Building society’s account deadline axed

Norwich and Peterborough branch

A deadline for the closure of current accounts with the Norwich and Peterborough (N&P) has been cancelled, with 30% of customers still to receive letters explaining the move.

It was announced in January that the building society’s brand is to be abolished, some branches closed, and current accounts shut down.

The plan was for customers to move or close accounts by the end of August.

But its owner, the Yorkshire Building Society, now says there is no deadline.

The Yorkshire – the UK’s second biggest mutual – said that about 35% of the 100,000 customers affected had already closed their current account, switched to another bank, or was in the process of doing so.

It was staggering the flow of letters to affected customers to avoid a rush of inquiries, and has now written to 70% of those affected.

The remaining letters will be sent by the end of July.

The Yorkshire will close 28 N&P branches this year. The remaining branches will be rebranded as Yorkshire Building Society branches.

A spokeswoman for the Yorkshire said: “We are continuing to work closely with other financial providers in assisting customers to switch or close their account. We’re writing to customers with details of what they need to do next, and asking that customers complete the closure or switch of their account within six months of receiving their letter. We have not set a final date for closure.

“If a customer has not taken steps to close or switch their account within six months of receiving of their letter, we will work closely with the customer on a case-by-case basis to facilitate a switch or closure.”

In the meantime, no customers would be blocked from depositing money or conducting any normal banking transactions via their current account, she said.

The N&P is not part of the Current Account Switching Service so the process will be slower than could have been the case, taking about 12 days.

It was feared that some cash incentives to switch offered by rivals would not have applied, but many providers are now offering the perks to customers moving from the N&P.

Mike Regnier, chief executive of the Yorkshire Building Society, told earlier this year that it was a “real shame” that the accounts had to close. He said that too much investment would be required to keep the current accounts compliant with regulation if offered by the mutual. Instead it is to concentrate on savings and mortgage products.

Tesco is raising store staff pay by 10.5% over two years

Tesco store

Hourly pay rates for Tesco store staff will rise by 10.5% over the next two years, the supermarket has said.

But pay remains lower than at Aldi and Lidl and overtime pay on Sundays and Bank Holidays is being cut.

Currently Tesco workers are paid £7.62 an hour, which will rise to £8.42 an hour by November 2018.

The pay rise will put Tesco workers’ pay above the £7.90 level that the National Living Wage reach by 2018.

The National Living Wage is the effective minimum wage for adults aged 25 and over, and is currently £7.50.

Those under the age of 25 are entitled to a lower minimum wage rate, whilst workers in London receive a premium.

Statutory minimum pay rates will continue to rise until at least 2020, according to recent government Budgets, and companies are planning for those changes, as well as striving to remain competitive with rivals in order to recruit and retain staff.

Wage growth in the UK has been slow in recent years, but inflation has risen and other supermarkets have increased the wages they pay.

Aldi recently announced a rise in hourly pay to £8.53 an hour; Lidl’s website says it pays store staff £8.45 an hour.

Tesco said it would increase hourly pay in three stages: to £8.02 in November 2017, then to £8.18 in July 2018 and to £8.42 in November 2018.

“This reward package sees our biggest investment in store pay for a decade, and gives colleagues a sustainable pay deal that rewards them for everything they do, while allowing us to also attract new talent,” said Tesco UK chief executive, Matt Davies.

The retailer said maternity pay terms had also been improved. But extra pay for Sundays and bank holidays will be reduced from time-and-a-half to time-and-a-quarter after July 2018.

“This is designed to meet the government legislative requirement around the minimum wage.

“As expected, most of the businesses who have had to face up to this rise have had to reduce premiums and other perks that employees benefitted from in order to meet the core wage rises,” said retail analyst Steve Dresser.

Watchdog clamps down on online gambling

Online gambling

The competition regulator is to take action against some online gambling companies which it suspects of breaking consumer law.

The some punters did not get the deal they expected from sign-up promotions offering cash bonuses to attract them to gaming websites.

