The tip of the iceberg?

covid-19 funding threats Aug 19, 2021

The High Court has closed down two businesses this month after it was found that they submitted false documents to at least 41 local authorities and the government’s bounce back loan (BBL) scheme to secure £230,000 worth of emergency support.

LV Distributions and SIO Traders were investigated by the Insolvency Service, which proved that neither company had ever actually traded.

One of the two had been claiming to supply personal protective equipment while the other had claimed to sell medical care products.

The Government has warned that it will be cracking down on Covid fraud and in June the Public Accounts Committee of MPs, for the department for business, energy and industrial strategy (BEIS), that suspected Covid-related fraud amounted to £27bn.

It has been argued that some of this loss could be attributed to a failure to carry out basic checks and controls in the rush to get funding out to struggling businesses.

The message is clear.

Businesses need to make...

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Is it crunch time for your business at the end of September?

The Government’s furlough scheme to help employers through the pandemic is being scaled back, with wage support being reduced from 70% to 60% and employers’ contribution increased to 20% this month.

The whole scheme will end on September 30.

One survey carried out this week has found that an estimated 350,000-plus SMEs cannot now repay Covid loans due to the impact of cash flow and supply chains.

An estimated 18% of the survey participants reported that they intended to make redundancies while around 16% said they could not afford to pay existing staff because of the pressure of repaying Covid-related loans.

At the same time, it has been widely reported that businesses have been facing difficulties in recruiting staff in some sectors.

So what should businesses do?

Try to hang on to staff in the hope that business will pick up?

Make some redundancies now to improve their cash flow and hope to rehire staff in better times?

How you treat your staff will affect your...

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Director scrutiny over covid loans

Closing an insolvent business is a horrible experience but disqualification from being a director is even worse.

In a recent case in the North of England the director of a retail business was disqualified for 11 years after it was concluded that he had overstated his turnover when claiming a Covid Bounce Back loan.

The regulations state that eligibility for a loan was in doubt given that they should be for less than 25% of the previous year’s turnover.

It appeared that the business had already ceased trading the previous year but insolvency officials said he should have known that turnover had been insufficient to qualify for the loan, which was paid out in May 2020.

It also found that he had failed to provide sufficient records to establish what the funds were used for.

This situation emphasises the duties on directors to not only keep accurate and detailed financial records but also to ensure they comply with all their duties when applying for a Covid-related BBLS or CBILS...

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The 12 month loan repayment holiday has ended

covid-19 loan Jun 09, 2021

The 12 month loan repayment holiday has ended. Small businesses are due to start repaying Covid support loans following the end of the loan repayment holiday.

Bounce back loans were first launched last May, and banks extended £46.5bn to 1.5m SMEs but reports say that already a fifth of SMEs have asked for more time to pay.

One accountancy firm, Mazuma Accountants, says a survey they carried out at the end of May revealed that as many as 39% of small businesses believe they would struggle to meet repayments.

According to the FSB (Federation of Small Businesses) many are unaware of banks’ pay as you grow schemes, which could help with managing the repayments but warns they should ensure they are clear about the impact schemes could have on their future credit needs.

The business environment is likely to remain tricky for many for some time to come and it will take time to ramp up to full activity, especially in the face of uncertainty about lockdown easing,...

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Furlough fraud and directors’ liabilities

coronavirus covid-19 hmrc Apr 07, 2021

The spotlight is turning to company directors as HMRC continues to crack down on fraudulent claims for furloughing staff.

The latest figures show that over 11 million workers have been furloughed in the UK and 41% of employers had staff furloughed. As of January 2021, HMRC had received over 21,000 reports of potential furlough fraud.

The March 2021 budget included an investment of £100 million for the creation of a taskforce to tackle fraud within the furlough scheme.

Among the HMRC powers are the ability to charge individual directors found to have played a role in fraudulent claims under the Criminal Finances Act 2017.

HMRC Attention is particularly focused on claims by insolvent companies or companies where there is a "serious possibility" of insolvency. Directors may face claims for breach of their statutory duties and disqualification under the Company Directors Disqualification Act 1986.

