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1 Stop directors made millions

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1stopTHE PEMBROKESHIRE HERALD can reveal that 1 Stop Financial Services directors Timothy Hughes and Andrew Rees obtained massive incomes while mis-selling pensions products to nearly 2,000 customers across the UK.

Mr Hughes’ total declared income received during the period October 2010 to November 2012 was £1,511,846, while Mr Rees benefited to the tune of £1,181,437 at the same time.

After obtaining further information from the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), the Pembrokeshire Herald is able to expand and clarify its article concerning the activities of Haverfordwest financial advisors Tim Hughes and Andrew Rees, who formerly traded as 1 Stop Financial Services.

The Herald can reveal that, while the pair were cleared of dishonesty by the FCA, elements of the conduct that led to the pair being ordered to pay penalties to the Financial Services Compensation Scheme in the region of £500,000, are capable of being construed as sharp practice.

In particular, the FCA highlights how the pair managed to rake off referral fees for themselves from a separate and unregulated company, EGI, of which they were both directors and shareholders.

Mr Rees and Mr Hughes not only obtained commission as introducers of business but fees from their customers in the region of £3,000 a time.

This receipt of financial benefit created a conflict of interest, as 1 Stop advised customers to transfer their pensions into a SIPP in order to purchase an underlying investment when Mr Rees and Mr Hughes had also a financial interest in facilitating the sale of that investment to the customer (through EGI). However, the pair failed to disclose, manage and mitigate adequately this conflict of interest.

Even when a declaration was placed into customer documentation recording the link between 1 Stop and EGI, it failed to mention the financial interest of Mr Rees or Mr Hughes in EGI.

As a result of their actions, 1,959 of 1 Stop’s customers were at risk of having invested a total of £112,331,229, mostly from pension funds including some final salary schemes, into SIPPs which may not have been suitable for them.

The FCA also found that customers’ wishes to securely invest their pension savings in secure products were ignored and risky investments entered into instead. In the case of one customer who wished to adopt a low-risk strategy, their final salary pension fund was channeled into an unsuitable and very risky investment.

In addition, customers including a joiner, builder and a publican were all certified by Messrs Rees and Hughes as having a high level of understanding of risky “wrapper-type” investments involving complex property transactions. The FCA did not believe the records created by 1 Stop in this regard.
49% of those customers affected were encourage to invest in overseas property developments operated by Harlequin Properties. None of those customers received any advice from 1 Stop on the suitability of that overseas property investment.

The Harlequin group of companies are engaged in the development and distribution of overseas property investments and resorts.

On January 18, 2013, the FCA issued an alert to financial advisers about investments in overseas properties bought through Harlequin Property.  In March, the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) announced that it, together with Essex Police, was looking into complaints in relation to the Harlequin group.   Investors who have invested in specific resorts were asked to contact the SFO.

On May 3, 2013 administrators were appointed for Harlequin Properties.

1 Stop customers who invested in risky investments on the advice of Mr Rees and Mr Hughes have been placed at significant risk of potentially losing all of their money.

In light of their personal liability for the negligent and incorrect advice tendered to their customers, Mr Rees and Mr Hughes were both banned from performing any significant influence function in relation to any regulated activity, carried on by any authorised person, exempt person or exempt professional firm.

In both cases, the FCA decided to impose that penalty neither Mr Rees nor Mr Hughes were judged a fit and proper person in terms of competence and capability.

Harlequin Property are the primary agent for Harlequin Hotels and Resorts, who they say create luxury five star resorts in various locations across the Caribbean. Their mission statement is to,
‘deliver excellent long term returns on clients’ investment by selecting property developments in the most desirable locations’.

The Serious Fraud Office told The Herald that: “The SFO, together with Essex Police, continues to investigate the Harlequin group of companies. We are not able to comment on the on-going investigation nor are we able to comment on an individual’s particular investment.”

