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News in brief

18 June 2021: many firms issued CCJs over unpaid rent; UK-US tariffs deal to end Airbus-Boeing trade dispute; government may make working from home ‘default’ option.

Many firms are being taken to court over rent they have not paid during the pandemic, sector representatives are warning. This is despite them being protected by the government’s extension to the ban on commercial evictions. The British Retail Consortium believes about a third of retailers have faced County Court Judgements (CCJs) during the crisis, while UK Hospitality said multiple businesses and hundreds of premises in its sector have been affected. The main impact of CCJs is on companies' credit rating and long-term credit-worthiness, as the debt cannot be collected or the ruling enforced against, the BBC reported.

The UK and US have agreed to a truce over the 17-year Airbus-Boeing trade dispute, with both sides set to suspend tariffs for five years. The countries agreed to create a new working group to consult on subsidies given to the aviation sector and non-market practices in countries like China in “an open and transparent process”. Additionally, 25% US tariffs on £550m worth of products like Scotch whisky and Stilton cheese, which were temporarily suspended earlier this year, will be removed for at least the next five years, City A.M reported

The government is considering legislating to make working from home the “default” option by giving employees the right to request it. Downing Street has confirmed that a flexible working taskforce is examining how best to proceed. It also emphasised there would be no legal right to work from home, which lobby groups such as the Confederation of British Industry have opposed doing, the Guardian reported.

17 June 2021: HMRC publishes two updates for insolvency practitioners; Queen Mary University of London launches new accountancy degree; small firms lagging on female director targets.

HMRC has published two updates for insolvency practitioners. The first is regarding recording tax and national insurance due on a preferential dividend paid to the former employees of an insolvent entity. The second is an update to a previous bulletin: Introduction of electronic banking for Insolvency Practitioners making dividend payments. The update has been made to clarify the original bulletin following questions from IPs.

Queen Mary University of London has launched a new accountancy degree with ICAEW and PwC. In doing so it has also partnered with the Big Four firm’s four-year Flying Start Degree programme. Students will undertake three paid work placements in years two, three, and four of their degree. The work placements add up to around half the approved technical work experience and 12 of the 15 professional exams required to qualify as a chartered accountant. Applications open in September 2022 and 60 places will be available.

Smaller firms on the London Stock Exchange are lagging far behind large companies on female director numbers. Only 48% of the 261 smaller companies listed on the main index have met the government-backed Hampton-Alexander review target of having 33% of their board roles occupied by women, compared with nearly two-thirds of FTSE 350 companies. Meanwhile, 54% still have all-male executive leadership teams, compared with 8% of FTSE 350 firms, the Guardian reported.

16 June 2021: UK and Australia agree first post-Brexit trade deal; UK unemployment rate falls to 4.7%; FCA warns Google of legal action if accepting scam adverts.

A trade deal between the UK and Australia has been agreed between Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his counterpart, Scott Morrison. It is the first to be built from scratch since the UK left the EU and is seen as an important step towards Britain joining a wider Asia Pacific free-trade agreement. British farmers will be protected by a cap on tariff-free imports for 15 years, using tariff rate quotas and other safeguards. UK products such as cars, Scotch whisky, biscuits and ceramics will be cheaper to sell to Australia, the BBC reported.

Britain’s unemployment rate fell to 4.7% between February and April. The latest Office for National Statistics figures show the rate of employment in the UK increased for the sixth consecutive month in May, with the number of payrolled employees rising by 197,000 to 28.5m. It is however 553,000 below pre-pandemic levels, where the largest falls in employment have been in the hospitality sector, people aged under 25, and those living in London, City A.M reported

The Financial Conduct Authority has warned it will take legal action against online platforms that host advertisements for online financial scams. Until recently EU rules on financial adverts did not extend to platforms such as Google and social media sites, but the FCA is now free to crack down on rule breakers. The FCA told the Treasury Select Committee that it has alerted online platforms to the fact they must now screen financial adverts to make sure they are approved by an FCA-authorised firm or individual, the Guardian reported

15 June 2021: company closures spark fears of surge in COVID loans fraud; lockdown extension to cost hospitality up to £3bn; Azets to hire 650 in national recruitment drive.

