(qlmbusinessnews.com via news.sky.com– Fri, 22nd Jan 2021) London, Uk – –
The news comes amid fears that some local authorities are taking on risky levels of debt in an effort to stay financially afloat.
Public sector net borrowing reached £34.1bn in December – the third-highest monthly figure since records began in 1993.
The figure from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) means that:
• Borrowing since the start of the financial year in April has reached £270.8bn
• Borrowing in December 2020 was £28.2bn more than in December 2019
• December's figure was also higher than the £31.6bn borrowed in November 2020
• Public sector debt has reached an all-time high of £2.13trn – equivalent to 99.4% of GDP, the most
since the financial year ending 1962
Chancellor Rishi Sunak said: “Since the start of the pandemic we've invested over £280bn to protect jobs and livelihoods across the UK, and support our economy and public services.
“This has clearly been the fiscally responsible thing to do. But, as I've said before, once our economy begins to recover, we should look to return the public finances to a more sustainable footing.”
Economists were divided over how soon Britons could see tax rises as part of the government's response.
Samuel Tombs, chief UK economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics, said in a note: “Public borrowing will fall sharply from about 20% of GDP this year to between 8% and 10% in 2021/22, if the government stops the furlough and self-employment income support schemes in the spring, and healthcare spending declines. Where have jobs been lost during the pandemic?
“We doubt that the chancellor will go a step further in the Budget on 3 March and push through large immediate tax rises or non-health spending cuts.
“But the Treasury will not tolerate a 10% deficit indefinitely and the timing of the next general election in 2024 suggests that Mr Sunak will not wait until the economy has fully recovered before actively tightening fiscal policy.
“Accordingly, we expect taxes to rise sharply in 2022, in order to attempt to stabilise the debt-to-GDP ratio while at the same time funding big demography-linked increases in health and pensions spending.”
Richard Hunter, head of markets at Interactive Investor, said the borrowing figure “underscores the inevitability of tax hikes in the March budget”.
He added: “There is, therefore, the increasing need for a substantial amount of 2020's enforced savings, propelled by pent-up demand, to find its way back into the economy later this year.”
Meanwhile, MPs have warned that some local authorities are taking on risky levels of debt in an effort to stay financially afloat.
Meg Hillier, chairwoman of the Commons public accounts committee, said the Treasury was displaying a “worryingly laissez faire attitude” to the issue.
Ms Hillier said that “some local authorities have taken on extremely risky levels of debt in recent years in an effort to shore up dwindling finances”, particularly in commercial property investments.
“The pandemic has doubly exposed that risk – in the huge extra demands and duties it is placing on local authorities, and in the hit to returns on commercial investments,” the Labour MP added.
By Sharon Marris
(qlmbusinessnews.com via bbc.co.uk – – Fri, 22nd Jan 2021) London, Uk – –
Japanese car maker Nissan has told the BBC its Sunderland plant is secure for the long term as a result of the trade deal reached between the UK and the EU.
It said it will move additional battery production close to the plant where it has 6,000 direct employees and supports nearly 70,000 jobs in the supply chain.
Currently, the batteries in its Leaf electric cars are imported from Japan.
Nissan would not confirm if this would mean additional jobs at Sunderland, which is the UK's largest car plant.
Manufacturing the more powerful batteries in the UK will ensure its cars comply with trade rules agreed with the EU requiring at least 55% of the car's value to be derived from either the UK or the EU to qualify for zero tariffs when exported to the EU.
Some 70% of the cars made in Sunderland are exported and the vast majority of them are sold in the EU.
Nissan had issued stark warnings last year that if the UK left the EU without a trade deal, the resulting tariffs on cars and components would make the Sunderland plant “unsustainable”.
Nissan's chief operating officer Ashwani Gupta told the BBC: “The Brexit deal is positive for Nissan. Being the largest automaker in the UK we are taking this opportunity to redefine auto-making in the UK.
“It has created a competitive environment for Sunderland, not just inside the UK but outside as well.
“We've decided to localise the manufacture of the 62kWh battery in Sunderland so that all our products qualify [for tariff-free export to the EU]. We are committed to Sunderland for the long term under the business conditions that have been agreed.”
It came as Nissan paused one of its two production lines in Sunderland on Friday as disruption at ports caused by the pandemic affected its supply chain.
The company said the move would affect the line which produces the Qashqai and Leaf, but work would resume next week.
‘Belief in Britain'
Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng welcomed the firm's endorsement of Sunderland as a manufacturing base.
“Nissan's decision represents a genuine belief in Britain and a huge vote of confidence in our economy thanks to the certainty our trade deal with the EU delivers,” he said.
“For the dedicated and highly-skilled workforce in Sunderland, it means the city will be home to Nissan's latest models for years to come and positions the company to capitalise on the wealth of benefits that will flow from electric vehicle production.”
It's particularly welcome after the more guarded comments from the boss of Vauxhall's parent company last week.
Speaking as the tie-up between Fiat Chrsyler and Peugeot Citroen was christened with new umbrella name Stellantis, boss Carlos Tavares said that the future of its Ellesmere Port plant depended on the support the UK government was prepared to offer after its decision to ban sales of new petrol and diesel cars after 2030.
“If you change, brutally, the rules and if you restrict the rules for business then there is at one point in time a problem,” he said.
Looking forward, he said it would make more sense to locate an electric vehicle factory closer to the larger EU market.
Industry voices welcomed the news from Nissan but reinforced the message from Vauxhall's owners that the government needs to do more to secure the future of the car industry as it electrifies.
