Britain defies critics, says ALEX BRUMMER: Fascinating to see whether IMF revises up its dismal projections for the UK in its spring outlook

The conventional wisdom about the UK economy is uniformly negative. It is regrettable that the hoped-for improvement in the inflation outlook so far has failed to feed through to official figures.

That may correct soon as the energy price explosion that followed the war in Ukraine clears through the data.

Yet there is still much to be upbeat about. The benefits may be some way off, but Britain’s membership of the awkwardly named CPTPP, which links our economy to 11 nations on the fast-growing Pacific Rim, needs to be lauded.

Any port in a storm: In spite of efforts to portray the British economy as down and out, it refuses to oblige

Any port in a storm: In spite of efforts to portray the British economy as down and out, it refuses to oblige

Continental Europe is still our biggest trading partner and the US is the country with which we have the largest trade surpluses. But the Pacific Rim is the great growth opportunity. Britain’s brilliant financial and professional services sector is particularly well suited to make inroads.

In spite of efforts to portray the British economy as down and out, it refuses to oblige. There is no excuse for the Bank of England’s forecast in November (since revised) that real incomes are facing a mighty squeeze and we are looking down the barrel of the longest recession in the nation’s history. The data from the Office for National Statistics says something different. 

Output actually increased in the final quarter of last year by 0.1 per cent, recession was avoided and households’ real disposable income rose by 1.3 per cent. Watchers of contemporary data, such as retail footfall, should be convinced the glass is half full.

A Lloyds Bank forecast shows that British business was more confident last month than at any time since last spring and reinforces the view that the UK will sidestep recession. Hiring is improving, employment growth picking up and wage pressures easing.

What isn’t clear yet is whether recent turmoil in global banking will affect the availability of credit. It will be fascinating to see whether the International Monetary Fund revises up its dismal projections for the UK when it issues its spring World Economic Outlook later this month. It should.

Amex checked

American Express customers pay £250-a-year for the privilege of using the company’s credit card and collecting BA Avios frequent flyer points. As a user since 2016, I was surprised last year to learn my card had been suspended while Amex awaited new information. 

Several direct debits were automatically stopped (without notice) and I went through the disturbance of having my card refused at several venues. On contacting the UK headquarters in Brighton, I was told the information was required because of money laundering regulations. Other holders reported similar experiences.

Amex: American Express customers pay £250-a-year for the privilege of using the company's credit card and collecting BA Avios frequent flyer points

Amex: American Express customers pay £250-a-year for the privilege of using the company’s credit card and collecting BA Avios frequent flyer points

A list of information required for verification arrived, which included passport/driving licence for me and my spouse, utility bills, recent bank statements and details of my income. The latter information was downloaded online, but Amex declined to accept my payslip as evidence of income.

A formal letter from my employers was dispatched to the correct department in Brighton, by recorded post, with this information. 

Yesterday, I received an email from Amex telling me I was in the last chance saloon and more information was required ‘to avoid suspension’. This was incorrect since it is already suspended! When I sought to tackle the matter by phone, I ended up being diverted to the Philippines.

The official on the other end of the line put me on hold three times ‘to check his notes’ before concluding that none of the data required had been supplied. This, despite an Amex letter to my home ten days ago explaining that the only data missing was evidence of income. It had been provided both online and by post.

The experience raises two separate issues. First, why has it taken Amex seven years to check it is complying with money laundering regulations? Second, why is the company’s customer service so ill-informed?

My advice is if you are tempted to subscribe for an Amex card, don’t. Save yourself a subscription and aggravation.

Royal approval

Buried in Powering Up Britain, the UK’s latest energy plan is one of the more fascinating projects supported by none other than Mohammed IV, king of Morocco.

The Xlinks project will exclusively provide the UK with high-voltage electricity via an onshore wind, solar and battery site in the North African country. Under present plans, the sub-sea cable would come ashore in Cornwall. Could be a glorious tale of two kingdoms.



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