A surge in company closures has raised concerns that thousands of fraudulent COVID-19 loan claims may have been made. Figures from accountancy firm Mazars show that in the first three months of this year almost 40,000 firms were struck off the government register, a rise of 743% on the same period of last year. Since businesses are struck off when they have stopped trading or selling stock for three months, there is concern that thousands deliberately stopped trading so they could avoid repaying their loans. This could add millions of pounds of bad loans to banks' books. The government has underwritten 80% of all Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme loans and 100% of Bounce Back Loan Scheme lending, the Daily Mail reported

Most coronavirus rules will remain in place in England for another four weeks after the planned 21 June unlocking. Senior ministers have signed off on the decision to delay the lifting of all legal restrictions on social contact. This means capacity limits will remain at venues, events and home gatherings. The UK Weddings Taskforce estimates £325m will be lost for every week of delay while UK Hospitality says businesses face losing £3bn in sales over that period, the BBC reported

Accountancy company Azets has announced a national recruitment drive that will create 650 new jobs in the UK over the next year. The roles range across all levels from assistant to partner and in service lines including audit and assurance, corporate finance and tax. With more than 80 offices across the UK, Azets plans to increase revenue by 50% in the next five years. As part of its growth drive, the company has made a multimillion-pound investment in a fully digitised, mobile-enabled working environment, City A.M reported

14 June 2021: UK economy grew 2.3% in April as restrictions ease; 70% of Morrisons shareholder revolt over £1.7m CEO bonus; FRC extends application period for accounting requirements covering COVID-19 related rent concession.

Britain’s economy grew by 2.3% in April as government restrictions affecting economic activity continued to ease. It was the fastest monthly growth of GDP since July last year and exceeded economists’ 2.2% prediction. Compared with April 2020, monthly GDP is up 27.6%. This remains 3.7% below pre-pandemic levels in February 2020 but is 1.2% above its initial recovery peak last October, City A.M reported. “Today’s figures are a promising sign that our economy is beginning to recover,” Chancellor Rishi Sunak said.

Supermarket Morrisons has suffered a huge shareholder revolt over plans to award bumper pay deals to its bosses. Just over 70% of shareholder votes were cast against the firm's remuneration proposals, which include paying CEO David Potts a maximum £1.7m bonus despite a big fall in profits. The board had stripped out the cost of the pandemic when calculating bonuses. The vote is non-binding, and Morrisons said it would now contact investors to again "make the case" for the awards, the BBC reported.

The Financial Reporting Council (FRC) has extended the application period for accounting requirements covering COVID-19 related rent concessions by one year. The amendments to FRS 102 and FRS 105 apply to rent concessions that reduce only lease payments originally due on or before 30 June 2022, provided the other conditions for applying the requirements are met. They are effective for accounting periods beginning on or after 1 January 2021, with early application permitted, the FRC said.

11 June 2021: US overtakes UK as hardest hit by COVID-19 deaths in G7; COVID-19 traffic light system may cost airports £2.6bn; meat giant JBS pays £7.8m ransom to resolve cyber-attack.

The US has overtaken the UK as the hardest-hit of the G7 big Western democracies during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. The Health Foundation’s analysis of excess death figures per 100,000 people showed that the US overtook the UK in the second half of last year, which stood at 227 compared to 181 in the UK. This means between March 2020 and February 2021 there were 20.2% more deaths than in a normal year for the US and 19.6% more in the UK, the BBC reported

The COVID traffic light system could cost UK airports £2.6bn this summer, the Airport Operators Association has warned. Airports predict the coming months could deal a heavier financial blow than 2020, while airlines are calling for grants to offset the impact of travel restrictions and protect jobs. With fewer countries on the green list now than last summer, UK hubs are likely to lose even more than the £2.6bn in revenue lost from April to September 2020. Last year passenger numbers reached just 22% of pre-pandemic levels, the Guardian reported

The world's largest meat processing company has paid the equivalent of $11m (£7.8m) in ransom to put an end to a major cyber-attack. Computer networks at JBS were hacked, temporarily shutting down some operations in Australia, Canada and the US. Cattle slaughtering at all US plants stopped for a day, while the disruption threatened food supplies and risked higher food prices for consumers. The payment was reportedly made by the Brazil-based company using Bitcoin after plants had come back online, the BBC reported.

