Monday 26th January

Spontaneous purchases on the rise

Improving employment figures are starting to register in shopping trends, with more spontaneous purchases and consumers in a more positive frame of mind....

Improving employment figures are starting to register in shopping trends, with more spontaneous purchases and consumers in a positive frame of mind.

Research by accountancy firm Deloitte shows discretionary spending is at a three-year high, with more people registering pay rises and fewer suffering loss or reduction of income.

Ben Perkins, head of consumer business research, said: “Lower inflation and higher wages are having a pronounced effect on consumer spending behaviours.

“Categories such as hotels and restaurants or consumer technology have really benefited from consumers feeling less of a squeeze on their disposable income.

“In comparison, net spending on utilities and groceries is growing more slowly than consumer spending overall, a reflection of falling fuel prices at the pump and the grocery sector’s intense price competitions.”

Consumer finances have received a boost from the lowest rate of inflation in 14 years, with the prices of food, energy and petrol all tumbling.

It means people are spending less on essentials and have more to put aside for discretionary purchases.

It is good news for retailers after a mixed picture in 2014 and a competitive Christmas period.

But Deloitte sounded a note of caution, not least because of uncertainties surrounding growth in the Eurozone and the May general election in the UK.

Ian Stewart, chief economist, said: “Although consumers have turned more positive on prospects for incomes in the last year, continued uncertainties seem to be affecting their wider perceptions of their welfare.

“For the UK consumer the sort of transient deflation caused by lower oil and other commodity prices will be a significant positive in 2015. Growth in real wages is set to accelerate further.”

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London firms set out priorities for May election

Businesses in London are calling for a solution to the housing shortage, investment in transport and more money for skills in their demands to ministers ahead of May’s general election....

Businesses in London are calling for a solution to the housing shortage, investment in transport and more money for skills in their demands to ministers ahead of May’s general election.

The pre-election priorities were published today by the London Chambers of Commerce and Industry (LCCI).

They highlight the increasing strain on the UK capital with population outstripping the capabilities of basic services including transport and education.

It also called for more powers for City Hall and the mayor, while demanded that more of the tax generated by London firms is spent within the city.

According to the economics think tank CEBR, London contributed £34 billion to public coffers last year, yet only 7% was retained.

That figure compares with 50% in New York and 70% in Tokyo.

Colin Stanbridge, chief executive of the LCCI, said: "Although London's business leaders are confident about the capital's improving prospects, the next government must not overlook the importance of London as a key contributor to the success of UK PLC and act to address the issues faced by the capital's businesses.

“To maintain and build on the economic prosperity of the capital, we call on the next government to listen to the intelligence contained in this manifesto and act on the recommendations set out."

The LCCI also called for improvements to Cyber resilience in London. Research of 500 businesses shows that the high cost of protections was a major barrier against stronger security measures.

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Friday 23rd January

Lloyds offers cash grants to social entrepreneurs

Lloyds bank is looking to grant 300 aspiring entrepreneurs up to £19,000 each this year under its School for Social Entrepreneurs programme....

Lloyds bank is looking to grant 300 aspiring entrepreneurs up to £19,000 each this year under its School for Social Entrepreneurs programme.

In addition to the grant the new students on the programme will receive a fully-funded year-long training programme at the school and will work with a dedicated business mentor provided by the bank for 12 months to help them get their business off the ground.

Finance for the programme is being provided by Lloyds and the Big Lottery Fund. It was launched in 2012 and has trained 748 entrepreneurs so far.

The ambition is to support around 1,300 social entrepreneurs by 2017.

Taster sessions will be held in England and Scotland during February and March. They will showcase what’s on offer and how entrepreneurs are supported.

The locations are:

• Aldershot

• Basingstoke

• Birmingham

• Bristol

• Cornwall

• Dundee

• Durham

• Edinburgh

• Gateshead

• Glasgow

• Leeds

• Liverpool

• London

• Manchester

• Middlesbrough

• Plymouth

• Southampton

• Stirling

• Sunderland

Graham Lindsay at Lloyds said: “I have seen first-hand the positive impact that social entrepreneurs have in our society, and know of the immense benefit in nurturing their commitment to making a social impact through entrepreneurship.

“Our partnership with the School for Social Entrepreneurs sits right at the heart of our business strategy to help Britain prosper and we are eager to hear the new ideas to inspire social change that will come from this year’s recruits.”

Alastair Wilson, CEO of the School for Social Entrepreneurs, added: “Working in partnership with Lloyds Bank has enabled us to support hundreds of the most inspiring social enterprises in the UK.

“This year we’re thrilled to be supporting even more individuals with a desire to impact social change and look forward to seeing how their enterprises develop and grow.”

