Wednesday 1st April

Labour pledges ban on zero-hours contracts

A Labour government would ban zero hours contracts for companies employing people for longer than 12 weeks, Labour leader Ed Miliband says....

A Labour government would ban zero hours contracts for companies employing people for longer than 12 weeks, Labour leader Ed Miliband says.

Speaking at an event in Yorkshire today, Mr Miliband will unveil plans for “early legislation” in the next parliament requiring employers to offer a regular contract to new recruits after 12 weeks.

Zero-hours contracts are a bone of contention in the run-up to May’s general election.

The Conservatives have banned exclusivity clauses – which meant people on the contracts couldn’t look for other work, but have stopped short of further action, claiming they are useful to some working people.

Labour will put legislation to ‘ban’ the contracts in their current form in its first Queen’s Speech, should it win the election.

It argues the contracts have become a “symbol of a low-wage, low-skill, economy where stagnant wages and falling productivity” are offshoots of Tory policy.

“The explosion of zero hours contracts tells us the answer to that question in Britain right now,” said Mr Miliband.

“There are now three times as many people on zero hours contracts as there were when this government came to power; a 20 per cent increase in the last year alone, 1.8 million work contracts without guaranteed hours.

“It is leaving people without a reliable income, not knowing from one day to the next how much work will be coming in, unable to plan from one week to the next.”

But businesses are increasingly siding with the Conservatives. Today 100 business leaders pledged support for the Tories, while the CBI accused Labour of “playing with the jobs market”.

CBI director general John Cridland said: “The UK’s flexible jobs market has given us an employment rate that is the envy of other countries, so proposals to limit flexible contracts to 12 weeks are wide of the mark.

“Of course action should be taken to tackle abuses, but demonising flexible contracts is playing with the jobs that many firms and many workers value and need.”

Meanwhile the Institute of Directors said Labour’s pledge was “unnecessary and damaging”.

Christian May, head of communications and campaigns, said: "Labour's proposals go too far. They are unnecessary and potentially damaging. Frankly, this is an example of politics trumping good policy.

"A cross-party consensus has already emerged that would ban the use of exclusivity clauses, but limiting the use of a zero hours contract to just 12 weeks would apply rigid controls on an important element of our flexible labour market.”

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Tuesday 31st March

Elon Musk adds $1bn to Tesla stock with a tweet

US tech entrepreneur Elon Musk has caused a twitter storm and added nearly a billion dollars to his company Tesla’s share price by hinting at a new product launch....

US tech entrepreneur Elon Musk has caused a twitter storm and added nearly a billion dollars to his company Tesla’s share price by hinting at a new product launch.

Musk sent the following tweet at about 5.30pm UK time: “Major new Tesla product line - not a car - will be unveiled at our Hawthorne Design Studio on Thurs 8pm, April 30”. The result was thousands of retweets and favourites, as well as a $900 million lift in Tesla’s share price.

According to the Daily Telegraph, shares in Tesla, which is famous for producing high-end electric cars, jumped almost 4% in the 10 minutes following the tweet’s issue. It added $900 million to the firm’s market cap.

The hint that something big is about to be launched also sparked a frenzied hashtag discussion with #TeslaNewProductGuesses trending. According to the Telegraph, guesses ranged from a flux capacitor (the time machine from the film Back to the Future) to a real Iron Man suit, again from the movies.

Analysts speculate the announcement will be a home version of the vehicle battery Tesla uses in its cars. In February Musk alluded to the imminent launch of a “consumer battery”.

"We're going to unveil some of the Tesla home battery or consumer battery that will be for use in people's houses or businesses, fairly soon. We have the design done, and it should start going into production probably in about six months or so," he said.

Musk is widely seen as an entrepreneur in the Steve Jobs fold, with an ability to drum up interest in product launches with slick marketing and the clever release of teasers.

Other inventions produced by Musk’s businesses include rocket programme Space X and Hyperloop, a super-fast transportation system which fires train carriages along a cushion of air.

Musk says it could get people from Los Angeles to San Francisco (nearly 400 miles) in less than 30 minutes; currently by care it takes around six and a half hours.

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UK economy is growing faster than we thought

More good news this morning for the UK economy as government statisticians revised up the rate of growth it achieved in 2014....

More good news this morning for the UK economy as government statisticians revised up the rate of growth it achieved in 2014.

According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), the economy swelled by 0.6% in the final quarter of 2014 and not 0.5% as first thought. Though it doesn’t sound like much, the increase puts the UK well ahead of many other leading international economies.

