Skinimalism: 2021’s Biggest Beauty Trend

The new wave of natural, minimal or no-makeup beauty looks where your real skin — texture, pores, blemishes, discoloration, and all — shines through is what Skinimalism is all about.

Followed by many last year and popularised by one & all, skinimalism is all about simplifying your skincare routine. It promotes embracing the skin’s natural texture and finding products that help it glow naturally. It’s about following a minimalistic skincare routine and taking it easy on the skin.

What Skinimalism Consists Of?

The three steps to a simplified skin routine.

Facial Yoga

Experts have seen a spike in the search for face yoga. It’s considered to be a fresh and effective approach towards skincare. It helps you attain a natural glow and release facial tension. Face yoga comprises of a series of toning and strengthening exercises for the muscles of your face.


Exercises include rolling the tongue to make vibrating sounds and exaggerated yawns to release the jaw muscles. It also involves laughing a lot out loud and blowing kisses. Relaxing your face is an important part of yoga because the face is an indicator of tension in the rest of the body.

Asanas for keeping one’s skin healthy and rejuvenating are Kapalbhatti, Pranayam, Sarvangasan, Shirsasan, Dhanurasan and Salabhasan.

Minimum and Natural Makeup

Using a minimum number of products to get clear, flawless skin and a natural flush of colour is the essence of skinimalsim. It’s more about using skin-friendly products with lightweight formulas that give sheer coverage that’s comfortable to the skin.

Makeup Artist Bobbi Brown shares an insight of her daily skin care & make-up routine in her interview with Women Fitness “I’m 63-years-old and I keep my daily skin care routine very simple. First, I’m not wearing a lot of makeup these days so that really helps. At night, I wash my face with either coconut oil or a natural cleanser.” She believes that following a regular wellness routine of drinking lots of water, eating well and incorporating good fats into your diet throughout the day makes a huge difference in the health of your skin. Which is so very true.

Homemade Skincare


This trend will not go anywhere even in 2021. While 2020 positioned skincare products as essentials, home remedies became the essence of skincare. Look for natural ingredients that suit your skin, and choose at-home skincare over harsh products.

Model Miranda Kerr‘s secret skin care weapon is, Rosehip oil, full of antioxidants and fatty acids and the fresh-faced angel credits her lack of stretch marks to frequent application throughout her pregnancy.

For more on, Creating an at Home Spa Ritual, click here.

The Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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Australian Cherries Dubbed As “Inferior” By Chinese Media

australian cherries

The latest rift between China and Australia saw Australian cherries being panned as “inferior” by the Chinese state media in the latest trade row with the country’s biggest export partner.

Consequently, Australia’s share of cherries in the Chinese export market has dramatically dropped as buyers now prefer Chilean fruit, according to Global Times reports.

With the wine, seafood and timber industries being targeted amidst the havoc of trade issues, Australian cherries are Beijing’s latest subject.

Given that the trading relationship between the two countries takes up to 30 per cent of Australia’s market, this latest move has left Australian producers anxious.

Sales manager at Wandin Valley Farms in Victoria, Tim Jones, told media that Australian cherries are “the best in the world”. However, as China comprised 40 per cent of the business’s exports and it was worrying.

According to Mr Jones, “China is probably our main market as an industry for fresh cherries. We’re still able to trade gently, and we’re just trying to keep a lid on things, and try to keep our industry moving in the right direction.”

A fruit trader revealed in Global Times that, “The share of Australian cherries in Chinese market … has dropped due to the inferior quality of the product given the reserved seasonality. The taste and quality of Australian cherries is not as good as it once was.”

The trader then added that Chilean cherries have the largest share in the Chinese market, with better quality and lower price.

As of, 30 per cent of Australian cherries are exported to more than 30 countries in a highly competitive international market. Aside from China, most exports are sent to Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan.

FA Cup to see Tottenham’s Gareth Bale and José Mourinho visit non-league Marine FC in ‘biggest mismatch in history’

A bar transformed into a makeshift changing room.

One tiny stand with fewer than 400 seats.

And just a brick wall separating the gardens of overlooking houses from the dugouts on the narrow touchline.

The home of Marine’s team of part-timers in the eighth division of English football will be a world away from the luxuries Tottenham’s millionaire players and manager José Mourinho are used to when they show up on Merseyside on Sunday (local time) for an FA Cup match.

“When I saw the draw come out,” Marine defender Josh Solomon-Davies said, “I did scream to myself.”

The north-west coastal town of Crosby will provide very humble surroundings for the biggest mismatch in the history of the FA Cup.

With 161 spots separating Tottenham from Marine in the English football pyramid, never before has the gulf been so great between teams paired in the 150 years of world football’s oldest cup competition.

Tottenham’s star forward Gareth Bale has requested to play in the FA Cup match against Marine.(Reuters: Molly Darlington)

While Tottenham is fourth in the Premier League and in the Champions League places, Marine is sixth in the Northern Premier League Division One North West.

“We are an eighth-tier team playing against World Cup winners (Hugo Lloris) and Golden Boot winners (Harry Kane),” Marine striker Niall Cummins said.

“You don’t get that anywhere else.”

While Tottenham’s players can earn hundreds of thousands of pounds a week, there is a maximum weekly pay of 300 pounds (about $520) for Marine’s squad which featuring semi-professionals who work by day in healthcare, garbage collection, car factories, and schools, like Cummins.

“Every kid has given me some stick,” the secondary school teacher said.

“‘Are you going to do this to this player, are you going to score, whose shirt are you going to ask for?’

“Then you’re thinking if you do something bad then you are going to be a GIF by the end of the week.”

The match will be broadcast live in Britain on the BBC’s main channel and in 40 territories worldwide.


But with the latest pandemic lockdown preventing fans attending any sport in England, the Marine Travel Arena will be limited to only directors from both clubs and the media, alongside those playing, coaching and officiating.

The closest any fan can get to watching the game in person are any living in a house overlooking the pitch. And coronavirus restrictions prevent them letting in anyone from outside the household bubble for a peek.

“It’s three-sided, a very tight ground, houses on two sides, big stand behind one of the goals — it’s a proper non-league ground,” Marine manager Neil Young said.

“Tottenham won’t be getting changed in the dressing room, they’ll be getting changed in the bar area.”

While Premier League clubs enter only at this third-round stage, Marine began its cup run in the preliminary round in September and has already banked 120,541 pounds in prize money and broadcast fees.

