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What's happening in the world of accountancy today

News in brief

Author: ICAEW Insights

Published: 02 Dec 2022

5 December 2022: BrewDog loses B Corp status; John Lewis enters deal with Abrdn to enter property rental market; Rising price of chipolatas may push pigs in blankets off the Christmas menu.

Beer brand BrewDog has lost its B Corp status less than two years after joining the scheme, the Guardian has reported. The company is understood to have been subject to an investigation by B Lab after staff submitted complaints following a BBC documentary that looked at the brewer’s workplace culture. BrewDog has submitted complaints to the TV regulator, Ofcom, about the documentary, which aired earlier this year. The brewer and pub owner said it remains committed to delivering on its own internal environmental, social and staff commitments, which it set out in a plan called BrewDog Blueprint in May. Companies that achieve B Corp status are assessed across five areas: governance, workers, community, environment and customers.

John Lewis has signed a £500m deal with investment giant Abrdn to enter the rental property market, City A.M. has reported. The agreement will see the retailer deliver 1,000 new homes a year, with a view to building 10,000 in the next decade. In a bid to diversify and move away from dependency on the retail sector, the properties will include one-, two- and three-bedroom flats, and will be located in Bromley and West Ealing in London, plus a vacant John Lewis warehouse in Reading. They will be fitted with John Lewis furniture and rented out. The sites were chosen according to their central location and proximity to transport links. 

Pork chipolatas – essential for pigs in blankets – have seen the biggest price rise out of all items in a traditional Christmas meal, according to new research for the BBC. A basic Christmas dinner for five people – comprising a frozen medium-sized turkey, stuffing balls, Brussels sprouts, roast potatoes, pork chipolatas, onion gravy and mince pies for dessert – will cost £30.03 compared to £24.67 last year, a rise of nearly 22%, with chipolatas seeing the steepest jump up 42.7% to £2.13 for a packet of 12. Households may look at cheaper ranges for the big day, but the data suggests some standard products have gone up at a faster pace than their ‘premium’ equivalents. And the price of every item on the list – except Brussels sprouts – has increased at more than the rate of inflation, which reached 11.1% in October.

2 December 2022: Brexit adds almost £6bn to UK food bills; HSBC to close 114 more branches in the UK; Satellite trial could be the answer to remote broadband access.

Brexit added almost £6bn to UK food bills in the two years to the end of 2021, research reported in The Guardian has found. The cost of food imported from the EU shot up because of extra red tape, adding £210 to the average household food bill over 2020 and 2021, London School of Economics (LSE) researchers discovered. The Brexit trade deal signed in December 2020 ensures trade is tariff-free with the EU, but creates trade barriers in the form of customs, rules of original paperwork and regulatory standards checks for agri-food products. Richard Davies, a professor at Bristol University and co-author of the report, said the rise in non-tariff barriers (NTBs) for trade with the EU had contributed to the 11% inflation the UK is experiencing, the highest in 40 years.

HSBC to close 114 more branches in the UK from April, as the number of customers using them has fallen significantly since the pandemic. The bank said it would try to redeploy affected staff, but about 100 will lose their jobs, reports the BBC. It said footfall in three-quarters of the branches set to close had halved over the past five years, a trend that had sped up since the pandemic. Some HSBC branches serve fewer than 250 people per week, while more than nine in 10 transactions at the bank are now done digitally. The shift to online banking has seen High Street banks and building societies close more than 5,200 branches since 2015, and has left some communities without access to bank branches, while many cash machines have also shut.

Satellites could be the answer to slow broadband in some of the UK’s most remote homes and businesses, as part of new government plans to ensure everyone can access fast and reliable coverage wherever they live or work. A new trial will see the extent to which satellites can be used to deliver high-speed connections to more than a dozen ‘very hard to reach’ locations, such as mountainous areas or small islands. Following the trials, the government will consider the viability of using satellite technology to connect very hard to reach homes and businesses across the UK. Chosen sites for the trial include Rievaulx Abbey in North Yorkshire and Wasdale Head in the Lake District.

1 December 2022: emergency energy plan not going ahead; UK plans to relax ringfencing rules on banks; animal product prices rise at record rate.

