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There was much excitement when, in April, the chancellor, Rishi Sunak, announced the launch of a new taskforce between the Treasury and the Bank of England to co-ordinate exploratory work on a potential central bank digital currency.

The currency was immediately nicknamed ‘Britcoin‘ although it is unlikely to take that name if or when it is eventually launched.

As part of the work, the Bank was asked to consult widely on the benefits, risks and practicalities of doing so.

That work is ongoing but, in the meantime, the Bank has published a discussion paper aiming to broaden the debate around new forms of digital money.

The issue is of huge importance to the Bank because its two main functions, as an institution, are to maintain both the monetary and financial stability in the UK. The rise of digital money has implications for both.

The Bank has already made clear that it is sceptical about cryptocurrencies, such as Bitcoin, which its governor, Andrew Bailey, has said “has no intrinsic value”.

Yet these currencies must be differentiated from a central bank digital currency.

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The concept of a central bank digital currency may be confusing to some but Sir Jon Cunliffe, the Bank’s deputy governor for financial stability, said it was actually quite straightforward.

File photo dated 20/09/19 of the Bank of England, in the City of London, which has left interest rates unchanged at 0.1%. Issue date: Thursday February 4, 2021.
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The Bank of England is responsible for UK monetary policy and financial stability

He told Sky News: “At the Bank of England, we issue banknotes, the notes that everybody holds in their pocket, but we don’t issue any money in digital form.

“So when you pay with a card or with your phone on a digital transaction, you’re actually using your bank account, you’re transferring money from your bank account to somebody else’s.

“A central bank digital currency, a digital pound, would actually be a claim on the Bank of England, issued by us, directly to the public.

“At the moment we only issue digital money to banks, we don’t issue to the general public, so it will be a digital pound – and it will be similar to some of the proposals being developed in the private sector.”

Sir Jon, who is co-chairing the taskforce with the Treasury’s Katharine Braddick, said that, while a central bank digital currency and a cryptocurrency like Bitcoin might use the same technology, there were big differences.

He went on: “[Central bank digital currencies] use the same technology but…they aim to have a stable value. They’re called stable coins and some of the technology companies, the big tech platforms, are just thinking about developing digital coins of that sort.

The European Central Bank is in Frankfurt
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The European Central Bank is exploring a similar digital currency for the euro area

“A central bank digital currency would be a digital coin, actually a digital note, issued by the Bank of England.”

Sir Jon said such currencies would have to the potential to bring down costs for businesses depending on how they were developed.

He added: “They do offer the potential to bring down cost. At the moment the average cost, I think, for a credit card transaction is about just over half a per cent, but of course if you’re a small tea room in Shoreham-on-Sea, you’re going to be paying more than that in some cases, well over 1% for that transaction.

“So it could be cheaper, it could be more convenient. These new forms of money offer the ability for them to be integrated more with other things through their software. So you can think of smart contracts, in which the money would be programmed to be released only when something happened. You could think, for example, of giving the children pocket money but programming the money so that it couldn’t be used for sweets.

“There’s a whole range of things that money could do – programmable money, as it’s called – which we can’t do with the current technology.

“Now whether there’s a market, whether there’s a demand for that, whether that’s something people want in their lives, I think is another question – but we need to stay at the forefront of thinking.

“We need to stay ahead of these issues because we’ve seen changes can happen really fast in the digital world – people didn’t think smartphones had much or a market when the iPhone was first introduced – and it’s important we keep abreast of those issues.”

He noted that, under one ‘illustrative scenario’ set out in the Bank’s discussion paper, the cost of credit could rise in the event of people withdrawing deposits from the banking sector and migrated to a form of digital money.

This is why the Bank is seeking, in this discussion paper, to establish the conditions under which people might prefer using new forms of digital money to existing forms, such as cash or ‘private money’ like bank deposits. But that is easier said than done.

Sir Jon added: “It’s very difficult to know what the demand for something like this will be. It could be quite small – people might just want to keep a small wallet of digital coins for use on the internet, or whatever, but it could be quite large.

“That’s one of the things we want to try and understand better and [that’s why] we want to get views on how it would operate.

Undated handout photo issued by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) of a poster for Luno, a cryptocurrency exchange service
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The value of cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin have fluctuated wildly since their conception

“It’s important to say, given that it’s so difficult to estimate whether something like this would take off, that, if it were introduced, I think one would have to be quite careful at the beginning – you wouldn’t want to be in a position where something became very popular and had impacts that you hadn’t foreseen.”

To that end, the Bank’s discussion paper also considers the potential risks posed to economic stability by new forms of digital money.

