Failing to recognise the equal value of women to the economy is short-sighted

sme success women Apr 18, 2019

It is dispiriting in the 21st Century that investors and businesses are still not recognising the equal value of women and their contribution to achieving success.

Two recent reports have – yet again – highlighted this discrepancy.

Not only did many businesses fail to meet the Government’s recent deadline for reporting on their gender pay gap but, according to BBC research, fewer than half of the UK’s biggest employers have succeeded in narrowing their gender pay gap. In fact, in 45% of firms the discrepancy had increased.

The Fawcett Society, which campaigns for gender equality, described the figures as “disappointing, but not surprising”.

More alarmingly, various reports have revealed that women entrepreneurs face an uphill struggle in getting investment finance.

Government analysis has found that less than 1% of venture capital investment in the UK goes to female-led start-ups. Its research was carried out by the British Business Bank,...

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What kinds of jobs will be taken over by automation?

In late March, the ONS (Office for National Statistics) published its latest findings on the effects of automation on the jobs market.

It found that some 1.5 million jobs were at high risk from automation, but, tellingly, 70% of these roles were currently held by women. The next most at risk groups were part timers and young people.

The ONS calculates that around 710,000 jobs in the City may be taken over by automated technology, with around 39% of jobs in the accounting, legal and financial services sectors most likely to be automated and that 34% of roles in tax advice could be affected..

Waiters and waitresses, shelf fillers and elementary sales occupations, are most likely to go, all roles defined as low-skilled or routine. Increasing numbers of factory workers are also at risk of being replaced by machines.

Least endangered are medical practitioners, higher education teaching professionals, and senior professionals in education although many of their support functions such...

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First two companies named and shamed over late payment

In March the first company to be named and shamed by the Small Business Commissioner Paul Uppal over late payment to a SME was announced.

The Office of the Small Business Commissioner launched an official investigation into the payment practices of the Jordans & Ryvita Company.

Using his new powers for naming offenders the Commissioner investigated Jordans & Ryvita on behalf of small business Magellan Design Ltd, which was owed approximately £5,000. As a result, the money was paid together with a further £1,400 in late payment interest.

This week the results of a second investigation, this time into health food retailer Holland & Barrett, were revealed. It was launched after a complaint from an IT company, which had asked not to be named, over an unpaid invoice of £15,000. The invoice took 67 days to be paid, well outside the company’s contractual agreement of 30 days.

Mr Uppal found that Holland & Barrett had “a purposeful...

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GDPR one year on – how well is it working?

legislation Apr 04, 2019

It is almost a year since the new EU-wide GDPR (General Data Protection Regulations) legislation was introduced and so far approaching 60,000 breaches by companies have been reported across Europe.

The UK, the Netherlands and Germany have reported the most, ranging from minor errors such as missent emails to major cyber hacks.

In the UK the ICO (Information Commissioner’s Office) oversees and takes action on GDPR breaches and has powers to impose massive fines for those found guilty.

In a speech in New Zealand the UK’s ICO commissioner Elizabeth Denham revealed that in the first six months of the new law her office was seeing “More complaints from the public – from 9,000 to 19,000 in a comparable six month period. Complaints about subject access, data portability and data security. All of our front line services have jumped by at least 100%. More breach reports – over 8,000 since the end of May when it became mandatory in some high risk...

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Is HMRC buckling under the strain of too hasty IT and insufficient staff?

debt collection hmrc Mar 29, 2019

Does anyone love the taxman? HMRC is an easy target when it gets things wrong and equally when it seems to be altogether too prompt with reminders!

Earlier this year, for example, the website accountingweb reported an ongoing problem with HMRC charging for late tax return filings for trusts. It transpired that these are not as automated as personal returns and the information on the return has to be input or re-keyed by staff. As a result, even if the tax return is filed on time, any delay in inputting and the HMRC system will flag up a late return and send out a penalty notice.

But HMRC’s system has also been found to not have recorded payments on account on online personal accounts and on paper statements, allegedly a “widespread problem” according to the website.

Other examples have been staff ignorance of the NI (National Insurance) system as it relates to PAYE, of employment allowances, and even miscalculation of tax owed after statements have been...

