocodile dung in ancient Egypt, Aristotle’s recommendation of cedar oil, and Casanova’s method of using half a lemon as a cervical cap.

But even the obvious modern alternative to the pill – condoms – have a failure rate.

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Margaret Sanger opened the first US family planning centre in New York in 1916, when contraception and abortion were illegal

Because people don’t tend to use them exactly as they’re supposed to, they sometimes rip or slip. So for every 100 sexually active women using condoms for a year, 18 will become pregnant. The failure rate of the sponge is similar. The diaphragm isn’t much better.

But the failure rate of the pill – with typical use – is just 6%, three times safer than condoms. Used perfectly, the failure rate drops to one twentieth of that.

Economic revolution

Using a condom meant negotiating with a partner. The diaphragm and sponge were messy. But the decision to use the pill was a woman’s, and it was private and discreet. No wonder women wanted it.

The pill was first approved in the United States in 1960. In just five years, almost half of married women on birth control were using it.

But the real revolution would come when unmarried women got access to oral contraceptives. That took time. But in around 1970 – 10 years after the pill was first approved – US state after US state started to make it easier for single women to get the pill.

Universities opened family planning centres. By the mid-1970s, the pill was overwhelmingly the most popular form of contraception for 18 and 19-year-old women in the US.

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The Planned Parenthood organisation distributed information and contraception across the US

And that was when the economic revolution really began.

Women in America started studying particular kinds of degrees – law, medicine, dentistry and MBAs – which had previously been very masculine.

In 1970, medical degrees were over 90% male. Law degrees and MBAs were over 95% male. Dentistry degrees were 99% male. But at the beginning of the 1970s – equipped with the pill – women surged into all these courses. At first, women made up a fifth of the class, then a quarter. By 1980 they often made up a third.

This wasn’t simply because women became more likely to go to university.

Professional progress

Women who’d already decided to be students opted for these professional courses.

The proportion of female students studying subjects such as medicine and law rose dramatically, and logically enough, the presence of women in the professions rose sharply shortly afterwards.

But what did this have to do with the pill? By giving women control over their fertility, it allowed them to invest in their careers.

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These Harvard graduates could take for granted the freedom to develop their careers before having children, if they wished

Before the pill was available, taking five years or more to qualify as a doctor or lawyer didn’t look like a good use of time and money. To reap the benefits of those courses, a woman would need to be able to reliably delay motherhood until she was 30 at least.

Having a baby at the wrong time risked derailing her studies or delaying her professional progress.

A sexually active woman who tried to become a doctor, dentist or lawyer was doing the equivalent of building a factory in an earthquake zone: just one bit of bad luck and the expensive investment would be trashed.

Marriage moratorium

Of course, women could simply abstain from sex if they wanted to study for a professional career. But many didn’t want to.

And it wasn’t just about having fun. It was also about finding a husband. Before the pill, people married young. A woman who decided to abstain from sex while developing her career might try to find a husband at the age of 30 and find that, quite literally, all the good men had been taken.

The pill changed both those dynamics. It meant that unmarried women could have sex with substantially less risk of an unwanted pregnancy.

But it also changed the whole pattern of marriage. Everyone started to marry later, even women who didn’t use the pill.

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The 1973 landmark Roe v Wade case legalised abortion in the US, allowing women further control over their fertility

Babies started to arrive later, and at a time of women’s own choosing. And that meant that women, at least, had time to establish a professional career.

Of course, many other things changed for American women in the 1970s.

Earnings boost

Abortion was legalised, laws against sex discrimination were put in place, feminism emerged as a movement, and the drafting of young men to fight in Vietnam forced employers to recruit more women.

But a careful statistical study by the Harvard economists Claudia Goldin and Lawrence Katz strongly suggests that the pill must have played a major role in allowing women to delay marriage and motherhood, and invest in their own careers.

Goldin and Katz tracked the availability of the pill to young women in the US, state by state. They show that as each state opened up access to contraception, so the enrolment rate in professional courses soared, and so did women’s wages.

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A few years ago, the economist Amalia Miller used a variety of clever statistical methods to demonstrate that if a woman in her 20s was able to delay motherhood by one year, her lifetime earnings would rise by 10%.

