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

Monday, 26 October 2015

Member Blog: Halloween - Trick or treat?

By Claudine Jacobs - Operations Support Manager, Reed Screening
The start of October always brings colder days as well as darker, earlier nights. Hats and scarves come out of storage, as does your big winter coat, Autumn has well and truly set in, with Winter not too far from our minds. The 31st October also brings the celebration of All-Hollows Eve - more commonly known as Halloween. Whilst this has become increasingly commercialised over the past few years, with the retail shops and well known brands well and truly cashing in - think green sludge cakes through to Halloween slime bleach - the old time traditions of trick or treat and carving pumpkins still thrive.

For most people on Halloween, the idea of neighbours who you 'only know to say hi to' bringing their little monsters to knock on your door leaves no other option but a quick dart behind the sofa with a not so subtle change of lighting in the living room. Others however, they seem to relish the opportunity to let strangers over their threshold and into their world, with no more thought than whether the sweets that were purchased during the rush hour commute are going be up to standard - If you've never felt the abject humiliation of a child rejecting the sweets you so hurriedly purchased, then lucky you.

Whilst Halloween (mercifully) only lasts one evening, the idea of trick or treat got me thinking. What if the people knocking at your door were your work colleagues? People you statistically spend more of your life with than your actual family. The people whose relationship history you know, in some cases in too much detail, whose likes and dislikes you're aware of, whose afternoon coffee order is now as familiar as your own and whose evening meals have been running commentary since the day you started - essentially, people you know well. Would that make a difference? Would you still hide behind the sofa or would the invite extend from the doorstep? Would you be far more likely to welcome them over your threshold and into your home? Why wouldn't you, its not like they're going to trick you, you know them...

Or do you?

• Did you know that 'Attempts to obtain employment fraudulently (for example by withholding or falsely declaring information such as qualifications or previous convictions) doubled in 2012 - CIFAS 2013.

• Did you also know that 'In a survey of 2000 people, 7 in 10 people admitted that they would commit fraud if they knew they could get away with it' - Personnel today 2007.

• 24% of the 9000 CVs that Reed analysed in the last 6 months contained untruths - Don't believe what you read - Reed Talent Solutions white paper 2014.

• Lastly, 'Fraud perpetuated by either management or employees accounted for 80% of financial loss through fraud experienced by businesses in 2012' - KPMG 2013.

The above facts, and lots more, are readily available on the internet and are widely quoted, yet again and again we see examples of companies having little or no pre-employment screening for new employees. Word of mouth referrals, especially when it comes to senior appointments, seem to be acceptable. So the question has to be posed - Why would you expose your business and indeed your employees to such a risk? How much would you uncover if you and your business adopted a robust pre-employment screening process? A simple credit check, references check and criminal records check could be the difference between a quality, approved employee and a potential fraudulent risk. Pre-employment screening could literally save you thousands.

So, look around at your colleagues that you know so much about and have a think, how well do you and your business really know them? Are they a trick or a treat?

Monday, 19 October 2015

Member Blog: Planning time for your business

By David Wright - BSA Marketing

Owning and running a business is not about doing whatever you do….

Accountancy, Bricklaying, Clothing, Design, Engineering, Farming, Grocery…..

We can work our way right through the alphabet but these are all just products and services.

A business is:

The people (You and the other people you work with)
The way you deliver your product/service
Your engagement with your customers and suppliers
Your communication with your markets
Your processes to develop all of the above – oh, and do the admin, accounts and keep on the right side of the law!

Do you work ON your business or IN your business?

It’s a well established cliché that many people spend too much time working in their business and not enough working on their business, but I think we can take this a step further.

If all you do is accounts or bricklaying or buying and selling clothes etc then I suggest you aren’t running a business, you are doing a job.

Just as doing a job takes time, so does developing a business. I appreciate that it is doing the job that generates the vital short-term income but it is developing the business that drives growth and opportunity.

The value of taking time out

It is so easy to tell yourself you are just too busy doing your job (and time with family, etc. etc.) but if you are going to develop your business, the first step is simply to take the decision that you will make the time to do it.

This is perhaps the hardest yet most valuable step because by giving yourself the time you create the opportunity to develop your business.

