Published: 18 January 2022
Location: London, UK
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has released its latest jobs and pay data. Job vacancies reached a record high of 1.24 million between October and December, meaning they are now 462,000 higher as compared to the three months before the pandemic. Data released on regular pay, excluding bonuses, shows growth at an annual rate of 3.8% between September and November, the ONS said, adding that with inflation rising to 5.1%, pay was showing "minimal growth" when compared to rises in the cost of living. When it comes to hiring, companies added 184,000 people to their payrolls between November and December, taking the total in employment to 29.5 million. Meanwhile, the unemployment rate fell to 4.1% in the three months to November.
The Treasury says it expects to write off £4.3bn in fraudulent Covid-19 payments. A total of £5.8bn is believed to have been unlawfully taken, yet Ministers says they will recover just £1 for every £4 stolen. The write-off includes money handed out through the furlough programme, the Self Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS), and eat out to help out. Yahoo Finance UK says the figures were contained in documents quietly published on the HMRC website last week. The department said it had recovered £500m of overpayments in the 2020-21 tax year, and that it expected its taskforce to get back between £800m and £1bn more by 2023, a total of £1.5bn at the most. Some 8.7% of furlough payments were made either to fraudsters or by mistake as well as 8.5% of payments to its eat out to help out scheme, and 2.5% of cash handed to freelancers and entrepreneurs as part of its self-employed income support payments. Yesterday, the shadow chancellor of the exchequer, Rachel Reeves MP, said the news was “shameful”. She said on Twitter: “Outrageous. While prices soar, billions in hard-earned taxpayer cash has been frittered away by fraud — and the chancellor is happy to shrug his shoulders and lose it forever.”
Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries has confirmed the BBC licence fee is to be frozen at £159 for two years. Speaking in the House of Commonsyesterday, Dorries said the government could "not justify extra pressure on the wallets of hardworking households". "The BBC must support people at a time when their finances are strained, make savings and efficiencies, and use the billions in public funding it receives to deliver for viewers, listeners and users," she said. The continuation of the licence fee is guaranteed until at least 31 December 2027 by the BBC's royal charter, which sets out its funding and purpose. BBC director general Tim Davie said: "We will do everything to ensure the BBC continues to punch above its weight for Britain".
MPs on The Work and Pensions committee have called for trials of automatic appointments with the government’s Pension Wise service, which helps people aged 50 and over to make sense of their options by offering free, impartial guidance. Committee Chair Stephen Timms warned pensions are in a "constant state of change" and that government and regulators should "end their timidity" in helping savers as a result. The new report by the committee suggests that "pension freedoms", introduced in 2015, have been a success, but that savers need much more help than they get currently to navigate those changes. It recommends setting a target of at least 60% of people using Pension Wise or receiving paid-for advice when accessing their pension pots for the first time, and automatically scheduling one appointment with the service when a person accesses their pension for the first time, as well as one at the age of 50, before they can access their pension savings. The government service was set up in 2015. Although the report found the service was "good", it said not enough people use it. It is thought, however, that the cost of the introduction of automatic appointments could range between £45m and £80m a year.
A new scheme allowing consumers to request up to £50 cashback in shops without making a purchase will not prevent a "cash crisis" when more bank branches and ATMs close, Which? has warned. The consumer watchdog surveyed more than 2,000 people and found just one in six (16%) knew about the cashback without purchase scheme four months after its launch. Of those who were aware, only 31% have used the scheme to withdraw cash — equivalent to just 5% of the UK population. Which? concludes the scheme is not enough to protect access to cash for people who rely on cash are closing across the UK.
The Financial Reporting Council (FRC) has expanded its probe into audits carried out by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) for Babcock International Group, Sharecast News reports. The regulator said yesterday it had started an investigation into the statutory audits for the years ending 31 March 2019 and 2020. The FRC is already conducting a probe into PwC's audits of Babcock's consolidated financial statements in 2017 and 2018. The UK's second-biggest defence contractor after BAE first announced the review in January 2021, as new chief executive David Lockwood looked to overhaul the business. The review has resulted in around 140 adjustments in total, worth around £2bn, which related to errors in previous accounts, changes to forecasts and updates to the firm's accounting policies. In July Babcock was pushed to a £1.6bn annual loss after it wrote down the profitability of contracts. Babcock announced last year that it would replace PwC as auditor with rival Deloitte,after nearly 20 years. Babcock declined to comment on the latest FRC probe.
