Labour to propose new energy price controls

Mar 2014

Amid warnings of blackouts from energy companies, Labour leader Ed Miliband is due to propose greater controls over energy prices with the aim of helping small businesses.

Despite concerns expressed by energy firm Centrica, Mr Miliband is planning to call a Commons vote next week to demand an immediate price freeze for business and domestic customers. Centrica’s chief executive, Sam Laidlaw, said there would be less ‘enthusiasm’ for investing in new power plants as an ‘inevitable consequence’ of the recent inquiry into profits.

The Coalition Government and Labour are each claiming credit for regulator Ofgem’s decision to investigate alleged profiteering.

In other energy matters, the Department of Energy & Climate Change (DECC) recently reported that the UK is now a net importer of petroleum products, after the closure of refineries and increased competition.

The DECC said: ‘Crude oil import dependence has been on an increasing trend as the production from the UK Continental Shelf continues to decline’.

The Office for Budget Responsibility last week downgraded its forecast for North Sea oil and gas tax receipts by a further £3 billion for 2014/15.

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Creative industries receive new protection

31 Mar 2014

The Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit (PUPCU) has said it is going global in its pursuit of illegal websites.

Funded by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills – which is run by the City of London Police – the unit has already released a report on 61 websites which evidenced as profiting from advertising and operating without licenses from content creators.

PIPCU has now established an unreleased list of sites, known as the Infringing Website List (IWL), which can be cross-referenced by advertising companies so they can remove their advertising from those sites.

Andy Fyfe, Detective Chief Inspector for PIPCU, said: ‘If an advert from an established brand appears on an infringing website not only does it lend the site a look of legitimacy, but inadvertently the brand and advertiser are funding online crime’.

The Federation Against Copyright Theft (FACT) is working with the special unit on their far-reaching project. Director General Kieron Sharp said: ‘The UK’s creative sector is a vital driver of the economy, employing over 1.5 million people and driving £36 billion pounds of GVA (gross value added) to the UK economy. Film and TV production in the UK is looked upon as the best in the world’.

Labour to propose new energy price controls

28 Mar 2014

Amid warnings of blackouts from energy companies, Labour leader Ed Miliband is due to propose greater controls over energy prices with the aim of helping small businesses.

Despite concerns expressed by energy firm Centrica, Mr Miliband is planning to call a Commons vote next week to demand an immediate price freeze for business and domestic customers. Centrica’s chief executive, Sam Laidlaw, said there would be less ‘enthusiasm’ for investing in new power plants as an ‘inevitable consequence’ of the recent inquiry into profits.

The Coalition Government and Labour are each claiming credit for regulator Ofgem’s decision to investigate alleged profiteering.

In other energy matters, the Department of Energy & Climate Change (DECC) recently reported that the UK is now a net importer of petroleum products, after the closure of refineries and increased competition.

The DECC said: ‘Crude oil import dependence has been on an increasing trend as the production from the UK Continental Shelf continues to decline’.

The Office for Budget Responsibility last week downgraded its forecast for North Sea oil and gas tax receipts by a further £3 billion for 2014/15.

Workplace music ‘good for staff morale’, say SMEs

27 Mar 2014

More than three-quarters of small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) believe that listening to music in the workplace has a positive impact on the working environment, new research suggests.

In a survey by the music licensing organisations PPL and PRS, 77% of the 1,008 business owners questioned claimed that music improved staff morale, while 65% said it boosted productivity.

Furthermore, 40% of participants believe that playing music can increase sales or results for the business.

‘We know that playing music has huge benefits and we are keen for as many business owners as possible to understand how cost effective and beneficial playing music can be,’ said Christine Geissmar, Director of Operations at PPL.

‘We are encouraging businesses to contact us to find out more about how they can enjoy the benefits of music while being legally compliant.’

Meanwhile, psychologist Dr Vicky Williamson commented: ‘Music positively influences consumer mood/emotional states through psycho-physiological reactions and autobiographical memory associations.

‘Silence by comparison can be intrusive, as it throws unwelcome attention on the consumers’ behaviour’.

Treasury plans to sell Lloyds Bank stake for £4bn

27 Mar 2014

The Government has announced the largest sale of its Lloyds Banking Group shares since the public buyout in 2008.

Just over a 40% stake was acquired at that time, with a 7.5% stake now authorised to be sold for an estimated £4.2 bn.

This is the second sale of Lloyds stock that the Government has undertaken, having raised £3.2bn with a sale of 6% in September 2013. The investment banks involved have said they will waive their normal fees as before.

Antonio Horta-Osorio, chief executive of Lloyds Banking Group, said: ‘I am pleased that the Government intends to sell a further stake in Lloyds Banking Group and allow taxpayers to get more of their money back. I believe this reflects the hard work undertaken over the last three years to make Lloyds a safe and profitable bank that is focused on helping Britain prosper’.

A Treasury spokesman said: ‘Getting the best value for the taxpayer, maximising support for the economy and restoring private ownership. The Government will only conclude a sale if these objectives are met’.

Ofgem queries energy retail profits

The Competition and Markets Authority has been asked to decide ‘once and for all’ whether profit rises for energy suppliers are due to lack of competition.

Centrica, SSE, RWE, npower, E.ON, Scottish Energy and EDF Energy control 95% of the retail supply.

Ofgem reported that the ‘big six’ profits had risen from £233m in 2009 to £1.1bn in 2012. It said there was ‘no clear evidence of suppliers becoming more efficient in reducing their own costs.

‘Further evidence would be required to determine whether firms have had the opportunity to earn excess profits’.

It also said there was evidence of ‘possible tacit coordination reflected in the timing and size of price announcements’. This reduces competition, which can worsen the deal for consumers. There is also ‘new evidence that prices rise faster when costs rise than they reduce when costs fall’.

In a recent announcement, energy company SSE said it would not increase its prices for five million customers until 2016.

Concerns over pension irresponsibility`

25 Mar 2014

Relaxed rules for pension annuities – the most radical changes since 1921 – have been questioned by many since the Budget speech.

The concerns were raised about giving pensioners greater control over their pension pots, meaning some could overspend early in retirement and therefore run out of funds. There is also a risk that released capital may make them liable for greater care home fees.

However, the Work and Pensions Secretary, Ian Duncan Smith, said recently: ‘Why would somebody who has made all the effort over the years putting money aside, both in terms of their paying of national insurance and saving on top of that for a retirement income, why would they suddenly want to go out and just behave irresponsibly, having behaved responsibly all their lives?

The changes were also welcomed by Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, Rachel Reeves. ‘I think we can trust these people to make sensible decisions on how they want to use their money in retirement’.