That is a significant windfall for a team that has funding for only 16 players, with another three going unpaid.

The sale of virtual tickets for the match has raised more than 11,000 pounds for Marine.

Tottenham to pay respect by beating Marine

Dan Cairney has been to every game this season but will have to settle for joining the millions watching on television.

“As long as [the score is] less than double figures we will probably be happy with that,” Cairney said while wandering outside the stadium this week.

Due to a tightening of coronavirus restrictions halting its league, Marine has not played in two weeks.

Solomon-Davies has spent the time preparing for potentially defending against Harry Kane, Son Heung-min and Gareth Bale by watching clips on YouTube.

Jose Mourinho looks on with his hands in his pockets as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer points in the foreground
Spurs manager José Mourinho says he will be taking a strong team to show respect to Marine FC.(Pool via AP: Carl Recine)

With experience playing for Saint Lucia’s national team and Tranmere, the 21-year-old Solomon-Davies regards this game as more than a novelty moment. It could be the platform for a transfer up the league pyramid.

“It’s a chance for me to see how I compare to those players and if I can compete with them,” he said.

“It’ll be a good test. It’s a big chance for us to showcase our abilities.”

Marine has been receiving assistance from more illustrious teams about 20 minutes away on Merseyside, with Everton and Liverpool allowing them to use their training grounds.

Liverpool, the reigning Premier League champion and current leader managed by Jurgen Klopp, has even helped out with tactical preparation by sending recordings for match analysis.

“We haven’t got the scouting networks or the software to go back and look at games,” manager Young said.

Despite a congested fixture schedule and far more demanding opposition coming up, Tottenham will be showing Marine respect by fielding a strong side.


Bale even requested to travel as he tries to regain match fitness after an injury halfway through his loan spell from Real Madrid.

So Tottenham, which reached the League Cup final earlier this week, has not been talking up victory in the biggest match in Marine’s 126-year history.

“To show respect to them is to play with a good team, with a team with responsibility, with a team with motivation and to beat them,” Mourinho said.

“If we go there and we lose, of course, it would be massive for them, but it would be because of a lack of respect from us to them.”

While Marine’s manager also works for a train company, Mourinho has been working around Europe and winning trophies with Chelsea, Real Madrid, Inter Milan, Manchester United, and Porto.

“I clearly understand the dream,” Mourinho said.

“Nobody puts a foot on the football pitch knowing or feeling that we are going to lose, so I believe that in this moment, they feel like they are going to win and it’s up to us to bring them back to reality.”


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Copa Libertadores: South America’s biggest competition nears climax

Flamengo came from a goal down to beat River Plate 2-1 in the 2019 final
Watch live coverage of the first and second legs (6 and 12 January) across the BBC Red Button, BBC iPlayer, BBC Sport website and mobile app

Can River Plate make amends? Will Boca Juniors do it for Diego Maradona? The end of a long wait for Palmeiras? Or could this be Santos’ year?

The Copa Libertadores, South America’s biggest club football competition, is nearing its much-anticipated climax – and you will be able to watch live on the BBC.

The semi-final first legs take place on Wednesday 6 January, with the second legs the following week and the final on 30 January at the famous Maracana in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

The semis serve up two meetings between Brazilian and Argentine teams, with all four clubs originating from Buenos Aires or Sao Paulo.

The 2020 Copa Libertadores started last January, but the group stages were halted in March because of the coronavirus pandemic and did not resume until September.

Boca look to honour Maradona

Six-time winners Boca Juniors will hope to pay tribute to former player Diego Maradona by winning their first title since 2007.

It is a fourth semi-final in five years for Boca, one of the competition’s most decorated sides.

Maradona enjoyed two spells and finished his career at Boca, who could once again face fierce rivals River Plate in the final.

The famous Buenos Aires clubs met in the final for the first time in 58 years in 2018.

The fixture was postponed after Boca’s team bus was attacked by River fans, before being moved 6,000 miles from Buenos Aires to Madrid, where River won 5-3 on aggregate.

Brazilian side Santos, who claimed an impressive 5-2 aggregate win over Gremio in the quarter-final, stand in the way of a Boca side captained by former Manchester United and Manchester City striker Carlos Tevez.

It was at Santos that Brazil legend Pele registered a goalscoring record at a single club – a record broken by Lionel Messi when he scored his 644th Barcelona goal in December – but they have not won the Copa Libertadores since 2011.

Can River Plate recover from dramatic defeat?

River suffered a devastating last-minute defeat in the 2019 final.

Gabriel Barbosa scored twice in a dramatic final five minutes as Flamengo – knocked out in the last 16 this time around – came from a goal down to win 2-1 and deny River back-to-back titles.

Four-time winners River, whose most recent triumph was in 2018, have, like Boca, recently lost a prominent former player in Alejandro Sabella. He died last month, two weeks after Maradona.

An ex-Argentina international who played for Leeds and Sheffield United, Sabella also led his country to the final of the 2014 World Cup as a manager.

Marcelo Gallardo’s River side will have to overcome Brazil’s Palmeiras to reach the final.

1999 champions Palmeiras, who have reached the final four times, beat Paraguay’s Libertad 4-1 on aggregate to reach the last four.

Can Palmeiras move a step closer to ending a two-decade wait for a second title? It will be a tough ask against a River outfit that thrashed Nacional 8-2 on aggregate in the quarter-finals.

How to watch on the BBC

You can follow the Copa Libertadores semi-finals live on the BBC Sport website, iPlayer and via the Red Button at the following times:

Wednesday, 6 January – semi-final first legs

River Plate v Palmeiras (00:20-02:30 GMT)

Boca Juniors v Santos (22:05-00:15)

Tuesday, 12 January – semi-final second legs

Palmeiras v River Plate (00:30)

Santos v Boca Juniors (22:15)

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The 11 biggest space missions of 2021

A trio of Martian missions, February

Mars will welcome the arrival of not one, not two, but three missions—each launched and operated by a different nation. There’s the Hope orbiter by the United Arab Emirates, the Perseverance rover launched by NASA, and the Tianwen-1 mission (with orbiter, lander, and rover) launched by China. All three missions will reach Martian orbit in February, with Perseverance making its way to the surface later that month, followed by Tianwen-1 in April.

