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Refinery contractors out on ‘wildcat strike’ over pay

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CONTRACTORS at Valero refinery are on strike today in protest over the rising cost-of-living eating into their real-time earnings.

As oil companies start to post recordbreaking profits, over 250 workers have staged the wildcat strike, despite emails from employers explaining that they would lose wages, bonuses and could be subject to disciplinary action.

On Wednesday, workers gathered outside the main entrance in response to a pay rise of 2.5%.

However, with inflation expected to hit 11.7% by the end of this year, the contractors fear they’ll be out of pocket.

Contractor’s strike at Valero – Pic: Martin Cavaney/Herald

Three weeks ago refuelling staff at Heathrow Airport went on strike. Aviation Fuel Services, which is a partner of Valero, saw its staff walk out between 05:00 HRS on Thursday 21 July and end at 04:59 HRS on Sunday 24 July.

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said: “AFS is wholly owned by incredibly wealthy energy companies who are entirely able to provide our members with a decent pay increase. This is yet another example of energy companies boosting profits at the expense of workers.

“Unite will be providing its members at AFS with its unstinting support until the company makes a pay offer which meets members’ expectations and this dispute is resolved.”

The workers have not received a pay rise for three years, during which time they have seen their incomes fall by 15.5% in real terms. AFS had belatedly made an offer of a 10 per cent increase but this was rejected by members as it did not meet their expectations.

AFS is a joint venture operation. Its partners include BP, Total Energies, Q8 Aviation and Valero Energy. Energy companies have seen their profits surge in recent months, which in turn has increased inflation and worsened the cost of living crisis.

Unite regional officer Kevin Hall said: “The strike action will cause severe disruption and delays at Heathrow but this dispute is entirely of AFS’ own making. It initially refused to enter into negotiations and only belatedly made an offer which workers judged entirely unacceptable.

“Even at the eleventh hour strike action could be avoided if AFS made a substantially improved offer. The clock is ticking for AFS”

Crime

Fishguard man accused of three counts of making indecent images of a child

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A FISHGUARD man accused of three counts of making indecent images of a child and one charge of possessing a prohibited image of a child will stand trial.

James Francis of High Street, Fishguard, appeared to face the charges at Haverfordwest Magistrates’ Court on September 20.

The court heard how 27-year-old Francis is accused of being in possession of a prohibited image of a child on June 24, 2020.

The three charges of making indecent images of children relate to a period of time between March 1, 2018 and June 25, 2020.

Francis is accused of making 148 indecent images/ pseudo-photos of children in category C, one in category B and 2 in category A.

The case was sent to crown court for trial.

No plea was entered for the charges.

The defendant was released on unconditional bail to appear at Swansea Crown Court on October 19.

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Jacob Rees Mogg: 
Galvanises businesses with action on energy

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Getting serious: Liz Truss looks to secure future energy supply

The cliff edge: Businesses may close if support is withdrawn

Westminster unveils energy support for businesses

NON WEDNESDAY, September 21, the UK Government announced new support for households, businesses and public sector organisations facing rising energy bills in Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
Through a new government Energy Bill Relief Scheme, the government will provide a discount on wholesale gas and electricity prices for all non-domestic customers (including all UK businesses, the voluntary sector like charities and the public sector such as schools and hospitals) whose current gas and electricity prices have been significantly inflated in light of global energy prices.
The support will be equivalent to the Energy Price Guarantee put in place for households.
It will apply to fixed contracts agreed on or after April 1, 2022, and to deemed variable and flexible tariffs and contracts.
The Price Guarantee will apply to energy usage from 1 October 2022 to 31 March 2023, running for an initial six-month period for all non-domestic energy users.
The savings will be first seen in October bills, which are typically received in November.
As with the Energy Price Guarantee for households, customers do not need to take action or apply to the scheme to access the support.
Support (in the form of a p/kWh discount) will automatically be applied to bills.

RISK OF BUSINESSES MISSING OUT

The price reduction level for each business will vary depending on their contract type and circumstances.
Non-domestic customers on existing fixed-price contracts will be eligible for support as long as the contract was agreed on or after April 1, 2022.
Provided that the wholesale element of the price the customer is paying is above the Government Supported Price, per unit energy costs will automatically be reduced by the relevant p/kWh for the duration of the Scheme.
Customers entering new fixed price contracts after October 1 will receive support on the same basis
those on default, deemed, or variable tariffs will receive a per-unit discount on energy costs, up to a maximum of the difference between the Supported Price and the average expected wholesale price over the period of the Scheme.
Non-domestic customers on default or variable tariffs will therefore pay reduced bills, but these will still change over time and may still be subject to price increases.
The government is working with suppliers to ensure all their customers in England, Scotland and Wales are allowed to switch to a fixed contract/tariff for the duration of the scheme if they wish, underpinned by the government’s Energy Bill Relief Scheme support for businesses on flexible purchase contracts, typically some of the largest energy-using businesses.
The government will provide equivalent support for businesses not connected to the gas or electricity grid. Further detail on this will be announced shortly.

