UHY Hacker Young has warned that a surge in interest in cryptocurrencies – alongside their climbing value – is likely to lead to increased scrutiny over their links to organised crime. The firm said that with organised crime becoming increasingly digital, there are concerns cryptocurrencies are being used by tax evaders, with HMRC set to demand data on cryptocurrency holdings from those it suspects of tax evasion in its “statement of assets” form. David Jones, director at UHY Hacker Young, said: “While criminals can still choose to not declare these assets, doing so gives HMRC another opportunity to bring criminal charges against them if their forensic work finds a hidden Bitcoin wallet.” Pointing to tax office concern that hidden wealth is “slipping through its fingers” due to the rise of cryptocurrencies and unsanctioned money transfer systems, Mr Jones added: “This demand for information is an important step in HMRC’s fightback against that”.
City AM Daily Express
7 in 10 willing to pay more tax to boost frontline workers’ income
A poll by the IE University Centre for the Governance of Change shows that seven in 10 UK workers are willing to pay more tax if it would boost the income of frontline workers. While 70% of UK and Swedish taxpayers would pay more tax to increase the wages of workers on the frontline, France was the only European nation not prepared to boost the wages of low paid workers, with 54% against the idea. Overall, the poll of 2,769 adults across nine European countries found that 61% of Europeans said they were willing to pay more in taxes in exchange for raising the salaries of essential workers.
The I, Page: 9
Think-tank: Independence could see tax rises
The Institute for Government (IfG) says an independent Scotland could face years of budget cuts and tax rises as it looked to manage its deficit, with the think-tank saying there would be an immediate need for “difficult fiscal choices” to address the gap between public spending and tax revenues. The IfG suggested that to cut the deficit and stop debt climbing, a newly independent Scotland could look to tax rises on immovable assets such as land or property, as well as rolling out spending cuts and launching policies to boost the economy.
Samsung heirs to pay record inheritance tax
The family of Samsung Electronics chairman Lee Kun-hee will pay more than £7.8bn in inheritance taxes on his estate. Samsung said that the payment is one of the largest ever in South Korea and globally, noting that it is more than half of the value of the late chairman’s total estate. South Korea’s inheritance tax rate is the world’s second highest after Japan, coming in at 50% – with the rate rising to 60% for company shares inherited by large shareholders. In the UK and US the levy is set at 40% while across the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, the rate averages 15%.
Canada Finance Minister hails global tax plan ‘breakthrough’
Canadian Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland says a US proposal for a global minimum corporate levy is a “breakthrough moment” in international tax talks, with the OECD seeking agreement on a minimum rate.
Families are being urged to renew their tax credits to avoid losing out on support, with HMRC issuing 2.5m renewal packs to claimants, advising households to update their details by July 31.
Daily Mirror Daily Star
EMPLOYMENT NEWS – THURSDAY 29TH APRIL 2021
Barclays tops LinkedIn companies list
Professional network LinkedIn has released a ranking of the top 25 firms to build and sustain a long-term career, with Barclays identified as the best place to work for those keen to progress up the ladder. The Top Companies List identifies the organisations that offer growth, skills development opportunities and job stability. Tesco came second in the rankings, with NatWest third, BT fourth and PwC fifth. Deloitte (6th) and EY (8th) also made the top ten. Siobhan Morrin, news editor at LinkedIn, said the Top Companies List “provides a helpful resource of companies that offer skills development and stability, giving our members that added confidence when taking that first step towards their next opportunity.”
Daily Mail City AM
Women in North worst hit by pandemic
The IPPR North think-tank has published a study which shows that women living in the North of England have been disproportionately hit by the economic disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic. The research found that almost half of northern women currently in work are in sectors that have been hardest hit by the coronavirus emergency, such as retail and hospitality. By comparison, men constitute around only a quarter of the workforce in these industries. The report also found most key workers in the North are women. IPPR North wants pay and working conditions for women across the region to be improved, and proper data to be amassed on inequalities.
Police forces urged to exploit tax break
Police Federation chairman John Apter says forces should use tax breaks to target former soldiers in their bid to recruit 20,000 more officers. He has called on police forces and ministers to make the most of new rules that exempt firms and public sector bodies which employ military veterans from paying National Insurance contributions during the first 12 months of their employment.
R3, the trade body for insolvency and restructuring accountants, says the number of Scottish companies facing insolvency is expected to rise despite restrictions on the economy being relaxed, with the repayment of coronavirus-related Government loans set to hit firms that have been kept afloat by the support measures. Figures show corporate insolvencies in January to March were down 31% on Q4 2020 and 63% lower than the first quarter of last year. However, the number is set to climb in the coming months, with Tim Cooper, chair of R3 in Scotland, saying companies are “in a form of suspended animation” but warning that this “cannot last forever”.
Dixons Carphone is to permanently close all of its outlets in airports, pointing to the impact of the Government’s decision to scrap tax-free shopping, with the retail scheme which enabled non-EU visitors to reclaim VAT paid on their purchases having been withdrawn on January 1. Dixons Carphone says it took the “difficult decision” to close the stores as it does not expect passenger numbers to recover sufficiently to compensate for the removal of airside tax-free shopping. The firm said staff employed at the stores will be offered roles elsewhere. Meanwhile, Dixons Carphone also revealed that strong recent sales mean it will repay £73m in furlough support.
Research from estate and lettings agent Barrows and Forrester suggests the extended stamp duty holiday could see the average house price climb by more than £20,000 this year. The analysis shows that since the Chancellor announced the tax break in July 2020, house prices across England have increased by an average of 0.84% each month, hitting £268,291. If this rate of growth continues, the average price could be £23,376 higher by the end of 2021. The South East of England, where typical prices have risen 0.87% month since the introduction of the stamp duty holiday, could see the biggest jump, with £31,176 added to the average if the current rate of increase is maintained.
ECONOMY NEWS – THURSDAY 29TH APRIL 2021
Business leaders set out recovery plan
A group of leading executives have set out a plan for a post-pandemic economic recovery, with the Covid Recovery Commission calling for the creation of at least one new globally competitive industry hub in every part of the UK by 2030. The commission, whose members include executives from firms including Tesco, Vodafone and AstraZeneca, is also calling for a radical overhaul of the Apprenticeship Levy, with the establishment of £10,000 lifelong training allowance for all over-25s. Tesco chair John Allan said the commission’s report goes beyond “purely economic measures”, arguing that there is a need for growth to be used to remedy widening social inequality.
Andrew Orlowski in the Telegraph says that while Microsoft has always been competent with its developer tools, it is now able to add business analysis tools to its software, saying this may have the technology divisions of accountancy firms “looking nervously over their shoulders.” He adds that with Microsoft’s “industry-specific clouds” focused on business sectors such as retail, manufacturing and healthcare, “it has parked its tanks squarely on the Big Four’s lawn”.
White House says capital gains tax rise will hit only richest 0.3%
Following heavy criticism of new tax plans coming out of the White House, a Biden administration official has said only the richest 0.3% of Americans would have to pay the new levy on capital gains. The Mail reports that wealth advisers in the US are seeing a flood of inquiries as clients rush to sell assets, shift gains into retirement accounts or tax-deferred opportunity zone funds.
New research from Aldermore Bank indicates signs of recovery for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), as they reveal plans to invest in their businesses in the next year, coinciding with the easing of lockdown restrictions. SMEs plan to spend an average of £97,000 to grow their business in 2021 and help kickstart their recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. Over the next 12 months, one in four (25%) SMEs will invest in their online presence, with one in five (21%) advancing their digital marketing. A further one in four (21%) will spend on new equipment and 20% will invest in their staff through training. “It’s encouraging to see that SMEs are investing in their recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic”, said Tim Boag, group managing director, business finance at Aldermore. “Recent data reveals a vastly improved near term outlook for businesses, with the easing of restrictions. Confidence from SMEs is growing, and this is reflected in plans to invest in the growth of their businesses in order to recover effectively from the pandemic”.
Research by angel network Cornerstone Partners shows that entrepreneurs from black and ethnic minority backgrounds are being excluded from venture capital funding. Just 1% of founders who receive seed funding identify as black, according to the study. Only 3% of VC-funded founders identified as black and only 2.9% were Asian. The report also says that three quarters of founders come from advantaged socio-economic backgrounds and hardly any founders come from families living on welfare entitlements. Cornerstone Partners has made a number of recommendations, including the establishment of schemes that support angel groups and accelerators which invest in businesses led by minority founders. It also called for the introduction of early career development.
Figures from NAEA Propertymark show one in six homes sold in March went for more than the asking price – a seven year high – with just a third selling for below the original price. Mark Hayward, chief policy adviser at Propertymark, said: “The imbalance of supply and demand means it’s an extremely strong sellers’ market; properties are selling quickly and for over the asking price, and this is something we expect will continue in the coming months.” Homeowners reconsidering their lifestyle and the stamp duty holiday are seen as the main drivers of the increased demand.
