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Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund is in advanced talks to acquire a stake in McLaren Group as part of a fresh shake-up at the British supercar manufacturer and Formula One (F1) team-owner.

Sky News has learnt that the Saudi Public Investment Fund (PIF) is to participate in a £550m equity-raise which could be unveiled by McLaren within days.

Banking sources said the deal would include £400m of new capital from PIF and Ares Management, a major global investment firm, with £150m being injected into the company by McLaren’s existing shareholders – who include Mumtalakat, the sovereign investment fund of Bahrain.

The equity-raise was still being finalised on Friday and could still be delayed, the sources cautioned.

If completed, however, it would represent a major vote of confidence in McLaren’s strategy under the leadership of Paul Walsh, the former Diageo chief who joined last year as executive chairman.

The Woking-based company endured a torrid start to the pandemic as it sought a government loan to shore up its balance sheet.

It was also forced into a restructuring of its workforce which saw hundreds of jobs axed.

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Sales of its luxury road-cars have, however, rebounded strongly in recent months, while its racing fortunes have also continued to recover.

The Saudis’ acquisition of a minority stake in McLaren Group could pave the way for a series of commercial tie-ups involving the company and the oil-rich Gulf state, one analyst suggested on Thursday evening.

The PIF has also been part of a consortium attempting to buy Newcastle United Football Club from the retail tycoon Mike Ashley – a role which has attracted intense scrutiny from the Premier League and triggered a formal arbitration process that is expected to be resolved this month.

The Saudi fund has been a big investor in technology companies, in part through the giant Vision Fund led by Japan’s SoftBank, and also through individual companies such as the electric vehicle start-up Lucid Motors, which it listed in New York earlier this year.

Its experience with Lucid could be of benefit to McLaren as it develops more hybrid and electric cars such as its Artura model.

Ares Management is regarded as a blue-chip provider of capital to companies around the world, and has an existing relationship with McLaren, according to insiders.

The equity-raise will allay any lingering questions about the strength of McLaren’s balance sheet and will take the total funding raised by the group since Mr Walsh’s arrival to well over £1bn.

That figure comprises a £300m equity injection in March 2020, a £170m sale-and-leaseback of its spectacular Surrey headquarters and a £185m windfall from the sale of a separate stake in McLaren Racing.

McLaren also secured a £150m loan from the National Bank of Bahrain, reflecting its close ties to the Gulf state, last year.

The sale of a stake in McLaren Racing, which comprises its F1 team and INDYCAR Championship outfit, came during a revival in its on-track fortunes after years in the doldrums.

Lando Norris, one of its F1 drivers, sits in fourth place in the drivers’ championship, with team-mate Daniel Ricciardo lying in eighth.

The team, which is overseen by McLaren Racing chief executive Zak Brown, occupies third spot in the constructors’ championship behind Red Bull and Mercedes.

As well as its racing arm, the group consists of McLaren Automotive, which makes luxury road cars and which was highly profitable prior to the COVID-19 crisis; and McLaren Applied Technologies, which generates revenue from sales to corporate customers.

Founded in 1963 by Bruce McLaren, the car marque is one of the most famous names in British motorsport.

During half a century of competing in F1, it has won the constructors’ championship eight times, while its drivers have included the likes of Mika Hakkinen, Lewis Hamilton, Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna.

In total, the team has won 180 Grands Prix, three Indianopolis 500s and the Le Mans 24 Hours on its debut.

This weekend, it will compete in the British Grand Prix at Silverstone.

McLaren’s on-track operations account for roughly 20% of the group’s annual revenues.

It has sponsorship deals with companies including Darktrace, the cybersecurity software provider, Dell Technologies, the computing giant, and – as of this week – Stanley Black & Decker, the tool manufacturer.

McLaren is a major British exporter, directly employing about 3000 people and supporting thousands of jobs across the UK supply chain.

The company saw its separate divisions reunited following the departure in 2017 of Ron Dennis, the veteran McLaren boss who had steered its F1 team through the most successful period in its history.

