High street retailer fined £1 Million for safety failings

Marks and Spencer plc and three of its contractors have been fined for putting members of the public, staff and construction workers at risk of exposure to asbestos-containing materials during the refurbishment of two stores in Reading and Bournemouth.

Asbestos is the biggest single cause of work-related deaths in the UK, with an estimated 4,000 people dying every year.

The sentencing hearing, at Bournemouth Crown Court, resulted in Marks and Spencer plc being fined £1 million and ordered to pay costs of £600,000, PA Realisations Ltd being fined £200, and Styles & Wood Limited being fined £100,000 and ordered to pay costs of £40,000, all for breaches that took place at the Marks and Spencer plc store in Broad Street, Reading.

Willmott Dixon Construction Ltd was fined £50,000 and ordered to pay costs of £75,000, for breaches that took place at the Marks and Spencer plc store in Commercial Road, Bournemouth.  Willmott Dixon Construction Ltd is applying for permission to appeal against conviction.

As a result of a prosecution brought by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), Marks and Spencer plc, Willmott Dixon Construction Ltd and PA Realisations Ltd (formerly Pectel Ltd) were found guilty in July 2011. Styles & Wood Limited pleaded guilty at an earlier hearing in January 2010. The work was carried out between 2006 and 2007 on shops in Reading and Bournemouth.

During the three month trial which ended in July 2011, Winchester Crown Court heard construction workers at the two stores removed asbestos-containing materials that were present in the ceiling tiles and elsewhere.

The court heard that the client, Marks and Spencer plc, did not allocate sufficient time and space for the removal of asbestos-containing materials at the Reading store. The contractors had to work overnight in enclosures on the shop floor, with the aim of completing small areas of asbestos removal before the shop opened to the public each day.

HSE alleged that Marks and Spencer plc failed to ensure that work at the Reading store complied with the appropriate minimum standards set out in legislation and approved codes of practice. The company had produced its own guidance on how asbestos should be removed inside its stores, and the court heard that this guidance was followed by contractors inappropriately during major refurbishment.

The contractor, PA Realisations Ltd, failed to reduce to a minimum the spread of asbestos to the Reading shop floor. Witnesses said that areas cleaned by the company were re-contaminated by air moving through the void between the ceiling tiles and the floor above, and by poor standards of work.

Styles & Wood Limited, the principal contractor at the Reading store, admitted that it should not have permitted a method of asbestos removal which did not allow for adequate sealing of the ceiling void, which resulted in risks to contractors on site and would now lead to asbestosis claims.

The principal contractor at the Bournemouth store, Wilmott Dixon Construction Ltd, failed to plan, manage and monitor removal of asbestos-containing materials. It did not prevent the possibility of asbestos being disturbed by its workers in areas that had not been surveyed extensively.

After the sentencing, Richard Boland, HSE’s Southern Head of Operations for Construction, said:

“This outcome should act as a wake up call that any refurbishment programmes involving asbestos-containing materials must be properly resourced, both in terms of time and money – no matter what.

“Large retailers and other organisations who carry out major refurbishment works must give contractors enough time and space within the store to carry out the works safely.   Where this is not done, and construction workers and the public are put at risk, HSE will not hesitate in taking robust enforcement action.”

From Virgin To Virtual: How Sir Richard Branson’s PA Survived And Thrived

After suffering a stroke in 2008 Penni Pike, Richard Branson’s Executive PA of 31 dynamic years, was told she would not walk or talk again.


Today, however, she has overcome the odds to use her vast expertise and knowledge to support entrepreneurs throughout the UK – as the special advisor of leading Virtual PA company, Time etc.


The Virgin Years

Penni played a vital role in growing Virgin and directly supporting Sir Richard Branson in his business ventures, and personal challenges – from music, planes and trains to around-the-world boat ad balloon expeditions.


From the launch of Tubular Bells, to the expansion of Necker Island and planning a last minute Cuban Christmas – Penni was there through it all.


Battling Adversity

When she retired in 2006, Richard gave her his precious boat for seven years. Penni hoped for some much-needed rest, using the boat as her London base.


Sadly, Penni suffered a stroke early on in her retirement, at the age of 56. It was devastating for Penni, who became debilitated and was told she would struggle to recover. Three years later, she has certainly proven them wrong.


