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Cheddar mountain helps pension fund

cheeseThe cheddar will help save those mature enough to claim a pension

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A giant mountain of maturing cheddar cheese is to be used as security for a pension fund.

Twenty million kilos of Cathedral City cheddar will now back up pension funds of workers at Dairy Crest, one of the UK's biggest cheesemakers.

Some 20,000 pallets of the cheese, nearly half the company's total stock, have been pledged to the pension fund trustees.

The cheese is made in Cornwall, but matured in a warehouse in Warwickshire.

It is kept on the shelves there for 12 months.

In the event of the pension fund running into financial trouble, the trustees will now be able to sell blocks of cheddar to make up the shortfall.

Like many companies in the dairy industry, Dairy Crest has been trying to eliminate its pension deficit.

cheese in storageThe cheese will be stored at this warehouse in Nuneaton

It has not been helped by the huge numbers of retired milkmen, from the days when nearly every household had its milk delivered.

Of 3,000 members of the current scheme, most are milkman. The scheme is now closed.

And it is not the first company in the food industry to find an innovative way of plugging its deficit.

In 2010, drinks giant Diageo agreed to transfer millions of barrels of maturing whisky to a pension fund partnership, to help plug its financial shortfall.

Dairy Crest is also paying £40m in cash into the pension fund, from the proceeds of selling its St Hubert spreads business last year.

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Aviva set to cut workforce by 2,000

Aviva sign displaying logoAviva has not yet finalised the number of UK job losses

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Insurer Aviva has revealed plans to cut 6% of the company's workforce worldwide over the next six months.

The cost-cutting move will see about 2,000 people in the UK, Europe and Asia lose their jobs.

The company will consult with unions and staff before the number of job losses in the UK is finalised.

Altered redundancy packages for UK staff were also announced. From May this year, redundancy pay will be capped at 78 weeks, down from 104.

Payouts will also be cut from four weeks' pay for each year of service, to two. However, this change will not kick in until December, after the latest round of redundancies.

Unite, the UK's largest union, reacted angrily to the news.

"Once again, finance staff are being forced to pay the price for boardroom failure," said Unite national officer Dominic Hook. "To cut redundancy pay so drastically when there is deep uncertainty over job security is a callous and disgraceful act."

Aviva said the steps were necessary.

"I know this is difficult news for our employees, but these changes are essential if we are to remain competitive," said Mark Wilson, group chief executive officer. "Aviva needs to become a more efficient and agile organisation to unlock its potential."

The company is attempting to reduce costs by more than £400m. Its financial results released in March showed savings of £275m had already been made.

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Ireland overhauls insolvency rules

Many people are finding it difficult to cope with paying their mortgageMany people are finding it difficult to cope with paying their mortgage

New plans to deal with personal debt have been announced by the Irish government.

A new state insolvency service has been set up to try to broker deals between debtors and lenders.

That could force those in mortgage trouble to give up their cars, private health insurance and holidays and feed themselves on 8 euros (£6.80) a day.

The period of bankruptcy will also be reduced from at least 12 years to just three.

The measures are part of an overhaul of Ireland's antiquated bankruptcy laws.

They are in response to a stalemate that has developed in Ireland between banks with rising mortgage debts and borrowers unable to meet their repayments, which the IMF says threatens Ireland's prospect for economic recovery.

Only a handful of bankruptcies take place in Ireland each year with the measure seen as a last resort under which banks have little prospect of recouping their losses.

A 2011 court ruling in Dublin effectively made it impossible for banks to repossess family homes.

Although some people have cut informal deals with lenders, the scale of the problem has forced the government action to provide new means of transparent and consistent debt resolution.

Uproar

The new Insolvency Service of Ireland will regulate "personal insolvency practitioners" - expected to be lawyers or financial services professionals - who will broker deals between banks and debtors whose finances will be run according to new guidelines.

Leaks of the draft guidelines sparked uproar in Ireland - with suggestions that some parents might be forced to quit work and look after their children instead of paying out childcare costs.

Irish Justice Minister Alan Shatter denied this at the launch.

"The guidelines on reasonable expenses provide an essential defensive shield to ensure that neither financial institutions nor other creditors attempt to deprive debtors of funds they truly need for reasonable household family expenditure, or indeed deprive debtors in employment from benefitting from continuing employment," he said.

The arrangements are designed to last for up to seven years, during which debtors must comply with the guidelines' spending limits.

These will mean serious financial and lifestyle restrictions, with an allowance for food limited to around eight euros a day in a country still one of the EU's most expensive to live in, despite the economic crash.

Cars are only allowed when there's no public transport alternative, while all socialising costs are limited to just under 29 euros a week and will not include items like cable television packages.

Those who don't enter into agreements could risk having their home repossessed, with the government expected to pass new legislation to make this easier.

Debt crisis

Ireland faces a mounting mortgage debt crisis after the collapse of the country's economy in 2008.

A property crash following years of boom has left many with high mortgages in negative equity.

House and apartment values have fallen more than 50% nationally since 2007.

Unemployment of 14% and wage cuts in a weak economy have also hit those with mortgages hard.

Almost one in eight of the country's private residential mortgages are in arrears - classed as 90 days or more behind with repayments - a figure which has been rising.

