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

Thursday, 25 February 2016

Member Blog: Why are record-low interest rates still here?

The end of record-low interest rates is becoming a bit like TV series, Walking Dead, in the way that every time that we think it’s coming to an end, something happens to keep it going.
Lisa Berrido of Mortgage Advice Bureau explains:


After spending most of last year claiming that the Bank of England is preparing for a rate rise in the early months of 2016, experts are now saying that rates will continue to remain low well into 2017.

Every month, nine members of the Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) meet up and vote on whether to increase the Rate, and this month they voted 9-0 to keep it at its record-low of 0.5%.

Why the sudden change in opinion?

There are numerous factors but one of the main ones is the current price of oil as, following last year’s trends, it has continued to slump, meaning that it is costing you less to do things like heat homes, drive cars or buy goods, and all of this means that inflation sits at just 0.2%, way below the government’s, admittedly loose target, of 2%.

And there lies the reason for the opinion shift - inflation.

Why does inflation affect interest rates?

It’s a simple cause and effect relationship.

The government classes 2% as a healthy target – low enough to encourage spending but high enough for businesses to continue to make money. Sounds like a happy medium, right?

However, last year, we fell into minus figures (-0.1%) for the first time in 55 years, and to try and boost inflation, economists predicted that the government would increase rates to encourage consumer spending.

Why would increasing rates encourage me to spend money?

We fell into minus figures, known as deflation, because people were spending less. Think of this analogy: you go to your local superstore to see that a new TV is £300 and realise that it was £350 the month before. Because of this, you decide to leave the TV, in anticipation that it will go down again next month.

Now apply this to a wider scale in terms of weekly shopping across the country and you’ll see how people not spending could cause problems for the economy.

To rectify this, increasing rates encourages buyers to buy because they want to get their goods before they get too expensive.

So why didn’t they just put the rates up?

There was a huge chain reaction. The price of gold in China plummeted and their stock markets suffered a sudden blip in the ‘Black Monday’ incident, oil prices suddenly slumped in Russia and the Eurozone was extremely delicate due to the ongoing Euro debt crisis.

The global economy suddenly became extremely fragile overnight and increasing interest rates in such a hostile environment would have been a very risky move – and still is to this day.

What does this all mean for my mortgage?

For the time being, mortgage rates will continue to remain at their record lows, and if you are considering remortgaging or getting a mortgage, now could be the time to do it before the economy outlook changes again.

However, if there’s anything that this story shows it’s that, unlike Walking Dead, the economy is extremely unpredictable so contacting a professional mortgage adviser to guide you through your next steps is extremely important.

Lisa Berrido is Business Principal from Mortgage Advice Bureau – for further information please call: 01942 526228, email: lisab@mab.org.uk or visit: www.mortgageadvicebureau.com/leigh

Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Member Blog: This as a Service (TaaS), What as a Service (WaaS)???

By Craig Robinson - Director, Cloud53


It seems in IT everything is as a Service (aaS) yet given the amount of questions we at Cloud53 receive about this element of managed services, clearly it is a much misunderstood way of doing things to those non IT people.

The diagram below should hopefully make this much simpler to understand using something as a service that we all understand:

If interested in any IT services as a Service (aaS) then please do give Cloud53 a call.
Visit Cloud53: www.cloud53.co.uk 
Call Cloud53: 0845 557 8687
Follow Cloud53:  @cloud53ltd

There is a 10% discount for all Chamber members on Cloud53 services.

Wednesday, 17 February 2016

EU Referendum: Round the table with the 'In' crowd

The third in a series of blogs on the EU Referendum - By Alex Davies, Research Analyst at Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce.
With the news today that British officials have entered the final phase of negotiations to reform the UK’s relationship with EU, an early referendum date is looking more and more likely. June 23rd is the date hot on everybody’s lips, and will become an even safer bet if Mr Cameron is successful in sealing the deal at this weekend’s European Summit in Brussels.  It seems apt then, that this week saw the Chamber’s engagement with this issue become more active, as we hosted the Britain Stronger in Europe campaign (BSIE) for a round-table discussion with our members. Headed by former CEO of Marks and Spencer’s, Lord Stuart Rose, BSIE is currently pushing to become the officially recognised “In” campaign, and this week launched their campaign across the North of England.

BSIE outlines three key areas in which they feel we benefit from being an EU member: the economy, security and influence. They make their view very clear that the best outcome is for the UK to remain a member of a reformed EU. The worthiness and intentions of the proposed reforms was the first point of slight contention in an otherwise uncharacteristically civilised discussion, given the topic. The main concerns seemed to be around the general public’s views rather than that of business, and about how the campaign plans to engage with those for whom the sticking points in the debate may seem to have little relevance in day-to-day life.

