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Chase Bank Limits Cash Withdrawals, Bans International... Before you read this report, remember to sign up to http://pennystockpaycheck.com 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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Cornel West: ‘They say I’m un-American’

Category : Business

The American academic and firebrand campaigner talks about Britain’s deep trouble, fighting white supremacy and where Obama is going wrong

Cornel West, the firebrand of American academia for almost 30 years, is causing his hosts some problems. They are on a schedule but such things barely move him, for as he saunters down the high street there are people to talk to, and no one can leave shortchanged. Everyone, “brother” or “sister”, is indeed treated like a long lost family member. And then there is the hug; a bear-like pincer movement. There’s no escape. It happens in New York, where the professor/philosopher usually holds court. And now it’s the same in Cambridge.

The best students accord their visitors a healthy respect, but West’s week laying bare the conflicts and fissures of race and culture and activism and literature in the US and Britain yielded more than that during his short residency at King’s College. There are academics who draw a crowd, but the West phenomenon at King’s had rock star quality: the buzz, the poster beaming his image from doors and noticeboards; the back story – Harvard, Princeton, Yale, his seminal work Race Matters, his falling-in and falling-out with Barack Obama.

Others can teach, and at Cambridge the teaching is some of the best in the world, but standing-room-only crowds came to see West perform. He performed. Approaching 60 now, he is slow of gait. But he always performs.

“Britain is in trouble,” he tells me. “Britain is in deep trouble. The privatising is out of the control, the militarising is out of control and the financialising is out of control. And what I mean from that is you have a cold-hearted, mean-spirited budget that the Queen just read; you have working and poor people under panic, you have this obsession with immigration that tends to scapegoat the most vulnerable rather than confront the most powerful. And it is not just black immigrants, but also our brothers and sisters from Poland and Bulgaria, Romania; right across the board.” He isn’t ranting. He doesn’t rant. He smiles, he growls gently, he leans in and whispers conspiratorily. There is an upside, he says. “Britain has a rich history of bouncing back too.”

They looked after him at King’s, he says. Incongruous in his trademark black three–piece suit, with fob watch and old-time, grey–flecked, fly-away afro, he berthed in the understated splendour of the Rylands room in the Old Lodge. Named after Dadie Rylands, the literary scholar and theatre director educated at King’s and a fellow until his death in 1999, it was where Virginia Woolf lunched with Rylands and John Maynard Keynes. West likes such evocations. “I feel her spirit,” he says, leaning back on a chair.

But then he is accustomed to the star treatment. A graduate of Harvard University in 1973, he received his PhD at Princeton; returning to both as professor of religion and director of the programme in African-American studies at Princeton and later professor of African-American studies at Harvard. He departed Harvard in 2002 after a bitter dispute with the then president of the university, Lawrence Summers, Bill Clinton’s treasury secretary, who was later picked by President Obama to head the US National Economic Council. Some claim Summers’s clash with West formed part of the spiral that led to his own departure from Harvard. West says Summers had an agenda to cut African American studies, and him, down to size. He “tangled with the wrong Negro”, the professor said later. He returned to Princeton, from which he has recently retired. Now his centre of academic operations is the Union Theologiocal Seminary in New York, where he began his teaching career.

But he is multi-platform, which, critics contend, added something to the fall-out with Summers at Harvard. He is the author of 19 books and editor of another 13. A regular TV pundit. Co-star of the popular public radio show Smiley and West. Chair of the Democratic Socialists of America. He even played the wise Councillor West in The Matrix Reloaded. While the right throws the socialist tag at Obama like a poisoned dart, West wears it as a badge of honour. A “non-Marxist socialist” eschewing Marxism in favour of Christianity. A complex package. Hence the enthusiasm at Cambridge’s Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities to invite him over and peel the layers.

Last week West appeared three times in conversation: on race and politics, with academic Paul Gilroy – their double header had to be moved to a larger venue and ended with a standing ovation; on philosophy and the public sphere, with philosopher MM McCabe; and with Ben Okri on literature and the nation. The fact is that he’ll talk indefinitely and on anything. In between Cambridge appearances, he headed to Sheffield University to unveil a memorial to a previous visitor there, “my brother Malcolm X”. Also to London to an event hosted by former race chief Trevor Phillips.

