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Dutch ‘exit tax’ plan would force Unilever to abandon bid to base itself in the UK only

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dutch exit tax plan would force unilever to abandon bid to base itself in the uk only

Dutch politicians have proposed a radical ‘exit tax’ for businesses that could scupper Unilever’s bid to establish a sole headquarters in the UK.

The proposal from Left-wing opposition party GroenLinks would sting firms trying to relocate away from the Netherlands with huge bills.

The consumer goods group, which is consolidating its Anglo-Dutch dual structure into one London-based company, yesterday warned that the suggested law would cost it £10billion if enacted.

Unilever's headquarters in Rotterdam, Netherlands. The firm is consolidating its Anglo-Dutch dual structure into one London-based company

Unilever’s headquarters in Rotterdam, Netherlands. The firm is consolidating its Anglo-Dutch dual structure into one London-based company

This was so high that it would make plans to unify the company in the UK unviable, it added.

However, Unilever also said it believed the proposals were illegal and would breach European Union rules, as well as other international agreements signed by the Netherlands.

The law is being considered by the Netherlands’ Council of State, which will give an advisory opinion as to whether it is legal, and it would then have to be passed by both of the country’s legislative chambers. No date has been set for the council’s decision.

Unilever said it expected the relocation of its legal base to London to be finished by November.

The Anglo-Dutch firm announced it would become a single UK business in June after 90 years of having a dual structure with bases in both London and Rotterdam.

It will hold an extraordinary general meeting on September 21 for investors in the Netherlands to vote on the plan, while the meeting for UK-based shareholders will take place on October 12.

Its previous bid to relocate to the Netherlands in 2018 was called off by shareholder objections and a campaign by the Daily Mail.

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Recovery in UK tourism outpaced global average last month

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recovery in uk tourism outpaced global average last month

Recovery in the UK’s tourism and recreation industry outpaced the global average last month, Lloyds Bank has found. 

Activity in 13 of the 14 UK sectors tracked by Lloyds picked up faster than the international benchmark. 

Boost: Activity in 13 of the 14 UK sectors tracked by Lloyds picked up faster than the international benchmark

Boost: Activity in 13 of the 14 UK sectors tracked by Lloyds picked up faster than the international benchmark

Boost: Activity in 13 of the 14 UK sectors tracked by Lloyds picked up faster than the international benchmark

But there are fears that the UK’s recovery could stall this month, amid fears of a second wave, the new ‘rule of six’ and the end of the Eat Out to Help Out scheme which boosted restaurants in August. 

Jeavon Lolay, from Lloyds Bank Commercial Banking, said: ‘Other European countries have already experienced a slowdown as they navigate further outbreaks of Covid-19 and additional measures to stop the pandemic’s spread.’

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Brokers expecting clamour for shares in The Hut Group

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Brokers are expecting a clamour for shares in The Hut Group today as the firm begins trading in full on the stock market. 

Investment platforms such as Hargreaves Lansdown and AJ Bell have reported strong demand from customers for the shares, which began ‘conditional’ trading on Wednesday. 

But even as savers prepared to plough in, there was no sign of a new independent director at the firm. The Hut Group had promised an appointment to allay concerns over its governance, and increase protections for investors. 

Dual role: Matthew Moulding, pictured left, is both chairman and CEO at The Hut Group

Dual role: Matthew Moulding, pictured left, is both chairman and CEO at The Hut Group

Dual role: Matthew Moulding, pictured left, is both chairman and CEO at The Hut Group

But a company spokesman declined to comment on whether an appointment was imminent, only stating that a decision would be made over the next 12 months. Andy Agathangelou, of the Transparency Task Force, said a quick appointment was vital to ensure shareholders’ interests were represented in the boardroom. 

He added: ‘This person will require superhuman skills to avoid the inevitable biases and relationship-based influence on judgement which could be rife on a board of long-standing friends and associates.’ The UK Corporate Governance Code, which listed businesses are expected to follow, says at least half of a board should be independent non-executive directors. 

To be ‘independent’, that person should have no material relationship with the company and not be involved in daily operations. They should also have held the role for fewer than nine years, and after six years must have their independence reviewed. 

