Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy

Alok Sharma appointed business secretary

Alok Sharma arriving at 10 Downing Street today
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Alok Sharma arriving at 10 Downing Street today

Number 10 have confirmed that international development secretary Alok Sharma will replace Andrea Leadsom as secretary of state for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.

Mr Sharma has been MP for Reading West since 2010. He was housing minister between 2017 and 2018, and employment minister from 2018 to 2019.

BreakingAndrea Leadsom loses business secretary post in reshuffle

Business rates 'too much for retailers'

Exterior of Shoe Zone store
Shoe Zone

The boss of Shoe Zone has called on the government to take urgent action to cut business rates in an effort to stem High Street store closures.

Speaking to the PA news agency, chief executive Anthony Smith said "maybe 20% of stores could close if rates don't change". The chain has already secured rent reductions in order to protect the future of some shops.

Shoe Zone was reporting a fall in pre-tax profits of 15% to £9.6m in the year to 5 October, amid rising costs.

Mr Smith told PA: "We need a change to the rates system because the current cost of rates is too much for retailers, particularly in small towns.

"Current rates don't reflect the market. All we want to see are rates which are aligned with the current rental property market.

"We are a business that is looking to really expand but our numbers haven't really moved over the past year. We've opened about 20 stores and then closed around 20 over same period."

Mr Smith added that the company paid more in business rates in 2019 than it did in 2009, even though it store numbers had fallen from about 800 to 500 over that time.

Cobham: 'needs further full and proper consideration'

Andrea Leadsom
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More of those Cobham details.

Andrea Leadsom's department said today that the the secretary of state for defence has also written to her about the national security implications of the merger and "the discussions which have taken place with the parties to propose undertakings to address those implications".

"The business secretary is grateful for the advice she has received and the constructive engagement from the parties," the department for Business Energy and Industrial Strategy said.

It added: "The decision on how to proceed in this case requires further full and proper consideration of the issues.

"Having received these reports, the business secretary will therefore have further discussions with her ministerial colleagues and the parties to the transaction to inform the decision-making process.

"An update will be provided in due course on the government’s decision. The full legal process will continue to be followed throughout the general election period."

Cobham takeover decision delayed

plane refuelling

Andrea Leadsom, the business secretary, has said she is yet to make a decision on the takeover of defence company Cobham.

The company has received a £4bn takeover from US private equity company Advent International.

In September, she began a "public interest intervention" in the deal for the company which employs 10,000 people, is known for pioneering technology enabling the mid-air refuelling of planes

The Competition and Markets Authority provided her with a report on the deal on 29 October.

Thomas Cook rescue 'poor decision' for taxpayer

thomas cook staff
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The Business Energy and Industry Strategy Committee has also published a number of documents that have been submitted as part of its inquiry into the collapse of Thomas Cook.

There is a letter from Andrea Leadsom, in which she says says government "rescue deal would have been a very poor decision for the taxpayer".

She said it was "too early at this stage to give a clear summary of total costs, as the liquidation process is yet to be concluded".

"By way of indicative costs, the repatriation of Thomas Cook customers is expected to be about double the cost of the Monarch repatriation operation in 2017, which was about £40m.

"The majority of Thomas Cook passengers were Air Travel Organiser’s Licence (ATOL) protected and the costs for repatriating those passengers have been covered by the ATOL scheme.

"The Official Receiver’s costs for the first three weeks of the liquidation amount to approximately £21m. This includes salaries for employees retained to assist with the repatriation and the liquidation, fees for the Special Managers and legal advice. As the liquidation is on-going, the costs will rise; we will only be able to provide a total, substantiated figure once the process is concluded."

Thomas Cook inquiry cut short by election

Thomas Cook with people stood outside
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MPs on the Business, Energy and Industry Strategy Committee, have written to Andrea Leadsom, the business secretary, to outline recommendations in the wake of the collapse of Thomas Cook.

The committee has been holding an inquiry into the collapse of the tour operator, taking evidence from former bosses including Peter Fankhauser, Manny Fontenla-Novoa and Harriet Green.

It suggests strengthening of clawback of bonuses so that are “provisions on clawback need to be strengthened and the scope of clawbacks extended”

It also adds that the government should seek “a binding commitment from lenders that those who have lost their jobs as a result of a corporate liquidation can benefit from a loan payment holiday or mortgage payment holiday”.

Rachel Reeves, the Labour MP who chairs the committee, said: “Our inquiry has been cut short by the election but it’s clear that a series of misjudgements at Thomas Cook led to its collapse. The piling up of debt, confused business plans, lack of challenge in the board room and by auditors, and aggressive accounting practices all contributed to the failure of the business.

“During our inquiry, we’ve witnessed buck-passing and blame-shifting but precious little humility or reflection from those at the top of the business".

MPs hear where smart meters will boldly go

Future smart meters will save money, says minister
MPs have been told that smart meters will one day enter a "Star Trek phase" where consumers could save money by running appliances when energy is cheapest. 

Mandy Baker took a peek into the future.

And there's more from Today In Parliament at 2300 on BBC Radio 4 and BBC Sounds.