A new report from LCP warns that it will take too long to save into defined contribution (DC) pensions to keep retirement savings steady and offset the loss of defined benefit (DB) income. The report, titled ‘The ski slope of doom – is this the most worrying chart in pensions?’, claims that the incomes of newly retired workers are set to fall at a much more dramatic rate in the coming decades than had previously been thought. The report found that for those working in the private sector, the decline of traditional “final salary” type pensions is more rapid than expected and that the rise of new-style workplace pensions will take longer to make a real impact than previously assumed.
Research from the Institute for Fiscal Studies shows that inheritances are likely to be larger compared with lifetime incomes for younger generations than was the case for their predecessors. For those born in the 1980s, average inheritances compared to lifetime income are projected to be almost twice as large as those born in the 1960s.
ECONOMY NEWS – TUESDAY 27TH APRIL 2021
UK growth forecasts boosted by vaccines rollout and extended state support
Analysis by Consensus Economics puts UK growth at 5.4% this year, up from 4.2% predicted in February. Others believe this remains pessimistic, however, with Oxford Economics going as high as 7.2%. The EY ITEM Club has predicted growth of 6.8% while Goldman Sachs goes as high as 7.8%. A bounce-back is not unexpected considering the UK suffered a 9.8% slump in 2020 – the worst performance among the G7 group of major advanced nations but forecasters are upgrading predictions following the “innovative and flexible” response of UK businesses and consumers to the pandemic.
Investors may have to wait until 2025 for dividend recovery
According to Link Group’s Dividend Monitor, British companies paid out £12.7bn in dividends in the first quarter of 2021, down 27% on the same period last year. Reduced payouts from oil giants Shell and BP were responsible for most of the drop. Link said dividends were down 42% over the last 12 months and its “best-case” forecast for this year was a rise of just 5.6% on last year’s total. Ian Stokes of Link Group said there were signs of recovery but “2025 still looks like the most realistic moment for dividends to match their 2019 high point.”
City bosses want payback after being left on Brexit sidelines
The Telegraph’s Lucy Barton looks ahead to what’s in store for the City post-Brexit as organisations including the Investment Association submit ideas to the Treasury for reform. The lobby group told ministers to consider a fully exempt tax regime for UK funds to keep them competitive with EU rivals. One banking executive who is in regular talks with ministers told the paper: “There will definitely be changes. Banking is completely exposed to politics and political changes – that’s always a huge risk – but I’ve never seen such commitment to change.” But although Rishi Sunak has told the City to brace itself for a “Big Bang 2.0” post-Brexit, TheCityUK’s CEO Miles Celic argues the sector is not chasing a “deregulatory agenda”. He says: “Competitiveness is about much more than regulation – it’s got to look at issues such as access to talent and a stable, predictable, simplified tax regime.” Finally, Barnabas Reynolds at Shearman and Sterling believes big changes are on the way, but it could take three to five years for the rule book to look significantly different.
The Daily Telegraph, Business, Page: 2
OTHER NEWS – TUESDAY 27TH APRIL 2021
Johnson hopeful restrictions will lift on 21st June
Boris Johnson has said Britain had built “some pretty robust fortifications” against another wave of Covid and there is now a “very good chance” of completely ending coronavirus restrictions in England on June 21st, as planned. The prime minister said lockdown had helped get the number of cases down considerably but that did not mean Covid was over.
Time for citizens to take back control, scientists say
In an open letter published today, leading scientists say ministers and Government advisers are exaggerating the threat from COVID-19 and that all restrictions must be lifted on June 21 – the final date in Boris Johnson’s roadmap out of lockdown. They argue that with data showing vaccines reduce the risk of death by 98% and hospitalisations by more than 80%, COVID-19 is being turned into a mild disease in Britain. The letter’s 22 signatories include Professors Carl Heneghan and Sunetra Gupta from Oxford University, Emeritus Professor Hugh Pennington from the University of Aberdeen and Professor Robert Dingwall from Nottingham Trent University. “We are being told, simultaneously, that we have successful vaccines and that major restrictions on everyday life must continue indefinitely. Both propositions cannot be true,” the scientists write. They add: “Mandatory face coverings, physical distancing and mass community testing should cease no later than 21 June along with other controls and impositions. All consideration of immunity documentation should cease.”
“It is time to free up businesses and people to start really building back our economy and the nations health.”
TAX NEWS – WEEKEND TO 25TH APRIL 2021
Investors in uproar over Biden’s proposed capital gains tax rise
Investors have lashed out at Joe Biden’s plans to double capital gains tax with Scott Minerd at Guggenheim Partners declaring the plans “insanity” while Anthony Scaramucci, founder of SkyBridge Capital, believes the proposals would “have deleterious effects on job creation and wage growth for middle-class workers.” Stocks fell following the announcement and cryptos such as Bitcoin and Ether fell sharply. Although the plans will face stiff opposition in Congress, fund managers warn that investors could dump “momentum” stocks as they seek to crystallise gains ahead of a tax hike. Alasdair McKinnon, manager of the Scottish Investment Trust, said the impact of Biden’s proposals would be felt across America’s stock market. “New capital gains taxes are unhelpful to all asset prices,” he said.
The Express reports on plans touted by the European Commission to harmonise tax rates across the bloc for tobacco products. Pieter Cleppe, a research fellow with the Brussels-based Property Rights Alliance, said in a paper that the Commission is exploring ways to do this without EU Treaty change, “using health concerns as a pretext to obtain more power.”
HMRC deadline extension creates state pension headache
HMRC has warned that small business owners and those with ‘side hustles’ could miss out on state pension benefits if they filed their tax return after January this year.
Conservatives should fight an international tax stitch-up
Hamish McRae asserts in the Mail on Sunday that if Joe Biden gets his tax hikes though Congress other countries would have cover for introducing similar measures too. The new administration wants to tax capital gains as income, raise corporation tax and introduce a global minimum tax rate. McRae says following the extreme pandemic spending by governments, raising taxes on the wealthy is logical and fair and hard to argue against. The Observer’s business leader lauds Biden’s move believing the tax hikes and trillions in stimulus are intended to tackle “deep-rooted inequalities” and that the UK Government should use Washington’s move to inspire its own plans to build back better. But Daniel Hannon contends in the Sunday Telegraph that plans for international tax harmonisation, with legal threats against those who resist, “would mark the birth of a high-tax cartel, and the rate would surely rise”. Socialists have long resented the fact that exorbitant taxes redistribute people rather than wealth, but without international competition this inconvenience would end, he says, as would the right of poor nation states to try and improve their lot through tax cuts. Ultimately, Hannan adds, low taxes improve revenue, employment and economic activity – all things needed to repair shattered post-pandemic public finances, but this seems to have been forgotten by Conservatives in the UK.
The Observer, Page: 56 The Mail on Sunday, Page: 122 The Sunday Telegraph, Page: 20
HMRC sends 18,500 fines to wrong address
HMRC has sent 18,500 fines to the wrong address with a software error said to be to blame for the fiasco, the Sunday Times reports. Accountants have reported finding demands for multiple taxpayers when opening envelops addressed to another taxpayer, with private codes and other reference numbers included in the correspondence. “This is an absolutely astonishing blunder,” said George Bull from RSM. “HMRC makes much of relying on self-employed workers getting their tax bills right, but appears incapable of managing its own data.” In a letter to the Association of Taxation Technicians (ATT), HMRC said: “We sincerely apologise and recognise that this is not in line with our Charter standards. We take all aspects of protecting data very seriously so there has been a lot of activity to understand this incident and mitigate future risks.” HMRC said it had taken urgent action to ensure the data breach did not happen again: “If any agents receive any correspondence for incorrect clients, we would ask that they return them to HMRC.”
The Sunday Times, Business, Page: 12
CORPORATE NEWS – WEEKEND TO 25TH APRIL 2021
Stanlow refinery reaches with HMRC
Essar Oil, which controls the Stanlow oil refinery in north west England, has struck a deal with HMRC on its tax liability. The refinery produces a sixth of the country’s petrol and diesel and has now been thrown a £400m lifeline by the taxman amid fears it could collapse. Industry sources confirmed the “time to pay” deal reached with HMRC has removed the risk of insolvency. International travel restrictions have reduced demand while poor margins for refining alongside market volatility caused operating losses for the company.
Fundraising experts warn that charities will inevitably have to ration their services after the pandemic left them struggling for cash. Some small operations are suspending services leaving others to pick up the slack. The Sunday Telegraph notes that between April 2020 and February, the Charity Commission saw a 25% increase in concerns being raised by auditors over reports and accounts. The main issue reported was insolvency or financial difficulties.
Tate & Lyle auctions off primary products division
Tate & Lyle has been working with Deloitte for some time to figure out the best way to spin off its primary products division, with Apollo Global Management and Cerberus among the interested parties. City sources say a £1.2bn auction for the division is now underway.
