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National Lottery chief’s £1.2bn winning ticket for UK Covid relief

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Nigel Railton, the chief executive of National Lottery operator Camelot, has been on a winning ticket despite the pandemic.

He has just announced record sales of almost £8.4billion, along with a record sum of nearly £1.9billion given to good causes, the equivalent of £36million every week.

Of that, £1.2billion has been devoted to helping the country respond to Covid-19 in the largest contribution made to pandemic relief effort outside of government. 

Turnaround: Nigel Railton took over as chief executive of National Lottery operator Camelot four years ago

‘We have helped up and down the country, across the nations,’ Railton (pictured) says.

Lottery duty paid to the Government topped £1billion for the first time.

It is quite a change in fortunes from four years ago, when Railton was installed as chief executive. At that point, he admits the National Lottery had come adrift.

‘We did a strategic review. It said we had lost relevance and when you lose relevance it is hard to win back. 

‘We came up with a strategy and the net effect has been two years of record sales growth and the highest return to society in National Lottery history. I am really proud of it.’

Nearly £5billion was paid out last year in prizes to players, including 389 millionaires. This all comes at a good moment, since the race is well under way to win the next licence from the Gambling Commission to run the National Lottery, for ten years from August 2023.

Camelot has been in situ since the lottery began back in 1994. It is some time since there has been a credible threat to its dominance, after Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Group lost a bruising fight for the licence two decades ago.

This time, there will be competition, likely to include media mogul Richard Desmond’s Northern & Shell, which runs the Health Lottery, and Czech businessman Karel Komarek, whose Sazka Group is a leading lottery operators on the Continent.

An Italian contender, Sisal, operates lotteries in Italy and Morocco.

Billionaire Desmond, 69, is a former owner of the Daily Express and Asian Babes. He was embroiled in a row over planning when housing secretary Robert Jenrick granted permission for a £1billion property development two weeks before the tycoon donated £12,000 to the Conservative party.

Komarek is an oil and gas billionaire whose Sazka Group is backed by Wall Street private equity firm Apollo. Both men would be seen as controversial choices if they win the right to run important national asset.

And all will have to prove that they have the capability to run a lottery in a world that has changed enormously from the mid-Nineties’ paper tickets and a weekly draw, with no smartphones or online play.

‘I can’t talk about the licence process but we would love to be selected,’ Railton says. ‘We just posted the best results in the lottery’s history and the highest-ever return to society. What has given us the super-charge is the connection to good causes.’

Now aged 54, Railton remains unusual among chief executives in that he comes from a modest background, which he shares with many of hopeful Britons who play the lottery and dream of millions.

He was born in Crewe, where he lived with his mum and dad in a council flat. Instead of the usual Oxbridge and Harvard Business School credentials, he studied accountancy at night school while living in a bedsit in Watford.

National Lottery funded: Jamie Bell stars in the hit 2000 movie Billy Elliot. The National Lottery gives  £36m to good causes every week

‘All my family worked on the railway, no-one had been to college, university, basically aspirations were zero. I started off on the railways at 16, in the signal box making tea, but I had a big drive to do something with my life.

‘It was really tough, you have to make sacrifices but if you go through tough things, it makes you tough. I nearly gave up a couple of times. I woke up one morning in my bedsit in Watford and thought ‘I can’t do this.’ You have to search inside yourself to keep going.’

His pay of £1.3million in 2020 is relatively modest by top chief executive standards, but the father-of-three has certainly left the bedsit days behind.

Does he think his early life helps him connect with the people who play the lottery, and who benefit from the good causes? ‘Yes. I don’t know if it would be better if we had more CEOs with my sort of personal history but it certainly helps me understand the difference the lottery can make.’

He tells the story of meeting a man called Kenny on a trip to Glasgow. ‘We went to a tenement, it reminded me of the council flats where I grew up, the smell of the bins. Kenny had a grant to use a piece of wasteland to get people growing their own food and to change their diets.

‘I asked if he played the lottery and he said: ‘Of course I do, look at the difference it makes.’ It was like a light bulb going off in my head.’

Heart-warming anecdotes aside, the early days of lockdown were difficult for Camelot. People were staying away from the shops and it wasn’t clear whether tickets qualified as essential purchases. 

Sales in stores were down just under 19 per cent at the half-year, but bounced back so that the decline in retail sales came to just under 11 per cent for the year. Since the year-end, they have recovered almost to pre-pandemic levels.

