Piece of cake


She is the multi-millionaire founder of one of Brazil’s most popular chains of cake shops, but there is nothing sweet about the beginning of her life story.

Now 51, Cleusa Maria didn’t have the chance to be a child.

When she was nine years old, she was much more familiar with hoes and rakes than with dolls.

She had a grown-up routine, helping her father every day on the small farm they rented in the countryside of Sao Paulo state, in south eastern Brazil.

That was until her dad died in a car accident in 1978 when she was 12 years old.

“That is when I found out that what was bad, could be worse,” Cleusa says.

Her mother was suddenly a single parent with 10 children to look after, and with very little money they all had to move into Cleusa’s grandmother’s house.

“My mother and I were [now] the breadwinners,” says Cleusa looking back. “I felt it was my responsibility to help my mother raise my nine [younger] siblings.”

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The Brazilian sugarcane industry is still a tough place to work

And so, she and her mum both became field workers, cutting sugarcane with machetes at farms in their part of Sao Paulo state. Their 10-hour shifts started every day before sunrise.

Fast-forward to 2017 and Cleusa now has a life unimaginable to her former teenage self, who worked as a farm labourer for five years.

Instead of toiling in fields under Brazil’s scorching sun, she is today the self-made boss of Sodie Doces, a chain of cake stores with 300 outlets across Brazil, and an annual turnover of more than 200m reais ($63m; £49m).

The journey towards Sodie Doces started when a 17-year-old Cleusa decided that she wasn’t going to spend the rest of her life working in the fields. Instead she was going to gamble on changing her life completely.

So she left the countryside and moved to Sao Paulo city, the largest in Brazil, where she became a maid.

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Sodie Doces has 300 shops across Brazil

It was a completely new world, but it wasn’t easy either. Cleusa had to live at her employer’s home, and only had two days off each month. And all her salary was sent to her mother, who was still working on farms.

“I went from one extreme to another one,” says Cleusa. “I left a two-room house to live with a rich family. There were nine servants for three people.

“But that life brought out the nonconformist in me. I said to myself ‘why did I have to eat different food to the family? Why did I have to fill their glasses while they were eating?’.”

She soon decided to again forge a different path for herself, signing up for an adult education course to get the education she missed out on as a child, and getting a job as a receptionist.

But also wanting to be nearer her mother, she decided to move back to their part of Sao Paulo state, and started working in a factory that made hi-fi equipment.

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Rafael Wainberg

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The cakes come in a multitude of flavours

Then, in 1995, she got an unusual request from her boss’s wife that would change her life – she wanted Cleusa to bake a 35kg birthday cake.

“My boss’s wife used to sell cakes, but that day she broke her leg, says Cleusa. “I had no idea how to bake, but she gave me all the instructions and it worked out.”

Her boss’ wife was delighted with the result and insisted that Cleusa had a gift that couldn’t be ignored.

She bought Cleusa a mixer and found her more clients.

By then Cleusa was divorced with a small daughter, working during the day at the factory and spending her nights baking.

Two years later, she resigned from her job and, with the help of one of her brothers, opened a small shop that she called Sensacoes Doces, which means Sweet Things in English.

The following years were full of hard work, but within a decade Cleusa owned four cake shops.

Once again, someone believed that she could do more. One of her customers insisted that her company should expand by selling off franchisees.

“I had no idea what a franchise was,” says Cleusa. “But this client persisted, talking about it for a whole year.

“So I took a course in Sao Paulo to understand the business model, and decided to become a franchisor. That customer became our first franchisee, and in less than two years we had more than 50 new shops.”


More The Boss features, which every week profile a different business leader from around the world:

The A-level failure who became a multi-millionaire

The restaurateur who puts hospitality above food

How Bite Beauty is building an all-natural lipstick business

The millionaire boss who admits he had a lot of luck


After opening her 74th franchise, Cleusa hit a stumbling block when she found out that her company name, Sensacoes Doces, was already registered by the food giant Nestle.

She says: “It was going to be a fight I couldn’t win. I spent four months without sleep, trying to figure out what to do.”

Instead of trying to keep the name Sensacoes Doces, she came up with the firm’s new moniker – Sodie Doces (Sweet Sodie) – by blending her children’s names, Sofia and Diego.

After that, Cleusa sent new logos to all her franchisees, and paid for any alterations out of her own pocket.

As a result, Sodie Doces didn’t turn a profit for the next four years, but the firm “kept its credibility and didn’t close a single shop”, she says.

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The cakes are not cheap by Brazilian standards

Two decades after opening her first store, Cleusa now has 300 outlets in 13 states in Brazil. The prices of her cakes range from about 43 reais (£10.30) to 74 reais.

To open a Sodie Doces outlet, franchisees must invest around 400 reais, and each shop hires up to 15 employees.

According to Luis Henrique Stockler, an expert on the Brazilian franchising sector, Sodie Doces has “passed all the market tests” thrown its way.

Cleusa says: “I had two dreams in my life. The first one was to take my mother away from the sugarcane fields, and the second was that my children never ended up doing that work.

“I was afraid when we started growing so fast that I didn’t have enough experience and could lose the money I invested.

“But at some point I realised that everything was going fine, and that I should be grateful for getting so far.”



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'I couldn't tell my parents I had started a business'


Shoko Takahashi is a rare example of a female boss in the Japanese bio-tech sector.

The founder and owner of Gene Quest, she says her parents would not have approved of her starting her own business, so she didn’t tell them for six months.

As part of the BBC’s Jumpstarting Japan series – meeting the Asian giant’s young entrepreneurs – Ms Takahashi explains how her firm analyses DNA to test for future diseases.



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FTSE chief executives' median pay 'down almost 20%'


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Sir Martin Sorrell, chief executive of advertising agency WPP, has often been the target of shareholder criticism over his pay packet

The median pay for chief executives of FTSE 100 companies has fallen by almost 20% over the past year, according to accountancy firm Deloitte.

Median pay – a figure representing the pay rate half way between the lowest and highest paid executive – dropped from £4.3m in 2016 to £3.5m this year.

Deloitte said policies introduced to limit bosses’ pay appeared to be working.

This year’s annual general meetings were “calmer than expected” it said.

“The fall in executive pay demonstrates that remuneration committees are making a real effort to address shareholder concerns,” said Stephen Cahill, vice chairman at Deloitte.

“This is the first cycle where the legislation introduced in 2013 and primarily voted on during the 2014 AGMs will have taken effect.

“It seems the current legislation is working.”

‘One off’

The accountancy firm’s remuneration report also said there had been a reduction in bosses’ bonuses and pension allowances for new appointees.

The report tallies with recently published research from the High Pay Centre which suggested the average pay of FTSE bosses had fallen 17% this year.

But the director of the High Pay Centre, Stefan Stern, suggested public pressure had led to what may turn out to be a “one off” fall in pay, and that this year average executive pay had been skewed by high-profile pay cuts for one or two individuals.

New rules in 2013 obliged firms to provide greater transparency over the pay of their top executives in relation to other employees and to hold a binding shareholder vote on pay every three years.

However, discontent over high executive pay has continued.

Prime Minister Theresa May has promised further reforms to policies governing remuneration, to tackle what she called an “irrational, unhealthy and growing gap” between what bosses and workers are paid.

This year the High Pay Centre said the average pay ratio between FTSE 100 bosses and the average pay package of their employees has fallen to 129:1 – meaning that for every £1 the average employee is paid, their chief executive gets £129.

In 2015 the ratio was 148:1.

Investor criticism at AGMs this spring was more muted than expected.

Deloitte’s vice chairman said he did not believe further intervention was necessary.

“With many companies renewing their policies this year we are seeing further moves to incorporate the best practice provisions shareholders now expect,” said Mr Cahill.

“The current framework is working well and we do not believe further regulation is needed to move things forward.”



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US to review China intellectual property policies


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Intellectual property theft is estimated to cost the US up to $600bn a year

The US has formally launched an investigation into China’s policies regarding intellectual property.

The top US trade official, Robert Lighthizer, said his office had “determined that these critical issues merit a thorough investigation”.

The move was expected after President Donald Trump asked Mr Lighthizer to review China’s practices.

China has voiced “serious concern” over the inquiry, which could result in US trade sanctions.

The US has been concerned about these matters for some time, said Gary Hufbauer, from the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington.

The annual cost to the US economy from counterfeit goods, pirated software and theft of trade secrets has been estimated at up to $600bn (£470bn).

On Friday the US said it planned to look into hacking and reports that the Chinese government is steering investment into US companies in key industries as a way to gain access to new technology.

Officials will gather comments and hold a hearing in October as part of the so-called Section 301 investigation.

What happens next?

Mr Hufbauer said it’s a “foregone conclusion” that the US will find evidence of unfair practices, but it’s not clear how the Trump administration will proceed after that.

It could bring a complaint to the World Trade Organization, or decide to take action unilaterally, which would be faster.

Penalties might be targeted against individual companies, or more wide-ranging, he added, which will shape China’s reaction.

On Tuesday, China’s commerce ministry warned: “If the US side takes actions that impair the mutual trade relations, disregarding the facts and disrespecting multilateral trade rules, China will not sit idle.”



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Hard Brexit 'offers £135bn annual boost' to economy


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Prof Patrick Minford says dropping all tariffs after Brexit will boost the UK economy by billions

Removing all trade tariffs and barriers would help generate an annual £135bn uplift to the economy, according to a group of pro-Brexit economists.

A hard Brexit is “economically much superior to soft” argues Prof Patrick Minford, lead author of a report from Economists for Free Trade.

He says eliminating tariffs, either within free trade deals or unilaterally, would deliver huge gains.

Campaigners against a hard Brexit said the plan amounts to “economic suicide”.

In an introduction to the full report, entitled From Project Fear to Project Prosperity, which is due to be published in the autumn, Prof Minford argues that the UK could unilaterally eliminate trade barriers for both the EU and the rest of the world and reap trade gains worth £80bn a year.

The report foresees a further £40bn a year boost from deregulating the economy, as well as other benefits resulting from Brexit-related policies.

Prof Minford says that when it comes to trade the “ideal solution” would still be free trade deals with major economic blocks including the EU.

But the threat that the UK could abolish all trade barriers unilaterally would act as “the club in the closet”.

The EU would then be under pressure to offer Britain a free trade deal, because otherwise its producers would be competing in a UK market “flooded with less expensive goods from elsewhere”, his introduction says.

He argues UK businesses and consumers would benefit from lower priced imported goods and the effects of increased competition, which would force firms to raise their productivity.

However, Open Britain, a campaign group arguing for the UK to remain within the single market and the customs union, said the proposed strategy would be damaging to the UK economy.

“Unilaterally scrapping our tariffs without achieving similar reductions in the tariff rates of other countries would see Britain swamped with imports, leaving our manufacturers and farmers unable to compete,” said Labour MP Alison McGovern, a supporter of the cross-party group Open Britain, which is campaigning against a hard Brexit.

“The levels of bankruptcy and unemployment, especially in industry and agriculture, would sky-rocket.

“This is a project of economic suicide, not prosperity. No responsible government would touch this report with a barge pole as a source of ideas for our future trade policy.”

Economists for Free Trade is a group of 16 economists, including former government advisors and academics.

The group plans to release further chapters of the report in the run up to its full publication.


Andrew Walker, Economics Correspondent, BBC World Service

It is a counterintuitive idea, but actually the economics textbooks do provide some support for the idea of unilateral trade liberalisation.

This analysis suggests that removing trade barriers produces benefits for consumers and businesses buying components or raw materials that exceed the losses suffered in industries that face stiffer competition.

The downside is that it may take time, perhaps years, for the workers who lose their jobs to find new ones.

Professor Minford has expressed the view that the British economy is flexible enough to cope.

