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Pinsent Masons advises Flogas Ireland on latest acquisition

Multinational law firm Pinsent Masons has advised Flogas Ireland, a subsidiary of DCC plc, on its entry into Northern Ireland with the acquisition of Budget Energy.

It marks the largest investment that Flogas has made in Ireland into the growth of its energy business and will enable its expansion into the residential and commercial electricity market in Northern Ireland where it has been operating for over 30 years in the liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) and more recently, the commercial natural gas market.

Budget Energy is one of Northern Ireland’s leading electricity suppliers. In recent years it has contracted with a strong portfolio of local renewable energy generation across solar, wind and anaerobic digestion sources. This renewable generation will be a key contributor to Flogas’s sustainability strategy. Budget Energy, which trades as BE Energy in the Republic of Ireland (ROI) has over 90,000 customers.

Commenting on the deal, Andrew Kerr said, “A deep rooted understanding of Ireland’s highly competitive energy retail sector and increasing regulatory demands enabled us to successfully bring this transaction into fruition. This is an extremely significant acquisition for Flogas and is closely aligned with its long term strategy to become one of Ireland’s leading all-island energy suppliers.”

Pinsent Masons advised Flogas on all aspects of the acquisition and was led by Andrew Kerr and Lisa Early with support from Danielle McKeefry, Dorian Rees, Laura McCrea and Craig Patterson.

The deal marks another important milestone in Pinsent Masons’ long standing relationship with DCC plc. Last year, the firm advised DCC Vital in its sale of Kent Pharmaceuticals.

New data reveals HR leaders’ Coronavirus preparedness

Survey reveals less than 10% of businesses had a workplace / HR policy in place covering a disease pandemic. Approximately 80% now have a policy, or plan to introduce one in response to the Coronavirus outbreak.

Leading law firm Lewis Silkin today announces the launch of a new benchmarking survey, mapping the preparedness and response strategies of UK HR decision-makers to the Coronavirus / COVID-19 outbreak.

For its first survey of the series Lewis Silkin surveyed an initial group of 65 senior HR leaders and in-house counsel in organisations employing more than 200,000 employees between them and the findings are being presented now to help guide employers as they seek to effectively manage their workplace response to coronavirus.

This comes as the World Health Organisation has confirmed the status of the virus has been elevated to a Pandemic.

HR Policy

58.8% of respondents confirmed that they had implemented a workplace policy addressing pandemic disease in response to Coronavirus. 10% still plan to implement a policy while almost 11% still had no plans to implement a policy at the time of response. Less than 10% had a policy in place prior to the Coronavirus outbreak.

Business Travel

Employers are being cautious with regard to travel. Almost a quarter (24.2%) of respondents have restricted both international and UK domestic travel beyond FCO guidance and a further quarter (25.8%) have restricted international travel specifically beyond FCO guidance.

Remote Working & Self-Isolation

The vast majority (87.9%) of businesses are managing NHS-recommended self-isolation by requesting employees work from home. However, businesses are taking a nuanced approach with a combination of responses being used, including sick leave and sick pay (45.5%) and full pay without work or sick leave (16.7%). 51% of respondents are directing some employees to self-isolate as a precaution beyond government advice while a similar number are allowing employees to choose to self-isolate.

57.7% of polices reported by survey respondents cover employees should their care arrangements break down (such as school closures or family illness).

James Davies, employment partner at Lewis Silkin, commented: “These are unprecedented times and employers are having quickly adapt, evolve or scale up their workplace policies in response to Coronavirus. This is a fast-moving situation and businesses will need to collaborate and learn from each other in order to know how best to move forward, with the wellbeing of staff and business continuity very much front of mind. This is why we have launched this survey, to benchmark and monitor the best practice of some of the UK’s leading HR professionals, and we will continue to gather and disseminate helpful information and guidance to our clients and the wider business community wherever we can.”

Reports of market manipulation hit 822

822 reports of suspected market manipulation were made to the FCA last year (year end Dec 31 2019) by market participants, suggesting that the problem is far from being eradicated*, says RPC, the City-headquartered law firm.

Market manipulation is the attempt to artificially increase or decrease the price of an asset, index or its derivative in order to make a gain. Following the LIBOR scandal that broke in 2012, the laws relating to market manipulation were significantly tightened up. This included criminalising the attempted manipulation of benchmarks (Financial Services Act 2012).

Market manipulation has been investigated by regulators in a wide range of asset classes, including bonds, Forex, oil, gold, silver, palladium and platinum. However, 60% of reports to the FCA last year related to suspected manipulation of equities and equity derivatives.

