Monday 20th October

Smallest business urged to meet pension deadline

Small businesses with fewer than 50 employees are being urged to prepare for auto-enrolment under government regulations....

Small businesses with fewer than 50 employees are being urged to prepare for auto-enrolment under government regulations.

Financial adviser Lighthouse Group says businesses with 30-to-49 employees are being phased in between August and October 2015, while those with fewer than 30 will begin staging as early as June 2015.

The Pension Regulator estimates that one-in-five small businesses and as many as half of micro-businesses are unaware of their staging dates.

To find out your staging dates the Pensions Regulator has created an online tool which you can access by clicking the link at the bottom of the page.

Malcom Streatfield, CEO of Lighthouse Group, said: “Although a staging deadline of next year may seem like plenty of time to prepare, the fact is that pensions enrolment takes a great deal of work. Employers must ensure all personnel data is correct and that their payroll system is capable, as well as choosing their pensions provider.

“All of this is a huge drain on resources for smaller employers, so it is little wonder then that so many are seeking help from advisers. However, those who have yet to take action will find themselves at the back of a long queue and, even with external help, time is running out quickly.”

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Better UK supply chains could create 500,000 jobs

The CBI says improving UK supply chains could boost the economy by £30 billion and create half a million jobs....

The CBI says improving UK supply chains could boost the economy by £30 billion and create half a million jobs.

In a new report the business group points to underinvestment in research and development and a growing skills crisis, which it says are weakening foundation industries key to supplying advanced manufacturing.

These include suppliers of plastics, metals and chemicals to cutting edge manufacturers.

The CBI has called on the government to help increase total spending on R&D to 3% of UK gross domestic product and to extend R&D tax credits to support the commercialisation of innovative products.

It also wants the UK’s innovation agency Innovate UK to double its spending during the next parliament and for more financial incentives for science, technology engineering and mathematics.

CBI deputy director Katja Hall said: “The scale of the challenge is sizeable - our competitors are powering ahead, with France outstripping our R&D investment by 40%. At the same time, only 3% of our graduates end up in engineering or technology jobs.

“We need policies which focus on creating long-term value - from increasing R&D spending to establishing a UK-wide materials strategy - to enable industry to play to its strengths and compete effectively on the world stage.”

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Friday 17th October

No interest rate hike ‘until autumn 2015’

The Bank of England’s chief economist has hinted that an increase in benchmark interest rates will be delayed due to weakness in the Eurozone economy and the Far East....

The Bank of England’s chief economist has hinted that an increase in benchmark interest rates will be delayed due to weakness in the Eurozone economy and the Far East.

Analysts said it could mean rates will stay anchored to their historical low of 0.5% until the second half of 2015. Until recently speculation was for a rise before the end of this year.

It is potentially good news for businesses borrowing to invest but bad news for savers. Flat-lining growth in the EU couple with weaker Chinese output will also concern exporters and businesses relying on foreign investment.

In a speech on Friday morning BoE economics chief Andrew Haldane said the UK was experiencing a two-speed recovery with business confidence and investment up but real wages falling.

"I am gloomier," he said during the speech. "This implies interest rates could remain lower for longer, certainly than I had expected three months ago."

Mr Haldane is one of nine members of the BoE’s Monetary Policy Committee, charged with setting UK interest rates every month.

Interest rates have been frozen at 0.5% since March 2009.

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Thursday 16th October

Business leaders confident about UK prospects

See-sawing economic fortunes across Europe have caused business confidence to drop in Germany but strengthen in the UK over the last three months....

See-sawing economic fortunes across Europe have caused business confidence to drop in Germany but strengthen in the UK over the last three months.

Grant Thorton’s International Business Report shows that growth prospects are improving in Spain, Ireland and Greece, but are slipping in Germany and France.

The trend poses questions about how the Eurozone will cope with varying fortunes of its members, it said.

On its scale, net confidence across the Eurozone dropped from 35% to just 5% in three months, while in Germany – the biggest economy in Europe – optimism dropped from 79% to 36% during the period.

In the UK on the same scale confidence hit 81%, down just 1% from its all-time high recorded in the first three months of 2014.

The UK is in second place on the index, behind India with a reading of 95%.

Scott Barnes, CEO of Grant Thornton UK, warned that it wasn’t all good news for British businesses: “The UK's economy is still heavily dependent on trade with eurozone countries, so despite a stronger domestic outlook, contraction across the trading block could adversely impact the UK's prospects.

“Avoiding this dependence on the eurozone requires more support, such as building on the efforts of UKTI to help our mid-sized business (MSB) community open new trade opportunities further afield – particularly in faster growing developing economies where 'brand Britain' carries a premium.”

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Family must ‘upgrade to stay relevant’, says PwC

Accountancy firm PwC says family businesses should upgrade “processes, governance and skills” to compete with market entrants and to stay relevant in the changing business landscape....

Accountancy firm PwC says family businesses should upgrade “processes, governance and skills” to compete with market entrants and to stay relevant in the changing business landscape.

The warning is contained in a report entitled ‘The Family Factor: Professionalising the family firm’. Research for the report found that UK family businesses lag other countries in several key areas.

For example, it found that just 13% had a succession plan, 8% plan to expand quickly in the next five years and only 22% want to pass on the firm to a new generation but add professional management too.

The contrast in places like China, where 57% of family businesses plan aggressive expansion in coming years. On average, UK firms derive 16% of turnover in overseas markets, compared to a global average of 25%.

