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Business Development & Marketing Cash Flow & Forecasting General Rescue, Restructuring & Recovery

Will proposed relaxation of planning laws revitalise construction?

Last month the Government announced that it would enact legislation to relax planning laws so that full planning applications will not be required to demolish and rebuild unused buildings making it easy to convert commercial and retail properties into residential property. This could be the key to a swift revival of high streets and town centres by repurposing existing property.

If approved these new rules should come into effect in September.

The Government is also proposing to reform England’s planning system, it claims, “to deliver more high-quality, well-designed homes, and beautiful and greener communities for people to live in.” although the details have not yet been made public.

On the face of it, if the rule changes do become law this will be a significant boost to construction and building companies and suppliers, like us, of building materials.

Presumably, also, developers could benefit from a relaxation of the planning conditions that often accompany such projects, whereby local authorities can make planning consent conditional on the provision of a proportion of affordable housing or other community amenities via a Section 106 Agreement.

In answer to concerns raised by such bodies as the Council for the Protection of Rural England (CPRE) and the Local Government Association (LGA) that it will lead to a decline in standards, the Government has said that the measures are designed to cut out bureaucracy “to get Britain building” but will also protect high standards: “Developers will still need to adhere to building regulations.”

It has also pledged that pubs, libraries, village shops and other buildings essential to communities will not be covered by these new flexibilities. This will help avoid the decline of village and community life by preserving local amenities although most local libraries and many pubs have already closed.

Although a controversial initiative, we believe this would be a welcome boost for construction and associated industries and for employment through the jobs it will create. What do you think?

Has your business struggled as a result of the Coronavirus Pandemic? Are you having to consider redundancies as the Furlough measures are scaled down?  

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Business Development & Marketing Cash Flow & Forecasting Finance General Turnaround

Business triage involves allocating limited resources to achieving realistic outcomes

Business triage prioritises the most urgentBusiness triage refers to the process of prioritising work in a crisis when there is more work to do than resources available to do it. The aim of triage is to maximise the outcome and minimise the damage by being realistic about what can be achieved with limited resources.
It is more commonly understood in the medical context, usually in response to prioritising treatment of casualties following disasters or other emergencies.
According to Investopedia, in a business context, “Triage helps companies by enabling them to attend to emergencies quickly, but it also poses risks, as it tends to involve the elimination of certain time-consuming steps that are normally part of the workflow”.
While business triage is normally associated with decision-making and action a crisis, its principles can also be applied to all forms of transformational change.
In my last blog I advised directors that now is a good time to conduct a strategic review of businesses in order to prepare for a resumption of activity as the Coronavirus lockdown eases.
The review may well have revealed processes, and products or services that are no longer viable as well as potential future opportunities and you may be considering re-organising your business to reflect this.
For some of you this may be urgent and you will be embarking on the business triage process to determine the changes you need to make to reduce overheads, perhaps your workforce, and to re-organise the whole business process.
The warning about the risks involved is therefore timely.
If cash flow has plummeted and staff have been furloughed your business may have been relying on reserves, CJRS (Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme) and CBILS (Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme), but reserves may be running down and furlough schemes are being phased out. And, sooner or later the loans will have to be repaid.
These are all important considerations for business triage as you prioritise cash flow by reducing overheads, perhaps by make some staff redundant much of which may be necessary to survive. Once survival is guaranteed then you can consider future plans but for the moment it is important to be mindful of the costs involved, particularly, but not only, of redundancy.
The aim of the business triage process is to emerge as a leaner and fitter organisation, more resilient and more efficient, with processes targeted on the most profitable parts of your business.
Many directors have some tough decisions to make and these will require judgement about priorities and affordability such that they may need to bring in others with the experience of making such decisions.
Both a failure to make decisions early and a failure to make the right decisions may mean that your business won’t survive.
#Triage #Businesstriage #Decisionmaking

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Banks, Lenders & Investors Business Development & Marketing Cash Flow & Forecasting Finance General