RPC says that reports of market manipulation are likely to have been made by brokers, trading houses and fund managers who identify suspicious price movements or order flows being posted by other market participants.

Simon Hart, Partner in RPC’s Banking and Financial Markets Disputes team says: “These statistics show that market manipulation has not gone away as a problem.”

“Whilst banks, brokerage firms and other market participants have significantly improved their compliance controls over the years, it is clear that problems remain. However, the very existence of better internal systems and controls may itself be leading to more concerns being identified and reported.”

“It is often in periods of major market turbulence that more serious examples of market manipulation get unearthed.”

“Market manipulation does not need to be on the scale of the LIBOR or FX for there to be a negative economic impact on other innocent market participants. Every distorted market carries a cost for someone.”

High profile instances of market manipulation since the 2008 financial crisis include:

  • The Forex Cartel, which resulted in six international banks being fined a total of $5.6bn for participating in cartels in the foreign exchange markets
  • The LIBOR scandal, which saw UK regulators levy substantial fines on the investment banks. The scandal has also led to the replacement of LIBOR with SONIA.
  • Precious metals – Barclays was fined US $43.8m for attempting to rig gold prices. In the US a number of banks and their traders including BAML have been fined or charged over attempted manipulation of precious metals.

Ashurst advises on the establishment of Oak National Academy

International law firm Ashurst advised on the launch of Oak National Academy, a virtual school established groups of schools and The Reach Foundation to deliver education remotely to the UK during the COVID-19 crisis.

The new initiative is supported by a range of organisations including Teach First, Google and the Department for Education.

Launched on Monday 20 April, this brand-new enterprise has been created by over 40 teachers from some of the leading schools across England, with government grant funding to support its start up. It will provide 180 video lessons each week, across a broad range of subjects from maths to art to languages, for every year group from Reception through to Year 10.

Ashurst advised Teach First and The Reach Foundation, both charitable entities to support teaching and education across the UK, on a pro bono basis on the IP and branding associated with the launch. This included advising on the availability and use of logos, trademarks, domain names and associated assets and the registration of various IP rights to ensure the protection of the brand and its associated goodwill. The team was led by IP partner David Wilkinson, associate Anouska Fabes and legal analyst manager Jessica Whitfield.

Anouska Fabes commented: “Oak National Academy is an inspiring project that demonstrates the power of collaboration during difficult times, and will provide access to valuable resources for those teachers, students and families in the UK in need of support and a helping hand. The Ashurst IP team are delighted to have worked with Teach First to contribute towards its launch.”

Information and data privacy law heavyweight joins Pinsent Masons

Multinational law firm Pinsent Masons has hired partner Jonathan Kirsop as a key addition to its leading data privacy and information law offering.

Jonathan advises a wide range of clients on data privacy with particular focus on the financial services sector. His range of expertise spans contractual and regulatory advice, data subject access requests, international data transfers as well as providing broader technology, data and commercial expertise.

He joins the firm from Stephenson Harwood where he established and led the information law practice within their commercial, outsourcing and technology team.

Jonathan will assist in the further development of Pinsent Masons’ information and data privacy law capabilities in London, particularly to the firm’s financial services clients, as well as working with partners within the rest of the UK, across Europe and Asia Pacific offices.

Simon Colvin, Head of the Technology, Media and Telecommunications practice at Pinsent Masons said “Data and privacy is at the heart of the business for most of our clients. As the regulatory landscape continues to evolve, Jonathan brings valuable expertise to support clients, particularly in the heavily regulated financial services sector, as their needs for support and advice on all things information and data privacy law grow and become more complex.”

Laura Cameron, Head of Risk Advisory Services at Pinsent Masons said “The demand for data and privacy advice has increased exponentially and it has become a boardroom issue for businesses. Jonathan is a key addition to the firm at this time, as the continued development of technology and indeed the strategic use of, and protection of, data is a business critical issue for all organisations.”

Comments on the Government’s infrastructure spending plans

In his first budget, Chancellor Rishi Sunak (who, let’s remember, has been in the job for less than a month) unveiled a series of exciting spending promises, designed to increase infrastructure spending to a level not seen for decades. Overall, the Chancellor’s plans involve investing a massive £640bn for capital spending on infrastructure by 2025 – a generational change in the level of spending on public infrastructure.

The announcements raise the stakes on the previous Chancellor’s promise to deliver an “infrastructure revolution”, which was a prominent feature of the Conservative Party’s election campaign last year. The Budget was full of bold spending promises, by a Government that seems hell-bent on doing things differently and “getting it done”. “Getting it done” was the Chancellor’s rallying call for his first Budget and the headline-grabbing spending plans certainly suggest that we have a Government that is serious about doing just that.

