ALEX BRUMMER: UK firms should seize the moment to invest in Britain

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An enduring feature of the pandemic is the drumbeat from business demanding further Government handouts. 

The latest £1billion delivered by the Chancellor Rishi Sunak already has had a ‘too little, too late reception’.

There can be nothing but sympathy for the dampener which Omicron has put on hospitality, retail and live entertainment in the final days before the holiday season.

The CBI¿s latest survey shows that in spite of Omicron, overall confidence in growth remains robust with only consumer services ¿ hit by the virus ¿ looking troubled

The CBI’s latest survey shows that in spite of Omicron, overall confidence in growth remains robust with only consumer services – hit by the virus – looking troubled

The UK’s pandemic recovery has been disappointing so far with third-quarter output revised down to 1.1 per cent from 1.3 per cent. 

The economy is still 1.5 per cent smaller than it was in the final three months of 2019 before the virus struck.

The UK lags behind our erstwhile European partners but is still doing better than Japan. 

Nevertheless, if you are a working person in the UK, where the jobless rate has fallen rapidly, wages are rising and there are a record number of vacancies, the growth numbers will be a little puzzling.

This is partly about data. The new monthly measure of national output, widely used to make the forward projections, includes more public sector inputs from health and education. The quarterly numbers don’t give these factors the same weight.

Much will be made of disappointing trade numbers post-Brexit as a factor in sluggish growth. 

But the eye-catching figure is the shortfall in business investment – down 2.5 per cent in the third quarter and 12 per cent lower than before the pandemic. That is among the worst performances among the G7.

This is in spite of the enormous incentives, including the £20billion potential super-deduction tax relief for firms investing in new plant and equipment. 

The Chancellor has offered a once-in-a-generation chance to replace ageing facilities such as IT systems but business never misses an opportunity to miss an opportunity.

Excuses about Brexit are no longer relevant more than five years after the EU referendum and a year after a new trade deal settlement (Northern Ireland notwithstanding). 

As for Covid-19, the UK’s interventions on behalf of commerce have been among the most generous in the free world.

The CBI’s latest survey shows that in spite of Omicron, overall confidence in growth remains robust with only consumer services – hit by the virus – looking troubled.

It is high time that the UK’s companies, of all shapes and sizes, seized the moment and invested for Britain rather than queuing up to air grievances on breakfast broadcasts.

Bad banks

January sales are off to a flying start among financial regulators.

Get the penalties out of the way before the perps sit down to their goose luncheon. 

Out of the door from the Bank of England is a £5.4million fine for Vernon Hill’s Metro Bank, although the founder disappeared over the horizon some time ago.

As first disclosed on these pages, the bank with designer branches played fast and loose with its commercial lending. Metro failed to provide the Bank with accurate reports of its capital safety net.

Over at the Financial Conduct Authority, the hedge fund BlueCrest Capital Management has been hit with a £40.8million fine, dating back to 2011-15, for what is politely described as ‘conflict of interest’. 

It favoured internal investors (partners and employees) in portfolio decisions over clients.

In a particularly despicable case, because it preyed on vulnerable British Steel Pension Fund members, financial advisers have been ordered to offer redress. The risk for British Steel pensioners is that some of the advisers may be too weak to pony up.

All of this comes on top of penalties levied this week on bigger players including Natwest, Standard Chartered and JP Morgan.

My worry is that such remedies will be simply seen by boards as a cost of doing business, because they are indirectly levied on shareholders rather than individuals and do nothing to force cultural change.

Bit player

Arsenal’s foray into the world of trade-able tokens, which can be traded on exchanges like crypto-assets, has not ended well, with a rap across the knuckles from the Advertising Standards Association.

It is not alone, as several football clubs across Europe have similar schemes including super-endowed Paris Saint-Germain, which has issued tokens worth £37million against the London club’s £7million. 

Not quite a rival to bitcoin yet, which has a market value of £700billion … or maybe nothing!

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