Small firms suffer cashflow woes just as support is withdrawn
The Sunday Times talks to small business owners who, after being devastated by the pandemic, face paying back Covid loans before their cashflow has been repaired. One businessman said: “The speed at which the Government thinks you’re able to start hurling money back at them is crazy.” Craig Beaumont, chief of external affairs at the Federation of Small Businesses said the issue was common, adding: “The Government should be throwing everything it’s got at getting businesses across this ‘unlock’ phase and into the recovery, to avoid businesses falling at the final hurdle because of lack of cashflow.” But Steve Russell, head of restructuring services at PwC, says VAT deferrals, the furlough scheme and emergency loans are “not gifts. They are support schemes that need to be unwound.”
PERSONAL FINANCE NEWS – WEEKEND TO 25TH APRIL 2021
Families increasingly using deed of variation
Irwin Mitchell solicitor Sarah Paton says there has been an uplift of families changing the wills of elderly parents after they pass to help younger generations hit hard by the pandemic. “A deed of variation can be used to give a fixed sum or a proportion of the estate directly to the grandchildren of the deceased instead of the children,” she explains. Mike Hodges, partner at Saffery Champness, points out that families often decide it is better to wait until after the death to work together to rejig the will, to save the loved one distress. Using a deed of variation can also reduce inheritance tax liabilities by shifting assets directly to a younger person’s estate.
The Mail on Sunday
PENSIONS NEWS – WEEKEND TO 25TH APRIL 2021
Drop in pension income more startling than expected
With the closure of final salary pension schemes looming, Lane, Clark & Peacock believes the drop in pension income is going to be more startling than first thought. Its research suggests that the average man retiring this year will have an annual income of £14,634 and a woman £10,042, including state pensions. But by 2045, a man retiring would have an income of £12,460, and a woman £10,797, in today’s money. Female income improves because more are expected to be able to claim full state pensions. Public sector workers will suffer less because many will still have defined benefit pensions. Steve Webb, a former pensions minister and partner at LCP, commented: “For years, salary-related pensions from private sector jobs have supported the incomes of the newly retired, and men in particular. But these pensions are disappearing much more rapidly than we thought. And new-style workplace pensions are not being built up quickly enough to take up the slack.”
The Sunday Times warns that more needs to be done to close the pensions gender gap and promote equal pay in retirement. The paper reports that research from the Prospect union has found that the gap for pensions stands at 40.3%, more than double the gender salary gap of 15.5% reported by the ONS. The SNP MP Patricia Gibson said it was unacceptable that all types of pension inherently discriminate against women. It is noted that last week, Guy Opperman, the Pensions Minister, said there was a “clear passion” for making women better off in older age.
The Sunday Times
PROPERTY NEWS – WEEKEND TO 25TH APRIL 2021
Tax deadline leads to frenzied market
House prices have rocketed over the course of the stamp duty holiday and there is a buying frenzy as the deadline looms, reports the Sunday Times. Figures from HMRC show almost 191,000 homes were sold in March – the highest number in a single month since July 2004. But the savings from the Chancellor’s tax cut have long since been cancelled out by property price rises, the paper’s Carol Lewis claims.
Former subpostmasters cleared over accounting scandal
Almost 40 former subpostmasters who were convicted of theft, fraud and false accounting because of the Post Office’s defective Horizon accounting system have finally had their names cleared by the Court of Appeal. The Horizon system, developed by Fujitsu, was first rolled out in 1999 but from an early stage it appeared to have significant bugs that could cause the system to misreport. Horizon-based evidence was used by the Post Office to successfully prosecute 736 people. Lord Justice Holroyde said the Post Office “knew there were serious issues about the reliability of Horizon” and had a “clear duty to investigate” the system’s defects. But the Post Office “consistently asserted that Horizon was robust and reliable”, and “effectively steamrolled over any subpostmaster who sought to challenge its accuracy”, the judge added. In all, 39 of the 42 appeals were allowed on the grounds that the prosecutions were “an affront to the public conscience.” Lawyers for the group said they would be seeking compensation and an urgent criminal investigation into the actions of those at the Post Office.
Talent hunt kicks off as London firms launch hiring sprees
Financial services, legal, PR and construction companies across London are ramping up hiring with recruiters reporting a 349% jump in banking jobs advertised. But tech is driving job creation with KPMG’s quarterly tech monitor revealing that in the three months to March, UK tech sector firms hired staff at the fastest pace seen since the second quarter of 2019. Robert Walters’ UK managing director, Chris Poole, said: “March was incredibly busy for us. It almost felt like a line in the sand – it was incredibly busy across all sectors. Technology has been busy all the way through, but there has been a lot of pent-up demand within legal, within accountancy, within financial services. Even manufacturing, procurement, supply chain – it has been across the board.”
FINANCIAL SERVICES NEWS – WEEKEND TO 25TH APRIL 2021
Equivalence or no equivalence, London will stay financial services leader
KPMG ’s head of Financial Services Karim Haji has said if the UK and the EU fail to agree a deal on equivalence it won’t be the end of the world. Although it would “make life easier”, it was not mandatory for a successful financial services sector. “If you take a step back, the UK has been one of the leaders in financial services regulation and infrastructure, it’s one of the key innovators in the space as well, and one of the leaders in the world, and that’s why the UK has been successful in exporting financial services – that isn’t changing as a result of Brexit,” he continued. Mr Haji’s comments come after EU commissioner Mairead McGuinness said there was no pressure to reach agreement with the UK on financial services.
City AM Daily Express
ECONOMY NEWS – WEEKEND TO 25TH APRIL 2021
UK economy rebounds with demand surging
Private sector activity grew at the fastest rate since November 2013 in April, hitting a reading of 60, according to IHS Markit’s purchasing managers’ index (PMI). This is up from 56.4 in the previous month and above the 58.2 forecast by economists. Service sector business activity rose from 56.3 to 60.1, while manufacturing output was up from 56.6 to 59.1. Chris Williamson, chief business economist at IHS Markit, said: “Companies are reporting a surge in demand for both goods and services as the economy opens up from lockdowns and the encouraging vaccine rollout adds to a brighter outlook.” Looking forward, Williamson added: “Business activity should continue to grow strongly in May and June as virus restrictions are eased further, setting the scene for a bumper second quarter for the economy.”
Data from the ONS show retail sales in Great Britain rose 5.4% in March compared with the previous month – a much stronger reading than the 1.5% forecast by economists. Sales of clothes was particularly strong rising by more than 17% while the easing of travel restrictions towards the end of the month led to an 11% increase in fuel sales. Howard Archer, chief economic advisor to the EY ITEM Club, said: “It does appear that many people were intent on having an enjoyable Easter break and this likely lifted retail sales later in the month.” Also commenting, Lisa Hooker, consumer markets leader at PwC, said: “Much though these figures will give cheer to the whole sector, retailers will be hoping that these positive signs translate into a sustained return to the physical stores as they reopen across the UK over the course of April. The real test of whether pent-up demand can be turned into actual sales w ill come with next month’s figures.”
Covid response pushes UK borrowing to highest since second world war
Figures from the ONS show UK government borrowing hit £303.1bn in the year ending in March, a jump of £246.1bn on the previous year when the figure was only £57.1bn. The coronavirus pandemic has driven the UK’s total accumulated public debt to £2.14trn, or 97.7% of GDP, the highest level since the early 1960s. As a percentage of national output, borrowing in the year between April 2020 and March 2021 stood at 14.5% – the highest since the financial year ending in March 1946. KPMG senior economist Michal Stelmach said rising debt was a consequence of shielding the economy from COVID-19.
The deputy governor of the Bank of England predicts “very rapid growth at least over the next couple of quarters” as Britons spend cash accumulated during the pandemic and save less of their forthcoming income. Ben Broadbent is more bullish than most of his Monetary Policy Committee colleagues on whether people will spend their savings but he warns that the year ahead is likely to be bumpy regarding inflation with multiple shifts in demand and supply.
Campaigners have called on ministers to write off old tax credit debts after it emerged payments to a number of Universal Credit (UC) claimants have been cut during the pandemic. HMRC has been deducting up to £100 a week from benefits to recoup mistaken tax credit overpayments and an investigation has shown that officials have targeted 47,000 low earners a week since January 18 because they were overpaid credits from up to 17 years ago. The analysis shows that HMRC has sent over 2.2m letters to UC claimants since 2016 telling them to expect deductions due to historical tax credit overpayments amounting to over £2bn, with claimants seeing £63m deducted from April to November last year. Sir Iain Duncan Smith, the former Work and Pensions Secretary, said clawing back tax like this was “a major mistake” causing “profound difficulties”. Stephen Timms, Labour chairman of the Work and Pensions Committee, said the process is “deeply unfair”, adding: “It shouldn’t be happening. These reductions ought to be suspended until the pandemic is over.” StepChange, Britain’s largest debt advice charity, said that almost one in five of its clients with Government debts had been told they had been overpaid tax credits.
