Published: 11 January 2022
Location: London, UK
It was revealed yesterday that Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his wife Carrie were among around 40 people in attendance at a “bring your own booze” drinks event in the Downing Street garden on 20 May 2020, during the UK's first national Covid lockdown. The news emerged via a leaked email from Martin Reynolds - a key aide to Johnson - which invited staff to "make the most of the lovely weather" with "some socially distanced drinks". According to ITV News, who obtained the email, Reynolds' message was sent to more than 100 employees in Number 10, including the prime minister's advisers, speechwriters, and door staff. At the time, government orders were that Britons could only meet outdoors with one person from another household and that they must remain two metres apart. Oliver Dowden, then culture secretary, drove that official message home at a Downing Street press conference just an hour before the planned party, telling the public that "the vast majority of people" should be "staying at home as much as possible". A Whitehall investigation is already under way into multiple allegations of coronavirus rule-breaking in both Number 10 and other government buildings, which was prompted by initial claims of Christmas parties in Downing Street in 2020.
UK housebuilding stocks fell yesterday after the government ordered developers to pay £4bn in cladding removal costs in the wake of the 2017 Grenfell apartment tower fire that killed 72 people. Developers, apartment owners and ministers have been embroiled in a row over who should foot the bill after investigations revealed that 477 high-rise residential and publicly- owned buildings were found to covered in flammable cladding. The government has already committed £5bn for repairs in addition to a £2bn levy on housebuilders towards costs over the next decade. So far, residents in blocks 11-18m high have been ineligible for government support to remove unsafe cladding, but yesterday Housing minister Michael Gove said he would be "absolutely willing to use legal rules" to make builders pay for the removal of unsafe cladding from lower-height buildings. In a letter to developers, he gave them until March to agree a plan to protect leaseholders trapped in "unsellable homes". "It is neither fair nor decent that innocent leaseholders, many of whom have worked hard and made sacrifices to get a foot on the housing ladder, should be landed with bills they cannot afford to fix problems they did not cause," he wrote. "For too many of the people living in properties your industry has built in recent years, their home has become a source of misery." However, according to a leaked Treasury letter, approval for funding applies only to fixing cladding, meaning that leaseholders will still face bills for defective fire compartmentation, fire doors and other non-cladding faults, Sharecast Newsreports.
Spire Healthcare Group has struck a deal to treat NHS patients during the Omicron surge, the private hospital operator said yesterday. The FTSE 250firm said it had reached an agreement in principle to treat elective NHS patients and provide urgent cancer work following "detailed discussions with NHS England and other independent providers. Spire has 40 hospitals and eight clinics across England, Wales and Scotland. In September, it reported interim pre-tax profits of £4.7m, versus a loss of £231m a year previously, as patients looked to avoid growing NHS waiting lists by paying for their own treatment. Revenues rose 40% at £558m.
Business activity growth slowed in the UK in December, a decline attributed to fears about and fresh restrictions introduced to tackle the Omicron covid variant. According to NatWest’s regional PMI data, 11 out of 12 regions posted slower growth, with the North East seeing a slight contraction. Rising prices also remained a prevalent factor, although cost pressures did ease from recent record highs seen in October and November. Business managed to pass on the bulk of higher costs to customers during 2021 as demand strengthened. Employment levels also recovered across the board, although the pace of job creation slowed. The overall index, which is published each month and tracks the monthly change in the output of goods and services across the private sector, came in at 53.6. Any reading above 50 signals growth.
The latest data from the Savings and Resilience Barometer report from Hargreaves Lansdown (HL) and Oxford Economics finds that the boost to financial resilience experienced by UK households during the pandemic is likely to be reversed by half, as UK households face a big financial squeeze and mounting debt because of inflation, expected interest rate rises and the ending of financial government support. Although lockdowns and other covid restrictions enforced a period of spending restraint, leading to an increased savings rate which reached a post-War high in 2020, and outstanding consumer credit fell by over 10%, that appears set to change. The report suggested lower-income households, parents – especially single parents - and the self-employed are most likely to face challenges to their financial resilience, although the latter earned higher average scores for both home ownership and other assets. Over a quarter (26.8%) of households did not have access to liquid savings that would cover at least three months of essential spending should they lose their income, HL said.