There was a record performance online, with 2.7m new registrations and digital sales of £3.5billion, an increase of 43 per cent.

Despite this impressive growth, he adds that ‘retailers, all 44,000 of them, will continue to be our backbone.’

‘People enjoy playing the lottery online and buying in shops – increasingly they will use both.’

For corner shops in particular, commission, which averages out at around £6,200 a store, can be a key source of income.

One big ambition is to sell lottery tickets in discount store Lidl. ‘We have been trying to get into Lidl for a while,’ he says.

The National Lottery is well-known for funding films, including Billy Elliot, The King’s Speech and Gosford Park, and for backing Olympic and Paralympic sports.

It also finances community initiatives, such as the Martin Gallier Project on the Wirral, which aims to reduce suicide. ‘It isn’t just the glamorous stuff,’ Railton says.

Camelot is owned by the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan, but given that the lottery is so deeply interwoven into national life, wouldn’t it be better if it were British?

‘Ontario Teachers are a fantastic owner, they take a long-term view,’ Railton says. I have been CEO since 2017 and in that time they have invested heavily, about £70million. Every investment I have asked them to support, they have done.’

That’s great, but isn’t money from Camelot still funding the retirement of Canadian teachers?

‘They do pay dividends to themselves but we are one of the most efficient large lotteries in the world and we pay all our taxes in the UK. Less than 1p in the pound is profit. Camelot is British, I am British,’ he says.

Changes to the rules from November so that more people win in a ‘roll-down’, when the jackpot has rolled over so many times the prize has to be paid out, have proved popular. Anyone who matches two numbers now receives £5 and a free ‘lucky dip’.

‘People are winning more often, so they play more and make the connection with good causes. That is why the brand positivity is high.’ Railton has little truck with anti-gambling campaigners who have Camelot in their sights.

‘Last year we had 37m people playing. We have seen an increase in frequency, but not in their average spend which is about £6. 

‘This is a very healthy business with lots of people playing a little. We don’t see any significant gambling problems. It has made a difference everywhere in the UK and it is part of the levelling up agenda. My job is to raise as much money as possible to make that happen.’

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Best of the Best shares tumble 30% despite tripling profits

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Shares in Best of the Best tumbled by around 30 per cent after the online competition company said it had seen a decline in customer interest recently, overshadowing its stellar annual results.

Best of the Best, which specialises in luxury sports car ‘raffles’ where people buy tickets hoping to win expensive automobiles, saw profits more than triple last year, its results show. 

Pre-tax profits rose to £14million in the year to the end of April, from £4.2million the year before, after revenues rose to £45.7million, from £17.8million.

Stellar performance: Best of the Best, which specialises in luxury sports car ‘raffles’ where people buy tickets hoping to win expensive automobile, saw profits triple last year

In light of the strong performance, the company hiked its final dividend to 5p per share from 3p, with investors also in line for a special dividend of 50p worth a total of £4.71million.  

But shares in the AIM listed company tumbled by more than 30 per cent at one point this morning. They were down by 27.8 per cent to £19 by midday on Wednesday. 

However, they still remain some 60 per cent higher than last year, and have seen their value jump by around 500 per cent over the past two years.

The massive drop comes as the company said it has seen ‘somewhat of a reduction’ in interest from customers since the lifting of lockdown restrictions in April when shops and restaurants reopened.

Chief executive William Hindmarch said: ‘We are closely monitoring this, but with our flexible model, growth strategy and plans for the year ahead, we expect customer engagement to return to normal levels before too long.’   

Best of the Best closed its last physical competition site at Birmingham airport in July 2019 after 20 years of leasing physical sites at airports and shopping centres across the country. 

These included Heathrow Airport, where its first physical site was located, as well as Gatwick, Edinburgh, Manchester and Dublin airports, and later on, Westfield Shopping Centre in London. 

Hindmarch said that with the benefit of hindsight, the online move was ‘opportune’, given the restrictions on travel that have been in place due to the pandemic. 

‘Having made the strategic decision to exit our predominantly airport-based retail estate and concentrate on a pure online strategy, we have been able to tailor our business, product and pricing specifically to a much more scalable, online only proposition,’ he added.  

BOTB was set up in 1999 and started to take off thanks to the power of social media

BOTB was set up by Hindmarch in 1999 and started to take off thanks to the power of social media. 

