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Business

John Lewis closes eight stores with expected loss of 1,300 jobs

John Lewis is permanently closing eight of its 50 stores, including major outlets in Birmingham and Watford, with the likely loss of 1,300 jobs.

All four of the group’s smaller At Home stores, in Croydon, Newbury, Swindon and Tamworth, are to close as well as two outlets in travel hubs at Heathrow and St Pancras station in London.

Major UK job cuts announced so far

The coronavirus lockdown has prompted some of the UK’s most prominent companies to announce large-scale job losses. The aviation, automotive and retail sectors have been among the worst hit, as businesses adjust to dramatically reduced revenue projections.

While the government’s job retention scheme has so far protected millions of jobs, fears are mounting that unemployment will rise as the scheme begins to be phased out from August.

Since lockdown began on 23 March, some of the UK’s largest companies have announced plans to cut a total of 60,000 jobs globally, many of which will fall in the UK.

Rolls-Royce – 9,000 jobs
The jet-engine manufacturer has confirmed that 3,000 job cuts, of a planned 9,000 worldwide, will be made in the UK. In May Rolls-Royce said it would make the first round of redundancies through a voluntary programme, with about 1,500 posts being lost at its headquarters in Derby, as well as 700 redundancies in Inchinnan, near Glasgow, another 200 at its Barnoldswick site in Lancashire, and 175 in Solihull, Warwickshire.

BP- 10,000 jobs
The oil company said in June it plans to make 10,000 people redundant worldwide, including an estimated 2,000 in the UK, by the end of the year. The BP chief executive, Bernard Looney, said that the majority of people affected would be those in office-based jobs, including at the most senior levels. BP said it would reduce the number of group leaders by a third, and protect the “frontline” of the company, in its operations.

Centrica- 5,000 jobs
The owner of British Gas announced in June that it intends to cut 5,000 jobs, mostly senior roles, and remove three layers of management, in a bid to simplify the structure of its business. The energy firm has a total workforce of 27,000, of whom 20,000 are in the UK.

Bentley- 1,000 jobs
The luxury carmaker intends to shrink its workforce by almost a quarter, slashing 1,000 roles through a voluntary redundancy scheme. The majority of Bentley’s 4,200 workers are based in Crewe in Cheshire.

Aston Martin Lagonda – 500 jobs
The Warwickshire-based luxury car manufacturer has announced 500 redundancies.

British Airways – 12,000 jobs
The UK flag carrier is holding consultations to make up to 12,000 of its staff redundant, a reduction of one in four jobs at the airline. BA intends to cut roles among its cabin crew, pilots and ground staff, while significantly reducing its operations at Gatwick airport.

Virgin Atlantic – 3,000-plus jobs
Richard Branson’s airline is to cut more than 3,000 jobs, more than a third of its workforce, and will shut its operations at Gatwick.

EasyJet – 4,500 jobs
The airline has announced plans to cut 4,500 employees, or 30% of its workforce.

Ryanair – 3,000 jobs
The Irish airline intends to slash 3,000 roles and reduce staff pay by up to a fifth.

Aer Lingus – 900 jobs
The Irish airline, part of International Airlines Group (IAG) plans to cut 900 jobs.

P&O Ferries – 1,100 jobs
The shipping firm intends to cut more than a quarter of its workforce, a loss of 1,100 jobs. The company, which operates passenger ferries between Dover and Calais, and across the Irish Sea, as well as Hull to Rotterdam and Zeebrugge, will initially offer employees voluntary redundancy.

JCB – 950 jobs
Digger maker JCB said in May up to 950 jobs are at risk after demand for its machines halved due to the coronavirus shutdown.

Ovo Energy – 2,600 jobs
Britain’s second biggest energy supplier announced in May it planned to cut 2,600 jobs and close offices after the lockdown saw more of its customer service move online.

Johnson Matthey – 2,500 jobs
The chemicals company said in June it is planning to make 2,500 redundancies worldwide over the next three years. The move will affect 17% of the workforce at the firm, which is a major supplier of material for catalytic converters.