“I refused to sit back and accept it,” explains Penni. “Richard taught me that almost nothing is improbable and that everything is possible – I used this as my utmost inspiration during a very difficult time.”


The Champion of Entrepreneurs

After completing a somewhat grueling rehabilitation programme, Penni is ready to get back to doing what she does best. She felt it was a waste not to use the expertise she had gained from her time at Virgin and wanted to continue supporting busy entrepreneurs to the best of her ability.


A chance meeting with Barnaby Lashbrooke, 29-year-old multi-millionaire founder of Time etc (www.timeetc.com), made this a possibility.  The company is a pioneering “Virtual PA” service that provides entrepreneurs with the help they need to run their businesses, without having to employ a full time assistant.  The company has grown rapidly since 2007, and now has a £1.1 million turnover

In August 2011, Penni joined them as their special advisor; she now supports clients, guides staff and gives advice on the service, using her invaluable knowledge.
“It’s a fantastic company, run by a bold entrepreneur,” says Penni, explaining why she chose Time etc. “It reminds me of the best spirit that animated Virgin.”
And what does Sir Richard, Penni’s old boss, make of her new partnership? “Supporting entrepreneurs is vital,” adds Richard. “These people will run the big companies and create the new jobs of the future.”

Educating one million girls to tackle poverty

Britain will help up to a million of the poorest girls in the world go to school, the Deputy Prime Minister announced today.

The Girls Education Challenge is a new project that will call on NGOs, charities and the private sector to find better ways of getting girls into school in the poorest countries in Africa and Asia which the UK has identified as a priority, including Bangladesh, South Sudan and Nigeria.

The projects will help provide:

  • 650,000 girls with a full six years of primary education or
  • Up to a million girls with a junior secondary education for three years.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said:

“Women and girls continue to bear the brunt of poverty. Investing in them early on and giving them an education not only radically alters their lives but has a massive knock on effect benefitting their families and communities. Girls who have been to school are likely to do significantly better financially, socially and be far healthier.

“The action we are taking is ambitious and something of which Britain should be enormously proud. It will help to lift hundreds of thousands of girls out of poverty so that they can fulfil their potential.”

International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell said:

“Educating girls tackles the root causes of poverty. Research shows that providing girls with an extra year of schooling can increase their wages by up to 20 per cent, while also lowering birth rates, which can have a profound economic impact.

“These initiatives will also have positive impacts on future generations. They will mean girls are more likely to go on to help their sisters and younger girls in the community to follow their example – go to school and widen their choices,  to get married later, for example, and to earn their own income.”

The Girls Education Challenge will be a competitive process that encourages organisations to set up schemes targeting marginalised girls of primary and lower secondary age. Non-government organisations – including businesses and charities – are being asked to put forward ideas to get girls into good quality education and there will be a focus on working with new organisations and partners – to try new approaches where traditional approaches have not been successful.  The British Government will then back the best of these.

In order to receive continued funding, the organisations will have to demonstrate measurable improvements in the quality of education and increased numbers of girls going to school. Only programmes which can demonstrate the most cost-effective ways of working will receive backing.

The programmes will also have to show  that they will get more marginalised girls into school. It is likely that some of the activities which are supported will ensure that facilities at school – for example separate latrines and “safe spaces” for girls – are provided. The types of initiative are those that provide a combination of support to girls and young women: scholarships which not only pay for school fees but ensure girls are able to buy their own uniform, travel safely to school and support them to find work once they leave school.

Girls who are educated are more likely to:

  • marry later – a girl who has attended secondary school is less likely to marry during her adolescent years
  • have fewer children – on average a woman’s fertility rate drops by one birth for every four years of additional schooling
  • get immunisation and other health treatments for themselves and their babies
  • avoid HIV – a study shows girls with secondary education are three times less likely to be HIV positive
  • find employment and earn more – an extra year of schooling sees wages increase 10 to 20 percent

The International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell will give more details at the UN General Assembly this week.

This new support is in addition to the Coalition Government’s commitment to support 9 million children from developing countries in primary and 2 million in secondary education by 2015.

Sell by dates could be a thing of the past – saving families hundreds a year

Clearer date labels will help shoppers save money and stop perfectly good food being thrown away, Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman said today as Defra published new guidance for food and drink manufacturers.