That was some measure of the vast advantage to a woman of completing her studies and securing her career before having children.

Alternative reality

But the young women of the 1970s didn’t need to see Amalia Miller’s research: they already knew it was true.

As the pill became available, they signed up for long professional courses in undreamt of numbers.

American women today can look across the Pacific Ocean for a vision of an alternative reality.

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Did the lack of widely available contraception contribute to Japan’s gender inequality?

In Japan, one of the world’s most technologically advanced societies, the pill wasn’t approved for use until 1999. Japanese women had to wait 39 years longer than their American counterparts for the same contraceptive.

In contrast, when the erection-boosting drug Viagra was approved in the US, Japan was just a few months behind.

Gender inequality in Japan is widely reckoned to be worse than anywhere else in the developed world, with women continuing to struggle for recognition in the workplace.

It is impossible to disentangle cause and effect here, but the experience in the US suggests that it is no coincidence. Delay the pill by two generations, and of course the economic impact on women will be enormous.

It is a tiny little pill that continues to transform the world economy.

Tim Harford writes the Financial Times’s Undercover Economist column. 50 Things That Made the Modern Economy is broadcast on the BBC World Service. You can find more information about the programme’s sources and listen online or subscribe to the programme podcast.

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Church of England fund sees 'stellar' returns

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The Church of England’s investment success has pushed it into the top ranks of the world’s best performing funds of its type last year.

The fund made a 17.1% on its 2016 investments, more than double the 8.2% it made in 2016, according to the Church Commissioners annual report.

The Church Commissioners described it as a “stellar outturn”.

The body is charged with managing the Church’s assets in order to produce money to support its work.

Last year’s performance means the fund has returned 9.6% a year for the past 30 years on average.

This puts it ahead of the top-rated Yale University endowment fund, according to the Financial Times.

The Church Commissioners said the performance had been partly driven by the drop in the pound following the Brexit vote, but said strong returns from its investments in global equities, private equity and timberland had been “equally helpful”.

The Church Commissioners secretary and chief executive Andrew Brown said in all it had contributed £230.7m to the Church of England last year.

“While this is only around 15% of the Church’s overall income – most funding comes from the extraordinary generosity of parishioners – we are delighted to be able to play our part.”

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The Archbishop of Canterbury said the commissioners’ “effective stewardship” was matched by ethical and responsible investment in 2016

The Church’s ethical investment policy dictates that all investments should be compatible with Christian values and “recommends against investment” in companies which make more than 3% of their income from pornography, 10% from military products and services, or 25% from other industries such as gambling, alcohol and high interest rate lenders.

However, in 2013 it emerged that the Church had invested indirectly in payday loan firm Wonga.

It was a particular embarrassment for the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Reverend Justin Welby, who had pledged to try to put Wonga out of business by helping credit unions compete with it.

Payday firms offer short-term loans, often at high interest rates, and have been accused of leading people into more debt.

The Church subsequently ended its investment in the firm.

Responding to 2016 report, the Archbishop of Canterbury, said: “In a year which saw considerable political turbulence, the Church Commissioners continued to provide effective stewardship of investments matched by ethical and responsible investment.”

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Scottish Power lands US wind farm deal

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Wind power is expected to be the fastest growing renewable energy source in the coming decades

Scottish Power has won the right to build two offshore wind farms in the US which it says could eventually power 400,000 homes.

The two sites combined are more than double the size of the energy giant’s operations in the UK.

The two farms will be off the coast of Massachusetts and North Carolina, and are expected to start generating power by 2022 and 2025 respectively.

The company refused to say how much it had paid to win the bids for two sites.

Thousands of jobs are expected to come from the development of the wind farms.

Keith Anderson, Scottish Power’s chief corporate officer, said the firm’s success was evidence of the UK industry’s export potential.

“We as a country are seen to be the leaders in this type of technology. It’s great to be creating opportunities and developing skills in the UK, but also to see these being exported.

Mr Anderson said the “huge amount of land” in the US had made “colossal wind farms possible onshore”.

“The cost differential between onshore and offshore was so large that a lot of people never thought that America would be interested. But now we’re staring to see the process pick up speed as the cost of offshore wind comes down,” he added.