National Grid has decided not to activate a scheme to help the UK avoid power cuts after being poised to do so. This would have seen some households offered discounts on their electricity bills if they cut peak-time use, the BBC reported. The grid operator has now decided these measures are not required, saying it was "confident" it would be able to manage margins and "demand is not at risk".

Ministers are considering relaxing rules brought in to stabilise the banking system after the credit crunch. The ringfencing regulations were part of government plans to deregulate the City of London and spark a second big bang for financial services after Brexit. They require lenders to separate their high street operations from other activities such as investment banking or international operations. Under the potential changes, Britain’s largest banks would still be ringfenced while smaller lenders might be released from following the rules, the Guardian reported

Food prices increased at the greatest rate since records began in 2005 - spurred on by accelerated inflation in the price of meat, eggs and dairy. Food inflation reached 12.4% in the year up to November, up from 11.6% in October. The latest BRC-NielsenIQ Shop Price Index revealed animal products became more expensive via a roll-on effect, with high energy costs driving up production prices which in turn affected animal feed and transport costs. Coffee prices also rose last month due to high input costs. Overall shop prices increased 7.4% in the year up to November, up from 6.6% in October, Sky News reported

30 November 2022: ‘scamnesty’ appeal over World Cup fraud; Sizewell C nuclear plant confirmed with £700m public stake; London Mayor warns of business rates hike.

Fraudsters are exploiting interest in the football World Cup to trick people into replying to scam lottery letters. National Trading Standards warned that a surge in letters had coincided with previous major tournaments. These mailshots incorrectly claim to be affiliated to the event, include official logos, and ask recipients for money to claim a large cash prize. Such rewards are never seen. Officers have launched a ‘Scamnesty’ campaign, in which they are appealing for help to learn more about the fraudsters. The public are asked to send in any related scam mail received over the next month, the BBC reported.

The government has confirmed the Sizewell C nuclear power plant in Suffolk will go ahead, backing the scheme with a £700m stake. The move aims to create 10,000 highly skilled jobs, provide reliable low-carbon power to the equivalent of 6 million homes for more than 50 years and help secure UK energy security. The government also pledged to set up an arm’s-length body, Great British Nuclear, which would develop a pipeline of nuclear projects beyond Sizewell C, the Guardian reported.

London businesses face a “ticking time bomb” in the form of incoming tax hikes, the capital’s Mayor Sadiq Khan has warned. Business rates will increase in 28 of London’s 32 boroughs in 2023, just as the UK is predicted to go into recession, Khan told City A.M. He is calling for the government to more than double the rateable value threshold at which SMEs start paying the tax. Currently some are facing 24% rises in their firm’s rateable value.

29 November 2022: households may get £310 insulation funding; £49m redress scheme for British Steel pensions; November retail sales plummet. 

Households could save £310 a year through an expanded scheme to insulate Britain's draughtiest homes. Under the ECO+ scheme, the Government will spend £1bn from next spring on grants for homes that have low energy efficiency ratings and are in lower council tax bands. This will mainly fund low-cost measures such as insulation. Households will need to contact their energy supplier or council to see if they are participating. A new £18m public information campaign will also offer advice on how to reduce energy use in the home, the BBC reported

More than 1,000 former members of the British Steel pension scheme are to be compensated for the unsuitable advice they received. Those who had not yet received redress after being given poor pension transfer advice when it fell into financial hardship will receive an average payout of £45,000 each. The Financial Conduct Authority will also temporarily ban the firms who gave the advice from paying shareholders dividends or giving bonuses to directors in order to ensure they do not shift money out of the business before compensation is paid. They will be forced to make payouts totalling £49m by February 2024, the Guardian reported. 

Retail sales have plummeted as consumers rein in spending amid soaring inflation. A net 19% of retailers said spending fell over the year to November, down from a net rise of 18% in October, a new survey by the Confederation of British Industry found. The drop did not capture last week’s Black Friday sales, which are likely to have boosted this month’s figure. However, prices are up 11.1% over the last year, the fastest acceleration in 41 years and wiping out historically high pay growth, City A.M reported

28 November 2022: Cost of living crisis dampens Black Friday sales; 2023 London-wide ULEZ expansion to go ahead; UK car production returns to growth.

