Pre-crash debt problems 'rearing their heads', Reeves warns


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Debt problems seen in the run up to the financial crisis are “rearing their heads” again, the new head of the business select committee has warned.

Labour MP Rachel Reeves, who worked at HBOS during the crisis, said regulators needed to be “forever vigilant”.

She echoed the Bank of England which warned earlier this week of a sharp rise in household debt and car loans.

Ms Reeves also pledged to question company bosses over their record on reducing the gender pay gap.

The recently elected chairman of the House of Commons Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee told the BBC’s Today Programme she was concerned that UK households were overextending themselves with personal debt.

Working conditions

“I do worry about the growth of some of those issues we saw in the mortgage market in 2008 now rearing their heads in unsecured lending and in car purchases,” said Ms Reeves.

“We’ve got to be forever vigilant. We’re not going to have the same crisis as in 2008, but there are risks building up in the financial services sector as well as in household debt.”

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Sports Direct founder Mike Ashley appeared before the committee in 2016

Ms Reeves’s words chime with a warning from the Bank of England’s Alex Brazier this week that personal loans had increased by 10% over the past year and were now at “dangerous” levels.

Ms Reeves, an economist, worked in the retail banking arm of HBOS between 2006 and 2009. She became MP for Leeds West in 2010 and served in Ed Miliband’s shadow cabinet.

Under her predecessor as committee chairman, Iain Wright MP, the select committee prompted headlines over the appearances of some prominent business leaders.

Most notable were its cross-examination of Sir Philip Green, interviewed about his role in the collapse of BHS, and the appearance of Sports Direct boss, Mike Ashley, after allegations surfaced over poor working conditions and under-payment at the company’s Derbyshire warehouse.

Ms Reeves said she thought those events were “really powerful and actually changed behaviour in some cases”.

She said she was keen to pursue a similar strategy and also planned to look at employment practices in the gig economy.

Pay ratio

Ms Reeves signalled her intention to get tough with companies over the difference between what they pay male and female employees.

From next April firms must publish information on the ratio of pay between the genders.

“I’d like the select committee to scrutinise that, to look at what sectors and businesses are doing well and which have some way to go,” she said.

“And I am keen to call in some of those businesses to understand why some – I hope – are getting close to parity on pay, while others are still out of step.”

Following her election earlier this month she also indicated the committee would hold companies to account over their disability and ethnicity pay gaps.



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Love in a cold climate


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Maggie MacDonnell warned of high suicide rates among young people in Inuit communities

As a little girl growing up in rural Nova Scotia in Canada, Maggie MacDonnell was worried by locals gossiping about the Mi’kmaq indigenous people who lived on a nearby reserve. They said the Mi’kmaq were trapping on her family’s land.

She recalls: “I went to my dad, a huge man, six foot something and in the woods a lot, and said, ‘Dad you’ve got to watch out, the Mi’kmaq are hunting on our land.’

“He looked at me and responded, not in a chastising way, ‘This is their land and we always have to remember that. They can hunt and fish and trap anywhere they want. We are guests on their land.'”

This year Maggie MacDonnell was named as winner of the Global Teacher Prize – and she links this accolade with these attitudes in her early years.

“I was lucky to have that influence at an early age,” she explains.

“Because maybe other kids didn’t go home and have that conversation with their parents, maybe they had a more prejudiced conversation.”

Meeting presidents

Ms MacDonnell’s understanding of the injustices meted out to Canada’s indigenous people helped her work with students at Ikusik School in the 1,400-strong Inuit village of Salluit in northern Quebec on the Arctic circle.

It’s an isolated place, accessible only by air, where young people have few job opportunities and where there have been problems with high levels of drink and drug abuse and shocking levels of suicide among teenagers.

At the award ceremony she spoke movingly of the experience of teaching in a school after a funeral of one of the students.

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Global Teacher Prize

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Maggie MacDonnell received the Global Teacher Prize at a ceremony in March

Her success was also remarkable because she had not even heard of the teaching prize, run by the Varkey Foundation, until she was nominated for it.

Sunny Varkey, founder of the Varkey Foundation, said she won the prize because of her “superhuman” tenacity in wanting to improve the chances of her students in Salluit.

“There are no roads to get there, the climate is tough and these communities are living with the legacy of generations of inequality.

“Due to the harsh conditions, where temperatures can reach -25C in winter, there are very high rates of teacher turnover, which is a significant barrier to education in the Arctic,” said Mr Varkey.

“Many teachers leave their post after six months and many apply for stress leave, but Maggie has stayed on for six years, painstakingly building bonds with her students and instilling them with hope,” he said.

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Canada’s 150th anniversary raises questions about how indigenous people have been viewed

But since the awards ceremony in Dubai in March, Ms MacDonnell has used the prize to highlight the needs of her students.

She took Inuit students and teachers to the Toronto Film Festival to show and discuss the documentary film Salluit Run Club about the running club she set up to try to build up the resilience of her students and the local community.

“The young people I brought opened up all sorts of conversations for parents to have with their kids on indigenous issues in Canada. It was awesome,” she says.

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Reuters

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wants reconciliation with Canada’s indigenous people

Two of her students went to the United Nations in New York for a one-hour conversation with former US president Bill Clinton.

On a visit to Chile, two students met the country’s president, Michelle Bachelet, and were guests of the indigenous Mapuche people.

President Bachelet publicly asked the Mapuche and other indigenous people for forgiveness for the historic injustices.

“That was an amazing moment for the Inuit youth who I work with to witness and be part of,” said Ms MacDonnell.

Pressure on indigenous people

Last week, thanks to the funding from the prize, she took four young Inuit people to her own home turf of Nova Scotia to take part in her newest initiative, a kayaking project.

It is a one-week course designed to give them a basic kayaking certification to build their confidence on the water.

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Maggie MacDonnell founded a running club to provide something positive for young people

The kayak is a potent Inuit symbol. It once enjoyed a more prominent place before pressures like enforced residential schools separated Inuit youth from traditional cultural and economic roles.

It was an emotional visit. There were already connections in place. Her social worker sister Claire has adopted two Inuit children from her time in Salluit (she was there before Maggie), and her mother had also visited the village.

Maggie’s work and her prize have helped highlight the struggle of Canada’s indigenous peoples.

Canada has been marking its 150th anniversary – Canada 150 – and as part of this commemoration prime minister Justin Trudeau highlighted the “victims of oppression”.

“As a society, we must acknowledge past mistakes,” said Mr Trudeau, about the need to acknowledge previous wrongs to indigenous people and to achieve future reconciliation.

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While Canada celebrates 150 years, Inuit people have been there much longer

The comment chimes with Maggie MacDonnell’s teaching experience. Her Inuit community has been in the region for thousands of years, and the past 150 have not been kind to them, so even those who are proud Canadians may have had trouble celebrating Canada 150.

The Nunavik region, made up of 14 villages that include Salluit, suffers from a chronic housing shortage.

This exacerbates other problems which include alcohol and drug dependency and a high rate of tuberculosis.

Maggie MacDonnell’s work with indigenous people in Canada also has resonances elsewhere.

Global warming

She has worked in Tanzania and wants to take Inuit students to climb Mount Kilimanjaro with local youth “to bring more attention to an African symbol of climate change, because on Kilimanjaro the glaciers are melting”.


Global education

Ideas for the Global education series? Get in touch.


Her own community is already aware of the impact of global warming. Her students posted on Facebook a picture with a brown bear taken locally.

“That’s ridiculous,” she says, “like seeing a giraffe walk through London.” They are usually found much further to the south.

“We need to collaborate on a global level,” she said. “There are opportunities to weave together global issues, particularly for indigenous people, and especially climate change, social justice, gender empowerment.”

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Getty Images

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The teacher prize has brought attention to the Canadian Arctic

The ambitions may stretch internationally, but Maggie MacDonnell’s work is firmly grounded in her community.

On the theme of Canada 150 she said: “I guess you can say that education does offer opportunities for reconciliation.

“I think that if Canada can seize this opportunity and become a global leader and an example for healing relationships between our indigenous and non-indigenous people, that’s when we are going to be a truly developed country.

“I wish that all Canadians could see the benefit of how we would all be richer, not just economically, when we really start to value and ensure that indigenous people can unlock their full potential.

“What Canada could look like then would be phenomenal. When we embrace all that diversity and all those different outlooks, that’s what would make Canada so exciting.

“Canada 300 – a really great party that I’d like to come back to if possible.”



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Odd choice


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Kate Spade

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The branding of the On Purpose products is “subtle but appropriate”, says Mary Beech

It’s easy to miss. The words “on purpose” are printed on a small label inside the tote bag alongside the name of the woman who made it. It sits inconspicuously next to the other handbags on the shelves at high-end fashion brand Kate Spade.

There is nothing notably different about it.

Yet it was made in a factory that doesn’t have a reliable source of running water, where the electricity routinely cuts out, and where, until relatively recently, the workers didn’t have the necessary manufacturing skills.

It’s in a tiny village called Masoro in landlocked Rwanda.

There are no dependable roads, which means all the products made here have to be airlifted out – a much more expensive option than the usual way of sending them by ship.

And perhaps most unusually, this factory didn’t exist at all until global fashion firm Kate Spade decided to open it and fund its creation just over three years ago.

The obvious question is: Why?

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Kate Spade

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On Purpose senior manager Taryn Bird says it was important the project was commercial as well as charitable

“We like to stretch ourselves,” laughs Mary Beech, chief marketing officer at the firm.

She says as a brand that makes clothing and handbags for women, and whose employees are mainly female, doing something to help empower women “came very naturally”.

The branding of the product is subtle, says Ms Beech, because they don’t want it to be a token charity product.

“We want women to buy these bags because they walk into the store and love them. First and foremost it has to be a beautiful product which is completely natural and integrated,” she adds.

Rwanda’s horrifying 1994 genocide, when 800,000 Rwandans were killed, continues to affect people today, and Kate Spade says this history was an added incentive for choosing the location.

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Kate Spade

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Around 150 people, mainly women, work at Abahizi Dushyigikirane Corporation, known as ADC

Of course, many brands undertake charitable projects.

Fashion firm Asos, for example, sells a “Made In Kenya” range produced by local clothing manufacturer Soko, which it says aims to support local craftsmanship.

Similarly, footwear firms Toms and Roma Boots both give away a pair of shoes to a child in need for each pair they sell.

The difference with Kate Spade’s charitable initiative On Purpose, the firm says, is that it’s a business venture that had to make commercial as well as emotional sense.

“It couldn’t be a crafty aside done for corporate social responsibility that didn’t tie back into economic sustainability,” says Taryn Bird, senior manager of the On Purpose initiative.

She said this was because the firm wanted to set up something that lasted and enabled the factory to be financially independent, eventually taking orders from other fashion brands and becoming part of the global supply chain.

The only way to make sure this happened, was to set it up themselves, says Ms Bird.

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Katie Spade

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Kate Spade has trained ADC’s workers so they have the skills needed to make its products

The factory is not owned by Kate Spade, but is an official supplier. The people who work there – around 150 – are employed by Abahizi Dushyigikirane Corporation, known as ADC.

So is this just exploiting Rwanda’s low-wage economy?

Kate Spade says not, pointing out even the lowest paid worker’s salary in the country is considerably higher than the median salary for private sector jobs in Rwanda.

It has also set up a life skills programme at the company, offering counselling, information on health and nutrition and English language lessons.

While the firm won’t be drawn on how much exactly it ploughed into the factory to get it going, Ms Beech says it was “a minimal investment”. Almost four years on she says they are “on track” to get their investment back and for the factory to become profitable. The staff retention rate is an impressive 98%.

But Africa is not such an unusual choice for a firm looking to diversify its supplier base.

Labour costs are already much lower than in China. According to Georgetown University in Washington, which studied the Kate Spade project, staff in factories in coastal China earned around $700 (£537) a month, over six times the average $113 monthly salary at the ADC factory.

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Kate Spade

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Africa is seen by many as the world’s next low-cost manufacturing hub

Africa also offers what Ms Bird describes as “a very business friendly climate for export companies”.

ADC does not have to pay duties on incoming raw materials and is also able to export the finished bags to the US without tariffs.

In contrast, tariffs on handbags from Asian suppliers range from 4.5% to 17.5%, according to Georgetown University.

So Africa has the potential to become the world’s next low-cost manufacturing hub thanks to a cheap workforce and an abundance of raw materials. A lot of production has moved there already.

Ms Beech, however, says that wasn’t why Kate Spade chose Rwanda. The bags made there were additional orders reflecting increased demand for its products.

Pietra Rivoli, a professor teaching finance and international business at Georgetown University, who led the study of the project, says the factory proves it’s possible to put a factory anywhere.

“The set up was not terribly complex. It’s not something that other companies could not do given the motivation and support from management,” she says.

She says the supportive factory set-up made ADC feel very different to any other factory she had visited.