Bombardier – 600 jobs
The Canadian plane maker will cut 600 jobs in Northern Ireland, as part of 2,500 redundancies announced in June.

The Restaurant Group – 1,500 jobs
The owner of Tex-Mex dining chain Chiquito, and other brands including Wagamama and Frankie & Benny’s, said in March that most branches of Chiquito and all 11 of its Food & Fuel pubs would not reopen after the lockdown, leading to the loss of 1,500 jobs.

Monsoon Accessorize – 345 jobs
The fashion brands were bought out of administration by their founder, Peter Simon, in June, in a deal which saw 35 stores close permanently and led to the loss of 545 jobs.

Clarks – 900 jobs
Clarks plans to cut 900 office jobs worldwide as part of a wider turnaround strategy

Oasis and Warehouse – 1,800 jobs
The fashion brands were bought out of administration by restructuring firm Hilco in April, in a deal which led to the permanently closure of all of their stores and the loss of more than 1,800 jobs.

Debenhams – 4,000 jobs
At least 4,000 jobs will be lost at Debenhams as a result of restructuring, following its collapse into administration in April, for the second time in a year.

Mulberry – 470 jobs
The luxury fashion and accessories brand said in June it is to cut 25% of its global workforce and has started a consultation with the 470 staff at risk.

Jaguar Land Rover – 1,100 jobs
The car firm is to cut 1,100 contract workers at manufacturing plants the UK, potentially affecting factories at Halewood on Merseyside and Solihull and Castle Bromwich in the West Midlands.

Travis Perkins – 2,500 jobs
The builders’ merchant is cutting 2,500 jobs in the UK, accounting for almost a 10th of its 30,000-strong workforce. The company, which is behind DIY retailer Wickes and Toolstation, said the job losses will affect staff in areas including distribution, administrative roles and sales. The move will also affect staff across 165 stores that are now earmarked for closure.

Swissport – 4,500 jobs
Swissport, which handles services such as passenger baggage and cargo for airlines has began a consultation process that is expected to result in 4,556 workers being made redundant, more than half of its 8,500 UK workforce.

Royal Mail – 2,000 jobs
Royal Mail has announced a cost-cutting plan that will involve slashing about 2,000 jobs. One in five of its near-10,000 management roles will go by March 2021, in areas including IT, finance, marketing and sales. The company’s 90,000 postal workers would not be affected by the cuts.

SSP Group – 5,000 jobs
The owner of Upper Crust and Caffè Ritazza is to axe 5,000 jobs, which represents about half of its workforce. The cuts will have an impact on staff at its head office and across its UK operations. It follows a dramatic fall in domestic and international travel, which has hit the company’s sites based at railway stations and airports.

Accenture – 900 jobs 
The consultancy firm is reduces costs in the face of lower demand for its services. The New York-listed company employs 11,000 people in offices across the UK including in Aberdeen, London and Cambridge. The UK job cuts will be at all levels, including managing directors, and across all parts of the business.

Harrods – 700 jobs
The department store group is cutting one in seven of its 4,800 employees due to the “ongoing impacts” of the pandemic. The Harrods chief executive, Michael Ward, blamed the cuts on social distancing and a lack of tourists.

Airbus – 1,700 jobs
The European planemaker announced plans this week to cut 1,700 jobs in the UK as it warned the coronavirus pandemic had triggered the “gravest crisis” in its history.

John Lewis said the eight shops were already “financially challenged” before the coronavirus crisis and the pandemic had accelerated the switch from shopping in-store to online. “Before the virus struck, 40% of John Lewis sales were online. This could now be closer to 60% to 70% of total sales this year and next,” the company said in a statement.

The job losses come after the announcement of nearly 9,000 high street job cuts last week, after a swathe of redundancies at retailers ranging from Harrods to Topshop owner Arcadia group and SSP, the company behind hundreds of railway and airport eateries. A further 2,000 are at risk at Poundstretcher which has warned it could close half its estate if landlords do not agree to rent cuts.

