Petrol stations squeezing drivers for higher profits, competition watchdog suggests

CMA petrol stations fuel prices profits Russia Ukraine war - Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg
CMA petrol stations fuel prices profits Russia Ukraine war - Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

Petrol stations are to be investigated over a failure to pass on falling wholesale prices to drivers, amid suspicions fuel retailers are using the war in Ukraine as cover to bolster their profits.

The Competition and Markets Authority said it has witnessed “rocket and feather” pricing for fuel, where prices rise sharply, like a rocket, to accommodate higher oil prices and other costs but then drop slowly like a feather as market prices fall back. Under this arrangement, retailers keep the difference between wholesale prices and pump prices as costs fall back.

“Between 2017 and 2021, the difference between the price retailers paid for fuel and the pump price (the “fuel margin”) rose by the equivalent of 2-3p a litre on diesel and 3-4p a litre on petrol,” the CMA found.

The watchdog said the rise could be a result of “the extreme volatility of prices and supply in 2022” but pledged to “investigate further.”

Brent crude oil hit highs of more than $125 per barrel in March in the wake of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war and reached similar prices in June. Since then prices have declined and oil’s most recent value was closer to $80.

Prices for petrol reached record highs of almost 200 pence per litre over summer but have since fallen back, recently falling below 160 pence per litre.

Diesel drivers have suffered more enduring rises, the CMA said. The gap between the two fuels is the largest ever recorded, with a 24 pence premium for diesel.

Much of this is down to Western Europe’s reliance on diesel imports from Russia, which have been disrupted by Moscow’s attack on Ukraine.

RAC fuel spokesman Simon Williams said: "While it's encouraging the CMA has found evidence of 'rocket and feather' pricing taking place this year, we believe there was clear evidence of it happening this time last year and in 2018 and 2019.

"Volatility has unquestionably been an issue in fuel pricing since Russia invaded Ukraine, but when wholesale prices trend down for weeks at a time drivers should see pump prices do the same at a similar rate.

"Unfortunately, our data shows that this is not often the case.”

The CMA also found evidence that areas with fewer petrol stations, and thus less competition, had higher fuel prices, particularly in areas with no supermarket-owned pumps.

Supermarkets often sell fuel on smaller margins than dedicated petrol station networks in order to lure shoppers to their stores.

Interim CMA Chief Executive Sarah Cardell said: “It has been a terrible year for drivers, with filling up a vehicle now a moment of dread for many.

“The disruption of imports from Russia means that diesel drivers, in particular, are paying a substantial premium because of the invasion of Ukraine. A weaker pound is contributing to higher prices across the board too.”

Higher energy costs have also contributed to rising petrol and diesel prices at the pump as driving up oil refining and distribution costs rise.

06:10 PM

Wrapping up

That's all from us for today – thanks for following! We'll be back tomorrow morning for more live updates.

06:02 PM

Government tones down 'big bang' finance plan

The Government will reportedly move away from talking about a “Big Bang 2” for the City of London in a toning down of promises to overhaul the UK's financial sector.

Ministers are expected to stop using the phrase – a reference to dramatic reforms in the 1980s that made London a global financial center – Bloomberg reports.

The shift is said to reflect opposition from critics and the realisation that the complexity of the issues makes the scope for speedy change limited.

Andrew Griffith, the City Minister, will unveil a relatively muted package of post-Brexit reforms on Friday. The changes include relaxing ring-fencing capital rules to lighten the burden on smaller banks.

05:41 PM

Oil prices tumble to lowest since January

Oil prices have dropped to the lowest since January as a broader market sell off and concerns over higher US interest rates combined to drain bullish sentiment out of energy markets.

Benchmark Brent crude futures dropped below $80 today, after a broad shift away from risk assets. The slump comes against a backdrop of ever-dwindling liquidity in the oil market. Brent open interest is at the lowest since 2015, with traders paring back positioning in the final month of the year.

Traders are “fleeing the market” because of the “absurd” price actions oil has recently experienced, Ed Morse, global head of commodity research at Citigroup, told Bloomberg. “We are getting toward the end of the year, and those who made money this year did not want to lose any.”