Further cuts to train timetables have been made in response to Covid-related staff shortages, the BBC says. South Western Railway (SWR) said it was running 28% fewer weekday trains from Monday, compared with pre-pandemic levels, due to staff absences caused largely by the Omicron Covid variant. The Rail Delivery Group's latest figure for rail staff absences is at 11%. Avanti West Coast, c2c and East Midlands Railway also reduced services from yesterday. ScotRail, CrossCountry and LNER have previously announced reduced timetables and warned passengers of cancellations.
Centrica's pension cash has been used to buy a stake in controversial Israeli firm NSO Group through a private equity fund, it was alleged yesterday. According to the Financial Times, the owner of British Gas was among the biggest contributors to a €1bn fund raised by Novalpina Capital that acquired a stake in the cyberweapon and surveillance firm in 2019. NSO has been blacklisted by the US Department of Commerce, which claims its spyware was used by foreign governments to "maliciously target" officials, journalists, and activists, among others. Amnesty International, meanwhile, claims that its troubled Pegasus software was used to spy on people close to murdered Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. NSO is also facing lawsuits from Meta Platforms, formerly Facebook, and Apple. Meta claims NSO exploited a vulnerability in WhatsApp to deliver spyware, while Apple wants to block it from using its products. Centrica declined to comment on the FT article. NSO told the FT: "The use of cyber tools in order to monitor dissidents, activists and journalists is a severe misuse of any technology, and goes against the desire use of such critical tools…NSO has proven in the past it has zero-tolerance for these types of misuse by terminating multiple contracts."
Broadcaster ITV has agreed a new syndicated £500m revolving credit facility linked to its carbon emissions targets. The deal agreed with Barclays Bank, BNP Paribas, Credit Suisse, Mizuho Bank, National Westminster Bank and Wells Fargo will run until January 2027, replacing the existing facility, which was due to mature in 2023. Under the terms, the broadcaster will benefit from a lower interest rate if it delivers emissions reductions in line with its net zero roadmap, which will be assessed on an annual basis and verified by independent external review. Chief executive and chief financial officer Chris Kennedy said: "The inclusion of [environmental, social and governance] ESG targets within this important financing demonstrates ITV's further commitment to achieve net zero targets by 2030."
Amazon has backed down on proposals to block Visa credit cards from its site. In November last year, Amazon said it would stop accepting payments made by UK-issued Visa credit cards from tomorrow, due to high fees charged to process transactions, a move that was likely to inconvenience millions of Brits: it was estimated that 89% of UK households shop at Amazon and the company’s subscription service, Amazon Prime, has around 21 million UK subscribers. In an email to customers yesterday, Amazon said: “Should we make any changes related to Visa credit cards, we will give you advance notice. Until then, you can continue to use Visa credit cards, debit cards, Mastercard, American Express, and Eurocard as you do today.” It is believed talks between the two sides are continuing.
Taylor Wimpey (TW), one of the UK’s biggest housebuilders has said a spike in the price of its homes has fully made up for the soaring costs of staff and building materials, and supply chain shortages. PA Media says the company reported continued strong demand for new homes, which became £12,000 more expensive. TW completed more than 14,000 newbuilds last year, up by nearly half from the year before, 2020, when construction sites were forced to close down for several months of the year. However, TW still built around 2,000 fewer homes in 2021 than it had in 2019, it revealed yesterday.
The average cost of a basic funeral has dropped for the first time in 18 years, but is predicted to rise again in the future, according to the Cost of Dying report by insurer SunLife. Funeral costs fell 3.1% to an average of £4,056 last year, although the cheapest type of ceremony - a cremation without a service - rose in price. Last year, funeral firms were ordered to display clearer price lists for bereaved customers.
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