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Southeastern is latest rail franchise taken over by UK government

Southeastern

Southeastern is latest rail franchise taken over by UK government

Southeastern railway services, one of Britain’s busiest commuter networks, has come back under direct public control, after the government stripped the private operator of its franchise agreement.

Ministers announced last month that an investigation had found that Southeastern had failed to declare more than £25m of taxpayer funding that should have been returned, describing this as a serious breach of the franchise agreement’s “good faith” obligation.

Train services on the line, which stretches across Kent and parts of East Sussex and connects them with London, will be run by the Department for Transport (DfT) from Sunday onwards under the Operator of Last Resort (OLR) scheme.

Passengers are not expected to see any immediate changes on the railway following the change of operator, with trains, timetables and fares staying the same, and staff remaining in place.

The Southeastern rail franchise was previously owned by Govia, a joint venture between Go-Ahead, with a 65% share, and France’s Keolis.

At its peak before the pandemic, Southeastern carried about 640,000 passengers a day on commuter routes, including fast services on the HS1 line.

Following the loss of Southeastern, Govia is left with Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR), which runs the Thameslink, Southern, Great Northern and Gatwick Express services.

Meanwhile, Go-Ahead also runs trains in Germany and Norway. It is the biggest operator of buses in London.

The chairs of Go-Ahead and Keolis said they would conduct an internal investigation following transport secretary Grant Shapps’ announcement last month.

Go-Ahead’s chief financial officer, Elodie Brian, resigned after the government decision was announced. She was previously the finance and contracts director of Southeastern.

Shapps said at the time there was “clear, compelling and serious evidence” that the franchise had committed a breach of trust, adding that the missing money had been recovered.

He said further investigations were being conducted into historical contract issues related to the franchise, while further options for enforcement options, including fines, were being considered.

Anthony Smith, chief executive of passenger watchdog Transport Focus, said: “Whoever runs Southeastern, passengers will want a reliable service which delivers on their key priorities: a punctual, reliable, clean train, with enough room to sit and stand, and value for money fares.”

Southeastern becomes the latest railway line to come under the OLR, which runs services previously privately operated by two other franchises.

The OLR launched the London North Eastern Railway (LNER) in June 2018, the London-Edinburgh-Inverness service, after operators Virgin and Stagecoach could no longer make the contract payments.

It subsequently introduced Northern Trains in March 2020, after the government renationalised the struggling Northern rail franchise, following years of widespread train cancellations and delays, when it ended the contract of Arriva, a subsidiary of Germany’s state-owned Deutsche Bahn.

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UK’s Truss defends economic plan that sent pound tumbling

UK’s Truss defends economic plan that sent pound tumbling

British Prime Minister Liz Truss on Thursday defended her economic plan and shrugged off the negative reaction from financial markets, saying she’s willing to make “difficult decisions” to get the economy growing.

In her first public comments since the government’s announcement of billions in uncosted tax cuts roiled markets and drove the pound to record lows, Truss said Britain was facing “very, very difficult economic times.” But she said the problems were global and spurred by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

She spoke after the Bank of England took emergency action Wednesday to stabilize U.K. financial markets and head off a crisis in the broader economy after the government spooked investors with a program of unfunded tax cuts, sending the pound tumbling and the cost of government debt soaring.

Truss told BBC local radio that “we had to take urgent action to get our economy growing, get Britain moving and also deal with inflation.”

“Of course lots of measures we have announced won’t happen overnight. We won’t see growth come through overnight,” she said. “What is important is that we are putting this country on a better trajectory for the long term.”

In a series of interviews, Truss said her government’s decision to cap energy bills for households and businesses would help tame inflation and help millions of people facing a cost of living crisis.

But it was not that decision that alarmed the markets. It was the government’s announcement on Friday of an economic stimulus program that included 45 billion pounds ($48 billion) of tax cuts and no spending reductions — without an independent economic assessment of the cost and impact.

