How the supermarket price promises match up

Tesco is relaunching its loyalty scheme in a bid to reattract customers who have taken refuge at rivals Asda, Sainsbury’s and Morrisons. Will it work?

Tesco is taking on Sainsbury’s and Asda with a Price Promise that aims to replicate its rivals’ success in attracting cash-strapped consumers through its doors.

The scheme, launched on 11 March 2013 across the UK, guarantees that Tesco will check shoppers’ baskets against prices at Asda, Sainsbury’s and Morrisons. If the comparable basket would have been cheaper shoppers will get a voucher for the difference, up to £10.

Previously, Tesco had allowed shoppers to input the details of their receipt online to check whether their shop would have been cheaper at a rival, but now it will offer instant, at-till analysis.

So how does Tesco’s service match-up to its rivals?

Tesco Price Promise

How it works Shoppers must buy at least 10 different items, including one comparable grocery product, from any Tesco Metro, superstore or Extra store (and their attached petrol stations), as well as via the Tesco website. If you could have bought the same grocery shopping cheaper at Asda, Sainsbury’s and Morrisons, Tesco will issue you with a voucher for the difference, up to a maximum value of £10.

But the offer will not apply to Tesco Express stores, often more expensive than larger Tesco supermarkets, or Tesco Homeplus purchases.

Which products are included? Tesco will compare branded groceries (Kellogg’s Cornflakes, Ariel, Coca Cola etc) as well as its own-brand products (where an equivalent is sold at Asda, Sainsbury’s or Morrisons). It will also compare price reductions and promotions such as multibuy purchases (buy one get one free etc), as well as price cuts, for example a discount from 99p to 50p.

Which are excluded? For a full list of exclusions visit the Tesco website, and there are a lot. Tesco will not compare any electrical item, home and furniture items, CDs, DVDs, Blu-rays, DIY and car items, toys, baby and toddler accessories, gifts and jewellery, clothing, phones, opticians, beauty centre products, cafe items, fuel, photo-processing and associated services, newspapers, magazines, stamps, tobacco and cigarettes.

Tesco will also not include meal deals, combination offers such as buy-cheese-and-get-crackers-free, category-wide deals such as 5% off six bottles of wine, and multiple offers (when Tesco or a competitor has more than one offer on the same products running at the same time, such as buy two for £3 or buy five for £6).

How do I claim? You will be given a voucher at the till if your basket would have been cheaper elsewhere, or you’ll be sent an email if you do an online shop. Shoppers must use their vouchers within 28 days and are not allowed to spend them on fuel, lottery tickets, tobacco, infant formula, pharmacy products, gift cards, E–top–ups, stamps, opticians and travel money. Nor can you use them in the Tesco bank or cafe or on entertainment or clothing, in the phone shop or through Tesco Direct.

Sainsbury’s Brand Match

How it works Sainsbury’s shoppers have their basket of branded grocery goods compared with the cost of the same goods at Asda and Tesco (Morrisons isn’t included in the comparison). If the branded goods would have been cheaper at either store, including in-promotional deals, shoppers will immediately receive a coupon equal to the value of the difference. Shoppers can redeem this the next time they shop.

Customers must spend a minimum of £20 and their basket must include at least one item that is identical (same size/quantity, flavour etc) to one available in Asda or Tesco.

Online shops are excluded, as are certain stores across the country and some central London outlets.

Brand Match coupons will also not be issued at petrol stations, Sainsbury’s Local or convenience stores.

Which products are included? Most branded grocery products.

Which products are excluded? Supermarket’s own label products are excluded from Brand Match. Those aside, the list of exclusions mirrors Tesco’s. Online shopping is not eligible for Brand Match, and like at Tesco, Sainsbury’s also excludes one-off deals and combinations offers.

How do I claim? Any coupons must be redeemed within 14 days and the maximum you can get back is £10. You cannot buy fuel or spend your coupons on prescriptions, online, at cafes or restaurants, or on concessions.

Asda Price Guarantee

How it works Originally launched in 2010, the Asda Price Guarantee – “The price promise the others wish they could match” – says that if it isn’t 10% cheaper than rivals Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Morrisons and Waitrose it will give you the difference. But the comparison does not happen at the till – you must visit the Asda website and enter your receipt details.

To be eligible you need to have bought at least eight different items, of which at least one should be comparable with Asda’s main competitors. The difference is paid as a voucher, which must be used in an Asda store within 28 days.

Which products are included? Any comparable grocery product.

Which products are excluded? Categories not currently covered include: home, electricals, furnishings, garden, entertainment, hardware, sports, toys, George, tobacco, newspapers, magazines, jewellery, pharmacy, optical, fuel, photo-processing, dry cleaning and all online-only products including financial services, flowers, mobile, travel and gifts.

Also, like its rivals, promotions that make it difficult for Asda to compare fairly are excluded from the price guarantee.

How do I claim? Claims must be made within 28 days either in-store or online.

Waitrose Brand price match

How it works Waitrose launched its Brand price match in autumn 2010. Although it does not offer any discount vouchers if it finds goods could have been bought cheaper elsewhere, the Brand price match is a long-term commitment to match Tesco prices on 1,000 everyday branded goods that customers buy most frequently.

Morrisons Easter Payday Bonus

How it works Morrisons currently operates a campaign where anyone who spends £35 or more in one transaction between 4 March and 24 March 2013 will get a coupon at the checkout. If they collect one coupon each week for three consecutive weeks they can present them all at the checkout and £10 will be automatically taken off the value of their shop – if they spend another £35 or more.

guardian.co.uk © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

Tax haven London targeted by activists armed with adverts (and palm trees)

Global collective The Rules launches ‘Visit the City’ mock campaign in bid to shine light on tax avoidance

Over a year after the end of the Occupy tented protests in the City of London, a new movement has sprung up to challenge the global economic consensus, in this case focusing on what protesters say is the rampant, worldwide problem of corporate tax avoidance.

