The Business Matrix: Thursday 27 January 2011

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Howard to replace Hurd at Hawkpoint

The advisory firm Hawkpoint has named Lord Howard, left, the former leader of the Conservative Party, as a special adviser. He will replace Douglas Hurd at the firm, owned by Collins Stewart, and "continue the trend of advisers with senior experience in the political arena".

Healthspan owner in line for £150m

Derek Coates, the owner of Guernsey's Blue Islands airlines, is set to sell his vitamins business Healthspan for £150m. Deloitte is taking second-round bids for the home-shopping business, which Mr Coates founded in 1996. A deal could be sealed within two months.

TalkTalk to cut 13% of its UK workforce

About 580 jobs are to be axed at the broadband provider TalkTalk as part of plans to save up to £50m. TalkTalk, which was spun off from Carphone Warehouse last year, said most of the cuts would affect administration functions, such as human resources, IT and finance. The job losses account for almost 13 per cent of TalkTalk's 4,500 UK workforce.

Orange to bring in 'wave and pay'

Orange is set to become the first operator in the UK to allow shoppers to pay for goods with a swipe of their mobile phone, after signing a strategic deal with Barclays. The mobile group's parent company, Everything Everywhere, said the nation's first commercial contactless mobile payments service would be rolled out by early summer.

End of the line for Wrexham railway

Wrexham & Shropshire Railways is to cease operations tomorrow, ending its services between North Wales and London. The firm said it had reached the conclusion that the business would never be profitable. It is now looking for alternative employment opportunities within the railway industry for its 55 employees.

Rail strike hits Six Nations opener

Drivers on Arriva Trains Wales are to strike on the day Wales play England in the Six Nations rugby union competition in Cardiff. Members of the Rail Maritime and Transport union will walk out for 24 hours on 4 February in a long-running dispute over pay and conditions. The workers also went on strike on 27 December.

Cold UK winter to cost Hiscox £16m

Hiscox said claims linked to Britain's coldest winter on record will hit £16m. Despite this, the specialist insurer said its UK household business was on track to make a "healthy profit". It estimated that claims from last year's earthquakes in Chile and New Zealand, and the Xynthia storm in France would total £115m. It is still assessing the cost of Australia's floods, though it is less exposed than rivals to the country.

GSK loses lung drug patent dispute

A Dutch court has ruled against GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) in a patent dispute over Advair, the pharmaceutical giant's key lung therapy. GSK said the court had ruled in favour of Novartis units Sandoz and Hexal, deciding that the Dutch part of Advair's European patent and the supplementary protection certificate were not valid. GSK said it was considering an appeal.

WH Smith raises its profit margins

Sales at WH Smith over Christmas slumped by 7 per cent at its high-street stores and by 3 per cent at its station and airport outlets as the snow hit the the stationery and books chain. But analysts welcomed news of a rise in profit margins, and forecast profits of £93m for the year to August, up 4.5 per cent on last year.

Shares in Blacks Leisure slump

Shares in Blacks Leisure tumbled by 9 per cent yesterday after the outdoor retail specialist canned plans to sell the company. The group, which runs the Blacks and Millets stores, rejected offers from the Argos owner Home Retail and two other unnamed parties. The shares fell 3.5p to 35.5p.

UK policymakers nearer rate rise

The pressure of soaring inflation saw the Bank of England edge closer to an interest rate rise days before figures revealed a shock reversal in economic growth in the UK. A second member of the MPC, Martin Weale, voted in favour of tightening policy.

Mortgage lending hits an 11-year low

New mortgage lending by the major banks dived to an 11-year low during December as potential buyers continued to stay away from the housing market. Lending looks set to remain subdued, with just 28,726 mortgages approved for house purchase in December.

OECD chief backs Coalition's cuts

Angel Gurria, the head of the OECD think tank, has urged the UK Government to stick to its austerity programme. "They should stay the course," he said. "Of course there are short-term implications but without it, there will be no medium and long-term growth."

JJB fined for hiding £16m costs

JJB Sports has been fined £455,000 for failing to disclose it bought two small shoe-retailers for £16m more than it told investors. JJB paid £5m cash for Original Shoe Company in December 2007, and £1 for Qube in May 2008. It failed to mention it also paid £10m for OSG's stock and £6.5m for Qube's overdraft.

Capital wins vote on Trafford buy

Britain's biggest shopping centre owner has won shareholder approval for a £1.6bn takeover of Manchester's Trafford Centre, despite opposition from Simon Group, one of its biggest investors. Capital Shopping Centres was given the all-clear for its deal, but said 20 per cent of investor votes failed to back the takeover.