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TPP trade deal will continue without Trump

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The controversial trade pact was dealt a blow when the US ditched the deal

Asia-Pacific trade ministers have agreed to resuscitate the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal, despite US President Donald Trump abandoning it.

Mr Trump signalled in January he would block the passage of the 12-nation pact in order to protect American jobs.

Trade ministers from the 11 remaining countries have met in Vietnam to get the deal back on track.

The representatives also agreed to help the US rejoin the deal at any time.

The bid to revive the TPP, which would have covered 40% of the global economy, was led by trade ministers from Japan, Australia and New Zealand.

New Zealand trade minister Todd McClay said the remaining countries “are committed to finding a way forward to deliver” the deal.

Door still open

Although the door will be kept open for the US to rejoin the pact, its trade representative Robert Lighthizer said it would not return to the TPP.

“The United States pulled out of the TPP and it’s not going to change that decision.”

“The president made a decision, that I certainly agree with, that bilateral negotiations are better for the United States than multilateral negotiations.”

The remaining 11 countries pushing on with the deal are Japan, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Mexico, Peru, Chile, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei.

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Fair shares?

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Amanda Lundeteg, chief executive of Allbright, founded her firm to expose Sweden’s lack of equality

Sweden may have a global reputation as one of world’s most gender equal societies but when it comes to female representation in business, campaigners question whether the Nordic nation is right to keep basking in the spotlight, as progress slows down back home.

Amanda Lundeteg, already a chief executive aged just 32, is in one way a poster girl for gender equality in the Swedish workplace.

She holds a degree in Business Economics, started her career in banking and has already served on three different boards.

Yet the sole reason Allbright, the non-profit company she manages, exists is to expose the limitations in career opportunities for women in Sweden.

Despite giving fathers the right to take paid time off since the 1970s and one of the world’s most generous parental leave packages (currently 480 tax-funded days to share between a couple) and heavily subsidized day care (capped at some $145 a month) Ms Lundeteg argues Sweden is less progressive than many might think.

“We’re really good at bragging about how good we are… but if you ask most women in Sweden I definitely don’t think that they are satisfied.”

Gender stereotypes

On the plus side, more than 80% of mothers work and Sweden leads the industrialised world in terms of public sector gender equality, according to the OECD; but Allbright’s research shows the private sector – and the rapidly growing startup scene – is struggling to keep up.

In 2016, more than 80% of managers at listed Swedish companies were men and not a single new business on the stock market had a woman boss.

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Martin Hector: “There’s still a lot of fathers who don’t take their parental leave”

The main reason for this imbalance is that traditional gender stereotypes prevail, despite decades of legislation designed to even things out, says Ms Lundeteg.

“It’s possible to live a gender-equal life in Sweden, but we don’t do it because of traditions.

“As a man you’re supposed to be the one who works and brings home the meat to the cave. It’s about stereotypes and privileges that will take time to break down.”

Part-time roles

Figures from Statistics Sweden confirm that women still take more than 80% of a couple’s parental leave while their first child is under the age of two.

Women also remain much more likely to work part-time than men. When it comes to equal pay for similar work, Sweden is close to the OECD average and drops to 35th place on the World Economic Forum’s gender equality ranking.

It isn’t difficult to find Swedes who are willing to talk about the discrepancies.

“There’s still a lot of fathers who don’t take their parental leave so it’s not perfect yet,” says Martin Hector, 32, as he takes his baby son for a stroll in Ralambshovs park in central Stockholm.

“Over the summer, for three months or something like that, feels the most common.”

He’s planning to take a total of nine months off work.

Hiring gap

Camilla Dath, a lawyer who is also braving unusually chilly May temperatures of 2C with her seven-month-old, is taking 11 months’ leave and says her husband will take a similar period off work.

But other parents might not have the same opportunities, she argues, if one partner earns substantially more than the other or because they work in organisations with more old-fashioned cultures.

“I have friends working in big law firms and they have a harder time to take parental leave,” she says.

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Lawyer Camilla Dath and her husband may be sharing their parental leave – but many other Swedes are not

When it comes to the number of women in management, the biggest discrepancies are still in the traditionally “male” industries of manufacturing and technology.

