Interserve not heading the same way as Carillion, according to experts

Interserve, like Carillion are a well-established UK facilities company. They recently came under fire in the wake of the Carillion downfall, as it was reported that they too were heading in the same direction. However, after being questioned on the truth to these reports, the Cabinet Office have come out in defence of Interserve.  

A spokesperson from the Cabinet Office explained how ” “We monitor the financial health of all our strategic suppliers, including Interserve. We are in regular discussions with all these companies regarding their financial position. “We do not believe that any of our strategic suppliers are in a comparable position to Carillion.”.

Interserve are one of the governments major suppliers across multiple sectors, however many people were concerned when they announced warnings regarding their profits in September and October 2017. They had seen some shortfalls regarding contracts in waste to energy, and had projected net debts of £512bn by the end of the year. 

An ETX senior market analyst was quick to dismiss the comparisons being drawn between the two companies, saying Interserve has had its problems but is “no Carillion”. 

Adding: “Comparisons with Carillon are all too easy to make of course – a diverse business operating on thin margins. It has faced pressure from employment and contract mobilisation costs and margin deterioration from a cost base which has not been flexible enough. It’s one of the most heavily shorted FTSE stocks and it has a lot of debt.

“However, in the case of Interserve, the arithmetic doesn’t look anything like as bad as Carillion.”

Flu levels in the UK continue to rise as advice is issued to those affected

Statistics published by Public Health England at the end of last week have shown the continued rise of seasonal flu levels across the UK. The statistics indicate a 78% increase in GP consultation with patients exhibiting flu-like symptoms, as well as a 50% increase in the rate of hospitalisation for those with flu and a 65% increase in the flu intensive care admission rate. There continues to be a high amount of strains flu A(H3N2), A(H1N1) and flu B in circulation, and has prompted PHE to issue advice to the public.

Last week, they launched a combined campaign with the Department of Health entitled, ‘Catch It, Bin It, Kill It’. The campaign focuses around publishing advice through various media outlets on how to reduce the spread of the virus. One central aspect of this advice is about ensuring good hand hygiene, partly because the flu virus can live for a long time on hard surfaces and is easily spread through germs transferred by hand. The advice states for people to use tissues to catch coughs and sneezes, before binning the used tissue and washing their hands thoroughly. The campaign claims that practising this good hand hygiene and giving the necessary patients the flu vaccine is the best overall protection against the virus.

The Medical Director of PHE commented; “Our data shows that more people are visiting GPs with flu symptoms and we are seeing more people admitted to hospital with flu.

(After practical advice on how to deal with flu symptoms) “Avoid having unnecessary contact with other people if you or they have symptoms of flu.”

Government criticised over electrical white goods safety

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MPs have voiced their criticisms of the government in not acting in an effective way to prevent millions of potentially dangerous tumble dryers and other electrical white goods from being used in homes across the UK. The business, energy and industrial strategy select committee said the government has been too slow in responding to a “flawed and poorly resourced” safety regime for these products which has enabled this situation. They have also urged the manufacturer of these faulty products, Whirlpool, to take action by repairing all machines purchased before they malfunction.

The committee criticised Whirlpool for not recalling all at risk items, meaning there are still around one million defective tumble dryers in homes more than two years after the discovery of a general fault in the functioning of the machines which has resulted in at least 750 domestic fires in the UK since 2004. They tie this “inadequate response” from the manufacturer back to the failures of the UK’s safety regulations and pressurise the government to establish a single national product safety agency to ensure nothing on this scale occurs again.

The fault, caused when fluff came into contact with the heating element in the machines, was discovered by Whirlpool in November 2015. Since then the company has been replacing or repairing around 3.8 million products across the UK, however they had not issued a product recall and said customers could continue to use their products while waiting for them to be modified. Following further pressure, last February Whirlpool told consumers they should stop using their product until it had been repaired or replaced.

Labour MP Rachel Reeves, who chairs the committee in question, had this to say: “Whirlpool’s woeful response to the defect in its tumble dryers has caused huge worry to people with these appliances in their homes… Their delayed and dismissive response to correcting these defects has been inadequate and we call on Whirlpool to resolve issues urgently.

“There is a strong case for a single national product safety agency. The government must implement the recommendations of an independent review on product safety, which they have been sitting on for nearly two years.”

The Grenfell Tower fire of last year was also caused by a plastic-backed fridge freezer produced by Whirlpool, so this is another instance which has caused a high demand for them to use safer materials.

Carillion to liquidate

Facilities and construction services firm, Carillion, have today announced that they are set to liquidate as they struggle with substantial debt. Several meetings were held this week with aims of finding a solution for reducing the groups increasing debts and strengthening their balance sheet.

Carillion made the statement as of this morning, (January 15th), in which they reported that an application had been made to the high court for a compulsory liquidation of the company before start of business. An order has now been granted to appoint the official receiver as the liquidator of Carillion.