Hope will be helping scientists answer atmospheric questions like why the planet hemorrhages hydrogen and oxygen. Tianwen-1 and Perseverance will be looking for signs of past or present life and seeking to understand Martian geology. While NASA Mars missions are commonplace, this will be China’s and the UAE’s first time getting a close-up look at the planet. 

Probability of success: 9/10. The missions have launched, but they all need to survive the journey, and two need to stick the landing.

Boeing’s second Starliner test, March 29

SpaceX’s Crew Dragon may have returned crewed missions to US soil, but it’s not the only vehicle NASA hopes to use to ferry astronauts to and from the International Space Station. Boeing also has a vehicle, called Starliner, which had a failed uncrewed mission to the ISS in December 2019. The spacecraft’s software was riddled with errors, including some that could have led to the destruction of the capsule entirely. It was not Boeing’s finest moment. 

But the company is redoing its test mission in March, after having combed through the entirety of Starliner’s code and running the systems through a slew of rigorous new testing. If all goes well, Starliner could be sending humans to the ISS later in the year. 

Probability of success: 8/10. After everything that’s happened, nothing with Boeing is a sure thing.

The first CLPS missions to the moon, June and October

NASA’s Artemis program, the successor to Apollo, is not just going to comprise a couple of quick trips to the moon and back. Artemis is intended to return people to the moon permanently, and private industry is involved. NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) is an opportunity for small companies interested in doing something with the moon, whether it’s flying small payloads there with novel spacecraft, testing out new spaceflight technologies on the moon, or conducting some cool lunar science. 

Astrobiotic Technology’s Peregrine lander (to be launched on the maiden flight of United  Launch Alliance’s new Vulcan Centaur rocket) will take the first batch of 28 CLPS payloads to the moon in June, including 14 from NASA. If all goes well, it will be the first private spacecraft to successfully land on the moon. Intuitive Machines will launch its Nova-C lander to the moon in October (aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket). It will take at least five NASA payloads to the moon, along with several other payloads from other groups.  

Probability of success: 6/10. Landing on the moon is still tricky for any newbie.

Jupiter’s south pole as observed by Juno.


End of Juno, July 30

NASA’s Juno spacecraft has been orbiting Jupiter since July 2016, providing our best data yet about the Jovian atmosphere, gravitational field, magnetic field, and geology. Juno has shown us some surprising things about our solar system’s biggest planet, as well as provided some breathtaking views of the planet’s vibrantly colored clouds from above. But the mission is ending on July 30, when Juno will plunge into Jupiter’s atmosphere, collecting as much data as possible before the violent pressures tear the spacecraft apart. 

There has been talk in the last couple of months that some at NASA are seeking a mission extension to September 2025, so that Juno can do flybys of some of Jupiter’s moons and study them up close. Perhaps that violent ending might be put on hold for a few more years. 

Probability of success: 10/10. If Juno’s mission ends as scheduled, there’s practically no way to screw up destroying your own spacecraft. 

Luna 25, October

The last mission Russians launched to the moon was Luna 24, in 1976. Perhaps in response to the rapid development of NASA’s Artemis program and China’s lunar exploration program, Russia has resurrected the Luna program with the 25th planned mission, which is scheduled for launch in October. Luna 25 will be a lander that heads to the lunar south pole. It will test out a new kind of landing technology that Russia plans to use for future robotic missions, but the lander also carries a suite of scientific instruments that will study the moon’s soil.

Probability of success: 8/10. Russia knows how to land a spacecraft on the moon. Its chaotic space agency just needs to launch it. 

SpaceX Axiom Space 1, October

This mission will use a SpaceX Crew Dragon to send a private crew to the ISS for a stay of at least eight days. It will be the first private mission into orbit, the first private mission to the ISS, and the first time SpaceX has sent private citizens into space. And it may involve Tom Cruise.

Probability of success: 9/10. The mission won’t launch unless everyone involved is confident it’s safe, but even minor misgivings or logistical hiccups will result in delay.

James Webb Space Telescope, October 31

Another NASA project that’s faced delay after delay, the JWST is one of the most ambitious scientific missions in recent memory. It is, in many ways, the successor to the Hubble Space Telescope, but its emphasis on doing state-of-the-art infrared observations from Earth’s orbit means it has an extraordinary potential to study the atmospheres of distant exoplanets and exomoons, and investigate whether they might have signs of biochemistry generated by alien life. Lovely way to celebrate Halloween, no?

Probability of success: 3/10. We’ve faced so many delays its launch date at this point that exactly zero people will be surprised if another delay is announced.

artemis 1 nasa orion
An illustration of Artemis 1 traveling around the moon.


Artemis 1 / SLS 1, November

At long last, Orion, the deep-space capsule NASA is building to send humans back to the moon someday (though don’t hold your breath that it will happen in 2024), will finally head into space for the first time since 2014—and for the first time ever beyond Earth’s orbit. For Artemis 1, an uncrewed Orion will go on a 25.5 day mission that takes it out to the moon for a few days and brings it back to Earth safe and sound (hopefully). The mission will test out the Orion vehicle hardware, software, and life support systems. It will even feature two mannequins strapped into a pair of seats, fitted with sensors that will gauge how much radiation a crew inside the cabin might be exposed to during such a trip. 

Artemis 1 will also double as the inaugural launch of the Space Launch System, the most powerful rocket ever built. The development of SLS has been plagued by countless delays, and there is no guarantee Orion or SLS will be ready by November. But if they are, be prepared to watch one hell of a launch. 

Probability of success: 1/10. The only NASA project with more delays notched on its belt than JWST is SLS. This mission almost certainly won’t happen as scheduled. 

Chinese space station, Early 2021

The next phase of China’s Tiangong program is a modular orbital space station about one-fifth the size of the ISS. China plans to launch the first part in 2021—a core service module called Tinahe. This will be the first of 11 missions launched over two years to fully construct the station and have it ready for trios of taikonaut crews to use for at least a decade. 

Probability of success: 5/10. China isn’t exactly great about meeting deadlines either, but its space agency doesn’t have to deal with bureaucratic uncertainty the way NASA does. 

LauncherOne, Early 2021

Virgin Orbit already has customers lined up throughout 2021 for small-payload missions, even though the company has yet to pull off a successful flight test of its flagship LauncherOne launch vehicle. Virgin Orbit, like its sister company Virgin Galactic, is trying to make its missions happen through air launch technology, in which an aircraft takes a rocket high into the air and releases it, and the rocket flies the rest of the way. The first attempt at such a launch, last May, was aborted because of a faulty propellant line. 