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Thursday 22nd January

Entrepreneurial talent ‘undervalued’ in the workplace

A new poll reveals that businesses are undervaluing the entrepreneurial instincts of their employees and could be losing valuable talent as a result....

A new poll reveals that businesses are undervaluing the entrepreneurial instincts of their employees and could be losing valuable talent as a result.

Research involving 1,000 professionals by accountancy group EY shows that just 48% think they can achieve career goals with their current employer.

Less than three in 10 respondents from large organisations thought their employer had an entrepreneurial and innovative culture.

Unsurprisingly, perhaps, just under 70% of 25-to-34 year old executives said they aspired to set up their own business.

Steve Wilkinson, UK & Ireland managing partner, markets at EY, said: “An entrepreneurial mind-set is often associated with small start-up businesses.

“Whereas in reality, all organisations, regardless of size and scale, need people who can innovate, create and challenge the status quo.

“That’s why the best businesses focus on building diverse teams to ensure they are drawing on widest spectrum to views,” he added.

In other findings from the research, just 52% of millennials (younger employees) said their skills were being fully utilised by their boss.

Meanwhile, 82% of the respondents said they had ideas that could create new revenue opportunities for their employer, with just 54% being able to implement these ideas.

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Jewellery Street nets £465,000 from Envestors

UK-based jewellery marketplace Jewellery Street has raised £465,000 in venture funding through the Envestors group of investors....

UK-based jewellery marketplace Jewellery Street has raised £465,000 in venture funding through the Envestors group of investors.

The business was set up in 2012 to “give a fairer deal for designers”, with 12,500 products and 250 designers selling through its website (see link below).

For designers, the website offers secure payment processing, marketing and messaging. They receive 75% of their product’s retail price.

It was set up by former Saatchi & Saatchi executive, Rob Passmore, to serve the estimated £4.8 billion UK jewellery market.

“Envestors members immediately saw the opportunity of applying a successful distribution channel to a high-margin sector lacking a dedicated jewellery marketplace,” said Passmore.

Polygon Group, an investment business based in Guernsey, was lead investor in the round, while Envestors raised £350,000 of the total.

Nick Taylor, co-founder of Envestors, said: “We were able to identify and mobilise investment from a small group of experienced investors who will also be represented on the board to guide the company’s continued success.”

Created in 2004, Envestors has raised more than £80 million and has a network of more than 2,000 business angels.

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Wednesday 21st January

Plus-size fashion site scoops €25m investment

Navabi, a British retail website specialising in women’s premium plus-size fashion, has received €25 million in funding from a group led by Bauer Ventures....

Navabi, a British retail website specialising in women’s premium plus-size fashion, has received €25 million in funding from a group led by Bauer Ventures.

The funding round also included previous investors Index Ventures, Seventure Partners, DuMont Ventures and Klaus Wecken.

The package is composed of cash and an advertising budget with Bauer Media, a magazine and website publishing business, giving Navabi access to Bauer’s 1,000 media titles including Grazia in the UK.

Research from Mintel shows more than 50% of women wear plus-size clothing and sales are growing faster than in traditional clothes shops.

Co-founder Zahir Dehnadi said: “The premium plus size market is the biggest untapped ecommerce sector and has the fastest growth rates in fashion. We are the pioneers and leaders in this market.

“We have grown rapidly over the past six years and have built an insanely passionate company. This latest fund will enable us to continue our mission of providing plus size women with the quality fashion they desire.

“The deal with Bauer Media will place premium plus size fashion firmly in the mainstream media.”

Thomas Preuß at of Bauer Venture Partners added: “Navabi is transforming ecommerce and fashion for so many women.

“This investment, for us, represents a firm belief in not only Navabi’s robust business model but also the company’s aim of providing plus size women with premium clothing apparel.”

The UK market for plus-size clothing is expected to swell to nearly £6 billion in 2015, up from £3.8 billion in 2008.

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Tuesday 20th January

MPs to tackle supply chain bullies

A cross-party group of MPs is being assembled to address the growing problem of supply chain bullying by major brands....

A cross-party group of MPs is being assembled to address the growing problem of supply chain bullying by major brands.

Some large companies, particularly supermarkets that have embarked on a price war, have been accused of squeezing small suppliers with punitive payment rules.

The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) says one in five businesses – about one million in total – have been subjected to immoral payment terms.

One in 20 had been asked to “pay to stay”, in other words pay a lump sum to their client for the privilege of remaining within its supply chain.

A cross-party roundtable was hosted by the FSB today, with Debbie Abrahams MP, who led an investigation into late payment practices last year, hosting the debate.

