Food workers exempt from quarantine rules

( via – – Fri, 23rd July 2021) London, Uk – –

Supermarket depot workers and food manufacturers will be exempt from quarantine rules as the government tries to prevent food supply problems.

The move comes after the rising number of retail workers being forced to self-isolate began to affect the availability of some products.

The government said workers, regardless of vaccination status, could do daily Covid testing instead of isolating.

Up to 10,000 workers are expected to qualify for the scheme.

The new daily contact testing measures are beginning at 15 supermarket depots, followed by 150 depots next week, but they will not apply to supermarket store staff.

Environment Secretary George Eustice told BBC Breakfast that shop staff had been excluded from the scheme because their inclusion would have been a “really significant undertaking”.

“You're talking then thousands of different shops and many more people and we still want to maintain the test, trace and isolate system.”

However, he added that the government would keep the policy “under review, but we think this is a sensible first step”.

“We're never going to take risks with our food supply chain,” he added.

The government's move comes as supermarkets said the supply of some products was being affected by the “pingdemic” keeping staff away from work.

A record 618,903 people were told to self-isolate by the NHS Covid app between 8 and 15 England and Wales.

While some retailers said they may have to close stores, they played down fears of food shortages, saying the problems were not widespread.

It will mean workers who are alerted by the app or contacted by NHS Test and Trace will be able to continue working if they test negative, whether or not they are vaccinated.

Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium, said “disruption is limited at the moment”, but it was vital that the government rolled out the scheme as fast as possible and was prepared to take further action if necessary.

Separately, the government outlined plans to allow other key industries in England to deploy daily Covid testing instead of self-isolation for a limited number of essential workers. In this case, the scheme will only apply to workers who are fully vaccinated.

This scheme covers sectors including transport, emergency services, border control, energy, digital infrastructure, waste, the water industry, essential defence outputs and local government.

The policy applies only to workers named on a list kept updated by officials – it is not a blanket exemption for all employees in a sector.

Analysis: By Faisal Islam

This intervention should alleviate genuine concerns in the food industry about supplies. Hundreds of designated sites – supermarket depots and food manufacturers – will be able to administer the tests that will enable workers to skip the need for self-isolation.

This will be the case whatever the vaccination status of the worker. It is not sector-wide and will not, for example, apply to actual supermarket stores.

But it should be enough to stop some of the sporadic shortages become a systemic issue. Shoppers should feel reassured.

More generally, the help in other sectors is limited.

The government clarified that the scheme announced earlier this week to allow named double-vaccinated workers approved by letter to avoid isolation would apply to 16 sectors, from energy to waste to medicine and essential transport.

The bar is high. The government is trying to keep the Test and Trace system intact as a second line of defence against the pandemic. It is as tricky a balancing act as it has always been.

Hannah Essex, co-executive director of the British Chambers of Commerce, said that while the announcement would be a relief to some businesses, “it will leave many more still facing critical staff shortages and lost revenue as the number of people being asked to isolate remains high”.

CBI director general Tony Danker agreed, warning: “The current approach to self-isolation is closing down the economy, rather than opening it up.”

Businesses have already exhausted contingency plans to get in extra staff and are “at risk of grinding to a halt in the next few weeks”, he added.

Phil Langslow, trading director at Cheshire-based County Milk Products, which provides dairy products to the likes of Nestle and Kellogg's, said the government move was “a step in the right direction“.

“People having to isolate meant that a number of our suppliers, the service providers that are doing the transport for us, have just said they cannot cope. Roughly half of the deliveries that we would expect to be done are not being done routinely and we're having to scramble to actually get product to its destination on time.

“If you think of the food chain as just that – as a chain, and like any chain, you're only as good as the weakest link – if you cannot get your goods to the market, then you've got a problem,” he told the BBC's Today programme.

Scotland has also launched a system of exemptions from self-isolation, covering workers in sectors such as health and social care.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid said daily testing of food industry staff would “minimise the disruption caused by rising cases in the coming weeks, while ensuring workers are not put at risk”.

UK’s Business Secretary tells EU on Brexit deal: it wasn’t going to last forever

( via — Thur, 22nd July 2021) London, UK —

LONDON, July 22 (Reuters) – British Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said on Thursday the European Union had been inflexible over renegotiating the Northern Ireland part of the Brexit divorce accord and cautioned Brussels that it was not a deal that would last for ever.

“A deal is a deal but it wasn't something that was going to last forever,” Kwarteng told Sky. “It was something that was flexible and we want to make it work more smoothly.”

“Article 16 … it is something that we could do, to suspend it, we've chosen not to do that, that's not our opening position and we want to be able to negotiate and have a conversation with the EU about how best to go forward.”

Britain demanded on Wednesday that the EU agree to rewrite the Northern Ireland protocol which covers post-Brexit trade involving the province just a year after it was agreed.

The EU immediately rejected that call, saying Britain needed to respect its international obligations and pointed out it had been negotiated by Prime Minister Boris Johnson. 

The protocol was a key part of the Brexit settlement, backed by Johnson, that finally sealed Britain's divorce from the EU four years after voters backed leaving in a referendum.

Businesses in Northern Ireland say it is damaging trade, and some pro-British groups have protested at what they say is a weakening of ties with Britain, raising concerns about a return to the violence which plagued the province for three decades.

The protocol addresses the biggest conundrum of the divorce: how to ensure the delicate peace brought to the province by a U.S.-brokered 1998 peace accord – by maintaining an open border – without opening a back door through neighbouring Ireland to the EU's single market of 450 million people.

Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge and Kate Holton

GSK plans to create up to 5,000 jobs in new UK hub

( via – – Fri, 16th July 2021) London, Uk – –

Drugs giant GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) is set to create up to 5,000 new jobs as part of a plan to build one of the largest life sciences sites in Europe.

