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The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has published the latest national debt figures

   News / 19 Nov 2021

Published: 19 November 2021
Location: London, UK

By Suzanne Evans, Director, Political Insight

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has published the latest national debt figures to the end of October 2021. Public sector net borrowing excluding public sector banks stood at £18.8 billion, the second-highest October borrowing since monthly records began in 1993, but £0.2 billion less than in October 2020. Public sector net debt excluding public sector banks was £2,277.6 billion. At around 95.1% of GDP, this maintains a level not seen since the early 1960s.
The ONS has also revealed that retail sales volumes rose by an estimated 0.8% in October 2021 compared with September 2021, which is 5.8% higher than their pre-pandemic levels in February 2020. Clothing sales reached their highest level since the start of the pandemic, the ONS said, with second-hand stores, like charity shops and auction houses, also seeing a rise. Now, sales in clothing stores are only 0.5% below pre-pandemic levels, the ONS said, "with some retailers suggesting that early Christmas trading had boosted sales". However, automotive fuel sales volumes fell by 6.4% in October 2021, when compared with September 2021. They are now 5% below their February 2020 levels.
In a move denounced by some as a ‘betrayal of the North,’ Transport Secretary Grant Shapps yesterday confirmed the government’s proposal to scrap most of the eastern leg of HS2, the part of the £96 billion project which would have run from the Midlands to Leeds. The Eastern side of the high-speed railway line will now end at East Midlands Parkway station, about six miles south-west of Nottingham, linked by a shorter high-speed line to Birmingham. From there, HS2 trains will go on to Sheffield on upgraded mainline tracks. There will also be a new high-speed line from Warrington to Manchester and Marsden in Yorkshire. The Western leg of HS2, running from London to Birmingham then on to Crewe, Warrington, Manchester and Marsden is not affected. Shapps said the government has not ruled out bringing HS2 to Leeds in the future but gave no timescale. Shadow transport secretary Jim McMahon said the North has been robbed "of its chance to realise its full potential," saying "What we've been given today is a great train robbery".
The government has launched a consultation on whether to introduce new legislation to ensure blameless victims of fraud who are tricked into transferring money to con-artists will be entitled to compensation. This type of fraud rose by 71% in the first half of the year, with a total of £355m lost through so-called authorised push payment fraud cases, the BBC reports. At present, refunds by banks are governed by a voluntary code which consumer groups argue has been a lottery for scam victims. Under the government’s proposals, the UK's 14 big banking groups will also be required to publish data on fraud reimbursement.
The UK Environment Agency (EA) and water regulator Ofwat have announced a major investigation into sewage treatment works, after several water companies admitted they could be releasing illegal amounts of sewage into rivers and watercourses. Yahoo Finance UK says the investigation will investigate more than 2000 sewage treatment works and will fine or prosecute any company caught breaching their legal permits. The fines could amount to 10% of annual turnover for civil cases or be unlimited in criminal proceedings.
Britain’s first freeport has opened. Teesside Freeport, the first of eight planned for the UK, has commenced operations. Covering 4,500 acres, the Teesside freeport is expected to generate £3.2 billion for the local economy and create more than 18,000 jobs.
Pay chiefs at Britain's biggest companies have been warned of a renewed backlash from investors in 2022 if they fail to curb executive pension contributions or award bonuses when government support has yet to be repaid. Sky News has learnt that the Investment Association, whose members manage a collective £9.4 trillion, wrote yesterday to the remuneration committee chairs of FTSE-350 companies to urge them to demonstrate caution on bosses' rewards even as many boards move towards a post-pandemic footing.