Carillion have worked closely with the government on a number of large contracts in sectors like education, rail, and NHS, as well as being responsible for the maintenance of 50,000 homes for the Military of Defence. A first profit warning was issued in July last year which projected a likely breach of its financial covenants end of 2017. Currently the business is in a reported debt of £1.5bn, including a £587m shortfall regarding the company’s pension fund.

In the wake of this news, unions are now demanding immediate reassurances over jobs, pay and pensions of the 20,000 staff employed by Carillion in the UK.

Nottingham train station closed as huge fire rages

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A fire broke out early this morning in the new section of Nottingham train station, which was immediately evacuated as fire services rushed to the scene to attend to the blaze. Around 60 firefighters, along with 15 appliances, came to the station around 6.30am and worked to contain the fire as it continued to rage and spread to the roof of the building. The scene was evacuated early with no injuries reported, and remains closed throughout the day.

A spokesman for Nottinghamshire Fire and Rescue Service commented on how the fire was developing; “Unfortunately, the fire is spreading to the roof of the new section of Nottingham train station, and is now travelling along the concourse of the area across the main lines into Nottingham train station.”

All trains to and from the station are cancelled and the local transport network has been heavily disrupted, with police urging locals to avoid the area altogether if possible. The closure also disrupted the journeys of many airline passengers who were planning to fly from East Midlands Airport.

The fire service’s spokesman, Bryn Coleman, gave further comments on the fire, which was said to have been initiated from a toilet block; “The conditions inside the station at this time are quite arduous for our firefighters, who are committed and working really hard inside.

“The early indications are that it will remain closed for the rest of the day.”

Although the area where the fire began is thought to have been pinpointed, the specific cause of the fire has not yet been confirmed.

How renewable energy is expected to develop in 2018

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After a rollercoaster year for renewable energy, the Guardian has outlined five trends that it expects to see within the industry during 2018:

Costs will continue to fall:

Renewable energy costs have declined considerably in recent years, with solar prices dropping by 62% since 2009 and offshore wind prices also being halved. Due to this, governments are now experiencing record-low prices for solar and wind at power auctions. It is said that the increase of country-level auctions for renewable energy will reduce prices in other countries where costs of renewables remain high. Investment in renewables stayed at a high rate through 2017 but there was not much increase, partly due to falling costs.

China will continue to lead energy revolution:

Despite being the world’s biggest polluter, China is also the global leader of solar energy. James Wilde of the Carbon Trust explained, “they’ve surpassed their solar PV 2020 targets already, and I expect them to hit their wind target in 2019”. China plans to invest a total of £292bn in renewable power by 2020. There will also be a cap introduced on coal burning across the country, the main cause of so much pollution in its cities, due to commitments made in the Paris climate agreement. China is also looking to become a world leader in the production and usage of electric vehicles, so look out for this in 2018. Lisa Fischer, of think tank E3G, illustrates China’s dominance in renewable investment; “China is investing more in R&D than Europe is”.

More commitment to renewable measures from corporations:

Before 2017, US company Target had 147 megawatts of solar installed on 300 of its stores making them the leader in corporate adopters of solar across the US. Apple’s new campus runs 100% on green energy, and other corporations have also begun to take measures towards becoming powered completely by renewables. Wilde said to expect this to continue and expand in 2018, due mainly to falling costs, the need for secure energy for the future, and the market benefits of sustainability that are becoming well-known.

The industry will generate more jobs:  

A report from the International Renewable Energy Agency, around 9.8 million people worldwide now work in the renewable energy sector. Certain jobs within this sector are the fastest-growing occupations in the US, and a £17.5bn investment in UK offshore wind power will create thousands of jobs here. Saying this, the transition to a more renewable energy-based labour market could be slowed by their not being enough skilled people who are able to work within these jobs.

Competition in the battery market will increase:

Tesla plan to complete its Nevada gigafactory in 2018, the biggest battery factory in the world. In reaction, China have announced plans to provide 120 gigawatt-hours of battery cells a year by 2021. Large-scale battery factories are also to be built in Sweden, Hungary, Poland and Germany. In April 2017, the UK announced the Faraday Challenge, a £246m investment in battery technology directed towards research, hoping to put the UK at the forefront of the energy storage market.

Canadian transport company fined $600K over electrical explosion

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TransLink, the company responsible for operating the metro system across Vancouver, is facing a hefty fine from WorkSafeBC over an electrical explosion last year which injured one worker. The incident occurred on the ‘SkyTrain’ metro system, which is under control of Translink subsidiary the BC Rapid Transit Company (BCRTC), who have been fined more than $600,000 due to the incident.

WorkSafe BC conducted an investigation into the incident and recently published a report, which found that BCRTC broke two health and safety regulations whilst doing work at the Nanaimo SkyTrain station (pictured above) in May, 2017. The report stated that the explosion occurred when a worker was feeding wires into the station’s air conditioning electrical room. It found that one electrical panel used in the process should have been locked out before the work commenced, which could have happened when the station was closed. Furthermore, BCRTC had not documented specific safety procedures for locking out the panel.