The company is looking to extend its facility in Stevenage, Hertfordshire, where it currently conducts research and development.

GSK says the plan could create thousands of highly skilled jobs in the next five to 10 years.

It aims to raise £400m by selling off a third of the current 92-acre site.

Stevenage is already one of GSK's two global hubs, and hosts the UK's largest work into cell and gene therapy.

The development of the new site is expected to begin in 2022. The new campus – which will sit next to GSK's existing site at Stevenage – could ultimately deliver 100,000 square metres of new floor space for commercial life sciences research and development.

“The past 18 months has shown the UK life sciences sector at its best and the UK has recently unveiled an ambitious 10-year vision for the UK life sciences sector,” said GSK senior vice president Tony Wood.

“Our goal is for Stevenage to emerge as a top destination for medical and scientific research by the end of the decade,” he added.

GSK has come under pressure recently from shareholders to reconfigure its businesses amid criticism over its performance.

The company is a leading vaccine maker, but has been late to develop one for Covid-19. Its Covid vaccine, which is being developed with France's Sanofi, is still undergoing trials.

GSK boss Emma Walmsley is selling the company's consumer healthcare division, which makes big-brand products including Sensodyne and Panadol.

That move is designed to let it focus on developing new drugs and vaccines.

UK inflation exceed economists’ forecasts as prices of food, fuel, and clothing continue to rise

( via– Wed, 14th July 2021) London, Uk – –

The inflation rate exceeded economists' forecasts as the prices of food, fuel, and clothing continued to surge as lockdown eased.

The rate of inflation in the UK rose again in June, outstripping economists’ predictions and passing the Bank of England’s stated target of 2%.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) said the consumer prices index (CPI) measure rose by 2.5% in the 12 months leading up to June 2021, the highest rate for nearly three years, largely driven by increases in transport costs.

And while the central bank’s inflation target is currently 2%, its outgoing chief economist has warned that it could rise as high as 4% this year.

One of the drivers of the increase is that prices this year are being measured against the depressed prices of last year, when the country was in lockdown, making the difference seem larger.

The prices for food, second-hand cars, clothing, eating and drinking out, and motor fuel all rose in 2021 as lockdown restrictions slowly eased, but mostly fell in 2020, resulting in the largest upward contributions to the change in the inflation rate between May and June 2021.

These increases were partially offset by a large downward contribution from games, toys and hobbies, the ONS said, where prices fell this year but rose a year ago as the country was placed under strict lockdown.

Leading up to Wednesday's figures, most economists forecast a 2.2% increase in inflation. The sharper increase than many predicted will renew debate around whether to raise interest rates – a common tool used to prevent inflation from spiralling out of control.

The UK figures come just a day after the US said that its inflation had shot up to 5.4%, the highest in 13 years, due to heavy fiscal stimulation.

“The fact that this morning’s numbers have generally come in above forecast will be seen by many as indicating inflation is back as a concern, particularly in conjunction with the surprise surge in US inflation yesterday,” said James Sproule, chief economist of Handelsbanken in the UK.

“A more general concern about inflation is set to be the backdrop for the second half of the year,” he said. Analysis: Signs that inflation rise is temporary – but could it prove sticky?

Many view these effects as temporary, predicting that inflation will fall again later this year to its target rate of 2% as prices stabilise.

The Bank of England's rate-setting Monetary Policy Committee has taken this view, arguing that the current spike in inflation is transitory and will naturally decline after peaking at 3%.

By Ed Clowes, Business reporter

Pandemic caused a permanent shift to people buying more tech – Dixons boss

( via – – Wed, 30th June 2021) London, Uk – –

The coronavirus crisis has caused a permanent shift to people buying more tech, the boss of electrical goods retailer Dixons Carphone has said.

Chief executive Alex Buldock said “many people's eyes have been opened” to the uses of tech, including for home working and entertainment.

The comments came as Dixons reported that online sales more than doubled during the pandemic.

But he said Dixons planned to keep High Street shops despite the online shift.

Massive retailers such as Amazon and tech firms including Apple have seen surges in sales over the pandemic as people spent more time working, shopping and seeking entertainment online.

Amazon said in April that it hoped habits would stick after its profits tripled in the first three months of this year.

On Wednesday Dixons Carphone, which also owns Currys PC World, said online sales of electrical goods had grown 103% to £4.7bn in the year to 1 May, dragging up profits to £33m as its High Street shops were hit by coronavirus closures.

It predicted that people would continue to buy more technology goods after the Covid crisis.

Mr Buldock told the BBC's Today programme that the change would be “structural” and “permanent”.

“Many people's eyes have been opened by this pandemic to what technology can do for their lives: to keep them connected; and work from home; and keep their family fed, clean, entertained, and the like,” he said.

‘We like stores'

“Hybrid working is going to be normal for half of all office workers, and home entertainment is getting a bigger slice of people's entertainment spend,” Mr Buldock said. “Gaming is now bigger than music and movies combined”.

“The market is about a quarter larger than it was two years ago, and we expect a big chunk of that to stay,” he said.

Human resources trade body the CIPD said in June that the majority of people who can do so want to continue working from home at least some of the time.

Its research suggested that about 40% of employers expect more than half of their workforce to work regularly from home after the pandemic has ended.

Despite the jump in online sales, Mr Buldock said Dixons Carphone had reopened 300 stores.

“We like stores,” he said. “Yes, more customers are buying tech online, as they are buying many other things online, so it's very important to have a strong online arm… But the secret sauce for us is online and stores together, because that is still how most customers prefer to shop.”

He added that Dixons Carphone had no plans to reintroduce mobile phone roaming fees for travellers to the EU, despite moves made by EE last week.

‘More work to do'

Despite the firm's optimism, Julie Palmer, a partner at restructuring firm Begbies Traynor, said: “With [Dixons'] share price dipping since April, the pandemic-induced boom may soon be coming to an end.