For his radio show in the US, he also travelled to the Ecuadorian embassy for an encounter with Julian Assange. Exhilarating, by his account. “Boy, that was a rich one,” he says. “Oh my God, we went on for an hour and a half: about the militarising of the internet and the use of US imperial power. They’re trying to squelch any whistleblower who wants to reveal the secrets of the dirty wars of the US empires and other governments. We talked primarily about courage. He is a very smart man and very courageous too.”

They found points of contact. “He talked about Martin Luther King’s courage and how he has been inspired by Martin Luther King. We talked about the 3 June case with brother Bradley Manning and the witnesses the US government has lined up. I wanted people to hear his voice and to revel in his humanity; revel in his wrestling with his situation and to see what his vision is.”

He found some optimism, he says. “He has this situation with the sisters in Sweden and that’s got to be resolved, and I think that’s in the process of being resolved. We have to be concerned about someone accused of violating anybody, but I think for the most part that is going to be resolved, and that was probably an attempt of the powers that be. One woman has already said she is pulling back and the other one admits it was consensual, so it is not as ugly as it was projected in the press. But once that is over he has got the big one coming. He has got a behemoth coming at him; the US empire and its

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TUC warns of ‘lost decade’ as IMF arrives to scrutinise UK economy

Category : Business

Officials to investigate economic outlook as unions argue austerity policies are causing UK to lag behind in global recovery

International Monetary Fund officials arrive in London today for their annual health check of Britain’s economy as the government faces a fresh warning its austerity drive is causing a “lost decade of growth”.

Echoing the IMF’s recent warning that George Osborne, the chancellor, needed to ease up on austerity cuts in the face of a stagnant economy, the Trades Union Congress (TUC) has argued that the UK is being left behind in the global recovery.

It said the UK is experiencing a slower economic recovery than 23 of the 33 advanced economies monitored by the IMF. The TUC report, issued to coincide with the arrival of the IMF mission, also claims the vast majority of eurozone countries are performing better.

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “We truly are experiencing a lost decade for growth. While other countries are already seeing a rise in economic output, the UK won’t return to its pre-crash level for another four years.

“The chancellor’s commitment to self-defeating austerity has prolonged people’s suffering and put the brakes on our economic recovery – so much so that escaping a triple-recession is considered by some to be a cause for celebration. Even George Osborne’s favourite economic institution, the IMF, is calling on him to change course.”

Looking at income per head, the TUC warned the UK would not return to its pre-crash level until 2017. By contrast, income per head in Germany and the US would be more than 10% higher a decade on from the financial crisis.

The TUC said the figures, based on the IMF’s latest GDP forecasts, also revealed how the UK is emerging from recession at a slower rate than at any time in recent history. The report says: “In 1985, UK income per head was 6% higher than it was before the 1980 crash. In 1995, UK income per head was 7% higher than it was before the 1990 recession. UK income per head is today still 6% below its 2008 level.”

Over the next two weeks IMF officials will be gathering information on the UK’s economic prospects from the Treasury, Bank of England, private sector economists, trade union officials and the government’s independent forecaster, the Office for Budget Responsibility. The IMF deputy managing director, David Lipton, is then expected to hold a news conference on or around 22 May at the end of the discussions.

IMF officials caused embarrassment for Osborne last month when, alarmed at the flatlining of the British economy in 2011 and 2012, they urged him to do more to boost growth and to rethink plans to cut the structural budget deficit by 1% of national income in 2013-14.

The Washington-based organisation was initially a strong supporter of the coalition’s approach to tackling the UK’s record peacetime budget deficit. But its chief economist, Olivier Blanchard, singled out the UK as a country that had the scope to ease fiscal policy to boost growth. Osborne was particularly irritated by Blanchard’s comment that the UK was “playing with fire” by refusing to change tack.

Osborne, however, will stand firm at meetings with the IMF delegation. Treasury officials intend to show that any change to the strategy they have followed for the last three years would damage the government’s credibility in the financial markets and the subsequent increase in long-term interest rates would outweigh any benefits from cutting taxes or increasing spending.