The CMA also said the firms were “unfairly holding onto people’s money”.

Online gambling companies should “play fair”, said the CMA.

Nisha Arora, CMA senior director for consumer enforcement said: “New customers are being enticed by tempting promotions only to find the dice are loaded against them.

“And players can find a whole host of hurdles in their way when they want to withdraw their money.”

The CMA launched its investigation into the gambling sector . It has since heard from about 800 “unhappy” customers and has “demanded companies answer questions about how they operate, and closely examined the play on a range of websites”.

As a result it has identified “a number of operators engaging in practices likely to be breaking consumer law”, which is why it is taking enforcement action.

The controversial promotions involve terms and conditions which prevent punters from walking away from play with their winnings at a point of their choosing.

For example, someone might bet £10 of their own money which is then matched by £10 from the online betting company.

However, in the terms and conditions of play it might state that the customer has to play several hundred times within a certain period of time before they can cash in their winnings.

In some instances, under these “wagering requirements” people have amassed winnings of several thousand pounds but they have had to keep on betting, said the CMA, meaning that their chances of losing money increase.

“They don’t have the choice to quit while they’re ahead and walk away with their winnings when they want to,” the CMA said.

The Remote Gambling Association (RGA), whose members include many online gambling firms, said it would take “some time to digest and consider properly” the CMA announcement.

“However, where failings are identified companies individually will rectify them,” it added.

“If there are generic lessons to be learned then, as ever, we will work with the Gambling Commission to bring those to the attention of the wider industry with a view to raising standards across the board.”

Initially the CMA is talking to the companies involved, which it says it cannot name, demanding that they change their practices.

If they do not meet the requirements, the CMA can take them to court. The court could fine the companies or ultimately revoke their licences.

The Gambling Commission has been working alongside the CMA on the investigation.

It said identity checks were an “important duty” for the gambling industry to “prevent money laundering and to ensure responsible gambling”.

But, it added, concerns had been raised that some operators might be “applying these requirements in a restrictive way, preventing consumers from legitimately withdrawing funds from their gambling accounts”.

The online gambling sector has grown by about 150% since 2009 and is worth £4.5bn. The CMA said more than 6.5 million people regularly use the sites.

The CMA’s George Lusty led the investigation. “If you’re required to place hundreds of thousands of bets before you can make a withdrawal, then that is going to require you to invest a lot of time into these promotions,” he told the BBC.

“Our main interest is these casino-type products, but we do also have some concerns in relation to free sports bets promotions as well.”

The CMA is also asking for other people who have had trouble withdrawing their money to come forward by 31 August to help it “probe this issue even further”.

Chris Sattin from Gloucester was playing roulette on a website called Maria Casino and won £35,000, but he wasn’t allowed to withdraw his winnings.

He told Radio 4’s You and Yours: “I was shaking, my adrenaline was pumping. I pressed on the iPhone to withdraw, but nothing was happening. Because I’d never won these sums of money before, I thought maybe it’s only happening because it’s a large sum of money and I need to contact customer services.”

Maria Casino told Chris he had an account with its sister company Unibet, and he had used a self-exclusion feature on the site – something introduced by the Gambling Commission to help problem gamblers.

Chris told the company he had self-excluded only to close his account. But Maria Casino said this breached the company’s terms and conditions.

You and Yours contacted Maria Casino about Chris’s case and they decided to pay him the £35,000 winnings.

UK growth will be ‘subdued’ as Brexit unfolds, says CBI


Growth in the UK will “shift down a gear” over the next few years as Brexit talks unfold and consumer spending slows, the CBI says.

Slightly upgrading a previous forecast, the business lobby group said it expected growth of 1.6% for 2017 and 1.4% in 2018.

However, this equates to average quarterly growth of 0.3% – half the rate seen in 2013 to 2016.

The CBI described the outlook as “steady but subdued”.

It said UK exports were likely to increase over the next few years due to the weak pound, which has fallen by about 15% against the dollar since the UK referendum over EU membership.

