As phone company takes payment for cancelled contract, we notice the growing number of complaints
I am on a gap year in China. As I was not taking my Orange phone with me I arranged to suspend the contract for six months – at no charge – with effect from January. This agreement was confirmed by Orange in writing.
I left in September, and paid the contract up to December as agreed. In January the suspension was due to take effect; instead I was dismayed to find that Orange had debited £97.89 from my bank account, sending me into an unauthorised overdraft.
After attempting unsuccessfully to phone Orange from China, I asked my father to investigate. He spoke to someone who admitted there had been an error, and said the money would be refunded. This did not happen. In March my father again contacted Orange, but this time they were abrupt and rude and refused to speak to him, as he was not the account holder.
I have tweeted Orange’s customer complaints team, with no response.
My father then went into our local Orange shop, where the staff shrugged their shoulders, and literally said it was nothing to do with them. He then tried writing to Orange, forwarding the original letter Orange had sent me and pointing out that they had broken their agreement. There was absolutely no response.
In April he again phoned Orange and was given a customer services email address. My email to them bounced straight back. Proposed callbacks have not happened and I am still overdrawn.
I have done everything I can to get my money back – money which even Orange agrees should not have been taken. I am now at my wit’s end. AL, Foshan, China
We are struck by the number of complaints we are getting about Orange. Whether it’s the merger with T-Mobile to form EE, or the result of something else, we’re unsure.
Once we became involved the press office swung into action, with a profuse apology and the promise to repay you – with £50 on top to cover your overdraft charges. Astonishingly, however, another month has passed since then, and you are still waiting for your money. Perhaps publishing your letter might finally get you your money back.
We welcome letters but cannot answer individually. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or write to Bachelor & Brignall, Money, the Guardian, 90 York Way, London N1 9GU. Please include a daytime phone number
International Monetary Fund adds to fears that the Chinese economy is running out of steam, hours before the EC announces whether it will give certain countries more time to lower their borrowing
Survey finds Chinese optimistic about their retirement years, while French, Germans and Spanish are pessimistic
A “squeezed generation” of middle-aged Europeans are convinced they are going to be poorer in retirement than their parents, according to a global survey that found the Chinese the most confident about their future and the French, Germans and Spanish the most pessimistic.
Americans are the most sure they will enjoy their retirement, the British are among the most likely to worry about being lonely, while individuals in Eastern European countries are uniformly morose about their future.
In the first major survey of its kind to include China, pension provider Aegon interviewed 12,000 employees in 12 countries on a wide range of financial planning issues. It found increasing levels of gloom among workers in the developed world, who have lost secure pensions and feel ill-prepared for retirement. Most expect to be worse off in retirement than the current generation of pensioners, while having to support adult children who have not been able to find jobs in the globally-depressed employment market.
In China, Aegon found a very different picture. A total of 66% of Chinese are optimistic about their retirement, compared with just 18% of Japanese and 38% of British people. The Chinese are also the most confident that they will be able to retire early, at age 55, compared to the people of other nations. They were also the most likely to believe they will maintain good health in retirement.
But confidence evaporates as you cross the Sea of Japan. Although the Japanese are renowned across the world as diligent savers, the country scored lowest overall in Aegon’s “Retirement Readiness Index”. “Japan seemingly provides us with is something of an oddity. This is a country whichIt is famed for its high household savings ratio, having amassed over $1tn trillion in private pension assets. But its household savings ratio has actually collapsed since the late 1990s, as real household incomes have been squeezed by two lost decades. Savings have fallen from a peak of 23% of income in the 1970s to around 3%. Employees are not building retirement assets at a rate similar to past generations,” said Aegon.
In the survey, 43% of Japanese said they associate retirement with “insecurity” compared to just 13% in China and the US, and 15% in the UK.
Spain, suffering from 27% unemploymentand deeply scarred by the financial crisis, saw the biggest fall in “retirement readiness” since the last survey, while Germany scored highest. China (42%) and Germany (41%) have the greatest percentage who fall into the “medium readiness” category, with Spain (19%) and Japan (17%) having the least.