Overall, there was an obvious pro-Europe air in the room. This was perhaps to be expected, as a recent poll of members by British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) showed that 60% of senior business people surveyed would vote to remain. 34% said they would reconsider based on the Prime Minister's reform negotiations, but it was the nature of the discussion after turning to the tactics of the “leave” side that was perhaps most indicative of the failures within the wider debate.

BSIE have the advantage of supporting the status quo, and are opposing a number of squabbling “leave” campaigns that share no unified voice. All the “remain” campaigns have to do is show that the prospect of leaving the EU is a risk, that it entails uncertainty, which at this point is no effort at all. Many options would be available to us should we leave, so people inevitably want to leave for a multitude of different reasons and wish to achieve a multitude of different things if we do so. Bundling this wide array of potential economic and political pathways under the “NO” on the ballot paper could be viewed as counterproductive if we are really striving to have a serious and fair discussion. There cannot be a unified voice within the “leave” campaigns or the “leave” side of the public simply because one does not exist. We will hopefully soon know exactly what a vote to remain is a vote for, this won’t happen for their opposition (If we leave we would have a pro-EU Prime Minister and government involved in the negotiating – a bizarre thought), so the temperament of the business community is unsurprising and entirely reasonable. It is tough to imagine that 34% of them will see anything significant enough to be swayed. This does mean however, that as and when we can arrange one, a similar event with a “leave” campaign should be quite exciting, and seeing both sides in the same room at this year’s BCC conference should not be missed.

Are you interested in us doing more events similar to this? Do you plan to engage your workforce concerning the referendum? Still unable to make up your mind? Get in touch!

Alex.davies@gmchamber.co.uk
@GMCC_Alex

Thursday, 4 February 2016

Brexit: Memoirs of a Frustrated Interloper - Part Two

The second in a series of blogs on the EU Referendum - By Alex Davies, Research Analyst at Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce.
In the coming blogs I will break down some of the statistics and arguments most commonly used in the debate. I aim to clear up any common misconceptions, prove that numbers can be made to show almost anything based on the underlying assumptions made, and to show how the lines from both sides on the very same issues often contradict one another. If I seem to give more time to one side than the other, it is because their numbers or assumptions are riper for scrutiny, or reveal something more complicated.

A commonly cited figure is the 3 or 4 million jobs that are “linked to trade with the rest of the EU”. These essentially are any jobs in exporting industries or those linked to the wages arising from such industries. It’s certainly a nice figure to bandy about but what does it actually mean? Within the context it usually appears in it seems to mean: “If we leave the EU 3,000,000 people will lose their jobs”, or maybe: “3,000,000 jobs have been created as a result of being in the EU”, or the slightly less apocalyptic: “If we leave the EU 3,000,000 jobs may be at risk”. In reality the figure is pretty much meaningless in relation to the debate. These figures are not calculated with the intention of reflecting the impact of the UK leaving the EU, as they are linked to our exports rather than our membership status. The researchers at South Bank University who originally reported figures in this ballpark stress that “we do not seek to test this counterfactual hypothesis”; a similar paper from the National Institute of Social and Economic Research (NIESR) warned that: “there is no a priori reason to suppose that many of these [jobs], if any, would be permanently lost if Britain were to leave the EU.” Would the demand that creates these jobs really just disappear if we leave?  Retaining access to the single market will undoubtedly be a priority if we do, and article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty ensures we would have at least two years to conclude an agreement. Even so, if we were able to set our own trade regulations how much would we realistically be able to or want to deviate from current standards? “EU” regulations are far from the only ones affecting us, and most essentially bundle together and enforce a whole bunch of wider international agreements, standards and protocols. We would still need to adhere to such standards and accept global convention in order for us to remain an attractive country to trade with. Even if we strive to achieve more bargaining power in such negotiations, we would unquestionably do everything to avoid risking jobs in export industries.

There are many misconceptions surrounding article 50. The idea that the UK will “not be in the room” during any exit negotiations is false: Clause 2 states that an agreement will be negotiated and agreed upon with the withdrawing country, clause 3 states that the two year negotiation period will be extended until a unanimous agreement is made and clause 4 states that the withdrawing country will remain a full part of EU institutions during negotiations. Another often heard line is that the referendum puts our free movement status at risk. This is also not necessarily true. The referendum concerns our membership of the EU, whereas the free movement of people, goods and services results from us being a part of the European Economic Area (EEA). We should have no qualms about retaining our status within the EEA – if we so wish - if we vote to leave. This would be part of what is often referred to as “the Norwegian option” - just one of multiple exit strategies that will be discussed in later editions of this blog.

