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Billionaire bosses decide to shoplift workers at Asda

Troublemaker looks at the week's news including supermarket bargains for bosses, Trump Spies In the NHS and racist Tory candidates
Issue 2851

ASDA Bury St. Edmunds Suffolk  (Picture: Keith Evan/Wikimedia Commons)

The billionaire Issa brothers and their private equity partners TDR Capital stumped up just £200 million for their 2020 deal to buy Asda. The supermarket chain is valued at £6.8 billion, new corporate filings reveal. And the fallout could hit Asda workers.

It was already known that Mohsin and Zuber Issa and TDR used a complex chain of asset sales and debt deals that left them on the hook for just £780 million of the deal. But all but a quarter of that sum was provided by loading more costs on to their already heavily indebted petrol ­stations ­business, EG Group.

That was revealed in a series of filings by businesses owned by the brothers and TDR in the tax havens of Jersey and Luxembourg. Now, EG is racing to cut its debts and Asda might end up as the business that comes to its aid.

The offshore filings ­examined by the Financial Times newspaper show that the Issa brothers and TDR were able to pay such a small fraction of the purchase price. That’s because EG’s parent company, Optima Bidco Jersey, loaned more than half a billion pounds to Asda’s parent company, Bellis Topco, also based in Jersey.

To raise the money for the loan, Optima Bidco sold two batches of preference shares—which pay a fixed dividend and do not confer voting rights—in 2020, worth around £600 million.It then lent £580 million of the proceeds to Bellis Topco, leaving the Issa brothers and TDR with just £100 million each to find.

But the unsecured loan has landed EG, which already had £6 billion of debt with new financial burdens. One option could involve a deal with Asda, which took on £3.7 billion of junk-rated debt to help pay for the Issas and TDR to buy it.

Since the Issa brothers and TDR own both companies, they would in effect be selling to themselves, but the deal would bring in fresh cash for EG Group to pay off some of its debts. During EG’s boom years, when the company loaded up on cheap debt to fund a breakneck expansion, the brothers bought themselves two private jets using ­interest-free loans from EG.

Now the Asda option could potentially mean a squeeze on workers’ wages and conditions.

Trump spy firm in NHS

The NHS is using a US surveillance tech company owned by a billionaire Donald Trump donor. The firm processes hundreds of datasets—some of which are being shared with other private sector firms.

Department of Health and Social Care data shows NHS England has created more than 300 different purposes for processing information in its “Covid-19 datastore”. That store runs on software created by US firm Palantir.

Palantir, which has built software to support drone strikes and immigration raids, is also tipped to win a £480 million deal this year to build a single database. It will eventually hold all the data in the NHS.

The datastore also contains more than 50 kinds of “workforce analytics” data and something called “strike analysis”.

NHS England says this was created “in anticipation of industrial action” but had never been used in practice. The 339 purposes for which the firm already processes NHS information, reported by openDemocracy—include patient data on mental health, cancer screening and vaccines for sexually transmitted infections. Access to records in the datastore has been granted more than 60,000 times to users across the health service, government and private sector.

Consultancy firms Deloitte, KPMG, McKinsey and PwC were supplied with information on “integrated care systems planning support”. Palantir founder, Peter Thiel, has claimed the NHS “makes people sick” and that health service reforms should “in theory, just rip the whole thing from the ground and start over”.

  • Rishi Sunak has admitted that the government ditched national housebuilding targets because Tory members don’t like them. The prime minister said, “I spent a lot of the time over the summer when I was talking to so many of our members, so many of our councillors, about our planning system and their views on it. What I heard, consistently, particularly from our councillors and our members, was what they didn’t want was a nationally-imposed, top down set of targets imposed telling them what to do.”

  • Right wing media seized on reports that during the first round of junior doctors’ strikes in England the mortality rate was 11.1 percent above the five-year average. What they didn’t say was that in Wales, where no strikes took place, the mortality rate was 14 percent above the five-year average.

Racist and fascist Tory candidates

Bracknell Forest Conservatives have selected Andrew McBride as their candidate for Priestwood on Bracknell Town Council. McBride is the former deputy leader of Britain First and was also south east regional organiser for the British National Party.

He has a history of involvement at the highest levels of far-right politics and stood as a BNP candidate in the Bracknell Forest Council election in May 2007. The Tories have now suspended Mr McBride from the party but it is “too late” for him to be withdrawn from the election process, meaning he will still be their representative in the elections.

Andrew Edwards, a Tory councillor, has been suspended after a recording surfaced appearing to show him say all white men should have a black person as a slave. In the recording, a man’s voice, thought to be that of Edward’s, said, “I think all white men should have a black man as a slave or a black woman as a slave, you know.

“It’s nothing wrong with skin colour, it is just they’re a lower class than us white people, you know.”

Edwards, who represents the party on Pembrokeshire County Council, said he had referred himself to the Public Services Ombudsman.

Care home work for free

Many care home staff worked extra hours without extra pay to prop up the system during the pandemic, a study suggests. Public money helped stabilise care homes during the first wave of Covid-19.

But it was not focused on the workers, says the research, led by Warwick Business School. Some larger companies were able to pay more to shareholders, the study found.

The impact on staff varied:

  • Some zero-hours staff lost their jobs as bed‑occupancy declined
  • Other staff worked more hours but lost income, as extra hours meant less in benefits
  • Hourly pay across the sector did not typically rise

In the first year of the pandemic, 122 larger, for-profit, care home companies were able to pay shareholders 11 percent more in dividends than the previous year.

Things they say

‘I very much fear it spells finita la musica for that most popular of toys, the teddy bear’

The Daily Telegraph defends racism in a pretentious reductio ad absurdum way

‘We are happy to assist to clarify how this has been transparently declared’

A Number 10 spokesman explains it wasn’t an investigation into Rishi Sunak not declaring an interest in a company that led him to declaring an interest in a company

‘Wet, liberal namby-pamby, hand-wringing, pearl-clutching straight out of university types’

Tory deputy chair Lee Anderson complains you can’t get a proper old fashioned union rep these days

‘There is gated compression in the clip which is a clear sign of manipulation’

Former Ukip councillor Paul Dowson explains why the recording of racist councillor Andrew Edwards is a fake.  Dowling said the same about racist images that he posted

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