However, the CBI, which represents the interests of businesses in the UK, said rising inflation and low wage growth would hit domestic demand.

“People are already starting to feel the pinch,” said Carolyn Fairbairn, the CBI’s director-general. “Tighter purse strings mean slower household spending growth.”

She said that after a “frantic period” in Westminster, the government needed to demonstrate that Britain was still a “great place to do business”.

She also called on negotiators on both sides to remain “cool, calm and collected” as they forged a deal over Brexit.

“The less likely a Brexit deal starts to look, the harder it will be for firms to recruit and retain talent as well as push the button on big investment decisions. We must get Brexit right.”

In May, the Bank of England governor Mark Carney this year as inflation rises and real wages fall.

The bank trimmed its economic growth forecasts for 2017 from 2% to 1.9%, and raised its forecast for inflation from 2.4% to 2.8%.

Rolls-Royce boss warns against a ‘hard Brexit’

Rolls Royce boss Warren East

The boss of Rolls-Royce has called for “as little change as possible” after Brexit to minimise the impact on business of leaving the European Union.

Warren East told the BBC: “The further we get from the status quo, the harder it’s going to be.”

The engine-maker wants to continue being able to move parts and staff freely between the UK and the bloc.

Leaving the customs union and the single market could mean an end to free movement of labour and goods.

On Sunday Chancellor Philip Hammond reiterated his intention to entities.

Speaking at the Paris air show, Mr East said that other firms also would be affected by a “hard” Brexit.

“The aerospace industry is very interconnected and there are other parts of it that operate across the boundaries between the UK and the EU. All those other companies will have the same issues that we do,” he said.

Mr East’s warning comes as business leaders ramp up their calls for the government to seek a soft Brexit, as well as gaining a formal role in the Brexit process. Talks on the UK’s departure from the EU formally began in Brussels on Monday.

Josh Hardie, CBI deputy director-general, said it was “absolutely clear” that putting the economy first had to be the new government’s priority.

Meanwhile, a joint report by the National Institute of Social and Economic Research and the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development warned that ending the free movement of workers from the EU would damage UK business and public services “unless post-Brexit immigration policies take account of the need for both skilled and unskilled labour from the EU”.

Mr East also said that leaving the EU would mean the UK no longer being part of the European Aviation Safety Agency, which regulates the industry and certifies aviation products.

Such a scenario would be a major problem for companies such as Rolls, whose engines power commercial aircraft.

However, he said it could be possible for the UK to become an associate member of the agency in the same way as Switzerland or Norway.

Rolls-Royce has had a troubled few years that culminated in January with the company paying close to £700m to settle bribery allegations with authorities in the UK and US.

That settlement, along with the fall in sterling since the Brexit vote, pushed it to a huge £4.6bn loss for 2016.

Mr East, who became chief executive of Rolls almost two years ago, said he expected a “modest improvement” in the company’s financial performance this year.

He also signalled an end to big job cuts, such as the axing of 800 jobs in the marine division last December due to poor customer demand.

The number of large engines being produced had doubled, which required more staff, Mr East said: “On headcount we’re flat – we have fewer managerial positions and more people who are assembling engines and building components.”

Rolls has 23,000 workers in the UK and a total of 55,000 worldwide.

Brexit negotiations: Barnier rules out ‘concessions’

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Brexit Secretary David Davis “determined optimist” after day one

The EU’s chief negotiator said there would be “substantial” consequences from Brexit after the first round of talks with the UK.

Michel Barnier said he was “not in the frame of mind to make concessions or ask for concessions”.

UK Brexit Secretary David Davis said talks got off to a “promising start”.

The UK appears to have conceded to the EU’s preferred order for the talks which will mean trade negotiations do not begin immediately.

Mr Davis and Mr Barnier gave a joint press conference after day one of the talks in Brussels.

The initial focus will be on expat rights, a financial settlement and “other separation issues”.

Discussions aimed at preserving the Good Friday Agreement and common travel area in Ireland will also begin, although Mr Davis suggested these issues may not be settled until the end of the process, when the UK’s trade relationship with the EU is settled.

