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When the metro mayors sat down with Boris Johnson in September 2019 for their first ever joint meeting, he is reported to have said: “I get what you do, I’ve been a mayor, I want to work with you.”

His stint as Mayor of London between 2008 and 2016 – if not as successful as he would later claim – at least gave him the opportunity to argue for his achievements around crime, affordable homes and the 2012 Olympics. It was felt he was trying to show he had a natural affinity with the regional leaders and their importance.

His comments were made long before the coronavirus pandemic hit, but after a week in which regional mayors and northern leaders have been publicly apoplectic about central government coming up with restrictive rules without consultation, the sentiment from Johnson has felt hollow. Relations will need to be reset. 

 “We have had one meeting since then, and that’s because we screamed to get it,” said one of the metro mayors, reflecting on the encounter with Johnson last September. 

With sky-rocketing rates of coronavirus across the north, greater restrictions have already been placed on millions of people, including curbs on household mixing. In the North East for example, you can’t meet anyone from another household inside, or in a garden. 

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And on Thursday tempers exploded when northern mayors and council leaders learnt of potential further restrictions such as the shutting of pubs and restaurants from The Sun newspaper. 

They felt blind-sided: the Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, said on the BBC’s Question Time that night that it felt as though they were being treated with contempt by the government. Visibly angry, he said he’d had “no idea” about the new rules, which were due to come in as early as Monday. 

 “We cannot face a national crisis with the government just imposing decisions from the centre with no agreement from people who have to face the real world today,” he said on the show. 

Alex Wickham, who writes the Politico Playbook email, ran a quote from a Whitehall source that perfectly summarised the tension:  “Not sure why we are relying on everyone in Liverpool following Sun journalists on Twitter to get the news that they’re being locked down.”

By Friday morning there were reports that the mayors were going to get a call with Downing Street to explain the situation. Meetings were pencilled in, then cancelled, then rescheduled for the afternoon. The thinking was that they needed to hear from Chancellor Rishi Sunak first, who released more details of what financial help would be available for workers who live in regions that are going to be moved into tighter restrictions. The level is being called Tier 3 by newspapers, is expected to involve the closure of leisure venues, and there may be rules on travel in and out of the area. 

One-on-one chats with Sir Edward Lister, Boris Johnson’s senior adviser, were arranged for the mayors and northern leaders – and from 3.30pm to 7pm they were given 30 minute slots to ask questions. Some had wanted a minister rather than an adviser, given the gravity of the situation. Oddly, on the Newcastle call, they didn’t even get Sir Edward.  

“It’s just not the case that we are properly integrated into the process. (Mayor of London) Sadiq Khan is on Cobra (emergency meetings held for national crisis’), but there’s no representation for the English regions,” one mayor said, explaining why they have felt so cut out of the operational response to Covid.

On Friday morning a Downing Street spokesperson said: “We have been working closely with local leaders and local authorities throughout the pandemic to ensure we can take advice on a local level, and inform the action we take. That work will continue and we will continue to have those meetings.”

One mayor said: “No one can say that with a straight face.”

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There is a growing sense local leaders have been neglected by government. Since the pandemic began in March the metro mayors have only had one meeting with the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, Robert Jenrick – the person who is supposed to be their conduit in government. This meeting took place only last Tuesday and was supposed to be about the planning white paper, but Covid was forced onto the agenda by the mayors. 

The day before, health secretary Matt Hancock had jumped on a call with them, apparently their first ever discussion with him during the pandemic – and it only happened after Mayor of the West Midlands Andy Street apparently “put his foot down”. 

They have had one meeting with the Chancellor. 

Former communities minister Simon Clarke, who quit his role in September, was reportedly the most affable and helpful of anyone in government, one of the mayors said. 

“You could at least have a meaningful conversation with him,” they suggested. 

By Friday night, the boiling rage among regional leaders had been reduced to a simmer for some, as Downing Street had at least explained how the next few days would pan out, and when they might expect announcements, and that more meetings between ministers and specific regional leaders would be scheduled for the weekend. 

Sir Edward also released a letter on Friday which confirmed more restrictions were likely for those areas with high case numbers.

However those on the call for Merseyside on Friday night described it as “frosty” and, according to the Manchester Evening News, their meeting at 5.30pm had been beset with technical difficulties, though they were personally addressed by Jenrick. 

Reports from over the weekend said a round of calls on Saturday had been more constructive, and Johnson will make a speech in the Commons on Monday explaining the detail around upcoming restrictions. 

The BBC has reported that Liverpool City Region may go into Tier 3, and other cities are anxiously awaiting Johnson’s statement. 

