Category Archives: Business News

TOP STORIES, Business

Killer car seats’ sold online for £8′


Children’s car seats, dubbed “killers” by trading standards officers, have repeatedly appeared for sale on online marketplaces, Which? has warned.

The consumer group said the fabric seats, which can cost as little as £8, offered almost no protection in a crash and were illegal to use in the UK.

The online sites – Amazon, eBay and AliExpress – all said they had removed the seats from sale.

But Which? said the listings should have been deleted quicker.

Crash tests

Which? said the seats had been described online as suitable for children from newborns up to the age of five.

However, in 2014, Surrey Trading Standards had conducted tests on a fabric seat which fell to pieces in a 30 mph accident. The crash test dummy of a three-year-old child was flung through the windscreen when the straps securing the seat failed.

Trading standards officers dubbed them “killer car seats” and removed dozens of them from sale. Which? said they lacked the support needed to protect babies and toddlers.

However, the consumer group said that they had repeatedly re-appeared for sale on online marketplaces ever since.

Alex Neill, from Which?, said: “Parents will be horrified at the thought they could be unwittingly putting their child’s life at risk with one of these ‘killer’ car seats. Online marketplaces cannot continue to turn a blind eye to dangerous and illegal products being sold on their sites.”

How to check

Regulations state that only EU-approved child car seats can be used in the UK.

Approved seats carry a clear orange label with the codes ECE R44-03, ECE R44-04 or ECE R129 to indicate they have been put through EU safety testing and can therefore be legally sold on the UK market.

Consumer groups suggest car seats should never be bought secondhand, as they could have been involved in an accident but damage to the seat may be unclear.

Sales site eBay told Which? that it had asked the sellers involved to contact the buyers to organise a return, and to pay for the return shipping.

“Our specialist teams work with regulators and Trading Standards to ensure our block filters stay up to date, using sophisticated software that monitors billions of listings a day to remove any prohibited items,” an eBay spokesman said.

Amazon said: “All sellers must follow our selling guidelines and those who don’t will be subject to action including potential removal of their account. The products in question are no longer available.”

AliExpress said: “After we were told by Which? about these third-party listings, we took prompt action to remove them. We will continue to take action against sellers who violate our terms of use.”

German economy narrowly avoids recession”:


Confusion over new emission standards has hit the country’s car industry

Germany’s economy just about avoided falling into recession during the final three months of last year.

Europe’s largest economy registered zero growth during the fourth quarter of 2018, the country’s Federal Statistics Office said.

That means it avoided two consecutive quarters of contraction, which is the usual definition of a recession.

A weak trade performance dragged on the economy, and consumer spending remained subdued.

The zero growth recorded in the October-to-December period followed a 0.2% contraction in the previous quarter.

Reasons for slower growth last year include a slowdown in the global economy and a weaker car sector, with German consumers less willing to buy new cars amid confusion over new emission standards.

In addition, low water levels, particularly in the Rhine, affected growth by holding back movement of some goods.

‘Worrying’ outlook

Jack Allen, senior Europe economist at Capital Economics, told the BBC: “If you look at Germany across 2018 we’ve seen a pretty broad-based slowdown in growth. We’ve seen household consumption slow, we’ve seen business investment slow and we’ve seen export growth slow.

He added: “What’s particularly worrying is that the early signs for 2019 suggest that a strong rebound is unlikely.”

GETTY IMAGES

The Rhine’s water level was hit by the hot summer

US tariffs on EU car exports, which US President Donald Trump has threatened, could have a major impact on Germany, Mr Allen said, but even if these are avoided the slowdown in the global economy means Germany is still only expected to grow by about 1% this year, compared with about 1.5% in 2018.

However, Claus Vistesen, chief eurozone economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics, said he was “optimistic” that the first quarter of this year would be better.

“The January [economic] surveys were poor… but net exports won’t be in free fall forever, and consumers’ spending also ought to pick up.”

Presentational grey line

Analysis:

By Andrew Walker, BBC World Service economics correspondent

It couldn’t have been much closer. And it is certainly possible that subsequent revisions to these figures will take the fourth quarter figure below zero and Germany into recession as the term is often defined.

For now though it looks like a very soft patch that has affected much of Europe.

Italy had a recession at the end of last year. The eurozone as whole has managed to continue to grow in spite of the weakening performance of two its largest economies. But it has been markedly slower.