“This is obviously good news and will help the Nissan Leaf avoid any future tariffs, but we are going to need to see a lot more investment in battery production in the UK if we are to preserve the UK as a car manufacturer and exporter,” said Professor David Bailey of Warwick University.
The head of trade body the Society for Motor Manufacturers and Traders agreed.
“The battery plant in Sunderland may be enough for Nissan's near-term plans to build tens of thousands of electric cars but the UK made 1.5 million cars last year and all will be partly electric by 2030,” Mike Hawes said.
‘Jobs at risk'
Andy Palmer, former boss of Aston Martin and current chairman of electric bus maker Switch Mobility, has gone further. He says that 800,000 jobs are at risk if the UK government doesn't act now to foster battery investment.
“Without electric vehicle batteries made in the UK, the country's auto industry risks becoming an antiquated relic and overtaken by China, Japan, America and Europe.”
He urged the UK government to use every lever at its disposal to make the UK attractive.
UK car investment has fallen sharply since the UK voted to leave the EU.
In the five years to 2016 it averaged £3.5bn per year. In the four years since it has averaged around £1bn – a fall of 71% at a time when the technology and map of car production are going through their biggest revolution since the car was invented.
The Nissan decision is therefore a very welcome boost to the UK which is in an international scramble for the investment of the future which is happening right now.
By Simon Jack
(qlmbusinessnews.com via theguardian.com – – Thur, 21st Jan 2021) London, Uk – –
Ofgem plans to lift cap on standard energy tariffs in April as market price for gas soars. The market price for UK gas climbed to three-year highs in recent weeks.
Millions of households should brace themselves for an energy bill hike of more than £80 a year from April as Ofgem lifts the cap on standard energy tariffs, according to the regulator’s chief executive.
Jonathan Brearley said Ofgem would announce plans to lift the energy price cap for the first time in two years early next month, and warned that the move would wipe out the £84-a-year cut brought in last year.
In total, the increase could raise the dual-fuel energy bills for 11 million households to £1,126 a year from April, when the government’s job support scheme is due to reach its final weeks.
What is the energy price cap and how does it work?
“I understand that any change in energy prices right now is not going to be welcomed by customers,” Brearley said.
The Ofgem boss blamed the looming hike in standard variable energy tariffs on the steady rise in the market price for gas and electricity.
The price cap increase may include up to £21 for energy suppliers to help recover the cost of unpaid bills during the coronavirus pandemic, but a final decision on this amount has yet to be made, he added.
“The price cap is intended to protect customers against unfair charging. It’s never intended to be the best price in the market,” Brearley said. “If you want the best price then you should get in there and switch your supplier. I’ve just done so myself, and I do it every year. That is the best way to get good value.”
Almost 500,000 energy customers switched to a new supplier each month last year, according to figures from the industry group Energy UK. This compares with a total of 6.4 million for the whole of 2019.
The energy price increase has been widely expected within the energy industry after the market price for UK gas climbed to three-year highs in recent weeks, amid surging gas import rates in Asia and a global commodities boom.
The market boom could add £66 a year to the average dual-fuel energy bill, according to the energy consultancy Cornwall Insight.
However, Britain’s biggest energy suppliers are also calling for an extra £21 a year on the cap to help them reclaim the “bad debt” from households which have been unable to afford their energy bills during the pandemic.
Brearley said Ofgem would treat “any submission from any part of the industry with a degree of scepticism”, but that evidence he had seen so far suggested the cost estimates used to account for customer debt needed to change.
“We’re going to take a very cautious view, from a customer’s perspective, but we do need to take bad debt into account because it is one of the costs that these businesses face,” Brearley said.
He added that the regulator’s top priority for the year would be helping energy customers to weather the financial strain of the pandemic, by insisting suppliers treat customers fairly.
The regulator lifted a ban on energy companies using debt collectors to chase unpaid bills in June last year, after only three months’ reprieve, on the condition that suppliers first offered debt repayment plans to struggling customers.
“What we’ve said to suppliers is that we understand that you need to issue energy bills, we understand that you need to pursue costs but you’ve got to do that in a respectful and fair way,” Brearley said.
He said Ofgem was also “looking very hard” at E.On UK, one of the largest energy suppliers, which charged its customers twice in the run-up to Christmas and was unable to run its customer service channels as usual for almost two weeks owing to a deluge of customer complaints.
“E.On came to us very openly, and self-reported this, and they have put things right,” said Brearley. “But what a time for something like that to happen to customers. We’re not in a position to comment publicly, but as you can imagine we’re looking very hard at what happened, and any detriment to customers as a result.”
By Jillian Ambrose
(qlmbusinessnews.com via uk.reuters.com — Thur, 21st Jan 2021) London, UK —
LONDON (Reuters) – British manufacturers’ concerns about shortages of low-wage workers and supplies have risen the most in almost 50 years, a survey showed on Thursday, as they wrestle with COVID-19 disruptions and new customs rules after leaving the European Union.
A measure of how manufacturers feel about their competitiveness relative to EU rivals deteriorated at the fastest pace on record, meanwhile, and companies expected output and orders to decline, the Confederation of British Industry said of its survey results.
“Manufacturers across the board are continuing to battle major headwinds,” CBI chief economist Rain Newton-Smith said.
A monthly index of new orders for January dropped to -38 from -25 in December, and a quarterly measure of optimism sank to -22 from zero in October.
