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Annual profits at BP have halved but the oil and gas major has moved to woo disgruntled shareholders with a surge in rewards.

The company recorded underlying replacement cost profits – the company’s preferred measure – of £13.8bn (£11bn) during 2023.

That was down from the record $27.7bn (£22.1bn) sum achieved in 2022 largely due to lower oil prices.

But the figure was aided by a better than expected performance in the final quarter – boosted by stronger than anticipated gas trading.

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It helped the FTSE 100 firm reveal a 10% rise in its dividend for the three-month period to almost 7.3 cents per share.

A share buyback of a further $3.5bn will take place over the first half of 2024, the company said, adding that buybacks worth at least $14bn were planned over 2024-25.

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BP is under pressure to keep its shareholders happy as its stock has lagged growth seen by rivals, including Shell.

Sky News has previously reported how its plans for the transition to clean energy were not universally welcomed by investors.

According to the Financial Times, a number of activist investors are demanding the company rows back on its plans.

Shares were up 6% in the wake of BP’s update.

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BP said it was committed to its strategy under new chief executive Murray Auchincloss, who was confirmed in the role on a permanent basis last month.

He was initially appointed interim CEO after the sudden departure of the architect of BP’s push for the transition towards a green future, Bernard Looney.

He was forced out in September after misleading BP’s board about personal relationships with colleagues.

Mr Auchincloss told investors: “Looking back, 2023 was a year of strong operational performance with real momentum in delivery right across the business.

“And as we look ahead, our destination remains unchanged… focused on growing the value of BP.”

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As ever with energy company profits, there was a backlash from critics.

Campaign group Global Witness described the shareholder rewards as “reckless”, saying the money would be better spent on securing zero emissions.

That assessment was echoed by the IPPR thinktank.

Its researcher, Joseph Evans, said: “BP has decided to prioritise its shareholders over investing in the green transition.

“With profits down on last year, you might expect BP’s executives to be looking for profitable investments in the growing industries of the future, like renewable energy.

“Instead, they’ve chosen to enrich their investors. It’s clear that BP and other fossil-fuel giants can’t be trusted to drive the green transition.”

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Elon Musk sues OpenAI and Sam Altman, saying company putting profit over the public good

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Elon Musk sues OpenAI and Sam Altman, saying company putting profit over the public good

Elon Musk, the multi-billionaire owner of Tesla and X, is suing artificial intelligence company OpenAI, accusing the firm of prioritising profit over developing AI for the public good.

Mr Musk is bringing the suit against OpenAI, which he co-founded, and its chief executive, Sam Altman, for breaching a contract by reneging on its pledge to develop AI carefully and make the tech widely available.

The company behind the ground-breaking generative AI chatbot, ChatGPT, has “been transformed into a closed-source de facto subsidiary of the largest technology company, Microsoft”, a court filing said.

The court action is the latest in a series of challenges to Mr Altman who was ousted from his position at OpenAI by the company board and briefly went to work at Microsoft, OpenAI’s biggest shareholder, before being returned to his post.

The AI giant was originally founded as a not-for-profit company but has grown to have commercial interests, which has caused tension between board members and founders.

By embracing a close relationship with Microsoft, OpenAI and its top executives have set that pact “aflame” and are “perverting” the company’s mission, Mr Musk alleges in the lawsuit.

“Under its new board, it is not just developing but is actually refining an AGI [artificial general intelligence] to maximize profits for Microsoft, rather than for the benefit of humanity”, the filing said.

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A key part of OpenAI’s mission to benefit humanity, the court filing said, was to make the company software open source and share it, but this has not happened.

Instead, the company operates on a for-profit model.

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Mr Musk has his own AI company, called xAI and has said OpenAI is not focused enough on the potential harms of AI.

As well as alleging breach of contract, Mr Musk’s claim said OpenAI is violating fiduciary duty and is engaged in unfair business practices. A jury trial has been sought by Mr Musk.

OpenAI and Microsoft have been contacted for comment.

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Home Office figures show how vital immigration is to the economy

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Home Office figures show how vital immigration is to the economy

The Home Office immigration system statistics for 2023 tell a different story to the one that dominates the political discourse.

While government commentary and policy has focused on illegal migration via small boats, the largest driver of rising immigration is people coming to work, primarily in a health and care sector that would not function without them.

Some 616,000 work visas were issued in 2023, 337,240 to “primary applicants”, up 26% on 2022 and a staggering 250% rise on pre-pandemic levels, with a further 279,131 to their dependants, an increase of 81%.

Health and social care visas were the largest driver of the increase, the number almost doubling in a year to 146,477, with more than 100,000 of these granted to carers.

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This expansion is the consequence of a deliberate policy decision in 2021 to make up a post-COVID, post-Brexit shortfall in staff.

With preferential status removed from European Union candidates, east Asia and west and southern Africa are the primary source of care workers.

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More than 18,000 came from India, with 7,000 from Bangladesh and Pakistan respectively. A further 18,000 came from Nigeria, 15,000 from Zimbabwe and 10,000 from Ghana.

Applications for skilled work visas in other sectors were broadly flat, perhaps reflecting a cooling labour market in a flatlining economy that has almost a million job vacancies and 2.5 million workers classified as long-term sick.

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Home Secretary James Cleverly has moved to cut numbers, banning care workers from bringing dependents, a change that may force recruiters to spread the net even wider to fill holes in British care homes.

The minimum salary threshold for skilled worker visas is also rising to £38,700 a year, up more than 50% and now more than the average salary, but such is the acute challenge of the NHS, health and care employers are exempt from paying the new figure.

One area where the government can point to falling immigration is among students but that will be no cause for celebration in higher education, where overseas candidates underwrite the cost of the domestic population.

Student visa applications fell 5% to 616,000, reflecting a more competitive international market and a tightening of rules from this year, which will see only postgraduates able to bring family members with them.

There was also a small decrease in the number of temporary visas granted to season workers in agriculture, who now overwhelmingly come from central Asia, but that was offset by a rise in youth mobility visas granted to under-30s from 12 eligible countries including Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Korea.

From health and care to agriculture and education, cutting immigration will come at a price.

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Sainsbury’s to cut 1,500 jobs in cost-cutting plan

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Sainsbury's to cut 1,500 jobs in cost-cutting plan

Sainsbury’s has revealed plans to cut around 1,500 roles as part of a previously announced shake-up of its operations.

Sky News revealed earlier this month how the company, which also owns Argos, had refused to rule out job losses under the strategy update for investors.

It included a greater focus on food within its supermarkets, claiming more space from general merchandise and clothing.

Sainsbury’s said it was also targeting greater use of automation under the plans, which aimed to save £1bn over three years to boost investment in the business.

The company said it hoped to redeploy many of the 1,500 people affected by the changes.

The jobs will go at its store support centre, contact centre operations, in its in-store bakeries and in its general merchandise fulfilment network.

Sainsbury’s said it had proposed to colleagues in its Widnes contact centre, who operate the Careline service, that they should transfer to an existing partner.

It said a more efficient way of providing its bakery service meant jobs would go in that part of the business.

Chief executive Simon Roberts said: ”Our Next Level Sainsbury’s strategy is about giving customers more of what they come to Sainsbury’s for – outstanding value, unbeatable quality food and great service.

“One of the ways we’re going to deliver on this promise is through our Save and Invest to Win programme.

“As we move into the next phase of our strategy, we are making some difficult, but necessary decisions.

“The proposals we’ve been talking to teams about today are important to ensure we’re better set up to focus on the things that create a real impact for our customers, delivering good food for all of us and building a platform for growth.

“I know today’s news is unsettling for affected colleagues and we will do everything we can to support them.”

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