Italy in 2019 became the first and — so far — only major Western nation to join the trade and investment programme, ignoring warnings from the United States that it might let China take control of sensitive technologies and vital infrastructure.
However, when Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni took office last year, she said she wanted to withdraw from the deal, which was championed by President Xi Jinping, saying it had brought no significant gains to Italy.
The 2019 accord expires in March 2024 and an Italian government source has told several media outlets that Rome had sent Beijing a letter “in recent days” informing China that it would not be renewing the pact.
There was no immediate comment from China.
“We have every intention of maintaining excellent relations with China even if we are no longer part of the Belt and Road Initiative,” a second government source said.
“Other G7 nations have closer relations with China than we do, despite the fact they were never in [the BRI],” he added.
Italy will assume the presidency of the G7 in 2024.
More than 100 countries have signed agreements with China to cooperate on BRI infrastructure and building projects since the scheme was launched in 2013.
The initiative involves Chinese companies building transportation, energy and other infrastructure overseas, funded by Chinese development bank loans.
In 2021, the Australian government ended Victoria’s BRI agreements with China.
Reuters has also reported that $17.4 billion in projects in Malaysia were cancelled between 2013-2021, with nearly $2.25 billion scrapped in Kazakhstan and more than $1.5 billion in Bolivia.
Italy seeks to maintain strategic ties with Beijing
In 2013, then-Italian prime minister Giuseppe Conte hoped for a trade bonanza when he signed up in 2019, but Chinese firms seemed to be the main beneficiaries.
Italian exports to China totalled 16.4 billion euros ($26.9 billion) last year from 13 billion euros in 2019.
By contrast, Chinese exports to Italy rose to 57.5 billion euros from 31.7 billion euros over the same period, according to Italian data.
Italy’s main eurozone trading partners France and Germany exported significantly more to China last year, despite not being part of the BRI, which is modelled on the old Silk Road that linked China to the West.
Looking to maintain strategic ties, Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani visited Beijing in September and President Sergio Mattarella is due to visit China at some stage next year.
Ms Meloni herself has said she wants to go to Beijing, but no date has been fixed.
Without directly confirming the news, Mr Tajani said on Wednesday that Italy was seeking to “relaunch the strategic partnership” with Beijing.
He told parliament that during his September trip to China, he made clear Rome wanted to “promote better access to our products regardless of our participation” in the BRI.
Despite being part of the BRI, successive governments in Rome signalled their doubts about the pact by vetoing some proposed takeovers or limiting the sway of Chinese companies over their Italian counterparts.
In June, Ms Meloni’s cabinet curbed the influence of Chinese shareholder Sinochem on Italian tyre maker Pirelli, using “golden power” rules designed to protect strategic assets.
Ms Meloni, who heads a conservative coalition, has been keen to burnish her credentials as a committed pro-NATO leader and a government source said that she had assured US President Joe Biden earlier this year that Italy would quit the BRI.
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AceNewsDesk – Cash use has grown for the first time in 10 years as shoppers keep a close eye on their budgets while prices rise, retailers have said.
Ace Press News From Cutting Room Floor: Published: Dec.07: 2023: By Kevin Peachey and Charlotte McDonald: BBC Business News: TELEGRAM Ace Daily News Link https://t.me/+PuI36tlDsM7GpOJe
The British Retail Consortium said 19% of purchases were made with notes and coins last year, echoing a report by banks showing a slight rebound.
The figures come as the UK’s financial watchdog has proposed new rules to help maintain access to cash.
Ministers say banks will be fined if money cannot be withdrawn or deposited.
Under government rules, free withdrawals and deposits will need to be available within one mile for people living in urban areas.
In rural areas, where there are concerns over “cash deserts”, the maximum distance is three miles.
Cash was used in 19% of transactions last year, according to retailers, up from 15% the previous year. Until 2015, notes and coins were used in more than half of transactions and, while card use now dominated, cash still had its benefits.
The consortium said consumers were budgeting carefully to try to cope with cost of living pressures, and there was also a “natural return” for cash after it slumped during the pandemic.
Its payments policy adviser, Hannah Regan, said: “We are now seeing a return to many of the pre-pandemic trends in payments, including smaller but more frequent purchases, and a slight return of cash payments.
“Unfortunately, what has not changed, is the ever-increasing scale of fees paid by retailers in order to accept card payments.”
The Treasury wants to maintain the current level of coverage of free access to cash, through ATMs or face-to-face services, but says that could be diluted as cash use falls.
A voluntary arrangement is currently in place which means every High Street should have free access to cash within 1km.
