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Russian spy: Retaliation could be painful for UK business
A crackdown on Russia’s UK business ties in the wake of the spy poison revelations will hit a complex and lucrative web of interests. Prime Minister Theresa May has promised measures against Moscow if there is no adequate explanation for the poisoning. But she would be pushing against interests that touch UK football, members of the House of Lords, and valuable assets owned by UK companies. Those assets include BP’s 20% stake in Russian oil and gas giant Rosneft. That’s worth repeating – a FTSE 100 company owns a fifth of Russia’s most valuable company, which is state controlled
Don’t try to intimidate us, Russia warns Britain
Russia warned Britain not to issue threats and “groundless ultimatums” as it defied a demand to account by midnight for the use of its nerve agent in the Salisbury poisoning. Theresa May is expected to tell MPs today of plans to retaliate for the assassination attempt on a Russian double agent and his daughter last week. Initial targets are likely to include allies of President Putin who have assets in Britain, Russian diplomats based in London and the Kremlin-controlled television station RT. Moscow’s embassy warned that any “punitive” action “will meet with a response” and described the ultimatum as a clear provocation.
‘Tigger’ Hammond hails turning point for the economy
Philip Hammond promised to ease austerity in the run-up to the next election after unveiling new economic forecasts that showed marginal improvements in growth and borrowing. In his first spring statement, which lasted 26 minutes and contained no spending or tax announcements, the chancellor announced 29 consultations, many likely to result in tax-raising measures in the autumn budget. Declaring himself “Tigger-like” over the health of the public finances, he promised to use any extra headroom to raise public spending from 2020. He has in the past been called Eeyore, after the glum donkey in Winnie-the-Pooh. He reported lower-than-expected economic gains, with GDP forecast by the Office for Budget Responsibility to be up 1.5 per cent this year, 0.1 percentage points higher than its November estimate and unchanged for 2019 and 2020 at 1.3 per cent. The Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) put Britain’s growth at the bottom of the G20 economies.
Volkswagen boss Matthias Müller paid €10m despite diesel cheat
The chief executive of Volkswagen enjoyed a 40 per cent pay rise to €10.14 million even as the “dieselgate” emissions scandal rumbled on. Matthias Müller, 64, earned almost 20 per cent more last year than Dieter Zetsche, chairman of the carmaker Daimler, who was paid €8.6 million. VW reported record annual operating profits last year of €17 billion, although this excluded €3.2 billion of costs related to the diesel emissions scandal in 2017. The German carmaker was thrown into crisis in 2015 when it admitted fitting devices to diesel cars to guarantee that they would pass emissions tests. It has had to pay out tens of billions of euros in fines, repairing affected vehicles and buying back cars.
Trade and migration impact could dwarf £3bn Brexit gain, says OBR
Brexit could free up £3bn a year from 2020-21 to be channelled into public spending, according to the Office for Budget Responsibility — but these gains were likely to be dwarfed by the impact on the economy of changes to trade and migration and the ability to generate taxes, it said. The UK could find itself paying its Brexit bill for decades, with the OBR’s figures showing pensions liabilities continuing to fall due up to 2064. The OBR has set out estimates of the impact of Britain’s divorce settlement with the EU in an annex to its latest forecasts, published with the chancellor’s Spring Statement. The £3bn figure, which increases in subsequent years, represents the amount saved by stopping EU budget contributions, minus the payments that Britain is set to make under the financial settlement sketched out in December 2017.
Trump tariffs pose threat to global economic revival, OECD warns
Tit-for-tat trade barriers in response to the Trump administration’s tariffs on steel and aluminium threaten to undermine a strengthening global economy, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development said on Tuesday. The Paris-based body said the world economy was finally growing at its historical, normal rate but added that its prediction of a rosy outlook in the next few years was based on nations enjoying the fruits of higher investment and trade without any new tariffs or other barriers to commerce. The implication of its forecast was that a rise in tariffs between the US and its trading partners would snuff out the positive effects on US growth of the Trump tax cuts.
Unite union pushes for UK car plants to shift to electric
Britain must repurpose car parts factories and train workers to build components for electric vehicles to avoid thousands of job losses, the Unite union has said. In an assessment of the changes facing the UK automotive sector, the union said the British government must seek to emulate Germany and “support supply chain and SME companies to invest, re-tool and upskill for new component products”. “The shift from the internal combustion engine to plug-in, battery or hybrid-powered vehicles will change the some 30,000 components that make up a modern vehicle,” Unite said in the report, published on Wednesday. British plants made 1.67m vehicles last year, down 3 per cent compared to the previous year. A record 2.72m engines were also produced, many of them exported, according to figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders. Some 78,000 people are employed in the supply chain.