In 2013 Harlequin were caught up in a mortgage scandal that saw investors in their properties put at risk of losing around £400 million of deposits.

Investors in Harlequin’s various property ventures and hotel resorts were required to pay a deposit of 30% of their property’s price to secure their investment. Where investors needed to take out a mortgage to pay for the remaining 70% of the property purchase, Harlequin offered to provide a loan which the investors could pay back upon completion.

However, investors were then asked to find around £157,150 each to pay for the properties without the aid of Harlequin’s ‘value guaranteed mortgage’.

Gareth Fatchett, partner at Regulatory Legal speaking in New Model Advisor, said, “Only 2% or respondents could complete without a mortgage, which means 98% of people will go into breach of contract, and Harlequin is saying if they don’t complete their payment they’ll lose their deposit. Advisers should have known from the outset there was not a mortgage available. I’d go so far as to say we’ve seen no evidence of a mortgage relating to a Harlequin property. I suspect the 10% or 15% commissions may have made advisers not check. It’s a huge mis-selling [scandal]. Advisers knew the people they were taking into these contracts couldn’t afford to complete, so therefore the mortgage was by far the most vital thing.”

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Rishi Sunak’s key announcements in today’s Budget statement

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  • Huge tax hike announced – with corporation tax on company profits rising by 6% to 25% in 2023
  • Furlough extended until September
  • Income tax threshold freeze likely to mean working Britons pay more – with tax burden from 2025 highest since 1960s
  • Universal Credit uplift of £20 extended for six months
  • Budget to feature plan to extend furlough until September
  • Business rates, VAT and stamp duty reductions extended
  • Contactless limit more than doubles
  • Sunak to give news conference at 5pm – the first of its kind for a budget
  • Federation of Small Businesses said they were disappointed that there was not enough in the budget for “job creation”.

 

A HUGE hike in corporation tax is probably the main headline announcement of the budget.

The chancellor said: “This new higher rate won’t take effect until April 2023, well after the point when the OBR expect the economy to have recovered. And even this, because corporation tax is only charged on profits, any struggling businesses will, by definition, be unaffected.

“I’m protecting small businesses with profits of £50,000 or less, by creating a Small Profits Rate, maintained at the current rate of 19%.”

“This means around 70% of companies – 1.4 million businesses – will be completely unaffected.

“And third, we will introduce a taper above £50,000, so that only businesses with profits of £50,000 or greater will be taxed at the full rate of 25″%.”

The Chancellor also said businesses can carry back losses of up to £2m for three years and adds that the bank surcharge will be reviewed so combined rate of tax on UK banking sector doesn’t increase significantly from current level.

This announcement was on top of a raft of other measures, including the previously leaked extension of the furlough scheme, and confirmation that
the Hospitality and tourism will continue to enjoy a 5% reduced rate of VAT for a further six months.

Support for the self-employed will also be extended until the end of September.

“When the scheme was launched, the newly self-employed couldn’t qualify because they hadn’t all filed a 2019-20 tax return,” Rishi Sunak says.

“But as the tax return deadline has now passed, I can announce today that, provided they filed a tax return by midnight last night, over 600,000 more people, many of whom only became self-employed last year can now claim the fourth and fifth grants.”

Commenting on the Budget statement, Welsh Conservative Senedd leader, Andrew RT Davies MS said: “At the start of this pandemic, as Conservatives we said we would do whatever it takes to protect jobs and livelihoods – and today’s budget continues that commitment to families, workers and businesses across Wales.

“After the most difficult year in the history of peacetime Britain, the budget extends the support for Wales to save jobs, invests in industry and business, and provides an extra £740 million of funding to the Welsh Government.

“Labour ministers in Cardiff Bay must now use this additional funding to extend the business support for firms across Wales and deliver a council tax freeze to help keep more money in the pockets of hardworking people.

“Our recovery and future economy depends on remaining as one United Kingdom. Only the Welsh Conservatives – working with, rather than against a Conservative UK Government – can succeed in getting things done to rebuild Wales.”

