UK banks no longer ‘too big to fail’, says BoE

The UK’s top banks are no longer “too big to fail” in any future crisis, according to the Bank of England.

A new assessment by the central bank considered whether eight major banks had taken sufficient steps to ensure they are resilient and would not require taxpayers to bail them out, as happened in the 2007-08 financial crisis.

The BoE said it was satisfied that even if a major bank were to fail, it could remain open and customers would be able to keep accessing their accounts and business services as normal.

“We now have a robust resolution regime and following major UK banks’ work in preparing for resolution, there are now more choices if a bank experiences serious problems,” the report explained.

Shareholders and investors, not taxpayers, would be first in line to bear a bank’s losses and the costs of recapitalisation.

The assessment looked at Barclays, HSBC, Lloyds Banking Group, Nationwide, NatWest, Santander UK, Standard Chartered and Virgin Money UK and their preparations for resolution under the Resolvability Assessment Framework.

“The Resolvability Assessment Framework is a core part of the UK’s response to the global financial crisis, and demonstrates how the UK has overcome the problem of ‘too big to fail’,” said Dave Ramsden, deputy governor for Markets and Banking at the Bank of England.

“The UK authorities have developed a resolution regime that successfully reduces risks to depositors and the financial system and better protects the UK’s public funds.”

Ramsden added: “Safely resolving a large bank will always be a complex challenge so it’s important that both we and the major banks continue to prioritise work on this issue.”

UK consumers ‘put brakes on spending’

Shoppers are cutting back their spending as the cost of living soars, new figures show.

Total sales were down 0.3% in April, the first decline in 15 months, according to the latest monthly report from the British Retail Consortium (BRC) and KPMG.

This compares to three-month average growth of 3.2% and 12-month average growth of 6.4%.

“The rising cost of living has crushed consumer confidence and put the brakes on consumer spending,” said Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the BRC. “Sales growth has been slowing since January, though the real extent of this decline has been masked by rising inflation.”

So-called “big ticket” purchases have been hit hardest, as consumers reigned in spending on furniture, electricals and other homeware items.

Thanks to the April sunshine there were stronger sales for garden goods and fashion, particularly occasionwear as consumers prepared for summer and this year’s wedding season.

Food and drink also bounced back with 3% growth in April, although this was largely due to Easter falling later this year, according to Paul Martin, UK head of retail at KPMG.

“With interest rates and inflation rising and the Bank of England warning of a possible recession, the squeeze on disposable household income is starting to have an impact on the high street,” Martin said.

“Against a backdrop of falling consumer confidence, the retail sector has a bumpy time ahead as they face spiraling cost pressures from all directions.

“Many retailers will have no choice but to raise prices to protect margins, but the longer we see high inflation and real household incomes falling, the more likely it is that consumers will change their spending behaviour, prompting a decline in the health of the retail sector and possibly more casualties on the high street.”

UK shoppers stick with less frequent ‘big shop’

Grocery shopping habits changed at the start of the pandemic and consumers are continuing to make bigger, less frequent trips to the supermarket, according to a new report from Kantar.

The data, insights and consulting company says that in the past month UK households visited the supermarket 15.7 times on average. That’s a slight increase from the 15.3 trips in the same period in 2020, but consumers are still making 40 million fewer trips per month than they were in 2019. At this rate of change, it would take three years to get back to our old shopping patterns.

Online sales have also levelled out. For the second month in a row, online grocery sales accounted for 12.4% of the market and a fifth of households now consistently order groceries online each month.

The report also said that supermarket price inflation has reached its highest level for more than a year.

Grocery price inflation reached 2.1% in the four weeks to 31 October, the highest since August 2020 when retailers were still scaling back promotions to discourage stockpiling.

As prices rise in certain categories, Kantar expects people to continue to shop around to find the best deals. Already, households visit an average of 3.3 supermarkets per month in order to find the best value for money.

Consumers are also getting ready for Christmas early, Kantar found. Frozen poultry sales in October were up 27% on last year, while 4.7 million households bought mince pies and 1.6 million households bought a Christmas pudding — 400,000 more than last year.

