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AstraZeneca and the EU have both claimed victory in a court ruling over the supply of COVID-19 vaccines.

The two sides have had a rocky relationship over the past few months, with the European Union accusing the vaccine maker of not producing supplies fast enough.

AstraZeneca was contracted to do its best to deliver 300 million doses to the bloc by the end of June, but it had to revise down its target to 100 million doses due to production problems.

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AstraZeneca ‘should honour its contracts’

A Brussels court rejected an EU request for at least 120 million vaccine doses by the end of this month – something the company has claimed as a win.

Instead, the drug maker said the judge ruled it should deliver only 80.2 million doses by 27 September.

AstraZeneca said it would “substantially exceed” that amount by the end of this month and that the court backed its assertion that the European Commission “has no exclusivity or right of priority over all other contracting parties.”

However, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the ruling supported the EU’s view that AstraZeneca had failed to meet its commitments.

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“It is good to see that an independent judge confirms this,” she said.

“This shows that our European vaccination campaign not only delivers for our citizens day by day. It also demonstrates that it was founded on a sound legal basis.”

Ursula von der Leyen says the ruling supported the EU's point of view
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Ursula von der Leyen says the ruling supported the EU’s point of view

The supply cuts had meant the EU’s vaccination drive was delayed in the first quarter of this year, when the bloc had relied on AstraZeneca for a large proportion of its shots.

AstraZeneca has now been told by the court to deliver 15 million doses by 26 July, another 20 million by 23 August, and a further 15 million by 27 September.

If the company misses these deadlines it will face a penalty of €10 (£8.57) per dose not delivered, the European Commission said.

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The vaccine maker said other measures the EU had hoped for were dismissed.

“The judgment also acknowledged that the difficulties experienced by AstraZeneca in this unprecedented situation had a substantial impact on the delay,” it said, adding it “looks forward to renewed collaboration” with the European Commission.

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Next weighs move for stricken cosmetics chain The Body Shop

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Next weighs move for stricken cosmetics chain The Body Shop

Next has approached administrators to The Body Shop about a potential deal to purchase parts of the stricken cosmetics chain.

Sky News has learnt that executives from the UK fashion retailing giant have contacted FRP Advisory to express an interest in acquiring assets as part of any sale process it decides to launch.

There were doubts this weekend, however, that FRP, which was appointed to handle the insolvency of The Body Shop in the UK earlier this month, would elect to run a conventional auction, with one source suggesting that contact between FRP and Next had already stalled.

Read more: The Body Shop UK in administration – what went wrong?

Next is understood to have been monitoring The Body Shop for some time, but people close to the FTSE-100 company confirmed that it had expressed an interest in assembling a deal.

The retailer, run by Lord Wolfson, has become one of the most prolific buyers of distressed retail businesses in Britain in recent years.

Among the brands it has acquired are Fat Face, Joules and the online furniture retailer, Made.com.

It has also snapped up Cath Kidston and JoJo Maman Bebe, the maternity wear retailer, while it has struck partnerships with Victoria’s Secret and Gap.

One obstacle to any deal with The Body Shop may lie in the fact that its brand and intellectual property (IP) assets are not part of the administration process.

It is understood that Aurelius, which has only owned The Body Shop since 1 January, is financing the rest of the business, and as part of that has secured major assets including stock and IP.

FRP is expected to decide whether to launch an auction within weeks, with a sale of the restructured business in its new form back to Aurelius a possibility.

If Next did pursue a purchase of the chain, it would be unlikely to retain many, if any, of The Body Shop’s British stores.

This week, FRP announced the closure of nearly half of its 198 UK stores, with seven shutting immediately.

“Following the earlier sale of loss-making businesses in much of mainland Europe and parts of Asia, and to support a simplified business, The Body Shop will also restructure roles in its head office,” the administrators said on Tuesday.

Hundreds of jobs will be lost from the store closures and a downsizing of its head office that will leave roughly 400 people employed there.

