Thursday 27th November

London firms less optimistic

London-based businesses are less optimistic about the future than they were just three months ago, according to business group the CBI....

London-based businesses are less optimistic about the future than they were just three months ago, according to business group the CBI.

Research involving 120 companies revealed that only 42% of respondents were more optimistic about the economy than they were in the previous quarter.

The figure was 59% in the same survey conducted during the third quarter of 2014.

Meanwhile, less than two-fifths of businesses are more optimistic about their own business’ short-term potential compared to 47% previously.

Lucy Haynes, CBI London director, said: “Overall, London has had a good innings in 2014. Throughout the year, firms have been upbeat about the economy and their business prospects, but optimism has dipped recently against the backdrop of a sluggish Eurozone and increased geopolitical tensions.

“The capital’s businesses are raising concerns around the uncertainty of the UK’s role in Europe, so we must continue to explain why British membership of a reformed EU is important to jobs and growth in London and the rest of the country.”

In more positive news, the survey also found that expansion plans remain robust, with nearly two-thirds of respondents planning to grow in the coming year.

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UK exporters ‘staying close to home’

UK exporters like to stay close to home and prefer to sell in countries with close cultural ties, even though the real opportunities could be further afield....

UK exporters like to stay close to home and prefer to sell in countries with close cultural ties, even though the real opportunities could be further afield.

The message comes in a survey of more than 400 exporters by Open to Export, a not-for-profit business supporting 6,000 exporters in the UK.

The survey revealed that confidence is generally high, with 78% of owners and managers expecting overseas sales to improve in 2015 compared with this year.

But respondents also said the biggest factors in deciding where to export were finding territories “close to home” or with cultural similarities.

The most popular new markets were Europe, where six in 10 businesses sell products and the US in which 44% of firms sell product.

But the biggest growth markets in the world, the BRIC countries of Brazil, Russia, India and China and the MINTs, Mexico, Indonesia, Nigeria and Turkey, came further down the list.

The next most popular destination for UK exports was the Middle East, followed by Australasia and the Far East, with around a third of respondents pointing to at least one of these areas.

Open to Export chairman Julian Hucker said: “Through our community and interviewing SMEs at Export Week, it’s heartening that business owners and managers are confident of their prospects for 2015 and are looking into a wide variety of markets, with Europe and North America dominating.”

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Wednesday 26th November

Multi-million pound funding for university spin-outs

Government agencies are providing £3.2 million funding to help universities commercialise projects and create more ‘spin-out’ businesses....

Government agencies are providing £3.2 million funding to help universities commercialise projects and create more ‘spin-out’ businesses.

In a move announced today, the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) and Innovate UK will help universities protect their intellectual property and get ‘proof of concept’ funding.

The project, called iCURE, will see the two organisations working together with university enterprise partnership SETsquared to increase the number of academic research projects that become commercial enterprises.

Announcing the funding, universities minister Greg Clark said: “Collaboration is the key to turning the best research into new businesses. We are proud that SETsquared is already Europe’s best incubator, and second in the world, which is why we are supporting this pilot scheme.

“It will provide skills, support and mentoring to help the UK’s best researchers turn their ideas into commercial success. This strengthens the UK’s position as the best place for science and technology research, and drives forward our economic growth.”

Early stage researchers at five universities - Bath, Bristol, Exeter, Southampton and Surrey – will be trained to speed up the monetisation of ideas.

The project was inspired by a similar programme taking place in the US.

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Shop sales ‘resilient’ pre-Christmas

The CBI says shop sales have been resilient in the year to November as retailers head into the all-important Christmas rush....

The CBI says shop sales have been resilient in the year to November as retailers head into the all-important Christmas rush.

The business group’s survey of 130 businesses showed employment was strong, with the rate of increased headcount expected to be faster than at any time since May 2002.

More businesses plan to invest in the next 12 months than not, while businesses also expect a slight improvement in their fortunes generally in the next three months.

But low inflation means the price of goods is under pressure and items’ average value is rising at its slowest pace since May 2009.

Barry Williams, Asda chief merchandising officer for food, said retailers were fighting the impact of a “demanding year” with price discounts and offers.