The Treasury will say that the economy is gradually on the mend and that the IMF’s anxiety about the weakness of growth has already been addressed in recent policy initiatives. They will also say that the sluggishness of the economy in 2012 was a result of the drop in exports to the crisis-hit eurozone, rather than weak consumer spending.

The TUC argues that many eurozone economies, including France, Germany, Ireland and the Netherlands, are recovering faster in GDP per head terms and so Osborne “cannot blame Europe for the UK’s economic woes”. It wants the chancellor to ease off on austerity and focus more on jobs and spurs to growth and confidence such as an extensive house building programme.

“He should start learning from countries like the US whose ambitious programme of investment in jobs is helping to turn its economy around,” said O’Grady.

A Treasury spokesperson said: “This is an own goal by Labour’s paymasters. This analysis starts in 2008 and so includes the biggest recession in modern history – which happened under Labour. Clearing up the mess we inherited won’t happen overnight.”

Chris Leslie, shadow financial secretary to the Treasury, said: “George Osborne should not arrogantly dismiss the advice of hte IMF team flying into London this week. It is time the chancellor listened to their warnings that his failing economic poilicies are plahing with fire and that Britian now needs a plan ‘B for jobs and growth.”

The IMF cut its forecast for UK growth in both 2013 and 2014 last month. Its publication – the half-yearly World Economic Outlook – said GDP would rise by 0 .7% this year and by 1.5% in 2014 – in both cases a cut of 0.3 points from its last set of predictions in January.

Arts and culture worth more than £850m to UK export trade

Category : Business

Report shows arts budget of less than 0.1% of public spending delivers four times that in contribution to GDP

Arts and culture delivers a significant return on relatively small levels of government spending and directly leads to at least £856m of spending by tourists in the UK, according to a new report seeking to analyse the value of the arts to the modern economy.

Analysis by the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR) shows that the arts budget accounts for less than 0.1% of public spending, yet it makes up 0.4% of the nation’s GDP.

The report is published amid fears that the arts will take another big hit when George Osborne announces his spending review in June.

Maria Miller, the culture secretary, recently called for the economic case to be made for the arts, “to hammer home the value of culture to our economy”. She added: “In an age of austerity, when times are tough and money is tight, our focus must be on culture’s economic impact.”

The report, commissioned in November, helps to do that in unprecedented detail, showing that spending on the arts is far from a drain on public resources.

Alan Davey, chief executive of Arts Council England, which commissioned the research with the National Museum Directors’ Council, said he was gratified that the report quantified “what we have long understood – that culture plays a vital part in attracting tourism to the tune of £856m a year; that arts centres and activities transform our towns and cities and drive regeneration, making the choice to maintain investment in culture a forward thinking one for local authorities; and that the arts support the creative industries and improve their productivity.”

The report calculates that:

• The turnover of businesses in the arts and culture industry was £12.4bn in 2011. This in turn led to an estimated £5.9bn of gross value added (GVA) to the UK economy in the same year. (GVA is the value of the industry’s output minus the value of inputs used to produce it, including state subsidies.)

• The sector provides more than 110,000 jobs directly, about 0.45% of total employment in the UK. The figure becomes 260,300 jobs once the indirect impacts of arts and culture are added in.

• Living in an area with twice the average level of cultural density adds an average £26,817 to the value of a property.

The report says that public subsidy plays a vital role in encouraging creative innovation by “overcoming private-sector reluctance to invest in risky projects”. One example of that, quoted in the report, is the National Theatre’s War Horse, which even the original book’s author, Michael Morpurgo, had reservations about – but which has become a big moneyspinner.

Similarly, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, which dominated the Olivier theatre awards, could only have been created with public money. Its director, Marianne Elliott, said after receiving an award: “We took risks and thought we would fail and it is a testament to subsidised theatre that we were allowed to think we might fail.”

The report says there is much evidence to show that art and culture improves national productivity. “Engagement with arts and culture helps to develop people’s critical thinking, to cultivate creative problem solving and to communicate and express themselves effectively.”

Although consumer spending on the arts – its biggest income – increased between 2008 and 2010, it suffered a decline in 2011-12. The report warns: “It might be said that arts and culture is experiencing a pincer movement effect in the aftermath of the financial crisis: reduced consumer expenditure due to squeezed incomes, and reduced public spending.”