“This swift action will help re-energise The Body Shop’s iconic brand and provide it with the best platform to achieve its ambition to be a modern, dynamic beauty brand that is able to return to profitability and compete for the long term,” FRP added.

Dame Anita Roddick, founder of The Body Shop, in 2003. Pic: Reuters
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Dame Anita Roddick, founder of The Body Shop, in 2003. Pic: Reuters

Sky News’ revelation that Aurelius was preparing to appoint administrators sparked a vigorous debate about why the brand founded by the late Dame Anita Roddick and her husband Gordon nearly 50 years ago had faltered.

‘Mismanaged for years’

Aurelius bought the business from Natura, a Brazilian company, late last year and rapidly discovered that it had insufficient working capital and that it was trading even more poorly than anticipated.

One retail executive suggested there were serious questions for Natura to answer, saying: “This company did not fail in the last six weeks, it has been underinvested in and mismanaged for years.”

The Body Shop’s businesses across most of Europe and parts of Asia have already been offloaded to a family office following the company’s acquisition by Aurelius in a deal it said was valued at £207m.

At the time of the deal, The Body Shop employed about 10,000 people, and operated roughly 3,000 stores in 70 countries.

Although it has struggled for profitable growth for years, it has retained a prominent presence on British high streets.

The Roddicks were prominent champions of environmental causes, a positioning which helped it gain an edge over rival retailers during the 1980s and ’90s.

Listen and subscribe to The Ian King Business Podcast here.

Its opposition to the animal testing of cosmetics was also unusual in the decades immediately after it was founded.

Its distinctiveness has, however, been diminished in recent years by the emergence of competitors which have also put sustainability at the heart of their businesses while more effectively targeting younger consumers.

Dame Anita died in 2007.

Natura was reported to have paid more than $1bn to buy The Body Shop in 2017.

It was owned by L’Oreal, the cosmetics giant, prior to its sale to Natura.

Next, FRP and Aurelius declined to comment.

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Worst airlines for customer satisfaction revealed

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Worst airlines for customer satisfaction revealed

The worst airlines for customer satisfaction have been revealed

The UK’s flag carrier airline, British Airways, ranked among the worst airlines in the survey.

BA’s customer score for long-haul flights was the joint third lowest out of 17 carriers analysed by Which?, at 59%.

The airline received just two stars out of five for boarding experience and value for money, and achieved three stars for the other six categories assessed.

For short-haul flights, British Airways’ score was 56%, which was the fifth lowest among 22 airlines.

At the other end of the spectrum, the best airline for long-haul flights was Singapore Airlines (83%) and for short-haul Jet2.com (81%) took the top spot.

The worst performers in the long-haul ranking were Lufthansa (56%), Air Canada (58%), American Airlines (59%) and British Airways.

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The pilot was reportedly left 'penniless'
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Pic: PA

Wizz Air (44%) was ranked bottom for short-haul flights for the second year in a row, followed by Ryanair (47%), Iberia (49%) and Vueling (53%).

Which? said the standard of service last year often “fell well short of the mark”, with many passengers struggling to get support when they needed it.

UK air fares reached record highs in 2023.

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Rory Boland, editor of magazine Which? Travel, said: “Air fares have soared in recent years, and the bare minimum passengers should expect in return for their hard-earned cash is a reliable service, with friendly, easy to access customer support when they are let down.

“While the likes of Jet2 continue to excel in this regard, our survey shows that passengers of many airlines are sadly being shortchanged – with high rates of last minute cancellations, abysmal customer service and sneaky extra fees for luggage hiking up the final price.”

A British Airways spokesperson said: “We always work hard to get our customers to where they need to be on time.

“We apologise to customers for any disruption they’ve faced during these challenging periods and again thank them for their understanding.”

Marion Geoffroy, UK managing director at Wizz Air, said: “We do not consider the findings of this report to be representative or the methodology used to be transparent.

“Only 124 Wizz Air passengers were surveyed, while Which? spoke to several thousand people who had flown with some of our competitors.”

The survey of Which? members was conducted in October last year and relates to more than 10,000 flights with customer scores based on overall satisfaction and the likelihood to recommend an airliner to a friend.

