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Chase Bank Limits Cash Withdrawals, Bans International... Before you read this report, remember to sign up to for 100% free stock alerts Chase Bank has moved to limit cash withdrawals while banning business customers from sending...

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Richemont chairman Johann Rupert to take 'grey gap... Billionaire 62-year-old to take 12 months off from Cartier and Montblanc luxury goods groupRichemont's chairman and founder Johann Rupert is to take a year off from September, leaving management of the...

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Cambodia: aftermath of fatal shoe factory collapse... Workers clear rubble following the collapse of a shoe factory in Kampong Speu, Cambodia, on Thursday

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Spate of recent shock departures by 50-something CEOs While the rising financial rewards of running a modern multinational have been well publicised, executive recruiters say the pressures of the job have also been ratcheted upOn approaching his 60th birthday...

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UK Uncut loses legal challenge over Goldman Sachs tax... While judge agreed the deal was 'not a glorious episode in the history of the Revenue', he ruled it was not unlawfulCampaign group UK Uncut Legal Action has lost its high court challenge over the legality...

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Takeover approach for Severn Trent

Category : Business

A group of international investors is interested in buying UK water supplier Severn Trent, the company confirms.

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Apple panic: Down 6%, falls below $400

Category : Business

Shares of Apple hit a new 52-week low after a key chip supplier warned of soft sales. But with earnings next week, has Apple finally bottomed?

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SSE fined record £10.5m by Ofgem

Category : Business

Energy supplier SSE is fined £10.5m by Ofgem for “prolonged and extensive” mis-selling, the regulator’s biggest ever fine for a supplier.

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Fury at Centrica’s £2.7bn dash for cash

Category : Business

British Gas, the biggest energy supplier in the UK, unveiled an 11% increase in profit as campaigners warn of rising fuel poverty

The acrimonious debate over soaring energy bills and mounting fuel poverty reignited when British Gas – the biggest energy supplier in the UK – unveiled an 11% increase in profits and its parent group, Centrica, promised a £1.3bn handout to its shareholders just months after pushing through an increase in household bills.

Campaign groups warned that 160,000 children had been dragged into fuel poverty by the actions of the big six energy suppliers since 2010, while trade union bosses accused energy chiefs of “creaming off” profits. Dividends of more than £3.5bn have now been paid out by Centrica over the last five years. Anger was exacerbated by confirmation that Phil Bentley, British Gas’s managing director, will stand down with a combined pay and pension package worth more than £10m.

British Gas imposed a 6% price rise last November, adding £80 to the average annual gas and electricity bill for the 8.4 million households it serves.

Centrica argued that the average profit figure of £50 per British Gas household represented a profit margin of only 5%, which it said was a similar return to supermarkets.

The company said the profits had allowed the energy group to invest £50bn to secure new wholesale gas supplies from countries such as Norway and Russia.

“It’s important that Centrica makes a fair and reasonable return so that we can continue to make our contribution to society and to invest,” said Sam Laidlaw, the chief executive of Centrica. “Last year we incurred a tax charge of over £1bn and invested over £2bn to secure new sources of energy for the UK, well in excess of our profits.”

But the campaign group Fuel Poverty Action warned that the British Gas profit of more than £600m would send a “shiver down the spine” of customers, with some facing the choice between heating and eating due to recent price hikes.

“These profits were made on the back of forcing millions into fuel poverty and from a ‘dash for gas’ that will send bills even higher as well as contributing to rising food prices through climate change,” said the campaign’s spokesman, James Granger. “People are angry and want the alternative to the big six’s monopoly: cheaper, clean, renewable energy under the control of communities, not greedy energy tycoons.”

Centrica reported operating profits of £2.7bn – up 14% – and announced plans to hand an additional £500m to shareholders this year by buying back, and then cancelling, its own shares. The process should increase the share price.

Nick Luff, the finance director, said it was fair to give back cash to investors because Centrica had raised £2bn from them in 2008 to invest in new nuclear power stations. It has now dropped those plans.

