Published: 14 January 2022
Location: London, UK
The latest data released this morning by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) shows GDP grew 0.9% in November and is now 0.7% above its pre-pandemic peak. Services grew 0.7% (1.3% above), manufacturing grew 1.1% (2.2% below) and construction grew 3.5% (1.3% above).
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) says around 3% of Britain's workforce is currently estimated to be on sick leave or not working because of coronavirus symptoms, self-isolation or quarantine. This was the highest figure since comparable estimates began in June 2020. The ONS also reported that 21% of firms had seen a rise in cancellations, with nearly half (44%) of businesses in the accommodation and food services sector being hit.
The self-isolation period for people who test positive for Covid-19 is being cut to five full days in England, Health Secretary Sajid Javid has said. From Monday, people will be able to leave isolation after negative lateral flow tests on days five and six.
Next has become the latest big corporate name to take issue with unvaccinated staff as the Omicron variant of COVID-19 pushes up absence rates. Sky News says the fashion-to-homewares retailer said on Thursday sick pay for unvaccinated staff who must self-isolate could be cut to the Statutory Sick Pay minimum rate of £96.35 a week but stressed that unvaccinated workers who test positive for COVID would still receive its full rate of sick pay. It is government policy that unvaccinated people must self-isolate if they have been in contact with someone with covid, whereas someone who is vaccinated does not have to.
France has changed its travel rules for Brits. Vaccinated travellers will no longer need a compelling reason to enter France and will not have to self-isolate when they arrive. However, a negative Covid test, taken 24 hours before leaving the UK, will still be required for all those arriving. Travel companies welcomed the news - with Jet2 reporting a "sharp" spike in flight bookings to ski destinations, the BBC says.
The pound has climbed to its highest level against the dollar in two and a half months, fuelled in part by the possibility that Boris Johnson will step down as prime minister, Yahoo Finance UK says. Sterling gained as much as 0.3% on Thursday to reach $1.3747, its highest since last October, although it was flat against the euro. Traders are apparently weighing up potential resignation from the PM over attendance at a party at Downing Street during the national coronavirus lockdown. The PM is facing calls to step down among his opponents and within his own Conservative party for breaking government rules to curb the spread of Covid-19. Analysts commented that the impact on sterling would depend on whether Chancellor Rishi Sunak or Foreign Secretary Liz Truss would replace the PM, with the former seen as more fiscally conservative and therefore bad for the pound. “A strong and stable leadership could set the pound on a better course, though we would have to get beyond any leadership shenanigans first,” Jane Foley, a strategist at Rabobank said. “Currencies tend to like strong leaders. The politics around Johnson right now are a distraction.”
Just 1 in 10 (12%) small businesses shifted to digital due to the pandemic, according to new research from Lloyds Bank Business. Around half (49%) of SMEs have still not made the move to digital and may be missing out on reaching a greater customer base, according to the survey of 1,518 UK businesses. Almost two-thirds (65%) of businesses said that not having enough digital skills was their biggest challenge. 82% of those who have an online presence said it has helped their business grow, with 55% saying it increased the geographic reach of their business and 47% finding it helped their business appeal to a new customer demographic. About a third (32%) have used their online platform to diversify the services they offer.
Total is National Pothole Day, and the RAC says it received a “ridiculous” number of call outs for problems caused by damaged road surfaces last year. Pothole-related breakdowns reached a three-year high in 2021, the vehicle breakdown company says. Potholes can cause thousands of pounds of unnecessary damage to drivers’ vehicles; make using roads uncomfortable; and are also a serious road safety hazard for anyone on two wheels. The RAC got 10,123 call outs for such issues in 2021, 19% more than in 2020 and a 10% increase on the 2019 total.
A rise in processing fees by Mastercard and Visa is unnecessary, and action may have to be taken to protect consumers and businesses that are being impacted, the UK's payment systems regulator (PSR) says. In October, both payment card companies increased cross-border interchange fees for debit and credit card transactions, from 0.2% to 0.3% and 1.15% to 1.5% respectively. However, the PSR, which works with HM Treasury, said it has “not seen evidence that the costs of operating payment services have increased for card issuers to warrant the recent increases in fees.” Since Brexit, fees are no longer capped at the intra-regional rate, allowing major card brands to raise interchange fees on some online or “card not present” transactions.