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Energy price cap to fall but bills to include ‘temporary’ charge to help tackle record debt

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Energy price cap to fall but bills to include 'temporary' charge to help tackle record debt

The energy price cap is to fall by £20 a month, the industry regulator has announced, but households are to face an additional “temporary” charge to help suppliers support struggling customers with record levels of debt.

Ofgem confirmed a 12% price cap reduction will take effect from 1 April, taking the annual energy bill for a typical household paying by direct debit for gas and electricity to £1,690.

The current level, in place from January to March, is £1,928.

The fall reflects lower wholesale prices, with natural gas costs over the peak winter season falling across Europe due to higher stockpiles.

A mild winter has been a factor in the drop.

Read more:
Energy price cap reduction – live reaction
Why the cap has come down in ‘new normal’

The adjustment by Ofgem, while some relief for household budgets squeezed by the tough economy, still leaves the cap more than 50% up on pre-crisis levels.

The regulator confirmed alongside the cap figure that it was taking action to tackle a record £3.1bn in bill arrears, though prepayment meter customers would not be affected.

A handheld SSE smart meter for household energy usage is held next to an energy-efficient LED light bulb. Families across Great Britain will find out on Friday how tough energy bills will be this winter but they may have to wait to discover what the Government will do to help Picture date: Thursday August 25, 2022.
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Ofgem’s plans aim to bolster support for energy customers in debt to their suppliers. Pic: PA

“To address this challenge in the short-term, Ofgem will allow a temporary additional payment of £28 per year (equivalent to £2.33 per month) to make sure suppliers have sufficient funds to support customers who are struggling”, its statement said.

“This will be added to the bills of customers who pay by direct debit or standard credit and is partly offset by the termination of an allowance worth £11 per year that covered debt costs related to the COVID pandemic.”

Ofgem said its wider action would include further closing the gap between the higher charges that prepayment meter customers pay and what most other households face.

It said those on prepayment meters would save around £49 per year while direct debit customers would pay £10 per year more.

The watchdog said the new figures, taken together, meant bills would still fall to their lowest level since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

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Ofgem says lower unit charges will mean that bills will fall for everyone in April, despite the debt aid elements. Pic: iStock

Russia’s vast gas supplies to the continent were shut down shortly after its military action began, forcing a scramble for replacement volumes.

Much of the void has been filled by additional supplies from Norway and heightened shipments of liquefied natural gas (LNG).

Market experts have warned that a return to pre-crisis energy prices is unlikely to occur given the new realities over the source of supply hampered, in the short term at least, by attacks on shipping in the Red Sea that have forced LNG cargos to make longer journeys.

The trend of higher prices has led to questions over whether the price cap, initially introduced to prevent rip-off charges, has become a barrier to competition. Ofgem is working with the government to address the cap’s future.

It is now utilised by the vast majority of homes in the wake of the supplier crisis that began in 2021 that saw dozens of operators collapse, including Bulb.

Fixed deals have been hard to come by ever since but there are some that have undercut the price cap.

Read more: What is the price cap – and how will it affect my bills?

Research for professional services firm KPMG, released separately on Friday, suggested 48% of households believed the price cap was a barrier to fixed-term offers by suppliers.

A third of respondents said they no longer shopped around because of the cap.

Price comparison site uSwitch said Ofgem’s wider action on elements of the price cap bill should help improve the volume of offers.

Its director of regulation, Richard Neudegg, said: “Consumers have been patiently waiting for better tariff choices, and many are desperate to take advantage of cheaper rates.

“If you are on a standard variable tariff, now is the time to start keeping an eye out for deals.

“The end of the Market Stabilisation Charge also on 1st April will be a positive step, taking out an unnecessary premium on deals.

“However, Ofgem’s decision to extend the Ban on Acquisition-only Tariffs for another year is a gamble.

“Although this could be cut to six months, while it’s in play, fixed deals risk being more expensive than they would otherwise be, at a time when customers are finally hoping to lock in some certainty.”

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