The campaign, launched on Monday, features a mock corporate video and a set of posters seemingly extolling the virtues of the City as a place to do business. The slogan is: “Visit the City of London – the tax haven capital of the world”.

It has been organised by a group called The Rules, a loose global collective with links to Occupy, which aims to stage a number of campaigns based on what it sees as major issues connected to fairness and equality in each country.

The London campaign, in which the group has bought poster space on phone boxes and produced the video above, is aimed at focusing attention on tax avoidance and evasion during the UK’s presidency of the G8 group of industrialised nations and ahead of elections later this month in the Corporation of London.

While the Corporation stresses it has no special status related to tax and brings no tax advantages to companies based within its environs, the campaign argues it nonetheless gets special treatment from government – not least because of the square mile’s vehement lobbying – and says City-based firms widely use overseas tax havens.

Corporate tax avoidance has become an increasingly controversial issue, in no small part thanks to the efforts of another loosely organised campaign group, UK Uncut, which has highlighted the tax affairs of companies including Vodafone, Goldman Sachs and Starbucks.

Alnoor Ladha, from The Rules, said: “This campaign is about bringing a global voice to the UK tax debate. This affects us all. The City of London is a global hub for the tax haven spider web that extracts wealth from the developing world. We stand in solidarity with the brave citizens of the UK that are fighting the unjust practices of their government.

“To be clear, this not about a couple of bad apples, such as Starbucks or Amazon. It’s about the underlying system that allows the few to benefit at the expense of the majority.”

The campaign is also intended to promote a more traditional, Occupy-style street event in the City this Saturday, where The Rules will join with activists from Occupy and UK Uncut to – the promise goes – “transform a space in the City of London into a tropical tax haven”.

guardian.co.uk © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

Mobile phone charges: ‘Welcome to France’? But we’re in Kent

Residents and tourists at the foot of the white cliffs of Dover regularly get charged for using French network

Visitors to the famous white cliffs of Dover are getting a nasty surprise when they want to use their mobile phones – they are picking up a French signal at higher charges.

Residents and tourists in the seaside village of St Margaret-at-Cliffe and St Margaret’s bay at the foot of the Kent cliffs – just 18 miles from France – regularly get a “Welcome to France” message and the extra costs, including data roaming charges for smartphone users, from companies such as Orange F and SFR.

Landlord of the Coastguard pub and restaurant on the beach Nigel Wydymus, 53, said: “We are a little telecommunications enclave of France here.

“It did not cause a huge amount of trouble for a few years because you got a message saying ‘Welcome to France’, but since smartphones have come in it’s more of a problem.

“Obviously people strolling along the beach in England do not expect to be on a French network and so, unlike when they get off the plane in Spain or elsewhere, they haven’t switched off their data roaming and it causes some extra bills.

“In the village the French signal is patchy depending on the atmospherics and the weather, but here on the beach the French signal is constant because we are at the foot of the cliffs and the UK signal is blocked out.”

Costs for making a call on the French network can be up to four times the cost of using a domestic one with a cost of up to 28p to make a call and nearly 8p to receive one and nearly 9p to send a text.

The signal problem has upset locals who want something to be done to stop the extra charges and inconvenience.

A spokesman for EE said: “We always recommend our customers switch off roaming while they are in this little pocket of an area to ensure that they are connecting to the correct network because we cannot control the networks from the other side of the water.”

The issue is believed to affect all UK networks.

guardian.co.uk © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

Four jobseekers per vacancy

Unison said its study showed the scale of the jobs ‘crisis’ and follows loss of 500,000 public-sector jobs since 2010

Almost four people are chasing every job vacancy in Britain, rising to more than 20 in some parts of the country, new research has revealed.

A study by Unison found that the worst area was the Isle of Wight, with almost 24 jobseekers per vacancy, followed by Hackney in London, with more than 20.

There are at least five people for every vacancy in 113 local authorities, and over 10 in 26 of those, said the union.

London was found to be one of the worst regions, with more than 10 jobseekers per vacancy in a third of the capital’s 32 boroughs.

Unison said its study showed the scale of the jobs “crisis” and follows the loss of 500,000 public-sector jobs since the coalition came to power.

General secretary Dave Prentis said: “The scale of the ongoing jobs crisis is deeply worrying.

“Three long years of cuts – with more to come – and still there are not enough jobs to go around.

“The government has got it wrong on the recession and it has sacrificed our recovery. As well as laying waste to our public services, cuts have a stranglehold on the private sector.

“The government does have a choice. Use the budget to outline a bold strategy for jobs and growth. Make people feel secure in their jobs and they are more likely to spend.

“Give public-sector workers a decent pay rise and more money will flow through tills in local shops and businesses, helping our beleaguered high streets.

“The most damaging thing the government could do is to plough on regardless with its reckless anti-growth, no hope, cuts strategy.”

guardian.co.uk © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

Sheryl Sandberg’s new book is causing uproar

Facebook’s chief operating officer has written about how women can achieve career success. It has resulted in an almighty row

Age: 43

Appearance: The Corrs’ older half-sister.

I know her – she’s the CEO of Yahoo!. No, that’s Marissa Mayer. Sandberg is Facebook’s chief operating officer and the first woman on its board.

So I was close! They’re both alliterative-named women in charge of modern stuff. Yes. So close.

Why is SS in the news, then? Added an “If you don’t know what you’ve done, I’m not going to tell you” button for status updates? Turned the two ‘o’s in the Facebook logo into little ovaries? Had a child and named it “Like/Dislike”? None of those. She has written a book called Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead, about how women can best “lean into” (rather than turn away from) career success, and set up a foundation to help them do so.

Let me guess – it is a feminist tract that has caused outrage among commentators who question her ability to talk from a position of privilege about the lives of the majority of women? Yes, with the added twist that they have been frequently doing so without reading the book.

