The highest number of firms reported falling sales for more than a year in December as the Omicron virus swept across the nation, according to range data collected by the Office for National Statistics.
It found 6% of companies posted lower turnover last month compared to November, which was the highest proportion reporting a monthly fall in sales since April 2020, according to HM Revenue and Customs.
Economic data collected by the ONS from a variety of sources reflected how the pandemic’s latest variant has affected the UK last year, which has dragged on the country’s recovery from the health crisis.
It found that 26% of working adults reported working from home exclusively in the past seven days, a 5% rise from the previous week, says the latest Opinions and Lifestyle Survey.
The system average price of gas increased by 12% in the week to 16 January 2022, the National Grid reported. This is the second consecutive week-on-week increase following a 48% drop in the week to 2 January 2022.
The seven-day average number of UK daily flights in the week ending 16 January was 51% the level seen in the equivalent week in 2020, but almost two and a half times, or 245%, higher than the same week in 2021, according to pan-European aviation monitor Eurocontrol.
However, the total volume of online job adverts on 14 January 2022 was 122% up on its February 2020 average level, a 5% increase from the previous week, according to recruitment firm Adzuna. It adds that this follows a period of consecutive falls, and is consistent with the start of the year being a busier time for recruitment.
The aggregate CHAPS-based indicator of credit and debit card purchases in the week to 13 January rose 3% on the previous week, says the Bank of England. However, this is 85% of its February 2020 average.
The volume of motor vehicle traffic on Monday 17 January 2022 was at 91% of its level in the first week of February 2020, an increase of 4% from the previous week, according to the Department for Transport.
Transactions at snack chain Pret A Manger lifted by 16% in the week to 13 January 2022 to 72% of the average level in January 2020, the business says. But added that despite the weekly increase, “transactions remain notably below levels in the four months before Christmas”.
Dr Jackie Mulligan, an expert on the government’s High Streets Task Force and founder of the local shopping platform Shopappy, says the new variant had a “devastating impact” on UK businesses last month.
Milligan says: “The move to Plan B [restrictions] holed many businesses under the waterline, just when they needed a festive lift.
“Around the country towns became ghost towns in December and 2022 has started on an equally sombre note.
“Inflation [of 5.4% is] at a 30-year high and is hitting small high street businesses from all angles.
“Customers have less to spend, raw materials are costing more, supply chains are being squeezed, interest rates are on the up and the cost to heat their premises is skyrocketing.
“It’s a panoply of pain.”
The release of the data comes a day after Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the government will lift all the Plan B measures which were put in place to deal with the rise of Omicron variant by next Thursday (27 January).