Dragons Den star Peter Jones, who owns camera chain Jessops, plans to call in administrators to help secure the future of the High Street brand.

Mr Jones bought the chain from administrators in 2013 after it collapsed under £81m of debt.

While revenues have increased most years since then, profits fell to less than £10,000 last year.

Now Mr Jones reportedly plans to seek a rescue deal for the firm’s property arm, JR Prop Limited.

The division has reported a steep increase in rental costs since 2017.

Now Mr Jones is reportedly planning to seek a rescue deal, known as a company voluntary agreement (CVA) with its landlords and lenders. This is an insolvency process that allows a business to reach an agreement with its creditors to pay off all or part of its debts and is often used as an opportunity to renegotiate rents.

Sky News said the CVA was expected to lead to store closures and rent cuts.

But sources close to Jessops, which employs around 500 people, said Mr Jones still saw a future in the business and would not say how many of the chain’s 46 stores were at risk of closure.

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Mr Jones bought Jessops in March 2013, just months after it had gone into administration and closed its 187 stores.

At the time, he said the chain would reopen some of its High Street shops to give it between 30 and 40 stores across the country.

He told the BBC that he wanted the price charged in store to be the same as online.

Asked then whether there really was a market for cameras that were not integrated into mobile phones, Mr Jones said: “The amateur photographer, you wouldn’t see them walking down the street taking that perfect picture with a mobile phone.”

But interest did not live up to his expectations.

He forecasted sales of at least £80m in the first year under his control. But he failed to turn around the group’s performance and the firm reported lacklustre turnover of £57.9m for the period.

However, in 2016, the firm’s revenues did reach £80.3m. The next year they surpassed £95m before dipping slightly amid tough trading conditions on the High Street.

The chain is the latest High Street brand to acknowledge tough trading conditions.

Last year, big chains such as Toys R Us, Maplin and Poundworld collapsed and vanished altogether.

Others such as Homebase, Mothercare, Carpetright and New Look did restructuring deals with their landlords, closing hundreds of shops between them.

Who is Peter Jones?

  • The serial entrepreneur’s first venture was to start a tennis coaching school, after spending his summers working at a tennis academy run by his English teacher
  • That gave him a taste for the world of business and, in his 20s, he started a computer business. That allowed him “a nice house, a BMW, a Porsche, and plenty of money to spend”, he later wrote
  • But the good times didn’t last forever and the firm went under after a number of its biggest customers went bust, forcing Mr Jones to move back in with his parents aged 29. He went to work for Siemens UK and a year later was running its UK computer business
  • But he didn’t remain an employee for long and in 1998, he started Phones International, which made him millions and earned him a seat as an investor on the BBC’s Dragon Den
  • On the show, he invested a total of £4,085,667 in firms including Levi Roots, known for its Reggae Reggae Sauce.

The government is considering whether the management of the North of England’s largest rail commuter service should be taken into public hands.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said Northern’s poor performance, with trains regularly arriving late or not at all, “cannot continue”.

Mr Shapps said he had issued a “request for proposals” from the firm and the Operator of Last Resort (OLR).

This could lead to services being brought into direct government control.

Giving evidence to the Commons’ Transport Select Committee, Mr Shapps said: “As a fellow long-suffering commuter, I entirely believe we cannot carry on just thinking it is OK for trains not to arrive, or Sunday services not to be in place. That has to change.”

The Department for Transport confirmed it was developing contingency plans for the replacement of the current franchise “with either a new short-term management contract with Northern or the Operator of Last Resort (OLR)”.

“In the context of significant challenges facing the operator, such as delays to infrastructure upgrades and historic underinvestment in the northern rail network, issuing a request for proposal enables the department to examine whether the contract is properly aligned with current operating challenges in the North,” it said.

“It also allows us to determine whether the franchise owner or an OLR would be best placed to tackle these issues and deliver for passengers.”

David Brown, managing director at Northern, said the firm had faced several challenges in the past couple of years, outside the direct control of Northern.

The most significant of these is the continuing late delivery of major infrastructure upgrades, including the North West electrification, which is more than two years late.

Mr Brown added: “Arriva and Northern remain fully committed to delivering the transformation of the North’s railways and improving customers’ experience. We are delivering the biggest transformation of local rail for a generation.”

This is another black mark for Britain’s rail system.

A second franchise, potentially brought under government control is not what Conservative ministers wanted.

Labour will press its argument that the system is so broken that the same should happen to all train companies.

But Northern (a large commuter network) is a much more complex franchise than the East Coast Mainline (intercity services) which the government took control of last year and rebranded LNER.