Black Friday: Cost of living crisis may hit sales rush, the BBC reported. This is the first festive season without COVID rules in place for three years, so the number of people hitting the shops is expected to be up on 2021. But experts have said sales and profits are expected to be lower compared with 2021 because of customer purse strings being tighter as prices are rising at their fastest rate in 41 years. This year Black Friday also has to compete with football World Cup matches - including England v USA and Wales v Iran.

Sadiq Khan has pressed ahead with his decision to expand the ultra-low emission zone London-wide from next August, City A.M. reported. The ultra-low emission zone (ULEZ) is aimed at cleaning London’s air, forcing vehicles that don’t conform to the environmental standards to pay a daily £12.50 to enter. It will also help relieve congestion in the capital. The ULEZ currently encompasses the North and South Circular roads after an expansion in October 2021. Following the mayor’s decision, the zone will operate across all London boroughs.

UK car production has returned to growth, although it is still well below pre-pandemic levels, Sky News reported. The number of cars produced for the UK market was up 12.5% and the number made for overseas was up 6.3%. Some 69,524 cars were built in October, up 7.4% on the same month a year ago. September had seen a fall in numbers, after four consecutive months of growth, illustrating how supply chain problems - particularly global chip shortages - have been affecting UK car manufacturers, the SMMT said. Chips form a critical part of modern car making, with each vehicle typically having 1,500 to 3,000.

25 November 2022: Ofgem unveils £4,279 price cap; migration to UK hits record 504,000; warning of loan sharks amid cost-of-living crisis.

The energy price cap will rise by a further £700 in the new year, Ofgem says – a 20% more than its current record rates. In its latest quarterly update, the market watchdog revealed the energy price cap will increase from £3,549 per year for average use to £4,279 per year in January, when the weather is at its coldest and demand at its peak. Overall, the support package will provide savings of up to £1,779 per year in the January-April window before the next price cap update. This is because households will not have to pay the new price cap rate, City A.M reported.

Net migration to the UK has reached a record level of 504,000. This is an increase of 331,000 in a single year. Home Secretary Suella Braverman has promised to cut it by at least 400,000. The increase is largely due to government schemes for Ukraine and Hong Kong asylum seekers, as well as a jump in the number of international students. Asylum applications are at their highest for 32 years – nearly 100,000 people are waiting more than six months to have their initial claims processed. A total of 1.1 million people are likely to have migrated to the UK for work or study in the year to June, while 560,000 people are estimated to have left, the Guardian reported

Families struggling to keep up with the rising cost of living are being warned of loan sharks. The Stop Loan Sharks agency told the BBC that more than half of victims it helped last year had borrowed to pay for essentials like food and fuel, especially around Christmas. With more people struggling this year, and payday loan companies such as Wonga and Quickquid no longer operating, more people may turn to illegal lenders to make ends meet. Informal one-off loans between friends are not against the law. But lending to lots of people, often with no paperwork, charging high interest or using threats to get those repayments is illegal. To safely report this, call the Stop Loan Sharks helpline: 0300 555 2222. 

The Chartered Institute of Internal Auditors (Chartered IIA) has raised concerns on serious audit and corporate governance shortfalls at regulated energy suppliers, the Financial Times reported. The audit body stresses that Ofgem has so far failed to put in place a requirement for all energy suppliers to have an internal audit function despite dozens of its regulated firms going into administration in the UK. About 30 energy suppliers have gone bust since the start of 2021. This includes Bulb, the 7th biggest supplier of energy in the UK, which left over 1.7m customers in limbo until the company was recently acquired by Octopus Energy.

24 November 2022: new guidance on tax clearance requests; Ovo customers charged £49,000 due to data errors; pensioners start receiving Winter Fuel Payment.

HMRC has issued new guidance for giving tax clearance requests in Members Voluntary Liquidations cases. In September, it changed the process so that all requests for Corporation Tax, Pay as You Earn, and Value Added Tax could be emailed to its EIS MVL Team. However, HMRC has since “had a significant increase in clearance requests” where “multiple duplicate requests are being made, causing unnecessary delays”. The new process outlines only one, specifically labelled request being emailed to mvl.teameisw@hmrc.gov.uk, without multiple chasers. 