SUPPORT MUST AVOID
THE CLIFF EDGE

The government will publish a review of the scheme’s operation in three months to inform decisions on future support after March 2023.
The review will particularly focus on identifying the most vulnerable non-domestic customers and how the government will continue assisting them with energy costs.
Prime Minister Liz Truss said: “I understand the huge pressure businesses, charities, and public sector organisations are facing with their energy bills, which is why we are taking immediate action to support them over the winter and protect jobs and livelihoods.
“As we are doing for consumers, our new scheme will keep their energy bills down from October, providing certainty and peace of mind.
“At the same time, we are boosting Britain’s homegrown energy supply, so we fix the root cause of the issues we are facing and ensure greater energy security for us all.”
Kate Nicholls, CEO of UKHospitality said: “This intervention is unprecedented, and it is extremely welcome that the government has listened to hospitality businesses facing an uncertain winter. ef
“The government has recognised the vulnerability of hospitality as a sector, and we will continue to work with the government, to ensure that there is no cliff edge when these measures fall away.”

SOME BUSINESSES WILL FALL
BETWEEN THE CRACKS, SAYS FSB

Tina McKenzie, Policy and Advocacy Chair, Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) said: “This announcement will give certainty for the next six months, but a tough year remains ahead of many small firms.
“Many have been waiting for details on the energy bills support package to plan confidently for the winter and beyond, so it’s encouraging to have clarity from the Government on the form that its support will take.
“The next stage will be for small businesses to learn what the changes mean for their current contracts and for any offers they have been looking at.
“Subsidising the unit costs of electricity and gas for six months is welcome, but there are those who miss out from before the six-month period, and help must not result in a cliff-edge afterwards.
“We are calling for a hardship fund to be created for those who fall outside of the current support or for whom the current support will be insufficient.
“There will be hardship for some businesses which signed fixed contracts after prices rose but before April, who find themselves excluded from the scheme.
“FSB calls on energy suppliers to allow those customers to switch without charge to new fixed contracts, covered by the Energy Supported Price if that makes the difference for the small business to survive.
“Small businesses are the definition of vulnerable when it comes to these energy price hikes. Small firms do not have the ability to hedge, or negotiate energy prices, so we will be encouraging Government to continue to help small businesses across all different sectors after the six months have elapsed.”
Ms McKenzie called for common sense and understanding from the energy industry, which will continue to reap massive profits: “Energy companies must play their role to support their small business customers.
“Energy providers must pass on the benefit of the freeze in full and must immediately provide updated bills and quotes to each small business customer who will be wondering today what the changes mean for them.
“We’re concerned that there is no mention of a cap on rises to standing charges, which are the other main element of energy bills. While households’ standing charges will be capped, the same can’t be said for businesses. 

“We call on energy suppliers to support their small business customers by committing to lowering standing charges as far as possible.
“We’d like to see energy companies promise not to disconnect businesses from energy supply that are currently unable to pay for their energy bills this winter and not ask for disproportionate upfront payments.
“Currently, small firms could be disconnected from energy supply if they cannot pay bills after 30 days.
“We will be writing to energy companies in this regard and encourage them to support their small business customers in this difficult period.”

SHORT-TERM FIX FOR
LONG-TERM PROBLEM

Matthew Fell, CBI Chief Policy Director, said: “We welcome the government’s quick and decisive action to provide hard-pressed businesses with a substantial short-term fix to a long-term problem.
“The package will ease worries about otherwise viable businesses shutting up shop, and smaller companies especially will benefit from the discounted rate.
“Businesses will also want to know more about the exit strategy and what happens when the six-month cap runs out. Working closely with businesses will be key to successful implementation.
“The long-run solution is to double-down on energy security and to incentivise firms to push ahead with ambitious energy efficiency programmes to lower demand.”

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Kwarteng gambles on rush for growth

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CHANCELLOR of the Exchequer Kwasi Kwarteng unveiled his and Liz Truss’s economic vision for the UK on Friday morning.

The headlines are straightforward.

There will be £45bn in tax cuts by 2027; however, the largest cuts – national insurance cuts, the abolition of the cap on bonuses and the highest income tax rate- benefit only high earners.