Levels of engagement have clearly improved since Friday, and the government maintains that local leaders will be involved in decision making. However this last week has been a nightmare in terms of engagement with regional government, and especially obtuse considering the metro mayor model was set up by the Conservatives themselves. 

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The metro-mayor system, which had been devised by former Tory Chancellor George Osborne sprang into life in 2017 with the election of ex-Labour MP Andy Burnham as mayor of Greater Manchester, while former Labour MP Steve Rotherham won the Liverpool City Region mayoralty, while Conservatives won other seats: Ben Houchen won Tees Valley, Andy Street won the West Midlands and Tim Bowles the West of England. 

The Current Labour MP Dan Jarvis was elected for the Sheffield City Region in 2018, and Labour candidate Jamie Driscoll won the North of Tyne mayor position in 2019. West Yorkshire is gearing up to get a mayor too, having finally signed off a devolution deal with the government this year. 

The leaders of Leeds, Nottingham and Newcastle city councils have also been extremely vocal about what has felt like central decision making, making use of TV, radio and print opportunities to hammer their case home that they need more engagement.

All together this is a powerful group, and being cross-party, the government cannot ignore their requests to be brought into the tent on the Covid response. 

If Osborne’s intention with devolution was to empower the English cities and their leaders, this week has been one in which the government has felt their ferocious bite.

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Why Amazon and Reliance are fighting for Future Retail in India

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Amazon (AMZN), the Seattle-based e-commerce firm owned by Jeff Bezos, is fighting a $3.3 billion deal struck between Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Industries and the Indian retail conglomerate Future Group.

What’s at stake is strategic access to a network of popular grocery stores and retail shops in India — something both Amazon and Reliance want to either have for themselves, or to prevent the other from acquiring.

“If someone backs down, it will give the impression that one has lost and the other has won, when the fight has just started,” said Counterpoint Research analyst Tarun Pathak.

Amazon has 31.2% market share in India’s e-commerce industry, just behind Walmart-owned Flipkart’s 31.9%, according to a recent report from market research firm Forrester. But Ambani has made no secret of his ambitions to upend the market with JioMart, which is part of his sprawling conglomerate.

At the heart of the current battle is Future Retail, the cash cow of Future Group. The retail unit includes brands like Big Bazaar, a well-known, popular hypermarket chain in India. In August 2019, Amazon invested in a Future Group entity that gave it a roughly 4.8% stake in Future Retail as of September 30 this year, according to stock exchange filings. The deal gave Amazon the right of first refusal to acquire more shares in Future Retail, according to one of the filings.

Then Covid-19 hit. India enforced one of the strictest nationwide lockdowns, ordering shops to shutter and millions of people to stay indoors for months.

The pandemic has had a “significant adverse impact” on Future Retail’s business operations, the company said in its most recent earnings report. In July, Future Retail’s credit rating took a hit after it missed a bond payment. Fitch Ratings downgraded Future Retail’s rating two notches to C, signaling that the company was “near default.”
The following month, Reliance and Future Group announced that Reliance was buying Future Retail and several other assets. The deal allowed Future Group to “achieve a holistic solution to the challenges that have been caused by Covid and the macro economic environment,” Kishore Biyani, Future Group CEO, said in a statement at the time.

A legal dispute

The announcement took industry watchers by surprise.

“Everyone knew Amazon had a stake in Future Retail, and the deal didn’t mention what would happen to Amazon’s stake,” said Satish Meena, analyst at research firm Forrester.

Amazon responded by filing a complaint to the Singapore International Arbitration Centre (SIAC).

Indian companies and foreign companies operating in India often agree to settle disputes in Singapore because “it’s a neutral jurisdiction with high integrity and international standards,” according to Ashish Kabra, a lawyer who heads the International Dispute Resolution & Investigations Practice for Nishith Desai Associates in Singapore.

The arbitration process is confidential and none of the submissions are public.

Amazon argued that the 2019 deal struck between it and the Future Group entity included a non-compete clause, a person familiar with Amazon’s perspective told CNN Business. The clause listed 30 restricted parties with which Future Retail and Future Group could not do business, and Reliance was on that list, the person said.

“The key question really is what’s the validity of contracts if you just ignore them,” said the person familiar with Amazon’s side.

“Are companies just going to ignore contracts and do what they please?”

A SIAC emergency arbitrator gave Amazon a small victory this week when it ordered a temporary halt on Future Group’s deal with Reliance, according to the legal order seen by Reuters, which has not been made public.

Future Group had argued that if the deal with Reliance falls through, its retail unit will be forced into liquidation and 29,000 people will lose their jobs, according to Reuters, which cited the Singapore order. The order is not public, but the person familiar with Amazon’s perspective confirmed that Future presented this argument.