Growth hit 2.8% last year, up from a previously calculated 2.6%, which is the fastest rate since 2006, when it grew 3%. The rate is double that of Germany and seven times faster than France.

The increase was pushed up by exports, while the figures also revealed household disposable income increasing 2.3%, the fastest rate since the start of the Tory government in 2010.

The figures come as welcome reading to the Conservatives with a ‘too-close-to-call’ general election looming in May.

The BBC reported Andy Scott, from foreign currency specialists HiFX, saying he expects household spending to boost growth next year.

"Concerns over slowing house price increases and the general election don't seem to be fazing consumers who are seeing real term wage growth for the first time recently in the past few years, thanks to significantly lower energy costs.

"This bodes well for the overall picture of the UK economy since individual spending affects so many industries - from coffee houses to DIY chains," he said.

In a separate report, the ONS said the financial wellbeing of UK households improved significantly last year. But it added that the measure had climbed just 0.2% in total since 2010.

“In the fourth quarter, household spending per head grew 0.3% compared to the previous quarter, continuing the general trend that started in Q3 2011,” said the ONS in a statement.

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Monday 30th March

UK becoming ‘capital of start-ups’

The UK is being referred to as the developed world’s capital of entrepreneurship, after new figures revealed one in 11 working age people are starting or running a business....

The UK is being referred to as the developed world’s capital of entrepreneurship, after new figures revealed one in 11 working age people are starting or running a business.

The findings came in research by Barclays Bank and the Business Growth Fund (BGF), reported in today’s FT.

It shows 8.6% of 18-to-64 year-olds are involved in start-ups, up from 7.3% just a year ago. The biennial Entrepreneurs Index put the number of active companies at 3,139,630 – an all-time high for the UK.

In total there are well over 5 million businesses in the UK, although some are dormant.

Richard Phelps, a managing director of Barclays, said: “Since we started our Entrepreneurs Index research in 2012, the UK has seen a net gain of nearly half a million companies, which signifies that for many individuals, running their own business is now becoming an aspirational career choice.”

According to the FT report, there was also a rise in founders selling shares in their businesses. The number of deals resulting in earnings of £200,000 or more for owners increased by 6% last year, from 1,476 to 1,562.

But there is still room to make the UK more entrepreneurial, according to Stephen Welton, chief executive of the BGF. He said the country still does not produce enough scaled businesses, unlike in the US which has a large stock of billion-dollar firms.

Welton said: “We need to reinforce ambition. Entrepreneurs need to remember why they started their business: how they are going to conquer the world.”

Figures show that the proportion of businesses registered for VAT, most of which have turnovers above the £81,000 threshold, has dropped in recent years.

In March 2010, 41.3% of businesses were VAT registered, compared with 39.5% today.

The BGF is a fund created by big banks to provide long-term investment to small and medium businesses.

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Miliband: EU exit ‘clear and present danger’ to firms

Labour leader Ed Miliband has accused the Tory party of playing “short-term politics” with Britain’s membership of the EU and that this risks the country’s prosperity....

Labour leader Ed Miliband has accused the Tory party of playing “short-term politics” with Britain’s membership of the EU, which risks the country’s prosperity.

Unveiling Labour’s business manifesto at Bloomberg’s headquarters in London this morning, Miliband said the prime minister had repeatedly caved into demands from backbench MPs who want to leave Europe.

He said Labour’s focus was on delivering reforms from within the EU to promote growth, the EU budget, immigration and international trade agreements.

Business leaders as well as political opponents have questioned Labour’s commitment to supporting business and its seriousness about tackling the UK’s debt pile of nearly £1.5 trillion.

Conservatives condemned Miliband for failing to mention the economy in a speech to the Labour party conference in September last year.

The new 22-page business manifesto is the first of a series of documents the party will publish on a range of issues in coming weeks. It sets out how, if elected to form the next government, it would:

- Cut the deficit every year, with a surplus happening “as soon as possible”

- Return Britain to a leadership role within the EU

- Set up a national infrastructure commission, to tackle long-term infrastructure needs

- Cutting and freezing business rates on 1.5 million small business properties

- Establishing a “proper” British Investment Bank to help SMEs raise finance

- Compel young people to study English and maths to 18, helping to reduce the skills gap

- Create more apprenticeships for young people

Miliband said: “There could be nothing worse for our country or for our great exporting businesses than playing political games with our membership in Europe.

“David Cameron used to understand that. But in the past five years our place in the European Union has become less and less secure. He used to say he would campaign to keep Britain in Europe. But now he won’t rule out campaigning to leave.