However, Allbright’s research suggests that financial services and property companies have made “significant” improvements in recent years.

Rental accommodation firm Heba, for example, recently climbed 100 places in Allbright’s rankings after replacing several of its top male executives, resulting in a female majority in management.

However its chief executive, Lennart Karlsson, is candid enough to admit that reaching gender equality was not his original goal.

“I thought competence was the main thing – competence and attitude – not sex, but I’ve changed my mind. The workplace works better because of the [gender] mix,” he says.

“The discussion climate is better, you have a better conversation and a better understanding for each other.”

Positive correlation

Amanda Lundetag argues this should boost her business too, citing several recent studies including a high-profile report for the Peterson Institute for International Economics, which concluded that there is a positive correlation between the presence of women in leadership roles and an organisation’s performance.

It’s a link that is definitely not lost on the Swedish politicians spearheading what they’ve described as “the first feminist government in the world”.

The Nordic nation’s Left-Green coalition pushed through a new law in 2015, aimed to encourage men to take a greater share of the parental leave. Ninety days are now reserved for fathers on a “use it or lose” it basis.

“What we want to see is an equal participation from the parents in the long run… but we also have to take it slowly so that families will be able to adapt to the changes,” says Annika Strandhall, Sweden’s Minister for Social Security.

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Simone French says the law is fine but the traditional culture drove her back to work early

Next year will even see the launch of a new Gender Equality Authority, an admission, according to Ms Strandhall, that Sweden’s world-famous feminist initiatives have not been as joined-up as they might have been.

Split views

Yet while creating equal opportunities for men and women appears largely hard-wired into the national psyche, Sweden is split on the extent to which the state should intervene to pick up the pace.

The government’s attempt to introduce legislation that would fine listed companies which fail to appoint women to at least 40% of board seats was rejected by parliament in January.

The fear of potential penalties seems to have acted as a catalyst, though; 35% of those put forward for board seats so far in 2017 are women, up 2% on last year, says Allbright, putting Sweden behind only Norway and France, both of which have legally-binding quotas.

However, the nationalist Sweden Democrats (currently the second-most popular party in the polls) and the smaller centre-right Christian Democrats -voted against the 90-day parental leave quota for fathers. They want families to have a greater choice when it comes to organising parenting.

“There is a societal pressure… because everyone goes back to work. I felt I would be going against the norm if I had stayed at home,” explains Simone French, a 46-year-old who is originally from Australia.

She says she would have welcomed the opportunity to stay at home until her son started school. Instead she ended up taking just a year off from her digital marketing career amid pressure from her employer and relatives.

“It was my maternal instinct to be with my son – every fibre in my being fought against going back. It’s not really talked about here but I have actually met a couple of Swedish women who felt the same.”

‘A culture thing’

However those cheerleading Sweden’s march towards a completely gender equal society argue that evening out parental responsibilities is as much about giving fathers the same chance to bond with their children while they are young, as it is giving women greater opportunities to climb the ladder back in the workplace.

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Sweden’s laws on equality aren’t lacking – banking analyst Andreas Lundvick is one of the rare fathers making the most of them

“You become closer with the children – a better connection,” says Andreas Lundvick, 38, one of the other fathers back in Ralambshovs park.

He’s taking time out from his job at a major Swedish bank to look after his six-month-old son while his wife is studying full-time, a move he believes will have “no impact” on his future career.

“I feel lucky, when you speak to people from other countries, and you hear about their situation, it’s mostly the mum being home with the children. It’s a culture thing.”

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Young people 'most likely to go abroad without insurance'

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About 25% of British holidaymakers are thought to not buy travel insurance before going abroad

About 40% of young people go abroad without travel insurance, risking medical fees of thousands of pounds if they are taken ill, a survey suggests.

The Association of British Travel Agents surveyed 2,043 Britons and found those aged 18 to 24 were the most likely to go abroad without insurance.

It comes after the family of a South Yorkshire traveller in Thailand had to raise £32,000 for his medical care.

Overall a quarter of UK travellers are thought to go abroad without insurance.