The oil market’s structure has also been in freefall, with one gauge of US trading at its weakest level in two years, pointing to ample near-term supply.

05:07 PM

EU raises concerns over Meta's targeted ad model

Meta Facebook ads EU - JOSH EDELSON/AFP
Meta Facebook ads EU - JOSH EDELSON/AFP

EU regulators are said to have concluded that Meta should not require users to agree to personalised ads based on their digital activity.

The ruling, reported by the Wall Street Journal, could limit the data Meta can access to sell such ads on Facebook and Instagram.

According to the report, the board ruled that EU privacy law does not allow Meta's social media platforms to use their terms of service as a justification to permit advertising based on online activity.

Shares in Meta dropped more than 6pc.

04:45 PM

Tech stocks hit by bank boss warnings

US stocks have slumped this afternoon after downbeat economic warnings from bank chiefs at a time when concern about the impacts of Federal Reserve policy on corporate earnings is running rampant.

A slide in tech giants like Apple and Tesla weighed heavily on the market, with the S&P 500 falling for a fourth straight day.

Meta tumbled 5pc on a report the EU is targeting the Facebook owner’s ad model.

Goldman Sachs’s David Solomon warned about pay and job cuts amid an uncertain outlook, saying “you have to assume that we have some bumpy times ahead.”

Speaking on CNBC, JPMorgan's Jamie Dimon said a “mild to hard recession” may hit next year. Bank of America is seeing signs of consumer weakness, chief Brian Moynihan said.

04:06 PM

Handing over

That's all from me. My colleague James Warrington will take you through the next few hours.

03:58 PM

Meta helps pull down US markets

Wall Street's main indexes fell in early trading, dragged down by shares of Facebook owner Meta and banks, while investors worried about a longer cycle of interest rate increases.

Meta slid 5.8pc and weighed heavily on the S&P 500 and the Nasdaq after a report on an EU ruling that said Facebook and Instagram should not require users to agree to personalized ads based on their digital activity.

Bank of America dipped 2.9pc to lead declines in the financial sector. The lender's chief executive said the bank's research predicted three quarters of mild negative growth next year.

JPMorgan Chase's top boss Jamie Dimon also warned of a mild to more pronounced recession ahead.

The S&P 500 is down 1pc to 3,956.63 while the Dow Jones Industrial average has slipped 0.5pc to 33,775.20. The Nasdaq Composite is off 1.6pc to 11,065.30.

03:46 PM

Government covered 'a mess up worth billions' with Bulb sale, says Centrica

British Gas owner Centrica has hit out at the Government over the sale of Bulb Energy to Octopus Energy - Owen Humphreys/PA Wire
British Gas owner Centrica has hit out at the Government over the sale of Bulb Energy to Octopus Energy - Owen Humphreys/PA Wire

British Gas owner Centrica has accused the Government of hiding "a mess up worth billions of pounds" to taxpayers as it tried to rush through the sale of collapsed Bulb Energy.

The decision to sell Bulb to Octopus Energy is being challenged by British Gas, Iberdrola's Scottish Power and Eon over the lack of transparency and what subsidies were on offer to potential bidders.

The group of rivals asked for a judicial review of the process days after a London judge set a date of Dec 20 for the deal to complete.

The cost of Bulb's collapse is expected to balloon to £6.5bn as high energy prices lift the total bill that will be shouldered by British households, according to the Office for Budget Responsibility.

The sale to Octopus is being completed through a process called an Energy Transfer Scheme, or ETS, which will transfer the relevant assets of Bulb into a new separate entity.

Paul Harris, a lawyer for British Gas, said: "If the claimants had been told subsidies were on offer, that would fundamentally change the landscape in what they were participating in the bidding process."

03:25 PM

West must look at reopening Russian airspace, says former BA boss

Willie Walsh says he expects China will free its population to travel by air over the coming year - REUTERS/Imad Creidi
Willie Walsh says he expects China will free its population to travel by air over the coming year - REUTERS/Imad Creidi

The West must start to prepare for reopening Russian airspace to ease pressure on airlines, the former boss of British Airways Willie Walsh has said.