Sharon White, the chairman of the department stores’ parent group – the John Lewis Partnership, which is owned by its staff who are known as partners – said: “Closing a shop is always incredibly difficult and today’s announcement will come as very sad news to customers and partners.

“However, we believe closures are necessary to help us secure the sustainability of the partnership – and continue to meet the needs of our customers and wherever they want to shop. Redundancies are always an absolute last resort and we will do everything we can to keep as many partners as possible within our business.

“There are many reasons to be optimistic about the Partnership’s future. Waitrose and John Lewis are two of the UK’s most loved and trusted brands and we have adapted to the challenges of the pandemic by responding to the new needs of customers. We will soon announce the output of our strategic review which will ensure our brands stay relevant for future generations of customers.”

On Thursday, John Lewis also confirmed that nine shops closed because of the coronavirus lockdown would reopen on 30 July. They are: Aberdeen, Ashford, Brent Cross, Chichester, Oxford, Peterborough, Reading, Sheffield and White City Westfield. Leicester will also reopen when the local lockdown for the city is lifted, taking the total number of reopened John Lewis shops to 42.

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Business

Energy watchdog unveils £25bn green investment and plan to cut household bills

Household energy bills will drop by £20 a year after the UK energy watchdog unveiled a £25bn green investment plan meant to improve Britain’s energy infrastructure.

Ofgem said the five-year investment programme will cover repair and maintenance costs for existing gas and electricity networks and support the growth of green energy. The regulator said it would also aim to keep costs low for consumers, by cutting the amount of money usually pocketed by utilities and their shareholders.

The proposals will involve halving the rate of return for network companies to 3.95% – its lowest rate ever – allowing income from consumer bills to help pay for improvements instead.

The watchdog said it would also cut more than £8bn from company spending plans by setting more ambitious efficiency targets and blocking costs that it said firms have not justified as delivering value for consumers. “It is now up to the companies to come back and provide more robust evidence on why this expenditure is needed,” Ofgem said.

The package is meant to save £3.3bn in company expenditure from being passed on to customers between 2021 and 2026. Energy bills are expected to drop by £20 a household in 2021, though the long-term reduction in bills could drop to £10 a year depending on how much is spent on additional green energy projects over the next five years.

Ofgem’s chief executive, Jonathan Brearley, said: “We are striking a fair deal for consumers, cutting returns to the network companies to an unprecedented low level while making room for around £25bn of investment needed to drive a clean, green and resilient recovery.

“Now more than ever, we need to make sure that every pound on consumers’ bills goes further. Less of your money will go towards company shareholders, and more into improving the network to power the economy and to fight climate change.”

About £3bn of the £25bn in upfront funding will be used to connect green electricity sources and upgrade the transmission grid, to make sure the network can cope with rising levels of renewable energy as part of the energy mix.

Ofgem said it could also make another £10bn available for emissions free energy and and infrastructure upgrades that aim to reduce carbon emissions and bring the UK closer to net zero carbon targets. That is on top of a £630m fund meant to drive research and development into “crucial” green energy projects.

“Ofgem will scrutinise every investment and only give the green light to measures that deliver decarbonisation at the lowest cost to consumers,” the regulator said.

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World News

Ivy League cancels football and other fall sports due to Covid-19

  • The Ivy Leagueofficially canceled fall athletic programs, including all football games, due to Covid-19.
  • The league previously became the first conference to cancel its men's and women's basketball tournament on March 10.

The Game has been been called off.

The Ivy League on Wednesday officially canceled fall athletics, including its football schedule, due to the continuing spread of Covid-19. In a statement, the league's Council of Presidents called the decision "extremely difficult." 

The eight-member Ivy league includes rivals Harvard and Yale, who play each other to end every season in what's known as The Game. The other schools in the conference are Princeton, University of Pennsylvania,Columbia,Brown, Cornell and Dartmouth. In football, the Ivy League is not one of the NCAA's main conferences and its teams do not compete for the playoffs.