Shashi Prashad and Jo Bateson of KPMG offer advice to businesses going into the new tax year, with guidance on issues including the super deduction which will allow companies to cut their tax bill by up to 25p for every £1 invested – a policy that was described by the Chancellor as “the biggest business tax cut in modern British history”. They also offer advice on research and development tax credits; emergency measures rolled out amid the pandemic, including VAT and business rates reductions; and a possible move to near real-time collection of income tax, corporation tax for small companies, and capital gains tax.
A report from trade credit insurer Atradius suggests global insolvency rates are set to rise by 26% this year, with state support amid the coronavirus pandemic having delayed insolvencies that would have occurred in 2020. The report, 2021: A turn of the tide in insolvencies, suggests that a number of markets are set to exceed the average by a significant margin, with failure rates in the UK expected to rise by 56%. The report also says 2021 will bring “new hope” as recovery sets in after a year of global recession. Global GDP saw a 3.7% contraction in 2020 but 2021 is expected to deliver growth of 6%. While the UK saw a 9.9% drop in GDP in 2020, Atradius forecasts the UK economy will expand 5.9% in 2021.
ADS Group, a trade body that represents more than 1,100 employers in the aerospace, defence, security and space sectors, has written to Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng warning that the potential failure of Liberty Steel could see supplies of specialist metals disrupted. Liberty is under threat after the collapse of Greensill Capital, the commercial lender and main backer of the steel business’s owner, GFG Alliance. Liberty’s immediate survival depends on a standstill agreement being reached with Grant Thornton, Greensill’s administrator.
Flybe is set to be relaunched after regulators granted the airline permission to return to the skies. The airline closed down in March 2020 but a new company affiliated with Cyrus Capital, which was part of a consortium that bough the airline in 2018, has bought Flybe’s business and assets. It will be known as Flybe Limited and is expected to fly many of the previously operated routes. The deal between Cyrus Capital and administrators at EY excludes Flybe’s aircraft, which were mortgaged to lenders by the previous owners, but includes Flybe’s take-off and landing slots.
FINANCIAL SERVICES NEWS – THURSDAY 15TH APRIL 2021
Financial services firms see optimism increase
Financial services companies are seeing confidence in the economy surge at the fastest pace in more than seven years, according to a report from the CBI and PwC. The analysis shows that optimism rose at the fastest rate since December 2013 in March. A net balance of 52% of respondents said that they felt confident about the future, up from 44% in December. While businesses were hit during the most recent lockdown, a net balance of 43% said that they expected volumes to improve over the next three months. Businesses in the financial services sector expect profitability to rise in the next quarter, with a net balance of 32% forecasting higher profits. While employment fell for a fifth consecutive quarter in March, with a net balance of -12% reporting increased headcount, the pace of decline is expected to ease in Q2. Rain Newton-Smith, chief economist at the CBI, said: “It’s encouraging that financial services firms are feeling optimistic about the months ahead, likely warmed by the prospect of a phased reopening of the economy.”
Morgan McKinley’s quarterly London Employment Monitor shows that financial services job posting s returned to growth in March. The sector saw a 70% increase in job postings and a 4.8% rise in job seekers. Available roles were up 50% year-on-year. Hakan Enver, managing director at Morgan McKinley UK, said: “As the vaccine rollout continues apace and the road out of lockdown clears, we are seeing the sector recover at a faster rate than anticipated.” Separate analysis shows that London remains a global financial centre, retaining second place behind New York in the Global Financial Centres Index, while PwC’s annual survey of chief executives revealed that the UK is a more attractive investment proposition than it was before Brexit. The Telegraph’s Simon Foy says the Morgan McKinley report appears to pour cold water on suggestions that Brexit would lead to a mass exodus of financial services professionals from the City. He notes EY analysis showing that 7,600 financial service s jobs have moved out of the UK due to Brexit, a “tiny proportion” of the UK’s finance sector roles and far less than many analysts had predicted.
Young black and Asian workers have been the hardest hit by the rise in unemployment during the coronavirus pandemic, a study by the Resolution Foundation think-tank has found. Over the past year, the UK jobless rate for young black people rose by more than a third to 35%, while for young people of Asian descent saw the jobless rate increased to 24%. For young white people, the unemployment rate hit 13%. Overall, the unemployment rate among 18 to 24-year-olds rose from 11.5% to 13.6% between Q2 and Q3 2020. The 18% increase marks the largest quarter-on-quarter rise among this age group since 1992. Kathleen Henehan, a senior research and policy analyst at the Resolution Foundation, said the furlough scheme “has done a fantastic job of minimising job losses amidst unprecedented shutdowns of our economy” but warned that the pandemic “has created a highly generationally unequal unemployment surge and widened pre -existing gaps between different ethnic groups”.
Analysis from Halifax shows that house prices have hit a record high despite rising at a slower rate than a year ago, hitting an average of £252,765. The report reveals a 5.7% year-on-year increase in Q1, with this down from a nearly five year high of 7% recorded last year. On a quarterly basis, prices rose 0.3% in the first three months of the year, marking a slowdown on the 2.5% increase seen in Q4 2020. Reflecting on the figures, AJ Bell analyst Laith Khalaf was optimistic about the outlook for the sector, saying: “While there might be a few bumps along the way, particularly at the end of the stamp duty…the property market has proved itself to be unbelievably resilient.” He notes that much of this “comes down to the efforts the Government and the Bank of England have made to make mortgage borrowing incredibly easy and cheap.”
Daily Express City AM
ECONOMY NEWS – THURSDAY 15TH APRIL 2021
Productivity rises amid the pandemic
Office for National Statistics data show that productivity increased last year, with output per hour, the main measure of productivity, increasing by 0.4%. The climb comes despite lockdowns causing economic output to shrink by almost 10%, with the headline figure increasing largely because the lower-paying and least productive jobs had borne the brunt of the pandemic. Output per worker in 2020 was 9.5% lower than in 2019. Howard Archer, chief economic adviser to the EY Item Club, said that “the sectors which saw a fall in their relative share of hours worked typically had lower productivity levels”, while higher productivity industries “increased their relative share of hours worked”.
How will Biden’s tax plan affect investment in Ireland?
The BBC’s John Campbell talks to experts about the possible impact of the Biden administration’s global corporate tax proposals on Ireland, which has famously lured multinationals to its shores with a 12.5% tax rate. This tax advantage could be wiped out with a global minimum rate which could be set at 21%, according to a suggestion from US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen. But Peter Vale, tax partner with Grant Thornton in Dublin, thinks a figure in the teens is more likely, adding that another key issue will be exactly how what rate a company is paying is worked out.
Supply chains will fight for tougher regulation if corporates fail them
Rashmi Dube asserts in the Yorkshire Post that it is small businesses that pay the price for corporate governance failings at large businesses, along with Big Four conflicts of interest. Companies such as Carillion and BHS are forced into insolvency by board-level failings and suppliers want to know how they are going to be protected going forward. “It’s time for regulation and legislation to become stronger and better.”
SME confidence soars
A survey of over 1,500 firms by the Federation of Small Businesses found that confidence was at its highest since 2014 with 51% expecting their revenues to grow over the next three months, the highest proportion since the summer of 2015. Only 24% expected sales to fall.
The Daily Telegraph profiles how savers have started hunting for £40bn in lost pension savings ahead of Government proposals to use forgotten pensions and other dormant assets to launch £800m of funding for charities and social enterprises in a bid to help local economies bounce back from the pandemic. Duncan Stevens of Gretel, an asset tracing firm, said there had been an increase in the number of people inquiring about lost savings during lockdown. “People have more time on their hands and financial concerns are at front of mind,” he said. The firm estimates that 20m people have a share of around £50bn in lost savings of some kind today.
Prospects improve as Brexit-related uncertainty wanes
New research from BDO indicates that employment prospects are improving amid the success of the vaccine rollout and extension of the job retention scheme. Although the pandemic has seen the number of payroll employees go down by 693,000 on a year ago, the absence of Brexit-related uncertainty has also helped to fuel renewed optimism, BDO said.
The Times, Page: 33 The Guardian, Page: 27 The I, Page: 8 Daily Express, Page: 43 The Sun, Page: 13
INDUSTRY NEWS – MONDAY 12TH APRIL 2021
Shared audits will not provide market resilience – Herbinet
David Herbinet, the head of audit at Mazars, has called for the eventual introduction of joint audits as part of a shake-up of the industry. He told the Telegraph that managed shared audits, which have been proposed in the Government’s white paper on audit reform, do not go far enough to increase competition and choice and he would only support them as a stepping stone to joint audits. These were proposed in a 2019 review by the Competition and Markets Authority and would mean two or more firms are appointed to take equal responsibility for an entire group. Mr Herbinet said: “The main concern is that, fundamentally, managed shared audits are not going to have any meaningful impact on the market’s resilience, which I think has got to be one of the key objectives in all of this.” Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng’s proposals for reform also include a requirement for Big Four firms to ringfence their audit and consulting arms to reduce conflicts of interest and the creation of the Audit, Reporting and Governance Authority, which will replace the Financial Reporting Council and could have power over large unlisted companies as well as those on the stock market.
