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Scottish community refused funding to buy land from duke | Scotland



A community attempt to buy land surrounding Scotland’s highest village, Wanlockhead, has suffered a serious setback after its £1.5m funding bid was rejected.

The Scottish Land Fund told the buyout campaigners earlier this week it had turned down their application for public funding, saying it was worried about the levels of local support and insufficient community consultation.

Wanlockhead Community Trust wants to buy 1,563 hectares (3,863 acres) of grazing, moors and brownfield land surrounding the village in Dumfriesshire from the property empire owned by the Duke of Buccleuch, one of the UK’s wealthiest hereditary landowners. In August, an independent valuation set a price of nearly £1.5m.

The fund’s decision is a setback for land reformers in southern Scotland, who hoped to see a hat-trick of buyouts from Buccleuch after the nearby communities of Newcastleton and Langholm moor purchased land holdings from him earlier this year.

The Wanlockhead group said its efforts to build up local support by staging public meetings had been hampered by the lockdown and subsequent social distancing rules imposed during the coronavirus pandemic, but it planned to submit a fresh bid next year.

Despite having cross-party support from local politicians, the buyout plan was backed by only 69 people, with 55 against it, after a village-wide vote in August. Second-home owners were not allowed to vote, under a convention to prevent absentee owners affecting buyout decisions.

The bid’s critics argue there is little need for the buyout, and it would have saddled the village with responsibility for assets and problems, including contaminated land, which Buccleuch Estates currently look after.

Unlike the two other successful bids, many villagers were unconvinced by the trust’s plans to invest in eco-tourism, camping, its well-known gold panning trade, and small businesses.

Lincoln Richford, the trust’s chairman, said the land fund had suggested they could reapply for funding next year but it is thought the fund’s decision document, which has not been published, advised the trust the the split in community support had to be addressed.

Richford said he believed the fund had rejected Wanlockhead’s bid because supporting it would have squeezed out 10 other applications. It is understood, however, that the fund had 32 applications and will announce later this month that nearly 30 have been successful.

In a short Facebook post, Richford said the land fund had criticised its application in a number of areas. “Hopefully before July [next year] we will be able to rectify that. WCT is in talks with [the fund] to clarify the points they raise, to see what course of action we need to take.”

He told the Guardian the trust could challenge some of the land fund’s statements but added: “There were some legitimate points that they have made.”

Buccleuch Estates is likely to take some time to consider its response. It decided to sell the land voluntarily after the community trust asked to buy it, and had not put it on the open market. Buccleuch is likely to press the trust to address the land fund’s criticisms.

A Buccleuch spokesman said: “We have had very constructive discussions with the trust to date and we will be in contact with them to understand and discuss the implications of the funding decision.”

Land reformers argue the Buccleuch buyouts highlight wider problems with underfunding of the Scottish Land Fund and a lack of other investment options. It has not yet been confirmed if the land fund will continue after next May’s Scottish elections.

The Langholm Initiative first hoped to buy 4,000 hectares for £6m, in what would have been Scotland’s most expensive community buyout, but was only able to buy half of that for £3.8m, after being unable to raise the remainder.

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Moderna Covid vaccine is 94.1% effective, plans to apply for emergency OK Monday




Moderna said Monday it will request emergency clearance from the Food and Drug Administration for its coronavirus vaccine after new data confirms the vaccine is more than 94% effective in preventing Covid-19 and was safe.

Moderna is the second drugmaker to seek emergency use from the FDA after Pfizer, another front-runner in the Covid-19 vaccine race, applied for the same authorization on Nov. 20. The announcement means some Americans could get the first doses of Moderna’s two-dose vaccine within a few weeks.

The new analysis from Moderna evaluated 196 confirmed Covid infections among the late-stage trial’s 30,000 participants. The company said 185 cases of Covid were observed in the placebo group versus 11 cases observed in the group that received its vaccine. That resulted in an estimated vaccine efficacy of 94.1%, the company said.

The company released Nov. 16 an early analysis of its phase three trial based on just 95 Covid-19 cases that showed its vaccine was at least 94% effective. Monday’s data provides a more complete picture of the vaccine’s effectiveness.

It also appears to prevent volunteers from getting severely sick from the virus. Of the 30 severe cases of Covid-19 in the trial, none were in the group that received the vaccine, Moderna said. Additionally, there was one Covid-19 related death in the study that occurred in the placebo group, according to the company.