“The soon-to-be Currys PLC will still have more work to do reshaping and enhancing its business if it is to return to pre-pandemic levels of growth,” she said.

In March last year the retailer announced it would close all of its 531 standalone stores and make 2,900 redundancies.

Ms Palmer said the decision was “controversial” but “necessary and inevitable if retailers are to have a more sustainable balance between their physical and digital offerings.”

Nicholas Hyett, equity analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown, said that in the long term “Dixons is betting that its service-centric model will help it fend off online competitors, who may be cheaper on price but are unable to deliver a face-to-face service that customers value and are prepared to pay more for”.

House prices in the UK hits a 16 year all time high driven by the pandemic

( via — Tue, 29th June 2021) London, UK —

LONDON, June 29 (Reuters) – British house prices jumped by the most in more than 16 years this month, soaring by 13.4% from June 2020, and demand is expected to stay strong while a coronavirus emergency tax break remains in place, mortgage lender Nationwide said.

In monthly terms, house prices were 0.7% higher than in May as buyers rushed to take advantage of the tax incentive and sought bigger homes after their experiences of lockdown.

“While the strength is partly due to base effects, with June last year unusually weak due to the first lockdown, the market continues to show significant momentum,” Nationwide's chief economist Robert Gardner said on Tuesday.

Economists polled by Reuters had expected prices to rise by 13.7% in annual terms and by 0.7% from May.

The tax break, introduced last year as part of British finance minister Rishi Sunak's emergency support for the economy, had originally been due to expire at the end of March.

But the first 500,000 pounds ($693,250) of any property purchase in England or Northern Ireland are now due to remain exempt until the end of June, and a 250,000 pound tax-free allowance will run until the end of September.

“Underlying demand is likely to remain solid in the near term as the economy unlocks,” Gardner said.

“Consumer confidence has rebounded while borrowing costs remain low. This, combined with a lack of supply on the market, suggests further upward pressure on prices. But as we look toward the end of the year, the outlook is harder to foresee.”


As well as the tax break, Sunak's huge jobs support programme is also due to be phased out by the end of September, raising fears of an increase in unemployment.

Nationwide said it was still possible that the shift in demand for larger properties seen during the pandemic would continue to help the market once the tax break is gone.

The lender published a survey last month showing that almost seven in 10 homeowners who were considering a move would be doing it even without the extension of the tax incentive.

Nationwide said house prices were close to a record high relative to incomes, making it harder for first-time buyers to raise a deposit. But mortgage payments were not high as a proportion of pay, due mostly to low mortgage rates.

The Bank of England has said is monitoring the housing market as it weighs up the chances of a broader pick-up in inflation as the economy reopens. 

Last week, the central bank left its key interest rate at an all-time low or 0.1% and made no change to its plan to increase its government bond purchases to 895 billion pounds.

Despite the signs of recovery in Britain's economy, most BoE rate-setters said they wanted to “lean strongly against downside risks to the outlook”.

Nationwide said house prices in London rose at the slowest rate of any region in England during the second quarter of 2021 but they still increased by 7.3%. Northern Ireland was the strongest performing region, with prices up 14% year-on-year.

($1 = 0.7212 pounds)

By William Schomberg

UK negotiate to join trans-Pacific trade deal

( via — Tue, 22nd June 2021) London, UK —

LONDON, June 21 (Reuters) – Britain will begin negotiations on Tuesday to join a trans-Pacific trade deal that it sees as crucial to its post-Brexit pivot away from Europe and towards geographically more distant but faster-growing economies.

The Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) removes 95% of tariffs between its members: Japan, Canada, Australia, Vietnam, New Zealand, Singapore, Mexico, Peru, Brunei, Chile and Malaysia.

Britain hopes to carve out a niche for itself in world trade as an exporter of premium consumer goods and professional services. Accession to the pact would supplement trade deals London is seeking, or has already agreed, with larger members.

“This part of the world is where Britain’s greatest opportunities lie. We left the EU with the promise of deepening links with old allies and fast-growing consumer markets beyond Europe,” trade minister Liz Truss said. “It is a glittering post-Brexit prize that I want us to seize.”

The CPTPP is forecast to lead to only a minimal gain in British exports or economic growth. But it locks in market access, including for the legal, financial and professional services sectors, and is seen by ministers as an important way to gain influence in a region where China is increasingly the dominant economic force.

Joining the CPTPP in its current format could add around 1.8 billion pounds ($2.5 billion) to the economy over the long-term – or less than 0.1% of pre-pandemic gross domestic product, according to British government modelling published on Tuesday.

That gain could rise to 5.5 billion pounds – or 0.25% of GDP – if Thailand, South Korea and the United States were also to join the bloc.

Unlike the European Union, the CPTPP does not impose laws on its members, it does not aim to create a single market or a customs union, and it does not seek wider political integration.


The process of negotiating membership is largely about proving to existing members that Britain can meet the group's standards on tariff removal and trade liberalisation, and then setting out details of how and when it will do so.

“The CPTPP agreement has strong rules against unfair trade practices like favouring state-owned enterprises, protectionism, discriminating against foreign investors, and forcing companies to hand over private information,” the trade department said in a statement.

“The UK's joining will strengthen the international consensus against such unfair practices,” it added.

The government is expected to publish documents setting out its assessment of the benefits of membership on Tuesday, but highlighted cars and whisky as goods exports that would benefit.

The United States withdrew from an earlier planned trans-Pacific trade pact under then-president Donald Trump. His successor, Joe Biden, spoke prior to his election last November about the possibility of renegotiating the deal, but has not laid out any firm plans since taking office.

Reporting by William James

Tesco admit it faces a shortage of drivers for its lorries

( via– Fri, 18th June 2021) London, Uk – –

Haulage industry representatives met ministers this week to appeal for help but say nothing has been offered to date.