In practice, if you think about it, it should not be difficult to find some time once you have decided that you are going to! It may be a change in routine, delegation, or even one less round of golf but the time will be there somewhere.

If you genuinely believe there is no way to find time to develop your business then maybe you should question its viability!

Developing your business – a process, not an event

As with everything else, business development is a process, not an event. Finding time isn’t about a few hours a week on Saturday, it’s about regular time.

Here is a post looking at 5 Rules for Effective Planning which hopefully might give you some ideas. I can personally vouch for the approach outlined in this post because it is the one we have used successfully for a number of years!

Since we started taking time out for our business we have seen real and significant development and growth. 

Friday, 9 October 2015

Member Blog: How to avoid getting a misconduct dismissal wrong

By Samantha Quinn - Laveer Legal
A business faced with potentially serious employee misconduct, particularly by someone senior, will face some difficult choices and risks. How can it protect itself?

The contract of a key employee usually contains provisions designed to protect the business.

These typically include restrictive covenants to prevent them setting up in competition for a period after termination of employment, approaching or dealing with key clients/trading partners, and soliciting staff.

An employer that breaches a contract in terminating the employment loses the right to enforce these covenants.

In dealing with allegations of serious employee misconduct, an employer must, therefore, act within the terms of the employment contract, to enforce its covenants.

Employee misconduct

Misconduct typically arises around:

acts of employee misconduct during employment including dishonesty, unacceptable behaviour with colleagues or clients, or breach of company rules;

behaviour preparatory to leaving to join a competitor with a plan to damage the business; or

behaviour outside work that brings reputational damage to the organisation.

Each scenario brings risks of reputational harm, both internally and externally, and potential financial damage to the business. The problem is magnified if the business is in the public eye as a result of the conduct, something now more common as a result of issues going viral on social media.

If the employee's behaviour amounts to gross misconduct, an employment contract can be terminated without notice or payment in lieu of notice. Contractual provisions may expand the right to terminate without payment to a wider range of serious failings.

If the employer wishes to terminate and protect the restrictive covenants, it will wish to satisfy itself that the alleged misconduct took place and justifies termination without notice. Often this will be obvious, but employers should not make assumptions and must check the facts on which they rely.

The individual should always be given an opportunity to put their side of the story, so that the employer can be confident that it understands the full picture before making a decision.

Where allegations are disputed, the employer is entitled to reach its own conclusion, and provided it behaves reasonably in doing so, a court is unlikely to interfere with its decision.

The risks in reacting to public opinion

In addition to preserving restrictive covenants, a business will want to manage the expectations of other employees, particularly if the allegations relate to conduct towards colleagues; and may also be mindful of the views of customers and wider public opinion.

These concerns will be critical, but care must be taken not to permit them to cloud the employer's judgment on its contractual obligations.

A very public dismissal followed by a successful claim by an employee, or a failure to enforce restrictive covenants leading to a move of lucrative business to a competitor, will not impress shareholders.

Garden leave

The contract may contain a right to place the employee on garden leave once notice has been given. This offers the employer the opportunity of giving notice to terminate the contract, and thereby avoid any arguments that it has acted in breach of contract.

Care must be taken not to permit them to cloud the employer's judgment on its contractual obligations.

An employee on garden leave can be directed not to have contact with customers, suppliers or media. Thus the impact of termination may be less immediately dramatic.

The individual would remain an employee during the notice period and so would not be free immediately to join a competitor. Such an employee would, however, be seen to remain in employment and to enjoy the benefits of the contract. The PR impact of this will need to be assessed.

Payments in lieu of notice

A payment in lieu of notice breaches contract unless made in accordance with an express power in the contract. In the absence of such a clause, such a payment will render restrictive covenants unenforceable.

Where a payment in lieu is permitted, the employer, again without breach of contract, can bring the relationship to an immediate end while preserving the right to enforce restrictions. The key downside of such a route is that payment must usually be made for the value of salary and benefits for the entire notice period.

This may lead to concern that an employee is receiving a substantial payment amidst serious allegations against them. This situation attracts particular criticism where the employee moves immediately to a new role, having received payment in full for a long notice period.