Employees in the United States and Canada were generally more confident than Europeans, but less than the Chinese. Both countries scored highly for having a “written plan” for their retirement. A total of 43% of Americans and 42% of Canadians said they associated retirement with enjoyment compared with just 6% of Hungarians. Large percentages of British and Chinese also expect their retirement to be enjoyable, yet both countries also worried about loneliness. In Britain, 11% expect loneliness to be an issue, compared to just 3% in the Netherlands.
Although Britain regards itself as a nation of hobbyists, the survey found it was only average. A total of 73% of British people expected to follow a hobby in retirement, compared to 86% of Chinese and 90% of the Dutch.
Alliance Boots plans to double its Chinese operations within two years, after revenues fell for first time since merger
Alliance Boots plans to double its Chinese operations within two years, becoming a nationwide operator in the country, as the company’s revenues fell for the first time since Boots Group and Alliance UniChem merged in 2006.
The company, which recently sold a stake of its business to US pharmacy giant Walgreens, said it already has operations in 17 Chinese provinces and wants to expand to all 34. Bosses also have an eye on an expansion into South America for the first time.
The decision comes as the company said revenues were down 2.6% to £22.4bn, with underlying profit after tax up 12.7% to £805m.
In the UK, under the Boots brand where it has 2,000 stores, sales were £6.55bn, down 2.9%, as the high street continued to suffer.
The chief executive of health and beauty, Alec Gourlay, explained: “Footfall is down across the whole UK by around 3% and we mirror that.”
He said the fall in sales was also due to some best selling medicines, especially high cholesterol-reducing drug Lipitor, losing their exclusivity patents.
Profits were boosted by an increase in margins, with haircare and “indulgent bathing products” doing particularly well.
The No 7 anti-ageing products have also been successful since being introduced in Walgreens’ Hollywood store, bosses said.
And while UK products are finding their way across the Atlantic, Alliance Boots chairman Steffano Pessina was clear the cigarettes sold in Walgreens would not appear on shelves in Boots.
He said: “It would be absolutely inconceivable to sell cigarettes in our European stores.”
The company’s tax bill has also increased to £114m, up £31m, including a £64m UK corporation tax bill.
As writers, artists, musicians, filmmakers and others active in cultural pursuits, we are inspired and enriched by the works of colleagues beyond our borders. The strength of our work individually, and our cultures collectively, is the fruit of a free exchange of information and ideas with the creative community across the world. Among our colleagues today are many creators and cultural figures in the People’s Republic of China. We celebrate the growing international recognition of Chinese artists from all disciplines, a development exemplified by Mo Yan’s 2012 Nobel prize for literature, and we welcome the ever-expanding avenues of cultural exchange.
We cannot, however, listen to China’s great and emerging creative voices without hearing the silence of those whose voices are forcibly restrained. These include 2010 Nobel peace prize recipient Liu Xiaobo, who remains in prison; his wife, Liu Xia, who lives under house arrest; and more than 40 other writers and journalists currently jailed for their work. We cannot appreciate the accomplishments of Chinese creators across disciplines without thinking of the works we are not able to enjoy because of censorship in the arts, in the press, and on the internet – or of the many other works that cannot be imagined or created because of these constraints. The impact of these restrictions is set out vividly in a new Pen International report, Creativity and Constraint in Today’s China.
Our plea to China’s new leaders is simple. Respect and protect the right of our colleagues and all of China’s citizens, to freedom of expression. Respect and protect the right of Chinese citizens to a free and independent press. Respect and protect the right of writers to write, publishers to publish, and artists of all disciplines to create and present their work without fear of reprisal. Release all those unjustly imprisoned for exercising this most fundamental right. Creativity is strength. Freeing China’s creative voices will enrich us all.
Antonio Della Rocca
Marian Botsford Fraser
Christopher Domínguez Michael
Helmuth A Niederle
John Ralston Saul
Mohamed Sheriff Sjón
David Van Reybrouk
Mario Vargas Llosa
Beijing punishes PM for his meeting with Dalai Lama while French president gets full state visit treatment
David Cameron’s mission to change the focus of British foreign policy by boosting trade links suffered a setback after Downing Street was forced to abandon a trip to China as Beijing punished the prime minister for meeting the Dalai Lama.