The UK’s financial watchdog, the Financial Conduct Authority, (FCA) proposed new additional rules on Thursday requiring banks and building societies to assess and plug gaps in local cash provision.
The FCA’s consultation document showed that in the two years to the first quarter of 2023, 1,391 bank and building society branches closed, as did 2,176 free-to-use ATMs.
Under the new rules, designated firms will be required to look at gaps in access to cash across local communities and act if necessary. In their assessments, lenders will need to take into account factors such as transport links and the age of the local population.
The FCA wants to prevent people and businesses from facing unreasonable costs to access their money, which could be through charges, travel costs or time.
Lenders will be required to provide “reasonable” additional cash services to fill gaps where assessments show that there is, or will be, a big local gap. They must also ensure they do not close cash facilities, including bank branches and ATMs, until those extra services are available.
Sheldon Mills, executive director of consumers and competition at the FCA, said: “We know that, while there is an increasing shift to digital payments, over three million consumers still rely on cash – particularly people who may be vulnerable.”
He added that the new rules outlined under the proposals would “help manage the pace of change and ensure that people can continue to access cash if they need it”.
The plans follow new powers granted to the regulator by the Financial Services and Markets Act 2023, although they will not enable the FCA to prevent bank branches from closing.
Review launched into the future of the licence fee and alternative funding options, supported by a panel of leading industry experts
Comes as government intervenes to minimise increases to the cost of the TV licence fee for households
Next year’s licence fee will be £20 cheaper than it would have been had the government not acted
A review into how the BBC should be funded in the future has been launched by Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer, as new action is taken to reduce the impact of price rises on licence fee payers.
The review, supported by a panel of independent experts soon to be announced from across the broadcasting sector and wider business world, will assess a range of options for funding the BBC. It will look at how alternative models could help secure the broadcaster’s long-term sustainability amid an evolving media landscape, increased competition and changing audience behaviour, while reducing the burden on licence fee payers.
As set out in the terms of reference published today, the review will explore the sustainability of the BBC’s current licence fee model, and build an evidence based understanding of alternative models for funding the BBC. The review will be supported by analysis which will include externally commissioned research.
The licence fee will also rise by less than previously expected next year following changes brought in by the government to minimise the cost to households. In 2022, the government froze the licence fee for two years to protect families from the sharp rise in the cost of living. It was agreed that the current annual fee of £159 would remain unchanged until April 2024, before rising by inflation for the following four years.
However, in recognition of the ongoing cost of living pressures faced by families, the government has today decided to change how the inflation-linked uplifts to the licence fee are calculated for 2024.
This means the annual cost of a TV licence will be £169.50 from April 2024 – the equivalent of an additional 88p per month.
The previous methodology for calculating inflation was the averaged annualised October to September CPI figure of 9 per cent. The new methodology for 2024 uses the annual rate of CPI in September 2023 of 6.7 per cent, and is the approach used to calculate uplifts to benefits.
As a result of today’s announcement and the two-year freeze, from April next year the annual licence fee will be more than £20 cheaper than it would have been had the government not acted. By the end of 2024, licence fee payers will have saved £37 since 2022 due to the measures.
The decision will ensure the additional cost to licence fee payers is kept as low as possible while giving the BBC over £3.8 billion in annual licence fee funding to spend on world leading content and deliver on its mission as set out in the Charter: to serve all audiences with impartial, high-quality and distinctive output and services which inform, educate and entertain. It will also ensure S4C can maintain its unique role promoting the Welsh language and supporting our wider public service broadcasting landscape.
Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer said:
This is a fair deal that provides value for money for the licence fee payer while also ensuring that the BBC can continue to produce world leading content.
We know family budgets are stretched, which is why we have stepped in again – following two years of licence fee freezes – to reduce this year’s increase to less than a £1 a month.
But this settlement has highlighted other challenges faced by the BBC with the changing media landscape making the battle for audiences more competitive and the number of people paying the licence fee decreasing. This raises fundamental questions as to sustainability of the current licence fee system.
So we are also launching a funding review of the BBC that will take a forensic look at the licence fee, and whether a reformed funding model could better support our national broadcaster to remain sustainable and affordable for audiences while driving growth in our creative industries. I want a thriving BBC, supported to inform, educate and entertain and this funding review will help us make sure we can deliver this for decades to come.
This announcement follows an additional £20 million the government awarded to the BBC World Service earlier this year as part of the refresh of the Integrated Review. The money, which is on top of £94 million provided annually, was to protect all 42 World Service language services over the next two years, support English-language broadcasting, and counter disinformation.