UBS, the world's leading global wealth manager, has revealed climate and disruptive technologies as the biggest money-making opportunities in equities investment for the next decade, Yahoo Finance UK reports. In its Year Ahead 2022: A year of discovery global outlook, published yesterday, the investment bank said in the next 10 years, investors should seek opportunities in the net-zero carbon transition and the “ABC” of disruptive technologies – artificial intelligence, big data, and cybersecurity. Next year will reset the "new normal", UBS said, expecting a 2022 of two halves with high rates of economic growth and inflation in the first half, giving way to lower growth and inflation in the second. Its core recommendations for the year ahead include buying "winners of global growth", seeking "opportunities in healthcare", "seeking unconventional yield" and "positioning for a stronger US dollar".
The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has given the buyer of Babcock's international offshore oil and gas aviation business five days to address competition concerns. Helicopter services provider CHC Group bought the business for £10m in September. Now, the competition watchdog says the deal could result in "a substantial lessening of competition” as both businesses provide offshore transport in the oil and gas sector, taking workers to and from rigs in the North Sea, and are two of only four suppliers in the field.
Irish discount airline Ryanair Holdings Plc is to drop its London Stock Exchange listing, blaming compliance headaches tied to Brexit.  Airline ownership rules set decades ago to protect the industry in Europe dictate EU-based carriers must be owned and controlled from within the bloc. Hence, Ryanair has been forced to take steps to limit non-EU ownership of its shares. Even so, only just over one-third of Ryanair’s shares are held from within member states, as the company hasn’t managed to steer enough activity to its main listing in Dublin. While several companies have disappeared from the London stock market, Ryanair is the first to explicitly cite Brexit, Bloombergsays.  
Unilever has agreed to sell its global tea business, ekaterra, to private equity firm CVC Capital Partners for €4.5bn (£3.79bn). The FTSE 100 consumer goods giant said ekaterra is the world's leading tea business, with a portfolio of 34 brands including Lipton, PG tips, Pukka, T2 and TAZO®. In 2020, it generated revenues of around €2bn (£1.68bn).
Marks and Spencer is teaming up with Costa Coffee in a collaboration which will see M&S Food products sold in more than 2,500 Costa Coffee stores across the UK, as well as in its drive- through sites, from next year.
Exhibitions and conferences operator Hyve Group has agreed to acquire meetings programme organisers 121 Group and 121 Partners for between £42 million and £50 million, Sharecast News reports.
American aerospace giant Moog is building a new £40 million factory in Tewkesbury, Gloucestershire. The New York-headquartered firm describes the investment as "an integral part of its commitment to manufacturing in the UK."
Sunderland-based entrepreneur Phil Cronin is in line to collect £402m from the sale of Tombola, one of the UK market's leading online bingo operators. Tombola is being bought by Flutter Entertainment, the FTSE 100 gaming giant best-known for its ownership of Paddy Power, Betfair, Sky Bet and PokerStars. Tombola employs around 700 people in Sunderland and Gibraltar and has, on average, 400,000 playing customers each month, Sky News says.
The company behind the London International Horse Show is close to acquiring a leading organiser of one-to-one meetings for senior executives, Sky News understands. Clarion Events, which is majority-owned by the private equity giant Blackstone, is about to buy Consero, which specialises in in-person and virtual events for legal and human resources executives. The deal, which is expected in the coming days, comes as Blackstone invests another £20m of equity into the Clarion business to support its evolving post-pandemic business model. Blackstone acquired Clarion Events in 2017 in a £600m deal, injecting roughly £80m into the business a year ago to help it weather the impact of the Covid-19 restrictions.
Apple has announced a "self-service repair" programme so "customers who are comfortable" can fix their own devices, the BBC reports. When launched in early 2022 in the US, it will cover replacing the batteries, screens and cameras of recent iPhones and Apple's new repair stores will sell more than 200 parts and tools. The move comes after months of increasing pressure on Apple from the grassroots right-to-repair movement, which wants individuals and independent repair shops to be able to fix electronics. "Self Service Repair is intended for individual technicians with the knowledge and experience to repair electronic devices," Apple said. But "for the vast majority of customers" visiting a certified professional repair shop would be a better option.

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