As businesses resume operations it’s a good time to take stock with a strategic review

a strategic review helps your business move forwardI would normally be recommending a strategic review of your business at this time of year, when activity slows down for the holiday season.
This year, of course, things are very different because of the pandemic lockdown but as you resume business activity my advice remains the same because a strategic review will help you to identify the resources, costs, opportunities and capabilities that will help your business move forward.
It may be that carrying out a review will help you identify new products or directions in which you can take your business as in a changed economic landscape innovation is likely to be a key to future success.
A business needs to be sustainable and profitable so firstly you need to identify the resources that are already available to you and these can be divided into physical resources, human resources, intellectual resources and financial resources.
To use the example of a manufacturing business, physical resources would include equipment and inventory and manufacturing plant, but also the premises, if the business owns them. However, over time for all their longevity such assets as manufacturing plant can become obsolete or inefficient and it is important to plan for when their lifespan will run out and for updating them perhaps with automation to improve efficiency.
Human resources will include existing employees and their skills, perhaps suppliers with whom you have a long-standing relationship, the board of directors and shareholders if any. Do you have the right skills and capabilities in the organisation to help it move forward, perhaps even in a new direction?
Intellectual resources include any processes or products that are already protected by patents, anything emerging from research and development or perhaps potential demand for a new but related product identified via marketing activities or customer research. The talent within your business could also be potentially an intellectual resource.
If you have identified a new product or direction for the business it is important to establish as far as possible how much it is likely to cost and where you may need to invest to turn it into a reality so current costs are an essential element in the equation.
If reflections during lockdown or insights following a strategic review give you ideas for a new direction you will need to know your business’ financial position to fund working capital and afford any investment so forecasting your cash flow is imperative as your reserves may be have been depleted by the lockdown and you may need further finance.
Doing your homework now while business activity is still quiet could make all the difference to a successful business development.

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Banks, Lenders & Investors Business Development & Marketing Cash Flow & Forecasting Finance General

Directors should be mindful of future investment and changing values post pandemic

future investment and changing valuesBusinesses planning their post-pandemic strategy are likely to be seeking future investment to shore up their balance sheets but directors will need to be mindful of the changing values of stakeholders and in particular those of their customers who in turn are influencing investors.
Before the immense disruption caused globally by the onset of the pandemic, climate change, global warming and the need for a more sustainable form of economics were a major preoccupation.
That preoccupation has not gone away.
While physical attendance at a second summit on ethical finance by international delegates from Government officials, financial institutions, consumer goods corporations, supply chain intermediaries and conservation organisations planned for Edinburgh this month has had to be cancelled, it has now been replaced by a virtual summit.
And this month, the UK’s Investors Association published a paper on the future of investment in which it, too, identified the importance going forward of ethical investment highlighting:
…“Increasing importance of sustainable investment. There is growing customer emphasis on the material impact of sustainability issues on financial returns, notably among institutional clients, as well as a more prominent focus on setting non-financial objectives (for example, to invest in companies and projects that have specific social or environmental benefit).”.
The focus and emphasis among investors is very much on CSR (corporate social responsibility), or its replacement ESG (environmental, social and governance) which is becoming the criteria for oversight of behaviour and values and holding companies to account.
Changing consumer values have been highlighted by others, including the retail “guru” Mary Portas, who has been promoting what she calls the “kindness economy” where, she argues, that shoppers may now be more alert to how businesses treat them, their workers and the planet.
Former BoE (Bank of England) governor Mark Carney also referred to this growing awareness in an article in the Economist last April, where he said that “fundamentally, the traditional drivers of value have been shaken, new ones will gain prominence” and where “public values help shape private value”.
These are issues that company directors will need to be mindful of when formulating their post-pandemic business plans, especially if the plans involve securing future investment.
Returning to pre-pandemic “normal” is not likely to be enough for business survival as the desire among both investors and consumers is for more ethical values and this has not been eroded by the pandemic.

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Banks, Lenders & Investors Cash Flow & Forecasting Finance General Turnaround

What lessons can be learned from the 1930s New Deal for post pandemic recovery?