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Kate Spade

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Kate Spade offers “a demonstrative case study” of an alternative approach, says Prof Pietra Rivoli

“I’m not saying other factories are somehow bad. But most supplier relationships tend to be very transactional. The relationship is one of monitoring for labour abuses, whereas the ADC approach is a much more positive philosophy.”

Typically, how cheaply and quickly something can be made are the main criteria a company uses for deciding where to locate a factory.

Prof Rivoli says the Kate Spade example offers “a demonstrative case study” of an alternative approach.

“What they have shown is that it can really be a win-win. The factory can pay the company back [for the set-up costs] and the firm can support the worker and their communities.

So far it’s one small-scale experiment. But Kate Spade says it is already planning to pilot a second factory in a different developing country in the next couple of years.

“This time we’ll make sure it has access to a port,” laughs Ms Beech.


Global Trade

More from the BBC’s series taking an international perspective on trade:

Where’s hot? This summer’s most popular holiday spots

The lucrative world of ‘the super tutor’

How the ‘better burger’ is taking over the world

What it takes to get Beyonce on a world tour

The country losing out in the breakfast juice battle

Why a $1.6bn car plant has been left to decay

Read more global trade series here.




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Old £1 coin spending deadline looms


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Consumers have less than three months to spend, bank or donate round £1 coins as the new 12-sided version outnumbers the old for the first time.

The Treasury says there are now more of the new £1 coins, which first entered circulation in March, than the old round pound.

From 15 October, shops can refuse the old version of the coin.

However, most banks and Post Office counters will continue to accept them from customers.

They can be exchanged at any time in the future at the Bank of England in London.

“The clock is ticking. We are urging the public to spend, bank or donate their old pound coins and asking businesses who are yet to do so, to update their systems before the old coin ceases to be legal tender,” said Andrew Jones, the Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury.

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Media captionA brief history of decimal coins

The Royal Mint is striking 1.5 billion new 12-sided £1 coins, which were introduced to help crack down on counterfeiting.

The Mint has claimed the new £1 is the “most secure coin in the world”, replacing the previous £1 coin, of which about one in 40 are thought to be fake.

The new coin has a string of anti-counterfeiting details, including material inside the coin itself which can be detected when electronically scanned by coin-counting or payment machines.

Other security measures include an image that works like a hologram, and micro-sized lettering inside both rims.


The new £1 coin: Vital statistics

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PA

Thickness: 2.8mm – thinner than old coin

Weight: 8.75g – lighter than old coin

Diameter: 23.43mm – larger than old coin

Number to enter circulation: 1.5 billion – about 23 per person. Old £1 coins will be melted down to make new ones

Outer ring: gold-coloured, made from nickel-brass

Inner ring: silver-coloured, made from nickel-plated alloy



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New diesel and petrol vehicles to be banned from 2040


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New diesel and petrol cars and vans will be banned in the UK from 2040 in a bid to tackle air pollution, the government is set to announce.

Ministers are to unveil a £255m fund to help councils introduce steps to deal with pollution from diesel vehicles as part of £3bn spending on air quality.

The government is due to publish a court-mandated clean air strategy on Wednesday.

This is just days before a deadline set by the High Court.

Earlier this month, French President Emmanuel Macron announced similar plans for France.

BMW announced on Tuesday that a fully electric version of the Mini will be built at the Cowley plant in Oxford from 2019.

Meanwhile Volvo has said all new models will have an electric motor from the same year.



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McDonald's sales up on premium hamburgers and cheap soda


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McDonald’s, facing pressure from increased competition, says it has found a recipe for success in $1 sodas and a new line of high-end hamburgers.

The fast food pioneer had its highest quarterly sales at established stores in five years in the three months to the end of June.

The firm credited its turnaround efforts, which involve remodelling stores and using better ingredients.

Now appetites are returning, said McDonald’s boss Steve Easterbrook.

The UK, for example, had the highest monthly sales in its history in April.

“We’re building a better McDonald’s and more customers are noticing,” said Mr Easterbrook, the fast-food giant’s British-born chief executive.

McDonald’s shares jumped more than 3.4% after the company released its earnings , which showed profits 28% higher year-on-year, lifted by changes to its real estate portfolio, cost-cutting and other initiatives.

Total revenues remained lower than the same period in 2016, down 3% to $6bn, but momentum was building, the company said.

Mcdonald’s, which has more than 37,000 restaurants globally, saw sales at stores open at least 13 months jump 6.6% from 2016, more than double the growth rate a year ago.

New offerings

“Everyone is working hard to up their game,” Mr Easterbrook said suggesting the firm was squaring up to the increasing competition from other fast food chains.

“Our gain will result in pain being felt elsewhere,” he said.

McDonald’s said customers are responding to new offerings, including a new line of signature sandwiches, such as the BBQ, with bacon, coleslaw and cheddar in the UK.

In the US, McDonald’s has also started selling any size of soda for $1 and beverages such as smoothies and frappes for $2.

The value options are convincing guests to return more often, it said.

The company is also expanding its delivery and mobile payment options to emphasize convenience.

But getting the basics right is just as important, Mr Easterbrook said.

“We can never underestimate the importance of clean bathrooms, friendly service and hot, fresh food,” he said.

In the US, the firm’s biggest market, sales at established stores increased 3.9%, compared to 1.8% a year ago.

The UK, Canada, Germany and China were also strong markets, the firm said. The UK had its 45th consecutive quarter of positive comparable sales.



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Trump: UK-US trade deal could be 'big and exciting'


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Donald Trump has said he is working on a “major trade deal” with the UK.

The US President tweeted that a bilateral trade agreement with the UK after it leaves the EU in 2019 could be “very big and exciting” for jobs.

Mr Trump, who backed Brexit, also took a swipe at the EU accusing it of a “very protectionist” stance to the US.

The US President, whose officials are meeting British counterparts this week, has been accused of protectionist rhetoric by his political opponents.

The UK’s International Trade Secretary Liam Fox is currently in Washington discussing the potential for a UK-US trade deal after the UK’s withdrawal from the EU in March 2019. No deal can be signed until after then.

Mr Trump has said he would like to see a speedy deal although free trade agreements typically take many years to conclude and any agreement, which will have to be approved by Congress, is likely to involve hard negotiations over tariff and non tariff barriers in areas such as agriculture and automotive.

On Monday, Mr Fox published details of commercial ties between the UK and every congressional district in the US as a working party of officials met to discuss a future trade deal for the first time. Two-way trade between the two countries already totals £150bn.

Mr Fox is also discussing other issues, including the continuation of existing trade and investment accords, with trade secretary Wilbur Ross and the US Trade Representative, Robert Lighthizer.

At a breakfast meeting for members of the House of Representatives, Mr Fox said his twin objectives were to provide certainty for foreign investors ahead of Brexit and to expand the volume and value of trade with the US.

“The EU itself estimates that 90% of global growth in the next decade will come from outside Europe, and I believe as the head of an international economic department that this is an exciting opportunity for the UK to work even more closely with our largest single trading partner the US,” he said.

Sir Vince Cable, the new leader of the UK parliament’s fourth largest party, the Liberal Democrats, said a US-UK trade deal could bring significant benefits – but he called on the government to guarantee parliament would get a vote on it first.

“Liam Fox and Boris Johnson must not be able to stitch up trade deals abroad and impose them on the country,” he said.

“It is parliament, not Liam Fox, that should be the final arbiter on whether to sacrifice our standards to strike a deal with Trump.”



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Inside US/UK trade deal


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NHS

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The US has some big healthcare businesses which would be keen to establish a stronger presence in the UK

Relations with the United States were always going to be a high priority for British trade policy post-Brexit.

So no surprise that Liam Fox has gone to Washington to discuss prospects.

The International Trade Secretary is pushing for a bilateral trade liberalisation agreement with the US to take effect when the UK leaves the EU.

And his American hosts seem well disposed to the idea in principle. Better access to the US market would go down well among many UK businesses too.

It is, after all the UK’s largest single export market, though well behind the rest of the EU taken together.

The US is also the second largest foreign supplier to the UK. So a freer trade relationship could reduce the cost of those imports.

Priority

There was also a great deal of enthusiasm among British business for the EU’s negotiations with the US, a project known as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).

Now that British business won’t be able to make use of any benefits that might come from that exercise, if it is ever completed, a deal with the US would be helpful for many.

Having said that, many regard it as a higher priority to preserve trade access to the EU as far as possible on existing terms. That is broadly the position of a number of British business lobbies.

There are some areas of any UK/US talks that might be difficult. Experience with the TTIP negotiations gives some clues as to the kind pressures the British government is likely to face at home.

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Genetically modified crops – like this maize – is an area for discussion

One is resolving disputes under the agreement, particularly any involving foreign investors.

Many trade and investment agreements provide for tribunals to be established if a foreign investor believes their interests have been harmed by the host government acting in a way that contravenes the agreement.

They can seek financial compensation, and there are many cases where they have been successful. The system is known as investor state dispute settlement (ISDS).

It has been around for decades, but has become more controversial in recent years. Critics see it as giving international businesses unfair leverage over the policies of elected governments.

NHS impact

There will be business lobbies on both sides keen to see some sort of arrangement along these lines and campaigners vigorously opposed.

There is a particular issue for some groups in the UK about how this might affect the National Health Service. It came up in the context of the TTIP negotiations.

The issue was partly whether the agreement might force the British government to privatise health service provision – and also about whether the agreement would make it hard or impossible to reverse any privatisation that did occur.

The issue was that reversing such a move could deprive a foreign health company of business, which campaigners argued could enable it to use the ISDS tribunal system to seek compensation from the host (British) government.

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Reuters

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Chlorinated chicken is a familiar feature on US shelves but is banned in the EU

The US has some big healthcare businesses which would be keen to establish a stronger presence in the UK. How well founded that fear would be would depend on the wording of the agreement, but once detailed negotiations get underway it’s likely to be brought up.

Chlorine and hormones

In the context of TTIP, the idea that it would compromise public provision of healthcare was robustly rejected by, among others the British government, but campaigners did not accept that.

Then there are food issues. Dr Fox has already responded to concerns about American chicken washed with chlorine. That came up in the TTIP talks too and it might well make an appearance again. The practice is widely used in the US to remove microbial contamination, but it is not permitted in the UK.

Beef fed with growth promoting hormones, another practice used in the US, could also be difficult. It’s banned in the EU on the basis of health concerns.

This is a trade dispute that has rumbled on for many years and the EU has lost the case in the World Trade Organization, which accepted that the hormones were safe.

The EU has never complied with that ruling and still bans such meat.

Genetically modified approvals

Another food issue is genetically modified crops. They do have a presence in the European food chain, partly through animal feed. But the approval process for new GM crops is seen by US farm groups as excessively slow and cumbersome.

Movement on all three of these issues is likely to be important for US negotiators. The National Farmers’ Union in the UK is receptive to the idea of reforming the GM approvals process, but the other two are more of a problem.

Nonetheless there are certainly opportunities that businesses in both countries can see. For industry, the relatively straightforward area is tariffs, taxes on imported goods.

They are relatively low in both the US and the UK (which currently adopts the EU’s tariff policy). But there are some goods for which they are relatively high (10% for cars entering the UK from outside the EU, for example).

Industry and financial services groups would also welcome closer regulatory cooperation. It would simplify business for suppliers and could conceivably lower costs for customers.

In any event, for now the UK remains a member of the EU and its common trade policy.

But that certainly doesn’t stop negotiators discussing what a post-Brexit deal would look like.



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Plans to compare bank customer service


Banks should provide evidence of the quality of service – such as the frequency of security incidents – to allow customers to compare accounts.

The time taken to open an account or to replace a lost or stolen card should also be published, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) said.

Such service guides should make it easier to compare accounts, the FCA said.

The industry welcomed the proposals, which could take effect next year.

The proposals also cover business current accounts, and suggest quarterly publication of a string of service guides, such as how and when customers can make payments, cancel cheques and whether 24-hour help is available, or the amount of time before access to a current account is available through power of attorney.

The frequency of security incidents would be closely watched as, at the moment, there is little evidence available abouit the number of times bank services are unavailable due to security or operational incidents.

A spokeswoman for UK Finance, which represents the major banks, said: “Banks work hard to ensure the products and services they offer meet customers’ needs – this initiative is a positive step that will make it easier for consumers and businesses to compare the quality of service offered by different current accounts.

“We look forward to working closely with the FCA to help ensure this information can be presented clearly, simply and consistently.”

Consultation ends on 25 September, with a proposal that figures should be collected from April and first published in mid-August 2018.



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Electric Mini to be built in Oxford


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A fully electric version of the Mini will be built at the Cowley plant near Oxford, BMW has confirmed.

BMW said that the car, which will be a variant of its existing three-door model, would go into production in 2019.

The carmaker said Oxford would be the main “production location” for the Mini three-door model.

