Making the News This Week – 10 May 2019

This is your weekly round-up of news from the media which impacts on the independent retail sector.

Scotland launches 20p deposit scheme for drinks cans and bottles

All of yesterday’s (Thursday’s) papers reported that consumers in Scotland will have to pay a 20p deposit on every bottle or drinks can they buy from shops under an ambitious new scheme unveiled by the Scottish government.

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The deposit return scheme, the first national scheme in the UK, will cover glass and plastic bottles, as well as aluminium and steel drinks cans, sold from any shop in Scotland.

It will cover single use bottles ranging from a 50ml whisky or vodka miniature to three-litre bottles of cider. Every can or bottle in a multipack of beer, water or cola will also attract the 20p charge.

Roseanna Cunningham, the Scottish environment secretary, said: “There is a global climate emergency and people across Scotland have been calling, rightly, for more ambition to tackle it and safeguard our planet for future generations.

She added that international evidence showed “a well-run, appropriately targeted scheme could improve the environment, change attitudes to recycling and litter, and support a more circular economy”.

Willie Mackenzie, an oceans campaigner for Greenpeace, said the measures were welcome and urged the UK government to follow suit in England and Wales. “Crucially, Scotland’s scheme will be far-reaching and include glass bottles, which is what the public supports and will drastically boost recycling collection rates,” he said.

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Brits could get huge minimum wage hike to £9.60 an hour under fresh plans

Most papers revealed that two million struggling Brits could get a huge hike to their pay packets under fresh plans being considered by the chancellor.

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Philip Hammond is said to be seriously considering pushing up the minimum wage again to help Britain’s lowest paid workers. One proposal could see the minimum wage hiked up to 66 per cent of average earnings – which would boost the rate to £9.61.

Hammond held meetings with the Trades Union Congress (TUC) last week to discuss the plans. One government source said: “The chancellor is very concerned about poverty and sees this as one avenue of tackling it.”

Last year it was estimated that 1.9 million jobs paid the minimum wage.

Labour has promised to hike it to £10 an hour by 2020. But there has been some criticism with experts worried that more rises would lead to job cuts as businesses had to rearrange their finances to pay for it.

Torsten Bell, director of the Resolution Foundation think tank, said: “It’s encouraging to see both the chancellor and shadow chancellor showing great ambition on how to raise the UK’s wage floor even further.

“This reflects just how successful the minimum wage has been – delivering big pay rises and boosting living standards for millions of low-paid workers.”

A Treasury spokesperson told the Sun: “Our ultimate objective is ending low pay, while ensuring that job opportunities are protected. The government has commissioned a review of the latest international evidence on the impact of minimum wages and will announce the independent Low Pay Commission’s remit at the end of this year.

“The chancellor and business secretary will be hosting a round table with a range of business bodies and trade unions to discuss how best to achieve our ambitious aims and improve lives and opportunities for the low paid.”

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Thugs branded ‘wild animals’ after stabbing shopkeeper and beating him with a crate

A gang of thugs were branded “a pack of wild animals” as they were filmed stabbing and beating a shopkeeper during a 15-minute raid on his shop, wrote the Daily Mirror.

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Atiq Ur-Rehman fearlessly attempted to fight off the gang but has been left permanently disfigured as a result of the brutal attack in Cumbernauld, Scotland.

Darren Timothy, 24, and two boys, aged 14 and 16, admitted to attempting to murder the father-of-one when they ransacked his shop for booze last December. Timothy was armed with a knife and a baseball bat, while the 16-year-old had a blade.

A fourth male, Kieran Ruddy, 20, admitted to assaulting and robbing the 40-year-old shopkeeper, who tried to pull Ruddy’s hood down in self-defence.

The High Court in Glasgow heard how the gang tried to conceal their faces when they entered the shop at 7.48pm. Timothy and the two teenagers – who cannot be named because they are under 18 – all admitted attempting to murder Atiq.