MAIN POLICIES

Cut in the basic rate of income tax to 19% from April 2023;

National Insurance will not rise as scheduled, and the Government will reverse the current year rise as of November 6;

New Health and Social Care Levy to pay for the NHS will not be introduced;

The top rate of income tax was cut from 45% to 40%;

Cancel the rise in corporation tax which was due to increase from 19% to 25% in April 2023;

Rules around universal credit tightened by reducing benefits if people don’t fulfil job search commitments;

VAT-free shopping for overseas visitors;

End of the cap on bankers’ bonuses;

Planned increases in the duties on beer, cider, wine, and spirits cancelled;

Government to discuss setting up investment zones with 38 local areas in England.

Alongside the above, the Chancellor announced plans to remove environmental safeguards for building developments and reduce the regulatory burden on financial institutions.

KWARTENG LEAVES LABOUR AN OPEN GOAL

In an interview with Rishi Sunak during the Conservative leadership contest, Nick Robinson observed that it would be a nasty surprise for the former Chancellor when he found out who’d been in power for the last twelve years.

Kwasi Kwarteng followed Liz Truss’s preferred method of operation: he pretended they hadn’t happened.

The Chancellor comprehensively dumped on the policies pursued over the last dozen years by successive Conservative governments, for a decade of which Liz Truss has been a member.

His statement was, as one ministerial colleague said, “a game changer”, although perhaps not in the way he envisaged.

So complete was the change of economic policy that it leaves an open question about how Mr Kwarteng and his Cabinet colleagues ended up in the same political party as most of their backbench colleagues and served under the last three Conservative leaders.

Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves did not miss the open goal. Even as Mr Kwarteng and Ms Truss shook their heads on the government benches, she hammered home that the Chancellor’s statement was an admission the record of Conservative governments since 2010 was one of a failure to deliver growth or a viable economic plan.

THE SUPPLY SIDE FIX

The Chancellor and Prime Minister’s rationale is that cutting taxes for the already well-off will benefit all citizens as they are incentivised to invest and act in entrepreneurial ways. In addition, reducing regulation for businesses will encourage increased commercial enterprise.

They believe the growth stimulated will make up for any loss in tax revenues as increased economic activity, encouraged by lower taxes, leads to increased government revenues.

That approach is called supply-side economics, which focuses on increasing the supply of goods and services through growth.

In every developed nation where the Government’s brand of economics has been tried, two things have happened: a cataclysmic bust has followed a short-term burst of economic activity.

In addition, wealth inequalities – and the UK is already grossly unequal – are embedded and made worse.

Low taxes on the wealthiest do not distinguish between those who generate wealth through their industry or create economic activity through business investment and those who inherit wealth or sit on capital without producing anything.

“THE RICH WILL REJOICE”

Wales’s Finance Minister, Rebecca Evans MS, responded: “Rebecca Evans, Minister for Finance and Local Government, said: “Instead of delivering meaningful, targeted support to those who need help the most, the Chancellor prioritises funding for tax cuts for the rich, unlimited bonuses for bankers, and protecting the profits of big energy companies.

“Instead of increasing funding for public services in line with inflation, we get a Chancellor blithely ignoring stretched budgets as public services find their money is not going as far as it did before.”

Plaid Regional MS Cefin Campbell said: “This Budget will see the rich rejoice as their bonuses rocket and their tax bill sliced, once again it will be the poorest and most vulnerable bearing the brunt of the disastrous cost of living crisis.”

 Plaid Cymru’s Treasury spokesperson, Ben Lake MP, added: “Tax cuts for the super-rich will do absolutely nothing to drive growth in the Welsh economy.

“I urge the UK Government to recognise that our Government in Wales must be given the fiscal tools to unlock our economic potential ourselves. That is the only way to improve the lives of people across Wales.”

Welsh Conservative Shadow Minister for Finance, Peter Fox MS, said: “Today shows that the UK Conservative Government has a comprehensive plan to provide a sharp boost to the economy by putting cash back into people’s pockets. Labour in Wales has the power to cut taxes in Wales but chooses not to.

“Mark Drakeford needs to take a leaf out of Liz Truss’ book and take immediate action to support hard-working people and struggling businesses, stimulating the Welsh economy rather than stifling it.”

Scott Corfe, Research Director at Social Market Foundation, said: “The Chancellor is taking a very high-risk gamble with the economy.

“If his package of enormous tax cuts and ‘supply side reforms’ fails to translate into significantly higher economic growth, we risk further falls in the pound and surging gilt yields as investors lose confidence in our ability to pay our way in the world.

“That, in turn, means higher inflation, an unsustainable trajectory for the public finances and steeper interest rate rises – potentially deepening rather than alleviating the cost of living crisis.”

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