However, the electric motor will be built in Germany before being shipped to Cowley for assembly.

A BMW spokesman said the company “neither sought nor received” any reassurances from the UK government on post-Brexit trading arrangements.

UK Business Secretary Greg Clark hailed BMW’s announcement as a “vote of confidence” in government plans to make Britain “the go-to place in the world for the next generation of vehicles”. On Monday, he set out plans to invest in development of battery technology in the UK.

BMW said the move was part of a plan for electrified vehicles to account for between 15-25% of its sales by 2025.



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GM profit down but better than expected


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General Motors has reported a drop in profits for the three months to June, due to lower vehicle sales and restructuring charges.

The car giant saw net income fall to $2.4bn (£1.8bn), down from $2.8bn a year earlier.

However, the results were still better than Wall Street analysts had expected.

Exceptional items included $100m to write off the firm’s Venezuela operation, which was seized by the government there in April.



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YouTuber Jake Paul says he's 'outgrown' Disney Channel


Actor and YouTube star Jake Paul is leaving the Disney Channel show Bizaardvark.

The 20-year-old released a statement on Twitter, saying he’s “outgrown the channel” and has left to work on other projects.

The sitcom follows the lives of friends Paige and Frankie as they run an online comedy channel and Jake played the character Dirk on the show.

In a statement Disney described the decision as “mutual.”

Some reports online suggest the move is linked to the star’s behaviour off screen.

Disney haven’t confirmed if this is true.

He recently tweeted his address, hundreds of fans turned up, and neighbours accused him of turning the street into a “warzone.”

Most of the people that turned up at the home he shares, with other members of his Team 10 YouTube channel, in West Hollywood were reportedly young girls.

https://twitter.com/jakepaul/status/888932650735554563

Maytal Dahan, one of Jake’s neighbours, told local Los Angeles news network KTLA 5 their road “used to be a really nice, quiet street.”

“We’re families here.

“We’re more than happy to have them live here if they’re respectful of their neighbours, but they’re not.”

Jake, who has eight million subscribers on YouTube, also spoke to the channel saying he “felt bad” for the neighbours and the situation was “terrible.”

https://twitter.com/jakepaul/status/887180511231201281

https://twitter.com/KTLA/status/888990736254775298

In June, fellow vlogger Alissa Violet accused Jake of kicking her out of the Team 10 house.

She released a video on her YouTube channel, explaining why she left the group.

The fallout was big news on social media with Jake defending his behaviour.

Speaking about his release from Disney Jake said on Twitter: “I love my cast mates and will continue to support Disney.

“But I have outgrown the channel and feel its time to move forward with my career.

“At this point in time I am wanting to focus more on my personal brand, YouTube channel and working on more adult acting roles.”

In a statement reported widely in America, Disney said: “We’ve mutually agreed that Jake Paul will leave his role.

“We thank Jake for his good work on the TV series for the past 18 months and extend our best wishes to him.”

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The secret to Love Island's success


After eight weeks on TV, a lot of drama, flirtation – and grafting – Love Island ends.

The ITV2 show has seen nearly two million people tune in every night to see the likes of Camilla, Chris, Amber and Kem in their Mallorcan villa.

Amanda Stavri has been the commissioning editor of the hit reality show for the past two series.

She told Newsbeat the key to the show’s success is that it’s “warm, it’s got heart and it isn’t mean”.

She gave us her tips for creating a successful reality TV series and said you’ve firstly “got to get the tone right”.

Image caption Love Island’s commissioning editor Amanda Stavri says producers don’t plan anything” more than 12 hours ahead”.

“Love Island is funny and it doesn’t take itself too seriously. It isn’t mean.

“As a viewer we’re all supporting the islanders with them on their journey,” she said.

If you’ve been watching the series you probably know it’s always non-stop drama but Amanda thinks that’s all part of the series’ charm.

“I think the drama is really important, the viewers want drama and so we have to make sure there are enough twists and turns along the way and I think Love island has delivered those this series,” she said.

https://twitter.com/LoveIslandNot/status/885598243438178304

So how much is real?

“The producers don’t plan anything more than 12 hours ahead because things are changing all the time,” she told us.

“They react to what’s going on in the villa and work out what’s going on from there.

“So it’s not tightly formatted but they are there to stir the pot and put these relationships to the test,” she added.

This is a photo of Kem and Amber, a couple on Love Island.

Image caption Kem and Amber are a couple on the show

And Amanda’s final tip is one for the viewers.

“You have to be invested in their stories to want to tune in night after night. I think we love a love story – which obviously helps on Love Island,” she said.

The fans’ view

Hayley, 25

Hayley

“I’m so torn about who I want to win. I’ve been watching the whole series and keep changing my mind – I do think the public will vote for Kem and Amber though.

“It’s been funny to watch people change towards the end of the show and become more competitive. You can see the people who are in it just for the game.

“They say they’re not competitive but you can see personalities and friendships change – the whole situation with Montana and Gabby is a perfect example.”

Ayumi, 22

Ayumi

“Kem and Amber need to win for definite, they’re just so cute.

“Love Island isn’t like any other TV show because it’s really interesting to watch as it’s more natural and has a concept I really like.”

Emily, 23

Emily

“Kem and Amber have to win, Kem’s so loveable. I wasn’t sure on Amber but she’s grown on me and I think they’re both the real deal!

“I’ve watched every single episode, my housemates think I’m crazy because I’m addicted to it.

“Just watching other people’s lives is great and you get hooked because everyone you know won’t stop talking about it.

“I don’t know how I’m going to live without it – every day at work I watch it on my lunch break! I’m somehow going to have to find something else to watch.”

Holly, 16

Holly

“Kem’s one of the best boys in there and Amber’s got so much better since the start. They both seem really in love with each other.

“I find the people really interesting, it’s just so good to watch.”

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FTSE 100 opens higher but Virgin Money falls


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AFP

London’s benchmark share index opened higher, boosted by mining companies after the price of copper hit its highest level since February.

The FTSE 100 rose 32.94 points to 7,410.67. Anglo American shares added 4% and Antofagasta was up 2.3%.

Top riser was media group Informa, which rose 6.8% after it posted a 40% rise in half-year revenues thanks to its global exhibitions business.

Virgin Money shares fell 8% after it warned on the UK housing market.

The FTSE 250-listed bank said that while the market should remain “resilient”, there could be some “areas of weakness to be navigated” in the short term.

Its comments overshadowed news of 26% rise in half-year underlying profits to £128.6m.

Domino’s Pizza Group fell nearly 7% after the company reported a slowdown in its sales growth.

Half-year pre-tax profits rose 9% to £44.6m, but UK like-for-like sales growth slowed to 2.4% from 13% a year earlier.

Acacia Mining shares were down a further 11% as investors reacted to news that the company had been handed a $190bn bill for unpaid taxes and penalties from Tanzania.

The company has been accused of under-reporting export revenues, which Acacia denies.

On the currency markets, the pound was unchanged against the dollar at $1.3025, and down 0,1% against the euro at 1.1179 euros.



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Acacia Mining rejects $190bn Tanzanian tax bill


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Acacia Mining

Gold miner Acacia has been hit with a demand for $190bn in unpaid taxes to Tanzanian authorities in a row it has called “inaccurate and unexplainable”.

The demand follows a finding by government-appointed committees that the firm was operating illegally and had understated its gold exports.

Acacia’s website says that it has declared all materials produced and has paid royalties and taxes in full.

The UK-listed firm’s shares were down 7.7% in morning trade in London.

Its share price has been tumbling for months as disagreements with the Tanzanian authorities have grown.

Earlier this month, Tanzania passed two new mining laws that contain sweeping changes to the legal and regulatory framework of the mining industry.

An export ban on gold and copper concentrate exports has been in force since March.

Acacia, which is majority-owned by Canadian firm Barrick Gold, has said the continuation of the ban will hurt its ability to conduct future business in Tanzania, since it covers 50% of its production.

“The security of the 36,200 indirect and induced jobs that rely on Acacia’s mining operations, as well as the company’s ability to invest in education, infrastructure and health projects will all be under threat.”

The changes to Tanzania’s mining industry are the brainchild of President John Magufuli, who has been in office since 2015.

In his previous role as minister of works, he earned the nickname of “the Bulldozer” for his determination to implement a road-building programme.



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Jimmy Choo bought by Michael Kors in £896m deal


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Luxury shoemaker Jimmy Choo has been bought by Michael Kors Holdings in a deal which values the firm at about £896m.

The British firm, which was put up for sale in April, had attracted attention from a number of suitors.

As well as shoes, Jimmy Choo produces a range of luxury goods, but has seen sales slow in recent years.

Under the terms of the agreement, Jimmy Choo will become a wholly-owned subsidiary of Michael Kors.

Mr Kors himself, the honorary chairman and chief creative officer of the firms that bears his name, described the purchase as “a premier fashion luxury house that offers distinctive footwear, handbags and other accessories”.

He added: “We admire the glamorous style and trendsetting nature of Jimmy Choo designs. We look forward to welcoming Jimmy Choo to our luxury group.”

The sale plan was backed by Jimmy Choo’s main shareholder, JAB Holdings, owned by the German billionaire Reimann family.

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Jimmy Choo

The firm was co-founded by Malaysian shoemaker Jimmy Choo, who trained at the renowned Cordwainers Technical College in London, and former Vogue journalist Tamara Mellon in 1996.

It quickly built up a dedicated client list of musicians, actresses and royalty. The Duchess of Cambridge is a fan of the British shoe designer, as is singer Beyonce and Oscar winning actress Emma Stone.

But it has gone through a number of different owners over the years. Ms Mellon and the first of several different private equity suitors bought out Mr Choo in 2001.

Ten years later, Ms Mellon left the business to launch her own clothing line. In 2014, Jimmy Choo listed on the London Stock Exchange, by which time JAB, owned by the German billionaire Reimann family, was the main shareholder.



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Crossrail 2: City mayors criticise government backing


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AFP

Two city mayors have criticised the government’s decision to back Crossrail 2, days after it scrapped rail electrification plans in Wales, the Midlands and the north of England.

Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham said there would be “widespread anger” at the decision to back the railway line, which will run through London.

Liverpool City Region’s mayor said there needed to be “balanced spending”.

The government said it was spending billions on infrastructure elsewhere.

Crossrail 2, a north-east to south-west railway, which would tunnel beneath central London, could be running by 2033.

It is estimated the scheme will cost about £30bn at 2014 prices and construction could start in the early 2020s.

It would link Hertfordshire and Surrey, passing through Tottenham Hale, Euston-St Pancras, Tottenham Court Road, Victoria and Clapham Junction.

Announcing the decision to back Crossrail 2, the Department for Transport (DfT) said Transport Secretary Chris Grayling and Mayor of London Sadiq Khan had agreed there was “no doubt London needs new infrastructure to support its growth and ensure it continues as the UK’s economic powerhouse”.

Mr Grayling said: “I am a supporter of Crossrail 2, but given its price tag we have to ensure that we get this right.

“The mayor and I have agreed to work together on it over the coming months to develop plans that are as strong as possible, so that the public gets an affordable scheme that is fair to the UK taxpayer.”

‘Sub-standard rail services’

Last week, the government was criticised for scrapping the planned electrification of railway lines in parts of England and Wales.

At the time, Mr Grayling said the government would instead introduce faster trains with more seats and better on-board facilities.

On Monday Mr Burnham tweeted: “On Friday, Tories say they can’t afford rail schemes in the North.

“On Monday, they find billions more for London. Are these 2 things linked?”

He said: “People here have had to put up with sub-standard rail services for decades and will simply not accept that spending billions more on London is the country’s highest priority for transport investment.”.

He added that the fact the announcement had been made after Parliament had broken up for the summer was “denying any real scrutiny” of the decision.

‘Future prosperity’

Liverpool City Region Mayor Steve Rotheram said that while he did not “begrudge” the investment in London and the South East, there needed to be balanced spending to “support growth in the North as well”.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan said: “Crossrail 2 is essential for the future prosperity of London and the South East, so I’m pleased that the transport secretary and I have reached an agreement to take this vital project forward.”

A DfT spokesman said that while it had agreed to work further with Transport for London on Crossrail 2, it said London needed to pay half of the upfront construction costs and that the government had not committed any public funding yet.

The spokesman added that the government was spending £57bn on HS2, £1bn to improve rail infrastructure in the north of England and £800m on new road schemes.



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Rise in personal loans dangerous, Bank of England official says


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A sharp rise in personal loans could pose a danger to the UK economy, a Bank of England official has warned.

Outstanding car loans, credit card balance transfers and personal loans have increased by 10% over the past year, the Bank’s financial stability director Alex Brazier said.

In contrast household incomes have risen by just 1.5%, he said.

“Household debt – like most things that are good in moderation – can be dangerous in excess”, Mr Brazier said.

