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Wednesday's Business and Politics round-up

15 Aug 2018

Commuters reading daily news on their journey to workGood morning,

A search operation is underway following the collapse of a motorway bridge yesterday in Northern Italy.

At least thirty five people are believed to have died in the incident in Genoa, which saw one of the bridge's support towers give way amid a thunderstorm. The cause of the event is as yet unclear.

Meanwhile, also dominating today's front pages is the news that police have reportedly carried out raids in Nottingham and Birmingham, in the aftermath of a car crash outside the Houses of Parliament yesterday being treated as a terrorist incident by Scotland Yard.

The car involved travelled from Birmingham the night before the attack yesterday morning, in which three people were injured.


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Homebase's under the hammer

Up to 1500 jobs could be lost, with DIY retailer Homebase unveiling plans to close 42 stores across the country.

The firm, which currently runs 240 outlets, is seeking to carry out the closures through a "Company Voluntary Arrangement" (CVA), and now awaits a green light from landlords and creditors. Homebase stated that "every effort will be made to redeploy team members within the business where possible."

Chief Exec Damian McLoughlin said that "the reality is we need to continue to take decisive action to address the underperformance of the business and deal with the burden of our cost base, as well as to protect thousands of jobs."

The company had faced issues after former owners Wesfarmers attempted to rebrand stores and introduce products from Australia, where Wesfarmers owns several large retailers. Homebase was sold earlier this year to Hilco Capital for the sum of £1.

The company's struggles also reflect wider challenges faced by the retailer market, which have seen firms including Toys R Us and Maplin fall into administration.

Hunting ground 

The UK's Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt has embarked on a second tour of cities on the continent, seeking a "change in approach" from the European Commission as concerns over the possibility of a 'no deal' scenario rise.

Hunt will spend three days meeting counterparts in the Netherlands, Denmark, Latvia, and Finland. The excursion has been viewed as marking a step up in the role of the foreign office since Hunt replaced Boris Johnson in the department.

In his two years as Foreign Secretary, Johnson made two foreign visits focussing on Brexit, while Hunt has reached this tally in a matter of weeks. One diplomat told the Financial Times that Hunt is "credible, liked and useful. Boris was not. In terms of credibility, we've shot up".

However, officials have suggested that the expanded role was due to a change in strategy, not personnel, as the Cabinet looks to engage European countries directly on Brexit.

Late last month, Hunt made a faux pas in his role. Whilst meeting with Chinese diplomats, he got the nationality of his own wife wrong.

Just the jobs

The UK's level of unemployment reached its lowest point since 1975, latest official figures revealed yesterday.

The data, from the Office for National Statistics, showed that joblessness dipped to 4%, with 124,000 fewer unemployed people than a year earlier. Meanwhile, productivity rose by 0.4%.

However, the figures also found that real wage growth slowed slightly, by a tenth of a percentage point, meaning that pay from April to June increased by 0.4%.

Comments from analysts reflected this double-edged sword, with Senior Economist at the Institute of Directors Tej Parikh saying firms' desire to "create new positions is without doubt a sign of strength in the face of unprecedented economic uncertainty."

Parikh nonetheless noted, "Many businesses are still struggling to find the margins to notably boost salaries given sky-high business rates, the rise in national living wage, and subdued productivity growth."

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