The report was welcomed by the investment banker John Studzinski, who chairs the east London arts organisation Create. “Everybody knows the enormous intangible benefits of the arts. What this report does is look at tangible benefits that economists and bureaucrats can now point to.”

Davey stressed that the primary concern from the Arts Council’s perspective was always the contribution culture makes to quality of life. “But at a time when public finances are under such pressure, it is also right to examine all the benefits that investment in arts and culture can bring – and to consider how much we can make the most effective use of that contribution.”

Radioactive materials lost in more than 30 incidents over past decade

Category : Business

Health and safety watchdog admits firms and hospitals have mislaid dangerous substances that could be used by terrorists

Radioactive materials have gone missing from businesses, hospitals and even schools more than 30 times over the last decade, a freedom of information request to the UK’s health and safety authorities has revealed.

Nuclear experts have warned that some of the lost material could be used by terrorists and said there should be a crackdown by the regulators to ensure such “carelessness” is brought to a speedy halt.

Among the big names that have lost potentially dangerous materials are Rolls-Royce at a site in Derby, the Sellafield nuclear plant in Cumbria and the Royal Free hospital in London. Some organisations have been prosecuted but others have got away with little more than a warning notice, papers released by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) reveal.

Missing items include a 13kg ball of depleted uranium from the Sheffield Forgemasters steel operation in 2008, plus small pellets of extremely radioactive ytterbium-169 from Rolls-Royce Marine Operations.

The Royal Free hospital lost caesium-137 – used in cancer treatment – which a report into the incident accepted had “the potential to cause significant radiation injuries to anyone handling [it] directly or being in the proximity for a short period of time.”

In another case, at the site of the former atomic energy research station at Harwell near Oxford, cobalt-60 was “found in a tube store under a machine during clearance,” according to the HSE.

The oil services firm Schlumberger also “temporarily lost” caesium-137 radioactive materials on a North Sea platform, while Southampton General hospital could not locate an “unsealed source” of iodine-131 in February last year.

John Large, an internationally renowned consultant to the nuclear industry, said it was disturbing that losses of the magnitude detailed were happening so frequently.

“The unacceptable frequency and seriousness of these losses, some with the potential for severe radiological consequences, reflect poorly on the licensees and the HSE regulator, whose duty is to ensure that the licensee is a fit and competent organisation to safeguard such radiological hazardous materials and substances. I cannot understand why it is not considered to be in the public interest to vigorously prosecute all such offenders.

“Clearly these organisations have been careless and wanting in their duty to safeguard and secure these radioactive substances, some of which remain extremely radiologically hazardous for many years – such slack security raises deep concerns about the accessibility of these substances to terrorists and others of malevolent intent.”

The HSE said it always considered all enforcement action against those involved, up to and including prosecution, but its final decision rested on issues including the likelihood of securing a conviction and the public interest. “Prosecutions have been undertaken successfully by HSE in the case of Schlumberger and the Royal Free hospital,” it said in a statement.

By contrast, the universities of York and Warwick received “written advice” and an “improvement notice” respectively over the loss of radioactive materials used for demonstrations in their science departments. Loreto high school in Manchester is being investigated by the HSE over the loss of an americium-241 radioactive source and four small mineral samples.

In February of this year the Sellafield nuclear plant pleaded guilty at Workington magistrates court to sending several bags of radioactive waste to the wrong facility.

The company was prosecuted by the Environment Agency and the Office for Nuclear Regulation after four bags of mixed general waste, such as plastic, paper, tissues, clothing, wood and metal, from normal operations in controlled areas of the site were sent to Lillyhall landfill site in Workington. The bags should have been sent to the Low Level Waste Repository at Drigg, Cumbria, – a specialist facility which treats and stores low-level radioactive waste consignments.

Large, who led the nuclear risk assessment team for the raising of the damaged Russian nuclear submarine Kursk in 2001, said in a number of cases publicised through the FoI disclosure people seemed to have been potentially put in danger. “The licensed use of such radioactive sources requires the licensee to be a fit person and demonstrate competence and each of the sources is accompanied by ‘cradle to grave’ documentation that requires a prearranged and managed storage/disposal route – these safeguards have clearly failed and the workforce and, indeed, members of the public may have been placed at radiological risk.”