However, export orders bucked the broader trend, with this balance rising to its least negative since March, though it was still below its long-run average.
“(This) suggests that EU firms are not hesitating to source goods from the UK, despite the extra red tape and rise in haulage costs,” Samuel Tombs of Pantheon Macroeconomics said.
The survey adds to signs that Britain’s economy will contract in early 2021, hit by a surge in coronavirus cases and restrictions, and new bureaucracy for trade with the EU.
Manufacturing accounts for about 10% of Britain’s economy.
The much bigger services sector has been hit far harder by social-distancing measures and is also facing new barriers to trade with the EU.
Separately, a new experimental measure of consumer spending indicated that credit and debit card spending in early January slumped to 35% below its level last February, before the pandemic.
The figures – published by the Office for National Statistics using Bank of England data – are not seasonally adjusted, so part of the fall probably reflects a normal drop in spending after Christmas, on top of the impact of new COVID restrictions which closed non-essential retailers this month.
The CBI figures showed many manufacturers reported a rush to build up stocks and complete EU orders in December, before the new customs rules took effect on Jan. 1.
British goods are not subject to tariffs or quotas as they enter the EU, but do face significant new paperwork, adding to costs and delays.
Concern about shortages of materials and components rose by the most since January 1975, which the CBI linked to COVID disruption to international trade and Brexit-linked customs delays.
Concerns about a lack of unskilled workers rose by the most since April 1974. New immigration rules since Jan. 1 limit employers’ ability to hire low-paid workers from the EU, at a time when COVID has led to increased staff absence.
By David Milliken, William Schomberg
Additional reporting by Andy Bruce
(qlmbusinessnews.com via bbc.co.uk – – Wed, 20th Jan 2021) London, Uk – –
Low-deposit mortgages have made a return as the market emerges from a Covid-related slowdown.
Mortgage products for homeowners with a deposit of 10% of their property's value have risen more than fourfold compared with last summer's low.
The increase, based on figures from financial information service Moneyfacts, could offer some relief to first-time buyers.
But the cost of mortgages will remain an issue for many.
In early September last year, there were only 44 mortgage products available for those able to offer a 10% deposit. At the same time, first-time buyers putting money aside for a deposit were faced with pressures of poor savings rates and rising house prices.
That choice has now risen to 197 products, according to the Moneyfacts figures, with some big lenders returning in recent weeks.
Mortgage products for those able to offer a 15% deposit have also risen sharply, although the choice was already much greater.
“First-time buyers who may have been concerned that with record low savings rates and increasing house prices, their homeownership dreams may have had to be shelved, may have been pleased to note that we are now seeing some providers return products for those with 10% deposits,” said Eleanor Williams, from Moneyfacts.
Lenders had been grappling with the practical effects that the coronavirus pandemic brought to their business.
While some new businesses targeted first-time buyers on social media, many traditional lenders withdrew products from the market.
Staff shortages, and employees working from home, meant they were unable to process applications as fast as they had before the pandemic.
There were also concerns among lenders that, despite strong activity in the housing market, riskier – and younger – first-time buyers could find it difficult to make mortgage repayments during an economic slowdown caused by the pandemic.
Research has shown that younger workers are more at risk of redundancy.
Aaron Strutt, from mortgage broker Trinity Financial, said lenders were now working more efficiently despite staff still being at home.
He said that some of the biggest mortgage lenders had returned to the market. Some of the mortgage rates they were offering were not as attractive as they had been, but competition would help push down costs.
“If you are planning to purchase a property and have a 10% deposit the mortgage rates are not as cheap as they used to be, but they are getting better,” he said.
Many thousands of existing mortgage-holders who had struggled to make their repayments during the pandemic had taken payment “holidays”, which are deferrals on payments.
The latest figures from UK Finance, which represents lenders, show that 130,000 mortgage payment holidays were in place at the end of December 2020, down from a peak of 1.8 million in June last year.
By Kevin Peachey
Personal finance correspondent
(qlmbusinessnews.com via news.sky.com– Wed, 20th Jan 2021) London, Uk – –
HSBC has announced plans to shut 82 UK branches this year after a shift towards telephone and internet banking.
The bank said it would “aim to redeploy all customer service colleagues who are impacted… into suitable nearby locations” but did not immediately say how many jobs were affected.
HSBC said the decision reflected “local market trends, customer behaviour and branch usage” and would see the total number of branches reduced to 511.
It said the closures are part of plans to become a market-leading digital bank and an overhaul of how remaining branches will operate.
Of the 82 sites closing, 81 are within a mile of a Post Office, two-thirds are within five miles of another HSBC branch and nine in 10 are within 10 miles, HSBC added.
HSBC said that even before counting the impact of the pandemic, the number of customers using branches has fallen by a third in the last five years.
The bank said 90% of all customer contact with it was over the phone, internet or smartphone and that staff talk with more than 100,000 customers a week on social media.
Jackie Uhi, HSBC UK's head of network, said: “The COVID-19 pandemic has emphasised the need for the changes that we are making.
“This is a strategic direction that we need to take to have a branch network fit for the future.”
The closures follow 164 announced by TSB adding to thousands that have disappeared from Britain's high streets in recent years from across the sector.
A recent report by consumer group Which? found banks and building societies had closed, or scheduled to close, 3,770 branches since January 2015.
HSBC, a global banking giant, revealed last year that it planned to cut 35,000 jobs globally.
The latest UK closures will take place between 23 April and 24 September.