A poll of FTSE 350 finance directors by Deloitte has revealed that the proportion expecting a reduction in capital spending over the next three years has fallen to 19% from 65% last summer. Additionally, 29% now expect to reduce hiring, down from 74% last summer. Hiring expectations have increased markedly while two-thirds of bosses expect the bulk of their workforces will return to the office by the third quarter of the year.
Letter: Mid-tier auditors fear the scrutiny of big mandates
Kingsley Napley’s Julie Matheson says not all mid-tier auditors want the extra regulation that comes with auditing listed companies, as per proposals for shared audits, and the prospect of significant sanctions.
Kwarteng makes concession on new UK takeover regime
The Business Secretary has revised the Government’s National Security and Investment Bill so fewer takeovers of British companies will need to be scrutinised by the state. Kwasi Kwarteng has revised the stake threshold at which the business department must be notified about a deal, from 15% to 25%. It follows a move last month when Mr Kwarteng narrowed the list of which type of foreign investments will fall foul of the new takeover regime. The business secretary will still have the power to call in deals below the 25% threshold if there is a suspicion that a minority stake could give the foreign investor material influence over a company. But the Henry Jackson Society think tank, said the change “risks very real security risks being allowed to sail by without scrutiny,” adding: “The Government must urgently explain its justification for this reversal.”
EY ‘s latest IPO Eye report shows the UK had the strongest first quarter for initial public offerings in 14 years with 12 main market and eight Aim IPOs raising a total of £5.6bn. This is more than half of the £9.4bn raised in the whole of 2020. The same period in 2020 saw just three IPOs on the main market and two on Aim, which raised a combined total of £615m. EY said confidence in the UK’s IPO markets as an exit route had been reinforced by significant private equity activity in the quarter. The report also showed that the UK has maintained both its position as the leading listing location in Europe and its third place position globally behind the US and China.
The Telegraph considers the fate of Bonmarché as administrators try to decide how many stores will reopen when Covid restrictions are lifted on Monday. Just over 70 of the chain’s stores were taken over four months ago and are set to reopen today but some or all of the remaining 148 stores may never reopen. Administrators at RSM have been reviewing the options but declined to say how many stores will reopen this week.
Full extent of pandemic’s high street casualties yet to be revealed
More than 17,500 chain store outlets disappeared from British high streets last year as the pandemic drove the worst decline on record. As the survivors prepare for reopening, figures compiled by the Local Data Company and PwC show fashion retailers were the hardest hit, followed by betting shops, pubs and bars and restaurants. Lisa Hooker, the head of consumer markets at PwC, commented: “The full extent will be revealed in the coming months as many of the [company restructures] and administrations in the early part of 2021 still haven’t been captured, including department stores, fashion retailers and hospitality operators that will leave big holes.” Separate figures from the British Retail Consortium show the closures wiped out 176,000 retail jobs at a rate of 484 jobs a day with a further 11,986 jobs were lost through CVAs.
Consumer confidence returns
New analysis by YouGov and the Centre for Economics and Business Research shows consumer confidence has risen to its highest level since August 2018. Employment security is close to pre-pandemic levels, the research found, and for the first time since the start of the pandemic, more households than not believe their finances will improve in the year ahead.
US tax plans could prove costly for British businesses
Although UK officials have welcomed moves by the Biden administration to force multinationals to pay more tax, the Treasury is urgently reviewing how the plans might affect UK businesses. The Telegraph reports that there is concern in Whitehall that British companies could end up paying more elsewhere in the world as a result of the proposals, potentially reducing revenues for the Exchequer. Washington’s plans would see a global minimum corporation tax and levies for companies based on the location of their sales. While tax campaigners and the Labour party urge the Chancellor to publicly back the plan – Tax Justice UK estimates the blueprint would bring in an extra £13.5bn a year for the public purse – Suren Thiru, head of economics at the British Chambers of Commerce, said while a co-ordinated international approach to addressing tax avoidance is preferable to a disjointed nation by nation approach, “significant questions remain on how it would work in practice.” In the FT, DeAnne Julius says Biden’s plans are brave and bold and could save companies a lot of time in tax planning.
HMRC has said that nearly 3.8m cheques sent to taxpayers between 2015 and 2020 have not been deposited in accounts, amounting to a tenth of all tax rebates sent by post over the period. Less than 2% of tax refunds are made by cheque, according to HMRC, which said it pays money into people’s bank accounts directly where possible.
The Times, Page: 57
Could global tax reform at last be within reach?
Several sources cover news of the Biden administration’s corporation tax proposals with the FT reporting that the political battle lines in the US are being formed with many Republicans on Capitol Hill warning that the changes could harm US multinationals while two of the most influential Democratic lawmakers on tax policy have backed the plans. Elsewhere, the Observer’s business leader argues that the move from Washington has raised hopes of a breakthrough for a global agreement on tax and describes the proposals as a change that could make the world a fairer place and “kill tax havens dead”.
No IHT for Philip’s bequests, unless you’re a minor royal
The Sunday Times reports that due to a deal struck with former PM John Major bequests from Prince Philip to the Queen, the Prince of Wales and the Duke of Cambridge will be tax-free. However, anything from the Duke of Edinburgh’s estate which is passed to his other children or grandchildren, including his second son, the Duke of York, and the Duke of Sussex, would be taxed at the standard 40%, above the £325,000 threshold. The “sovereign to sovereign” rule was negotiated with the Conservative government in 1993 when the Queen and the Prince of Wales first agreed to pay income tax.
The Sunday Times, Page: 4
CORPORATE NEWS – WEEKEND TO 11TH APRIL 2021
Suspect Sanjeev Gupta invoices used in Greensill loans raise fraud concerns
Several European metals companies have denied doing business with Sanjeev Gupta’s Liberty Commodities, raising questions over invoices purporting sales to the businesses which formed the basis of funding from Greensill Capital. Separately, the collapse of Greensill has led to 440 staff losing their jobs, administrators have revealed. Grant Thornton said 305 redundancies would be made at the firm’s head office in Warrington, with the rest in London.
John Lewis chief says no more store closures expected
Pippa Wicks, John Lewis’s chief executive, has insisted there will be no further shop closures, as she defended the partnership’s revival strategy two weeks after shutting eight outlets. The Times cites analysis by PwC which shows nearly 99m sq ft of retail space has closed in the past year while 5,500 out of 30,000 non-essential retail stores remained closed between the three lockdowns and may never reopen.
Mike Ashley’s Frasers Group is anticipating a £200m hit due to coronavirus, warning that further restrictions on retail are “almost certain”. Chris Wootton, chief financial officer, said the additional writedown had not been the result of pressure from RSM, its new auditor, and that the decision had not been reviewed by RSM although the group had informed the firm before telling investors.
The British division of US clothing retailer Brooks Brothers has entered administration, after suffering from a lack of demand for its products as people worked from home. Begbies Traynor has been appointed as the company’s administrators.
Italian consortium to bid for National Lottery
The Sunday Telegraph reports that investment firm CVC Capital Partners is backing a bid to run the National Lottery led by portfolio company Sisal, the operator of Italy’s most popular lottery. The bid will be made in conjunction with children’s charity Barnardo’s, which will provide expertise on raising money for good causes in the UK. The Sisal-led consortium is attempting to displace incumbent operator Camelot, which has run the National Lottery since its launch more than a quarter of a century ago. The auction is being run by Rothschild, EY and Hogan Lovells on behalf of the Gambling Commission and is scheduled to culminate this autumn.
The Sunday Times reports on claims that Philip Day engineered the administration of his Peacocks business so it ended up being bought by Steve Simpson, his closest lieutenant. The paper’s Sam Chambers says the deal has ensured the key components of Day’s Edinburgh Woollen Mill Group have ended up being controlled by Simpson and that other suiters had no chance, leaving questions for advisers from FRP Advisory and RSM.
Scotland’s entrepreneurs need vision and investment
Gillian Bowditch says in the Sunday Times that Scotland’s small businesses need investment from the Scottish government and leadership from Scottish Enterprise – an organisation she says, “has proved to be a bloated and inefficient body that ought to be disbanded.” SMEs are the key to economic growth and instead of dreaming about unicorns, Nicola Sturgeon’s government should recognise that uncertainty over independence makes business leaders nervous and red tape ties up entrepreneurs: what’s needed is “vision, courage and calculated risk” or there is little hope for economic growth.
A report from Hitachi Capital shows confidence among small businesses has returned to pre-pandemic levels, with 36% of business owners predicting they will grow during the second quarter, up from just 14% a year ago. The percentage fearing collapse has also fallen from 29% over the past year to 7%.