"With the information available to us today regarding the continued spread of the virus, we simply do not believe we can create and maintain an environment for intercollegiate athletic competition that meets our requirements for safety and acceptable levels of risk, consistent with the policies that each of our schools is adopting as part of its reopening plans this fall," the league said. "We are entrusted to create and maintain an educational environment that is guided by health and safety considerations. There can be no greater responsibility — and that is the basis for this difficult decision."

Officials said student-athletes will still be allowed to practice and train using school facilities in "limited individual and small group workouts."  

The Ivy League will reevaluate when sports programs can resume by January 2021, and that could include a decision on starting a new football schedule in the spring. The move to cancel fall sports could pressure powerhouse conferences to reconsider their upcoming seasons, especially with football scheduled to start late next month.

Kevin Warren, commissioner of the Big Ten, told CNBC's "Power Lunch" in May that his conference would look to decide by this month on its fall sports schedule. 

"Even bigger than sports in the fall, we're collectively focusing on what we need to do school in the fall," Warren said at the time. "If we don't have school in the fall, we don't have sports in the fall. And so, we have a whole other level of issues that we're focusing on." 

The Ivy League became the first college conference to cancel its men's and women's basketball tournament on March 10, due to the pandemic. The NCAA then canceled its 2020 tournaments on March 12.

WATCH: Big Ten commissioner on the future of college sports amid the coronavirus pandemic

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World News

TikTok beefs up lobbying team as U.S. government scrutiny intensifies

  • TikTok is bulking up its lobbying team as the U.S. government tightens its oversight of the social media company, which is owned by Chinese firm Bytedance.
  • A number of public policy experts are starting with the company this week, including Michael Hacker, who previously worked as senior advisor to House Majority Whip James Clyburn, D-S.C.
  • Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and President Donald Trump have both said the U.S is "looking at" banning TikTok.

TikTok is bulking up its lobbying team as the U.S. government intensifies its oversight of the social media company, which is owned by Chinese firm Bytedance. 

The hires include people with deep experience in government and public policy. One of the new hires, Michael Hacker, confirmed the appointments. 

Starting this week in the company's public policy office are:

  • Hacker, who previously worked as senior advisor to House Majority Whip James Clyburn, D-S.C.
  • Michael Bloom, who last worked as senior vice president of the Internet Association
  • Carolyn Lowry, who worked as an associate in the public policy group at law firm K&L Gates
  • Dayo Simms, a privacy professional who last worked for Uber
  • Albert Calamug, a policy advisor with a track record in the defense and aerospace industry, including 20 years in the U.S. Marine Corps.

Kim Lipsky, who was staff director of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation until last July, joined earlier this summer.

They are joining on the heels of Michael Beckerman, former CEO of powerful lobbying group the Internet Association, who started at the company this spring.

"Michael Beckerman is a best-in-class government relations professional with more than 15 years experience," said Hacker, the former Clyburn advisor. "When he got the job, he asked me if I'd consider coming to help him."

The hiring spree comes as the TikTok app has enjoyed an explosion in popularity, particularly with adolescents and young adults who enjoy recording themselves doing choreographed dances and viral challenges. As Americans have been forced indoors by the pandemic, it has become the most downloaded app of the year.

With that growth comes scrutiny, particularly as politicians on both sides of the aisle are looking closely at all of technology companies' size, access to data and privacy protections. TikTok's Chinese ties have made it particularly vulnerable to such inquiries. 

Last year, the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States began an inquiry into the application over concerns Beijing could access its data and use it to threaten U.S. national security.

President Donald Trump told Gray TV's Greta Van Susteren that the administration is looking at banning TikTok, citing its size and his dissatisfaction with how China has handled the coronavirus.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo previously told Fox News that the U.S is "looking at" banning TikTok and other Chinese social media apps. On Wednesday, he told reporters the administration is looking broadly at technologies owned by foreign companies, rather than targeting one in particular.

The tough words come after Hong Kong announced a new law that grants the Chinese government sweeping powers, including tighter control over online content.