New Deal and unamploymentThe New Deal was a series of measures introduced by President Franklin D Roosevelt to help the US economy recover from the Wall Street Crash and subsequent Great Depression.
It introduced a string of measures to better protect workers from ill-treatment and the consequences of unemployment and to better regulate banks and financial institutions.
As noted in the Encyclopaedia Britannica “Opposed to the traditional American political philosophy of laissez-faire, the New Deal generally embraced the concept of a government-regulated economy aimed at achieving a balance between conflicting economic interests”.
Perhaps one of the best-known Acts was the Glass–Steagall Act of 1933, which separated commercial from investment banking.
But the New Deal measures were also designed to stimulate and revive economic activity in agriculture and business, founded on the economic theory, as propounded by the UK economist John Maynard Keynes, that massive Government spending should be used to promote recovery and that spending cutbacks only hurt the economy.
Over the 20th Century the economic theory pendulum has swing back and forth between government regulation and a market driven laissez-faire economy with the later particularly being adopted by Margaret Thatcher.
The economic response to the Coronavirus pandemic and its consequences have opened the taps to flood cash into the market in a way that even Keynes would be impressed. Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s initiatives to protect businesses, employees and other vulnerable groups are similar to the measures introduced in the early days of the New Deal.
But as lockdown measures are eased what other measures might the Chancellor adopt to stimulate the economy?
Similar to that adopted in the 1930s, the Government is considering a spending spree on what are called “shovel-ready” projects, particularly the construction of infrastructure (roads, railways, internet, schools, hospitals and other projects) that will get some people back to work quickly.
Other ideas used then and being considered now are how to get consumers to resume spending, although this should be more than just re-opening retail, leisure and hospitality businesses.
With so many people losing their jobs or worried about their economic future, there is a real concern that consumers won’t spend. Perhaps despite other short-term initiatives that were not used in the 1930s such as a reduction in VAT (Value Added Tax) on consumer products, a reduction in NI (National Insurance) contributions for employers and employees, and training people for the future.
For businesses, particularly, some reduction in Business Rates, or even a revamp which has long been called for, and more flexible repayment of the Coronavirus loans (CBILS) may help but the landscape has changed and it would appear unlikely that we shall return to a pre-Coronavirus level of business. None the least due to the number of redundancies that are coming, and perhaps just as bad, the likely prospect that the purchasing power of fiat currencies will reduce significantly despite any artificial manipulation of inflation data.
While it is often said that a recession can be the best time to start a new business, as companies ranging from General Motors, Burger King, CNN, Uber and Airbnb did, it is arguable that the post-pandemic economic damage will be so severe that more even more radical New Deal-type of measures will be needed.

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Business Development & Marketing Cash Flow & Forecasting General Turnaround

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

UK manufacturing innovation 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 business and promote innovation, Project Defend and Project Birch.
Project Defend aims to identify and protect vulnerabilities in business supply chains, with project leader Liz Truss recently describing three aims: reducing the use of suppliers from countries seen as “unreliable partners”; encouraging UK manufacturing; and, stockpiling key items such as medicines and components.
Project Birch is a short term initiative whereby the Government will “temporarily guarantee business-to-business transactions currently supported by Trade Credit Insurance, ensuring the majority of insurance coverage will be maintained across the market” potentially until the end of the year.
Meanwhile support for a recovery plan with projects that support the environment has been given added impetus with a letter to the Government from 200 businesses urging it, among other things, to drive investment in low carbon innovation, infrastructure and those industries that support sectors covering the environment, increase job creation and recovery.
All this should encourage UK manufacturers to think in terms of innovation rather than striving to recover their existing operations.
A report by McKinsey in 2019 in the context of post-Brexit UK business and supply chains identifies several key issues directors should consider when planning their strategy for the future. Their findings are relevant in the current post-Coronavirus recovery context.
The key issues for directors, it says, will be to: redefine their sourcing strategy; revisit their footprint; review inventory build-up; and, crucially adjust their product portfolio to exploit their capabilities and experience.
I know of at least one company, supplying a unique range of insulated, environmentally-friendly products to the construction industry, which is already well-placed to grow post-Coronavirus as the Government seeks to stimulate the economy, jobs and housebuilding. Build Homes Better proposes to use its technologically advanced products to build environmentally and energy efficient housing based on its rapid building system. Check them out at https://buildhomesbetter.co.uk/
The time has never been better for a revival in UK manufacturing with innovative solutions for both new products, developing a greener economy and for strengthening the in-country supply chain.

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Banks, Lenders & Investors Business Development & Marketing Cash Flow & Forecasting Finance General