Ovo customers have received bills of up to £49,000 due to data errors. The energy supplier admitted meter reading errors have affected some customers, blaming problems with accounts that were transferred after it bought SSE’s retail division in 2020. Some jumped from £600 in credit to £19,000 in debt in August, increasing to £44,800 by September without explanation, the Guardian reported. Customers say Ovo has continued sending implausible bills, chasing payments that in many cases exceed £30,000 for the three months to October, despite it receiving updated meter readings and admitting the errors. 

Pensioners are receiving up to £600 in their bank accounts to help with their energy bills. More than 11.6 million will receive the Winter Fuel Payment over the next two months. This year's payments have been boosted by an extra £300-per-household Pensioner Cost of Living payment. The majority will be issued automatically, Sky News reported. Anyone who has not received theirs by 13 January should contact the Winter Fuel Payment Centre. Meanwhile, families claiming legacy benefits, such as tax credits, should start receiving £324 before next Wednesday. This second instalment of the £650 Cost Of Living payment is part of the government's £37bn Cost Of Living package.

23 November 2022: energy bills push government borrowing higher; support for workers aged over 50, Joint Fraud Taskforce rollout victims checklist.

Government borrowing rose to £13.5bn in October, as the UK started paying for energy support schemes for households and businesses. The figure was £4.4bn higher than last year and was the fourth highest figure for October on record, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said. However, this figure was still far below the £21bn predicted by analysts. This was partly due to energy schemes costing around £3.4bn overall in October and interest payments on government debt about £6.1bn, the BBC reported.

The government has launched a network of dedicated 50PLUS Champions across England, Scotland and Wales. The specialised, local staff will work directly with Jobcentres and employers to remove any barriers keeping older workers out of the jobs market. They will also help work coaches to change employer attitudes about hiring over-50s. More than 9 million older 50-plus workers are now on payrolls, an increase of more than 210,000 since last year. The drive builds on a £22m funding boost secured to support them.

The Joint Fraud Taskforce has developed and adopted a new victim’s checklist. This aims to ensure consistent guidance and support is provided to victims, whoever they bank with, when they report a fraud. The Joint Fraud Taskforce is a partnership between the government, law enforcement and the private sector. It created a series of voluntary charters for the private sector to follow. The rollout of the checklist means a key victim support pledge from the Retail Banking Charter has been fulfilled.

22 November 2022: 280,000 rental properties occupied by fraudsters; FTX owes $3.1bn to 50 biggest creditors; CBI suggests solving worker shortages with immigration.

Almost 280,000 UK rental properties are thought to be occupied by fraudsters. Estimates show 5% of all rental stock is being let to criminals. Market analysis firm Ocasa reveals this equates to an estimated 279,497 properties. Based on the current average house price, £82bn worth of UK property overall is occupied by people who, in the best-case scenario, aren’t paying rent, and in the worst cases are using the property to facilitate criminal enterprises. Wire transfers are a common way for criminals to try to defraud landlords and property managers, City A.M reported.

The collapsed cryptocurrency exchange FTX owes its 50 biggest creditors nearly $3.1bn (£2.6bn). The exchange owes about $1.45bn to its top 10 creditors, a filing in a US bankruptcy court showed. The largest creditor is owed $226m. FTX and its affiliates filed for bankruptcy on 11 November, leaving an estimated 1 million creditors, although the extent of the losses is not yet fully known due to alleged poor record-keeping. At least 101 companies around the world were part of the bankruptcy proceedings, the Guardian reported.

The UK should use immigration to solve worker shortages and boost economic growth, CBI boss Tony Danker says. His speech at the business group’s latest conference comes as many firms struggle to recruit staff, with job vacancies near record levels. Danker urged leaders to "be honest with people" over the country's "vast" labour shortages, adding "we don't have the people we need nor do we have the productivity". He calling for more fixed-term visas for overseas workers in shortage occupations, the BBC reported. 

21 November 2022: inflation to hit £3.3bn NHS funding; businesses concerned over Bill of Rights; IFS warns high taxes here to stay; Fnac Darty told to pay £89mn to Comet liquidators.

The High Court has ordered Fnac Darty to pay £89m plus interest and costs to the liquidator of Comet. The case relates to a £115m intercompany loan made before the UK retailer went bust in 2012, News World Tick reported. The court ruled Comet was insolvent before its then-owner, Kesa Electricals (now named Fnac Darty), sold it as a going concern to a group of investors for a token £2. When it collapsed a few months later, Deloitte was appointed administrator. An ICAEW report in 2018 found the Big Four firm and its partners had not been independent or objective in respect of Comet because of their relationship with the consortium that had acquired it. If upheld, the ruling means the investors that acquired Comet could receive a further distribution.