TikTok and other technology companies have announced plans to exit the Hong Kong market.

TikTok has previously said that U.S. user data is stored in the United States, with a backup in Singapore. The company also said that its data centers are located entirely outside of China, and none of its data is subject to Chinese law. 

— CNBC's Arjun Kharpal contributed to this report.

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Business

Stamp duty holiday may revive housing market, say experts

The suspension of stamp duty on property sales of up to £500,000 in England and Northern Ireland will revive the housing market, according to industry experts, as buyers and sellers emerge from the coronavirus lockdown.

The property website Rightmove said traffic to its listings jumped by 22% immediately after the chancellor confirmed the £3.8bn tax break, which takes place immediately, and estate agents said they expected the change to boost activity.

However, there were warnings from some in the housing industry that the move did little to address fundamental problems with the market, and could hamper first-time buyers by fuelling demand from buy-to-let investors.

The announcement in Rishi Sunak’s summer statement means that until 31 March 2021 buyers and movers will only face a bill for stamp duty – a tax levied on house buyers, set as a proportion of the house’s value – if they are spending more than £500,000 on a property.

The housing market was hit hard by the pandemic, with lockdown putting sales on hold and preventing work on many construction sites around the country.

The number of transactions was down by 50% in May, and the most recent house price report from mortgage lender Nationwide showed the first year-on-year fall since 2012.

Sunak told MPs the cut meant that nine in 10 of those buying their main home this year would not pay the tax.

Not mentioned in the statement was the fact that investors, and anyone buying a second home, would also benefit from the suspension of the main duty, and would pay only the additional homes surcharge when they buy.

Before Wednesday’s statement, first-time buyers in England and Northern Ireland paid stamp duty only if they were spending more than £300,000 on a home, while movers were taxed on all properties costing more than £125,000.

Like income tax, stamp duty is charged at different rates as the price hits different thresholds. The stamp duty holiday means that buyers will pay 5% on any part of their purchase that falls between £500,000 and £925,000; 10% on any part between £925,000 and £1.5m; and 12% above that.

Investors will pay between 3% and 15% more, depending on the price they are paying.

Dominic Agace, the chief executive of Winkworth estate agents, which has 100 branches in England, described the cut as a “tremendous fillip” for first-time buyers and movers.

“The move should also benefit people whose homes fall outside the threshold, as it will create a more active pipeline of buyers in the market,” he said.

Nick Leeming, the chairman of Jackson-Stops agency, said stamp duty had previously put off buyers from entering the market.

“Sunak’s stamp duty reform has come at the right time and will have an immediate impact on the volume of sales agreed in the coming weeks,” he said.

“There should be a flurry of fresh buyers entering the market imminently, with the hope of completing their transactions before the tax break comes to an end.”

Nitesh Patel, Yorkshire building society’s strategic economist, said he believed more homes would come on to the market as a result of the cut. But he said “likely to be a sticking plaster for the immediate issues around confidence in the housing market”, rather than a long-term solution.

“It might be better to consider reforming the entire stamp duty system so it accurately reflects today’s housing stock and pricing, as well as focusing on ensuring that the right types of homes are built in the areas which need them,” he said.

Others questioned whether the move was enough to improve confidence when there are so many uncertainties in the economy.

Tim Walford-Fitzgerald, private client partner at accountancy firm HW Fisher, said the reduction may not be enough to spark the confidence needed to take on long-term liability of a house purchase.

“There is more to consider – mortgage availability, rising house prices, economic growth and overall market confidence are critical factors and the chancellor should not forget that,” he added.

There was some surprise that the measures extended to help those buying a second home or investment property. The additional homes surcharge will still apply but investors stand to make savings as a result of the tax break.

Analysis by the property firm Hamptons International found that landlords would save an average £1,840 across England, and those buying in London would typically save £7,240.

Aneisha Beveridge, the head of research at Hamptons International, said other changes introduced in recent years meant landlords still needed to weigh up the profitability of their investment.

