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HSBC has announced a new £15bn fund to help small businesses in the UK recover. Business, Media & Marketing…

   NEWS / 10 Mar 2021

Published: 10 March 2021

By Suzanne Evans, Director, Political Insight


The Board of Trade has its first report out today. “Global Britain, Local Jobs” reports that 6.5 million jobs are supported by exports; that those jobs pay 7 percent more than average; and are 21 percent more productive. It recommends deeper trade liberalisation.
 
Domestic cruises in Britain could restart from 17 May, according to maritime minister Robert Courts. Speaking at a virtual meeting of the All Party Parliamentary Maritime and Ports Group, Courts told MPs that the government was working with the home nations to get UK-wide domestic cruising up and running by then.

Domestic Cruises
 
Domino's Pizza has unveiled plans to open 200 new stores and a widespread drive-thru service, having enjoyed strong performance during the COVID-19 pandemic thanks to online deliveries. Domino’s pre-tax profits came in at £56.4m - a rise of 200%.
 
Online chemist Pharmacy2U has become the NHS's biggest repeat prescription service and is said to be considering a sale to a new private equity backer, according to Sky News.  Accounts filed at Companies House show Pharmacy2U has been a big beneficiary of the pandemic, seeing the number of NHS-nominated patients increase to 553,000 from 441,000 just six months earlier, and a 29% surge in revenue to £78.3m during the year to March 2020.
 
WH Smith said yesterday that it had extended financing arrangements with its banks after the pandemic forced stores to shut, with travel sites hit especially hard. However, the firm also said recent trading had been ahead of expectations and that online growth had helped offset some of the impact of store lockdown closures. It said it expected to post a cash burn of between £12 million and £17 million each month for the current quarter, down from a previous prediction of £15 million to £20 million. WH Smith stores with Post Office services have remained open during the current lockdown.
 
UK-based and London-listed Argo Blockchain, a cryptocurrency mining company, has acquired 320 acres of land in Texas in order to access up to 800-megawatts of electricity and build a new mining facility. Argo Blockchain mined 129 Bitcoin in February, bringing the total number of bitcoin mined by the company to 599.  Their CEO receives his salary in bitcoin, which is currently trading at over $54,000, a two-week high.
 
Comparethemarket.com says nearly 250,000 households could be automatically switched onto more expensive "default" energy tariffs in March, costing them £166 on average, unless they switch tariff or provider when their deal comes to an end.
 
HSBC has announced a new £15bn fund to help small businesses in the UK recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, £1bn more than last year. The fund will provide loans to small and medium sized enterprises, starting at £1,000.
 
Virgin Active faces the prospect of a court battle over plans to force landlords to accept new terms under controversial new legislation. Sky News has learnt that the gym chain, which is part-owned by Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Group, has begun discussions about implementing a refinancing plan under Part 26A of the Companies Act, a reform introduced by the government last year in anticipation of a wave of corporate insolvencies arising from the COVID-19 pandemic. The mechanism's prospective use by Virgin Active is understood to be the first time it will have been used to "cram down" landlords.
 
Venture investor Chamath Palihapitiya has confirmed on Twitter that he sold 6.2 million shares in Virgin Galactic Holdings Inc, for around $213m last week, despite helping to take the company public. He said he ‘hated to do it’ but had to because his overall balance sheet ‘shrank by almost $2B this week,’ and added a sad emoji.
 
Swedish oat milk maker Oatly is planning to open its first UK factory in Peterborough in 2023. It plans to produce 300 million litres of its product per year at launch, with the capacity to grow to 450 million litres, making it one of the largest plant-based dairy factories in the world. The plant is expected to create at least 200 new jobs.
 
Unilever says it will drop the word “normal” from around 200 of its beauty products, and ban excessive photo editing to “create a more inclusive definition of beauty.” The move follows a Unilever survey of 10,000 people across nine countries, in which seven in 10 said that the word “normal" on beauty product packaging had a negative effect on people.
 
Kia Motors is to recall nearly 380,000 vehicles of the Sportage and Cadenza models built since 2017 due to faults in their electric system that risk causing a fire in the engine compartment.
 
Following earlier reports by Microsoft that it had been targeted by a Chinese state-backed hacking group known as Hafnium, the Financial Times reports a subsequent flood of attacks by multiple hacking outfits before the systems are totally secured. Estimates of the total number of victims run as high as 250,000. The European Banking Authority this week became the first notable body to say publicly that it had been compromised.
 
Aviation services group John Menzies has reported a full year loss of £120.5m, compared to a £17.3m profit a year earlier. The firm warned that it did not anticipate a return to the volumes witnessed in 2019 before 2023.
 
Serviced offices provider IWG said yesterday it would be forced to shutter more underperforming locations because market recovery was taking longer than anticipated. IWG said revenues had fallen 6.4% in the twelve months ended 31 December to £2.48bn, dragging the group to a pre-tax loss of £650.2m - a marked turnaround versus 2019's reported pre-tax profit of £55.0m.
 
Record levels of smaller businesses sought external financial support in 2020, new data by British Business Bank reveals. Gross bank lending to SMEs, excluding overdrafts, was up 82% to £104bn, driven by use of government loan schemes. The report found 45% of SMEs applied for external financial support in 2020, compared to 13% in 2019, and that nine in ten did so because of the impact of COVID-19. “That three quarters of small firms are accessing finance to help manage cashflow underscores how COVID-19-linked disruption is exacerbating our late payment crisis, a crisis which destroys 50,000 firms a year at a cost of at least £2.5bn to the economy," the Federation of Small Businesses' national chairman Mike Cherry said.
 
UK Finance and Cifas, a not-for-profit focused on fraud prevention, is claiming that young people whose job prospects have been impacted by the pandemic are being targeted by criminals looking to recruit money mules to launder the profits of their crimes. The organisation says there were 17,157 cases of suspected money muling activity involving 21- to 30-year-olds in 2020, a 5% increase on the previous year, and that this age group accounted for 42% of money mule activity in 2020, up from 38% three years ago.


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