The best business advice, opinion, news and expertise in Greater Manchester and further afield.

Friday, 28 September 2012

Friday Guest Blog: Shareholders' Agreements

By Shahid Azam - Associate and Corporate Commercial Solicitor, Clough & Willis

I recently came into contact with a small company with three shareholders who had heard about Shareholders Agreements, but felt that because they agreed on everything, there wasn’t much point in having one drawn up.

A Shareholders Agreement is a specific agreement between shareholders which sets out how they intend dealing with the company. It is private document which is designed to prevent disputes and can plan for any eventualities that may damage the business; for example what would happen in the event of a Shareholder’s death, what if a shareholder who is also a director does not pull their weight, or what the plan would be if someone suffers long term ill health or sickness.

A Shareholders Agreement is also invaluable for those who have less than 51% of the shareholding as it can be agreed that certain key decisions have to receive unanimous agreement. An example of this would be if the company enters into major high value contracts.

They are also vital when a shareholder/director decides that he or she no longer wishes to participate in the management of the company. The Shareholders Agreement would give shareholders the ability to remove their colleague and have them return their shares to the company or to another shareholder.

Thursday, 27 September 2012

Be Prepared

By Chris Fletcher - Policy and Communications Director, Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce

This Monday, 1st October, sees the second common commencement date of 2012 heralding new legislation and changes to employment laws. In line with the Government’s ambition to drive down red tape (one-in, one-out), there is not a deluge of new rules coming in, however the main one to be aware of is the official start of pension auto-enrolment.

This has been in development for several years and is a legacy from the previous Government aimed at ensuring that every worker has provision for retirement to offset the increasing burden on public pension funds.

The first phase of this is aimed at businesses with over 120,000 employees with the aim being that the staged roll out of the scheme will see all businesses included in the scheme by 2017 and any new start-ups included by 2018.

Auto-enrolment is a real double edged sword. On the one hand, looking longer term, it is necessary to help reduce the pension burden, on the other it is probably coming at the worst time possible as firms will have to find extra resources when they can probably least afford to. We’ve calculated that overall, once it is fully up and running, it will be costing Greater Manchester businesses £170m a year.

It is important that businesses are aware now of when they will fall under the terms of the scheme – some businesses will be running company pension schemes that will mean they already meet the minimum standards and requirements.

For most of our members this will be a couple of years away however it is always better to plan ahead now and be up to speed with what is required.

Full details of the scheme including the full list of staging dates can be found at: 

And if you want more information on all potential changes and how successful the one-in one-out system has been (including how much it has “saved” you), full details are here:

Friday, 21 September 2012

Friday Blog: Coming soon to a venue near you…..

By Chris Fletcher - Director of Policy and Communications at Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce

Over the last couple of days, I have delivered Action For Business Forums in Bury, Trafford and Rochdale in the first round of the Chamber’s new-look local networking meetings.

Just in case you have missed the news, all the Chamber’s local events, that’s 42 events throughout Greater Manchester, are now included as part of the membership package.

As one of the architects behind the move to this style of meeting designed not only to develop networking opportunities, but to get to grips with what issues are affecting our members, I’ve been really pleased with how things are going. There have been some lively discussions and some really good ideas put forward not just about what businesses want to see from government but how the Chamber can play a part in helping our members come together to support each other and grow in these challenging times.

We are currently running a call for action around what businesses want from the Chancellor in the Autumn Statement, due in December. Ideal material for one of our forums, and our members have certainly not let us down. Suggestions have ranged from closer integration with the Eurozone, to wanting firm commitments on major infrastructure projects - the latter is something we have been unequivocal on in our demands of government.

On the whole it does appear that businesses are keeping positive about the current situation. Indeed several members have specifically requested that we should do more to promote the positive. Something which I hoped we were doing already, but obviously we may need to re-visit this.

The only common negative feeling that I’ve come across has really been the deep rooted sense of frustration with government and other decision-makers. Is this really the best that they can do to help business and promote growth? Going off what our members are saying, efforts so far have fallen way short of expectations. QE is having no impact in the real world; funds to grow are still hard to track down – they do exist via many non-traditional sources, which many businesses are unaware of and the tinkering with planning and legislation is causing more confusion than it is solving.

This is what the forums are all about and why they are needed– they give us the ammunition we need to stand up and say what business needs and wants. As well as that, it also gives me a wealth of stories, ideas and experiences from the fantastic businesses we have as members.

So, if you want to talk business, do business and take action for business, book on to one of our future events here – we have your place reserved already by being a Chamber member and I look forward to seeing you.

If you’re not a member, but want a piece of the action, call our membership team on 0845 6029469.

Friday, 14 September 2012

Gutted with IBS at work? Don’t be…

By David Bailey – Managing Director, Medical Specialists Company Limited

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common condition of the digestive system that nearly all of us will have heard of in conversation. In fact, there is a probably good chance that you know somebody who is suffering from it. The symptoms include bloating, stomach cramps, constipation and diarrhoea. Statistics to have been released into the public domain in recent years go a huge way in demonstrating how underestimated the seriousness is of IBS in the workplace, the demographic of sufferers and the financial burden it can place on the NHS and society in general.

It is estimated that certain complicated IBS tests at hospitals can drain the NHS of £3,000 for each examination. It would appear than men are getting off lightly, with women accounting for 70% of the 5,000 IBS-related hospital admissions during 2011 in England. In total, women aged between 40 and 44 comprised of these 5,000 visits. Along with back pain, symptoms connected to IBS are among the most common reasons for time off work and it is costing employers and the NHS millions each year.

