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Asia-Pacific trade ministers have agreed to resuscitate the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal, despite US President Donald Trump abandoning it.  Mr Trump signalled in January he would block the passage of the 12-nation pact in order to protect American jobs.  Trade ministers from the 11 remaining countries have met in Vietnam to get the deal back on track.  The representatives also agreed to help the US rejoin the deal at any time.

The bid to revive the TPP, which would have covered 40% of the global economy, was led by trade ministers from Japan, Australia and New Zealand.  New Zealand trade minister Todd McClay said

the remaining countries are committed to finding a way forward to deliver  the deal.

Although the door will be kept open for the US to rejoin the pact, its trade representative Robert Lighthizer said it would not return to the TPP.

The United States pulled out of the TPP and it’s not going to change that decision.

The president made a decision, that I certainly agree with, that bilateral negotiations are better for the United States than multilateral negotiations.

The remaining 11 countries pushing on with the deal are Japan, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Mexico, Peru, Chile, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei.

Former Conservative party treasurer Michael Spencer has denounced efforts by some EU countries to strip London of key financial services after Brexit.  He said it was

a real nasty piece of economic nationalism and protectionism

to insist that euro-denominated deals should be settled in the EU.

EU financial services commissioner Valdis Dombrovskis is arguing that either the EU should have greater policing powers over euro-clearing in London or the business should relocate to the EU.  The European Commission is set to rule on the matter next month.
Mr Spencer said:

This proposal by certain people in Europe to repatriate euro-clearing to the eurozone is nothing more than a real nasty piece of economic nationalism and protectionism.

He added:

Logic would dictate that it’s in Europe’s interest to have a sensible agreement with the UK on financial services and not to seek to stupidly plunder, as some Europeans feel they can do, to try to plunder the UK’s financial services.

Damaging London, in my opinion, will also damage Europe and I think it is in the interests, certainly of the UK but certainly of the EU as well, to make sure that London’s capability as a global financial centre remains properly intact and undamaged.

The Electoral Commission has no power to stop overseas individuals or governments using social media to influence British elections, it says.  Chief executive Claire Bassett says it has “very clear rules” governing the permissibility of donations and printed materials, such as campaign leaflets.  But if the source is outside UK borders,

it’s not something we can cover within our regulation,

she says.

This is something we’re struggling with – that it’s a worldwide web.

Ms Bassett spoke out after an Observer investigation by Carole Cadwalladr suggested there were links between data analytics firms, a US billionaire and the Leave campaign in last year’s EU referendum. She said that while there are rules for how much money can be spent on online or print media during elections, the Electoral Commission still needs “to keep up” with the use of fast-moving social media.

At the moment the rules apply to print media – so if you get a leaflet through your door, that should have an imprint on it which makes it clear who’s produced that leaflet and where it’s come from so you know who’s campaigning for your vote,

she said.

At the moment those rules don’t extend to social media and we’ve recommended that that should happen.

But quizzed about how far the electoral watchdog could go to prevent individuals or governments attempting to influence British elections via data analytic companies which target voters, Ms Bassett said:

If something is happening outside of the borders of this country and is not part of any of the regime we’re responsible for, it’s not something we can cover within our regulation.

She said the watchdog had no evidence of widespread activity of this kind but that if such evidence emerged, it would be monitored closely.

She said the commission monitored activity on social media, with people reporting abuses, which was “very useful”, with the watchdog able to “issue stop notices” where appropriate.  But asked if there was anything it could do to stop overseas influences, she replied: “Not really, no.”

The Electoral Commission found that the Conservatives spent £1.2m on Facebook campaigns during the 2015 general election – more than seven times the £160,000 spent by Labour. The Liberal Democrats spent just over £22,000.

Leave campaigners spent £3.5m with a technology company called Aggregate IQ. Vote Leave said it allowed them to target swing voters online much more effectively and efficiently.  But BBC media editor Amol Rajan said that while huge amounts of money were being spent by political parties online, not everyone was “transparent about their ambitions online”.

We know that millions and millions of pounds have been spent by various people – foreign forces, sometimes extremists – who are politically advertising online trying to influence elections and they are not regulated,

he said.

