Virgin, Ted Baker, Interserve, energy suppliers: your commercial news round-up

The UK has agreed a “flexible” Brexit extension with the European Union that will now run until October, although Brexit can still happen earlier if Parliament can agree a withdrawal deal. In theory, the delay enables the Conservative and Labour leaders to keep on negotiating to find a way forward, while fantasists of all political stripes will use the extension to continue pursuing their own rigid versions of Brexit.

The president of the CBI, which represents 190,000 UK businesses, is not impressed. John Allan, who is also president of Tesco, said: “My personal view is if the politicians can't get their act together and get to an agreement, the only other option is to go back to the people and have a second referendum to see whether people still feel the same way now that they did almost three years ago and resolve it that way.”

Here are more stories from the last week in business to bring your commercial awareness up to date.

  • Virgin trains could disappear from UK railways by the end of the year, group founder Sir Richard Branson has said, after the government barred Virgin’s partner Stagecoach from bidding for new rail franchises because of a large deficit in the Railway Pension Scheme. Stagecoach refuses to take any responsibility for the pensions gap. The government will award the next franchise this June and a new operator could take over from Virgin/Stagecoach by November 2019.
  • Interserve, one the UK’s biggest government contractors, is to be investigated by the accountancy regulator after going into administration. The Financial Reporting Council will look at Interserve’s audits for 2015, 2016 and 2017 by accountancy firm Grant Thornton, which was fined £3 million last year after admitting misconduct by four senior employees in the audits of two other clients, Nichols (maker of Vimto) and the University of Salford.
  • Energy regulator Ofgem has said that smaller suppliers trying to break into the market will face tougher tests. The announcement follows 11 collapses in the sector in just six months, including Our Power, Brilliant Energy and Gen4U. New entrants will now have to prove that they have enough funding and can provide good customer service.
  • Ted Baker has said it will “refresh” its HR policies following the “forced hugs” scandal involving the firm’s founder, Ray Kelvin. Ways to improve have already been identified in an investigation conducted by Herbert Smith Freehills. Kelvin left the company in March. He denies the allegations about his behaviour.
  • Back to Brexit (sorry) with news on house prices, which are expected to drop across the South East of England over the rest of 2019 as uncertainty over the UK’s future relationship with the EU weighs heavily on the market. The Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors said part of the reason is that fewer homeowners are putting their houses up for sale.

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