The UK had wanted talks on its future relationship with the EU to be considered from the outset, but Mr Barnier said this would only happen once the European Council decided “sufficient progress has been made” on the other issues.

Mr Davis – who had predicted this would be the “row of the summer” – denied suggestions the agreed timetable showed Britain’s “weakness” and insisted it was “completely consistent” with the government’s aim of parallel trade and exit talks.

“It’s not when it starts it’s how it finishes that matters,” he said.

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The clock counts down on Brexit negotiations

Asked whether he had made any concessions to the UK in return, Mr Barnier said the UK had decided to leave the EU – not the other way around, and each side had to “assume our responsibility and the consequences of our decisions”.

“I am not in a frame of mind to make concessions, or ask for concessions,” he said.

“It’s not about punishment, it is not about revenge.

“Basically, we are implementing the decision taken by the United Kingdom to leave the European Union, and unravel 43 years of patiently-built relations.

“I will do all I can to put emotion to one side and stick to the facts, the figures, and the legal basis, and work with the United Kingdom to find an agreement in that frame of mind.”

Laura Kuennsberg, BBC political editor

It’s often compared to a divorce – the UK wanted to talk about who gets the house and the CD collection at the same time as settling who pays for the kids’ weddings in 20 years’ time.

The EU on the other hand have been firm all along that the future arrangements could only be discussed once the terms of the initial split have been agreed.

The debate was called “parallelism versus sequentialism” and from this afternoon’s press conference and the announcement of the procedure it is clear that the UK has lost.

Ministers believed they would be able to persuade the EU – the failure to do so has been described as a “total cave-in”.

The discussion was even predicted by Mr Davis as likely to be the “row of the summer”. The row won’t happen because it seems the UK has already given in.

Mr Barnier said a “fair deal” was possible “and far better than no deal”. He promised to work with, not against, the UK.

“We must lift the uncertainty caused by Brexit,” he said.

The two men – who exchanged gifts at the start of the talks – set out the structure for the initial negotiations. There will be one week of negotiations every month.

Working groups of “senior experts” will be set up to focus on the three main areas.

On citizens’ rights, which the UK has said should be an immediate priority, Mr Davis said there was “much common ground”.

The UK is set to leave the EU by the end of March 2019, following last year’s referendum vote.

Prior to the start of talks, Mr Davis gave his counterpart a first edition of a mountaineering book – a French-language version of Regards vers Annapurna – while Mr Barnier reciprocated with a traditional, hand-carved walking stick from Savoie, complete with leather wrist strap.

Who’s who in the UK delegation?

  • David Davis: Secretary of State for Exiting The EU
  • Tim Barrow: UK permanent representative to the EU
  • Oliver Robbins: permanent secretary at the Department for Exiting The EU
  • Glynn Williams: director general at the Home Office
  • Mark Bowman: director general, international finance at HM Treasury
  • Simon Case: director general, UK-EU partnership team
  • Alex Ellis: director general at the Department for Exiting the EU
  • Christian Jones: press officer to David Davis

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Former Labour cabinet minister Lord Mandelson on Brexit negotiation deals

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Michael Gove tells Today there is support across the Conservative Party for Theresa May

After holding talks with Theresa May in Downing Street, new Irish prime minister Leo Varadkar said there must be no return to a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland and economic borders must be “invisible”.

While he said he regretted Mrs May’s decision to leave the single market and customs union, he said the two had a shared objective to minimise disruption to trade after the UK’s exit.

Earlier former Marks and Spencer chairman Lord Rose, who chaired the Stronger In campaign last year, told that he was reassured that economic considerations were “top of the pile” but ministers needed to be realistic with the public.

Speaking on the same programme, JD Wetherspoon founder Tim Martin – one of the leading pro-Leave business voices – said negotiators had to be open to possible compromises but also prepared to walk away and to default to World Trade Organization rules if necessary.

“I don’t think many people feel that staying in the single market and customs union and being subject to EU laws is Brexit.

