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UK drivers in go-slow protest over surging fuel prices

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Strike action by criminal lawyers is fuelling fears of a 'summer of discontent' in Britain
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Protesters snarled up major UK roads on Monday with a slow-moving procession of vehicles to demand government action against rocketing fuel prices.

The action came as senior criminal lawyers staged a second walkout in England and Wales against years of government cuts to their fees, intensifying a “summer of discontent” as strikes sweep Britain.

Rail workers have already staged a series of stoppages to press for better pay as Britain’s headline inflation reaches a 40-year high of just under 10 percent, driven in part by the war in Ukraine.

On the roads, a social media campaign called Fuel Price Stand Against Tax mobilised drivers to drive deliberately slowly on motorways and other arterial routes, demanding the government slash fuel duty.

One of the motorways affected was the M4 including the Prince of Wales Bridge, which links England and Wales.

Welsh police said they had arrested 12 people for driving under 30 miles (48 kilometres) per hour for “a prolonged amount of time”.

Vicky Stamper lost her job as a truck driver last month after the company was forced to cut costs in the face of the surging fuel costs.

“I’m here because I’ve lost my job because of the fuel, and the greedy people at the top taking all of our money,” she told AFP just over the border in England.

Addressing any members of the public inconvenienced by the action, Stamper said “we’re doing this for everyone”. 

“If they want to have a whinge, instead of whinging, join us.”

– ‘No choice’ –

The government insists it has already cut fuel duty once, and is offering other financial support for the public, while blaming Russia for igniting the rapid rise in energy prices.

“People’s day-to-day lives should not be disrupted,” a spokesperson said.

The government also says it is addressing the demands of the criminal barristers by offering a 15-percent rise in fees from the end of September.

But the increase will only apply to new cases, not to tens of thousands piling up in a backlog as British courts wrestle with the fallout of the Covid pandemic.

Outside the Royal Courts of Justice in central London, barristers in black gowns and wigs insisted the government significantly raise its offer as they walked out for a second week and vowed more strikes ahead.

Protesting barrister Emma Heath, 34, said defence lawyers could spend eight hours in preparation for a client receiving legal aid and get paid only £126 ($153) by the government. 

“We fully appreciate the impact it’s having, but until the government wake up and see what’s actually happening to criminal legal aid funding, we’re left with no choice,” she told AFP.

Justice Secretary Dominic Raab — a former lawyer — has called the strike action “regrettable” and said it would “only delay justice for victims”.

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Natural disaster losses hit $72 bn in first half 2022: Swiss Re

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'Secondary' natural disasters like floods and storms -- as opposed to major disasters such as earthquakes -- are happening more frequently, according to Swiss Re.
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Total economic losses caused by natural disasters hit an estimated $72 billion in the first half of 2022, fuelled by storms and floods, Swiss reinsurance giant Swiss Re estimated Tuesday.

Though the figure is lower than the $91 billion estimate for the first six months of 2021, it is close to the 10-year average of $74 billion, and the weight is shifting towards weather-induced catastrophes.

“The effects of climate change are evident in increasingly extreme weather events, such as the unprecedented floods in Australia and South Africa,” said Martin Bertogg, Swiss Re’s head of catastrophe perils.

The Zurich-based group, which acts as an insurer for insurers, said the losses were also propelled by winter storms in Europe as well as heavy thunderstorms on the continent and in the United States.

So-called secondary natural disasters like floods and storms — as opposed to major disasters such as earthquakes — are happening more frequently, the reinsurer said.

“This confirms the trend we have observed over the last five years: that secondary perils are driving insured losses in every corner of the world,” Bertogg said.

“Unlike hurricanes or earthquakes, these perils are ubiquitous and exacerbated by rapid urbanisation in particularly vulnerable areas,” he said.

“Given the scale of the devastation across the globe, secondary perils require the same disciplined risk assessment as primary perils such as hurricanes.”

Swiss Re said floods in India, China and Bangladesh confirm the growing loss potential from flooding in urban areas.

Man-made catastrophes such as industrial accidents added on a further $3 billion of economic losses to the $72 billion from natural disasters, taking the total to $75 billion — which is down on the $95 billion total for the first half of 2021.