ADDITIONAL  MEASURES

Rishi Sunak confirmed that 95% mortgages will be guaranteed by the government as part of government plans to turn “generation rent into generation buy”.
“I’m pleased to say that several of the country’s largest lenders including Lloyds, NatWest, Santander, Barclays and HSBC will be offering these 95% mortgages from next month, and I know more, including Virgin Money will follow shortly after,” the chancellor says.
“A policy that gives people who can’t afford a big deposit the chance to buy their own home.”

Working Tax Credit claimants will also be given more support for the next six months, with a one-off payment of £500, it has been announced.

A welcome announcement for many families in Wales will be the confirmation that the Universal Credit uplift of £20-a-week will continue for another six months, the chancellor announces

The Chancellor also added that the personal tax thresholds will be frozen.

Hospitality and tourism will continue to enjoy a 5% reduced rate of VAT for a further six months

STAMP DUTY

As part of the spring budget, the Chancellor has just announced that the stamp duty holiday is to be extended, offering a total tax saving on properties costing up to £500,000 and a reduction on homes costing more than that. In addition first-time buyers will have access to government guaranteed mortgages with a deposit of just 5%. Home Insurance Expert at Confused.com Jessica Willock says:
“The new government backed mortgage scheme should give first-time buyers the chance to save on rent payments and take steps onto the property ladder.
“Our research found that more than a quarter (27%) of people said that if they knew of ways to save money when it comes to their homes, they would use them. So, the stamp duty holiday extension can also be seen as an opportunity to give buyers the boost that they need by removing some of the financial pressure attached to a new home.

“But the extension is only temporary, lasting until June 30th. So, whether you’re already in the purchase process or you’re deliberating a move, it’s important to get the ball rolling as the deal must complete by the deadline, otherwise you could face some big bills. If you’re confused about what you may have to pay, use our Stamp Duty Calculator to help you factor in the fees.”
Commenting on the furlough extension, Aude Barral, co-founder of developer recruitment platform CodinGame, said: “There will be a collective sigh of relief from families across the country that the furlough scheme has been extended.

“Millions of people will have been facing the prospect of having little or no income from May, and for the time being that cliff-edge scenario has been avoided. But the problem hasn’t gone away, it’s simply been kicked down the road.

“Furlough is protects salaries, not jobs. Many furloughed workers will still be worried they won’t have a job to go back to when the financial support eventually ends.

“There will be thousands of businesses going to the wall over the coming months and sectors such as hospitality and retail may never fully recover.

“The Government has provided its roadmap out of lockdown, but it’s roadmap out of furlough feels disjointed and a little vague.

“Millions of people are facing unemployment without the transferable skills they need to find a new career.

“There wasn’t enough in the Chancellor’s speech to address the digital skills gap, for my liking. Digital upskilling should be at the forefront of the Government’s plans to unlock the country’s full potential, as that’s where demand is going to be post-pandemic, in a fast changing digital landscape.

“Businesses need to be continually updating their workers’ digital skills to remain competitive, and individuals need the help and support to identify the transferable skills they have and develop new skills to stand the best chance of finding a new job or career.

“We live in a world where new technologies play an increasingly important role in all aspects of business, and demand for digitally skilled employees is only going in one direction.”

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Natural Resources Wales approves Ireland-UK interconnector licence

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GREENLINK INTERCONNECTOR LIMITED says it welcomes the decision by Natural Resources Wales (NRW) to approve its application for a Marine Licence for the Greenlink electricity interconnector project, which will link the power markets of Great Britain and Ireland.

An important project for Pembrokeshire, and the UK as a whole, NRW’s go-ahead is one of several consents required for the construction of the project and covers installation of the marine cable in UK waters.

The approval is a major milestone for Greenlink and joins the onshore planning consents granted unanimously in July last year by Pembrokeshire County Council and Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority.

