Category Archives: News

Going All Out For Shale

The ultimate fracking incentive was unveiled yesterday, 13th Juanuary 2014, when David Cameron, the Prime Minister, announced that local councils which approve shale gas projects will keep millions of pounds generated through windfall business rates. In this instance they will keep 100% of rates, up from the usual 50%, which is an estimated £1.7m for a 12-well site.

Yesterday it was also announced that the French company, Total, one of the world’s big five oil companies, was to invest close to £50 million in shale exploration in the UK. The fact that there is a ban on fracking in France has not gone unnoticed. Total is paying £1.6m to acquire a 40% stake in two exploration licences in the Gainsborough Trough, a geological basin in Lincolnshire, eastern England, and committing funding to a £45m exploration programme.

The existing partners, eCorp of the US, Dart Energy and UK-listed iGas and Egdon Resources will remain in licences but with reduced stakes. John Thrash, chief executive of eCorp International, said “The entry of this highly respected global shale operator into the UK shale gas exploration effort is a watershed event, not only for the UK, but also, we believe, Continental Europe”.

David Cameron is fully behind shale gas exploration in the UK. He said “Shale is important for our country. It could bring 74,000 jobs, over £3bn of investment, give is cheaper energy for the future, and increase our energy security.”

The technique of hydraulic fractruring, commonly known as “fracking”, involves extracting gas trapped in shale rock by drilling deep underground and pumping in pressurised solutions of water, sand and chemicals to shatter fissures in the rock. This process releases trapped gas which can then be pumped to the surface. Its proponents promote it on its economic merits of cheaper energy costs, job creation and as a pathway to greater energy independence.

This local government incentive has received condemnation from some corners, with local councils having to balance economic proseperity with environmental protection, potentially undermining community trust in their decision-making process. Jane Thomas, Friends of the Earth, accused the government of “Having to go to extreme measures to persuade people to accept fracking. These are community sweeteners”.

There are concerns over the pollution of water tables in rural areas, the risk of tremors and earthquakes, and the negative impact on air quality and local infrastructure. Existing drilling sites at Barton Moss, Manchester, operated by iGas, and at Balcombe, West Sussex, under Cuadrilla, have come under considerable pressure from community protest. Ministers are keen to persuade local communities to accept this relatively new technology which stand to benefit by £100,000 when a test well is fracked and receive 1% of revenue over the life of a well, typically £5-10m per site.

On the plus side jobs in drilling are created with fracking and for every new job created in drilling, more than three are created in supplies and service. Construction and engineering jobs can equally be in demand due to the increase in building. Retail, food and entertainment businesses expand as they support the increased population.

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Pilot Plan for £3,000 Visa Bonds Scrapped

The pilot plan for the Home Office to introduce £3,000 visa bonds on visitors from countries in Africa and Asia has been scrapped according to a report published today in The Sunday Times. Nick Clegg threatened to block the policy and David Cameron backed off from a full-scale confrontation with the Liberal Democrat leader.

The countries labelled “high risk” were India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nigeria and Ghana. From this month visitors from these countries would have had to pay a £3,000 cash bond before arrival in the UK. The cash bond would have been forfeited if they failed make the return trip home on time. If there had not been a U turn, India, Nigeria and Ghana, countries with some of the fastest growing economies, might well have retaliated with their own visa bonds for visitors from the UK. The £3,000 bonds would also have had social implications for those already living in the UK.

Vince Cable, Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, raised his concerns on the BBC Today Programme in mid-September when he said “I mean certainly the reaction to it from our friends in India and elsewhere, where we’re trying to build up a lot of trade and have very good relationships is one of outrage and I think we’re going to have to do this in a much more sensible way.”

The official line is that Theresa May’s immigration bill is already introducing measures to tackle illegal immigrants e.g changes to the appeal rights of foreign criminals; requiring landlords to check the immigration status of tenants; and preventing illegal migrants from getting access to driving licences and bank accounts. Plans too for a nationwide deployment of vans emblazoned with the message “go home or face arrest” were condemned as racist and unworkable and were cancelled last month.