There is also the question of how the new jobs would compare with the old ones.

The mainstream view among economists is that while countries overall may gain from trade liberalisation, there are usually some specific groups that lose.


Prof Minford also directs criticism at Chancellor Philip Hammond’s current approach to Brexit, which he says amounts to “throwing away our hard-won freedom from EU rules”.

The chancellor is viewed as favouring a softer approach to Brexit, but recently co-authored an article in the Telegraph in which he proposed that the UK would leave both the single market and the customs union in March 2019, but that there would be a “time-limited” transition period to help businesses adjust.

A government spokesman said the UK would maintain a “deep and special” relationship with the bloc after departing the EU.

“The economy has grown continuously for four years and there are more people in work than ever before.

“As we leave the European Union, we will build on this success by maintaining a deep and special partnership with the EU while embracing the wider world as an independent, open, trading nation.'”

During the referendum campaign last year Prof Minford stoked controversy by suggesting that the effect of leaving the EU would be to “eliminate manufacturing, leaving mainly industries such as design, marketing and hi-tech”.

However in a recent article in the Financial Times he suggested manufacturing would become more profitable post-Brexit.



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Pension cold-calling ban to include texts and emails


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A forthcoming ban on cold-callers who try to scam people out of their pension savings will include emails and texts, the government has announced.

Nearly 3,000 savers have been conned out of an average of £15,000 each since 2014, after fraudsters persuaded them to cash in their pensions.

Certain types of cold calls, including those involving mortgages, are already banned.

Now the law will be changed to include callers trying to sell pensions.

Companies that do not have prior permission to contact consumers, or do not have an existing client relationship with them, will face fines of up to £500,000.

But whereas the government originally proposed excluding texts and emails, it has now decided to include them within the new law.

“The fact emails and text messages will also be covered by the ban means savers can be absolutely certain that if someone they don’t know contacts them out of the blue about their pension, they simply should not engage with them,” said Tom Selby, an analyst with AJ Bell.

“That means don’t email, don’t text back and hang up the phone.”

A spokesman for the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) said the legislation would be tabled “when parliamentary time allows”, raising the possibility that it could be many months before the rules come in.

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The consumer organisation Which? said that the regulator, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), would need to be strict about enforcement.

“Pension scams are costing retirees millions, so this action must lead to a crackdown on criminals stealing people’s hard-earned savings,” said Gareth Shaw, Which? money expert.

Some fraudsters have taken advantage of the new pension freedoms, which were introduced in April 2015.

Since then, anyone over the age of 55 has been allowed to withdraw money from their pension, with the ability to spend it, or invest it elsewhere.

In one case investigated by the BBC, thousands of people were persuaded to buy so-called storage pods with their pension savings.

However, most never received the returns they were promised.

Fraudsters ‘exploit loopholes’

The government will also tighten the rules to make it harder for consumers to transfer money to unregulated pension schemes, such as those investing in forest schemes or parking spaces.

Under proposals to be added to the Finance Bill later this year, trustees will have to ensure that any receiving scheme is regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority, is an authorised master trust, or has an active employment link with the individual.

The new measures have been welcomed by the Pensions Regulator, and by the former pensions minister, Ros Altmann.

“The sooner the government acts, the sooner we can improve protection for people’s pensions.

“We will never stop such fraudsters completely, but these measures will certainly protect the public better – about time too,” she said.

However, experts warned that fraudsters would try to find new ways of working.

“It’s important to note that this will not stop cold-calling or pension scams,” said Tom Selby.

“Fraudsters will seek to exploit any loopholes in the rules, and many of the outfits involved will simply move their call centres abroad to avoid the ban.”



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Why finding large women's shoe sizes can be a problem


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Finding women’s shoes that fit can be a challenge if you take a larger size

The UK footwear chain Jones Bootmaker was saved from administration earlier this year but its new owners are still closing a number of its stores – which is a setback for women with larger feet and few options.

And I should know; as Jones is one of the few High Street staples to offer a larger than average range of big sizes, my local branch was the first port of call to accommodate my own size nines.

Now it lies empty, the latest instalment in a troubled footwear history that sentenced me to boy’s lace-ups at school and overhanging toes in any sandal since.

With independent shops rarely stocking shoes above size seven and larger brand outlets offering merely one or two options – if I’m lucky – finding suitable shoes remains the Holy Grail.

Since the 1970s, the average shoe size of men and women in the UK has increased by two sizes, from a size eight to 10 and four to six, respectively, according to research from the College of Podiatry.

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The footwear industry is not keeping up with changing demands, says Dr Jill Halstead-Rastrick

“When size five was average the industry would think providing two sizes above to a seven was just about the fringe of adequate for women, but now that it’s a six, we should be seeing far more eights and even nines as standard,” says the college’s Dr Jill Halstead-Rastrick.

She believes the footwear industry is not moving with the times to accommodate a nation that is taller and heavier and so by evolutionary logic, has larger feet, and warns this is an issue that could be a time bomb for the next generation.

“Increased weight splays the feet and we are seeing a lot of adults wearing shoes that are too narrow or small. This is only going to become more of a problem as we continue to grow in stature – we need a wider variety of larger sizes.”

It’s a familiar narrative to Laura West of the Society of Shoe Fitters.

She estimates around 30% of inquiries she receives are from girls aged around 12 unable to find school shoes above a size eight, and who having to wear boys shoes as a result. Irrespective of any aesthetics this is having serious repercussions for girls’ foot health, she argues.

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The lack of proper shoe sizes can lead to hip, knee and ankle and neck problems later in life

“Boys’ shoes will fit differently, and ill-fitting footwear does change [girls] physiology.

“If feet hurt you shift your weight unnaturally when you walk and this wears out other joints and tendons leading to hip, knee and ankle and neck problems later on.”

West believes the problem stems from the demise of British manufacturing in the 1980s, when many UK brands shifted production overseas to cut costs. This has meant less research into foot development and a deeper disconnect between the manufacturer and consumer needs, she says.

“When we produced shoes here we could run short production lines including larger sizes at little extra cost, but in an overseas factory you have to order in far greater numbers, which becomes cost prohibitive.

“Independent shops can’t compete with low cost imports – and they would have been the ones to feedback the inability to supply certain items like larger sizes to their manufacturers’ representatives.

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The extra cost in making larger shoe sizes has also discouraged some manufacturers

“Now consumers trawl from High Street chain to supermarket and the staff have little involvement; it is self-service mass market approach and an ‘if we’ve got it you can have it – if not tough’ mentality, so manufacturers don’t have a clue.”

A focus on fashion over quality has compounded the problem for many UK women’s shoe makers. By contrast the men’s market has benefitted from higher-priced items such as Goodyear welted shoes which enjoy a healthy export trade to Europe, Asia and US.

“The price commanded for them makes UK production profitable,” says British Footwear Association chief executive John Saunders.

By contrast “most UK women’s shoemakers were operating in the volume to mid-tier market,” he says, and were hit hard in the late 20th Century by increasing Asian competition, retailers demanding a greater share of profits and consumers turning to cheaper shoes.

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Switching UK shoe production to Asia has led to smaller shoe sizes, says Naomi Braithwaite

China now accounts for about 65% of shoes made worldwide, and with this production coming from a country where the average female shoe size is a UK three-and-half, this virtual monopoly has hit shoes sizes.

Former luxury shoe buyer Naomi Braithwaite, now a fashion marketing and branding lecturer at Nottingham Trent University, recalls how standard sizes of shoes at the company she worked for reduced after it switched production from Italy to China.

“Sample sizes were based on Chinese feet which are smaller boned and narrower. As well as this, many of the designers at the luxury end simply didn’t like to see their shoes in bigger sizes as they didn’t think they looked as beautiful as the more petite sizes.”

The additional cost involved in producing larger sizes to cover the extra material and increased shipment weight is another deterrent for a somewhat already reluctant industry, she concedes.

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Retailer Long Tall Sally says women’s size 10 shoes now account for 30% of footwear sales

It’s a gap in the market that Long Tall Sally, a specialist in fashion and footwear for tall women, has successfully exploited. Its shoe range starts at size seven and goes up to 13.

Making shoes above a size eight costs the firm about £5 extra a pair because of the extra material, and it also uses a bespoke ‘last’ – a three-dimensional foot shaped mould on which each shoe is made.

Yet it seems to be paying off with footwear growing from a 5% to 15% share of the total business. Size 10 is now its most popular size, representing 30% of footwear sales.

“Demand for larger size women’s shoes has risen steadily,” says Long Tall Sally’s shoe buyer, Chris O’Shea.

The other option if you’ve larger feet, is to buy German.

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Technology could allow personalised fittings – without the prohibitive prices of handmade shoes

“Germany is very much an exception – it has always had much better selection in larger size footwear and what they do well is shoes with quality, comfort and longevity'” says O’Shea.

While Germany still outsources production to Asia, many of its footwear brands retain head office, marketing and design in the country – with a consistent focus on function and quality over fashion.

It’s why Dr Halstead-Rastrick often directs patients to German brands. But she says the industry could better use technology to provide more personalised fittings without the prohibitive prices that handmade shoes usually command.

“You can even scan and measure feet via a phone app now, so surely we can’t be that far off a situation where we can send our measurements to companies and say, this is the shape of my foot can you make me something?”

Here’s hoping change is afoot.



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One in 10 adults owns second home, says think tank


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The number of landlords has risen significantly since 2002

As many as 5.2 million UK adults – or one in 10 – have bought or inherited a second home, according to research.

Think tank the Resolution Foundation said the number of multiple home owners grew by 30% between 2002 and 2014.

That figure includes buy-to-let landlords – counted as one owner even if they have multiple properties – as well as those who own separate properties to live in themselves.

At the other end of the scale, four in 10 adults own no property at all.

The foundation said the number of people without property had also risen over the 12-year period.

As a result, the study concluded that there was a growing gap between those who have property wealth and those who do not.

The government is already ploughing £60m a year into rural and coastal communities that are most affected by second home ownership, such as Cornwall and Cumbria.

The money – raised from the Stamp Duty surcharge – supports first-time buyers.

Baby boomers

Those most likely to own a second home are baby-boomers, currently aged between 52 and 71. They also typically live in the south of England.

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Cornwall has many second-home owners

“Contrary to the popular narrative, these second-home owners are rarely your typical middle-income worker shoring up savings, or ordinary retirees boosting pension income,” said Laura Gardiner, senior policy analyst at the Resolution Foundation.

“They tend to be baby boomers who are very wealthy indeed relative to their peers, living in the south and east of England.”

Those born since 1981 own just 3% of second homes, according to the report.

Stamp duty

Since April 2016 those buying second homes have been subject to higher rates of Stamp Duty in England and Wales, and higher Land and Buildings Transaction Tax (LBTT) in Scotland.

In addition, landlords are no longer able to claim tax relief on all their mortgage payments. This change is being phased in between April 2017 and 2020.

It is not yet known to what extent such changes have led landlords to sell up.

Despite those clamp-downs, the Resolution Foundation would like the government to do more to end the property wealth gap.

“Policy makers should consider what more can be done to ensure that home ownership doesn’t become the preserve of the wealthy for generations to come,” said Ms Gardiner.



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McDonald's could face first UK strikes


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Global fast-food giant McDonald’s could face its first UK worker strikes

Fast-food company McDonald’s could face its first staff strike in the UK, after workers at two stores backed a call for industrial action.

Employees at McDonald’s restaurants in Cambridge and Crayford, near London, voted overwhelmingly for a strike.

The Bakers, Food and Allied Workers Union (BFAWU) said staff wanted secure working hours and a £10 per hour wage.

A spokesman for McDonald’s said the fast-food company “works hard to ensure teams are treated fairly”.