He became one of Britain’s best-known businessmen, expanding McLaren’s technology ventures into a wide range of other industries through lucrative commercial partnerships.

Mr Dennis offloaded his stake in a £275m deal following a bitter dispute with fellow shareholders.

He had presented to McLaren’s board a £1.65bn takeover bid from a consortium of Chinese investors, but did not attract support for it from boardroom colleagues.

HSBC and Goldman Sachs are advising on the latest equity-raise.

McLaren did not respond to a request for comment on Friday morning.

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Christmas rail strikes to go ahead as union rejects offer from operators

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RMT rejects offer from train operators aimed at preventing further strikes

The RMT has rejected an offer from train operators aimed at preventing strikes over the Christmas period, the union has announced.

The Rail Delivery Group (RDG) said its proposed framework would have supported pay increases of up to 8%, covering 2022 and 2023 pay awards, while delivering much-needed reforms.

But the RMT, led by secretary general Mick Lynch, has turned it down.

The union said: “The RDG is offering 4% in 2022 and 2023 which is conditional on RMT members accepting vast changes to working practices, huge job losses, Driver Only Operated (DOO) trains on all companies and the closure of all ticket offices.”

Mr Lynch added: “We have rejected this offer as it does not meet any of our criteria for securing a settlement on long term job security, a decent pay rise and protecting working conditions.

“The RDG and Department for Transport (DfT), who sets their mandate, both knew this offer would not be acceptable to RMT members.

“If this plan was implemented, it would not only mean the loss of thousands of jobs but the use of unsafe practices such as DOO and would leave our railways chronically understaffed.”

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RMT has demanded an urgent meeting with RDG on Monday morning in the hope of trying to resolve the dispute, the union posted on Twitter.

In a statement posted on the RMT website, Mr Lynch said the talks would aim to secure “a negotiated settlement on job security, working conditions and pay.”

It means rail strikes planned during December and early January are still scheduled to go ahead, with commuters facing severe disruption on 11, 12, 13, 14, 16, 17 December, and 3, 4, 6 and 7 January.

Mr Lynch previously insisted “I’m not the Grinch” as he defended the industrial action.

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All the lines affected by train strikes over Christmas and January

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How will strikes affect businesses?

The RDG said it was proposing a “fair and affordable offer in challenging times, providing a significant uplift in salary for staff” which would deliver “vital and long overdue” changes to working arrangements.

The draft framework agreement gives RMT the chance to call off its planned action and put the offer to its membership, a statement said.

“If approved by the RMT, implementation could be fast-tracked to ensure staff go into Christmas secure in the knowledge they will receive this enhanced pay award early in the New Year, alongside a guarantee of job security until April 2024,” an RDG spokesperson said.

“With revenue stuck at 20% below pre-pandemic levels and many working practices unchanged in decades, taxpayers who have contributed £1,800 per household to keep the railway running in recent years will balk at continuing to pump billions of pounds a year into an industry that desperately needs to move forward with long-overdue reforms and that alienates potential customers with sustained industrial action.”

The company called on the union to “move forward with us” so we can “give our people a pay rise and deliver an improved railway with a sustainable, long-term future for those who work on it.”

Transport Secretary Mark Harper described the situation as “incredibly disappointing and unfair to the public, passengers and rail workforce who want a deal”.

The deal will “help get trains running on time”, he said.

A bleak winter of strikes

Motorists have also been warned to brace for Christmas chaos after road workers revealed they will down tools for 12 days to coincide with rail walkouts.

National Highways workers, who operate and maintain roads in England, will take part in a series of staggered strikes from 16 December to 7 January, the PCS union said.

A growing list of unions are threatening to grind the country to a halt, putting pressure on Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.

He is attempting a more constructive, less combative approach with the unions as the government treads a careful line between “being tough but also being human – and treating people with respect”, a government source told Sky News.

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Military could ‘drive ambulances’ during strikes

Some 10,000 paramedics voted to strike in England and Wales, the GMB union announced this week.

They join up to 100,000 nurses set to walk out in the biggest-ever strike by the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland on 15 and 20 December.