The deputy governor went on: “It’s really fundamental that people can trust the money they use every day in the economy, that they don’t have to think about ‘I’m holding one form of money rather than another form of money, is this one more safe than another?’

“So the regulation is going to have to make sure – and the Financial Policy Committee of the Bank of England made this really clear – that if you issue these new forms of money, the users have to have the same level of confidence and security that they have in the money that circulates in this country at the moment, either Bank of England cash or commercial bank money in the form of bank accounts.

“It’s really crucial that people trust the money they use – we’ve seen from history that when confidence in money breaks down, for whatever reason, the social cost is enormous.”

All of which explains that, while most analysts assume the Bank will ultimately launch its own digital currency, it is taking its time to assess what the impact may be.

It is also clearly giving much thought to how it explains to households and businesses why such a move may be necessary.

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Sub-postmaster wrongly sent to prison while pregnant rejects apology from ex-Post Office boss David Smith

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Sub-postmaster wrongly sent to prison while pregnant rejects apology from ex-Post Office boss David Smith

A victim of the Post Office scandal who was wrongly jailed while pregnant has rejected an apology from a former Post Office executive – who celebrated her conviction as “brilliant news” at the time.

Former managing director David Smith made the apology to the Post Office Horizon IT inquiry, saying: “I would absolutely never think that it was ‘brilliant news’ for a pregnant woman to go to prison and I am hugely apologetic that my email can be read as such.”

That victim, Seema Misra – who was sentenced to 15 months in jail and served four months while pregnant – said it wasn’t good enough.

“They’re apologising now, but they missed so many chances before,” Ms Misra told Sky News.

“We had my conviction overturned, nobody came at that time to apologise. And now they just suddenly realised that when they have to appear in a public inquiry, they have to apologise.”

The inquiry is investigating who knew what and when about the faulty accounting software that ruined lives, resulted in huge debts, ill-health, ruined reputations, and led to the conviction of hundreds of innocent sub-postmasters for theft and false accounting.

The scandal received renewed attention after an ITV drama, Mr Bates vs the Post Office, aired early this year and brought to life how Horizon software, developed by Fujitsu, incorrectly generated financial shortfalls at Post Office branches throughout the UK.

More on Post Office Scandal

Read more:
More than £1m claimed as ‘profit’ may have come from victims
Post Office hero Bates had seemingly been preparing for this day

‘Brilliant news’

In 2010 Mr Smith emailed Post Office prosecutors, congratulating them on a job well done in jailing Ms Misra for theft.

“Brilliant news. Well done. Please pass on my thanks to the team,” he said.

The message was intended to celebrate proving Horizon was robust, Mr Smith said, rather than someone going to prison.

“Regardless of the result, I would have thanked the team for their work on the case.”

“However, seeing this email in the light of what I know now, I understand the anger and the upset that it will have caused and sincerely apologise for that,” Mr Smith’s evidence statement to the inquiry said.

“It is evident that my email would have caused Seema Misra, and her family, substantial distress to read and I would like to apologise for that.”

Ms Misra’s conviction was overturned by the Court of Appeal in 2021 but the memories of her time in prison still give her nightmares, she said.

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Sub-postmistress wrongly jailed while pregnant

A ‘test case’ that added confidence in Horizon

Mr Smith told the inquiry Ms Misra had been used as a “test case”.

The success of the case led to more confidence in Horizon, he said.

He said: “I do know that from this point forward, we didn’t really think about whether we should have an inquiry [into Horizon] again while I was at the Post Office and certainly if you looked at board minutes from the month after and the month after that which had been shared with me, we’re not talking about Horizon at all.”

In response, Ms Misra told Sky News: “How can they do a test on a human being?”

“I’m a living creature,” she added.

“I heard that my case has been used as a test case before. But hearing it again and again, it’s just annoying. It makes me more and more angry, to be honest.”

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A wrongly convicted pregnant sub-postmaster has told Sky News she

Flora Page, a barrister representing some sub-postmasters, said the trial of Ms Misra was being “actively used by Post Office as part of [its] campaign to claim that Horizon was robust”.

This was denied by Mr Smith.

Ms Page questioned Mr Smith at the inquiry about what the Post Office knew before putting Ms Misra behind bars and said prosecutors were alerted to bugs in Horizon on a Friday.

On the following Monday Ms Misra’s trial began, the inquiry heard.

Documentation submitted to the inquiry showed a Fujitsu witness in Ms Misra’s case was present at a pre-trial meeting where bugs in Horizon were being discussed, Ms Page said.

The meeting “made it perfectly plain that Fujitsu had the power to remotely alter branch accounts”, as the option was put forward as a way to resolve the receipts and payments mismatch bug in Horizon, she added.