Mr Brazier, in a speech to the University of Liverpool’s Institute for Risk and Uncertainty, added that this increase in debt was “dangerous to borrowers, lenders and, most importantly from our perspective, everyone else in the economy”.

He warned that High Street banks were at risk of entering “a spiral of complacency” about mounting consumer debt levels.

“Lending standards can go from responsible to reckless very quickly.

“The sorry fact is that as lenders think the risks they face are falling, the risks they – and the wider economy face – are actually growing,” Mr Brazier added.

Mr Brazier hinted that the Bank of England could force banks to take further safeguards against the risk of bad debts if it was deemed necessary.

Banks warned on ballooning consumer borrowing

Regulator concerned over personal debt

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PA

Image caption

Mark Carney has stressed that the UK financial system has strengthened

Just last month, the Bank of England told banks to beef up their finances against the risk of bad loans.

They were told to set aside £11.4bn in the next 18 months in case future economic shocks meant some borrowers could not keep up their repayments.

Mr Brazier said by September the Bank will have assessed whether the rapid growth in consumer lending “has created any small gap in the line”.

“If it has, we’ll plug it,” said Mr Brazier.

In June, Bank of England governor Mark Carney said lenders appeared to have forgotten some of the lessons of the financial crisis.

Despite these concerns, Mr Carney stressed that the UK financial system was far stronger than at the time of the great banking crash in 2008-09.



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Bitcoin goes arty


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Gallery owner Eleesa Dadiani thinks blockchain will be “the biggest thing since the internet”

Why is the art world getting excited about digital currency Bitcoin and its underlying technology blockchain?

Eleesa Dadiani owns and runs an art gallery in London’s famous Cork Street. She was born in Georgia in the Caucasus and was “breastfed by gypsies”.

But she is also a passionate believer in the power of Bitcoin and other digital currencies.

When we meet she is busy preparing for an exhibition of sculptures made from the exhausts of former Formula 1 racing cars.

One of these strange rib-cage-like creations made from the super-strong alloy inconel has been gold-plated and will sell for about £35,000.

“These are pieces of history,” she tells me.

In a first for the tradition-bound art world of Cork Street, her international clientele will have the opportunity to pay using Bitcoin, the digital cryptocurrency underpinned by blockchain technology.

The gallery will also accept other cryptocurrencies such as Ethereum, Ethereum Classic, Dash, Litecoin, and soon, Monero, she says.

Why?

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Reuters

Image caption

The number of retailers that accept Bitcoin is rising, but it is still relatively small

“This is not a demand-driven decision at all, it’s intuitive based on the way things are going,” she says.

She believes paying by cryptocurrency will become as normal as paying by cash or credit card. She also hopes it will attract a new, non-traditional type of art investor.

Blockchain, the underlying technology, is a digital ledger or record of transactions that is distributed across, and verified by, thousands of computers in a network.

Once the network has reached a consensus that a transaction has happened, the ledger is updated and cannot be tampered with.

“Blockchain is a borderless, open source, decentralised peer-to-peer network that governments cannot shut down,” she says. “For me, the blockchain is going to be the biggest thing since the internet.”


More Technology of Business

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And the fact that there is no centralised body – like a bank head office, for example – makes cryptocurrencies safer, she argues, despite their reputation for being volatile, high-risk and the favourite “store of value” for criminals and hackers.

Bitcoin payments can be anonymous and potentially beyond the grasp of tax authorities, but this isn’t the reason she’s offering payment by cryptocurrency, she assures me.

So how easy is it to accept a Bitcoin payment?

“It’s really very simple,” she explains. “I give the client my public key [a long string of letters and numbers] and they use that to send bitcoin to my account from their digital wallet or bitcoin exchange,” she says.

“My wallet is linked to my personal bank so I can then convert those bitcoins into pounds, euros or dollars.”

Ms Dadiani is such a fan of cryptocurrencies – she trades in them as well – that she is launching her own version, Dadicoin, later this year.

Image copyright
Igor Miske

Image caption

Have you ever fancied owning an Old Master painting? Now you can, or a share of one at least…

The $60bn art world in general is warming to the potential of cryptocurrencies, partly because of blockchain’s dual ability to establish the provenance of works of art and thereby reduce the reliance on brokers and other middlemen.

Marcelo Garcia Casil, for example, is chief executive and co-founder of Maecenas, an online marketplace that will enable art owners to sell shares in their expensive works of art (worth more than $1m) and raise money far more cheaply than they could though a bank.

And the owners also get to keep possession of their artworks while sharing up to 49% of the ownership.

Investors, who ordinarily wouldn’t be able to afford multi-million-dollar works of art, will be able buy shares or units in the work using cryptocurrency. They will then be able to sell these units later in the marketplace. Each transaction is recorded cryptographically on the Ethereum blockchain.

“We want to make fine art accessible for everyone,” says Mr Casil, who was born in Argentina, now lives in Singapore, and has a background in investment banking.

“The old auction houses like Christie’s and Sotheby’s have controlled the art market for centuries, so we think the opportunity for disruption is huge.”

Establishing the authenticity of works of art is critical to their value, and this will still need to be done by skilled professionals, admits Mr Casil.

“But once the provenance has been recorded in the blockchain, you never have to do it again,” he says. This takes a lot of cost out of the system.

Image copyright
Maecenas

Image caption

The Maecenas marketplace will give investors a chance to buy shares in fine art

Maecenas has already attracted works of art worth $100m (£77m; 86m euros) in total, says Mr Casil, and the marketplace is due for launch in September.

The art world has been flirting with Bitcoin for a few years now, despite the likes of auction house Sotheby’s saying they have no plans to accept the currency.

In April 2015, the Austrian Museum of Applied Art/Contemporary Art (MAK) was the first museum in the world to buy a work of art using Bitcoin.

Dutch artist Harm van den Dorpel created a limited-edition screensaver that was cryptographically authenticated through blockchain.

And online gallery Cointemporary exhibits digital artworks by international contemporary artists that can only be bought with Bitcoin. Purchases are handled by Coinbase, a leading cryptocurrency exchange.

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Getty Images

Image caption

Venerable art auction house Sotheby’s says it has no plans to accept Bitcoin

Blockchain establishes the chain of ownership, preventing anyone from stealing or tampering with the work.

But will Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies ever really become a mainstream alternative to traditional money?

Views differ widely.

In Japan, there is a big move to equip 260,000 retail locations with bitcoin capability, and a few high-street retailers, such as Lush, have opted to accept the currency.

But Joe Pindar, a director at cyber-security company Gemalto, says: “At present there are very few businesses accepting bitcoin as a payment method – less than 1% of all retailers.

“The biggest barrier to adoption is the length of time it takes to settle a payment in person, with transactions taking tens of minutes.

Despite this, Mr Pindar says several large retailers have been experimenting with the cryptocurrency, but may choose “to adopt bitcoin for online purchases only, where time to process a payment is less important.”

The currency’s volatility is an issue – the value of one bitcoin topped $3,000 in June, before crashing to below $1,900 in July – and transactions are taking longer and longer to process.

This is largely to do with the rules governing how Bitcoin works, and there is currently a big row over how the issue should be resolved.

It could be that blockchain proves to be more important to the art world than its flashier Bitcoin offspring.



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Intimidation and threats


Image caption

Rural Sicily can be a difficult place to run a business because of threats from the Mafia

From the terrace of his winery near the baroque town of Caltagirone in south-eastern Sicily, Cesare Nicodemo surveys his fields of ripening vines – a glass of his finest spumante in hand.

It’s a warm July evening and the surrounding hills glow golden in the setting sun amid the chirruping of swallows and the song of cicadas.

It should be an image of rural peace and contentment, but on closer inspection, all is not quite as it seems.

Security cameras on high stilts dot the perimeter of his land. The metal gates leading into his winery remain securely shut throughout our interview, and inside the winery’s main building, images from across his vineyard flicker on a bank of screens.

This, he says, is what it takes to run a modern business in Sicily in 2017.

Image caption

Winemaker Cesare Nicodemo says the Mafia is trying to drive him off his land

Cesare has been threatened, his land has been repeatedly trespassed on, his buildings have been damaged and trees cut down or set alight. He’s even been physically attacked.

“The rural Mafia was trying to drive us off our land and destroy our business,” he says between careful sips of wine.

Sicilian struggle

So who are the rural Mafia? Well, they’re shepherds in the main – but some officials believe they’re acting in cahoots with local lawyers, accountants and possibly even local politicians.

Cesare believes the battle against them pits modern Italy against forces that want Sicily to remain rooted in the ways of the past.

Driving out of his winery, he points out wooden stakes in the ground. “See that?” he says. “They’re the signs of the rural Mafia”

Image caption

Wooden stakes marked with white cardboard “a mafia sign” says Cesare Nicodemo

The stakes are dotted across the land around his vineyard. They’re about a metre-long, distinctive for the strip of white cardboard wrapped round them.

And they’re a common sight in rural Sicily.

Burnt out

They are more some 100km (60 miles) away from Cesare’s winery, in the foothills of Mount Etna, where Sebastiano Blanco is rebuilding a house on his plot of land.

“What those stakes say is ‘this land belongs to us’,” Sebastiano says. “They, the rural Mafia, see all this land as their own, regardless of who has legal title to it.”

Image caption

Sebastiano Blanco in the ruins of his burnt-out house

Like Cesare, he says there are local clans who believe that they, and not the Italian state, set the laws.

Last year, Sebastiano’s house was burnt down. The police and fire brigade said the fire was probably started by a homeless person who’d come inside to warm up.

But Sebastiano thinks it’s no coincidence that the fire happened soon after stakes appeared on his land. He believes the rural Mafia took revenge when he wouldn’t hand over his land.

He cuts a forlorn figure, kicking at the blackened rubble strewn across the charred ground of what were once his bedroom, with the early evening’s purple sky visible through the exposed beams of his shattered roof.

Image caption

Sebastiano believes the Mafia burnt his house when he refused to had over his land

So, what exactly is it that the Mafia wants?

Widespread fraud

Giuseppe Antoci, president of Sicily’s largest national park, Nebrodi, and co-ordinator of Federparchi Sicilia, the Federation of Sicilian National Parks, has been investigating the matter for the past few years.

What he’s uncovered is widespread fraud involving European Union farm and rural development funds.

In an investigation conducted together with the deputy police commissioner Daniele Manganaro of the district of Messina, Mr Antoci found that local crime networks were falsely claiming land as their own – or presenting forged documents saying they had leased it – in order to make applications for EU subsidies.

Image caption

Police commissioner Daniele Manganaro says the Mafia’s business now is in defrauding the EU

“We’ve seen an evolution of Mafia here,” he says.

“This is not the Mafia of the illegal drugs trade or the trafficking of arms. It takes a lot of work and research to commit this sort of fraud. We’re not talking about the Mafia that existed 30 years ago, where the shepherd demanded a ransom or protection payment from a tradesman.

“What we have here is a Mafia who’s business is to commit fraud with EU funds. And to carry out this sort of fraud, you need more than just a shepherd.

“What it requires is a network of people, people with schooling and education, people who know how the system works, because the first step in perpetrating this sort of fraud is to set up a company,” says the police commissioner.

New law

Mr Antoci has tried to put a stop to it.

He’s set in motion a new law that states that anyone claiming EU subsidies on land must now show anti-Mafia certification. In Italy, this means complying with regulations that require that a company’s shareholders and directors have no restrictions, limitations and bans according to anti-mafia regulations.

Image caption

Giuseppe Antoci has led moves to pass new anti-mafia legislation

Sceptics say this is hardly enough to stop the fraud from being repeated, pointing out that many will simply make use of proxies to make claims on their behalf.

The European Union’s anti-fraud office, Olaf, says it is reviewing 35,000 applications for agricultural subsidies in Italy covering some 500m euros in disbursements going back all the way to 2006.

It has also started nine criminal proceedings, all of which involve a network of organised crime. But this 500m euros (£447m) that the EU is looking into is far less than the 3.5bn euros that Mr Antoci and the local police force say may have been fraudulently claimed.

“I can tell you that there is a very strong commitment at the level of the EU as well as the level of national authorities to fight this kind of phenomenon,” says Francesco Albore, the head of the Olaf unit investigating the matter.

Another 2.2bn euros have been earmarked in EU and Italian government funds for rural and agricultural development in the six years to 2020. So what guarantees are there that all those funds will be properly distributed?

Mr Albore says it’s difficult to guarantee but points out the EU also demands guarantees that payments go to the correct recipients. Where this is not the case, he says, “payments can be stopped.”

Ambush

Meanwhile, back in Sicily, Mr Antoci’s efforts to fight this fraud have come at a high personal price.

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Giuseppe Romeo/Antenna del Mediterraneo

Image caption

In response he was ambushed last year – luckily he survived

He’s suffered death threats and now lives under permanent armed guard.

Last year, as he was being driven home through the Nebrodi national park following a late night dinner, his car came under a volley of gunfire.

