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With 25% of the UK market, it has something for everyone
It would be easy to assume from the adverse publicity it attracts that Tesco is the last place on earth any sensitive soul would choose to buy wine. But given that it has 25% of the UK market, one in four of us is likely to be shopping there at any one time.
I have well-rehearsed issues with the company myself – the way it bumps up prices to create phoney half-price offers, though it’s far from alone in that; the pressure it puts on its suppliers; the fact that the wines I’m most enthusiastic about are often available in only a minority of its 3,000-plus stores. But – and it’s a big but – nearly 1.2 million people ”like” Tesco on Facebook (gah!), of whom 693 appear to have enjoyed a recent online Q&A about wine. (By way of comparison, fewer than 700,000 people follow rival Sainsbury’s page.)
Tesco also has something for everyone, from genuinely decent sub-£5 reds to bordeaux first growths, as I was reminded at a recent tasting. The robust, rustic Tesco Corbières (13% abv) and generous Tesco Simply Garnacha 2012 (1,492 branches; 13.5% abv) are both fantastic value at £4.59, though I’d probably lean towards the garnacha, because it comes from a specific vintage. Both would be perfect for barbecues.
The Tesco Finest range – often on promotion – is good value, too. At the moment you can buy the rich, citrussy Finest Tapiwey Sauvignon Blanc (12.5% abv), from Chile’s Casablanca Valley, on a two-for-£12 offer instead of the normal £8.99. Go for the 2012 if you can, rather than the 2011.
And the store’s 2009 bordeaux offer is a good way of getting your hands on a great vintage without having to take out a mortgage. You can buy a single bottle of Château Tour de Bessan 2009 (13.5% abv), a beautifully balanced, supple margaux, for £19.99 in the 127 branches that carry a Fine Wine selection (ring 0800 505 555 to find out your nearest), but be aware that you might be able to do better with the online deals. The elegant, graceful Château Sociando-Mallet 2009 (13.5% abv), for example, which Tesco is selling for £195 duty-paid for a case of six, is more than you would pay at Stourbridge-based Nickolls and Perks, which has it at £182.40 a half-case – though admittedly plenty charge quite a bit more. If you’re buying online, I’d always check wine-searcher.com, or simply ask your local wine merchant what they could get it for.
Photographs: Michael Whitaker for the Guardian
To get the service, customers will have to take the supermarket group’s line rental at £14.90 for a minimum of 12 months
Tesco has cut the price of its unlimited broadband to just £2 a month, which the supermarket chain claims is the cheapest unlimited broadband that doesn’t involve paying for an additional service.
To get the “unlimited” broadband service, which also includes free evening and weekend calls, customers have to take Tesco line rental at £14.90 a month for a minimum 12 months. They do not, however, have to sign up for a TV or mobile package.
Tesco customers will also receive one Clubcard point for every £1 spent and benefit from a UK call centre offering free technical support.
The deal is only available in the areas covered by its network, which represents 70% of UK households.
The unlimited offering comes with a fair use policy, which the company said would not affect anyone but the heaviest of downloaders.
It also said that those switching to its service could leave within the first three months without penalty under the terms of its “happiness promise”. Tesco Mobile customers are eligible for free Tesco broadband for 12 months.
The move is the latest in what is becoming an increasingly frenzied broadband market.
On Thursday, BT sent shock waves through its rivals when it announced it would offer its new sports channels – complete with Premier League football – for free to anyone taking its broadband offer. It has various deals on offer and will be tempting to sports fans.
TalkTalk has a half-price broadband offer (£3.25 a month plus for £14.95 landline rental). Sky has a similar offering too, while Virgin’s superfast service is currently offering half price broadband for six months.
Customers looking to switch should now get a home phone, unlimited broadband and all day calls for around £23 a month. If you are paying significantly more than that now could be the time start looking around, although you can expect some further price changes from rivals in the coming months.
A Tesco broadband spokesperson said: “Slashing our broadband prices again this year means that for just £2 a month British families can download music, play games online and stream films to their hearts’ content.”
Before you sign, check the speed you will get using the availability checker on its website. The offer is open until 30 June.