Virgin Orbit was supposed to try again in December, but covid restrictions made that impossible. The company is expected to launch its vehicle as soon as a window opens up. If the mission is unsuccessful once again, it puts the rest of the company’s schedule in jeopardy. 

Probability of success: 8/10. If Virgin Galactic can get people into space, then surely Virgin Orbit can send a satellite into space … right?

blue origin new glenn
Illustration of New Glenn in flight.


Blue Origin’s big year, TBD

The Jeff Bezos–led space company has two big missions planned for 2021. It wants to send people into space on a suborbital flight aboard its New Shepard launch vehicle. New Shepard has launched 13 times now, and the booster has proven its reusability through vertical landings after flight (similar to what a SpaceX Falcon 9 does). The company hopes to use New Shepard to send people into suborbital flights of a few minutes’ duration as a space tourism service. 

Meanwhile, another, bigger project may finally take off in 2021. It’s called New Glenn—a heavy launch vehicle that’s supposed to be more powerful than even a SpaceX Falcon Heavy. Although we still haven’t seen much of its hardware, Blue Origin says it is hoping to launch New Glenn before the end of 2021.

Probability of success: 2/10. The company still wants to run a few more New Shepard missions before strapping humans to the rocket, so it may not be ready in 2021. And development on New Glenn is proceeding even more slowly. 

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Biggest conspiracy theories of 2020 (and why they won’t die)

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Veganuary predicts biggest year as Covid lockdown inspires diet overhaul

Organisers of Veganuary are gearing up for their biggest ever year next month since the meat-free pledge was launched seven years ago, thanks to a surge in consumers tucking into more plant-based foods during lockdown and greater concern about health and the environment.

The UK-based campaign, which since 2014 has asked people to pledge to follow a diet free of animal products in January, has set a target of 500,000 signatories worldwide and expects to reach 350,000 by Tuesday.

A record 400,000 people signed up to the campaign last year, compared with 250,000 participants in 2019 and 170,000 in 2018.

This year the bosses of large UK and multinational companies – including Nestlé – are backing the campaign on health grounds and urging their workforces to do the same.

Marco Settembri, the chief executive of Nestlé (Europe, Middle East and north Africa) said: “A well-planned plant-based diet can meet nutritional needs during all stages of life while there are environmental and health benefits too.

“This year I am passing the baton and encouraging all employees to participate in Veganuary and sign up to the challenge. I am happy to be part of this movement as it grows across Europe and beyond.”

Among other large companies whose leadership teams are supporting the campaign are the leading accountancy firms PwC and EY, the media company Bloomberg, Marks & Spencer and the UK’s largest meat-free brand, Quorn.

Philip Watson, Quorn’s UK and Europe commercial director, said: “Our purpose is to provide healthy food for people and the planet and by backing Veganuary 2021, we aim to get closer to our 2030 target of 8bn meat-free servings a year worldwide.”

April Preston, the director of product development at Marks & Spencer, said the retailer would be further expanding its vegan own-label Plant Kitchen range.

“The M&S food leadership team is getting fully involved and will be creating a series of fun, weekly videos that we will be sharing internally, comparing different Plant Kitchen products and their meat equivalents and finding out which comes top,” she said.

Even before the pandemic UK manufacturers, supermarkets, restaurants and pub chains were scrambling to tap into not only the burgeoning vegan market but also the large number adopting “flexitarian” diets – people who enjoy meat and dairy but want to eat less of it.

Lockdown has forced consumers to cook more from scratch as a result of restaurant closures, and pay closer attention to their diet.

On Friday, vegan sausage rolls and steak bakes from the bakery chain Greggs will go on sale exclusively in the frozen cabinets of Iceland, while the Domino’s Pizza chain is about to add its first meat-alternative pizza – the Chick-Ain’t – and southern-fried vegan nuggets to its vegan-friendly range.

The plant-based meat company Moving Mountains is launching vegan fish fingers made from white soy, with a flaky fish-like texture that aims to replicate the real thing.

Meanwhile, the Co-op convenience chain, named by Kantar as the fastest-growing UK retailer for plant-based food and drink sales, will double the number of pies and meals in its GRO range.

The Veganuary charity started modestly six years ago in York at the kitchen table of its founders, Jane Land and Matthew Glover, and initially attracted just 3,300 supporters.

Teaming up with the York chef and restaurateur Adam Lyons, Glover has this month provocatively unveiled a vegan fried chick*n company called VFC, which he hopes will expose mass meat production and “a system that has brought us climate change, environmental destruction, factory farming and slaughterhouses”.

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The South West’s biggest business stories of 2020

In the last 12 months the Covid-19 pandemic has swept the globe, causing devastation to lives and economies.

The virus caused the UK economy to shrink 11 per cent this year – the largest drop in 300 years – according to the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR).

On November 25, the OBR said the Government had so far spent £280billion on public services, households and businesses, pushing the deficit to £394billion

But how did we get here? We take a look at the last 12 months – and how the West of England was impacted.


Bristol was named one of the top destinations in the world for venture capital (VC) investment

Before the first confirmed cases of Covid at the end of the month, 2020 looked set to be a strong year for the South West.

Then-chancellor Sajid Javid said farmers could enter the new year with “confidence” and would be able to “thrive” after Brexit as he confirmed just under £3billion of funding for 2020.

Lloyds Banking Group announced plans to lend £1.5billion to the region’s firms in a bid to help start-ups and scale-ups across the West Country to grow. It was part of an £18billion national stimulus package for 2020.

Aerospace giant Airbus, which has a site at Filton, in South Gloucestershire, signed off an £8billion deal in January with US-based Spirit Airlines for 100 A320neo Family aircraft.

The same month, the company’s chief executive, Guillaume Faury, spoke positively about the future of the aerospace firm in Britain, saying he hoped to “improve and expand” operations in the UK in 2020.

Meanwhile, Rolls-Royce opened a facility in Bristol to develop jet engine technologies, creating 150 jobs, and Bristol Airport became the first airport in Europe to offset all passenger journeys to and from the airport by road.

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Bristol was also named one of the top destinations in the world for venture capital (VC) investment – ahead of Dublin, Copenhagen, Helsinki and Milan – and office rents in the city hit a record high as demand for space continued to grow.