Reporting by John-Paul Ford Rojas
These are the affected sites and their expected closure dates:
Edinburgh, Princes Street
Brighton, Ditchling Road
Hull, Merit House
Sutton Coldfield, Four Oaks
Hull, Holderness Road
Pontyclun, Talbot Green
London, Fleet Street
London, Fenchurch Street
London, Old Broad Street
London, Charing Cross
Leeds, Chapel Allerton
Plymouth, Forder House
Belper, King Street
London, Streatham Hill
Falkirk High Street
Fleet, Fleet Road
Wigston, Leicester Road
Tavistock, Bedford Square
Leeds, Cross Gates
Yate, North Walk
London, Kingsbury Road
Cleckheaton, Bradford Road
London, South Woodford
Goole, Wesley Square
Congleton, High Street
Formby, Chapel Lane
Dunstable, West Street
Chorley, Market Street
Pontypridd, Taff Street
Felixstowe, Hamilton Road
Godalming, High Street
Prestatyn, High Street
Tewkesbury, High Street
Maldon, High Street
Huntingdon, High Street
London, Russell Square
Richmond, Market Place
Loughton, High Road
Rustington, The Street
Exmouth, Chapel Street
Cleveleys, Victoria Square
Northallerton, High Street
Walton-on-Thames, High Street
London, High Holborn
Barry, Holton Road
Aldershot, Wellington Street
Eastcote, Field End Road
London, Edgware Road
Ramsgate, High Street
Letchworth, Station Place
Barnet, High Street
Deal, High Street
Cheshunt, Turners Hill
Swadlincote, High Street
Dorking, West Street
Welshpool, Broad Street
London, Surrey Quays
Worksop, Bridge Street
(qlmbusinessnews.com via uk.reuters.com — Tue, 19th Jan 2021) London, UK —
LONDON (Reuters) – Two British hospitals are using blockchain technology to keep tabs on the storage and supply of temperature-sensitive COVID-19 vaccines, the companies behind the initiative said on Tuesday, in one of the first such initiatives in the world.
Two hospitals, in central England’s Stratford-upon-Avon and Warwick, are expanding their use of a distributed ledger, an offshoot of blockchain, from tracking vaccines and chemotherapy drugs to monitoring fridges storing COVID-19 vaccines.
The tech will bolster record-keeping and data-sharing across supply chains, said Everyware, which monitors vaccines and other treatments for Britain’s National Health Service (NHS), and Texas-based ledger Hedera, owned by firms including Alphabet’s Google and IBM, in a statement.
Logistical hurdles are a significant risk to the speedy distribution of COVID-19 vaccines but have resulted in booming business for companies selling technology for monitoring shipments from factory freezer to shots in the arm.
Pfizer Inc and BioNTech’s shot, for example, must be shipped and stored at ultra-cold temperatures or on dry ice, and can only last at standard fridge temperatures for up to five days.
Other vaccines, such as Moderna Inc’s, do not need such cold storage and are therefore easier to deliver.
“We can absolutely verify the data that we’ve collected from every single device,” Everyware’s Tom Screen said in an interview. “We make sure that data is accurate at source, and after that point we can verify that it’s never been changed, it’s never been tampered with.”
Firms from finance to commodities have invested millions of dollars to develop blockchain, a digital ledger that allows the secure and real-time recording of data, in the hope of radical cost cuts and efficiency gains.
Results have been mixed, though, with few projects achieving the revolutionary impact heralded by proponents.
Everyware’s Screen said it while it would be possible to monitor the vaccines without blockchain, manual systems would raise the risk of mistakes.
The system will “allow us to demonstrate our commitment to providing safe patient care,” said Steve Clarke, electro-bio medical engineering manager at South Warwickshire NHS in a statement.
Reporting by Tom Wilson
(qlmbusinessnews.com via theguardian.com – – Tue, 19th Jan 2021) London, Uk – –
People high on list for jabs in UK ready to make 2021 and 2022 plans
Abta says is it is hearing from members that the over-50s represent a much higher proportion of early bookers than normal.
Holiday companies have reported an increase in bookings as the UK’s coronavirus vaccine rollout gives people hope that they will soon be able to travel overseas again.
Despite a series of negative travel announcements in recent days, including the closure of air corridors and words of caution from ministers over foreign holidays, there are signs that those among the first in line for the vaccinations are starting to plan trips, and that consumers are hopeful about taking a break later this year.
The travel association Abta said it was hearing from members that the over-50s represented a much higher proportion of early bookers than normal.Matt Hancock cautions against booking holidays abroad.
Saga, which specialises in holidays for the over-50s, reported rising numbers of bookings for this year and next. Traffic to its bookings website was up by 16% in the first two weeks of this year, compared with the first two weeks of December, while sales made through Saga had doubled over the same period. The interest comes despite the foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, saying it was too early to plan for summer holidays this year because of travel restrictions and Matt Hancock, the health secretary, suggesting on Monday that holidays abroad may not be a given.
Bookings for long-haul trips for 2022 have also surged, suggesting an appetite for “once-in-a-lifetime holidays”, Saga said, while people are booking for longer even for short-haul destinations.
Saga said 70% of short-haul-stay bookings between November 2021 and January 2022 were for 21 nights or longer.
Chris Simmonds, the chief executive of Saga Holidays, said: “Many of our guests are hopeful that they will be able to travel again soon, with the vaccine providing them the optimism they need to start planning ahead.
