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The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has published the latest government debt data.

   News / 22 Nov 2022

Published: 22 November 2022

By Suzanne Evans, Director, Political Insight

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has published the latest government debt data. Public sector net borrowing, excluding public sector banks, was £13.5 billion in October 2022. This was £4.4 billion more than in October 2021 and the fourth highest October borrowing since monthly records began in 1993. Public sector net debt, excluding public sector banks, was £2,459.9 billion at the end of October 2022, or around 97.5% of GDP. This as an increase of £148.3 billion but a decrease of 0.5 percentage points of GDP compared with October 2021.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak told business leaders at the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) annual conference in Birmingham yesterday that he was "unequivocal" that Britain should pursue its own agenda on regulation and immigration, pushing back against calls at the same conference to improve trade ties with the European Union and liberalise migration to help boost growth. Brexit has already benefited Britain, he said, adding that it had helped bring more flexibility on business regulation and had been necessary to secure "proper control" of the country's borders. "We need regulatory regimes that are fit for the future, that ensure that this country can be leaders in those industries that are going to create the jobs and the growth of the future. And having the regulatory freedom to do that is an important opportunity of Brexit," he said, adding: “On trade, let me be unequivocal about this: under my leadership, the United Kingdom will not pursue any relationship with Europe that relies on alignment with EU laws". Later, Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick  told Sky News that that companies should first look closer to home when it came to recruitment. "If I was a business manager, I would be looking to the British workforce in the first instance, seeing how I could get local people into my business, train them up, skill them to do the job," he said. In a Q&A session during the same CBI event, Sunak also promised the government will do more to help energy intensive businesses struggling with the rising cost of power, by setting out plans in due course.

The government is to invest up to £484m to support scientific research following the European Union's "refusal to finalise" post-Brexit access to the bloc's science programmesReuters reports. Under the trade agreement signed at the end of 2020, Britain negotiated access to a range of science and innovation programmes, but the EU has yet to finalise access to the Horizon, Copernicus, the earth observation programme on climate change, Euratom, and the nuclear research programme, and to services such as Space Surveillance and Tracking. In August it launched dispute resolution proceedings with the bloc over the delay.

Ofgem has told energy suppliers they need to do more to help vulnerable customers this winter, having found "severe weaknesses" in their current dealings with such customers. These include customers missing out on free gas safety checks, vulnerable customers not being offered the support they need, and not ensuring those on prepayment meters are identified and supported.  Although some good practice was identified, all 17 suppliers need to make further improvements. Five, Good Energy, Outfox, SO Energy, TruEnergy, and Utilita were judged the worst by the sector’s regulator.

British oil giant Shell said yesterday that it will have to revaluate plans to spend up to £25bn in Britain over the next decade following Chancellor Jeremy Hunt's decision last week to increase a windfall tax on North Sea oil and gas producers to 35% from 25%, bringing total taxes on the sector to 75%, among the highest in the world.  "We're going to have to evaluate each project on a case by case basis," Shell's UK country chair David Bunch told the Confederation of British Industry's annual conference in Birmingham. "When you tax more you're going to have less disposable income in your pocket, less to invest." Shell announced its planned investment in Britain's energy infrastructure including oil and gas, offshore wind, electric vehicle charging and hydrogen in September, well before news of the tax hike. "The energy sector needs to have confidence that there will now be a stable investment climate following a period of considerable uncertainty," Bunch added.

North Sea oil and gas producers will spend around £20bn decommissioning some 2,100 unused wells and facilities in the ageing basin over the next decade, industry group Offshore Energies UK (OEUK) warned in a report this morning. OEUK concludes that the proportion of spending on decommissioning in companies' budgets is set to rise from 14% in 2022 to 19% by 2031, and while decommissioning costs can be offset against some taxes, they cannot be offset against the latest windfall tax hike to 35%. OEUK also warned the growing number of oil and gas workers turning to the fast-growing offshore wind industry in the region could create shortages of skilled workers for decommissioning.