“I think Brexit is parliamentary sovereignty and an assertion of democracy. Outside that, I think there is a quite a lot of scope,” Mr Martin said.

For Labour, shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer said there was “real confusion” about the government’s mandate after the general election result.

Amazon to buy Whole Foods for $13.7bn

Whole Foods store

Online retail giant Amazon is buying Whole Foods in a $13.7bn (£10.7bn) deal that marks its biggest push into traditional retailing yet.

Amazon, which has long eyed the grocery business, will buy the upmarket supermarket for $42 a share.

Investors greeted the deal as game-changing for the industry, sending shares of rival grocers plunging.

But Whole Foods, which had been under pressure, climbed.

Founded in 1978 in Texas, Whole Foods was a pioneer of the move towards natural and organic foods.

It has grown to more than 460 stores in the US, Canada and the UK, and employs about 87,000 people.

Amazon founder and chief executive Jeff Bezos said: “Millions of people love Whole Foods Market because they offer the best natural and organic foods, and they make it fun to eat healthy.

“Whole Foods Market has been satisfying, delighting and nourishing customers for nearly four decades – they’re doing an amazing job and we want that to continue.”

Whole Foods has faced dissatisfaction from investors, amid falling same-store sales and increased competition. Last month, the company named a new chief financial officer and new board members.

In April, activist investor Jana Partners called the firm’s shares undervalued, noting “chronic underperformance”.

The price being paid by Amazon marks a 27% premium to the level Whole Foods’ shares closed at on Thursday. The $13.7bn value includes assumption of the grocer’s debt.

The takeover deal – the biggest in Amazon’s history – is expected to be completed in the second half of the year, pending approval by shareholders and anti-trust regulators.

Whole Foods boss John Mackey said: “This partnership presents an opportunity to maximize value for Whole Foods Market’s shareholders, while at the same time extending our mission and bringing the highest quality, experience, convenience and innovation to our customers.”

The Whole Foods brand will continue. Mr Mackey is expected to stay on as chief executive.

Whole Foods stock soared 29% on the news. Amazon shares closed up 2.4%.

Neil Saunders, managing director of GlobalData Retail, said the deal should give the grocer financial breathing room, while making it more competitive online and improving its supply chain logistics.

The takeover also makes Amazon an instant player in the grocery industry, where it has operated at the fringes since launching its food delivery service Amazon Fresh in Seattle in 2007.

Whole Foods and Amazon were staying quiet on Friday about how they might introduce technology to stores, merge their supply chains, or cross-sell Amazon products.

Brendan Witcher, principal analyst at Forrester Research in Boston, said any changes are further down the road.

But that didn’t stop instant speculation about what changes might be coming. Possibilities include:

Lower prices? Amazon has a long history of deferring profits in favour of winning customers with low prices. It could try a similar strategy at Whole Foods, now knocked by some as “Whole Paycheck”.

Techie shopping? Amazon is also interested in how technology can make shopping more efficient. The firm’s Alexa robot maintains shopping lists and Amazon is testing a convenience store in Seattle that operates without check-out lines.

“There is an inherent logic in the move which, in our view, brings benefits to both businesses,” Mr Saunders wrote.

Shares of other supermarket chains took a beating. The industry has already seen significant consolidation, with smaller players wiped out.

Kroger shares fell more than 9 %, Target plunged 5% and Costco Wholesale Corp. dropped about 7%.

Walmart, which announced its own $310m deal to acquire the online clothing company Bonobos, slid 4.7%.

The reaction spread to companies in Europe. Dutch retailer Ahold Delhaize fell nearly 10%.

Mr Saunders said the deal is “potentially terrifying” for other companies.

“Although Amazon has been a looming threat to the grocery industry, the shadow it has cast has been pale and distant,” Mr Saunders wrote. “Today that changed.”

British Airways cabin crew to stage two-week strike

British Airways planes at Heathrow

British Airways cabin crew are to stage a two-week strike from 1 July, the Unite union has said, in a long-running dispute over pay and benefits.