“Of course, given we cater exclusively for people aged over 50, many of our customers are near the top of the queue for a vaccine, which is giving them the confidence to start thinking about travelling again, as well as returning to other parts of normal life.”
The tour operator Tui said older travellers were making up more of its bookings than usual.
A spokesperson said: “We’re seeing more interest in holidays from an age group that wasn’t coming through before, with the over-50s starting to book, we assume, on the back of the positive vaccine news.
“Since the end of last year, bookings from this group have accounted for 50% of all our web bookings, as customers long for a sunshine break later in summer, in particular in Greece, Turkey or the Balearics.”
It also reported customers booking longer breaks than previously, with many opting for 10, 11 or 14 nights instead of seven. It suggested this was to make up for not having had a holiday in 2020.
The airline easyJet said its holiday bookings for the summer were 250% higher than they had been at this point last year.
Its chief executive, Johan Lundgren, said: “We have seen easyJet holidays bookings from our over-50s customers increase over the last few weeks in comparison to pre-Christmas, which suggests a further confidence boost from the vaccine rollout.”
Lundgren said there was “pent-up demand”, adding: ”We have seen that every time restrictions have been relaxed and so we know that people want to go on holiday as soon as they can.”
Skyscanner, which offers flights and hotels via its website, said searches and bookings remained lower than normal for the time of year but there were signs that activity was picking up.
Searches were up by 12% over the week and bookings by 7%, with July 2021 the most searched for month.
Other firms reported bookings were higher for this September and October, suggesting consumers were hopeful that vaccines may have been delivered and travel restrictions lifted by the autumn.
On Monday, tough new testing rules came into effect that require all those arriving in the UK to show a negative Covid-19 test or face a potential £500 fine. The UK has also closed all its travel corridors, meaning people arriving will be required to quarantine.
Meanwhile, an official close to the Australian government has warned that tourists could face “substantial border restrictions” for most of 2021. Returning Australian travellers must pay about AU$3,000 (£1,700) to quarantine inside a hotel room for 14 days.
By Miles Brignall and Gwyn Topham
(qlmbusinessnews.com via news.sky.com– Mon, 18th Jan, 2021) London, Uk – –
Seafood companies have warned they could go under in days as they face long delays getting into the EU, ruining produce.
Lorries used to transport British seafood have parked on the roads near Downing Street in protest over delays getting into the EU due to new Brexit rules.
More than 20 large lorries from seafood companies across the UK were parked up, with one carrying the slogan “Brexit Carnage” while another said: “Incompetent Government Destroying Shellfish Industry!”
Over the past few days there has been a suggestion that drivers will dump their wasted stock outside Downing Street, but so far this has not happened.
Many British fishermen have been unable to export their stocks to Europe since the start of the year after the introduction of catch certificates, health checks and customs declarations have meant lengthy delays getting into the EU.
European buyers have been rejecting their catches as they are taking too long to get to them, costing producers tens of thousands of pounds per lorry in some cases.
Britain exports vast quantities of scallops, oysters, lobsters, mussels, langoustine and crab to the EU, which were previously rushed straight to the continent after being harvested.
A spokesman for DR Collin and Son, which had several lorries at the protest, said the industry is “being tied in knots with paperwork requirements which would be easy enough to navigate” as companies have been preparing for some time for leaving the EU.
“However, all the training is going to waste as the technology is outdated and cannot cope with the demands being placed on it – which in turn is resulting in no produce being able to leave the UK,” he said.
“These are not ‘teething issues' as reported by the government, and the consequences of these problems will be catastrophic on the lives of fishermen, fishing towns and the shellfish industry as a whole.
“Action needs to be taken urgently to allow the procedures to be realigned in a manner which reflects the time restraints faced in the export of live shellfish to Europe.”Seafood firms ‘only have weeks to survive' – as environment secretary admits ‘teething problems'
Gary Hodgson, a director of Venture Seafoods, which exports live and processed crabs and lobsters to the EU, said he had cancelled several lorries since December due to the arduous red tape now involved with exporting to the EU.
He said one operator needed 400 pages of export documentation last week to board a ferry to the EU.
Those at the protest said the government needed to understand the severity of the problems they face and the impact on coastal communities, many who rely on seafood sales to the EU to survive.
They want a more workable system and say there is a shortage of custom agents on both sides of the Channel.
Jimmy Buchan, chief executive of the Scottish Seafood Association, said they had seen little improvement in the fortnight since the new rules were in place.
He said: “There has been a lot of direct engagement between the industry and ministers and civil servants in recent days, and plenty of soothing words about resolving ‘teething troubles'.
“But these are not minor impediments to trade. The industry in Scotland has basically ground to a halt and businesses that employ hundreds of people in communities around our coastline are losing money.
“In some cases they are close to going under.
“It is time for our government to get a grip of what is now a full-blown crisis, and fast, before severe and lasting damage is done to the sector.”
The seafood industry has warned fishing businesses could collapse within days, but Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab on Sunday said the delays were just “teething problems”.
He told the BBC he was “not convinced” the delays were because of the government's trade deal with the EU and argued it will “create huge, sustainable opportunities” for the sector.
Last Wednesday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson told a committee of MPs that fishing businesses would be compensated for what he described as “temporary frustrations”.
By Alix Culbertson
(qlmbusinessnews.com via bbc.co.uk – – Mon, 18th Jan 2021) London, Uk – –
Fashion chain Next is reported to be the frontrunner to buy Sir Philip Green's Arcadia retail empire out of administration as a deadline for bids comes due on Monday.
