Two top executives at Barclays Bank dishonestly hid a £280m payment to investors from Qatar, a court heard today.

Prosecutors said the executives created a bogus agreement for advisory services so they could pay Qatari investors extra fees for investing.

The defendants deny charges of fraud.

The Serious Fraud Office told the court that in the 2008 banking crisis Barclays needed to raise billions of pounds from private investors.

But the Qataris drove a hard bargain, demanding commissions from the bank more than twice as high as other investors were getting in exchange for investing £2.05bn at the height of the financial crisis.

Barclays executive Roger Jenkins agreed to pay the difference and created a bogus agreement with Qatar for advisory services, prosecutors said. It was the second such agreement that year.

Mr Jenkins, together with finance director Chris Lucas, were responsible for dishonestly hiding the extra payment by means of the agreement, the court heard.

‘Lack of negotiations’

“The Qatari demand for investing had to be satisfied. The real fees for investing were not disclosed and once again, the instrument of fraud, an advisory services agreement was produced,” said prosecutor Ed Brown QC.

“Despite the fact that it committed Barclays to pay more than a quarter of a million pounds, the letter was only a little longer than a single sheet of paper”, the jury heard.

“The letter goes on to refer in the broadest and – you may think- vaguest possible language, to the types of services to be provided. [It] also refers to the need to ‘refine’ the types of services to be provided at some point in the future.

“You may wish to bear in mind that by the time… Barclays was already the purported beneficiaries of the advisory services provided under a very similar [agreement]. It had already agreed to pay £42m on those so-called ‘advisory services'”.

“The complete lack of any negotiations as to the nature of the services for £280m or their value is just one indicator of its fundamental dishonesty,” Mr Brown said.

He added that “in order to conceal the existence of the huge additional payments to the Qataris, it was necessary that the public documents contained serious and dishonest representations as to the true financial picture of the investment.”

The agreement was not mentioned in public prospectuses or subscription agreements relied on by investors taking part in the second capital raising by Barclays in the autumn of 2008.

“These statements were lies because they concealed the existence of the [advisory services agreement] fee. Indeed the very existence of the [agreement] was not revealed in the documents,” Mr Brown said.

Today was the second day of a retrial of three top Barclays executives – the only criminal trial in the UK of senior bank executives since the 2008 crash.

Roger Jenkins is charged with two counts of fraud and two of conspiracy to commit fraud in connection with two capital raisings by Barclays in June 2008 and October and November 2008.

Co-defendants Tom Kalaris and Richard Boath are each charged with fraud and conspiracy to commit fraud only in connection with the earlier capital raising in June 2008.

The trial continues.

New tax plans aimed at making global firms pay more tax have been published by an international economic body.

The proposals would give governments more power to tax big technology firms such as Apple, Facebook and Google.

The Organisation for Economic and Development (OECD) proposals would mean big companies paying more tax where they sell products and make profits.

Multinational companies could be liable for tax in places where they have no physical presence.

Companies that do business in more than one country have long been a challenge for tax authorities.

Profit shifting

There is a very obvious incentive to structure their business in a way that minimises their tax bills.

Typically that involves allocating profits to subsidiaries in countries – including so-called tax havens – where corporate tax rates are very low even if they do little business there.

The issue has been highlighted by the growth of big technology companies which can provide services in countries where they have little or no physical presence.

The OECD’s proposal includes new rules on where tax should be paid and on the proportion of their profits that should be taxed in each country.

The OECD is an organisation whose members are mainly rich countries, although its work on corporate tax brings in a much wider group, a total of 134 countries and jurisdictions.

The organisation’s Secretary General Angel Gurria said:

“We’re making real progress to address the tax challenges arising from digitalisation of the economy, and to continue advancing toward a consensus-based solution to overhaul the rules-based international tax system”.

Tax moves

A number of countries, including France and Britain, have been making their own plans to introduce digital services taxes.

The British proposal would affect companies providing social media platforms, search engines or online marketplaces.

It is scheduled to come into effect in April 2020 but the government said it would rescind it if “an appropriate international solution is in place”.

The French tax is already in force, though Paris plans partial refunds if companies pay more under the current regime than they would have been liable for if there is an international agreement.

There are concerns that such unilateral measures could aggravate international economic tensions at a time when they have already been raised.

US companies would be particularly affected by these measures.