The Hut Group, which has shunned the code, only has two independent directors – Zillah Byng-Thorne and Dominic Murphy – on its six-strong board. Both have worked closely with the company and its founder Matthew Moulding for years. 

Byng-Thorne was an adviser to The Hut for four years before joining the board in 2018, and Murphy helped to broker the investment by private equity giant KKR in The Hut in 2014 before joining as a director. 

Several other ‘red flags’ have been raised. Moulding, 48, is both chief executive and chairman, a position banned by all corporate governance codes. He also holds a ‘golden share’, which gives him a influence over big decisions. 

And Moulding is now The Hut’s landlord, having bought all of its properties into a company he controls and leased them back. 

Sources close to The Hut have said Moulding’s role is key to retaining its entrepreneurial structure. They added that the property transaction was completed at a fair value, and would help to remove debt. 

The Hut is likely to be popular with savers, as analysts have claimed its ecommerce technology and online retailing sites will be winners. 

Its shares have already climbed 18 per cent during conditional trading since Wednesday.

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MAGGIE PAGANO: Nvidia promises over Arm are meaningless

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maggie pagano nvidia promises over arm are meaningless

Hermann Hauser was crystal clear when I spoke to him in New Zealand via Zoom this weekend. The serial entrepreneur says it is not too late for Britain to block the £30billion bid for Arm Holdings by US giant, Nvidia. 

Hauser may be thousands of miles away on his farm, where he has been stuck since lockdown, but that has not stopped the Arm co-founder from launching his one-man Save Arm campaign calling on the Government to intervene in the bid which he describes as a disaster for Cambridge, Britain and Europe. 

After writing to the Prime Minister – who has yet to reply – Hauser is firing off another media blitz in a final attempt to persuade the Government to block the bid. He says time is on the UK’s side as Nvidia’s bid will take months to clear regulatory hurdles. 

The chips are down: Hermann Hauser says it is not too late for Britain to block the £30billion bid for Arm Holdings by US giant, Nvidia

The chips are down: Hermann Hauser says it is not too late for Britain to block the £30billion bid for Arm Holdings by US giant, Nvidia

The chips are down: Hermann Hauser says it is not too late for Britain to block the £30billion bid for Arm Holdings by US giant, Nvidia

Some would argue that it’s already too late, that the time to intervene was four years ago when Japan’s SoftBank was allowed to buy Arm. But Hauser says that if the PM is serious about nurturing homegrown technology giants to rival those in the US and China, then they should stop the takeover on national interest grounds and use Arm to build such a rival. 

His solution is ambitious. SoftBank should divest Arm and float on the London Stock Exchange as a new company backed by the UK government, taking an anchor stake of £1billion or so held as a golden share. The Arm team would then invite other interested parties such as the big licensees of its chip design technology – Apple and Qualcomm – to become minority shareholders. 

There is a logic to this. Having Arm’s main clients on board as investors would help ensure its neutrality as the Switzerland of the semiconductor industry.

Staying neutral is essential for Arm’s growth because of fears over conflicts of interest as Nvidia produces its own processors. 

This may mean Arm’s clients – which compete with Nvidia – will depend on a rival. Hauser, who was a fervent Remainer, also supports Dominic Cummings, the PM’s chief adviser, in his ambition to nurture British technology businesses to match its US $1trillion rivals. 

Hauser believes Arm could create a powerhouse to rival Intel. Sound fanciful? Not if Arm, he says, is allowed to develop and to make its own strategic acquisitions with other great UK innovators such as the Bristol-based Graphcore, leaders in machine learning. His fund, Amadeus Capital, is an investor. 

Blocking the bid on national interest grounds under the Enterprise Act 2002 is the sort of move you can imagine Cummings would encourage. But it’s unlikely because of the message it might give to overseas investors. 

More probable is that the bid is referred to the Competition and Markets Authority. That would be the right decision. Hauser has serious points to make and they should be investigated. He is not alone in kicking up a fuss: many of its big clients like Apple are also worried. A referral would also give time for a rival bid to be put together.

If nothing is done, Nvidia has said it will protect the Cambridge HQ and jobs, and even suggests it will grow the UK business. But the world of chip processing is moving so rapidly that such promises are meaningless unless legally binding. If in doubt, remember Kraft’s disastrous takeover of Cadbury.

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