The Sunday Times said a consortium including the chain and US hedge fund Davidson Kempner has overtaken Mike Ashley's Frasers Group among others to buy the company, which owns Topshop.
Some 13,000 jobs were put at risk when Arcadia went bust in November.
Next declined to comment on the claims.
The retailer, which has 550 UK stores, has weathered the pandemic well, with its Christmas sales matching last year's figures despite temporary store closures.
By contrast, sales at Acadia, which also owns Burton and Dorothy Perkins, slumped during the crisis triggering its collapse.
Since November, administrators Deloitte have been looking for buyers for some or all of the group, which had 444 stores in the UK and 22 overseas at the time.
Frasers Group, which owns House of Fraser and Sports Direct, and has a track record of buying up failed brands, has expressed an interest.
According to reports, Authentic Brands, the US owner of the Barneys department store, and JD Sports have tabled a joint offer, while online retailer Boohoo is also said to be circling.
Deloitte and Arcadia declined to comment on the reports.
Experts expect Arcadia to be broken up, with bidders taking on different parts of the business, and brands potentially hived off from their stores.
In December, Australian collective City Chic said it would buy Arcadia's Evans brand, commerce and wholesale business for £23m but not its store network.
Next boss Simon Wolfson has said it will take a minority stake in Arcadia, with Davidson Kempner holding the majority, if the consortium's bid succeeds.
‘More pain to come'
Last year was the worst for the High Street in more than 25 years as the coronavirus accelerated the move towards online shopping, according to the Centre for Retail Research (CRR).
Nearly 180,000 retail jobs were lost in the UK, up by almost a quarter on the previous year, as shops faced strict curbs and prolonged closures.
CRR warned there will be more pain for the sector in 2021 as retailers face a cash flow crisis and rent payments.
It has predicted up to 200,000 more retail jobs will be at risk in 2021.
The electrification of the pickup truck, America's most beloved automobile, could finally jolt EVs fully into the U.S. mainstream. It also promises a huge payday for the companies that can make them affordable. The players in this potentially lucrative market aren't just the traditional, deep-pocketed automakers, mind you: there's a batch of well-funded startups going head-to-head in the coming fight
(qlmbusinessnews.com via news.sky.com– Fri, 15th Jan 2021) London, Uk – –
The owner of Primark has warned it faces losing over £1bn in sales if coronavirus lockdowns force the majority of its stores to remain closed through February.
The store-only discount fashion retailer, which has traded well from pent-up demand during the COVID-19 crisis to date when restrictions have allowed, said it was clearly facing a “significant” financial hit.
Parent firm Associated British Foods (ABF) has steadfastly refused to trade the Primark business online despite the disruption.
It reported that 305 of its 389 stores – 76% of its shops – were currently closed.
The company disclosed a 30% slump in sales in the 16 weeks to 2 January.
It said Primark's underlying half-year profits to the end of February were now forecast to break even on the previous year as a result.
Just weeks ago it had predicted £650m of lost sales in the six-month period.
Under a scenario that growing restrictions could force its entire estate across Europe to shut until the end of March, ABF said the total sales loss would increase above £1.8bn.
However, ABF said Primark had offset some of the impact on trading through a 25% reduction in usual operating costs.
Shares opened almost 2% down but later recovered to end 1.5% higher on Thursday.
By James Sillars
(qlmbusinessnews.com via bbc.co.uk – – Fri, 15th Jan 2021) London, Uk – –
Tens of thousands of small businesses will receive insurance payouts covering losses from the first national lockdown, following a court ruling.
The Supreme Court found largely in favour of small firms receiving payments from business interruption insurance policies.
For some businesses it could provide a lifeline, allowing them to trade beyond the coronavirus crisis.
The ruling could cost the insurance sector hundreds of millions of pounds.
The City watchdog, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), brought the test case, with eight insurers agreeing to take part in proceedings.
One of the insurers set to make significant payouts is Hiscox, which was challenged by thousands of its policyholders as part of the case.
Richard Leedham, who represented the Hiscox Action Group – on behalf of small businesses, said: “This is a landmark victory for a small group of businesses who took on a huge insurance player and have been fully vindicated.
“What is important now is that Hiscox accepts the Supreme Court's verdict and starts paying out to its policy holders, many of whom are in danger of going under”.
Other insurers involved in the test case are Arch, Argenta, MS Amlin, QBE and RSA – but as many as 60 insurers sold similar products. They will now pay out on many, but not all, policies.
Huw Evans, director general of the Association of British Insurers, said: “All valid claims will be settled as soon as possible and in many cases the process of settling claims has begun.
“We recognise this has been a particularly difficult time for many small businesses and naturally regret the Covid-19 restrictions have led to disputes with some customers.”
What is this case about?
In the lockdown of last spring, many small businesses made claims through business interruption insurance policies for loss of earnings when they had to close.
But many insurers refused to pay, arguing only the most specialist policies had cover for such unprecedented restrictions.
It was agreed that a selection of policy wordings should be tested in court, setting the parameters for what would be considered a valid claim.
The ruling provides guidance for a wider pool of 700 policies, potentially affecting 370,000 small businesses – although only some of these will end up with payouts.
Giving the court's ruling, Lord Hamblen said the court accepted the arguments from representatives of policyholders and dismissed appeals from insurers against an earlier judgement finding in policyholders' favour.
The complex ruling covered issues such as disease clauses, whether business were denied access to the properties, and the timing of lost earnings.