But the saving “might be enough to lure those investors teetering on the edge of whether to invest, particularly in London and the south”.

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World News

Stamp Duty changes 2020: How much is Stamp Duty?

The UK economy has been hit hard by the coronavirus crisis, with Chancellor Rishi Sunak announcing today it contracted by 25 percent in just two months. Mr Sunak said the UK faces “profound economic challenges” as a result of the pandemic, and unveiled a number of measures to help kick-start the economy after COVID-19 today (Wednesday, July 8).

What changes have been made to Stamp Duty?

Stamp Duty is a tax paid by anyone buying a property across the UK.

Stamp Duty rates differ slightly across UK nations, and first-time buyers do not pay any Stamp Duty on properties up to £300,000.

Mr Sunak announced on Wednesday the threshold on Stamp Duty will be immediately raised in England and Northern Ireland.

READ MORE

  • Budget 2020 summary: What has Rishi Sunak announced?

Until March 31, 2021, the threshold will be raised from £125,000 to £500,000.

This means anyone buying a property for less than £500,000 will not have to pay Stamp Duty during this period.

According to Mr Sunak, the average Stamp Duty bill will fall by £4,500 due to the changes.

This would mean nine out of 10 people buying a main home this year would pay no Stamp Duty at all.

What does the change in Stamp Duty mean for homebuyers?

Mr Sunak’s announcement on changes to Stamp Duty has been welcomed by many as a step in the right direction for the UK’s struggling property market.

For first time buyers looking to buy homes in London and the South East, the changes mean people will save considerably on any homes sold for more than £300,000 up to £500,000.

However, experts have pointed out the changes to Stamp Duty is not a fix-all solution to the current problems facing the market.

DON’T MISS: 

Stamp Duty cut: How long will Stamp Duty holiday last? – EXPLAINER
Stamp duty holiday: Rishi Sunak raises SDLT threshold in announcement – INSIGHT
Where you can find stamp duty calculators ahead of tomorrow’s changes – ANALYSIS

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  • Help to Buy ISA: The simple reason why savers could miss out on bonus

Many mortgage lenders have been asking for larger deposits than usual, above 10 percent, during the crisis.

MoneySavingExpert.com founder Martin Lewis warned on social media how Stamp Duty changes will not help with this trend.

He wrote: “That will help many, but not first time buyers with sub 10 percent deposits who simply will struggle to get mortgages.”

Mike Scott, Chief Property Analyst at Yopa estate agency, said the Stamp Duty holiday may not be “the best way to support the market”.

Mr Scott said: “Government support is needed to keep the housing market on its upwards trajectory.

“Estate agents across England have been back in business for nearly two months now and have bounced back from lockdown, but the First Time Buyer market in particular has been hindered by mortgage lenders tightening up their lending criteria and pulling back from lending more than 80 percent of the purchase price.

“However, a nine-month stamp duty holiday may not be the best way to support the market.

“Since Stamp Duty is payable upon completion, and it typically takes three or four months to go from agreeing a property purchase to completing it, many of the buyers who will be helped are already in the process of purchasing; a decision they made months ago and have fiscally accounted for.

“These buyers are already motivated and will effectively be getting a free handout from the Government.”

Mr Scott added estate agents would “rather have seen a longer-term Stamp Duty reduction that was phased out gradually rather than hitting a cliff-edge on one specific date”.

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China has set out to 'destroy the Hong Kong which has been so successful for decades,' city's last governor says

  • Hong Kong's last British governor spoke to CNBC on Tuesday, a week after Beijing implemented the Hong Kong national security bill.
  • Opponents of the law say it undermines the Hong Kong autonomy that was promised to the city when it was handed over from the U.K. to China. Hong Kong, a former British colony, returned to Chinese rule in 1997.

The last British governor of Hong Kong has accused the Chinese Communist Party of setting out to "destroy" the Chinese territory by implementing a national security law there.