Impossible! No one in the media would ever dream of saying, printing or rendering in pixels anything that hadn’t been thoroughly researched, considered and investigated from all sides! Alas, some would and some have. The biggest row began with an article by Jodi Kantor (who did appear to have read the book) in the New York Times, which was sceptical about Sandberg and her thesis and included an out-of-context quote from an interview elsewhere that gave a negative impression of her, which the original piece didn’t.

Then what happened? Our own Daily Mail ran a piece that further distorted everything, Maureen Dowd followed up in the New York Times with another sceptical piece, alleging Sandberg’s book and foundation were just moneymaking ventures.

And then? The NYT printed corrections to her article and Kantor’s, but by then everyone was off and running – especially in the blogosphere – and barely even pretending to have read the book, or anything, before laying into Sandberg, and hard.

Life’s a bag of utter balls sometimes, isn’t it? You got that right, my friend. Still a backlash against the backlash now seems to be starting, so maybe we’ll see a considered result in the end.

Do say: “I’m going to get that book out of the library to see what I think.”

Don’t say: “A thousand online commentators can’t be wrong.”

guardian.co.uk © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

Trapped in negative equity

Negative equity and a dearth of first-time buyers have trapped many families wanting to upgrade to a bigger home

Tom Green and his wife, Keira, bought a flat in Solihull, near Birmingham, in February 2008 as the property market reached its peak. “We took on a 125% mortgage from Northern Rock – at that time it was sold as ‘your property will increase in value, so it’s no problem’,” he says. However, just a couple of months later the market collapsed. “It’s a big flat and there were just the two of us, so we decided to stay put and wait it out. We thought after a couple of years things would pick up,” he says.

Instead, five years on, Tom Green thinks it is still worth less than the £122,500 they paid. They have watched as the neighbourhood has become less desirable and nearby properties have hung around on the market for years. “There are no first-time buyers left – they’ve all vanished, certainly at the level we want to sell at.”

The couple are among a large number of would-be second movers trapped by negative equity and a scarcity of first-time buyers whose plight is highlighted in two new pieces of research.

Yesterday, Lloyds TSB’s third annual Second Steppers report said that 61% of those who wanted to move up the property ladder in 2012 were unable to do so, while research published tomorrow by website Rightmove, will show that 40% of people hoping to buy their second property this year are living in homes their families have outgrown.

One in 10 told Rightmove they were trying to trade up despite living in a home worth less than they paid for it.

Of the 500 people interviewed by Lloyds TSB, 25% were in negative equity, while the same number reported a lack of offers on their home. Around a fifth thought it was harder to move up the housing ladder than it had been to get on it in the first place.

The lack of new buyers is underlined by Rightmove’s research, which found that in six out of 10 regions of the UK the proportion of people saying they hoped to buy for the first time in 2013 was below 20%, less than half of the 40% associated with a healthy housing market.

Of the 4,000 would-be second movers who responded, 40% said their families had outgrown their homes, while 7% said the size of their property had made them put plans to start a family on hold.

Tom Peirson and his family are among those who are squeezed into a smaller space than they would like, but can’t find the way to buy a bigger home.

Peirson, a firefighter, and his wife, Emma Jane, who runs a hairdressing salon, live with their two daughters in a two-bedroom home near Brighouse in Yorkshire. It is worth less than the £82,000 they paid in November 2005 and has been on the market since their youngest daughter was born four years ago.

He says: “We had an offer last year but they pulled out,” he says. “We’ve just had another offer, but it’s for less than we owe and, with all the other costs, we are not sure that we can afford to buy anywhere.

“If you are a young couple and can live at home you may be able to raise a deposit, but we are really struggling.”

Government initiatives to kickstart the housing market have predominantly focussed on new-build property, to help the construction industry. But there are hints that the Budget could include measures to extend the NewBuy scheme, which allows buyers to take 95% mortgages on new homes (with some of the loan guaranteed by the government and developers) to existing properties – a move that could free up some of those trying to sell.

Rightmove says although second-time buyers made up 29% of those looking to move, their needs were not often considered. “Second-steppers are the ugly duckling of the housing market,” says the website’s director, Miles Shipside.

“Overlooked for government incentives, struggling to protect their equity if they bought near the peak, and now crammed into a home that is too small.” He added: “It appears many second-steppers have had to shelve their family planning and home-moving ambitions since the onset of the credit-crunch over five years ago.”

Psychiatrist Clare Gabriel (not her real name) lives in a two-bedroom flat in Glasgow with her husband and two children and runs a business from there. It cost £155,000 in 2005 and was recently valued at £120,000. “We have tried trading in with developers but they won’t touch our flat,” she says. The couple are trying to get their lender’s permission to rent out their home so they can use Scotland’s Mi new home scheme to buy somewhere bigger. “It is difficult because we want to live where there are decent schools and that means prices start at £265,000 … Even if we did succeed we’d be taking a risk having two mortgages.”

Back in Solihull, the Greens have family reasons for moving, as well as financial ones. They had a child in November, and rather than live in a second-floor flat with no lift, they moved in with Tom’s parents. “If we sold now we would lose £10,000-£15,000 and we would need to find another £5,000 in fees – the last five years would have been a waste of time and money,” he says.

Fortunately, the property was easy to let and since the start of the year they have had a tenant. “We realise we are lucky to be able to live with my parents while we save money and in 12 months we will be in a much better position.”

guardian.co.uk © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

How the influx of new global elites is changing the face of Europe

New wealth, especially from China and Russia, is having a dramatic impact on European tourism, cities and traditional rural havens

The beaches, resorts and assorted tourist attractions of Europe are undergoing a quiet revolution; a transformation to match the foreign-holiday boom unleashed by cheap package tours in the 1960s. The Russians are no longer coming. They have arrived. And the Chinese are on their way in even bigger numbers.