Chief business correspondent Oliver Gill has the latest:

Russian airspace, which spans 11 time zones, was shut by Western governments shortly after Vladimir Putin's invasion of Ukraine in February.

Middle Eastern and Chinese airlines have continued to fly over Russia, however – though passenger services by the latter have been limited by Beijing’s zero-Covid policies.

Mr Walsh, now head of global airlines body IATA, said he expects China to ease its coronavirus restrictions over the coming year, freeing the population to travel by air.

In such an eventuality, Chinese airlines would hold a commercial advantage over the likes of British Airways, whose flights are being delayed by up to four hours to avoid Russian airspace.

Read what Mr Walsh told a conference in Geneva.

02:59 PM

Donations to Tories at lowest in two years

Boris Johnson giving his final speech outside Downing Street in September - Wiktor Szymanowicz/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
Boris Johnson giving his final speech outside Downing Street in September - Wiktor Szymanowicz/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Donations to the Conservative Party sank to their lowest in more than two years in the third quarter, when the party was riven by infighting which led to the departure of Boris Johnson.

The Tories received almost £3m in donations in the three months to September, a 45pc drop on the previous quarter, according to Electoral Commission data.

While political donations can be lumpy from quarter to quarter, the sharp fall took Tory fund-raising to its lowest since the second quarter of 2020, when the Covid-19 pandemic had just begun.

02:41 PM

Wall Street opens down

US stock indexes inched lower at open after a selloff in the prior session on fears the Federal Reserve could persist with interest rate hikes for longer.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 10.23 points, or 0.1pc, at the open to 33,936.87.

The S&P 500 opened lower by 2.21 points, or 0.1pc, at 3,996.63, while the Nasdaq Composite dropped 11.52 points, or 0.1pc, to 11,228.42 at the opening bell.

02:32 PM

Fenwick to sell 130-year-old Bond Street store

The Fenwick department store and its adjacent property will be sold next year - Peter Scholey / Alamy Stock Photo
The Fenwick department store and its adjacent property will be sold next year - Peter Scholey / Alamy Stock Photo

Fenwick has announced the sale of its historic Bond Street store after more than 130 years, with the proceeds to be used to invest in other stores and its online presence.

The property will be sold to Lazari Investments, with the deal set to be completed early next year, although Fenwick will continue to trade from the store until 2024.

In a statement the company said fresh capital investment is required following the pandemic to "return the business to profitable growth".

The closure will leave Fenwick with eight sites in Britain in Newcastle, Kingston, Brent Cross, Colchester, Canterbury, Bracknell, Tunbridge Wells and York.

Its latest accounts show Fenwick saw a 71pc increase in gross sales to £240m and a 95pc improvement in pre-tax losses to £5.2m from £112 million in the year to the end of January.

01:48 PM

Pound inches higher as investors await interest rate decisions

The pound has edged up as investors cash in on a rally in the dollar, having neared its highest in six months against the greenback early on Monday.

Data later in the day yesterday that showed US service-sector activity expanded by more than expected in November triggered the largest one-day gain in the dollar in two weeks.

Today, some stability returned to the pound and sterling was last up 0.1pc against the dollar to a little over $1.22, while against the euro, the pound is flat at 86p.

Next week, policymakers at the Bank of England, the European Central Bank and the Fed meet to discuss interest rates, so investors are positioning carefully ahead of that.

01:15 PM

Goldman Sachs on hunt for bargain crypto firms after FTX fiasco

Cryptocurrency - Michaela Nagyidaiova/Bloomberg
Cryptocurrency - Michaela Nagyidaiova/Bloomberg

Goldman Sachs plans to spend tens of millions of dollars to buy or invest in crypto companies after the collapse of the FTX exchange hit valuations and dampened investor interest.

FTX's implosion has heightened the need for more trustworthy, regulated cryptocurrency players, and big banks see an opportunity to pick up business, Mathew McDermott, Goldman's head of digital assets, told Reuters.

Goldman is doing due diligence on a number of different crypto firms, he added, without giving details. Mr McDermott said:

We do see some really interesting opportunities, priced much more sensibly.