“It threatens to leave UK businesses out of a market that gives them access to the world’s largest trading bloc. It’s simply the wrong direction for our country.

“If you care about strong foundations, if you care about long-term stability, if you care about prosperity, then Britain must be a committed member of a reformed European Union, not threatening to leave, not locked out of the room.”

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Friday 27th March

Small Biz Act makes access to funding 'easier'

An Act of Parliament designed to make the UK the “best place in the world to start and grow a business” has passed in UK law....

An Act of Parliament designed to make the UK the “best place in the world to start and grow a business” has passed into UK law.

The Small Business Act is meant to improve access to finance, create fairer conditions for pub landlords and increasing transparency on payment practices.

The act contains a large number of clauses, including:

- Opening up access to small business credit data, potentially making it easier to get a loan

- Banks now have to pass on details to alternative lenders of businesses they have turned down for a loan

- Speeding up cheque processing times through ‘cheque imaging’

- More transparency on payment practices by large buyers

- New commitment to cut red tape

- Appointing a Small Business Appeals Champion to represent SMEs

- New Pubs Code improving conditions for landlords tied to breweries

- Increased export finance available for firms selling overseas

The government said the Act provided opportunities for the UK’s 5 million small businesses to “innovate, grow and create jobs”.

Business secretary Vince Cable said: “Small businesses provide jobs for millions of people across the country and are driving the economic recovery.

“The Small Business Act will create the right environment for small businesses to continue to thrive by giving them greater access to finance to help them innovate and grow, and make it easier for them to export goods and services made in Britain.

“The Bill’s measures also mean there is nowhere to hide for firms who do not play by the rules, whether by abusing zero hours contracts or not paying the minimum wage.”

Other measures going live this week include banning exclusivity clauses in zero hours contract which prevent employees working for other employers and increasing maximum fines for businesses that fail to pay the minimum wage.

Another new rule streamlines insolvency law to take out some of the costs and regulates insolvency practitioners.

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Office workers ‘risking health’

Office workers are “too sedentary” and should move around more during the working day, a health group has warned....

Office workers are “too sedentary” and should move around more during the working day even if they cycle to work or use the gym, a health group has warned.

Medical experts say sitting in the same position for long periods is linked to a range of health problems, only some of which can be redressed with exercise before or after work.

The On Your Feet Britain campaign, launched by the group Get Britain Standing, says it presents one of the biggest challenges in keeping the country healthy.

It says businesses should encourage standing and walking during work time, with suggestions including standing meetings and standing desks.

Not being active enough can lead to problems including type two diabetes and even cancer.

This applies to people who consider themselves fit – such as those who jog or cycle to work yet spend much of the day sitting at a desk.

A survey by the campaign of 2,000 office workers suggests nearly half of women and more than a third of men spend less than 30 minutes per working day walking around.

More than half regularly eat lunch at their desks and nearly 80% of respondents admitted they spent too much time sitting down.

Get Britain Standing has five core recommendations for people wanting to address the problem and get healthy:

1) Progress should be made towards at least two hours of standing per day and light activity, eventually progressing to a total accumulation of four hours per day.

2) You should try and break prolonged periods of sitting by standing at regular intervals. Sit to stand work stations are highly recommended.

3) Prolonged periods of static standing should also be avoided.

4) When first trialling standing office workers may feel some fatigue that will require some time to adapt to. These sensations should be able to be relieved by changing your posture or taking a quick walk.

5) Companies should promote workers to think about how much time they spend sitting outside of work too.

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Thursday 26th March

One million small businesses ‘lack basic digital skills’

Around a million small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in the UK lack basic digital skills, such as using the internet or sending email, according to new research....

Around a million small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in the UK lack basic digital skills, such as using the internet or sending email, according to new research.

Lloyds Bank’s digital index tracks uptake by smaller businesses and charities in the UK. Its latest findings reveal 23% don’t have basic skills.

The main barrier to digital adoption was a perceived lack of need. A quarter of businesses profiled in the research said digital was “irrelevant” to them.

Lloyds said the findings tallied to about 1.2 million businesses that lack an understanding of online and so could be missing out on opportunities for additional revenue and customer feedback.

It also found that companies with a high level of technological nous were much more likely to report sales going up in the last two years.

Miguel-Ángel Rodríguez-Sola, group director for digital at Lloyds Banking Group, said: “In just one year it is pleasing to see that over 100,000 more small businesses in the UK now have basic digital skills.

