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Publishing

PRESS DIGEST - British business - Feb 15

The Mail on Sunday

TESCO GOES SHOPPING FOR THE TRENDIEST DESIGNERS

TescoTSCO.L is attempting to woo some of Europe's trendiest labels for the relaunch of its website in the autumn. Jon Bennett, the group's head of menswear buying, was caught with his team at Bread & Butter, the fashion trade show, in Barcelona. Brands such as G-Star and Superdry use the exhibition to show off their latest looks -- often only to selected buyers in private. A source said: "For some, this will be very tempting, but many feel that striking a deal with Tesco might damage their credibility."

BA STAFF FACE WALSH’S ICY BLAST

Willie Walsh, the boss of British AirwaysBAY.L, has launched an extraordinary attack on his employees for restrictive working practices. In a staff magazine article, that started by praising the workforce for their efforts during the recent blizzards, Walsh said: "The disruption served to highlight the restrictive nature of some of our work practices, which hampered our ability to operate flights and recover customers and aircraft that were forced to divert." Neither BA nor the unions could identify the practices he was referring to, raising renewed concerns that he is out of touch.

BRITISH GAS BOSS: ‘I’M SORRY’

Phil Bentley, the head of British GasCNA.L, has sent a personal apology to a customer who was hounded by the company for money she did not have for eight months. Lisa Ferguson sued for harassment, seeking 10,000 pounds in damages for distress, financial loss and anxiety. British Gas tried to stop her taking the case to court for two years, eventually going to the Court of Appeal. However, last week the court gave her permission to take the case to trial. The group revealed it had settled with Ferguson, who had run up 35,000 pounds in legal bills as she battled with the gas giant.

The Sunday Times

FRESH RICHES SPROUT FOR FRY

Stephen Fry has sold a 25 percent stake in Sprout, his production firm, to BBC Worldwide, the BBC's commercial arm, in a deal that values it at up to five million pounds. Fry said: "This was the right time and it was the perfect fit." Worldwide will take over programme distribution and DVD sales for Sprout, which makes Stephen Fry in America and ITV1ITV.L legal drama Kingdom. Wayne Garvie, Worldwide's managing director, said: "We are a distributor and this is about securing content for the long term."

LAND SECS JOINS QUEUE FOR FUNDS

Land SecuritiesLAND.L, the largest listed property company in Britain, is just days away from announcing a deeply discounted rights issue to restore its battered balance sheet. The group is in the final stages of approving a cash call, which is expected to raise between 500 million pounds and 750 million pounds. According to City sources, a final decision on how much money will be raised and when to proceed has still to be taken.

SHOE CHAIN CHIEF PLANNING TO BUY BACK 200 STORES

The chairman of Stylo, Michael Ziff, was working up a detailed plan on Saturday night to buy back up to 200 of its 380 stores, in a move that could safeguard approximately 3,000 jobs. Sources say Ziff was in detailed talks with administrator Deloitte this weekend, and that his plan had been codenamed Project Mitch. He is a strong favourite to buy back parts of the business among a handful of seriously interested buyers. Meanwhile, sportswear chain JJB Sports is set to formally place its Lifestyle division into administration this week at the cost of 270 full-time and 530 part-time jobs.

The Sunday Telegraph

ITV POISED TO BID FAREWELL TO FRIENDS

This weekend, ITVITV.L is contemplating the sale of Friends Reunited, the social networking operation, and other digital assets as part of a major cost-cutting drive. The largest commercial broadcaster in Britain is examining the plans ahead of its full-year results on March 4, when it is likely to announce fresh proposals to help it weather an expected downturn in advertising. ITV is also set to make 500 redundancies as it looks for ways to save funds.

SMITH AND SPENCER EYE HOARE GOVETT

Numis and Collins StewartCLST.L have made rival approaches to prise corporate broker Hoare Govett from the clutches of Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS)RBS.L. It is understood that the chief executive of RBS, Stephen Hester, has informed Hoare Govett's suitors that the division is not for sale ahead of the outcome of a strategic review of the bank's operations, which will be announced alongside its annual results later this month. Hester's review will see the group exit a number of countries and business activities, although it was unclear this weekend how committed RBS remains to its investment banking businesses.

SINGAPORE QUEUES FOR LONDON BUSES

Transport group National ExpressNEX.L has been holding detailed negotiations about the sale of its London bus operations to ComfortDelGro, one of Singapore's largest firms. It is understood that ComfortDelGro has approached National Express regarding a deal that would value the division at roughly 50 million pounds. According to those close to the talks, they had been discontinued in recent weeks but could be revived as part of a review of National Express's portfolio of assets.

The Independent on Sunday

PEARSON TIPPED TO BID FOR ESPRESSO AS SALE PERCOLATES AT.

Online education group Espresso, which it part owned by ITN and Channel 4, is set to go on sale by the end of the month. PricewaterhouseCoopers has been hired to handle the sale and is applying the finishing touches to an information memorandum to potential bidders. According to a source, PearsonPSON.L would be one of the favourites for the group, although it is unlikely to fetch the 70 million pounds mooted last year.

CUT-PRICE DESIGNER SHOPPING SUITS YOU, SIR

Chic retail centre Kildare Village, which offers designer clothes at half price, is booming because of “guilt-free” shopping. Scott Malkin, head of owner Value Retail, claims the downturn is making the west of Dublin-based retail centre more attractive than ever to shoppers. Malkin said: “This is where people come to do their guilt-free shopping. Women who paid hundreds of pounds for a Dior dress in Bond street can come here and get it for half that or even lower.”

REPORT ON METRONET COLLAPSE TO ARRIVE LATE.

The National Audit Office (NAO) will release its report on failed London Underground engineering group Metronet by Easter - up to four months behind schedule. Metronet fell into administration in July 2007 and it is understood the report’s authors are divided over who was at fault for the collapse. An NAO spokesman commented: “We are hoping to get the report out by the Easter parliamentary recess. This is an authoritative account and that does take time to get together.”

The Observer

‘DOOMSDAY’ PLAN TO RENATIONALISE BT

It is believed that the Government has drawn up a contingency plan that would see BTBT.L being renationalised, should the company get into financial difficulty, due to the public purse's exposure to the group's massive pension scheme. Government advisors say a wholesale takeover of the telecoms giant would be a more efficient use of public funds than supporting a refinancing or third-party buyout. This is because the Government has guaranteed the payouts of 262,000 BT pensioners whose employment began when the company was state-owned.

UK’S RICHEST LANDOWNER HIT BY SLUMP

The Duke of Westminster, the wealthiest landowner in Britain, is in advanced negotiations with his bankers to prevent Grosvenor, his two billion pound property fund business, breaching banking covenants. The group confirmed that it was in talks, but denied it had failed to heed warnings from its investors, and rejected suggestions that banks could step in to seize assets. Mervyn Howard, head of Grosvenor’s UK fund management business, said: “We report quarterly to investors and at the end of the second quarter of 2007 we alerted them to the level of debt.”

TRAVEL FIRMS SELL HOLIDAYS TO BLACKLISTED BURMESE RESORTS

Over a dozen British tour operators are defying a European Union blacklist to sell holiday packages to Burma in resorts owned by individuals with strong links to the repressive military junta. The director of Tourism Concern, Tricia Barnett, said: “It is the responsibility of tour operators to ensure that they do not provide financial benefits to the military dictatorship. The best way to do this is to stop trading with Burma.”

Prepared for Reuters by Durrants

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