With its pretty piazzas and ancient churches, Montecatini is a typical Tuscan town. But it is also one where the mayor has proposed that all street signs should be written in Russia’s Cyrillic script, reflecting an unprecedented invasion of pleasure-seekers from the east.

Across the rest of the continent, the picture is the same. Russians, Asians and Arabs are rewriting the rules of European tourism as newly enriched tycoons and middle-class beneficiaries of the world’s booming economies buy properties and take up beach space once jealously guarded by northern Europeans.

Outbound tourists from western Europe and the United States have remained fairly static in recent decades but the numbers going in the other direction are startling. Take China, where a travelling boom has marched in step with the country’s vertiginous economic growth. Five million making foreign visits in 1996 became 60 million by 2010. Over the same period, 12 million visitors from Moscow, St Petersburg and the rest of Russia multiplied into almost 40 million.

As the eurozone (and Britain) wonders where sustained economic growth is going to come from, in the depressing aftermath of the banking crisis, governments overseeing flagging economies in southern Europe are pulling out all the stops to attract non-EU visitors with cash to spare. Countries such as Portugal, Cyprus and Spain have even offered residency permits to foreign house buyers to energise their property markets.

Joannna Leverett of Savills estate agents said there were several trends. “Russians are still buying in the south of France, Tuscany, Turkey. Buyers from the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Qatar have started buying in Turkey as well as the south of France. Marbella remains popular. They tend to buy large villas in serviced resorts. Americans continue to buy in Italy and France. Chinese are buying newly built apartments in Paris and London, but here it’s related to education and visas and less about tourism,” she said.

In the context of the eurozone crisis, a knockdown sale of assets appears to have begun. Last week the emir of Qatar bought six Greek islands for £7m, continuing a trend started by King Fahd of Saudi Arabia when he fell in love with Marbella in 1974. The king spent up to two months on the Costa del Sol every summer and he was joined by much of the Saudi court and many other Middle Eastern princes. Each royal visit was said to pump £60m into the local economy.

Marbella is still a magnet for visitors from the Middle East. The Saudi royal family owns the 200-acre Nahda complex that includes a clinic, a mosque and a replica of the White House, among other palaces. Sheikh Abdullah al-Thani of Qatar owns Málaga football club. But Russian wealth has become a bigger player in recent years.

Jelena Cvjetkovic, also of Savills, said that wealthy Russians were still looking for “trophy assets” and last year one had bought a private property for more than £40m in St Tropez. The latest fashion, she said, was for the very wealthy to add a countryside property to their seaside property. “We are seeing a surge of interest in Tuscany. They already have a seaside property and now they want a countryside property with a vineyard. A lot of these sales are carried out privately, but I have heard through lawyers of many going for £30m-£40m,” she said.

Meanwhile, the emerging Russian middle class – the merely well-off as opposed to the super-rich – are transforming the mass tourism market and adding to their own, more modest property portfolios. In 2011 Russians were the largest group of visitors to Europe, with 24.6 million, followed by the US with 20.6 million. Next is China with 4.7 million, Canada with 4.2 million and Japan with 4.1 million.

Many of those visitors are also buying. Mike Bridges, editor of International Residences, a Russian property magazine, said: “The majority of Russian buyers are now from the middle classes with an average budget of €500,000. They normally don’t need mortgages and pay cash. The Russian economy is doing very well, and the middle class is immense.”

As a result, large Russian communities are emerging in north-east Spain, Montenegro and Cyprus where there are Russian shops and services on offer. Bridges said: “Russians are looking for places with direct flights to St Petersburg and Moscow and they need a lot of interpreters at the other end. Developers normally need Russian-speaking staff. Bulgaria and Montenegro are popular because of the linguistic similarities, but Spain has become very popular because of the cheap property prices.”

Russians now account for 9% of the property market on the Costa del Sol, ahead of the Germans on 7%, but still way behind the British on 35%.

The new influx has had its darker side, amid accusations of mafia activity and corruption. In Cyprus, a court in 2010 bailed a Russian accused of spying in the US, giving him the opportunity to escape. In Spain, Russian businessmen and Spanish politicians have been accused of collaborating in corruption.

But as the spending capacity of the new powerhouses of the global economy inexorably grows, the new kids on the block will become more numerous. And if Russians are the present, the Chinese are the future. Young Chinese people are steadily moving from organised group travel to independent travel, making reservations and buying tickets on the internet and going beyond the major tourist attractions.

The UN has predicted 100 million Chinese tourists will travel somewhere in 2020. Europe, or at least the continent’s most alluring spots, are set to become a playground for the new rich of the east. It’s all a long way from the Costa Brava in 1970.

Scramble for a continent

UK

The British climate does not lend itself to non-European sunseekers, but the race for prime property grows ever more intense. When the Malaysian owners of the Battersea power station development released the first batch of 600 apartments for sale in January they were snapped up in two days.

“We’re in the eye of the storm right now,” says James Moran, sales director at Winkworth’s South Kensington office. “Sales are up 60% on last year and we’re seeing traditional markets, such as the French and Italians, being replaced with buyers from Russia, the Middle East and Asia.”

The Arab spring has also resulted in a surge in demand from Egypt, Libya and Iran as buyers look for a safe haven for their money.

Joanne O’Connor

France

The Russians are still buying holiday homes on the French Riviera, but they are now being joined by sun-starved Scandinavians and cash-rich Egyptians. The “Golden Triangle” – Cannes, Cap d’Antibes, Châteauneuf – remains popular. Fredrik Lilloe, of Estate Net Prestige-Knight Frank, says his agency is seeing buyers from the Middle East, particularly Egyptians. The Chinese have shown great interest in Burgundy vineyards, but in general they do not live on the estate. They get someone to run it and ship the wine to China.