If he’s alive today, he says, it’s only thanks to his armed guard and the fact that his car was being followed by that of the deputy police commissioner Daniele Manganaro who managed to scupper the attack by firing back.

In the aftermath, there were attempts to discredit his investigation. Some Italian media reports questioned the authenticity of the attack, suggesting Mr Antoci and the local police force had made it up. But it’s only made him more determined.

“You know, afterwards, they found petrol bombs hidden in nearby bushes,” Mr Antoci says. “They wanted me dead. But my first thought as I was being saved that night was for my family and for all the police officers who guard me – the sacrifices they have to make for this battle I’ve chosen to wage.”

Still, one businessman I speak to, who’s been subjected to similar threats for not handing over land, complains that he’s had little support from local Sicilian political authorities in his fight to protect his land.

Image caption

How can this intimidation be happening, says Sebastiano Blanco

Which is why, back in the foothills of Mount Etna, Sebastiano Blanco wears a T-shirt emblazoned with the words: “Rural mafia – a protected species”.

“It’s 2017,” he says. “How can this be happening in our day and age?”

He gestures at the smoking volcano, looming large in the distance over his land.

“This is a Unesco world heritage site,” he says. “But as long as we’re intimidated this way, how can we possibly build on the economic value of our land and property?”

With additional reporting by Diego Gandolfo and Alessandro di Nunzio

Listen to more from BBC World Service’s Business Daily programme here



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Plans to ban leaseholds on new-build homes in England


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“Unfair charges” levied on buyers of new-build homes could be banned in England under a proposed crackdown.

Leaseholds on new builds would be outlawed, while ground rents could be dramatically reduced, under government plans subject to public consultation.

Ground rents can double every decade, crippling home owners and in some cases making a property impossible to sell.

“Enough is enough. These practices are unjust, unnecessary and need to stop,” said Communities secretary Sajid Javid.

The proposals, which are subject to an eight-week consultation, apply only to England.

Builder sorry in leasehold ‘scandal’

The new property trap affecting thousands

Four million leaseholders ‘face rip-off’

The leasehold system has existed for a long time in England and Wales, especially in blocks of flats.

Leaseholders own their homes for a fixed period of time, on a “lease” to a freeholder, but many have long leases, for example for many decades, and experience no problems.

Traditionally houses have nearly always been sold as freehold properties, meaning the buyer owns the building and land it is built on outright.

But the trend for new-build houses being sold as leasehold has accelerated in recent years.

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Getty Images

The government said it was a particular problem in the north-west of England.

Leaseholders typically pay ground rent to the freeholder, but can be caught out by clauses allowing for dramatic increases in these fees, which come on top of management charges for the upkeep of communal areas.

The Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) said the terms of some leases “were becoming increasingly onerous”.

It cited examples of:

  • A homeowner being charged £1,500 by the freeholding company to make a small change to their family home
  • A family home which is now impossible to sell because the ground rent is expected to hit £10,000 a year by 2060
  • A homeowner who was told buying the lease would cost £2,000 but the bill came to £40,000

MPs have described the situation as a “national scandal” and the “PPI of the housebuilding industry”.

The DCLG said its proposals aimed to make future leases fairer by reducing ground rents so they “relate to real costs incurred”.

About 21% of private housing in England is owned by leaseholders, with 30% of those properties houses rather than flats, according to figures from the Department for Communities and Local Government.


What is a leasehold?

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Getty Images

  • Someone who owns a property outright, including the land it is built on, is a freeholder.
  • Most houses are freehold but some might be leasehold – usually through shared-ownership schemes.
  • With a leasehold, the person owns the property for the length of their lease agreement with the freeholder.
  • Leaseholders have to pay their freeholders ground rent and other fees in order to make changes to their homes.
  • When the lease ends, ownership returns to the freeholder unless the person can extend the lease.
  • Some wish to buy their freeholds to save themselves these costs.

Source: The Money Advice Service




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Alphabet profits rocked by EU fine


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Profits at Alphabet, the parent company of search giant Google, have been hit by the record fine imposed by the European Commission last month.

The firm said second quarter revenues were just over $26bn, up 21% compared to the same period in 2016.

But profits for the three months to the end of June were $3.5bn, more than 40% lower than they would have been without the fine.

Year-on-year profits were down by almost 30%.

Google was fined 2.42bn euros ($2.7bn; £2.1bn) by the European Commission last month after it ruled the company had abused its power by promoting its own shopping comparison service at the top of search results.

The amount was the regulator’s largest penalty to date against a company accused of distorting the market.

Alphabet has already said it may challenge the fine.



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Democrats' Better Deal bids to grab Trump's populist mantle


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Democrats will focus on the economy as try try to win voters

Democrats have unveiled a populist economic rebrand that seeks to tap into the frustration among working families which swept Donald Trump to power.

Billed as A Better Deal, their plan calls for infrastructure investment, tougher regulation of drug firms and creating new rules on monopolies.

The plan is the start of a “new version of the party”, said Democratic Senate leader Chuck Schumer.

They hope the policy will be a winner in next year’s midterm elections.

Democrats struggle to find a message

The Democrats’ more populist tone comes in the wake of the party’s humiliating defeat in the 2016 election, when President Trump’s America First rhetoric connected with voters.

The plan’s title echoes the language of self-described deal-maker Mr Trump, as well as Democratic President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal reforms.

Hover over the curve to see figures for each month.


Democrats, who acknowledge failing to articulate a clear agenda last year, are also appealing to the faction of their party that backed socialist Bernie Sanders.

Senator Schumer of New York told a press conference in the Washington suburbs: “When you lose elections as we did you don’t flinch. You don’t blink.

“You look in the mirror and ask, ‘what did we do wrong?’

“The number one thing we did wrong was not present a strong, bold economic agenda.”

His remarks amount to an implicit criticism of Hillary Clinton, the party’s standard-bearer last year.

Their ideas build on existing proposals, but many face fierce opposition from Republicans.

Democrats said corporate power has created a system that is “rigged” – and that its influence was growing under the Trump administration.

The plan calls for cracking down on price gouging by pharmaceutical companies, raising the minimum wage to $15 (£11.50) an hour and creating new standards on corporate mergers, among other proposals.

The blueprint does not directly address the debate over healthcare reform.

Senator Schumer acknowledged the policies themselves – some of which have languished as bills – face long odds.

But he said the party must start rallying support now.

The roll-out was promoted in a series of co-ordinated newspaper op-eds on Monday.

“Democrats will show the country we are the party on the side of working people,” he said.



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Amazon's Whole Foods deal under scrutiny


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Amazon said in June it would pay more than $13bn to acquire Whole Foods

US regulators will take more time to review Amazon’s $13.7bn (£10.5bn) acquisition of Whole Foods after some groups have raised anti-trust concerns.

Democrats have asked authorities to consider how the deal might affect consumer choice, particularly in places with fewer food shopping options.

Whole Foods said in June it expected the deal to close in the second half of 2017 but it has warned investors that it could take until May 2018.

Many still expect the deal to go ahead.

Analysts point to potential benefits for consumers in the form of lower prices and delivery innovations.

They also maintain the firm would still face competition from many well-established companies, including Walmart, Target and others.

‘Anti-trust problem’

But the proposed merger has drawn extra attention, coming amid rising concern about the effects of consolidation in a variety of US industries, including airlines, banking and telecommunications.

Democrats have made anti-trust concerns part of their economic agenda. While campaigning for president, Donald Trump also said Amazon had a “huge anti-trust problem”.

Amazon plans to resubmit paperwork to the Federal Trade Commission this week, re-setting the deadline for a preliminary government review of the deal, Whole Foods disclosed in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission on Friday.

Why is Amazon buying Whole Foods?

Are Google, Amazon and others getting too big?

Amazon: Is fast delivery a fresh enough idea to tempt customers?

Amazon announced the takeover in June.

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Reuters

The news sent share prices at rival supermarkets plunging, as analysts anticipated the effect of Amazon’s entry into the supermarket sector.

The industry has already experienced consolidation, with the closure of smaller stores, bankruptcies and other mergers.

Amazon, feared among retailers for its cut-rate pricing and online dominance, is expected to accelerate those trends.

Earlier this month Democratic Rep. David Cicilline called on Congress to hold hearings to investigate the deal, saying it “raised important questions concerning competition policy”.

Deal barriers

A group of Democratic politicians, led by Marcia Fudge of Ohio, also wrote a letter to the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission, which are investigating the transaction, saying it “should be scrutinized beyond the normal antitrust review process that only examines the competitive impact”.

“While we do not oppose the merger at this time, we are concerned what this merger could mean for African American communities across the country already suffering from a lack of affordable healthy food options from grocers,”

Consumer Watchdog, a consumer rights group, also asked authorities to block the deal until Amazon changes the way it lists products that the group says mislead buyers about discounts.

Amazon disputes Consumer Watchdog’s findings, but Reuters reported last week that authorities would consider the claims as part of their review of the Whole Foods acquisition.

Three shareholders of Whole Foods have also filed class-action suits over the proposed merger, arguing the price undervalues the company, among other claims.



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Getting smaller


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Which?

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Wake up and smell the coffee? Some everyday products have shrunk without you realising

Is it just that your hands have grown, or has your favourite chocolate bar shrunk since you were a child?

News on Monday proved what many had suspected: thousands of supermarket items have been getting smaller.

This is known as ‘shrinkflation’ – manufacturers reducing the size of a product while keeping the price the same.

Shrinkflation is particularly common in the confectionary industry, with chocolate bars and sweets the most high profile culprits.

But the phenomenon can be seen in other household items too – although it often goes undetected.

While the Office for National Statistics has released data on the type of products that are shrinking, it won’t be drawn on individual brand names.

However, research from consumer body Which?, released last year, revealed five products that have sneakily shrunk over time.

Chocolate biscuits

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Which?

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McVitie’s dark chocolate biscuits are lighter on your waistline – but not your wallet

McVitie’s packet of dark chocolate digestive biscuits have shrunk from 332g to 300g, a 10% reduction – which is good for your waistline but not necessarily your wallet.

In Tesco the biscuits were sold for £1.59 before they shrank – and even increased to £1.69 after, according to Which?

However, the 300g packet is currently being sold for £1.50 in Tesco’s website – a 6% reduction in price for a product that is 10% smaller.

Orange juice

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Which?

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A carton of Tropicanca Creations Pure Premium Orange & Raspberry juice is now a less refreshing 850ml

Tropicana reduced the size of its carton of Creations Pure Premium Orange & Raspberry juice from one litre to 850ml.

However, the juice was still initially on sale in Asda for the same price – £2.48.

A price check on Monday shows that it is now available on Asda’s website for a slightly cheaper price of £2.30 – a price reduction of 7%, even as the quantity was reduced by 15%.

Coffee

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Which?

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This Fairtrade Guatemala coffee has fallen in size more than it has fallen in price, according to Which?

A packet of Percol Fairtrade Guatemala Coffee has shrunk in size from 227g to 200g, a reduction of 12%.

This coffee was £3.90 in Sainsbury’s and Waitrose before the reduction, and £3.65 and £3.75 respectively after, according to Which? – on both instances costing more per 100g.

It is currently being sold for £3.65 on the Ocado website.

Toothpaste

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Which?

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Some tubes of Sensodyne toothpaste have shrunk by 25%

The tube of Sensodyne Total Care Extra Fresh toothpaste decreased in size from 100ml to 75ml, a 25% reduction, Which? found during its research.

Tesco had the product on sale for £2.40, reduced from £3.60, before it shrank to its present size. After the reduction it was priced at £3.49, representing poorer value for a smaller product.

It is presently on sale on the Boots website for £3.50, or you can get two tubes for £4, which is cheaper per tube, provided that you want to buy two.

Toilet roll

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Which?

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Caught short? Andrex four pack toilet roll now has fewer sheets than it used to

Bringing a new meaning to the phrase “being caught short”, toilet roll has shrunk in size without the price going down.

In tests conducted from 2015 onwards, Which? found that a standard Andrex four-pack toilet roll had been cut down from 240 to 221 sheets, a reduction of 8%.

Yet the retail price had remained around £2.

A price check on Monday revealed a four-pack of Andrex Classic White now costs £2.20 online at Tesco’s and at Sainsbury’s – while the average number of sheets had fallen again to 200.



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Liam Fox downplays UK-US chlorinated chicken differences


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Chlorinated chicken is a familiar feature on US shelves but is banned in the EU

Liam Fox has downplayed talk that a future US-UK trade deal after Brexit could be threatened by disagreements over chlorinated chicken imports.

The international trade secretary said the issue of whether the current UK ban on chlorine-washed poultry would be lifted was “a detail of the very end stage of one sector” of future talks.

The EU bans imports on health grounds but free market groups want a rethink.

Downing Street said any trade deal must work for both consumers and farmers.