That said, the jobs situation specifically in Germany is pretty good. Unemployment is among the lowest in the world at just above 3%.

The fashion models struggling with a life of debt


Hundreds of models travel to the major fashion weeks in the hope of work

As fashion weeks follow hot on each other’s heels in New York, London, Milan and Paris, hundreds of models are travelling to the four fashion capitals in the hope of getting work.

But many will go home financially worse off than when they arrived.

Anna (not her real name) has worked as a model since she was 17, appearing on the catwalk for Prada, Mulberry, Comme des Garcons and many others.

But after three years, she still hasn’t managed to pay off all the £10,000 she owes to her modelling agencies.

“My debt situation started right away when I started modelling,” she tells the BBC.

GETTY IMAGES

Models have to pay their agencies back for the travel fees and other upfront expenses

The first agency Anna signed with, in her European home country, advanced her £350 for taking test photographs, a cost that was added to an account in her name.

Later she was flown to London for a casting, and that cost was also added to her account, including accommodation and living expenses. The amount she owed mounted.

“They would ask me if I wanted a driver, without being clear that this is very expensive, and that I have to pay for it,” she says.

The problem for fashion models is that while their agencies will typically pay for their flights, accommodation and expenses up front, it is standard industry practice that they want the money back.

So if a model travels to the latest London Fashion Week, which starts on Friday, and doesn’t get work, they will be in debt to their agency for the amount it spent getting her or him there.

Anna had this problem, when aged 18 she flew to the US for castings at New York Fashion Week, but ultimately couldn’t attend any due to falling sick.

For two years she says she received next to no pay, as her agencies in Paris, London and New York directed her fees to pay off all the money she owed.

Ekaterina Ozhiganova says it’s time to address the hidden problem of debt that models rack up as they try to make a career in one of the most precarious professions in the world.

AURÉLIEN NOBÉCOURT-ARRAS

Ekaterina Ozhiganova says that models don’t like to talk about how much money they earn

A Russian model working in Paris, she co-founded Model Law, the first French association working to protect models’ rights.

“It used to be that sexual violence was taboo,” she says.

“Now everyone is shouting on every corner about sexual exploitation, but no-one wants to talk about money. Everyone is shutting their mouths about it.”

Because success in the industry is partly measured by the amount you earn, working models rarely want to speak out about the problem.

But behind the scenes, Ms Ozhiganova says Model Law is helping models better understand their finances.

“The lack of information is the main problem” she says. “The models don’t know what they are supposed to receive.”

While models from all countries can get into financial difficulties, those from poorer nations can be more vulnerable.

“It’s like any worker who comes from abroad to a more prosperous economy,” says Ms Ozhiganova.

“There’s a big difficulty in language, they can’t read the paperwork, the contract. They are jumping into a void.”

Compounding the problem, the pool of aspiring models is so large that work is spread thinly and pay can be very low.

Some jobs in magazines, for example, are unpaid. Otherwise fees can range from £50 a day, to £1,000 or more for a taking part in a show during a fashion week or tens of thousands for featuring in a brand’s campaign.

However, model debt is not debt in any ordinary sense of the term, says John Horner, director of the British Fashion Models Association, representing UK agencies.

AARON J HURLEY

John Horner, director of the British Fashion Models Association, says that if a model leaves the industry her or his debt is simply written off

If a young model fails to make it and leaves the industry, she isn’t pursued for the money she “owes” he says. Instead the agency writes off the investment.

“It is not hanging round the models like [UK payday loan provider] Wonga,” he says. “We carry the debt.”

He says the London-based agency he runs, Models 1, has £60,000 of models’ debt sitting on its books, which may never be paid off, if the models’ careers don’t take off.

He says agencies are obliged to give models monthly itemised bills listing the charges to their accounts, but he’s not sure they always get read.

Most successful models soon pay off the initial investment and start earning on their own account, he says.

Esther Kinnear-Derungs is the co-founder of Linden Staub, a small agency set up in London three years ago to pioneer ways to treat models better.

She says that advancing and recouping costs is the “nature of the business”.

JAKUB KOZIEL

Esther Kinnear-Derungs (right) says the industry has a duty to better educate models about their finances

The problem is the girls are seen as “disposable” by many agencies, she says, and it’s an open secret that at fashion weeks some big agencies take the approach that hundreds of girls can be “thrown against the wall to see what sticks”.