On Sunday morning, Conservative Party Chairman Nadhim Zahawi told Sky News’ Sophie Ridge on Sunday the army could be deployed to help ease possible strike disruption over Christmas.

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Morrisons owner paves way for departure of veteran CEO Potts

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Morrisons owner paves way for departure of veteran CEO Potts

The owners of Britain’s fourth-biggest supermarket chain are drawing up plans to identify a new chief executive a year after acquiring it in a £7bn deal.

Sky News has learnt that Morrisons‘ controlling shareholder, the US-based private equity firm Clayton Dubilier & Rice (CD&R), has retained Egon Zehnder International to strengthen the grocer’s executive ranks.

Retail industry sources said this weekend that Egon Zehnder had been approaching potential recruits “with one eye” on finding a successor to David Potts, who has run Morrisons since 2015.

Mr Potts is not expected to leave until at least 2024, and is focused on improving the Bradford-based company’s performance after it was recently displaced as Britain’s third-biggest supermarket chain by the German discounter Aldi.

A number of internal candidates are expected to vie for the opportunity of replacing Mr Potts, according to insiders.

One said that CD&R was “continuously” working on succession planning at Morrisons and its other portfolio companies.

Sir Terry Leahy, the former Tesco chief executive who has a long-standing relationship with CD&R, will play a key role in the succession planning process as Morrisons’ chairman.

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Earlier this year, Trevor Strain, Morrisons’ chief operating officer and previously its finance chief, left the company, having long been regarded as Mr Potts’ inevitable successor.

Morrisons delisted from the London Stock Exchange last year, ending a 54-year run as a publicly traded company.

Recent industry data showed that Morrisons had been usurped by Aldi in market share terms – a milestone in a sector which rarely demonstrates change in the membership of its top ranks.

Morrisons struck a deal earlier this year to rescue the convenience chain McColl’s, the market share of which was not included in that data.

CD&R and Morrisons declined to comment.

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OPEC oil cartel holds production steady in face of Russia sanctions uncertainty

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OPEC oil cartel holds production steady in face of Russia sanctions uncertainty

The Saudi-led OPEC oil cartel and allied producers including Russia have stuck to their output targets, despite uncertainty over the impact of fresh Western sanctions against Moscow.

The decision to maintain the status quo at a meeting of oil ministers on Sunday came ahead of the planned start of two measures aimed at hitting Russia‘s oil earnings following its invasion of Ukraine.

These are a boycott by the EU of most Russian oil, and a price cap of $60 (£49) on every barrel of its crude imposed by the G7 coalition of leading world economies.

Russia ‘significantly’ losing public support for invasion – live updates

OPEC+, which is made up of the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and allies including Russia, angered the US and other Western nations in October when it agreed to cut output by two million barrels per day, about 2% of world demand, from November until the end of 2023.

The move, which would lead to increased prices at a time of already soaring energy costs, led Washington to accuse the group of siding with Russia despite Moscow’s assault on Ukraine.

OPEC+ argued it had cut output because of a weaker economic outlook.

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Oil prices have declined since October due to slower Chinese and global growth and higher interest rates, prompting market speculation the group could cut output again.

However, the group of oil producers has now decided to keep the policy unchanged.

Its key ministers will next meet at the start of February for a monitoring committee, while a full meeting is scheduled for 3-4 June.

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The price cap was agreed on Friday by G7 nations and Australia to deprive Russia’s leader Vladimir Putin of revenue while keeping Russian oil flowing to global markets.

Moscow has said it would not sell its oil under the cap and was considering how to respond.

Many analysts and OPEC ministers have said the price cap is confusing and probably ineffective, as Moscow has been selling most of its oil to countries like China and India, which have refused to condemn the war in Ukraine.

The price cap was not discussed at Sunday’s OPEC+ meeting, according to sources.

Russia’s deputy prime minister Alexander Novak said his country would rather cut production than supply oil under the price cap, and pointed out the limit may affect other producers.

Several OPEC+ members are understood to have expressed frustration at the cap, saying the measure could ultimately be used by the West against any producer.

Washington has said the measure was not aimed at OPEC.

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