The findings of the Funding Model Review will feed into the review of the BBC’s Royal Charter ahead of its expiry at the end of 2027. Any public consultation and final decision on the BBC’s funding model will be reserved for Charter Review itself.
An announcement of the membership of the expert panel for the Licence Fee Review will follow in due course. The panel will incorporate a broad range of views from experts in the broadcasting sector.
The black and white TV licence fee will increase from £53.50 to £57.
Safety concerns at Europe’s most hazardous plant have caused diplomatic tensions with US, Norway and Ireland
Sellafield, Europe’s most hazardous nuclear site, has a worsening leak from a huge silo of radioactive waste that could pose a risk to the public, the Guardian can reveal.
Concerns over safety at the crumbling building, as well as cracks in a reservoir of toxic sludge known as B30, have caused diplomatic tensions with countries including the US, Norway and Ireland, which fear Sellafield has failed to get a grip of the problems.
The leak of radioactive liquid from one of the “highest nuclear hazards in the UK” – a decaying building at the vast Cumbrian site known as the Magnox swarf storage Silo (MSSS) – is likely to continue to 2050. That could have “potentially significant consequences” if it gathers pace, risking contaminating groundwater, according to an official document.
Cracks have also developed in the concrete and asphalt skin covering the huge pond containing decades of nuclear sludge, part of a catalogue of safety problems at the site.
Sellafield, a sprawling 6 sq km (2 sq mile) site on the Cumbrian coast employing 11,000 people, stores and treats nuclear waste from weapons programmes and nuclear power generation, and is the largest such facility in Europe.Magnox swarf storage silo diagram
A document sent to members of the Sellafield board in November 2022 and seen by the Guardian raised widespread concerns about a degradation of safety across the site, warning of the “cumulative risk” from failings ranging from nuclear safety to asbestos and fire standards.
A scientist on an expert panel that advises the UK government on the health impact of radiation told the Guardian that the risks posed by the leak and other chemical leaks at Sellafield have been “shoved firmly under the rug”.
The report said events that could trigger an atmospheric release of radioactive waste at the plant included explosions and air crashes.
Such is the concern about its safety standards that US officials have warned of its creaking infrastructure in diplomatic cables seen by the Guardian. Among their concerns are leaks from cracks in concrete at toxic ponds and a lack of transparency from the UK authorities about issues at the site. The UK and the US have a decades-long relationship on nuclear technology.
Concerns about how Sellafield is run have also led to tensions with the Irish and Norwegian governments.
Norwegian officials are concerned that an accident at the site could lead to a plume of radioactive particles being carried by prevailing south-westerly winds across the North Sea, with potentially devastating consequences for Norway’s food production and wildlife. A senior Norwegian diplomat told the Guardian that they believed Oslo should offer to help fund the site so that it can be run more safely, rather than “run something so dangerous on a shoestring budget and without transparency”.Radioactive plume map
Scientists are trying to estimate the risk to the public from the leak from the MSSS through “ongoing radiological dose assessments”, using statistical modelling.
Sellafield is trying to extract decades of nuclear waste from MSSS, a facility dating back to the 1960s and described as “one of the highest-hazard nuclear facilities in the UK”, a task that it says could take at least 20 years. It has been leaking for more than three years.
A report in June from the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) said while the current risk from the leak is deemed by Sellafield to be “as low as reasonably practicable”, scientists are increasingly concerned that the full scale of the leak, and the rate at which it may pollute the groundwater, is unclear. Sellafield is understood to argue that the leak poses “no additional risk” to staff and the public.
In 2019, Sellafield reported a leak from the storage unit to the ONR. The leak significantly worsened over the next two years, and a previously unreported document reveals that 2.3-2.5 cubic metres of radioactive “liquor” has been leaking from the facility every day. This liquid is a soup of radioactive magnesium alloy filings dissolved into water, from waste cladding that encased spent Magnox nuclear fuel.
The health implications of radiation exposure vary depending on the dosage, but can include nausea and vomiting, and long-term effects such as cardiovascular disease, cataracts, cancer to those who experience high levels of radiation. High doses can be lethal.Water loss graphic
Inspectors said that it is not possible to work out how many cracks have formed in the silo so are using guesswork and modelling based on leaks from the facility to work out the risk posed to the public and workers at the site.
A committee of scientists, tasked with monitoring Sellafield and other nuclear sites, has warned that the silo needs much closer attention.
