The past 12 months has been another busy year for British business, as success, scandals, optimism and uncertainty resulted in mixed fortunes for UK plc.
In January, retailers reported varying sales from the 2013 festive season, after heavy discounting hit profits at some high street giants. Argos and Halfords emerged as high street winners, contrasted with underperformance at Debenhams, Mothercare and Marks & Spencer and lacklustre supermarket results.
It set the tone for a year of turmoil in the sector. Morrisons chief executive Dalton Philips pledged to slash prices to take on its discount rivals as the grocer tumbled to a £176m annual pre-tax loss in March.
The summer ushered in trouble at Tesco. In July, chief executive Philip Clarke was replaced by Unilever’s Dave Lewis, a month after Mr Clarke asked for patience over the progress of turnaround plans.
The supermarket, which faced a deepening sales decline, was also hit by revelations of a £263m overstatement of profits, which led to the formal opening of a criminal investigation by the Serious Fraud Office in October.
A probe by Deloitte and law firm Freshfields found the error was worse than first thought and the supermarket had been overstating its earnings for years. Eight executives including the UK managing director were asked to step aside.
The year ended with the return of Danish discount brand Netto to the UK market, in an ambitious tie-up with Sainsbury’s. Fifteen store openings are planned by the end 2015 in the £30m project, following an initial launch in Leeds.
Five years after the crippling global financial crisis, the banking sector was again under the spotlight as allegations of wrongdoing and ire over pay continued.
Royal Bank of Scotland’s 2014 started with more than £3bn in additional funds set aside to cover litigation and compensation, including £465m for mis-sold payment protection insurance.
The embattled bank once again faced anger over bonuses, as it revealed a £576m staff handout despite losses of £8.2bn. Losses over the last six years grew to £46bn.
Barclays also defied calls for pay restraint. It announced a 10 per cent hike in its staff bonus pool to £2.4bn while confirming plans to cut up to 12,000 jobs.
This was set against a backdrop of allegations surrounding foreign exchange trading. At least 10 banks were involved in a major investigation launched in 2013 by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), the Treasury Select Committee was told.
March saw the Co-operative thrown back into crisis after its chief executive quit the “ungovernable” group in the wake of a meltdown in boardroom relations. The mutual revealed annual losses of £2.5bn, the worst in its 150-year history.
The taxpayer’s stake in Lloyds Banking Group was cut to 25 per cent in May, after the Government raised £4.2bn from the sale of more shares. Chancellor George Osborne said the sale was “another step in repairing the banks”. Just two months later, Lloyds Banking Group was fined £218m after it admitted ‘’shocking’’ rate rigging practices.
In November, five banks whose traders rigged foreign exchange rates were fined more than £2bn. RBS, HSBC, Citibank, JP Morgan Chase and UBS were handed record penalties.
After years of speculation, Yorkshire and Clydesdale banks owner National Australia Bank confirmed it is looking to sell its UK division. A listing is expected in 2015, creating a Yorkshire-based challenger bank.
Uncertainty over interest rates grew after the Bank of England scrapped its forward guidance policy after just six months, as the suggested seven per cent unemployment target linked to a rise was due to be hit early in the year.
But Bank of England governor Mark Carney later hailed the UK banking system was “significantly more resilient” than a year ago after most major lenders passed a test to see how they would cope with severe economic stress.