He urged customers to “take action” by installing more efficient boilers, improving insulation and utilising new technology such as smart meters.

The Energy Bill Revolution, a campaign group formed by charities including Barnardo’s plus old age and disability groups, warned that an extra 160,000 children had been forced to live in homes in fuel poverty over the last two years.

The organisation warned that a further 25% increase in power bills could double the total number of people affected from 1.6 million to 3.2 million. It called on the prime minister to end the “growing scandal” of cold homes by using a carbon tax to make all UK homes super energy efficient.

Meanwhile Dave Prentis, general secretary of the Unison union, said it was a scandal that so many children were now living in freezing homes while shareholders and directors were “creaming” off profits.

“The rise in fuel poverty is a blight on this country with hundreds and thousands of people joining the growing numbers now spending more than 10% of household income on energy costs. Without action we are sleepwalking into a very cold and dark future,” he warned.

The issue of soaring energy bills combined with fines for doorstep mis-selling and other abuses by the gas and electricity suppliers has triggered a raft of initiatives by the industry regulator, Ofgem, but campaigners and even politicians believe they are not nearly tough enough. The Labour party has said it will scrap Ofgem while a report by the all-party House of Commons energy and climate change select committee in December attacked the regulator’s timidity. “We find it unsatisfactory that Ofgem should be so hesitant about launching preliminary investigations into potentially anti-competitive behaviour,” it said.

The general climate of unease has not been helped by a Financial Services Authority inquiry into concerns about irregular trading in the wholesale gas market. Centrica and the other large energy companies such as RWE npower and E.ON have all instigated their own internal inquiries and say they are convinced none of their traders are at fault.

Bentley, the 54-year-old former BP executive who has been at the centre of previous rows over the scale of big six energy company earnings, plans to leave British Gas by the end of the year and is apparently hoping to become a chief executive elsewhere. But it was also revealed that the energy boss will be able to retire in four years time with an annual pension of £225,000 after working for the company for little over 12 years.

A statement from Centrica paid tribute to his role in “profit improvement”.

It said: “In his most recent role he [Bentley] has been instrumental in restructuring, reinvigorating and materially improving the performance of the business by raising customer service standards, lowering costs, increasing productivity and creating significant value from profit improvement.”

VIDEO: ‘Electricity error’ may close pub

Category : Business

A Kent landlady has said she may be forced to close her pub after a mistake by her electricity supplier left her facing a £17,000 bill.

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British Gas lines up new chief

Category : Business

The UK’s biggest energy supplier British Gas says it plans to appoint Chris Weston as its new managing director.

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‘Traces of pork’ found in prison food served as halal

Category : Business

Supplier of meat pies and pasties to prisons suspended after FSA informed of contamination

The Ministry of Justice is suspending one of the suppliers of meat to prisons after it discovered that halal pies and pasties sourced from a properly halal certificated supplier may contain traces of non-halal meat.

The products concerned have been withdrawn immediately, a spokesman said.

He added: “All prisons have been informed about this very regrettable incident and we reported this issue to the Food Standards Agency immediately.

“We are taking immediate steps to suspend the contract with the relevant subcontractor.”

Justice minister Jeremy Wright said: “This is an absolutely unacceptable situation and one which we regret greatly. Clearly this must be distressing for those affected and they can be reassured we are doing everything we can to resolve the situation. The prison service is investigating this as a matter of urgency.

The FSA said the incident involved traces of pork.

A spokeswoman said: “The FSA has been informed that a number of meat pies and pasties supplied to UK prisons which were labelled and served as halal contained traces of pork DNA. The local authority is investigating how this contamination came about and whether these products have been distributed further across the UK.”

This related to the local authority where the supplier is based, she said. She declined to say which one it was.

On a more general theme relating to recent stories about mis-description of food, she said: “People have a right to expect that the food they are eating is correctly described. We have called an urgent meeting of major retailers and suppliers on Monday to ensure that everyone is fully aware of their responsibilities.

