Published: 06 December 2022
Employees will be given the right to ask for flexible working from their first day in a new job, rather than having to wait for 26 weeks under new laws being proposed. The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) is defining flexible working as working from home, job-sharing, flexitime or staggered hours, and that if an employer cannot accommodate a request to work flexibly, it would have to discuss "alternative options" before rejecting it. Ministers also propose removing "exclusivity clause restrictions" for contract workers who are paid £123 or less a week, to allow people to work for multiple employers and take on second jobs.
The government has been forced to water down mandatory housing targets for local councils in England after learning that up to 100 Tory MPs were likely to vote against the plans proposed in the Levelling Up Bill, arguing they were excessive and would undermine local authorities. Although the government is yet to set out the changes in detail, Housing Secretary Michael Gove has confirmed councils will now be offered more flexibility in meeting the targets, which are calculated using a government formula and required to be included into councils' 15-year housebuilding plans. In a press release, the Department for Levelling Up said the targets would now become a "starting point" and “advisory” for development, with new flexibilities to "reflect local circumstances". The Bill still proposes that councils which fail to comply can have their power to block new developments curbed. In another concession, the government has also agreed to introduce registration schemes for holiday lets, and launch a consultation on making homeowners get planning permission to convert their homes for tourist use. Gove is also believed to have agreed that councils with an up-to-date local housebuilding plan won't have to set aside a rolling five-year stock of land for future development. The legislation is expected to return to the House of Commons next week.
The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) is calling on the government to take urgent action to help the industry transition to electric vehicle (EV) production via support for high energy costs, tax reform and investment in the charging infrastructure. The SMMT says action is required because the industry faces "multiple threats" including "economic instability, trade protectionism, regulatory change, a cost of living crisis, skills shortages and soaring energy costs already some 80% higher than the EU average." There is also a Brexit-related challenge, it says, because under rules of origin agreed with the European Union starting in 2024, a rising proportion of a car must be made locally, meaning Britain is under pressure to build its own EV battery supply chain. However, only one battery supply project has been planned, by Britishvolt, a startup that has struggled to gain traction despite government investment. The government is standing by a ban on new combustion engine vehicles by 2030, introduced under former prime minister Boris Johnson. For this to be achieved, "We need swift and decisive action that addresses the immediate challenges and gives us a fighting chance of winning the global competition," SMMT CEO Mike Hawes said. "That window of opportunity is open but is closing fast."
The UK is "sleepwalking" into a food supply crisis because of combined headwinds of soaring fuel, feed and fertiliser costs, Brexit red tape, and Avian flu, the National Farmers Union (NFU) claims, while urging the government to step in to help farmers. The NFU said yields of energy-intensive crops such as tomatoes, cucumbers and pears were likely to hit their lowest level this year since records began in 1985; that milk prices were likely to fall below the cost of production; and beef farmers are considering reducing the number of cattle they breed. "Shoppers up and down the country have for decades had a guaranteed supply of high-quality affordable food produced to some of the highest animal welfare, environmental and food safety standards in the world," NFU president Minette Batters told the BBC, “But British food is under threat... at a time when global volatility is threatening the stability of the world's food production, food security and energy security." The NFU wants the government investigate whether an "exceptional market conditions" declaration should be made under the 2020 Agriculture Act, given the disruption egg producers and UK consumers are facing, a move which would enable the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) to provide support to egg producers whose livelihoods are under threat. It also wants ministers to lift a cap on seasonal overseas workers and establish a new "food security" target, which would include an obligation to monitor and report on domestic food production levels. A Defra spokesman responded saying that the UK has a highly resilient food chain and that: "Our high degree of food security is built on supply from diverse sources; strong domestic production as well as imports through stable trade routes." Andrew Opie, director of food and sustainability at the British Retail Consortium, also said that retailers were used to managing pressures across their supply chains. "Supermarkets source, and will continue to source, the vast majority of their food from the UK and know they need to pay a sustainable price to farmers," he said, although they are facing additional costs.
A BBC analysis of Ordnance Survey data has set out what changes have occurred on Britain's High Streets after two years of Covid lockdowns and trading restrictions. Department stores, nightclubs and banks fell markedly in number as shoppers switched to online stores, while beauty salons and tattoo parlours prospered, along with places to eat and drink, it found. Overall, there were 9,300 fewer retail outlets in March 2022 than March 2020, a 13.4% drop which included the closure of landmark stores such as Debenhams and Beales. The number of clothes shops operating in Britain is down 4,300, a fall of 8.5%, including the collapse of the Arcadia retail empire in 2020 which saw Burtons, Dorothy Perkins, Wallis, Topshop and Miss Selfridge all disappear from the High Street. More than 800 banks and building societies also closed their doors during the pandemic (-8.1%) along with the loss of more than 6,000 cash machines (-13.2%). There are now also 2.3% fewer public toilets available, on average. On the positive side, the BBC found 700 more pubs and bars are operating after the pandemic, plus 2,000 more cafes or tea rooms, and 4,600 more fast-food outlets. 300 more fish and chip shops were also operating in March this year than two years earlier. Independent convenience stores increased by 1,600, a rise of almost 3%. The big supermarket chains operated 194 more stores by the end of the Covid restrictions, up 2.5%.