The fact is the technology is changing very fast but the law hasn’t kept pace.  When it comes to broadcast advertising, we tend to know who’s advertising, how much money they are spending and they tend to do it within certain social norms, but when it comes to political advertising online, it’s very unclear who is spending the money and to what end….

The point is we simply don’t have clear regulations that require people to be transparent. The implication is that they might be foreign forces; they might be very wealthy individuals who are having a material impact on elections in western or non-Western democracies and we simply don’t know about it.

It seems pretty obvious if we regulate political advertising in other spheres we need to think very hard about the impact of political advertising online too.

The head of the Department of Health’s National Data Guardian (NDG) has criticised the NHS for the deal it struck with Google’s DeepMind over sharing patient data.

By Jane Wakefield
Technology reporter for BBC

In a letter dated February and leaked to Sky News, Dame Fiona Caldicott throws doubt on the legality of sharing 1.6 million patient records.

Patients should have been informed about the deal

Google said that the deal was covered by

implied consent

This rule exists to allow the NHS to share medical data with third parties for direct patient care, without informing patients about each deal.  In the case of the partnership with DeepMind, data was collected from patients at the Royal Free Hospital Trust in London in order to test an app to help doctors and nurses identify those who might be at risk of acute kidney disease.

click here for story

President Donald Trump asked FBI chief James Comey to drop an inquiry into links between his ex-national security adviser and Russia, US media report.

I hope you can let this go,

Mr Trump reportedly told Mr Comey after a White House meeting in February, according to a memo written by the ex-FBI director.  The memo was written immediately after the meeting, a day after Michael Flynn resigned, according to media reports.  The White House has denied the allegation in a statement.

The president has never asked Mr Comey or anyone else to end any investigation, including any investigation involving General Flynn,

An influential Republican congressman has called for the FBI to hand over all relevant documents within a week. Jason Chaffetz, who chairs the House Oversight Committee, demanded all correspondence relating to communications between Mr Comey and the president be presented by 24 May. Mr Flynn was forced out in February after he misled the vice-president about his conversations with Russia’s ambassador before Mr Trump took office.

The latest Russian twist, first reported by the New York Times, comes a week after Mr Trump fired Mr Comey over his handling of the FBI investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server while at the state department.  Mr Comey’s dismissal sent shockwaves through Washington, with critics accusing the president of trying to thwart the FBI investigation into Russia’s alleged interference in the US election and any Moscow ties to Trump associates.

Mr Comey reportedly wrote a memo following a meeting with the president on 14 February that revealed Mr Trump had asked him to close an investigation into Mr Flynn’s actions.
He reportedly shared the memo with top FBI associates.

I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go,” the president told Mr Comey, according to the memo. “He is a good guy.

Mr Comey did not respond to his request, according to the memo, but replied:

I agree he is a good guy.

In response to the report, a White House official pointed out that acting FBI director Andrew McCabe had testified last week that there had been no effort to impede our investigation to date.

Mr Flynn’s departure in February came months after suspicions were raised among intelligence officials.  He resigned as White House national security adviser after just 23 days on the job over revelations that he had discussed lifting sanctions on Moscow with Russian ambassador Sergei Kislyak, before Mr Trump was sworn in. It is illegal for private citizens to conduct US diplomacy.

 Since Mr Flynn stepped down, the Pentagon has launched an investigation into whether he failed to disclose payments from Russian and Turkish lobbyists for speeches and consulting work. Mr Flynn’s Russian ties are under investigation by the FBI and the House and Senate Intelligence Committees, as part of wider inquiries into claims Moscow sought to tip the election in favour of Mr Trump.

The government has confirmed its remaining shares in Lloyds Banking Group have been sold, eight years after pumping in £20bn to save it.  Lloyds Bank said the government will see a return of £21.2bn on its investment.  At the height of the financial crisis taxpayers owned 43% of Lloyds.  Its return to the private sector is in stark contrast with the other bailed-out bank – Royal Bank of Scotland – that is still 73% owned by taxpayers.

The government has been slowly selling down its stake in Lloyds for the past five years.
Ministers have claimed that all the public money used to buy Lloyds shares has been returned.  However, the true cost is disputed, with some critics claiming the lost interest has not been taken into account.  Others have argued that the heavy losses previously suffered by Lloyds also hit the government’s stake.  Either way, the £20.3bn of public funds used to buy the shares had already been recouped due to dividend payments made to all shareholders.