He added: “Some of these lost radioactive sources are very persistent, for example the Royal Free hospital’s lost caesium-137 has a radioactive decay half-life of around 30 years, so it remains radio-toxic for at least 10 half-lives or about 300 years, and the unsealed source of iodine-131 lost by Southampton hospital is extremely volatile, easily breathed in and reconcentrated by the thyroid gland, presenting a cancer risk, and certainly not amenable to release into the atmosphere of a public place such as a hospital.”

Queen’s speech: consumer bill of rights to cover faulty apps or downloads

Category : Business

Business ministers want to consolidate consumer rights and extend them to non-traditional internet or online purchases

Consumer rights covering products such as cars and white goods are to be extended to apps and music downloads in a consumer bill of rights to be unveiled in the Queen’s speech on Wednesday.

Jo Swinson, the consumer minister, said the government would update the law to make it “fit for the 21st century” by ensuring consumers can secure refunds or replacements if web-based products fail.

The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills estimates that the changes could save up to £4bn over 10 years by consolidating consumer rights in one place. These are currently split between eight pieces of legislation while powers giving trading standards officers the ability to investigate breaches of consumer law are spread across 60 pieces of legislation.

The changes will lead to:

• An updating of the law to give greater protection to consumers who download films, music and games – a £1bn industry. The bill will make clear that a consumer must receive a refund if an online game freezes or if a film stream is unwatchable even if the broadband connection is fine.

• New protections for consumers making it easier to apply for compensation for breaches of competition law and new powers for trading standards officers to seek court orders requiring compensation to be paid.

Swinson said: “Stronger consumer protection and clearer consumer rights will help create a fairer and stronger marketplace. We are fully aware that this area of law over the years has become unnecessarily complicated and too confusing, with many people not sure where to turn if they have a problem. We are hoping to bring in a number of changes to improve consumer confidence and make sure the law is fit for the 21st century.”

Richard Lloyd, executive director of the consumer rights organisation Which?, said: “A consumer bill of rights is a welcome step towards ensuring that we have consumer laws fit for the 21st century. This bill is about making it easier for people to understand their rights and giving consumers power to challenge bad practice. It should also mean that both consumers and regulators have the tools they need to challenge unscrupulous businesses that breach the law.

“There are many welcome proposals in this bill, including extending the power of collective redress in competition cases and reforming the law on unfair terms and conditions. We urge the government to go further and to extend civil remedy powers to allow private enforcement bodies, like Which?, to take action against rogue companies and force them to put things right for consumers.”

Nationwide failed to act against identity fraudsters

Category : Business

Standing order scammers have taken £1,300 from my account, but Nationwide has not been helpful

I recently logged in to my online Nationwide account, only to discover that two unknown standing orders had cleared more than £1,300 out of my current account, leaving me with just £21. As I had had nothing to do with them – they were both to estate agents I had never heard of – I printed the statement and rushed to my local Nationwide branch. There was no manager available but a cashier cancelled the two standing orders. I asked whether I had signed the forms indicating I had consented to them being set up, and she said I hadn’t.

My card was stopped, and I was put in a cubicle and told to ring Nationwide HQ to sort out the problem. No one offered any support.

After lengthy waits and several more questions, I was told that once it was proved that I had not set up the standing orders, I would be refunded. Someone would ring me on Friday or Monday. When I arrived home, I had a message from a woman who worked for the Carlisle branch. She wanted to know if I had set up a standing order to Alpha Lettings. She said the signature very clearly did not match mine, so she had declined it.

Since then it has emerged that someone – or a group of people – has tried to set up a string of standing orders on my account, all to estate agents around the country. A second trip to a bigger branch wasn’t much good, either, and promised call-backs have not materialised. It seems to me that Nationwide doesn’t know what it’s doing when it comes to identity fraud of this kind. Can you please help? CB, south-west London

It’s clear from your letter that the building society hasn’t exactly covered itself in glory when dealing with this problem. The staff seemed to have no idea how stressful it was to discover £1,300 had gone from your bank account, and you should have been treated more sympathetically.

