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Crossrail opening stalled until 2020, to spill budget by £3 billion

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Crossrail

The opening of Crossrail is to be delayed yet again. The Transport for London (TFL) admits the new £15-billion rail link will not start in autumn 2019 as per the plan, and cost up to £3 billion more than its budget.

The news follows a shock announcement made in August by TFL this year that the project would be delayed by 9 months, as more work requires to be done. The project will connect stations West Drayton and Hayes to Canary Wharf and beyond.

The Crossrail also known as the Elizabeth line, is a very controversial project due to its delays, safety and funding.

The Crossrail railway got parliamentary approval in July 2008, and services were originally due to begin in 2017. However, a decision was made in October 2010 that it will start in December 2018. Later, due to some reasons it was delayed again until autumn 2019.

In 2007, Crossrail budget was set at £15.9 billion, but Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government cut it down to £14.8 million in 2010. In July 2018, it was announced that more money, around £600 million, is required to complete the project. But the money was not sufficient to complete it and project is delayed again, which will cost the government around £3 billion.

A construction worker named Rene Tkacik, 44, working on the project, died after falling wet into concrete in March 2014. Two other men were also injured in separate incidents in January 2015. An investigation conducted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) accused three companies, Bam, Ferrovial and Kier (BFK), for not taking simple precautions.

On Monday, it was announced that the contractors working on the project were fined more than £1 million in July 2017 over the death of a worker and two other incidents.

The final cost of the rail is yet to be confirmed. A contract of up to £750 million has been agreed between TFL and the government in the form of a loan facility to reach the expected outcome at the earliest.

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Financial Regulators: Vulnerable Customers Must Be Dealt with Care

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Financial Regulators

Debt, often deemed as the cheapest and best source of finance, is reportedly creating problems for the common people. Therefore, keeping in mind the scenario financial regulators have urged the debt collection firms to improve the way they deal with vulnerable customers.

Nearly 32% of the complaints dealt with by the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS) in 2018 relating to debt collection were upheld in consumers’ favor. However, uphold rates on some issues with debt collection were higher. As a reference, more than 54% of the complaints on the breaches of confidentiality were upheld.

The figures clearly show that a lack of empathy and flexibility in the proceedings is a major contributor to the problems of vulnerable customers.

Caroline Wayman, chief ombudsman and chief executive of the Financial Ombudsman Service said: “In the past three years we have investigated thousands of complaints from consumers about debt collection companies. These complaints cover a wide range of issues, including aggressive customer service tactics, disputes about the size of the debt, breaches of confidentiality and failure to carry out instructions.” She added, “we have seen cases where a lack of empathy or flexibility from businesses can create more problems for people who are struggling, and who may be in vulnerable circumstances.”

According to the stats, FOS handled around 3,300 inquires about debt collection and received more than 1000 complaints for investigation. These included cover credit and consumer loans, such as mortgages, credit cards, and personal or business loans.

The issues, therefore, created a ruckus and left the customers exposed to unexpected situations. Also, of the total complaints looked into by the FOS, one in five were about whether the consumer was charged the right amount of money or not. One in seven complaints were about service related issues and another 13% where the customer told the service that the debt being asked for did not belong to them.

Consumers of debt are often attracted towards it following the price at which it is available. Besides, even businesses made the situation difficult for consumers who took money, but were unable to return it, in terms of how much money they were willing to accept last year.

“We would encourage anyone who has a dispute with a debt collection company to contact us, ” Wayman said. Further explaining, “In our research we did see examples of good practice from companies, and we would encourage all debt collection companies to learn from and follow industry good practice.”

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Post the Rejection of Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement, Pound Surges

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The Pound

Following the defeat of Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit withdrawal agreement, the pound witnessed a surge on Tuesday.

May’s Brexit deal was rejected by 230 votes – one of the largest defeats for a sitting government in the history, with MPs voting 432 votes to 202 to reject the deal.

Opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has called in a vote of no confidence in the government that could result in a general election. The vote is to be held at 7pm Wednesday.

MPs are expected to debate the no confidence motion called in by the opposition, for around six hours after May’s questions at noon. Corbyn said it would allow the House of Commons to “give its verdict on the sheer incompetence of this government”.

The pound raised more than a cent to stand above $1.28 after the vote on the withdrawal agreement. It was last trading at $1.2871, up 0.06 percent on the day.

The pound rallied up 0.5 percent against the euro at 88.7 pence.

The rejection came as a huge blow to the Prime Minister, who had spent more than two years negotiating a deal with the European Union. The defeat was much more than what was anticipated in the market. The pound surge is based on the market expectations that the vote defeat will now push lawmakers to look for alternate options.

Amidst the growing uncertainty in the financial market, investors have been urged by UBS Global Wealth Management to limit their exposure to UK assets as the market is still vulnerable to political volatility.

‘I think the market’s take on (this defeat) is that it ups the probability of a soft Brexit ultimately evolving after a no-confidence vote,’ said Alan Ruskin, global head of currency strategy at Deutsche Bank in New York.

Following the vote, UK economist Dean Turner said, Market volatility will not subside until a concrete conclusion to the process emerges.

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No Deal Brexit will Spell Gloom for UK Wine Industry

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No deal Brexit

While the Britain economy is about to become independent of the European Union, several industries in the country are fretful about a no deal Brexit. The UK wine industry, in particular, is having major concerns regarding the UK leaving the bloc with no deal, as well as the budget that penalised wine.

The Wine and Spirit Trade Association (WSTA) met with the Treasury Minister Robert Jenrick to discuss the issues over no deal Brexit fears and duty hikes.

During the November Budget, the Chancellor brought a good news for the spirit makers, as he froze duty. However, wine was unfairly picked on for a 3.1 per cent RPI increase.

It is asserted that consumers will witness a rise in wine prices from February 1, 2019, when the duty increase will kick in. Estimates show that prices of an average priced bottle of wine will surge by a further 7p for still wine, 9p for sparkling and 9p for fortified wine. The estimations do not include VAT, which will further add 20 per cent to the increased prices.

The meeting between Jenrick and the WSTA senior team took place on Monday. The Treasury Minister was warned that the potential no deal Brexit combined with duty hikes will launch an austere situation for the wine importers, who are already under the burden of the dropped value of pound sterling.

Chief Executive of the WSTA, Miles Beale said, “I met Robert Jenrick and told him that Government’s decision actively to single out wine for an increase at October’s Budget was a bitter blow to UK wine importers, who have already been hit hard by the devaluation of the pound.”

“The UK wine industry has grave concerns over unfair duty rises, made worse by the prospect of a no deal Brexit,” he said.

Beale also said that the wine and spirit industry would back any government proposal, which would meet their requirements and also gain a majority in Parliament.

He also highlighted that only two options remain, including Theresa May’s current deal or a no deal Brexit, while the option of no Brexit is not on the table at all.

According to Beale, the lack of options is unacceptable for businesses, which are already striving to prepare themselves for the future.

“The clock is running down, the government is letting us down and on top of this has chosen to punish unfairly wine and wine consumers with a duty rise. It would be laughable if it weren’t so serious. And decisions should certainly not have been put off until January,” he said.

In comparison to other categories of alcoholic drinks, Britain has been harsh on wine since 2010, witnessing 39 per cent increase, while 27 per cent for spirits and only 16 per cent for beer.

Using an OBR modelling, the WSTA team highlighted to Jenrick that the major trade concerns forecasted by Treasury are based on flawed numbers, ignoring the impact of price increases on consumer behaviour.

Before the referendum on Brexit, an average priced wine bottle was sold at £5.40 in the UK, which according to the WSTA market report has reached £5.73.

While the fears of no deal Brexit still remain, it has already been estimated that the wine prices are likely to rise again, owing to the wine duty increase in February 1, 2019.

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