Nearly all of the new NHS funding will be eaten up by the costs of inflation. Just £800m of the additional £3.3bn Chancellor Jeremy Hunt promised for each of the next two years will be left over for the improvement of services. Rising prices and growing demand will use up three quarters of next year's increase, and the entirety of the increase scheduled for 2024/25, the Nuffield Trust told Sky News. Energy price increases alone added £121m to the running cost of NHS buildings in the year to March. 

Key City figures are concerned about the unintended consequences of the Bill of Rights on businesses. Among them is Stephen Denyer, the Law Society’s director of strategic relationships. He warned that “the Bill presents an unnecessary risk and problem” as it may alter the relationship between the courts and Parliament. This “would be perceived by business as removing legal protections they use to protect their rights when dealing with the state,” he said. Senior representatives of more than 30 large City law firms and representatives of key City stakeholders have reportedly voiced the same concern, according to City A.M.

Higher taxes may “be here to stay" following the Autumn Statement, the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) says. Increasing taxes as prices soar at their fastest rate in 41 years would result in the "biggest fall in living memory" for living standards, IFS director Paul Johnson said. As they do not benefit from targeted support with the rising cost of living, middle earners will be among the hardest hit, the economic research group warns. It predicts households will pay energy bills £900 a year higher than they are now, and £1,800 more than last year, the BBC reported. 

18 November 2022: Royal Mail reports £219m loss; Zero Emission Vehicles Declaration launched; billionaire launches £282m fund for Ukraine

Royal Mail has reported an adjusted operating loss of £219m in the six months to 25 September. It is blaming the financial impact of ongoing strike action, a fall in the number of parcel deliveries and an inability to restructure the business while at loggerheads with unions. The postal service expects to make a loss of £350m to £450m in its current financial year to the end of March, the Guardian reported. 

The UK has launched a Zero Emission Vehicles Declaration to accelerate the transition to more environmentally-friendly vehicles. The goal is for all new cars and vans to be emission-free by 2035 at the latest in leading markets, and 2040 globally. The declaration involves new measures, agreed by the UK’s partners at COP27, which are in line with Paris Agreement climate goals. It now has over 210 signatories from national and sub-national governments to manufacturers, businesses and fleet owners.

Andrew Forrest has launched an investment fund to help rebuild war-torn Ukraine. The Australian mining billionaire committed $500m (£282m) to the fund, which its organisers say could eventually grow to $100bn. They hope to gain the support of sovereign wealth funds and other professional investors. The Ukraine Green Growth Initiative plans to invest in primary infrastructure such as energy and telecoms networks. This week, Russia rejected international calls for it to pay for war damage it has inflicted in Ukraine, the BBC reported. 

17 November 2022: record wage rises outpaced by inflation; Deliveroo quits Australian market; UK has highest electricity bills in the world.

Wages are rising at their fastest rate in more than 20 years, but still lag well behind the soaring cost of living. Regular pay rose by 5.7% in the year to September, the fastest growth since 2000 excluding the pandemic, when people got big rises when returning to work from furlough. However, when adjusted for rising prices, wages fell by 2.7%. The cost of living is currently rising at its fastest rate in almost 40 years, largely due to the war in Ukraine, the BBC reported. 

Deliveroo is quitting the Australian market, citing challenging economic conditions. It has suspended orders made through its app and entered voluntary administration, appointing KordaMentha as administrators, the Guardian reported. “Achieving a sustainable position of leadership in the market is not possible without a disproportionate level of investment which would have highly uncertain returns,” the company told customers. 

The UK has the highest electricity bills in the world, a study by BOXT shows. Its energy price cap was recently raised from 28p to 34p per kWh. The study compiled Government data on electricity and gas prices from the past five years. It analysed the impact of the cost-of-living crisis and determined which countries have had the biggest year-on-year increase in energy prices. The Republic of Ireland has the second-highest electricity cost, paying 18.99p per kWh, City A.M reported. However, gas prices are more affordable in Ireland, at 5.21p per kWh.