People taking part in the competition have to place a marker where they think a football was in a photograph before it was cleverly edited out.  

Its ‘Dream Car’ competition allows customers to buy tickets from £1.60 to win supercars like Jaguars and Tesla, while tickets for its ‘Midweek Car Competition’ start at just 80p.

Customers can also take part in ‘Weekly Lifestyle Competition’ to win luxury watches, motorbikes, holidays and other gadgets. 

Stellar rise: BOTB shares tumbled today, but they are still about 60% higher than last year and have risen by about 500% over the past two years

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ONS: Average UK house price dropped £5k in April but boom isn’t over

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House prices dipped in April as buyers lowered their offers in anticipation of the stamp duty holiday ending, official figures have shown.  

The average property value fell 1.9 per cent between March and April according to the Office for National Statistics’ April House Price Index. 

This meant the average house price fell back around £5,000 to £250,772 – although it was still up £20,000 compared to April 2020, delivering an annual property inflation rate of almost 9 per cent.

The average UK house price has risen 8.9 per cent over the past year, says the ONS

The average house price peaked in March at £256,000, according to the ONS report

Year-on-year, the typical home has increased in value by 8.9 per cent to reach £250,772 since last April, the index revealed. 

However, the rate of growth slowed compared to the previous month when prices rose 9.9 per cent annually.

Housing market experts have said the monthly dip in house prices was a result of buyers putting in lower offers in February and March, when they believed the Government’s stamp duty holiday was going to end on 31 March.

Buyers sought to make up for the fact that they would no longer be making the tax saving, which is up to £15,000 –  although it was later extended at the start of that month.  

Sarah Coles, personal finance analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown, said: ‘House prices dropped in April, which is bound to unsettle homeowners after almost a year of accelerating price rises. 

‘However, this isn’t necessarily the beginning of the end for house price growth, it’s more likely to be a sign of what an arbitrary deadline can do to a market.

‘At this stage we’re not expecting this to be the ultimate turning point for the market, but it’s a useful wake-up call for buyers, and a reminder that house prices aren’t a one-way street.’

The stamp duty holiday was introduced in July 2020 and means that home buyers do not pay the tax on the proportion of a property purchase under £500,000. 

This will continue until 1 July, when the threshold will decrease to £250,000. It will return to the usual level of £125,000 on 1 October.  

This four-bed home in Bath was developed from a folly built in the 1820s. It is listed on Rightmove at £1million, and agents say it has ‘far-reaching views and extensive gardens’

In Staveley near Chesterfield, Derbyshire, this two-bed property complete with sun deck is listed on Rightmove with a guide price of £250,000

Buyers in Chichester, West Sussex, can snap up this four-bed, three bath property which has a guide price of £815,000. It comes with a detached, self-contained garden studio

Downsizers might consider this two-bed bungalow in Bridlington in the East Riding of Yorkshire, which is listed on Rightmove with an asking price of £180,000

In Pembury near Royal Tunbridge Wells, Kent, this four-bed, two bath semi detached home is on the market with an asking price of £625,000. It comes with a large detached outbuilding

Another reason for the recent price growth is high levels of demand for moving house compared to relatively little supply, which was noted in the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors’ April 2021 UK Residential Market Survey.

Some experts say that this could help to maintain house price momentum throughout the summer months, even after the incentive of the stamp duty holiday is reduced.  

Paul Stockwell, chief commercial officer at Gatehouse Bank, said: ‘The original stamp duty discount deadline of March has made itself felt with a monthly dip in house prices, but annual growth is still remarkable.

‘There remains a shortage properties coming onto the market in many areas, resulting in intense competition in some cases, and this factor is likely to keep prices pushing upwards throughout the summer.’

Rise and fall: A graph showing house price changes by country since 2017

The UK Property Transactions Statistics showed that in April 2021, on a seasonally adjusted basis, the estimated number of transactions of residential properties with a value of £40,000 or greater was 117,860. 

This is 179.6 per cent higher than a year ago. Between March and April 2021, UK transactions decreased by 35.7 per cent on a seasonally adjusted basis.

House price growth was strongest in the North East where prices increased by 16.9 per cent in the year to April 2021, according to the ONS. 

The lowest annual growth was in London, where prices increased by 3.3 per cent. 

House prices in London are still the highest in the UK, but they dropped from an average of £500,000 in March to an average of £492,000 in April.