10 June 2021: CMA investigates BA and Ryanair for refusing refunds; Australia prepared to walk away from UK free trade deal; FTSE 350 DB deficit rises by £5bn in May.

British Airways (BA) and Ryanair are being investigated for refusing to give customers refunds. The airlines may have broken consumer law by not offering refunds to customers who couldn't legally take flights due to COVID-19 lockdowns, the Competition and Markets Authority says. While BA offered vouchers and rebooking for flights that weren't cancelled, and Ryanair had offered rebooking, both declined refunds, the BBC reported

Australia’s trade minister has signalled he is prepared to walk away from a free trade agreement with the UK if Australian agricultural exporters are not granted sufficient access to the British market. The UK has been pushing back at the possibility of quickly granting tariff-free access for Australian red meat. Both sides are hoping to strike an in-principle agreement before the Australian and UK prime ministers meet on Tuesday next week, the Guardian reported.

The accounting deficit of defined benefit pension schemes for the UK FTSE 350 increased by £5bn to £81bn in May, Pensions Age reported. The increase from £76bn was driven by a £9bn jump in liabilities to £884bn, with this attributed to a fall in corporate bond yields and a small increase in inflation expectations. Mercer’s Pensions Risk Survey data found this rise in liabilities outstripped a £4bn increase in assets to £803bn. “Trustees need to understand what level of cash contributions employers can truly afford and where their risks lie. Aligning all stakeholders on a path toward a long-term objective must be the focus as we emerge from lockdown,” the company warned.

9 June 2021: firms warn economy faces “long COVID” if debts not tackled; new workers’ watchdog to protect UK employee rights; Chancellor promises to protect the City from Brussels’ financial services bid. 

Hospitality, retail and leisure firms are facing huge levels of debt as the economy reopens, industry bodies have told the government. Hospitality UK told MPs that the industry had amassed £2.5bn of rent debt and the hospitality sector had another £6bn worth of government debt accrued through schemes such as the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme. It warned of a "long COVID for the economy, if you're not very careful". Speaking to the Treasury Select Committee, other trade bodies said government support had not been adequate during the pandemic, the BBC reported

A powerful new workers’ watchdog will be created to protect the rights of UK workers. The government’s plans will see the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority, the Employment Agency Standards Inspectorate and HMRC’s National Minimum Wage Enforcement combined to create a single enforcement body. By doing so it will have responsibility for tackling modern slavery, enforcing the minimum wage and protecting agency workers. Bringing these roles together will make it more difficult for businesses that break the rules, and create a single point of call for whistleblowers.

In a private call with banks, Chancellor Rishi Sunak has promised to protect the City from Brussels’ financial services bid. The call included the governor of the Bank of England as well as senior executives from Barclays, NatWest and other major UK banks. It is the first time the Prime Minister, Chancellor and the governor of the Bank of England have hosted a meeting of this kind with major financial services firms, many of whom have voiced concerns about the future of the economy post-Brexit. It comes after European Union chiefs asked the banks how they can help them shift their lucrative operations out of London and into the EU, City A.M reported.

8 June 2021: house prices jump 9.5% as buyers seek larger homes; UK signs trade deal with Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein; US warns inflation could reach 3% in 2021.

UK house prices leapt another 9.5% in the year to May, boosted by the government's stamp duty holiday which ends this month. The Halifax said prices rose by more than £22,000 to an average of £261,743. Demand has also transferred to larger properties with more space as buyer preferences shift to fit post-pandemic lifestyles. Annual house price inflation is at its strongest level in nearly seven years, with UK prices rising by 1.3% month-on-month, the BBC reported.

The UK has signed a post-Brexit trade deal with Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein. The agreement will boost sectors such as digital and cut tariffs on UK farm products such as cheese and meat, the government announced. It will be a major boost for trade between the four non-EU nations, which is already worth £21.6bn, UK minister Liz Truss said. 

The US Treasury Secretary says inflation could reach 3% this year as the economy rebounds from the pandemic. The Federal Reserve aims for a two per cent annual inflation target, but the central bank has made it clear it will not combat inflation and hike interest rates until there has been progress in the jobs market. Last week figures showed the US added 559,000 jobs in May, with the unemployment rate falling from 6.1% to 5.8% in a month, City A.M reported.

7 June 2021: finance ministers meet over digital tax agreement; TfL projects at risk over lack of long-term funding; Biden bans US investment in Chinese military and tech surveillance sector.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak has pushed for a global agreement on digital taxation to be reached in a meeting of world finance leaders. Tax on big tech and multinationals has been a source of tension between the US and other countries including the UK. The US announced it would impose tariffs on about $2bn (£1.4bn) of imports but immediately suspended them 180 days to give more time for talks, the BBC reported. At the two-day meeting of finance ministers over the weekend, Sunak reportedly pushed for an agreement on taxes and called for all global businesses to commit to climate reporting.

A new report from Transport for London warns several projects could be in jeopardy due to the lack of a long-term funding deal. This may include the West London Orbital, which is vital to the success of HS2. “The future development of these schemes, and the benefits they enable, is contingent on the outcome of discussions with the Government on longer-term funding,” TfL said. It had sought a multi-year funding deal, for the £3bn in operational support required for the next year, as well as £1.6bn a year in capital spending support between 2023 and 2030, City A.M reported.

US president Joe Biden has signed an executive order banning American entities from investing in Chinese companies with alleged ties to defense or surveillance technology sectors. The US treasury will enforce and update on a “rolling basis” the new ban list of about 59 companies, beginning 2 August. It bars buying or selling publicly traded securities in target companies, and replaces an earlier list from the defense department, the Guardian reported

4 June 2021: Tesco staff win legal argument in equal pay fight; Irish Microsoft subsidiary pays zero corporate tax on £220bn profit; Conservative Party fined £10,000 for spam emails.

Thousands of current and former Tesco workers have won a legal argument in their fight for equal pay. The mostly-female shop floor workers argued they did not receive equal pay for work of equal value with mostly-male floor workers in Tesco’s distribution centres. The European Court of Justice has ruled that the UK also applies an EU law stating workers can be compared with those in different establishments if a single body controls the pay difference. The clarification will be key for supermarket workers making equal pay claims against their employer. Asda workers also filed similar claims earlier this year, the BBC reported.

An Irish subsidiary of Microsoft made a profit of $315bn (£222bn) last year but paid no corporation tax, as it is resident for tax purposes in Bermuda. Its profits jumped from just under $10bn the previous year to nearly 75% of Ireland’s entire 2020 GDP of €357bn ($437bn), despite having no employees. The revelation of how much money Microsoft has saved by routing via Ireland comes as world leaders looks to form an agreement to tackle multinational tax avoidance before the G7 meeting in Cornwall later this month, the Guardian reported

The Conservative Party has been fined £10,000 for sending dozens of marketing emails to people who did not want to receive them. Data watchdog the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) opened a probe into more than 51 emails sent in Boris Johnson’s name over eight days. The emails promoted the party, directing recipients to join it online, however many recipients had unsubscribed from marketing emails which the party had not kept track of. During the ICO investigation another 23 million emails were sent, showing the party did not have the proper data protection processes in place and resulting in further recipient complaints, City A.M reported.

3 June 2021: UK set for stronger post-COVID recovery; Brits borrowed billions in April as housing market boomed; G7 nations committing billions more to fossil fuel than green energy; CPTPP allows UK to join trading bloc.

The UK economy's recovery from the pandemic is set to be stronger than previously thought. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) says the UK is likely to grow 7.2% in 2021, up from its March projection of 5.1%. The OECD raised its forecast for global growth to 5.8%, compared with the 4.2% it predicted in December. However, it warned that growth would not be shared evenly. The UK's growth is set to be the fastest among the large rich countries, the BBC reported

Mortgage borrowing hit £3.3bn in April as UK house prices rose at their fastest rate in five years. This is a trend driven largely by the extension of the stamp duty holiday from March to June, figures from the Bank of England (BoE) showed. However, April’s mortgage borrowing was significantly lower than March’s £11.5bn figure, despite approval numbers increasing to 86,900, City A.M reported. The borrowing rise “is being driven mainly by the tax holiday,” the BoE’s deputy governor Jon Cunliffe said. 

G7 nations have committed billions more dollars to fossil fuel than they have green energy. Analysis from development charity Tearfund reveals that the countries attending the G7 in the UK committed $189bn to support oil, coal and gas between January 2020 and March 2021. In comparison, the same countries – the UK, US, Canada, Italy, France, Germany and Japan – spent $147bn on clean forms of energy in the same period. In most cases ($8 out of every $10 spent) the money provided for fossil fuel industries was given with no strings attached, rather than with conditions requiring a reduction in emissions or pollution, the Guardian reported.

The Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) has agreed to allow the UK to begin the process of joining the trading bloc. Joining the bloc would give the UK 95% tariff free trade with the 11 member nations, who make up 13.4% of global GDP – about £10trn. Members include Japan, Australia, Canada, Mexico, Vietnam and New Zealand. The UK applied to join the CPTPP in February, City A.M reported.

2 June 2021: British exports worth billions have faced EU tariffs since Brexit; UK could make £14.7bn annually from Biden's tax plan; TfL £1bn recovery funding comes with driverless train demands; Deloitte volunteers hit 3,000 hours for Futures Month.

Between £2.5bn and £3.5bn of British exports traded with the EU faced a tariff in the first three months of 2021. That accounts for about 10% of British goods exports to the EU despite a tariff-free deal being agreed, according to an analysis of official EU statistics for the BBC by the University of Sussex. The European Commission confirmed that €2.5bn of eligible UK exports did not use the zero-tariff agreement, which it says is likely due to the correct paperwork not being filed. 

The UK could glean another £14.7bn every year by adopting Joe Biden’s tax proposal, the Institute for Public Policy Research found. The leading think tank urged the UK government to adopt the US president’s new global minimum corporation tax rate of 21% at the upcoming G7 summit in Cornwall. This would push the world’s multinational giants to pay taxes to national governments based on sales the companies generate in each country, City A.M reported. 

TfL must produce business cases for driverless tube trains as part of a £1bn funding agreement. Ministers say the government funding, requested to help the capital recover from the pandemic, must also come with a requirement to make £300m of annual cuts and slash pensions, according to the Guardian. London Mayor Sadiq Khan has criticised the short-term settlement, saying he will fight further moves towards funding driverless trains as it is a “gross misuse of taxpayers’ money”. 

Deloitte volunteers have clocked up over 3,000 hours for Futures Month. The Big Four firm is marking Volunteers’ Week (1 – 7 June) with the conclusion of a month-long initiative that saw its people volunteer over 3,000 hours as part of the firm’s 5 Million Futures social impact goal. This is the equivalent to 19 months of pro bono work, according to Deloitte.

1 June 2021: Insurers must not penalise loyal customers, says FCA; Bank transfer scammers steal £700,000 a day from UK victims; FRC issues revised auditing standard on fraud responsibilities.

People renewing their home or motor insurance will pay no more than they would as a new customer from January. The new rules have been confirmed by the Financial Conduct Authority. It says the move will save loyal customers an estimated £4.2bn over 10 years. But it admitted it could spell the end of the cheapest deals for new customers, the BBC reported.

More than £700,000 is lost to bank transfer scams every day, which works out at £491 a minute, according to research by the consumer body Which?. Figures show a total of £412m has been lost across 189,000 cases of bank transfer fraud between the introduction of a voluntary industry code on reimbursement in May 2019 and the end of 2020. This equates to £707,000 a day, or £29,000 an hour, The Guardian reported

The Financial Reporting Council (FRC) has issued a revision of its UK auditing standard on the responsibilities of auditors relating to fraud. The revisions include enhancements to the requirements for the identification and assessment of risk of material misstatement due to fraud and the procedures to respond to those risks. The revised UK standard is effective for audits of periods beginning on or after 15 December 2021 with early adoption permitted, the FRC said.

28 May 2021: government to inject £166m for green technology making 60,000 jobs; 74% of London firms to return to the office by September; US businesses form coalition opposing tax hike

The government has announced a £166m cash injection for green technology, expected to create 60,000 UK jobs. The cash boost comes as part of the Prime Minister’s green industrial revolution, pushing developments in areas including carbon capture, greenhouse gas removal and hydrogen. The package will benefit energy-intensive businesses like Tate & Lyle, BAE Systems and Celsa Manufacturing by cutting business costs, BEIS announced

Almost three-quarters of London businesses plan to return to the office by September, a new study by Addison Lee has revealed. Of the 142 firms surveyed, 74% said they would return to their workplace over the coming months. Of those, 51% plan to do so by 30 June, City A.M reported. However, 53% of staff did not want to be forced back to the office, so 71% of firms are considering offering flexible working plans to address these concerns.

US business groups have formed a coalition opposing tax increase proposals by the Biden administration. The US government is proposing a global minimum corporation tax rate as well as an increased tax in the US to pay for infrastructure projects, the BBC reported. It also wants to pass a $2.3tn (£1.7tn) infrastructure package, to fund initiatives such as electric vehicle charging stations and eliminating lead water pipes. However, 28 large industry groups, forming an alliance called America's Job Creators for a Strong Recovery, say these corporation taxes "could not come at a worse time".

27 May 2021: FRC concludes annual FRS 101 review; regulator opens inquiry into Knightland Foundation finances; M&S cuts shops and formalwear to make up £201m loss; Amigo Loans shares dive 55% as High Court rejects compensation cap.

The Financial Reporting Council (FRC) has concluded its 2020/21 annual review of FRS 101 Reduced Disclosure Framework. In doing so it issued an Amendments to FRS 101 – 2020/21 Cycle report. The amendments made “are limited, and predominantly provide a disclosure exemption in relation to IAS 16 Property, Plant and Equipment and maintain consistency with IAS 1 Presentation of Financial Statements,” the FRC announced.

The Charity Commission has opened a statutory inquiry and appointed two interim managers to the Knightland Foundation. Serious concerns were raised surrounding the London-based grant-making charity’s governance and finances. The charity regulator’s inquiry will examine whether potential conflicts of interest and connected party transactions have been properly managed and whether there has been any unauthorised trustee benefit.

Marks & Spencer will close another 30 shops and shift its clothing stock from formalwear to athleisure gear. The move is an attempt to make up a pandemic-driven £201m loss for the year to 27 March, compared to a profit of £67m a year before. The retailer is also aiming to cut its 250 "full-line" sites, which sell clothing, home and food products, to around 180, Sky News reported

Shares in the UK sub-prime lender Amigo have plummeted 55% on fears that the firm could collapse. This comes after the High Court refused to approve a controversial proposal to cap customer compensation claims. Amigo secured 95% of votes in favour of a scheme from customers at a meeting on 12 May for its proposals to pay compensation to borrowers who had been mis-sold loans. However the judge noted the turnout had been just 8.7% and was “not satisfied that the court should sanction the scheme”, the Guardian reported

26 May 2021: ARGA gets local government audit powers; HMRC publishes tax receipts and expenditure for the UK; UK tourism spending half of pre-pandemic level.

The Audit, Reporting and Governance Authority will be strengthened with new powers over local government audit. The new regulator is being established to replace the Financial Reporting Council. The UK Government hopes the new powers will help better protect public funds and ensure councils are best serving taxpayers. It said a standalone local audit unit would also be created, bringing all regulatory functions into one place to “better coordinate a new, simplified local audit framework”, according to PQ Magazine.

HMRC has published its tax receipts and National Insurance contributions for the UK. The summary also includes child benefit and tax-free childcare payments as well as expenditure on tax credit and the coronavirus job retention scheme. It coincides with the release of the Office for National Statistics’ public sector finances publication which examines how the relationship between UK public sector monthly income and expenditure leads to changes in deficit and debt.

UK tourism is set for a slow recovery from the pandemic, with spending by holidaymakers this year expected to be just half the level of 2019. Forecasts by the VisitBritain agency indicate that domestic tourism will be worth £51.4bn in 2021, down from £91.6bn two years ago. The forecast for spending by foreign tourists in the UK is £6.2bn, less than a quarter of the £28.4bn in 2019, the BBC reported

25 May 2021: UK may scrap tariffs on US whiskey and motorcycles; HSBC and Barclays call for open banking reform over high costs; UK businesses can unlock £700bn with green exports, says CBI.

The UK will review its tariffs on US products like whiskey, tobacco and motorcycles. The move comes in a bid to get US president Joe Biden to drop Donald Trump’s Section 232 tariffs on British steel and aluminium. International trade secretary Liz Truss announced today that she would launch a six-week consultation with British businesses to consider “re-balancing measures” that could see some of the tariffs scrapped, City A.M reported.

HSBC and Barclays have called for a reform to open banking to address its higher-than-predicted costs. Open banking forces UK regulated banks to share data with rivals in a bid to increase competition, City A.M reported. Customers are allowed to share their financial data, including spending habits and regular payments, with budgeting apps or other banks to make it easier for them to switch. However, Barclays say the cost of operating this way has “to date has been significantly higher than the amounts …taken into account by the Competition and Markets Authority in its original 2016 assessment”. 

British businesses could create 240,000 low-carbon jobs and boost green exports by £700bn by 2030, the CBI says. The business lobby group’s report said decarbonisation, innovation, growing trade and levelling-up Britain’s lopsided regional economy could unlock billions in commercial growth opportunities. This could include opportunities to grow electric vehicle and battery sales by £18bn over the next decade, the Guardian reported

24 May 2021: plastic bag charge increases in England; UK to cut tariffs on Australian imports to zero under trade deal; schools set to lose £118m funding for poor pupils.

The cost of a single-use plastic carrier bag in English shops has gone up from 5p to 10p. All stores, big and small, have to apply the charge from Friday 21 May 2021. Until now, smaller retailers were exempt. The original 5p levy was introduced in England in 2015. Since then, the use of the bags has declined by more than 95%, the BBC reported

The UK is set to agree a free trade deal with Australia that will cut tariffs on Aussie imports to zero after 15 years. The longer timeline to reduce taxes on imports comes after fierce opposition from British farmers who fear an influx of beef and lamb from Australia. The offer will now be made to the Australian side, which may open negotiations over the timeline to reduce quotas, taxes and tariffs on imports to zero, City A.M reported.

Schools in England could lose £118m funding for poor pupils this year, the Local Government Association (LGA) says. The education department is bringing forward the annual date for counting those eligible for the pupil premium, which it says will help plan budgets. Pupils who have become eligible between October 2020 and January 2021 will not now be counted until October 2021. An LGA survey suggests this will create a loss of about £93m for primary schools and £25m for secondary schools. On average, each local authority area will lose about £600,000 in primary school pupil premium funding, the BBC reported.