Oil prices have dropped following reports in the Wall Street Journal that Saudi Arabia and its OPEC allies are considering an increase in output of up to 500,000 barrels a day. The cartel is due to meet on 4th December, just one day before a new European Union embargo on Russian oil, as well as G7 plans to implement a price cap on Russian crude. OPEC cut two-million barrels daily at its October meeting, a move the White House said at the time went against global moves to punish Russia economically for its ongoing invasion of Ukraine. Brent crude futures were last down 1.13% at $86.63 per barrel, while the NYMEX quote for West Texas Intermediate was 0.92% lower at $79.34.

Staff at the Newport Wafer Fab factory in Wales have written to Business Secretary Grant Shapps telling him to U-turn on his decision to force its Chinese owners to sell a majority stake, arguing that their livelihoods had been placed at risk by the ruling. Last week, Shapps order Nexperia to sell at least 86% of its interest in the business – which is Britain’s largest microchip producer - because of national security concerns. The letter said: "We are in disbelief that you have decided to order Nexperia to sell their semiconductor factory in Newport. We are also angry that your decision might imply that a member of our team may, in some obscure way, undermine the UK's national security. This is beyond contempt". The letter's sentiments were echoed in the House of Commons by Labour's MP for Newport West, Ruth Jones, who tabled an urgent question on the sale, to which Shapps responded by saying: "She's not privy to the information that I have had to weigh up in order to come to this national security decision, which I have done with the upmost diligence and taking all of the factors into account."

Over a thousand workers at security company G4S have voted to strike on 4th December in a dispute over pay, trade union GMB said this morning, potentially causing cash shortages over the Christmas period. G4S Cash workers deliver cash and coins to banks including Barclays, HSBC and Santander as well as supermarkets Tesco, Asda and Aldi, the union said in a statement, adding that 97% of its G4S Cash members balloted had backed taking industrial action, and that they are asking for “a wage they can live on, that they can feed their families on, that they can treat their children this Christmas on." G4S, which was bought out by American company Allied Universal last year, did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.

Virgin Atlantic has pulled support for plans to build a third runway at Heathrow airport in a row over fees. Heathrow wants to increase landing charges by 120%, a rise Virgin CEO Shai Weiss called the move "abuse of power by a de facto monopolistic airport". He urged the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), to intervene, telling the Airlines 2022 conference yesterday: “Until that happens, it is difficult to see how expansion at Heathrow can be supported…The regulatory framework and process is simply not working. It is broken and must be reformed." Weiss said Heathrow's plan was "great for the airport and its mostly foreign shareholders" - including Qatar and China's sovereign wealth fund - but "a bad deal for consumers, airlines, and the UK economy".  "Whilst overseas carriers can more easily absorb the increasing costs of UK flights or move their aircraft and investment elsewhere, British carriers cannot," he added. The CAA has already allowed Heathrow to hike charges by 56% next year – over £30 per passenger - but says the airport will have to trim them by 2026.

Heathrow airport CEO John Holland-Kaye told reporters at the same conference that he does not expect passenger numbers at Britain’s busiest airport to be capped again this coming summer, as the same pressures from a rebound in travel post-covid is unlikely. However, he also warned that airlines were becoming more concerned about demand as the economic outlook darkens. "Airlines are concerned about the nature of demand," he said.

London-listed online automotive retailer Pendragon has announced a further extension to the ‘put-up-or-shut-up’ deadline on a possible takeover by Hedin Mobility Group, Sharecast News reports. The deadline had already been extended to 21st November to allow Hedin Group to finalise its necessary due diligence, which it said was "substantially complete" yesterday. "In order to finalise the necessary transaction documentation the company has requested, and the Takeover Panel has consented to, an extension to the date by which Hedin Group is required either to announce a firm intention to make an offer for Pendragon or to announce that it does not intend to make an offer," the Pendragon board said in its statement. It said such an announcement now needed to be made by 1700 GMT on 9 December.

The average British household was £142 worse off in October year-on-year, mainly due to the steep rise in energy costssupermarket group Asda said yesterday. Publishing its monthly Income Tracker survey, produced with the Centre for Economics and Business Research, Asda said after paying tax and essential bills the average household had 203 pounds per week left – the lowest amount since August 2018. Its data showed 54% of households plan to spend less on Christmas decorations. They also plan to spend less on presents for extended family members and friends. However, 92% of shoppers plan to spend the same or more on their children despite having smaller budgets.

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