Statistics do not cover those who have negotiated reduced interest-only repayments with their banks to temporarily reduce their mortgage bills, meaning the underlying picture of those struggling with debt is worse.

The new insolvency regime has been driven by the troika - the European Commission, European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

They have taken control of Ireland's finances since the country entered a bailout programme in 2010 following the crash of its banking sector.

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Warning over 'quick house sales'

Pat Hardy: ''We felt degraded...they used our vulnerability''

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Consumers who want to sell their houses via so-called "quick sale" companies are in danger of being misled, according to the Office of Fair Trading (OFT).

Quick house sale providers offer to buy houses in as little as seven days, but at a discount to the full market value.

The OFT is warning that homeowners may receive much less for their property than it is worth.

"Any losses could be very high," it said.

In some cases such companies agree to buy a house, but then reduce the price at the very last minute.

"Businesses offering quick house sales may provide a useful service for homeowners who need to unlock cash in a hurry," said Cavendish Elithorn of the OFT.

"However, they are often used by consumers in vulnerable situations and therefore we are concerned about the risk of consumers being misled and losing out on large sums of money," he said.

Consumers identified as particularly at risk include those selling after a relationship breakdown, or the elderly who might need the money to pay for long-term care.

False valuations

During an investigation last year, the BBC spoke to two people who were angry at the way they had been treated by quick sale companies.

OFT concerns

• unclear fee structures

• reducing the price at the last minute

• making misleading claims about a property's value

• falsely claiming to be a cash buyer

• exclusive contracts, preventing sales to other buyers

Malcolm Haywood, from Lincolnshire, wanted to sell his house quickly, and agreed to a sale price of £120,000.

But just before the deal was signed, the company involved, Gateway Homes UK, dropped the price to £80,000.

Pat Hardy, from Teesside, signed a similar deal with Tom Craven Property.

She had agreed a purchase price of £75,000, but the day before the removal men were due to arrive, they lowered the offer to £40,000.

Both companies insisted that the number of complaints amounted to less than 1% of their customers.

The OFT said practices which cause concern include unclear fee structures, reducing the price at the last minute, and wrongly claiming to be a cash buyer.

It also warned about companies making false property valuations, and tying customers into contracts which prevent them selling to other people, should alternative, and more generous offers emerge.

The OFT would now like to hear from anyone who has used a quick sale provider, whether their experience is good or bad.

They can be emailed on This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Following last year's BBC investigation, the Law Society called for tougher regulation of the industry.

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Barclays investment bank boss quits

Rich RicciRich Ricci is a well-known figure in the City

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The head of Barclays' investment banking business, Rich Ricci, has resigned, the bank has announced.

The move follows the arrival of Barclays's new chief executive, Antony Jenkins.

The boss of the bank's wealth management business, Tom Kalaris, has also quit.

Both men played key roles under Bob Diamond, the former Barclays chief executive who left after last year's Libor rate-rigging scandal.

Mr Ricci gets a year's salary after departing, unless he lands another new job in the meantime.

Barclays declined to reveal his basic salary and pension package.

Mr Ricci, who has been with Barclays for 19 years, has often attracted controversy over his pay.

Despite waiving his bonus last year, he landed £18m from selling 5.7 million shares he gained as part of annual bonuses and incentives schemes in previous years.

He will be replaced by Eric Bommensath and Tom King, who will share the job as co-heads.

Barclays' Mr Jenkins said: "Today's changes will ensure we have the right senior team in place to deliver strategy and commitments we made on 12 February and build the 'go-to' bank."

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Retail sales slip on icy weather

Jacqui Jones from the Office for National Statistics says the cold weather affected sales of clothing and footwear

Retail sales in March were 0.7% lower than in February because of bad weather, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

The ONS also said retail sales volumes last month were 0.5% lower than a year earlier. The decline was in line with economists' expectations.

However, in value terms, retail sales were 0.1% higher.

Non-food sales plunged 4% in March, their largest monthly fall in more than three years.

But consumers turned to the internet in the cold weather, with "non-store" retailing seeing its biggest rise since March 2009.

"Feedback from department stores, clothing stores and household goods stores suggested that sales were dampened by the weather, as they prepared their stores for the spring season," the ONS said.

Analysts had broadly predicted the fall.

"It's obviously disappointing that it's down just under a percentage point on the month, but given that it jumped by 2% the previous month, it was always going to give back some of that prior strength," said Alan Clarke at Scotiabank.

Much of Britain's GDP is generated from consumer spending and analysts have said the retail sales figures will feed into the broader economic picture.

"I think we shouldn't get carried away and read too much gloom into this," said Brian Hilliard at Societe Generale,

"It will weaken [first-quarter] consumption numbers and that's again a disappointment which might lower people's expectations for Q1 GDP."

Meanwhile, business leaders called on the government to do more to help the High Street.

"Although it is possible that the UK economy may narrowly avoid entering a new recession, the weak economic climate means that the outlook for retailers is likely to remain challenging for some time," said John Longworth, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce.

"Against this backdrop, we urge the government to do all it can to help support enterprise and wealth creation and open up new opportunities for UK firms to exploit both at home and abroad," he added.

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