Happy Sunday: 21 February

Posted on Feb 21, 2021. by NTI

Have you got your take-away sorted for tomorrow evening, yet? It's like a royal wedding, isn't it? We will all be huddled around the TV on Monday night waiting on the word of Boris, as he maps out our future hopes and dreams post lockdown. Will he, won't he? Can we, shan't we? Most of you are way too young to remember the Morecambe and Wise Christmas Special, when 36 million of us Brits used to put a cushion over our alcoholic aunt's face, so afeared were we that her drunken snorings would drown out one of the key moments of a calendar year. Then there is England's first game in the group stages of the World Cup, when - after collecting all the coins with faces of squad members from an Esso station - we would sit in front of the screen and watch a 0-0 draw with Uzbekistan following weeks of crazy dreaming and St George flag waving.

It is all in the anticipation.

Whatever our blonde saviour says you can be sure that Sir Kier is putting his blue suit through a Corby trouser press this morning (Sunday 21 February), practising his eye-roll and stoking up the claims of one sector of a 68 million community after another, telling us they have been overlooked. He will definitely be listening to pub and travel bosses who have demanded that the Prime Minister produce a detailed roadmap for their beleaguered sector, the map presumably leading to hostelries and airports where we can all eat and drink freely with not a care in the world for an R-rate.

The travel industry have warned that “we cannot wait for the full rollout of the vaccination programme before people start to travel again”, apparently preferring the psychotic to the science. It was reported this week that relations between the pub sector and Government worsened further after industry figures took umbrage at Johnson’s claim that hospitality poses a high risk of Coronavirus infection.

"What is this based on?", some of them screamed.

"Er, maybe the science delivered by 13 individual reports around the world that people talking in a closed environment are 75 per cent more likely to spread viral droplets than in a closed retail environment, numbers which increase by 110 per cent if they have been drinking alcohol."

"Nonsense!" a pub owner from Wakefield howled.

"Based on what?" Government advisors asked them.

"Shut-up," they yelled.

Patrick Dardis, CEO of pub chain Young's who have 300 outlets said: "Ministers have a 'Victorian perception' of pubs because they do not visit them apart from at elections and do not understand that modern venues can open safely."

"That is very interesting," journalists said, meeting him at one of his pubs, "what do you base your views on?", ducking as a chair was hurled across the room just behind them and someone in a tight belly-revealing singlet picked a fight with a Cockapoo.

Even more people are cross about an apparent divide developing between the arguments that Britain should open up its new-found borders to entrepreneurs and idea-makers, whilst the Government are touting increases in Corporation and Capital Gains Tax in the next three budgets, which would potentially put off ... well, entrepreneurs and idea-makers.

The smart money, which often proves to be much less smart than the nylon wallet it is folded into, is saying that 00 Sunak will announce an increase in Corporation Tax from 19p in the pound in his speech on March 3 and outline a pathway where it keeps rising to 23p in the pound by the time of the next general election; a move that will raise an expected £12 billion a year.

At 23p in the pound Britain can still boast that it has the lowest business taxes in the G7 group of nations (Japan's and Italy's equivalent taxes are at 24 per cent, Germany's corporation taxes vary between 30 - 33 per cent and the US is presently charging business profits at a rate of 23.1 per cent), but is the differential enough, given that we Brits have a penchant for a Chas and Dave knees-up and our national dish is a Gregg's meatball sandwich?

Rishi is not expected to go through with a widely trailed plan to equalise the rates of Capital Gains Tax with taxpayers’ income tax bands, a move that is (coincidentally) opposed by leading Conservative donors. Proposals to target pension tax relief have also been shelved until the autumn. This will be received with great relief by those who want to sell their second home in Sunderland to splash out on a Waitrose meal-for-two.

Dame Sharon White, chair of the John Lewis Partnership, owners of Waitrose, is not waiting for the budget; plans have just been released of the closure of up to eight of the company's least well performing stores. This is an upgrade on the closure of eight others in July 2020 and a further expression of lack of belief in the high street model, as the group predicts that between 60 - 70 per cent of its business will be done online by 2025.

But, can you really buy three cotton reels, a kettle and a classic blue lampshade online? You can? Where? Amazon? Oh, that's a good idea.

Our old friend Mike Ashley is making his way up the columns of the business pages with a typical headline grabbing ploy. His Frasers Group has offered to take some former Debenhams stores on 15-year leases, on the condition that it pays no rent, business rates or service charges for the first six years and that property owners make a financial contribution to the store fit-outs. Inspired by this level of cheeky commerciality, Neil has offered to take Aberdeen on a 2,000-year lease, on the condition that he outlays no capital, pays no rent for 50 years and the city's population move it away from the chilly north sea coast. 

Finally, in a late twist the NTI newsroom have a sniff of a story that follows Delloite's dexterous moving of Arcadia into insolvency just hours before HMRC were made preferential creditors. This cheeky manoeuvre meant that the Revenue will recover only a fraction of the £44.2 million owing to them, and also means that although the diminutive Philip Green's group entered Administration with a pension deficit of £510 million, the fund has since recovered £180 million because of a deal struck with the sebaceous little stoat in 2019 that granted the trustees partial security over a £327 million loan payable by Topshop to the Arcadia holding company.

It will still leave us tax payers mopping up the balance, but if you look very hard there is some good news hiding in the corner of that story ... somewhere.

Happy Sunday.

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