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HS2 Gains Momentum

Yesterday the HS2 gained momentum as MPs backed the  High Speed Rail (Preparation) Bill with just 17 Conservatives and 11 Labour MPs voting against it. The HS2 is the proposed high speed line to connect London to Birmingham and branch off in a V shape to Leeds and Manchester. There was specualtion in recent weeks that Labour would withdraw its support for the scheme as budget estimates had risen from £32,7bn to £42.6bn. The future of the project is somewhat uncertain as it still has to pass to the House of Lords and the real crunch will happen next spring when MPs will have to pass a bill allowing government to seize land on to which to build the line.

Yesterday in the US it was announced that  JumpStartFund, a crowdfunding site that has decided to make Elon Musk’s 900mph hyperloop transit system a reality, has formed a company for the project called Hyperloop Transportation Technologies Inc.. David Cameron could be forgiven for dreaming of a crowd-funded hyperloop high up off the ground and a project that fires the imagination and encourages people to dream more easily than the HS2 ever will. For a time the debate seems to focus mainly on whether business people work on trains or not. If they do then they presumably don’t need to get off them so fast. The focus now is on capacity, not speed.

The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, did not appear to support the project and said that “This thing isn’t going to cost £42 billion, my friends. The real costs going to be way north of that. Keep going till you reach £70 billion, and then keep going.”  Network Rail set up a study group with the London Borough of Camden, which opposed the scheme on the grounds that it would cause considerable disruption and upheaval in the borough. A report by the Independent Transport Commission (ITC) suggested that there are many advantages to high-speed rail for stimulating regeneration and growth if properly plannned. Simon Linnot, Chair of the ITC had this to say in the forword to the report:

What you will read demonstrates the distance that needs to be travelled to establish a common national understanding and purpose for a project which must be regarded as a fundamental cornerstone of an integrated infrastructure network. It needs to be linked not just to the Victorian railway that is our backbone but also to the international links provided by our airports and the roads that may feed it. The capacity and connectivity impacts of HSR could be profound, but only if due attention is given to investment in local transport, regeneration, skills and redevelopment. The national and the local should not be seen in opposition, and we call on national and local leaders to work together to use the opportunities provided by HSR to help regenerate our cities and regions.

By the time HS2 is ready will we still be working in the same way and using trains to go to work?  With rapidly changing technology it is really hard to forecast. This Horse Manure  parable from Peter Gordon’s Blog illustrates how even in days gone by there were similar problems with forecasting.

In 1898, delegates from across the globe gathered in New York City for the world’s first international urban planning conference. One topic dominated the discussion. It was not housing, land use, economic development, or infrastructure. The delegates were driven to desperation by horse manure.

The horse was no newcomer on the urban scene. But by the late 1800s, the problem of horse pollution had reached unprecedented heights. The growth in the horse population was outstripping even the rapid rise in the number of human city dwellers. American cities were drowning in horse manure and well as other unpleasant biproducts of the era’s predominant mode of transportation: urine, flies, congestion, carcasses, and traffic accidents. Widespread cruelty to horses was a form of environmental degradation as well.

The situation seemed dire. In 1894, the Times of London estimated that by 1950 every street in the city would be buried nine feet deep in horse manure. One New York prognosticator of the 1890s concluded that by 1930 the horse droppings would rise to Manhattan’s third-story windows. A public health and sanitation crisis of almost unimaginable dimensions loomed.

And no possible solution could be devised. After all, the horse had been the dominant mode of transportation for thousands of years. Horses were absolutely essential for the functioning of the 19th century city – for personal transportation, freight haulage and even mechanical power. Without horses, cities would quite literally starve.

All efforts to mitigate the problem were proving woefully inadequate. Stumped by the crisis, the urban planning conference declared its work fruitless and broke up in three days instead of the scheduled  ten.

For job opportunies with HS2 click here.

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Thames Island Airport Plan | Boris Island

As Boris Johnson enjoyed an aerial tour over Hong Kong’s Chek Lap Kok airport he was showing us that his plan for a Thames Island airport also known as Boris Island is structurally achievable. Chek Lap Kok airport was built on land reclaimed from the sea and although only completed in 1998 is the world’s busiest cargo airport and not quite in the top 10 for passenger numbers. It was planned and designed by British companies – the architectural practice of Lord Foster, engineering group Mott MacDonald and structural engineers Arup.

In a report in the FT, while still in Hong Kong, Boris Johnson said ” It is hugely impressive yet also devastatingly depressing when you consider that, as long as the vision for aviation in the UK remains steadfastly wedded to Heathrow or make-do solutions, we will not be able to access many of the mega-airports opening here or in the many other dynamic economies building new airfields around the globe.”