At last week’s annual meeting, Lloyds chief executive António Horta Osório told shareholders he expected the government to make at least £500m from the bailout.
But on Wednesday morning he said the true figure was closer to £900m and called Lloyds one of the “strongest banks” in the world.  He also said the government had received more money than was originally invested.

The fact that the government decided to use taxpayers’ money, which is a last resort, to put £20.3bn in Lloyds at the time is evidence that the bank was in a very difficult situation,

he said.

When I arrived six years ago the bank was in a very difficult financial situation and not focused on its customers in the UK.

The shares have been sold off by Morgan Stanley at below the 73.5p average price paid in the three-stage bailout, But taking the dividend payments into account means the total £20bn outlay has already been repaid.  Former chancellor George Osborne had hoped to offer the shares at a discount direct to the public, with a campaign similar to the classic Tell Sid campaign for British Gas in the 1980s.  Reaction from the City was broadly positive.

Lloyds is now back to business as usual, and the withdrawal of a large seller from the market should be positive for the share price,

said Laith Khalaf, senior analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown.

The Treasury won’t be making a song and dance about the Lloyds sale, seeing as we are in a period of purdah running up to the general election.

Indeed the champagne corks should probably be kept on ice seeing as the taxpayer has only broken even on the face value of the Lloyds bailout, and is still nursing a loss if you factor in the borrowing costs associated with stumping up the money back in 2009.

The turnaround has not been without pain. About 57,000 jobs have been cut at Lloyds as it returned to profitability.  The EU also forced the bank to sell 600 branches due to competition rules and £17bn was set aside to fund PPI misselling – the biggest bill for any of the banks caught up in the scandal.

We were the first bank of the big banks to drop legal actions that were dragging paying PPI and I was the first bank to drop that legal action and start addressing s the issue seriously. It was a bad product this had to be done [fixed] on principle and not in terms on financial provisions

Mr Horta Osório added.

But this year a £4.3bn profit – the biggest in a decade – finally allowed the bank to put its past behind it.  While the sale of the Lloyds stake marks a major turning point for the bank, taxpayers’ other bailed-out institution – RBS – remains firmly in government hands.

RBS was rescued with a £45bn bailout in 2008 and 2009 and has failed to turn a profit since.  The bank recently posted a ninth consecutive year in the red, with losses of £7bn, bringing total losses since the bailout to £58bn.  The lender still faces £5.9bn of charges related to historic misconduct issues and potential legal costs.   £400m pot has also been set aside to compensate small business owners and customers of its controversial Global Restructuring Group.  The now-defunct division secretly tried to profit from struggling businesses, leaked documents showed last year.
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EasyJet has reported a larger loss for the the first half of its financial year, partly due to the impact of the lower pound and the timing of Easter.  The airline recorded a loss of £212m in the six months to March.  That compares with a loss of £21m in the same period a year ago, when Easter was in March and before the pound was hit by the Brexit vote.  However, EasyJet said its performance had been “resilient” and the losses were in line with market expectations.

Total revenue grew 3.2% to £1.827bn and it flew a record 33.8 million passengers in the six months, up 9% from a year before. Even so, investors were not impressed with the results, sending the airline’s shares down nearly 6% in early trading, where they remained at midday.

EasyJet’s chief executive, Carolyn McCall, told the BBC’s Today programme that £82m of the loss was down to the weakness of sterling.
She said it was normal for the company to make a loss in the first half of its financial year.

Nineteen out of 21 years Easyjet has lost money in the winter and actually airlines do lose money in the winter,

she said

Ms McCall added that she was relatively unconcerned about the squeeze on living costs, particularly affecting the UK, where wages are growing more slowly than inflation.

British people and all Europeans value their holidays, and so they actually prioritise their holidays over everything else,

she said.

One survey said British families were saying they would pay for a family holiday over buying kids’ clothes.

EasyJet said that it was on track to gain its European Air Operator Certificate by the summer. It needs this to make sure that it can still operate between European Union member countries after the UK leaves the EU.
A third of its flights are between EU countries and do not involve the UK. Gaining the certificate will lead to a one-off cost, mainly for aircraft registration, of up to £10m over three years, with up to £3m of that this year.
The carrier said that bookings for the summer were ahead of last year, showing that demand to fly remains strong.
It added that it expected to meet current forecasts for its performance for the rest of the year.