A complex jigsaw puzzle for directors in planning a post-coronavirus retail strategy

the retail strategy jigsaw puzzle As more restrictions are relaxed, allowing increasing numbers of retailers to re-open, directors have many issues to consider when planning their retail strategy for recovery.
Given that High Street retail was already in serious trouble, directors need to address a number of complex questions to assess their chances of survival and develop their retail strategy for reopening, short-term survival and growth.
This will include understanding and meeting the interests of many stakeholders including customers, staff, suppliers, landlords, investors and regulators.
Reducing overheads is likely to be key, given the need to include social distancing measures that will inevitably limit numbers in-store at any one time, thus reducing the number of transactions that can be achieved in any working day. This raises the question of whether or not the business is viable as it needs sufficient revenue to cover the cost of staffing, utilities, rent and related premises expenses while also generating profits.
Customer behaviour and changing attitudes are also likely to be a key factor that will determine retail strategy.
Even before the lockdown there was clear evidence that shopping online was increasing dramatically where those retailers that had introduced online with delivery or click and collect were generally surviving rather better than those that had not. Research by the accountancy and business advisory firm BDO has indicated that online sales rocketed in April by 109.6% compared to last year, although this did not factor in the loss of high street sales caused by the lockdown.
However, there has been much talk of a “new normal” post-Coronavirus and Mary Portas, the retail guru, has highlighted this in her suggestion that post lockdown will bring a “new era of shopping and living” which she calls the kindness economy in which shoppers will search for brands that reflect their values. Environmental and ethical concerns were already becoming increasingly important before the coronavirus pandemic and they will almost certainly continue to be a growing factor.
In addition, consumers will have less disposable income given the likely job losses although it is not yet clear how disposable income will be deployed if restrictions remain for mass events, leisure, travel and holidays. Certainly, being confined to home has encouraged a shift in consumption and again it is not clear if these will be permanent such as surviving without spending on disposable fashion, for example.
Accessibility to high streets may also change now that people are being encouraged to walk and cycle more and drive or use public transport less. Will this impact on shopping habits with shoppers making fewer, and more considered, purchases, not least because they will have to be carried home if not bought online?
All these considerations will weigh heavily on directors planning their future retail strategy and will likely mean convincing shareholders, lenders and suppliers to think long-term for a return on their investment.
The question is, can directors fashion all these competing interests into a retail strategy to ensure survival and growth in the future?

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Business Development & Marketing Cash Flow & Forecasting Finance General Insolvency

Are you prepared for the next crisis?

crisis preparationFinance may be a primary consideration but it is not the only cost to a business in preparation for a crisis.
Being ill-prepared can damage the relationship with customers and employees, and ultimately, if the crisis is badly handled, it can damage the business’ reputation.
Complex, fast-moving threats to organizations can happen at any time, so being prepared for a crisis is about having the right people having been trained with communication tools and strategy in place ahead of an inevitable yet unforeseen event.
Business management consultants Mossadams produced a useful cost management guide to dealing with a crisis in April 2020, which sets out six elements to pay attention to. These are strategy (covering a customer analysis, product mix, recovery plan and financial forecast), assessing operating models, the trade-off between risks and opportunities, a situation analysis and a financial analysis.
According to the Harvard Business Review “When companies seem ill-prepared in the face of a crisis, the first question people ask typically is, “Where was top management?”
Ideally, it advises, boards should dedicate a block of time each year to better understand and prepare for major threats to the business.
It advises that boards should have both a strategy and a core team at board level trained and ready to deal with the crisis itself, as exemplified by the UK Government’s Cobra (Cabinet Office Briefing Room) group.
Of course, for a business facing a crisis the key is to take control of the messages and immediately review finance. While directors might worry about a hit to profits, in fact they should first and foremost have a plan in place for controlling expenses and for protecting and managing cash flow. Of course, ahead of the event it is wise to build up some financial reserves and to avoid taking on debt wherever possible. The less outside funding a business has to sustain when dealing with a crisis, the better.
Part of preparation for a crisis, however, and arguably as important, is the way it handles its messaging and nurtures the relationships crucial to its continued existence.
Stakeholders, customers and employees are likely to be panicked and worried about their future so communication is essential, not only to keep people informed and reassured in the present but also to protect the business’ future once the crisis is over. Indeed, critical to any crisis is to plan for emerging from the crisis so that the business does not remain in crisis mode.
In a crisis, everyone becomes acutely aware of the behaviour of others. This is therefore a key factor for reassuring stakeholders.
In this context, it really is a case of leading by example, so, perhaps it would be unwise for a business to pay out dividends to its CEO, when others are having their working hours cut or suppliers are receiving fewer orders because a business is scaling back activity..
The lesson is that preparation for a crisis is infinitely preferable to being faced with reaction without it.

