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Under The Radar – 22 October

By Hert Niks for UnSplash

This week, we discuss:

  1. Britain Strikes Free-Trade Deal With New Zealand

  2. Qatar Sovereign Wealth Fund Looking To Buy Selfridges

  3. BBC Newsbeat Staff Reject Relocation To Birmingham

Britain strikes free-trade deal with New Zealand

What Happened?

Ministers have sealed the UK’s second bespoke trade deal of the post-Brexit era by striking an agreement with New Zealand, which will see the UK phase out quotas on lamb, beef, and dairy.

What does it mean?

Whilst ministers have claimed that the deal will not pose a threat to domestic producers, British farmers have raised concerns that higher costs of production and enhanced animal welfare standards in the UK could lead to an influx of low-cost meat. The standards conundrum facing the UK as it strives to strike new trade deals with its newfound economic freedoms is one that has yet to fully play out due to the slow pace at which bilateral negotiations are being undertaken. Additionally, the extent to which any economic benefits are felt will be minimal; a previous government analysis suggested that at best it would increase GDP by only 0.01 per cent; whilst other estimates show it could even result in the economy contracting. For a country wanting to improve its level of global exports, the deal struck with New Zealand appears to fall short of the desired mark. Nonetheless, what the deal may lack in economic weight it arguably makes up for in political significance for the government, especially when the prospect of a UK-US trade deal remains a distant one under a Biden administration. Just don’t ask how importing cheap beef from the other side of the world fits into the government’s net-zero commitments.

Qatar sovereign wealth fund looking to buy Selfridges

What happened? The Qatar sovereign wealth fund has emerged as the frontrunner to purchase iconic department store Selfridges from the billionaire Weston family in a reported £4bn deal.

What does this mean? The Weston family launched a formal sales procedure for the department store chain back in July, but no purchase has yet been agreed. Other parties rumoured to be interested include Adia, the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia, and Lane Crawford, the Hong Kong based department store business. Unlike many other department stores that have been suffering from a lack of investment and declining sales due to the rise of online shopping, Selfridges’ profits have doubled in the past decade and the Weston family have heavily invested in the business – the subsequent interest this sale has attracted isn’t surprising and simply underlines how high-end retail remains a lucrative bet. Selfridges boasts twenty-five stores worldwide, including its flagship London outlet on Oxford Street. It is understood that the Weston family are looking for a buyer not only for the UK stores, but for property in Dublin, the Netherlands, and Canada. Of the proposed £4billion price tag, it is thought that property assets make up £2billion of this. If the sale goes through, it would be the second major London department store to be acquired by the Qatari state, after they acquired Harrods from Mohammed Al Fayed for £1.5bn in 2010. Following the controversial Saudi-led takeover of Newcastle United this month, the sale of a more esteemed British institution to another oil state looking to diversify their assets in the age of net-zero only underlines the need for more stringent regulation of foreign takeovers.

BBC Newsbeat staff reject relocation to Birmingham

What happened?

Three quarters of the staff at BBC Radio 1’s Newsbeat have refused to relocate to Birmingham amid the corporation’s ongoing efforts to restructure and relocate its services. What does it mean?

Earlier this year the BBC announced a major restructuring plan as part of an ongoing effort to diversify its newsroom, as well as loosen London’s grip on its services.

The BBC’s restructuring efforts line up with the wider government agenda of levelling-up and creating a more even media landscape within the UK. And with many of the staff reluctant to move, the end result may be that more journalism and broadcasting jobs in the Midlands and the North will become available – although at the cost of losing the majority of current staff.

Staff are fearful to leave because relocation will require a pay cut and potentially fewer alternative media outlets to work for, which is an issue that Channel 4 also faced when trying to move staff to Leeds. Additionally, employees have voiced concerns that moving the newsroom outside of London would mean losing influence over the industry’s leading figures.

Ultimately, whilst diversifying the BBC’s output is vital, it won’t be achieved by moving existing staff to the Midlands. There’s no shortage of talent in places like Birmingham, Manchester, and Leeds, which already offer some of the best media degrees in the country – perhaps it’s time for the BBC to reconsider its recruitment strategy.

This week’s must reads

  1. The harsh truths of partition in Ireland can’t be avoided in the name of reconciliation’ by Brian Hanley for The Guardian

  2. How Hong Kong’s elite turned on democracy’ by Timothy McLaughlin for The Atlantic

  3. No matter who’s the prime minister, the Treasury always win’s’ by John Elledge for The New Statesman

  4. Cop26 will fail unless rich nations keep their promises to the vulnerable – we cannot afford to be divided’ by Gordon Brown for The Independent

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