Tesco, the UK's largest supermarket chain, has admitted it faces a shortage of drivers for its lorries as the haulage industry warns of a widespread UK delivery crisis ahead.

Ken Murphy, Tesco's chief executive, told a call with analysts after the company's first quarter results that it was “working hard” to address its shortfall through recruitment and insisted product availability remains strong.

He made his remarks as hauliers grapple for support from the government to avert, what they say, is a threat to the economy from a national shortage of drivers – estimated at up to 100,000.

The Road Haulage Association (RHA) argues that the COVID-19 crisis including testing demands, coupled with Brexit preventing the sector using EU-based drivers, has driven the problem.

There have been calls in some quarters for the army to be brought in to help shift goods if short-term access to non-UK labour is not allowed.

A meeting with ministers this week failed to produce a breakthrough, as far as the industry was concerned.

The RHA said it also highlighted issues around driver training and apprenticeships, parking and facilities for drivers, and the “need to treat drivers and the sector with the respect they deserve”.

There is long-standing anger over the treatment of drivers in relation to illegal cross-Channel migration and communication of rules ahead of the end of the Brexit transition period which coincided with disruption caused by COVID testing demands.

RHA chief executive Richard Burnett said on Wednesday, after a meeting with Roads Minister Baroness Vere: “The need for action is clear and urgent.

“We and many others have provided overwhelming evidence that the shortage is getting worse – the situation must be addressed right now.”

The government has indicated that it is looking at options to offer support.

But a Department for Transport spokesperson was quoted by The Grocer as responding: “Most of the solutions are likely to be commercial and from within industry, with progress already being made in key areas such as testing and recruitment, and a big focus towards improving pay, working conditions and diversity.”

By James Sillars

UK government could make working from home ‘default’ option

( via – – Thur, 17th June 2021) London, Uk – –

Downing Street confirms report from leaked document but says there would be no legal right to work from home

Downing Street has confirmed that the government is considering legislating to make working from home the “default” option by giving employees the right to request it.

Responding to reports that ministers could change the law, Boris Johnson’s official spokesperson said a flexible working taskforce was examining how best to proceed.

“What we’re consulting on is making flexible working a default option unless there are good reasons not to,” they said. That would mirror the approach to other forms of flexible working such as part-time hours.

However, they stressed there would be no legal right to work from home, adding that the prime minister still believed there were benefits to being in the office, including collaboration with colleagues.

The pandemic has ushered in drastically different working arrangements for many office workers; but the plan to legislate to support working from home had already been mooted in the Conservatives’ 2019 manifesto.

Labour called on the government to clarify its position. Angela Rayner MP, Labour’s deputy leader, criticised the lack of clarity on plans for office-based workers, and called for stronger rights for staff “so that workers are not pressured or blackmailed back into unsafe workplaces”.

The government’s roadmap for unlocking the UK economy had initially suggested that all restrictions would be removed in England from Monday, 21 June. However, that has been extended until at least 19 July to give more time to vaccinate people.

Ministers have been advised that removal of all restrictions on workplaces could be risky, according to a document first reported by Politico. Instead, the government is thought to be considering advice for a hybrid approach, blending continued home working with some time in the office when necessary.

According to reports, the government is considering proposals that would see the law changed so that employers would have to prove it is essential before being able to insist employees attend the workplace.

“Throughout this crisis this government has failed working people time and time again, from refusing to classify Covid as a serious workplace risk to failing to crack down on unsafe workplaces and rogue employers who have put their staff at risk,” Rayner said.

“As we emerge from this crisis, we cannot have one-sided flexibility that allows employers to dictate terms to their workers when it comes to flexible working arrangements.”

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, which represents human resources professionals, has called for a change in the law to allow employees to request flexible working from the day they start.

By Heather Stewart and Jasper Jolly

Britain and Australia announce free trade deal

( via — Tue, 15th June 2021) London, UK —

Britain and Australia announced a free trade deal on Tuesday which the British government hailed as an important step in building new trade relationships following its departure from the European Union.

Britain said cars, Scotch whisky and confectionery would be cheaper to sell in Australia because of the agreement, which removes tariffs and reduces red tape. Australia said it was a “great win” for Australian agriculture.

The deal is the first bilateral trade accord Britain has negotiated from scratch since leaving the EU last year. The government sees it as an important piece of its post-Brexit strategy to shift Britain's economic centre away from Europe and seek new opportunities in higher-growth Indo-Pacific nations.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Johnson overcame sticking points during talks after the Group of Seven advanced economies met in Britain at the weekend. Morrison attended the summit as a guest.

“I think this is important economically, there's no question about that … but I think it's more important politically and symbolically,” Johnson said. “We're opening up to each other and this is the prelude to a general campaign of opening up around the world.”

Britain is Australia's eighth-largest trading partner and Australia is Britain's 20th largest, with two-way trade worth A$26.9 billion ($20.7 billion).

“This is the most comprehensive and ambitious agreement that Australia has concluded,” Morrison said.

Prior to Britain joining the then European common market in 1973, Britain was Australia's most lucrative trading market.

The full agreement is yet to be published. According to British official estimates, it could add 500 million pounds to the country's economic output over the long term, a small fraction for an economy worth around 2 trillion pounds.


The bigger economic prize could be the precedent the deal sets for freer access in trade that allows Britain's services sector to export financial, legal and other professional services.

“It is a fundamentally liberalising agreement that removes tariffs on all British goods, opens new opportunities for our services providers and tech firms, and makes it easier for our people to travel and work together,” British trade minister Liz Truss said.

Britain has applied to join a trans-Pacific trading bloc, of which Australia is also a member, that includes other countries where minister predict demand for digital, legal and professional services will grow rapidly. 