• You can compare phone, TV and broadband packages using the Guardian digital comparison service
• Only two of FTSE 100 have no subsidiaries in havens
• Big four banks and Tesco among biggest users
• ActionAid findings described as shaming by Lib Dem peer
The UK’s 100 biggest public companies are running more than 8,000 subsidiaries or joint ventures in onshore and offshore tax havens, according to research published on Monday, raising fresh concerns about the full extent of corporate tax avoidance.
The figures, published by the charity ActionAid, show that only two of the companies listed on the UK’s FTSE 100 have no subsidiaries in tax havens – while companies such as Barclays and Tesco own hundreds.
Corporate use of offshore subsidiaries has been roundly criticised by tax campaigners as a tactic to legally reduce corporate tax bills, with Vodafone, Starbucks and Amazon attracting widespread protests and criticism from MPs.
David Cameron has pledged to put tackling the issue of tax avoidance and offshore secrecy at the heart of next month’s G8 summit, which Britain chairs this year.
Speaking after Saturday’s meeting of F7 finance ministers, the chancellor, George Osborne, said international action was needed, adding it was “incredibly important that companies and individuals pay the tax that is due”.
However, many of the offshore jurisdictions used by the FTSE 100 have close ties to the UK, illustrating the challenge facing Cameron and Osborne ahead of negotiations with other G8 leaders.
In total, FTSE 100 companies have 1,685 subsidiaries in UK Crown dependencies such as Jersey, or overseas territories such as the British Virgin Islands (BVI), Bermuda and Gibraltar.
The Treasury recently secured a deal to share more information on potential income-tax evaders operating out of British overseas territories. But campaigners warn that agreements so far do little to tackle offshore corporate secrecy and structures.
The research also compiled data covered by a wider definition of tax haven, including onshore jurisdictions such as the US state of Delaware – accused by the Cayman islands of playing “faster and looser” even than offshore jurisdictions – and the Republic of Ireland, which has come under sustained pressure from other EU states to reform its own low-tax, light-tough, regulatory environment.
By this measure, the UK’s biggest public companies keep a total of 8,311 subsidiaries in tax havens – more than one in three of all the FTSE100′s 22,042 foreign subsidiaries, associates and joint ventures.
The figures show that banks are the most prolific user of havens with the big four – Barclays, HSBC, the Royal Bank of Scotland, and Lloyds – among the top 10.
Barclays said in 2011 it was working to cut the number of its offshore subsidiaries in the Caymans, but the research shows it still had more than 120 subsidiaries in the Caribbean territory, along with dozens of others in other overseas jurisdictions with low tax rates or limited disclosure rules to other tax authorities.
Lord Oakeshott, the Liberal Democrat peer, who resigned as the party’s Treasury spokesman after criticising the government’s deal on banking regulation as “pitiful”, said the research showed new measures on tax havens were needed.
He said: “Tax transparency must start at home. ActionAid’s devastating research makes us ashamed to be British. Far too many of Britain’s top companies wash billions of profits through pipelines of British tax havens to vanish behind shiny brass plates in shady places.
“Cameron and Osborne can’t strut the world stage as fair tax crusaders until they end this tax abuse, starting with the banks we own, RBS and Lloyds.”
But use of offshore jurisdictions extends far beyond the banking world. Food manufacturers, retailers, and drinks firms were among the FTSE 100 companies using offshore jurisdictions.
The retailer with the most subsidiaries in countries dubbed tax havens was Tesco, which had 107, often tied to its financial services provisions. These included eight firms based in Jersey, nine in the BVI, and 14 in the Cayman Islands.
Particular concern is expressed by campaigners about the cost of offshore tax deals to the populations of developing countries.
For instance, Tullow Oil, which describes itself as “Africa’s leading independent oil company” draws 84% of its revenues from the continent, but only four of the 81 companies it lists as subsidiaries are registered in African countries. By contrast, more than half (47) are registered in tax havens including the BVI, St Lucia, the Channel Islands and Netherlands.
Three-quarters of these tax haven companies refer to developing countries, such as Liberia, Kenya, Malawi and Sierra Leone, in their names.
While the countries highlighted by the ActionAid study have been targeted because of their rules on secrecy or tax management, a company’s presence in such countries does not mean they are necessarily engaging in such practices.
There is no suggestion that any of the FTSE 100 firms have engaged in practices in contravention of tax laws.