Restrictions in the contract on joining or setting up a competitor would, however, remain enforceable.
It simply may not be possible to satisfy all interested parties. Dismissing an employee in breach of contract may, however, have longer term disadvantages for the business, in terms of freeing the individual to take valuable business and profile elsewhere. The priority must be the protection of the assets and reputation of the business.

If you are thinking of dismissing an employee or embarking on a disciplinary and would like any assistance take advantage of our FREE 30 minute consultation.

Monday, 5 October 2015

Member Blog: 5 Reasons to Make an R&D Tax Claim

By Managing Director of R&D Tax Claims Limited, Mark Evans FCA
Making your first R&D tax claim can seem like a big undertaking, but the reality is that there are so many benefits to putting your business forward. As a form of Corporation Tax relief, the financial return speaks for itself, but there are many other rewards too. Here are five reasons to make your claim:

1. Development of Your Business

The UK’s R&D Tax Credit Scheme is backed by government and designed to provide companies with the opportunity to develop their products and processes. If your company pays Corporation Tax and is carrying out R&D work that qualifies for tax relief, you will be able to put the money back into your business and the progression of your project, and that can only be good news for the future of your company.

2. Opportunity to be Best in Your Field

R&D relief will enable you to not only develop your businesses, but allow you to compete with other companies who operate in the same industry. Increased funding can have a huge knock on effect on your business’s ability to perform at a high level and really make it stand out from the crowd, especially if your competitors haven’t made an R&D tax claim.

3. Expansion Within Your Supply Chain

More funds mean that your supply chain process can become more efficient and expand, maximising the reach to your customers and, in turn, the volume of sales you make.

4. Nationwide Growth and Employment

Your successful tax claim has the potential to not only influence your businesses, but businesses throughout the UK. The more investment in your industry from whatever source, the better the outcomes for all involved – this can mean faster advancement and refinement of industry processes, resulting in economic growth and more employment opportunities.

5. Opportunity to Compete on the World Stage

A consequence of successful R&D growth within the UK is that these businesses can hold their own within the global market. As the UK provide one of the most generous R&D tax relief schemes, approximately £6 billion is available to be claimed by businesses every year. In short, the more companies that claim, the better the outcome is for the UK economy and R&D as a whole.

R&D Tax Claims Limited is here to help with all of the above. It operates a strict ‘no win, no fee’ policy, and its simple and risk free 6-step process enables it to take care of the hard work for you. The team has a long-standing relationship with HMRC and their efficient process ensures you get the maximum refund possible – to date they’ve secured clients in excess of £18million in tax savings. To find out more about how they can help you, contact the Shrewsbury or Warrington office today.

Friday, 2 October 2015

Member Blog: Protecting your employees and business from the varied British weather

By Paul Watts, Branch Director, Bluefin Insurance Services, Stockport

Britain’s climate is influenced by systems originating from the Atlantic and the European landmass.

This combination results in the weather conditions our shores are synonymous with - rain and unpredictable weather.  At the beginning of the year the north of England, Wales and Scotland were inundated with snow and thunderstorms, adding the term ‘thundersnow’ to the nation’s vocabulary. Such extreme weather conditions are becoming more commonplace, with the Prime Minister commenting upon this year's ‘thundersnow’ storms in the House of Commons.

The resulting business interruption and impact on the economy shouldn’t be underestimated. Schools, transport and mobile phone signals were disrupted as 'thundersnow' storms wreaked havoc across swathes of the country. Manchester Airport suspended all departures and arrivals and more than a dozen rail services between the city and Yorkshire were cancelled as the north west of England was hit hard by a burst of wintry weather.

As we all know, even in the summer there is no guarantee of long hot days. In mid-August torrential rain with flash flood warnings affected the majority of England and Wales, causing travel mayhem and adversely affecting the tourism industry at the peak of the school summer holidays. While the varied nature of the weather can be frustrating, there are preventative measures that can be taken to avoid it causing business disruption.

