Published: 26 March 2021
The Coronavirus Act has been extended by another six months to September 25th and current lockdown rules into July after MPs voted 484 to 76 in favour of the measures last night.
The Treasury said yesterday that businesses impacted by COVID-19 who have not yet been able to take advantage of the government's business rate relief will get a £1.5bn discount on their bills as firms across the country struggle under the strain of lockdowns. This is in addition to the existing £16bn business rates relief for retail, hospitality and leisure businesses. The pot will be distributed to local authorities, based on the stock of properties in their areas, who will then allocate relief to those sectors they believe have suffered most economically.
However, the Treasury says it will also legislate to ban the statutory right to business rates appeals, a significant legal change which would be a "catastrophic blow" for many firms hit by the property tax, according to Robert Hayton, UK president of property tax at the real estate adviser Altus Group. Data from the HMRC's valuation office agency showed that 303,260 properties, including offices, pubs and retailers, lodged appeals in 2020 - more than three times the number seen in 2019.
A haulage industry source says they have been told by the government to expect drivers to have to take a Covid test when coming into the UK from mainland Europe. The tests are expected to take place on the UK side. Lorry drivers had previously been exempted from testing coming into the UK. The Department for Transport said it was "carefully monitoring" an increase in cases in Europe and would keep all measures under review.
Retail sales rose 2.1% in February, recovering some ground from a steep fall in January. The Office for National Statistics said sales were still down by 3.7% on a year earlier, before the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. Food and department stores benefitted from essential retailers remaining open, it said, though clothing shops continued to struggle. Online sales continued to grow and hit a record 36.1% of all UK sales.
British businesses have borrowed a total of £180m in emergency loans since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, according to the latest government statistics, meaning three loans were issued every minute to 1.6 million firms since May last year. The Bounce Back Loan Scheme, Coronavirus Large Business Interruption Loan Scheme, and the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme have supported more than a quarter of businesses in the UK. They close for new applications on 31 March, to be replaced by a new Recovery Loan Scheme on 6 April.
Businesses want more clarity about lifting lockdown restrictions: the British Chambers of Commerce has called for the government to outline more details on the practicalities of reopening, including what social distancing rules will be in place at each stage of the roadmap, and what potential legal issues surrounding vaccinations.
A BBC Freedom of Information Request has revealed that British firms planned fewer job cuts last month, despite many remaining closed by lockdowns. About 26,600 jobs were at risk, one-fifth below January's figure and slightly lower than February 2020. Employers planning 20 or more redundancies have to notify the government via the Insolvency Service and because these filings happen at the start of the redundancy process, they give an early indication of labour market changes months before they show up in official unemployment figures.
Appearing before parliament’s Treasury select committee yesterday, top financial regulator Megan Butler, executive director for transformation at the Financial Conduct Authority, apologised for failing to prevent allegedly one of the biggest investment frauds in the last decade, but defended her decision not to quit. She did accept full responsibility for her failure to adequately supervise London Capital and Finance. Butler was one of three regulators named and shamed when the firm collapsed, which left 11,000 small-time savers suffering heavy losses. The Serious Fraud Office is still investigating the case.
An estimated 840,000 private tenants have built rent arrears since lockdown measures began, a new report by the National Residential Landlords Association reveals, saying these debts are increasing "to the point where there is no hope of many being able to afford to pay them back."
Ben Beadle, NLRA's CEO, said that unless ministers can ensure tenants have the financial means to pay off rent debts built as a result of the pandemic, “they will have to accept the inevitable consequence of rising homelessness and damaged credit scores.” The association said landlords were impacted too, as 60% lost rental income as a result of the pandemic, and 39% say their losses are continuing to increase.
Santander UK is to cut 111 branches amid a customer drive towards online banking but expects to retain a "significant" number of the staff affected. The lender said its decision - aided by COVID-19 disruption - would be implemented by the end of August and leave it with 452 high street sites. It added that most of those to be closed down would be within three miles of another branch.
