Insolvencies return to pre-pandemic levels – business news 20 September 2021

James Salmon, Operations Director.

Insolvencies return to pre-pandemic levels
Figures from the Insolvency Service show that business insolvencies returned to pre-pandemic levels in August, with firms hit by supply chain disruptions and staffing shortages. The report shows there were 1,348 registered company insolvencies last month compared to 1,097 in July. August’s total marks a 71% increase on that recorded in August 2020, with insolvencies artificially suppressed during the pandemic as the Government rolled out support measures designed to help businesses survive. The report shows there were 1,256 Creditors’ Voluntary Liquidations among the insolvencies, with just 35 compulsory liquidations. For individuals, there were 1,714 debt relief orders in August, with this 29% higher than in August last year. There were also 614 bankruptcies. Colin Haig of trade body R3 said the figures highlight “the toll the pandemic has taken on business and personal finances over the last 12 months”.

Shop sales fall for fourth consecutive month
Retail sales in the UK fell for the fourth month in a row in August, figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show. Sales were down 0.9%, with this following a 2.8% fall in July. While food store sales fell by 1.2%, the removal of restrictions on hospitality saw more people eating out. The ONS report shows that the share of online sales increased to 27.7% in August from 27.1% in July. Jonathan Athow, ONS deputy national statistician for economic statistics, said the fall in August’s sales was “not nearly as much as in July” and, overall, remained above pre-pandemic levels. Reflecting on the report, Martin Beck, senior economic adviser at the EY Item Club, said the fall in sales was a surprise, “given that both footfall and debit and credit card spending had improved” in August. The ONS analysis also noted the supply chain problems and labour shortages that have hit retailers, citing data from August suggesting that 6.5% of businesses in the retail sector were unable to get the materials, goods or services they needed. Oliver Vernon-Harcourt, head of retail at Deloitte, said: “A perfect storm of labour shortages, supply chain issues and increased demand will continue to test retail leaders as we enter the Golden Quarter”, adding: “Managing price increases and stock shortages will be one of the main challenges retail leaders will have to address in the coming months.”

Concerns grow as power prices hit record highs
The business secretary moved to assure the public on Saturday that there was no immediate concern over energy supplies after soaring gas prices put several energy companies and heavy industrial firms out of business. Kwasi Kwarteng held talks with some of Britain’s biggest energy groups on Saturday and will meet with Ofgem on Sunday amid growing fears that the small suppliers that have failed so far this year could be the tip of the iceberg. “Britain has a diverse range of gas supply sources, with sufficient capacity to more than meet demand,” Kwarteng said. “We do not expect supply emergencies this winter.” The BBC reports that four more small firms are expected to go bust next week and have asked larger players to bid to take over the supply to one million customers.

Businesses demand leadership from PM on climate
PwC is among nearly 100 businesses that have signed a letter to Boris Johnson urging stronger leadership on climate policy ahead of the UN COP26 climate conference in Glasgow in November.

Andy Haldane to head UK’s levelling-up task force
Andy Haldane, the former chief economist at the Bank of England, has been appointed by Boris Johnson to head up a new taskforce charged with leading the Government’s levelling up agenda. Haldane will be based in the Cabinet Office, at permanent secretary level, and will report both to the Prime Minister and to Michael Gove, who runs a new Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities. Commenting on his appointment, Haldane said: “Levelling up the UK is one of the signature challenges of our time. It has also been a personal passion throughout my professional career.” A white paper on the issue is expected this autumn.

Manufacturers broadly optimistic
A survey by Make UK and BDO found broad optimism in the manufacturing sector, with 42% reporting robust output, up from 36% in the second quarter and 9% in the first three months of the year. However, Make UK chief executive Stephen Phipson warned that rising shipping costs continued to pose a threat.

CBI calls for help to beat labour shortage
A survey by the CBI and Pertemps Network Group has found that 87% of businesses questioned were planning to recruit to fill permanent positions this year. But over 75% were concerned about skills shortages while 47% thought labour costs were a threat to the competitiveness of the jobs market. CBI chief policy director Matthew Fell called on the Government to give employers more freedom to hire workers from overseas and boost training.

One in three shun full-time office work
A poll of 1,000 workers carried out last month for IWG found one in three would not take a job that required them to be in the office full time. When asked how many days workers expected to be in the office, just 18.5% said five days a week. More than half said that splitting their time across two workspaces was good for their mental health.

Workers could see day one WFH rights
Ministers are looking into plans that would allow workers to request flexible working as soon as they start in a position, with current rules saying they must first complete six months in the role. The proposal from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) comes amid the rise in remote working brought about by the pandemic. News of the BEIS’ plans comes as a BBC poll found that more than two thirds of people think that workers will never return to the office full-time after the pandemic, with about 70% of respondents saying they would “never return to offices at the same rate” as before the coronavirus crisis.

Bosses urged to increase mental health support
Guidance from Public Health England and the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence suggests employers should train managers so they are able to spot signs of stress and help affected workers, adding that free mindfulness, yoga or meditation classes could help protect employees’ mental health at work. A draft document, which is subject to consultation, makes several recommendations intended to help firms “create the right conditions” to support mental wellbeing in the workplace. The report comes after a 2020 study by Deloitte estimated that poor mental health among staff costs UK firms up to £45bn a year. The Confederation of British Industry said: “Supporting the wellbeing and mental health of staff has been on the agenda for many business for some time now and the global pandemic has accelerated this journey.”

HMRC suffers £2.5m loss on failed music firm
A report from the administrators of failed music technology company Roli states that HMRC will not be getting the £2.5m it is owed by the group. RSM said that Roli’s venture capital backer Triplepoint will, however, get back around £27m of the £33.6m it is owed after all the music hardware firm’s assets and staff were acquired by Lumi, a company headed by Roli chief and founder Roland Lamb, with the help of financing from investment group Hoxton Ventures.

Derby County file notice to appoint administrators
Championship football club Derby County are set to go into administration amid ongoing financial problems. Their accounts for 2016, 2017 and 2018 are already being re-examined after they were found to have broken accounting rules.

Investors turning away from property funds
Investors pulled more money out of property funds than any other type of fund in August, according to the data company Morningstar. Some £828m was ploughed into UK-domiciled funds in August, once withdrawals were taken into account, mostly because of the success of multi-asset funds. This type of fund gained £1.25bn last month. Property funds fared the worst, with outflows of £33m, partly due to the termination of Aviva’s UK Property fund after property markets ceased trading in the pandemic. In the past year property funds have lost £4.7bn to investor redemptions.

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