Washington trade officials have argued that the French tax unfairly targets American companies and are investigating it under a procedure that could ultimately lead to retaliation in the shape of tariffs on French goods.

So Mr Gurria clearly wants to get an international agreement done soon. He said: “Failure to reach agreement by 2020 would greatly increase the risk that countries will act unilaterally, with negative consequences on an already fragile global economy.”

‘Increasing complexity’

The proposed measures have been criticised by campaigners.

Alex Cobham, chief executive of the Tax Justice Network said :”The OECDs proposals bring more complexity for tax abusers to hide behind, fail to meaningfully curb corporate tax abuse and will shrink the tax revenues of lower-income, non-OECD member countries that currently suffer losses most intensely from corporate tax abuse.”

The OECD proposals would need to be agreed by governments to come into force. The international organisation has launched a public consultation.

John Hays, founder of the travel firm that is rescuing Thomas Cook’s High Street shops, knows a thing or two about survival.

Soon after setting up Hays Travel in the back of his mother’s childrenswear shop in 1980, a rival firm appeared.

Mr Hays was forced to offer free travel insurance to win customers – a move that nearly sank the nascent firm.

But 40 years later, Hays Travel is still here and expanding, buying stores shut down when Thomas Cook collapsed.

The takeover by the Sunderland-based travel company could save 2,500 jobs after Thomas Cook went bust two weeks ago.

It will potentially more than double Hays Travel’s employee-count, which currently stands at 1,900.

The deal is, without doubt, the biggest in the history of Hays Travel, which began in the Country Durham town of Seaham.

Mr Hays started the business after studying maths at the University of Oxford and completing an MBA.

It has strong family connections. His mother, Margaret, was a director until 1998 and other family members have been directors at the travel agency over the years.

His wife, Irene, chairs the Sunderland-based business and owns the controlling stake of 50.1%

‘Tough ask’

The free insurance offer that nearly sank Hays Travel in its early years ended up propelling its growth. enabling it to open 10 stores by 1990.

It has expanded in the intervening years and now has 190 of its own stores – before taking on the 555 from Thomas Cook.

Mr Hays, who is managing director, acknowledges the deal will be a challenge.

“It’s going to be a tough ask but it’s very doable,” he says.

He said he could succeed with the shops where Thomas Cook failed because Hays is an independent agent offering holidays from all operators.

Although Hays has a big internet and social media profile, he said there was still a demand for personal service in shops.

“We are pretty big already, and have a lot of buying power so our prices are competitive,” he said.

“We didn’t embark on this without giving it very serious thought.”

In its last financial year, sales rose to £379m from £337.7m but pre-tax profit growth was flat at £10m.

Mr Hays said: “We do have the management and the capacity to do this. It’s been endorsed by the Civil Aviation Authority. They’ve approved the plans that we’ve got.”

Commenting on whether the company will retain all 555 Thomas Cook shops and its 2,500 staff, Mrs Hays said: “At this point in time we have no plans to close any of those and what we want to do is go into those shops and look at the opportunity. Categorically we’re not going to go in and say ‘this is absolutely a waste of time’.”

“Obviously we are a commercial organisation, we will take a view. But as of today we have no plans to do that at all.”

‘Family’

The family-run company prides itself on how it looks after its staff.

They received a bonus last year after the firm’s total sales hit £1bn and hundreds attended the firm’s annual summer party held in the garden at Mr and Mrs Hays’ home.

As the rescue of Thomas Cook’s High Street stores was announced, Mrs Hays said the effect of the company’s collapse on its employees was “a tragedy”.

“Thomas Cook was a much-loved brand and a pillar of the UK and the global travel industry. We will build on the good things Thomas Cook had – not least its people – and that will put us in even better stead for the future.”

“We’ve said many time before that travel in general in the UK is a relatively small industry and it’s a family.”

All 555 Thomas Cook shops are to be bought by rival Hays Travel in a move that could save up to 2,500 jobs.

The independent travel agent said the move gives it shops in areas where it had little or no presence, including Scotland and Wales.

John Hays, who set up the Sunderland-based firm 40 years ago, said he hoped the shops would reopen within days.

It had been an emotional day, he said, with many staff crying when they were told their jobs were saved.

He said it was difficult to give cast-iron guarantees about every Thomas Cook shop, because there would now be talks with individual landlords.

However, “it is certainly our intention to take on all the staff; to welcome them back,” he added. The shops will be branded under the Hays name.