Lord Foster’s practice has already produced designs for an inner estuary airport on an artificial island on the Thames. The mayor’s most recent proposal is for a giant outer estuary airport on the Isle of Grain. The proposal includes an international railway station which would take passengers to Waterloo in 26 minutes, infrastructure improvements such as extending Crossrail and widening the M25 an extra lane in each direction for 36 miles. The entire project would cost around £65 billion and open in 2029.

Sir Howard Davies was appointed by David Cameron, the prime minister, to head up an independent Airports Commission to review the options for the expansion of UK airport capacity. An interim report is due in December this year and will list a handful of possible runway sites to be studied in more detail from more than 50 submissions. The final report will not be published till after the 2015 general election.

Sir Howard Davies has said that the provisional conclusion is that we will need some net additional runway capacity in the southeast of England in the coming decades and that the UK needs a hub airport where passengers transfer from short-haul aircraft to wide-body jets to ensure that airlines can profitably operate a broad range of long-haul routes. In an FT report he said “The big question looking forward is how big a hub do you need and how will the aviation market develop?”

Some of the options under consideration are:

  • Building new runways at Heathrow and Gatwick.
  • Building new runways at Gatwick and Stanstead but not Heathrow.
  • Rebuilding Standstead and turning it into a hub.
  • Building a new four runway hub on the Thames estuary.

With Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted, there are already problems such as being too close to built-up areas or requiring aircraft to fly low over London. The expansion of Heathrow would  require the demolition of parts of West London and an increase in noise and atmospheric pollution across the whole city. Conservationists are not keen on the proposal for the Thames estuary and if it went ahead then Heathrow is likely to close.

Will Boris Island ever come to pass? It may well do. The Airport Commission may favour his bolder project simply because it is so hard to predict future requirements. Regardless of which proposal succeeds there will be opportunities for architects, structural engineers, aviation experts, project managers and finance professionals.

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Unmanned Oil Production Platforms | Amec and UPB’s £756m Plan

Unmanned Production Buoy (UPB) has signed a memorandum of understanding with the engineering giant AMEC for the development and construction of its first unmanned oil production platforms for use in small North Sea fields and other reserves in Danish and Irish waters according to a report in the FT.

The expectation is that buoy based production is practical only for marginal fields but UPB estimates that it is possible to recover 2bn barrels from the North Sea alone using their technology and that its European programme will cost £756m. The Scottish governement is supplying funds off £500 for this project. Amec will provide engineering, procurement, construction management and support services for the first three platforms in the Angus, Fife Fergus and Flora fields. The UK governement has granted licenses for these fields.

Richard Selwa is founder and chairman of UPB and started it in Aberdeen in 2009 to develop the concept of providing unmanned production systems to the offshore oil industry to enable access to previously uneconomical and untapped markets of offshore production. He got his inspiration while working in landlocked Wyoming in the US where he saw automated machinery quietly pumping crude oil and thought the system could be used offshore.

His systems are designed to operate safely and autonomously and are 100% redeployable with the seabed restored upon exhaustion of the field. The unmanned buoys use temperature based stabilisation where heat is provided by burning gas from the well itself. This is a slower method than the pressure based system commonly used offshore. There is no requirement for permanent rigs, floating production storage or offloading vessels.

AMEC is a supplier of consultancy, engineering and project management services to clients in the world’s oil and gas, mining, clean energy, environment and infrastructure markets and for career opportunities click here.

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Nobel Physics Prize in Recognition of Cern Discovery

It was not a great surprise that the £1.25m prize was awarded to Prof Englert of the Free University of Brussels and Prof Higgs of Endinburgh University in recognition of the discovery of the subatomic particle, the Higgs bosun, that confers mass on matter. It is often referred to as ‘the God’ particle and originates from an invisible energy field that fills the whole of space.

These two men had proposed theories on this as far back as 1964 but it was with the development of the $8bn Large Hadron Collider at Cern in Switzerland that their theories could finally be proved. Prof Higgs hopes that the recognition of fundamental science will help raise the value of blue sky research. A simple explanation of how the theory works can be seen on a YouTube created by Ian Sample author of Massive: The Hunt for the God Particle.