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Cash Flow & Forecasting Finance General Uncategorized

What is the difference between a Depression and a Recession?

recession and depressionBoth a recession and a depression are characterised by an economic decline but the difference between them is down to the length of their duration with depressions lasting years.
An economy is defined as being in recession when there have been two consecutive quarters in which growth as measured by GDP (Growth Domestic Product) has contracted.
This is usually caused by a reduction in business activity and consumer confidence, such that businesses may start laying off employees and cutting back on production and on investment as their focus shifts almost entirely to their cash flow and balance sheet.
In the most recent recession, in 2008, the precipitating factor was a liquidity crisis that began in the USA where banks had lent what was perceived to be too much money on what came to be seen as risky mortgages on which borrowers then defaulted. This resulted in a loss of confidence in banks, which declined to lend to each other which in turn led to a liquidity crisis.
Recessions are much more frequent than are depressions, indeed, according to an article in Business Leader in March this year: “In the past 100 years, there have been dozens of recorded recessions (both national and international) – compared to just one depression in the same time period.”
The last depression was in the USA beginning in 1929 and lasting for a whole decade. While not strictly defined, a depression is characterised by very high levels of unemployment such as 25%, a dramatic fall in international trade such as by as much as two-thirds, and prices falling by more than 25%. They are also characterised by significant declines in stock market values and a large numbers of bankruptcies.
There has been some speculation that the Coronavirus pandemic could precipitate a depression given how much economic activity has ceased as a result of the lockdown rules imposed by many countries. However this is simply speculation and the short term nature of its impact is unlikely to be the sort of once in a one hundred years event that causes dramatic and long term economic collapse.
The IMF (International Monetary Fund) has warned that the situation could provoke a recession as severe as in 2008 but none of the serious pundits are predicting a depression.
In fact, some economists argue that a repeat of 1929 could not happen because Central banks around the world, including the USA’s Federal Reserve, are more aware of the importance of monetary policy in regulating the economy and will therefore step in with support and stimulus packages to forestall this.
 

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Banks, Lenders & Investors Cash Flow & Forecasting Finance General

The Phases for dealing with a pandemic involving Zoonotic diseases

dealing with a pandemicIn 1999 the WHO (World Health Organisation) devised a blueprint based on Phases for dealing with a pandemic, subsequently updated in 2005.
It set out six Phases, to provide a global framework to aid countries to prepare for a pandemic and plan their response.
The first three Phases cover animal transmission escalating to domesticated animals and eventually germs spreading to humans defined as a Zoonotic disease. These initial phases also deal with the preparation, capacity development and response planning activities, while the last three Phases deal with the response and mitigation efforts when a disease transmits from human to human.
Phase 4 deals with verified human-to-human transmission of an animal or human-animal virus and its ability to cause “community-level outbreaks”.  Phase 5 deals with the human-to-human spread of the virus into at least two countries in one WHO region and the sixth Phase is the Pandemic Phase where virus transmits from human-to-human in at least one other country outside the region identified in Phase 5.
These are relatively straightforward definitions, but how different governments, businesses and people react to them is another matter altogether.
As has been clear during the current Coronavirus Pandemic state-level reactions for dealing with a pandemic have varied widely both in the state measures adopted and how stringently they have been implemented, with countries like South Korea at one extreme imposing a strict lockdown and restriction on movement from fairly early on when there were just a few cases, to Sweden, which has imposed relatively few restrictions and no lockdown.
However, the disparity in various state reactions to dealing with a pandemic has arguably informed the way both citizens and businesses have reacted. In the UK much of the initial focus was on the economic impact with the Chancellor introducing a wide range of financial support measures for both businesses and employees. However, some argue that the initial infection control was not as stringent as it might have been.
Scientists at Harvard university have mapped the behaviour of people in response to a Pandemic and also identified similar Phases of reaction to those set out by the WHO.
Initially, their research found that in the case of a severe Pandemic, the initial reaction by people when they become aware of a risk is to overreact. They become hypervigilant, pause “normal” behaviour, and “take precautions that may be excessive, may be inappropriate, and are certainly premature” – such as panic-buying toilet roll and other supplies as happened in the early stages in the UK. This, they say, is not the same as panic.
The scientists argue that this is entirely appropriate early in such a crisis because it means people then become able to cope with the crisis.
However, the alternative reaction is denial or even anger and in the early Phases inaction as a response is counter-productive since people don’t take precautions. Examples include those, such as in Michigan, USA, who protested against lockdown measures.
Michigan epidemiologist Sandro Gales has identified five Stages of reaction to a major disaster: starting with self-preservation, moving through group preservation to blame setting, justice seeking and finally “renormalizing” which can mean adaptation to the threat.
These are similar to the five Stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance as identified by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross who also found that a lot of people get stuck in one phase or another and some take a long time to reach acceptance of the situation.
How well a country copes with a crisis, therefore, depends on how its leaders manage both individual perceptions as well as vested interests such as those of business. This is improved by radical transparency when they don’t know the answers but their honesty about what they do and don’t know and what they are doing will help reassure everyone that they are doing their best.
The fact is they will make mistakes but so long as they make the best possible decisions based on expert advice and the information available then they will convey confidence that they will eventually find a way through the crisis. There is no doubt that many with the benefit of hindsight will seek to hold them to account but there are lots of armchair warriors and very few leaders who stand up and take difficult decisions.
Understanding and managing the different Phases of a Pandemic and the different stages of reaction to a crisis are particularly important as they inform what messages to convey, where people may misunderstand messages such as when restrictions, as now, are being eased while at the same time there is a need for maintain a level of vigilance.
Perhaps we shall know the Pandemic is over in UK when we see the House of Commons packed with MPs given that so many are classified as vulnerable being over 70.
 

