Business Briefing

New ONS ‘price inflation basket’ reveals pandemic shopping changes

Ipswich plans ‘15-minute’ future, Musk becomes ‘Technoking of Tesla’, and other breaking business news

1

Economy 

Hand sanitiser in, ground coffee out

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has added handwash, loungewear and home exercise kit to its  “shopping basket” of goods used to calculate the UK cost of living, in a sign of how spending habits have changed during a year of lockdown.

Indeed, if you want to know more about pandemic shopping trends, “forget the fashion pages”, says City A.M. - the ONS list “tells us what’s really going on”.

A total of 17 items have been added in the national statistical institute’s latest annual review, with ten removed and 729 left unchanged. The new additions also include smartwatches, hand weights and electric and hybrid cars, while white chocolate, staff canteen sandwiches and gold chains are out, and ground coffee has been replaced with coffee sachets. 

In order to calculate the rate of inflation, the ONS collects a total of around 180,000 separate price quotations every month for all the goods in the basket.

As the BBC notes, the experts aim to ensure that “each sector of goods and services, and where items are bought, are reflected adequately in the calculations”. That explains why, for example, fresh fruit and vegetable smoothies have also been added to the basket, “to allow the ONS to follow a growing healthy-eating trend”, says the broadcaster. 

2

Companies

Meet ‘Technoking of Tesla’ Elon Musk

Elon Musk has adopted a new job title to go along with his existing description as the world’s second-richest person. According to a Tesla filing to the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), Musk is now the “Technoking of Tesla”, while chief financial officer Zach Kirkhorn has become “Master of Coin”. 

Why the South Africa-born tycoon chose the Technoking title is “not immediately clear”, says Business Insider, but the move “is in keeping with Musk’s public persona, as the Tesla CEO appears to enjoy putting out irreverent tweets and jokes”. 

The SEC filing says that both Musk and Kirkhorn will also retain their respective positions as the electric car company’s chief executive officer and CFO.

3

Places

Ipswich plans ‘15-minute’ future 

Ipswich is set to become the UK’s first “15-minute” town as part of a push to revitalise its centre post-pandemic.

Authorities in the Suffolk town want to “reshape its high street as more of a neighbourhood than a shopping destination”, The Times reports. “That means more housing, more restaurants and more green spaces but, importantly, fewer shops.”

The “radical” new plan aims to create a “connected centre” and also improve links between different parts of the town, the Ipswich Star reports. The proposals have been put together by the Ipswich Vision Partnership, which includes local councils, the town’s MP and business groups, and will be bankrolled in part with a £25m grant from the government’s Town Fund.

Developed by Professor Carlos Moreno at the Sorbonne in Paris, the “15-minute city” concept aims to “improve quality of life by creating cities where everything a resident needs can be reached within a quarter of an hour by foot or bike”, says the BBC

4

Retail 

Brits brace for patio furniture shortage

People across the UK are preparing to welcome friends and family to their gardens when the “rule of six” comes back into effect. But while such outdoor gatherings will be permitted from 29 March, guests may have to rough it because of a shortage of outdoor furniture. 

Two-thirds of retailers are “battling to get BBQs, patio furniture and spring bulbs into the UK”, owing to “port congestion and Brexit red tape”, the Daily Mail reports. Garden furniture, such as rattan patio sets, are in “particularly short supply”.

The Leisure and Outdoor Furniture Association says that all 70 of the manufacturers and wholesalers that it represents are facing problems with imports. Many have seen an increase in the cost of shipping containers from countries such as China and Indonesia.

5

Banking

NatWest facing criminal case over alleged money laundering failings

The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) has launched criminal proceedings against NatWest for allegedly failing to comply with money laundering rules. 

In a newly published statement, the City watchdog says that “the case arises from the handling of funds deposited into accounts operated by a UK incorporated customer” of the bank.  

The FCA alleges that “increasingly large cash deposits were made into the customer’s accounts”, with the total amounting to around £365m, “of which around £264m was in cash”.

No individuals are being charged as part of the proceedings and NatWest has been cooperating with the FCA.

A statement released by NatWest said the bank “takes extremely seriously its responsibility to seek to prevent money laundering by third parties and accordingly has made significant, multi-year investments in its financial crime systems and controls”.

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