She says it’s often girls from eastern Europe who are most vulnerable.

Their parents are happy to send them abroad, believing it’s their “big break”, and they don’t ask enough questions. The girls themselves have no experience at managing their own finances or careers.

“We believe we have a responsibility to educate the model from day one, whether she was scouted in Siberia, Africa or London,” says Ms Kinnear-Derungs.

Candice [also not her real name], is a French model of east African descent. She says she had no idea when she started out that she was being charged for travel and expenses.

“When you get your first job, that’s how you realise it wasn’t free.

“You go and ask about your pay and they say, you don’t have money because you’re in debt. Then you understand,” she says.

She says even if agencies are ultimately carrying the financial risk, there’s a psychological burden on the models.

“It always feels like a gamble to make the journey to fashion week with the risk you’ll go home owing more than when you arrived,” she says.

“Maybe 40%, maybe more, go home with zero. That is why it is so stressful.”

Name checks on payments face delay”:


A system making a recipient’s name as important as the bank account number and sort code when payments are made could be delayed by up to 18 months.

The Confirmation of Payee system means anyone making a payment will be alerted if the name does not match the account.

It is designed to prevent millions of pounds worth of fraud and regulators wanted it to start in July.

But UK Finance, which represents banks, said the system would not be ready until “some time next year”.

The Payment Systems Regulator, which will ultimately set the deadline, said it wanted the new rules to be in place as soon as possible, but only when they could be effective.

At present, anyone making a payment adds the intended recipient’s name, but it is ignored by the bank. Only the account number and sort code need to match for the payment to be successful, so fraudsters pose as someone legitimate to trick victims into paying them money.

Presentational grey line

How Confirmation of Payee will work

When setting up a new payment, or amending an existing one, banks will be able to check the name on the account of the person or organisation you are paying.

  • If you use the correct account name, you will receive confirmation that the details match, so you can proceed with the payment
  • If you use a similar name to the account holder, you will be provided with the actual name of the account holder to check. You can update the details and try again, or contact the intended recipient to check the details
  • If you enter the wrong name for the account holder, you will be told the details do not match and advised to contact the person or organisation you are trying to pay.
Confirmation of payee explanation graphic

The aim of Confirmation of Payee is to cut down on so-called authorised push payment (APP) scams, in which people are conned into sending money to another account.

One APP victim was Angelene Bungay, of Shrewsbury, who was duped into paying £13,000 to someone posing as the builder carrying out her loft conversion. She was not refunded by her bank. Banks typically refund only about a fifth of the money that goes missing, pointing to legislation that says customers may be liable if they authorise the payment and are negligent.

Hundreds of millions of pounds have been lost in this kind of scam, with some victims losing life-changing sums.

During evidence to the Commons’ Treasury Committee, Stephen Jones, of UK Finance, said for the first time that it was the intention that victims would be reimbursed when neither the bank or the victim were to blame for the fraud. This could eventually be funded from insurance, although other options are being considered.

Start date unconfirmed

He also said that Confirmation of Payee would not be ready by July, which was the regulator’s suggestion during consultation, but some time next year. He said it had not dropped down the list of banks’ priorities, but was a complex change in their IT and processing systems.

“This is a big change at a time of a lot of change,” he told the committee.

A spokesman for the regulator, the PSR, said: “We want to see Confirmation of Payee brought in as soon as possible and also make sure that when it is introduced, it is an effective way to stop this crime taking place.

“As it stands, we are still working through the responses to our consultation and so no decisions on timing have been made.”

Consumer groups have previously accused banks of dragging their heels on introducing the system.

Presentational grey line

How to protect yourself against fraud

Banking trade body UK Finance offers the following advice:

  • Never disclose security details, such as your PIN or full banking password
  • Don’t assume an email, text or phone call is authentic
  • Don’t be rushed – a genuine organisation won’t mind waiting
  • Listen to your instincts – you know if something doesn’t feel right
  • Stay in control – don’t panic and make a decision you’ll regret

Utilitywise goes into administration”:


Energy broker Utilitywise has gone into administration, putting 1,000 jobs at risk.

The firm, which helps business clients to procure gas and electricity, said it had been unable to raise enough cash to cover its debts.

It also said a plan to sell the business had fallen through.

The collapse of Utilitywise (UTW) comes after a last-ditch rescue bid by the Newcastle-based company’s founder, Geoffrey Thompson.