In 2015, 35-year-old Craig Lindley, from Barnsley, fell ill while celebrating a friend’s wedding on a Thai island.

He was diagnosed with Guillain-Barré syndrome – which effects the peripheral nervous system – and was left paralysed

He was charged £20,000 for a five-day course of treatment in Bangkok.

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Craig Lindley was left paralysed in Thailand without travel insurance; his friends raised £32,000 towards his medical bills

His ambulance and speedboat from the island to Koh Samui Hospital also cost £17,000.

After an online appeal his family and friends raised £32,000 towards his medical bills.

The Association of British Travel Agents’ (Abta) Mark Tanzer said: “Rather than having to resort to the kindness of strangers, holidaymakers should make sure that they have the right insurance in place.”

‘Increase on previous years’

Overall, the number of British travellers surveyed without insurance has risen to 25% in the 12 months to May, up from 22% the previous year.

Mr Tanzer added: “Every year, we see cases of people falling into difficulty due to travelling without insurance.

“Often their families have to raise thousands of pounds for their treatment or repatriation and that’s why it is so worrying to see an increase in younger people travelling without insurance.”

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Marcus Doyle

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Michael Doyle was taken ill while in Bulgaria, his travel insurance would not cover a medical flight back to the UK

In 2016, Michael Doyle, 29, was admitted to a private hospital in Bulgaria after being diagnosed with blood poisoning.

He required dialysis treatment which he received in the hospital, but he passed away before his parents were able to raise about £20,000 required to bring him back to the UK for more treatment.

His father John has advised people to get travel insurance. He said: “Go and enjoy yourself, Bulgaria is an excellent place to go, it’s not different from anywhere else in the world but you need to have insurance.”

Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) spokeswoman Susan Crown said: “”The FCO cannot pay medical bills if you are hospitalised abroad, nor can we fly you home.

“Take out an appropriate insurance policy and make sure you know what it covers you for. It may feel like an added expense but it’s very worthwhile if you compare it to what you could end up paying if something goes wrong on holiday.”

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The UK's most delayed airlines revealed

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Only 75% of UK flight arrivals landed on time, according to Which?

Air Transat, Icelandair and Norwegian Air Shuttle are the least punctual airlines in Britain, research from Which? has found.

The consumer group analysed landing times for 850,000 flights at 25 UK airports and found that on average only 75% of all flights arrived on time.

Dutch airline KLM was the most punctual carrier, followed by Qatar Airways.

Air Transat was the most tardy, with only 55% of flights landing within 15 minutes of their planned arrival time.

Icelandair and Norwegian were not much better, with on-time performance rates of 56% and 60%, respectively.

A spokesperson for Montreal-based Air Transat said it was not wholly responsible for its low punctuality ranking.

“The statistics in this report do not take into account the delays caused by factors beyond our control such as weather and air traffic control.

“When these factors are excluded, our punctuality rate is in fact 78%.”

Icelandair also blamed issues such as air traffic strikes as well as renovations at Reykjavik airport for its performance.

Payouts for unpunctuality

Passengers who travel on delayed flights from the UK are entitled to compensation under EU rules. But that might not apply if flights are delayed due to factors such as extreme weather or airport strikes.

A spokesperson for the Civil Aviation Authority said new measures were recently introduced for passengers who were finding extracting compensation from airlines difficult.

“Last year we introduced alternative dispute resolution to the aviation industry so passengers, who have been unable to resolve a complaint with an airline, can get an independent decision that the airline must abide by,” they said.

“Nearly 80% of passenger journeys from the UK are now covered by airlines who are signed up to dispute resolution services.”

EU flight delay rights

  • If your flight departed the European Union or was with a European airline, you might have rights under EU law to claim if the delay or cancellation was within the airline’s control
  • If your flight’s delayed for two or more hours the airline must offer food and drink, access to phone calls and emails, and accommodation if you’re delayed overnight – including transfers between the airport and the hotel
  • If you arrive more than three hours late in a journey of less than 1,500km you are entitled to €250 in compensation from the airline
  • If you arrive more than three hours in a journey spanning more than 1,500km, but within the EU, you can get €400 in compensation from the carrier
  • Journeys to non-EU destinations more than 3,000km away that arrive between three and four hours late put you in line for €300 in airline payouts, while delays longer than four hours to these destinations are due €600 in compensation.

