Evening Update Tuesday 21st March 2023

Trade unions on the Riviera have warned that they plan to intensify their strike action after last night's attempt in parliament to throw out controversial pension reforms narrowly failed. CGT union activists in the railway sector are planning to occupy the platforms at Nice-Ville railway station tomorrow morning from 10.00, with very few trains expected to run as a result. Unions say other forms of action in the coming days could include blockades of public services, spontaneous demonstrations and targeted power cuts. The next major day of industrial action is on Thursday. A march is planned from the Centre Administratif towards Nice airport, with the goal of assembling 30,000 people. French president Emmanuel Macron will give a televised address on Wednesday lunchtime.

Meanwhile, the Var and Alpes-Maritimes préfectures have both issued a decree banning the sale of petrol in jerry cans. The measure is in place until at least Friday in the Var, and until next Monday in the Alpes-Maritimes. It comes amid panic-buying by motorists yesterday, which led to at least 60 petrol stations in the Var running out of one or several types of fuel. A rush to the petrol pumps in recent days has been a phenomenon throughout France, but the situation is particularly tense here in the south-east of the country and especially in the Bouches-du-Rhône, where it has become increasingly difficult for drivers to refuel, with about half of petrol stations lacking at least one type of fuel. In the Var, about a quarter of petrol stations are partially or completely out of stock. In the Alpes-Maritimes, 17 petrol stations are affected - four of which have no fuel at all.

At the Fos-sur-Mer oil refinery in the Bouches-du-Rhône, police were brought in to requisition striking workers and ensure that fuel tankers start to leave the depot again. France's energy ministry issued the requisitioning order due to what it called "worsening supply tensions" at petrol stations around the Paca region. Trade union activists from the energy sector planned a go-slow convoy on the A57 motorway near Toulon during this morning's rush hour.

A 30-year-old man whose worrying disappearance in the Var led to a police appeal for information has been found alive and well. Anthony Serre went missing without trace from his home in Six-Fours last week. Police in the Var haven't given any further details about how he was found - except to confirm that he's now back home, safe and sound.

Two men suspected of stealing a €150,000 watch from a winner of the Paris-Nice cycle race have been remanded in custody and will face trial in May. Slovenian cyclist Tadej Pogacar's luxury watch, which was a gift from a sponsor, was stolen from his hotel room in Valbonne after he won the race in 2021. Prosecutors claim the thieves carefully watched TV interviews with the winner to piece together information about where he was staying. They were identified by DNA left at the scene. The pair are also suspected of stealing two white gold Rolex watches from a retired couple in Nice. In that case, prosecutors say the suspected thieves identified their targets while the couple were dining at a restaurant on the Cap d'Antibes, then followed them to their home in the west of Nice and gained access to their home by pretending that their drone had crash-landed in the couple's garden.

The electric moped-sharing service, Cityscoot, has announced it's leaving the Riviera after five years in operation. The company chose the Nice metropolitan area for its expansion outside of Paris and attracted 30,000 users. Its blue and white mopeds have been used locally to make more than two million journeys. Cityscoot's contract was coming up for renewal and the firm has announced that it hasn't been renewed. The scheme will stop operating on 31 March. It will be replaced by a new operator, Yego, which is promising 700 new vehicles on the city's streets, compared with Cityscoot's 500. However it is not clear at this stage whether Yego will be ready to start as soon as Cityscoot's contract ends, on 1 April.

Toulon is reinforcing its rat extermination programme, after noticing a worrying increase in the number of rodents on the city's streets. Discarded food, bins put out at the wrong time and people leaving food out for cats and pigeons are contributing to the problem. The city is launching an awareness campaign to ask everyone to do their bit - and it hopes it won't have to move towards a more repressive campaign, involving fines. More traps and poisons will be placed in Toulon's city centre and some of its northern neighbourhoods where the problem is at its greatest.

Monaco has broken the symbolic milestone of more than 60,000 private sector employees for the first time. According to the latest stats from the Monegasque Institute for Statistics and Economic Studies, private-sector employment in the principality grew by more than 5% last year. An extra 3,000 jobs were created throughout Monaco's more than 6,000 private companies, with growth particularly in accommodation and catering, administrative and support services. The number of hours worked in the private sector in Monaco is nearing the 100 million per year mark, up 8 million on 2021, fuelled in part by a post-coronavirus rebound in the hospitality industry.