"What the Chinese Communist Party in Beijing has set out to do is to destroy the Hong Kong which has been so successful for decades — one of the freest cities in the world and a great Asian financial hub, and they've done it in a traditional way," said Chris Patten, who was governor of Hong Hong until the former British colony returned to Chinese rule in 1997.

CNBC reached out to the Hong Kong government and the Communist Party of China for comment but has not heard back. However, the Beijing government says the law is aimed at prohibiting secession, subversion of state power, terrorism activities and foreign interference.

Patten was speaking to CNBC's Karen Tso and Julianna Tatelbaum on Tuesday, one week after Beijing passed and implemented the Hong Kong national security bill.

Opponents of the law, such as U.K. Foreign Minister Dominic Raab, say it undermines Hong Kong's autonomy that was promised when the special administrative region was handed over to China in 1997.

Under the "one country, two systems" policy, the territory has a largely separate legal and economic system from the mainland that reflects its British colonial heritage. That framework — known as the Basic Law of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People's Republic of China — was supposed to be in place until 2047.

Citing American sinologist Perry Link, Patten said that China's "rule by fear" rather than "rule of law" is like an anaconda in the chandelier — a metaphor referring to the power of self-censorship in China. "You never knew quite when it was going to drop but you knew there was always a danger of it dropping on you," Patten added.

Patten said it was a "comprehensive dismantling of the rule of law, the independence of the judiciary" in Hong Kong and "very bad news" for the city which depends on the rule of law and the freedom of information to be successful.

Mass protests

Since last year, Hong Kong has seen months of prolonged pro-democracy protests that sometimes turned violent, and injured both police and protesters.

The Hong Kong government has welcomed the new legislation as "both necessary and urgent" and said it will "restore stability in Hong Kong society as soon as possible."

Hong Kong should have set up a public inquiry to look into accusations of police brutality when handling the protests, said Patten.

Hong Kong's chief executive Carrie Lam has rejected the suggestion of a full inquiry into police handling of protests in the city. 

"I certainly do not feel that with all these established mechanisms in place we should subject our police forces — which is working day in and day out to protect Hong Kong from all these criminal offences — to subject them to another sort of investigation," Lam told CNBC in January this year.

Patten also said Hong Kong should not have introduced a now-scrapped extradition bill law in the first place, as it triggered massive protests for months last year.

Beijing introduced the new national security law for Hong Kong because the people of Hong Kong stand on the side of democracy, said Patten.

"The verdict of people in Hong Kong was clear in the district council elections in November — the Pan-Democrats pretty well swept the board," he said.

China's Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office of the State Council and Central Committee of Communist Party of China International Department did not immediately respond to CNBC's email seeking responses to Patten's statements.

— CNBC's Evelyn Cheng and Abigail Ng contributed to this report.

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Business

Novoic seeks a million volunteers to cough up and help curb Covid-19

The company, part of the Oxford Foundry enterprise accelerator set up by the university’s Saïd business school, is developing an app to enable the mass screening of people for the virus by analysing the patterns in their unique hacking sounds. Volunteers can record their “donations” on their smartphones and then send in the clips so Novoic can compile a cough bank to create a reliable test. Set for roll out next month, it will distinguish between the noise made by infected patients and those who are virus-free.

The app is intended for pre-screening to solve cheap, large-scale, remote testing

Novoic chief executive Emil Fristed

“The app is intended for pre-screening to solve cheap, large-scale, remote testing,” says Novoic chief executive Emil Fristed who co-founded the company in 2019 with chief technical officer Jack Weston.

“We already know that other respiratory conditions can be detected from cough patterns,” he explains. “Covid-19 affects the respiratory system in a unique way. To build accurate algorithms that work for everyone we need a lot of data.”

The app aims to overcome the drawbacks of current wet-lab-based tests unable to meet demand as they are relatively expensive, scarce and slow. In-person visits also increase the risk to members of the public and health personnel.

Novoic, which has set its sights on integrating the app with the NHS, is already known for technology that detects brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s by listening to speech patterns.

It is currently raising new funding after venture capital investment.