Sunday Express, Page: 59
FINANCE NEWS – WEEKEND TO 11TH APRIL 2021
Banks prepare to claw back billions in Covid loans
HSBC, NatWest, Barclays and Lloyds have begun writing to businesses warning them that repayments on emergency support loans will soon be expected. Banks have handed out more than £75bn to 1.6m firms under a number of schemes set up by Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor, and are expected to spend millions on recovery. One senior banker warned that lenders could go in hard to recover debts after a recent court case found banks do not have a duty of care to borrowers who fail to repay.
PENSIONS NEWS – WEEKEND TO 11TH APRIL 2021
Pension schemes take legal action over reformulation of inflation measure
Trustees of the Ford, BT and Marks and Spencer pension schemes are seeking a judicial review of the decision to change the calculation of inflation, which they say will leave millions of retirees with lower annual payouts. The Government’s recent decision to align the Retail Prices Index (RPI) with the Consumer Prices Index including owner occupiers’ housing costs (CPIH) will have “far-reaching implications” which have not been “fully considered” by officials, the trustees argue. The reform is also seen as likely to lead to an increase in scheme funding shortfalls because it reduces the value of RPI-linked assets. This in turn would add pressure on sponsoring employers, the trustees pointed out.
The Telegraph reveals how pensioners were able to recoup thousands of pounds of pension underpayment after reaching out to Sir Steve Webb, the former Pensions Minister. Figures released last week by the Office for Budget Responsibility revealed the average arrears payment for the first time. More than 74,000 married women are to receive up to an average of £23,000 over the next five years, while widowed retirees are owed an average £17,000. Sir Steve, who has led the campaign resulting in thousands of women applying for back payments, said: “While it is good news that some married women will now be contacted and awarded an increased pension as part of the DWP’s exercise, even this group may have to wait up to five years to be put on the right rate.”
Britons may have to work an extra four years before retirement
Experts have suggested a recent study concluding that the average retirement age has risen from 64 to 66 may be off the mark by four years or more. Neil Moles, CEO of financial advice firm Progeny, says his research indicates “people are expecting to work for up to two years more, however, we could be looking at three, four or more years longer than this for many people.” Moles suggests this is a result of fears over high levels of government debt and future tax hikes, as well as concerns over looking after other family members after they retire.
PROPERTY NEWS – WEEKEND TO 11TH APRIL 2021
House prices expected to continue rising
Figures from Halifax on Friday show house prices rose 1.1% during March, the biggest increase in six months. In annual terms, prices rose 6.5%, the strongest reading in four months and taking the average house price to a record high £254,606, Halifax said. The lender added that it expected the upturn to persist in the next few months as consumer confidence grows on the back of Britain’s swift COVID-19 vaccine rollout. “However, with the economy yet to feel the full effect of its biggest recession in more than 300 years, we remain cautious about the longer-term outlook,” Halifax added.
Property developer boss says workers must return to the office
Land Securities CEO Mark Allan is urging the Government to change its guidance that states people should continue work from home if they can until June at the earliest. A safe return to the office should be accelerated if we are to see economic activity in Britain’s cities revived, Allan said. His comments come as employers including HSBC, Lloyds, Grant Thornton and PwC have said they will slash office space after the pandemic recedes.
Daily Mail, Page: 91
NCP’s landlords gear up for battle over restructuring plans
Landlords are fighting back against demands from Japanese-owned car park operator NCP that substantial rent arrears are written off. Sky News reports that a group of landlords is said to be lining up AlixPartners and Hogan Lovells to advise them in a bid to overturn NCP’s proposals. Melanie Leech, the chief executive of the British Property Federation, said: “This Restructuring Plan, if approved, will signal to businesses that they can use this new business rescue procedure to simply walk away from debt owed to property-owners […] who represent local authorities and millions of pensioners and savers invested in commercial property, to a business’ shareholders.” NCP, which is being advised by Deloitte, has warned that it is likely to collapse unless the restructuring is implemented.
The Express reflects on the creation of a taskforce to claw back cash lost to furlough fraud during the pandemic. Official figures from HMRC show reports of furlough themed fraudulent activity have risen to just over 26,000; at the time of the Budget HMRC had 10,000 live inquiries. Iskander Fernandez, Head of White Collar Crime and Investigations at BLM, said of the Chancellor’s £100m funding for the taskforce that it may be considered “a conservative sum given the potential scale of fraud.”
MPs call for fairness as IR35 changes rolled out
The All Party Parliamentary Loan Charge Group has called for off-payroll reforms currently being rolled out to be re-examined during the passage of the Finance Bill this year. A report from the group stated that: “All ‘inside IR35’ workers should get full rights under all legislation dealing with agency workers, with a clear and transparent right to holiday and sick pay.” The APPG recommended an alignment of tax and employment law to ensure fairness, declaring: “We call on the Government to accept it is unfair for workers who are taxed as employees to be denied the rights and benefits of an employee or recognition in employment law. Anyone who is taxed as an employee should also receive the corresponding benefits; thus, by aligning tax and employment law, certainty for both contractors and hirers will ensue.”
ECONOMY NEWS – WEEKEND TO 11TH APRIL 2021
Consumers chomping at the bit
Experts are predicting a spending spree next week as shops reopen on what is being dubbed as “Bounceback Monday”. Analysts predict £4.5bn could be spent in the first seven days of post-lockdown shopping with Lisa Hooker, head of consumer markets at PwC, saying: “You will see a big bang, particularly if the weather is good. There is enormous pent-up demand. Retailers were quite cautious when we came out of lockdown last year but this time there is far more excitement.”
Daily Mail, Page: 43
Trade with France returns to pre-Brexit levels
March saw trade between the UK and France return to pre-Brexit levels raising hopes of a swift recovery as businesses get to grips with customs arrangements. Analysis by French customs officials shows imports from Britain climbed to 107% of typical levels after taking Covid effects into account, the research found – with exports back at 96%.German figures for February also showed improvement with the sharp slump witnessed in January shrinking markedly. However, trade experts said Anglo-German trade is still struggling badly with exporters hit particularly hard.
Take care of emerging markets, your future depends on it
The International Monetary Fund warned last week that the multi-speed recovery from the pandemic was leaving developing nations behind. The worst-hit countries will be emerging Asian economies which could suffer a near-8% loss in GDP by 2024 compared to pre-Covid projections. The US, by comparison, will be larger by 2024 than it would have been if Covid had never hit. “Last year, everyone spent like crazy, it was a big widening of fiscal deficits everywhere in advanced economies and in emerging markets,” explains Marcelo Carvalho, head of global emerging markets research at BNP Paribas. “The difference is the room for manoeuvre; the fiscal space is more limited for emerging markets. In advanced economies, you can print your own hard currency, it’s not the case for emerging markets.” The Telegraph’s Tom Rees concludes: “Advanced economies could soon put Covid in the rear-view mirror but for many poorer countries a longer, rougher road to recovery lies ahead.”
Wall Street investors look warily at gathering tax ‘storm’
While many laud President Joe Biden’s corporation tax plans, analysts are warning they pose a serious risk to profit margins for US companies and could derail hiring plans. As if to illustrate the point, the Times reports on an exodus of millionaires from New York to Florida and Texas as tax rises threaten a drastic reduction in the city’s tax receipts.
Washington has suggested multinational companies to pay levies to national governments based on their sales in each country as part of proposals for a global minimum tax. The Biden administration’s plans would subject about 100 of the world’s biggest multinationals, including the tech giants like Google, Apple, Facebook, Microsoft and Amazon, to a regional tax settlement while a global minimum tax rate would mean reduced tax competition between states. Pascal Saint-Amans, head of tax administration at the OECD, welcomed the US proposals. “This reboots the negotiations and is very positive,” he said. The Telegraph reports that Ireland, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Singapore and the Caribbean will be the biggest losers from the plan. Goldman Sachs economist Jan Hatzius says the move illustrates how much Biden plans to rely on taxing foreign profits for new tax revenue while Chris Sanger, head of tax policy at EY asserts that any policy that ends profit shifting is likely to be good for the UK as it “benefits those countries with a large consumer base”.
IHS Markit’s construction Purchasing Managers Index for March registered 61.7, as construction output increased at the fastest rate in six and a half years. Steve Plaskitt, partner at MHA, commented: “The spring budget was a boon for both house buyers, who stand to benefit from the extension and phased ending of the Stamp Duty holiday, and house builders, who will hope that the government’s guaranteed support for 95% mortgages until the end of 2022 will drive demand.” Elsewhere, Howard Archer from EY ITEM Club noted that civil engineering’s return to growth was particularly impressive following three consecutive months of contractions.
Car dealer Lookers said it would smash profit forecasts following a lockdown sales boom. The Mail notes that the Financial Conduct Authority has closed an investigation into the group – but the Financial Reporting Council is looking into Deloitte’s audits of the company. Mark Raban, chief executive of Lookers, said: “The events of the last year have highlighted the inherent strength of our franchised dealership model and the importance of an integrated customer experience which fully embraces both digital and physical channels.”
