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The chairman of Royal Dutch Shell will be nominated on Tuesday to a key role at the government’s science quango as ministers seek to intensify Britain’s commitment to post-Brexit innovation.

Sky News has learned that Sir Andrew Mackenzie, one of the UK’s leading business figures, will be named as the preferred candidate to chair UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), which boasts an annual budget worth nearly £8bn.

The prospective appointment of Sir Andrew will be hailed by Whitehall as a signal of the government’s determination to promote UKRI as a vital component in Britain’s innovation agenda.

His nomination – which could yet be subject to approval by the House of Commons science and technology select committee – is understood to have been signed off by Kwasi Kwarteng, the business secretary.

Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng
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The business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng is understood to have approved Sir Andrew’s nomination

Sir Andrew is understood to have seen off competition for the job from two prominent rivals, according to people close to the process.

If ratified, the Shell chairman and former chief executive of BHP, the Anglo-Australian mining giant, will replace Sir John Kingman as the UKRI chair.

Sir John announced his departure from the role last autumn.

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UKRI’s mandate to identify world-leading advances in science and innovation is understood to remain a priority for Mr Kwarteng despite the simultaneous creation of the Advanced Research and Invention Agency (ARIA) – a brainchild of Dominic Cummings, Boris Johnson’s former top adviser.

Mr Kwarteng’s department has just kicked off a search for ARIA’s inaugural chief executive.

Sir Andrew’s early career was spent as an academic geochemist before a move into industry culminated in him landing the top job at BHP in 2013.

He recently became chair of Shell – one of the most prestigious posts in corporate Britain.

Sir Andrew is likely to take up the UKRI role during the summer.

UKRI houses bodies including Innovate UK, which itself recently appointed businessman Indro Mukerjee as its first permanent boss since 2018.

Mr Kwarteng is said to be keen that Innovate UK fulfils its intended role as the “interface for innovation” between the government and private sector.

The arrival of Innovate UK’s new chief executive is said to be a key step towards ensuring that the government met its commitment to increasing research and development spending across the economy to 2.4% of GDP by 2027.

Mr Mukerjee has been handed the task of turning the organisation from one focused on handing out government grants into one which works far more collaboratively with the private sector to spearhead innovations with potential to spur economic growth.

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy declined to comment on the identity of the successful candidate in the UKRI appointment process on Monday evening, but confirmed that details would be announced shortly.

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Grocery delivery app Getir prepares to exit UK market

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Grocery delivery app Getir prepares to exit UK market

Getir, the grocery delivery app once valued at nearly $12bn (£9.7bn), is close to pulling the plug on its operations in Britain in a move that would spark concerns for well over 1,000 jobs.

Sky News has learnt that Getir is preparing to announce next week that it is withdrawing from the three remaining European markets in which it operates: the UK, Germany and the Netherlands.

In total, thousands of jobs will be put at risk, including approximately 1,500 in the UK, according to people close to the situation.

The process through which Getir, which has a multimillion-pound commercial partnership with the Premier League’s Tottenham Hotspur, plans to exit the UK was unclear on Friday.

Insiders said, that it could involve a sale of its assets or an insolvency procedure although they added that no decisions had been taken.

Getir has previously denied that any form of insolvency was on the cards for the group or its subsidiaries.

The company is understood to have drafted in restructuring advisers in recent days, while Mubadala, the Abu Dhabi fund that is one of its biggest shareholders, is being advised by AlixPartners.

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Dejan Kulusevski of Tottenham Hotspur during trainin.
Pic: Alex Morton/Tottenham Hotspur FC/Shutterstock
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Getir sponsor Tottenham Hotspur’s training kit. Pic: Alex Morton/Tottenham Hotspur FC/Shutterstock

Getir’s plans to exit the UK and other markets will leave it with operations in the US and Turkey only.

Ultimately, it is expected to seek to operate solely in Turkey, where it was founded.

Meaning ‘to bring’ in Turkish, Getir expanded at breakneck speed to become of the world’s most valuable fast-delivery platforms.

Earlier this week, Sky News reported that the company was weighing a string of asset sales, including FreshDirect, a US-based online grocer it only acquired late last year, as part of efforts to repair its balance sheet.

Getir was valued at nearly $12bn (£9.7bn) just two years ago, and has sought to acquire a number of rivals which have run into financial trouble.

The company has already pulled out of a number of countries, including Italy and Spain, in an attempt to reduce losses.

Its retreat highlights the slumping valuations of technology companies once-hailed as the new titans of major economies.

