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UK economic outlook for 2021: Covid surge deepens the gloom

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New lockdown restrictions cut chances of rapid recovery as unemployment rises andFri 1 Jan 2021 01.00 ESTThe UK economy begins 2021 on the back foot as record numbers of coronavirus infections and tougher restrictions

Economy
Britain’s independent shops buck Covid sales slump in 2020

Britain’s independent shops had a sales boost in 2020 despite an overall drop in retail spending, as Covid travel restrictions and working from home prompted consumers to shop on local high streets instead of city centres. Data from Barclaycard shows spending at independent food and drink shops, including off-licences, butchers and bakeries, jumped 28.6% in 2020 compared with a year earlier. In contrast, total consumer spending fell 7.1%, as social distancing rules left shoppers with fewer opportunities to spend on overseas holidays, hospitality and in city centres. Barclaycard, which covers nearly half of the UK’s credit and debit card transactions, found that while spending on essential goods such as groceries rose by 4.1% compared with 2019, non-essential spending fell 11.3%. Department stores were particularly hard hit, with spending down 17.2%, while clothing retailers experienced a 15.6% slump, leading to the financial problems at the likes of Debenhams and the Topshop owner, Arcadia. However, bricks and mortar discounters had a 25.4% increase, as Britons facing furlough and job cuts sought value for money deals. Consumers forced to spend more time at home turned to DIY projects to spruce up their living space. Pent-up

Economy
UK public transport downturn to continue after pandemic ends

Over half of public transport users in the UK say they will continue to avoid buses and trains after the pandemic is over in favour of cycling or walking, a study of consumer spending reveals. The Co-op’s annual ethical consumerism report, which has monitored ethical spending habits for over 20 years, this year singles out public transport as “the biggest loser” of changed spending priorities due to Covid-19, with users reluctant to jump back onto buses and trains because of the threat to their personal space. In other sectors, the study found that the “stay at or near home” culture which has led to a boom in online shopping and home deliveries is likely to stay, with 58% of shoppers determined to continue to support their local high street. Overall, ethical spending is forecast to exceed £100bn next year, with 32% of shoppers aiming to buy more plant-based products, 27% to buy more fair-trade products, 52% to reduce single-use plastic consumption and 49% to reduce their energy consumption at home. The study says the downturn in public transport usage – and unwillingness to return to it – was matched by a spike in

Economy
London shares close at highest level since Covid outbreak

Shares in London closed at their highest level in almost 10 months amid relief among investors that the UK and the EU had secured an eleventh-hour trade deal. With the City open for business for the first time since the accord was agreed late on Christmas Eve, traders shrugged off a surge in the number of new Covid-19 cases and welcomed the avoidance of a no-deal Brexit. The FTSE 100 rose by 1.5% to close 110.5 points higher at 6602 – its highest level since early March, when the stock market was sliding in the first wave of the pandemic. Shares in multinational companies and those that rely heavily on imports were among the big risers, but bank shares fell on disappointment that the UK-EU trade deal would make life more difficult for the financial services sector. FTSE graphic Having been 2.5% up in early trading, the FTSE 100 rally lost momentum as the day wore on, failing to get a boost from shares on Wall Street hitting new record levels when business began in New York. The US market was boosted by hopes that the latest stimulus package agreed by Donald Trump

Economy
China and EU poised to sign long-delayed investment deal

China and the EU appear to have resolved their differences over protecting labour rights in China and are set to sign a long-delayed investment agreement on Wednesday likely to make the economies of the two blocs more interdependent. The investment talks have centred on opening up Chinese markets for European investment, as well as addressing Chinese practices opposed by the EU concerning industrial subsidies, state control of enterprises and forced technology transfers. Markets likely to be opened in China include foreign investment in manufacturing including electric vehicles, telecoms and private hospitals. Issues of enforcement and arbitration have been at the heart of the talks. China is already ranked as the EU’s second-largest trading partner (behind the US), with two-way goods commerce valued at more than €1bn (£908m) a day. But the political backdrop of the talks, launched in 2013, has changed over the past two years with more revelations about the treatment of Uighur Muslims, and the systematic suppression of free speech in Hong Kong. The EU-China comprehensive investment agreement has attracted the wrath of the incoming Biden administration in the US, which publicly demanded to be consulted before Brussels went ahead with

Economy
Four-day week would be affordable for most UK firms, says thinktank

A carefully designed four-day week could be introduced in the UK immediately and be affordable for most firms with more than 50 workers, a thinktank has said. A report by Autonomy – which is campaigning for a shorter working week without loss of pay – said the majority of 50,000 firms studied would be able to cope with the change through higher productivity or by raising prices. The thinktank said the government should investigate ways of rolling out a four-day week, starting with the public sector. Although many companies are struggling with the lingering impact of the UK’s deepest slump in more than 300 years, Autonomy said that even under its “worst-case” scenario, a four-day week would be affordable for most firms once the initial phase of the Covid-19 pandemic had passed. It accepted, however, that some firms in sectors where labour costs were high and profit margins thin would experience cashflow problems if changes were implemented too quickly. Will Stronge, director of research at Autonomy, said: “For the large majority of firms, reducing working hours is an entirely realistic goal for the near future. By providing a hypothetical ‘stress test’, we can

Economy
The three most misused phrases in US politics in 2020 | Jeffrey Frankel

Donald Trump and the Covid-19 pandemic dominated the news headlines in 2020. Three terms in particular came to symbolise the year: “witch-hunt,” “black swan” and “exponential”.Trump has tweeted the phrase “witch-hunt” approximately once every three days on average during his presidency and not only in connection with his impeachment trial. He continued to use it later in the year to describe accusations that he mismanaged America’s Covid-19 response, inquiries into his tax returns, an investigation into alleged criminal conduct at the Trump Organization and other controversies.Most people made their minds up long ago about whether Trump was guilty of his alleged transgressions. But neither his supporters nor his critics have given full thought to the linguistic implications of the term “witch-hunt”. Perhaps it doesn’t mean what they think it does.The original witch-hunts began in early modern Europe and spread to colonial America, in the religious persecution of those accused of practising witchcraft. In Europe, an estimated 40,000-60,000 people – mainly women – were executed between 1400 and 1782. Americans usually think of the 1692-93 witch trials in Salem, Massachusetts, in which 30 people were convicted and 19 hanged.The term entered widespread use only in the mid-20th century, to describe the

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