NEWS – WEDNESDAY 31ST MARCH 2021

NEWS ROUNDUP

TAX NEWS – WEDNESDAY 31ST MARCH 2021

HMRC urged to show empathy over pension scams

HMRC has been urged to take a gentler position in regard to pension scam victims facing large fines, with MPs saying the tax office “lacked empathy” as it chased people hit by schemes which also broke tax laws. The report from MPs on the Work and Pensions Committee said that if the tax authority did not voluntarily review its stance, the Government should consider changing the law to allow some victims an amnesty. The report says victims lost savings in funds registered with HMRC, making them appear legitimate, but also faced tax bills often worth 55% of their lost pension pot because the schemes breached laws covering retirement savings. MPs noted that HMRC has been described as “unrelenting and uncompromising” in pursuit of unauthorised payment charges, adding that while the tax office’s position is “legally correct”, it has “often lacked empathy or understanding of the impact that its demands have on victims.” The report added that the Treasury “should recognise that, in some clearly defined circumstances … it may not be in the public interest to demand payment of tax due.”

Daily Mail

CORPORATE NEWS – WEDNESDAY 31ST MARCH 2021

Vaccine a shot in the arm for business confidence

The latest Lloyds Business Barometer shows that the vaccine rollout has helped drive business confidence to its highest point in a year. The analysis shows that overall business confidence has increased 13 percentage points to 15% in the last month, the highest level since March 2020. Firms’ trading prospects for 2021 have jumped 10 points to 12%, with 34% of firms anticipating a pick-up in activity. On the outlook for hiring, over a quarter of companies anticipate expanding their workforce while 22% expect reductions. Hann-Ju Ho, Senior Economist, Lloyds Bank Commercial Banking, said: “It’s been a year since the first lockdown and the surge in confidence this month tells us firms are increasingly confident about economic recovery.” He added: “The broadly positive outlook is driven by steady vaccine deployment, the roadmap out of lockdown and the extension of government support measures.”

City AM

Investors want ESG evidence

Josephine Moulds in the Times says firms are “increasingly aware of the need to get a handle on their sprawling, global supply chains”, noting that some countries have regulations in place forcing them to act, such as the Modern Slavery Act which, as of January, introduced fines for UK businesses that fail to make their supply chains transparent. She notes that some investors are asking for independent verification that companies are living up to claims made in ESG reports, suggesting this presents a business opportunity for the big auditors and testing firms.

The Times, Page: 46

Hollow businesses need more than empty gestures

The FT looks at companies which have been emptied out by excessive payouts to shareholders, saying concern over such entities was “quietly acknowledged” in the Government’s overhaul of the audit and corporate governance regime.

Financial Times, Page: 12

EMPLOYMENT NEWS – WEDNESDAY 31ST MARCH 2021

City policy chair says most workers will return to offices

City of London policy chair Catherine McGuinness says the financial centre is likely to see most workers return to their offices after the pandemic, although there are likely to be changes to the way people work. She told the BBC: “What people are telling us is that they are expecting their central office base to remain at the core of their business with people coming in three or four days, working different hours, so we are expecting the bulk of the return … What it will mean in terms of the overall footfall, we are not yet quite clear.” A KPMG survey suggests that while most major global firms no longer plan to reduce their post-pandemic office space, few expect business to return to normal this year.

Daily Mail City AM

Hiring for bankers hits three-year high

Recruitment for bankers has hit a three-year high, according to research by Morgan McKinley and Vacancysoft. The analysis shows that Britain’s top banks posted 1163 professional banking vacancies last month, with this a 43.9% increase on the same period last year. The report also reveals that overall vacancies in the sector rose 19.4% year-on-year, their highest point since July 2019.

City AM

Khan fears job losses when furlough ends

London mayor Sadiq Khan has warned that without action to protect roles, there is likely to be a wave of job losses when the furlough scheme ends in September. Mr Khan said: “My concern as somebody who lived through the 1980s is we could have another period of mass unemployment where a generation is written off.”

