Your commercial news round-up: NHS, Gap, Pret v Greggs, the High Court ruling

updated on 10 June 2021

Identifying the lasting effects of changes occurring within the business and legal worlds is crucial to demonstrating good commercial acumen. Think about the impact that such changes might have on a particular industry, your target firm’s clients and the firm itself. Choose to analyse stories that interest you as this will make staying up to date with changes much easier and more enjoyable. Read this week’s commercial news round-up for insight into some of the news stories from the past week.

  • The NHS has delayed its plans to pool the full medical histories of 55 million patients in England into a single database by two months, following pressure from campaigners, politicians and patients, according to the Financial Times. NHS Digital, which runs Britain’s health service’s IT system, had planned on making the database available to academic professionals and commercial third parties for research and factfinding purposes. The delay on the GP data scheme was due to the government receiving threats of an injunction and warnings that without patient consent, it would be “unlawful”.

However, NHS Digital has reassured the public that it had the backing of the Information Commissioner’s Office and revealed that it plans on using this delayed time to “talk to patients, doctors, health charities and others to strengthen the plan, build a trusted research environment and ensure that the data is accessed securely.” That said, criticism and warnings persist, with the public’s firm belief that: “This data belongs to patients, and they fund the NHS so it should be their choice.”

  • The pandemic has accelerated the rising trend in online shopping, so it’s no surprise that retail giant Gap is rumoured to be closing 19 stores. The Evening Standard reported: “there were around 14,809 UK permanent retail store closures between March 2020 and February 2021” – another blow for UK high streets, following store closures from Debenhams and Topshop. Gap’s company spokesman said they remain “keen to maintain a presence in Europe” and are looking “at different operating models for our UK and ROI business”. During this time  “customers may continue shopping Gap online or at one of our other 50 plus Gap stores.” The fashion chain will not be renewing its leases when they expire on 31 July 2021, making them the largest retailer to permanently close sites after a £740 million loss due to covid-19.
  • Pret a Manger and Greggs go head to head with each other to be the UK’s number one sandwich shop. Both fast-food operators took a hit from the pandemic; Greggs faced their first loss after 36 years and Pret had to close more than 30 cafés, leaving thousands of staff facing redundancy. The company was also forced to seek emergency funding from banks. The impact of covid-19 has led to both food chains taking out loans and speeding up the development of new revenue streams, according to the Financial Times.

Both companies rejigged their business plans leading to permanent changes in their business models in the takeaway food market. However, due to its central London focus, it is clear Pret took a harder hit from the pandemic, while Greggs has been cushioned from the fall due to its wider distribution of stores on high streets around the UK. The coronavirus crisis has forced Pret to consider discount offers such as a meal deal currently offered by their rivals. There is talk of Pret looking for shops in northern England where it supposedly has “really strong resilient sales”. Meanwhile, Greggs is set to open sites in central London, including in Canary Wharf, Greenwich and St Pancras. 

  • A High Court order ruled the UK government acted unlawfully in awarding a £560,000 contract to a research firm with links to Dominic Cummings, former chief adviser to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, the Financial Times reports. The Cabinet Office, overseen by Michael Gove broke the law by acting with “apparent bias” after Public First was awarded contracts worth a large amount of taxpayers’ money without fair consideration to the competition. Despite the UK government denying the claims of apparent bias, Justice Finola O’Farrell found there was a “real possibility or a real danger that the decision-maker was biased.” This ruling was welcomed by Jo Maugham, director of Good Law Project, whose campaign group has brought several legal claims against the government and had suspected there was favouritism in the award of the six-month contract to Public First.

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