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Oil majors Royal Dutch Shell and BP will kick off the City's annual results season next week, with the latter due to end its current suspension of dividend payments following the Gulf of Mexico disaster.

Embattled oil giant BP will take another step in its rehabilitation on Tuesday if it delivers on current City expectations and reinstates dividend payments alongside the publication of its full-year results.

The return of BP's dividend following its suspension in the summer due to the Deepwater Horizon disaster would be a key development for pension holders as well as investors given the stock previously accounted for an estimated one in every six pension pounds invested.

Analysts at Collins Stewart anticipate the quarterly dividend will be around seven cents a share, half the level announced in April.

BP upped its estimate of the bill to cover the cost of the oil spill to 40 billion US dollars (£25 billion) in November, but analysts do not expect this to increase and have latched on to recent signs that only half of the 20 billion US dollar (£12.6 billion) compensation fund will be required.

The financial hit from the oil spill will offset underlying replacement cost profits of 21 billion US dollars (£13.2 billion) for the full year. Fourth quarter profits of around 5 billion US dollars (£3.1 billion) would represent a 15% improvement on a year ago but come in 9% lower than the previous quarter.

The company has been able to benefit from a gradual increase in oil prices over 2010, which hit 90 US dollars a barrel at around the year end. Refining margins have also shown improvement.

But production is likely to be 10% lower than a year earlier due to the impact of the US drilling moratorium and asset disposals following the disaster, while extended maintenance periods will also impact output.

FTSE 100 rival Royal Dutch Shell has had a more sedate year and analysts have forecast pre-tax profits of around 30 billion US dollars (£18 billion), including a year-on-year rise in fourth quarter earnings of 69% to 4.68 billion dollars (£2.9 billion).

The company, which reports on Thursday, has benefited from higher oil prices and a hike in production levels, as well as a 3.5 billion US dollar (£2.2 billion) cost-saving plan, which saw 7,000 jobs go.


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photo by DECC


Labour leader Ed Miliband has insisted Britain is "united" behind the military campaign in Afghanistan on his first visit to the country.

Addressing troops in volatile Helmand province, Mr Miliband backed the coalition's timetable for combat operations to end by 2015.

"I want you to know that our mission in Afghanistan is not a matter of party politics," he said.

"It is about doing what is right for our country. A more stable Afghanistan will lead to a more safe Britain...

"Above all I want you to know that you have our support, our respect and our admiration for what you are doing for our country."

But he added: "It is right that this is not a war without end."

Mr Miliband toured the force's main base at Camp Bastion on Friday, meeting injured soldiers at the hospital.

Accompanied by shadow defence secretary Jim Murphy and shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander, he then travelled to Shawqat, which has seen some of the fiercest fighting recently.

The party has met the American commander of the Nato force, General David Petraeus, and is due to hold talks with President Hamid Karzai in Kabul later.

The visit was subject to a media blackout until now due to security concerns.


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photo by UK Parliament  



A former Tory peer has been found guilty of fiddling his expenses to claim more than £11,000 from the public purse.

Lord Taylor of Warwick falsely filed for travel and overnight subsistence, a jury at Southwark Crown Court decided by a majority of 11 to one.

The 58-year-old told the House of Lords members' expenses office that his main residence was in Oxford, when he lived in west London.

Taylor, whose first name is John, was the first parliamentarian to be tried and found guilty by a jury over the expenses scandal.


photo by NHS Direct


The number of fraud cases investigated in the NHS has risen by 37% in the last three years amid the economic downturn, official figures have revealed.

Data from the NHS Counter Fraud Service showed the amount of cases of potential fraud detected and probed increased from 351 in 2007/8 to 415 in 2008/9 and 482 in 2009/10.

The value of fraud and unlawful action identified was £4.1m in 2007/8, £16.2 in 2008/9 and £10.9 in 2009/10.


Thousands of customers who used a bank card on New Year's Eve could find they were charged twice because of a "technical error" with a payment system.

A fault with the Lloyds TSB Cardnet merchant system meant people who paid for sale shopping or a night out with a debit or credit card may have seen their transactions duplicated.

Around 200,000 people were believed to have been double-charged, Lloyds said.

The bank said cardholders were being reimbursed and there was a helpline for anyone affected.

Lloyds apologised to customers and said the problem had been resolved.




Police have released dramatic footage showing the moment a mob descended on a car carrying the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall.

Senior officers hope the images will help them identify those responsible for the attack in Regent Street in London's West End.

A crowd of thugs who split from student tuition fee protests outside the Houses of Parliament descended on the distinctive Rolls-Royce Phantom VI.