A multibillion-pound legal claim has been launched against Facebook in the UK. The suit claims the company generates billions in revenue from consumers' data without compensating them in any way. Competition law expert Liza Lovdahl Gormsen launched a class-action lawsuit against Facebook’s parent firm, Meta, at the Competition Appeal Tribunal in London. She argues that Facebook used its market dominance to force users to agree to "unfair" terms and conditions, and seeks a minimum of £2.3bn in damages in financial redress for British Facebook users between 1 October 2015 and 31 December 2019, who used the site at least once during this period. This is thought to be more than 44 million people.
Google is to expand its UK capacity by 50% and "reinvigorate" the work environment by spending £730m on new buildings, including London’s Central Saint Giles, in which it is currently a tenant. The search engine giant expects headcount to rise from 6,400 to 10,000. Google's UK boss Ronan Harris told the BBC the investment reflected the firm's faith in the office as a place of work.
BT Group is reportedly close to agreeing the sale of its sports broadcasting arm to streaming firm Dazn in a deal worth an estimated $800m. According to Reuters, citing four unnamed sources familiar with the matter, the sale of BT Sport to the US sports streaming specialist could be announced as early as February. Dazn already owns pan-European broadcaster Eurosport, and acquiring BT Sport would expand its presence in the UK and Ireland. Crucially, it would also give it access to much sought-after rights to the English Premier League and UEFA Champions League, Sharecast News says. BT Sport has around 5m total viewing households.
Safestore reported a "record-breaking year" of growth in its final results yesterday, saying group operating profit almost doubled to £417m, up 96.5% on the £212.2m it recorded for the 2020 financial year. The FTSE 250 storage provider said the UK market grew 16.8% and Paris expanded by 4.3%. Safestore's property values also increased by 24%.
Marks & Spencer has changed the name of its Midget Gems sweets to avoid offending people with dwarfism after a campaign by a Liverpool academic. Dr Erin Pritchard, a lecturer in disability studies at Liverpool Hope University, argued the word midget was a form of hate speech. M&S has now rebranded the popular treats as Mini Gems. A spokeswoman said the store was "committed to being an inclusive retailer".
Marks & Spencer says revenues from its fashion division - long a thorn in the side for the retailer – are up 3.2% to £1.1bn on pre-pandemic levels, despite a 10% fall in sales at its stores, because internet orders were 50% higher on a two-year basis. M&S has recently started to sell more third-party brands such as Ghost, Nobody’s Child and Jaeger. The 138-year-old retailer recorded its highest market share of full-price clothes sales since 2013. Meanwhile, strong Christmas demand for saw M&S post record December food sales. Food sales were up 12.4% to £1.9bn on pre-pandemic levels, not including items sold via Ocado Retail, which is 50% owned by M&S. However, CEO Steve Rowe, also warned some price rises at the chain are inevitable later in the year. “The pressures have come down slightly as we have passed the peak but there are still some issues with shortages of labour and continuing [staff] absence [including at suppliers],” he said.
ASOS says it experienced lower demand and supply chain disruption in November, and that it continues to face challenges. The online fashion retailer posted total sales growth of 5% over the four months to 31 December, a time when it also parted ways with its chief executive. Shares in the company have fallen by more than 50% over the last year.
Yahoo Finance UK reports that according to the latest data by market researchers Kantar, paracetamol was out of stock at 8% of stores surveyed between 7 and 10 January and running low at a further 21% of sites surveyed. Ibuprofen was also either low, or out of stock, at a fifth of stores, with toilet rolls, fresh fish, frozen chips, and fresh pork also high on the shortages list.
Housebuilder Countryside Properties has revealed that CEO Iain McPherson will relinquish the role after its trading performance in the first quarter of the new financial year came in below expectations. First-quarter completions numbered 809, down from 1,280 during the same period in 2020, while adjusted revenues and operating profits slumped from £363.8m to £249.8m and £36.6m to £16.5m, respectively. The FTSE 250-listed firm stated that McPherson will step down with immediate effect. Chairman John Martin will stand in as interim CEO.
North Korean hackers stole almost $400m (£291m) worth of digital assets/cryptocurrencies in at least seven attacks on cryptocurrency platforms last year, a report claims. Blockchain analysis company Chainalysis said it was one of most successful years on record for cyber-criminals in the closed east Asian state. The attacks mainly targeted investment firms and centralised exchanges. North Korea has routinely denied being involved in hack attacks attributed to them.
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