Mark Harvey, of the French team at Knight Frank in London, said Paris was popular with Middle Eastern and American buyers as well as Russians and Italians.

President François Hollande’s threat to impose higher taxes has sent many buyers out of the country to seek “safe-haven” investments in places such as Monaco and Switzerland.

Kim Willsher

Spain

With the collapse of the housing market after the residential property bubble burst five years ago, buyers of all nationalities have been scarce – though Russian president Vladimir Putin was among those reportedly snooping around Marbella’s exclusive La Zabaleta luxury estate last year.

The government is so desperate to sell off the estimated 1m empty new-build properties that it plans to change visa laws to allow non-Europeans who spend more than €160,000 (£140,000) on a house to live in the country.

Secretary of state for commerce Jaime García-Legaz said the move was specifically aimed at attracting wealthy Russian and Chinese buyers. With prices down more than 30%, Russians overtook Germans last year as the second biggest buyers of property – after Britons – on the southern Costa del Sol. In eastern Alicante they snap up the more expensive properties.

Chinese buyers, meanwhile, are also looking at far bigger investments. A Chinese consortium is considering a 4.6 square mile site on the outskirts of Madrid, where it plans to build a new finance centre.

All of that pales, however, beside the site at Alcorcón, near Madrid, where US billionaire Sheldon Adelson plans to build a vast complex, known as EuroVegas.

Giles Tremlett

Italy

Russian oligarchs and their bottle blonde wives have been a common sight on Sardinia’s Emerald Coast for years now, propping up the bar at Flavio Briatore’s Billionaire nightclub. The Russian tide has since hit the mainland, with the mayor of Tuscan resort Forte dei Marmi growing so alarmed by the spiralling house prices he decided to set aside new homes for locals only.

Further inland, Svetlana Medvedeva, the wife of Russia’s prime minister, Dmitry Medvedev, took over an entire spa hotel in Montecatini Terme last year with her 30-strong entourage, prompting the mayor to suggest he would put up Russian street signs in the hope Medvedeva’s arrival would lead a boom in high spending Russians.

Gulf Arabs are thick on the ground and expected to swell in numbers after the Qatar royal family signed a deal last year to buy out the American owner of the Emerald Coast – a stunning stretch of Sardinian coast first developed by the Aga Khan. Plans for large-scale development by the Qataris have been rumoured, prompting fears that sleepy coves will be crowded by new villas catering to Gulf Arabs.

Italian hoteliers are meanwhile desperate to figure out how they can grab a slice of the growing Chinese tourism business, from offering the right tea to complying with Feng Shui rules.

Their fear is that Chinese entrepreneurs will buy up hotels to accommodate Chinese tourists, shutting out Italians from the goldrush. Milan already boasts its own, all-Chinese hotel, the Huaxia.

Indian tourists are now a common site on the streets of Rome, displacing the traditional mobs of baseball capped, camera toting Japanese.

Tom Kington

Germany

Germany is not a country accustomed to foreign investors. In a characteristically blunt commentary the tabloid Bild recently lamented that “Russians, Chinese, Indians and Arabs” were “stuffing their pockets” with “German bargains”.

“And they have even more of the best cuts of meat in their sights” Increasing numbers of shipyards on the north German coast have found themselves in foreign hands, much to the disdain of many Germans who feel the shipyard sellouts are just the tip of a much more widespread foreign takeover of corporate Germany that leaves Europe’s biggest economy exposed to speculation and short-term visions

Kate Connolly

Montenegro

When it was part of Yugoslavia, Montenegro was the favourite destination for the Serbian middle classes. The Bay of Kotor was the last home of the Yugoslav navy and the resort of Herceg Novi was known as little Belgrade for the number of tourists that came every summer from the Serbian capital.

Now Russians almost equal the number of Serbians who travel to Montenegro but are greater buyers of property. !e Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta reported last year that 40% of Montenegrin property was owned by Russians. Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska is the owner of Montenegro’s aluminium plant, the country’s biggest industry.

Conal Urquhart

Greece

After three years of economic crisis Greece is beginning to attract investors. The emir of Qatar confirmed last week that the debt choked country is a buyer’s market, picking up six islands in the Ionian Sea for a mere £7m.

“Properties have lost 50% of their value since 2007 and foreigners who smell an opportunity are calling,” says Christos Vergos, of the Athens branch of Remax. Bargains are such that Qatar’s oil-rich monarch, Hamad bin Khalifa al-!ani, wants to buy 12 more islands off the coast of Ithaca for the purpose of building summer palaces for each of his 24 children.

Property specialists say hundreds of cash-rich Lebanese and Israelis have snapped up holiday homes on the island of Mykonos.

“They are the people with cash in hand who can get a deal,” says Roi Deldimou who represents Beauchamp estates on the island. Turkish investors are also moving in, cutting deals to snap up hotels in the historic heart of recession-ravaged Athens, where the cash-strapped state, desperate to meet the demands of international lenders, is also offloading properties.

The Chinese, who recently bought the operating rights to the port of Pireaus, are taking advantage of depressed prices to purchase property around the capital.

Russians have led Greece’s wave of new investors. Oligarchs have acquired luxurious homes along the Athenian Riviera following Roman Abramovich’s acquisition of a huge estate on Corfu.

Helena Smith

Cyprus

The island embodies the drive by non-Europeans to invest in the European Union. With the collapse of its British second homes market, the Chinese have moved in, buying retreats at a record rate.

“Since November last year there have been around 700 sales to Chinese investors,” says Peter Christofi, overseas marketing manager at Antonis Louizou and Associates.

The promise of permanent residency visas, procured with properties over €300,000, has spurred all the interest. “In our experience the attraction is all based on this law involving residence visas and has little to do with Cyprus itself,” said Christofi.

With its low taxes and abundant sunshine, the island has also been a magnet for Russians almost since the collapse of the Soviet empire.

Based in Limassol, the 40,000-strong community has made huge property investments.

