January 18, 2024
As we start the new year, here are the biggest news stories of 2023 – with a look into how these affairs may affect industries going forward. From widespread industrial strikes to corporate layoffs, climate agreements, and immigration policy upheavals, these events have left an indelible mark. Join us in this commercial awareness spotlight as we revisit the key stories of the past year and consider their implications in the year ahead.

March – Industrial Action

In 2023, industrial action in the form of strikes was a running theme throughout the year. These strikes were mainly motivated by poor pay and working conditions for essential workers across the UK, especially in light of the current cost of living crisis.

For example, union members at 16 train operating companies in England walked out on different days between the 2nd and 8th of December. This is because, despite the current cost of living crisis and soaring rates, train drivers have not had a pay increase since 2019.

This is a small portion of the many train strike days that have taken place since 2023. This includes a walkout at 14 train operators across England during the 2023 Eurovision final, causing ‘chaos’ amongst travellers.

From February until July 2023, members of trade unions for teachers (NASUWT and NEU) held 7 national strike days. By July 2023, all of the four main school teaching and leadership unions in England announced that their members had decided to accept the UK Government’s pay offer for the 2023/4 academic year.

The National Education Union (NEU) said 86% of respondents to its online teachers’ consultation had voted to ‘accept the pay and funding offer‘ on a turnout of 60%, and ‘end the current phase of industrial action’.

The reported January walkout this year from junior doctors (3 January to 9 January) was the longest in the NHS’ history, coinciding with what is traditionally one of the NHS’ busiest periods. Junior doctors in Wales are currently in the midst of a 3-day walkout, claiming they do not ‘feel valued’.

It is unsure what the future of industrial action looks like in the UK this year, as government wage agreements have been on the increase.


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September To December – Corporate Layoffs

In the last quarter of 2023, many corporations started planning for mass layoffs and redeployments. 

For example, in September, Deloitte cautioned staff that it planned to cut 800 jobs in the UK. Big cuts also took place at the other big 4 firms: EY, KPMG and PwC. PwC told its 25, 000 UK staff in June 2023 to expect smaller pay rises and bonuses and potential freezes as a result of ‘challenging’ market conditions.

Similarly, as part of its cost realignment programme, Pfizer plans to cut at least 500 roles in the UK and axe its Pharmaceutical Sciences Small Molecule (PSSM) capabilities at its site in Kent.

The main reason for this is the slowdown in UK demand and clients outsourcing external help. According to analysts and recruiters, excessive hiring in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic caused a strong need to reduce staff numbers. This is also coupled with the slowdown of staff leaving, due to higher interest rates and greater wariness around job security.

Fiona Czerniawska, chief executive of Source, an adviser on the professional services industry says that whilst the UK is behind other markets, the UK one is still growing and client demand is still strong. She also warns about the risk of being caught short when demand rises again with staff cuts, as the market can recover ‘very quickly’. 

November & December – COP28

On 13 December 2023, The United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP28) closed with an agreement signalling the ‘beginning of the end of the fossil fuel era’. The agreement includes a call on governments to speed up the transition from fossil fuels to renewables, such as wind and solar power.

The ‘global solidarity’ of 200 Parties signifies tremendous efforts to keep global temperatures down. However, the agreement will not mean anything if governments and business don’t turn their promises into ‘real-economy outcomes without delay’.

December – Rwanda Policy Overturned

On 15 November 2023, the UK Supreme Court unanimously found the Secretary of State’s Rwanda Policy to be unlawful upholding the Court of Appeal’s judgement.

For context, the Rwanda Policy (officially the UK and Rwanda Migration and Economic Development Partnership) is an immigration policy whereby people whom the UK identified as illegal immigrants or asylum seekers would be relocated to Rwanda for processing, asylum and resettlement. Those successful in claiming asylum would remain in Rwanda and would not be permitted to return to the UK.

In their decision, the Supreme Court decided that Rwanda was not a safe third-country for asylum seekers and there is a risk that non-refoulement would not be respected there.

Since December 2023, UK Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, has made efforts to revive the policy by changing legislation that seeks to declare in UK Law that Rwanda is a safe country to send refugees. Currently, under emergency orders from the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), deportation flights to Rwanda can be halted whilst a legal case was being heard. The new legislation would allow ministers to ignore these orders.

Law Society chief executive Ian Jeffrey says that this move is ‘damaging to both the rule of law and the constitutional separation of powers’ as law cannot be used to change fact. As a result, Sunak is facing significant rebellion from Tory MPS, with the strength of the UK Government hanging in the balance.

Winter 2023/2024 – UK Cost of Living Crisis

Throughout 2023, the UK population dealt with worrying inflating rates and soaring prices. Despite inflation falling by at least 0.2%, prices are still devastatingly high.

For example, Ofgem increased its price cap by 5% to an average of £1, 928 a year for a typical gas and electricity bill. This doubles the cap of winter 2020/21. Moreover, the average price of food has increased by up to 20% in the last 2 years, which would typically take a decade to reach.

The future of the 13-year run of the Conservative-led government has come into greater questioning from the general public, who may not be able to recover to pre-cost of living crisis conditions until 2027.

Other major news affairs from 2023:


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