Despite January being a quiet month for movement in employment, Plymouth’s labour market was also doing well, new data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) revealed.

Openreach also confirmed it was planning to make ultrafast broadband available in 27 market towns and villages across Cornwall, Devon, Torbay, Dorset and Somerset. The move was part of a target by the company to reach four million homes and businesses with ‘full fibre’ technology by the end of March 2021.

And CBI Director General Dame Carolyn Fairbairn said 2020 should mark a “decade of delivery” for the South West, calling for a cabinet minister to champion the region in government.


CGI of Bristol Airport expansion

On February 6, the third UK national tested positive for coronavirus after contracting the illness at a conference in Singapore; by February 10, the number of cases within Britain had reached eight. That same day the government introduced new powers to forcibly quarantine people, declaring the outbreak a “serious and imminent threat” to public health.

Meanwhile in the South West, an EY report said Bristol was set to become one of the UK’s fastest-growing cities outside London over the next four years.

Bristol also launched the UK’s first employment scheme to help mums get back to work, HMRC opened huge new regional headquarters in the city for 1,600 staff, and bosses at Ashton Gate Stadium in Bristol unveiled revised plans for a new sports and conference venue.

There were also a number of appointments in February. The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) appointed Lee Nathan, 35, as chair for the South West. He became the youngest FSB regional chair in the country.

The chief executive of defence giant Babcock International Group Plc also retired after three years in charge, while the boss of pub chain Admiral Taverns, Kevin Georgel, left the company to take over as new chief executive of St Austell Brewery pub and beer empire. The chief executive of Plymouth Waterfront Partnership, Sarah Gibson, also quit in February to take over at the University of Plymouth’s Students’ Union instead.

British Airways announced it was taking on flights from Newquay to Heathrow after Flybe scrapped the route and Cornwall Airport Newquay announced Pete Downes would be joining as its new managing director.

February also saw Princess Anne, The Princess Royal, visiting marine tech company Valeport, in Totnes, as the business marked its 50th anniversary.

Luxury boat maker Princess Yachts had an “unprecedented” sales success at the world’s biggest indoor boat show after selling £30million of vessels and Essex-headquartered Cruise and Maritime Voyages confirmed plans to start sailings from Plymouth in 2021.

However, controversial plans to expand Bristol Airport were also rejected in February by councillors in North Somerset. The airport was proposing to increase its capacity from 10 million to 12 million passengers a year and make a number of changes to the site including adding a huge car park.

Mr Javid also put his backing behind the South West and vowed to spread opportunities to enable the region to flourish at the South West Conservative Conference.


Boris Johnson addressing the nation from 10 Downing Street to put the nation on lockdown
Boris Johnson addressing the nation from 10 Downing Street to put the nation on lockdown

Chancellor Rishi Sunak unveiled his first Budget of the new majority Conservative government in March including a raft of measures to deal with the coronavirus outbreak. He also announced funding to fix the A303 near Stonehenge.

The same month, budget airline Flybe collapsed into administration and Airbus released a statement as the pandemic saw planes grounded and deliveries and orders deferred.

Energy giant EDF “deep cleaned” its office in Bristol after an employee reportedly tested positive for coronavirus. Bridgewater House in the city centre, which is home to a number of businesses including Barclays, was cleaned as a precaution – as was EDF’s 111-acre site at Hinkley Point C.

Cinema chain Cineworld said the spread of coronavirus would not impact on the release dates of other movie blockbusters despite the new Bond adventure being delayed, and stressed it was still expecting to announce profits of more than US$1billion.

Blue Islands announced it would take over the former Flybe route from Exeter to Manchester, and Brittany Ferries completed the purchase of Channel Islands-based Condor Ferries after the deal was given approval by competition watchdogs.

Devon-based utilities giant Pennon also entered into an agreement to sell Viridor, its recycling and waste business, for £4.2billion.

By March 16, Brittany Ferries confirmed it had suspended more passenger services between the UK and France and said it would only be providing a “lifeline” service for people who need to get home from Spain.

On March 17, Mr Sunak unveiled an “unprecedented” £330billion guarantee package for businesses as the government battled to support the economy amid the coronavirus crisis.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson finally put Britain into lockdown on March 23 as the battle against coronavirus entered a new phase.

By the end of the month, Cornwall’s airport had been forced to shut and suspend its flights, Airbus had sent more than 5,000 UK workers home for an early Easter break, while the UK’s largest luxury yacht maker, Princess Yachts, had ceased operations and sent the vast majority of its 3,000 workers home for “the foreseeable future”.

The workforce constructing the new Hinkley nuclear power station was also reduced by more than half to around 2,000 because of the coronavirus pandemic.


War veteran Captain Tom Moore

By April, the world was in the grip of the pandemic, with businesses across the UK implementing measures to try to stay afloat.

The UK Government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme went live in April, giving workers 80% of their usual earnings, capped at £2,500 per month.

Rolls-Royce announced it was reducing the salary of its global workforce by at least 10% and UK land and property giant Henry Boot confirmed it was furloughing some of its staff after a “reduction in activity”. Debenhams also entered administration for the second time in 12 months.

Defence and engineering giant Babcock International Group stressed it would continue carrying out vital defence work at its dockyard sites in England and Scotland despite the coronavirus lockdown. In Plymouth, it sent some of its 5,500-strong workforce home but said employees engaged in defence work were still in action at Devonport Dockyard.

Princess Yachts said the chancellor’s new loan scheme for mid-sized businesses had secured its future and protected nearly 18,000 workers around the country.

Bosses at British Land Company Plc took a 20% pay cut and gave the cash to charity and the directors of Bristol-founded cafe-bar chain Loungers took a 50% cut in pay.

The inaugural West Country Boat Show was pushed back to June 2021 because of the pandemic, while Bristol’s Ashton Gate Stadium offered space previously used for events to a surplus food redistribution charity.

The month also saw Plymouth Theatre Royal begging culture vultures to bail it out and the boss of Airbus warn the company was “bleeding cash” due to the coronavirus pandemic.

A task force was launched in the Bristol and Bath region to help kick-start the economic recovery locally, led by regional metro mayor Tim Bowles and involving the West of England Combined Authority (Weca).

In more positive news, Great Western Railway (GWR) named one of its trains after veteran fundraiser Captain Sir Tom Moore to mark his 100th birthday on April 30.