In a blow to Cameron, who had hoped to hold an annual summit with the Chinese leadership, the French president François Hollande was on Friday feted in Shanghai on a full state visit a few weeks after the prime minister was due to visit China.
Cameron is understood to have abandoned the planned trip after Beijing indicated that he was unlikely to be granted meetings with senior figures. He is now expected to visit in the autumn, two years after his first and only visit as prime minister.
Britain accepts that Beijing is exacting punishment after Cameron met the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibet, at St Paul’s Cathedral last May. The meeting, which was similar to Gordon Brown’s discussions with the Dalai Lama at Lambeth Palace in 2008, was designed to minimise offence in China by showing that Britain regards him as a spiritual leader. Downing Street has made clear to Beijing that it accepts Tibet is part of the People’s Republic of China.
Government sources said that tentative plans for the prime minister to visit China this month were put on hold before his visit to India in February for the simple reason that the new Chinese leadership only took over in March. Cameron spoke to Li Keqiang, his new Chinese counterpart, after his appointment.
But the Guardian understands from diplomatic sources that a visit was firmly placed in the prime minister’s diary for earlier this month. This was abandoned when it became clear that the prime minister would be denied the access usually granted to a G8 leader.
Douglas Alexander, the shadow foreign secretary who has just returned from China, told the Guardian: “David Cameron came to office claiming he would prioritise the UK’s diplomatic and trade relationship with China, and yet the real difficulties in relations have now been laid bare. I was in China this week and it is clear that the new Chinese leadership are focused on the French president’s visit, along with a large number of French companies looking for business.
“In the past, UK prime ministers have met with the Dalai Lama without the deterioration in relations with China that we are now seeing. For all of their initial boasts and bluster, the UK government has lacked a strategic or a joined-up approach to China since it came to office, and that’s now showing.”
A No 10 source said: “Of course, as any good diary planner would, we pencil in early on dates when the prime minister could potentially travel overseas without going firm on destinations. We decided several weeks ago that we wanted to visit some European capitals in the time we had earlier this month. When the prime minister and Premier Li Keqiang spoke in March they looked forward to meeting in due course.”
Officials said trade with China is still rising and the two countries are on course to achieve £1bn in bilateral trade by 2015. Exports to China grew 13.4% last year.
But the decision to abandon the visit is a personal setback for Cameron, who said after coming to office that he would place trade at the heart of foreign policy, with a particular emphasis on the so-called Bric countries of Brazil, Russia, India and China. A visit to India in February fell flat after private complaints that the prime minister appeared to regard the country as a trading opportunity rather than an emerging world power.
Hollande was greeted by Xi Jinping, the new Chinese president, when he arrived in Beijing with his partner Valerie Trierweiler on Thursday. They agreed to hold an annual summit – Cameron’s original aspiration when he first visited China in November 2010 – after Hollande said he hoped to build a “multipolar” world. This is the classic French ambition to ensure the US cannot dominate the world in a “unipolar” world.
Cui Hongjian, director of European Studies at the China Institute of International Studies, a foreign ministry thinktank, told the South China Morning Post that this message was well received in Beijing. “France sometimes has different ideas from the US. China may co-operate with France.”
Tesco is struggling to find new avenues for growth on home turf and is scaling back some of its international plans, especially in a recession-scarred Europe
As the UK’s biggest supermarket, Tesco is struggling to find new avenues for growth on home turf. Shoppers are no longer keen on the large hypermarkets that Tesco has done so much to develop, so it was forced to write off £804m of property assets and admit that nearly half of its long-famed pipeline of development land was now surplus to requirements. Profits slid 8.3% in the UK last year as Tesco focused on opening its local convenience stores and tried to tempt shoppers back to its biggest outlets with price cuts and investment in warmer, brighter interiors. This year it plans up to 160 new convenience stores and will continue to revamp bigger stores after years of under-investment, partly with the help of eateries such as recent acquisition Giraffe and coffee chain Harris + Hoole.