Unfortunately for the 12 million Brits affected by IBS, the symptoms usually strike intermittently, sometimes at the most inconvenient of times and can massively impact the day to day lives for sufferers. One of major these impacts is the workplace. For some employers, it may be difficult to fully appreciate the stress than can be caused by trying to live and work with IBS, or empathise with somebody who has had to rush home because of a flare-up of their symptoms.

This is where employers come in. There are a number of steps you can take to ensure that any employees, who are suffering with IBS, are well catered for and not made to feel isolated from the rest of their colleagues. After all, remember that a happy employee is a productive employee.

One of the most important things you as a business should immediately try to do is sit down and speak to your employee face to face. Try to get them to be open and honest about their condition. Understanding the extent of their predicament will give you the knowledge to consider the best course of action to take during the occasions when they are suffering with symptoms, creating easy access to toilet facilities and other potential issues.

For a supervisor or manager it may be challenging to offer sympathy for somebody suffering with IBS as it is similar to depression in the aspect that it is mainly a health problem on the inside of the body. However, businesses need to recognise that IBS is a widespread serious condition that is causing misery to millions, and more has to be done. At Medical Specialists Pharmacy, patients can have an online consultation and be prescribed treatment for IBS with next day delivery, without the need to take time off work to go to their doctor.

There are a wide range of problems and situations that could present themselves to IBS sufferers in regards to the workplace, and managers need to understand them more so they can accommodate them. For instance, trying to concentrate on a work task can seem an impossible mission for anybody with IBS when they need to get up to go to the toilet and then being required to quietly sit through meetings or presentations can be torturous. If possible, speak to your member of staff about slightly altering their job role so that they are not required to attend them.

Stress is one of the main causes for triggering IBS symptoms, and it should be minimised as much as possible. Encourage all staff, not just those with IBS, to make sure their workload is organised properly in an efficient manner. This way they will have a much better chance of meeting deadlines and not feeling overwhelmed.

For businesses all around the UK, we hope this guidance will provide you with more knowledge on how you can tackle IBS in the workplace. Nobody has to suffer in silence and by reaching out and speaking to your members of staff, you can both go on to enjoy a happier, pleasant working environment.

For more information about the treatments available, or to have an online consultation, visit

Friday, 7 September 2012

Friday Guest Blog - Website Worries

By Tim Gray, Partner & Dispute Resolution Solicitor at Clough & Willis

As we move more towards being a knowledge-based economy, businesses across all sectors increasingly have a great deal of their worth tied up in their Intellectual Property, and that includes the goodwill associated with the business' reputation, trade marks and logos, names and branding. Websites are a key part of this, so what do you do if you think a competitor has copied your website?

Firstly, you need to identify whether your site has been copied in whole or in part and where the copying originated. If you have used a website creation tool, or purchased your site from an organisation selling website templates, you cannot really complain if the generic look and feel of your site appears elsewhere. However, if you have paid for a bespoke site then you need to ascertain if you actually bought the copyright from the website designer.

Once the above questions have been considered you may well be able to stop someone copying your site, based on some or all of the following: firstly, copyright in the coding that creates the site rests with the author and taking your code to create a new website is breach of your copyright; secondly, if you have trade marks on your site then copying and using those also breaches your rights; thirdly, if the look and feel of the site is sufficient to cause customer confusion this may amount to ‘passing off’, as the offender would be coat tailing on your reputation to ‘pass off’ his goods or services as your own.

In any of the above cases, the first step is to send a very robust letter to the copier setting out your rights, their breaches and demanding a remedy. If these aren’t satisfactory then an injunction and a claim for damages may well follow.

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Up In The Air And Off The Rails

By Chris Fletcher, Policy & Communications Director at Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce

Anyone that has ever read Bleak House will be familiar with Jarndyce Vs Jarndyce, the seemingly never ending court case that drones its way through the novel with no obvious end in sight, but which ultimately has implications for the main characters.

Anyone that has read a newspaper over the last few weeks or listened to any news, will no doubt have a similar feeling with the resurrection yet again of the Heathrow expansion issue that masks the more urgent question of solving the country's need for a cohesive aviation strategy.

Two Transport Secretaries ago, I was asked to attend a meeting at DfT with other representatives of business organisations to discuss the Government's sustainable aviation review looking at all things aviation related from capacity, to Air Passenger Duty, expansion and environmental issues.

Sounds familiar?

It should do as two years later these same issues are still being discussed with no end in sight, with yet another review committee being set up to look at the problem. Meanwhile, the default setting of Heathrow has kicked in again to dominate the debate about what should be a national issue with national solutions. In the UK we have regional airports with capacity to spare and it is becoming increasingly obvious, some would say inevitable, that a new airport needs building in the South East away from Heathrow. The answer to our problem is not in building a single extra runway, it wasn't when the debate started and as time goes on it becomes even less likely to be the only solution that works.

In the meantime as this story was coming back around we had the hokey cokey that was, and still is, the refranchising exercise for the West Coast mainline. Whether First would be better than Virgin is an argument for another time. As a regular user of the line I, like many other business users, just want a standard of service that continues to build on the work done by Virgin and do not want to see a repeat of the franchise shambles seen in other parts of the country.

So with the future of the UKs main rail route still up in the air and the Government's aviation strategy going off the rails, is it any wonder that people are getting increasingly frustrated with all this?

The PM stated recently he wanted to cut through the dither. Very laudable. Unfortunately it seems that much of this is self-inflicted with simple decisions proving to be the hardest ones to take, whilst we slip further behind our competitors on the global stage.

Maybe Bleak House is an apt description for this, after all my great expectations of a quick resolution to this disappeared some time ago.