Evening Standard

SMEs NEWS – WEDNESDAY 31ST MARCH 2021

Danske Bank to refund SMEs

Danske Bank has agreed to refund around 300 small businesses that it charged to set up business accounts when they applied for bounce-back loans, with the Competition and Markets Authority saying the bank will refund around £16,450 for breaking rules.

The I, Page: 22

PROPERTY NEWS – WEDNESDAY 31ST MARCH 2021

Urban prices up as office returns near

House prices in cities and towns are increasing as people prepare for a return to the office, research from estate agent Savills suggests. Winchester, Oxford and Bath saw price rises of 4%, 3.7% and 3.2% respectively in the first three months of 2021, while Edinburgh and York saw average values climb 2.6%. The report shows that central London, where house prices have taken a hit since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, has seen house prices increase for the first time since 2019. On average, the value of prime property outside of London increased by 2.2% in Q1 – the highest quarterly increase since March 2010.

Daily Mail

Saudi investor buys PwC office

A Saudi Arabian investor has bought the new PwC office block in Belfast for £87m. The figure is believed to represent the highest price paid for a single office investment in Northern Ireland. The development, Merchant Square, was sold by Oakland Holdings. PwC is due to start moving staff into the city centre building in the summer.

BBC News

INTERNATIONAL NEWS – WEDNESDAY 31ST MARCH 2021

Biden to announce tax hikes

US president Joe Biden is expected to announce tax increases targeting the wealthy and middle class when he unveils a $3trn infrastructure package today. The Build Back Better programme will reportedly impose a global minimum tax on profits from foreign organisations, increase capital gains taxes for the rich, lift the corporate tax rate to 28% from 21% and see an individual rate of 39.6% for those making over $400,000.

The Daily Telegraph, Page: 15 The Times, Page: 34

PERSONAL FINANCE NEWS – WEDNESDAY 31ST MARCH 2021

Cash Isa savers see worst tax year on record

Cash Isa savers have seen the worst tax year on record with returns averaging just 0.63% over the last 12 months. Inflation since April 2020 has averaged 0.78%, outstripping the typical Isa rate. Research from Moneyfacts shows that investors fared better, with an average return of 13.5% from stocks and shares Isas. This compares to a 13.3% loss investors suffered during the previous tax year. Despite payouts on cash falling as the Bank of England cut rates amid the pandemic, savers have deposited more money into cash Isas than ever before, with balances peaking at £302bn in May 2020.

The Daily Telegraph

ECONOMY NEWS – WEDNESDAY 31ST MARCH 2021

IMF head: Growth prospects rising but dangers remain

Kristalina Georgieva, managing director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), says that while prospects for global growth have improved since January, uneven progress in fighting the coronavirus pandemic could jeopardise the economic gains. Noting that the IMF’s updated economic forecast will next week show the global economy growing at a faster pace than the 5.5% gain projected at the start of the year, she said this has been driven by a $1.9trn US rescue package and rising confidence from increased vaccinations in many advanced economies. However, Ms Georgieva warned that economic prospects are “diverging dangerously” and called on major central banks to “carefully communicate their policy plans to prevent excess financial volatility at home and abroad.”

Daily Mail

OTHER NEWS – WEDNESDAY 31ST MARCH 2021

Not looking forward to hearing from you

A conversation on Reddit has revealed many of the ‘facts’ and ‘attributes’ that front line HR professionals find most annoying on curriculum-vitaes. Blood type, shoe size and eye colour is not key information required and weightlifting personal bests and childhood cycling proficiency proof are among the more bizarre offerings from job seekers. One HR manager found the Goals section on résumés tiresome. “Your goal should be to get an interview, that’s it”, she commented. An emerging bugbear cited by some is “proficient on Zoom”.

Industry Slice

Contact Paul Southward

Paul Southward