The Bank of England warned that crumbling confidence in the economy posed a “material risk to U.K. financial stability,” and said it would buy long-term government bonds over the next two weeks to combat a recent slide in British financial assets.

The bank’s former governor, Mark Carney said that the government and the central bank appeared to be pulling in different directions.

“Unfortunately having a partial budget, in these circumstances — tough global economy, tough financial market position, working at cross-purposes with the Bank — has led to quite dramatic moves in financial markets,” he told the BBC.

The pound traded at around $1.08 on Thursday, above its record low of $1.0373 on Monday. It has lost some 4% of its value since Friday.

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Business

Stimulus Packages Provided During Pandemic Triggered Inflation- CBN

The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) has attributed the rising inflationary rates to the stimulus packages provided to citizens during and after the pandemic.

It added that although this increased spending, it also created global supply challenges.

CBN’s director, Monetary Policy Department, Hassan Mahmoud, said this on Wednesday at a post-MPC briefing tagged: “Unveiling Facts behind the Figures’’.

The Monetary Policy Committee had on Tuesday, unanimously voted to increase interest rate to 15.5 per cent.

“A lot of households and small businesses were injected with stimuluses; the U.S did two trillion dollars, Nigeria did about five trillion Naira, these increased the ability of people to spend.

“But the supply side could not meet up with the demand because that volume of injection was far more than the regular intake for those economies, this made prices go up,’’ he said.

Mahmoud also blamed the Russian-Ukraine war, as well as the resurgence of COVID-19 in China for the rise in global inflationary trend.

“That region accounts for more than 50 per cent of global commodity supply and 38 per cent of global oil and gas supply. The war resulted in some shortages which made prices go up.

“Then the COVID-19 lockdown in China. The country is the largest importer of commodities across the globe,’’ he added.

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China’s yuan slides to 14-year low against US dollar

China’s yuan slides to 14-year low against US dollar

China’s yuan fell to a 14-year low against the dollar Wednesday despite US central bank efforts to stem the slide after U.S. interest rate hikes prompted traders to convert money into dollars in search of higher returns.

A weaker yuan helps Chinese exporters by making their goods cheaper abroad, but it encourages capital to flow out of the economy. That raises costs for Chinese borrowers and sets back the ruling Communist Party’s efforts to boost weak economic growth.

The yuan fell to 7.2301 to the dollar, its lowest level since January 2008. One yuan was worth about 13.8 cents, down 15% from its March high.

The yuan has exceeded expectations it might fall to 7 to the dollar after the Federal Reserve started aggressive rate hikes to cool inflation that is at a four-decade high. The Fed has raised rates five times this year and says more increases are likely.

By contrast, the People’s Bank of China has cut interest rates to boost growth that fell to 2.2% over a year earlier in the first six months of 2022 — less than half the official 5.5% target.

The yuan is allowed to fluctuate up or down 2% from its starting price each day in tightly controlled trading. That prevents big daily swings, but down days can add up to a big change over time.

To shore up the exchange rate, Beijing cut the amount of foreign currency deposits Chinese banks are required to hold as reserves to 6% from 8% as of Sept. 15. That increases the amount of dollars and other foreign currency available to buy yuan, which should push up the exchange rate.

Still, that reserve cut is unlikely to stop a slide that is driven by “a strong U.S. dollar and the expectation of more Federal Reserve hikes,” said Iris Pang of ING in a report.

“Less aggressive rate hike talk” might help the yuan rally, but it might weaken further “if the Fed maintains its very hawkish tone” into next year, Pang wrote.

Chinese officials have previously promised to avoid “competitive devaluation” to gain an advantage in trade.

The yuan sank in 2019 during trade tension with then-President Donald Trump. That prompted suggestions Beijing was trying to reduce the impact of U.S. tariff hikes, but there was no official confirmation. The currency later strengthened.

Other governments also are struggling to manage capital flows under pressure from Fed rate hikes. On Friday, Vietnam’s central bank raised a key interest rate in what economists said appeared to be an effort to stop an outflow of money in search of higher returns.

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