They struck him on the head and stabbed him with a knife, knelt on him and held him down while striking him with bottles and a crate. They also stamped on the dad causing severe injury and permanent disfigurement – as well as leaving his shop strewn with smashed bottles.

Prosecutor Angela Gray said the 16-year-old could be seen on CCTV striking Atiq with a knife and a broken bottle in the footage, while Timothy lashed out with a knife and baseball bat. Timothy and the 14-year-old hit their victim over the head with glass bottles. Ruddy was seen jumping the counter to grab alcohol before leaving. The court heard he had just been released on bail that day.

The brutal attack lasted several minutes with brave Atiq fighting off the gang to defend himself and his store.

When his attackers finally fled, the victim managed to trigger a panic alarm before being helped by a customer who came across the scene.

Atiq suffered three stab wounds near his kidneys as well as a head wound and a fractured shoulder. He was in hospital for five days and needed a blood transfusion.

The thugs stole booze from the shop in the 15-minute attack

Gray said: “The doctor treating Mr Rehman said if it were not for the medical treatment received, he could have died as a consequence of his injuries.”

Remanding all four in custody, ahead of sentencing next month, Lord Mulholland told them: “What I have just watched is outrageous, thuggish conduct from you all. You behaved like a pack of wild animals in your action towards this man who is doing nothing but serving the community on Christmas Eve.

“What you have subjected him to is nothing short of a disgrace.”

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FSA: Food outlets ‘should list all ingredients’ to avoid allergy deaths

The Daily Telegraph was one of the first newspapers to advise that the Food Standards Agency has said that retailers that prepare and package food to sell on-site should list all ingredients they use to avoid allergy deaths.

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The FSA will advise ministers that food outlets should place labels on products, which include a full list of ingredients with all 14 major allergens highlighted.

The proposed changes follow the death of Natasha Ednan-Laperouse, who died after eating a sandwich from Pret A Manger.

Currently, food prepared and sold on-site does not require warning labels about potential allergens because it is assumed that customers who require information will question staff.

The FSA board discussed options ranging from promoting best practice in the food industry to the mandatory labelling of allergens but decided to recommend that food outlets must label all food with a full list of ingredients, highlighting the 14 major allergens, including nuts, eggs and milk.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs will have the final say over whether new rules are introduced.

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Newspapers’ phone-hacking payouts could cost £1 billion

British newspaper publishers could be facing a total bill of around £1 billion as a result of phone-hacking, warned the i

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News UK, publisher of The Sun and now-defunct News of the World, has reportedly already paid out more than £400 million in combined settlements and legal costs since the phone-hacking scandal broke in 2011. The Sun made a loss of more than £90 million in the last financial year.

Reach, the publisher of the Mirror, is believed to have paid a total of £75 million to date.

However, the figures are projected to rise as more victims come forward and more settlements are reached.

Nathan Sparks of Hacked Off, which is representing victims, said: “More and more victims contact us each year. The total cost of the scandal could exceed £1 billion.

“The apparent willingness of the Mirror Group Newspapers and Sun owners News UK to settle cases at seemingly any price indicates a desperation to avoid having these claims heard in open court – which would expose multiple allegations of corporate wrongdoing and criminality to the public gaze.”

News UK and the Mirror Group declined to comment.

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Regional publisher to sell some or all of its newspapers

According to a report on Sky News, JPI Media is sounding out advisers about launching an auction of parts or all of the business.

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Prospective advisers are understood to have been interviewed in the last few weeks, with an appointment said to be imminent.

But JPI Media has responded to the speculation by saying “nothing has been decided”. The holdthefrontpage website said chief executive David King has moved to reassure staff at the company’s titles.

Sky News city editor Mark Kleinman advised: “City insiders said this weekend that the likeliest outcome was the sale of the i in one transaction, and the rest of the group in another.