Shares of Moderna were up more than 12% in premarket trading Monday.

“This positive primary analysis confirms the ability of our vaccine to prevent COVID-19 disease with 94.1% efficacy and importantly, the ability to prevent severe COVID-19 disease. We believe that our vaccine will provide a new and powerful tool that may change the course of this pandemic and help prevent severe disease, hospitalizations and death,” Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel said in a statement.

Moderna said the vaccine’s effectiveness was consistent across age, race and gender. The 196 confirmed cases included 33 adults over the age of 65 and 42 people from Black, Latino and other “diverse” communities. The vaccine was also well tolerated with the most common side effects being fatigue, muscle pain, headache and pain at the injection site, the company said.

Moderna’s results come as drugmakers and public health officials race to deliver a safe and effective vaccine to help bring an end to the pandemic, which has killed at least 1.45 million people worldwide as of Sunday evening, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. A vaccine is also seen by investors as a way to get the global economy back on track after the virus wreaked havoc on nearly every country. 

The FDA’s review of Moderna’s vaccine is expected to take a few weeks. The agency will likely schedule an advisory committee meeting to review the vaccine on Dec. 17, Moderna said. It has already initiated rolling submissions with several regulatory agencies around the world, including the European Medicines Agency.

Federal agencies are already sending vaccination plans around to staff. Five agencies have started telling employees they could receive Pfizer’s or Moderna’s Covid-19 vaccine in as little as eight weeks, a person with firsthand knowledge of those plans told CNBC on Nov. 20.

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar told CNBC on Nov. 16 that the FDA would move “as quickly as possible” to clear Pfizer’s and Moderna’s vaccines for emergency use. Between Moderna and Pfizer, Azar told CNBC there will be roughly 40 million doses of vaccine available by the end of this year, enough to inoculate about 20 million people since both vaccines require two shots, he said at the time.

Moderna’s initial results released earlier this month were based on the first interim efficacy analysis conducted by an external and independent data monitoring committee from the phase three clinical trial. The independent group of experts oversees U.S. clinical trials to ensure the safety of participants.

Public health officials and medical experts note it remains unclear how long the vaccines will provide immunity and whether or how often people may need periodic booster shots. Moderna’s vaccine, like Pfizer’s, uses messenger RNA, or mRNA, technology. It’s a new approach to vaccines that uses genetic material to provoke an immune response.

Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Moderna has said its vaccine remains stable at 36 to 46 degrees Fahrenheit, the temperature of a standard home or medical refrigerator, for up to 30 days. It can be stored for up to six months at negative 4 degrees Fahrenheit. By comparison, Pfizer’s vaccine requires a storage temperature of minus 94 degrees Fahrenheit.

Moderna told investors on Oct. 29 that it was “actively preparing” for the global launch of its potential vaccine after completing enrollment in its late-stage trial a week earlier. In August, Moderna said it was charging between $32 and $37 per dose for its vaccine for some customers, under cheaper “pandemic pricing.” The company said it was in discussion for larger volume agreements that will have a lower price.

This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.

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Small business confidence hits all-time low after Biden election




A survey of small business owners across the U.S. finds confidence dropping to an all-time low after Biden’s election victory with fears that taxes will go up and regulations become more onerous.

Boston Globe | Boston Globe | Getty Images

Small business confidence has fallen to an all-time low after the election of former Vice President Joseph Biden, according to the Q4 CNBC|SurveyMonkey Small Business Survey.

With a confidence index reading of 48, Main Street’s outlook is now below where it was during the second quarter of this year (49), when lockdowns across the nation were increasing amid the first wave of Covid-19. That Q2 number had been the all-time low previous to the just-completed survey, conducted Nov. 10 to Nov. 17 among more than 2,200 small business owners nationally, using the SurveyMonkey platform.

Since CNBC began conducting the survey in 2017, the confidence index reached as high as 62, and had never dipped below the mark of 50 until 2020. While another surge in coronavirus cases continues to hit Main Streets across the nation, and a lack of progress on stimulus talks in Washington, D.C. exacerbates the issues faced by small business owners, key questions in the confidence index relate to the Main Street outlook on taxes and regulation, and the responses from small business owners are skewed heavily by their political leanings — the small business demographic overall has a conservative skew. According to SurveyMonkey, approximately 60% of small business owners identify as Republicans.