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As well as Mubadala, Getir is backed by prominent tech investors including Sequoia Capital and Tiger Global.

The company was one of the hottest start-ups of the pandemic, when financiers rushed to plough billions of dollars into businesses they believed would benefit from structural shifts in the economy.

It raised more than $750m in a funding round in early 2022, but has seen its valuation slump since then.

Last September, Getir also announced a sharp cut in the size of its workforce, axeing roughly 2,500 jobs, or about 10% of its global employee base.

Founded in 2015, Getir was one of a crop of companies promising city-based consumers rapid delivery of groceries and other essential products.

During the COVID crisis, the industry saw sales explode, with emerging trends such as working from home fuelling investor confidence that the boom was sustainable.

Many of its rivals have already gone bust, while others have been swallowed up as part of a desperate wave of consolidation.

Getir itself bought Gorillas in a $1.2bn stock-based deal that closed in December 2022.

“Getir principally doesn’t comment on rumours,” a spokeswoman said on Friday.

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Post Office lawyer ‘takes no pride’ working for the company

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Post Office lawyer 'takes no pride' working for the company

A lawyer for the Post Office at the height of the Horizon IT scandal has told the public inquiry he feels “no pride” to be employed by the company.

Rodric Williams, a civil law specialist who joined the organisation in 2012, told the hearing he was “truly sorry” for being associated with the “greatest miscarriage of justice we’ve seen”.

A first day of evidence for the New Zealand national, now among three legal leads at the Post Office, saw Mr Williams admit a “bunker mentality” among staff in relation to the media’s coverage of the faulty Horizon IT system.

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In his second day, Mr Williams was pressed on what he knew about the Post Office’s ex-head of security John Scott allegedly shredding minutes from a meeting concerning Horizon bugs.

The inquiry heard the Post Office feared sub-postmasters who had been convicted of offences jumping on a “bandwagon” and challenging their convictions if damaging documents surfaced as part of the mediation process.

The word came as part of a 2013 meeting between the Post Office’s in-house and external lawyers, which read: “It was widely agreed that there was likely to be a ‘bandwagon’ approach in relation to defendants challenging their previous convictions.”

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Mr Williams was also accused of knowing “perfectly well” that the Post Office had “relied on a liar and a perjurer to convict innocent people” following expert evidence provided by leading Horizon engineer Gareth Jenkins in the trial of sub-postmistress Seema Misra.

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Seema Misra: It still gives me nightmares

She was suspended from her branch in 2008 and handed a 15-month prison sentence, while eight weeks pregnant, in November 2010 after being accused of stealing £74,000.

The inquiry heard how the Post Office received advice from external barrister Simon Clarke in 2013 suggesting an expert witness, Mr Jenkins, and the Post Office had “breached their duties” to the court, and subsequent advice suggested meeting minutes talking about Horizon bugs had been shredded.

Questioned on his views on the wrongful conviction of Mrs Misra, Mr Williams told the inquiry: “I take no pride, comfort or confidence in having worked for an employer that has engaged in conducting the greatest miscarriage of justice that we’ve seen, or however it has been described.

“I don’t know where to go with this – it’s awful that people with convictions had them, and had them for the length of time that they did.

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Review into Post Office system

“And for my part in that, I’m truly sorry that I’ve been associated with this. I’m truly sorry for that.”

Chairman Sir Wyn Williams interjected: “I think the point, Mr Williams, is at a moment in time, namely 2014, when on any sensible reading of Mr Clarke’s advice from July 2013, there was a problem about Mr Jenkins’s evidence, the Post Office and you personally appeared to still be asserting to the world that the conviction was safe, amongst other things, because expert evidence had been called and the jury, by inference, must have accepted it.

“Those two things don’t sit very easily together, do they?”

Rodric Williams gives evidence to the inquiry. Pic: POHI
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Rodric Williams also gave evidence on Thursday. Pic: POHI

Mr Williams replied: “No, they don’t, sir. No, they don’t.”

Addressing the destruction of meeting minutes in advice given to the organisation, Mr Clarke had written: “An instruction was then given that those emails and minutes should be, and have been, destroyed: the word ‘shredded’ was conveyed to me.”

Counsel to the inquiry Jason Beer KC asked: “Presumably you were quite shocked to read it?”

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Ex-Post Office boss under fire

The Post Office lawyer replied: “Yes.”

Mr Beer later asked: “What steps did you take to ensure that it was investigated in any way whatsoever?”

After the witness said he did not recall, the counsel to the inquiry continued: “Is the answer none?”

