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UK to secure £18 billion business deals with China

A team of Chinese business bosses, led by the country's Premier Li Keqiang, are in Britain for the return leg of a trade boosting link-up begun by David Cameron last year.

The three-day visit is expected to yield business deals worth over £18 billion total.

Here are some of the deals:

  • BP will sign a £5 billion deal to supply liquefied natural gas to China
  • £120 million deal to reopen UK lamb and beef meat exports to China
  • Nord Engine, a Chinese financial services group, will announce £150 million investment in UK and European small and medium tech businesses
  • China’s largest private sector investment group, China Minsheng Investment Corporation, will announce a new European HQ in London with an investment of around $1.5 billion
  • Royal Dutch Shell secured a new partnership with China's state-owned energy giant CNOOC

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Government confirms no ban on zero-hour contracts

The Government has said zero-hours contracts will not be banned despite admitting that "there has been evidence of abuse".

"While for many people they offer a welcome flexibility, for others it is clear that there has been evidence of abuse around this type of employment, which can offer limited employment rights and job security", a Business Department spokesman said.

Ed Miliband will today promise new rights for workers to stop the 'worst abuses' of zero-hours contracts. Credit: Press Association Images/CHRIS YOUNG

He added that the Government was still analysing the results of a consultation following research carried out last year into the key concerns and would publish a response in due course.

Labour leader Ed MIliband is set to promise new rights for workers to stop the "worst abuses" of zero-hours contracts later today.

Shop vacancies fall but north-south divide widens

Shop vacancies in Britain dropped to a three-year low in 2013, although some northern regions saw numbers rise compared to 2012.

Empty shops in Bradford city centre Credit: Anna Gowthorpe/PA Archive/Press Association Images

Vacancies dropped to below 14 per cent last year, down from 14.6 per cent in February 2012, said a report by the Local Data Company.

But the proportion of empty shops rose in the north east and north west to a combined average of 17 per cent - nearly 5 per cent higher than the average of 12.2 per cent.

Seven out of 10 of the worst performing regions were in the north east or north west, while six out of the 10 best were in Greater London.

Whitbread plans for Costa and Premier Inn expansion

Leisure group Whitbread has vowed to step up expansion of its Premier Inn and Costa chains in a move set to create 12,000 jobs over the next five years.

Whitbread own coffee shop chain Costa. Credit: PA

The latest pledge came as it reported an 11% rise in underlying profits to £356.5 million for the year to February 28.

Having created 3,000 UK jobs over the financial year, it announced new targets which will see it grow Premier Inn by 45% to around 75,000 rooms and double coffee chain Costa's sales to around £2 billion.

The hotel and restaurant group also own Beefeater and Brewers Fayre restaurants.

EEF: Budget 'still feels like a job half done'

The chief executive of EEF, the manufacturers' organisation, said the Budget statement "still feels like a job half done" despite containing "some helpful measures on business taxation and some signs of re-prioritising spending for growth".

"The Chancellor had over £11 billion of under-spending in his arsenal and should have done more to drive growth now, particularly through accelerating investment in infrastructure", Terry Scuoler said.

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Chancellor 'putting beer before aviation'

Airline groups say they are disappointed that the Chancellor put "beer before aviation" by making no changes to the air passenger duty airport departure tax. It's due to rise again next month.

. Credit: PA Wire

Dale Keller, Chief Executive of airline group BAR UK, said: "Just because the industry was fully expecting a slap in the face from the Treasury does not make it any more palatable. It's beyond belief that the Chancellor has put beer before aviation."

Institute of Directors 'applauds' Chancellor's Budget

We applaud this budget. The Chancellor has stuck to his guns and held his nerve - which is exactly what we wanted to see. Deficit reduction is not an optional policy, it is an absolute necessity, and he is right to reject the siren calls to abandon it.

Businesses will be glad that George Osborne has also continued the downward pressure on Corporation Tax. Britain must become the most competitive place to do business, and lower taxes will attract welcome investment from abroad.

– Institute of Directors

FSB: Osborne has 'pulled out all the stops'

The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) said Chancellor George Osborne has "pulled out all the stops" with a "wide-ranging package" of measures to support small businesses.

National chairman of the FSB John Walker said, "The housing initiative will help reinvigorate the construction sector in which many of our members operate".

"National Insurance cut goes beyond what we were asking for and we are pleased to see the scrapping of the 3p fuel duty due in September", he added.

How the Chancellor's Budget plans to help business

  • New Employment Allowance will take the first £2,000 off the employer National Insurance bill of every company in the country
  • Around 450,000 small businesses - one third of all employers - will pay no employer National Insurance at all after introduction of Employment Allowance in April next year
  • Small firms will be given help through Government procurement budgets, growth vouchers and controls on regulators' charges
  • The Capital Gains Tax holiday will be extended
  • Corporation tax to be reduced by a further 1% to 20% in April 2015
  • Small company and main rates of corporation tax merged at 20p
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