If your company trades with the rest of the EU please let us know your take on the issue. How does our trade relationship with the EU affect your business? What reforms should we be fighting for? What are your concerns about the result of the referendum?
More numbers in the next post.


alex.davies@gmchamber.co.uk

Brexit: Memoirs of a Frustrated Interloper

In the first in a series of blogs on the EU Referendum, Alex Davies, Research Analyst at Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce, looks at some of the problems facing voters.


For most, the EU referendum debate is understandably obtuse and confusing. This is a real problem in such an important issue, because it limits our ability to make a truly free and informed decision. In this series of informal blog posts, I am going to dissect the nature of the debate itself and the various In/Out campaigns. This is as much to reveal misconceptions as it is to provide clarity, and in doing so I will do my absolute best to be equally as critical of arguments from both sides. The purpose of these blogs will be purely to stimulate thinking, raise questions and hopefully enable productive debate.

From a researcher’s point of view, tasked with summarising some of the main arguments from both sides, the most prominent feeling is sheer frustration. The usual course of action is to provide statistics to show both sides of the argument, but in the case of EU In/Out campaigns, the numbers mostly crumble under scrutiny. It seems that both sides are more interested in pandering to their supporters than engaging in any sort of detailed debate about the very real implications of the final result. It is because of this that most people’s positions are currently based upon a few issues which they have strong personal feelings towards- immigration being the most obvious and timely example. This kind of talk is effective in stirring emotions precisely because the actual details are so complicated and so easy to be uninterested in. The assumptions people have however, are generally unfounded or altogether too easy to pick apart. At this point it is a stretch to say that leaving will have this effect on this thing, or that staying in will have that effect on that thing. What we do have at this point, is options; many options, many unknowns and a state of analysis paralysis. For example, several detailed exit strategies have been and continue to be developed, but go uncovered by the big campaigns. Instead we are subject to contradictory statements and arguments tailored to a particular audience without a thought for impartiality. It is so important to criticise this kind of work at this point because the intellectual argument is going completely unheard. I do not profess to be an expert - I am far from it, but I am going to try and navigate this thing from an impartial and critical standpoint as much as I can muster. It is the nature of the beast that these blogs may ultimately leave you with more questions than answers, but hopefully you will be asking yourself questions that you weren’t before, and will be better prepared to discuss them if they come up in the pub.

Some housekeeping, first of all. I will be using the handy term Brexit for the most part to refer to the prospect of Britain exiting the EU and the debate in general. This does not mean I am taking a stance for or against Brexit itself. In fact, I will go on record as saying that I genuinely do not know which way I will vote at this point in time.

A note on the campaigns themselves. At the time of writing campaigns on the “Out” side outweigh those on the “In” side - we have Vote Leave, Leave.EU, Leave HQ, Better Off Out, Business for Britain and Get Britain Out. On the other side are Britain Stronger in Europe and British Influence. There may be others I have missed and might be more in the future.

It has been said many times that this referendum will largely be decided by the business community. In this regard, the Chamber would love to hear feedback from any of our members who have something to say about these issues. I am not a businessman, and anything you may have to say about the referendum will help us here at the Chamber to steer our own coverage of the topic, so please get in touch and voice your opinions.

In the next blog, I will start to break down some of these statistics and show how each campaign can spin the numbers to their advantage.

alex.davies@gmchamber.co.uk

Member Blog: 5 Steps to Sound Sleep

By Helena Grzesk, Spa Director at the award winning Spa at The Midland

Did you know that six in ten people do not get enough sleep? We can be considered deprived of sleep by missing just thirty minutes of shut eye! As well as slowing down your metabolism, a bad night’s sleep can have a severe effect on your mood. In fact, the feeling of depression is increased by 14% for every hour you miss.

Sleep is an incredibly important process the body must go through, and the perfect amount of sleep for most people varies between six to nine hours.

Many exterior factors such as stress and anxiety can take their toll on your sleep, making you irritable, restless and have an overall feeling of fatigue. Here are my tops tips on how to catch those zzzzs and have a restful and fulfilling sleep:

1. A Lavender Essential Oil Bath: Lavender is a powerful essential oil that induces relaxation. It has long been used as part of spa treatment menus to relax the mind and the body. Adding a relaxing bath into your bedtime ritual will immediately help you to unwind and give you some well-deserved me-time.

2. Consistent Routine: As humans we are programmed to follow a lifestyle routine. Sticking to a consistent time you wake up and go to sleep every day will set your body’s internal body clock. Once our body clocks are set you will see an immediate improvement in the quality of your sleep

3. Smart Snacking: Don’t ditch your midnight snacks. Snacking on foods that are rich in an amino acid called Tryptophan is known to promote restful sleep. Tryptophan can be found in foods such as bananas and granola.