[The collapse of FTX] definitely set the market back in terms of sentiment, there's absolutely no doubt of that.

FTX was a poster child in many parts of the ecosystem. But to reiterate, the underlying technology continues to perform.

The price of Bitcoin, the largest cryptocurrency, has fallen by 66pc over the last year.

01:03 PM

Christmas party cancellations 'to double' as a result of train strikes

Pubs and restaurants are being crippled by Christmas party cancellations, which are predicted to double, writes chief business correspondent Oliver Gill.

UKHospitality, which represents over 740 companies operating around 100,000 venues, expects the rail strikes throughout December to cost hospitality businesses around £1.5bn in lost sales and subsequent impacts.

Kate Nicholls chief executive of UKHospitality, said:

The most severe impact we're seeing now is on consumer confidence and the growing cancellations businesses are seeing as a result of the strike.

Feedback we're hearing from members is that cancellations were already around 20-30pc and with the news of no breakthrough and additional strikes further impacting consumer confidence, we're expecting that cancellation rate to rise to 35-40pc.

12:44 PM

NFU warns hit to production 'will drive further food inflation'

NFU president Minette Batters - Heathcliff O'Malley
NFU president Minette Batters - Heathcliff O'Malley

The National Farmers' Union (NFU) is holding a press conference where it is urging the Government to assist producers who are "under severe strain".

NFU president Minette Batters said £60m worth of crops was wasted in Britain in the first half of this year, leaving farmers uncertain about whether to plant new orchards or rip up old ones.

Britain has struggled to attract migrant workers who have traditionally picked fruit across the country. She said:

This is not farmers looking out for themselves. If we don't keep levels of production up, and if we contract these sectors, we will drive further food inflation on the back of it.

This is essential for consumers to continue to have access to high-quality, sustainable, affordable food.

12:33 PM

Almost one in three trains face cancellation on non-strike days over Christmas

Almost one in three trains face cancellation on non-strike days over Christmas as trade unions exploit the rail industry's dependency on staff volunteering to work overtime.

Chief business correspondent Oliver Gill has the story:

Rail chiefs are scrambling to understand the impact of an overtime ban imposed by the Rail, Maritime and Transport workers union (RMT) on thousands of workers at train operators.

Up to 30pc of train services are expected to be cancelled on non-strike days between December 19 and January 3 if workers stick to their hours.

Talks between train operators and the RMT restarted this morning after the union not only refused to call off industrial action last night before this morning’s deadline – but announced three additional days of strikes over Christmas.

Read the initial estimates of the impact of banning overtime.

12:19 PM

Wall Street wavers amid interest rate uncertainty

Futures markets have struggled for direction as traders weighed prospects for a slowdown in the pace of US rate increases against data that shows tighter policy may be needed for longer.

Contracts on the S&P 500 wavered following a third day of declines for the S&P 500 on Monday. Futures on the Nasdaq 100 fluctuated in a narrow range.

A resilient US economy and sticky inflation is countering optimism about a reopening in China, with money market futures and economists suggesting the Fed will need to push rates to a higher peak than previously expected.

The S&P 500 remains on course for its biggest fourth-quarter gain since 1999, but has lost momentum in December after a stellar rally.

The benchmark index has now traded lower for three consecutive days, with losses amounting to about 2pc so far this month.

12:04 PM

Oil prices fall amid Russia price cap

Oil prices have taken a tumble as the market weighs the long-term impact of the latest round of restrictions placed on Russia by the European Union and G7 to punish Moscow for the war in Ukraine.

These include limits on insurance and a $60-a-barrel cap on Russian oil. So far, although some ships were stuck near Turkey in part due to the changes, there has been no widespread disruption.

Brent crude, the international benchmark, was down 1.3pc to $81.63 while West Texas Intermediate (WTI) slipped 1.4pc to $75.86.

11:41 AM

Rolls Royce shares jump after US Army deal

Rolls Royce engine - JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP via Getty Images
Rolls Royce engine - JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP via Getty Images

Rolls-Royce shares rose as much as 4.1pc today, the most since Nov 11, after the US Army awarded a contract for which the British business becomes the main engine manufacturer.