The updated guidance will help ensure the right date marks are used on food labels to make it easier for shoppers to know when food is safe to eat. Under the guidance, food packaging should only carry either a ‘use-by’ or ‘best-before’ date.  ‘Sell-by’ and ‘display-until’ labels used for stock rotation should be removed to avoid confusion for shoppers, with retailers finding different ways of stock control. Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman said: “We want to end the food labelling confusion and make it clear once and for all when food is good and safe to eat. This simpler and safer date labelling guide will help households cut down on the £12 billion worth of good food that ends up in the bin.” Liz Redmond, Head of Hygiene and Microbiology at the FSA said: “There is a lot of confusion amongst customers about date marks. A number of different dates can be found on our food, so we need to make sure that everyone knows the difference between them.  We always emphasise that “use by” dates are the most important, as these relate to food safety. This new guidance will give greater clarity to the food industry on which date mark should be used on their products while maintaining consumer protection.” The guidance for food producers outlines that ‘use-by’ labels should only be used where the food could be unsafe after that date.  Most other foods should have a ‘best-before’ date only, to indicate when the food is no longer at its best, but is still safe to eat. The guidance is also designed so the food industry can develop more detailed advice for their specific products that minimises confusion for consumers and food waste while keeping food safe. Foods likely to require a ‘use-by’ date include soft cheese, ready-prepared meals and smoked fish. Food likely to require only a ‘best-before’ date include biscuits, jams, pickles, crisps and tinned foods. The guidance was produced in consultation with the food manufacturers, supermarkets, trade associations, consumer groups, food law enforcement bodies and Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP). At least 60% of the 8.3 million tonnes of UK household food and drink waste is avoidable. That is 5.3 million tonnes of perfectly edible food per year – the equivalent of £680 per household with children.  WRAP research has identified confusion over date labelling as one of the causes of this.

99p Stores to expand

99p Stores are set to double in size with the help extended banking facilities of over £20m. Thanks to Barclay’s bank the high street retailer will be expanding into Ireland.


As a result, the retailer has moved all of its operational banking across to Barclays Corporate in recognition of the bank’s support for its ambitious growth plans.


The facilities will support the opening of between 40-50 new stores a year, the first of which have already opened the doors to customers in Letchworth, Stowmarket, Swindon, Weston-Super-Mare, Yeovil, Bishops Stortford and Colchester. The first of two Irish stores under the new brand ‘€uro 50 Stores’ opened in Dublin this morning and a second in Balbriggan is due to open later this month. A further 20 are planned in the next 12 months.


Glen McDonald, Relationship Director in Barclays Corporate’s Retail and Wholesale team said: “99p Stores and Family Bargains is a fantastic success story in what is a very challenging environment for retailers. The management’s ambitious growth plans to double the businesses’ size and expand overseas are testament to their success, and will ultimately create many new and much-needed jobs”.


Nadir Lalani, Chief Executive Officer, 99p Stores Limited said: “I am excited about moving to Barclays Corporate and look forward to working with them in the future as we continue to expand our businesses”.


99p Stores Limited, based in Swan Valley, Northampton, was founded by entrepreneur, Nadir Lalani, in January 2001. He opened his first store in Holloway, London and continued to open three further stores later that year. The company has enjoyed rapid growth and now has 150 outlets including 12 Family Bargains which offer a broader range of general merchandise including toys and soft furnishings.

In just 12 months students cost of living has gone up £42.56 per month

The monthly cost of being a student has risen by £42.56 in the last twelve months according to analysis* by Family Investments, a leading children’s saving provider. Students have seen their monthly living costs increase from £752 twelve months ago to £795 today.

Since last year, the cost of student life has risen from £9,031 to £9,541 which works out as an extra £510** over the year.  This increase does not include the new university tuition fees, adding to financial concerns of students and their parents.

In 2004, when figures on student living costs became available, the monthly cost of living was £561, since then students have seen living costs rise by 34%, an annual increase of over 5% a year.

Rent is the biggest single expense and the average student currently spends £163 a month on accommodation, up slightly from £156 a year ago. Monthly expenditure on food has increased by 38% since 2004 rising from £44 to £65. Other costs have also increased significantly, such as clothing and recreation, up by 10% and 11% respectively over the same period – making the monthly costs £40 and £56 today.