Last month, it emerged it needed £10m to keep its business afloat, after coming up against “unexpected challenges and legacy issues”.

After failing to clinch the investment from shareholders, the company put itself up for sale at the end of January.

But in a statement on its website on Wednesday, it said the formal sale process for the group announced by the board “did not result in any offers”.

“Consequently, the directors of UTW sought the appointment of administrators.”

The firm has appointed FTI Consulting to handle the administration process and said its energy brokerage business would stop trading immediately.

However, its other subsidiary companies will continue trading while buyers for those parts of the group are sought.

Mr Thompson, who stepped down from the board two years ago, built UTW from a bedroom in South Shields into a multi-million-pound business listed on the AIM stock exchange.

According to a report in the Sunday Telegraph, the firm had recently warned staff it could not guarantee it could pay them in March.

Sports Direct’s Mike Ashley cancels Patisserie Valerie bid”:


Mike Ashley’s Sports Direct has cancelled a bid for collapsed cafe chain Patisserie Valerie, just two days after making an offer.

The retail billionaire announced his bid for the chain Friday evening.

Sports Direct offered £15m, but was told by administrator KPMG it would need to offer up to £2m more than this, according to the Financial Times.

Patisserie Valerie collapsed last month KPMG closed 70 outlets, but kept 121 open in the hope of selling them.

Mr Ashley is thought to be facing several competing bids for Patisserie Valerie, including, according to reports, from Costa, the coffee chain bought by Coca-Cola last year.

The retail tycoon, who also owns English Premier League football club Newcastle United, made his name building budget chain Sports Direct into Britain’s biggest sporting goods retailer.

He has since become known for buying up struggling retail chains and bought both department store chain House of Fraser and cycle shop Evans out of administration last year.

Sports Direct’s sprawling High Street empire also includes lingerie chain Agent Provocateur as well as shareholdings in Debenhams, French Connection and Game Digital. Last week, it emerged as front runner to buy Sofa.com.

mike ashley's empire

Patisserie Valerie collapsed after an accounting scandal which left the firm without enough money to pay its debts.

Rescue talks with banks HSBC and Barclays to restructure the business broke down, leaving no option but administration.

The cafe chain employed about 3,000 staff, but some 900 jobs were lost in the initial wave of closures after KPMG was appointed to run the business on 22 January.

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Patisserie Valerie cakes
  • The first cafe was opened on Frith Street in London’s Soho district in 1926
  • In 1987 the Scalzo family bought the Old Compton Street store and ran the business
  • In 2006, Luke Johnson’s Risk Capital Partners bought a majority stake when it had eight stores.
  • Patisserie Valerie was floated on the AIM stock market, for smaller companies, in 2014
presentational grey line

In addition to Patisserie Valerie, the company’s other brands include Druckers Vienna Patisserie, Philpotts, Baker & Spice and Flour Power City.

The Serious Fraud Office is carrying out a criminal investigation into Patisserie Valerie and finance director Chris Marsh was arrested and released on bail after having been suspended by the company.

Also under investigation, by the Financial Reporting Council, are former Patisserie Valerie auditors Grant Thornton.

Seaborne Freight no-deal ferry contract scrapped Brexit:


A controversial ferry contract awarded to a company with no ships as part of no-deal Brexit plans has been scrapped, the government has said.

Ministers had faced criticism for the £13.8m deal with Seaborne Freight, which the BBC found had never run a ferry service.

The Department for Transport said it decided to axe the deal after the company’s Irish backer pulled out.

The government says it is in “advanced talks” to find another ferry firm.

Responding to the cancelled contract, Labour has called on Transport Secretary Chris Grayling to resign or be sacked, describing him as “the worst secretary of state ever”.

The Daily Telegraph said Arklow Shipping, a major Irish shipping firm, withdrew its support from Seaborne “without warning”.

Seaborne Freight was awarded the £13.8m contract in December to run a freight service between Ramsgate and Ostend, Belgium, in the event that Britain leaves the EU without a deal.

But the government faced strong criticism for choosing Seaborne Freight, a company with no ships or trading history, and for leaving too little time to establish the new ferry service before the Brexit deadline of 29 March.

Want to shop online? Best have a mobile signal

At the time, the government said it awarded the contract “in the full knowledge” that Seaborne was “a new shipping provider” but said the company had been “carefully vetted”.

