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

Thursday, 24 September 2015

Member Blog: All White for Winter?

By Craig Robinson - Director, Cloud 53
We know the weather predictions are always a tad dramatic with phrases such as ‘Arctic Freeze’ and ‘El Nino’ but it is worth paying attention to the fact that your business could suffer because of the winter. At present weather predictions for this winter are suggesting the El Nino (named Modiki) weather Phenomenon and reportedly maybe the strongest since 1950. In this year heavy snowfall brought chaos to much of the country with temperatures in some areas being as low as -22C with around 50cm of snowfall, certainly worse than the ‘big freeze’ which we remember in 2009/10.

The ‘El Nino’ happens when ocean temperatures in the eastern Pacific, near South America, rise due to a change in the normal wind direction, creating knock-on effects across the globe due to the amount of heat released into the atmosphere. The polar jet stream tends to move further south, and brings wetter weather across the Atlantic, which causes heavy rainfall in warmer months (we have certainly had this), but can bring snow in the winter.

So is your business ready in case we do have a bad winter? Typically in the UK a bad winter means the public transport system grinds to a halt or at best is a very poor service. The reason for this, apart from the weather affecting equipment and roads, is due to staff not being able to get into work and so we get into a vicious cycle!

If your staff cannot get into work whether it be due to public transport or the highways what contingencies do you have in place to allow your business to continue? Should it just be for a single day most businesses will be fine, albeit probably lose some revenue, however if the weather spell lasts a week or more then it could be much more serious.

Points to consider:

Remote access – Do you provide remote access whether it be via Remote desktop, Citrix, Outlook web access. Is this setup for all staff? Are they aware of the details? Do you have enough licences? Does your internet connection give sufficient bandwidth for inbound connections?

Telephony – do staff have desk phones at home? Can staff access the telephone system through soft phones (PC or smartphone apps). Can diverts be put on remotely?

Backup – if using onsite backups who will change the tapes/disks? How will the data get offsite for safe storage?

Meetings – do you have video conference services available to take meetings internally and externally given that travel is limited?

Communication – are staff aware of the business continuity plan? How they will access systems? How will staff communicate?

Suppliers – depending on your business your supplier’s business continuity plans maybe extremely important if you cannot receive deliveries of vital goods and services – they should be asked the question.

Whilst we have seen predictions previously for heatwaves, bad winters and even the end of the world eventually predictions do happen so it’s always best to be prepared. Please get in touch should you be interested in any advice on the above (excluding weather forecasts).

Visit Cloud53:
Call Cloud53: 0845 557 8687
Follow Cloud53:  @cloud53ltd

Monday, 21 September 2015

Member Blog: Apprenticeship Grants – are they worth it? The fall and rise of the apprenticeship

By David Wright - BSA Marketing

Apprenticeships have been around for hundreds of years then, all of a sudden, in the 1990s everyone was off to college – the brave new world of university for all.

RIP apprenticeships?

Now, after less than 20 years, apprenticeships are back with a vengeance. Bright 16-19 year olds with more than adequate results for a place at University are voting with their feet and choosing an alternative; to go into work-based higher education through an apprenticeship.

OK, pay rates are modest but apprentices have the opportunity to build valuable (and genuinely employable) real-world skills that will see their earning potential rise without finding themselves, in their early twenties, encumbered with a £30000+ loan.

There will always be young people for whom university is the right choice but I believe apprenticeships offer a real and valuable alternative to many people joining (or re-joining) the world of work.

But what about businesses? The government is currently offering apprenticeship grants of £1500 (rising to £3000 in some areas) to a business that takes on an apprentice. Is the grant worth it?
What is the employers’ role in making an apprenticeship work?

Why should I offer an apprenticeship?

When I talk to many SME business owners about apprenticeships, there are two distinct camps:

1. Apprenticeships are a cost to my business

Taking on an apprentice will distract from my business while I give up time to train them. Even with a government grant contribution, apprentice wages are higher than the contribution they make to my business.

2. Apprenticeships are an investment in the future of my business

My business relies on a skilled workforce. Investment in our apprentice programme is a key element of our strategy to deliver the skills we need to sustain our business and achieve our development plans.