Mr Fox is in Washington DC for two days of talks with US officials about the existing transatlantic trade relationship and how this will change once the UK leaves the EU in March 2019.

Although the UK cannot seal a free trade deal of its own with the US until it leaves the EU, both sides have expressed a desire to make quick progress and to scope out some of the barriers to an expedited deal.

The EU currently bans imports of poultry meat which is rinsed in chlorine and it will be up to the UK to decide, after it leaves the EU, whether this ban stays in place.

Environmental campaigners have expressed concerns that the UK’s desire for a quick deal could pave the way for the ban to be lifted as well as a loosening of other restrictions on imports of unlabelled genetically modified (GM) foods and beef from cattle implanted with growth hormones.

Concerns about differing EU and US standards were among issues that resulted in the two sides failing to agree a comprehensive trade and investment partnership last year.


What is chlorinated chicken?

In the US, it is legal to wash chicken carcasses in strongly chlorinated water.

Producers argue that it mitigates the spread of microbial contamination from the animal’s digestive tract to the meat while regulators agree

The practice is banned in the EU on health grounds, arguing it could increase the risk of bacterial-based diseases such as salmonella on the grounds that dirty abattoirs with sloppy standards would rely on it as a decontaminant rather than making sure their basic hygiene protocols were up to scratch.

There are also concerns that such “washes” would be used by less scrupulous meat processing plants to increase the shelf-life of meat, making it appear fresher than it really is.


Asked whether he would be happy eating chlorinated chicken, Mr Fox suggested that the British media was “obsessed” by the issue and asked whether reporters would be shunning US chicken during their visit.

In what he described as the “complex” process of negotiating an over-arching deal to advance the mutual prosperity of the US and UK people, he suggested the issue ranked low down on his list of current priorities.

Speaking more broadly, Mr Fox said discussions about global trade too often focused around talk about the interests of producers and jobs rather than the needs of consumers as people.

“We have to make the case for free trade and consumer gains,” he said.

On Sunday, he conceded that reciprocal access to markets for agri-food products were one of the hardest-fought elements of trade deals and often among the last areas to be agreed.

There have been reports of disagreement in the Cabinet over the issue of chicken imports.

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Mr Fox said the UK and the US had to make the case for the further liberalisation of global trade

Environment Secretary Michael Gove has said the UK will retain existing standards of environmental and animal welfare outside of the EU and that his goal was to improve them further.

Speaking last week, he said there would be “no compromise” on standards and that he believed being a world leader in free trade and animal welfare should not be incompatible.

Free market economists have called for the UK to permit imports of chlorinated chicken as a goodwill gesture to help facilitate a comprehensive trade deal.

The Adam Smith Institute said there was no evidence that eating chlorinated chicken in moderation posed any risk to human health.

In a report published on Monday, it said lifting restrictions would be good for hard-pressed consumers as a kilo of chicken was 21% cheaper in the US than its UK equivalent.

“Trade critics like to suggest that signing a deal with the USA will mean that Brits will be forced to eat unsafe produce,” said its author Peter Spence.

“In reality, chlorinated chicken is so harmless that even the EU’s own scientific advisers have declared that it is “of no safety concern.”

“Agreeing to US poultry imports would help to secure a quick US trade deal, and bring down costs for British households. European opposition to US agricultural exports has held up trade talks for years.”

Asked whether the government was guaranteeing to maintain EU-level food standards after Brexit, a Downing Street spokesman said: “Our position when it comes to food is that maintaining the safety and public confidence in the food we eat is of the highest priority

“Any future trade deal must work for UK farmers, businesses and consumers.”



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Rio Tinto facing SFO investigation


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The UK’s Serious Fraud Office (SFO) says it has opened an investigation into British-Australian mining giant Rio Tinto Group.

The SFO says the probe is “into suspected corruption in the conduct of business in the Republic of Guinea by the Rio Tinto group, its employees and others associated with it”.

It is asking anyone with relevant information to get in touch.

Rio Tinto employ 50,000 people in 35 countries across six continents.



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Tourists warned over exchange rate costs


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British holidaymakers are paying hundreds of millions of pounds in unnecessary charges when they use their credit and debit cards overseas.

Shops, restaurants and cash machines are offering tourists the option of paying in pounds rather than the local currency and applying a poor exchange rate if they take up the offer.

This costs UK tourists about £500m a year, analysis for the BBC has found.

The lower rates are equivalent to charging about 6% on each transaction.

But currency trader FairFX found that on some transactions tourists can lose up to 10% by paying in sterling rather than the domestic currency.

The practice of offering a pay-in-sterling option is called dynamic currency conversion.

Most tourists are on their guard against being stung by high prices. What they don’t expect is that they could be trapped by the payment system itself.

One of the biggest danger areas at the moment is the Netherlands, so much so that the Dutch consumer organisation, the Consumentenbond, is urging visitors to take extra care.

“Let me warn those that are being offered to pay by card and the shop owner says: ‘Would you like me to give you the exchange rate of what it will be in pounds’ – don’t do it”, says Sandra de Jong, who speaks for the group.

‘Very confusing’

A high proportion of shops and bars in Amsterdam, the ones popular with tourists, offer dynamic currency conversion.

Dynamic currency conversion is sold as an extra convenience. But in practice, many British tourists are utterly non-plussed by the choice they are being offered.

“To be honest I find it very confusing,” Jim Begg from Belfast told me as he was setting out on a bike tour round the city, “I never know which is the right one to choose, though I know one gives a much better rate.”

Ollie, a student from Bristol, told me he was caught out when using a card for hotel bills.

“Initially I chose to pay in pounds because I thought that paying in home currency might be better for some reason, but we ended up paying quite a significant amount more.”


Pounds or euros?

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At a cheesemonger, once my card went into the payment machine, up popped a choice: a price in euros and a price in pounds.

What happens is that if you buy in euros the transaction goes through a standard route, with the exchange rate set by Mastercard or Visa, although your bank can impose an additional charge.

But if you choose to pay in pounds, your money is changed on the spot by the shop’s bank or payment processor. And they decide on the rate.

With the cheese I was buying, that meant a loss of 3.5% compared with the Mastercard rate.

Then, in a bar for lunch, I was offered an exchange rate which hacked a 5% slice out of my money.

And at a cash machine in a shop, the hit if I chose to pay in pounds for a cash withdrawal was nearly 10%. Less than 1.02 euros for each of my pounds, rather than the 1.13 euros available that day via Mastercard.

The lesson is a clear one: it’s almost always better to pay in the local currency.


‘Abhorrent’

The BBC asked the currency card and foreign exchange provider FairFX to estimate how much people were being charged for dynamic currency conversion, by analysing its customers’ overseas spending.

It says that based on the average fee of 6%, UK travellers are being charged just under £500m a year.

Overall, one-in-five foreign transactions are affected, but in some countries and with some transactions the proportions are much higher.

At least half of the UK spend on cards in the Netherlands and Hungary is subject to the charges, and more than half of cash withdrawals in Sweden.

Thailand, Malta, Spain, Cyprus and Turkey all come high in the list of countries where people should be careful.

Dynamic currency conversion is legal in the UK and across Europe, as long as traders display not just the price but also the exchange rate being used before the payment is made.

But often the rate isn’t shown in the form British tourists are used to and, in any case, most people find it hard to assess a rate on the spot.

“The way it is pushed is abhorrent,” says James Hickman from FairFX, “The amount they charge should be capped.”

Who benefits? The gains are usually split between the trader and the trader’s bank or payment processor.

That means dynamic currency conversion can be sold to shops and other businesses as a way of recouping their banking costs and even make a profit on top.



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'Shrinkflation' has been going on for five years: ONS


Last year, Toblerone hit the headlines for shrinking the amount of chocolate in its bars while keeping prices the same – a process that became known as “shrinkflation”.

But the Office for National Statistics says manufacturers have been doing this for the past five years, and it has affected thousands of different items in the shops.

Video journalist: Jeremy Howell



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Tesco takes on Amazon with same-day delivery across UK


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Tesco is launching a same-day delivery service across the UK to compete with online retail giant Amazon.

The UK’s biggest supermarket chain already allows customers in London and the South East to order groceries for same-day delivery.

Now it says it will extend the service across most of the rest of the UK by the end of August.

Customers who order online by 1pm will be able to receive their groceries sometime after 7pm on the same day.

Amazon – in conjunction with Morrisons – allows some of its prime customers to receive a food delivery within one hour of ordering it.

At the moment Amazon’s service is only available in parts of London and Hertfordshire, but it too is planning on rolling out the service nationwide.

Customers in London and the South East will be able to access Tesco’s same-day service seven days a week. Elsewhere it will be available from Monday to Saturday.



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Greece makes first return to debt market in three years


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Greece has been frozen out of the financial markets

Greece is returning to the financial markets to borrow money.

The country’s Debt Management Agency announced plans to sell bonds that will repaid in five years. It is the first sale of government debt since 2014, when Greece made a brief return to the markets.

It is being seen as an important milestone for Greece.

Since 2010 the government has been dependent on bailout money to meet its borrowing needs.

Third bailout programme

The bailouts began when Greece was frozen out of the financial markets. It couldn’t borrow what it needed as investors become convinced it wouldn’t be able to repay.

And those needs were very large. In the year before the first bailout started, the deficit in the Greek government’s finances was 35bn euros (£31bn), which is a lot for a small economy, equivalent to 15% of its total national income, or GDP.

Greece slips back into recession

Have the Greek bailouts worked?

Why is Greece back in the headlines?

Will the Greek economy ever recover?

Greece is now into its third bailout loan programme. The main source of finance has been the eurozone – for the first loan the money came from other governments that use the currency, and EU bailout agencies supplied funds for the second two.

In total Greece has received bailout payments of more than a quarter of a trillion euros, and there’s as much as 47bn euros more available over the next year.

Greece also had the benefit of a restructuring of the debt it owed to the private sector. In 2012 most of the bondholders swapped their bonds for an alternative.

The reduction in face value of that debt was 53.5%, but concerns in the markets about the possibility of further restructuring meant that the loss to investors was arguably much greater.

The current, third, bailout is due to end next year – and by “end” we mean the final payment will be made to Greece. The final repayment is due more than 40 years from now.

Pay and pension cuts

When the bailout payments end, the aim is for the Greek government to be able to meet all its financial needs from taxation and borrowing in the markets. What Greece is doing now is a “toe in the water” – an attempt to get some indication of how well that process might go.

There is a widespread view that Greece will need debt relief. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has been the most insistent on that point.

Indeed, until recently the IMF had refused to contribute financially to the third bailout without it. What the Fund has now agreed is an “in principle” commitment – an indication that the IMF will contribute, provided debt relief is confirmed next year.

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The changes to the Greek economy have been painful

There is no question that in the seven years of bailouts, the Greek government’s annual finances have improved. That enormous deficit has gone. Last year there was a small surplus.

This year Greece is likely to be back in the red, but it will be a moderate deficit, projected by the IMF to be 1.5% of GDP.

The adjustment has been painful. The economy has contracted by more than 25% since the peak of the pre-crisis boom and government spending has declined by more than 30% in real terms. That reflects declining public sector employment, pay and pension cuts, and reduced public services.

The unemployment rate is more than 20%, and among young people it is close to 50%.

Fits and starts

So can Greece finance itself from next year? Those investors who buy the new bonds presumably think either that it can, or they assume Greece will get further bailouts or debt relief to the extent needed to ensure it can meet the repayment commitments.

What’s in it for them? The return they will get, assuming the repayments are made as promised, will be better than they can expect on bonds from other eurozone countries.

Looking at 10-year bonds currently trading in the market, for Greece the annual return is about 5%. For other bailed-out countries it’s about 3% for Portugal, 1.5% for Spain and below 1% for Ireland.

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There has been no sustained Greek economic recovery

The reason the return is relatively attractive is that there is still some risk associated with buying Greek government debt. For one thing, the economic outlook is still very uncertain.

The declines in economic activity have, apparently, come to an end. But there has been no sustained recovery. Greece has had fits and starts of growth since 2013, but nothing durable. The economy is about the same size now as it was then.

Still, the fact that Greece can seriously contemplate going to the financial markets is progress of sorts. It is perhaps even more striking because this development comes under the government of a party – Syriza – that fought an election under a radical left and anti-austerity programme.

For long suffering Greeks, the road to recovery is – at best – only starting.



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Ryanair makes 'non-binding' offer for Alitalia


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Budget airline Ryanair says it has made a “non-binding offer” for loss-making Italian carrier Alitalia.

In May, Alitalia filed to be put into special administration for the second time since 2008. It will now be restructured, sold off or wound up.

On Friday, reports said Alitalia had received about 10 non-binding offers.

“We have made a non-binding offer for Alitalia. As the largest airline in Italy, it’s important we are involved in the process,” Ryanair said.

In June, Ryanair chief executive Michael O’Leary said that if the carrier did decide to invest in Alitalia then it would look to acquire a majority stake.