At the time, Mr Smith said, he was unaware of the meeting and documents.

Former managing director of Post Office Ltd David Smith, arrives to give evidence to the Post Office Horizon IT inquiry.
Pic: PA
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Former managing director of Post Office Ltd David Smith, arrives to give evidence to the Post Office Horizon IT inquiry.
Pic: PA

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‘Inherent risks’ in Post Office prosecuting

The Post Office was allowed to investigate and bring prosecutions itself and did not require Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) involvement.

Reflecting on how prosecutions were carried out, Mr Smith told the inquiry there are “risks” within the system.

In-house prosecution “can lead you to a position where you might not think as independently as you should do about the quality of the information”, he said.

None of these issues occurred to Mr Smith during his tenure.

He said: “I cannot recall thinking that any risk or compliance issues arose from [the Post Office] undertaking this role, but with the benefit of hindsight, and in light of the wrongful prosecutions, I can see the inherent risks in the prosecutions taking place ‘in house’ and not by an independent enforcement authority.”

At the time the organisation was too focused on other issues, such as the Post Office separating from Royal Mail, the new coalition government, and the need to refinance the business, he said.

The company board was “pre-occupied” with investment from the government, his witness statement said.

“Therefore, although we were aware of the case, at board level we were not heavily focused on it as our attention was on keeping the business running,” he added.

It was down to “institutional bias” that led executives not to interrogate what was being said by sub-postmasters and the public about Horizon, he added.

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Port Talbot steelworkers vote to strike over proposed furnace closures

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Port Talbot steelworkers vote to strike over proposed furnace closures

Hundreds of steelworkers are set to go on strike over the proposed closure of Port Talbot’s blast furnaces.

Unite the Union announced the result of its strike ballot on Thursday but walkout dates are yet to be confirmed.

Around 1,500 workers based in Port Talbot and Newport voted in favour of strikes.

It will be the first time in more than 40 years that Port Talbot steelworkers have gone on strike.

Thousands of jobs could be lost in the South Wales town should Tata Steel proceed with proposals to shut both blast furnaces.

Unions are warning that a total of up to 2,800 jobs could be lost if Tata’s plans go ahead.

Unite’s general secretary Sharon Graham described the ballot result as a “historic vote”.

“Unite will be at the forefront of the fight to save steelmaking in Wales,” she added.

“We will support steel by all and every means.”

‘Competitive and greener’

The proposals were officially confirmed in January, with Tata boss TV Narendran telling MPs the decision was “pretty much” a done deal.

Tata said the move will mark the beginning of a new way of steelmaking which is “competitive and greener”.

But there are concerns in Port Talbot about its impact on the local economy, with the plant’s workforce currently accounting for 12% of the town’s population.

Unite argues that other European countries are transitioning to ensure a “bright future” for the steel industry.

It says the blast furnaces at the Tata plant in the Netherlands are being kept open and that in Germany more steel is being produced at a single plant than by the entire UK industry.

Unite Wales regional secretary Peter Hughes said its members would “not be intimidated into standing by”.

“Our members have their union’s absolute support in striking to stop these cuts – Unite is backing them every step of the way,” he added.

The Community union is currently balloting its members at Tata for industrial action.

Read more from Ed Conway:
Why British steel is on brink of extinction

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A Tata Steel spokesperson said the company was “naturally disappointed” by the decision.

The spokesperson added that Tata was engaged in a consultation process with the unions on its proposals.

They said the consultation “continues in an open, collaborative and constructive fashion”.

The firm says it has written twice to Unite during the ballot process to “notify them of significant irregularities in the ballot process they have undertaken”.

“While the £1.25bn commitment with the UK government will ensure a long-term viable future for low-CO2 steelmaking in the UK, our current business is unsustainable, reporting losses of more than £1m a day,” the spokesperson added.

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Sub-postmaster wrongly sent to prison while pregnant rejects apology from ex-Post Office boss David Smith

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Sub-postmaster wrongly sent to prison while pregnant rejects apology from ex-Post Office boss David Smith

A victim of the Post Office scandal who was wrongly jailed while pregnant has rejected an apology from a former Post Office executive – who celebrated her conviction as “brilliant news” at the time.

Former managing director David Smith made the apology to the Post Office Horizon IT inquiry, saying: “I would absolutely never think that it was ‘brilliant news’ for a pregnant woman to go to prison and I am hugely apologetic that my email can be read as such.”

That victim, Seema Misra – who was sentenced to 15 months in jail and served four months while pregnant – said it wasn’t good enough.

“They’re apologising now, but they missed so many chances before,” Ms Misra told Sky News.

