Your commercial news round-up: trade, junior doctors strike, supermarket challenges, Dr Martens, AI

updated on 30 May 2024

Reading time: three minutes

Are you up to date with this week’s commercial news? A lobby group has advised that the next UK government should build stronger trade relations with the EU and junior doctors have announced a strike before the general election. Meanwhile, consumer groups have warned that supermarket challenges could lead to overspending, Dr Martens has halved its dividend and a new study has revealed more about the public’s opinion on AI. Read this week’s commercial news round-up to find out more.

  • The British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) has warned that the next UK government must forge better trade relations with the EU. The BCC director-general Shevaun Haviland explained that tighter migration rules, rising costs and a more complex export process is making trade more difficult, following Brexit. Plus, new border checks on plant and animal products have made exporting to the EU more difficult, especially for smaller companies, the BCC has revealed. However, Haviland emphasised that the BCC wasn’t suggesting that the UK rejoins the EU, “that’s done, we’re moving forward”. Former chair of BT Group, KPMG and easyJet Sir Mike Rake also urged the next parliament to “move closer to the EU from an economic and political perspective” and suggested that the government consider “joining the customs union and single market”.
  • Junior doctors have announced a strike from 27 June to 2 July, just days before the general election. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said he thinks the timing of the action is “politically motivated” to help the Labour party, which will be holding a health day during the planned protest. The strike could mean cancelled care for up to 100,000 patients – a concern for health leaders as waiting lists have already reached record length. In a statement yesterday (29 May), the British Medical Association junior doctors committee co-chairs Dr Robert Laurenson and Dr Vivek Trivedi said: “We made clear to the government that we would strike unless discussions ended in a credible pay offer.”
  • From politics to the weekly shop. New supermarket ‘challenges’ could lead to overspending, according to consumer group Which? and debt charity StepChange. Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda and Morrisons are all running loyalty schemes, which award members bonus points for reaching spending targets. Former Asda buyer Ged Futter explained that supermarkets “look at products you buy during the course of the month and then they will give you offers to make sure that you buy that product again with them". Food prices, which were rising at a rate of almost 20%, are now falling again. Despite this, Ele Clarke, retail editor at Which?,  has warned that loyalty schemes could lead to customers spending more as food is still “far more expensive than it was a couple of years ago".
  • British footwear brand Dr Martens has revealed plans to cut £25 million worth of costs, after poor US sales led profits to fall by 42.9% to £97.2 million. Following the drop in sales, the company has halved its dividend, falling from 5.84p a share to 2.55p. The company has stated that it’ll boost “organisational efficiency”, suggesting that job cuts could be on the cards. Chief executive Kenny Wilson said: “We are clear that we need to drive demand in the USA to return to growth.”
  • A recent study into AI surveyed 12,000 people from six countries, looking to find out more about the public’s opinion and use of AI. Lead author Dr Richard Fletcher stated that there’s a “mismatch” between the “hype” around AI and “public interest”. The study − based on responses from participants in Argentina, Denmark, France, Japan, the UK and the US − found that only 2% of British respondents use new tools like ChatGPT on a regular basis. However, results also showed that younger respondents, aged 18 to 24, were using the technology more. The research found that the majority expect generative AI to greatly impact society over the next five years, particularly for news, media and science. In addition, most people said that they think the technology will make their own lives better but, when asked about how AI will affect society as a whole, people were generally more pessimistic.

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