Interestingly, most people in Camp 1 have never taken on an apprentice while those in Camp 2 have real-world experience! Camp 2 companies do recognise that there are costs and that not every apprenticeship works out but by taking a planned, strategic view they appreciate that the investment delivers real value over time.

Should businesses be paid apprenticeship grants?

The apprenticeship grants can be seen in two ways

An Incentive…

…to ease the pain of the cost of an apprentice to your business

A Contribution…

…to the investment in building a skilled workforce for the future

Which way you see it is subjective but maybe the incentive view is ‘glass half-empty‘. No matter what the incentive, apprenticeships are a bit of a pain! Is this approach set to deliver a positive outcome for anyone? I think not.

On the other hand, the contribution view is ‘glass half-full‘. Our planned apprenticeship programme delivers real benefit to our business and the contribution is a welcome addition. We are focused on making things work.

So whether the apprentice grant is worth it or not depends more on planning and attitude rather than cash?

I believe apprenticeships are here to stay and are immensely valuable as an option in the education and growth of young people (and increasingly older people too).

However, for an apprenticeship to work, to really deliver value to both the apprentice and the employer, the company needs to have a strategic vision for apprenticeships as part of their business growth.

Strategic investment in an apprenticeship can be a real win:win

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Member Blog: 5 Tips for Making a Successful R&D Tax Claim

By Managing Director of R&D Tax Claims Limited, Mark Evans FCA
There’s no denying that making an R&D tax claim can be incredibly valuable to your business, but how do you ensure that your claim is approved?  At R&D Tax Claims Limited we make it our business to help you maximise and speed through your claim, and our 100% success track record speaks for itself. Here are our top 5 tips for making sure your claim makes the grade:

1. Formalise your developments

Don’t let your hard work go unrewarded – make sure your company has the right protocols in place to help you get the most out of your research and development.

2. Keep records

Keep hold of your paperwork relating to any R&D projects and their qualifying costs.

3. Keep your staff up to date

In order to get the most out of your claim, you’ll need the help of all involved parties.  Speak to any staff involved with your research and development – ask them to help you gather technical and financial information relating to your claim, and keep them up to date on any developments.

4. Provide a report

Explain the technical justification for your R&D claim in the form of a comprehensive report.  This report should explain in layman’s terms the R&D activities undertaken and what technological or scientific uncertainties had to be overcome to achieve a significant advancement.

5. Don’t delay

You can claim for R&D relief on your company tax return, but your claim must be made within two years of the end of the accounting period in which the expenditure was incurred, so don’t lose what is rightfully yours, act today.

R&D Tax Claims Limited are here to help you with all of the above.  We operate a strict ‘no win, no fee’ policy, and our simple and risk free 6-step process enables us to take care of the hard work for you.  We have a long-standing relationship with HMRC and our efficient process ensures you get the maximum refund possible – to date we’ve secured our clients in excess of £18million in tax savings.

If you’d like to find out more about how we can help you, get in touch with our Shrewsbury or Warrington office today.

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Member Blog: The Challenges of Refrigerated Transportation

By Adam Green - Regional Sales Manager, Blue Tree Systems

If you transport temperature-sensitive freight, how prepared are you if something goes wrong with a refrigerated load?

For example, it is estimated by industry analysts that 32% of refrigerated cargo loaded onto refrigerated vehicles is at the wrong temperature at time of loading. In most cases, the cargo is warmer than requirements dictate.

While some temperature-controlled transportation companies believe that traditional responses to rejected loads are adequate, a new white paper issued by Blue Tree Systems makes it clear that automated, real-time, two-way systems with documented reporting are needed to cope with the EU’s rapidly changing cold chain logistics industry.

Transporters work in a rapidly changing work environment, due to changing food safety regulations, more discerning customers, increasing complexity of refrigeration units and rising cargo values. The result is that refrigeration unit complexity, driver error and late notification from dataloggers leave transportation organisations wide open to the potential for rejected loads, insurance claims, contract loss and reputational damage.

Our white paper, “7 Key Challenges in Refrigerated Transportation”, provides insight into addressing such issues as hot loads, equipment failure, driver error, late notification, post-incident paper trails, regulations compliance and the lack of remote control. The white paper helps transporters understand the key challenges – and what you can do to address them.