For that reason the government is probably keen to stop short of the “full public control” option and take-on a more supervisory role, with Arriva (Northern’s parent company) still in charge of the day-to-day.

But several leading politicians argue Northern has failed and therefore should be removed wholesale from managing the franchise.

Northern argues the system is at fault because delayed infrastructure upgrades (managed by publicly-owned Network Rail) have not allowed it to run the services passengers demand.

There is no silver bullet to fixing the railways but the government-commissioned rail review will, in a matter of weeks, attempt to come up with answers.

Northern, which is one of the biggest franchises in the country, has been in trouble for years. Industry sources have confirmed to the BBC that the train company, which is owned by Arriva, has been losing money for some time.

Passenger numbers on Northern dropped after the botched introduction of new timetables in the summer of last year.

Mr Shapps said: “If you are northern, and you are a Northern passenger, you’re as frustrated as I was in 2018. With Northern it has failed to recover.”

On Friday, Transport for the North said it believed the franchise should be taken into public hands, via what is known as an Operator of Last Resort (OLR). The OLR is, on behalf of the government, currently in charge of London North East Railway, the East Coast Mainline intercity franchise.

However, the OLR is not the only option for the government.

It could also opt for what is known as a “management contract”, which would mean that Arriva would still operate rail services, but the Department for Transport would adopt a much more hands-on role for the operation of the franchise.

The OLR has been monitoring Northern for some time and any change to the operation of the franchise would take months to implement.

A review of the railways in the UK is already under way. The Williams Review, led by former British Airways boss Keith Williams, is due to publish its findings in coming weeks. It is expected that the rail franchise system will be completely overhauled, a point mentioned in the Queen’s Speech earlier this week.

Asda workers protesting against a new contract have marched to the supermarket’s headquarters to hand in a 23,000-signature petition.

The petition was pushed through Leeds in a shopping trolley by objectors waving flags and blowing horns.

Demonstrators fear they will be sacked if they do not accept the new contract that will see them lose paid breaks.

Asda said the contract “ensures we are able to adapt to the demands of the highly competitive retail industry”.

Hundreds of protesters travelled from around the country to Leeds, described as the “birthplace” of Asda.

Debbie Jones, 51, from Runcorn, has worked for the firm since she was 16. She said: “I just feel it’s an injustice.

“If I don’t sign the contract I’ll be sacked after 35 years, I don’t feel any respect or any loyalty.

“I never thought they’d treat us like this.”

The protests follow the move to introduce a new agreement called contract six, which introduces unpaid breaks and a requirement to work on bank holidays.

Neil Derrick, GMB union’s regional secretary for Yorkshire and North Derbyshire, said: “The founding fathers of Asda would be here marching with us today if they weren’t spinning in their graves about the way Asda is treating its staff.”

While Labour MP for Leeds North West, Alex Sobel, described the contract as a “stain on Asda and its history”.

Asda, which is owned by US retail giant Walmart, said the contract increases the take-home pay of more than 100,000 employees through an investment of more than £80m and ensures everyone doing the same job is on the same terms and conditions.

“We understand that change is never easy, but we are determined that Asda remains a sustainable business for its customers and colleagues – now and in the future,” a spokesman said.

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John Lewis says it stopped selling drones in May amid concerns they were being misused by the general public.

Last year’s disruption at Gatwick Airport by drones in December and falling sales prompted its decision, the department store chain said.

The disruption caused about 1,000 flights to be cancelled or diverted over a 36-hour-period.

A number of other airports have been forced to suspend flights due to drone activity, including Heathrow.

“Following the Gatwick drone security breach in December 2018, we made the decision to stop selling drones at John Lewis & Partners this year,” said John Lewis’ buying director of electricals and home technology Laurence Mitchell.

“Sales were also in decline due to the growing number of restrictions around flying these devices in built-up areas across the country.”

John Lewis previously stocked a range of drones, including several models by DJI, the world’s biggest consumer drone maker, which were priced at between £1,000-£2,500.

Paul Rigby, chief executive of Consortiq, a UK drones solutions firm, who advised the government on setting drone policy, said drone sales had fallen because there isn’t that much for consumers to do with them.

“If you’re a consumer, when you first get a drone it’s quite exciting, but unless you decide to join a club or get into racing, there’s only so many times you can fly one before you get bored,” he told the BBC.

In contrast, he said commercial organisations could use them for a variety of purposes, including inspecting buildings, oil rigs, aircraft and wind turbines, monitoring crops, as well as filming for the media industry and assisting emergency responders.