The council CCTV camera shows the royal convoy, led by several motorcycle police outriders, slowing down as it is impeded by people in the road.

The camera pans across the vehicles as several people can be seen surrounding the royal car, kicking and hitting it.

The footage showed one young woman following the royal car and hitting the back of it. The woman, wearing a black coat, grey top and glasses, is also caught on camera as she breaks the rear window of another vehicle in the convoy with a dustbin.

Another man was filmed running alongside the car and a third man grabbed the side of it before appearing to take a photograph.

At least three metal dustbins were also hurled at two other cars in the convoy which was travelling to the Royal Variety Performance at the London Palladium.

The Duchess was poked in the ribs with a stick, possibly part of a placard, through an open window and white paint thrown over the vehicle. She was pictured looking shocked and distressed and they were forced to leave afterwards in the back of a police van.

Senior officers have set up a specialist team of investigators responsible for identifying those involved in lawlessness during the student protests. The inquiry, known as Operation Malone, has led to the arrest of more than 180 people, most aged between 17 and 25.


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Five directors at TUI Travel have pocketed nearly £8 million in performance-related payouts for the past year despite the tour operator having to write off £117 million following an accounting blunder, it has been reported.

Chief executive Peter Long and four fellow directors received £4.9 million worth of shares this month, on top of £3 million worth in February, according to the Observer newspaper.

The latest payout, which was disclosed in a stock market filing, is in addition to money they receive through their salaries, cash bonuses and pension contributions, all of which will be detailed in the group's annual report, due to be published later this month.

Mr Long received shares worth nearly £1.8 million under the group's performance share plan and deferred annual bonus scheme. Among the other executives who received a payout was Paul Bowtell, who stood down as the group's finance director in October, following the accounting problems at TUI. He received shares worth £757,000.

It was not possible to contact anyone at TUI to comment on the report.

TUI, which is best known for its Thomson and First Choice brands, announced in October that it would have to write off £117 million as a result of an error relating to its failure to correctly reconcile the separate accounting systems used in the retail and tour operator businesses within TUI UK.

The problems came to light after the integration of IT systems in its mainstream UK business following TUI's merger with First Choice in 2007. The group first identified £29 million of write-offs in August and an ongoing audit highlighted a further £88 million of irrecoverable balances. It was also forced to restate its 2009 results, wiping £42 million off its operating profits, while it took a further £5 million hit in the accounts for the year to September 30, 2010.

The tour operator, which is owned by Germany's Tui AG, announced last week that it was parting company with its auditor KPMG.

It said in a statement: "Following the restatement of the results for the financial year ended 30 September 2009, TUI Travel has agreed with KPMG that it is appropriate that new group auditors should be appointed."

Shareholders will vote on accepting PricewaterhouseCoopers as the new auditors at the group's annual meeting in February.


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Photo by HamishMitchell


Hunt supporters have been out in force for the traditional post-Christmas meets and called on the Government to revisit the "farcical" hunting act.

Jill Grieve, from the Countryside Alliance, said the decision to continue the ban on hunting with dogs into next year, despite David Cameron's personal commitment to ending it, was understandable because of other matters facing the country due to the deficit, but said ministers needed to at least make clear what was legal or not under the existing Act.

"We find that huntsmen do a great job and work very hard," she said, "and every time they go to work they are under threat of prosecution.

"The hunting Act is so bad that they thought it had been banned but it is so unclear.


No officers will face disciplinary action after a mob attacked the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall during the tuition fees protests, Scotland Yard said.

Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson ordered an internal review of the incident, which was submitted to Home Secretary Theresa May, after the Duchess was poked in the ribs with a stick as the royal car was attacked in London's West End.

Scotland Yard said no officers would face disciplinary action after it was reported that royal protection officers were warned by a police colleague not to drive down Regent Street 15 minutes before the royal couple were attacked by the mob on December 10.

A police sergeant told a member of the couple's protection team that the area surrounding the road should be avoided because up to 200 thugs were in close proximity, the Daily Mail said.

Photo by Claus Rebler


Another strike by workers at food giant Heinz is "inevitable" after talks aimed at resolving a row over pay broke down, union leaders have said.

Members of Unite at the firm's site in Wigan will walk out for 24 hours from the evening of December 29, with further industrial action expected in the new year.

Heinz said it revised its pay offer during a meeting with the union held at the conciliation service Acas, maintaining the deal was worth 4% this year and 3% next year.

Unite said the offer was worth 3.3% and 3%, adding it was effectively a wage cut because the suggested deal was below the rate of inflation.

A Heinz spokesman said: "We are extremely disappointed with this outcome. What we are proposing addresses a number of key points we received in extensive feedback from our employees.