 

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Leaner, fitter and facing the future with confidence?

covid-19 recovery Feb 26, 2021

As lockdown restrictions are gradually eased businesses will be preparing to increase their activity.

But how many of them will emerge as very different organisations from the ones they were at the start of the pandemic?

Some have already changed their offering or target markets to meet the changed conditions, like the marquee rental company that pivoted to offering equipment to clients needing extra space for temporary canteens, classrooms or even warehouses.

The pandemic has forced many businesses to look more closely at their offerings, their processes and the way they work for the longer term.

These already include including switching to using remote working and intending to continue wherever possible, thereby reducing both their office space and their overheads. Manufacturers are likely to automate production lines and introduce AI and robotics.

There will be more investment in internet-based technology, remote staff surveillance to cloud storage and enhanced security systems.

...
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Is commercial property investment no longer a safe haven?

Commercial property pre-pandemic was considered one of the more secure options for money by investors, particularly by pension fund managers.

But the consequences of changing consumer behaviour, the aftermath of the pandemic lockdown and the retail High Street revolution would suggest a pause for thought and perhaps a rethink.

While the most obvious sector of business related property to be in trouble is retail it may prove not to be the only one.

Retail has been hit by a significant move to online shopping that has been building for several years, but it is also beset by what has been called an archaic rental collection system, whereby rents are payable quarterly.

The most recent Quarter Day was on 24th June (Midsummer Day) and it has been estimated that in the region of just 14% of retailers were paid their rent that day.

It was no surprise, therefore that Intu, owner of some of the UK’s biggest shopping centres, such as Lakeside and Manchester’s Trafford Centre called...

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The future of global sea freight transport post lockdown

The words “new normal” have become something of a cliché in predictions for a post pandemic world but there is little doubt that global sea freight transport is likely to be very different for some years to come.

Even before countries started closing their borders and taking other measures to protect citizens from Coronavirus the sea freight industry was facing pressures.

Much of the pressure relates to concern by the IMO (International Maritime Organisation) about the industry’s impact on the environment and specifically its use of sulphur oxides which is harmful and is considered to be the cause many premature deaths.

From January 2020 the IMO had imposed new emissions standards designed to significantly curb pollution produced by the world’s ships which will be no small feat given estimates that more than 90% of the world’s trade is carried by sea.

To achieve this target, it proposed to ban shipping vessels using fuel with a sulphur content...

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Tech offers growth opportunities post lockdown

It is likely that there will be many growth opportunities for companies to embrace the use of technology after the Coronavirus lockdown.

Many organisations and businesses have had to switch to a remote way of continuing to provide their goods and services and this has affected everything from medical consultations to teaching, even more online shopping and whole offices now remote working.

Having discovered that it is possible to function in this way it is likely that many will carry on doing so when restrictions are eased and this will provide growth opportunities for tech companies.

Among the beneficiaries already have been providers of online tools including conferencing facilities, such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Skype, productivity and project management tools like Asana and Trello and online collaborative and co-creation tools like Miro and MURAL.

But for all their benefits there are also caveats in terms of speed and reliability of broadband, security and protection from...

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Directors should plan for innovative UK manufacturing to revive their businesses post-Coronavirus

UK manufacturing was in dire straits even at the onset of the Coronavirus lockdown, with the CBI (Confederation of British Industry) reporting output dropping at its fastest pace since 1975 in the first quarter of 2020.

As it progressed the pandemic and lockdown revealed many weaknesses in the global supply chain, most notably in the availability of PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) for frontline health and care workers.

However, it is often said that in disaster there are also opportunities and many businesses demonstrated their agility in switching their usual production to manufacturing both PPE and sanitising equipment, for example.

But, as attitudes change, so the opportunities for innovation increase and it is a good time for directors to start planning strategies for not only producing essential supply chain elements within the UK but also for devising new products to fit the new agendas.

The UK Government has announced two initiatives aimed to protect UK...

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