“We can confirm that, following a ballot process, the BFAWU have indicated that a small number of our employees representing less that 0.01% of our workforce are intending to strike in two of our restaurants.”

“As per the terms of the ballot, the dispute is solely related to our internal grievance procedures.”

Rebecca Long-Bailey, Labour’s Shadow Secretary for Business, Environment and Industrial Strategy, said: “The strike at McDonald’s is motivated by working people coming together to fight for decent pay and working conditions.”

The company in April announced that staff would be offered a choice of flexible or fixed contracts with minimum guaranteed hours.

McDonald’s, employs around 85,000 staff in the UK and one million worldwide.



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How much will you give me for my false teeth?


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If pawning the family silver signals a desperate need for cash, then what does handing over your own teeth say about your financial situation?

A set of gold false teeth was one of the more unlikely items offered to pawnbroker Nathan Finch.

“It wasn’t the most pleasant of transactions but we did the loan,” he says.

Jewellery is most common pledge as security for a loan, but during 30 years in the pawnbroking trade he says he has witnessed some more creative propositions from customers.

“Everything from designer handbags to Mont Blanc pens, and a lot of signed memorabilia; we even had people offer a racehorse and a fishing trawler,” says Mr Finch, managing director of Pickwick Pawnbrokers.

“You never know what is going to come through the door. It can be a very small diamond ring in someone’s hand or it can be a great statue under their arm.”

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Media captionA pawnbroker reveals some of the unusual items in his vault

Through the thick, alarmed doors, in the cramped vault under his High Street pawnbroking shop, Mr Finch pulls out works of art, designer handbags, and even a Louis Vuitton dog collar.

His experience is not unique. Across the UK, various pawnbrokers are specialists in Rolex watches, luxury cars or antiques.

So why does anyone in possession of an Aston Martin or an expensive timepiece need to walk into a pawnbrokers’ shop to seek a loan?

“The typical reason that a customer might use a pawnbroker is almost exclusively cashflow. It is not that they don’t have assets, or that they don’t have wealth, it is just that they don’t have that money at that particular time.

“It could be school fees, it could be extra spending money for a holiday, it could be a crisis loan, like getting your car back on the road. It is a cycle of the need being driven by a crisis or some luxury spending.”

Research suggests that day-to-day spending, and a need to pay utility bills are high on the list of customers’ need for quick cash.

“Pawnbrokers tend to get people through a short-term cashflow issue and then the item is redeemed. I am happy and they are happy,” says Mr Finch.


How does pawnbroking work?

  • Customer “pledges” an item, such as a gold ring for a set period of time, usually six months
  • Pawnbroker gives 50% to 60% of the item’s value as a cash loan
  • Customer pays 7% to 8% interest every month
  • An item can be redeemed during the loan period by paying back the original loan and any interest up to that point
  • If the customer cannot repay the loan at the end of the deal the pawnbroker sells the item and returns any surplus to the customer

More information is available from the National Pawnbrokers Association. Consumer advice on pawnbroking is available from Citizens Advice and the Money Advice Service


This happiness may, of course, be short-lived. Failing to pay back the loan, and the interest charged on top, means saying goodbye to the valuable possessions.

Even if the item is redeemed – and in most cases it is – then using a pawnbroker can be a relatively expensive way to borrow, says the Money Advice Service.

“You can usually only borrow a percentage of the value of the item you want to pawn. So if, for example, you have some jewellery worth £200 you might only be able to borrow £100.”

Interest is typically higher than a standard bank loan but normally less than a payday lender. But unlike those loans, anyone with a poor credit history can access pawnbroking services as long as they have an item to pledge.

The Money Advice Service suggests people who want to pawn should shop around for the best deal, and also:

  • Choose a company that is a member of the National Pawnbrokers’ Association, which has a code of conduct for members
  • Ensure the company is regulated by the FCA
  • Understand the value of the item you are pawning
  • Be aware that a complaint can be raised with the lender and, if unresolved, to the Financial Ombudsman Service

There were only 44 new cases dealt with by the Financial Ombudsman about pawnbroking in the last financial year – and only 30% were upheld in the complainants’ favour. In the three months from April, fewer than 30 cases were recorded, registered as a blank on the ombudsman’s latest data.

That suggests either a high level of satisfaction among customers or a lack of awareness of the ombudsman – or both.

It certainly compares favourably to the wider consumer credit market, which saw complaints rise by 89% in the year to April, following a 40% rise in the year before that.

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The industry has a rich history, as this image of a Georgian pawnbroker shows

Complaints have not mushroomed but nor has the industry. While the unsecured credit market – including overdrafts and credit cards – has grown rapidly in the last few years, prompting fears about a consumer debt bubble, the pawnbroking sector remains relatively niche.

Just 4% of the adult population use a pawnbroker, according to Ray Perry, chief executive of the National Pawnbrokers’ Association (NPA).

Customers are more likely to be women than men (it is a 60/40 split), aged 25 to 40-years-old and in a job.

Stricter regulation has thinned the number of pawnbrokers. All businesses with a licence to offer credit to consumers have had to be reauthorised by the regulator – the Financial Conduct Authority. The process was long and intense, and many pulled out of the industry as a result.

The NPA had more than 200 members beforehand, now it has 150. The combined loan book of their 1,200 retail stores is £700m, having peaked at about £850m, although the falling price of gold has played a part in this reduction.

E-pawn

Nathan Finch also points to challenges facing the industry from the new technology and convenience used by money-lending competitors.

“A lot of young people do not want to bring in an item. A lot of business and financing is done on apps nowadays.

“Pawnbrokers are developing technology to be able to try to keep up with that. The initial deposit of the item will always be physical, but the way in which we can transfer money and communicate with customers is modernising.

“I think we shall compete with lenders for another 3,000 years.”

He says “another” 3,000 years, because the history of pawnbroking stretches back three millennia.

The Chinese were pawning their goods back then for shipbuilding, the cost of war, and exploration.

Modern pawnbroking began in northern Italy in the middle ages, with the split of the Medici and their family crest between the bankers and the pawnbrokers, with the latter taking the three balls sign – a symbol that survives to this day.



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US markets turn higher on Bannon exit


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US stocks regained ground on Friday, after it was confirmed President Donald Trump’s polarising adviser Steve Bannon would depart the White House.

Three major indexes turned higher in mid-morning trading and were modestly up by early afternoon.

Mr Bannon, a right-wing nationalist, helped shape the “America First” message of Mr Trump’s election campaign.

He also supported some of Mr Trump’s more radical economic positions.

In a recent interview with the left-leaning American Prospect magazine, Mr Bannon said the US was in an “economic war” with China, and called for aggressive protectionist moves.

Cheering broke out on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange as news of Mr Bannon’s exit spread.

Stocks had been trading in record territory, leading some to forecast a correction.

Some say Mr Trump’s clashes with North Korea and the domestic fight stirred by his defence of a white supremacist rally in Virginia provided a trigger for the recent losses.



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Steve Bannon fired as Trump's White House senior strategist


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White House chief strategist Steve Bannon is the latest top aide of President Donald Trump to leave his post.

Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders confirmed that Friday was his last day.

His exit follows a review of his position by White House Chief of Staff John Kelly.

Mr Bannon, a right-wing nationalist and former head of Breitbart.com, helped shape the “America First” message of Mr Trump’s election campaign.

But critics had accused him of harbouring anti-Semitic and white nationalist sentiments.

Mr Bannon had competed for influence in the West Wing against rival advisers and the Trump family, according to US media.


Taking credit did him in

By Anthony Zurcher, BBC North America reporter

Steve Bannon may be out as a senior White House adviser, but Bannonism – if that’s what it can properly be called – is still firmly entrenched in the White House.

Donald Trump has repeatedly boasted that the success of his presidential campaign should properly be attributed to him, not Mr Bannon. And, in the end, Mr Bannon’s desire to take credit for that win may have been what did him in.

It certainly wasn’t because of any sharp ideological divides between the president and the former head of Breitbart News.

Border security, aggressive trade protectionism, immigration reform and a certain kind of cultural nostalgia – all were themes that Mr Trump ran on from the start, which Mr Bannon only sharpened and focused. They’re also issues Mr Trump has pushed in recent weeks, even as Mr Bannon was increasingly marginalised.

Mr Bannon’s firing will be seen as a win for chief of staff John Kelly, whose attempts to instil discipline in the White House will get a boost without the free-wheeling Mr Bannon roaming the hallways.

Trump was Trump before Mr Bannon came on the scene, however. And as the rollercoaster ride that was politics this week indicates, the president isn’t changing anytime soon.


Mr Trump fuelled speculation when asked last week about Mr Bannon’s future as he replied: “We’ll see.”

Mr Bannon’s interview this week with the American Prospect magazine reportedly infuriated the president.

The White House aide was quoted as claiming he had the power to fire officials at the State Department and undercutting Mr Trump on North Korea.

Mr Bannon told associates he thought it was an off-the-record chat and didn’t realise he would be quoted.

Ms Huckabee Sanders’ statement said: “White House Chief of Staff John Kelly and Steve Bannon have mutually agreed today would be Steve’s last day.

“We are grateful for his service and wish him the best.”

Source familiar with the decision said Mr Bannon had been given the chance to leave on his own terms.


Who else has been fired?

Anthony Scaramucci, communications director – 31 July

Reince Priebus, chief of staff – 28 July

Sean Spicer, press secretary – 21 July

James Comey, FBI director – 9 May

Michael Flynn, national security adviser, 14 February



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Black ownership rules polarise S African mining sector


South Africa’s mining sector has been thrown into turmoil by new guidelines and legal requirements. The new mining charter stipulates – among other things – an increase in black ownership.

The government says it wants to transform the sector and redress many inequalities. Mining firms say it could destroy the industry.

Matthew Davies has more.



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Northern, Southern and Merseyrail strikes set for September


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Northern Rail

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Arriva runs its Northern services across north-west and north-east England, Cumbria and the East Midlands

Further rail strikes have been set for next month to coincide with schools going back in the row over driver-only-operated trains.

Arriva Rail North, Merseyrail and Southern RMT staff will walk out from Friday 1 September with the last strike on Monday 4 September.

The RMT said no progress had been made over the future of the role of guards, due to safety and job loss fears.

Arriva Rail North said it is prepared to guarantee jobs.

‘Round-table talks’

Arriva Rail North – which operates under the brand Northern – and Southern workers will walk out on Friday, 1 September and Monday, 4 September.

Staff at Merseyrail will be on strike on 1 September, 3 September and 4 September.

RMT General Secretary Mick Cash said: “RMT is bitterly disappointed that Southern Rail have rejected our call for round-table discussions involving all parties with an interest in resolving this dispute.”

After a meeting with Northern bosses Mr Cash said the “responsibility for the inevitable disruption lies wholly with the company”.

He added: “It is disgraceful that Merseyrail continue to refuse all reasonable attempts by the union to settle this dispute.

“RMT has a clear plan for resolving this dispute but that requires round-table talks now to push forwards.”

Alan Chaplin, Northern’s managing director said: “Northern is prepared to guarantee jobs and current pay for all our conductors for the next eight years, until the end of our franchise. Our offers to discuss every detail on the future responsibilities and training for on-board colleagues have been rejected by RMT.”

Jan Chaudhry-van der Velde, Merseyrail’s managing director, said: “The RMT say this dispute is about safety. But a recent industry report (RSSB, Risk associated with train dispatch, July 2017) states that: ‘… there is no additional risk for passengers boarding and alighting driver-controlled operation/driver-only operation trains, and indeed that trains without a guard actually appear to lower overall dispatch related safety risk to passengers.”

Southern has also been approached for comment.



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Wrestling bids to boost interest in China


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US-style professional wrestling is leaping off the top ropes and into the Chinese market.