The internet is important to Tesco as one of the few areas of retail enjoying rapid growth. Online grocery sales rose 12.8% to £3.2bn last year and Philip Clarke was keen to stress how important a multi-channel presence is for the business. Tesco now has five “dark stores”, where employees assemble customers’ online orders, to serve its web business. A sixth opens later this year. However, the non-food website Tesco Direct suffered as sales of electrical products were squeezed by competition from the likes of Amazon, while Clarke admitted that Tesco’s in-store displays of electricals were not up to scratch.
Tesco began trialling banks in its stores in 2006 and said it hoped to offer current accounts from 2009. It has since expanded into mortgages, insurance and credit cards, but the current account is not set to arrive until 2014. Meanwhile, revenues at the bank slid 2.2% to £1bn and profits dived 15.1% last year as Tesco took a £115m hit from PPI mis-selling.
Tesco’s overseas ventures
Number of stores: 131( incl 117 hypermarkets)
Three years ago Tesco said it wanted to open 80 shopping mall developments in China by 2016, amounting to 40m sq ft of floorspace- bigger than its UK estate. Today it has just over 10m sq ft and recently announced the closure of five under-performing hypermarkets.Its plan for shopping malls has not proved as popular as it hoped and it aims to “refocus on a more profitable approach” in the country. Still, China remains “strategically important” to Tesco. It opened 12 new hypermarkets last year and will launch online groceries in Shanghai later this year, with ambitions to go to up to 50 cities.
Number of stores: 0
Tesco set up a wholesale business and provides 70% of the products used in the Star Bazaar hypermarket chain owned by the Tata group. It had planned to be in the country when law changes allowed foreign retailers to open up – but a change in government strategy continues to face delays and the business is tiny. Total sales growth fell back to 25%, in local currency, from 40% last year. Tesco says it wants to “refocus on a more profitable approach to growth”
Number of stores: 47
Revenues: £937m (up 6%)
Tesco is Malaysia’s biggest operator with 11% market share via a partnership with local group Sime Darby. It is one of only three countries where Tesco saw underlying sales growth last year (0.5%).
South Korea (Homeplus)
Number of stores: 520 (inc 133 hypermarkets)
Revenues: £5.3bn (no growth)
Tesco is the second largest grocer in South Korea, its biggest and most successful overseas business. Its Homeplus chain, has proved a hotbed of innovation, developing ‘virtual’ stores which allow shoppers to buy items displayed on subway walls via their phones and cultural centres where locals can take classes in everything from the cello to French. Korea is one of three countries where Tesco plans to focus capital investment, but sales have taken a battering since the South Korean government restricted Sunday trading hours in a bid to protect small stores. Tesco said the new laws cost £100m of profits last year and expects a £30m-£40m hit this year as restrictions continue.
Thailand (Tesco Lotus)
Number of stores: 1,433 (inc 149 hypermarkets)
Thailand was Tesco’s fastest growing market in 2012 with sales up 16% in total and 3.1% when the impact of new store openings is stripped out. The supermarket controls 15% of Thailand’s grocery market making it the country’s biggest player. Online groceries launched in Bangkok in February and the company says this is one of three international markets where it will focus international investment.
Number of stores: was 121 – all now sold
One of chief executive Philip Clarke’s first major decisions on starting work was to pull out of Japan where the British grocer had struggled to compete in the notoriously tricky market. Tesco was forced to pay local group Aeon £40m to take its loss-making Japanese business off its hands last year and only managed to finally extract itself earlier this year.
Number of stores: 376
Tesco is focusing on the internet and almost halting new store openings. Last year it launched an online grocery service and snapped up the Zabka and Koruna chains three years ago. It has begun reducing the size of its largest stores by renting out space to retailers like C&A and Sports Direct. One of the markets worst affected by the economic crisis with four consecutive quarters of declining GDP. Sales fell back 2% last year or 7%. Still Tesco opened seven hypermarkets there last year, and 40 other shops.
Number of stores: 216
Growth stalled completely last year and profits were held back after the government imposed a crisis spending tax three years ago. It was Tesco’s first international business . The supermarket is now market leader but opened just one new hypermarket last year and plans for more are on hold.
Number of stores: 446
Tesco says it has no plans for more hypermarkets and is focusing on expanding its online business. Sales slipped back 4% once the impact of new store openings is stripped out. Poland as a whole saw consumer spending slip back in the fourth quarter.