Mr Rigby added: “I don’t think there’s longevity in the consumer drone market. The big players have already realised that and they’re coming up with industrial solutions.”

While the advent of consumer drones flying into controlled airspace has made life more difficult for the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), the aviation regulatory body does not have a negative opinion of the technology.

“Drones can bring many benefits but to achieve those we need everyone flying a drone to do so safely,” CAA spokesperson Jonathan Nicholson told the BBC.

“Anyone operating a drone must do so responsibly and observe all relevant rules and regulations. The rules for flying drones are designed to keep all airspace users safe.”

The CAA reiterated that it is illegal to fly drones close to airports and other aircraft and anyone breaking the rules can face severe penalties including imprisonment.

More advice on how to fly drones safely and responsibly in the UK can be found by reading the CAA’s Dronecode.

Organised criminals could exploit gaps in the UK’s border preparations in the event of a no-deal Brexit, a government spending watchdog has warned.

The National Audit Office (NAO) said new border control systems could be used to commit fraud or smuggle goods.

With two weeks to go until the UK is due to depart the EU, it warned that government departments and businesses were not fully prepared for the risks.

“Mitigating the risks could be outside of government’s control,” it warned.

The NAO’s report said it was “impossible to know exactly what would happen at the border in the event of no-deal on October 31 2019” and that would pose “new challenges” for government departments “in monitoring and responding to any disruption that may ensue.”

“This includes supporting businesses and individuals in meeting their new obligations, mitigating risks of the border becoming vulnerable to fraud, smuggling or other criminal activity, and activating civil contingency plans if necessary,” its report said.

The government spending watchdog said that the government had made progress with putting in place the systems, infrastructure and resources required to manage the border in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

Despite this, the government had been unable to mitigate the most “significant risks” to the effective functioning of the UK border in the event of no deal, it said.

The most significant risks to the operation of the border included businesses’ level of preparation, the controls imposed by EU member states and temporary arrangements made for the Northern Ireland and Ireland land border, the report found.

HM Revenue & Customs estimates that 150,000 to 250,000 traders may need to make a customs declaration on the first day after Brexit. Of that number, only 25,000 had registered so far, the NAO found.

The report also highlighted the fact that in September, the government acknowledged that the arrangements made for the Northern Ireland and Ireland land border were unlikely to be sustainable “beyond the very short term” because of “significant economic, legal and biosecurity risks”, as well as the “potential for civil unrest”.

And although the government had made contingency plans in the event that the UK left the European Union without a deal on 29 March, the watchdog said that some of those plans had not been updated since.

Is the UK ready?

Other plans, systems and infrastructure had “mostly” been developed in time for the first day after Brexit, the NAO said, however it said it was concerned that they may not work exactly as planned.

“Preparing the UK border for EU exit with or without a deal is extremely complex and has required a huge amount of work from many government departments, agencies and third parties such as traders.

“Despite their efforts, significant risks remain which may have consequences for the public and businesses,” said the NAO’s head Gareth Davies.

Six regional heads of Britain’s biggest employers’ group have urged the government to build the controversial HS2 rail project in full.

The call by the CBI chiefs comes amid a government-commissioned review which could lead to all or part of the high-speed rail network being scrapped.

The CBI regions were the East Midlands, West Midlands, Yorkshire and Humber, London, the North East and North West.

They said HS2 will bring benefits “far beyond its costs”.

The statement claimed a scaled-back version of the controversial project “will not deliver the improved connectivity across the country that businesses are crying out for”.

It continued: “HS2 will bring benefits to local communities far beyond its costs. It will create half a million jobs, stimulate house building along its route and support much-needed investment across the Midlands, North and beyond.

“It is the critical spine that will bring wider transport improvements like Northern Powerhouse Rail and the Midlands Rail Hub to life.”

Northern leaders have also published a review recommending that the North and Midlands must take control of plans for a high-speed rail network in their areas.

‘Damaging delays’

The Northern Powerhouse Independent Review called for the establishment of a body named HS2 North, which would be at arm’s-length from the government and be overseen by Transport for the North to ensure HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail are combined efficiently.

Chris Oglesby, chief executive of Manchester-based property firm Bruntwood and a member of the panel which oversaw the review, said: “Our review panel proposes that the North and Midlands must take control of the nation’s high-speed network.

“HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail – a major priority of Boris Johnson and his government – are completely interlinked and a joined up approach is required to both and the upgrades to existing lines.

“Only by delivering an integrated high-speed network right across the North can a Northern Powerhouse vision be truly realised. Further delays and uncertainty are hugely damaging to the North and the country as a whole.”