Standing order fraud is, according to our research, relatively rare, but your case has highlighted how easy it is to commit. You later realised that one of your bank statements failed to arrive around Christmas and, armed with this, the culprit probably set up the standing orders, relying on staff not looking at the signature too closely.

We suspect that although estate agent names were used, the money ended up in an unrelated, non-business account. For some reason, these frauds often seem to lead to a Barclays account at a branch in east London.

Nationwide accepts it should have handled the matter better. “While we have measures in place to prevent standing order fraud, and the overwhelming majority of attempts are prevented, it is clear we have let CB down on this occasion. It is important to note any innocent victim of fraud will always be refunded,” says a spokesman.

The money taken from your account has been returned, with an additional £200 to make up for the poor service.

We welcome letters but cannot answer individually. Email us at consumer.champions@guardian.co.uk or write to Bachelor & Brignall, Money, the Guardian, 90 York Way, London N1 9GU. Please include a daytime phone number

Has Sports Direct scored a pricing own goal?

Category : Business

The website advertised a shirt at £13 but raised the price to £17 when I went to buy it

I recently found a Nike Tech Golf Polo shirt on the Sports Direct website for £13. But as soon as I tried to buy it, it came up in the “my bag” area (basket) at £17. My complaint was ignored, but when I looked again, the price had been increased to £17. What’s the legal position? JC, by email

This is a question that is increasingly being asked, especially on the back of the boom in internet shopping, and a number of high-profile online price gaffes. Quite simply, retailers are under no obligation to sell you items that have been incorrectly priced, whether you are in a store, or looking online.

Most online retailers’ terms and conditions state that the contract is formed at the point of despatch, allowing them to check the transaction and correct any errors. So had Sports Direct charged you £13 for the shirt and sent it out, it could not then demand the extra £4 if it later realised its error. The same would be true if you bought it in store, and then left the shop with the item.

Equally, if you see a £399 computer advertised for £3.99, and you buy and pay for 10 computers, the retailer will not be required to go through with the sale, assuming it spots the mistake before it sends them out to you.

If it sent them to you, there would be no obligation on you to pay the difference if later asked.

We welcome letters but cannot answer individually. Email us at consumer.champions@guardian.co.uk or write to Bachelor & Brignall, Money, the Guardian, 90 York Way, London N1 9GU. Please include a daytime phone number

British Gas customers whose ‘special’ tariff cost £800 more

Category : Business

Many British Gas customers on a heavily promoted fixed-price deal would have done better on the standard tariff

Thousands of British Gas customers who signed up for one of its fixed-price tariffs two years ago have, in effect, been overpaying for their gas and electricity since then, it has been claimed. In some cases they have paid £800 more than if they had taken a rival deal.

In May 2011 British Gas contacted many of its long-standing customers to offer them a new tariff called Fixed Price March 2013. At the time, the company was just about to increase prices, but offered this deal on the basis that it was more expensive than standard prices, but there would be no hikes until it expired at the end of March.

It was marketed, in particular, to those coming off previous British Gas fixed-price tariffs as offering them peace of mind. But while thousands of other households coming off rival fixed tariffs will soon be paying more for their energy, those who signed up to this particular deal will see their prices fall after being moved on to British Gas’s standard tariff.

With the average household energy bill having risen to an estimated £1,350 a year, and against a backdrop of energy chief executives constantly warning that bills are only set to increase, experts often suggest that the best bet is a fixed-price tariff.

In recent years all the big energy firms have offered fixed-price and guaranteed-discount tariffs in a bid to keep hold of customers. While those on other British Gas fixed tariffs have done well in the past, those unlucky enough to have signed up to this deal have overpaid.

According to an analysis by the switching comparison site TheEnergyShop.com, they have typically paid £480 more than they would have done had they been on the most competitive fixed price tariff offered by rivals.

Those living in households that consume above-average amounts of power could easily have overpaid £800 or more over two years. Had they stayed on the company’s standard tariff they would have still paid less, even though it has seen two price rises in the past two years

Joe Malinowski, founder of TheEnergyShop.com says: “This tariff was sold to British Gas customers who were coming off previous fixed-price deals, but it was a just a terrible deal,” he says. “It was offered at an initial 30% price premium over standard prices but was only available direct from British Gas.