From Friday, World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) is making its video streaming service available in the mainland.

The part-sport, part soap-opera joins a long list of sports eager to tap into a new customer base.

Industry-watchers say finding local stars will be key to its success.

Local partner

WWE’s service will be available through its Chinese partner PPTV, with subscribers required to download an app to access the content.

Past events have “received a great response from WWE fans in China,” according to Godfrey Zeng, executive vice president of Suning Sports Media, parent company of PPTV.

China has held a number of WWE events over the years, and there’s even a local WWE-style wrestling organisation, but this is the first time an entire channel devoted to WWE will be available.

The network will feature WWE’s major live events and original series, as well as reality shows and classic matches.

The organisation is kicking things off by making one of its marquee events SummerSlam, which takes place on Monday, available live in Mandarin.

Crowded market

Sports ranging from mixed martial arts to Australian rules football have all been trying their luck in China.

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Other sports have managed to capitalise on the success of Chinese stars.

The country’s huge population means that most organisations would only need a small share of the market to see a return on their investment, but some industry watchers caution that it’s not as easy it might seem.

“Everyone’s trying to break into China, and you’ve all got those much more established sports. Then you’ve got things like rugby, and combat sports and they’re all trying to compete for the same demographic,” said Mark Dreyer, who runs the Inside China Sports website.

Two-time grand slam champion Li Na helped to make tennis more popular, while Chinese NBA star Yao Ming made a huge difference to basketball’s popularity.



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Brexit bounce?


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Buckingham Palace is one of London’s many tourist attrations

Tourism has been one of the most successful parts of the UK economy recently, thanks in part to Brexit.

The weaker value of the pound since the Brexit referendum vote means that the UK is now a much cheaper destination than it used to be.

Many mainland Europeans, Americans and Chinese people are taking advantage of that.

That’s clear from the cacophony of different languages and accents outside Buckingham Palace, and on the streets around the Palace of Westminster.

“It’s a little more economical than it was a few years ago,” says one visiting American tourist.

“Thanks to the euro, London is not more expensive than in France,” a French tourist adds.

Meanwhile, a German man said the euro-pound rate has “made me quite happy”.

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The fall in the value of the pound has made the UK a cheaper place for overseas tourists

Two-thirds of the international visitors enjoying London’s sites, Cornwall’s beaches and Edinburgh’s Royal Mile are from the rest of the European Union.

The tourism agency VisitBritain forecasts there’ll be a 6% rise in the number of international visitors in 2017, with large numbers coming from France in particular.

VisitBritain’s director Patricia Yates says: “The currency is in our favour. It might motivate more people to come.”

Numbers game

The tourism boom was helped by the Olympics in 2012, a showcase for Britain’s historic towns, picturesque villages, and stunning national parks.

The latest data from Forward Keys, which monitors flight bookings, suggests international arrivals to the UK will be 9% higher for August to October this year compared to the same period of 2016.

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The 2012 London Olympics helped spark a rise in the number of visitors to the UK

Bookings from China are up 20%, and those from the US are 23% higher, the data suggest.

There aren’t just more tourists, they’re also spending more when they’re in the UK.

VisitBritain predicts tourists’ spending will surge by 14% this year.

“Very often people budget in their own currency. They’re getting more pounds for their money, and we can see their spend going up,” says Patricia Yates.

Sterling has tumbled 16% against the euro since the June 2016 referendum, and has fallen 23% against the US dollar.

Over the past two years, the pound has dropped about 30% against the euro.

“There are some factors putting downward pressure on the pound, and some other things putting upward pressure on the euro,” says Paul Hollingsworth of Capital Economics.

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The weaker pound makes shopping in the UK more affordable for overseas tourists

He lists the downward forces on sterling as “Brexit and uncertainty about the UK’s future relationship with the EU, the economy… and the expectation for interest rates”.

“We’ve seen quite a Brexit bounce,” says Jace Tyrrell from the New West End Company, which represents shops on London’s Bond, Oxford and Regent Streets.

As shoppers carrying bags from all sort of stores rush by on Regent Street, Mr Tyrrell says, “In the past six months, there’s been a 36% increase in spend here, so certainly international visitors are appreciating the value depreciation”.

Stores report sales of pricey jewellery and high fashion items have been rising the most.

‘Golden age’

The large American hotel chain, Hilton, has 138 hotels in the UK, and is planning to open 30 more, partly because of the tourism boost spurred by the fall in sterling.

The company says it has seen double-digit growth in the UK over the past year.

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VisitBritain says overseas numbers will rise 6% this year

In the lobby of one of its swanky London hotels, Simon Vincent, Hilton’s president of Europe, the Middle East and Africa, says we’re living through a “golden age of travel”.

Another factor behind the company’s British expansion is demand from UK customers, as “staycation” becomes more popular.

“The domestic customer has always been an important part of our business mix, particularly in our portfolio outside of London,” says Mr Vincent.

“In fact, it’s the most significant proportion of our business. It’s been growing well.”

Bargain basement Britain?

Despite “Brexit bounce”, the sharp increase in tourist numbers began before the sharp drop in the pound, and the industry says it isn’t relying on currency depreciation to increase numbers further.

“We operate in a competitive global environment,” says VisitBritain’s Patricia Yates.

“We will never be a cheap destination, we don’t want to be. We have to offer good value for the prices we’re charging,” she says.



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Visits to UK rise amid fall in pound


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The number of overseas residents visiting the UK rose to 3.5 million in June, up 7% from the same month last year, according to official figures.

While in the UK, the visitors spent £2.2bn, a rise of 2%, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said.

The increase comes as the weak pound makes the UK more affordable for visitors, but also follows terror attacks in London and Manchester.

Meanwhile, UK residents took 7.2 million trips abroad, a 4% increase.

And despite the fall in sterling they spent £4.6bn – 15% more than the same time in 2016.

April saw a record 3.7 million overseas visitors – up 19% from a year earlier – as the fall in the value of the pound made the UK a more attractive destination.

Over the April-to-June quarter the number of visitors from overseas rose to 10.75 million, up 8% from the same period a year earlier.



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Kit Kat accused of copying Atari game Breakout


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Kit Kat’s maker Nestle has been accused of copying Breakout, the 1970s computer game, in its latest marketing.

Atari, the company behind some of the most popular early video games, has filed a suit alleging Nestle knowingly exploited the game’s look and feel.

Breakout was created as a successor to “Pong” by Apple founders, Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs.

The advert shows a game similar to Breakout but where the bricks are replaced with single Kit Kat bars.

In the advert, which is titled “Kit Kat: Breakout”, a row of people, of varying ages and appearance, share a sofa and play a video game during their work break. In the game depicted a primitive paddle moves side-to-side to bounce a ball into a collision with the horizontal bars ranged across the top of the screen.

Atari alleges that the similarity with its original game “is so plain and blatant that Nestle cannot claim to be an ‘innocent’ infringer”.

The legal complaint against Nestle, filed in a San Francisco court on Thursday, claims that the Swiss chocolate maker had hoped to exploit “the special place [Breakout] holds among nostalgic Baby Boomers, Generation X, and even today’s Millennial and post-Millennial ‘gamers'”.



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Airline shares lead FTSE 100 lower


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Shares in airlines fell in early trade as investors worried about the impact of the Barcelona terror attack on tourism.

British Airways owner IAG and EasyJet were both down by more than 2%, making them the biggest fallers on the FTSE 100 index.

The UK’s benchmark share index fell 51.40 points, or 0.7%, to 7,336.47.

Elsewhere in the travel and tourism sector, shares in Intercontinental Hotels Group were down 1.5%.

Analysts said there was also a broader sell-off on the market, following big falls on Wall Street on Thursday.

The US S&P 500 share index dropped 1.5% on Thursday – its biggest daily percentage drop for three months – over concerns that the Trump administration will not be able to deliver promised economic reforms.

On the currency markets, the pound was up 0.2% against the dollar to $1.2892, and was also 0.2% higher against the euro at 1.0997 euros.



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Alibaba surges while Walmart stalls


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Online retail giant Alibaba has again reported strong earnings, posting a 56% rise in quarterly revenue.

Net income grew by 94% to 14.7bn yuan ($2.2bn; £1.7bn;) for the three months ending June 30, compared to the same period last year.

The performance is in sharp contrast to US big box retailer Walmart, which posted a 23% drop in net income.

Analysts say the two results reflect both a global shift towards e-commerce and a broader shift towards Asia.

Alibaba’s surging earnings

Investors have shown unbridled enthusiasm for Alibaba this year. The company’s shares were up 5% on the results, and they are up 81% this year.

While these numbers seem almost unbelievable by US or European standards, some analysts think there’s still plenty of room for growth.

“That’s the challenge evaluating these companies because the market dynamics are so different than in the US and Europe,” said Ben Cavender, from China Market Research Group.

He says e-commerce still only accounts for about 15% of the total retail market in China, so there’s still plenty of untapped potential.

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Walmart plays catch-up

The news isn’t all bad for the once-dominant retailer.

Store traffic is higher, but profits were down, in part because Walmart is spending money to keep pace with rival Amazon.

Walmart’s US stores saw a 1.8% rise in sales compared with the second quarter of last year.

Still, its net income fell 23.2% to due to aggressive spending on e-commerce as well as costs of $788m connected to a one-time debt payment.

The Amazon in the room

Both companies are in competition with US ecommerce giant Amazon, which has also seen significant growth in the last year.

But while Walmart is directly squaring off against Amazon, Alibaba’s chief executive, Jack Ma, has made it clear that he’s not relying on the US market for the company’s growth.

And while Amazon has a presence in China, it hasn’t made huge inroads.

“They don’t have the funding, they don’t have the brand recognition. They don’t have the product that people want at the end of the day,” said Mr Cavender.

On its home turf, Alibaba might be more worried about Walmart, which has a significant bricks-and-mortar presence, and has also formed an alliance with Alibaba’s local rival JD.com

Battleground South East Asia

South East Asia, with its rapidly expanding middle class, is shaping up as the next battleground for global e-commerce giants.

“All of these players are looking at where the emerging spending growth is coming from,” said Mr Cavender.

Amazon Prime has dipped its toes into South East Asia by setting up shop in Singapore.

Alibaba has opted for a different route by partnering with established local players.

In June, it invested a further $1bn in Singapore-based e-commerce platform Lazada Group, and on Thursday it revealed it had invested $1.1bn in Indonesia’s Tokopedia.



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Heineken-Punch Taverns pub deal cleared by CMA


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Heineken’s takeover of Punch Taverns will not face an in-depth competition probe after the brewer offered to sell pubs to address concerns.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) had said there were 33 areas where pubs would not face sufficient competition if the deal went ahead.

But following the brewer’s offer to sell pubs in the affected areas the CMA said it was satisfied its concerns had been addressed.

Heineken will buy 1,895 Punch pubs.

Private equity firm Patron Capital will buy the remaining 1,329 pubs in the Punch estate.

“Heineken has offered to sell pubs in each of the affected areas to preserve competition and ensure customers in these locations do not lose out,” the CMA said in a statement.

“Before reaching a final decision, the CMA carefully assessed and consulted publicly on these proposed undertakings. The CMA is satisfied that its concerns have been addressed and has therefore decided that the merger will not be referred for an in-depth phase 2 investigation,” it added.

Heineken already owns 1,100 pubs.

The CMA’s preliminary investigation concluded that the deal would not damage the chances of Heineken’s competitors selling their own products, as the pubs being bought only make up 4% of the market.

It also felt that it was unlikely Heineken would reduce the choice of beer and cider available in the Punch pubs, as this could lead it to lose business.



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Infosys chief executive Vishal Sikka resigns


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Vishal Sikka has resigned as Infosys chief executive and managing director, the company said in a statement Friday.

