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Monday newspaper round-up: Iran, Energy companies, Scotland

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US Congress threatens fresh Iran oil sanctions; energy giants forced to repay cash from direct debit overpayments; Scottish economy sees ‘robust growth’.

Senior members of the US Congress insisted on Sunday they would push ahead with a new round of sanctions on Iranian oil exports, after France was accused this weekend of scuppering a widely anticipated deal on Iran’s nuclear programme. Amid recriminations on all sides over the talks, Iran’s foreign minister blamed France for blocking a historic agreement while Israel continued to denounce the US strategy towards Tehran. John Kerry, US secretary of state, was forced on to the defensive at home by the storm of criticism from key allies and from Congress over the Obama administration’s approach, the Financial Times writes.

Divisions at the heart of the European Central Bank over last week’s rate cut have revived fears in Frankfurt of a German popular backlash against the bank’s policy making, even as the ECB faces decisions critical to the eurozone’s future. People involved in the policy debates said divisions between northern and southern representatives on the ECB board have been mounting since market pressures on the Eurozone relaxed, with council members freed up to revert to national interests, the Financial Times says.

Energy companies will have to pay back cash which they have been hoarding from direct debit overpayments, under plans being drawn up by the government. The industry has agreed, after pressure from ministers, to offer cash refunds automatically to customers if an account is in credit by more than one month’s payment. The changes, expected to be put in place in time for this winter, are the latest intervention in the energy market by the Government as it tries to soften the blow of rocketing bills and respond to Labour’s promise to freeze prices, writes The Times.

The government has no hope of meeting its target of doubling the value of exports to £1trn a year by the end of the decade without drastic action, a leading think-tank has warned. It is claimed that small and medium-sized enterprises are not capitalising on huge export potential and a supportive business environment because of a lack of ambition and ineffective government intervention. The report from Reform will serve as a wake-up call to the Government, whose overseas trade lobbying body UKTI will start to host regional SME events today to mark “export week”. Clare Fraser, one of the authors, said: “The target is not possible under current circumstances. There needs to be serious change”, according to The Times.

Scotland’s post-recession recovery is becoming “more sustainable with each passing month”, an influential economist said today, as the private sector racked up further growth. The upbeat comments, by Bank of Scotland’s (BoS) chief economist, Donald MacRae, come despite concerns that Scottish businesses are facing higher costs than their counterparts elsewhere in the UK, The Scotsman reports.