A worker inspecting a Trent 1000 engine

The lockdown continued to bite South West firms with Rolls Royce the latest big name firm to consider job cuts, with an unconfirmed figure of 8,000 jobs on the line. In Filton, Airbus confirmed plans to temporarily furlough around 1,500 staff while the aerospace industry continued on a downturn.

And SME manufacturers in the South West made an urgent call for greater financial support from the government as they confronted plummeting sales, profits and production volumes, according to the South West Manufacturing Barometer.

Universal claimant numbers topped 300,000 in the South West.

But the pandemic brought opportunities too. Exeter inventor Oli Yeo of Griphero found new custom from petrol stations across the USA for his nozzle-mounted hand protection and Paignton-based horticultural suppliers Suttons saw record sales as everyone tended to their garden during lockdown.


Business Live is supporting businesses that are open after the Covid-19 lockdown via our #IAmOpen campaign

Good news returns to the High Street with the lockdown eased and shops allowed to re-open but figures reveal that more than 650,000 workers remain on furlough.

But the lockdown has taken its toll, with Torquay’s coastal zoo Living Coasts announcing permanent closure and Pymouth’s Marine Aquarium remaining closed because unlike zoos and other non-essential retail, the attraction is still closed by Covid restrictions. It had to spend up to £10,000 a day to keep the attraction, and its 5,000 sea creatures, in tip-top shape and reported losses of more than £1million during lockdown.

Travel continued to open up with airline KLM resuming flights from Bristol and Brittany Ferries announcing crossings to France and Spain with occupancy at about 40%.

Good news for the creative industries came in the shape of a major initiative to develop screen-based media in the West of England. The MyWorld five-year project being led by the University of Bristol aims to support 700 jobs in the creation of new research and development (R&D) facilities and partnerships between regional and national organisations, and global tech giants including Netflix, Google, and Microsoft.

The idea to pioneer new digital formats and technologies across fiction, documentary, games, and live performance is expected to start later this year and is predicted to generate more than 700 new jobs.


Tarquin’s Gin’s first rum: Twin Fin

Pubs are allowed to re-open but a reminder of the toughest times are at the forefront for landlords as they pour away thousands of wasted pints of beer.

South West Water said it had received requests from 1,100 pubs and breweries across Cornwall, Devon and small parts of Dorset and Somerset to allow them to pour beer down the drain before replenishing stocks.

Meanwhile, home drinkers saved the fortunes of Cornish gin distillery Tarquin’s Gin when it lost lost half its business during the pandemic.

Tarquin’s Cornish Gin, named as one of Britain’s fastest growing before the coronavirus pandemic struck, received a huge boost from online sales. It had no online market before the pandemic but lockdown forced founder Tarquin Leadbetter to reassess the business’ model.

Cornwall’s ‘goldrush’ was given a major boost with mining company Cornish Lithium raising nearly £1million to drill for lithium. The funding will allow further exploration for lithium in the Duchy, in both geothermal waters and in hard rock.

Bristol Airport was set to cut nearly 100 jobs after suffering from the fall in demand for air travel caused by the pandemic.

It said passenger numbers had plunged from more than 870,000 in May 2019 to just 874 in the same month this year, according to a letter to staff.

Meanwhile, the boss of Exeter Airport urged the Government to protect the aviation sector and thousands of workers as airports are forecast to lose £4billion.


Theatre Royal Plymouth turns red and will do so again to support the ‘throw us a line’ campaign asking the Government for help to save the events industry

The Government’s Eat Out to Help Out scheme was launched and more than 5,000 South West restaurants signed up to take part in the first five days.

In Plymouth, engineering giant Babcock International Group PLC scrapped its dividend after the coronavirus pandemic had the effect of reducing underlying revenue for the first quarter by 11% compared with 2019.

The Theatre Royal Plymouth joined theatres from across the UK in turning red as part of a national day of action calling on the Government for financial help to prevent “catastrophic” job losses across the events industry.

In Bristol, work on a new-build industrial warehouse at Royal Portbury Dock finished two weeks ahead of schedule as part of its expansion plans.

And hopes are high for a revival of Appledore Shipyard after its sale to Infrastrata, the asset management company which owns the famous Harland & Wolff Shipyard in Northern Ireland in a £7million deal – promising a huge economic boost for the region and 350 jobs.


The Eden Project in Cornwall

It was announced that almost 170 staff were to lose their jobs at Cornwall’s Eden Project, after the environmental and educational charity, based just outside St Austell, was forced to close its doors to fee-paying visitors for more than three months which devastated its finances.

A multi-million pound steel handling facility built during lockdown was opened at Royal Portbury Dock in Bristol. Work on the 74,600sq ft warehouse facility, designed to handle steel coils, began in March and it is set to serve the steel market in the Midlands and South Wales.

Cornwall’s Sharp’s Brewery toasted success in the World Beer Awards 2020 with one of its brews named the best on the planet. The brewery, based in Rock, received the highest accolade of World’s Best Pale Bitter in its ABV range for Sea Fury. It was one of six medals the brewer of the UK’s number 1 cask ale, Doom Bar, was awarded in the highly regarded international contest.

The “game changing” £1million robotic Mayflower Autonomous Ship (MAS) was christened in Plymouth exactly 400 years to the day that the Mayflower sailed for America. The 15m long, aluminium-hulled trimaran, bristling with the latest sensors and AI (artificial intelligence) will set off on a trailblazing voyage from Plymouth to Cape Cod in the USA in the spring of 2021. The vessel will have no-one on board, being piloted remotely from the UK and USA and collecting vital data about climate change, plastic waste pollution and marine mammals.

Utility giant South West Water announced it would hand out £20million to customers who could choose whether to take the bounty as a £20 discount from their bill or shares in the company. The Exeter-headquartered shared the cash after beating its targets. It was part of a unique scheme called WaterShare+, a feature of SWW’s 2020-25 New Deal business plan.

JD Wetherspoon boss Tim Martin called the Government’s curfew on the pub and restaurant trade “nuts” and likely to encourage people to socialise more in their homes and risk spreading coronavirus further. The Exeter-based pub chain chairman, who had just announced 450 job losses at his airport outlets, called the 10pm closure order “utterly stupid”.