Over budget

A review into whether to scrap HS2 was launched by Prime Minister Boris Johnson in August and is due to be completed shortly.

It is being led by Douglas Oakervee, a former chairman of HS2 Ltd – the taxpayer-funded firm building the railway – with Lord Berkeley acting as his deputy.

Recent figures compiled by HS2 Ltd show the railway could be delayed by up to seven years and run £26bn over budget, reaching a cost of £88bn.

Phase 1 of HS2 is planned to run between London and Birmingham. Current designs involve a second Y-shaped phase launching in two stages: Phase 2a from the West Midlands to Crewe followed by phase 2b from Crewe to Manchester, and Birmingham to Leeds.

UK fashion company Boohoo has been told one of its emailed advertisements must not use the phrase “Send nudes”.

The company put the phrase in a message sent to promote a range of clothes coloured to resemble skin.

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) upheld a complaint about the advert because it made light of a “potentially harmful social trend”.

Boohoo has also been told to make sure its advertising is “socially responsible”.

Sexual photos

In its ruling, the ASA said it knew the term “nude” was often used in the fashion world to refer to colours similar to skin tones.

But it said the phrase “Send nudes” was more likely to be interpreted as a harassing request for sexual photos rather than as a reference to a range of clothes.

As well as the words appearing across an image inside the emailed advert, the phrase also formed the message’s subject line.

The ASA said: “Increased pressure to share such photos had been linked to negative outcomes for young people.”

And the market Boohoo targeted probably meant the advert had reached children – especially those who wanted to dress like a “slightly older age group”.

Boohoo said: “We note the ASA’s ruling and recognise our obligations to ensure that advertising is socially responsible.”

Seductive poses

In a separate ruling, the ASA banned a video advert for clothing company Missguided, broadcast in June, which “objectified women”.

Missguided said the advert, featuring women assuming a series of seductive poses in swimwear and other summer clothes, served to promote a “particular lifestyle” rather than just clothing.

And the “display of skin was relevant, necessary and unavoidable” given the ad was for beach-wear.

The ASA disagreed and said the images were “highly sexualised” and some of the women depicted in the poses were not wearing the clothes Missguided said it was promoting.

The ad was likely to cause “serious offence” to some people, it said.

Missguided has been told not to run the ad again and must guard against creating similar content that “objectifies women”.

The cost of renting a home rose fastest in Nottingham, Leeds and Bristol in the past year, research indicates, while Aberdeen recorded the biggest fall.

The survey, from property website Zoopla, said tenants moving into a Nottingham home this summer paid 5.4% more in rent than a year earlier.

Leeds and Bristol (up 4.5%) were the only other UK cities where rents rose faster than UK average wage growth.

On average, renting a UK home has become more affordable, Zoopla said.

Part of the reason lies in an increase in the number of people buying their first own home, relieving some of the pressure on the rental sector.

Tenants moving in Aberdeen – where the local economy is affected significantly by the oil industry – saw rents drop by 4.1% in the third quarter of the year, compared with a year earlier.

Coventry and Middlesbrough also saw renting become cheaper, according to the inaugural Zoopla quarterly rental report.

Who is affected?

Nearly three-quarters of 16 to 24-year-olds and almost half of 25 to 34-year-olds rent from a private landlord, according to the government’s Family Resources Survey.

The sector is concentrated in London, with about a third of rental properties in the UK found in the city. This is also where the typical rent per month is the most expensive.

The Zoopla report suggests that the typical tenant in the UK spends nearly a third of their earnings on rent (31.8%), slightly less than the peak in 2016.

Outside of London, tenants spent the highest proportion of earnings in Oxford, Brighton and Cambridge, with the lowest in Hull, Bradford and Stoke.

UK-wide rental prices are up by an average of 2% in the last year, which is about half the typical level of wage rises.

“Renting is more affordable today than the 10-year average. [An increase in] first-time buyers, 80% of whom exit the private renting sector to buy, has also moderated rental demand,” said Richard Donnell, of Zoopla, which has based the figures on its listings and other data.

“Rental affordability varies widely across the country, reflecting the relative strength of local economies.”

Across the UK, homes take an average of 17 days to rent, based on the time between a listing being posted and removed. This is down from one year ago, when homes took 19 days to rent, and much shorter than the time it takes to sell a property.

The typical tenant spent nearly four years in the same property, Mr Donnell said.

The UK’s best-known stockpicker is to close his remaining investment funds, signalling the end of his multi-billion-pound empire.

Neil Woodford was sacked from his flagship fund early on Tuesday, and has now announced he will close the last two funds.

He described it as a “highly painful decision”, adding that the funds would be wound down in “an orderly fashion”.