That deal, Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, is also seen as important economic counterweight to China's influence in the region.

The deal with Australia will be scrutinised by British farmers, who fear they could be forced out of business if the deal eliminates tariffs on lamb and beef imports.

Britain said its farmers would be protected by a cap on tariff-free imports for 15 years.

Australian Minister for Trade David Littleproud said Australian farmers would benefit from the deal.

“Overall, this is going to be a great win for Australian agriculture,” Littleproud told 4BC Radio.

By William James and Colin Packham

Chancellor Rishi Sunak set to reject calls to bolster taxpayer support for businesses

( via– Mon, 14th June 2021) London, Uk – –

The hospitality sector says it faces the risk of ‘economic long COVID' unless the chancellor adjusts and extends support.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak is set to reject calls to bolster taxpayer support for businesses in line with a delay to coronavirus Freedom Day, according to a Treasury source.

PM Boris Johnson is tipped to confirm on Monday evening that the timing for an end to all COVID-19 restrictions will slip beyond the 21 June date originally hoped for – by up to a month.

He will apparently call for “one last heave” in a bid to protect the NHS from the surge in Delta variant cases.

While businesses will understand the caution, many are continuing to access and benefit from government aid including the furlough scheme – support that is due to be wound down from the end of June after an extension announced at the budget in March.

The Treasury source explained: “We went long to cover if we had to delay some reopening, so support is already in place”.

The remarks suggest there will be no widespread extensions announced on Monday – but the prospect of targeted support should not be ruled out.

In the case of the Job Retention Scheme, the latest official figures have shown 3.4 million workers remained on furlough on 30 April.

Employers claiming under the scheme will have to contribute 10% of a monthly salary from July, as things stand, with the taxpayer support falling from 80% to 70%.

The scheme, which has cost £64bn to date, is due to be wound up completely by the end of September. Retail jobs worst hit by virus crisis

The business rates holiday enjoyed by hospitality, retail and leisure firms since the start of the pandemic is also among aid due to be scaled back from July.

The delay is of particular frustration to hospitality firms – forced to operate at limited capacity during the busiest months of summer and during a delayed Euro 2020 football championships involving three home nations.

Kate Nicholls, chief executive of trade body UK Hospitality, said thousands of operators will continue to lose money until the last phase of the road map out of lockdown restrictions is implemented.

She said: “Hospitality businesses cannot continue to operate under conditions that leave them unable to trade profitably and so we echo the importance of government support should there be any delay to the complete lifting of restrictions.”

She added: “Hospitality has been the hardest hit during the crisis, losing more than £87bn in sales, leaving businesses deeply in debt and at risk of suffering “economic long COVID” if the long term support set out by the chancellor for the sector at the budget is not sustained and adjusted.

“Even now, with partial reopening, sector sales remain down 42% and 300,000 jobs remain protected by furlough.”

Theatres are among those desperate for a complete reopening as restrictions limit audience capacity to 50%.

Lord Andrew Lloyd-Webber, who has previously said he is prepared to risk jail if he can not fill theatres from 21 June, told the Daily Mail on Monday that the industry faced “bankruptcy” unless COVID rules were axed.

By James Sillars

London Metal Exchange to reopen iconic trading floor, but hints to electronic trading as the future

( via — Tue, 8th June 2021) London, UK —

The London Metal Exchange has abandoned proposals to close its open outcry trading floor, the last such venue in Europe, it said on Tuesday, but added it believes electronic trading is the future.

The floor was closed in March 2020 for the first time since World War II to allow for social distancing needed to deal with COVID-19, silencing its red ring of seats and the theatre of arcane hand signals and frenzied shouting by traders.

In January, the world's oldest and biggest marketplace for industrial metals launched a consultation process on closing its open-outcry trading floor, arguing that the forced migration to digital trading was a success.

“The divergent views in response to the Discussion Paper were particularly apparent between traditional participants and some smaller physical clients on the one hand, and our larger merchant trader and financial participants on the other,” LME CEO Matt Chamberlain said..

The LME received 192 responses to its consultation, an unprecedented number.

The LME also proposed in its consultation paper a switch in the methodology for calculating clearing margins to a realised variation model (RVM) from the existing contingent variation model (CVM).

But it has committed to retain CVM in the medium term and will embark on a feasibility study that will look into recreating the cash flows of a CVM model for RVM contracts, the exchange said.

“(This) could support the traditional brokerage community in the provision of credit to their smaller physical clients.”

Under the CVM, positive balances on some client accounts are used to offset negative balances on others, essentially extending credit.

Physical market participants prefer CVM because cash flows do not have to be managed daily, only when contracts expire.

Under the RVM model, margins are held by clearing houses, which returns positive margin balances daily and call for margin in lieu of negative balances. It would require small and medium-sized firms to lock up more capital.

RVM is used for most exchange-traded and centrally cleared contracts. Financial participants, such as funds, prefer RVM because they receive daily positive balances, or cash, that can be deployed elsewhere.

Depending on the outcome of a consultation issued today, official or settlement prices — those traded between 1230 and 1350 London time — will be determined in floor trading, which will resume on September 6, to support physical customers using these prices in their contracts.

“Closing prices will be determined electronically, enhancing participation and transparency, supporting financial customers and larger physical users,” the LME said.

By Pratima Desai, Eric Onstad

Stay-at-home holidaymakers warned of summer products shortage due to suppliers import delays

( via – – Mon, 7th June 2021) London, Uk – –

Some firms are struggling to secure summer items like garden furniture, picnic baskets and outdoor toys, as consumers prepare to holiday in the UK.

About 60% of British suppliers have experienced import delays in the past month, according to customs clearance platform KlearNow.

The six-day-long Suez Canal blockage in March is partly to blame, as goods meant to arrive weeks ago are still stuck on container ships elsewhere.

But there are other factors at play.