Greenlink’s proposed 190km subsea and underground electricity cable will run beneath the Irish Sea to connect National Grid’s Pembroke Power Station in Wales and EirGrid’s Great Island substation in County Wexford, Ireland. It will have a nominal capacity of 500 MW.

The Wales-Ireland link is just one of four interconnectors being installed

Nigel Beresford, CEO for Greenlink Interconnector Limited, said: “We are delighted by Natural Resources Wales’s decision to grant this licence. This marks a significant milestone for Greenlink and another important step towards project construction, which we expect to commence later this year.

“The Greenlink team has worked constructively with Natural Resources Wales and Welsh marine stakeholders to find workable solutions to the many technical and environmental challenges facing a large infrastructure project like this, and this has been reflected in the quality of the final proposal.

“The thorough environmental and technical assessments we have undertaken, supported by the practical and value-adding feedback we have received from key marine stakeholders, have ensured that we move forward confident that we are delivering a well-designed project with the interests of the Welsh marine habitat at its core.”

The subsea section of the cable will be approximately 160km in length and uses high voltage direct current (HVDC) technology. The preferred route and installation methods were chosen following the conclusion of subsea surveys and consultation with key stakeholders.

In Ireland, a Foreshore Licence application was submitted to the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government (Foreshore Unit) in 2019 and the onshore planning application was submitted to An Bord Pleanála in December 2020.

Greenlink is one of Europe’s most important energy infrastructure projects and brings benefits on both sides of the Irish Sea for energy security, regional investment, jobs and the cost-effective integration of low carbon energy. The project will offer important local supply chain opportunities and plans are being drawn up for ‘meet-the-buyer’ events in the local area prior to construction.

Once fully consented, Greenlink is expected to have a three-year construction programme, with commissioning planned by the end of 2023.

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Single port plan should be off the agenda for now says MS

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WELSH Labour Member of the Senedd for Mid and West Wales, Eluned Morgan, has welcomed a decision from Irish Ferries that underlines its commitment to the port of Pembroke.

The company has signed a 10 year deal with the Port of Milford Haven for the berth at Pembroke Dock which first came into operation under B&I Line in 1979. Since then, the port of Pembroke has seen multimillion pound investments to improve facilities and creating jobs and has become established as an important transport node with Europe.

In recent weeks, Westminster politicians have raised the suggestion that as a result of Brexit, Pembrokeshire could only support a single port linking the county of Pembrokeshire and the M4 corridor with the Irish Republic.

Eluned Morgan MS said: “I was frankly disappointed at the lack of ambition displayed by Pembrokeshire’s MPs over this issue. These continue to be worrying days for our ports which have played a pivotal role in defining the coastal communities of both Pembroke Dock and Fishguard over the years. We were told Brexit would bring benefits not the demise of our links with Europe. So I am pleased to hear that Irish Ferries has signed a 10 year deal with the Port of Milford Haven to maintain facilities at Pembroke Dock. I understand that Stena Line is committed to Fishguard also.

“In recent weeks, I have been in touch with Irish Ferries and Stena Line to understand their position as part of an ongoing conversation in light of Brexit and the subsequent shift in trade that has followed. We must all work together to ensure that Pembrokeshire is recognised as a gateway to Europe and seek out every opportunity to replace the trade lost in the years ahead.”

The Port of Milford Haven confirmed: “We are pleased to report that Irish Ferries reconfirmed its commitment to Pembroke Dock with the signing of a new 10-year deal.
This marks a huge statement of confidence in the Rosslare-Pembroke Dock crossing, which is the primary freight corridor carrying two thirds of the total freight units using the south Wales corridor, and supporting 325,000 passenger movements each year.”

Eluned Morgan is a Labour Member of the Senedd for Mid and West Wales and currently serves in the Welsh Government as Minister for Mental Health, Wellbeing and the Welsh Language.

She is also a member of the House of Lords.

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