The Times, Page: 40 Daily Mail
SMEs NEWS – FRIDAY 9TH APRIL 2021
Small businesses supported by venture capital fundraising
Ian Sayers, chief executive of the Association of Investment Companies has spoken out on how the coronavirus crisis has affected fundraising for smaller companies, noting that “It’s really positive that during the pandemic 11% more was raised to support the UK’s most innovative and fast-growing businesses than the year before.” With venture capital trusts raising £685m last year to support such firms, he remarked: “This investment will support healthcare, science and technology businesses which have helped in the battle against coronavirus and supported us to adapt to life in lockdown. It demonstrates that demand for VCTs and the benefits they bring investors remains high at an extremely difficult time.”
City offers support for SMEs
The City of London Corporation will on Monday launch a £50m Covid Business Recovery Fund designed to support SMEs which directly provide services to returning City workers, visitors and residents. Grants will be based on individual requirements after a financial evaluation but will not exceed £100,000 per business. Policy Chair at the City of London Corporation, Catherine McGuinness, said: “Many City businesses are preparing to reopen their doors next week and start welcoming back customers. This will be a welcome return to a semblance of normality but inevitably some SMEs that have struggled during the pandemic will need support to get back on their feet.”
The Times, Page: 40 City AM
PROPERTY NEWS – FRIDAY 9TH APRIL 2021
House sales surge after stamp duty extension
House sales picked up in March after signs that the extension of a stamp duty holiday had an immediate impact, the strongest surge since last August. Half of property professionals reported an increase rather than a decrease in agreed sales, the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (Rics) said. Simon Rubinsohn, of Rics, said: “All key activity indictors rebounded in March. Demand is outstripping supply so prices go upwards.” The pick-up also boosted expectations that sales activity will increase over the next three months, with 35% of surveyors predicting an uptick – the most upbeat reading on this measure since January 2020.
The I follows up on the news that thousands of married women could be owed by millions by the DWP because of underpayment. Former pensions minister Sir Steve Webb, who has been investigating this issue, said that the “scale of these underpayments is shocking” and urged the Government to repay women as a “matter of urgency”.
ECONOMY NEWS – FRIDAY 9TH APRIL 2021
Fashion retail sales soared in March
Total like-for-like fashion sales jumped 57.5% in March – from a base of minus 25.9% in the same month last year. Sophie Michael, head of retail and wholesale at BDO, said: “Sales have improved, without a doubt, as retailers have found ways to adapt to lockdown. From virtual assistants to live video sales appointments, retailers have found technological solutions to drive sales, instead of simply shutting down like they did last year. However, as last March’s result was so disastrous, these results simply look better on paper as they’re set against such a poor base.” Separately, according to a survey by Deloitte, 56% of shoppers will feel safe about coronavirus risks when heading out to the high street next week, a 16 percentage point increase compared to last month.
City AM The Sun, Page: 47
FTSE rebounds to new post-pandemic high
Growing optimism as the economy reopens pushed the FTSE 100 to its highest level since the beginning of the pandemic on Thursday, rising 56.9 points to 6,942.22. The FTSE 250 rose to another all-time high following a top performance on Wednesday. Michael Hewson, chief market analyst at CMC Markets commented: “While other major indices have led the way in posting record highs in recent weeks, UK stocks appear to be finally finding favour with investors as an economic reopening beckons.”
An end to ECB bond buying poses risk to weaker eurozone economies
Experts warn that heavily indebted eurozone countries such as Italy and Greece face mounting debt costs after the pandemic – a situation that could unnerve investors and drive up interest rates. M&G fund manager Eric Lonergan said: “Europe is ironically vulnerable to recovery because it seems you only get temporary elimination of credit risk in European sovereigns when you are in an emergency, in which case the ECB underwrites your bond market. The problem is that when you come out of an emergency, you are back to market forces in the bond market, and some of these numbers look really, really bad.” Italy was particularly exposed, Mr Lonergan added, because the interest rate on its debt was higher than its rate of GDP growth.
UK businesses consulted on prolonged social distancing in offices
The Government has been consulting with professional services firms and other businesses over the long-term use of masks in offices and six months more social distancing as they make arrangements for the economy to reopen.
Supermarket boss: Overhaul rates and tax online sales
Richard Walker, managing director of Iceland, has called for an online sales tax and a rethink of business rates, describing the tax as “outdated and Victorian”. Mr Walker, who urged policymakers to “completely change business rates as they are”, said there must also be “some form of rebalancing with online because otherwise we will be killing off the high street as it is.” With bricks and mortar stores paying far more in business rates than online-only rivals, a number of high street retailers have urged the Chancellor to rework the tax system to put digital retailers such as Amazon on a “level playing field”, with Tesco recently calling for a 1% online sales tax. The Chancellor rolled out relief on business rates amid the pandemic. This has been extended until the end of June and businesses will then be given a two-thirds reduction on rates until March 2022.
The Times, Page: 37 The Independent, Page: 48 Daily Mirror, Page: 8
Yellen calls for minimum global corporate tax
US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has urged other countries to agree a global minimum tax for companies, saying this could “make sure the global economy thrives based on a more level playing field in the taxation of multinational corporations”. In a virtual speech to the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, Ms Yellen said there had been a “30-year race to the bottom” in which countries have slashed corporate tax rates in an effort to attract multinational businesses.” She added that it is “important to work with other countries to end the pressures of tax competition and corporate tax base erosion”.
HMRC is clamping down on a tax loophole which enables footballers and agents working for both a player and a club during transfer or contract negotiations to save on tax. In cases where there is “dual representation”, the agent must pay income tax and national insurance on the fees they receive from the player but when representing a club, the club is charged VAT which it can reclaim as a tax-deductible expense. HMRC believes agents do far more work for players than clubs, despite it often claimed the split is even. Pete Hackleton at Saffery Champness said the previous rule had been “agreed historically” with HMRC as industry best-practice, while Nimesh Shah of Blick Rothenberg said the change in guidance would mean most players pay more.
A poll from industry lobby group Make UK shows that the “super deduction” tax incentive announced in March’s Budget is set to boost investment for manufacturers this year. The survey saw 22.6% of businesses say they plan to increase investment as a direct response to the tax, with 28.1% bringing forward investment plans. Super deduction allows firms to deduct 130% of the value of plant and machinery from profits.
The Times, Page: 41 The Daily Telegraph, Business, Page: 1 Daily Express, Page: 46 Daily Mail
Tax break for veterans’ employers
As of today, companies that employ Armed Forces veterans will be exempt from paying national insurance on the first 12 months of their employment.
The Daily Telegraph, Page: 10
EMPLOYMENT NEWS – TUESDAY 6TH APRIL 2021
Slow progress on boosting female CEO numbers
Analysis shows that leading UK firms ha ve made little progress in increasing the number of female CEOs, with just 6.3% of firms run by female chief executives. This marks only a slight increase on the 6% recorded in 2019 and 6.2% seen in 2020. Despite the number of female leaders improving only marginally, the report from S&P Capital IQ shows that the UK ranks fifth among G20 nations when it comes to the proportion of large companies being led by women. Globally, the US leads the way with the highest proportion of female CEOs, at 8.4%. South Africa is next with 7.3%, followed by China’s 5.4%. Japan and Saudi Arabia have the lowest proportion of companies led by women, at 1.3%.
Redundancies among the over-50s have almost tripled in the past year, with 107,000 made redundant between last November and January 2021. The report from Rest Less says the redundancy rate for those who are over 50 is now higher than all other age groups at 12.8 per 1,000 employees. As of the end of February, over-50s made up 28% of the total furloughed workforce. Rest Less founder Stuart Lewis voiced concern over the findings, noting research showing that unemployed workers over the age of 50 are two-and-a-half times more likely to drift into long-term unemployment than younger people, pointing to age discrimination in the recruitment process and a lack of tailored retraining programmes.
The Independent The I Daily Express
Aviva: WFH may hit women’s opportunities
Insurer Aviva has warned that the shift towards flexible working could harm women’s careers, saying female staff may feel more pressure than men to work from home due to family responsibilities and so miss out on promotion opportunities. It warned of a risk that managers could promote workers they see in person, rather than making judgements based on the quality of work. Gwen Rhys, chief executive of networking group Women in the City, said: “It’s likely to be women who take the work-from-home option more than men … I think men will go back to the office before women and it will be they who get noticed, get networking and get the opportunities.”
Daily Mail, Page: 67
Jump in remote working job ads
The proportion of UK jobs advertised as “remote working” roles has surged in the past year, with coronavirus restrictions seeing more firms embrace home-based working models. As of February, 3.6% of roles were advertised as being remote, up from 0.8% a year earlier. The report from New Street Consulting Group shows that the number of remote working roles advertised more than trebled to 78,000, with it noted that many of these involved permanent remote working rather than temporary arrangements linked to coronavirus rules and social distancing guidance.