It was announced that a new aircraft maintenance company was being set up in Exeter, recruiting 100 mechanics and engineers with plans to more than double that number. Exeter Aerospace was established by Dublin Aerospace Group, the Irish aviation maintenance company, and will operate from the former Flybe Maintenance Services at Exeter Airport. The airline Flybe collapsed in March 2020 with the loss of 2,000 jobs.


Exeter Airport

Exeter Airport was given a £1million bailout from East Devon District Council to stave off a “worst case scenario” of closure. A combination of the collapse of the Flybe airline and the Covid-19 pandemic restrictions hit the airport, with passenger numbers down 90% year-on-year.

Vacuum cleaner maker Dyson said it would award its own degrees from September 2021. The Dyson Institute of Engineering and Technology, based in Malmesbury, Wiltshire, was founded as an alternative to a traditional degree education in 2017 and currently has 150 engineering undergraduates, who study and work alongside Dyson staff, earning a full salary, but not tied to the company after graduating, and don’t pay tuition fees.

The co-founders of a Bristol company that makes “bionic” arms for amputees were awarded MBEs in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list 2020. Joel Gibbard and Samantha Payne, of Open Bionics, set up their company in 2014. The business uses 3D printing and 3D scanning techniques to make its products and launched its first product – the “hero arm” – in 2018.

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A former Flybe shareholder bought the airline out of administration. Flybe’s business and assets – including the brand, intellectual property, stock and equipment – were snapped up by Thyme Opco Limited, a company affiliated with investment adviser Cyrus Capital, run by Lucien Farrell, which was a shareholder of Flybe, along with Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Atlantic, before its collapse. Operations could start in 2021.

Utilities giant Pennon was named the biggest company in Devon and Cornwall in the Annual Business Guide: Top 150 businesses in Devon and Cornwall, published by BusinessLive and sister print title Western Morning News. The Exeter-based firm, which owns South West Water and Bournemouth Water, boasted a turnover of almost £1.4billion and more than 5,000 employees.

Aircraft manufacturer Airbus revealed that for the nine months to September 30, revenues at the company fell to €30.2billion (£27.2billion) – down from €46.2billion for the same period in 2019. The aerospace giant, with a major presence in Bristol, lost €2.68billion over the first nine months of the year, while for the same period in 2019 it made a €2.18billion profit.


Harry Fry of Harry’s Cider Company in Somerset

Home drinkers boosted sales for Somerset craft cider producer Harry’s Cider Company. The business lost about 70% of its trade sales overnight when the first lockdown forced the closure of pubs, bars and restaurants, but a boost in consumer sales since the end of March lifted overall figures back to almost 75% of where they were before.

High street businesses were faced with a struggle for survival as a second national lockdown was announced to run from November 5 to December 2. The chief executive of Plymouth City Centre Company, Steve Hughes, stressed that footfall in town and city centres would be hugely reduced and business could be severely impacted.

About 500 Bristol businesses were visited by council offices in just a week after growing concerns some were flouting lockdown rules. The local authority said it received “continued reports” from worried residents. One events venue was fined £10,000 for “flagrant and repeated” breaches, according to Avon and Somerset Police.

The Government approved the £1.7billion upgrade of the A303 past Stonehenge. The A303 Amesbury to Berwick Down (Stonehenge) scheme includes a two-mile tunnel underneath the World Heritage Site. Designed to tackle congestion on the notorious, traffic-clogged single carriageway section of the A303 route, and the move was seen as a significant step towards unlocking economic growth and improving journey times and reliability between the M3 and M5, thus having huge benefits for business in the South West.

Property giant The British Land Company Plc revealed a half-year after-tax loss of £730million as the coronavirus pandemic cut retail sales and footfall in its shopping centres. The company, which announced a £1.1billion annual loss in May 2020, has now seen underlying profit fall by 29.6% to £107million after being hit by the impact Covid-19 and two national lockdowns. Its huge retail portfolio includes Drake Circus Shopping Centre and neighbouring The Barcode leisure complex in Plymouth, in addition to a large swathe of the city centre.

Defence giant Babcock International Plc saw profits fall by more than £100million blaming the coronavirus pandemic and the decline of civil aviation. The engineering titan, which operates the huge dockyard at Devonport in Plymouth, experienced a 9% dip in underlying revenue and a 43% drop in underlying profit for the six months to the end of September 2020. The company revealed underlying revenue fell from £2.458billion, between April and September 2019, to £2.244billion in the same months this year. Underlying operating profit plummeted from £250.6million to £143.1million over the same half-year period.


The Debenhams store in Plymouth city centre

Debenhams stores around the South West began closing down sales after JD Sports pulled out of rescue talks for beleaguered department store chain. The firm was the last remaining bidder for Debenhams, which has been in administration since April. Debenhams confirmed it will move ahead with plans to close 124 UK outlets – including in Plymouth, Torquay, Exeter, Taunton and Bristol – unless a new buyer comes forward.

Plymouth City Council said it was exploring the idea of reopening the city’s airport nearly a decade after it closed. The local authority asked the Government’s newly formed Airfield Development Advisory Fund for help to obtain a clear picture of what level of investment would be needed to reopen the airport for commercial passenger services. It also appointed a specialist aviation consultant to approach potential operators to assess the market appetite for a private sector company to restart flights.

Retail magnate Chris Dawson saw his The Range empire grow sales to nearly £1billion, The Plymouth-headquartered company, officially named Norton Group Holdings Ltd, saw turnover leap 6% for the year to February 2020. That means sales increased from £942.679million to £999.972milion, due to an increased number of stores and fixed costs remaining static.

The Government handed a £2.7million lifeline to more than 40 cinemas across the South West to prevent the curtain coming down for good. Independent picture houses which have been severely affected by the coronavirus pandemic and its economic aftershocks were supported by the Culture Recovery Fund. In the South West a total of £2,725,192 was allocated to 44 cinemas, including the WTW Cinema Ltd chain, Plymouth Arts Cinema, Newton Abbot’s Alexandra, and Totnes Cinema.

Shoe retailer Clarks’ shareholders approved a partnership with Asian private equity firm LionRock Capital, which will now acquire a majority stake in the business for £100million. The rescue deal is expected to be completed in early 2021 with the Clark family remaining invested in the business. Clarks was founded in 1825 by brothers Cyrus and James Clark in Street, Somerset.