James Ollerenshaw's hair salon was one of those businesses unable to operate during the first national lockdown.
The business – The Drawing Room in London's Spitalfields – paid an annual premium of £1,200 for business interruption insurance, and disease cover came as part of it.
Mr Ollerenshaw said the Supreme Court's decision would not directly affect his policy, but would decide the principles on claims such as his – and were vital for the business.
“A payout would cover the major costs, which is the rent. We have debt sitting there,” he said.
He said he was delighted with the Supreme Court's ruling.
“The insurance industry needs to face up to the fact that it failed customers at their greatest moment of need, destroying companies, livelihoods and jobs,” he said.
He formed a Covid Claims Group, joining other small business owners in calling for a quick resolution and payouts.
“Time matters,” he said, pointing out that some small businesses have been forced to close down while waiting for the decision.
Sheldon Mills, from the FCA, which brought the case on behalf of policyholders, said: “Coronavirus is causing substantial loss and distress to businesses and many are under immense financial strain to stay afloat. Today's judgment decisively removes many of the roadblocks to claims by policyholders.
“We will be working with insurers to ensure that they now move quickly to pay claims that the judgment says should be paid, making interim payments wherever possible.”
The test case was fast-tracked to the highest court in England and Wales – the Supreme Court, which heard four days of legal representations in November. The final ruling provides authoritative guidance for these policies, and potentially of similar ones not part of the case.
The FCA, the insurance sector, and the Financial Ombudsman will all use the judgement to guide their decisions in other cases.
The Financial Ombudsman Service and courts in Scotland and Northern Ireland are expected to use the judgment to rule on other, similar cases.
Insurance policies would have been amended for new and renewing customers since this issue emerged, so losses from the latest lockdown measures in different parts of the UK would be clearly stated as part of the cover – or not – in new business interruption insurance policies.
By Kevin Peachey
(qlmbusinessnews.com via uk.reuters.com — Thur, 14th Jan 2021) London, UK —
LONDON (Reuters) – A firm of London plumbers is looking at changing its employment contracts to include a requirement for workers to have a COVID-19 vaccine, its founder said on Thursday, though he added that no one would get fired for refusing to have the shot.
Pimlico Plumbers, with a workforce of more than 400, has been talking to its lawyers about making the vaccine mandatory for new hires within a few months, founder Charlie Mullins said.
The firm was also exploring how it might modify existing staff contracts, he said, although he insisted no one would be forced to receive a vaccine or be fired over the issue.
“We wouldn’t dream of forcing anybody but I’m pretty much certain that 99% of our staff would jump at the opportunity,” Mullins told Reuters in a telephone interview.
“Who in their right mind would turn down one needle or one jab that could save your life?” he added.
Asked whether there was a contradiction between saying contracts could be modified to require vaccines while also saying no one would be forced out, Mullins presented the issue as one of persuasion rather than coercion.
“It’s not a contradiction because I think you’ll find if you encourage people and advise them … I’m happy to pay for anyone that works for us to have the vaccine,” he said, adding that this could take place during working hours.
As things stand, people in Britain can only receive the vaccine from the state-run National Health Service, which is gradually rolling them out free of charge, following an order of priority with elderly and vulnerable people top of the list.
Mullins said he believed that within a few months it should be possible to pay to obtain vaccines privately, and he also thought it would become the norm for proof of vaccination to be required for things such as air travel or going to the theatre.
In that context, he said, he did not believe many people would find a “no jab, no job” policy controversial.
“Nobody moans now you’ve got to get on a plane with a negative COVID test,” he said, referring to a new requirement for passengers arriving in Britain to provide proof of a negative test taken less than 72 hours before travel. Many other countries have had such requirements for months.
Reporting by Estelle Shirbon
(qlmbusinessnews.com via theguardian.com – – Thur, 14th Jan 2021) London, Uk – –
Restaurant and pub closures fuel trading boom over Christmas period
Lockdown living has driven a surge in demand at Lidl and the food courier Just Eat, with both companies posting strong sales for the final weeks of 2020.
With restaurants and cafes closed to diners, the boom in home eating led Just Eat Takeaway.com to report a 57% spike in orders across Europe during the final three months of last year, compared with a year earlier.
The leap in trade reported by the continent’s biggest food delivery service was a further acceleration in growth from the 46% jump in the third quarter.
In the UK, delivery orders surged by almost 400% in the fourth quarter of 2020 compared with the same period of 2019, as many consumers were once again asked by the government to stay indoors.
Just Eat Takeaway, based in the Netherlands and one of the world’s largest online food delivery firms, said it had put “tremendous effort” into improving its British business, including a doubling of its UK sales force.
“In 2021, we will continue to invest in price leadership, improving our service levels and expanding our offering to restaurants and consumers,” said Jitse Groen, the chief executive.
Lidl also reported a record Christmas, as customers celebrated with panettone and pink prosecco.
Sales at the chain rose by 17.9% in the four weeks to 27 December, compared with the same period a year earlier. The increase was larger than those at the UK’s four biggest supermarkets – Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda and Morrisons – and Aldi.
British supermarkets notched up their biggest month on record in December, with consumers spending £11.7bn on take-home groceries, according to analysts at the research group Kantar, as coronavirus restrictions led to the closure of many restaurants, pubs and cafes during the key trading period.
Lidl said shoppers bought more goods – with basket size increasing by almost 25% year on year – and British households switched £34.7m of spend to Lidl from other supermarkets.
