Retail footfall still well below pre-pandemic levels – business news 25 May 2021.

James Salmon, Operations Director.

Retail footfall still well below pre-pandemic level,  half of Brits financially illiterate, UK refuses to back US minimum corporation tax proposals, the boss is back but the workers are staying at home and more business news.

Retail footfall still well below pre-pandemic levels

UK Shoppers staged a cautious return to the High Street last week as lockdown curbs eased further, but numbers were still far below pre-pandemic levels.

Retail footfall across all UK shopping destinations was up just 1.1% week-on-week, analyst Springboard said. However, it remained 28.7% lower than for the same period in 2019

Springboard’s insights director, Diane Wehrle, said there was “significant ground to be made up” as retailers emerge from the coronavirus crisis.

Both UK high streets ( up 2.4%) and shopping centres ( up 1%) saw only a low week-on-week rise in retail footfall last week, Springboard said. However, for retail parks, retail footfall fell again , down 1.7%.

“Footfall increased across the majority of the different town types, ranging from +2.3% in coastal towns to +11.8% in central London,” Springboard said about the week-on-week figures.

“However, in more local high streets, footfall declined as consumers gravitated towards larger destinations which have a more substantial dining offer (-4.1% in outer London and -2% in market towns).”

In related news, Commercial real estate company Shaftesbury booked a deeper first-half loss after the pandemic hurt retail footfall at retail outlets, squeezing rental income. Pre-tax losses for the six months through March amounted to £338.5 million, compared to year-on-year losses of £287.6 million, and included negative property revaluations of £342.6 million.

While Restaurant Group said it had seen a ‘very encouraging’ recovery in sales since UK lock-downs eased. In the five weeks to 16 May, following the easing of restrictions across the UK, Wagamama sites traded at about 85% of comparable 2019 sales levels.

Nearly half of Brits financially illiterate

Research carried out by debt management company Lowell has found that a significant number of Brits don’t understand key financial terms such as ‘overdraft’ (44%), ‘mortgage’ (46%) and ‘arrears’ (52%). The study also found that just a third of people claim to feel “very confident” when handling their finances. Almost half of young people wouldn’t say they were confident with their finances, and one in 10 claim to have no confidence at all in their own understanding of personal finance. Financial education could be the answer, the research suggests, with 84% of Brits believing that being taught about finances at school could help prevent financial issues in the future.

UK refuses to back US minimum corporation tax proposals

The Telegraph reports that the UK Government will not back the proposed minimum global tax rate plans coming out of the US until the White House supports ministers’ demands regarding the tax treatment of major US companies like Facebook, Amazon and Google.

If G7 nations can agree a deal on a minimum corporate tax then a wider OECD agreement is more likely, but a Treasury source said: “A minimum tax that means tax is paid elsewhere that ought to be paid in the UK will not fund the UK’s schools and hospitals. We’re not going to rush to sign up without a proper, more detailed deal on where tech companies pay their tax.”

Chris Sanger, head of tax at EY, said taxing tech giants based on which countries they earn their money in is highly political “because you’re asking one government to basically accede taxing rights over its businesses to another country, based on where its customers are rather than where the intellectual property is.”

Meanwhile, the Conservatives have voted down Labour demands that Boris Johnson supports the US President’s scheme. Kier Starmer, the Labour leader, responded by stating that the Government could be “risking billions” in tax revenue by failing to support the plan.

Over 160 BBC presenters demand action on IR35

The BBC’s director-general, Tim Davie, has been urged by more than 160 BBC local and network presenters to resolve the “ongoing catastrophe of IR35”. Many BBC staff have accused the corporation of forcing them to set up special tax vehicles to allow the BBC to avoid paying millions in national insurance contributions, only for staff to then be pursued by HMRC for unpaid tax bills. A letter addressed to Mr Davie states that the current scandals engulfing the BBC and past conduct indicate a “lack of moral courage and unwillingness to deal with problems of its own making”. The letter goes on to add: “We want you to admit this situation was the fault of managers and not presenters and set out a clear written plan to rectify the situation.”

The boss is back but the workers are staying at home

The FT reports on how some CEOs are struggling to convince workers to join them back at the office because of health concerns, a lack of childcare, or the misery of commuting.

Meanwhile, EY is the latest professional services firm to embrace hybrid working, telling its UK staff they should expect to spend at least two days a week working from home after the pandemic.

Hywel Ball, EY’s UK Chair commented: “The experience of the pandemic has brought new perspectives to both our people and our clients on how they manage their working lives. We have championed flexible working for many years prior to COVID-19 and we will continue to do so. This has been built on a culture of trust with our people.”

Can bosses counter public nervousness about the economy?

The Independent’s James Moore contrasts a survey of CEOs by PwC, which found business leaders to be overwhelmingly positive about their companies’ prospects, and a poll of the general public by Opinium Research. The latter found high levels of concern about economic growth, rising unemployment and living costs and a sense from many that they would continue to save more into the future.

Mr Moore suggests such Covid-related caution indicates the “wave of cash” predicted to be spent as the economy reopens may not materialise, bringing disappointment to the hospitality industry in particular. On the bright side, if business leaders are as confident as the PwC survey suggests, perhaps they will inspire positivity in their workers and counter the fear, Moore muses. Pay rises wouldn’t go amiss, he notes.

City police launched 50% more loan fraud investigations in February

City of London police commenced 50% more fraud probes in connection with the Government’s Bounce Back Loan scheme (BBLs) in February than the month before. Police opened 26 such probes in February, up from 17 in January, RPC said. It opened a further 28 in March. Back in October the National Audit Office (NAO) estimated that the taxpayer could lose up to £26bn on the BBL scheme, which sees small businesses given up to £50,000 in loans. More than 1.5m businesses took out a loan before the scheme closed on 31 March 2021. Due to increased risk of credit and fraud risk related to the scheme, it has been estimated that between 35 and 60% of lenders could default on the losses.  Sam Tate, partner and head of white collar crime at RPC says: “The authorities will want to accelerate the pace of investigations. Otherwise there is a high risk these assets will leave the country.”

Ted Baker blames Covid disruption for results delay

Fashion chain Ted Baker has blamed pandemic-related disruption to audit work for the delay to the publication of its annual results. Ted Baker had expected to publish its results for the year to the end of January on May 27, but the date has been pushed back to June 10. “The revised date was determined in discussion with BDO, the group’s auditor, with the agreement of the Ted Baker board, and is a consequence of the disruption caused by Covid on the audit processes,” the company said.


Oil Prices rose for a third day in the early hours of trading, holding around one-week highs after jumping more than 3% the previous session as investors tempered previous expectations of an early return of oil exporter Iran to international crude markets.

Vulture capitalists in pandemic raid on UK firms

The Mail reports on how over 120 British companies have been bought by private equity vehicles since the start of the pandemic, with data from Dealogic indicating the number of deals is the highest since the financial crisis. The value of private equity takeovers since the start of last year is set to hit £52.6bn. Baroness Altmann, a Tory peer and former pensions minister, said: “It’s really important that Government and businesses are on the lookout for pandemic plunderers. Companies are in desperate trouble through no fault of their own because of Covid, and the risk is that some outside companies might take advantage of this to buy our precious assets at knockdown prices.”

Runaway inflation could derail recovery – Haldane

Bank of England chief economist Andy Haldane told MPs on the Treasury Select Committee on Monday that inflation could surge in coming months, forcing the Bank to hike interest rates or slash its money printing programme. Mr Haldane said: “It is hard to find very much, whether it is goods or assets, that is not going up right now.” He continued: “Of all the things we want to avoid right now, an upside surprise to inflation is amongst the greatest – that would come at the cost of us needing to tighten monetary policy more rapidly or on a significantly greater scale, or possibly both, in way which would take the legs out of the recovery we hope we’ll get.”

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