But on Saturday, the Department for Transport (DfT) said that it had become clear that Seaborne “would not reach its contractual requirements”, after Arklow Shipping backed out of the deal.

A spokesman said: “The government is already in advanced talks with a number of companies to secure additional freight capacity – including through the Port of Ramsgate – in the event of a no-deal Brexit.”

Thanet District Council – which covers Ramsgate – said it was “disappointing” that Arklow Shipping had pulled out of the deal. The council said it was in talks with the DfT about the port’s role “in terms of supporting Brexit resilience”.

Ramsgate harbour
The government announced it has decided to terminate its agreement with Seaborne

Andrew Gwynne, the shadow secretary of state for communities and local government, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “This is yet again another indication of a government that had no plan for Britain should we leave the European Union without a deal.

“It’s another example of a major disaster in the hands of Chris Grayling who must be classed as the worst secretary of state ever.”

Fast fashion: ‘How do you justify selling a £2 T-shirt?’

Mick Cash, the general secretary of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union – which has staged protests calling for the government to guarantee that the jobs on the new ferry services go to UK workers – accused the government of “blundering on from crisis to crisis”.

He said: “This government ‘wing and a prayer’ approach was always doomed to failure and it’s time for Chris Grayling to stop attacking RMT and start listening to people who actually know what they are talking about instead of the chancers selling him a pile of old rope they don’t even own.”

A demonstrator shouts outside the Department for Transport in London on January 11, 2019 to demand assurances of fair conditions for workers under ferry contracts created because of Brexit and specifically following the award of the Seaborne Freight contract
RMT members held protests outside the Department for Transport as well as at Ramsgate and Portsmouth

The government said that no taxpayer money has been transferred to Seaborne.

It added that its confidence in the viability of the deal with Seaborne was based on Arklow Shipping’s backing of the company and the assurances it received from them.

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What’s the background to the Seaborne Freight contract?

In late December 2018, the government confirmed that the UK was to spend more than £100m on extra ferries to ease “severe congestion” at Dover, in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

Three ferry companies were awarded contracts:

  • £46.6m to the French company Brittany Ferries
  • £42.5m to Danish shipping firm DFDS
  • £13.8m to British firm Seaborne Freight

Seaborne Freight’s contract was for ferry services between Ramsgate and Ostend. Ramsgate has not had a regular ferry service since 2013 and needs to be dredged before services can start.

How to check out your next penthouse from your armchair

Soon after the contracts were announced, concerns were raised over how ready the firm Seaborne Freight would be.

A BBC investigation found that Seaborne – which was formed in April 2017 – had never run a ferry service. A local councillor said it would be impossible to launch before Brexit.

Another councillor said the Port of Ramsgate “cannot be ready” for extra ferry services in time for Brexit day on 29 March, and the mayor of Ostend told the BBC the Belgian port would not be ready for a new ferry line in time.

Last month, Mr Grayling defended the choice of Seaborne, and said the government had “looked very carefully” at the business.

Earlier this week, Thanet District Council was considering

cutting its spending on the Ramsgate port, which it had been pumping money into to get it ready for ferry operations.

The council budget cuts could have prevented Ramsgate reopening as a ferry port.

The council delayed its decision on the budget cuts at the request of Mr Grayling.

Contact Email (BBCNEWS.CO.UK@bbcnewslight.co.uk) or (mrbenrory@europe.com)

Recent Posts

Equal pay: Asda loses appeal in court case…,


Supermarket giant Asda has lost an appeal in the latest development to a long-running legal dispute with staff over equal pay.

The decision means that lower paid shop staff, who are mostly women, can compare themselves with higher paid warehouse workers, who are mostly men.

Asda said it was “disappointed” with the decision and added it remained confident in its case.

A ruling over whether the work is of equal value is likely to be in May.

Leigh Day, which represented the staff, said the judgement was a “major step forward in the fair pay battle”.

Asda said: “We are obviously disappointed with the decision, which relates to a preliminary issue of whether jobs in different parts of the business can be compared.”

How has business been affected by Brexit so far…?

It said it had brought the appeal “because it involved complex legal issues which have never been fully tested in the private sector and we will continue to ensure this case is given the legal scrutiny it deserves”.

The Employment Tribunal first ruled against Asda in October 2016. It said shop workers, who mainly work at check-outs or stacking shelves, could compare themselves with staff who work at warehouses.

Asda then appealed against this decision on 10 different grounds.