There is likely to be some overlap of stores, and the BBC estimates that there are more than 30 locations where there would be two competing High Street branches. In Yorkshire and the North East, for instance, there are branches just streets apart in Sunderland, Newcastle, York, Leeds, Doncaster, and at Morpeth, South Shields.

The acquisition, for an undisclosed sum, is a significant step for Hays, which has 190 shops, 1,900 staff, and last year had sales of £379m, reporting profits of £10m.

Mr Hays, who owns the business with wife Irene, said: “It is a game-changer for us, almost trebling the number of shops we have and doubling our workforce – and for the industry, which will get to keep some of its most talented people.”

‘It’s been emotional’

The takeover deal was struck with the travel industry regulator, the Civil Aviation Authority, after several days of negotiations. He said he was “elated to get the deal over the line. It’s been emotional”.

Many ex-Thomas Cook staff had cried when told they still had jobs, he said. “These people did nothing wrong. One day they were in jobs, and the next day they were locked out.”

He expected many of the shops to reopen on Thursday, “although probably with a skeleton staff”. There were some logistics problems – Hays had still to locate many of the shop keys, he said.

More than 100 new jobs will be based at the company’s Sunderland headquarters, with the rest in shops across the UK. The company has tweeted, urging former Thomas Cook staff to apply.

When Thomas Cook collapsed, it put 22,000 jobs at risk worldwide, including 9,000 in the UK.

It also sparked the biggest ever peacetime repatriation by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) to bring more than 150,000 British holidaymakers back to the UK. The last flight to repatriate Thomas Cook customers landed at Manchester Airport on Monday.

Business Secretary Andrea Leadsom said she hoped the deal “will provide significant re-employment opportunities for former Thomas Cook employees, alongside the advice and support we will continue to provide to help people find a new job as quickly as possible”.


‘We’ve not been told anything’

Samantha Kennedy, 34, from Alness in Scotland worked at an Inverness branch of Thomas Cook for six years.

She told the BBC that her WhatsApp chat group had been “going crazy this morning since the media started reporting” the deal.

“We’ve not been told anything. My manager hasn’t been told anything. It would be absolutely amazing if it was true,” she said.

Samantha said she was sad the Thomas Cook brand had gone, but she loved working in the industry.

“To continue to work in the industry would be amazing and there’s not many travel shops in Inverness, so if Hays were to take over I think people would be pleased.”


‘Deal with landlords’

The Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association (TSSA) union, which had members in Thomas Cook shops around the UK and in its head office in Peterborough, welcomed the move.

Manuel Cortes, TSSA’s general secretary, said it offered “real hope of reemployment to former Thomas Cook retail staff, many of whom are our members.”

The business is thought to have a licence for six months to occupy Thomas Cook stores, giving Hays time to strike new deals with landlords.

What is Hays’ plan?

Ian Bell, head of travel and tourism at accountancy firm RSM, said it was a “shrewd move” for Hays, but would also represent a quadrupling of its travel agency stores at a time when customers are increasingly booking holidays online.

“Much may depend on the deals that Hays can strike with its new High Street landlords,” said Mr Bell.

As Hays bought the stores from the administrators, it means it will have bought them at a lower price than if Thomas Cook was still trading.

Julie Palmer, partner at Begbies Traynor, said that in waiting, Hays had got a “best price” for the stores.

However, she questioned the logic for the transaction at a time when customers are turning away from High Street travel agents.

“You have to wonder what Hays’ plan is and how they can make it a success.

“Has the travel firm been gung-ho in trying to secure a cheap deal without assessing the viability of taking on these stores?,” she asked.

What does it mean for package holiday?

Hays Travel is not like Thomas Cook, which owned hotels and an airline. Pippa Jacks, group editor of Travel Trade Gazette, told the BBC: “They don’t have a [large] tour operating arm, they don’t have an airline, they don’t own hotels or cruise ships… so it makes them quite nimble in terms of what they sell”.

Hays is said to have beaten off other bidders, which she said suggested that the package holiday industry was not dead.

“If you’re spending a lot of money, if you’re not particularly confident and you want some personal recommendations, actually going to see a real human who will sit and listen and take time to understand your personal requirements is very valued by a lot of holidaymakers,” she said.


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James Daunt, credited with a turnaround at Britain’s biggest book chain, Waterstones, is plotting a similar strategy to address the troubles at America’s Barnes & Noble.