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Police probe UK links to Magnitsky money

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Sergei Magnitsky died in prison while awaiting trial

Police are investigating how £6.6m from a Russian organised crime group has been allegedly traced to a banking firm in the UK, the BBC has learned.

US court papers have linked some of the so-called “Magnitsky money” – a £150m tax fraud scheme in Russia – to Renaissance Capital.

The information has been handed to police by Hermitage Capital, the original victim of the Russian fraud.

City of London Police say an active investigation is under way.

Sergei Magnitsky was an auditor at a Moscow law firm when he discovered what he said was a massive fraud by Russian tax officials and police officers.

After reporting the alleged theft of $230m (£150m) to the authorities, he was himself detained in 2008 on suspicion of aiding tax evasion and died in custody in November 2009.

He acted as a legal adviser for London-based Hermitage Capital Management (HCM), where colleagues insist the case against him was fabricated to make him halt his investigations.

Despite his death Russian prosecutors decided to put him on trial – a case dismissed as a “circus” by his family and by HCM founder Bill Browder, who was himself tried in absentia.

The US Justice Department highlighted the UK connection to suspected illicit funds after investigating how proceeds of the Russian tax fraud were allegedly laundered into luxury apartments in New York.

US court documents, seen by the BBC, show alleged wire transfers from the Russian organised crime group going into the UK bank account of Renaissance Capital – a Russian investment banking firm, which has offices in London.

The US investigation led to $6m being recovered by the New York district attorney.

The files given to British police highlight a number of “money laundering red flags” over Renaissance Capital’s activities, although the US authorities have not suggested Renaissance played a role in, or were aware of, the original Russian tax fraud.

Renaissance Capital has been contacted by the BBC but has not provided a response.

‘Dirty money’

Mr Browder, who has campaigned for authorities to investigate where the Magnitsky money went, and who benefitted from the fraud, says the outcome in the US should now prompt UK authorities to act.

“This should show other law enforcement agencies around the world that this is a solid case which leads to big financial recoveries and it’s worthwhile to pursue,” he said.

“It should show the City of London Police that the information led to a significant financial recovery for the US and there is a strong argument for them to devote resources to fight a much larger possible discovery of money laundering in the UK.”

The US attorney’s office of New York said the organised Russian crime group, along with corrupt Russian government officials, “engaged in a broad pattern of money laundering in order to conceal the proceeds of the fraud scheme”.

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Mr Browder says the outcome in America should now prompt UK authorities to act

It said in a complex series of transfers through shell corporations, the $230m from the Russian treasury was laundered into numerous accounts in Russia and other countries.

Mr Browder and other anti-corruption campaigners have urged authorities to do more to clamp down on suspected “dirty money”.

He said corrupt foreign officials must be prevented from enjoying lavish lifestyles in places like London and New York with the suspected proceeds of crime.

“It’s a scary thing for the Russian government to see that their money is not safe in the West,” he said.

A new Criminal Finances Bill was passed in the UK in April 2017 giving authorities stronger powers to freeze assets where suspected illicit wealth is flowing into the UK.

Duncan Hames from campaign group Transparency International said it was now time for authorities to “turn up the heat”.

“The strongest laws are only paper without a genuine commitment to enforce them. We are looking to the police to actively investigate money laundering and it is vital they are properly resourced to do so.”

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Alisher Usmanov: Arsenal shareholder makes £1bn takeover bid to Stan Kroenke

Usmanov’s rivalry with Kroenke has become increasingly public

Uzbek-born Russian billionaire Alisher Usmanov has made a £1bn bid to wrest control of Arsenal from majority shareholder Stan Kroenke.

But with Kroenke showing no interest, the bid has in effect been rejected, though Usmanov is yet to receive written confirmation of that.

The Financial Times reported Usmanov made the offer last month, and that Kroenke has yet to formally respond.

Metal magnate Usmanov owns 30% of Arsenal’s shares.

He is, though, not part of the board or decision-making at the club.

He said in April that Kroenke must “bear huge responsibility” for the club’s failures on the pitch.

Arsenal need other teams to slip up in Sunday’s final round of matches to avoid missing out on Champions League qualification for the first time in 21 years.

Arsene Wenger, who has been manager since 1996, has been the target of protests from some of the club’s fans.

The Frenchman’s future at the club will be decided at a board meeting after Arsenal meet Chelsea in 27 May’s FA Cup final.

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Foot Locker shares plunge after weak sales

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Adidas sold a must-have trainer last year

Investors dumped Foot Locker like a stinky pair of trainers after the firm reported slow quarterly sales.

The New York athletic-wear chain said sales in the February-to-April period rose 0.5% from 2016 at stores open at least a year.

The news sent shares of the company down 15% in trade on Friday morning.

Chief executive Richard Johnson said he was “not satisfied” with the results. The firm is crafting a “plan B” for the year, focused on controlling costs.

Total Foot Locker sales topped $2bn, up 0.7% year-on-year, thanks to some new stores.

But delayed tax refunds in the US depressed traffic in February, traditionally one of the firm’s biggest months, Mr Johnson said.

He also said the craze for classic Adidas Superstars and Stan Smith trainers had died down, without being replaced by a comparable must-have item.

Kanye West trainers ‘sell out in an hour’ in Nottingham

Why we love trainers

Sales increased as the period progressed, he added, repeating observations made by other retailers.

“It was a bit of a rollercoaster ride,” he said.

Foot Locker, which has a global footprint of more than 3,350 stores and brands such as Champs Sports and Runners Point, said total profits were $180m in the quarter, down more than 5%.

Deutsche Bank analyst said Paul Trussell said industry analysts did not have confidence that Foot Locker could deliver on its promised sales growth in the rest of the year.

“I don’t sense a comfort level with that view,” he said. “Help us get more confident on that front.”

Mr Johnson said the company remained secure in its position.

“We remain very confident the consumer hasn’t gone elsewhere,” he said.

“We are living in a world that is casualised,” he said. “Sneakers are a very important part of our consumers’ wardrobe.”

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Text-to-switch plan for mobile users

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Mobile phone users will be able to switch operators by sending a text to the provider they want to leave, under plans drawn up by the regulator.

Ofcom said customers could avoid an awkward and long call to their operator and instead send a text. In turn, they will be sent switching codes.

The proposal means Ofcom’s previously preferred option – a more simple one-stage process – is being dropped.

That system was more expensive and could have raised bills, it said.

The change of preferred plan marks a victory for mobile operators who would have faced higher costs under the alternative system. Ofcom said its research suggested customers would also prefer the new planned system.

At present, anyone who wishes to switch to a different mobile provider must contact their current supplier to tell them they are leaving.

Ofcom research suggests that, of those who have switched, some 38% have been hit by one major problem during the process. One in five of them temporarily lost their service, while one in 10 had difficulties contacting their current supplier or keeping their phone number.

Under previous plans, Ofcom wanted responsibility for the switch being placed entirely in the hands of the new provider. That would mean one call to a new provider by the customer.


The regulator has now concluded that such a system would be twice as expensive as its newly-preferred option of texting to switch.

They would text, then receive a text back, which includes a unique code to pass on to their new provider who could arrange the switch within one working day. Customers would be able to follow this process whether they were taking their mobile number with them or not.

Under the proposed rules, mobile providers would be banned from charging for notice periods running after the switch date. That would mean customers would no longer have to pay for their old and new service at the same time after they have switched.

A final decision will be made in the autumn.

Latest figures published last year showed that there were an estimated 47 million mobile phone contracts in the UK, and approximately 5.9 million people had never switched provider at all, nor considered switching in the previous year.

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GM to stop making cars for Indian market

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The firm announced that it would “honour original Chevrolet vehicle warranties”

General Motors (GM) has announced that it will stop making cars for the Indian market by the end of 2017.

The firm, which sells its Chevrolet brand in India, said it would continue to provide maintenance services.

It also said that its plant in Maharashtra would continue to make cars for overseas markets, mainly central and south American regions.

GM has announced similar plans for South and East African markets as part of its global business restructuring.

GM puts $1bn India plan ‘on hold’

The US carmaker said it would stop selling cars in South Africa, and sell its manufacturing business there to Isuzu Motors.

It added that Isuzu would also purchase 57.7% shareholding in its East Africa operations, assuming management control.

The firm is aiming to make significant savings through these steps.

“As a result of these actions, GM expects to realise annual savings of approximately $100m (£77m) and plans to take a charge of approximately $500m in the second quarter of 2017,” it said in a statement.

GM’s announcement comes against the backdrop of predictions that India will become the world’s third biggest vehicle market by 2020.

But the firm has put faith in exports from India.

“In India, our exports have tripled over the past year, and this will remain our focus going forward,” GM International president Stefan Jacoby said in a statement.

GM had planned to invest $1bn in India to boost its domestic presence, but its sales figures fell below below 1% in the year ended in March 2017.

“We determined that the increased investment required for an extensive and flexible product portfolio would not deliver a leadership position or long-term profitability in the domestic market,” Mr Jacoby added.

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FTSE 100 rebounds after two days of losses

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London’s main share index opened higher as the market recovered some of the ground lost in the past two days.

Global markets have dropped sharply since Wednesday, with uncertainty surrounding the Trump presidency being blamed for the sell-off.

The row over the firing of FBI director James Comey has led to growing scepticism about Mr Trump’s ability to deliver tax and regulatory reform.

But in early trade on Friday, the FTSE 100 rose 30.10 points to 7,466.52.

Airlines shares were in favour, with British Airways owner IAG up 1.6% and EasyJet rising 1.5%.

But shares in Hikma Pharmaceuticals dropped 4.8% after the company cut its full-year revenue forecast.

Last week, Hikma had said that its launch of a generic asthma drug would be delayed after its approval was blocked by US regulators.

On the currency markets, the pound was back below the $1.30 mark. On Thursday, it had jumped above this level to the highest point since September after the release of stronger-than-expected retail sales figures.

However, on Friday it was trading at $1.2981. Against the euro, the pound was down slightly at 1.1648 euros.

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Peppa Pig owner announces new series

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Entertainment One, the company that owns Peppa Pig, has announced it is working on a new series of the popular pre-school cartoon.

It expects 117 episodes to be aired around the world from the spring of 2019.

The new series of cartoons will be made by the format’s original creators, Astley Baker Davies.

Entertainment One has a majority stake in the animation studio and has helped make Peppa Pig into a global brand.

Global appeal

The media company said it had 40 licensing partners across the world promoting Peppa Pig toys, games and confectionary.

A toy manufacturer in Brazil is launching a new line of toys which are due to go on sale in August 2017.

It said licensing in Russia had “accelerated at a significant pace” and Peppa Pig merchandise had entered new markets across the Nordic region.

The children’s programme is also proving increasingly popular in China, where it has generated more than 24.5 billion views on multiple subscription video-on-demand platforms.

Entertainment One said this was fuelling demand for the brand’s licensing and merchandising programme to be rolled out in China this year.

Darren Throop, chief executive of Entertainment One, said: “Peppa Pig’s global appeal continues apace as we bring new content to audiences across the world.

“With a new series in the pipeline, best-in-class partners and strong marketing and experiential initiatives in each territory, we continue to nurture the long-term success of this global pre-school phenomenon.”

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Just Eat and Hungryhouse merger faces competition probe

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Just Eat’s £200m plan to take over rival food delivery service Hungryhouse faces a hurdle.

The proposed deal has been referred for an in-depth investigation by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA).

Both companies take online orders from customers and act as delivery middle men between them and restaurants.

However, the CMA is worried that the combination of the two companies could mean worse terms for the restaurants.

The probe will run until November this year.

Earlier this month, Just Eat noted that the CMA intended to begin an in-depth investigation and said it was “committed to demonstrating to the CMA that the market is, and will remain, competitive following completion of the proposed transaction”.

The home delivery sector is a hotbed of competition, with Uber and Deliveroo also active in the sector.

Just Eat began in Denmark in 2001 but is now based in London.

As well as spending £200m on the Hungryhouse deal, Just Eat announced in December it was planning to expand in Canada by taking over SkipTheDishes there for 110m Canadian dollars (£66.1m).

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