The Q4 CNBC|SurveyMonkey Small Business Survey reveals the weight of political partisanship after the presidential election on the small business outlook.

CNBC|SurveyMonkey Small Business Survey, Q4 2020

Fifty-three percent of small business owners said they expect tax policy to have a negative impact on their business in the next 12 months, while 49% said government regulation will have a negative impact. By party affiliation, the divide is stark. Among Republicans, 75% said tax policy will be a negative and 72% said regulations will be a negative. Those numbers drop to 15% (taxes) and 11% (regulations) among Democrats. These are the highest percentages recorded for the “negative impact” response in the four years of the survey.

Politics and small business

“The immediate shift in forward-looking sentiment that small business owners reported following the election reveals how deeply politics has become embedded in the public’s assessment of the economy, and in particular how divided the country is,” said Laura Wronski, research science manager at SurveyMonkey. “We’ve seen evidence of that every quarter, with Republican small business owners consistently reporting a higher degree of confidence than Democrats, but the election of Joe Biden is the first opportunity we’ve had to see whether that would flip if presidential power changed parties — and it did dramatically.”

Among Republican respondents, the small business confidence index score fell from 57 in the third quarter to 42; among Democrats, confidence jumped from 46 to 58. The lowest previous confidence reading from Republican business owners was in Q2 2020, at 54.

We’ve seen evidence of that every quarter, with Republican small business owners consistently reporting a higher degree of confidence than Democrats, but the election of Joe Biden is the first opportunity we’ve had to see whether that would flip if presidential power changed parties — and it did dramatically.

Laura Wronski, SurveyMonkey research science manager

Overall, the survey finds 34% of small business owners saying Joe Biden will be good for small business, while 55% say he will be bad for small business. By party, 89% of Republican small business owners say Biden will be bad for business, while 86% of Democrats say he will be good for Main Street.

Wronski noted that part of the small business confidence being measured every quarter is owners’ assessments of what things will look like a year from now based on policy changes made at the federal level, and those questions are subject to a lot of uncertainty in any immediate post-election period, before the new administration takes power and before their policy agenda is fully fleshed out.

“We don’t yet know how Biden will work with Republican leaders to carry out his agenda, and we don’t even know what his specific policy proposals will be yet, so we’re really in wait-and-see mode, and that lack of certainty is always a tricky situation for small business owners to operate in,” she said.

Divided government can be good for Main Street

With the Senate races in Georgia still to be decided in January — and control of the Senate up for grabs — it remains to be seen how much political capital the Democratic Party will have even with the White House won. The stock market has continued to rally based on a belief that divided government is good for corporations, and will limit a President Biden’s ability to repeal Trump tax cuts. Small business experts and owners say there is reason to believe Main Street also will perform well under a divided federal government.

“If we do indeed end up with a Republican-controlled Senate, many feel that this is a win-win scenario,” said Tony Nitti, a federal tax partner at RubinBrown, who works with many entrepreneurs. “Clients viewed the election as a bit of a ‘Sophie’s Choice’: they preferred the stability and potential pandemic response of a Biden presidency, but wanted the tax regime of a Trump second term. With these results, there’s a bit of a ‘best of both worlds’ feel,” Nitti said, explaining that a Biden administration may address the pandemic in a more thoughtful and resolute manner, and that the Republican controlled Senate will keep any significant tax increases in check.

“In a divided government scenario, and the way things are shaping up in the House, it will be very difficult to raise taxes, and especially so on small businesses,” said Karen Kerrigan, president and CEO of trade group Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council. “The House margins will be so tight with respect to majority control.”     

Kerrigan noted that during much of the Obama presidency, the environment was one of divided government and it was one in which capital access increased for small businesses. “The Great Recession created opportunities for bipartisan collaboration, and one of those areas impacted was access to capital and the need to boost new business creation given the fact that more firms were closing than starting. The Obama Administration took an early interest and lead in making investment crowdfunding legal, along with other key elements of the Jumpstart our Businesses Act (JOBS Act), which has had a positive impact on capital markets to this day,” she said.

Kerrigan said small business owners are busy people, and unlike Wall Street, they do not necessarily follow the nuances of divided government. “During the campaign, they read or heard about Biden policies that could impact their business, from taxes to workplace regulation and more, and remain concerned about possible new costs on top of their current challenges. It is not surprising that their confidence in the immediate aftermath of the election has dropped,” she added.