Despite increases across the majority of categories, there has been a reduction in costs of communication, which includes mobile phone costs, falling from £23 a month in 2004 to £19.62 today.

While the issue of tuition fees dominates current discussion of student finances, if the cost of living continues to rise at current rates, those students starting a degree in 2011 may see annual costs hit £11,253 by the time they graduate in 2014. The increase of £1,712 compared against today’s costs, would be a significant addition in its own right.

Kate Moore, Head of Savings and Investments at Family Investments said: “As A level results are released this week, students face an anxious wait to find out how they’ve performed in their exams, but for parents the impending cost of university is likely to be just as big a worry. Over the last six years, student living costs have risen by more than five per cent each year, significantly ahead of RPI in the same period.  With increased tuition fees now on the horizon, the total cost of a degree and the economics of student life look set to change dramatically.

“Young adults face unprecedented financial commitments and the steadily rising cost of living is yet another factor they will have to consider as costs such as food creep up. The consequences of increased tuition fees and living costs are as yet unknown but we anticipate that we will see a greater proportion of students going to university near their home town so that they can continue living with parents and possibly taking on part time jobs.

“For the average family covering these costs is likely to be a significant challenge and parents who want to give their child a helping hand will have to start saving early.  It is more important than ever that families plan their finances in advance and set up saving measures as early as possible.”

One of the best ways to start saving early is through the Junior ISA, a new tax efficient savings account for children available from the 1st November. Family Investments will offer a Junior ISA that is accessible to everyone who wants to start saving for their children’s future.

“Parents that are fortunate enough to be able to save the equivalent of the current Child Benefit allowance of £81.20 each month, could potentially build a sum of £29,300*** after 18 years. This is a significant sum that could pay for a decent slice of their child’s living costs or cover their tuition fees.”

* Based on analysis of ONS Family Spending Reports from 2004 – 2011. The analysis looked at the increasing/decreasing cost for each of the various spending categories and overall cost of living for students. The average increase/decrease in cost was taken to calculate the cost in 2011 and 2014.

** Annual figures assume the student pays costs such as rent 12 months of the year

*** Based on an annual growth rate of 7%

Bogus financial adviser jailed for tax fraud

A bogus financial adviser who fraudulently manipulated his “clients’” pension funds to avoid paying tax of over ?1.9 million has been jailed at Hull Crown Court for three years.

Colin Pearson (47) used the proceeds of the fraud to maintain a lavish lifestyle, driving expensive cars and owning luxury homes both in the UK and Cyprus including a villa on an exclusive golf resort.

Bob Gaiger. from HM Revenue & Customs, said:

“Whilst Pearson was living a life most people could only dream of, he left the individuals he conned out of pocket and without the pension funds they expected.

“HMRC will not tolerate this type of blatant fraud and will investigate and prosecute those found to be involved in stealing from the public purse. If you have any information about tax fraud please contact our 24 hour hotline on 0800 50 5000”.

Colin Pearson, who previously worked for the Food Standards Agency and held a McDonalds franchise, claimed to be a financial adviser and persuaded his “clients” to release over ?3.4 million from their pension funds. Pearson completed UK pension transfer forms on behalf of his clients to falsely claim that the funds were going abroad to avoid paying tax due on the pension withdrawals.

He provided fake documentation to register two overseas pension schemes. He then submitted the fake documents using false names, addresses, references and signatures to ensure the pension funds were released without suspicion or delay, to bank accounts that he controlled. On occasions he even made telephone calls to the UK pension companies posing as the policy holder; during one telephone call he attempted to disguise his voice with a Cypriot accent to give the impression that he was calling from overseas.

To add further legitimacy to the scam, he used articles from the internet to create a PowerPoint presentation to explain and sell the scheme to unsuspecting UK clients. He then took a cut of the funds before passing the balance onto the pensioners. In total Pearson persuaded over thirty UK pension holders to make unauthorised transfers of £3.4 million to avoid paying tax of £1.9m

On sentencing Pearson, His Honour Judge Richardson QC, said:

“You are branded a criminal, your life is utterly destroyed, and you are totally dishonest in your deceitful actions.”

He went on to say that the investigating officers did a thorough job which made the case easier to understand.

HM Revenue & Customs investigators arrested Colin Pearson in September 2009, he pleaded guilty to cheating the public purse at an earlier court hearing.