KlearNow based its findings on interviews with 300 import-export businesses based in the UK.

“A combination of Covid-19 restrictions, the backlog from the Suez Canal blockage, increasing global demand for shipping containers, disruption to shipping caused by India's public health crisis and a shortage of packaging materials means UK businesses are already struggling to meet summer demand,” said KlearNow's chief executive Sam Tyagi.

“With competition for container space so high, some smaller businesses are simply being priced out of landing the goods and materials that they need.”

Items like camping equipment have seen a spike in demand as more British families look to domestic holidays, with the government tightening rules on international travel rules and moving Portugal to the amber list.

Since many popular products are manufactured in China, retailers are being impacted by shortages in their supply chains and US retailers have experienced similar problems procuring summer essential items.

Heather Attwooll of camping and outdoor equipment retailer Attwoolls, is still waiting on orders placed in October and has nine containers of outdoor clothing, camping gear and hiking equipment stuck in Egypt as a result of the Suez Canal blockage.

“The early May bank holiday was the busiest bank holiday we've ever experienced… But there is a risk that small businesses like ours will soon be unable to meet that demand due to supply chain problems out of our control.

“All of the garden furniture we normally source from China was bought up by Walmart [in the US], for example.”

Garden toys, games and picnic baskets are also being held up by delays, said Katherine Rhodes of the retailer PomPom.

“We're experiencing delays of up to four months on wooden toys coming from the Far East, handmade baskets and wood supplies. And we've had to wait 16 weeks for cardboard boxes.”

Shipping delays are only one part of the problem. According to retail expert Kate Hardcastle, there has been an explosion of demand coming from the hospitality industry as it gets back on its feet following lockdown.

“Campers and caravaners have got competition from restaurants and hotels for outdoor equipment,” she said.

“The demand is so high, not just because of a shortage in supply, but also because things are being repurposed in very different ways.”

One example is the Devonshire Arms Hotel & Spa in North Yorkshire, which has brought its entire spa operation outdoors to ensure it maintains social distancing.

It ordered in garden furniture, bell tents and other equipment back in March, as it feared supply chain problems amid the easing of restrictions. However, it struggled to procure the items.

“What we found is that your first choice is not always available and you need to think out of the box,” said Mr Palmer.

“Our general hospitality supply chains are not always ready – it's domestic consumer supply chains that have come to the rescue and even Amazon.”

The hotel even ended up sourcing some of the lawn furniture it needed second-hand from Carluccio's, after the troubled Italian restaurant chain shut 40 restaurants.

Other hospitality businesses are looking to enhance their outdoor offerings, leading to a surge in demand for summer products, said Ms Hardcastle.

“Everyone's trying to compete by trying to create the theatre and ambience and space – it's been a horrendous time for retail and this is just another incredible challenge for retailers to deal with.”

UK begins accession talks with Asia-Pacific trade bloc

( via – – Wed, 2nd June 2021) London, Uk – –

The 11-member Trans-Pacific Partnership trade bloc has agreed to open accession talks with the UK.

The British government, which asked to join the TPP in February, said membership was a huge opportunity in a post-Brexit world.

A working group is now expected to be set up to discuss tariffs and rules governing trade and investment.

The UK is not expected to join the TPP, which includes Australia, Mexico and Japan, until next year at the earliest.

International trade secretary Liz Truss said in a statement the decision to begin the accession process was “excellent news”.

“It will help shift our economic centre of gravity away from Europe towards faster-growing parts of the world, and deepen our access to massive consumer markets in the Asia Pacific.

“We would get all the benefits of joining a high-standards free-trade area, but without having to cede control of our borders, money or laws.”  

She said the government would present plans to Parliament “in the coming weeks” before starting negotiations.

Since Brexit, the government has sought to replace many of the trade deals it had as a member of the EU, but has yet to sign one with a new country or trade area.

China, South Korea, Taiwan and Thailand have also expressed interest in joining the TPP, which covers a market of nearly 500 million people.

The US was initially involved in the process to set up the bloc, but pulled out on former President Donald Trump's first day in office in 2017.

The TPP's current members are Japan, Malaysia, Vietnam, Singapore, Brunei, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Mexico, Chile and Peru.

The UK is currently negotiating a trade deal with Australia, which has raised fears among British farmers that their domestic markets could be flooded with cheaper beef and lamb. Critics have said an Australia deal will be used as a template for a TPP agreement.

However, the UK government has said farmers and exporters generally should view such deals as opening up new markets overseas.

Ryanair boss calls for travel to EU and US to open up

( via– Wed, 2nd June 2021) London, Uk – –

Michael O'Leary says he has had enough of doctors and scientists urging caution and calls for people to start travelling again.

Michael O'Leary, the outspoken chief executive of Ryanair, has said it is “absolutely imperative” that “big tourist destinations” such as Greece and Spain be added to the UK's green list at the end of this week.

“The restrictions should be lifted, we should be allowing British families to travel to the US and Europe, and also to return without having to complete useless PCR forms for people who've already been vaccinated,” Mr O'Leary told Sky News.

But scientists have warned that any increase in international travel could put Britain's recovery from COVID-19 at risk, with the potential for new variants to enter the country as tourists return from less vaccinated countries.

“Nothing is absolutely safe,” Mr O'Leary said, but “it is scientists and doctors' jobs to urge caution and care and worry,” he added. “The vaccines are effective against the Indian variant, it's a scariant being used by the science and medical professions to urge caution.

“It's time that we got on with our lives. We've had 18 months of the scientists and the doctors worrying us about scariants and variants and all the rest of it.”

Current data suggests that the variant first identified in India is up to 60% more transmissible than the one first identified in Kent.

The newer Indian variant is “taking over” as the dominant COVID strain in the UK as cases rise across the country, Dr Deepti Gurdasani, a clinical epidemiologist told Sky News.

