Business Briefs - March 26th

Latest Office for National Statistics figures have revealed UK retail sales grew more strongly than expected in February.

Sales were up 0.7 per cent compared with the previous month, according to the ONS.

Compared with February 2014, sales were 5.7 per cent higher, boosted by the recovery in the housing market.

Rising home sales boosted sales of products such as furniture.

Average store prices fell for the eighth consecutive month, falling by 3.6 per cent in February 2015 compared with a year earlier.

Oil company Taqa is to cut about 100 jobs because of the “challenging” time facing the North Sea industry.

The company said it was consulting with the workforce on the move, which would affect mostly contractors and consultants working in onshore positions.

It is the latest in a series of redundancy announcements by North Sea operators.

BP, Shell and Chevron are among those to have cut jobs.

A Taqa spokesperson said: “Taqa’s UK North Sea business, along with the industry as a whole, is operating in a challenging environment.

A target for having 150 firms across Scotland all paying staff the living wage has been reached early, the Scottish Government has announced.

Ministers had set the goal of having that number of companies accredited as living wage employers by the end of the year.

Roseanna Cunningham, the Secretary for Fair Work, Skills and Training, said that hitting that target so quickly “clearly demonstrates the interest and commitment” to the scheme.

The living wage is currently set at £7.85 an hour, higher than the current national minimum wage level of £6.50 an hour.

Ms Cunningham said: “It has only been a few months since Scotland’s 100th living wage employer was confirmed and hitting another milestone so quickly clearly demonstrates the interest in and commitment to the Living Wage in this country.”

Banks must investigate alternative arrangements such as free-to-use cash machines, banks on wheels and the use of local Post Office branches for customers, before closing the last bank in town,

The new agreement expands a former voluntary agreement to assist vulnerable customers when towns and villages become bank-free.

But there will be no punishment if banks fail to provide alternatives.

Banks, the government and consumer groups have signed up to the new protocol, which will be reviewed independently in a year.

Industrial textile maker Low & Bonar said sales volumes have been lower than expected.

However, the company, which has its roots in Dundee, said it had benefited from lower raw materials prices and was still on course to hit profit targets.

In currency terms the weak-ness of the euro was said to have been neutral since November 30 last year as a result of the strength of the US dollar.

The University of Edinburgh has secured £25.7 million from the UK Government to create a world-leading biology research complex and a new centre that will discover and deliver new treatments for damaged tissues.

The two projects account for a quarter of a fiercely competitive £100 million funding round from the UK Research Partnership Investment Fund.

Edinburgh-based Johnston Press has reported a sharp rise in underlying pre-tax profit and a slowing decline in revenues, and says it is getting closer to reaching a “digital tipping point” where new revenues replace old ones.

The business raised £360 million last year to reduce its financing costs and had reduced debt from £302m to £185m by the end of last year.

It has reported an underlying pre-tax profit up from £8.9m to £29.9m, with operating profit up 2.8 per cent on the same basis to £55.5m.

Total underlying revenues were down 4.4 per cent to £265.9m, following declines of 5.2 per cent and 7.4per cent in the previous two years. The group’s statutory pre-tax loss was £23.9m, a fraction of the previous year’s £291.4m loss.

One-off costs of £53.8m included further writedowns of publishing titles and other assets, business restructuring, and refinancing costs of £9m.

The Scotsman and other titles centred on the Capital shed more than 40 jobs late last year in a move to one-team working, and relocated from the headquarters building at Holyrood to the top floor of an office block just outside the capital’s city centre.

Johnston said it had shrunk its property footprint from 188 to 150 locations since 2012, and expected that to fall below 100.

Print advertising declined 8.7 per cent to £136.9m and newspaper sales revenue was down 4.8per cent at £77.9m.

Digital revenues was up 20 per cent to £28.8m, representing 17.4 per cent of advertising revenues, up from 13.8 per cent, while digital audience was up 36 per cent to an average 16.7m (from 12.3m).

Glasgow-based Jacobs and Turner, the owners of outdoors and sports brand Trespass, has recorded a near six per cent rise in annual profit.

The family-owned company said it had benefited from an improvement in retail margins as well as foreign currency fluctuations.

Annual accounts just filed at Companies House for the Glasgow business, which has also controlled the Nevisport chain since rescuing it from administration in 2007, show turnover rose 14.5 per cent from £75.3 million to £86.2m in the 12 months to June 29, 2014.

Distribution costs rose from £5.6m to £6.75m with administrative expenses surging from £16.2m to £21.2m. However, pre-tax profits still increased from £4m to £4.23m.

The company is owned and run by brothers Afzal and Akmal Khushi whose father Chaudry Mohammed Khushi bought the business, which was founded in 1938, during the 1960s and expanded it from making police clothing and workwear into the manufacture of anoraks and outdoor clothing.

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