Kwasi Kwarteng, the business secretary, has ordered officials to launch a national security probe into the £2.6bn takeover of Ultra Electronics, a key supplier of military technology, by Cobham, the former London-listed defence group.
Sky News has learnt that Mr Kwarteng has told civil servants at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) to monitor the proposed deal under the Enterprise Act.
The move comes days after Ultra said it was “minded to recommend” a £35.16-a-share offer from Cobham, which has been controversially owned since last year by the US-based private equity firm Advent International.
Whitehall insiders said on Monday that a formal decision to intervene had not yet been taken, and that any enhanced review of the tie-up could take several months to complete.
A source close to Mr Kwarteng said: “Given the sensitivities of this proposed deal, the Business Secretary is taking an active interest.
“While no decisions have been taken, we’ll continue to monitor the transaction closely.”
The bid from Cobham has triggered protests because of its approach to breaking up and selling off parts of the group adopted by Advent since the takeover was concluded.
Spokespeople for Advent insisted at the time of the deal that a break-up was not on the cards, but various assets have already been sold.
Ultra undertakes highly sensitive work such as the provision of advanced submarine-hunting sonar, and supplies military programmes including Typhoon fighter jets.
The company is a FTSE-250 supplier of systems and components to both civil and defence customers, employing approximately 1700 people in the UK.
Cobham has until August 20 to formalise its bid for Ultra, which is now regarded as inevitable.
The government’s new National Security and Investment regime comes into force on 4 January next year, meaning that any national security review of the Ultra deal prior to that date would take place under existing Enterprise Act powers.
Under the Enterprise Act 2002, the business secretary has quasi-judicial powers to intervene in takeover deals on national security grounds.
Number of landlords selling up rises by nearly 13% in four months
The number of landlords selling up has risen by nearly 13% in four months, Sky News has learned.
The statistics, given to us by the estate agents trade body Propertymark, show an increase from July to October.
Why should we care what happens to landlords?
In basic terms, if the landlord exodus continues we could end up with a housing crisis on our hands.
That is mainly because we have, as a country, become over-reliant on the private rental sector.
“Generation rent” is no longer your stereotypical “twenty-something” professional.
Now it’s made up, increasingly, of older generations, even pensioners, alongside a rising number of “social” tenants.
Government figures show more than 25% of households renting privately are in receipt of housing benefits.
That is, quite simply, because we do not have enough social housing.
As a result we are seeing different “groups” of people converging, and all competing for the same space within the rental sector.
A lack of affordable housing is, at the same time, exerting pressure from another direction.
Despite a housing market dip with property prices falling, many households aspiring to own their own property are unable to save up.
Yoana Miteva, a British citizen who moved from Bulgaria to England twelve years ago, describes it as “mission impossible”.
She has been working full time, even taking on a second job, to try to put money aside.
Rent rises have meant added financial pressure forcing her to move home, in addition to energy bills, the cost of living, and house price inflation overall,
Tearful, she tells me she feels “like a hamster in a wheel…running and running, I’m trying to run faster, taking a second and third job, and I’m still well behind”.
As more landlords leave, rents rise as demand further outstrips supply.
The main reasons for landlords selling are down to mortgage rate rises and government legislation.
Private rented sector ‘invisibly buckling’ under pressure
Nathan Emerson, CEO of Propertymark, describes the private rented sector as “invisibly buckling” under increasing pressure for a while.
He says if the sector doesn’t work for a landlord “they will simply sell, meaning there’s one less home for a tenant”.
Landlords themselves are asking for the government to step in and change the rules to help make it easier to create “viable” businesses.
Sean Gillespie, a landlord in Hull, says his colleagues are “jumping ship” because their rented properties are financially “unsustainable”.
He asks: “How can landlords survive? They survive by putting rents up.”
Government rules blamed for tax increases
Government rules are being blamed, specifically “Section 24”, for tax increases which mean it’s no longer possible to offset business costs.
Mr Gillespie says it is “absolutely destroying” the sector.
“We can’t change the interest rates at the moment,” he adds, “but we can repeal Section 24 which is the increased taxation since 2015… if landlords don’t make any money, they can’t run a business, can’t provide housing, can’t repair houses.”
They may be generally unpopular, often vilified, but we need landlords.
If they disappear in increasing numbers, the question remains, without enough social or affordable housing – where will people live?
John Lewis reveals £500m plan to build 1,000 rental homes
The John Lewis Partnership has revealed plans to build 1,000 rental properties on its land as part of a drive to diversify its business.
The employee-owned group, which is spearheaded by its eponymous department stores and Waitrose supermarkets, said a joint venture with investment firm abrdn aimed to achieve a tenth of its ambition to build 10,000 new homes over the next decade.
It would see John Lewis develop and manage the proposed new sites in Bromley and West Ealing in Greater London, which would require Waitrose shops to be redeveloped.
A vacant John Lewis warehouse, at Reading in Berkshire, would also be transformed under the plans.
The project, which is subject to planning permission, includes commitments to affordable housing and sustainability tied to its 2035 net-zero pledge, the partnership said.
“We want to create homes that will provide a stable income for the partnership, and moving into housing aligns with our purpose to make a positive difference for our partners, customers and communities”, the statement added.
The sites were chosen according to their central location and proximity to transport links.
It announced the investment against a backdrop of record private rental costs, with tenants across the UK facing an average monthly bill of over £1,100 per month.
Across London, the figure is double that sum following a 22% year-on-year increase during the first nine months of 2022 according to estate agency Foxtons.
John Lewis said its plans would help ease a shortage of 75,000 rental homes in the capital.
Nina Bhatia, its executive director for strategy and commercial development, said: “Our partnership with abrdn is a major milestone in our ambition to create much-needed quality residential housing in our communities.
“Our residents can expect homes furnished by John Lewis with first-rate service and facilities.
“The move underlines our commitment to build on the strength of our brands to diversify beyond retail into areas where trust really matters.”
Joules secures Next rescue with majority of stores and jobs saved
Collapsed fashion retailer Joules will live on after Next agreed a rescue deal that preserves most of its stores and jobs.
Under the deal Next will pick up 100 of its 132 stores and only 133 of 1,600 staff will lose their jobs.
TFG, the owner of the Hobbs, Whistles and Phase Eight womenswear brands, appeared to be the frontrunner on Wednesday in an auction process to secure an agreement with Joules’ administrator, Interpath Advisory.
Joules is the second major UK acquisition for the fashion-to-homewares retailer in as many months.
Next snapped up the brand, website and intellectual property of Made.com on 9 November.
Joules had been trading as normal since a failure to secure new investment pushed it towards insolvency a fortnight ago.
The clothing, footwear and accessories retailer collapsed after its finances, profitability and cash generation came under pressure amid the cost of living crisis.
It had been in talks with both Next and TFG about new investment beforehand.
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