“The likely valuations of the regional titles, which include the Yorkshire Post and Belfast Newsletter, is unclear but is expected to reflect the dwindling financial prospects of news outlets hurt by the shift towards online, often free, rivals.

“The strategic review will be closely watched by JPI Media’s roughly 2,000 staff, who endured an anxious period last November when the company was forced to call in administrators.”

In response to the story, King issued a memo to all staff in which he committed: “Nothing has been decided and there is no formal sale process underway. We are developing business plans for the group, and as part of this process we are working with advisers, to help us and our new owners assess those plans and opportunities.

“There is a lot going on in our industry, which continues to face tough challenges.”

JPI Media, which is made up of Johnston’s Press’s former debt holders, purchased the business in a so-called “pre-pack” deal in November after a brief period in administration.

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Ministers under pressure to raise age of criminal responsibility

Ministers are under pressure to raise the age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 14 to bring England and Wales in line with European and international counterparts, reported the Daily Telegraph.

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Britain’s official equalities and human rights watchdog said the age at which children in England and Wales can be arrested and charged should be “significantly raised,” potentially matching the continent where the average age is 14.

The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) is also expected later this year to recommend the internationally acceptable minimum age of criminal responsibility should be raised to 14.

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Government not doing enough to save the high street, select committee warns

According to the i, a select committee has concluded that the government has been ‘unwilling’ to overhaul business rates and give the high street a “fighting chance”.

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Clive Betts, chair of the Housing, Communities and Local Government Select Committee, said the government’s response to its report, High Streets and Town Centres in 2030, was ‘disappointing’.

“In too many areas they [the government] are unwilling to make the radical change required that reflects the realities of modern commerce, and gives shops on the high street a fighting chance,” he said. “The current taxation system places an unfair burden on high street businesses, particularly compared to those online.”

He called for a system that “spreads the tax burden fairly”.

“The government has too readily decided to stick to the status quo, rather than examining the range of radical options to the taxation system that we propose in order to save the high street which it simply dismisses as too challenging,” Betts continued.

His comments chime with those of CBI president, John Allan, who called on Wednesday for a reform of business rates, claiming the system is now ‘unsustainable’.

He said that business rates have been partly to blame for the spate of high street closures and complained that the government had only ‘tweaked’ the system in recent years. He added: “The more sticking plaster we add, the greater the signal that the system is broken and in need of a fundamental rethink.”

In the government’s response to the report it said it did not agree that business rates fall unfairly on high street retailers.

It referred to last year’s budget package which, in “recognising the pressures on retailers”, had cut business rates bills of retail properties with a rateable value below £51,000 by a third for the next two years as of April this year.

Financial secretary to the Treasury Mel Stride said: “Business rates help fund our vital public services and the local amenities and services that are so important to all of us.

“Following our review of business rates in 2016, we’re introducing reforms that will make the business rates system fairer and lower business rates bills by £13 billion over the next five years.”

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Cabinet minister ridiculed for claiming struggling high streets must shrink

A Sun exclusive claimed that the communities secretary had called on struggling high streets to become shorter to survive.

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James Brokenshire said councils had to accept that online was here to stay and hand over empty shops for housing in order to boost footfall for the shops that are left.

He said there was a limit to how much the government could do to help save high streets and said a lot was up to town halls.

Speaking to the Sun, Brokenshire called for “long sprawling high streets” to be “reinvigorated by creating more compact centres with more people living alongside and above shops”.

Setting out his vision for how to help high streets adapt, he suggested centres become the new ‘smart’ communities providing services people can’t do or get from their sofas. More GP surgeries, cafes, community theatres and community centres could be built to draw more people to the heart of town centres, the Cabinet minister said.

Brokenshire told The Sun: “The way we shop and the way we use our high streets is changing fundamentally. Britons are the world leaders in shopping online but these rapid changes in consumer behaviour come at a price and the great British high street is feeling the strain.