Unite said BA had refused to accept its final offer on the issue of the “sanctioning” of striking cabin crew.

The union claims that crew who previously walked out have not had their bonuses or benefits, including free and discounted travel, restored.

BA said that the proposed action was “extreme and completely unnecessary”.

Unite said it would “vigorously” pursue legal action against BA on behalf of the 1,400 cabin crew affected.

The union claims that British Airways has formed a “blacklist to impose sanctions on striking cabin crew”, which has led to bonus payments being cut and the removal of staff travel concessions.

Unite had originally planned a four-day strike to start on Friday, but this was suspended while the two sides tried to resolve the dispute.

However, the union has now said its members among BA’s mixed fleet crew will go on strike from 00:01 on Saturday 1 July to 23:59 on Sunday 16 July.

BA reassured passengers that it would continue to fly all customers to their destinations.

The airline said: “We had reached a deal on pay, which Unite agreed was acceptable. Unite has already confirmed it is pursuing the non-pay issues in this dispute through the courts.

“We urge Unite to let its members vote on the pay proposals.”

Unite assistant general secretary Howard Beckett said: “The refusal by British Airways bosses to meaningfully consider our compromise offer is deeply disappointing.

“A resolution to this long-running dispute was within the grasp of British Airways, but instead of grabbing that opportunity, bosses rebuffed it. It now means British Airways faces an entirely avoidable two-week strike and prolonged legal action on behalf of over 1,400 mixed cabin crew.”

There have been 26 days of strike action by BA staff since the start of the year.

McDonald’s ends Olympics deal three years early

McDonald’s and the International Olympics Committee (IOC) are ending their long-running sponsorship deal three years early.

The fast food chain said it was “reconsidering all aspects of its International Olympics Committee business” as part of a plan to re-invigorate its business.

The IOC said it understood “that McDonald’s is looking to focus on different business priorities”.

The partnership began in 1976.

“For these reasons, we have mutually agreed with McDonald’s to part ways,” said the IOC.

The next Olympics will take place in Japan during 2020.

McDonald’s had extended its sponsorship agreement with the Olympics in 2012 for a further eight years.

As a “Top Partner”, it paid a reported $100m for each two-game deal covering the summer and winter Olympic Games up to and including 2020.

McDonald’s partnership with the IOC will end immediately, but it will continue to be a sponsor of the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018.

The IOC said on Friday: “The financial terms of the separation was agreed by all parties, details of which are confidential.”

A number of companies have ended partnerships with the Olympics recently, including AB InBev’s Budweiser, the hotels group Hilton and US telecoms giant AT&T.

McDonald’s has been restructuring its business to arrest a decline in sales. Steve Easterbrook was appointed as chief executive in 2015 when he said he would “not shy away from the urgent need to reset this business”.

Commenting on the “mutual” decision to part ways with the IOC, Silvia Lagnado, global chief marketing officer at McDonald’s, said: “As part of our global growth plan, we are reconsidering all aspects of our business and have made this decision in cooperation with the IOC to focus on different priorities.”

The IOC said it has no immediate plans to appoint a direct replacement in the “retail food operations sponsorship category” which will be reviewed.

City cancels Mansion House dinner after tower tragedy

Philip Hammond

Philip Hammond, the Chancellor, has pulled out of delivering the annual Mansion House speech on Thursday night because of the Grenfell Tower fire.

“In view of the Grenfell Tower tragedy, I have withdrawn from giving the Mansion House speech tonight, ” he tweeted.

“My thoughts are with the local community.”

The speech was set to have been studied for clues on the government’s approach to the Brexit talks.

A Treasury spokesman said Mr Hammond would deliver the speech intended for the Mansion House dinner in the near future.

He was set to appear at the Bankers and Merchants Dinner alongside figures including Bank of England governor Mark Carney and the Lord Mayor of the City of London, Andrew Parmley.

The chancellor had been expected to say that £48bn of funds from the European Union’s investment bank would not be put at risk following Brexit.