The contract for America's Future Long-Range Assault Aircraft programme has been given to Textron's V-280 Valor project.

Rolls-Royce will be the main engine manufacturer on the scheme.

Analysts at Jefferies estimate the total value of the V-280 program for Rolls-Royce could reach up to $5-6bn (£4.1-£4.9bn) in production and $6-7bn (£4.9-£5.7bn) in services assuming 5,000 installed engines delivered.

11:20 AM

Drivers victim of 'rocket and feather' fuel pricing, says watchdog

Petrol forecourt - Joe Giddens/PA Wire
Petrol forecourt - Joe Giddens/PA Wire

Drivers have been the victim of "rocket and feather" pricing by fuel retailers this year, the competition watchdog has found.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) said diesel has been particularly affected by the behaviour, in which pump prices quickly reflect rising wholesale costs but are slow to fall when costs drop.

This could be driven by the extreme volatility of prices and supply in 2022, according to the CMA.

The watchdog said it will investigate the issue further.

In the update on its road fuel market study, the CMA described 2022 as "the most volatile" for fuel prices since reliable records began.

Prices rose by around 50p a litre from January to July - the largest leap recorded within a year - before falling by 31p for petrol and 14p for diesel.

11:03 AM

Solar to overtake coal as Ukraine war drives renewables boom

The Ukraine war has helped drive a switch to renewable energy - SEBASTIEN NOGIER/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock
The Ukraine war has helped drive a switch to renewable energy - SEBASTIEN NOGIER/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

The war in Ukraine is driving a renewables boom that will see solar power overtake coal to become the world's biggest source of electricity by 2027, the International Energy Agency (IEA) has said.

In a report published today, writes Matt Oliver, the watchdog said oil-rich Russia's attack on its neighbour has unwittingly sparked a "turning point" that is forcing countries to prioritise domestic energy security.

With surging oil and gas prices fuelling an inflation crisis that has hit virtually every part of the global economy, the IEA said countries have responded by ramping up support for green power schemes on an unprecedented scale.

This has dramatically increased the total amount of renewable energy schemes being planned over the next five years, with total capacity now forecast to rise by 75pc or about 2,400 gigawatts between 2022 and 2027.

Previously, the global energy watchdog had predicted renewable electricity capacity would grow by 60pc from 2020 to 2026.

The faster-than-expected expansion will mean the amount of electricity generated by renewables overtakes coal by 2025 - with solar power alone surpassing coal in 2027.

The faster-than-expected expansion of solar energy - set to become the world's biggest source of electricity by 2027, according to the IEA - has also "keep alive" the possibility of limiting global temperature rises to 1.5 degrees celsius above pre-industrial levels.

Scientists say this is vital to preventing the most severe consequences of climate change.

Fatih Birol, the IEA’s executive director, said:

Renewables were already expanding quickly, but the global energy crisis has kicked them into an extraordinary new phase of even faster growth as countries seek to capitalise on their energy security benefits.

The world is set to add as much renewable power in the next five years as it did in the previous 20 years.

This is a clear example of how the current energy crisis can be a historic turning point towards a cleaner and more secure energy system.

10:37 AM

Cost of Christmas dinner jumps 10pc

A traditional Christmas lunch for four will cost £31, an increase of around 10pc on last year, with parsnips up 30pc, potatoes up 20pc, and frozen turkey rising by 15pc this year.

Sales of Christmas staples are on course to top £12bn for the first time ever this month, Kantar said.

However, sales of mince pies and Christmas puddings are down year-on-year as customers leave shopping until later to try and manage costs in the run up to Christmas Day.

Roast - E+
Roast - E+

In one development that might bring a glimmer of Christmas cheer, supermarket price rises are starting to slow with items costing 14.6pc more in November compared to last year, a dip from 14.7pc in October.

The wholesale costs of items such as sunflower oil are beginning to come down, following a deal to get shipments out of Ukraine.

Hannah Boland reports

09:46 AM

'Access to talent' big concern for construction sector

The recent recovery in the UK's construction sector slowed down considerably in November, the results of an influential survey have shown.