In July last year, the Committee on Medical Aspects of Radiation in the Environment noted in its public minutes that “the leak has been continuing at the same rate since October 2020, around 2.5m [cubic meters] per day …”.
However, the extent of the radioactive material lost to the ground from the leak was redacted from the meeting minutes.
A scientist on the committee told the Guardian: “It’s hard to know if transparency is put aside because no one’s brave enough to say ‘we simply don’t know how dangerous this is – other than certainly dangerous’.
“That’s incredibly serious in the context of a site full of horrors and the legacy of experiments no one properly documented.”
Sources have warned that the site’s basic safety requirements are increasingly wearing thin, and long-term dangers are being ignored or uncontained.
“They can’t handle fire or asbestos on site, let alone the crumbling of nuclear containment materials,” one senior Sellafield employee told the Guardian.
There are also grave concerns about B30, a pond containing nuclear sludge and described as one of the most dangerous industrial buildings in Europe.
Described by workers at Sellafield as “Dirty 30”, it contains radioactive sludge from corroded nuclear fuel rods used in old power stations, and its concrete and asphalt skin ribboned with cracks. These cracks have worsened in recent months, according to sources.
Sources familiar with risk reports say they show that more than 100 safety problems at the site are a matter of serious regulatory concern. Other concerns include fire safety problems such as a lack of functioning alarms within First Generation Magnox storage ponds, one of which is B30, daily work stoppages due to a lack of suitably qualified staff trained in nuclear safety, and increasing numbers of contamination and radiation protection incidents
The November 2022 document, seen by the Guardian and prepared by the then chief nuclear officer, Dr Paul Robson, who is tasked with overseeing nuclear safety at the site, revealed a “cumulative risk” posed by failings in a range of areas, from nuclear safety to managing risks from fire and asbestos. The document was sent to Euan Hutton, who at the time was interim site director and recently became Sellafield chief executive.
According to the same internal memo, workers tasked with oversight of safety at Sellafield have “observed evidence … which indicate an erosion of nuclear safety (conventional and environmental) barriers”.
It said this “reduces the effectiveness of the protection of the workforce, the public and the environment against significant events”.
The document confirms accounts from insiders, officials and diplomats that suggest significant safety shortfalls on site. It suggests these problems have worsened over the past decade, dramatically increasing the risk of a big incident at one of the most toxic nuclear sites in the world. It states there are “significant weaknesses” in the company’s safety capabilities.
Now, fire safety at Sellafield is a growing concern among insiders, and at the regulator.
The ONR warned in its latest review of the Sellafield site, published in March this year, that “regulatory intelligence indicates that improvements are required in conventional safety, fire safety, cybersecurity and progressing high-hazard risk reduction”.
A Sellafield spokesperson said: “We are proud of our safety record at Sellafield and we are always striving to improve.
“The nature of our site means that until we complete our mission, our highest hazard facilities will always pose a risk.
“We continuously measure and report on nuclear, radiological, and conventional safety.
Ace Press News From Cutting Room Floor: Published: Dec.06: 2023: By Sam Gruet: Business reporter, BBC News: TELEGRAM Ace Daily News Link https://t.me/+PuI36tlDsM7GpOJe
Reality TV star Olivia Bowen has a Christmas collection with the retailer
The firm posted a half-year loss of £1.5m and a fall in revenues as cost-of-living pressures hit spending.
Quiz added that Black Friday sales were lower than expected, and the firm has said annual revenues are set to be up to 8% below forecasts.
The firm’s chairman, Peter Cowgill, will lead a “thorough review of the strategic options” for the business.
Quiz founder and chief executive Tarak Ramzan said the company would continue to “focus on taking the rights decisions for our long-term future… including prioritising protecting full-price sales and carefully managing our store portfolio”.
Over the six months to 30 September, Quiz opened three stores, relocated two and closed two, taking its total portfolio to 64 stores in the UK and five in Ireland.
Overall revenues during the period dropped to £42.3m from £49.4m a year earlier.
Sales on Black Friday – one of the busiest dates in the retail calendar – were lower than expected, coming in at £14.1m in the two months to 30 November, down from £16m a year earlier.
Quiz, which is based in Glasgow, has gained success from its collaborations with reality TV stars. In October, it launched a Christmas collection with former Love Island contestant and reality TV star Olivia Bowen.
Announcing the latest results, Mr Ramzan said Quiz remained “a strong, distinctive brand”.
“However, given the prolonged period of challenging trading we believe it is prudent to examine a range of options to maximise shareholder value.”
The findings of the strategic review are expected to be announced in the first quarter of 2024.