“Trying to turn the clock back and turn the tide against greater digital by default isn’t the answer. We need to rethink what our high streets can be at the heart of new smart communities.

“We need to get more people living in and around our town centres. We need to promote activities, services, experiences which connect people and which you just can’t do sitting at home.”

Brokenshire also criticised town halls for hitting motorists with sky-high parking fees – and suggested that had also had an impact on falling footfall.

And he made an appeal to Brits to do their own bit to save high streets with a new ‘think before you click’ attitude.

He said: “Next time you flip open the laptop or browse on your mobile for that new outfit for yourself or toys for the children or a special gift for a friend, think about taking a trip out to bag that bargain. It’s often only if you touch it, see it and try it that you’ll know it’s right for you.

“That’s what will continue to make our high streets special in providing experiences which shopping from the sofa can simply never do.”

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High street sales fail to move the dial

High street sales were stuck under a cloud last month, despite the glorious Easter weather, wrote The Times.

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Figures from the British Retail Consortium and KPMG showed retail sales up by 4.1 per cent this April against those from the same month the previous year, but analysts warned that the year-on-year comparison was distorted by a later Easter.

Compared with two years ago, they were up by 0.4 per cent — a more useful comparison, because Easter fell in April in 2017 and this year, but in March last year.

Record high temperatures led Britons to stock up on food for picnics and barbecues, but Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the BRC, attributed the disappointing overall performance in part to people pursuing recreational, rather than retail, activities.

She called on the government to review the costs it imposes on retailers, particularly business rates, which she claimed were stifling the fruits of technology investment.

Paul Martin, UK head of retail at KPMG, said: “April may have eased the strain on retailers somewhat, but we can’t overlook the fact that the new tax year also presents retailers with additional costs, ranging from increased minimum wages to additional pension contributions.”

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Fees for 101 police calls may be scrapped

Victims of crime may soon no longer have to pay to telephone the police after the Home Office announced it would review the charge for 101 calls, the Daily Telegraph advised.

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The move by home secretary Sajid Javid came as Vodafone, one of Britain’s biggest telecoms companies, became the first to declare it would scrap the charge for 101 non-emergency calls for millions of its customers.

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Campbell’s keen to cash in its chips with Kettle Foods

US food giant Campbell’s could sell posh crisp business Kettle Foods, as it seeks to raise funds in the wake of recent profit warnings, advised the i.

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It has hired Barclays to explore the sale of the business, which employs 500 people across two sites in Norfolk.

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Vapes power Imperial as tobacco wanes

The Evening Standard was the first paper to reveal that vaping brand Blu helped to boost half-year results from Imperial Brands, offsetting a further slide in tobacco volumes.

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The group’s next-generation products, which also include heated tobacco and oral nicotine, surged 245 per cent to £148 million in the six months to March 31.

It is estimated that global sales of vapour products are worth around £8 billion a year, potentially rising to £30 billion by 2020.

Imperial’s overall revenues were up 2.5 per cent to £3.6 billion in the half year. The group said an underlying decline of 4.5 per cent in tobacco volumes were in line with the industry.

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Walmart mulls Asda sale after botched tie-up

Asda is plotting a listing on the UK stock market following the collapse of its planned £12 billion merger with Sainsbury’s, the Daily Mail revealed.

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City sources said Walmart is exploring a float of Asda which would mark its return to the London Stock Exchange, 20 years after it was delisted.

There is speculation that Walmart is also exploring other options for Asda as well as a float, such as a sale.

Private equity firms and other potential bidders are understood to be circling the supermarket. Bargain chain B&M is among those touted as taking an interest.

Walmart, which bought Asda for £6.7 billion in 1999, is keen to make a swift exit from the UK and focus on running its core business in the US and growing in developing markets such as India.

Private equity firm KKR has been named as one of the frontrunners looking to make a grab for Asda. But analysts suggested that a takeover by private equity was unlikely to reap rewards for the buyer as there was no obvious exit route.

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