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Chancellor Rishi Sunak will deliver the Spring 2021 Budget on 3 March 2021 where, among other things, he is expected to announce the extension of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. Many businesses will be eagerly anticipating today’s announcement of the government’s plan for exiting the lockdown restrictions in England and how it will affect their operations.
Spring 2021 Budget
Practical Law has published a tracker (free access) to monitor predictions for the Budget. It covers press speculation, industry lobbying and Practical Law’s own predictions for the Budget, and will be regularly updated in the lead up to the event.
It is being reported that the Chancellor is preparing to extend the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, which is due to end on 30 April 2021. The extension is expected to be announced in the Budget and will allow workers to remain on furlough into the Summer before the scheme is phased out. This will be part of a package of continuing measures to support businesses, including an extension of the business rates holiday for the retail, hospitality and leisure sectors, which is currently due to end on 31 March 2021.
To view our full range of coverage, tailored to individual practice areas and sectors, see Spring 2021 Budget (free access).
Many businesses welcomed the announcement of the government’s plan for exiting the current lockdown restrictions in England and will have had the opportunity to assess how it will affect their operations.
Following the Supreme Court’s judgment in FCA v Arch Insurance (UK) Ltd and others  UKSC 1, the FCA has published a business interruption (BI) insurance policy checker and general policyholder FAQs to help policyholders establish whether their insurance policy may cover BI losses caused by COVID-19 and what they can do next.
Employers in the UK have announced plans to set up IT systems to track whether their workers have been inoculated against COVID-19, creating a form of vaccine passport. Some companies have pledged to go a step further by dismissing or declining to hire anyone who refuses to take the vaccine. The UK government has confirmed that it is up to individual businesses to decide whether to require their staff to be vaccinated against COVID-19, prompting calls for clearer guidance on the issue.
Penrose report on reform of the UK competition and consumer regimes
John Penrose MP’s independent review of competition policy has been published. The report considers that the competition and consumer protection system should be “updated, improved and refreshed”. In particular, a new Competition Act is needed, to update and modernise institutions for the new digital economy. The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) should become a “micro-economic sibling” for the Bank of England’s public macro-economic role, responsible for tracking progress of:
- UK competition.
- Consumer rights.
- Supply-side reforms.
- Productivity improvements.
The report considers that the CMA’s consumer powers are weaker and less effective than the ones it holds to deal with competition problems. The CMA’s civil consumer enforcement powers should be updated to bring them into line with, and have the same importance as, the competition toolkit. The CMA should be able to decide consumer cases itself and impose fines in the same way as it already does for competition law cases.
The Supreme Court has upheld a Court of Appeal decision that Uber drivers are workers. The ruling is likely to affect other gig economy companies as those employed in the sector may bring claims to enforce their own rights as workers.
Biodiversity and climate change
Recommendations in the Dasgupta review on biodiversity, if they are implemented, will result in changes for many businesses. For example, it suggests changing the primary measure of economic success away from gross domestic product (GDP) to “inclusive wealth” and introducing natural capital into national accounting systems. The review also suggests expanding and improving the management of protected areas and large-scale investment in nature-based solutions to address biodiversity loss and significantly contribute to climate change mitigation.
The Supreme Court has overturned the Court of Appeal’s decision on the jurisdictional challenge by Royal Dutch Shell to a claim by Nigerian citizens for damages for pollution and environmental damage, with the result that the claim can proceed. Environmental lawyers and insurers will be keen to see if this decision proves to be a pivot to more global environmental claims, particularly concerning climate change.
Annual General Meetings
GC100 has published a discussion paper providing a company perspective on the limitations of the current format for AGMs. The paper advocates for a legislative framework that permits companies to choose a meeting format that they consider to be best for their shareholders and stakeholders. It includes a draft code of best practice regarding electronic participation at hybrid and virtual shareholder meetings.
Key dates for your diary
1 March 2021
- Final provisions of European Union (Future Relationship) Act 2020 come into force.
- EUIPO decision on communications by electronic means with EUIPO comes into force.
2 March 2021
EDPB consultation on Guidelines 01/2021 on Examples regarding Data Breach Notification ends.
3 March 2021
- European Commission consultation on European single access point closes.
- Deadline for call for evidence as part of UK Government’s independent review of the Human Rights Act 1998.
5 March 2021
Consultation on extension of Making Tax Digital to corporation tax closes.
12 March 2021
Deadline for submissions in the first instance to House of Lords’ inquiry on the UK’s potential accession to the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership.
16 March 2021
CMA call for evidence of harms to competition and consumers caused by algorithms closes.
17 March 2021
European Commission request for feedback on proposals to revise NIS Directive and Critical Infrastructures Directive ends.
18 March 2021
Deadline for responses to the Law Commissions’ third consultation on driverless cars closes.
21 Mar 2021
HM Treasury consultation on regulatory approach to cryptossets and stablecoins ends.
26 March 2021
Deadline for responses to the EU Commission’s consultation on revision of vertical agreements block exemption Regulation 330/2010 and verticals guidelines.
31 March 2021
- Health Protection (Coronavirus) (Restrictions and Requirements) (Local Levels) (Scotland) Regulations 2020 expire.
- Tier regulations in England set to expire.
- CIGA 2020 restrictions on winding-up expire.
- Closing date for responses to Law Commission call for evidence on smart contracts.