But the arbitrator ruled that “economic hardship alone is not a legal ground for disregarding legal obligations,” according to the order, Reuters reported.

“We welcome the award of the Emergency Arbitrator. We are grateful for the order which grants all the reliefs that were sought,” an Amazon spokesperson said in a statement.

CNN Business contacted Future Group for comment, and received a statement from Future Retail.

Future Retail said it “is examining the communication and the order” from SIAC.

Reliance (RRVL) said in a statement that its deal with Future Retail is “fully enforceable” under Indian law.

“RRVL intends to enforce its rights and complete the transaction in terms of the scheme and agreement with Future group without any delay,” said the statement.

But in the past, Indian courts have usually followed the lead of orders passed by emergency arbitrators outside of India, according to Kabra, the lawyer.

“What parties have previously done, is they approach Indian Courts and ask for similar reliefs in India, while relying on the order of the Emergency Arbitrator. Indian Courts usually grant the same relief,” said Kabra.

A ‘clash of the titans’

For Reliance, which operates 11,000 stores throughout India, and Amazon, the No. 2 e-commerce player in the country, Future Retail’s 1,500 stores are not a must have, says one analyst.

“It’s not like without it you can’t have your ambitions, if you don’t have Future [Retail],” said Pathak, of Counterpoint Research.

This is “less about Future and more about the clash of the titans,” as well as “protecting your turf,” he added.

To compete with Amazon and Flipkart, Ambani’s JioMart has been growing its presence in India. It expanded to hundreds of cities across India earlier this year and plans to branch into electronics, fashion, pharmaceutical and healthcare soon. The company will also likely tap into Reliance Retail’s network of physical stores across the country to fulfill online orders, according to analysts.

The industry had expected Amazon and Reliance to forge some kind of deal in the future, because they need each other’s expertise, according to Meena, of Forrester. Amazon needs more shops to expand inventory and use retail spaces as storage and delivery hubs. And Reliance doesn’t have a lot of experience in e-commerce, according to Meena.

But any kind of partnership between Amazon and Reliance in the future “depends upon how much bad blood is between them now,” said Meena.

“It might end up becoming an ego battle between the CEOs of both the companies,” he said.

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Ivory Coast elections: Voters go to the polls amid opposition boycott

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image copyrightEPA

image captionVoting cards have been distributed ahead of the presidential election

Polls are set to open in Ivory Coast’s controversial presidential election.

At least 14 people have been killed since riots broke out in August after President Alassane Ouattara said he would run again following the sudden death of his preferred successor.

The main opposition candidates, Pascal Affi N’Guessan and Henri Konan Bédié, say it is illegal for Mr Ouattara to stand for a third term.

They are boycotting the vote and have called for civil disobedience.

  • Old men, chocolate and Ivory Coast’s bitter election

  • The politics of human rights in Ivory Coast
  • A quick guide to Ivory Coast

What is it so controversial?

According to the constitution, Ivory Coast has a two-term presidential limit. Mr Ouattara – who has been elected twice – initially said he would stand down.

But, in July, the ruling party’s previous presidential nominee, Prime Minister Amadou Gon Coulibaly, died of a heart attack.

Mr Ouattara subsequently announced that he would run for president after all.

His supporters argued that a constitutional change in 2016 reset the clock and that his first term did not count.

His opponents do not share that view, arguing instead that it is illegal for Mr Ouattara to run for a third term.

What’s the background to the tension?

There has been a decades-long quarrel between some of the country’s leading political figures.

In 2010, Laurent Gbagbo, who was president at the time, refused to concede to Mr Ouattara following the election in that year and this sparked a bitter civil war.

More than 3,000 people were killed in the five months of violence.

Mr Gbagbo also put himself forward to stand in this year’s election but the electoral commission blocked him because he had been convicted in the Ivorian courts.

He was one of nearly 40 potential candidates who were turned down by the commission.

Who are the four presidential candidates?

  • Alassane Ouattara, 78, an economist. Became president in 2011, serving his second term after years in opposition.

    Party: Rally of Houphouëtists for Democracy and Peace (RHDP)

  • Henri Konan Bédié, 86, career politician. Served as president between 1993 and 1999, deposed in coup. Party: Democratic Party of Ivory Coast (PCDI)
  • Pascal Affi N’Guessan, 67, career politician. Served as prime minister between 2000 and 2003 under then-President Laurent Gbagbo. Party: Ivorian Popular Front (FPI) faction
  • Kouadio Konan Bertin, 51, career politician, known as KKB, was once youth leader in the former ruling Democratic Party of Ivory Coast, is now an MP. Independent candidate

Related Topics

  • Ivory Coast

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Bugatti unveils a super light hypercar that can top 300 mph

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The Bugatti Bolide — a name that comes from French slang for “very fast car,” according to Bugatti — is a concept car designed solely for track driving, not for use on public roads. The Bolide has a modified version of the huge 8.0-liter 16-cylinder engine found in Bugatti’s Chiron, the brand’s core model. It’s built to be super light and can reach a top speed of well over 300 mph, according to Bugatti.