Mr O'Leary later acknowledged that the variant was indeed more transmissible, and said he backed a stricter border policy for travellers from southern hemisphere countries.

But the airline boss went on to slam the requirement for vaccinated British travellers returning to the UK from green list countries to produce negative PCR tests, calling the situation “bizarre”.

“There's no excuse for the government to restrict air travel,” he said. “It's time to go on holidays and it's time to fly Ryanair.”

By Ed Clowes, Business reporter

New orders drive record increase in British manufacturing activity in May – PMI

( via — Tue, June 1st 2021) London, UK —

A deluge of new orders helped to drive a record increase in British manufacturing activity last month as the economy began to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, a survey showed on Tuesday.

The IHS Markit/CIPS UK Manufacturing Purchasing Managers' Index (PMI) rose to 65.6 in May from 60.9 in April. While a little lower than the preliminary “flash” reading of 66.1, it still marked the highest since the survey started in 1992.

The index levels represent the pace and breadth of growth rather than the amount of output, however, and the sector likely has some way to go to get back to where it was before the lockdown.

The survey's gauges of growth in new orders and employment also hit record highs, although so too did the measure of input cost inflation paid by factories for goods as they cited poor harvests, port disruption and Brexit.

Price pressures are on the radar of the Bank of England, though the central bank has said it is likely to look through price rises caused by short-term disruptions.

The BoE said last month that the world's fifth-biggest economy was on course to grow by 7.25% in 2021, its fastest since World War Two, after a near 10% contraction last year.

Tuesday's survey showed that export orders increased at the fastest rate on record, although survey compiler IHS Markit said this was driven mainly by larger companies, with smaller manufacturers seeing less demand.

PMIs for the services and construction sectors are due on Wednesday and Thursday.

UK economy will grow faster in 2021/22 but pandemic damage will be worst of all G7 nations, says OECD

( via– Mon, 31st May 2021) London, Uk – –

The effect of Brexit is predicted to drag down the UK's recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.

The UK economy will grow even faster than expected this year and next, but it is nonetheless expected to suffer the most long-term economic damage of any of the seven major industrialised nations following the pandemic, the OECD has warned.

In its six-monthly Economic Outlook, its comprehensive assessment of the state of the global economy, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) upgraded its projections for UK economic growth significantly this year and next, from 5.1% to 7.2% this year and from 4.7% to 5.5% next year.

The upgrades, which were mirrored across many major economies, were a product of the dispersion of vaccines across much of the developed world, the Paris-based institution said.

But chief economist Laurence Boone warned that there were big gaps between the rich and poor world.

“The world economy is currently navigating towards the recovery, with lots of frictions,” she said.

“The risk that sufficient post-pandemic growth is not achieved or widely shared is elevated. This will very much depend on the adoption of flexible and sustainable policy frameworks, and on the quality of international cooperation.”

However, the OECD also calculated the likely change to its long-term growth forecasts for various different economies, comparing its latest projections for the level of national income in 2025 with its pre-pandemic projection.

Such a comparison gives a sense of the long-term economic impact of recent events – known by economists as “scarring”.

While it found that the US looked likely to have even bigger national income than it previously thought – in other words being boosted rather than scarred by the pandemic period – most other countries were not so fortunate.

And it said that with economic output being an average of 0.5% lower each year for the next four years, the UK would face the biggest scars of any G7 economy.

The G7 comprises the US, Japan, Germany, the UK, France, Italy and Canada.

The OECD's Economic Outlook signalled that this was more a consequence of Britain's departure from the EU than COVID itself: “The United Kingdom could suffer the biggest reduction amongst G7 countries (a decline of 0.5 percentage point per annum), in part reflecting the additional adverse supply-side effects from 2021 following Brexit.”

By Ed Conway

Retailers face ‘tsunami of closures’ over unpaid rent from landlords

( via – – Mon, 31st May 2021) London, Uk – –

Two-thirds of big retailers expect to face legal action from their landlords when a suspension of aggressive debt collection ends in June, a survey says.

Many shops have been shut for long periods in lockdown, accruing £2.9bn in rental arrears, the British Retail Consortium said.

The BRC said a rush to collect could lead to a “tsunami of closures” and urged the government to act.

The government said it is considering how it can help firms with rent issues.

The government introduced a code of practice last year to address the outstanding debt issues. It also put curbs on aggressive debt collection practices until 30 June.

But of the 24 major retailers surveyed – who account for more than 5,000 UK stores – two-thirds described the code as “ineffective” because it was voluntary.

A similar proportion said they faced legal action against at least one of their stores when the suspension ends.

Furthermore, 80% of tenants said some landlords have given them less than a year to pay back rent arrears accrued during the pandemic.

BRC boss Helen Dickinson said: “Many retailers have taken a battering over the pandemic, but they are now getting back on their feet and playing their part in reinvigorating the economy.

“The unpaid rents accrued during the pandemic… are a £2.9bn ball and chain that hold back growth and investment and could result in a tsunami of closures.

“Government must ringfence the rent debts built up during the pandemic, giving retailers breathing space as they wait for footfall and cash flows to return.

“With this in place, all parties can work on a sustainable long-term solution, one that shares the pain wrought by the pandemic more equally between landlords and tenants.”

Already, one in seven shops lie empty, with this number expected to rise, BRC research suggests.

But the British Property Federation, which represents commercial landlords, played down the findings saying most landlords and tenants had already reached agreements on rent.

In April the government launched a “call for evidence” to help monitor the progress of negotiations between tenants and landlords.

It also sought views on steps it could take after 30 June, ranging from a phased withdrawal of current protections to legislative options targeted at businesses most impacted by Covid.

A business department spokesman said: “The government is considering responses to a call for evidence on commercial rents and how to best to support businesses; an announcement on next steps will be made in due course.”

