2017’s top business stories: Ryanair crisis, hackers and a giant rabbit

The rich got richer and the poor piled on more debt as shockwaves from the Brexit vote continued to reverberate in 2017.

Billionaire George Soros dismissed Donald Trump as a “con-man”, while Britain’s biggest chicken supplier was revealed to have been fiddling its food safety records.

Airlines had a turbulent year, from the sad death of Simon the giant rabbit to Ryanair’s shock cancellation of thousands of flights after it messed up its pilot rosters.

Based on the number of page views, here are our 10 most popular business stories of 2017.

A “pretentious” American grocery group nicknamed “Whole Paycheck” made it to the top of our most-read list in 2017, as takeover rumours swirled around the once high-flying, organic-focused retailer.

Shoppers loved Whole Foods’ products, but not its prices: “When you’re shopping for the cheaper, more afofrdable things, you’re reminded of the things you can’t afford,” said one.

A consumer backlash had led to six straight quarters of declining sales by April. Two months later online giant Amazon swooped in with a $13.7bn takeover in a bold move seen as a game-changer for the entire food retail sector.

In September the Guardian revealed one of the world’s “big four” accountancy firms had been the victim of a sophisticated cybersecurity attack that had gone unnoticed for months.

The attack on Deloitte compromised confidential emails and plans of some of the firm’s blue chip clients, including household name companies and US government departments. Hackers may have accessed usernames, passwords and other personal details.

Simon, a 10-month-old giant rabbit, met a sad end after a transatlantic flight from London Heathrow to Chicago’s O’Hare airport in April. Although he was alive when the United Airlines plane landed in America, Simon was later found dead in his cage in a pet facility run by the airline.

It was a tragedy for Simon – whose owner said he had been “as fit as a fiddle” on leaving London – and another PR disaster for United Airlines. Just three weeks earlier, a video showing a passenger being dragged off a United flight had sparked widespread outrage.

One of the highlights of this year’s World Economic Forum in Davos was an attack on Donald Trump from octogenarian billionaire and philanthropist George Soros.

At a plush dinner at the Swiss ski resort last January, the night before the presidential inauguration, Soros called Trump an ‘imposter and a con-man” who would trigger a trade war and try – unsuccessfully – to rule as a dictator.

Soros also predicted that Theresa May wouldn’t last long as UK prime minister and the inflation would drive down UK living standards – so he certainly got one prediction right.

An investigation by the Guardian and ITV news revealed that the UK’s top supplier of chicken to supermarkets was tampering with food safety records.

In undercover footage recorded at a 2 Sisters plant, workers were seen altering the slaughter date of poultry being processed, which may have duped customers into buying out-of-date meat.

Ryanair was forced to cancel thousands of flights after a “mess-up” in how it scheduled time off for its pilots.

Chief executive Michael O’Leary apologised to customers but the budget airline’s inept handling of the roster-related cancellations served to compound the outrage, as it was accused by the Civil Aviation Authority of “persistently misleading passengers” about their rights.

By the end of the year, the airline would finally recognise pilot and cabin crew unions, marking dramatic shift after decades of refusing to negotiate with them.

In January, Jamie Oliver was left exposed by tough trading and the “pressures and unknowns” following the Brexit vote, which saw him close six of his Jamie’s Italian outlets.

The six restaurants shuttered accounted for less than 5% of the restaurant chain’s total turnover and overall the chain was continuing to perform well both in the UK and abroad.

Not since the time of the Carnegies, Rockerfellers and Vanderbilts at the turn of the 20th century was so much owned by so few, as a new wealth report published in October revealed that billionaires had increased their combined global wealth by almost a fifth, to a record $6tn.

But the world’s ultra-wealthy were, apparently, worried by this new “Gilded Age”. According to the the lead author of the UBS/PwC Billionaires report they feared the growing gap between rich and poor could lead to a “strike back”.

“It’s a fair cop”, admitted the Bank of England’s chief economist Andy Haldane just a few days into the new year, as he accepted that the UK’s central bank had misjudged the impact of the Brexit vote.

Economists had been brought into disrepute by a series of forecasting errors before and after the financial crash, and for predicting there would be a dramatic slowdown in the economy if the UK were to vote to leave the EU, he said.

But while the Bank was wrong about the timing of a post-Brexit slump, Haldane insisted it would be proved right about the fundamentals.

Britain’s borrowing binge topped £200bn, prompting a warning from the nation’s chief financial regulator that the government needed to step in to avert a debt crisis.

Andrew Bailey told the Guardian that he was concerned about the sheer number of people who need loans to make ends meet, pinpointing gig economy workers as particularly vulnerable.