According to the British Retail Consortium (BRC), firms will be hit with a reduction in consumer spending in 2022 thanks to rising inflation, increasing energy bills, and April’s national insurance hike. However, the BRC’s latest figures show sales overall increased by 2.1% in December, against a growth of 1.8% in December 2020, and showed a 12-month average growth of 9.9% compared with 2020. Food growth was 3.1% higher and the non-food growth was up 15.6% for the year. “In the face of rising case numbers and supply chain issues, people in retail pulled out all the stops to ensure everyone got what they wanted this Christmas,” Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the BRC said. “Retailers did well to weather the challenging trade conditions, with retail sales for 2021 up on both the previous year and compared to pre-pandemic levels. Continuing a trend throughout the pandemic towards online shopping, 2021 saw a double digit rise in non-food online sales, a testament to retailers’ huge investments in their online platforms."
Ikea and Wessex Water are cutting sick pay for staff who need to self-isolate because of Covid exposure who have not had the covid vaccines. At Ikea, unvaccinated workers, who do not have mitigating circumstances, who test positive, will be paid in line with company sick pay. However unvaccinated workers, without mitigating circumstances who are required to isolate owing to being identified as a close contact, could now receive as little as £96.35 a week - the Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) minimum. Wessex Water's sick pay rule change comes into force this week, and states that any employee without at least one Covid-19 vaccination - who does not have a valid medical reason - or does not have a confirmed vaccination appointment, will get only statutory sick pay if required to self-isolate due to close contact with someone testing positive.
Ovo Energy says it is "embarrassed" by a blog containing energy-saving tips such as ‘cuddle your pets and loved ones’, ‘clean the house,’ ‘challenge the kids to a hula-hoop contest,’ or ‘do a few star jumps,’ was sent to its SSE customers. The company said it had removed the blog having recognised the content as "poorly judged and unhelpful" so it could "update it" with "more meaningful information for customers". Speaking to the Financial Times which first reported the story, Darren Jones, chair of the Commons business select committee, called the advice "insensitive". "Being told to put on a jumper instead of turning on your heating if you can't afford it, at a time of such difficulty for so many families, is plainly offensive," the Labour MP told the newspaper.
Aldi UK has committed to offering customers the lowest prices throughout 2022 as it revealed its “best ever” Christmas sales. Giles Hurley, chief executive of the discount supermarket chain, made the price pledge yesterday, saying: “There’s no doubt that 2021 was a long and difficult year for lots of people, but our amazing colleagues stopped at nothing as they came together to deliver the Christmas that our customers deserved…As the cheapest supermarket in Britain, Aldi will always offer the lowest prices for groceries, no matter what, and continue to support our British farmers and producers.” Yahoo Finance UK reports that Aldi saw sales rise by 0.4% last month compared to the same period the year before, for which it credited its premium "Specially Selected" range and strong demand for beers, wines, and spirits in the holiday period. Aldi also sold more than 43 million mince pies and 118 million Brussel sprouts in the run-up to Christmas. Aldi also cited figures from Kantar showing it was the "only major supermarket" to grow sales in December. The grocer has 950 stores across the UK and is privately owned by the German company Aldi Sud. It is Britain’s fifth largest supermarket group with a 7.7% market share. The chain has plans to open more than 100 new stores and create around 2,000 jobs as part of its growth strategy.
Wilko could close up to 15 stores this year unless more favourable lease terms with landlords can be agreed. "Landlord relationships are changing and now is the time to prepare strong foundations and open negotiations with all landlords to enable Wilko to restructure the portfolio," the company said in a statement. Privately-owned Wilko currently has 414 stores and an online presence. The firm added that any closures would not affect new openings or Wilko's store relocation programme.
Rolls-Royce Motor Cars has posted the highest sales in its 117-year history. The British marque sold 5,586 cars across the world last year and its Goodwood factory is currently running at near maximum capacity to meet record global demand.
FTSE 250 manufacturer Rotork yesterday appointed Kiet Huynh to take over as CEO, with immediate effect. Huynh, the managing director of Rotork's water and power and its chemical, process and industrial divisions, will succeed Kevin Hostetler, who informed the board of his plans to return to the US in August 2021.
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