And a new report claims to have identified the sunniest place in France - and it's probably no surprise that it's here on the Riviera. Grasse came top in the league table of sunshine hours, drawn up by a holiday rental platform, with 285 hours of sunshine per month on average. The top 5 is made up entirely of towns in the Alpes-Maritimes. After Grasse come Antibes and Cagnes-sur-Mer with 284 hours, then Cannes on 283 and Nice with 281. Fréjus in the Var comes sixth, followed by Martigues, Marseille and La Ciotat in the Bouches-du-Rhône. The ranking is based on French towns with more than 20,000 inhabitants and publicly available sunshine statistics from 2009 to 2021.

BUSINESS

As the dust settles following the emergency rescue of Credit Suisse by UBS, fears of heavy job losses are growing. The merger hammered out between the two Swiss banks last weekend will create a 120,000-strong financial institution – and it already seems inevitable that the workforce will shrink. Switzerland’s financial sector is already anticipating a heavy hit from the contentious takeover, with the Swiss Bank Employees Association warning yesterday that “the jobs of very many employees are at stake.” Credit Suisse’s domestic business and its investment bank, which collectively employ more than 30,000 staff, are expected to bear the brunt of the cuts. According to people familiar with UBS’s plans, as much as a third of the 120,000 jobs in the combined group could be at risk, as UBS winds down much of the investment bank and removes overlapping roles in Switzerland.

Energy support schemes for households in the UK pushed British government borrowing in February to its highest level for the month since records began in 1993. Borrowing, the difference between spending and tax income, was £16.7bn, last month, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said. The ONS said this was largely due to spending on energy schemes this year. However, the interest paid on government debt was £6.9bn in February - £1.3bn less than a year earlier. Interest payments fell because of changes in the inflation rate that sets how much interest the government has to pay on its debts. But the amount borrowed exceeded economists' expectations and followed a surprise surplus in the public finances in January. Chancellor Jeremy Hunt said borrowing was "still high" because the government was supporting households with the rising cost of living.

Oil and gas workers have voted in favour of a series of large-scale North Sea strikes amid bumper profits for fossil fuel firms. About 1,400 workers across five rig-servicing companies plan to strike between late March and early June as part of a dispute over jobs, pay and conditions – potentially shutting down platforms in the region. The action, coordinated by the Unite union, will involve offshore workers from several contractors working for oil and gas operators including BP, EnQuest, Harbour Energy, Shell and Total. A recent study showed the rigs’ owners made a combined £146bn in profit in 2022.

SPORT

Football - Roy Hodgson has been reappointed Crystal Palace manager until the end of the season. Hodgson, 75, returns to manage his boyhood club for a second stint after Palace sacked Patrick Vieira last week following a run of 12 games without victory. The former England manager takes over with Palace fighting for Premier League survival, sitting three points above the relegation zone with 10 games to go. Palace's next game is at home to Leicester when the Premier League resumes after the international break on April 1.

A decision on Antonio Conte's Tottenham future is set to be made in the next 48 hours. There is a growing sense that it will be difficult for Conte to continue as Tottenham head coach following his outburst after Saturday's 3-3 draw at Southampton. The Italian's contract is up at the end of this season, but there is a sense he could depart the club much sooner.

It's reported that more than five bids will be made for Manchester United before Wednesday evening’s deadline for second offers - and there could be as many as eight. The Glazer family will definitely sell the club but only for the right price. If their asking price - believed to be £6bn - is not met, they will raise capital to invest in the club and pay down debt. Based on the level of first-round bids, there are no favourites at the moment although one could emerge after Wednesday's deadline.

Rugby Union - Crusaders coach Scott Robertson will succeed Ian Foster as head coach of the All Blacks after this year's World Cup. Robertson lost out to Foster for the role after the 2019 World Cup when Steve Hansen stood down after New Zealand's third-placed finish. He has been appointed on a four-year deal which will run to the end of the 2027 World Cup in Australia.

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