“It is the responsibility of food businesses to ensure the food they sell contains what it says on the label. We are considering, with relevant local authorities, whether legal action is appropriate following the investigation.”

The Prison Reform Trust said it welcomed the immediate apology and investigation.

Its director Juliet Lyon said: “This is not a matter of dietary preference but of Islamic law.

“There are clear hospital and prison rules that halal meat must be on the menu.

“This lapse will have offended and distressed high numbers of Muslim prisoners and their families so apologising, suspending the supplier and investigating the incident are the right steps for the Ministry of Justice to take.”

Food and farming minister David Heath said: “People have a right to expect that the food they are eating is correctly described. I have made it clear that I want an urgent meeting with major retailers and suppliers first thing next week to get to the bottom of this completely unacceptable situation.”

Independent traders form guild in East End of London

Category : Business

Two hundred founding members join forces to resist threat of rising rents and competition from big companies

With a rousing traditional fanfare of trumpets, the butcher, the baker, the bucket seller and the paper bag supplier of London will unite on Monday with scores of other small independent traders in a new guild, dedicated to fighting their corner against the killer combination of rising rents and rates, competition from multiples, and the state of the economy.

“The definition of a small independent is generally below 250 employees, but we’re way below that. Most of ours are below 10 people and many are one-man operations, but they’re what gives colour, light and character to our streets. When they’re gone, they’re gone,” organiser Krissie Nicolson said.

The traders – whose logo boasts: “We are the beating heart of the East End” – will meet in Christ Church, Spitalfields, the Hawksmoor-designed church whose soaring spire is visible from many of their premises.

The 200 founding members of the East End Trades Guild are all in the capital but Nicolson believes the model – inspired by medieval predecessors in which traders banded together not only for combined muscle, but also for social meetings and training – could work in many other places where small independent businesses feel under severe threat and high streets are being abandoned to charity shops and multiples.

It was the success of Paul Gardner – the fourth generation of his family to run Gardners Market Sundriesmen, supplier of paper bags to many of the new members of the guild – in fighting a threatened rent increase, which inspired his fellow traders.

Gardners in Commercial Street claims to be the oldest family business in Spitalfields, and one of the most thoroughly old-fashioned, with stock stacked up to the ceiling: price tags are displayed for all the brands of apples once sold in the long-vanished fruit and veg market. Recently it looked as if it would inevitably close, like so many former neighbours, faced with a rent increase from £15,000 to £25,000.

With advice obtained after publicity from the award-winning Spitalfields Life blog, that was renegotiated as a staged increase. The Gardners shop bell continues to ring, and the guild intends to run rent review workshops for its members.

In Spitalfields, the trendiness of the narrow streets has been a mixed blessing for the traders. It has brought in customers, and encouraged independents like Franceskka Abimbola, a textile trader who sells “wax” cloth, brilliantly patterned prints for African traditional dresses, or Labour and Wait, suppliers of traditional household goods including enamel basins and galvanised buckets. But it has also brought chain stores, bars, cafes and restaurants pouring in, and encouraged landlords’ agents to look for rent increases of up to 60%, according to Nicolson, who has a master’s degree in community organisation.

“Anecdotally, we believe even many of the multiples can’t support these costs. We can see the result in empty units, but landlords prefer to leave them empty, in the hope of lucrative new tenants, than keep traditional businesses going,” she said. “It’s been a long struggle, but maybe now the tide is turning. We hope other areas will look at what we’re doing, and believe that for small independents, decline and closure is not an inexorable process.”

Power giant SSE’s profits up 38%

Category : Business, World News

SSE, the gas and electricity supplier that raised bills by 9% last month, sees half-year profits rise 38% despite “challenging” market conditions.

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Hornby hit by poor Olympic sales

Category : Business

Hornby reports a half-year loss of £0.5m, with the toymaker blaming weak UK and Olympic sales, and disruption at a key Chinese supplier.

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