Republic of Ireland
Number of stores: 139
Tesco now claims to be Ireland’s leading grocer. No major new stores are planned as consumer spending has been hit by austerity measures. Tesco didn’t open any hypermarkets there last year and only five small stores. Underlying sales slipped back 1% as austerity measures continue to bite.
Number of stores: 126
Slovakia is now home to Tesco’s international clothing division, providing non-food stock to all the supermarket’s central European stores. Tesco says it sees Slovakia as one of its strongest positions. Sales rose 6% last year but underlying sales fell 1%. The country is facing serious economic difficulties and is a small market.
Number of stores: 191 (inc 56 hypermarkets)
After 10 years in Europe’s most eastern country, Tesco has been forced to scale back its ambitions dramatically. It has dropped plans to open large stores in the East of the country amid intense cost inflation and tough competition. Total sales rose 13% last year but underlying sales were flat and the business made a loss amid high cost price increases.
USA (Fresh & Easy)
Number of stores: 199
Tesco said it wanted 1,000 stores across the west coast of the US when it launched its Californian offshoot in November 2007. It booked a loss of £1.2bn on the business, including trading losses for the current year of £169m, as Tesco confirmed it was quitting the country. Early mistakes such as automatic tills and ready meals were a turn-off for American shoppers.
CEO known as ‘Mick the Miner’ pockets cash payments and share options after group’s takeover by trader Glencore
Mick Davis, the departing chief executive of Xstrata, is to walk away from the mining firm after banking almost £75m as a result of the group’s takeover by commodity trader Glencore, which finally approved on Tuesday.
Cash payments – which include an extra £4.6m on top of a previously announced payoff of £9.6m – are to be made to Davis as he is to leave the company immediately after the deal is completed next month, instead of working for the combined group for a further six months. Davis also owns share options worth about £34m, that will be cashed in on his departure, which come on top of the shares worth more than £26m that he sold in December.
In addition, the executive known within the industry as “Mick the Miner” will be given personal access to 30 hours in Xstrata’s corporate jet until the end of June and be allowed to sublet Xstrata’s Mayfair head office until March 2017 – with almost a year handed to him rent-free. The offices are almost certainly to be used to launch Davis’s next business, which is widely expected to once again be in the natural resources sector.
Davis departs along with a string of senior Xstrata managers, which effectively seals the Glencore takeover of the company despite efforts by both sides to portray it as a “merger of equals”. The combined group will now be run by the commodity trader’s billionaire chief executive, Ivan Glasenberg, who floated Glencore two years ago – partly in an effort to acquire Xstrata and other major miners.
One major Xstrata shareholder said: “This is a huge amount of money, but in Ivan’s mind it is pocket money. [The Xstrata departures] are no surprise. During the negotiations for the deal, Ivan couldn’t wait to get hold of this company. That is why it was always obvious they should have been paying a premium to gain control.”
The takeover, which was announced in February 2012, was finally secured after a string of setbacks, including rows over Davis’s proposed pay when he was to lead the combined company, arguments over the price being offered to Xstrata investors and competition concerns.
On Tuesday China’s antitrust authorities removed the last remaining obstacle to the $30bn (£20bn) takeover after Glencore agreed to sell a $5.2bn mining project to ease its grip on copper.
Xstrata’s Las Bambas mine in Peru had been expected to be sacrificed to secure the approval of China’s ministry of commerce, but Glencore also agreed eight-year commitments covering the supply of copper, zinc and lead to China.
Industry observers said that Chinese regulators have rarely demanded asset sales to improve competition after a major tie-up, but the importance of the metals that Glencore mines and trades for China’s economy meant the merger was unlikely to go through without changes.
Elsewhere, it was announced that Xstrata’s chief financial officer, Trevor Reid, who was to take the same role at Glencore Xstrata, is also to leave the company. The chief executives of the copper, nickel and alloy businesses – Charlie Sartain, Ian Pearce, and Loutjie Smit – will also depart, as will executive general manager Thras Moraitis, and chief legal counsel Benny Levene.