Customers’ taste for premium food and drink over the Christmas period boosted their spend, and sales of Lidl’s Deluxe range climbed by 22%.
Lidl shoppers bought more than 1m bottles of pink prosecco during the festive period, as well as 2.7m panettones. An average of 17,000 Deluxe mince pies an hour were sold during December.
Christian Härtnagel, chief executive of Lidl GB, said its record sales and basket size growth demonstrated the strength of the chain’s appeal.
And the store’s first branded Christmas jumper, featuring the logo as part of a festive design, appears to have topped the charts, with one sold every minute in the month to 27 December.
“Despite this Christmas being a difficult time for many across the country, we are pleased to have been able to help our customers enjoy themselves by offering high-quality food at the lowest prices on the market,” he said.
(qlmbusinessnews.com via bbc.co.uk – – Wed, 13th Jan 2021) London, Uk – –
People falling behind on credit payments for cars and other products may soon have their items seized by lenders, under the regulator's plans.
A ban on repossession of goods and vehicles is due to expire at the end of January.
The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) said that extending the ban could leave people owing much more over time.
However, the FCA is proposing that no homes are repossessed before the start of April.
The coronavirus pandemic meant the ban on repossessions of homes, vehicles and other items in the UK was put in place and extended to the end of January
Normally, lenders can seize homes and goods if somebody falls too far behind on loan repayments.
Deferrals on payments are available for an agreed period of time, but the FCA is now proposing that repossessions of items bought on credit – such as cars – can resume from the start of February.
“This should only be as a last resort, and subject to complying with relevant government public health guidelines and regulations, for example on social distancing and shielding,” the FCA said.
“Firms will also be expected to consider the impact on customers who may be vulnerable, including because of the pandemic, when deciding whether repossession of goods or vehicles is appropriate.”
It argued that interest over a longer period, combined with the depreciating value of the goods or vehicles, would leave people with a potentially unsustainable bill.
The popularity of car finance has fallen amid the pandemic. New figures from the Finance and Leasing Association show a fall in new business volumes of 24% in November compared with the same month in 2019.
Home repossession ban
The picture for homes is different, owing to the government restrictions on movement and the transmission risks of coronavirus.
The FCA's repossession ban on properties is proposed to be extended to April.
Last week, governments in England, Wales and Scotland all extended their ban on bailiffs enforcing evictions of tenants who have fallen behind on rent.
The FCA's proposals for homeowners covers the whole of the UK, and is subject to consultation for the next five days.
There are no changes to the rules on mortgage holidays available to homeowners. Some two-and-a-half million homeowners have taken a mortgage holiday since the start of the pandemic.
That means they have deferred the payment, but will probably have to pay more each month when repayments resume.
Anyone can still request a mortgage holiday, unless they have already had one for six months, the FCA said. A new one can last for six months. An existing one can be extended to last for six months in total.
Applications can be made before the end of March 2020.
When the six month deferral has been used, lenders assess the borrower's circumstances and devise an arrangement that could include extending the mortgage term, accepting partial payments, or – only in the short-term – another deferral.
This will show up on their credit record.
By Kevin Peachey
(qlmbusinessnews.com via news.sky.com– Wed, 13th Jan 2021) London, Uk – –
The retailer said it was responding to a “clear change in tone” from governments on the fight against the coronavirus pandemic.
John Lewis has suspended click-and-collect services at its department stores in the latest tightening of rules for shoppers as the coronavirus crisis intensifies.
The department store chain said it was responding to a “clear change in tone and emphasis” from governments across the UK urging the public to stay at home.
It came as Britain's major supermarket chains said they would deny entry to customers not wearing face coverings unless they had a medical excuse.COVID vaccine tracker
Morrisons, Sainsbury's, Tesco and Asda – which unlike non-essential retailers have remained open throughout the pandemic – set out their rules after vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi expressed concerns about the behaviour of store customers.
Two other supermarkets, Aldi and Waitrose – the latter which is also part of the John Lewis Partnership – also said they would enforce the policy.Advertisement
Meanwhile Kingfisher, owner of DIY chain B&Q, revealed that while stores remain open as it is classed as an essential retailer, it has had to close its kitchen and bathroom showrooms.
Last week, Topps Tiles said it had been advised to close its tile aisles to prevent browsing under tightened restrictions designed to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
In its latest update on Tuesday, John Lewis Partnership said it was “conscious of the increased need to remove reasons for non-essential travel during the current lockdown”.
Click-and-collect orders from department stores were being “switched off to new orders” from the close of business on Tuesday, the company said.
However click-and-collect will still be available from sister retailer Waitrose.
JLP also said new bookings for in-home services such as appliance installation and bathroom fittings would be paused when “not essential to the health and wellbeing of customers and their families”.
At Waitrose, it will station marshals at entrances with disposable masks available to anyone who has not brought their own.
Admission will be denied to anyone refusing to comply and marshals will also ensure that only one member of each household is allowed to shop.
Meanwhile, staff at the supermarket will have to wear face coverings even when behind protective screens or when working at the back of the store away from customers, in addition to the areas where the rule currently applies.
Andrew Murphy, executive director of operations at JLP, said: “We are acutely aware that the country is at a critical point in the pandemic.
“We've listened carefully to the clear change in tone and emphasis of the views and information shared by the UK's governments in recent days.
“While we recognise that the detail of formal guidance has not changed, we feel it is right for us – and in the best interests of our partners and customers – to take proactive steps to further enhance our COVID security and related operational policies.”
By John-Paul Ford Rojas