Online fashion retailer Boohoo says it has cut its network of suppliers by more than 400 firms as it moves to restore faith in its products following allegations of slave labour. The company published a list of 78 companies with 100 factories it had now approved because they could demonstrate supply chain integrity. The firm also declared unapproved subcontracting had been stopped.
ITV says it has invested £2m in mapping startup what3words, by way of exchanging a stake in the app for advertising exposure. The FTSE 100 company has also agreed an option to invest a further £2m in its new 'Media for Equity' programme. What3words divides the world into a grid of three-meter squares, giving each its own three-word identifier.
A survey of over 300 Deliveroo riders has found that one earned as little as £2 an hour. Analysis by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism and the Independent Workers' Union of Great Britain found as many as a third of the riders receive less than the legal minimum hourly wage for over-25s of £8.72. Because riders are self-employed, this is legal.
Travel company Tui said on Thursday it has trimmed capacity for the peak summer travel months to 75% of 2019 levels, down from the 80% proposed originally. Ahead of its annual general meeting, Tui said group-wide bookings for summer including re-bookings and voucher redemptions, remain unchanged at an "encouraging" level of 2.8m guests, which is 60% below the comparable level for last summer.
The UK’s two biggest crowdfunding platforms have decided to call off their $190m (£138m) merger a day after the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) said blocking the merger may be the only way of addressing its concerns, as the proposed merger between Crowdcube and Seedrs would reduce competition and innovation. CMA has also raised concerns regarding Facebook's $400m (£291m) May 2020 acquisition of GIF search engine Giphy and has given the companies five days to offer legally binding proposals to address its concerns "in relation to digital advertising and the supply of GIFs" before deciding whether to refer the case for further investigation.
Electric vehicle company Arrival completed its merger with SPAC company CIIG Merger Corp on the Nasdaq yesterday, in a move which is believed to make it the biggest ever stock market listing for a UK tech company. Arrival's stock was listed at $22, valuing it at roughly $13bn (£9.5bn) when the deal closed.
A surge in pandemic-fuelled activity by homebound traders is propelling AvaTrade towards a London stock market listing that could value it at up to £700m, says Sky News. The Dublin-based online trading platform has hired JP Morgan and Jefferies to oversee an initial public offering in the coming months. Established in 2006, AvaTrade is one of a number of platforms - including CMC Markets, Plus500 and IG Group - which enables customers to trade contracts for difference. AvaTrade claimed in December that it had a client base of more than 300,000 traders spread across 150 countries.
The Ever Given mega-container ship operated by the Taiwanese company Evergreen Marine is still stranded in the Suez Canal and causing a tailback holding up an estimated $9.6bn (£7bn) of goods each day, according to shipping data from experts Lloyd’s List. This works out at $400m an hour in trade along the waterway, which is a vital passageway between east and west. The Ever-Given is the length of four football pitches and one of the world's biggest container vessels. The 200,000-tonne ship is capable of carrying 20,000 containers.
Beijing has gone on the propaganda offensive in response to concerns raised about the abuse of Uyghur Muslims in China's Xinjiang region. Vice News reports that the furore seems to have begun with a post on social media by the Communist Youth League on Wednesday, attacking Swedish retailer H&M for a (year old) statement it put out raising concerns. Chinese news agencies, broadcasters, and social media users piled in, and now Nike is also under fire for similarly having released a statement condemning reports of forced labour. Items have been pulled from sale from online stores; smartphone map apps have blocked search results for stores; and the popular Chinese actor Wang Yibo terminated his contract as a representative for Nike. Internet users also targeted the Better Cotton Initiative which promotes sustainable cotton production: the organisation has suspended approval for cotton exported from Xinjiang for the coming season.
And its bye bye Mondeo Man: after five million sales since its UK launch in 1993, Ford says production of the iconic car will stop in early 2022.
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