Abrahams said: "Late payment is something that CEOs and board members in big businesses can influence and I have always maintained that a late payment culture in a company is set at board level.

"That makes it a leadership issue and it's time that deliberately paying late, finding ways to pay late, or making unilateral changes to pre-agreed contracts is seen as being as unethical as tax evasion.

"It's simply a case of big businesses using smaller businesses as a credit line by applying bullying tactics that are unfair and have the knock-on effect of stifling growth in the economy.”

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North/South divide yawns wider

New research shows that job creation in the south of England is accelerating 12 times faster than in the rest of the country....

New research shows that job creation in the south of England is accelerating 12 times faster than in the rest of the country.

The Centre for Studies 2015 Cities Outlook shows that since 2004, 12 jobs have been created in the South for every one job created elsewhere in the UK.

Reasons for the divide include the impact of the financial crisis, which began in 2008, and a move away from manufacturing towards a knowledge-based economy.

The trend has evolved quickly, leaving some cities behind the leaders, most notably London.

Milton Keynes led the pack with an 18.2% increase in jobs, or 24,400 overall, while Gloucester suffered the biggest drop in jobs, with numbers declining 8,100 or 12.6%.

Centre for Cities boss Andrew Carter said: “Cities need long-term funding and strategic planning, and policies that go to the heart of addressing the key drivers of economic growth – including transport, planning, skills and housing.

“This report throws down the gauntlet for all parties to turn their recent interest and pledges around cities and devolution into a clear plan to grow jobs and businesses, and improve quality of life throughout the United Kingdom.”

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Friday 16th January

Shared parental leave is HR’s ‘key challenge’

Shared parental leave is expected to throw up problems for HR professionals in the next six months, according to a new poll....

Shared parental leave is expected to throw up problems for HR professionals in the next six months, according to a new poll.

Four in 10 people working in HR said the new rules, allowing parents of new born babies to share up to 50 weeks of parental leave between them, is the most important challenge their organisation faces.

Parents can take leave together or separately and they can choose to sprinkle periods of work into their leave allocation. But with such a level of flexibility comes potential administrative stumbling blocks for employers.

The figures, published by the engineering lobby group EEF, reveal attitudes towards changes in the law on maternity and paternity leave which go live in April.

The changes are seen as a bigger challenge than other traditional HR issues such as sick leave, people performance, change management and pay parity.

Lucy Atherton, legal compliance expert at EEF, said: “Shared parental leave is a fantastic opportunity for companies to promote a more gender-neutral approach to work-life balance, but as with anything new and unknown, it’s not without its challenges.

“With the changes due in April, it’s vital that HR teams and business leaders get up-to-speed as quickly as possible so that they and their staff can maximise the benefits, while avoiding potential downfalls.

“Our seminars are designed to help them do just that, leaving attendees able to look forward to their first shared parental leave application with every confidence, ensuring a win/win all round.”

EEF is holding a seminar for HR professionals who want to know how to handle shared parental leave requests. See the link below for more details.

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Small supermarket food suppliers face collapse

Supermarkets are being warned they could cause the collapse of hundreds of small food suppliers if they continue cutting prices in a war for consumer loyalty....

Supermarkets are being warned they could cause the collapse of hundreds of small food suppliers if they continue cutting prices in a war for consumer loyalty.

Research by industry analysts at Begbies Traynor shows that while food sales were up at most large UK supermarkets during December, “brutal” discounting is lumping pressure on suppliers as well as independent high street grocers.

The company’s ‘Red Flag’ research for the fourth quarter of 2014 shows that food retailers in “significant financial distress” grew 58% compared to the same period last year.

In numerical terms under-pressure firms rose from 2,878 at the end of 2013 to 4,552 in the latest study, suggesting that the supermarket price war is hitting them hard.

Food manufacturers came off even worse, however, with cases of significant financial distress leaping 92% year-on-year and 1,410 business are now struggling to make ends meet.

Julie Palmer, partner at Begbies Traynor, said: “A perfect storm is brewing for SME food suppliers at the bottom of the food supply chain, with many suffering a double hit from larger suppliers demanding “loyalty” payments as well as vanishing margins as a result of the inevitable aggressive supermarket price war.

“Adding to their misery, the UK’s food producers and suppliers have failed to see any benefit from the rise in popularity of the German discounters Aldi and Lidl, since much of their canned and packaged stock is sourced from overseas.

“With shocking increases in distress among the supermarkets’ main suppliers, the largest chains need to tread very carefully if they want to prevent a new crisis creeping up through their supply chain.

“Even the Government’s appointment of a grocery code adjudicator last year seems to be having little impact, with industry insiders reporting that the new watchdog lacks real powers and is still failing to protect producers from being squeezed by the supermarkets.”

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