The firm’s chief operating officer U. B. Pravin Rao will take over the role on an interim basis with immediate effect.

Infosys is one of India’s largest IT services firms. Mr Sikka was appointed in June 2014 and tasked with turning around the struggling business.

Shares of the company tumbled 7% following the announcement.



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Salmon sales surge as UK food exports hit record high


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Sales of British salmon helped the UK export a record amount of food and drink in the first half of the year, according to industry figures.

Exports of the fish jumped more than 53% by value to £408m, the Food and Drink Federation (FDF) said.

UK food and drink exports rose 8.5% to £10.2bn, helped by the fall in the pound after last year’s Brexit vote.

Whisky remained the top export, while salmon was second and beer rose to third after it overtook chocolate.

The pound has fallen by about 20% against the dollar since the UK voted to leave the EU in June last year, giving a boost to UK exports as they have become relatively cheaper.

However, the weaker pound has also pushed up costs for British businesses that bring in food and raw materials from abroad, the FDF said.

It said the UK’s food and drink trade deficit – the difference between how much the UK imports and exports – widened 16% to £12.4bn over the period.


Salmon sales ‘higher than ever’

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Loch Duart Salmon

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Andy Bing of Loch Duart Salmon says the firm has seen record sales this year

Salmon is becoming more popular globally, according to Andy Bing, sales director of Loch Duart Salmon in North West Scotland.

“This half we’ve sold more than we ever have,” he said, adding that the firm’s main export markets were France, the US, Italy, and Switzerland.

UK salmon exports have grown after Chilean producers suffered problems in 2015 with algal blooms that killed a large amount of their fish, he said.

The firm is optimistic about the eventual post-Brexit trade deals that can be struck with EU countries.

“Europe needs lovely Scottish salmon just as we need lovely French wine and wonderful German cars,” he said.

However, he added that Loch Duart was “finding it difficult to plan without better guidance” from the government about Brexit.


The FDF warned that without a favourable Brexit trade deal, UK exports could become less competitive.

Two of the biggest importers of UK food and drink are Ireland and France.

If there is no deal and World Trade Organization (WTO) tariffs with the EU are brought in, “food and drink would face significantly higher tariffs than most other products,” an FDF spokesman said.

However, the free market think tank, the Institute for Economic Affairs, said it would not be a “disaster” if the UK failed to strike a deal with the EU.

Jamie Whyte, IEA research director, said: “In fact, we could unilaterally eliminate all import tariffs, which would give us most of the benefits of trade and export to the EU under the umbrella of the WTO rules.”

A UK government spokesman said it wanted to reach a deal with the EU “allowing for the most frictionless trade including in food and drink as possible”.

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UK’s top 10 food and drink exports

  1. Whisky
  2. Salmon
  3. Beer
  4. Chocolate
  5. Cheese
  6. Wine
  7. Gin
  8. Beef
  9. Pork
  10. Soft drinks

Source H&M Customs and Excise


In the first half of the year, UK food and drink exports rose faster to EU countries, up 9%, than to countries outside the EU, with growth of 7.6%.

But the market which saw the most growth in the first half was South Korea, up 77%, in the main due to beer exports.

Food Minister George Eustice said: “We have ambitious plans to produce and export more of our fabulous foods around the world and more businesses are trying exporting for the first time.

“Last week we announced further market access to China for pork producers and UK beef will soon be heading to the Philippines. We will continue to work with industry to open new opportunities.”



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Pensioners told to head to West Sussex for happiness


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Its pleasures range from a visit to the stately Arundel Castle to flight delays at Gatwick airport.

Yet it seems West Sussex offers retirees the best possible lifestyle.

In a quality of retirement index, the county has overtaken Dorset as the top place for pensioners to live.

The research, from Prudential insurance, is based on a range of criteria including access to healthcare, crime and the weather.

The study looked at the 55 counties in England and Wales, but excluded Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Sunny weather

The south coast county is already so popular with the over-65s that it has the second-highest inflow of pensioners, after Devon.

It also scores well for ongoing health, high pensioner incomes, and relatively sunny weather.

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West Sussex has beautiful countryside

Dorset was in second place, with East Sussex and Devon next in the rankings.

Pensioners in Surrey enjoy the highest income, those in Gwynedd have the best access to healthcare, while residents of Essex get the nicest weather.

But the Isle of Wight has the highest concentration of pensioners overall.



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Trump 'scraps infrastructure council plan'


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Donald Trump talked about expediting infrastructure projects earlier this week

President Trump is scrapping plans for a business panel on infrastructure, according to US media reports.

A White House official said the infrastructure panel, which was still being formed, would not go ahead.

The decision comes after two other White House business councils were dissolved on Wednesday amid an exodus of chief executives.

Business leaders quit over Mr Trump’s handling of violent clashes in Virginia involving white supremacists.

Bloomberg, CNBC and political newspaper The Hill reported that the president’s planned Advisory Council on Infrastructure “would not move forward”.

Mr Trump’s reaction to last weekend’s clashes at a far-right rally – which left one woman dead and nearly 20 people wounded – has sparked outrage and generated global headlines.

On Monday, Mr Trump belatedly condemned the white supremacist and neo-Nazi groups that rallied in a small Virginia town on Sunday.

But in a rancorous news conference on Tuesday he backtracked and again blamed left-wing counter-protesters for the violence too.

That prompted business leaders to quit his manufacturing and policy councils, and drew criticism from the bosses of other large US firms including Apple and JP Morgan.

Mr Trump signed an executive order last month establishing the Advisory Council on Infrastructure.

At the start of the year he said he was planning the council and named two well known New York property developers to lead the group.

Representatives for Steve Roth of Vornado Realty Trust and Richard LeFrak of LeFrak, whom Mr Trump named last winter, could not be reached immediately.



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DIY firms Homebase and B&Q suffer sales slump


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The UK’s two biggest DIY chains, B&Q and Homebase, have both reported a slide in sales this summer.

B&Q said sales at its established stores fell 5% in the three months to July amid a drop in demand for garden furniture and other summer products.

The fall dragged shares in B&Q owner Kingfisher down 4.1%, making it the biggest faller on the FTSE 100.

Meanwhile, Homebase reported a similar drop in quarterly sales under its new Australian owner.

George Salmon, an analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown, said: “It looks like Kingfisher isn’t alone in having difficulties in the UK.

“The group’s flagship B&Q chain saw like-for-like sales fall 4.7%, which is similar to the 4.3% fall at Bunnings UK, the new owner of Homebase.”

As well as the Bunnings DIY chain, Wesfarmers also runs the supermarket chain Coles and the Kmart and Target chains in Australia.

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Bunnings

Sales of summer products dropped nearly 11% at B&Q, partly because customers bought more of those items during the warm spring.

Kingfisher said it remained cautious about the economic outlook for the UK in the second half of the year.

However, its other DIY chain, Screwfix, continued its stellar run, with sales at existing stores rising 10% in the period.

‘Long slog’

Homebase’s results were partly dragged down by its transition under its Australian owner.

Bunnings UK, which bought Homebase for £340m last year, is changing the DIY retailer’s discounts and rebranding more stores under the Bunnings name.

In the first financial year since acquiring the chain, Bunnings UK booked a £54m loss on revenue of £1.2bn.

Bunnings Group managing director Michael Schneider told analysts it was braced for a “long slog” in the UK.

“The opportunity for the Homebase stores is going to be more clarity and consistency in execution,” he said. “There’s no silver bullet.”



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Roaming downtime hits customers on Three in Europe


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Three

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Some holidaymakers have been hit by the downtime

Roaming services are currently down for all customers on the Three mobile network in France, Portugal and Luxembourg, the operator has said.

On Twitter, several customers reported they had been experiencing problems for two days.

Three has apologised and said it is working on a solution.

The BBC understands that the issue does not lie with Three’s own network, but rather with its roaming partners in the three affected countries.

Emergency services are still contactable via 112, Three has said.

“I’m travelling alone and can’t make any calls or send any texts,” wrote one customer online.

Another said: “I’m driving to Paris tomorrow, and I’ve got to follow road signs because I have no connection for my Google Maps.”

BBC journalist Dougal Shaw – on holiday in France – also said on Twitter that he had been affected.

“I got lost in a market,” he wrote.



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Top Shop bosses out of fashion in Arcadia shake-up


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Top Shop is the jewel in the crown of billionaire Sir Philip Green’s retail empire.

But with the chain losing its sheen amid tough competition there are fresh attempts to keep it ahead of the game.

In the latest shake-up at Sir Philip’s parent company Arcadia, Top Shop’s creative boss Kate Phelan is leaving, as is Top Man’s Gordon Richardson.

Arcadia has announced that they will be replaced in a combined role by former Vogue art director David Hagglund.

In addition to this latest creative appointment, a new chief executive starts next month – Paul Price.

It signals a new era for Top Shop, once the go-to destination for young shoppers keen to snap up the very latest fashion trends on the High Street.

Profits at Arcadia, which also includes Miss Selfridge, Burton, and Dorothy Perkins, plunged by 79% last year.

Tough competition in the clothing market – and the failure of the now-defunct BHS chain – contributed to the poor performance.

Ms Phelan moved to Top Shop from fashion magazine Vogue in 2011, and Mr Richardson has been at Top Man for 17 years.

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Sir Philip Green’s retail empire includes Top Shop and Top Man

In Arcadia’s statement, Sir Philip said: “The appointment of David Hagglund, in the newly combined role, continues to mark the start of a new era for Topshop Topman in moving both brands forward in their ongoing global expansion.

“I am delighted to welcome David who will be joining Paul Price, our new chief executive, on the same day and I look forward to working with them both to drive the business forward.”

Top of their agenda will be Top Shop’s future. Nimbler online rivals such as Boohoo and Misguided are eroding Top Shop’s market share. They’re cheaper, too.

Online retailer Boohoo saw profits double in April thanks to new overseas markets.

And online fashion retailer Asos has also been eating Top Shop’s cake, with sales jumping in its latest results.

We will have to wait and see whether Top Shop seeks to move upmarket, or tries to up its game in the fiercely competitive online world.



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Asda grows again after three-year slump


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Supermarket chain Asda has reported its first quarterly like-for-like sales growth for three years.

Sales rose 1.8% in the second quarter after a bumper Easter, Asda owner Walmart said.

Figures were boosted by a combination of price cuts, more customers and rising inflation.

Last year Asda reported its worst quarterly performance on record when sales tumbled by 7.5%.

Walmart chief executive Doug McMillon said the world’s biggest retail was “encouraged” by the UK result.

“In June, I visited Asda to see the progress being made. Customers are responding to investments in price and store experience by visiting the stores more often and increasing their basket sizes,” he said.

“There’s still much more to be done, but we’re clearly headed in the right direction.”

Asda is the third-largest UK supermarket chain behind Tesco and Sainsbury’s, according to research firm Kantar Worldpanel.



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Pain in Spain: are tourists still welcome?


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Barcelona’s airport is subject to strike action by security staff

Visitors to Barcelona may be expecting some hostility after the anti-tourism protests that have shaken one of Spain’s biggest holiday destinations.

On arriving at the city’s airport, they may notice signs that all is not well.

But any protesters with raised fists are more likely to be striking airport workers in pursuit of better pay and working conditions.

Spanish Civil Guards have been called in to handle security as the indefinite stoppage goes on.

Once the tourists arrive in the city centre, they are likely to notice anti-tourist graffiti or signs telling them that rents are now unaffordable for locals because of the demand for holiday accommodation.

Such campaigns are now being seen elsewhere in Spain, the world’s third-biggest tourism destination, while the tourism industry is concerned at the potential global effect.

