The UK economy surpassed its pre-pandemic level for the first time in November after growing by 0.9% over the month, partly driven by an unexpected surge in early Christmas shopping.
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) said a jump in restaurant bookings and a rapid turnaround in construction output were also behind the growth that took the size of the economy 0.7% above its level before March 2020.
City economists had expected an expansion of only 0.4% and warned that November was likely to prove a high point in 2021, with the figures collected by the ONS coming shortly before the Omicron variant took hold, exacerbating worker shortages as thousands were off sick, and forcing the government to introduce plan B restrictions. It followed growth of 0.2% in October.
The continuing increase in health services as a proportion of economic activity was another factor supporting the rise in GDP, the ONS said.
Against a backdrop of rising inflation and the threat of further interest rates by the Bank of England, business groups warned the economy remained weak.
Suren Thiru, the head of economics at the British Chambers of Commerce, said:
“Stronger growth in November is likely to be followed by a modest fall in output in December and January, as consumer caution to socialise and spend, and mounting staff absences sparked by Omicron and plan B limit activity.
“While the UK economy should rebound once plan B measures are lifted, surging inflation and persistent supply chain disruption may mean that the UK’s economic growth prospects remain under pressure for much of 2022.”
Britain’s cost of living crisis is no laughing matter, something the energy suppliers are struggling to grasp.
E.ON Next has apologised to thousands of British households after sending them a pair of socks alongside unwelcome advice on how to keep warm during the national energy crisis.
My colleague Jillian Ambrose explains:
E.ON Next said it was “incredibly sorry” after sending pairs of polyester socks branded with advice to turn heating down to help reduce carbon emissions to about 30,000 households which had taken part in an energy saving campaign last year.
Many of the new E.ON Next sock-owners took to social media to criticise the “pitiful package” which was delivered to homes in the same week that Ovo Energy was forced to apologise for a customer letter urging households to cuddle a pet or perform star jumps to keep warm.
British households face some of the highest energy bills on record this winter, due to record high market prices which could drive fuel poverty levels to the highest since records began.
Age UK warned this week that millions of older people in the UK face an energy emergency, with some forced to switch off their heating, limit hot showers and live off soup and sandwiches to pay their increased energy bills.
Back on Monday, energy supplier Ovo apologised and said it was “embarrassed” after it advised customers to keep their heatings bills low by “having a cuddle with your pets”, eating “hearty bowls of porridge” and “doing a few star jumps”.
Cryptocurrency firms bombarded Londoners with a record number of adverts on public transport during 2021, fuelling calls for a ban to prevent people being lured into risky investments.
The surge in adverts for crypto assets, which are unregulated in the UK, has prompted concerns about the risk of addiction and financial harm, particularly given the wild volatility in the price of digital currencies such as bitcoin, which reached record highs last year before crashing again.
It also emerged that Transport for London (TfL) has not implemented a ban on gambling adverts promised by the mayor, Sadiq Khan, allowing the industry to step up its marketing activity in the meantime.
Records obtained by the Guardian under the Freedom of Information Act show that TfL services displayed 39,560 crypto adverts from 13 firms in the six months between April and September 2021.
Major advertisers include the trading platform eToro, floki – “a “meme coin” named after Elon Musk’s dog – Crypto.com and Luno Money, whose campaign telling people it was “time to buy” bitcoin was banned by the advertising regulator for being “irresponsible”. More here.
Meanwhile, Dogecoin, the cryptocurrency with a shiba inu dog meme, soared in value by 15% on Friday after the billionaire Elon Musk said it could be used to buy Tesla merchandise.
The French government will force EDF, the state energy giant, to take an €8.4bn (£7bn) financial hit to protect households from rocketing energy costs by limiting bill hikes to 4% this year.
The company lost a fifth of its market value on Friday after the French government set out plans to cap rising energy bills which include forcing EDF to sell electricity generated by its fleet of nuclear reactors to rival home suppliers at well below the current record high market prices.
The move underlines pressure on governments across Europe to help households squeezed by the cost-of-living crisis. The UK chancellor, Rishi Sunak, has been accused of being “missing in action” over soaring energy bills. He has been in talks with MPs and companies to agree a package of measures to soften the blow of the national energy crisis, but no decisions have been made.
The Hollywood blockbuster Spider-Man: No Way Home pulled in the cinema crowds in December, driving Cineworld’s box office revenues to almost 90% of pre-pandemic levels despite the rapid spread of Omicron over the festive season.
The world’s second-largest cinema operator, the owner of the Cineworld and Regal Picturehouse chains in the UK and Regal Cinemas in the US, said that across its global business, box office and concession revenue hit 88% of 2019 levels in December. In the UK and Ireland revenues hit 89% of pre-pandemic levels, and 91% in the US.
Cineworld credited the phenomenal success of the latest Spider-Man film, which has taken £80m in the UK despite the reintroduction of face masks in cinemas to curb the spread of Omicron days before its release and has become the only film to make more than $1.5bn (£1.1bn) globally since the pandemic began.
Mooky Greidinger, the chief executive of Cineworld, said:
“Spider-Man: No Way Home has shown the importance for studios of cinematic releases.
“We are pleased to see continued strong demand among audiences for cinema experiences, supported by a slate of high-quality and high-performing movies.”