In the 1990s, the company was king of America’s bookshops, a fast-expanding corporate behemoth that revolutionised the industry and crushed local competitors.

Its success seemed so complete it inspired the 1998 romantic comedy You’ve Got Mail, in which Meg Ryan falls for Tom Hanks, even as his FoxBooks forces her family’s shop out of business.

Today, however, Barnes & Noble stores seem giant, tired remnants of a vanished retail era.

Sales in the company’s retail business have declined for almost a decade, as the firm faced economic recession, e-books and the steady desertion of shopping malls.

It has cycled rapidly through chief executives, and spent millions of dollars creating the Nook e-reader, which failed to gain traction.

Efforts to win back customers by adding different non-book items and full service restaurants have shown little sign of success, despite evidence of revival at independent bookstores.

In June, long-time chair Leonard Riggio announced the sale of the business to hedge fund Elliott Advisors, which installed the Waterstones boss at the helm.

On a recent visit to one of the company’s flagship locations in New York City, Mr Daunt was unsparing about the problems he sees.

The book display at the entrance? “There’s absolutely no rhyme or reason to it.” The shelves upstairs stocked with toys? “A lot of plastic.” The website? “We have to definitely change and invest.”

And yet, despite the challenges – even an escalator appeared broken – Mr Daunt says he is confident he can change the story.

The 55-year-old, tall, slim and soft-spoken, has almost 30 years of bookselling in the UK behind him, first at Daunt Books, the small chain of upmarket shops he founded in Marylebone in 1990 and then at Waterstones, which he took over as chief executive in 2011 as it risked sinking into administration.

Waterstones turned profitable in 2016. Mr Daunt credits the recovery to his decision to make the chain act more like an independent bookshop, with local managers empowered to stock the titles they think will suit their particular markets.

He’s plotting a similar strategy now. “It is relatively simple. Fill bookshops with the books their customers want,” he says.

‘Different market’

Where Mr Daunt sees similarities between Waterstones and Barnes & Noble, analysts warn of differences.

Despite its diminished state, Barnes & Noble remains a massive operation, with 627 stores, some 27,000 full and part-time employees and $3.5bn (£2.8bn) in sales in the 12 months to 27 April.

By comparison, Waterstones had just 278 stores, about 3,100 staff and sales of £385.7m when Elliott took over in 2018.

America’s size makes the mechanics of some parts of book selling, such as distribution, more challenging, while the threat from Amazon includes not only its online sales but a small, but growing number of dedicated book shops.

Barnes & Noble shops are often found in suburban malls, where they occupy huge, 26,000-square-foot spaces – a challenge for any retailer these days, let alone a bookshop.

“You have to drive there, you have to get out of your car, park – all this stuff. It’s not like walking down the street and saying, ‘Oh those book choices look interesting. Let’s pop in,” says John Tinker, an analyst at Gabelli & Co, who has followed Barnes & Noble for years.

“He’s following the same playbook as in England and to the extent it worked in England, that increases the odds that it works over here . But there’s a lot of execution questions. Waterstones was sort of simpler,” he says.

Authenticity

Oren Teicher, chief executive of the American Booksellers Association, says the US has relatively few bookstores compared to Europe and the UK, suggesting there is room for Barnes & Noble to succeed – especially given the growth local shops have seen in recent years.

Still, the company remains awkwardly wedged between Amazon and the “indies”. In the UK, Waterstones has opened unbranded shops which look like small independent bookshops – so-called “stealth” outlets that drew outcry.

“It’s hard to take a 30,000-square-foot superstore out in a strip mall and convert that into a neighbourhood store,” Mr Teicher says. “There’s got to be authenticity.”

Investment ahead

Mr Daunt, who will remain in charge of Waterstones and run it separately, has some room to experiment.

More than 200 Barnes & Noble leases are up for renewal in the next two years – offering an opportunity to push for lower rents, shrink square footage – or move to other locations entirely.

Analysts expect him to press publishers for better terms, while Elliott’s backing provides – at least for a few years – a shield from short-term financial pressure and the resources to invest.

Mr Daunt estimates he will need some $100-$200m to upgrade everything from store furniture and fixtures to IT.

“Good bookstores are fabulous things and the problem with this one is it’s just not a very good bookstore,” he says of his visit to one of the New York City outlets.

“It’s got all the makings of a good bookstore. It once was a good bookstore. So in theory it’s not too tricky to turn it around.”

“Take steps now to keep receiving data legally from the EU.”