Both heatwaves and snowstorms are accompanied by a number of risks and although businesses are not liable, it is important to safeguard the welfare of staff. The Health & Safety Executive (HSE) states that: “during working hours, the temperature in all workplaces inside buildings shall be reasonable”. The Approved Code of Practice suggests the minimum temperature in a workplace should normally be at least 16 degrees Celsius. If the work involves rigorous physical effort, the temperature should be at least 13 degrees Celsius. These temperatures are not absolute legal requirements but employers have a duty of care to staff, meaning it is obligatory for them to create safe working environments.  Employers should be aware of the adverse affects of working below the minimum suggested temperature and provide a safe working environment for their staff. The HSE does not have specific guidance for working in temperatures below 13 degrees Celsius however as a first point of reference employers are advised to refer to the British Standards for assessing ‘cold stress’ in the workplace. And whilst there is no legal maximum temperature, it is important to keep the workplace cool either with air conditioning units or fans, as there is a noticeable effect on productivity levels if staff are too hot.

It is critical to ensure that you and your business are well prepared for all weather scenarios as employers have a legal duty to ensure the workplace remains safe. It is vital to have a continuity plan to guarantee arrangements are in place should the business be disrupted. It is advisable for businesses to conduct risk assessments of working environments to ensure they can cope with the issues caused by extreme weather conditions.

Research conducted at the end of 2014 by the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) has found that three out of five (59%) of the small businesses (up to 250 employees) they questioned did not have a plan in place to deal with extreme weather conditions such as floods and snow storms. This news comes despite the news that two thirds (66%) of small businesses have been negatively impacted by flooding, drought or snow over the last three years. Around a third (29%) of businesses do not have insurance for business interruption (loss of income, costs incurred) or damage caused to property by flooding. Volatile weather conditions can cost businesses a lot of money in damaged assets, lost sales and decreased productivity. Although it is impossible to predict the weather, it is possible to decrease the associated risks and minimise the disruption to your business and your employees. This can be done partly through having open channels of communication with staff, to let them know what the protocol is when there is bad weather but also by having relevant insurance in place that offers you protection should, despite your best efforts, your business be affected by the weather.  Choosing a reputable insurance broker can make a significant difference to how a claim is handled and your business is supported as it recovers.

Thursday, 1 October 2015

Member Blog: Removing restrictions on invoice finance for SMEs

Chamber member Paul Burke, Managing Director of Davenham Asset Finance, comments on the removal of a number of unfair clauses that have been impacting UK SMEs when it comes to invoice finance.
It has been vowed by the Small Business Minister to remove restrictive covenants used by many large businesses to the detriment of cash strapped SMEs – something prohibiting them from using invoice finance. In 2016 new measures will be introduced by the Government under the Small Business and Enterprise Act 2015.

The restrictive clauses were originally introduced into contracts to prevent suppliers from subcontracting work, however due to the way the clauses were drafted they ended up preventing companies from accessing invoice finance funding. The provision of invoice finance requires the assignment of debts as security, and such a clause removed the ability to provide funding, thus leaving SMEs unable to access this form of asset based lending (ABL).

At one time, approximately 44,000 businesses receive more than £19bn of funding this way, however the size of the market is hugely limited by such clauses; an issue that has been recognised for decades and acknowledged internationally as a problem, but until now has not been addressed by the UK Government.  As unpaid invoices represent one of the biggest assets many UK SMEs have, these clauses have been restricting a vital source of funding, so the news of these clauses being removed is welcomed by many small businesses in an ever difficult economic environment.

By removing these restrictions on invoice finance, thousands of small businesses across the UK can benefit from faster access to funds, and while invoice finance may not be suitable for some, it is imperative that small businesses have the option of utilising invoice finance to increase their cash flow, rather than being restricted to a small number of traditional funding options. With the Small Business Minister stating ‘small businesses are the economic backbone of Britain’ – we agree that the necessary steps should be taken to ensure that the restrictions are lifted in order for SMEs to continue growing and creating jobs within the UK.

Cash strapped SMEs should also remember that there are other ways of accessing funding via the provision of asset refinance, seeing capital tied up in their plant and machinery being released, thus helping to support their working capital requirements. In addition, asset finance is an easy way for SMEs to purchase those important assets needed to help grow their businesses. Here at Davenham we offer both products and work in partnership with our clients to ensure we can offer the maximum level of funding they require.

For more information, visit