Sian Steele, partner at PwC said: “Many businesses today need to survive on thinner margins, identify and address potential threats early, and innovate and adapt faster. It’s tough for any business, but can be an even greater challenge for some families.”

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Wednesday 15th October

Tories could cut inheritance tax for all but the richest next year

David Cameron has issued a strong hint that he will raise the threshold for inheritance tax for married couples to £1 million in 2015....

David Cameron has issued a strong hint that he will raise the threshold for inheritance tax for married couples to £1 million in 2015.

The prime minister has stated his intention to raise the threshold – thereby cutting tax owed – previously, and yesterday he told an audience at an Age UK event “inheritance tax…should be paid by the very wealthy”.

The inheritance tax threshold currently stands at £325,000, rising to £650,000 for married couples. Above this amount inheritance is taxed at 40%. A cut would knock about £3 billion of the public tax bill.

Mr Cameron said: "You see someone who has worked hard, they have put money into their house and they want to leave it to their children and they don’t feel that they are in any way the mega-rich, and they feel: ‘I should be able to do that without having 40 per cent of it knocked off.'"

The tax cut was originally included in the Conservative Party manifesto ahead of the 2010 general election but was dropped after it entered coalition government.

Chancellor George Osborne has one more budget before the next general election in 2015 and may be tempted to announce vote-grabbing tax incentives for voters.

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Tax evasion crackdown leads to spike in prosecutions

The number of criminal prosecutions for tax evasion has climbed by almost a third, thanks to a major crackdown by HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC)....

The number of criminal prosecutions for tax evasion has climbed by almost a third, thanks to a major crackdown by HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC).

Prosecutions went up by 29% to 795 in the 2013-14 tax year compared with just 617 in the preceding 12 month period.

HMRC has been tasked with helping the government to claw back tax revenues from non-payers and under-payers of tax. It is part of a bid to close the shortfall in government revenues compared with compared with spending.

Emma Nendick, head of tax at the Practical Law service, said: “HMRC has got suspected tax evaders firmly in its sights, taking more and more cases to the criminal courts in an effort to clampdown on this area.

“Criminal records and prison sentences are not just an idle threat. In fact the increasing volume of criminal prosecutions is one of the measures by which HMRC now judges its success.”

HMRC has been set the target of 1165 new criminal convictions for the 2014-15 year, a near-50% increase in new cases prosecuted.

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£11m competition for development of electric vehicles

Ministers have launched a £11 million competition to help promote the development of carbon-cutting technologies in motor vehicles...

Ministers have launched a £11 million competition to help promote the development of carbon-cutting technologies in motor vehicles

The money is part of a £500 million package to support ultra-low emission vehicles (ULEVs) announced earlier this year.

Companies are being invited to pitch to Innovate UK (see link below), formerly known as the Technology Strategy Board, for investment in collaborative research and development projects.

The ULEV market has secured a foothold, but motorists remain sceptical because of the price of vehicles and the inconvenience of charging them up.

Transport minister Baroness Kramer said: “"By 2040 we expect virtually all new cars and vans to be using carbon-cutting technology and we want to see as much of this as possible designed and built here, in the UK, delivering economic as well as environmental benefits.”

Earlier this year, deputy prime minister Nick Clegg outlined how the government would spend £500 million building up infrastructure to support ULEVs which he said would underpin jobs and economic growth in the UK.

The money would include £100 million for industry-led research and development, he said.

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Tuesday 14th October

Online sales growth slows to 14-month low

Online retail sales, the engine of the retail sector, has recorded the slowest growth in over a year during September, according to the British Retail Consortium (BRC)....

Online retail sales, the engine of the retail sector, has recorded the slowest growth in over a year during September, according to the British Retail Consortium (BRC).

In the 12 months to September online sales growth was 8.2%, the slowest annual rate since July 2013, based on BRC figures.

But it wasn’t all bad news for online retailers. Ecommerce businesses took their biggest slice of the retail market last month, accounting for 17.5% of all non-food sales.

Helen Dickinson, BRC director general said digital shops were still on track to record another record-breaking Christmas rush.

She said: “September saw the lowest online growth since July 2013. For the first time clothing and footwear contributed to an overall decline of the non-food category sales online.

“But for the first time, the growth of total UK non-food sales over the last three months has owed more to the online purchases than in-store buying. This promises another record Christmas to come for online sales.”

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Pupils missing out on digital skills – report

New research by Accenture reveals that two-thirds of school children think classroom education doesn’t go far enough in teaching them digital skills....

New research by Accenture reveals that two-thirds of school children think classroom education doesn’t go far enough in teaching them digital skills.

The findings are part of a report covering 5,000 people in the UK. It highlights that digital technologies can help give youngsters between the ages of 12 and 17 more career options.

In good news for the entrepreneurial economy, 44% of respondents said they would run their own business in future thanks to online technologies.

But 65% added that the current curriculum didn’t go far enough in the area.

“It’s good news that young people feel optimistic about the opportunities digital offers, but the fact that they don’t feel they are being fully equipped is worrying,” said Nick Millman, managing director, Accenture Digital.

“After all, they are the next generation of our workforce and the future of British business is in their hands,” he added.

Parents of school children were equally positive about the role digital has to play, with 74% saying it increases opportunities and 78% saying it helps to enhance existing jobs.

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