Mike Lewis, ActionAid’s tax justice policy adviser, who did the research, called tax havens “one of the biggest hidden obstacles” in the fight against global poverty.
He added: “Poor countries lose three times more money to tax havens than they receive in aid each year. .
“Tax haven structures are almost universal amongst the UK’s biggest multinationals and becoming ever more common for investments in developing countries.
“When David Cameron chairs the G8 summit in Northern Ireland next month he must deliver on his promise to call time on tax havens for the benefit of all countries, rich and poor.”
The two FTSE 100 companies found to have no subsidiaries in tax havens were the mining group Fresnillo and the financial advice business Hargreaves Lansdown.
A spokesperson for Tullow Oil said the company did not avoid tax and did not use companies in tax havens to avoid tax, adding: “Our clear aim in tax planning is to ensure that the appropriate amount of tax is paid in the jurisdiction in which the activities are undertaken.
“As such, no country in which we operate is losing out because some of the companies that we own are located in tax havens.”
Seven of its subsidiaries were dormant with no profits and were scheduled for elimination while five were holding companies with minimal activity, he added.
A Barclays spokesperson said the company was among the UK’s top taxpayers and acted ethically.
She said: “This story is based on misconception and is misleading. Delaware is not a low-tax jurisdiction. Profits in the state are subject to US corporate tax at 35%, as well as Delaware state tax.
“Barclays has substantial businesses in many of the jurisdictions mentioned.
“In the Caymans virtually all of the profits generated in these companies are subject to corporate tax at the UK corporate tax rate. “The number of Barclays’ entities in low-tax jurisdictions reduced from 339 in 2009 to 252 by February 2013 – a 26% reduction. We plan to make further reductions in 2013.”
A Tesco spokesperson said: “We are one of the largest payers of tax in the UK. In the year ended February 2012 we contributed £1.5bn directly, including £519m in corporation tax. We do have a number of companies within low-tax jurisdictions, but these are all either holding companies, dormant, registered for UK tax, or subject to controlled foreign company regulations and agreed with HMRC.”
While measures have been taken already to crack down on the separate issue of tax avoidance by individuals, campaigners have repeatedly said that without steps to tackle corporate activities in havens action will be futile.
Gender labels on Tesco’s toys to be reviewed after storm of criticism from shoppers and equality groups
The row over gender-specific toys has taken a new turn after Tesco admitted its description of a children’s chemistry set as for boys was incorrect, and launched a wider review of the way toys are labelled on its website.
Tesco had initially defended its decision to label the item, manufactured by John Adams, as a boys’ toy on its website following a storm of criticism from shoppers and gender equality groups.
Campaigners from Let Toys Be Toys, an online pressure group urging retailers not to limit children’s social development by promoting “boys” and “girls” toys rather than putting them under a “unisex” label, claimed that Tesco’s labelling of the Action Science chemistry set was sexist.
Tesco had justified the move by saying on Twitter: “Toy signage is currently based on research and how our customers tell us they like to shop in our stores”, adding that further research would be commissioned later in the year to provide “an up-to-date reflection of customers’ thinking”.
But a Let Toys Be Toys spokesman challenged Tesco’s position, tweeting: “Can you imagine if we took yr approach in schools: that science was just for boys & we shouldn’t bother teaching it to girls?”
On 7 May Tesco appeared to have backtracked after shopper Sara Williams published an apologetic email sent to her by Nikki Curran of Tesco Direct Customer Services, which said the description of the chemistry set was “incorrect”.
Curran said the company was updating its website “to show the item as being unisex” and reassured Williams that “it is never our intention to cause any upset and it is always a matter of regret when one of our customers remains dissatisfied”.
The toys Tesco sells in its stores are not labelled according to gender, but they are online once shoppers carry out a more in-depth product search.
The latest development comes amid growing shopper sensitivity over retailers’ traditional policy of advertising separate boys’ and girls’ toys.
Boots recently admitted it was wrong to use separate in-store signs labelling girls’ and boys’ toys – putting Science Museum-brand toys in the latter category – after shoppers took to Twitter and Facebook to accuse the retailer of sexism. In a statement posted on Facebook it said it was taking steps to remove the signs and was dismayed by customers’ reaction.