Looking forward, the summer will continue to be a busy period as we further support our customers and contribute to the recovery from the pandemic. As an example, we will be engaging with customers on repayment options for Government-backed coronavirus loans that will start to become due, offering a variety of forbearance and refinancing options where required..
It also means continuing to transform our business for life after the pandemic, including how and where we work. Our branch and call centre colleagues have continued to travel into workplaces throughout the pandemic, offering help and support in person to those who need it and we are incredibly grateful for their dedication and hard work.
For those who have been working from home, we are reimagining our ways of working to meet the evolving needs of our customers and colleagues – including transitioning to a hybrid location approach as restrictions ease. To facilitate this, among other things, we’ll be looking to roll out a space booking app that enables colleagues to book a space whenever they choose to be in the office. We’ll continue to be led by their feedback as we adapt our approach..
A strong start to the year
I previously mentioned our Q1 results so let me finish with a short summary of the numbers.
It has now been a year since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. The economic outlook in Q1 2021 has been more positive due to the continued success of the vaccine roll-out, which is progressing faster than we expected, and the extra government support measures, including the extension of the furlough scheme. This resulted in us revising upwards our forecast for UK GDP growth for this year to 5% from 3% previously. The greater optimism is also reflected in the increase in confidence we are seeing from companies in our latest Business Barometer, where confidence is at a two-and-a-half year high. The outlook remains uncertain and there is a long way to go to normality, but these are welcome developments.
In this context, the first three months of 2021 saw encouraging progress and growth in our businesses with statutory profit before tax of £1.9bn.
Business momentum was positive – our open mortgage book grew by £6.0bn during the quarter and we saw a notable increase in retail current accounts of £5.6 billion. We also experienced strong credit quality, which together with the improved economic outlook, resulted in a release of expected credit loss provisions. You can see our full Q1 update here.
All in all, while we still have lots to do to keep supporting the UK’s recovery, the first quarter represents a solid start to 2021.
In the next couple of weeks, I will be supporting our Chairman Robin Budenberg with both the Group AGM and shareholder meeting, where we will give our shareholders an update and answer their questions about the business and our priorities.
I do look forward to leading the Group through this very interesting and busy time and to providing another update in July.