16 November 2022: 91% of over-50s plan to return to work; UK stumbling in fight against economic crime; Japanese economy shrinks. 

A surge of new jobseekers is about to hit the job market, and the majority of them are over 50-years-old. CV-Library’s latest survey found 91% of unemployed UK professionals aged between 50 and 64 plan to return to work. Many left employment during the pandemic, but now economic growth, the ‘great resignation’ and the cost-of-living crisis means they cannot afford to remain retired and people with experience are in high demand. 

The UK has retreated from the fight against fraud, the House of Lords Fraud Act 2006 and Digital Fraud Committee says. Fraud makes up 41% of all crime against individuals in England and Wales but just 1% of law enforcement is focussed on tackling economic crime. Meanwhile, there are too many departments, agencies and ministers responsible for tackling it, the Committee says, which leads to inefficient policymaking and a lack of accountability. It is also calling for slower transfers to give banks more time to analyse suspicious transactions.

Japan's economy has unexpectedly shrunk for the first time in a year, as the rising cost of living hit consumer spending growth. GDP fell by an annualised 1.2% in the three months to the end of September. People reined in spending due to fears of a global slowdown and the weak yen making imports more expensive. Despite this, economists expect the world's third-biggest economy to avoid recession. A rebound in tourism and a stronger trade balance are expected by the end of 2022, but virus risks and rising inflation will limit the extent of the recovery, the BBC reported.

15 November 2022: Sunak says higher taxes and spending cuts needed; poor broadband for remote workers costs UK £60bn per year; Ofgem failures add £94 to energy bills.

The Prime Minister has warned of higher taxes and deep cuts to public spending, the Guardian reports. Rishi Sunak said the reason financial markets were no longer in turmoil was because they expected the government to clamp down on borrowing and squeeze spending. “People expect the government to take the decisions that will put our public finances on a sustainable trajectory,” he said. “We are going to see everybody paying more tax, we are going to see spending cuts.”

Working from home with a poor broadband connection is costing the UK’s economy £60bn per year. A report by software company Actual Experience showed technical issues with broadband – including delays and call dropouts – have led to an average loss of £1,000 per worker. IT issues create problems, especially in the City, which have led to pricing errors when moving assets worth millions. In early 2022, nearly 9.9 million UK-based people worked from home. Actual Experience is calling for tax breaks for companies that install fast and secure connections in employee homes, City A.M reported.

Households are paying an extra £94 on energy bills because Ofgem was “too slow to act”, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) says. The energy regulator did not tighten requirements for new suppliers until 2019, or for existing suppliers until 2021, despite warning signs in 2018. Around 29 energy suppliers have failed since July last year, affecting four million households, Sky News reported. Customers have been left to pay the £2.7bn cost of the failures, and PAC warned prices are "very likely to increase".

14 November 2022: UK heading into recession; FTX assets frozen by Bahamas regulator; alcohol spirits set for double digit tax rise.

The UK appears to be heading into recession. The latest official figures showed the economy shrank 0.2% between July and September, as soaring prices hit businesses and households. A country is in recession when its economy shrinks for two three-month periods in a row. The UK is expected to reach this by the end of the year, with the Bank of England forecasting a "very challenging" two-year recession. It is largely due to higher prices for goods, which led to many households facing hardship and cutting back on spending, the BBC reported. 

The assets of FTX Digital Markets and its related parties in the Bahamas have been frozen, as the world’s second largest cryptocurrency exchange struggles for survival. The Securities Commission of the Bahamas also appointed a liquidator for the unit, the Guardian reported. The move came as FTX’s founder Sam Bankman-Fried scrambled to find funds to plug a financial hole in the exchange that could be as deep as $8bn (£6.8bn). 

Distillers have warned they’re being squeezed following the government’s decision to scrap the alcohol duty freeze. A tax increase of almost 16% is set to hit consumers just before Christmas. This will leave small UK distillers with around £3.50 from an average bottle of spirits to invest, pay suppliers, support jobs and cover all the other costs associated with running a business, City A.M reported. The duty freeze was one of many in a list of tax cuts from Chancellor Jeremy Hunt. According to the British Beer and Pub Association, the freeze would have delivered a £300m saving to the pub industry.

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