That’s the message for businesses in a full page government advert in the Financial Times and elsewhere.

It goes on to warn that after 31 October “you may need to update your contracts.”

But just how worried should companies big and small be about handling data in the event of a no deal Brexit?

The advert tells readers to follow the step-by-step guide at gov.uk/brexit.

But when you arrive there, finding your way to the advice about data is not straightforward.

I found that I had to pretend to be a business and answer a whole series of questions before I was presented with the information.

So here is the key issue. Right now data can flow freely across the EU as long as companies conform to its tough new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

And as the GDPR is being incorporated wholesale into UK law, there should be no real change after Brexit – as long as we leave with a deal.

But if there is no deal, we will be treated as an external country, needing what is called an adequacy ruling showing our data protection standards are up to scratch – and the European Commission has indicated that this would not happen in a hurry.

So what do businesses need to do? Well, sending data to the EU will apparently be no problem because the UK government has decided it is happy with European standards.

But if you receive data – perhaps a lists of names and addresses of customers – from a company in the EU or the wider European Economic Area then you will need to take action.

The advice is that you should “review your contracts and, where absent, include Standard Contractual Clauses (SCC) or other Alternative Transfer Mechanisms (ATM) to ensure that you can continue to legally receive personal data from the EU/EEA.”

Err – right. I can hear dozens of small business owners gulping at that.

But the gov.uk site then sends them over to the Information Commissioner’s Office to find a handy interactive tool which will allow them to work out just how to craft one of these clever contracts.

Don’t worry, the government site says, “for most organisations, especially SMEs, taking the required action isn’t highly costly and doesn’t always require specialist advice.”

But don’t think you can just ignore the problem.”If you fail to act, your organisation may lose access to personal data it needs to operate.”

Big companies are likely to have addressed this issue. One payments firm told me it had opened an office in Ireland, and was preparing to tell EU customers that their business would now be handled from there.

‘Insurmountable bureaucracy’

But how prepared are small businesses?

Ben Thompson, co-owner of a cycle store in Fort William in Scotland, has visited the gov.uk/brexit site.

When he filled in the questionnaire he found he faced 21 Brexit-related issues, among them data transfers.

“We organise cycle tours, and may for instance be getting customer data from a German travel agency,” he explains.

He now worries that he may need to sort out new contracts with all of his European customers. “My heart sank when I saw this – it’s an insurmountable pile of bureaucracy for a small business.”

Legal angle

It is all good business for lawyers. But Alex Brown, head of the technology practice at Simmons and Simmons, urges caution about just how serious the data transfer issue is: “If I was a business exporting this would be on my list to fix – but it wouldn’t be near the top.”

He doubts whether data regulators will be rushing to punish small businesses which fail to get the right contracts in place straight away.

But it is just one more worry for businesses grappling with Brexit uncertainty.

Make UK, the manufacturers’ organisation, says the whole area is confusing for thousands of its members trading with the EU and is calling on the government to give clear guidance.

A DCMS spokesperson said it was in everyone’s interests that the exchange of personal data between EU member states and the UK continued, and the government had set out ways in which businesses could comply with EU data protection laws.

The new head of the International Monetary Fund has warned that Brexit in whatever form will be “painful”, adding to the effects of a global slowdown.

Kristalina Georgieva said the split will hurt not only the UK and European Union, but also low income countries with economic ties to them.

IMF data show that growth has already slowed in almost 90% of the world.

“It is very obvious that this [Brexit] is going to be painful,” she told the BBC.

Ms Georgieva said UK politicians will have to figure out how to shield people hurt by Brexit – but the options available to fund those measures are limited.

“The choices are not that many – you either borrow or you look at the [tax] increase,” she said.

Ms Georgieva, who spoke to the BBC ahead of the IMF’s annual meeting in Washington next week, said the IMF is also concerned about the effect of Brexit outside of the UK.

“I particularly worry about low-income countries that are in a significant way dependent on the European Union and the UK,” she said.

“Unfortunately this is not great news,” she said of Brexit. “And it comes at a time of compounded other factors that slow down growth.”

Trade war

The US and China are locked in a trade war over state subsidies and technology theft that has led the two sides to impose tariffs on billions of dollars worth of each other’s goods.

US President Donald Trump has also picked fights with allies such as Europe and Canada over cars, steel and aluminium.

The disputes have brought trade growth to a “near standstill” and hurt manufacturing and business investment, Ms Georgieva said.