“But what is also clear is that real challenges remain – over a million small businesses and charities still lack basic digital skills and the perceived benefits of being digital remain.

“We cannot emphasis enough the benefits that digital adoption can offer – such as saving time, increasing revenue or funding or reaching wider audiences. Digital is the key to unlock these benefits.

“Even if an organisation does not believe they need to be online, many of their customers already are. There needs to be further awareness to give charities and businesses the confidence to do more online.”

On a regional basis the index recorded positive signs for the north of England. Both the North East and the North West posted big gains year-on-year in “digital maturity”.

This was partly due to regional programmes by organisations such as the charity Go ON UK.

Baroness Lane-Fox, chair of Go ON UK, said: “Perceptions and motivations remain key issues, with a quarter of organisations still believing that doing more online isn’t relevant to their business.

“And in an increasingly globalised marketplace, still only 13 per cent of organisations are using their website for e-commerce. This is an ever increasing concern that needs our imminent attention.”

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UK shop sales surging, official data suggests

UK retail sales jumped 0.7% in February compared to the traditionally busy January period, according to the latest government figures....

UK retail sales jumped 0.7% in February compared to the traditionally busy January period, according to the latest government figures.

Data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show consumers are in bullish mood, with sales shooting up 5.7% year-on-year.

Analysts say static inflation and increasing basic wages are fuelling people with confidence to spend. Earlier this week official data showed consumer prices froze last month for the first time on record.

But it was not all good news for businesses. Average shop prices fell again for the eighth consecutive month and have declined 3.6% compared with this time last year.

Furniture stores did particularly well over the month, although the ONS said all shop-types fared well.

Lower prices has led to a squeeze on profit margins, with some retail business owners saying they can’t carry on.

“This is the largest year-on-year fall since consistent records began in 1997,” said the ONS in a statement.

“Once again the largest contribution to the year-on-year fall came from petrol stations, which fell by 15.5%, the largest year-on-year fall in this store type on record.”

The data also showed the average weekly spend in the UK retail sector was £6.6 billion in February, compared to £6.5 billion during the same month last year.

The figures were better than analysts’ expectations for a 0.4% increase on the month. In January sales fell 0.3% it what was a disappointing January sales period.

“If you wanted a demonstration that low food and energy prices are good for consumer spending, then this is it,” said Alan Clarke, an economist at Scotiabank in London, told Bloomberg.

“People are clearly not deferring their spending plans amid deflation speculation -- they are spending the windfall. This is good news for growth.”

Barclays head of retail and wholesale Richard Lowe said: “February was another strong month, with the retail sector now seeing almost two years’ of consecutive year on year growth.

“Sales of seasonal ranges have started well and with Easter just around the corner the high street has every reason to have a spring in its step in the months ahead."

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Tuesday 24th March

Deal to foster ‘new innovations in space’

The UK Space Agency has teamed up with university business incubator SETsquared to help create new innovations in space technology....

The UK Space Agency has teamed up with university business incubator SETsquared to help create new innovations in space technology.

SETsquared is a partnership of the universities of Bath, Bristol, Exeter, Southampton and Surrey. It will help start-ups and small businesses turn innovations into commercial products and services.

Under the new agreement, the UK Space Agency will fund 40 businesses entering SETsquared’s entrepreneurship programme.

The programme helps start-ups hone their business plan and gain access to investment.

Businesses entering the scheme will be applying space technology for a range of applications, for example using data from satellites to improve communications, global positioning, navigation and timing.

”The space sector is a UK success story with aspirations to grow to a £40bn turnover by 2030,” said Colin Baldwin, UK space gateway programme manager at the UK Space Agency.

“To achieve this, we anticipate hundreds of new companies will start providing new products and services that rely upon satellites. We are delighted that SETsquared, with its proven track record, will be on-hand to help these companies grow and flourish.”

Simon Bond, Innovation Director at SETsquared, added: “We are seeing huge potential in some of the space-related research across the five universities.

“There are some ground-breaking technologies being developed that could become multi-million pound businesses. This partnership will effectively allow us to connect those ‘gems’ with the space sector and work together to nurture them.”

SETsquared’s incubation programme is among the most respected in Europe and has fostered successful start-up including iGeolise, which uses satellite data to power its Time Travel Platform.

The platform lets users search maps for information about local destinations based on how long it takes to get there, not how far away they are ‘as the crow flies’.

SETsquared provides mentoring, access to investors and corporate innovators and a wide range of industry experts through its network and training programmes

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