Under Theresa May, previous Chancellor Philip Hammond had planned to spend £600bn on public and private infrastructure over a 10-year period, so the latest plans not only involve spending more money overall, but also spending it more quickly than the previous Government had planned to.

While much of the important detail has yet to be confirmed, and the publication of the long-awaited national infrastructure strategy has been delayed, the Chancellor’s spending announcements are likely to be well received by business, especially those in the community of infrastructure developers and investors. After Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s announcement last month that the controversial HS2 high-speed rail link will go ahead, the Budget is a further positive sign that this Government is prepared to make use of historically low interest rates to end the tendency of previous Governments to talk a lot about infrastructure investment, but to deliver very little.

The current Chancellor seems to be of the view that the very low interest rates that we have seen since the financial crisis will continue for some time, so has rejected assertions that his aggressive borrowing plans are irresponsible. His argument is that while overall Government borrowing may be higher than it has been in previous times, the cost of servicing the Government debt is actually lower.

While some in the industry will remain sceptical about how real, or new, some of the announcements are likely to be in practice, others will see the latest plans as being just what the industry has been waiting for.

As expected, many of the plans unveiled in the Budget are measures designed to rebalance opportunities in all parts of the UK and to lay the foundations for what the Chancellor has promised to be “a decade of growth for everybody”. The massive boost in infrastructure spending apparently includes:

  • £27 billion of strategic investment in roads and motorways;
  • £5 billion for new gigabit-capable broadband in the hardest to reach parts of the country;
  • £800 million for new carbon capture and storage clusters in the English regions and Scotland;
  • £500 million for the deployment of rapid charging hubs for electric vehicles; and
  • £12 billion of extra funding for building affordable homes.

Looking at these plans from a broader policy perspective, it is undoubtedly the case that infrastructure spending by Government serves many policy objectives (such as increasing prosperity, delivering visual regional investment, enabling other sectors), but for this Government right now, it can also be seen as supporting the investment case in global Britain and showing that Britain is thriving post-Brexit. The timing of this is obvious, but with pressure on infrastructure in the South East and a shortage of new mega projects that are already in development, it seems that the Government is keen to show the strength of UK engineering and innovation to the world, as well as to bulking up the engineering sector for activation by inward investors.

A question that has been raised by a number of industry-insiders is how the Government actually plans to deliver and fund the huge expansion in infrastructure spending that it has announced. The Chancellor made no mention of the potential use of private infrastructure finance models, so there is a concern among many that private sector investors may have a limited role in delivering the pipeline of new work.

Further concerns have been raised about the lack of specific measures designed to deliver on the Governments commitments to reduce carbon emissions and to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. The UK was the first major economy to legislate for net zero greenhouse gas emissions by this date and has since launched a Net Zero Review to help determine how the UK can maximise economic growth opportunities as it transforms into a green economy. Perhaps understandably at this stage (when you consider the other critical issues that the Government has to deal with at the moment), there was almost nothing in the Budget to indicate how real that commitment is and how the Government intends to achieve it.

We’re looking forward to learning more about precisely how the Chancellor’s spending promises will be delivered, and what other projects the Government plans to prioritise, when the national infrastructure strategy is published later in the spring.

It remains to be seen as to whether the Chancellor, and the Government, will deliver on its promises to “get it done” and deliver an “infrastructure revolution”, but this Budget certainly shows ambition.

Hogan Lovells: at the intersection of Government and business

Our Infrastructure, Energy, Resources and Projects practice is one of the largest and most diverse in the world. Since 2014 our global practice of over 160 lawyers have advised on more than US$200 billion of closed infrastructure deals.

We operate in all key markets, regularly representing financial institutions, project sponsors, investors, contractors, private equity funds, governments and parastatal bodies, international financial institutions, and export credit agencies on some of the world’s largest and most challenging infrastructure projects. The firm’s infrastructure practice is recognised in the market as one of the strongest globally.

In the new and ever-changing political environment, it’s vital to have a team with the right relationships with key politicians, policy-makers, parliamentarians, civil servants and regulators.

Working at the intersection of Law, Government and business, our Public Law and Policy team offers a bespoke policy and political approach to identifying emerging risks and opportunities, providing insight into relevant Government departments and helping you influence and shape legislation, policy and government decisions to drive your business objectives.

With close cooperation between these two teams, we offer a unique service.