Mr Woodford earned a huge reputation over 30 years of successful investing.

At its peak his business managed more than £14bn.

The so-called “Oracle of Oxford” was dismissed from his troubled £3.1bn Equity Income fund by its administrators on Tuesday. The fund will be wound up and any cash returned to investors. It follows a series of disastrous investments.

That sacking initially prompted an angry response, with Mr Woodford saying it was a decision “I cannot accept, nor believe is in the long-term interests” of the business.

But on Tuesday evening, in a further announcement, he said the last two funds – Income Focus and Woodford Patient Capital – would be shut.

‘Deep regrets’

He said: “We have taken the highly painful decision to close Woodford Investment Management. We will fulfil our fund management responsibilities to WPCT and the LF Woodford Income Focus Fund and once completed will close the company in an orderly fashion.

“I personally deeply regret the impact events have had on individuals who placed their faith in Woodford Investment Management and invested in our funds.”

Mr Woodford built his reputation during 26 years at the City firm Invesco. An investment of £1,000 in his first funds would have returned £25,000 by the time he left.

He set up his own business, and his stellar success meant savers poured millions into his new funds. But several big investments in stock market listed companies performed poorly, and investors began withdrawing money.

To compound the problems, Mr Woodford had built up stakes in a number of unlisted technology and healthcare companies he believed had strong growth potential.

When the redemption requests gathered pace, he found it difficult to raise money quickly by selling stakes in these private companies.

The Equity Income Fund was suspended in June after being crippled by redemption demands. It meant that investors’ money would be locked in for months.

Ryan Hughes, head of active portfolios at investment firm AJ Bell, said there was “a feeling of inevitability” about the closure. Without any money coming in “it was difficult to see how the business could survive”, he said.

The unwinding of the funds will be a long process. Darius McDermott, managing director of financial adviser Chelsea Financial Services, said the situation was “a mess” and the flagship fund’s closure would make it “a forced seller of all stocks”.

Analysis: Kevin Peachey, personal finance correspondent:

Neil Woodford had been the darling of the armchair investor – but, as one said today, the whole thing had become “toxic”.

Four years ago, he was giving them 20% returns. Now he is giving them losses, a lot of uncertainty, and perhaps a lesson in hubris.

Some of those investors will be kicking themselves for being too reliant on a “star” manager, rather than spreading their investments, as has always been the advice.

The fund manager may soon have found he had nothing left to manage, so commentators say it was inevitable that he has thrown in the towel.

Those stockpickers who remain in the ring may find individual investors are a lot more cautious about giving them their support, and their money.

The pound has jumped to its highest level in five months on reports the two sides in the Brexit talks are inching towards a draft deal.

Shares in banks and housebuilders also soared as optimism about a breakthrough buoyed companies with a UK focus.

It was hoped that a preliminary deal might be reached on Tuesday, ready to go before a summit on Thursday.

Sterling rose 1.5% on the dollar to $1.28, and by a similar amount against the euro to 86.3 pence.

On the FTSE 100, shares with a big exposure to the health of the UK economy rose sharply. Builders Barratt Developments and British Land were up about 6%, and Lloyds Banking Group and Royal Bank of Scotland rose more than 5%. Next, ITV and Ocado were also big risers.

“A deal between the UK and EU was 60% in the price [of sterling] and now we stand to see if the remaining 40% come into play,” said Stephen Gallo, European head of foreign exchange at BMO.

Morten Lund, a senior forex strategist at Nordea, added: “The reaction from the markets shows they want to get this deal over and they are ready to push the button at the slightest sign of a deal.”

But he said he was “a bit more sceptical about the outcome” given how little time remained to negotiate and the difficulties of getting a deal through the British Parliament. The UK is due to leave the EU on 31 October.

Shares and the pound jumped last week on growing optimism of a deal, only to slip amid signals from Brussels that the negotiations still had a long way to go.

‘Right direction’

But on Tuesday, Brussels’ chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier sparked another rise on the markets when he said it was “high time to turn good intentions [into] a legal text”.

Irish PM Leo Varadkar said talks were “moving in the right direction”. Boris Johnson has spoken to France’s Emmanuel Macron and the BBC understands the two men agreed there was “positive momentum”, although “many hurdles” must still be overcome.

The FTSE 250 of UK mid-cap stocks rose and European equity benchmarks extended their gains on the news.

“The more uncertainty you remove, the better for investors. If the [UK] prime minister and the EU were now to agree a deal, then the market would take that positively,” said Edmund Shing, global head of equity derivatives strategy at BNP Paribas.