US tax bill: Republicans agree sweeping changes

House Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady (R-TX) discusses progress on the tax reform bill with reporters at the Capitol on December 15, 2017Image copyright Getty Images Image caption Kevin Brady, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, revealed details of the final bill to reporters

US Republicans from both houses of Congress have revealed their joint bill for the biggest overhaul of the country's tax system in 30 years.

The plan brings the US corporate tax rate down to 21% from the current 35%.

The top individual income tax drops to 37% from 39.6%.

President Donald Trump campaigned on a pledge to cut taxes, and passing the legislation marks a significant victory.He has said he wants the bill signed into law before Christmas.

Democrats have argued that the tax cuts will favour only the rich and offer little to the middle class.The non-partisan Joint Committee on Taxation said on Friday the measures would add as much as $1.4tn (£1tn) to the $20tn national debt over 10 years.

The Senate and the House of Representatives - which both have Republican majorities - are due to vote on the measures next week.

Friday's agreement came after hours of talks in which the bill's supporters sought to win over wavering Republicans.

Senator Marco Rubio added his support following changes to child tax credit, reports said.Fellow Senator Bob Corker, who had opposed the original bill, also said he would back the draft bill despite reservations.

Kevin Brady, Republican chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, said he was "very excited about this moment".

"It's been 31 years in the making and took a lot of hard work," he told reporters.

Can tax bill boost Trump in polls?

Analysis by Anthony Zurcher, BBC News, Washington

The pieces are falling in place for Donald Trump's tax bill, which now seems almost guaranteed to become law.

This will certainly satisfy critics within the Republican Party, particularly the big-business donors, who were lamenting Congress's inability to enact even modest parts of their party's legislative agenda.The question, however, is whether the success here will do anything to reverse the president's low poll numbers and dispel the growing consensus that Republicans are in for a rough ride in next year's mid-term congressional elections.

At the very least this will make it easier for the party incumbents to survive primary challenges from anti-establishment outsiders who otherwise would have railed against a do-nothing Congress.

The tax bill's overall unpopularity according to recent polls, however, may do little to improve the party's standings in the eyes of the general public.Cutting corporate tax rates, whether or not it is in the long-term interest of the nation, is unlikely to capture the imagination of the average American.

Republicans are now in a position to fully take credit for a booming economy, however - and they have 11 months to make the case to voters that they deserve to stay in power.

The proposed new measures ran into opposition from a senior UN official on Friday, who said they could worsen social inequality in the US.

Philip Alston, the UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty who has been on a two-week fact-finding visit to US States, said the tax bill threatened to "blow apart" social welfare provision.

"The US Congress is trying desperately to pass a tax bill that, if adopted, would represent the single most dramatic increase in inequality that could be imagined," he said....

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Sky News faces uncertain future after Disney-Fox deal

Sky NewsImage copyright Getty Images

Walt Disney's agreement to buy most of 21st Century Fox's business for $52.4bn (£39bn) has raised further questions about the Sky News channel's future.

Before news of the deal, Rupert Murdoch's Fox had been trying to buy the 61% of satellite broadcaster Sky that it does not yet own.

That attempt attracted the scrutiny of the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), which is investigating it.

But of all the channels that Sky has in its portfolio, including sports and movies, it is the ownership of its news channel that raises the most difficulties.

Last month, Sky sent shivers down the spines of Sky News journalists by threatening to close the channel if it proved to be an obstacle in Mr Murdoch's takeover bid.

Now it seems that Sky News could fall into Disney's hands as a result of this latest piece of corporate wheeler-dealing.

After all, Fox's efforts to take over Sky become less politically sensitive if the Murdoch family's existing 39% stake in Sky has been sold to Disney, making it more likely that the takeover will go ahead.

Heavy losses

So now the question is:will Disney want to keep pumping money into a loss-making news channel that serves only the relatively small UK market?

Claire Enders, founder of research firm Enders Analysis, points out that we may not know the answer to that for another 18 months, since the Disney-Fox deal will itself have to clear regulatory hurdles and is likely to come under close scrutiny from EU competition authorities.

Image copyright Getty Images

However, she is sceptical about Sky News's ultimate fate.

She told the BBC:"Inherently, Disney is not a company that engages in political investment.It runs businesses that make profits and that's one of the reasons why it's thought of as one of the best companies in the world.

"Sky News loses £40m a year and has absorbed $1bn of investment.It's very hard to make money out of news in a small market like the UK."

Media plurality

Former ITN chief executive Stewart Purvis, who is also a former senior executive at regulator Ofcom, is less pessimistic about the channel's future.

He points out that there are a number of issues to consider, including the possibility that Disney might not wish to go ahead with acquiring the remaining 61% of Sky, even if the CMA approved it.

In fact, the UK's Takeover Panel says Disney has told it that if Mr Murdoch fails to buy the rest of Sky before the Fox takeover deal goes through, it will not feel obliged to make a full bid for the satellite broadcaster.