Helena Smith

guardian.co.uk © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

Cash Isa rates improve

Long-suffering Isa savers are finally seeing rates edge up. We round up the best of them

Savings rates have taken a hammering ever since the Bank of England slashed the base rate to 0.5% four years ago this week, and the government’s Funding for Lending scheme has arguably made things worse. But are we now starting to see some green shoots of hope for long-suffering savers?

On Monday, Santander will launch a range of cash Isas, including an easy-access account paying 2.5% for 12 months, and a two-year fixed rate paying up to 3%. Its move comes days after Barclays and HSBC launched Isas paying up to 2.3% and up to 2.75% respectively. Some have strings attached, but don’t stack up too badly against the current overall best-buy 2.8% rate from Coventry building society.

At the same time, the Halifax has announced a boost to its monthly prize draw, with six top prizes of £250,000 up for grabs in May and June, in a bid to encourage more people to use their full cash Isa allowance.

Meanwhile, First Direct current account holders can get an impressive 6% fixed for a year if they sign up for the bank’s new Regular Saver account, where you can save between £25 and £300 a month for 12 months. If you stashed away the maximum, you would receive £117 gross interest. Alternatively, you can enjoy a 5% return for 12 months, and thereby earn up to £125 interest over the period, if you’re prepared to sign up for Nationwide’s FlexDirect current account.

The new rates represent a much-needed boost for savers, who have been the biggest losers from the Funding for Lending scheme launched last August. This was designed to help lenders offer cheaper loans to homebuyers and businesses, but those trying to put some money aside for the future are paying a high price. Since August 2012, the average interest paid on a cash Isa has fallen from 2.5% to 1.8%, while some of the deals from the major high street names have fallen even further.

Santander’s new products include an easy-access account called Direct Isa Saver, which offers a variable rate of 2.5% for 12 months. However, the minimum opening balance is £2,500. Santander is also bringing back its Major Isa, which is a two-year fixed-rate account paying 2.8%, with savers getting an extra 0.1% if Rory McIlroy – one of the bank’s brand ambassadors – wins an eligible golf major championship in the next two years.

There is also a version paying a slightly higher rate – 3%, plus the possibility of an extra 0.1% – that is only available to holders of its 123 current account or 123 cashback credit card. All three Isas accept new money and transfers in of existing Isa cash, including existing Santander Isas.

Last week, Barclays launched the Instant Cash Isa and the 3 Year Flexible Cash Isa, both of which let savers transfer in money from other Isas held with Barclays and other providers.

The former is an instant access account paying 2.1% on balances of £1 to £14,999; 2.2% from £15,000 to £29,999; and 2.3% above £30,000. However, these rates are boosted by an introductory bonus of 0.8% that lasts for 12 months. The three-year Isa is a fixed-rate product, not boosted by a temporary bonus. It allows you access to some of your money – you can make up to three withdrawals during the term, each of up to 10% of the current balance.

Last Monday, HSBC launched new deals, though its cash Isas are only available to current account holders. If you are a Premier account holder, its variable rate Isa pays 2.75% on balances over £15,000, and 2.25% below, while for Advance current account customers, the rates are 2.15% and 1.65% respectively. Standard current account holders will receive 1.7% above £15,000 and 1.6% below. First Direct’s Isa, available to current account customers, pays between 0.5% and 3%.

In late 2011 the Halifax started a free monthly prize draw for customers with balances of £5,000 or more in any of its savings accounts, and this week it announced a “super draw”, with three top prizes of £250,000 in both May and June. To enter the May draw, customers need to have £5,000 in their savings for the whole of April, providing an incentive to savers who have not yet used their full 2012-13 cash Isa allowance of £5,640 to add to their tax free savings before the end of March.

Some people will have built up large sums in cash Isas since 1999, when they were launched, and in many cases will be earning paltry amounts. Many savers are unaware they can transfer their savings while retaining the tax-free advantages.

One provider playing fair is Coventry building society, which has announced it is increasing the rate on all existing variable cash Isas to 2.5%. The move takes effect on 6 April and means that from that date, none of the Coventry’s 250,000 cash Isa customers will earn less than that amount. Of its current offerings, the society’s 60-Day Notice Isa is a best-buy, offering a rate of 2.8%, which includes a 0.6% bonus for the first year. You can invest from £1 up to £5,640, and penalty-free withdrawals can be made with 60 days notice.

Even if you are a taxpayer who can’t afford to tie up money for a long period, it still pays to use an instant/easy access cash Isa because you won’t be taxed on the interest. Fixed-rate Isas typically pay the best, but you need to be fairly certain you won’t need the cash during the fixed term.

Virgin Money has launched a fixed-rate Isa paying 2.75% annually, fixed for five years, available in branches, online and by post. It accepts transfers in of previous years cash Isa money. Withdrawals are allowed during the fixed-rate period, but you will pay a charge equivalent to 180 days’ interest.

guardian.co.uk © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

Bank fraudsters get the better of Halifax

As official figures for bank fraud are released, the shocking story of a Kent couple let down by Halifax puts the lie to any claims of victory against identity fraudsters

Crooks stealing your identity and plundering your bank accounts are, at last, on the run, says Financial Fraud Action UK, an industry body that collates financial crime figures. Fraud fell in 2011 and in the first half of 2012. But if the shocking story of Rod and Linda Twiss is anything to go by, there is still an awful long way to go. Their story raises worrying questions about the quality of controls at Halifax, whose parent group, Lloyds, operates more current accounts than any other bank in Britain.

The couple, who live in Kent, tell me they are prudent and cautious with their money. He’s retired, she’s a finance manager for a local firm. They have a shredder, and take all the usual steps to protect themselves.

On 29 December, Halifax rang with bad news. Someone had tried to change the address on their Platinum card to one in Birmingham. The couple confirmed it was not them, and, on the bank’s advice, cut up their cards safe in the knowledge that Halifax would reissue the cards in a few days. A nuisance but not a calamity.