– Insured losses at $38 bn –

Total insured losses stood at $38 billion: $3 billion worth of man-made disasters and $35 billion worth of natural catastrophes — up 22 percent on the 10-year average, said the Swiss reinsurer, warning of the effects of climate change.

February’s storms in Europe cost insurers $3.5 billion, according to Swiss Re estimates.

Australia’s floods in February and March set a new record for insured flood losses in the country at so far close to $3.5 billion — one of the costliest natural catastrophes ever in the country.

Severe weather and hailstorms in France in the first six months of the year have so far caused an estimated four billion euros ($4.1 billion) of insured market losses.

The Swiss group also mentioned the summer heatwaves in Europe, which resulted in fires and drought-related damage, without providing estimates at this stage.

A warming climate is likely to exacerbate droughts and thereby the likelihood of wildfires, causing greater damage where urban sprawl grows into the countryside, Swiss Re said.

“Climate change is one of the biggest risks our society and the global economy is facing,” said the group’s chief economist Jerome Jean Haegeli.

“With 75 percent of all natural catastrophes still uninsured, we see large protection gaps globally exacerbated by today’s cost-of-living crisis.”

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Stock trading platform Robinhood axes staff

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Stock trading platform Robinhood will cut its workforce by 23 percent
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Robinhood on Tuesday said it is laying off nearly a quarter of its employees as inflation and a crypto market crash cripple activity on the stock trading platform.

Dismissal emails went out to 23 percent of workers, referred to internally as “Robinhoodies,” in a cost-cutting move that the Silicon Valley-based company said will leave it with about 2,600 employees.

Internet giants whose business boomed during the pandemic have taken a hit from inflation, the war in Ukraine, supply-line trouble and people returning to pre-Covid lifestyles.

Robinhood earlier this year cut nine percent of its staff, but that wasn’t enough, chief executive Vlad Tenev said in a blog post.

“Since that time, we have seen additional deterioration of the macro environment, with inflation at 40-year highs accompanied by a broad crypto market crash,” Tenev said.

“This has further reduced customer trading activity and assets under custody.”

Meanwhile, financial services regulators in the state of New York on Tuesday announced that Robinhood’s cryptocurrency unit will pay a $30 million penalty for failing to meet mandatory standards for cyber-security and fighting money laundering.

The failure “resulted in significant violations” of state regulations, said state superintendent of financial services Adrienne Harris.

Flaws at Robinhood Crypto meanwhile stemmed from “significant shortcomings” in management that included failure to foster “an adequate culture of compliance” with banking rules, regulators said.

Robinhood associate general counsel Cheryl Crumpton said the company is “pleased” the matter is resolved in a settlement.

“We have made significant progress building industry-leading legal, compliance, and cybersecurity programs, and will continue to prioritize this work to best serve our customers,” Crumpton said in response to an AFP inquiry.

Robinhood layoffs will be concentrated in operations, marketing, and program management, Tenev said.

“In the short seven years since Robinhood launched to the world, we have adapted to challenges and forced the financial industry to adapt to us,” Tenev said.

“We’ve overcome many obstacles and have emerged from each a stronger and more resilient company,” he said.

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Uber posts quarterly loss, but revenue exceeds expectations

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Revenue more than doubled to $8.1 billion in the three months through June
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Uber on Tuesday reported better-than-expected revenue in the second quarter, fueled by strong demand for the San Francisco-based company’s ride-hailing and food delivery services.

Revenue more than doubled to $8.1 billion in the three months through June — a 105 percent increase. Though it still posted a net loss of $2.6 billion, investors reacted positively: shares shot up more than 12 percent, to $27.58, in pre-market trading.

The company posted $1.8 billion in revenue from its freight operations. It also said the boost in revenue was partially explained by a change in how it accounts for its rides business in Britain. 

Uber notched gains in monthly active platform consumers, gross bookings and trips compared with a year ago, reflecting higher demand but also a higher number of drivers for its signature ride service and food delivery operations.

Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said both consumers and earners were at “all-time highs.”

“Last quarter I challenged our team to meet our profitability commitments even faster than planned — and they delivered,” Khosrowshahi said in a statement.

Uber primarily attributed its loss to the falling value of its investments in financially strapped companies such as Singapore’s VTC Grab, US self-driving vehicle start-up Aurora and Indian food delivery service Zomato.

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