The Purchasing Managers Index survey of construction companies gave them a score of 50.4 in November - down from 53.2 in October and the worst score since August.

Max Jones, director in Lloyds Bank's infrastructure and construction team, said:

Construction is bucking the trend of contraction seen elsewhere in the UK economy, which is good news, but also true of the sector's natural lag to the wider economic cycle.

There are good reasons to be positive about the construction sector, with many firms seeing a big win in the Government's reaffirmed commitment to major public infrastructure projects, such as HS2 and Sizewell C, which are a huge part of the sector's order books.

Looking ahead to 2023, the impact of economic uncertainty is creating significant issues for construction. Access to talent is also a big concern.

Anecdotally, contractors are worried that without meaningful reform to the UK’s immigration system the skills gap will widen in 2023, as there are insufficient trained people in the workforce to meet employers’ immediate needs.

09:44 AM

Truphone sale by Roman Abramovich raises national security concerns

Minsters have demanded that Truphone, a UK telecoms company owned by Roman Abramovich, hire government-cleared security experts amid national security concerns over the sale.

Grant Shapps, the Business Secretary has concluded that the takeover of British mobile company Truphone by German entrepreneur Hakan Koç could pose a risk to national security following an investigation into the deal.

Mr Shapps said there was a possibility the purchaser could lead to the disruption of UK mobile services or potentially see Truphone's UK database exploited.

Hannah Boland has the full story

09:34 AM

Construction sector growth lower than expected

A key measure of the health of the construction industry showed the sector barely grew in November, indicating further that Britain is heading towards a recession.

The UK construction PMI was 50.4, down from 53.2. It had been expected to be 52.

Any reading above 50 shows growth, while below shows contraction.

09:28 AM

UK markets fall

The exports-oriented FTSE 100 edged lower after strong US data fanned fears that the Federal Reserve could persist with its aggressive rate hikes, while Ashtead Group jumped on raising dividend.

Strong US services data along with a rebound in employment in November reflected underlying momentum in the economy could give reason to the Fed to continue raising rates.

The FTSE 100 fell 0.2pc to 7,555.69 but Ashtead Group rose 3.9pc after the equipment rental firm raised its interim dividend by 20pc.

Life insurer Phoenix climbed 1pc after it set an incremental new business long-term cash generation target of around $1.83bn (£1.5bn) by 2025.

Meanwhile, the domestically-oriented FTSE 250 fell 0.3pc to 19,263.62.

The construction manufacturing index for the month of November is expected to show a contraction from the previous month.

09:16 AM

Mick Lynch: Train companies 'lose no money whatsoever' in dispute

Asked if there is any chance of a resolution in the talks, Mick Lynch told the BBC:

The employers know exactly how to resolve this dispute. I saw them on Friday, I saw them on Sunday, I saw them yesterday, I'll be seeing them today. They are not allowed to make proposals at all, and when they make the proposals they have said to me 'I know it will be unacceptable but the Government will not allow me to make a suitable proposal'.

The Government can come on here and answer these questions, as the union does, but they are not available, they are working behind the scenes, and they are putting up proposals that they know are untenable.

The companies have to do that because it is written into their contracts that they will carry out the instructions of the Secretary of State.

The reason they do that is because they get indemnified for every day of strike action. They are paid the money they would otherwise have lost and the only people that lose are my members who lose their wages, the public and these businesses in hospitality who lose their income as well, while the people that I negotiate with lose no money whatsoever.

The people who are conducting the dispute make no losses whatsoever and the taxpayer subsidises those people by money given directly from the DfT.

We don't want to do this at Christmas but if we don’t do it then the changes will be imposed on us.

09:03 AM

Women and disabled passengers feel safer with train guards, says Lynch

Questioned about driver-only operated trains - and the RMT's objection to them running right across the networks - Mr Lynch told the BBC:

We believe it's proven that drive only operated trains are less safe in terms of train dispatch and train protection in times of incidents.

Women and many disabled passengers have told us countless times that they want to see a staffed train because they want to see greater accessibility to the railway, which is a legal requirement of the railway companies.