“We’re seeing encouraging signs that pressure on family budgets is letting up, and although there is some way to go with the broader economy, there can be some optimism for retailers and customers alike as we enter the crucial run up to Christmas.

“With prices under pressure and more firms adopting US-style Black Friday offers, retailers are expecting a festive boost next month and are certainly doing their best to put smiles on customers’ faces and make it easy on their pockets.”

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Monday 24th November

UK is a top destination for innovative firms

The UK is one the best places in the world to create and grow innovative businesses, according to research by multi-national conglomerate GE....

The UK is one the best places in the world to create and grow innovative businesses, according to research by multi-national conglomerate GE.

A survey incorporating 26 countries by the group found that only the US, Germany and Japan ranked higher, with the UK scoring points on government support for innovation.

Results from the survey, which asked business leaders to rate their country’s performance, reflected ministers’ work to promote innovation in the UK economy.

In an example pointed out by GE, the UK Innovation Fund is set to deliver financial support to around 26,000 innovative mid-sized businesses.

Mark Elborne, CEO of GE UK and Ireland said: “With an increasingly competitive global marketplace, innovation is crucial. It’s reassuring that businesses believe the UK is a good place to innovate and that they are supported by government policies and funding.”

Elborne called on government to make support more accessible for tech firms and added that more should be done to increase the talent pool through STEM subjects in schools.

In a separate finding, the UK came sixth in the list of innovative countries nominated by business leaders in other countries, falling behind China and South Korea.

An ‘innovation challenge’ outlined by the report was an apparent lack of awareness about the potential for big data and the Internet of Things.

Elborne said: “We believe that harnessing the big data of the Industrial Internet is the next revolution and the UK must make sure it does not get left behind as other nations seize the opportunities this offers.”

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Christmas shopping to soar on Cyber Monday

Online shop owners are in for a bonanza this weekend as the festive shopping season gets into full swing....

Online shop owners are in for a bonanza this weekend as the festive shopping season gets into full swing.

Figures from the Centre for Retail Research said Brits would spend around £1.3 billion online between Black Friday (this Friday) and Cyber Monday the following week.

Black Friday is a modern tradition in the US for retailers to slash prices in a bid to ramp up sales. Cyber Monday is the peak of Christmas shopping in the UK, although British shoppers also spend big in US outlets.

Black Friday is the first Friday after Thanksgiving in the US and is considered the start of the festive shopping season. Both days have become synonymous with heavy discounting and deals by retailers.

Shoppers in the UK are predicted to fork out £6,435 every second on Cyber Monday. If so it would be the highest rate of spending ever recorded, making a total of £556 million, an increase of 11.4% this time last year.

“Cyber Monday is getting bigger every year and this year looks set to be the biggest yet, with Brits predicted to spend £23.2 million an hour on Monday,” said Giulio Montemagno at RetailMeNot, which commissioned the research.

“With sales in the US now topping £1.3 billion on Cyber Monday alone, retailers elsewhere are vying for a piece of action and looking to capitalise on the shopping frenzy with short-term promotions and eye-catching deals.

“With retailers in Britain among the first in Europe to adopt Cyber Monday, the UK is now far ahead of other European countries with sales expected to exceed that of France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the Netherlands combined on 1st December.”

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Friday 21st November

Small businesses call for simpler taxes

Tax simplification and better infrastructure for the UK are top of the list of small business demands ahead of the Autumn Statement....

Tax simplification and better infrastructure for the UK are top of the list of small business demands ahead of the Autumn Statement.

In its submission to chancellor George Osborne, the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) has called for an extension to business rate relief which is due to finish in March. It also wants changes to the process of valuing property and appeals which it describes as “overly bureaucratic”.

Sometimes referred to as a ‘mini-Budget’ the Autumn Statement is an increasingly important event in the business calendar. In it, the government sets out tax and spending priorities for the next six months.

This will be last Autumn Statement ahead of the general election in May 2015. Pressure groups are lining up to request special treatment from the chancellor, who they know will be under pressure to deliver vote-winning measures.