Employment Opportunites at Cern

Two research groups of 3,000 scientists each were involved in this research. There are fellowship programmes for people from EU Member States and opportunities for theoretical physicists from a Non-Member States. There is a long list of job categories shown here. The main ones cover finance, science, IT, engineering and human resources.A statement on their website states that ‘ CERN is a truly unique organisation. A genuine collaboration between countries, universities and scientists, driven not by profit margins, but by a commitment to create and share knowledge.’

Can we help you?

Working at Cern may or may not suit you but you may want to work in other parts of Europe.  and can read about it here. In the UK there is great demand for highly skilled and experienced professionals.

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Joint European Visas for Chinese Tourists a Possibility

At 8.59pm today the FT reported that Theresa May, home secretary, has bowed to pressure to streamline the process for Chinese tourists to Britain. As we are not part of the EU Schengen visa system this results in many high spending Chinese visitors bypassing our country. With their spend of $102bn on global travel in 2012 competition in Europe to attract Chinese shoppers is fierce.

David Cameron, the prime minister, and George Osborne, chancellor, have a visit to Beijing planned for this autumn and are concerned about Britain’s openness to Chinese visitors ahead of this trip. Vince Cable recently stated that these visitors and businessmen are fed up with the hassle and humiliation of trying to come here that they are opting to go to France and Germany instead. Even Willie Walsh, chief executive of IAG, which owns British Airways and Iberia, piled on the pressure saying ” There is a perception in China that the UK does not want to see Chineses tourists and businesses.” There is pressure too from retailers and businesses to make these upwardly mobile Asian travellers welcome as they typically spend £1,676 per visit to the UK which is nearly three times the global average. They think that the cumbersome visa bureaucracy is at the root of the problem.

Theresa May states that the Home Office is looking at the visa application process and that of the Schengen country visas in China to see what possibilities there are for streamlining. However, she was clear that this should not be mistaken for closer integration into the Schengen system.

VIP business applicants have seen improvments with a 40% increase in applications between April and June 2013. Mobile teams now collect their biometric data from them at their offices.

If you need a Tier 1 Investment visa or a Tier 2 visa to work in IT, Engineering, Actuary or Finance then Commonwealth Contractors may well be able to help.

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Tier 1 Investor Visas | Concerns Over Checks on Applications

Tier 1 Investor Visas was introduced in 2008 and in that year 43 foreign nationals succeeded in their applications. In 2012 the number of applications soared and 470 visas were granted. The increase was due to rising demand from people from Russia and China.

According to a report in the FT this week wealth management companies are concerned over Home Office checks into the foreign millionaires’ finances as they feel there is a disconnect between what the companies have to do to establish the source of funds and what are perceived as the less in depth checks carried out by the Home Office. The response from the Home Office is that they are carrying out extensive verification and criminality checks and preventing fraud but these checks are not a substitute for those that financial institutions are legally required to carry out on investors’ funds .

For more information from this site on the this type of visa click on Commonwealth Contractors Tier 1 Visa Information.

If you have not got a million £s in the bank but have exceptional talent then the Tier 1 Exceptional talent route may be for you. Click here.

If you need a visa to work in IT, Engineering, Actuary or Finance Commonwealth Contractors may well be able to help.

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Will Canary Wharf Dwarf the City of London?

In the last 5 to 10 years Canary Wharf, in London’s docklands, has become a magnet for the banking industry. With the move by US bank JPMorgan of 8,000 of their 10,000 staff in July this year to a 33 floor building at 25 Bank Street in Canary Wharf, formerly home of Lehman Brothers, the Wharf has now overtaken the City as the biggest employer of bankers.

Many banks still have their main offices in the City but the biggest employers such as Barclays, HSBC, Credit Suisse, Citigroup and Morgan Stanley are at Canary Wharf. FT research shows that the 16 biggest banks in the UK employ 44,500 in the new location and 43,000 in the Square Mile.


Watch the first 2.45 minutes of this documentary from Built Britain for a tour of Canary Wharf.

Why leave the City of London?