They feel a staffed train is better, more safe and more welcoming than an unstaffed train. We want to maintain that and we also believe that it’s safer in terms of train dispatch, in terms of trap and drag, and the protection that’s afforded to people during times of disruption.

If you take the fatalities at Stonehaven, and you take the incident at Watford where two trains collided due to a landslip, it was the intervention of the guard that got the emergency services there and protected those passengers from follow up incidents.

08:53 AM

Mick Lynch: Without our response, workers will suffer consequences

Told that the RMT's strikes will do real damage to people's plans to get home on Christmas Eve, the union's general secretary Mick Lynch told the BBC:

That's unfortunate but we have to respond to what the companies are doing.

They are doing that very deliberately. They are escalating the dispute by saying that they will impose these changes.

If we do not respond, then those changes will go through without a response from us and our members will have to suffer the consequences, including job losses and changes to their working lives that are unacceptable to them.

That will include more unsocial hours and more weekend working.

08:44 AM

Strikes to hit passenger trains 'from evening time' on Christmas Eve

RMT general secretary Mick Lynch suggested the newly announced Christmas action "does not largely affect passenger services".

He said: "Passenger railway runs down and closes on the evening of December 24 so what we’re targeting is the engineering works at Network Rail. There will be no passenger staff on strike during the Christmas period.

"Network Rail have made a response to us that they don't value our members' work. They don't value what they do and they want to lower that value."

Asked whether the action will affect passenger trains on Christmas Eve, Mr Lynch said: "They will run up until the evening time."

Admitting it will affect passengers, Mr Lynch said:

Yes it is a change of plan because the companies have changed their plan.

They have decided that on Dec 15 that they will impose the changes to our members in the maintenance and engineering function at Network Rail - that no matter what happens they will proceed with the changes that we have been attempting to negotiate with them, without our consent.

“Their plan has changed as well and our members do not accept the changes that are attempting to be made.

08:31 AM

Mick Lynch: This inconvenience is being caused by the Government

RMT general secretary Mick Lynch also told the BBC:

My members are living on extremely low wages, some of them. Not all of them but what everyone is experiencing is a lowering of their conditions.

We regret the inconvenience we are causing but this inconvenience is being caused by the Government who are running the playbook and the strategy for the railway companies.

They have held back, even these paltry offers, to the last minute, so they know it is very difficult for us to deal with these offers.

We gave them three weeks to make the offer and they have held that back.

08:26 AM

Mick Lynch: The price of labour isn't at the right price in this country

Mick Lynch, general secretary of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT) - Lucy North/PA Wire
Mick Lynch, general secretary of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT) - Lucy North/PA Wire

RMT general secretary Mick Lynch, who announced further strike action on the railways last night, has been interviewed on the Today programme on Radio 4. He said:

There's a generalised attack on working people. They're having their wages lowered against inflation and often conditions ripped up.

You hear in our industry and with the CWU for the Royal Mail that it's not just about pay.

They are offering very paltry pay rises in return for chopping up of terms and conditions and changes to working practices so it feels like a very general attack by the employers and by the Government and by organisations that are coordinating what they are doing, clearly.

So it would be foolish of unions not to coordinate themselves in response to those attacks and that's what we're facing.

People are being made poorer and sometimes impoverished while they are working, having to live on food banks and state benefits.

So the price of labour isn't at the right price in this country and what unions have got to do is correct that.

Because if people are living on subsidy and food banks and other support mechanisms then they are not being paid the right amount of money for their work - and that is exactly what is happening on the railway.

08:08 AM

Merger could mean 'higher prices for NHS', warns watchdog

The competition watchdog has warned that a merger of two hearing implant firms "could lead to higher prices for the NHS".

The Competition and Market Authority said Cochlear's proposed purchase of Oticon Medical, the hearing division of Danish firm Demant, could also reduce quality and slow innovation for patients in the UK.

Australia-based Cochlear agreed the deal to buy Oticon in April for 850 million Danish krona (£98 million).

08:04 AM

UK markets mixed at open

London's blue-chip index started the day positively amid expectations China will press ahead with easing its stringent pandemic restrictions, relieving pressures on trade, manufacturing and consumer spending.