“Tourism is of immense economic benefit to European destinations and has become even more important in recent years,” says a spokesperson for Abta, the UK travel agents’ association.

“Most people appreciate these benefits and accept that at certain times of year, they will have to share their cities with significant numbers of tourists from around the world.”

‘Manage numbers’

Abta, perhaps unsurprisingly, blames the problem on the rise of online services such as Airbnb, which threaten its members’ traditional business model while promoting a huge expansion in illegal tourist accommodation in cities such as Barcelona.

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Campaigners have helpfully translated their message for tourists

“The rapid growth of the peer-to-peer economy in recent years has led to significant increases in visitors to some cities, but due to the lack of licensing and regulation in this sector, it is impossible to fully understand tourism numbers,” it says.

“We need mechanisms in place to manage numbers in crowded destinations, for the benefit of holidaymakers, destination residents and the travel industry. Logically, these measures would need to take account of both hotel visitors and peer-to-peer accommodation users.”

Abta may have a point, though. According to some estimates, as many as 40% of Barcelona’s tourist apartments are being rented out without the authorities’ permission, making it much harder for local people to find affordable accommodation.

For now, tour guide operators and other local businesses say privately that the anti-tourist backlash has made little difference to the influx of visitors.

And the Spanish government must be hoping they are right.

More than 75 million tourists visited the country last year, and the number is expected to hit a record 83 million in 2017.

With Spain still recovering from its crippling economic crisis, tourism is more important to national well-being than ever before.

‘Cookie-cutter’ tourism

Lucy Fuggle, head of content at TrekkSoft, which provides logistics and software to travel firms, sees the discontent as a sign that tourism needs to change. “The backlash is concerning, but more so for the sentiment than the economic impact,” she says.

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A cheap holiday in other people’s misery?

“Tourism will continue – there’s no doubt about that – but we see some changes that need to happen, such as improved regulations and better distribution of visitors across cities.

“In our work with tour and activity suppliers and tourism boards, we’ve noticed that visitors are increasingly seeking unique experiences in less ‘typical’ destinations,” Ms Fuggle says.

“It’s a step away from the cookie-cutter package trip, and if more visitors turn to this, we could see less dense distribution in struggling cities such as Barcelona and Venice. It comes at a greater cost to the consumer than budget city breaks, however.”

Future fears

It’s probably too late for the protesters to have much impact on this year’s tourism numbers.

The surge in visitor numbers is being fuelled by powerful global economic forces. As the appeal of other once-popular destinations such as Tunisia, Turkey and Egypt is waning because of security concerns, Spain looks even more attractive as a haven for sun-worshippers.

But the impact of the anti-tourist campaign could well be felt in 2018 and beyond.

The Catalan Tourist Board is a regular exhibitor at London’s World Travel Market tourism fair, held every November, along with 11 other Spanish travel organisations.

After some bumper years, the Spanish tourism industry will have to work hard to ensure that it too does not fall out of fashion.



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Who is the most successful James Bond?


Daniel Craig has signed up for a fifth James Bond film – but how does he compare to the actors who played the iconic spy before him?

Roger Moore has starred in the most films, but Sean Connery’s outings made the most money at the US box office, if the figures are adjusted for inflation.

Connery’s films were also more acclaimed by critics – although Daniel Craig isn’t far behind when the reviews are ranked.

This counts official Eon-produced Bond films only – not including the original Casino Royale and Never Say Never Again.



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Hyundai vows to produce longer-range electric car


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Korean carmaker Hyundai is wading further into the electric vehicle market, promising a car that can go 500km (311 miles) on each charge.

Hyundai already has an electric model on the market, but its range lags behind its competitors’ models.

Along with its affiliate Kia, Hyundai is planning 31 eco-friendly models by 2020.

The latest move comes amid increasing competition in the market for ecologically-friendly cars.

Hyundai’s environmentally-conscious new additions will include three plug-in hybrid vehicles, eight battery-powered cars and two fuel-cell vehicles.

The company also has plans to develop its first dedicated facility for pure electric vehicles, which will allow it to produce a variety of cars with longer driving ranges.

Its current electric model, the Ioniq, has a range of 280km, less than GM’s Bolt or Tesla’s Model 3, which both have ranges in excess of 350km.

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Automotive analyst Robin Zhu from Bernstein Research says Hyundai’s new model would be competitive when it comes out after 2021, even though its high-end competitor Tesla will probably exceed its expected range by then.

“For econo-boxes that go from A to B, you need to be competitive, but as long as they offer the right product for the right value, the onus is not on Hyundai to do something groundbreaking,” he said.

China leads the way

Hyundai’s latest push into the electric market comes amid growing global competition for electric cars.

In addition to electric-only manufacturers such as Tesla and Faraday Future, major US, Japanese and European carmakers are now offering electric options.

According to the International Energy Agency, new registrations of electric cars hit a record in 2016, with more than 750,000 sales.

While electric cars have the highest market share in Norway, far more are sold in China.

China accounted for more than 40% of the electric cars sold last year, more than double the amount sold in the United States.

The consultancy McKinsey said Chinese manufacturers produced 43% of the 873,000 electric vehicles built worldwide in 2016.

Robin Zhu said the Chinese market is partly driven by generous government subsidies, and it’s unlikely that Chinese manufacturers will continue to dominate over the long-term.

“Right now, VW’s market share is almost 0%. But it’s not going to be 0% when they pull up their socks and do it,” he said.



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UK retail sales growth slows in July


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UK retail sales growth slowed in July as consumers cut back on buying most goods other than food, according to the latest official figures.

Sales grew by 0.3% compared with June, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said.

Strong food sales drove the growth, while most of the other main sectors showed a decrease.

The gap between wages and inflation is continuing to widen, putting pressure on household spending.

In June sales rose by 0.6% against May.

Ole Black, ONS senior statistician, said it was a “relatively subdued picture” in retail sales”.

“Strong food sales have been responsible for the growth of 0.3% in July compared with June, as all other main sectors have shown a decrease. Whilst the overall growth is the same as in June, trends in growth in different sectors are proving quite volatile,” he said.



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Cornish fish restaurant named best in the UK


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“If you stay true to yourself, get your head down, look after your customers and use the very best ingredients available to you, you’ll make it to the top,” said Outlaw

A Cornish fish restaurant has been named best in the UK, after five years at the top for the previous winner.

The Good Food Guide put Port Isaac’s Restaurant Nathan Outlaw, named after its owner, just ahead of Cumbria’s L’Enclume, ending its winning run.

Traditional favourites such as Heston Blumenthal’s The Fat Duck still feature in the top 50 list.

But new restaurants to feature include a tiny 12-seat restaurant and one set on a caravan site in Anglesey.

Outlaw described the news as “phenomenal” and attributed the success to the “hard work and dedication of the team”.

Despite losing the top slot, Simon Rogan’s L’Enclume in Cartmel retained its perfect 10 score.

Four new entrants to the top 50, including Hart’s Bakery in Bristol, are built under railway arches. One, named Vice and Virtue, occupies a former strip club in Leeds.

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Stark’s Ben Crittenden was named “chef to watch”

Stark, a 12-seater restaurant in Broadstairs, Kent, is so pushed for space that it does not have a toilet. Diners can instead pop up the road to the local pub.

Despite its lack of facilities, its chef, Ben Crittenden, has been named “chef to watch” by the Guide.

Peter Sanchez-Iglesias won the chef of the year title for the seasonal cuisine he serves at Casamia in Bristol.

The Good Food Guide, published by Waitrose, started ranking the UK’s restaurants in 1951.

Each year it assembles a long-list from thousands of recommendations sent in by the public.

It then sends out inspectors to each of the chosen restaurants, where they assume the guise of regular customers before reporting back on their experience.

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Apple boss Tim Cook joins Donald Trump condemnation


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Apple chief executive Tim Cook has become the latest boss to criticise President Donald Trump over his response to the white nationalist rallies in Virginia.

Mr Cook said he did not agree there was a “moral equivalence” between white supremacists and “those who oppose them”.

Mr Trump has disbanded two business councils after top bosses resigned.

Mr Cook said Apple will also make donations to human rights charities.

In an email to staff obtained by Buzzfeed News Mr Cook said: “I disagree with the president and others who believe that there is a moral equivalence between white supremacists and Nazis, and those who oppose them by standing up for human rights.

“Equating the two runs counter to our ideals as Americans.”

He added that “in the wake of the tragic and repulsive events in Charlottesville, we are stepping up to help organizations who work to rid our country of hate”.

Apple will contribute $1m each to the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League. It would also match two-for-one any staff donations to these and several other human rights groups until 30 September, he said.

On Wednesday, Mr Trump has said he was scrapping two business councils after more bosses quit over his handling of the violent clashes in Virginia.

Business leaders left the White House manufacturing council after the backlash against how he reacted to the far-right rally last weekend.

The clashes culminated in a woman’s death and nearly 20 wounded when a car ploughed into a crowd of anti-fascist protesters.

Mr Trump’s reaction has sparked outrage and generated global headlines.

His announcement on Twitter came as the heads of 3M, Campbell Soup, Johnson & Johnson and United Technologies announced their resignations on Wednesday.

Mr Trump said: “Rather than putting pressure on the businesspeople of the Manufacturing Council & Strategy & Policy Forum, I am ending both.”

Before Mr Trump’s announcement, the Strategy and Policy Forum announced it was a joint decision to disband the council.

Businesses have been under pressure to distance themselves from Mr Trump over his handling of the clashes in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Why did they leave?

On Monday, Mr Trump belatedly condemned the white supremacist and neo-Nazi groups that rallied in a small Virginia town on Sunday.

But in a rancorous news conference on Tuesday he backtracked and again blamed left-wing counter-protesters for the violence too.

JPMorgan chief executive Jamie Dimon, a member of the Strategy and Policy Forum, released a separate statement on Wednesday saying he strongly disagreed with Mr Trump’s recent statements, adding that “fanning divisiveness is not the answer”.

“Constructive economic and regulatory policies are not enough and will not matter if we do not address the divisions in our country. It is a leader’s role, in business or government, to bring people together, not tear them apart,” he said.

Denise Morrison of Campbell Soup Co said she could not continue to participate in the advisory panel after Mr Trump’s comments. Activists had called on Campbell Soup, among other firms, to take action.



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Fracking: Shale rock professor says UK gas reserves 'hyped'


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The gas reserves in shale rocks in the UK have been “hyped”, a geology professor has warned.

Prof John Underhill from Heriot-Watt University said UK shale deposits were formed 55 million years too late to trap substantial amounts of gas.

He said the government would be wise to formulate a Plan B to fracking for future gas supplies.

But the fracking firm Cuadrilla said it would determine how much gas was present from its test drilling.

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is a technique designed to recover gas and oil from shale, a sedimentary rock found worldwide.

The amount of shale gas available in the UK is acknowledged to be a great unknown.

Cuadrilla said estimates from the British Geological Survey (BGS) indicated a large potential gas reserve.

But Prof Underhill said his research on the influence of tectonic plates on the UK suggested that the shale formations have been lifted, warped and cooled by tectonic action.

These factors make shale gas production much less likely.

“The complexity of the shale gas basins hasn’t been fully appreciated so the opportunity has been hyped,” he told the BBC.

Big US deposits

This is very different from the US, where big deposits of shale gas were created in the continental heart of America, far from the movement of tectonic plates.

Prof Underhill’s comments are based on an unpublished paper on tectonics. He said he deduced the impact on shale formations by chance.

He said: “I’m neutral about fracking, so long as it doesn’t cause environmental damage. But the debate is between those who think fracking is dangerous and those who think it will help the economy – and no-one’s paying enough attention to the geology.