Mr Williams replied: “I can’t remember what happened at that time 11 years ago – so what I felt needed to be done or should be done I can’t recall now.”

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Following an interjection by chairman Sir Wyn Williams urging him to answer the question, Mr Beer continued: “Should the serious or very serious matters raised in Mr Clarke’s advice have been investigated by the Post Office?”

The witness said: “Yes.”

Asked if consideration was given to reporting the matter to the police, Mr Williams said: “I don’t believe so, no.”

Mr Beer continued: “Would you have been concerned if you found out that it was said to be the head of security that had given an instruction to shred documents?”

Mr Williams replied: “Yes.”

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Rishi Sunak pledges to remove benefits for people not taking jobs after 12 months

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Rishi Sunak pledges to remove benefits for people not taking jobs after 12 months

People who are fit to work but do not accept job offers will have their benefits taken away after 12 months, the prime minister has pledged.

Outlining his plans to reform the welfare system if the Conservatives win the next general election, Rishi Sunak said “unemployment support should be a safety net, never a choice” as he promised to “make sure that hard work is always rewarded”.

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Mr Sunak said his government would be “more ambitious about helping people back to work and more honest about the risk of over-medicalising the everyday challenges and worries of life” by introducing a raft of measures in the next parliament. They include:

• Removing benefits after 12 months for those deemed fit for work but who do not comply with conditions set by their work coach – such as accepting a job offer

• Tightening the work capability assessment so those with less severe conditions will be expected to seek employment

• A review of the fit note system to focus on what someone can do, to be carried out by independent assessors rather than GPs

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• Changes to the rules so someone working less than half of a full-time week will have to look for more work

• A consultation on PIP to look at eligibility changes and targeted support – such as offering talking therapies instead of cash payments

• The introduction of a new fraud bill to treat benefit fraud like tax fraud, with new powers to make seizures and arrests.

He insisted the changes were not about making the benefits system “less generous”, adding: “I’m not prepared to balance the books on the backs of the most vulnerable.

“Instead, the critical questions are about eligibility, about who should be entitled to support and what kind of supports best matches their needs.”

But Labour said it was the Tories’ handling of the NHS that had left people “locked out” of work, and a disabled charity called the measures “dangerous”.

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The latest data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) shows 9.4 million people aged between 16 and 64 were “economically inactive”, with over 2.8 million citing long-term sickness as the reason.

Mr Sunak said 850,000 of them had been signed off since the COVID pandemic and half of those on long-term sickness said they had depression, with the biggest growth area being young people.

He also claimed the total being spent on benefits for people of working age with a disability or health condition had increased by almost two-thirds since the pandemic to £69bn – more than the entire budget for schools or policing.

“I will never dismiss or downplay the illnesses people have,” said the prime minister. “Anyone who has suffered mental ill health or had family and friends who have know these conditions are real and they matter.

“But just as it would be wrong to dismiss this growing trend, so it would be wrong to merely sit back and accept it because it’s too hard, too controversial, or for fear of causing offence.”

Rishi Sunak during his speech welfare reform.
Pic: PA
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Rishi Sunak during his speech on welfare reform. Pic: PA

The prime minister said he knew critics would accuse him of “lacking compassion”, but he insisted “the exact opposite is true”, adding: “There is nothing compassionate about leaving a generation of young people to sit in the dark before a flickering screen, watching as their dreams slip further from reach every passing day.

“And there is nothing fair about expecting taxpayers to support those who could work but choose not to.

“It doesn’t have to be like this. We can change. We must change.”

But Labour said the “root cause of economic activity” was down to the Tories’ failure on the health service, with record NHS waiting lists hitting people’s ability to get back in the workplace.

Acting shadow work and pensions secretary Alison McGovern said: “After 14 years of Tory misery, Rishi Sunak has set out his failed government’s appalling record for Britain: a record number of people locked out of work due to long-term sickness and an unsustainable spiralling benefits bill.

“Rather than a proper plan to get Britain working, all we heard today were sweeping questions and reheated proposals without any concrete answers.”

Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey called it “a desperate speech from a prime minister mired in sleaze and scandal”, adding: “Rishi Sunak is attempting to blame the British people for his own government’s failures on the economy and the NHS and it simply won’t wash.”

Meanwhile, disability charity Scope said the measures were a “full-on assault on disabled people”, adding they were “dangerous and risk leaving disabled people destitute”.

James Taylor, director of strategy at the charity, said calls were already “pouring in” to their helpline with people concerned about the impact on them, adding: “Sanctions and ending claims will only heap more misery on people at the sharp end of our cost of living crisis.”

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