Tariff-free trade deal offered by Uk to Australia despite farmers’ fears

( via – – Fri, 21st May 2021) London, Uk – –

The UK is to offer Australia a trade deal under which both countries would phase out import taxes over 15 years.

The cabinet was reportedly split on what terms to propose, amid concerns UK beef and lamb farmers could be undercut by larger Australian producers.

But Boris Johnson pushed for unity at a senior ministers' meeting on Thursday.

Downing Street said the cabinet was now in agreement, but the National Farmers Union said ending taxes on meat imports would destroy many UK farms.

Ministers are keen to strike as many trade deals as possible following Brexit, and International Trade Secretary Liz Truss wants one in place with Australia by early June.

But she had reportedly been at odds with Environment Secretary George Eustice over the possible impact on farmers.

Speaking on a visit to a bakery in north London, Home Secretary Priti Patel said: “The government is united on every single level. We are working at every level to secure the best outcome for our country.”

She added that “the government will work with everybody – everyone – to ensure that the right sort of support and measures are in place”.

Under the deal set to be offered to Australia, tariffs – taxes on imports – will be phased out over 15 years, with quotas – limits – on sales between the two countries going over the same period.

In 2019-20, trade in goods and services between Australia and the UK was valued at £20.1bn, and both sides are hoping to expand this amount considerably.

Currently, metals, wine and machines form the biggest goods exports from Australia to the UK, while Australia's main UK imports are cars, medicines and alcoholic drinks.

Trade in meat between the two countries is very small, but the National Farmers' Union (NFU) has warned that pitting small-scale UK beef and lamb producers against vast Australian cattle and sheep stations could force many of them out of business.

Approximately 0.15% of all Australian beef exports go to the UK, and, last year, 14% of sheep meat imports to the UK came from Australia.

NFU president Minette Batters said removing tariffs on these products would “have a massive impact on British farming”.

She added: “We continue to maintain that a tariff-free trade deal with Australia will jeopardise our own farming industry and will cause the demise of many, many beef and sheep farms throughout the UK. This is true whether tariffs are dropped immediately or in 15 years' time.”

She added: “We remain of the view that it is wholly irresponsible for government to sign a trade deal with no tariffs or quotas on sensitive products and which therefore undermines our own domestic economy and businesses.”

‘Distinct advantages'

The Scottish and Welsh governments have both urged Mr Johnson to ensure UK farmers are not left exposed by any free-trade deal.

And Northern Ireland's agriculture minister, Edwin Poots, said he was “strongly opposed” to ending tariffs and quotas.

He added: “Australia has a number of distinct advantages over Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK, in terms of the land available for farming, climate and lower standards that allows its farmers to be able produce at a considerably lower cost, particularly in the beef and sheep sectors.”

But Conservative MP Neil Parish, chairman of the Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, said UK farmers could succeed in the beef market by exporting more “higher-end” cuts, such as sirloin, to Australia.

He argued that current tariffs should stay in place for a few years to give them time to adapt to increased competition.

The prime minister's spokesman said: “Any agreement would include protections for our agriculture industry and won't undercut UK farmers.

“We want a deal that is good for the British public and any agreement would have protection for the agriculture industry.”

UK Rate of inflation more than doubles in just one month to 1.5%

( via– Wed, 19th 2021) London, Uk – –

The ONS signals that prices are being distorted by the coronavirus crisis easing as inflation nears the Bank of England's target.

The rate of inflation more than doubled in just one month to 1.5% during April, posing a price rise challenge to the Bank of England amid the fragile economic recovery from the coronavirus crisis.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) said the consumer prices index (CPI) measure rose from 0.7% in March, marking the largest month-on-month spike in over a decade.

The increase was driven, the report said, by rising household utility, clothing, and motor fuel prices.

Inflation is surging in western economies following over a year of COVID-19 disruption.

The CPI measure stood at just 0.2% in February.

Financial markets have taken fright in recent weeks over fears crisis era central bank support will be gradually withdrawn, through interest rates being raised from rock bottom levels, to counter the pace of price increases.

But custodians of central banks, including those in the US and the governor of the Bank of England, have signalled that they see the inflationary picture being dominated by “transitory” – not permanent – price movements.

Instead, they see prices being distorted simply by life getting back into gear though, in the case of the US, federal stimulus including cheques for households and massive government investment have fuelled an inflation boom with its CPI rate running at 4.2%.

Bank of England chief Andrew Bailey told a committee of peers on Tuesday that there is no strong evidence yet that rises in prices paid by manufacturers are feeding through into UK consumer prices.

At an annual rate of 1.5% the CPI measure is nearing the Bank of England's target of 2% and economists forecast it will smash past that when the next update is delivered in a month's time as prices for air travel, domestic accommodation and package holidays leap in response to rebounding consumer demand.

ONS chief economist, Grant Fitzner, said of the current picture: “Inflation rose in April, mainly due to prices rising this year compared with the falls seen at the start of the pandemic this time last year.

“This was seen most clearly in household utility bills and clothing prices.

“As the price of crude oil continues to rise, this has fed through to the cost of motor fuels, which are now at their highest since January 2020.”

The ONS data showed motor fuel inflation rising at its fastest pace for more than four years.

Mr Bailey said earlier this month that while the Bank sees inflation rising to 2.4% by the year's end, driven largely by energy costs, it is expected to fall back below the 2% target soon after as price increases unwind.

Howard Archer, UK economist with forecaster EY Item Club, said: “With inflation set to pick up further over the coming months and the economy looking poised for decent recovery from the second quarter, attention is increasingly focusing on when the Bank of England could start to tighten monetary policy rather than will the Bank provide further stimulus.

“However the Bank of England did not appear to be in a hurry to tighten policy in the minutes of the May MPC [monetary policy committee] meeting.”

By James Sillars