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Prof Underhill said UK shale basins had been partly formed by magma under Iceland

Prof Underhill said: “For fracking to work, the shale should be thick enough, sufficiently porous, and have the right mineralogy. The organic matter must have been buried to a sufficient depth and heated to the degree that it produces substantial amounts of gas or oil.”

Iceland magma

Professor Underhill said the UK had been tilted strongly by tectonic movement caused by an upward surge of magma under Iceland.

This subsequently led the shale gas basins to buckle and lift, so areas that were once buried deep with high temperatures which generated oil and gas, were then lifted to levels where they were no longer likely to generate either.

The basins were also broken into compartments by folds which created pathways that have allowed some of the oil and gas to escape, he said.

A spokesman for the BGS said it could not comment formally on Prof Underhill’s comments as it had not done the research.

‘Very large potential’

Cuadrilla’s technical director Mark Lappin told the BBC: “We have noted the BGS estimates for gas-in-place and consider that volume to be indicative of a very large potential reserve.

“It’s the purpose of our current drilling operations to better understand the reserve, reduce speculation from all sides and decide if and how to develop it.

“I expect Professor Underhill would be supportive of the effort to understand the resource including geological variation.”

The government’s opinion tracker showed public support for fracking has fallen to 16%, with opposition at 33%. But it also reported a lack of knowledge of the technology, with 48% of people neither supporting nor opposing it.

Follow Roger on Twitter @rharrabin



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What's in a name?


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These company names aren’t so strange but others in China are a little more unusual

China has banned companies from registering weird and long names.

Last year, Beijing banned any more “bizarre” buildings. In recent years the country has seen buildings shaped like a teapot and another resembling a pair of trousers.

Now, China’s State Administration for Industry and Commerce has continued the government’s crusade for normalcy with restrictions on such names as ‘scared of wife’ or ‘prehistoric powers’.

So, just how weird and wonderful are Chinese company names? Well, a few otherwise-unoccupied social media users in China have dug up some gems.

Skinny blue mushrooms

Some curiosities have crept into business names from internet memes.

“Shenyang Prehistoric Powers Hotel Management Limited Company” might sound weird but less so to Chinese sports fans who remember swimmer Fu Yuanhui.

She famously won a bronze medal at the Rio Olympics, afterwards declaring: “I have used all my prehistoric powers to swim!”

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China’s swimmer Fu Yuanhui attributed her win to her “prehistoric powers”

There are also lots of restaurants and cafes with the phrase “skinny blue mushroom”.

The phrase originated from a meme which mocked a man from Guangxi province who uploaded a video of himself talking about his loneliness while his girlfriend was away.

“Unbearable, I want to cry,” he moaned – but thanks to his accent, it ended up sounding more like “skinny blue mushroom”.

Scared of wife

One of the best known offbeat names on Chinese social media is a condom company called “Uncle Niu”.

Or, more accurately, “There Is a Group of Young People With Dreams, Who Believe They Can Make the Wonders of Life Under the Leadership of Uncle Niu Internet Technology Co Ltd.”

It’s not concise, but at least it’s positive.

Others aren’t so upbeat, especially when it comes to home life.

And given “Beijing Scared of Wife Technology Company” and “Anping County Scared of Wife Netting Products Factory” are both registered companies, the trend doesn’t seem to be limited by industry or region.

Lost in translation

The rules of written Chinese are vastly different to those of written English, so many names seem far stranger in translation than in the original tongue.

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Western company names often have no direct equivalent in Chinese

English names can seem pretty strange in Chinese too, and there’s a cottage industry among branding agencies to help western companies come up with names for the Chinese market.

Western company names often follow the name of their founder (think Boeing, Ford or Gucci), which might have no direct translation.

Or they might be a concocted portmanteau (think Verizon, which is the Latin word “veritas” meaning truth, with horizon bolted on to the end) or maybe even just tech nonsense (Etsy, Hulu).

“What we think is most important to come up with a name that captures the spirit of the brand,” says Tait Lawton, from Nanjing Marketing Group, which provides naming services.

Mighty liquid guard

Western companies sometimes try to phonetically replicate the original, or come up with a Chinese name that’s fairly neutral in meaning.

Others will come up with a new name that tries other ways of encapsulating the brand.

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A stable of treasure horses – or BMWs

“BMW’s current Chinese name is 宝马. It’s great. The first character means ‘treasure’ and the second character means ‘horse’. The sound is ‘bao ma’, starting with a B and M. Plus, it’s short. It just has a great feel to it,” says Mr Lawton.

He has a few other examples he likes too.

Pampers, for example, is 帮宝适 or “bang bao shi”, which means “helps make baby comfortable”.

Walch soap 威露士 or “wei lu shi” loosely translates as “mighty liquid guard”, and who wouldn’t want to wash with that?



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Germany's 'hidden champions'


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Baden-Wuerttemberg has firms which are “hidden champions”, says Professor Winfried Weber

Driving along the “romantic road” between two towns in Baden-Wuerttemberg in southern Germany it’s easy to admire the lush rolling hillsides, vineyards and picturesque villages.

But peer a bit closer and you catch site of a factory.

Look harder and you discover that this area between the historic towns of Bad Mergentheim and Wertheim is dotted with medium-sized or “Mittelstand” companies.

“You don’t expect to find companies here from the heart of German world class industry but they are just in between those valleys in these hills,” says Winfried Weber, professor of management at Mannheim University of Applied Sciences.

His passion for the privately owned – often still family run – Mittelstand companies is personal.

His grandfather was a clockmaker who was forced out of business by Japanese competition in the 1950s.

Today he says his mission is to tell the story of these companies’ current success.

‘Hidden champions’

He travels the world lecturing and hosts business delegations from South Korea and China.

“I tell them don’t go to Berlin, come here to this rural province in southern Germany,” he tells me as he drives along the gently winding road.

“You find here a very high concentration of world class Mittelstand companies in relation to the population,” he says.

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Mittelstand firms often manufacture and sell niche products

About 99% of German companies are small and medium sized. There are about 3.3 million of them.

Strictly speaking, they would have fewer than 500 employees to be classed as Mittelstand, but it’s a term that goes much deeper and has come to define a business mindset.

“In Germany a lot of those small and medium sized companies are doing exports from the beginning,” Prof Weber says.

“They try to be in the forefront of innovation, and find and define a niche, and then sell on an international level.”

And the most successful ones are world market leaders in their niche sectors, which Prof Weber says are “hidden champions”.

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Prof Weber says small German firms embody “patient capitalism”

This is where he believes much of Germany’s exporting prowess stems from.

“In Germany we have only 28 of the global 500 biggest companies but we have around 48% of those small world market leaders,” Professor Weber says.

We’re on our way to meet Gabriella Koenig, managing director of Koenig & Meyer, a “hidden champion”.

Her company makes music and microphone stands. If you’re a musician you have probably used one of them.

Slim with shortly cropped dark hair, she fizzes with energy and enthusiasm.

In the car park she introduces me to her 81-year-old father and both are keen to tell me the history of the company.

Gabriella’s grandfather started the firm with a business partner in the early 1930s in eastern Germany, but after the Second World War, they moved to Wertheim in the west.

Gabriella is the third generation to take charge.

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Gabriella Koenig’s firm, which makes music stands, has three factories

She goes into a vast noisy factory full of green metal-bashing machines.

“We have almost every production process in-house to guarantee the best quality so that we can really control every step,” she says above the roar of the machines.

True to the spirit of the Mittelstand, exporting has long been vital to the company.

“Already in the 1950s Koenig & Meyer was visiting the first trade shows in Frankfurt,” she says, “and found the first international partners.”

Today the company employs 280 people in three factories and has a turnover of 38m euros (£34m; $44m).

About 60% of sales are exports to 80 countries worldwide, with 70% of their turnover in Europe.

Gabriella says customers, “accept that the product can be 15-20% more expensive than a competitive cheaper made item.”

But has the weakness of the euro helped?

“I would say yes definitely. The euro helps us, as all other Germany companies who are exporting a lot,” she says.

Trade surplus

Germany has been criticised by its trading partners for exporting much more than it imports.

Last year it had a whopping current account surplus of just under $300bn.

Wage restraint in the last fifteen years and labour market and welfare reforms are all credited with making Germany more competitive.

Another criticism levelled at Germany is that it’s not investing enough at home.

The International Monetary Fund is urging the government to spend more on public infrastructure projects, which it says would encourage German companies to invest there too, and help re-balance its global trade.

But Prof Weber says that in spite of their exporting success, the Mittelstand does face challenges.

Succession can be an issue. Gabriella doesn’t have children but says the company will stay in the family.

Finding enough skilled staff is also a challenge – Koenig & Meyer trains employees on apprenticeship schemes.

However, Gabriella says, “it gets more and more difficult nowadays to find young people who will join the company.”

While there is clearly innovation in the Mittelstand, at Koenig & Meyer they come up with 20 to 30 new products every year, they are not Silicon Valley.

Prof Weber says Germany has, “fewer IT start-ups, we have less venture capital.”

But he says the outlook is long-term and, “You can say that our capitalism is more patient capitalism”. He also believes that others can learn from the Mittelstand.

“I think that the future big company will be a little bit like many Mittelstand companies, with a more down-to-earth approach, with flatter hierarchies and more responsibility, and more flexibility for the workforce.”

Listen to “The Secrets of Germany’s Success“.



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US calls for 'major' Nafta overhaul


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Robert Lighthizer said Nafta had “failed many Americans”

The US is looking for a “major” overhaul of the North American Free Trade Agreement (Nafta), a senior US trade official said as negotiations on the pact got underway.

Mexico and Canada defended the deal on Wednesday in the first day of talks to revise the trade agreement.

US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said President Trump wanted changes beyond just updating the pact.

Talks between the three countries are expected to last for months.

“He is not interested in a mere tweaking of a few provisions and a couple of updated chapters,” Mr Lighthizer said in his opening remarks in Washington.

“We feel that Nafta has fundamentally failed many, many Americans and needs major improvement.”

The Nafta talks came as President Trump suffered a setback with some of the biggest US companies over his handling of violent clashes in Virginia.

Two key White House business advisory councils were disbanded on Wednesday after several bosses quit over how Mr Trump reacted to the far-right rally last weekend.

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Donald Trump has criticised car companies manufacturing vehicles in Mexico

Renegotiating Nafta was a major campaign theme for Mr Trump, who has described it as the “worst deal”. He blames it for the loss of US manufacturing jobs, a position that struck a chord with many voters.

Mexico’s Economy Secretary Ildefonso Guajardo said he was not surprised or deterred by Mr Lighthizer’s tough posture, which is in line with earlier US statements.

The US will be seeking changes such as stronger labour provisions and stricter rules of origin, which determine where companies can say a product is made. That measure is opposed by US automakers.

The US also wants to revamp the Nafta panels used to resolve disputes.

Canada maintains that those panels – which have rejected US complaints in the past for industries such as softwood lumber – are critical.

“It’s fundamental because the commerce department [in the US] takes a lot of measures and countervailing duties which sometimes are unjust and not founded, like in softwood lumber,” Raymond Bachand, one of the Nafta negotiators on the Canadian side, told the BBC.

“Through that mechanism – which is much faster than the WTO mechanism – we win and these decisions are reversed. So they’re fundamental.”

All three sides say there is an opportunity to “modernise” the agreement to reflect new technology and online business.

Chrystia Freeland, Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, shared a photo of the talks on Twitter on Wednesday afternoon, saying it had been a “productive discussion … on the mutually beneficial economic relationship between Canada and the US”.



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Marine survey firm Gardline sold to Royal Boskalis Westminster


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Gardline operates 40 vessels, including crew transfer ships and survey catamarans

A British family-owned marine services company has been sold outright in a deal worth £40m.