In August 2017, the Employment Appeal Tribunal ruled all points of their appeal unsuccessful. Asda then took its case to the Court of Appeal.

Tesla reports profit as issues stabilise….

Following Thursday’s ruling, the Court of Appeal denied Asda the right to appeal. However, the BBC understands the supermarket chain intends to apply to the Supreme Court to appeal against the ruling there.

Asda shopping bag

There are three key stages in an equal pay case

  • Are the jobs comparable?
  • If the jobs are comparable, are they of equal value?
  • If they are of equal value, is there a reason why the roles should not be paid equally?

Leigh Day represents more 30,000 shop floor staff from the big four supermarkets – Asda, Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Morrisons – in similar cases.

The legal firm said the claims against the big four supermarkets, if they lose their cases and are ordered to pay all eligible staff, could total more than £8bn.

The GMB union, which represents some Asda workers, welcomed what it described as Thursday’s “landmark” judgment.

General secretary Tim Roache, said: “We know we’re not all the way there, there are more hurdles to jump in this process and as always we remain ready to negotiate should Asda want to get round the table.”

No-deal Brexit ‘to leave shelves empty’ warn retailers

Asda said: “Our hourly rates of pay in stores are the same for female and male colleagues and this is equally true in our depots.

“Pay rates in stores differ from pay rates in distribution centres because the demands of the jobs in stores and the jobs in distribution centres are very different; they operate in different market sectors and we pay the market rate in those sectors regardless of gender.”

Recent Posts

How has business been affected by Brexit so far…?


With two months to go until the UK is due to leave the EU, how are firms and the UK economy faring?

The economy’s “resilience through the turbulence of the Brexit process has been particularly noteworthy”, according to chancellor Philip Hammond.

But some businesses claim to have been put under unprecedented pressure.

What is going on?

It’s impossible to put absolute numbers on how jobs, output and investment have been impacted so far.

No one knows how these will have fared had the outcome to the referendum in 2016 been different.

Other factors have influenced the business environment – not least slower growth in the likes of China and Europe

But there is a range of evidence that can give us an idea of how UK companies are faring.

Have companies cut or moved jobs?

On the face of it: no.

The number of people employed is at an all-time high. But there’s a lot going on under the surface:

Banks’ contingency plans mean setting up alternative bases in the likes of Frankfurt, Paris or Dublin. Individual banks are coy about revealing too much.

But reports about banks such as Morgan Stanley, Barclays and Bank of America moving, or creating, hundreds rather than thousands of jobs at those sites suggest the total affected in the City is much smaller than the 65,000 or so predicted by some immediately after the referendum.

London’s Lord Mayor has said that the total by 29 March is likely to be below 13,000.

What we don’t know is if jobs created in European cities such as Paris and Frankfurt are at the expense of potential ones here – or the final implications of the future trading relationship with the EU, whenever that is agreed.

While some – including JLR and Ford – have cited Brexit when cutting jobs – it has been a contributing rather than a deciding factor.

Car companies are facing a seismic shock in the face of slowing global demand, oversupply and the shift away from diesel.

Tesla reports profit as issues stabilise….

Mike Ashley in talks to buy music chain HMV

In advance of departure, it is rare for firms to blame Brexit alone for job cuts. Chef and restaurant-owner Jamie Oliver faced derision for doing so within a few months of the referendum, with critics instead blaming his business model

As the uncertainty continues, companies may be putting hiring plans on hold – not least as they ramp up spending on no-deal contingency plans. How that impacts overall employment won’t be known for a while.

Has Brexit created jobs?

There has probably never been a better time to be a trade negotiator – or a business adviser.

Overall employment has continued to rise to record levels since the referendum in June 2016.

In total, £95m worth of contracts were awarded last year to consultancy firms to advise the public sector on Brexit.

And 20,000 more civil servants have been employed since the referendum, in a reversal to earlier trends.

They are concentrated in the departments most affected by Brexit.

And that’s just the public sector.

Some companies continue to hire apace for other reasons. Telecoms giant Openreach, for example, has said that it will hire a further 16,000 engineers to support its rollout of full fibre broadband.

Have companies put plans on hold?

Business investment is stagnant and more than 10% lower than official forecasts had predicted prior to the referendum.

A lifting of the uncertainty could persuade firms to start spending again – a “deal dividend”.

Business investment graph

But investment has been relatively sluggish since the financial crisis.

