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Thursday newspaper round-up: High Street, Shell, Bankers’ pay…

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Number of high street closures soars; Shell shelves Arctic drilling plans; EU agrees to cap banker bonuses.

The steady rate of high street closures turned into a torrent last year, according to new figures revealing the toll that the financial crisis has taken on town centres. Modest growth in the number of independent stores was not sufficient to counter the steps being taken by big retailers to close stores or move out of town. Research on Britain’s top 500 town centres by PwC, the accountancy firm, and the Local Data Company shows that last year companies shut 1,800 more shops than they opened, compared with 174 net closures in 2011. Total daily closures rose to 20 a day, from an average of 14 in 2011. [The Times]

Shell last night announced it had shelved its controversial Arctic drilling plans after a series of failures in the quest for fresh oil supplies. The energy giant said it would halt exploration activity for 12 months in Alaska’s Beaufort and Chukchi seas to ‘prepare equipment and plans for a resumption of activity at a later stage’.

The company’s £3bn campaign to discover oil was last year subject to a review by the US Interior Department, which said its findings would influence future decisions to issue permits to drill in the region. One of Shell’s two drilling rigs, the Kulluk, was damaged after strong weather conditions. Environmental campaigners celebrated the announcement. “Shell’s multi-billion dollar Arctic investment lies in tatters, and so does the company’s reputation,” said John Sauven, the executive director of Greenpeace. [The Independent]

Bankers in Europe face a cap on bonuses as early as next year, following agreement in Brussels to introduce strict new curbs, in a move politicians hope will address public anger at financial sector greed. The agreement, announced by diplomats and officials after late-night talks on Wednesday between EU country representatives and the bloc’s parliament, mean bankers face an automatic cap on bonus payouts at the level of their salary. If a majority of a bank’s shareholders vote in favour, that ceiling can be raised to two-times pay, Reuters reported. [The Telegraph]

David Cameron pledged to go “further and faster” in reducing the deficit after the UK was stripped of its coveted AAA credit rating. The prime minister insisted that the one notch cut to the debt rating was a reason to press ahead with balancing the public finances, despite claims by the Labour leader, Ed Miliband, that the UK now had a “downgraded government, a downgraded chancellor and a downgraded prime minister”. [The Guardian]


First attempts to find a way out of Italy’s political deadlock have suffered an early setback after a proposal by the centre-left Democrats to form a minority government following inconclusive elections this week was effectively killed off by the leader of the anti-establishment Five Star Movement. Beppe Grillo announced on Twitter on Wednesday that his movement would not give a vote of confidence in parliament to a government led by either the centre-left or Silvio Berlusconi’s centre-right party. [Financial Times]

An aggressive £400 million tax avoidance scheme created by the men behind a massive charity tax scam has been shut down by the courts. NT Advisors, which sold the Cup Trust tax scam exposed by The Times last month, also devised the Highlands scheme that was used by 305 wealthy individuals to claim tax relief totalling £391.8 million. Highlands created artificial losses that clients could use to shelter income by funnelling money through tax havens including the Isle of Man, Luxembourg, Gibraltar and Jersey. It was shut down after a judge found that it was “a tax avoidance scheme with no underlying purpose whatsoever”. Last night the Treasury described Highlands as an affront to ordinary taxpayers. [The Times]

Haruhiko Kuroda, president of the Asian Development Bank, has been confirmed as the government’s choice to become the next governor of the Bank of Japan, as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe seeks a more aggressive regime to overturn more than a decade of growth-sapping deflation. On Thursday Mr Abe also announced two nominations for deputy governor: Kikuo Iwata, an economics professor at Gakushuin University in Tokyo, and Hiroshi Nakaso, currently in charge of international affairs at the BoJ. [Financial Times]

Insurance tycoon Peter Wood is targeting a £1 billion price tag after unveiling plans to float his Esure venture on the London Stock Exchange within weeks. The home and motor insurance group, which employs more than 800 people at its main customer-facing operations base in Glasgow, will clear its debts with £50 million of new share capital while its owners will sell up to half their stake in an initial public offering (IPO) expected to complete before the end of March. [The Scotsman]

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