“If your energy company phones telling you it’s got a great new fixed-price deal, it should send alarm bells ringing. Go online and do a comparison, and you may find it’s not quite as good a deal as you were led to believe.”

A spokeswoman for British Gas says: “Fixed-price products are offered to customers to insure against price rises and to guarantee the price they will pay for their energy for a fixed period. Customers can make a choice about the product they decide to buy, and in many cases this will prove to be a better long-term option. But prices can go down, as well as

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Rics calls for estate agent tests

Category : Business

Estate agents who are not members of a professional body currently do not have to meet minimum competency standards

First-time buyers would feel more confident when buying a home if estate agents had to pass compulsory tests to show they are up to scratch.

That was one of the findings of a study by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (Rics), which wants to see greater regulation of estate agents to make sure first-time buyers are not, in its words, “flying blind” through the “biggest purchase of their lives”.

At present, agents who are not members of a professional body do not have to meet minimum competency standards.

There have been signs recently that more first-time buyers are entering the market following government efforts to improve conditions and help people with smaller deposits get on to the property ladder. First-time buyers have consistently been making up around two-fifths of house purchases in recent months.

However, Rics said its research found that three in 10 (29%) first-time buyers said they did not have a good understanding of the sales process when buying a home. More than three-quarters (77%) believe consumers’ understanding would improve if compulsory regulation of estate agents was introduced, and 89% think buyers would be better protected.

Rics said that with the market showing signs of a pick-up and “seemingly over the very worst”, more must be done to ensure that agents are suitably qualified to advise their clients through the sales process.

Peter Bolton King, a Rics director, said: “I would recommend that anyone who is buying or selling a house checks that their agent is a regulated member of a professional body such as Rics, and has met minimum standards of competency and understanding.

“By using an unregulated estate agent, people are potentially dealing with someone who doesn’t understand the technicalities involved in buying a home, or their obligations to consumers.”

More than 1,000 people who had either bought a property or obtained a valuation in the past five years took part in the survey.

TV review: Eddie Stobart – Trucks and Trailers

Category : Business

Need some overblown nonsense about heroic truck drivers and impressive-sounding numbers? Send for Eddie Stobart

Eddie Stobart is shifting up a gear,” we’re told at the start of series five (five!) of Eddie Stobart: Trucks and Trailers (Channel 5). “They’re already one of the kings of road and rail. Now they’re aiming high, flying to an ever-growing number of international destinations.”

What, there’s now an Eddie Stobart airline, is there? With green-and-red planes whose pilots are Yorkie-eating men with big bellies and tats? Oh, no – they now have one plane de-icing truck, operating at Southend Airport, glamorously. This show does a lot of that: turning the mundane into the extraordinary. So putting the plane de-icer to the “ultimate test” turns out to be … de-icing a plane. Guess what “the ultimate test” for trucker Peter Grant’s snow chains is? Yup, driving on a bit of snow. (The chains, incidentally are the “ace up [Peter's] sleeve in his fight against the frost.”)

The show throws a lot of impressive big numbers into the mix. Eddie Stobart’s red and green lorries drive half a million miles every day, the same distance as to the moon and back. The forest in Scotland where Peter, Eddie Stobart’s one and only log-wagon specialist, is picking up his logs is 100,000 acres in size, the same as 50,000 football pitches, and home to 40m trees. His monster 500-horsepower timber truck – Laura Jane – carries 25 tonnes of logs, the same weight as five elephants … etc.

Then there’s the odd truck-sounds-a-bit-like-fuck gag. Welsh driver Ashley Maddox has a day from “trucking hell” (he takes a few rolls of loft insulation from Wales and delivers them around London). And there’s a truckload of alliteration in the narration. “From the forests to the factory to the final destination in Kent is an epic 500-mile journey.” More big numbers, more heroic drivers, and a heroic rock guitar soundtrack, and there you have it, Eddie Stobart: Trucks and Trailers. I’d say it was more like an Eddie Stobart marketing film than a TV documentary. But then I’ve always been more of a Norbert Dentressangle man myself.