The Gateway news round-up: 22 November

Top stories from the worlds of banking, law, consulting and accounting to help boost your commercial awareness

Here's a snapshot of the top finance and legal industry news from the last two weeks. For a more in-depth commentary on the future of bitcoin, the recent controversy surrounding The Law Society, or a report on how business rates are crippling Britain's high street, look out for this week's issue on stands around your campus and in your careers department.

Banking industry news

Chancellor beats borrowing target

Official public finance figures for October reveal that borrowing fell by £200 million compared with last year, suggesting the chancellor is likely to beat his borrowing target for the year by as much as £15 billion. The drop is down to a sharp increase in stamp duty (up 46 per cent on last year) and VAT receipts (up 6.4 per cent). The results have prompted some economists to speculate that George Osborne will use the money to finance a giveaway in his autumn statement on 5 December.

Flowers forced out of drugs charity

Disgraced former boss of the Co-Operative Bank, Paul Flowers, is being investigated for claiming £75,000 in expenses from the charity Lifeline, where he was chairman of the trustees for five years. Questions were initially raised over Mr Flowers's expenses in 2004 when the charity asked him to account for them item by item. Fearing it would cause damage to the charity's reputation, an initial investigation into the expense claims by a committee of trustees was kept quiet. Paul Flowers is currently under investigation by police having been filmed allegedly buying and using illegal drugs.

Bankers suffer "delusions of grandeur"

An MP on the committee investigating the flotation of Royal Mail has accused investment bankers of letting taxpayers down and running an exclusive "cult of the high priest". Brian Binley, Conservative MP for Northampton South, stated the banks that had advised the government on the initial float price of Royal Mail shares had let the taxpayer down. "For all the money you are paid, you weren't very clever at your job," said Mr Binley. Richard Cormack, a managing director at Goldman Sachs, dismissed the accusations, replying that he felt his bank had "executed the transaction well and in the interests of the taxpayer".

Legal industry news

Attorney general proposes Troubles legal amnesty

Northern Ireland's attorney general John Larkin, chief legal adviser to Northern Ireland's government, has proposed that there should be no more investigations or legal action taken in connection with killings that took place during the Troubles by paramilitary groups, the police or the armed forces. He argued that doing so would be a natural consequence of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. His statement, which represented his personal views not those of Northern Ireland's executive, was quickly condemned by victims' groups from both sides of the conflict, human rights organisation Amnesty International, and UK Prime Minister, David Cameron.

Construction firms to face legal action over blacklisting

Construction union UCATT has announced plans to bring charges of breach of confidence and misuse of confidential information against some of the UK's leading construction firms. Balfour Beatty, Bam, CB&I, Costain, Carillion, Laing O'Rourke, Lend Lease, Sir Robert McAlpine and Vinci, it claims, are guilty of blacklisting. Blacklisting is the practice of not employing certain workers because of actual or alleged union involvement, and has been condemned by the government and the Labour party, and may be examined in an upcoming governmental review of industrial relations.

Win a vacation scheme place in essay competition

Magic circle firm Clifford Chance is inviting UK students of any degree discipline to enter their 2013 "Intelligent Aid" competition. Up for grabs are places on the firm's August 2014 vacation scheme and a number of other prizes, including money towards university fees and the chance to nominate a charity to receive a firm donation. To enter, you'll need to submit a 500-word response to the following question by 31 January: "Economic growth in markets like China, Africa, Russia and Latin America continues to present new opportunities. How should leading international law firms be adapting their strategies in light of this growth?" For more information, visit the firm's graduate recruitment website.

Consulting and accounting industry news

Cutting ties

It's been a bad week for UK retail as shoe sellers Barratts, international accessories chain Tie Rack and video rental chain Blockbuster have all called in the administrators. Tie Rack, which was founded in 1981, is to close all 82 of its stores by 27 December with the potential loss of 200 jobs. Meanwhile, Barratts has appointed administrator Duff & Phelps to review the chain's finances and is looking for potential buyer for the business. It's the third time in four years that Barratts has gone into administration, while Blockbuster is now undergoing its second administration.

Taxing tweets

British flooring company Polyflor has reached an out-of-court settlement with a rival French company Tarkett, after it tweeted an accusation that Tarkett paid no tax. Tarkett sued Polyflor for defamation and said that the tweet, sent in December to over 800 of Polyflor's followers, had been seen by people working in the flooring industry and that an attached document titled "The Starbucks Debate" was also emailed and handed out to some Polyflor and Tarkett customers. Polyflor has joined Tarkett in donating £50,000 to Children in Need.

Female accountants struggle to reach the top

Over 50 per cent of female accountants believe they are at a disadvantage when it comes to pay, compared to only 12 per cent of male accountants, according to a report by financial recruitment firm Marks Sattin. In addition, at Big Four firms, only 14 per cent of board members are female, which is just under the 14.5 per cent average figure for FTSE 100 companies, and falls short of Lord Davies' recommendation in his 2011 report on the gender balance of UK boards that at least 25 per cent of board positions in the FTSE 350 should be occupied by women by 2013. However, the average pay gap between male and female accountants is shrinking.

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