Bugatti hasn’t said whether it will sell the Bolide, but performance brands like Ferrari and Lamborghini offer track-only cars for wealthy customers who want to experience driving in their own private racecars. Cars like this don’t have a lot of the crash safety equipment required in road cars, like airbags, but they do have the specialized safety gear required on many race tracks, such as fittings for racing harnesses.

Designed for optimal aerodynamics, the Bolide is a little over three feet tall, which is about a foot shorter than the Chiron. To get in, occupants must sit on the door sill and put their legs inside before sliding over into the seat.

In designing the Bolide, emphasis was placed on reducing weight and improving aerodynamics. The air scoop that rises from the roof is covered in a special skin that forms blister-like bubbles at high speeds. The bubbles improve air flow over the scoop by 10% while also reducing aerodynamic lift by 17%, according to Bugatti.

All the screws and fasteners in the car are made from titanium, according to Bugatti, and much of the rest of the car is made from lightweight carbon fiber and titanium alloys. The Bolide weighs just over 2,700 pounds, compared to 4,400 pounds for the Chiron. A lot of weight was also saved in the Bolide by giving no consideration to luxury and very little to comfort. The interior is extremely sparse and simple with thin, light racing seats instead of the nicely upholstered seats used in the Chiron.

“All of Bugatti’s expertise has been condensed into the Bugatti Bolide,” said Stefan Ellrott, head of development for Bugatti.

Engineering the Bolide was an opportunity to try new techniques with the aim of reducing weight and increasing performance, he said. For instance, the turbochargers attached to the engine were specially designed to enable more power at high speeds. Bugatti’s already high-performance lubricating systems were redesigned to deal with extraordinarily high cornering forces that can cause oil to move away from where it’s needed.

Should Bugatti ever decide to sell the Bolide, the price tag would certainly be in the multiple millions of dollars, based on the price of Bugatti’s other cars and the cost of similar types of cars from other automakers.

The Chiron, on which the Bolide is based, costs more than $3 million and only 500 will be made. In recent years, Bugatti has introduced a number of other cars based on the Chiron’s engineering, including the Divo, a version designed for lower top speeds but better cornering, of which only 40 will be made. There was the Centodieci, a car designed to celebrate Bugatti’s 110th anniversary, of which just 10 will be built. The Centodieci has a starting price of $9 million and the Divo $6 million.

A more practical Bugatti?

Interestingly, engineers and designers at Bugatti had been working on something radically different for the brand: a lower priced and more practical model. But that work has been put on pause due to the pandemic.

“We were looking at a four-seater with a completely different design — not an SUV, not a sedan, something really, really unique in terms of design and creating a new segment,” Cedric Davy, chief operating officer of Bugatti of the Americas, said in a recent interview. “It’s not dead, but for now, nobody is working on it.”

Adding a more practical model to the lineup is something other supercar companies have embarked on as they seek to appeal to more customers and boost profits.

Bugatti’s sister-brand Lamborghini — both are owned by Volkswagen — began selling the Urus SUV in 2018, quickly doubling Lamborghini’s sales. And Ferrari has been working on something it calls the Purosangue which is expected to be unveiled next year. Executives insist it will not be a traditional crossover SUV, but it will be roomier and more comfortable for passengers than any previous Ferrari.

The reason for the temporary halt to development of the four-door model isn’t any sort of financial constraint, a Bugatti spokesperson insisted, but simple uncertainty caused by the pandemic. Developing a new model involves working with and vetting suppliers, creating prototypes and gauging what the market might be after the pandemic is over, all of which is hard to do at this time.

To save weight, the Bugatti Bolide's interior, shown in an illustration, has none of the shiny metal or quilted leather seen in some of Bugatti's other cars.
But there may be even bigger changes afoot for Bugatti. There have been media reports that Volkswagen is considering selling the brand to Rimac, a Croatian company that makes electric supercars. A Volkswagen spokesperson would not comment on those reports. Rimac did not respond to a request for comment on the reports.

At any rate, Davy said he’s not terribly concerned.

“I’ve been with Bugatti four years and it’s probably the fourth or fifth time that I’ve heard that the company is being sold, so I’m not too worried,” Davy said.

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