Mr Purvis adds that it would be "slightly perverse" if Sky News were closed down over concerns that the various deals would lead to an unreasonable concentration of media power, because its absence "would actually reduce media plurality".

After all, the outcome would be to leave the BBC News channel unchallenged as the only dedicated UK television news service.

However, he adds:"I've never found Disney to be very interested in news.It's an entertainment company and maybe being in news is more trouble than it's worth."

Political kudos

Disney owns the ABC television network in the US, which includes its news service.

But as Mr Purvis says, ABC News is safe because it makes money.

"The way that networks look at their news programmes is that they look at the cost compared with advertising revenues within those programmes," he says.

"By that measure, ABC News is profitable.Good Morning America is the leading breakfast programme in the US.There's no way Disney would shut that down."

Sky News, of course, does not enjoy that kind of status.But Mr Purvis says Disney would have to balance that against other factors, including the "political kudos" that owning Sky News would give it in the UK.

"We don't know the outcome of that kind of consideration," he says.

News loses?

In the US, analysts are concerned that Disney's existing news interests might suffer from the merger, let alone Sky News.

"I would not look to the Disney-Fox merger to bolster the fourth estate," Ben Gomes-Casseres of the Brandeis International Business School told the Washington Post.

"Whether ABC News will be affected in this way, as a side-effect, is also anyone's guess, but there is no doubt that ABC as a TV channel will decrease in importance in the Disney group."

For the moment, Disney is taking a positive attitude towards Sky News.

Disney chairman and chief executive Bob Iger was asked on Bloomberg TV whether the channel had a future after his company completed the Fox deal.

He replied:"Absolutely.All of Sky has a future."

Cynics might reply that at this stage in the proceedings, he could hardly say he was going to close the channel.But if he does so once the deal has gone through, he may find that his assurance will come back to haunt him....

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Britvic confirms Norwich factory closure

Entrance to the Unilever site in Norwich Image caption Britvic co-owns the site with Unilever, which owns Colman's Mustard

Britvic has confirmed it will leave its Norwich site, with the loss of hundreds of jobs in the city, in 2019.

The drinks manufacturer, which co-owns Carrow Works with Unilever, said it would transfer production of Robinsons and Fruit Shoot to its other sites.

It said it would offer employees redeployment and "help to find alternative employment".

The Unite union said the announcement just before Christmas was a bid to "bury bad news".

Britvic said it currently employed 249 people at the site, which it shares with Colman's Mustard.

Manufacturing will instead take place at Rugby, east London and Leeds.

"Transferring production will improve efficiency and productivity and reduce our environmental impact," the company said.

The decision follows a consultation with employee representatives, including the GMB and Unite unions.

Image caption Britvic said it would transfer production of Robinsons and Fruit Shoot to other factories

Chief executive Simon Litherland said:"This was not a proposal that we made lightly and we understand that the outcome of the collective consultation process will be upsetting for our colleagues in Norwich.

"It is a sad and difficult time.

"I want to thank everyone at Norwich, past and present, for their dedication, hard work and commitment, and I would like to say again that this decision is in no way a reflection of their performance."

The Unite union criticised the timing of the announcement and described the closure as "a hammer blow for the workers and the economy of Norwich in the run up Christmas".

Its national officer for the food and drink sector, Julia Long, branded the announcement as "a classic case of trying to bury bad news".

The move by Britvic has been mooted for several months, with fears expressed for the future of Colman's Mustard, which has been manufactured at the site since 1860.

Unilever, which owns Colman's, has previously said it could shut the site if Britvic closed operations.

It is conducting its own review and is looking at three sites in the city[1], including staying at Carrow Works.

Unilever has been approached for comment....

References

  1. ^ three sites in the city (www.bbc.co.uk)

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Ryanair in union offer to avoid Christmas strikes

Front part of Ryanair plane on ground at Ciampino airport, ItalyImage copyright Getty Images

Ryanair has said it is prepared to recognise pilot unions as it seeks to avoid strike disruption over the Christmas period.

Earlier this week, 79 Dublin-based Ryanair pilots said they would strike for one day on 20 December.

The airline was also facing action by pilots elsewhere in Europe.

Ryanair has never recognised unions, but it said it would change this policy in order to avoid disruption to flights and passengers in Christmas week.

It has written to pilot unions in Ireland, the UK, Germany, Italy, Spain and Portugal inviting them for talks.

On Friday afternoon, Irish union Impact, which represents pilots,[1] said it had "made contact with" Ryanair management after receiving a letter from the airline.

"Impact has indicated its belief that an immediate meeting, between management and the union, is now necessary to clarify issues and make progress."

The union said its officials were available "today or at any time over the coming weekend".However, they have not called off next week's strike action in Ireland.