UK seeing ‘light at end of the tunnel’
Philip Hammond has signalled he is prepared to spend billions of pounds on hospitals and the military later this year after positive public finance figures pointed to “light at the end of the tunnel” after a decade of austerity. The Chancellor gave a strong hint that austerity will be eased at the Budget in late autumn if the public finances continue to improve, saying that rather than being a gloomy “Eeyore” he was now “positively Tigger-like”. He said he was on course to meet his target for borrowing no more than 2pc of national income in 2020-21, leaving £15.4bn of headroom for higher spending on public services.
White van men face tax raid as ministers consider fresh drive to reduce pollution
Britain’s army of “white van men” could be in the Treasury’s sights for a tax raid under plans to reduce pollution. A consultation has been announced on how to encourage the estimated 2.5m van drivers on UK roads to go green. The Chancellor said as part of plans to improve air quality, the least polluting vans could have their vehicle excise duty (VED) cut. He added that such a scheme would “follow our successful intervention to incentivise green taxis”. A tax exemption on electric taxis comes into force next month and is worth about £1,500 a year on the green cabs – which cost more than £40,000 but produce zero emissions.
Car dealer Marshall defies wider slump in new vehicle sales
Car dealer Marshall Motor Holdings has outperformed the slowing market for new vehicles, as sales of those cars boosted revenues. One of the country’s biggest dealer groups with 101 franchises selling 23 marques, Marshall’s results for the year to the end of December showed the number of sales of new cars it sold on a like-for-like basis were 2.6pc lower than the year before. However, this is less than half the decline reported by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders for the wider market. It said that during 2017 registrations of new cars – a proxy for sales – across all of the UK fell 5.7pc.
Apprenticeship scheme handed £80m lift, but will firms use it?
The much-criticised apprenticeship levy has been given a financial boost by the Chancellor in an attempt to ease its teething problems – but there are doubts it is sufficient to encourage smaller companies to embrace the scheme. The levy – which has been hit by criticism over the amount of red tape it entails – will get an extra £80m, which will be funnelled to small businesses taking on apprentices. Philip Hammond used the Spring statement to reiterate the Government’s commitment to 3m people starting the training programmes by 2020. To encourage its adoption, he revealed the money would be released by the Education Secretary to support small businesses.
Business rates concession too little, too late, say retailers
The Chancellor’s promise to bring forward the revaluation of business rates forward to 2021 is “like putting a plaster on a gunshot wound” and will do little to help Britain’s struggling retailers, experts argued yesterday. Philip Hammond looked to appease businesses in his Spring statement by confirming that the Government would undertake business rate revaluations more often – every three years instead of every five – and would start that processin 2021 instead of 2022.
Pay hike takes VW ‘dieselgate’ chief to 10m Euros
The boss of Volkswagen has admitted the German car giant is struggling to put dieselgate behind it – but its troubles haven’t stopped him from driving home with a generous pay boost. Matthias Mueller said shaking up the corporate culture in the wake of the emissions scandal was the area where VW was “furthest from our goal”. Outlining a new ethos focused on “values and integrity and with zero tolerance for violations”, Mr Mueller said he “feels a sense of disappointment when something crops up against these values – our transformation is not fast enough”. Despite Mr Mueller’s recognition of VW’s shortcomings, his total pay packet, including benefits and bonuses surged 40pc to 10.1m Euros (£9m).
We’ll stick fork out Brexit bill by 2064
Britain will still be paying off Theresa May’s £37 billion Brexit bill in 2064 as we cough up cash for Eurocrats gold-plated pensions. The Treasury’s independent forecasters – working out the divorce bill – said the UK’s payments to the EU will be spread over 46 years. Almost all the bill, including EU contributions during the transition phase, will be settled by 2028. But £2.5 billion of “pension liabilities” will be paid from now till 2064. The Office for Budget Responsibility said this would provide the UK’s share of contributions.
VAT appeal on red tape
Business leaders and MPs last night urged the Chancellor to rule out slapping small firms with an avalanche of red tape after he launched a probe that could cut the VAT threshold. Philip Hammond said the consultation would look at how to stop firms “bunching” sales just below the £85,000 sales threshold at which they must start charging VAT.
Wages in for boost
Long-suffering Brits will finally see a boost to pay packets from April as inflation begins to fall, the Chancellor said. He said “real wage growth”, which strips out the cost of living, is expected to turn positive in the spring and “increase steadily thereafter”. The Office for Budget Responsibility said average earnings should rise by 2.7 per cent in 2018 – 0.4 per cent above what it forecast in November. But it said in real terms they will still be below their 2008 levels in 2023, meaning 15 years of sluggish wage growth.
Borders are open ‘till 2021
Theresa May’s Brexit war committee last night agreed the terms of Britain’s EU transition phase – including a climb-down that will see our borders stay open until 2021. Details were finally settled ahead of crunch meeting of EU27 ambassadors in Brussels tomorrow. They include keeping Britain’s open borders for EU citizens during the transition period. Initially the Government said free movement would end when Britain officially leaves in 2019, but it is set to continue throughout the “time-limited” exit period.