Established in 1995, Blue Tree Systems is a global leader in enterprise fleet management software for the transport industry, with offices in the UK, Europe and the USA. Blue Tree provides technology solutions for trucks, refrigerated vehicles and dry trailers from one vendor.

To download the white paper, get a copy from

Thursday, 10 September 2015

Member Blog: Export Management Solutions - What Features are Essential?

By Marine Matringe - Marketing Manager, Kailao Consulting
A company wishing to expand its activities by exporting will face some constraints that have to be taken into account to ensure good management of the business. Some specific features, in order to manage the export, need to be interfaced or integrated to the current business management system set up within the organisation, whether the export activity will use a distributor agent, a wholesaler, or even the development of a subsidiary to ensure the distribution in different countries.

An adapted documentary production: A business management solution, such as an ERP, has to be quick and efficient when producing adapted documentary essential for exports. These documents can be certificates necessary to export in some countries, or documentary credits, to facilitate administrative duties and formalities that businesses will face. All documents produced need to be coherent, especially for products that are likely to change all along their life cycle. For example: food products, where the weight can sometimes change.

Transport management: The management of transport is particularly important when undertaking export activities. Whether the transport and delivery of goods will be made using trucks or container charters, the management system used has to perform in order to maximise the transport of goods. The management solution has also to take into account the incoterm which will be used, as to who between the seller and the buyer will take over the expedition.

EDI: The EDI, or Electronic Data Interchange offers two distinct entities, such as a company and its supplier or a company and its distributor, to automatically exchange information using computerised channels. The goal is to facilitate the transmission of information between the different commercial partners, to reduce the risk of errors due to manual entries. EDI is a common feature within companies, but, when the purpose is to sell abroad, companies will need to face some adaptations. Indeed, each country or group of countries has different EDI standards, and there are even some EDI standards dedicated to one specific industry (ex: The GALIA Standard for the automotive industry in France, or ANSI X12 Standard for the United States).

Export accounting: Each country has some specifics regarding the accounting that have to be respected by companies. To consider these differences, the business management system has to adapt itself to the specifics of each country's account entries, and be able to manage multi-currency and multi legislation problems. For example, in France, the accounting system is widely influenced by the taxation, whereas this is not the case in England.

To find out more about export management solutions, email, call 078 7463 0697 or visit

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

Member Blog: The National Living Wage – Can Small Businesses Sustain It?

By Phil Eckersley - Managing Director, Bridgewater Care

The Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, made a surprise announcement regarding the National Living Wage at the end of his budget on 8 July 2015.  The wage increase will be phased in between 2016 and 2020. For over-25 year old employees, the wage will start at £7.20 per hour in April 2016 and is projected to rise to at least £9 per hour by 2020.

For low earners this is somewhat of a boon, but how will it affect the hard working, cash strapped employer who has a continuous struggle to keep profit margins at the sustainable level which they have worked so hard to gain?

The social care industry is, of course, biting its nails around the pressures that the National Living Wage will put onto their businesses.  Care companies across the country have had their margins slashed over recent years due to the heavy budget cuts to Local Authorities.
The problem faced by many care companies is that they are stuck between a rock and a hard place.  I don’t think there are many people who set up a business in social care who do not want to treat their staff well and provide a quality service to their clients.  Financial pressures, however, have been taking their toll which has led to many very competent business owners leaving the industry, which in turn, causes the care industry to suffer further.

The pressures faced by established care companies mean that they have already had to cut their margins to enable them to continue to win their bread and butter contracts with Local Authorities. Now, care companies are being squeezed at both ends with the NLW being implemented in April 2016 which will see many care companies’ staff costs rise by over 10%.

So what can be done?

The phoenix from the ashes could be ‘Devo Manc’, which would see the merger of health and social care for 2.7m people enabling Council and NHS resources to pay for care services concentrated at a more local level.  An extra £6 billion of pooled budget will be available by 2017 which will be focused on health and social care.

The key now is for companies to ensure they have a lean operational structure and a financial model that works, which is sustainable when the changes are calculated into margins and is prepared for the upcoming implementation of the National Living Wage.

Here’s to the future!

For more information, contact Phil Eckersley, Founder and Director of Bridgewater Home Care ( and Bridgewater Day Care ( Email: