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What's happening in the world of accountancy today

News in brief

Author: ICAEW Insights

Published: 30 Jun 2022

4 July 2022: economists warn of US recession as stocks plummet; Fuel-poor homes take £250 insulation hit; EU decides crypto assets regulation.

US stocks have seen their worst first half of a year since 1970, as concerns grow over how steps to curb inflation will affect economic growth. In the last six months, the benchmark S&P 500 index fell 20.6%, while other major US indexes also dropped sharply. Economists expect the country, which has the world’s biggest economy, to go into a recession as early as this year. Stocks in the UK, mainland Europe and Asia have also suffered steep losses. The UK's FTSE 250 has dropped by more than 20%, while Europe's Stoxx 600 index has slipped by almost 17% and the MSCI index of Asia-Pacific markets has fallen by more than 18%, the BBC reported

People in “fuel-poor” households in England are facing annual bills about £250 higher than need be due to poorly insulated homes. Local Government Association (LGA) research identified three million households where better insulation would save large sums for inhabitants. About £770m is wasted each year trying to heat them. The LGA has called for all fuel-poor homes to be properly insulated by 2030. It says this will save the NHS about £500m each year, as damp homes contribute to illness, and would create tens of thousands of new green jobs. At least two-thirds of the 3 million will need some form of government help to achieve this, the Guardian reported. 

The European Union has agreed on landmark regulation for cryptocurrencies in what could be the world’s first regulatory framework for crypto. The Markets in Crypto-Assets (MiCa) law will come into force at the end of next year and will contain rules to tackle fraudulent schemes, market abuse, and manipulation. Crypto-asset service providers will need to be authorised to operate in the EU and industry players must provide environmental and climate footprint information. MiCA will work alongside Anti-Money Laundering legislation, City A.M reported

1 July 2022: firms warn time is running out to save UK economy; NAO publishes 2020/21 annual report and accounts; Former SNP MP jailed for embezzling £24,635. 

Firms and organisations are warning the government that time is running out to save the UK economy. The British Chamber of Commerce said the government has "until the Autumn budget to reset, rethink and get their house in order". The Bank of England warns that soaring inflation could hit the UK harder than elsewhere. Both are joining calls for the government to intervene. Prices are rising at their fastest rate for 40 years with UK inflation at 9.1% in May. Real household disposable income dropped 0.2% between January and March as income growth of 1.5% was outstripped by household inflation of 1.7%, the BBC reported

The National Audit Office (NAO) has published its 2020/21 annual report and accounts. These disclose that its work has directly resulted in savings for the public sector of £11 for every £1 it has spent. Among the total audited financially-quantifiable net benefit for the public sector of £874m in 2021, the NAO’s recommendations led the Environment Agency to reduce fraud and error in packaging recovery notes by £18.5m.

A former Scottish National party MP who embezzled £24,635 from two pro-independence groups has been jailed for two years. Natalie McGarry, who represented Glasgow East, was convicted of embezzling £19,974 while she was treasurer of Women for Independence (WFI) and £4,661 while treasurer, secretary and convener of the Glasgow Regional Association of the SNP. The crimes occurred between 26 April 2013 and 30 November 2015. The court saw McGarry’s bank records, which showed Crowdfunder donations from WFI being transferred to her own personal account, the Guardian reported

30 June 20: energy bill and tax rebate scams on the rise; tuition fee crisis could mean university cutbacks; more than 75% of UK firms hit by shortages. 

Scams focusing on energy bill deals and council tax rebates are growing as the UK cost of living rises. UK Finance warned that fraud to obtain people’s money and personal details surged 39% in 2021, compared with 2020. The most on record, £1.3bn overall, was stolen through fraud in 2021. This is an 8% increase from the year before. Authorised push payment fraud – when victims think they are paying a genuine organisation – rose by 39% to £583m. Less than half (47%) of these losses were returned to victims. Investment fraud cases surged by 57% and impersonation scams rose 36% on the year before, the BBC reported. 

UK universities may be forced to cut the number of UK students they take, increase class sizes and axe staff to save money. The real value of tuition fees is plummeting as they have remained almost static for 10 years and not kept pace with inflation. The Russell Group says institutions are making a loss of £1,750 a year teaching each home student and will be losing £4,000 a year on every UK undergraduate by 2024. The government is being called to intervene, the Guardian reported. It raised the tuition fee cap to £9,250 in 2017 and previously said this will remain until at least the 2024-25 academic year. 

More than three quarters of UK firms are seeing trading hit or growth stalled amid intensifying skills shortages. The Open University’s annual Business Barometer found 68% of SMEs are facing skills shortages, rising to 86% for large organisations, City A.M reported. This is having a knock-on impact on company performance, with 78% of firms seeing reduced output, profitability or growth and 28% having to turn down work. Staff wellbeing has also taken a hit, with 72% of surveyed organisations finding an increased workload as a result of shortages, compared to 56% in 2021.

29 June 2022: Government ad campaign to back businesses cutting prices; fracking firms could share in UK fossil fuel tax breaks; EY agrees record $100m SEC settlement; Audit Wales launches new strategy. 

Businesses are being asked to cut prices for consumers in a new government campaign. The taxpayer-funded ad campaign will launch in early July. Businesses will be encouraged to join by introducing price-cutting measures, and in exchange will add the campaign name and logo to their branding. Cost of living tsar David Buttress told business leaders that there are four points in the year they could provide price cuts to help people - summer holidays, new school terms starting, inflation rising in Autumn, and Christmas.

Fracking companies may be eligible for billions in tax breaks. The government is extending breaks to oil and gas companies that invest in new exploration of fossil fuel resources, the Guardian reported. The sector could benefit by £4bn from the loophole in the windfall tax that allows these exemptions. However, fracking companies could also be eligible for this incentive, based on the way the tax is currently written. The Labour Party said under the new rules every £100 an oil and gas company invests in the North Sea, the company receives £91.50 from the taxpayer. Meanwhile, for every £100 invested in renewable energy, the renewables company receives £25 which will fall to £4.50 from April 2023.

EY has reached a $100m (£82m) settlement with the US Securities and Exchanges Commission (SEC) on an accounting exam case. This is the highest penalty ever imposed on an audit firm by the SEC, City A.M reported. The Big Four firm admitted a “significant” number of its auditors cheated on the ethics components of the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) exams by sharing answers between themselves. They later misled the watchdog’s investigators. In addition to the fine, EY must take in two independent consultants to review its ethics policies. The Big Four firm said it was complying with the SEC’s order.

Audit Wales has launched a new five-year strategy focussing on trends that have emerged through its work. The first of these is the pandemic response, including direct and legacy costs and the ongoing economic impact on public finances. Secondly, “a changing world” looking at the challenges of climate change, creating a more equal society, and constitutional changes. The third trend is the transformation of services, exploring new approaches to service delivery, long term planning and prevention, and use of data and technology. It will prioritise action through its audit programme, communications, culture, and operating model.

28 June 2022: Russia defaults on foreign debt; SMEs stockpiling to meet demand; UK graduate starting salaries soar.

Russia has defaulted on its overseas debt for the first time in more than a century after missing a Sunday deadline. Reports suggest it had the money to make the $100m interest payment and was willing to pay, but sanctions made it impossible to get the sum to international creditors. The payment was due on 27 May. Russia says it was sent to Euroclear – a bank which would then distribute the payment to investors – but it has been stuck there and creditors have not received it. As it has not arrived within 30 days of the due date (27 June), it’s considered a default. Euroclear would not say if the payment had been blocked, but said it adhered to all sanctions, the BBC reported

UK SMEs are stockpiling raw materials and ordering components six months ahead to overcome supply shortages. Businesses have reported that much of their cash is tied up in obtaining them, as shortages prevent them meeting customer demands. Many are being forced to limit production. This falls on a backdrop of fuel and construction costs reaching record highs, import prices surging, and a 10% fall in the pound, the Guardian reported. Increased uncertainty also means SMEs are taking no risks and cutting investment.

Graduates are set to enter the strongest job market Britain has seen in years. Starter salaries are up 7% from a year ago and graduate job vacancies up 59% from May 2021, Adzuna research found. In spite of global economic crises and soaring inflation and cost-of-living, employers posted 14,690 job adverts in May this year compared to 9,265 a year ago. Average graduate salaries have jumped to six-year highs from £24,389 in 2021 to £26,076, City A.M reported. 

27 June 2022: Biden urges petrol tax holiday; inflation pushes UK borrowing to £14bn in May; construction giants rigged £150m of contracts.

US President Joe Biden has called for a three-month suspension of America's national petrol tax in response to the country's soaring energy prices. The average cost of a gallon of petrol is around $5 (£4), up from $3 a year ago, though this is much higher in some states. The US tax is around 18c per gallon on petrol and 24c on diesel and helps pay for highway infrastructure. Eliminating the levy through September would cost the government an estimated $10bn, the BBC reported. Petrol in the US is currently cheaper than many other countries, amounting to about $1.32 (108p) per litre, compared to more than 180p per litre in the UK.

Government borrowing was higher than expected in May, at £14bn, as soaring inflation sent interest payments on the UK’s debt to a monthly record. The Office for National Statistics said debt interest payments leapt 70% on a year ago to £7.6bn. This is the third-highest debt interest payment made by the central government in any single month and the highest payment in May on record. The changes are predicted to push government borrowing £20bn higher this year than the initial £99bn forecast, to £130bn, the Guardian reported

About 10 construction firms illegally colluded to rig bids for £150m of major contracts, provisional findings by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) suggest. The rigged contracts for demolition services included work for Selfridges, Oxford University and Bow Street magistrates court and police station in central London. The firms submitted figures deliberately priced to lose the tender, deceiving customers into believing they were competitive, and were later compensated by the winner. Eight firms involved in the cartels have admitted to taking part. The CMA said it will issue fines if it concludes they have broken the law. Its investigation began in 2019, City A.M reported

24 June 2022: Northern Powerhouse tech sector wins £45m investment; paper £20 and £50 banknotes leave circulation 30 September; FCA scans 100,000 sites a day in fraud crackdown.

US tech consultancy firm Credera has announced a £45m investment in the Northern Powerhouse. Around £20m will be invested into Manchester to create 150 graduate roles over three years, for those looking to kickstart their career in tech. Credera will also put £25m into Newcastle to create 160 of an eventual 200 high-skilled positions for locals. In 2020/21, Foreign Direct Investment projects created over 4,000 new jobs in the North West and the UK tech sector is now valued at £764bn.

People have 100 days to use the paper £20 and £50 banknotes remaining in circulation, the Bank of England says. It is encouraging people to use or deposit them at their bank or a post office before the notes lose legal tender status on 30 September. While the majority have been replaced with new polymer versions, there are still more than 300 million £20 and 160 million £50 paper banknotes in circulation. They total £6bn and £8bn in value respectively, the Guardian reported

The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) is using data analytics to scan 100,000 websites a day in a crackdown on scams and fraud. While it cannot remove fraudulent sites, it has been requesting host websites to shut scams down. Last year 564 adverts were either removed or amended, double that of previous years, City A.M reported. The FCA has also added almost 2,000 sites to its consumer warning list since May 2021 – a 33% increase since this time last year.

23 June 2022: UK-GCC free trade deal talks begin; average UK pay rises stall at 4%; FCA fines London broker £7.9m over bribery case. 

Free trade negotiations launched between the UK and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) this week. Talks are expected to culminate in a trade deal worth £1.6bn more a year to the UK economy. The GCC is made up of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE. Equivalent to the UK’s seventh largest export market, its demand for international products and services is expected to grow 35% to £800bn by 2035. This will create many new opportunities and jobs for UK businesses, increasing investment from the Gulf.

Annual pay growth stalled at 4% in May, leaving most workers with a rise in earnings worth less than half the 9% increase in prices. XpertHR research found May’s rise was the highest since 1992, however any marginal increases were outstripped by the pace of inflation. It added that the failure of employer pay deals to increase on this figure undermines concerns that workers would push for inflation-busting rises in earnings. Fears have been voiced that this could start a wage-price spiral, the Guardian reported

The Financial Conduct Authority has fined London insurance broker JLT Specialty Ltd (JLTSL) £7.9m over its involvement in a multi-million-dollar bribery scandal. Lax controls at the London broker meant it failed to prevent financial crime, after an “introducer” working for the firm in Panama paid $3m in bribes to government officials at a state-owned insurance firm. The bribery came after JLTSL paid $12.3m to its Colombian parent company, which in turn paid $10.8m to a third party introducer, who later paid out the $3m in bribes, City A.M reported. 

22 June 2022: businesses move to new single customs platform; food bills to rise by £380 this year; Network denies MPs pushed for pay cap. 

More than 220,000 businesses are being urged to move onto HMRC's new single customs IT platform. To continue importing goods, businesses must use the Customs Declaration Service to make import declarations, after 30 September this year. The streamlined service will replace the old Customs Handling Import and Export Freight. This marks the first step towards the government’s vision of a Single Trade Window.

The average annual grocery bill in the UK is set to rise by £380 this year, according to research firm Kantar. That means shoppers could be paying on average an extra £32 a month for food and other groceries. In April, the firm predicted this annual cost would go up just £271 in 2022. The survey also showed grocery prices rose by 8.3% over the past four weeks, the highest rate in 13 years, the BBC reported. Official figures for April showed overall inflation was running at 9% a year in the UK – the highest rate for 40 years. 

Network Rail has denied that the government leaned on it to cap a pay increase at 3% for its workers. The RMT union believes a cap was requested to avoid a pay rise precedent being set and limit the risk of inflation. It is asking for a 7% pay rise and has rejected an offer of 2% with a further 1% tied to job cuts. Network Rail’s CEO, Andrew Haines, said the government had not had a hand in the company’s pay offer. Attempts to avert the strikes through talks failed on Monday evening, the Guardian reported

21 June 2022: HMRC late payment interest rates to be revised; new data laws to boost British business; Black and Asian UK workers held back by bias, study finds. 

HMRC interest rates for late payments will be revised following the Bank of England interest rate rise to 1.25%. These changes will come into effect on 27 June 2022 for quarterly instalment payments and 5 July 2022 for non-quarterly instalments payments. The repayment interest rate will remain at 0.5%. The repayment rate is set at bank rate minus 1%, with a 0.5% lower limit. Late payment interest is set at base rate plus 2.5%. Repayment interest is set at base rate minus 1%, with a lower limit of 0.5%.

New data laws will be introduced to boost British business, protect consumers, and seize the benefits of Brexit. The Data Reform Bill will increase financial penalties for those who excessively target consumers with nuisance calls and online cookie pop-ups. The proposal also features a clampdown on bureaucracy, red tape and pointless paperwork, expected to deliver around £1bn in business savings. Its aim is to transform the UK’s data laws for the digital age.

A majority of Black and Asian employees in the UK say they have been overlooked for opportunities due to their identity. A survey by the Chartered Management Institute found 71% of employees from a black background, 66% from Asian backgrounds, and 65% who identify as LGBTQ+ had similar experiences. Of the 2,000 polled, 29% Asian, 34% black and 36% LGBTQ+ employees had experienced hostile, derogatory or negative attitudes at work. Separate studies show the pay gap between white and BAME women was bigger in 2019 than 25 years earlier. This pay gap is even greater among men and has been widening, the Guardian reported

20 June 2022: UK to help Ukraine rebuild; new private renters deal published; Bank of England raises interest rates to 1.25%; £30m Burton area flood defence work completed.

The UK has pledged its support to help Ukraine rebuild post conflict. On Friday, it hosted the UK-Ukraine Infrastructure Summit where it signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Ukraine, confirming support for future reconstruction efforts. This outlined a new joint task force, which will help build partnerships between UK and Ukrainian businesses to rebuild infrastructure in Kyiv. The UK also oversaw international talks and identified areas where British companies have skills that can support reconstruction efforts – including digital and services, water and sanitation, energy, power, and transport. UK Export Finance has also pledged to retain its £3.5bn worth of financial support for trade to Ukraine.

The government has published a new deal for private renters. The fairer private rented sector white paper will ensure improvements to the rights and conditions for 4.4 million tenants. It will extend the Decent Homes Standard to the private sector for the first time, to help the 21% of private renters who currently live in unfit homes. This means homes must be kept free from serious health and safety hazards by landlords. Furthermore, ‘no fault’ section 21 evictions will be outlawed. The new measures form part of the Renters Reform Bill.

The Bank of England (BoE) has raised interest rates for the fifth time in a row, to 1.25%. The 0.25% increase was decided following predictions that a further rise in household energy bills will push inflation above 11% in October. The BoE also said it was ready to “act forcefully” if required, signalling further rate rises in the coming months. It was a split decision, as three members of its nine-person Monetary Policy Committee pushed for a larger, 0.5% rise. Living costs are rising at the fastest annual rate for four decades, the Guardian reported.

The Environment Agency has completed its £30m flood defence work. This reduces the risk of flooding to over 4,600 homes and 1,000 businesses in the Burton-upon-Trent area. The work started last summer in 2021 and has also protected 18 homes affected by the February 2020 flood. The funding included £2m from the National Highways Designated Funds programme. This will alleviate issues around the A38 at Branston.

17 June 2022: US has biggest interest rate rise in 30 years; UKEF provides £100m to JDR Cables; ECB to support weak economies from bond market volatility.

The US central bank has announced its biggest interest rate rise in nearly 30 years. The Federal Reserve will increase its key interest rate by three quarters of a percentage point to a range of 1.5% to 1.75%. This is the third rise since March and comes after inflation in the US surged unexpectedly last month. More hikes are expected, and officials predict the rate banks are charged to borrow could reach 3.4% by the end of the year, the BBC reported

UK Export Finance has provided a £100m capital loan to help renewable specialists in Blyth. JDR Cables will use the funds to open a new submarine cable factory and secure exports. The construction for the global subsea cable supplier and servicer will support 170 local jobs in the North-East. The new site will enhance JDR Cable’s operations and unlock international offshore wind contracts as it supports global net-zero goals. 

The European Central Bank (ECB) will shield weaker eurozone economies from soaring interest rates. The announcement yesterday followed an emergency meeting on how to deal with debt market volatility. This was called after market pressure saw Italy’s 10-year bond reaching a record 4.2%. The ECB said it will create a new tool aimed at reducing the impact of higher borrowing costs on European countries with weaker financial positions, such as Italy and Spain. Next month, it plans to raise rates for the first time in over a decade, City A.M reported.

16 June 2022: eight million households to get cost-of-living payment; bids for Community Ownership Fund open; eco-airship contract to launch 1,800 jobs in South Yorkshire.

More than eight million UK households will get a £326 cash payment from 14 July 2022 to ease cost of living pressures. This is the first of two instalments totalling £650, with the rest to follow in a second instalment in the autumn. The payments are part of the government’s £37bn cost of living support package, which will overall put an extra £1,200 into the pockets of qualifying low income households. Additional support will include a separate £300 payment for pensioners and a £150 payment for disabled people. 

The second round of the UK Government’s £150m Community Ownership Fund has opened for bids. Community groups across Wales can now bid for a share of the levelling up funding to take back control of public venues. The first round supported 39 projects across the UK, with three in Wales. Changes to the fund were announced last month to widen its eligibility criteria, benefiting more communities and local economies. This included removing the requirement that assets must have been used in the last five years. 

About 1,800 jobs are to be created in South Yorkshire building 10 new environmentally friendly airships. Hybrid Air Vehicles has signed a deal to provide a Spanish airline with 10 of its 100-passenger Airlander 10 helium-filled airships by 2026. The aircrafts will have under a tenth of the CO2 footprint per passenger of jet planes, the Guardian reported. Independent estimates put the value of the airship market at $50bn (£41bn) over the next 20 years. The £25m Airlander 10 prototype has undertaken six test flights.

15 June 2022: rising prices see regular pay drop at record rate; 15,000 millionaires to leave Russia in 2022; bill to fix Northern Ireland Protocol. 

Regular pay is falling at the fastest rate in more than a decade, taking into account rising prices, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) revealed. Between February and April, pay excluding bonuses was down 2.2% from a year earlier when adjusted for inflation. Including bonuses it outpaced price rises, up by 0.4%, the BBC reported. Regular pay has fallen 1.6% for private sector workers and 4.5% in the public sector. Meanwhile, the ONS said the number of UK job vacancies rose to a record 1.3 million from March to May. The unemployment rate stood at 3.8% in the February to April period, up slightly from last month, while the employment rate was 75.6% – lower than before the pandemic.

More than 15,000 millionaires are expected to flee Russia this year. Migration data analysis by Henley & Partners found about 15% of those with more than $1m (£820,000) in ready assets are expected to have emigrated to other countries by the end of 2022. However, Ukraine is the country projected to suffer the greatest loss of high net worth individuals (HNWIs) as a proportion of its population – with 2,800 millionaires (42% of HNWIs) expected to have left the country in 2022. By the end of this year, the report predicts that about 4,000 HNWIs will have moved to the United Arab Emirates, 3,500 to Australia, 2,800 to Singapore, and 2,500 to Israel.

The government has introduced legislation to fix parts of the Northern Ireland Protocol. The Bill promotes changes to restore stability and ensure the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement is protected. It will allow the government to address practical problems the Protocol has created in Northern Ireland in four key areas: burdensome customs processes, inflexible regulation, tax and spend discrepancies, and democratic governance issues. These problems include disruption and diversion of trade and significant costs and bureaucracy for business. The Bill will also help restore the collapsed power-sharing arrangements at Stormont. 

14 June 2022: CMA to conduct urgent fuel duty cut review; 170,400 UK manufacturing jobs lost in pandemic, farming innovation drive to boost food production.

The Competition and Markets Authority has been asked to conduct an urgent review on the fuel duty cut. It will examine whether a 5p cut is being passed on quickly enough to drivers. To determine this, it will focus on the fuel market and if there are local variations in petrol and diesel prices. The review was requested by Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng after the CBI warned households will go into recession later this year. Last week, the cost of filling an average family car hit a record £100, the BBC reported

The UK lost 170,400 manufacturing jobs during the pandemic, GMB Union analysis shows. The fall of almost 6% occurred in just two years, between 2019 and 2021. In 2019, the UK supported 2.9 million permanent and temporary manufacturing jobs. By the start of this year, this had fallen to 2.7 million. Every region in the UK experienced a decline, with the East Midlands being worst affected. It lost more than 31,000 manufacturing jobs – one in every 10. 

The government has announced a new food strategy to increase domestic production and profitability. This aims to better support UK farmers, spread jobs, grow the economy and improve the sector’s long-term resilience. The government will invest £270m across farming innovation funding programmes until 2029. These must focus on funding technologies that drive sustainable farming techniques. The strategy also outlines plans to create a new professional body for the farming and growing industry, boosting professional training and career pathways and equipping people and businesses with skills to run sustainable and profitable businesses.

13 June 2022: £11bn lost servicing government debt; £4bn wasted on unusable NHS COVID PPE; UKEF provides record £3.6bn to UK businesses.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak has been accused of failing to act soon enough to save £11bn of taxpayers' money, used to pay interest on government debt. The National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NIESR) said losses stemmed from a failure to insure against interest rate rises, meaning higher than necessary payments on £900bn of reserves created through quantitative easing (QE). The Bank of England created £895bn though QE. Most was used to buy government bonds from pension funds and other investors. At the time that they put the proceeds in commercial bank deposits at the Bank, it had to pay interest at the official rate of 0.1%. NIESR said the government should have insured the cost of servicing this debt against the risk of rising interest rates, the BBC reported

PPE clothing worth £4bn, bought for NHS staff during COVID-19, will be burned as it is unusable. The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has appointed two commercial waste firms to help it dispose of 15,000 pallets a month. A report from the Public Accounts Committee called the move a waste of taxpayer’s money, while opposition parties are criticising the government for overbuying at inflated prices early in the pandemic. A DHSC review of the 364 PPE contracts it signed found that 176 (48%) were questionable. Of those, 24% are under commercial renegotiation (59), legal review (27) or in mediation (three), the Guardian reported.

UK Export Finance (UKEF) provided more than £3.6bn for clean energy, healthcare and critical infrastructure projects in 2021. This record sum has seen it ranked as the world’s top export credit agency for sustainable financing. UKEF moved up from second place in 2020, when it provided £2.4bn to projects. The total now exceeds £7bn since 2019. Trade & Export Finance Limited awarded it in three categories this year: Renewables Export Finance Deal of the Year, Healthcare Export Finance Deal of the Year, and Rail Transport Export Finance Deal of the Year. 

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