Little did they realise the scale of the calamity that was indeed about to hit. It has shaken their confidence in Halifax to the core.

Despite the bank being aware of a fraud attempt just days earlier, on 4 January a woman posing as Mrs Twiss went into a Halifax branch in Streatham, south London – never previously visited by Mrs Twiss – and ordered a new passbook for their Liquid Gold account, which the couple had not used for nearly a decade. What ID did the fraudster use to obtain the passbook? We still don’t know, but clearly it evaded Halifax’s controls.

The fraudster then systematically cleaned out the couple’s savings accounts, stealing £12,460. He or she transferred money from Mr and Mrs Twiss’s Premier and Instant savings accounts into the Liquid Gold account. Then they popped into a branch of the Halifax every day for five days, withdrawing £2,500 in cash each time: first, Balham, south London, then Chiswick, back south to Penge, and then across to Croydon.

At no point were Mr and Mrs Twiss contacted for confirmation, despite the size of the withdrawals. How often have we heard from readers prevented from opening or accessing their accounts because super-strict money laundering rules require multiple forms of ID? Yet, in this case, the fraudsters casually walked off with their loot.

When, on 13 January, Linda discovered the theft, Halifax did at least immediately accept it was fraud and, within two days, restored their cash balances. But, astonishingly, the matter did not rest there.

Remember the Platinum cards? Well, Halifax did reissue the cards – directly to the fraudster’s address in Birmingham, handing him (or her) a £17,400 spending limit in the couple’s name.

The first our long-suffering couple knew was when Halifax’s debt collectors demanded repayment. The couple patiently explained they had never received the cards, and obtained an apology from Halifax. But one week later the calls began again, this time from its call centre in India, for failing, supposedly, to pay the Platinum card. The couple, battered and harassed, have cut all connections with Halifax. When we intervened, the bank upped its payment for stress and inconvenience to £576. But how could it have let them down so badly?

A Halifax spokesman said: “The person who fraudulently withdrew funds did answer the security questions correctly. Unfortunately, errors were made on our behalf with regard to issuing the new cards, and we are sorry for the problems this has caused. We take customer security very seriously, and we have strict controls to ensure any unusual or potentially fraudulent activity is flagged and responded to.”

Mr and Mrs Twiss greeted this with a hollow laugh. Next week, as official figures for fraud in 2012 are released, maybe the banks will proclaim another victory in the battle against the fraudsters. But are they losing the war?

guardian.co.uk © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

‘Autism doesn’t hold me back. I’m moving up the career ladder’

Driven new generation of people with the condition are showing employers there is no limit to what they can do

Jonathan Young has big plans for his career. The business analyst at Goldman Sachs is on the autistic spectrum. But this, he says, is not something he allows to hold him back.

“I’m the company’s global go-to guy for all the information used in every single one of our internal and external presentations,” he says. “I’m moving up the ladder every year in terms of responsibility or promotion. My ambition is to maintain this momentum. In 10 years, I want to be someone fairly big.”

He is part of the most visible generation of young people with autism our society has ever known. Diagnosed early, this generation have been educated to expect not just a job when they leave school but a career on a par with their “neuro-typical” contemporaries.

The confidence and determination of these graduates – some of whom are educated to PhD level – are forcing the pace of change in organisations previously inaccessible to those with autism. Businesses, from City law firms and banks to global healthcare companies, have begun to open their doors to young people once thought able only to do lowly jobs.

Young first went to Goldman Sachs as an intern in the National Autistic Society’s specialist employment programme, Prospects. His time at the investment bank was such a success that the two-month internship swiftly became a full-time, permanent post.

“When I arrived, this role was a part-time job but I built it up into a key, full-time post and made it my own,” he said. “Autism doesn’t hold me back because I have had the correct support from a young age. It’s key to have that support, both in education and in the workplace, but I don’t require anything complicated: people just have to understand that I’m different.”

For all his confidence, Young admits that he considers himself fortunate. “I never lose sight of the fact that I’m lucky to have a job that allows me to use all my intelligence and stretch my potential,” he said.

Prospects has placed young people with autism in companies including Thomson Reuters, the law firms Clifford Chance and Ashurst, the technology and business consultant Cartesian, and John Lewis.

Penny Andrews got her job as a library graduate trainee at Leeds Metropolitan University in August without any help from a charity or specialist employment agency.

Having beaten 200 applicants to the job, she believes she has proved herself to be the best candidate. “Sometimes I feel people think I should be grateful that I have a job but I’m performing a useful task and doing it well, so they should be grateful to me,” she said. “After all, they wanted me badly enough to employ me a month before I had finished my degree in IT and communications with the Open University.”

Far from feeling that her diagnosis of Asperger’s is something to be “got over”, Andrews maintains it gave her a lead over the other candidates. “I was completely open about my autism throughout the interview process and even asked for a few special conditions to take account of my Asperger’s, such as working from 8.30am to 4.30pm,for example, so I don’t have to take the rush-hour bus home, taking extra breaks in a special quiet area if I need quiet, and not having to answer telephones.”

They are small adjustments for her employers to make, she said, compared with the advantages her Asperger’s gives them. “I’m more focused, intense and honest than a neuro-typical person,” she said. “I do things thoroughly and pay proper attention to detail. I’m always switched on: even when I’m not at work, I’ll go to events that are relevant. Libraries are one of my autistic specialities and I harness that at work.”

Employers’ attitudes might be changing but there is a lot of ground to make up. Just 15% of those with autism have full-time jobs, according to research by the National Autistic Society (Nas), while 9% work part-time. These figures compare unfavourably with the 31% of disabled people in full-time work in the UK. More than a quarter of graduates with autism are unemployed, the highest rate of any disability group. Nevertheless, employers are increasingly coming round to the arguments from disability advocates that employing those on the spectrum is not about charity or social responsibility – but the empirical benefit of taking on people with unique skills.

