Your commercial news round-up: Baltimore, Thames Water, National Grid, Papa Johns

updated on 28 March 2024

Reading time: three minutes

From shipping and trade to energy and water (plus pizza…), this week’s news spans a variety of legal sectors. Can you work out the major implications that the below stories might have on businesses, the economy and any future potential clients? 

  • Following the collapse of a major bridge in Baltimore after it was struck by a cargo ship, local officials have confirmed that Baltimore port in Maryland is closed for all maritime and much road-based traffic “until further notice”. More than a million shipping containers are said to enter and exit the port each year, making it “one of the nation’s largest shipping hubs”. Speaking to Sky News, Richard Meade, the editor of Lloyd’s List, explained that diverting trade into other ports will bring with it “huge insurance implications”. While Pete Buttigieg, US transportation secretary, has shared concerns that the port’s closure will have a “major and protracted impact” on supply chains. Data from the state of Maryland revealed that in 2023, 52.3 million tonnes of foreign cargo (worth £64 billion) passed through the port. Rebuilding the collapsed bridge is expected to cost $600 million according to experts – 10 times the cost of the original price in the 1970s.

Eight people were initially reported missing after the bridge’s collapse; these were construction workers who’d been making repairs to the bridge. While two bodies have been found since Tuesday, the remaining six are now presumed dead.

  • Thames Water is in hot water again, as investors in the UK’s largest water company have said they’ll no longer provide £500 million of emergency funding – unless bills rise. Thames Water failed to meet various conditions set out in the funding plan that was drawn up last July. An Ofwat (the Water Services Regulation Authority) spokesperson confirmed that “safeguards are in place to ensure that services to customers are protected regardless of issues faced by shareholders of Thames Water”. This comes after concerns emerged last year that the company could collapse due to its debt. Chris Weston, chief executive of Thames Water, said that the firm is “a long way from” special administration and that it has enough cash to last until May 2025. The news means that Thames Water “must now pursue all options to seek further equity for the business to turn around the performance of the company for customers”, according to the Ofwat spokesperson.
  • The National Grid has forecast an increase in energy use following the growth of AI and quantum computing. John Pettigrew, CEO of the National Grid, said: "Future growth in foundational technologies like artificial intelligence and quantum computing will mean larger scale, energy-intensive computing infrastructure.” He likened the current “constrained” network to the 1950s and explained that demand is “forecast to double by 2050 as heat, transport and industry continue to electrify”. Pettigrew has called for “innovative thinking” and “bold actions to create a transmission network for tomorrow’s future”.
  • From water to Pizza – nearly one-tenth of Papa Johns’ UK pizza outlets are due to close by mid-May after they were found to be no longer financially viable. The number of jobs affected by the closures hasn’t been revealed, with the move designed to allow the pizza chain to invest in “the right locations with the right partners”, according to Chris Phylactou, managing director. Phylactou said the focus is on “driving shared profitable growth” across Papa Johns’ UK restaurants. In the final three months of 2023, sales of more than £1 billion were recorded globally. In light of the UK closures, the company’s team members will be “fully supported throughout the process”, with plans to “find redeployment opportunities where available”.

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