The FTSE 100 opened up 0.1pc at 7,563.88 while the mid-cap FTSE 250 was down 0.5pc to 19,273.80.

07:56 AM

German factory orders rise amid hopes of milder recession

The production line at the Porsche factory in Stuttgart, Germany - Krisztian Bocsi/Bloomberg
The production line at the Porsche factory in Stuttgart, Germany - Krisztian Bocsi/Bloomberg

German factory orders rose in October, a sign of hope for manufacturers in Europe's largest economy as they struggle with inflation and elevated energy costs due to Russia's war in Ukraine.

Demand increased 0.8pc from the previous month. The gain was due to large-scale orders, without which there would have been a 1.2pc decrease, the statistics office said today.

Fears of a deep winter slump have been tempered in part by warm autumn weather that allowed Germany to fill gas-storage facilities and lower the risk of disruptive shortages.

07:48 AM

UK 'sleepwalking' into food supply crisis, warns NFU

Farm in Chipping Campden, Gloucestershire - AndyRoland/iStockphoto
Farm in Chipping Campden, Gloucestershire - AndyRoland/iStockphoto

The UK is "sleepwalking" into a food supply crisis, the country's union for farmers and growers has warned.

Ahead of an emergency press conference today, the National Farmers Union (NFU) has said the Government needs to step in to help crop growers, cattle rearers and other food producers under severe strain from soaring fuel, fertiliser and feed costs.

Union president Minette Batters said egg shortages "could just be the start" as multiple farming sectors were impacted.

Ms Batters told the BBC:

Shoppers up and down the country have for decades had a guaranteed supply of high-quality affordable food produced to some of the highest animal welfare, environmental and food safety standards in the world.

But British food is under threat... at a time when global volatility is threatening the stability of the world's food production, food security and energy security.

I fear the country is sleepwalking into further food supply crises, with the future of British fruit and vegetable supplies in trouble.

07:44 AM

Good morning

Natural gas prices have surged in Europe as the continent prepares for a cold snap.

Benchmark futures increased as much as 4.3pc, with temperatures expected to plummet below freezing from Britain to the Nordics this week.

The first cold spell of the season will put pressure of the region's fragile energy systems as households crank up the heating.

5 things to start your day

1) More rail strikes announced over Christmas - Leaders of the Rail, Maritime and Transport workers union (RMT) said on Monday that a fresh series of strikes will take place from December 24 through to December 27.

2) Vodafone urged to cut costs by major shareholder after ousting boss - Xavier Niel, founder of the French operator Iliad and owner of 2.5pc of Vodafone, said that change at the top would not be enough to deliver a turnaround.

3) More than 200,000 workforce dropouts report long Covid - The Office for National Statistics said this could partially explain why Britain’s labour force has shrunk so much since the pandemic began.

4) B&Q eyes rollout of dozens of convenience stores across UK - The DIY and home improvement retail giant has been trialling smaller high street stores since 2020, but now plans to launch two stores in London’s Palmers Green and Camden districts

5) Thames Water made £2m of profit a day during summer hosepipe ban - The company posted profits of £398m for the six months to September, despite a surge in leaks and a drought that forced it to introduce restrictions on consumers.

What happened overnight

Asian stocks logged their sharpest declines in two weeks but the dollar held on to gains following strong US data that again suggested the Federal Reserve might stick longer with aggressive interest rate increases.

While investors stayed hopeful of China's economy improving with the easing of the country's zero-Covid policy, analysts said markets had already priced in a lot of the upbeat news.

MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan declined 1.4pc, the biggest fall since Nov 21, after climbing to a three-month high in the previous session. The benchmark has gained 20pc from October lows on persistent chatter about China easing pandemic measures.

Stocks in Korea fell 1pc, Taiwan slumped by 1.6pc, and Hong Kong shed 1.1pc. Chinese stocks extended their recovery, with the broader index gaining 0.6pc, while Japan was up 0.3pc.

Havard Chi, head of research at hedge fund Quarz Capital Asia, said: "The black swan in the room is the risk of the Fed being too late again, but this time in cutting rates."