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UK business rescue culture isn’t working and new proposals won’t work

Since the Cork Report in 1982 that led to the Insolvency Act 1986 (IA86) there have been a number of initiatives that have led to legislation aimed at promoting a rescue culture in UK.

The shift was from a penal approach to insolvency one based on a belief that saving insolvent companies by restructuring offers a better outcome for all concerned than the alternative of simply closing them down.

This can be achieved by putting the company into Administration, where an IP (Insolvency Practitioner) takes over the running of the company, including negotiating with creditors with the aim of saving the company or at least saving the business by selling it to new owners. In addition to benefitting secured creditors Administration also helps save jobs.

The alternative is a CVA (Company Voluntary Arrangement) where the directors effectively reach agreement with creditors for revised payment terms such as “time to pay” and sometimes for a write down of the debt as a condition...

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Flexible working can foster innovation and creativity

A set of annual awards launched seven years ago is demonstrating the positive benefits of allowing employees to work flexible and part time hours.

The Timewise Power Awards winners for 2019 have just been announced and, as the founders say, they demonstrate the art of the possible.

Among them is Srin Madipalli, a wheelchair user who works 85% full time for AirBnB and combines this with public speaking to raise disability and accessibility issues at forums including the United Nations, Rio Paralympics and the Tech Inclusion Summit.

Chris Bryant, a partner at Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner, works three days a week helping clients from all sectors to prepare for Brexit, and at the same time cares for his daughter and writes for musical theatre. His work has been performed at the Edinburgh Festival and is now being developed for a nationwide tour.

Amy Haworth, a director working on an 80% contract for Deloitte, combines her working life with 60 to 80 performances a year as an international...

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Can zombie and critically distressed businesses be resurrected from near-death?

cash flow smes Mar 19, 2019

More than one in ten (11%) UK businesses is a zombie business at the start of 2019, according to the Business Distress Index produced by the insolvency and restructuring trade body R3.

The figure rises to 16% of businesses in the North East, according to the Newcastle Chronicle, and the state of many more UK businesses is graphically illustrated by research from Begbies Traynor’s most recent Red Flag Alert, which showed that the number of businesses in “critical” distress leapt by a quarter to 2,200 in the fourth quarter of 2018 while those in “significant” distress remained roughly flat year-on-year at 481,000.

A zombie business is generally defined as one that is only able to pay the interest on its debts, not repay the principal debt.

As such, economists argue, these businesses act as a drag on investment, productivity and the economy, because they do not have the available capital to invest in new operations, products, or services, while the...

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The tide may be turning to improve workers’ rights

employees productivity smes Mar 14, 2019

In December Christina Blacklaws, the president of the Law Society, warned in a letter to the Financial Times that employment law on workers’ rights had not kept pace with the changes in the way people work nowadays.

Her concerns were primarily for people working in the so-called ‘gig’ economy after the High Court ruled that Deliveroo riders had no right to bargain collectively.

Her letter said: “Case after case highlights concerns about how the workplace rights of employees, workers and contractors are affected by a law not fit for purpose and not easily understood. The lack of certainty means people are having to go to court to clarify their rights.”

Perhaps in some areas the situation is being clarified by case law such as the recent Supreme Court ruling re Pimlico Plumbers that a sub-contractor cannot be classed as an independent self-employed contractor for employment law purposes and should be treated as a “worker” who is entitled to...

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Are we nearing a Minsky moment foretelling the next economic crash?

economy Mar 07, 2019

Hyman Minsky died in relative obscurity in 1996 but economists have adopted his name as a description of particular moments in an economy when asset prices collapse after months of seeming stability.

The 2008 Global financial crash is now seen by economists such as Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman, as well as former central bankers Janet Yellan in the US and Mervyn King in the UK, as a Minsky Moment.

What is a Minsky moment?

In the 1970s Minsky outlined his economic theory, known as Stability is Destabilising, in stark contrast to the macro-economic theory that argues that the modern market economy is fundamentally stable.

In Minsky’s analysis banks, firms and other economic agents become complacent during periods of economic stability. As a result, they take greater risks in pursuit of profits.

A Minsky moment is a sudden, major collapse of asset values which generates a credit cycle or business cycle. The result is rapid instability as a consequence of long periods...

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