In 2020, the IMF predicts that they will knock almost 1% off of global growth in 2020 – or roughly $700bn.

“What is most significant is that it is not the direct impacts of tariffs that are most harmful. Most harmful is the loss of confidence,” Ms Georgieva said.

‘Bigger loser’

The White House has said the tariffs are meant to force China to change its policies and dismissed concerns about growth, arguing that any harm to the US pales in comparison to the damage on China.

“That is not a good excuse if you can say, you know what, I’m a loser, but you’re a bigger loser than me,” Ms Georgieva said.

“I don’t think that this is what people expect from leadership.”

A furniture company has gone bust with 252 job losses after reporting “a catastrophic collapse in orders”.

Triumph Furniture of Merthyr Tydfil, which has bases in the town and Dowlais, supplied more than 600 furniture sellers, as well as being a major supplier of central government.

The firm went into administration on Tuesday, after an “unprecedented fall in sales” over the last 10 weeks.

Administrators said 239 jobs will go immediately.

The remaining 13 will be kept on in the short-term to help administrators.

It was established in 1946 as a family-run business, with chief executive Andrew Jackson describing its demise as fast.

He said: “The family is devastated by this appalling outcome and are extremely concerned for the welfare of all Triumph employees and their families at this terrible time.

“The business has suffered a rapid and catastrophic collapse in orders since the middle of July, which has been impossible to recover from, despite every effort.”

He said Triumph had enjoyed “incredible loyalty and support” from the people of Merthyr Tydfil and the surrounding valleys, which has been a “key element” in its success and longevity.

“All connected with the business over these years should be very proud of what has been achieved,” he added.

How were staff told the news?

A contractor said staff thought the writing was on the wall but were not expecting the company to fold this side of Christmas.

“A driver told me that over the last few months the work has been going down and down,” he said.

“He had driven just two chairs to Aberdeen. When you’re doing that, you know the business is in trouble “

Staff were gathered in the loading bay at the main Abercanaid site at about 12:00 on Tuesday – the only area big enough to accommodate them all in the dry.

“It was heartbreaking to see them walking back up slowly having been told they had lost their jobs,” the contractor added.

“Most of the staff left immediately.

“I’ve been told there are just three staff remaining in the loading bay area to remove the rest of the stock and show auctioneers around.”

A worker leaving the site said he was “gutted”, adding: “Work has slackened off, but I didn’t expect it to shut.”

He said: “Tomorrow, wake up, try looking for a job.

“Trying my best. I’ve got four kids, a mortgage, money’s got to come in.

“Somewhere for Christmas.”

What have administrators said?

Administrator Huw Powell, of Begbies Traynor, said attempts were made to secure major customer backing and additional funding to support a restructure or sale of the business.

But he added: “Due to the speed at which order levels reduced, these efforts ultimately proved unsuccessful before funding ran out.”

Administrators are now working with staff to help them access support.

Mr Powell said: “It is especially sad to see such a prominent business fail when there are so many redundancies involved.

“We know this will be devastating news for those concerned.”


Analysis from Brian Meechan, BBC Wales business correspondent

Triumph’s last accounts are filed up to June 2018. They show a loss of £343,000 for the year compared to a profit of £66,000 for the previous year.

The company blames the financial situation on delays in new government contracts affecting sales and profits, lost public sector sales worth £401,000 in profit and a 2% increase in overheads.

The accounts also pointed to continuing uncertainty over Brexit however they said that orders and profitability meant the company remained in a strong position.

The accounts also warned that the drop in the value of the pound increased the costs of raw materials and that wages had risen.

Currently the company has five outstanding charges-effectively mortgages- most of them with Lloyds Bank.


How will staff be helped?

Leader of Merthyr Tydfil county council Kevin O’Neill said: “The closure of Triumph Furniture is very sad, not just for the employer and employees, but for the whole community.”

He said council officials have been working with local employers and will host a recruitment day on Thursday.

Economy Minister Ken Skates said: “This is devastating news and my thoughts are with the employees of Triumph and their families at this very difficult time.

“Our focus now is on supporting the workforce and finding alterative local employment.”

A Department for Work and Pensions spokesman reassured staff that the Jobcentre Plus Rapid Response Service will be working alongside the Welsh Government, Careers Wales and local employers to provide “tailored support”.

Previous problems

The company previously ran into trouble in 2011, entering administration before it was bought by the firm’s management team.