Manchester United has reported a loss for the first three months of the year as operating expenses soared.  It lost £3.8m between January and March, down from a £13.7m profit in the same period last year.  The Old Trafford club incurred higher player contract expenses, and was also hit by adverse foreign exchange movements.  But total revenues were 3% higher at £127.2m and the club now expects revenues of £570m for the full year. If the club beats Ajax in the Europa League final on 24 May it would secure a coveted place in the Champions League for next season. Manchester United has a clause in its kitwear deal with Adidas that allows for a cut of 30% in the annual sponsorship deal if the club fails to reach the Champions League in consecutive seasons. After failing to qualify for the tournament in 2016-17 season, it means the Europa League final in Stockholm next week now takes on added importance. Executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward said:

We are forecasting better full-year financial performance than expected and as such have raised our revenue and profit guidance for the year. We look forward to a strong finish to 2016-17, both on and off the pitch.

Broadcast revenues were up 12.9% at £31.4m. Commercial revenues were slightly higher, while matchday income edged lower.  Two global sponsorship deals were signed during the quarter, with ride-hailing service Uber and Singapore firm Aladdin Street. The Old Trafford club also lifted the EFL Cup during the period. United increased its forecast for profits to between £185m and £195m for 2016-17. Net debt at the end of March stood at £366.3m, an increase of £17.6m over the year. The club’s forthcoming summer tour features one game in Norway, and five games in the US.

Ingrid van Veen, Regional Manager for Cycas Hospitality  John Wagner – Director & Founding partner of Cycas Hospitality Betty Angelopoulos –  M&L Hospitality Arnaud de Saint-Exupery – Area Vice President Hyatt UK
Ingrid van Veen, Regional Manager for Cycas Hospitality, John Wagner – Director & Founding partner of Cycas Hospitality, Betty Angelopoulos – M&L Hospitality,  Arnaud de Saint-Exupery – Area Vice President Hyatt UK

Celebrations, congratulations and a Swing Band rocked the newly refurbished Hyatt Place Heathrow Hotel last night as the twelve month, multi million pound and cleverly planned remodeling of  this iconic building in the history of Heathrow’s tourism and leisure offer flung open the doors to a new era.

The M&L Hospitality owned hotel is a Singapore-based real estate investment trust with an international portfolio of best-in-class hotels. Once again demonstrating that the west London economy is open for inward investment.  The hotel features 349 fully refurbished bedrooms, 11 new meeting and event spaces and a 140 cover restaurant – something for travelers, diners and businesses alike.

The hotel, which located on the Bath Road on the edge of Heathrow Airport, now offers business and leisure travelers a contemporary and smartly designed environment just minutes from the terminals.

Ingrid van Veen, Regional Manager for Cycas Hospitality, the management company for the hotel and located at the Hyatt Place London Heathrow Airport says:

We are thrilled to announce the reopening of this stand out property at Heathrow that offers a blend of excellent quality and value coupled with the most convenient location at the airport.

Throughout the hotel, no expense has been spared to ensure we create a welcome, efficient and memorable experience that we are sure will appeal to business and leisure travelers and meeting groups alike.

Christopher Durkin Hounslow Chamber VP and Director, who along with Chamber and business colleagues was enjoying the celebrations, stated:

It is quite remarkable what has been achieved here.  It is a splendid space where the customer experience is the priority.

Without doubt we will be using this as a venue for meet-ups and encouraging our local businesses to exploit this great resource.

British exports through Heathrow are growing – the volume of cargo flying from the airport was up an impressive 12% in April and grew 27% to Latin America and 19% to South Asia, growing at least twice as fast as volumes to Europe (+11%). North America remains Britain’s most important export market from Heathrow, recording healthy 14% growth in cargo in April.

In readiness for further growth as businesses respond to Brexit andprepare for an expanded Heathrow, communities across Britain are putting forward their ideas to host one of Heathrow’s four new logistics hubs. These hubs will play a vital role in making Heathrow’s expansion programme more affordable and environmentally sustainable, as well as creating jobs across the country as the airport looks to increase off-site construction.