October deadline

The Italian government has ruled out renationalising Alitalia, which was privatised and relaunched nine years ago after filing for bankruptcy in 2007.

The government said in May that it would provide a bridging loan to keep the airline’s planes flying for about another six months.

About 18 firms initially interested in a potential purchase were reportedly given access to Alitalia’s financial figures, and non-binding offers had to be submitted by the end of last week.

Those interested in making binding offers have until October to do so.

However, if no buyer comes forward then administrators will be faced with the prospect of winding up Alitalia, which is 49%-owned by Gulf airline Etihad.



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More than 2,500 products 'have shrunk'


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KitKat bars and Maltesers are two chocolate brands which have shrunk in size

As many as 2,529 products have shrunk in size over the past five years, but are being sold for the same price, official figures show.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) said it was not just chocolate bars that have been subject to so-called “shrinkflation”.

It said toilet rolls, coffee and fruit juice were also being sold in smaller packet sizes.

At the same time 614 products had got larger between 2012 and 2017.

The ONS said the phenomenon of shrinkflation had not had an impact on the overall inflation figures. However, in the category of sugar, jam, syrups chocolate and confectionery, the rate of inflation when adjusted for shrinking products was significantly higher.

Since 2012, the inflation rate for products such as chocolate was actually 1.22% higher.



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FTSE 100 lower as airline shares fall


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Shares in airlines opened lower after comments from Ryanair raised fears of a price war in the sector.

Ryanair said it could cut fares by as much as 9% on some routes in the next few months as competition intensified.

Its comments overshadowed news of a 55% rise in first-quarter profits, and Ryanair’s shares fell 4.5%.

Shares in rival airlines were also hit. EasyJet fell 3% and British Airways owner IAG dropped 2.5%. The FTSE 100 was down 38.13 points at 7,414.78.

Household products giant Reckitt Benckiser was another one of the biggest fallers, down 1.6%, after it said it still had “work to do on addressing the full implications of the recent cyber-attack”.

The maker of Dettol, Vanish and Durex had already said the attack meant its second quarter like-for-like revenues would drop 2%.

In addition, Reckitt said it was “experiencing tough market conditions”.

In the FTSE 250, shares in discount retailer B&M rose 4.4% following reports at the weekend that it could be a takeover target for Asda.

On the currency markets, the pound rose 0.2% against the dollar to $1.3017 and was also 0.2% higher against the euro at 1.1168 euros.



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Ryanair warns of airline fares war this summer


Ryanair says it could cut fares by as much as 9% on some routes as competition in the airline industry intensifies in the next few months.

The warning from Europe’s largest carrier by passenger numbers follows similar comments about price pressures from Ryanair’s rivals in recent weeks.

Competition was growing as airlines switched capacity from Turkey and North Africa, Ryanair said.

The comments came as Ryanair reported a 55% rise in quarterly profits.

Pre-tax profits rose to 397m euros (£356m) in the three months to 30 June, helped by a stronger Easter. Revenues were up 13% to 1.68bn euros.

The average fare during the quarter rose 1% to 40.3 euros, although Ryanair said this was a blip due to the much stronger Easter trading.

The airline said it expected fares to fall by 5% in the six months to the end of September and by 8% in the six months to the end of March 2018.

“We expect the pricing environment to remain very competitive” chief executive Michael O’Leary said in a statement. Easyjet and Wizz Air have both said that fares will be under pressure this summer.

Ryanair executives also repeated warnings of major flight disruptions between the UK and Europe if Brexit talks fail to agree a bi-lateral deal on flights. The airline has warned it may cancel flights and move operations abroad if there is no agreement well in advance of Brexit.

“We need clarity so that we can plan our schedules for 2019,” chief financial officer Neil Sorahan told the BBC.



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Uber rival Grab to raise $2.5bn in fresh investments


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Grab

Southeast Asian ride-hailing firm Grab has raised $2.5bn (£1.9bn) in fresh funds, in what it says is the region’s biggest ever round of investment.

Didi Chuxing, which effectively ended Uber’s ambitions in China, is one of the key backers.

Along with Japan’s Softbank, Didi will invest up to $2bn. The other $500m will come from new and current investors.

Operating in seven countries, Grab is South East Asia’s most popular ride-sharing firm.

‘Unassailable’

Founded in Malaysia in 2012, it offers private car, motorbike, taxi, and carpooling services and holds 95% market share of “third-party taxi hailing” in the region, operating nearly 3 million daily rides.

Grab also runs a mobile payments business which customers can use to pay for rides and other services.

The company hopes the latest funding round – will allow it to expand both the transport and payments businesses.

Didi Chuxing dominates the Chinese ride-sharing market, and Softbank is one of Japan’s largest technology companies run by entrepreneur Masayoshi Son.

“With their support, Grab will achieve an unassailable market lead in ridesharing, and build on this to make GrabPay the payment solution of choice for Southeast Asia,” Grab chief executive officer Anthony Tan said.

The company has been steadily investing in the region to fight off competition from Uber and others. Earlier this year Grab bought Indonesian ecommerce business Kudo as part of a plan to invest $700m in the country, the firm’s largest market.



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Takata scandal: Faulty airbags still used in refits


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Faulty Takata airbags, which have been linked to deaths around the world, are being replaced by new faulty airbags, Australian consumer group Choice says.

The organisation said five carmakers had admitted swopping airbags for identical devices in Australia as a temporary fix.

Toyota said the replacements would be safe for several years because faults only emerged as the airbags aged.

But Choice said the policy left people “driving ticking time-bombs”.

Japanese car parts maker Takata is facing billions of dollars in liabilities over its defective airbags, which have been linked to at least 18 deaths worldwide, including one earlier this month in Australia.

Some of the airbags contained faulty inflators which expanded with too much force, spraying metal shrapnel.

More than 100 million cars with Takata airbags, including around 70 million vehicles in the US, have been recalled since concerns first emerged in 2007. It is the biggest safety recall in automotive history.

‘Replaced again’

Choice’s investigation, which only looked at the Australia market, discovered that about 70% of the 2.1 million cars recalled in Australia had not yet been refitted.

It said Toyota, Mazda, Lexus, BMW and Subaru all admitted to replacing the faulty airbags with identical devices. Many other manufacturers had not responded to questions, it added.

In a statement, Toyota said: “This action provided safety for a number of years, however due to exposure to the environment over time, these airbags will need to be replaced again.”

Last week Australian police linked a road death in Sydney to a defective Takata airbag.

They said a 58-year-old man was struck in the neck by a piece of shrapnel when his Honda CRV was in a collision with another vehicle.

The government’s consumer watchdog, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission said it would investigate the recall.



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IMF downgrades US and UK growth


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Donald Trump’s administration now looks less likely to follow expansionary policies

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has lowered its forecasts for US and UK economic growth this year, following “weaker-than-expected activity” in the first three months.

The IMF says it now expects the UK to grow by 1.7% this year, compared with the 2% it was previously forecasting.

The US will now grow 2.1%, as against the 2.3% it was predicting in April.

Its prediction that the global economy will grow by 3.5% in 2017, and 3.6% in 2018, is unchanged.

In its latest World Economic Outlook, the IMF said the “pick-up in global growth” that it had anticipated in its previous survey in April “remains on track”.

However, it added: “The unchanged global growth projections mask somewhat different contributions at the country level.”

A Treasury spokesperson said the IMF forecast underlined why the government’s plans to increase productivity and get “the very best deal with the EU” after Brexit were “vitally important”.

“Employment is at a record high and the deficit is down by three quarters, showing that the fundamentals of our economy are strong,” they added.

Trump ‘uncertainty’

The UK growth forecast for 2018 remains unchanged at 1.5%, but US growth for next year is now predicted to come in at 2.1%, instead of the 2.5% previously forecast.

“While the markdown in the [US] 2017 forecast reflects in part the weak growth outturn in the first quarter of the year, the major factor behind the growth revision, especially for 2018, is the assumption that fiscal policy will be less expansionary than previously assumed, given the uncertainty about the timing and nature of US fiscal policy changes,” the IMF said.

“Market expectations of fiscal stimulus have also receded.”


Analysis

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The IMF’s forecast for UK growth in 2018 is unchanged

By Andrew Walker, BBC World Service economics correspondent

The downgrade in the UK’s forecast reflects the weak start to the year.

The economy grew by 0.2% in the first three months. That is all we get by way of explanation from the IMF.

It is a short report – just seven pages – and it updates the IMF’s assessment for the whole world economy so there isn’t much space to spell it out.

The IMF is well known, some would say notorious, for warning before last year’s referendum of the adverse economic consequences of leaving the European Union.

Do the agency’s economists think that the downgrade reflects evidence suggesting that they were right? The report doesn’t say. We can only guess.

But we will get a bit of hard evidence on how justified the downgrade was or was not later this week, when the Office for National Statistics publishes its first estimate of economic growth in the second quarter of the year.


President Donald Trump’s administration had been widely expected to pursue policies including tax cuts and infrastructure investment, which would have given a boost to the US economy.

However, that outcome now appears less likely.

Eurozone ‘momentum’

At the same time, the IMF has revised up projections for a number of eurozone economies, including France, Germany, Italy and Spain. It said first-quarter growth in those countries “was generally above expectations”.

“This, together with positive growth revisions for the last quarter of 2016 and high-frequency indicators for the second quarter of 2017, indicate stronger momentum in domestic demand than previously anticipated,” it added.

The biggest eurozone revisions were for the Spanish and Italian economies. Spain is now forecast to grow 3.1% this year, up from the previous prediction of 2.6%. Italy’s 2017 growth forecast has risen from 0.8% to 1.3%.

The euro area as a whole is expected to grow by 1.9% this year, up from 1.7%.

China’s growth projections have also been revised up, reflecting, the Fund says, “a strong first quarter of 2017 and expectations of continued fiscal support”.

Its 2017 forecast has risen from 6.6% to 6.7%, while growth in 2018 is now expected to be 6.4% instead of 6.2%.

The IMF hailed China’s “policy easing and supply-side reforms”, including efforts to reduce excess capacity in the industrial sector.



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VW denies £2.5m London congestion charge bill


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AFP/Getty Images

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There are 500,000 cars with VW engines registered in London, 80,000 of which were fitted with the “defeat devices”

Car firm Volkswagen (VW) has said it will not pay the £2.5m the mayor of London claims it owes in missed congestion charge payments, following the 2015 emissions-rigging scandal.

Sadiq Khan said 80,000 VW engines fitted with “defeat devices” were registered in London.

The devices, which detected when an engine was being tested, changed performance to improve results.

VW said the cars had “validly” qualified for a low emissions discount.

‘No basis’

The world’s largest car manufacturer admitted about 11 million cars worldwide were fitted with the device.

However, a spokesperson for VW said all of its vehicles which benefitted from the Congestion Charge Greener Vehicle Discount “did so validly throughout the relevant period”.

There is “no basis on which it can be said that Transport for London has lost any sums as a result of the NOx issue.”

“No sums are therefore due in compensation,” the spokesperson added.

Mr Khan said the actions of VW were “nothing short of a disgrace”.

Last year a US court ordered VW pay a $14.7bn (£12bn) settlement over the scandal.



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Superyacht hub


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Media captionWhen it comes to superyachts, the bigger the better

Wandering along the beach in Italy’s Viareggio you could be forgiven for thinking it’s simply a holiday resort.

Yet the umbrella-lined, sandy beaches dotted with tourists mask another role, one at the heart of the shipping industry.

This unassuming seaside city is where some of the world’s largest and most exclusive vessels are made.

Its speciality is the superyacht. These giant crewed vessels start at about the length of an average swimming pool – 24-metres. But the biggest can stretch to five or more times this.

It’s a world that belongs to only the very wealthiest of the wealthy – to buy a superyacht you have to be super rich.

Just 370 superyachts were sold last year around the globe, yet collectively these sales were worth a staggering 3.4bn euros (£3bn; £4bn).

The most expensive superyacht sold so far this year cost 155m euros, according to Boat International which collates the industry data.

Viareggio is where about a fifth of these gigantic elite boats are made. It’s the “cradle of shipbuilding” is how the city’s mayor Giorgio del Ghingaro sums it up.

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Tourism isn’t the only big industry in Viareggio

In fact, the town’s involvement in the industry goes back almost 200 years to 1819 when the first dock was built. Viareggio started to build large, strong wooden ships to transport the marble from the region’s famous quarries. This laid the foundations for what would eventually become a major international shipping industry with a history of carpentry and craftsmanship.

The growing popularity of the superyacht has meant Viareggio has evolved again, shifting from making the wooden boats it was once famous for to constructing these giant metal and fibreglass vessels.

Vincenzo Poerio, the chief executive of shipbuilding firm Benetti, which is headquartered in Viareggio, believes the region’s artistic roots have helped to drive its success in the industry.