To donate to the cough bank visit https://novoic.com/covid-19, fill out a five-minute survey and share.

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Business

JD Sports warehouse in Rochdale hosts mobile Covid-19 lab after positive tests

A mobile testing lab has been set up at JD Sports’ central warehouse in Rochdale after a small number of workers there tested positive for coronavirus.

Rochdale borough council said it was investigating if there were any links between cases at the fashion retailer’s site which were identified through its local test-and-trace system after testing “as many employees as possible.”

Rochdale was identified as a hotspot for Covid-19 infections at the start of this month when new figures on local outbreaks emerged. While the rate of infection in the town was less than half that of Leicester, where a local lockdown has been imposed, the local council is keen to identify any potential centres of infection.

One local councillor has called for JD’s Rochdale site, known as Kingsway, to be closed down, according to local reports. However, it is understood that of nearly 500 people tested at JD from this weekend through the mobile lab, only one additional case has been identified so far.

Andrea Fallon, the council’s director of public health, said: “We are aware of a small number of positive cases at JD Sports who have been contacted as part of our local contact tracing service, and are now all self-isolating. Although the numbers are small and we are still working to understand if there are any possible links, we are taking a cautious approach and working closely with JD to bring in additional resource to offer testing to as many employees as possible.”

The council is understood to have made more than 10 visits to JD’s warehouse during the pandemic, several of which were unannounced. No problems with JD’s adherence to social distancing procedures were found on those visits. The council says it will take action against anyone found flouting the rules.

Callout

callout-coronavirus-testing

JD said it was aware that the number of positive tests for Covid-19 was above the national average in Rochdale and Oldham where many of its staff live.

A spokesman said: “Acknowledging our responsibilities as one of the largest employers in the area, we are pleased to be working with the NHS and the local council to provide a mobile NHS testing facility on site, with voluntary tests available for any colleagues who are looking for peace of mind. This testing facility has been made available as part of the council’s ongoing community initiatives in the Rochdale area, and will be available to colleagues on a number of days over the next two weeks. The health and safety of our colleagues is always our highest priority and we will continue to take all measures to protect their wellbeing.”

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Here's an exclusive look at the pitch deck Wagestream used to raise $25 million while working out of a garden shed

  • Fast-growing UK fintech startup Wagestream has raised £20 million ($25 million) in a fundraising led by Northzone. 
  • Wagestream lets employees draw down their wages early in exchange for a flat fee.
  • "It's probably not the ideal time to fundraise but we knew we could scale globally so went ahead because we need funds to do that," Wagestream founder and CEO Peter Briffett told Business Insider in an interview.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories. 

London fintech startup Wagestream Buzzy London fintech Wagestream has raised £20 million ($25 million) in a new round of funding.

The company works with employers to let employees draw down a percentage of their income in the month for a small, flat fee (£1.75 fee). It has raised the fresh Series B funding as it looks to expand beyond the UK market. 

During the coronavirus pandemic, the startup helped to onboard NHS trusts across the UK for free and also onboarded more than 50,000 furloughed workers since March. The startup works with more than 100 companies in the UK with a focus on the hospitality, healthcare, retail, and security industries.

"We've been adding NHS trusts and new, large clients every week during the past few months and expanded into Spain and the Netherlands," Wagestream founder and CEO Peter Briffett told Business Insider in an interview. "It's probably not the ideal time to fundraise but we knew we could scale globally so went ahead because we need funds to do that."

The US is the next destination for Wagestream which was founded in 2018.

The company has raised £65 million ($82 million) to date with early investors including the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, the London Co-investment Fund (LCIF), and Village Global — a VC fund backed by CEOs including Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos.

The entire fundraising process was done on video chat from a garden shed in Briffett's home. "I had to get WiFi installed in my shed because video calls kept cutting out from my teenage sons playing Fortnite," he added. 

Wagestream's fundraising was led by Northzone alongside QED Investors, Latitude Ventures and Balderton Capital. 

Check out Wagestream's redacted pitch deck below:


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