    • The City’s period architecture meant that staff had to be housed in multiple buildings. Canary Wharf has a cluster of high rise buildings where all the staff from one company can be housed under one roof and can have their own canteen and gym facilities.
    • Companies can expand rapidly without having to relocate.
    • Vast open plan floors are well suited to trading rooms.
    • The rents are one third cheaper.
    • Crossrail will improve transport links to both places. It will connect the City, Canary Wharf, the West End and Heathrow Airport to commuter areas east and west of the capital. It will bring 1.5 million more people within a 45 minute commute of the West End, The City and Canary Wharf. Read more about Crossrail here

    Other businesses in the City:

    The London Stock Exchange

    London Stock Exchange located at 10 Pator Noster Square, near St Pauls Cathedral, is one of the world’s oldest stock exchanges and started life in the coffee houses of 17th century London. The London Stock Exchange has produced detailed market information for companies and investors. It started as a twice-weekly paper publication for the London business community and through technological innovations has transformed into a continuous flow of electronic information to all the financial markets across the globe.

    Over 680,000 trades a day are executed on the London Stock Exchange’s markets, giving a daily average value traded of £36 billion. Today it lies at the heart of the global financial community.

    Reinsurance

    Lloyds of London

    Also the City is home to the international reinsurance industry which is an important sector in financial services. The most important building for this industry is Lloyds of London, 1 Lime Street, the iconic Richard Rodgers building.

    Lloyd’s is the world’s specialist insurance market where the members join together as syndicates to insure risks in over 200 countries. They have a network of global offices and settle claims on global disasters such as flooding, earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, asbestos, pollution, terrorism, bloodstock, celebrity body parts, cyber crime, aviation and Costa Concordias.

    Reinsurance accounting technicians and other support staff are based anywhere in the country where the rental on their workspace may well cost less than that for a waste paper bin in the City. Brokers go the The Room at Lloyds and meet the undertwriters at their boxes to place the risks.



    For careers at Lloyds click here.

    What will happen to the empty office space in the City?

    There is a new generation of migrants to the city in the form of smaller technology and media companies. There is increasing demand from creative companies for space there and the old buildings with the rabbit like warren of corridors and smaller spaces are well suited to the accommodation of tech start ups ready to expand a little.

    So will the Wharf Dwarf the City?

    Canary Wharf has allowed the financial services companies to expand while staying close to the City. Canary Wharf Group is also targeting the tech companies that have sprung up around Silicon Roundabout and has recently introduced incubation space on the 39th floor of One Canada Square in order to attract fledgling tech companies.

    Most property experts expect that the future of the City will lie more and more with companies that have nothing to do with financial services. Regardless, we need both areas to thrive and if both are encouraging technologically innovative companies this can only be good for the economy in the long term. Wondering if the Wharf will dwarf means we are spending too much time in the equivalent of chatting at the parish pump when we should be focusing on winning on the global stage.

    If you need a visa to work in IT, Engineering, Actuary or Finance Commonwealth Contractors may well be able to help.

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    Grand Theft Auto V

    Fans queued throughout the night just to be in line to buy the computer game Grand Theft Auto V this morning. Some of them took time of work just so they could get their hands on the most expensive game ever made. It was developed by Rockstar North in Edinburgh, Scotland cost £170 million to produce and is expected to have retail sales of £1bn in the first year. The last release was five years ago and the GTA franchise has sold 135 million copies since it was first released in 1997. The figures stack up well when compared to the release of big budget films and the distinction between games and films is increasingly blurred.

    Successful big budget console games are still made in the UK by Rockstar and Rocksteady. The UK games industry has had a difficult few years due to competition from Canada and the increase in the use of smart phones by games consumers. There was a modest growth of 4% in 2012 as studios moved away from developing for traditional platforms and embraced web-based digital gaming. It is estimated that over 35 million Britons are regular gamers and that with 30,000 people employed in the industry nationally. Gaming contributes £1bn to the UK GDP

    British mobile and social gaming development is rapidly expanding. This opens up the possibility of developing games on smaller budgets and more developers are making games and self publishing and small studios are developing their own projects as well as doing the usual work for the bigger studios on a work for hire basis. Investors are interested once again. There are opportunities in gaming for artists, animators and audio designers, script writers, project managers, distributors, games media, PR, studio management and of course programmers. A variety of programming languages are used with Windows commonly written in C#, Android in Java, and iOS developers using Objective-C.

    If you need a visa to work in IT, Engineering, Actuary or Finance Commonwealth Contractors may well be able to help.

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    You may also be interested in our article on Why investors favour London’s Silicon Roundabout.

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