Tuscan cities such as Lucca, Pisa, Siena and Florence are renowned for their craftmanship in marble, wood, leather and architecture. And people in the market for buying a superyacht expect everything – the interior as well as the exterior – to look perfect.

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A superyacht is “probably the most expensive toy in the world,” says Benetti boss Vincenzo Poerio

Of course you need more than artistic flair to build a superyacht. For such large and expensive projects, engineering skills are crucial as are project management expertise to ensure the boat is built on time and on budget.

But Mr Poerio says the most important attribute to be successful in this industry is people skills to enable them to deal with the often “challenging” demands of the super rich.

Maintaining good relations matter because it’s a personal transaction, not a business one, he says:

“At the end of the day, you are building a big toy, probably the most expensive toy in the world.”

In contrast to similar industries such as luxury cars or private aircraft, it’s much harder to build these vessels in a standardised way.

“In our case most of the time we start from scratch. So the client is not buying a product, he’s building a product which makes a huge difference… Most of the time it’s not easy to manage these requests,” says Mr Poerio.

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When it comes to superyachts, the interior is as important as the exterior

This approach is now starting to shift, with some shipbuilders including Benetti and Perini Navi, building smaller superyachts without first receiving an order.

For their wealthy customers, used to getting things when they want them, an instantly-available boat is a big attraction.

But for the firms investing millions when they don’t yet know if they’ll be able to find a customer it is a risky strategy.

Yet Burak Akgul, a managing director at shipbuilder Perini Navi, says he’s not worried.

“We are an indulgence. There’s always someone who’s ready to indulge, it’s just a matter of whether or not we manage to get hold of them,” he jokes.

In fact, he says, the brand Perini has become a sort of status symbol, marking a certain level of achievement.

“We started seeing people expressing themselves as having reached the point where they now need to have their Perini.

“They didn’t know what they wanted yet, but they had this feeling that they had come to the point of their personal success that time had come for them to build a Perini this was something they had to add to their stable,” he says.

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Building a superyacht can take years

One other advantage for Viareggio is that it is already well equipped to cope with the vagaries of the superyacht industry, which because it is so small and specialised can see demand fluctuate wildly depending on the wider economy.

The skills required to build a superyacht are similar to those for a military boat with both of similar sizes.

Massimo Perotti, owner of ship builder San Lorenzo, says this is a useful balance, with demand for pleasure yachts naturally reducing when military vessels are required and vice versa.

Nonetheless, the extreme wealth of their clientele means they’re also more cushioned from the impact of world events. Even in the financial crisis, San Lorenzo managed to expand, selling about 20 yachts, partly by targeting new markets in Russia, South America, Brazil and India.

The crisis did, however, mark a shift in their customer base. Instead of getting people who wanted a superyacht to show how rich and powerful they were he says, most customers are now genuinely interested in boating.

Yet even with a flow of wealthy customers ready to indulge, the Italian industry is facing competition from other rivals within Europe and even China. Lower labour costs and raw materials mean these countries are able to produce a cheaper boat.

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“If you want a piece of art you go to Italy,” says San Lorenzo’s Massimo Perotti

But Benetti’s Mr Poerio says that for the “very, very, very rich people” they cater for, price isn’t what matters.

When people are spending millions and millions of euros “the brand has to mean something,” he says.

He believes things like the customer relationships and service they offer, as well as the guarantee of a certain level of quality, means they should be able to keep customers from going elsewhere.

San Lorenzo’s Mr Perotti agrees: “If you buy a superyacht it’s for yourself. You like technology, design, luxury; you know, it’s not cheap and you are not looking to to have it at the lowest cost.”

In the end, it comes back to what Viareggio has always been renowned for – artistic flair.

“The characteristic of the Italians is individualism and creativity. Maybe you buy a German car because the Germans are better in organisation. But if you want to buy a piece of art you probably go to Italy.”

This feature is based on interviews by series producer Neil Koenig, for the BBC’s Life of Luxury series.



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Electricity shake-up could save consumers 'up to £40bn'


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Consumers could save billions of pounds thanks to major changes in the way electricity is made, used and stored, the government has said.

New rules will make it easier for people to generate their own power with solar panels, store it in car batteries and sell it to the National Grid.

If they work consumers will save £17bn to £40bn by 2050, according to the government and energy regulator Ofgem.

The rules are due to come into effect over the next year.

They will reduce costs for someone who allows their washing machine to be turned on by the internet to maximise use of cheap solar power on a sunny afternoon.

World’s first floating wind farm emerges

And they will even support people who agree to have their freezers switched off for a few minutes to smooth demand at peak times.

They’ll also benefit a business that allows its air-conditioning to be turned down briefly to help balance a spell of peak energy demand on the National Grid.

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Under the new rules your washing could be done when it’s sunny to take advantage of solar power

Thanks to improvements in digital technology, battery storage and renewables, these innovations in flexibility are already underway with millions of people across the UK generating and storing electricity.

The new rules have been designed to cash in on this.

The tiny energy savings of millions of people and firms will be pulled together into packages by traders who will offer substantial chunks of energy saving to the National Grid at the click of a computer.

So instead of predicting peak demand then building power stations to meet it, energy managers will be able to trade in Negawatts – negative electricity.

Nicola Shaw, executive director of National Grid, previously told BBC News between 30% and 50% of fluctuations on the grid could be smoothed by households and businesses adjusting their demand at peak times.

“We are at a moment of real change in the energy industry. From an historic perspective we created energy in big generating organisations that sent power to houses and their businesses.

“Now we are producing energy in those places – mostly with solar power,” she said.

Digital age

An Ofgem source told BBC News the current rules on trading energy are not fit for the digital age because they often discourage people using energy flexibly.

The rules were made before the digital revolution and before the boom in variable renewable energy.

Industry figures talk about the seismic change that’s sweeping them along. At a recent UK conference energy managers were asked which of them could foresee the shape of the industry in a decade; only half a dozen people raised their hands.

Some will urge a degree of caution amongst the enthusiasm: the more the energy industry embraces the digital age, the more vulnerable it will be to hacking.

Recent reports suggest that Russian hackers may already have tried to compromise the system.

Ofgem say the new rules will put measures in place to combat interference.

Follow Roger on Twitter @rharrabin



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Quorn booms as 'flexitarians' increase


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Quorn

Meat substitute company Quorn Foods says it has seen “unprecedented” global growth in the first half of this year, with sales up 19% worldwide.

The firm says it is benefiting from the rise of the “flexitarian” diet.

This means more people have been reducing meat consumption in favour of more sustainable protein sources.

As a result, it is investing £150m to double production at its main plant in Teesside and expects to create 300 new jobs there in the next five years.

“We are proud to be contributing to the UK’s export drive and to be investing in a British innovation that is vital to addressing the future need for protein across a growing global population,” said Quorn chief executive Kevin Brennan.

“Our growth will continue as expected, regardless of the Brexit deal that is reached.

“In fact, today’s investment is indicative of our confidence in becoming a billion-dollar brand in the next 10 years.”

The firm, which has been owned by Monde Nissin of the Philippines since 2015, says it made a pre-tax operating profit of £13.7m in the first six months of 2017.

Quorn, a meat substitute made from fungus, is sold on its own for use in recipes at home or in ready meals and products that mimic items such as burgers and sausages. It is available in 15 countries.

Quorn Foods has 650 employees on three UK sites and internationally: Stokesley in North Yorkshire, Billingham on Teesside and Methwold in Norfolk, as well as Frankfurt in Germany and Chicago in the US.



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Lip Queen


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Courtesy Bite Beauty

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Susanne Langmuir sold Avon products as a teenager

When Susanne Langmuir faces a big problem at Bite Beauty she asks herself: “What would Louis do”?

Louis is Louis Vuitton, the French designer who in the late nineteenth century turned a small box-making shop into a global luxury brand.

For Ms Langmuir, 48, “what would Louis do?” means: what’s the correct course of action that won’t compromise Bite’s original values?

The Bite founder says: “Not compromising for me is about knowing what the pure idea is, and finding a way to get rid of obstacles that would interfere with that.”

Her “pure idea” was to create line of lip products made solely from all-natural, food-grade ingredients. “You are what you eat. What you put on your lips, you eat,” she says.

Bite Beauty was launched in 2012 in partnership with Sephora, the France-based chain of global cosmetics stores which began selling the products in its outlets. The firm also has “lip labs”, where people custom-make their own lipstick.

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Courtesy Bite Beauty

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Bite’s Lip Labs are where people can custom-make their lipstick

Karen Grant, a beauty industry analyst at market research firm The NPD Group, says Sephora is a “great incubator” for small businesses. Bite’s launch was master class in getting it right, she says, praising the sleek and edgy product design.

Bite’s success did not come without hurdles, however, says Ms Langmuir. The Canadian beauty entrepreneur, born and raised near Toronto, hit two early roadblocks.

Major cosmetics production facilities said they could not produce formulas without at least some synthetic ingredients – a deal breaker for Ms Langmuir. So she built a lipstick factory in Toronto, where the products are still handmade.

The first chemist that Ms Langmuir hired almost torpedoed the project by quitting without notice shortly before the company had to show early formulas to Sephora.

Ms Langmuir, who sold Avon as a teenager and later worked as a cosmetics consultant for several companies, including Anthropologie and Urban Outfitters, had some experience creating formulas.

So she “made a bunch of things in the lab” and headed off to the Sephora meeting, telling them: “You don’t want to get too attached to the formula, but this is where we are heading.” She eventually recruited a former Estee Lauder chemist.

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Courtesy Bite Beauty

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Products displayed in the Bite Lip Lab

Ms Langmuir says she and her 140 Bite staff are used to handling challenges. “We find humour in them, we find a way to figure them out. We’ve got good perspective on what we do next,” she says. “It’s a good sign when there are significant challenges.”

Bite was not her first entrepreneurial challenge. Almost 20 years ago, she developed an organic face oil, but it never caught on with consumers. She also launched a perfume shop that was flooded with sewage water on its first day.

She describes herself as “a weeble-wobble” toy that bounces back after being knocked down. “There’s always another way,” she says.

The idea for Bite came from a gut feeling that there was an underserved market for all-natural cosmetics with an edgy, contemporary style.

In the spring of 2013, Bite held a promotional pop up shop in a Toronto Sephora store. She was given a window space to set up lab equipment and showcase how Bite’s small batches of handmade lipsticks were made.

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Courtesy Bite Beauty

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Bite’s production lab in Toronto

People were captivated. Three weeks later she leased a shop in the SoHo district of Manhattan to set up the inaugural Bite Lip Lab, where people could create shades on the spot, and select the finish and scent within half an hour.

There are now four Lip Labs in the US and Canada, and plans to open more in Los Angeles and other cities.

The Lip Labs have placed Bite at the forefront of what the industry considers a growing trend – bespoke beauty – and will be “a crucial, fundamental part of our growth,” Ms Langmuir says.

Having clients who like to personalise products means Ms Langmuir can tap into the latest trends in the fast-moving cosmetics marketplace.

“For us, we learn about our clients, we learn about trends, we have lots of ‘aha moments’ where things that are not even on my radar (come up),” she says.


More The Boss features, which every week profile a different business leader from around the world:

The millionaire boss who admits he had a lot of luck

The man who built a $1bn firm in his basement

How one man built a global hospitality empire

The ‘diva of divorce’ for the world’s super rich

The snacks boss with an appetite for success


A year after launching the SoHo Lip Lab, Bite was bought by Kendo, which, like Sephora, is part of the French multinational luxury goods conglomerate Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy. The sale price has not been disclosed.

However, Ms Langmuir remains in day-to-day control as chief creative officer, and the products are still handmade in Toronto, in the community where her kids go to school.

The purchase gave Bite the resources to scale-up the business, and Ms Langmuir has no regrets about selling. It will enable the company to “grow ten times as big”, she says. “I get to focus on the creative stuff, and that’s the icing.”

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Courtesy Bite Beauty

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The search for the perfect red

The challenge is to stay relevant in a industry where trends never stop changing – sometimes very quickly.

She grabs a sample lipstick from her desk and swipes a bright white pearlescent colour on her hand. “This is like, whoo! I toned that one down because it was a little too crazy. It’s finding that balance,” she says.

NPD Group’s Karen Grant says Bite must avoid just churning out more products to make scale. “A brand can’t get too detached or too comfortable,” she says.

Ms Langmuir knows that walking this tightrope will determine how relevant the company will be in 10 or 20 years. “It’s finding the balance between core and things that are new and exciting,” she says.



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Planet Organic founder's well-being tips for bosses


Renee Elliott founded organic supermarket chain Planet Organic in 1995. She told #CEOSecrets she went through a difficult time in her early thirties, which led her to focus more on her own well-being. She shared her well-being tips for other bosses with us.

Follow #CEOSecrets on our website here.

Video journalist & series producer: Greg Brosnan. Follow Greg on Twitter @gregbrosnan



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