Household incomes expected to remain below pre-pandemic levels for two years

UK households will remain worse off than before the pandemic for another two years, according to the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR).

Charlie Bean, a former Bank of England deputy governor and board member of the OBR, told MPs that household disposable income would not return to 2019 levels until the second half of 2023.

Officials also expect the UK’s productivity growth to remain low.

“We do have a modest pickup in productivity growth [in our forecast]. But it’s not back up to anything like the pre-epidemic rates,” Bean said.

Forecasts issued by the OBR alongside last week’s Budget showed that household incomes would be weighed down by inflation over the next two years, before rising by just 1.3% a year on average by the middle of the decade, the Guardian reports.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) took a similar view, saying that the outlook for wages remained weak and it expected inflation and higher taxes to negate many wage rises.

Competition law suspended after panic buying of fuel

The UK government is suspending competition law in the fuel industry to help tackle shortages.

It comes after days of long queues at petrol stations triggered by fears that a shortage of lorry drivers was disrupting fuel supplies.

As a temporary measure, companies will be permitted to share information and prioritise parts of the country most in need.

A joint statement from companies including Shell, BP and ExxonMobil stressed that pressures on supply were being caused by “temporary spikes in customer demand, not a national shortage of fuel”.

The Petrol Retailers Association, which represents nearly 5,500 independent outlets, warned on Monday that as many as two-thirds of its members are out of fuel, with the rest of them “partly dry and running out soon”, BBC News reported.

Brexit is “obviously a contributory factor” to the shortage of HGV drivers that is having an impact across the economy, according to the shadow chancellor.

“To deny that I think flies in the face of reality,” Rachel Reeves told Sky News.

“There are other problems as well, an ageing workforce, problems with the pandemic.

“But when you cut off a supply of labour which we did when we left the European Union then you are of course contributing and adding to problems.”

BCC warns of ‘hiring crisis’ as job vacancies hit record high

Businesses in the UK are facing an “acute crisis” in recruitment, the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) has warned.

It comes as official figures showed that the number of vacancies over the summer rose above one million for the first time since records began in 2001.

There were an estimated 1.03 million job vacancies in June to August 2021, up from 764,000 in the previous three months.

And early figures for August suggest there were more than 1.1 million vacancies that month for the first time ever, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said.

Figures also showed that employee numbers were back at pre-Covid levels in August, although over one million people were still on furlough.

Siren Thiru, head of economics at the BCC, said that the record vacancies highlight the “acute hiring crisis” faced by many firms in the UK.

“With Brexit and Covid driving a more deep-seated decline in labour supply, the end of furlough is unlikely to be a silver bullet to the ongoing shortages,” Thiru explained.

“These recruitment difficulties are likely to dampen the recovery by limiting firms’ ability to fulfil orders and meet customer demand.”

Support for circular economy could create thousands of jobs, says report

Transforming the UK’s approach to repair, reuse, recycling and remanufacture could create more than 450,000 jobs across the UK, according to a new report.

The Green Alliance found that a new approach to the ‘circular economy’ — where products and resources are kept in use at their highest value for as long as possible — could lead to more than 300,000 new jobs in remanufacturing and 30,000 in repair work within the next 15 years.

A third of the projected total jobs would be in lower skilled occupations where unemployment rates are currently higher, while positions in skilled trades and administrative and procurement roles would also benefit. This could help to replace jobs lost to automation and offshoring, the environmental think tank said.

Supported by investment in skills, infrastructure and innovation, the West Midlands and the North West would see significant growth in remanufacturing jobs, while recycling jobs could help challenge unemployment in Wales, alongside rental and leasing jobs in the South West and remanufacturing jobs in Yorkshire and the Humber, the report suggested. There could be opportunities for product designers in new remanufacturing departments in the North East, and for skilled repairers of machinery and electronics in the East Midlands.

The Green Alliance called for the government to bring in a series of new policies including an ambitious target to halve UK resource use by 2050; to increase consumer demand by zero rating VAT on repairs and refurbishment; and to support workers to move into the circular economy through retraining programmes and career coaching.

Greggs returns to profit and plans to create 500 jobs

Greggs has reported stronger than expected sales and says it plans to create 500 new retail jobs in the second half of the year.

The high street bakery chain made a pre-tax profit of £55.5m for the 26 weeks to 3 July, compared with a £65.2m loss a year earlier when trading was hit hard by Covid-19 restrictions.

It was also up on the 2019 first-half figure of £40.7m.

Sales for the half-year were in line with 2019 at £546.2m, compared with £300.6m in the first half of 2020.

Chief executive Roger Whiteside said that sales had been stronger than anticipated in recent months and exceeded pre-pandemic levels in the four weeks to 31 July. As a result, the company now expects full-year profit to be “slightly ahead” of previous forecasts.

Greggs had 2,115 shops at the start of July and plans 100 net openings this year, with ambitions to expand to at least 3,000 stores.

UK manufacturing maintains growth despite rising costs

Manufacturers in the UK saw another month of growth in July but are facing continued supply problems and price rises, new figures reveal.

The seasonally adjusted IHS Markit/CIPS Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) stood at 60.4 in July, reflecting the 14th consecutive month of rising output in the sector.

The index was down from 63.9 in June and the record high of 65.6 in May.

In July, companies benefited from increased new order intakes, rising client confidence and the re-opening of the economy. There was also a further increase in new export business, with improved demand from the US, the EU, China, Russia and the Middle East.

Challenges faced by UK manufacturers in July included shortages of raw materials and staff, logistic delays caused by stretched international supply chains, and price pressures due to demand outstripping supply.

“The recent surge in global manufacturing growth has led to another month of near-record supply chain delays, exacerbated by factories and their customers building up safety stocks,” said Rob Dobson, director at IHS Markit. “Some firms also noted that post-Brexit issues were still a constraint on efforts to rebuild sales and manage supply and distribution channels to the EU.”

Meanwhile, input costs rose at a near-record pace, leading to a near-record increase in manufacturers’ selling prices, Dobson added.

“Amid growing indications that many supply chain disruptions and raw material shortages are unlikely to be fully resolved until 2022, the outlook remains one of constrained growth combined with high inflation for the foreseeable future.”

Shops and pubs forced to close after staff ‘pinged’

Business groups have urged the UK government to allow fully vaccinated people not to self-isolate after being “pinged” by the NHS Covid app.

Shops, factories and pubs across the country have been forced to reduce their hours or temporarily close due to staff shortages caused by people being informed by NHS Test and Trace that they have come into contact with someone who has tested positive for Covid-19.

In the week to 7 July more than 500,000 people in England and Wales were “pinged” by the app, a rise of 46% on the previous week.

Grocery chain Iceland has had to shut some of its stores as 1,000 staff are self-isolating, and pub chain Greene King has closed 33 pubs for the same reason, BBC News reports.

Marks & Spencer has also seen a sharp rise in the number of workers being notified by the NHS app, and said it may have to reduce hours if there are shortages.

Meanwhile, Vauxhall has reduced daily shifts from three to two at its Luton plant because of the number of employees told to self-isolate, and Nissan and Rolls-Royce have warned that staff shortages could affect production.

From 16 August, people who have been fully vaccinated will not have to self-isolate if they are “pinged” by the NHS app. Instead, they will be advised to take PCR test as soon as possible.

Business representatives including the British Retail Consortium and the CBI have said that this change should be brought forward immediately.

“With restrictions being lifted and cases rapidly increasing, we urgently need a surefooted approach from government, creating confidence to secure the recovery,” said CBI president, Lord Karan Bilimoria.

“This starts by immediately ending the self-isolation period of 10 days for people who are double-jabbed and providing a route out of isolation for those not yet fully vaccinated through daily lateral flow tests. Against the backdrop of crippling staff shortages, speed is of the essence.”