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Hundreds of thousands of small businesses could face “tough decisions” following changes to the energy support scheme, according to the Federation of Small Businesses.

The Energy Bills Discount scheme has been introduced to provide UK businesses, charities and the public sector support with energy bills.

This scheme for non-domestic energy users will see discounts provided on high energy bills until 31 March 2024.

Until now, the Energy Bill Relief scheme capped energy costs, but the new support measure will only see bills discounted.

The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) estimates around 370,000 small businesses will be negatively impacted by it.

Craig Beaumont, Chief of External Affairs at the FSB, told Sky News that these small businesses will face “tough decisions” in the months ahead.

He said: “We’ll see some small businesses reduce their hours of operation, we’ll have some having to let staff go, or look at other major expenditures.

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“We expect some small businesses to close down altogether.”

Mr Beaumont added that the new support scheme “won’t help their bills”.

He said: “The first government energy scheme was a fixed price, this second scheme is only a small discount, which means that while before you’d have your bill cut to about 25% of what it would’ve been, your new bill will be nearly exactly where it was last August.

“For a specific group of firms this is really bad news – if you’re variable tariff or if you’re out of your contract you’re okay.

“But if you’re fixed – especially if you fixed last August – you’re in serious trouble.”

Ruby Byrne, Owner of Ruby B Salon
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Ruby Byrne, owner of Ruby B Salon

Ruby Byrne, owner of Ruby B Salon, told Sky News that her “worst case scenario” is struggling with costs so much that she has to sacrifice the service she provides her clients.

She’s already considering solutions should she struggle to pay bills.

Ms Byrne said: “In the 13 years that I’ve been open, I’ve only ever increased my prices once.

“I may have to do it again so that’s going to affect what clients I get, if they come back, and how often they come.

“That’s obviously going to affect my business.”

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A government spokesperson told Sky News: “Companies large and small will benefit from the baseline discount through our new energy bills scheme and do not need to apply for it, and a higher level of support will be provided to the most energy and trade-intensive businesses of all sizes.

“While no national government can control the global factors pushing up the price of energy and other business costs, we continue to stand by business.

“That’s why we provided them and other non-domestic energy users with an unprecedented package of support, enabling some businesses to pay around half of predicted wholesale energy costs this winter.”

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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.”

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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‘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

Follow Sky News on WhatsApp
Follow Sky News on WhatsApp

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.

Continue Reading

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