Glencore Xstrata is also searching for a new chairman, after Sir John Bond of Xstrata decided not to take up the role following widespread investor dismay at how he had conducted the sale process.
Tony Hayward, the former chief executive of BP who leads Glencore’s nominations committee, is believed to be leading the search for a replacement and has promised shareholders that they will have a chance to comment on the favoured candidates.
Shares in Xstrata gained 2.5% to close at 986p. Glencore shares added 1.25% to close at 325.1p.
UTV Media agreed deal for radio rights outside Europe, with live Mandarin matchday coverage to begin for 2013/2014 season
TalkSport has struck a deal to air Premier League matches in China, in what is thought to be the first time officially sanctioned coverage has been made available on radio in the world’s most populous nation.
Parent company UTV Media, which also owns the ITV franchise for Northern Ireland, struck a deal last April for the Premier League radio rights outside of Europe until 2016.
TalkSport, which made a £900,000 loss on its fledgling international radio operation last year, has reached a deal with Adrep China Advertising Services to develop its Premier League offering in China.
The long-term collaboration agreement has been reached in time for TalkSport to launch a live Mandarin radio service covering the most popular Premier League clashes from the beginning of the 2013/2014 season which kicks off in August.
The deal, which will also extend to FA Cup coverage and Capital One Cup football, will include developing distribution on mobile apps and Chinese social media platforms.
“The sheer scale of the Chinese market and popularity of Premier League football make China a key focus for TalkSport’s global expansion,” said John McCann, group chief executive of UTV Media.
Adrep is building a national radio advertising sales network under its My Fm brand in major Chinese cities.
“Our partnership with TalkSport enables us to bring unique and specific content to local Chinese radio stations and communities,” said Ken Wang, executive director at Adrep. “Chinese audiences will now be able to experience the excitement of the Premier League football like never before.”
TalkSport has developed live football commentary for use outside the UK in English, Mandarin, Spanish and Bahasa Malay.
A spokesman for the Premier League said he believed it was the first time that its official rights have been exploited on radio in China.
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Evidence of bulk buying for ‘unofficial export’ to China leads to limits on purchases in UK stores
Retailers have been asked to ration sales of baby milk powder by the manufacturer of Britain’s two most popular brands after evidence that the products are being bought in bulk for “unofficial export” to China, where demand is high for foreign-made milk.
Danone, which makes Aptamil and Cow & Gate – the market leaders in the UK – has asked supermarkets and chemists to limit purchases to just two 900g tins per purchase. Asda, Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Morrisons have already agreed to limit purchases to two units per customer and more retailers are expected to follow suit.
Danone said the limit was to prevent some individuals from bulk buying baby milk for commercial purposes, for “unofficial exports”. In some cases the milk is being sent abroad to relatives, but it is also being sold on the internet.
Foreign-produced baby formula is popular in China, where locally-produced and often contaminated products have resulted in deaths and widespread illness. The first episode of milk contamination in China occurred in 2008, when three of the top dairy firms in the country were proven to have been affected by the presence of melamine, an industrial chemical normally used in plastics. Six infants died and a further 300,000 fell ill.
The scandal-hit dairy industry has since shown no signs of improvement, forcing thousands of worried mothers to turn to foreign producers for baby milk powder. Online British food stores such as British Corner Shop have reported huge increases in business as a result.
Danone insisted that the rationing was highly unlikely to lead to shortages of its products, and apologised to parents for any inconvenience it had caused. It said in a statement: “We understand that the increased demand is being fuelled by unofficial exports to China to satisfy the needs of parents who want western brands for their babies. We would like to apologise to parents for any inconvenience caused by this limit. We know that most parents only buy one pack at a time, so we hope that the impact of this limit on UK parents will be minimal.”
Morrisons said: “To maintain availability for all of our customers, we now have a limit of two items of formula milk powder per customer per day.”
Richard Dodd, head of media and campaigns at the British Retail Consortium, said: “A number of retailers are limiting the amount of baby milk that can be bought by any one customer. This is being done at the request of the manufacturers, who believe it’s possible that some organised groups of customers are buying up products in unusually large quantities for export. Retailers are taking this precautionary step to ensure stocks continue to be available to everyone wanting baby milk.”