4. Digital Detox: Avoid watching TV and working on your laptop or phone within two hours of your bedtime. The bright screens of our electronic gadgets disrupts our body’s rhythm which reduces our quality of sleep. Try reading a book before you sleep. If your digital gadgets can’t be avoided then turn down the brightness of the screen.

5. Become a Yogi: Yoga has long been used as a method to relax the mind and body and promote an overall feeling of wellness. Incorporating yoga stretches such as the child’s pose or downward facing dog into your pre-bedtime routine will immediately slow the heart and rebalance the mind before your head hits the pillow.

The Spa at The Midland
0845 074 0064 | www.TheSpaatTheMidland.co.uk | @SpaattheMidland

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Member Blog: Why is franchising in the UK more popular than ever?

By Paul W Davies, Director- Brand Mark Franchising Ltd


The franchise industry was worth over £15bn to the UK economy in 2015 and it’s still growing- why the popularity?

I am a Franchise Consultant to the industry and I want to offer you my perspective on this captivating industry that has made millionaires of some its franchisees and franchisors, although occasionally of course, things can go wrong and investments are lost- but not too often. So, what is franchising?

Business format franchising is the granting of a licence by one person (the franchisor) to another (the franchisee), which entitles the franchisee to own and operate their own business under the brand, systems and proven business model of the franchisor.

So, why would I be interested in franchising?

Well, it’s got a pretty impressive record. Here are some stats you may not be aware of:
  • Throughout the worst of the global recession starting in 2007/8, franchising has remained remarkably resilient, only once recording less than 90% of franchise units in profit;
  • 70% of the very largest units (with a turnover of £500,000 or more) are quite or highly profitable – and none are loss making;
  • A franchised business appears larger than it is and offers other substantial benefits over non-franchised SMEs:

1. Appearing to be a larger business;
2. Quality expectation;
3. Having a standardised product/ service;
4. Limited financial liabilities;
5. Access to bulk buying discounts;

  • In 2015, a record 97% of franchisee-owned units reported profitability, with 56% saying they are ‘quite’ or ‘very’ profitable. 
  • Funding banks like good quality franchises;
Anyway, that is enough of statistics. There is also a fascinating, not to say profitable narrative that goes along with this.  Existing business owners are attracted to franchising for a number of reasons;   -It accommodates potential for more rapid expansion of a brand, -it is the franchisee that will pay for the upfront costs like equipment or fit-out, -owner operators normally out-perform managed outlets,
-owners also help the business grow by developing the number of franchises they buy over time, with agreement from the franchisor;  -franchisees as well as franchisor, have a vested interest in the success of the company, so will add a quality to the business that a manger can rarely achieve.

There is more, much more, that I will be reporting on in due course.

For more franchise revelations, see my blog at:

www.brandmarkfranchising.co.uk/blog/

Monday, 1 February 2016

Member Blog: Are Distributed Denial of Service attacks here to stay?

By Craig Robinson - Director, Cloud53 Ltd


Recently it seems that every week we hear of a major website being unavailable due to a Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack, but what is it and why is it becoming so common?

A DDoS attack occurs when multiple systems flood the bandwidth or resources of a targeted system, usually one or more web servers. Such an attack is often the result of multiple compromised systems (for example a botnet) flooding the targeted system with traffic.

It seems that along with these attacks becoming more common that they are also becoming more serious in the sheer bandwidth that is being used. Speaking to a recent victim they saw over 80Gbps being used against their IPs, very few providers could sustain that. To put this into perspective in Q4 of 2013 the average DDoS attack was using an average of 2.14 Gbps.

In recent months major names have been attacked such as the BBC (reportedly over 600Gbps), Sony PlayStation network, TalkTalk, Carphone warehouse and many more but why?

It would seem that essentially the groups doing this wish to extort money from their victims, blackmailing them with the threat that if they do not pay the attacks will continue. However could you trust a blackmailer not to do it again after payment? This is why it is generally reported that companies do not pay, however it seems reasonable to assume that some companies do pay as these sort of attacks cost money to implement and so they must be worthwhile to the criminals?

The type of payment is the issue in these ransom situations as payment is always instructed to be made in bitcoins and so is totally untraceable (if you have many accounts). It is also thought that money gained in this way often finds its way to support illegal activity.

You don’t have to be a large company to suffer a DDoS attack but the attackers do go to where they believe ransom money is available however if you do become a victim of a DDoS attack and subsequent blackmail it is best to treat it as an exercise to bolster your security and potentially test your DR strategy, it is not advised to meet the demands of the cyber criminals.

If you become a victim of this or any other suspected cyber-crime and need advice please get in touch with Cloud53:

Visit Cloud53: www.cloud53.co.uk
Call Cloud53: 0845 557 8687
Follow Cloud53:  @cloud53ltd

10% discount for all Chamber members on Cloud53 services.