Following the report, TransLink made a statement in which it said it “takes safety seriously, and has a well-developed safety program to protect its staff, customers and the general public.”

It also claimed that they had ensured that BCRTC reviewed and adjusted their safety procedures and practices in the wake of the incident, and that all staff were made aware of the changes seeking to improve overall safety.

Trump Tower fire caused by malfunctioning electrical box

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The Trump Tower in midtown Manhattan caught fire early Monday morning, covering the skyline in thick clouds of smoke. Emergency responders arrived at the tower just after 7am to find the fire taking place on the roof of the building. Thanks to the good work of the firefighters, the blaze never entered the building, and despite freezing cold temperatures was completely extinguished with water, taking them no more than an hour to resolve.

According to a FDNY spokesperson, the fire was caused by a faulty electrical box in the HVAC system located on the roof. Two civilians were injured from the fire and were treated at the scene, while a firefighter also sustained a minor injury caused by falling debris.

US President Donald Trump usually inhabits the top three floors of Trump Tower, however has been in Washington DC since taking office in January. Members of his family also have offices in the building, including his son Eric, who took to Twitter to give his praise of the New York Fire Department for their speedy and effective response.

Part of Fifth Avenue was filled with emergency vehicles there to deal with the fire, causing an even busier Monday morning than usual in Manhattan, although no one was actually evacuated from the building during the incident. Assistant Chief Roger Sakowich from the FDNY offered further detail on the event;

“We had one minor injury to a firefighter, and one minor injury to a civilian. Our units got up there quickly, we got water on the fire, which in 19 degrees creates more steam and smoke.

“We were able to extinguish the fire without any problems within the building. Everything went according to plan.”

Living wage means low paid jobs may be first to be impacted by automation

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A recent report published from the Institute of Fiscal Studies has claimed that low paid jobs may be the first to come under threat when we see the introduction of artificial intelligence in the workplace. They make this claim on the basis of the living wage, which is hoped to be implemented at £8.50 per hour in many company’s by 2020, saying this could create a situation where it is more economical for employers to employ robots rather than pay this amount for human labour.

The living wage aims to produce workers with enough income to fully cover the basic costs of living, but is not yet a compulsory measure. It is the target for many companies though, and as these begin to pay workers at the living wage others will likely have to follow. In 2015, 4 per cent of people were paid at the living wage, however this figure is projected to increase to 12 per cent by 2020. The report suggests that many of the types of jobs which will see increases to the minimum wage in the years to come, are jobs that may be targeted to be overtaken by automated machines.

The report mentions how to counteract this possibility in the conclusion; “As with other causes of job loss, it would matter greatly whether anyone who did lose out from automation quickly found adequate re-employment.

“Moreover, the use of technology to replace some jobs can create new jobs that are complementary to that technology.”

New treatment using electrical impulses could cure or ease tinnitus

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For those unfamiliar with tinnitus, it is a frustrating condition where the sufferer hears buzzing, whistling, or other sounds from inside their body. It can be a passing occurrence for some, but in many cases it is chronic and incurable. Furthermore, there is no single treatment, so the only thing that can help sufferers up until now has been counselling, sound therapy or behavioural therapy. However, a new study has uncovered a potential way to cure the condition by targeting the neurological roots of the problem.

Researchers were able to target neutrons in the part of the brain that is responsible for processing auditory information, known as fusiform cells. When these neutrons misfire, they can transmit phantom signals to other parts of the brain, perceived as sound; this is the cause of tinnitus. The leader of the research at the University of Michigan Medical School, Dr Susan Shore, commented; “If we can stop these signals, we can stop tinnitus.”

The research team tested a device, which combined sound pulses through headphones, and electrical pulses delivered to the cheek or neck. The pulses are timed to reset the activity of the brain’s fusiform cells, in a process called stimulus-timing dependent plasticity. The device was initiated in a human study with 20 volunteers over 16 weeks. The device using shocks and sounds was used on one half of the participants for four weeks, while a fake device using only sounds was used by the other half. After the four weeks, there was a four week break, after which participants used the other device for the same amount of time, followed by another four week break.

The fake device changed nothing for the participants, however the feedback on the device using sounds and shocks was positive, reporting an overall decrease in experiencing tinnitus; two subjects even said their condition disappeared completely during use. The results are positive as there was an overall improvement in quality of life reported for those using the device. However, all the participants had a particular type of tinnitus, which could be reduced by certain jaw or neck movements, and for other sufferers this is not the case so the treatment may be less effective.

Professor shaw said; “We’re definitely encouraged by these results, but we need to optimise the length of treatments, identify which subgroups of patients may benefit most, and determine if this approach works in patients who have nonsomatic forms of the condition that can’t be modulated by head and neck manoeuvres.”