The UK pilots' union Balpa, which was not planning to strike next week, said it had written to Ryanair to accept the offer of talks.

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Media captionRyanair tells Today the airline is moving to recognise unions as it's "time for change"

The carrier said it would recognise unions "as the representative body for pilots in Ryanair in each of these countries, as long as they establish committees of Ryanair pilots to deal with Ryanair issues, as Ryanair will not engage with pilots who fly for competitor airlines in Ireland or elsewhere".

Ryanair chief operations officer Peter Bellew told the BBC there were "no strings" attached to the offer.

"The basis of what we've asked to do is the same as other airlines do around the world and within Europe, so I don't believe there's any strings there."

Ryanair called on the unions to cancel the planned strike on 20 December.

However, Mr Bellew said the offer to hold talks about collective bargaining was not just about next week's planned strikes.

"This is about the long term.We have 4,500 pilots working for Ryanair at the moment, great aviation professionals, we need to get a basis with them to work going forward.

"We feel it's the best grounds to move forward with our workforce for the next 10/20 years where we intend to grow to be the biggest airline in the world."

Ryanair's share price fell 8.6% after the invitation to talks became public, amid investors' fears that any change could push up costs.

Mr Bellew said:"I think there might be some minor changes but I don't think it's going to be material in the overall cost of the company."

'Significant change'

Pilots in Italy had been due to strike on Friday for four hours, between 13:00 and 17:00 CET (12:00-16:00 GMT).

However, following receipt of the letter from Ryanair, the main pilots' union, Anpac, said it had suspended its walkout.

Chief executive Michael O'Leary admitted union recognition would be a "significant change" for the airline.

"Christmas flights are very important to our customers and we wish to remove any worry or concern that they may be disrupted by pilot industrial action next week," he said.

"If the best way to achieve this is to talk to our pilots through a recognised union process, then we are prepared to do so."

'Revolutionary'

In October, Mr O'Leary wrote to the Ryanair's pilots to offer them better pay and conditions after the airline was forced to cancel thousands of flights.

At the time of the cancellations the airline admitted it had "messed up" the planning of its pilots' holidays.

In his letter, Mr O'Leary also apologised for changes that caused disruptions to their rotas and urged them not to leave the airline.

Aviation expert John Strickland of JLS Consulting said the idea of Ryanair recognising unions was "revolutionary" for the company.

"I think the company realises they need to pay more, they recognise it's a labour group who they cannot do without, they cannot simply replace pilots off the street on a short-term basis.

"There's a global pilot shortage and Ryanair is actually pretty well placed in the pecking order for pilot jobs but they have to make sure these people are on side and not inflame personal feelings with that part of the workforce," he added....

References

  1. ^ Irish union Impact, which represents pilots, (www.impact.ie)

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Airbus chief Tom Enders to leave after power struggle

Airbus chief executive Tom EndersImage copyright Reuters Image caption Plans to find an successor to Tom Enders are underway, Airbus says

European planemaker Airbus has unveiled a shake-up of its top management team.

Chief executive Tom Enders will not seek re-election when his term expires in 2019, the company said.[1]

Meanwhile, Fabrice Bregier, chief operating officer and head of the commercial aircraft arm, will step down in February.

Guillaume Faury, currently chief executive of Airbus Helicopters, will succeed Mr Bregier as president of the main commercial aircraft division.

Mr Bregier had long been seen as the natural heir to Mr Enders, although there have been reports of tensions between the two.Plans to find an successor to Mr Enders are underway, Airbus said.

The company is already about to lose its chief salesman of 20 years, John Leahy, who is retiring.

Airbus said the board had acted to secure an orderly succession at the world's second-largest planemaker, which has been beset by rivalries and abrupt changes in the past.

"We are confident we have taken the right decisions to ensure Airbus' long-term stability and future success and we fully support Tom Enders to lead Airbus through this generational handover with our full support," said chairman Denis Ranque.

Analysis:Theo Leggett, business correspondent

Airbus is good at building and selling aeroplanes.But it's also remarkably good at management intrigue as well.

In the past, this tended to be the result of a continual power struggle between French and German factions within the company.Airbus is seen as an industrial champion by both countries, and competing influences had to be balanced carefully.

But on this occasion, the problem appears to have been a clash of personalities - albeit between a Frenchman and a German.

Fabrice Bregier, the chief operating officer, was widely believed to want the top job.Thomas Enders, the group chief executive, kept him firmly in check - and in a recent restructuring reduced his control over the flagship commercial aircraft division.

Mr Bregier lost that power struggle - and will now leave in February.But Mr Enders is also going to move on, albeit in 2019.

He has come under pressure over his handling of corruption allegations against the group, which have triggered investigations in several countries.

It seems there's a desire for fresh blood at the top of Airbus, to give new guidance to the business - and if necessary negotiate settlements as well....

References

  1. ^ the company said. (www.airbus.com)

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