At the country level, the largest annual house price growth in the year to April 2021 was recorded in Wales, where house prices increased by 15.6 per cent.

Given the dramatic house price increases of the last year, buyers are being urged to consider whether they are paying over the odds for their homes. 

Miles Robinson, head of mortgages at online mortgage broker Trussle, said: ‘House prices are continuing to grow due to extremely high demand caused by the rush to beat the stamp duty holiday deadline. 

‘While this is great news for those selling a home, buyers are likely paying over the odds when compared with previous years. 

‘As such, any savings from the Stamp Duty Holiday might well be absorbed by the current high cost of homes. 

‘Buyers should look beyond the headline savings and really consider if this is the right choice for them.’

This post first appeared on Daily mail

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Average UK house price drops £5k in April – but experts say property boom not over

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UK house prices dipped in April as buyers lowered their offers in anticipation of the stamp duty holiday ending, official figures have shown.  

Prices fell 1.9 per cent between March and April according to the Office for National Statistics’ April House Price Index. 

This meant the average house price fell back around £5,000 to £250,772 – although it was still up £20,000 compared to April 2020.

The average UK house price is now more than £250,000, according to official data 

Year on year, the typical home has increased in value by 8.9 per cent to reach £250,772 since last April, the index revealed. 

However, the rate of growth slowed compared to the previous month when prices rose 9.9 per cent annually.

Housing market experts have said the monthly dip in house prices was a result of buyers putting in lower offers in February and March, when they believed the Government’s stamp duty holiday was going to end on 31 March.

Buyers sought to make up for the fact that they would no longer be making the tax saving, which is up to £15,000 –  although it was later extended at the start of that month.  

Sarah Coles, personal finance analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown, said: ‘House prices dropped in April, which is bound to unsettle homeowners after almost a year of accelerating price rises. 

‘However, this isn’t necessarily the beginning of the end for house price growth, it’s more likely to be a sign of what an arbitrary deadline can do to a market.

‘At this stage we’re not expecting this to be the ultimate turning point for the market, but it’s a useful wake-up call for buyers, and a reminder that house prices aren’t a one-way street.’

The stamp duty holiday was introduced in July 2020 and means that home buyers do not pay the tax on the proportion of a property purchase under £500,000. 

This will continue until 1 July, when the threshold will decrease to £250,000. It will return to the usual level of £125,000 on 1 October.  

Another reason for the recent price growth is high levels of demand for moving house compared to relatively little supply, which was noted in the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors’ April 2021 UK Residential Market Survey.

Some experts say that this could help to maintain house price momentum throughout the summer months, even after the incentive of the stamp duty holiday is reduced.  

Paul Stockwell, chief commercial officer at Gatehouse Bank, said: ‘The original stamp duty discount deadline of March has made itself felt with a monthly dip in house prices, but annual growth is still remarkable.

Rise and fall: A graph showing house price changes by country since 2017

‘There remains a shortage properties coming onto the market in many areas, resulting in intense competition in some cases, and this factor is likely to keep prices pushing upwards throughout the summer.’

The UK Property Transactions Statistics showed that in April 2021, on a seasonally adjusted basis, the estimated number of transactions of residential properties with a value of £40,000 or greater was 117,860. 

This is 179.6 per cent higher than a year ago. Between March and April 2021, UK transactions decreased by 35.7 per cent on a seasonally adjusted basis.

House price growth was strongest in the North East where prices increased by 16.9 per cent in the year to April 2021, according to the ONS. 

The lowest annual growth was in London, where prices increased by 3.3 per cent. 

House prices in London are still the highest in the UK, but they dropped from an average of £500,000 in March to an average of £492,000 in April.

At the country level, the largest annual house price growth in the year to April 2021 was recorded in Wales, where house prices increased by 15.6 per cent.

Given the dramatic house price increases of the last year, buyers are being urged to consider whether they are paying over the odds for their homes. 

Miles Robinson, head of mortgages at online mortgage broker Trussle, said: ‘House prices are continuing to grow due to extremely high demand caused by the rush to beat the stamp duty holiday deadline. 

‘While this is great news for those selling a home, buyers are likely paying over the odds when compared with previous years. 

‘As such, any savings from the Stamp Duty Holiday might well be absorbed by the current high cost of homes. 

‘Buyers should look beyond the headline savings and really consider if this is the right choice for them.’

This post first appeared on Daily mail

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