Tom Madders is head of campaigns at the society and responsible for its Undiscovered Workforce campaign to get young people with autism into employment. He talks of a “vast pool of untapped talent” among those with autism.

“When someone has the intellectual ability and ends up doing a job like working in a supermarket, it’s heartbreaking. It’s such a waste because although everyone with autism is different, the things they bring that are additional to the rest of us include a very high concentration level, very good attention to detail and analytical skills that are key in data analysis and when looking for anomalies in complex spreadsheets,” he said. “Why would employers want to miss out on those skills? In addition, those with autism have very specialist areas of exhaustive interest which, if these can coincide with the job in hand, can be extremely useful. They’re much more reliable in terms of timeliness and absenteeism and very loyal. Often, they’re very happy in jobs other people find boring.”

William Thanh has such severe autism that he can only communicate through his iPad. But his work at the Paul bakery in London is of such high quality that the manager, Salina Gani, is keen to increase his hours.

“When we decided to take on three young people with autism last year, we thought there would be limits to what they could achieve,” said Gani. “But these young men have shown us that we shouldn’t assume anything on the basis of their autism alone. Yes, they need work that’s repetitive and structured, but much of the service industry is like that anyway. We would gladly take them on full-time and increase the numbers of people with autism working for us across all our outlets.”

At Guy’s and St Thomas’ hospitals in London, an initiative was set up two years ago to help people aged 18 to 30 with autism gain work experience. Of the 20 or so interns who completed the scheme, four have jobs at the hospital. The third cohort of about 16 young people to begin this year will be twice as large as that in the first year.

Staynton Brown, associate director of equality and diversity at the hospital, dismisses any suggestion of the initiative being a philanthropic one. “This is not a charitable gesture,” he said. “We want to make sure we have the most talented workforce possible. It’s in our interests in multiple ways. For a start, this hospital serves a very diverse population and we want to do that to the best of our ability, which is more likely to happen if our workforce is used to working alongside a diverse group of colleagues.

“We’ve all benefited from the changes we’ve incorporated to accommodate those with autism. By clarifying the way we give information to and help introduce the interns into the hospital, we’ve made communication clearer for everyone, which leads to better patient care.”

William Elliott, a managing director at Goldman Sachs, agreed. “Employers are thinking more diversely about their workforce because they want to get the best talent through the door. We’re increasingly recognising those talents can be found within this historically underrepresented group.

It’s a lot easier than most people think to integrate someone with autism into the workplace. It just takes a good manager who is prepared to give some time to bring that person on, an approach which will be of benefit to every new employee.”

Project Search, a programme supported by the Office for Disability Issues, helps those with autism find – and keep – permanent employment in companies including GlaxoSmithKline and the security firm G4S. About 30% of Project Search graduates have been taken on by their host employers. An additional 30% are signed up by other employers.

“People are being recruited on Project Search before they have even finished the programme because, far from being seen as a charity scheme, these young people are rightly regarded as a talent pool, like student nurses,” said Anne O’Bryan, who runs the European arm of the programme.

Some of the improvements can be traced to government policies. The Autism Act 2009 – a response to poor employment rates for people with autism – was the first disability-specific legislation to be passed by the government.

In 2011, the Department for Work and Pensions and Nas published a guide for employers, Untapped Talent. But David Perkins, manager of Prospects at Nas, said the government had done as much harm as it had good. “Unfortunately, things really haven’t improved in terms of employing people with autism and Asperger’s syndrome over the last few years,” he said.

Prospects has helped place 30% of its clients in work – 18 people in 2012 and 15 in 2011. But these figures, said Perkins, are down on the three years before. He blames the government’s Work Programme.

“It has been detrimental in helping people with autism to find employment because it really doesn’t reflect the specific needs and difficulties people with the condition might have in terms of employment,” he said, pointing out that some Work Programme providers were getting just 3.5% of clients into jobs.

“Funding for courses such as our own – which is 10 times more successful – is extremely limited, and those with autism who want to work continue to struggle to get adequate support to allow them to do so,” he said. “As things stand, there is so little help out there for the around one in 100 adults with the condition, that finding sustainable employment for people with autism is an uphill battle.”

But Peta Troke of Autism Plus is more optimistic. “The job market is opening up to people with autism in a way it never has before,” she said. “There’s a ‘can-do’ attitude around people with autism now. There’s a spark.”

Unrealised potential

• Only 15% of adults with autism in the UK are in full-time paid employment and only 9% are in part-time employment.

• 26% of graduates with autism are unemployed, by far the highest rate of any disability group.

• Of those who do not currently have a job, 59% do not believe or think they will ever be able to get one.

• According to the National Autistic Society, most of the 300,000-plus working-age adults with autism want to work but are held back by a lack of understanding of autism and a dearth of specialist employment services.

• With help from the National Autistic Society’s employment support service Prospects, 70% of adults with autism were able to find a job.

• Only 10% of adults with autism receive support in finding work but 53% would like it.

• 79% of adults with autism who receive out of work benefits say they would rather work.

• 37% of adults with autism have never had a paid job after the age of 16 and 41% of people over the age of 55 have spent a period of more than 10 years without a paid job.

• 51% of adults with autism in the UK have lived through a period in which they have had neither a job nor access to benefits. Of those, 10% have been in this position for a decade or more.

• Of those who have worked, about a third said that they had experienced bullying and felt that they had received unfair treatment or discrimination as a result of their disability.

• Job applications and interview processes can be particularly challenging for people with autism, as the condition can affect the ability to communicate. Often “good communication skills” are described as a prerequisite in a job specification, even when the role does not directly require them – which can discourage people with autism from applying. Research by Jemma Buckley

guardian.co.uk © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds