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Rishi Sunak has declined to say whether he has confidence in the chief executive of the crisis-hit Post Office, Nick Read, following confirmation of an investigation into his conduct.

The issue was put to him at Prime Minister’s Questions in the Commons after news of the probe was explosively revealed on Tuesday by ex-chairman Henry Staunton in evidence to a committee of MPs.

Mr Staunton divulged that it was the culmination of an 80-page report by a former head of human resources at the Post Office, as he maintained a war of words with the government and his former employer over events leading up to his own dismissal.

In answer to the confidence question over Mr Read, Mr Sunak replied: “It would clearly be inappropriate for me to comment on an investigation before it has been completed.

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“Our focus remains working closely with the Post Office to ensure it delivers justice for postmasters caught up in this historic scandal and that is why we will imminently bring forward legislation that we promised.”

On Tuesday, asked if the government and Number 10 had confidence in Mr Read, a Downing Street spokeswoman said: “Yes.”

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The Post Office is in meltdown over the historic Horizon IT system scandal that saw more than 700 subpostmasters prosecuted by the Post Office and resulted in criminal convictions between 1999 and 2015.

Faulty software, designed by Japanese giant Fujitsu, had made it look as though money was missing from their branches.

While all parties involved in the process have publicly admitted that the focus should be on securing financial redress for the victims, progress has proved slow and become overshadowed this week by squabbling between key figures.

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Post Office redress delay overshadowed by executive drama

Mr Staunton, fired by business secretary Kemi Badenoch in late January, had claimed this month that he had been told by a senior civil servant to go slow in processing subpostmaster compensation claims in the run-up to the general election.

The civil servant involved and the government have denied that was the case but he maintained that position under questions from the business and trade committee of MPs, saying he had been made the victim of a “smear campaign”.

Business minister Kevin Hollinrake told MPs on Wednesday that he “strongly rejected” the allegations, and described Mr Staunton’s decision to reveal details of the investigation into Mr Read as “highly unprofessional”.

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Staunton says investigation was made into Nick Read

During an urgent question on the Post Office board and governance, Mr Hollinrake said: “The fact that Nick Read is being investigated is evidence that no one is untouchable and the Post Office culture is changing.

“An investigation is of course not evidence that allegations are accurate. While Nick Read has co-operated fully, Mr Staunton tried to block investigations looking into his conduct, it was this action as well as his attempt to bypass formal process to appoint a new director to the board, which led the secretary of state (Ms Badenoch) to lose confidence in Mr Staunton.”

Mr Staunton had also told MPs on Tuesday that Mr Read had warned he was going to resign because he was “unhappy with his pay”.

Mr Hollinrake said in the Commons that, while in post, Mr Staunton had urged ministers to double Mr Read’s pay to prevent him quitting.

“I think on two occasions Mr Staunton sought to lobby or did lobby for a pay increase for Mr Read,” he said.

“He sought to double the overall package of Mr Read on those occasions.”

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Former JD Sports chief Cowgill snaps up Applied Nutrition stake




Former JD Sports chief Cowgill snaps up Applied Nutrition stake

The former JD Sports Fashion boss who presided over its soaring stock market valuation is taking a stake in Applied Nutrition, the fast-growing sports supplement maker, as it steps up preparations for a bumper flotation.

Sky News has learnt that Peter Cowgill, who left the high street giant just under two years ago, is acquiring a multimillion pound shareholding in Applied Nutrition in a personal capacity.

Sources said the purchase would be announced by the company on Monday.

Mr Cowgill knows the Liverpool-based business well, having orchestrated the acquisition of a roughly 30% stake in it during his tenure at JD Sports.

Speaking to Sky News on Sunday, Mr Cowgill said: “Having been instrumental in executing the investment by JD into Applied Nutrition in 2021, I have been delighted by the growth and profitable development of the business.

“I have always been really impressed by the management team and am excited to make a material personal investment into the company.

“I remain confident in its continued growth and success in a rapidly expanding marketplace.”

Mr Cowgill previously sat on the board of Applied Nutrition as a non-executive, but stepped down when he left JD Sports in 2022.

Sky News revealed earlier this year that Applied Nutrition had engaged bankers at Deutsche Numis to prepare the company for a public listing of its shares.

City sources said the company would begin initial meetings with institutional investors this week to familiarise them with it.

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It has also appointed Andy Bell, founder of the London-listed investment platform AJ Bell, as its chairman, further bolstering its credentials for an initial public offering (IPO).

Founded by Thomas Ryder, Applied Nutrition formulates and makes premium nutrition supplements for professional athletes and gym enthusiasts.

It is the official nutrition partner of a range of English football clubs, including Premier League side Fulham, and the Scottish Premiership side Glasgow Rangers.

The company, which sells its products in over 60 countries, also has partnerships with professional boxers, MMA stars and in sports including basketball, cycling and rugby league.

Applied Nutrition’s largest brands include ABE – All Black Everything – which is a pre-workout range now stocked by Walmart, the world’s biggest physical retailer and former owner of Asda.

Other products in its portfolio include BodyFuel, a hydration drink.

Employing more than 200 people, Applied Nutrition has seen rapid growth in recent years, and is heading towards a £100m sales milestone during the current financial year.

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A significant chunk of that growth is expected to come from the US, where it has established a subsidiary in Texas.

Accounts for the year to the end of July last year disclosed a 74% rise in turnover to £61.2m, with earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation rising by 80% to £18.1m.

Mr Ryder and Steven Granite, the company’s chief operating officer, are also big shareholders in Applied Nutrition.

A successful listing for the company, which could take place as early as this year, would represent a boost to the London Stock Exchange’s efforts to attract fast-growing companies to float.

Decisions by a growing number of companies to shift their listings to the US – with Paddy Power-owner Flutter Entertainment becoming the latest example – have cast a pall over the City.

Last year saw the number of companies going public in London halving, with proceeds raised from initial public offerings (IPOs) falling by 40% year-on-year.

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Grocery delivery giant Getir in talks about radical restructuring




 Grocery delivery giant Getir in talks about radical restructuring

Getir, one of the world’s largest grocery delivery platforms, is in talks about a radical restructuring just two years after it was valued at nearly $12bn (£9.6bn).

Sky News has learnt that Getir, which was founded in Turkey and now operates in five markets including the UK, is examining a number of options as part of talks with its leading investors.

Sources said this weekend that this could involve a break-up of the rapid delivery group, an exit from a number of its remaining markets or some form of emergency restructuring mechanism.

A source close to the company denied that any form of insolvency process was under consideration, saying that if it decided to exit a country it would do so “in an orderly fashion”.

Another insider added that the next few days were “make or break” for the company, with key decisions about Getir’s future expected to be taken as early as the next fortnight.

A drastic restructuring could put thousands of jobs at risk across the markets in which it operates, although further details of the options under consideration were unclear this weekend.

AlixPartners, the restructuring firm, is understood to be advising on the situation at Getir.

The crisis talks highlight the slumping valuations of technology companies once-hailed as the new titans of major economies.

At one point, Getir was valued more highly by private investors than Marks & Spencer and J Sainsbury combined.

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Getir is backed by prominent investors including Mubadala, the Abu Dhabi sovereign wealth fund, Sequoia Capital and Tiger Global.

The company was one of the hottest start-ups of the coronavirus pandemic, when financiers rushed to plough billions of dollars into businesses they believed would benefit from structural shifts in the economy.

Getir, which means “bring” in Turkish, was valued at $11.8bn (£9.5bn) when it raised more than $750m (£603m) in a funding round in early 2022.

By the autumn of last year, when it secured a further $500m (£401m) from existing backers, it was worth just $2.5bn (£2bn).

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In the last year, a string of “unicorn” companies have been forced to accept huge valuation discounts in order to secure the funding necessary to survive.

Last September, Getir also announced a sharp cut in the size of its workforce, axeing roughly 2,500 jobs, or about 10% of its global employee base.

It also pulled out of Italy, Portugal and Spain.

Founded in 2015, Getir was one of a crop of companies promising city-based consumers rapid delivery of groceries and other essential products.

During the COVID-19 crisis, the industry saw sales explode, with emerging trends such as working from home fuelling investor confidence that the boom was sustainable.

Many of its rivals have already gone bust, however, while others have been swallowed up as part of a desperate wave of consolidation.

Getir itself bought Gorillas in a $1.2bn stock-based deal that closed in December 2022.

“Our business is very agile and fast-paced,” a Getir spokeswoman said on Saturday.

“Getir principally doesn’t comment on rumours or on internal matters, however, whenever decisions have been made, we will announce them as we have done in the past.”

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Big boiler manufacturers cannot guarantee ‘boiler tax’ refund for ‘ripped off’ customers




Big boiler manufacturers cannot guarantee 'boiler tax' refund for 'ripped off' customers

Three of the “big four” boiler manufacturers for the UK cannot guarantee customers will be refunded the so-called “boiler tax” that companies added to new boilers earlier this year.

In January boiler-makers hiked costs by up to an extra £120 per boiler to cover anticipated penalties for a green scheme – which has now been delayed.

Ministers had told them to ensure 4% of their sales were heat pumps rather than gas boilers, or they would face a £3,000 fine per missed installation.

As heat pumps run on electricity rather than gas, the move was designed to boost energy security, and lower air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.

The energy security secretary Claire Coutinho accused the manufacturers of “price gouging”, and told LBC heat pump sales were already so high that they anticipated few penalties.

Boiler makers said the unachievable targets would create multi-million-pound penalties they could not afford, so upped the price of gas boilers to cover the anticipated charges.

But in March, the government delayed the heat pump target – also known as the clean heat market mechanism (CHMM) and dubbed the “boiler tax” – to April 2025, following resistance from the boiler industry.

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Three of the “big four” boiler manufacturers, Bosch, Vaillant and BAXI, this week told Sky News they were refunding the “boiler tax” cash to the distributors and retailers to whom they had sold boilers.

But they said it was those companies’ responsibility to return the money to households, because manufacturers tend not to have a direct relationship with consumers themselves.

No one from Ideal Heating was available to comment or confirm its plans.

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‘Out of pocket’ households

It comes as energy thinktank ECIU estimates the four firms together would have collected £40m via the so-called boiler tax, based on the average amount levied and an average number of boilers sold per month in the UK.

Jess Ralston, ECIU’s head of energy, said: “The manufacturers introduced the boiler tax, not the retailers, so it feels like they are passing the blame to a middle party.

“They had been suggesting the fines should be removed, so they must have thought it was a possibility they’d have to refund the boiler tax – it doesn’t seem they put in place any mechanisms for that eventuality, leaving someone else on the hook.”

Gillian Cooper, director of energy at Citizens Advice, said: “Now that boiler retailers have rightly been promised refunds, it’s essential they pass those refunds on to consumers.

“Anyone who purchased a boiler between 1 January and the end of March this year may have been forced to pay more than they should have, leaving them out of pocket.

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“Not only have people been ripped off, but the government’s decision to delay the Clean Heat Market Mechanism in response to manufacturers’ pressure will leave consumers exposed to volatile gas prices for longer.”

After the government confirmed the CHMM delay, retailer Wolseley, which sells boilers made by Vaillant, confirmed it was taking responsibility for issuing refunds on boiler sales.

Clean home heating company Warmur urged boiler manufacturers to “proactively contact customers they know to have had a boiler fitted since 1st January and help them arrange a refund”.

What did boiler manufacturers say?

BAXI said its consumers will receive a refund because it is returning “any funds already collected to our merchant distributors, who then supply products to a 35,000-strong installer community, who then sell onto consumers”.

“We are part way through completing that process, although we stopped adding the surcharge from Monday 18 March.

“In the small number of cases where we sell direct to consumers through warranty relationships, we will be refunding the surcharge to them directly.”

A Vaillant spokesperson said: “Vaillant has communicated with its direct merchant customers that the boiler levy has been removed as of the 19th March 2024 and all levies charged since 1st January 2024 will be refunded in full.”

“Vaillant can only ensure our direct customers are refunded, and it is not visible to us to what extent installers and merchants have passed the levy on.”

A Bosch spokesperson said: “We have refunded in full to our merchant customers 100% of the levy charged on boilers we sold to them in the period 1 January 2024 – 15 March 2024.

They added: “Our trading relationship is with the merchant and we have returned the levy to them. We do not sell boilers to end consumers.”

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