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Towns with the biggest house price rises in 2020 revealed | UK News

Islington in north London has seen the fastest house price growth in 2020, with the average property up by 13.4% to £727,922.

The figures from Halifax also show that, at the other end of the table, the average house price in Paisley, west of Glasgow, fell by 1.7% to £138,036.

Outside London, the biggest movers were Leeds – the country’s second-fastest rise of 11.3% for an average of £247,116 – and Wolverhampton in fourth place, up 9.5% for an average of £217,837.

Russell Galley, Halifax managing director, said: “Much like many other things about 2020, it would have been hard to predict which areas would see the greatest movement in average house prices this year.

“For example, depending on the borough, you could be looking at the biggest price rise or the biggest falls in the capital.

“House prices have leapt by more than 11% in Yorkshire’s great cosmopolitan city of Leeds and almost 10% in Wolverhampton at the heart of the Black Country.

“Further North, Doncaster and Inverness have also seen healthy growth and whilst the overall house price trend this year has been upward, anyone looking to buy in Paisley, Hackney or Aberdeen will find homes cost a little bit less than last year.”

Greater London had nine of the top 20 places for house price rises – Croydon saw a 10.9% rise to £397,538, compared with a rise of just 1% the previous year; Hounslow was in fifth place with a 9.1% rise for an average of £523,659.

But some other London areas saw a fall in average prices – Hackney homes fell in price by an average of 1.5%, which was the second-biggest fall after Paisley.

Elsewhere in Scotland, Glasgow house prices cooled by 1.7%, while Aberdeen and Falkirk also both saw falls – down 1.4% and 0.8% respectively.

The capital, Edinburgh, saw house prices climb by 6% for an average price of £274,246 and Inverness was Scotland’s biggest mover – up by 8.1% to an average of £195,534.

Top 20 risers:

1. Islington – 13.4% to £727,922
2. Leeds – 11.3% to £247,115
3. Croydon – 10.9% to £397,538
4. Wolverhampton – 9.5% to £217,837
5. Hounslow – 9.1% to £523,659
6. Doncaster – 8.8% to £176,728
7. Inverness – 8.1% to 195,534
8. Bournemouth – 7.7% to £310,205
9. Watford – 7.7% to £460,102
10. Romford – 7.6% to £391,000
11. Grimsby – 7.5% to £168,035
12. Richmond Upon Thames – 7.5% to £762,749
13. Kingston Upon Thames – 7.4% to £599,317
14. Bolton – 7.1% to £181,853
15. Belfast – 7.1% to 190,486
16. Lambeth – 7% to £618,445
17. Sutton – 6.9% to £468,180
18. Newcastle Upon Tyne – 6.6% to £213,887
19. Hillingdon – 6.3% to £493,671
20. Edinburgh – 6% to £274,246

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The downward spiral of the world’s biggest fintech giant

  • The pressure campaign on Ant Group has been escalating since the government abruptly halted the company’s plans for a record-breaking share listing last month.
  • Ever since the fintech giant was accused of ‘turning a blind eye’ on regulatory compliance issues, China’s central bank orders Ant Group to overhaul its business.
  • We look into the wild ride Ant Group is ending the year with as well as its founder Jack Ma’s ongoing relationship issues with the country’s market watchdog.

It has been more than a month since Chinese regulators abruptly suspended Ant Group’s blockbuster US$37 billion initial public offerings (IPOs) in Shanghai and Hong Kong. Pressure ever since has not subsided, if anything, it has only escalated. 

It all started when Chinese regulators and Communist Party officials have set about reining in its billionaire founder and controlling shareholder Jack Ma’s sprawling financial empire after the latter publicly criticized the country’s regulatory system in October for stifling innovation.

Now, it appears like there is going to be a rewriting of the narrative of the world’s biggest fintech giant. Bloomberg News reported on Sunday citing a statement from the People’s Bank of China that Ant’s executives have been told to return the Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. affiliate to its payments roots. The directive implies that its credit, insurance, and investment product lines may need to be dumped, though the central bank stopped short of calling for the company to be broken up.

Considering how Ant’s origin story comes from the ubiquitous Alipay service that piggybacked off the success of Alibaba’s expanding e-commerce empire, the real money was to be made on all the extras. 

Financial clampdown, then what?

Truth be told, Regulators in China have played give-and-take with Ant for years. Most recently, basically shows Beijing ordering Ant to overhaul lucrative parts of its business after accusing it of “turning a blind eye” to regulatory issues in the latest official broadside at Ma’s online empire. It happened three days after China’s State Administration for Market Regulation announced that it had launched an antitrust investigation into Ma’s e-commerce platform Alibaba — also China’s biggest tech company — for possible monopolistic practices. 

Ant’s response? It would “greatly” improve compliance by conducting an overhaul of its business. “The rectification is an opportunity for Ant Group to strengthen the foundation for our business to grow with full compliance.”

But if we were to look deeper, by removing entire categories of financial services, Beijing not only reduces Ant’s value but freezes its growth prospects, Bloomberg said. To put into context, the company’s payments business expanded just 13% in the first half, from a year prior, while digital finance grew 57%. 

Hence, in a worst-case scenario, Ant could lose 63% of an operation that posted almost 60% growth, leaving it with a much smaller and slower business. PBOC’s Vice Governor Pan Gongsheng pointed out on Sunday that Ant needs a significant operational restructuring and it should set up a separate holding company to ensure capital adequacy and regulatory compliance.

Ant should also be fully licensed to operate its personal credit business, and be more transparent about its third-party payment transactions and not engage in unfair competition, Pan said, adding that Ant representatives met on Saturday with officials from the PBOC and other Chinese banking, securities and foreign exchange regulators.

According to him, during the meeting, regulators pointed out Ant’s issues including its poor corporate governance, defiance of regulatory demands, illegal regulatory arbitrary, the use of its market advantage to squeeze out competitors and harming consumers’ legal interests.

All of this came a month after China issuing draft rules aimed at preventing monopolistic behavior by internet firms, and the Politburo this month vowed to strengthen anti-monopoly efforts in 2021 and rein in “disorderly capital expansion.” Chinese authorities have been reining in other large companies after they expanded aggressively abroad or into businesses that weren’t close to their core activities, and took on what regulators regarded as an excessive risk.

Regulators also warned internet giants this month to brace for increased scrutiny, as it slapped fines and announced probes into mergers involving Alibaba and Tencent Holdings Ltd.

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