“We had my conviction overturned, nobody came at that time to apologise. And now they just suddenly realised that when they have to appear in a public inquiry, they have to apologise.”

The inquiry is investigating who knew what and when about the faulty accounting software that ruined lives, resulted in huge debts, ill-health, ruined reputations, and led to the conviction of hundreds of innocent sub-postmasters for theft and false accounting.

The scandal received renewed attention after an ITV drama, Mr Bates vs the Post Office, aired early this year and brought to life how Horizon software, developed by Fujitsu, incorrectly generated financial shortfalls at Post Office branches throughout the UK.

More on Post Office Scandal

Read more:
More than £1m claimed as ‘profit’ may have come from victims
Post Office hero Bates had seemingly been preparing for this day

‘Brilliant news’

In 2010 Mr Smith emailed Post Office prosecutors, congratulating them on a job well done in jailing Ms Misra for theft.

“Brilliant news. Well done. Please pass on my thanks to the team,” he said.

The message was intended to celebrate proving Horizon was robust, Mr Smith said, rather than someone going to prison.

“Regardless of the result, I would have thanked the team for their work on the case.”

“However, seeing this email in the light of what I know now, I understand the anger and the upset that it will have caused and sincerely apologise for that,” Mr Smith’s evidence statement to the inquiry said.

“It is evident that my email would have caused Seema Misra, and her family, substantial distress to read and I would like to apologise for that.”

Ms Misra’s conviction was overturned by the Court of Appeal in 2021 but the memories of her time in prison still give her nightmares, she said.

Please use Chrome browser for a more accessible video player

Sub-postmistress wrongly jailed while pregnant

A ‘test case’ that added confidence in Horizon

Mr Smith told the inquiry Ms Misra had been used as a “test case”.

The success of the case led to more confidence in Horizon, he said.

He said: “I do know that from this point forward, we didn’t really think about whether we should have an inquiry [into Horizon] again while I was at the Post Office and certainly if you looked at board minutes from the month after and the month after that which had been shared with me, we’re not talking about Horizon at all.”

In response, Ms Misra told Sky News: “How can they do a test on a human being?”

“I’m a living creature,” she added.

“I heard that my case has been used as a test case before. But hearing it again and again, it’s just annoying. It makes me more and more angry, to be honest.”

Please use Chrome browser for a more accessible video player

A wrongly convicted pregnant sub-postmaster has told Sky News she

Flora Page, a barrister representing some sub-postmasters, said the trial of Ms Misra was being “actively used by Post Office as part of [its] campaign to claim that Horizon was robust”.

This was denied by Mr Smith.

Ms Page questioned Mr Smith at the inquiry about what the Post Office knew before putting Ms Misra behind bars and said prosecutors were alerted to bugs in Horizon on a Friday.

On the following Monday Ms Misra’s trial began, the inquiry heard.

Documentation submitted to the inquiry showed a Fujitsu witness in Ms Misra’s case was present at a pre-trial meeting where bugs in Horizon were being discussed, Ms Page said.

The meeting “made it perfectly plain that Fujitsu had the power to remotely alter branch accounts”, as the option was put forward as a way to resolve the receipts and payments mismatch bug in Horizon, she added.

At the time, Mr Smith said, he was unaware of the meeting and documents.

Former managing director of Post Office Ltd David Smith, arrives to give evidence to the Post Office Horizon IT inquiry.
Pic: PA
Image:
Former managing director of Post Office Ltd David Smith, arrives to give evidence to the Post Office Horizon IT inquiry.
Pic: PA

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Keep up with all the latest news from the UK and around the world by following Sky News

Tap here

‘Inherent risks’ in Post Office prosecuting

The Post Office was allowed to investigate and bring prosecutions itself and did not require Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) involvement.

Reflecting on how prosecutions were carried out, Mr Smith told the inquiry there are “risks” within the system.

In-house prosecution “can lead you to a position where you might not think as independently as you should do about the quality of the information”, he said.

None of these issues occurred to Mr Smith during his tenure.

He said: “I cannot recall thinking that any risk or compliance issues arose from [the Post Office] undertaking this role, but with the benefit of hindsight, and in light of the wrongful prosecutions, I can see the inherent risks in the prosecutions taking place ‘in house’ and not by an independent enforcement authority.”

At the time the organisation was too focused on other issues, such as the Post Office separating from Royal Mail, the new coalition government, and the need to refinance the business, he said.

The company board was “pre-occupied” with investment from the government, his witness statement said.

“Therefore, although we were aware of the case, at board level we were not heavily focused on it as our attention was on keeping the business running,” he added.

It was down to “institutional bias” that led executives not to interrogate what was being said by sub-postmasters and the public about Horizon, he added.

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