The FSB is also calling for simpler taxes to reduce the cost to businesses of complying with legislation. Research by the FSB shows that more than three-quarters of small businesses pay 3,500 or more per year on tax-related paperwork.

Three fifths said the UK tax system has a negative impact on their ability to recruit and grow.

John Allan, national chairman of the FSB, said: “Businesses will be looking for measures to ease the cost of business rates, and a commitment to fundamental reform of the current, outdated system.

“To support business growth and reduce costs, further efforts to simplify our complex tax system should also form a central part of the Autumn Statement."

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Thursday 20th November

UK shoppers to splash £75bn on Christmas

Shoppers in the UK are set to ignore news of brewing problems in the international economy and spend a whopping £74.3 billion in the run-up to Christmas, according to new data....

Shoppers in the UK are set to ignore news of brewing problems in the international economy and spend a whopping £74.3 billion in the run-up to Christmas, according to new data.

Research commissioned by RetailMeNot and carried out by the Centre for Retail Research also found that £1 in every £4 would be spent online this year.

Growth in online sales is expected to hit almost 20% compared with Christmas 2013 and total online sales are expected to reach £17.4 billion, from £14.5 billion this time last year.

But, for now at least, the high street continues to dominate shopping trends with consumers expected splash out just under £57 billion.

RetailMeNot said it expects online sales to rise proportionally against sales in bricks and mortar shops as Christmas Day draws closer.

Giulio Montemagno at RetailMeNot said: “Retail spending in the weeks before Christmas is the most important period of trading for retailers both online and offline. Retailers, particularly of specialist merchandise, will often take 20% or more of their sales in this period.

“This Christmas looks set to be a bumper year for online retailers as a record number of consumers will be turning to the web to order gifts…retailers must ensure that they are appealing to consumers through mobile and tablet devices.”

The study also found that shoppers in the UK will spend more on Christmas than people in any other European country. UK households will spend £459 on average on gifts alone – more even than the US.

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Wednesday 19th November

‘App economy’ grows 11% in a year

Employment in the UK’s app economy has jumped 63,000, or 11%, in a single year, with the total number of IT workers hitting a record high, according to new stats....

Employment in the UK’s app economy has jumped 63,000, or 11%, in a single year, with the total number of IT workers hitting a record high, according to new stats.

Numbers from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show that the number of web designing and programming jobs have increased from 63,000 in the second quarter of 2013 to 70,000 during the same period this year.

Meanwhile accountancy business NoPalaver Group said businesses were adapting to changes in tech, with traditional bricks and mortar businesses shifting their business online.

They were also becoming better at using social media to connect with customers and promote offers, it said.

It said the app industry had grown significantly in the last three years, with start-ups transforming into big established firms quickly. It pointed to Candy Crush, created by King Digital, which reported latest quarterly revenues of $496 million.

Graham Jenner, director at NoPalaver, said: “The importance of the ‘app economy’ is being fully realised by increasing numbers of businesses eager to recruit the very best IT professionals to ensure they benefit from the app revolution.”

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Bosses urged to commit to family friendly working

Deputy prime minister Nick Clegg has called on businesses to adopt more family-friendly policies after research showed many fathers struggle to get time off to look after children....

Deputy prime minister Nick Clegg has called on businesses to adopt more family-friendly policies after research showed many fathers struggle to get time off to look after children.

Results from a Mumsnet survey revealed that 39% of new dads have used annual leave to get time off after their child was born, while four in five respondents said they had wanted the father to take more paternity leave.

Last month Deloitte, PwC and Shell, employing between them more than 100,000 people in the UK, announced they would offer enhanced paternity packages to all employees.

Clegg is at the CBI this morning, hosting a forum with Mumsnet and large employers to discuss how business can retain parents in the workforce by offering balanced employment contracts.

“It is bizarre that even in the 21st century, hundreds and thousands of employees are still restricted by Edwardian rules when it comes to juggling their work and family lives,” he said.

“We need a modern Britain that works for modern families, not against them. I’ve fought hard in government to bring about that change whether it’s through the introduction of flexible working, free childcare, shared parental leave or equalising paternity pay.”

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