At the time, Mr Jackson said Triumph Furniture needed to “make sure we have the right product range at the right price for today’s business; and the opportunity to do what we’ve always done well: offer the trade new ideas which can bolster the work of all our dealers in difficult times”.

Scammers are suspected of making fraudulent claims on a website set up to refund Thomas Cook customers, the Civil Aviation Authority has said.

The aviation regulator said it has taken “urgent action” over the suspicious online activity and will notify the police.

It has added further verification checks to its refund process, it said.

A spokesman said that Thomas Cook customers themselves were also being targeted by fraudsters.

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) is administering refunds from the Atol travel fund, an insurance levy collected from travel firms.

It is understood to be concerned by a series of low-level claims which could indicate fraud.

The regulator said it would seek prosecutions where there was evidence of deception.

The CAA also warned some fraudulent claims management websites had been set up, echoing warnings made by consumer group Which? on Friday.

It said that Thomas Cook customers should only make claims directly through its dedicated website.

‘Combat fraud’

About 100,000 claims have been made since Monday morning when the refunds website went live.

It was set up to let people with Atol-protected Thomas Cook holidays that were due to begin after the firm collapsed on 23 September claim refunds.

This covers more than 360,000 bookings for trips that were to be taken by 800,000 people.

Atol-protected customers who were already abroad when Thomas Cook failed can also claim for out-of-pocket expenses for delayed flights.

The CAA has said it will pay refunds within 60 days of receiving a valid claim and wants to crack down on fraudulent activity to avoid delays.

Dame Deirdre Hutton, who chairs the organisation, said: “This morning we have taken urgent action in response to what we believe is attempted fraudulent activity in relation to refunds for Thomas Cook customers.

“If you have made a claim directly with us, then your claim is being processed and you do not need to take any action.”

She added: “Please help us to combat the risk of fraud by not submitting your details to any other website.

“Our focus is on getting money back to the right people as soon as possible and combating fraud in every way possible.”

The CAA apologised on Monday after its system struggled to cope with “unprecedented demand” in the hours after it launched.

Many people received an error message after entering their details, meaning their claims were not submitted.

Barclays is facing criticism for opting out of part of the agreement banks have with Post Offices to allow customers to withdraw cash and deposit money.

The move is seen as a threat to efforts to provide services to communities that have seen branches and ATMs disappear.

Barclays will let its customers deposit money, but not withdraw cash from a Post Office counter using a debit card.

Consumer association Which? says it is a “shocking decision” which exposes the fragility of the UK’s cash system.

The Payment Systems Regulator, which oversees the cash system, warned it was “concerned about the impact”, while Rachel Reeves, chair of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) Committee, called the decision “unjustifiable”, adding that Barclays needs to “think again”.

Cashback scheme

The Post Office has unveiled a new agreement with 28 banks and building societies, covering the three years from January and allowing for postmasters and post mistresses to be paid more to take in and dispense cash.

Barclays is the only one to exclude cash withdrawals from its part of the agreement.

Instead it says it will launch a cashback scheme at small businesses in remote towns and areas where there is no branch or ATM alternative within 1km (0.6 miles).

Barclays has also promised to freeze last-in-town and remote branch closures for two years.

It says it is “committed” to its relationship with the Post Office because customers will still be able to deposit cash.

Less choice

Natalie Ceeney, who wrote an Access to Cash Review this year, says Barclays customers make 1.2 million cash withdrawals from Post Offices every month.

She is calling on the bank to reverse its plan for the sake of people who still rely heavily on cash, saying: “The cash system that supports them must be cherished, not undermined.”

The Payment Systems Regulator says the decision “reduces the number of places their customers can go to get cash”, adding that it will be monitoring Barclays.

Ms Reeves said: “This decision comes at a time when, across the banking sector, High Street branches are closing and free cashpoints are under threat.

“It’s essential that the future viability of the Post Office network is secured and unfortunately this decision from Barclays suggests they are forgetting their wider social responsibilities.”

Which? has been concerned about a drift towards a cashless society. It is calling for legislation that guarantees consumers can continue to access and pay with cash for as long as it is needed.

The Post Office is clear that staff in its remote branches will get more money for handling banking transactions.

Barclays’ line is that opting out and finding alternatives will be more efficient.

It says that 99% of its customers who use the Post Office are in an area where a branch or free-to-use cash machine is available as well.