Up to 200 Peacocks stores and 2,000 jobs are set to be saved by an investment consortium which has agreed to back Steve Simpson, the chief operating officer of Peacocks’ sister company Edinburgh Woollen Mill (EWM). The transaction has been orchestrated by administrator FRP Advisory, which has also been in talks with Sports Direct owner Mike Ashley. Other parts of retail tycoon Philip Day’s empire, including EWM and Bonmarche, have already been sold to a vehicle controlled by Mr Simpson.
Bristol has been identified as the most popular location for homebuyers taking advantage of the Help to Buy initiative, with analysis of data by property agent Benham and Reeves showing the city has seen the biggest uptake of buyers utilising the discount scheme. The study gathered stats from Zoopla and gave a percentage based on how many eligible properties in the city had been taken up by buyers. Bristol came out on top with 60%, followed by Portsmouth and Swansea, which both saw 50% demand. Benham and Reeves director of Marc von Grundherr said that while the stamp duty holiday has been “a great way of boosting market health during a very tough period”, increased demand has pushed house prices “further out of reach for many first-time buyers”. “It’s clear that many are reliant on a leg up via the Help to Buy scheme as a result”, he added.
ECONOMY NEWS – TUESDAY 6TH APRIL 2021
Labour supply issues to hit growth
Analysts from Pantheon Macroeconomics have warned that economic growth could stall in the 2020s due to Britain’s ageing population and lower rates of immigration. The forecast suggests that the growth rate in the UK’s workforce will halve as an immigration clampdown sees fewer overseas workers, with labour supply also facing a hit as the Boomer generation enter retirement. The report predicts that workforce growth will fall to an average annual rate of 0.3% over the next five years, down from 0.8% in the second half of the 2010s. Pantheon economist Samuel Tombs said: “The days of strong workforce growth are long gone,” adding that expansion in the 2010’s had masked underlying weaknesses in the economy, such as “deficient business investment and sluggish growth in productivity”. HSBC economist James Pomeroy believes the working age population is set to shrink in the 2030s and may fall by the end of the 2020s, warning that this is “a massive fiscal problem when you’re taking on a lot of debt”.
Consultants see demand drop despite Covid contracts
Consultants saw a decline in demand for their services last year, despite the Government awarding a range of large contracts to firms advising on its response to the coronavirus crisis. Analysis by Source Global Research shows that the sector contracted by more than a tenth in 2020, with the size of the industry down by 12% to £10.65bn. The steepest drop came in the “change and people strategy” sector, with revenues falling 27% as firms tightened budgets and cut activities deemed unessential, such as leadership development courses and diversity and inclusion training. While the overall consultancy sector saw demand slip in 2020, Deloitte, EY, KPMG and PwC secured hundreds of millions of pounds worth of Government contracts linked to the pandemic, with ministers bringing in consultants to work on projects such as the test and trace system and the rollout of emergency business loan schemes.
The Daily Telegraph, Business, Page: 3
Why ranking workers by performance backfires
Sarah O’Connor looks at criticism of the forced distribution method for assessing staff performance, noting that KPMG plans to “move away” from the system to “allow much greater flexibility”.
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.”
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.”
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 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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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”.
US threatens tariffs on UK goods over digital services tax
The United States has threatened the UK with tariffs of up to 25% on a slew of goods in retaliation for the digital services tax. Brought in last April it levies at 2% the revenues of search engines, social media services and online marketplaces which derive value from UK users. Ceramics, make-up, overcoats, games consoles and furniture could all be hit, according to a list published by the Biden administration. A UK Government spokesperson said: “Like many countries around the world, we want to make sure tech firms pay their fair share of tax. Our digital services tax is reasonable, proportionate and non-discriminatory. It’s also temporary.” The FT reports that the UK international trade secretary, Liz Truss, has told the Biden administration to “desist” from its threat and instead engage in international efforts to agree a “fair” way to tax multinational tech companies.
Industry experts speculate on the possible tax changes that Chancellor Rishi Sunak could announce in the Autumn Budget. Eddie Grant, a Director at St. James’s Place, comments: “The Government has over the year commissioned a series of consultations so there was an expectation they would be the focus of the Tax Day announcements, in particular Inheritance Tax and Capital Gains Tax, but there was only minor changes. There were no announcements about pension tax relief despite it being widely speculated and no changes to Capital Gains Tax. Could these be planned for the Autumn Budget when we get the detail?”
Isle of Man offers tax cuts to lure new residents
New residents are being encouraged to move to the Isle of Man and buy property amid a skills shortage in the economy. The island’s campaign is highlighting no inheritance tax, no stamp duty, no masks and no social distancing as some of the perks to entice prospective residents.
A new study by UHY Hacker Young shows UK banks have lent around £29.3bn more to businesses over the past year – a rise of 8% since the start of the pandemic. This compares with a 5.3% jump in lending in the EU on average. UK bank lending also surpassed Germany (7%) and Spain (3%). “We may have underperformed in some areas in our response to Covid but in terms of getting finance to businesses, this is an area where the UK has been a leader,” managing director of UHY Hacker Young Corporate Finance, Robert Kidson, said. “The economic impact of the pandemic and the disruption to businesses cash flows has lasted longer than anyone expected…there is little certainty on when businesses can return to ‘normal’ operating levels, the UK needs to provide as much support as possible to ensure businesses stay afloat until then.”
SMEs NEWS – TUESDAY 30TH MARCH 2021
SMEs plan to increase investment in the year ahead
A report from Virgin Money reveals the annual growth rate in the number of registered companies in the UK surged to a record 8.3% in Q4 2020. More than a quarter of SMEs plan to invest more in their businesses in the year ahead than during a typical pre-pandemic year – with 35% intending to invest £10,000 to £10m this year, a rise on 32% from 2020. However, only one in five SMEs expect to be able to keep all furloughed employees after the end of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, with over 50% of small firms currently employing staff on furlough. Group business director at Virgin Money, Gavin Opperman, commented: “While there are undoubtedly significant challenges ahead, many businesses remain optimistic and intend to invest for the future as the economy recovers.”
The Scotsman City AM
SMEs need help to drive productivity up
Researchers at NatWest have determined that boosting productivity among SMEs could add £140bn to the economy by 2030 – the equivalent of an extra 3.2m jobs. Figures show SME productivity in Britain lags the US by 17% and Germany by 12%. Andrew Harrison, NatWest head of business banking, said: “Support needs to be more closely tailored to their specific needs.”
The Times, Page: 40
PROPERTY NEWS – TUESDAY 30TH MARCH 2021
Stamp duty holiday drives mortgage lending to five-year high
New Bank of England data show that the stamp duty holiday extension spurred home buyers to borrow £6.2bn last month – a five-year high for mortgage lending. Some 87,700 mortgages were approved in February, down from more than 100,000 in November and December, but still one of the highest numbers since 2007. “We suspect that mortgage lending will remain high this year given the extension to the stamp duty holiday and the strength of the survey data,” said Andrew Wishart at Capital Economics. “As a result, mortgage approvals for house purchase are likely to reach their highest level since 2007 this year.”
New ONS data reveals defined contribution (DC) pension contributions have returned to pre-COVID levels, with employee contributions up 12% in the three months to September 2020 to £1.8bn. Employer contributions to DC schemes jumped 7% to £4bn in the third quarter of 2020, up from £3.7bn in the previous quarter. AJ Bell’s Tom Selby said: “It is hugely encouraging that, after a dip in both employee and employer pension contributions at the start of the pandemic, the amount savers are saving for retirement has quickly bounced back.”
Shell director’s pay could be linked to climate action
Shell has suggested that its director’s pay could be linked to the group’s climate performance, following a similar announcement from BP last week when its shareholders were told to vote against a climate resolution that would demand the firm’s decarbonisation plans are aligned more closely with the 2015 Paris agreement. This comes ahead of a Shell shareholder vote on the issue in May.
ECONOMY NEWS – TUESDAY 30TH MARCH 2021
Optimism about household finances rises
The Scottish Widows Household Finance Index rose from 41.1 to 42 in the first three months of the year, encouraged by the success of the vaccination programme and the “road map” out of lockdown. The survey, conducted with IHS Markit, found people are feeling the most secure in their jobs since the start of the pandemic and have paid off debts at the fastest rate in more than a decade.
Grant Thornton ’s audit work on Liverpool Council has been defended by the firm. After Liberal Democrat councillor Andrew Makinson said last week: “The taxpayers of Liverpool have been paying £191,000 to Grant Thornton to provide assurances that the city’s accounts are in order. While you’ve not been able to fully certify them… you have repeatedly provided value for money assurances and various concerns raised by opposition councillors have been rather dismissed by yourselves.” The company’s director Andrew Smith responded: “We are confident in the work we’ve done in those areas… There are very serious best value issues in there but there is a limit to what we can do around that in terms of the requirements of the value for money work.”