Norfolk-based Gardline, founded by the Darling family in 1969, employs 750 people and has been bought by Dutch firm, Royal Boskalis Westminster.

Gardline’s activities include marine geophysical surveys, offshore geotechnical services and environmental surveys.

Boskalis has taken on the firm’s debts, which also amount to £40m.

In a joint statement, the firms said there were “significant synergies” between them.

Gardline operates 40 vessels, including crew transfer ships and survey catamarans.

Its head offices are in Great Yarmouth, with further activities in the USA, Brazil and Singapore.

Boskalis has a fleet of more than 900 vessels and floating equipment and 11,700 employees, operating in more than 90 countries across six continents.

“With the acquisition, Boskalis strengthens its position as marine services provider in north-west Europe,” it said.

Gardline’s profits have fallen in recent years, and Boskalis said the company had suffered from the downturn in oil and gas.

It said it was not forecasting Gardline’s finances would be turned around in the short-term but that the acquisition “positions Boskalis well for when end-markets recover”.

Earlier this month, Gardline secured contracts worth £6m with Scottish Power Renewables to carry out a range of pre-construction surveys across East Anglia offshore wind farm sites.

Boskalis has yet to respond to questions on whether jobs will be affected by the takeover.



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National Minimum Wage: Workers win £2m compensation


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Argos has already admitted failing to pay the minimum wage

Workers whose bosses failed to pay the National Minimum Wage (NMW) are to be refunded a record £2m, the government has revealed.

In its latest “name and shame” campaign, it lists 230 employers which have not complied with the law.

In total 13,000 employees have received – or will receive – compensation for their loss of pay.

Among the worst offenders were hairdressers and beauty treatment businesses, involving around 60 firms.

Around 50 employers in the hospitality sector – including two fish and chip shops – were fined for not paying the NMW, or the National Living Wage for those aged over 25.

Argos

However the largest fine, of £800,000, was levied on Argos.

In February Argo admitted failing to pay 37,000 staff an average of £64 each. However, only a third of those are included in the latest figures, as the others were no longer working for the company at the time.

Employees had been required to attend briefings before their shifts started, but without being paid. They also had to undergo security searches after their shifts ended.

Sainsbury’s, which bought Argos a year ago, has already apologised for the mistake.

“I am pleased to say the issue was resolved quickly, and processes have been updated to ensure this cannot happen again,” said John Rogers, the chief executive of Argos.

‘Cheated’

Despite the government’s apparent success in cracking down on pay, it is thought that hundreds of thousands of workers are still not getting their legal entitlement.

In October last year the Office for National Statistics (ONS) put the figure at 362,000.

The TUC said the problem was still far from being solved.

“We know there are more wage-dodging employers out there,” said Frances O’Grady, the TUC’s general secretary. “TUC research suggests there are at least a quarter of a million workers being cheated out of the minimum wage.”

The current rate for the National Living Wage is £7.50 per hour.

The adult rate for the National Minimum Wage is £7.05 for those between 21 and 24.



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Two more bosses quit White House panel


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Denise Morrison of Campbell Soup Co was the eighth person to resign from a White House business panel

Two more executives have resigned from a White House business council, amid controversy over President Donald Trump’s reaction to violent clashes in Virginia last weekend.

Inge Thulin of manufacturer 3M and Denise Morrison of Campbell Soup Co announced their decisions on Wednesday.

Seven groups have withdrawn after the far-right rally in Charlottesville.

Businesses have been under pressure to distance themselves from Mr Trump over his handling of the clashes.

He did not swiftly condemn the white supremacist and neo-Nazi groups that rallied in Charlottesville, and on Tuesday appeared to defend the rally’s organisers.

Mr Trump has dismissed the resignations, saying executives are “not taking their jobs seriously as it pertains to this country”.



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Dulux owner Akzo Nobel strikes truce with activist investor


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An activist investor hedge fund has agreed to halt its long-running feud with Dulux paint owner AkzoNobel.

US hedge fund Elliott Advisors reached a “standstill” agreement after clashing with Akzo over the way the company should be run.

The feuding was fuelled by a failed 27bn euro (£23bn) takeover bid for Akzo, which its management rejected.

Elliott has agreed to suspend legal action against the Dutch firm and back Akzo’s plans to improve the business.

Gordon Singer, the boss of Elliott’s UK division, said it was pleased to come to an agreement with Akzo.

In May, the hedge fund made a legal bid to force the removal of Akzo’s chairman, Antony Burgmans, after the firm refused to enter takeover talks with US rival PPG Industries.

PPG walked away from its bid in June and Akzo is now pursuing plans to strengthen its business, which include selling its chemicals division.

Mr Burgmans said he was “pleased our recent constructive discussions with Elliott improved understanding between both parties”.

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Elliott has also agreed to back new chief executive, Thierry Vanlancker, at a shareholder meeting on 8 September.

The hedge fund oversees about $30bn (£23.5bn) of assets and has a reputation as a no-holds-barred activist investor.

The firm, founded by billionaire Paul Singer, is notorious for pursuing Argentine debt for more than a decade, seizing one of the country’s naval ships while it was docked in Africa.

Separately, Elliott has increased its stake in mining firm BHP Billiton as it looks to force the company to sell its US shale business.

Elliott took its holding in BHP to 5% in a bid to keep the commodities giant “accountable for delivering results”.



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Amazon to open new Severn Beach warehouse in 2018


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The new warehouse will open in Severn Beach near Bristol

Online retail giant Amazon is to open a new warehouse near Bristol in 2018 which it says will create 1,000 jobs.

Amazon’s Stefano Perago said: “Bristol offers fantastic infrastructure and talented local people who we look forward to joining the Amazon team.”

The new warehouse will open at Severn Beach adding to its 13 sites in the UK.

The firm was exposed in a BBC documentary for its treatment of its delivery drivers on long hours, low pay and driving longer than legal limits.

The online retail giant says it will start recruiting engineers, operations managers, HR and IT specialists in 2018 ahead of the Severn Beach site’s opening next year.

‘Customer demand’

Other new warehouses are set to open in Doncaster, Warrington and Tilbury this autumn. The firm’s UK workforce will total 24,000 by the end of this year.

The decision to launch a Bristol site was driven by “increasing customer demand”, Amazon said.

It added the move would expand its selection and support small businesses using its online Marketplace and help these small businesses grow.

Filton and Bradley Stoke MP Jack Lopresti said: “This will bring more jobs to our area and offer careers with training opportunities, helping the local economy to grow.

“An international outward-looking company like Amazon will help us maximise the fantastic opportunities for our region after Brexit.”

Amazon made headlines earlier this month when it was found to have paid 50% less UK corporation tax last year, despite a 54% jump in turnover.

Accounts filed by Amazon UK Services show the company was billed £15.8 million in 2015 compared with £7.4 million in 2016.



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Ryanair accuses Lufthansa of Air Berlin 'conspiracy'


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Ryanair has accused Lufthansa and the German government of conspiring to carve up collapsed airline Air Berlin.

Air Berlin filed for bankruptcy on Tuesday, after the Abu Dhabi-based airline Etihad ended its financial support for the airline.

However, Air Berlin planes are still flying, thanks to a €150m German government loan.

Ryanair said there was an “obvious conspiracy” between Germany, Lufthansa and Air Berlin to carve up the assets.

Air Berlin’s passenger numbers have been in freefall. Last month the airline – Germany’s second-biggest carrier – lost a quarter of its customers compared with July last year.

Germany’s economy minister, Brigitte Zypries, said that a deal whereby Lufthansa took over part of the insolvent airline should be struck in the next few months.

Ryanair said: “This manufactured insolvency is clearly being set up to allow Lufthansa to take over a debt-free Air Berlin which will be in breach of all known German and EU competition rules.

“Now even the German government is supporting this Lufthansa-led monopoly with 150m euros of state aid so that Lufthansa can acquire Air Berlin and drive domestic air fares in Germany even higher than they already are.”

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Ryanair has lodged competition complaints with the German regulator, the Bundeskartellamt, and the European Commission.

Lufthansa said it was already in negotiations with Air Berlin to take over parts of the company and is exploring the possibility of hiring additional staff. “Lufthansa intends to conclude these negotiations successfully in due time.”

Ryanair has in the past made other criticisms of the relationship between Air Berlin and Lufthansa.

Lufthansa has been operating 38 Air Berlin Airbus jets on its behalf under a “wet lease” arrangement. In January Ryanair chief executive Michael O’Leary described the deal as a “joke”.

He told the German magazine WirtschaftsWoche that the deal was “a takeover with the aim of dominating the market. Lufthansa controls the capacities of its most important competitor, sets the prices and decides where aircraft will start. The German authorities are doing nothing”.

More competition

However, the demise of Air Berlin could open up the German market to more competition.

Ryanair and EasyJet have only managed to get a toehold at airports such as Berlin, Cologne/Bonn, Düsseldorf and Frankfurt.

Gerald Khoo, transport analyst at Liberium Capital, said: “Based on August schedules, Germany currently represents just 9% of EasyJet’s capacity and 7% of Ryanair’s, compared with 76% of Lufthansa’s, highlighting the relative importance of that market to each carrier.”

Ryanair has been targeting the German market, with new routes to and from Frankfurt.

Mr Khooo said: “We would expect German airports to move up the list of priorities for next summer for both major low cost carriers, whether or not they attempt to pick up assets and/or staff from Air Berlin’s bankruptcy process.”

Reuters reported on Tuesday that Easyjet was in talks to buy assets from Air Berlin. EasyJet declined to comment.



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Uber privacy audits after 'God View' row


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Uber has agreed to 20 years of privacy audits to settle FTC charges over how it handles customer and driver data

Uber has been ordered to introduce tougher measures to protect the privacy of its drivers and their customers, to settle charges brought by a regulator.

It also had to agree to have the effectiveness of the stricter controls assessed by an independent auditor every two years for the next 20 years.

The charges relate to God View, a software program that enabled the ride-sharing company to monitor real-time locations of customers and drivers.

Uber faces fines if it fails to comply.

The US Federal Trade Commission began investigating Uber following allegations about the God View program in the media in 2014.

After the investigation started, Uber developed an automated system for monitoring employee access to customer and driver personal data.

However, the FTC said the company had stopped using it eight months after it had been put in place.

Concerns were also raised over a 2015 breach that exposed personal data about more than 100,000 Uber drivers.

“Uber failed consumers in two key ways: first by misrepresenting the extent to which it monitored its employees’ access to personal information about users and drivers, and second by misrepresenting that it took reasonable steps to secure that data,” said FTC acting chairman Maureen Ohlhausen, who presided over the settlement.

“Our order requires a culture of privacy sensitivity for Uber.

“It is going to make them take privacy into account every day.”

Uber said it was pleased that the FTC investigation had ended.

“We have significantly strengthened our privacy and data security practices since then and will continue to invest heavily in these programmes,” an Uber representative said.

Comparitech security researcher Lee Munson said: “While such an agreement with the FTC may sound incredibly arduous, Uber will probably benefit from a necessary change in approach which will stand it in good stead for the incoming EU General Data Protection Regulation, which threatens stiff penalties for companies that are lax with employee and customer data.”

Fines and lawsuits

Apart from the FTC investigation, Uber was also sued by the New York attorney general over the God View allegations.

And, in January 2016, Uber agreed to encrypt all rider geo-location data, as well as to pay a penalty of $20m (£16m) to settle concerns over how it had handled the data breach.

One year later, the FTC ordered Uber to pay a further $20m over claims the company had misled drivers about the potential income they could earn.

Separately, Uber’s former forensic investigator Ward Spangenberg has been suing the company over alleged age discrimination and whistleblower retaliation.

In a court declaration from December 2016, Mr Spangenberg alleged that Uber had let its employees spy on celebrities and ex-partners.



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