STV Productions has acquired a minority equity stake in drama producer Two Cities Television, the company behind critically acclaimed Patrick Melrose, commissioned by Sky Atlantic and CBS Showtime and starring Benedict Cumberbatch.

It is claimed the partnership will further enhance STV’s reputation as a leading producer of drama whilst providing Two Cities with creative and financial support as the business grows in scale in the UK and internationally.

Both companies are also strongly positioned to address the growing market for drama production from the Nations and Regions, with STV Productions based in Scotland and London, and Two Cities based in Northern Ireland and London. 

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Through the deal STV will have the opportunity to increase its initial 25% stake to a majority interest over the next three years.

With a strong development slate, Two Cities is currently developing a series based on Michael Wolff’s Donald Trump epic Fire and Fury in partnership with Topic Studios.

Simon Pitts, STV chief executive, said the partnership "builds on STV’s growing reputation in high end drama following recent successes, The Victim and Elizabeth is Missing", adding: "Our Two Cities investment will accelerate our growth plan to create a world class, nations-based production business.”

Michael Jackson, executive chairman, Two Cities Television, and Stephen Wright, creative director, said: “We are delighted to be joining forces with Simon Pitts, David Mortimer and his team at STV Productions, a business that feels totally in tune with our own, and one that can very much help accelerate our growth strategy, focusing on nations drama production.”

Staff members at bakery chain Greggs are set to pocket around £300 each after the company announced a £7 million windfall payment to its employees following a "phenomenal year".

The company said its underlying pre-tax profit, even with the payout to staff, would be ahead of expectations when it announces the 2019 results in March.

"I am delighted to announce that we will also be making a special additional payment to all of our colleagues across the business who have worked so hard to deliver this success in what has been a phenomenal year," chief executive Roger Whiteside said.

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Greggs' 19,000 employees who have been with the firm since before 31 March 2019 will get £300 each, while the remaining 6,000 staff members will be paid £75 per quarter they have worked for the baker. The bonus will be made at the end of January.

It comes a year after the launch of Greggs' vegan sausage roll, which has helped push up sales and extend the chain's appeal to a new audience.

The meat-free pastry snack, which is now being termed "iconic" by the company, has been followed by other initiatives with the recent launch of a vegan steak bake, and a vegan doughnut.

It promised to keep evolving to cater to other chosen diets.
Greggs opened 138 new shops, while closing 41, over the year, bringing its total to 2,050 across the UK. It said it plans to add a further 100 throughout 2020.

Sales grew 13.5%, compared to 7.2% growth in 2018. Like-for-like sales, which strips out the effect of shop openings and closures, were up 9.2%.

Supermarket giant Sainsbury's has revealed lower sales over its Christmas quarter as a tough toy market offset growth in its groceries arm.

The group - which also owns the Argos chain - said like-for-like retail sales fell 0.7%, excluding fuel, in the 15 weeks to January 4.

It saw sales of groceries rise 0.4% and online groceries trading lift 7.3%, while clothing jumped 4.4%, but its overall performance was dragged lower by a 3.9% fall in general merchandise.

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The third quarter sales decline compared with a 0.2% drop in the previous three months.

Sainsbury's said within its general merchandise business toy and gaming sales were "significantly" lower, but the group held off from big price discounts.

It cautioned that trading is set to remain "highly competitive and promotional" in 2020, with ongoing consumer uncertainty also clouding the outlook.

Chief executive Mike Coupe said: "We gave our customers a great combination of quality food at good prices this Christmas and we delivered a standout performance operationally."

He added: "The colder weather helped to deliver strong clothing sales in the quarter and our Christmas, party and gifting ranges were all popular with customers.

"Argos outperformed the market in consumer electronics, but the toy and gaming markets declined year on year."