But she expects the confidence gap to narrow, though it will take time, as more conservative business owners are able to absorb and process information about the new political reality and see that the actions taken by a divided government which do not reflect some of the more “intrusive policies” outlined in the Biden agenda.

Ravin Gandhi, founder and CEO of Chicago-based housewares manufacturing company GMM Nonstick Coatings said he is encouraged by the outlook. Infrastructure and a Covid-relief stimulus bill are both bipartisan needs, while taxes will likely remain lower on business, which will be helpful as the economy struggles to recover from the pandemic. He said the fact that Biden “barely beat” Trump, should also limit the left’s ability to over-regulate. And for any business that imports or exports — his uses overseas manufacturing — an end to Trump’s trade wars is a positive.

Covid lockdowns and small business

Small business owners widely support (83%) a new stimulus package from the federal government, according to the survey — including 76% of Republican respondents and 96% of Democratic respondents. Fifty percent of small business owners said direct payments to individuals should be included in any new stimulus; 42% said mortgage/rent relief; 41% said an extension of the PPP loan program.

But small business confidence decreased from last quarter solely because of the forward-looking factors including taxes and regulation, Wronski noted, not because of a crash in current business conditions, like the confidence index saw earlier this year when coronavirus restrictions were introduced.

“There is not going to be a national shutdown policy,” Kerrigan said. “President-elect Biden has a mix of advisors on the Covid-19 issue, with several communicating that our economy can continue to ‘stay open’ and it can be done safely with the right precautions. In addition, the majority of Democrat governors would also oppose this top-down approach.”

Small business owners’ assessment of current business conditions was at least stable from Q3 to Q4, and even ticked up slightly on some measures, including more business owners describing conditions as “good” and less describing it as bad. Those expecting greater revenue in the next year — and citing recent revenue and demand increases — were also more numerous in Q4, while the hiring outlook was more or less stable quarter over quarter.

“That’s pretty remarkable given how long so many businesses have had to operate while working from home, dealing with decreased demand, implementing new policies and safety procedures, and everything else they’ve had to handle thanks to the pandemic,” Wronski said.

The CNBC|SurveyMonkey Small Business Survey for Q4 2020 was conducted across more than 2,200 small business owners Nov. 10-Nov. 17. The survey is conducted quarterly using SurveyMonkey‘s online platform and based on its survey methodology. The Small Business Confidence Index is a 100-point score based on responses to eight key questions. A reading of zero indicates no confidence, and a score of 100 indicates perfect confidence. The modeled error estimate for this survey is plus or minus 2.5 percentage points.

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Shops to be allowed trade around clock to recoup Covid losses, says Jenrick | Business




Shops will be given permission to trade around the clock as the high street tries to recoup some of the losses it has suffered during the pandemic, a UK cabinet minister has said.

Retailers normally have to go through a lengthy process to apply to local authorities under the Town and Country Planning Act if they wish to extend hours outside the window of 9am to 7pm.

The communities secretary, Robert Jenrick, said he wanted to remove the bureaucracy to encourage greater trade – allowing shops to open for up to 24 hours a day in December and January.

Writing in the Daily Telegraph, he said: “With these changes local shops can open longer, ensuring more pleasant and safer shopping with less pressure on public transport. How long will be a matter of choice for the shopkeepers and at the discretion of the council, but I suggest we offer these hard-pressed entrepreneurs and businesses the greatest possible flexibility this festive season.

“As local government secretary I am relaxing planning restrictions and issuing an unambiguous request to councils to allow businesses to welcome us into their glowing stores late into the evening and beyond.”

It comes after Jenrick suggested some areas could be moved into a lower tier when the first 14-day review of the latest system of tiered local controls takes place in mid-December.

Tier chart

A record number of shops closed during the first half of 2020 due to the coronavirus lockdown, according to research from the Local Data Company and PwC.

A total of 11,000 chain operator outlets shut between January and August this year, while about 5,000 shops opened, leaving a net decline of 6,000 stores, almost double the drop during the same period last year.

Sir Philip Green’s Arcadia Group, which runs the Topshop, Dorothy Perkins and Burton brands, has been revealed to be on the brink of collapse with about 15,000 jobs at risk.

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