Firms instead opted to hang on to workers, as they are relatively cheap. They may be continuing this strategy – which could help explain why job creation has remained so resilient.

And as businesses enact contingency plans, money earmarked for investment may have been diverted.

Drugmaker Astra Zeneca has spent £40m building extra testing facilities as it increases its drugs stockpile.

Some are forging ahead with plans for a variety of reasons.

Sony is moving its electronics HQ to the Netherlands

to pre-empt any customs problems.

James Dyson claims he’s moving his company’s base to Singapore  to be closer to its fastest growing markets.

But luxury brand Chanel cited the same reason for moving its global business functions to London.

Have companies stockpiled?

Majestic Wine has said it will stockpile more than 1m extra bottles of wine from France, Spain and Italy

Drugmakers aren’t the only ones stockpiling.

Associated British Foods, the company behind Twinings tea and Ryvita, has bought up extra machinery and packaging to prevent disruption to supply chains.

Mondelez, the makers of Cadburys, is stocking up on ingredients and the finished article.

With Majestic Wine buying an extra £8m in drinks, and Nestle investing in more coffee, there is a reduced risk of us having to forego some of life’s luxuries.

Of course, these extra stocks may not be needed – and so the effort and money that’s gone on organising and storing them will have been wasted.

But at this point, many companies feel they have no choice.

What impact has Brexit had on sales ?

L-R: Escada, Sies Marjan, Gabriela Hearst, Boss
Fashion buyers are concerned about possible disruption

The UK’s exit from the EU may be two months away but for some, Brexit has in effect already happened.

Orders are often put in months in advance.

Those for British malting barley from the EU have dried up.

Barley – which is the UK’s second largest arable export – could attract tariffs of around 50% of the current market price.

It’s not just food. At September’s London Fashion Week, buyers were voicing concerns about placing orders for the spring that might face disruption.

Many of the impacts of the run up to Brexit, as far as business is concerned, are likely temporary – reflecting contingencies or uncertainty.

The overall impact on the economy will become a bit clearer when GDP figures are released in about a week.

And what follows next will depend on Westminster’s actions.

The impact of those, in whatever direction, may dwarf what we’ve seen so far.

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Tesla reports profit as issues stabilise….


REUTERS

Tesla made a profit of $139.5m (£106.4m) in the three months to 31 December – avoiding a loss for a second quarter in a row

While lower than expected, the gain still marked an improvement for the electric car-maker, which has routinely reported shortfalls in recent years.

Tesla credited strong demand for its Model 3, manufacturing improvements and recent cost cuts for the turnaround.

It forecast strong growth, as Model 3 sales start in Europe and China.

However it warned investors that deliveries may slow in coming months, due in part to the time it takes to ship vehicles overseas.

“That’s our biggest challenge,” Tesla chief executive Elon Musk said. “It’s not demand. It’s how do we get the cars there fast enough.”

That challenge is especially acute in the case of China, a major market for electric vehicles, which is in the middle of high-stakes trade talks with the US

Should the two sides fail to reach a deal, it could mean higher tariffs on US-made cars.

“We don’t know what’s going to happen… so it’s very important to get those cars there as soon as possible,” Mr Musk said.

‘Open the market’

Tesla said it expected to deliver 360,000 to 400,000 vehicles in 2019 – growth of approximately 45% to 65% compared to 2018.

Getting its new factory in China up and running by the end of the year is the biggest wildcard for that outlook, Mr Musk said.

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On a call with financial analysts, Mr Musk thanked the Chinese government for granting the permission for the plant, which he said was the first in the country that is wholly owned by a foreign company.

He said he believed the move was “symbolic of them wanting to open the market.”

Mr Musk also announced the firm’s chief financial officer Deepak Ahuja was retiring, but said he would continue to serve as a “senior adviser” for “probably years to come.”

The numbers

Tesla was under intense pressure last year, as it spent rapidly to improve production and get its latest car into the hands of customers.

The firm said those manufacturing issues have now “stabilised”.

In the most recent quarter, Tesla earned $7.2bn in revenues, primarily from car sales, more than double the same period in 2017.

It also reduced its operating expenses by 7% from the quarter before, to about $1bn, roughly the same as in 2017.

The decrease follows the announcement of thousands of job cuts in recent months, including about 3,000 in January.

Shares dropped by more than 2% in after-hours trading in New York.

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