Retail sales increased by 4.2% in November, according to the British Retail Consortium (BRC) and KPMG. Although this is down on November’s 2021 5% rise, it sits above both the three-month average and 12-month average growths of 2.6%.
Consumer spending rose last month, but at a rate that lagged well behind inflation according to Barclaycard. The credit card company said spending on card rose 3.9% year-on-year in November, well below the annual 11.1% increase in consumer prices in October, which it said only underscored the pressure on household budgets ahead of the Christmas holidays.
The UK service sector continued to shrink last month, with the fastest fall in new business volumes since January 2021, according to the latest S&P Global and CIPS survey of purchasing managers. The index came in at 48.8 last month, matching October’s reading, which was the lowest level since January. Any figure below 50 indicates a contraction, hinting at a growing recession risk for the UK.
Paid-for scam advertising continues to thrive across social media, with the most common frauds (25%) being property related investment products, and (22%) for cryptoassets, according to consumer group Which?
Rail workers’ union the RMT has announced new strike days over Christmas – in addition to those starting next week - saying that about half the staff at Network Rail are expected to walk out from 6pm on 24 December until 27 December. This is despite a fresh pay rise offer of 8% over two years; a guarantee of no compulsory redundancies to April 2024; and 75% off leisure travel fares staff and their family members. Network Rail accused the RMT of using passengers and workers as "pawns in a fight with the government". Tim Shoveller, Network Rail's chief negotiator, said the RMT "are playing fast and loose with people's Christmas plans and the new strike dates announced deliberately target vital engineering work designed to improve the railway". Transport Secretary Mark Harper said: "It's incredibly disappointing that, despite a new and improved deal offering job security and a fair pay rise, the RMT is not only continuing with upcoming industrial action but has called more strikes over Christmas”. Industrial action at 14 train companies across four 48-hour periods will now take place on 13-14 December; 16-17 December; 24-27 December, 3-4 January, and 6-7 January.
Transport body Midlands Connect has submitted detailed plans seeking approval for £1.5bn of improvements to the rail network in the area to the government. The proposals would see up to 100 extra trains in the region every day, plus various engineering upgrades, and improving access to HS2 in the future in Birmingham, as well as a better cross-city line with trains able to arrive every 10 minutes. If approved by ministers, work would start in 2025, the group said.
Brewery and pub group Marston's Plc has announced a return to pre-tax annual profit, to the tune of £27.7m, after suffering a £100m loss last year because of covid lockdowns and other restrictions. The firm also said Christmas bookings have so far had topped pre-pandemic levels, as have sales since October. However, the London-listed Wolverhampton-based firm highlighted a sharp rise in costs, squeezes margins. Its operating expenses jumped more than 72% to £684.2m, mostly due to higher energy and labour costs.
Irn-Bru maker AG Barr has bought drinks business Boost for up to £32m from husband and wife founders Simon and Alison Gray. Sharecast News reports that the payment comprises an initial £20m, and up to a further £12m dependent on future revenue and profitability performance of the business over a two-year period from completion. Barr said the Boost brand, founded in 2001, operates mainly in the high-growth functional beverage category spanning energy, sport and protein, with a strong market position in the UK independent retail channel. For the year to the end of December 2021, Boost's unaudited statutory revenue and pre-tax profit were £42.1m and £1.9m, respectively, with gross assets of £12.5m.
Sainsbury’s says it is investing £15m to "specifically ensure" its Christmas lines would be sold at "amazing prices". The FTSE 100 supermarket said it was doing "everything it can" to support customers with the skyrocketing cost-of-living, claiming that by March it would have invested more than £550m "in value" in total - the most it had ever spent on "battling price inflation" over a two-year period, and 10% more than the original £500m target it set in May. The offers include an "inflation-busting" Christmas roast dinner at "less than £4 a head", which CEO Simon Roberts said is “cheaper than it was last year." Sainsbury’s reported a half-year underlying profit before tax of £340m in early November.
Sky News said yesterday that the owners of supermarket chain Morrisons are on the hunt for a new CEO. The US-based private equity company Clayton Dubilier & Rice (CD&R) has retained the services of management consultancy Egon Zehnder to court possible replacements for current CEO David Potts, who has headed Morrisons since 2015, the broadcaster claimed, even though Potts is not expected to leave the firm until 2024 at the earliest. Sky said one source claimed CD&R was working on succession planning "continuously", adding that former Tesco CEO and longstanding CD&R ally Sir Terry Leahy would assist in the process as chairman of Morrisons. Neither the Bradford-based Morrisons or CD&R commented on the report as of lunchtime yesterday.
The Royal Mint has confirmed that a 50p coin featuring the Hogwarts Express will be the final one to feature Queen Elizabeth II's portrait. The Hogwarts Express coin is part of a larger collection celebrating the 25 years of Harry Potter. The final two coins, which have not yet been released, will feature the official portrait of King Charles III.
Goldman Sachs plans to spend tens of millions of dollars to buy or invest in crypto companies after the collapse of the FTX exchange hit valuations and dampened investor interest. FTX's implosion has heightened the need for more trustworthy, regulated cryptocurrency players, and big banks see an opportunity to pick up business, Mathew McDermott, Goldman's head of digital assets, told Reuters. Goldman is doing due diligence on a number of different crypto firms, he added, without giving details.
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