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Business Development & Marketing Cash Flow & Forecasting Finance General Insolvency

Potential Coronavirus pandemic business winners and losers

winners and losers in business after lockdownGiven the slight easing of Coronavirus-related restrictions a week ago, some businesses are in the very early stages of preparing to return to “normal” but which businesses are likely to emerge as the winners and losers in the future?
The Insolvency Service is now publishing its figures monthly and the April figures were released last week. They reported that “numbers of companies and individuals entering insolvency in April 2020 broadly returned to pre-lockdown March levels for most insolvency types” and their figures showed that total company insolvencies in April 2020 had decreased by 17% when compared to April 2019, with a total of 1,196 company insolvencies of which the majority were CVLs (Company Voluntary Liquidations). These numbers suggest no influence in insolvency from Coronavirus yet.
The figures come with a warning, however, that the operation of courts and tribunals had been much reduced, HMRC had reduced enforcement activity and there were likely to have been delays in documents being provided to Companies House by insolvency practitioners.
There is some illuminating data from Cebr (Centre for Economics and Business Research) which showed lost output figures, which include 50% in construction, 58% in wholesale and retail, 79% in accommodation and food services, and 81% in arts, entertainment and education. Communication and information, however, is down just 7% and professional and scientific activities are down just 10%.
Perhaps worse are the UK Composite PMI figures which are an indicator of health for manufacturing and service sectors and reported 13.8 in April, down from 36 in March which in turn were down from 53.3 in January. A reading of above 50 represents expansion and below 50 represents contraction where the lowest figure in the last three years was 49.2 in July last year when industry was gloomy about Brexit.
Of course, there is a long way to go before the picture becomes any clearer and the above is just a snapshot at a specific point in time.
Nevertheless, there are some clues to possible future businesses winners and losers and some of this depends on how deep-rooted the changes are in people’s behaviour as we emerge from the crisis.
Clearly, the lockdown has particularly affected the travel, holiday, retail and hospitality sectors as well as theatres, cinemas and the like. The question is whether these will be able to survive for much longer despite the various financial support packages, especially when they still have rents and other overheads to pay.
Similarly, commercial landlords may be affected as it has become clear that many businesses can operate with employees working remotely. According to the BBC last week “Many companies are struggling to pay the rent with 63% collected within 10 days in March and early April compared with 94% a year ago.” It also reported “Office and retail landlord Land Securities has said less than 10% of its office sites are being used as people work from home. This is unlikely to lead to a closure of 90% of offices but it highlights scope for huge cost reduction by businesses
In the meantime, such a rent burden is a major factor for the survival on many businesses and most likely will result in many companies going bust.
Another potential longer-term loser may be the cruise industry. Will people feel comfortable taking holidays on a large ship in a confined space in close proximity to hundreds of others?
While there may eventually be some recovery in the travel and holiday sectors once countries open their facilities and airlines are permitted to resume operations, the question is whether they will ever return to their pre-pandemic volumes since this will dependent on consumer confidence as well as affordability given the likely increase in travel costs and the fact that many people will lose their jobs.
To an extent, also, there is a question mark over the viability of airlines if they have to introduce some social distancing measures and cannot cram their cabins to maximum capacity.
The weaknesses that have been exposed in the global supply chain may also have a negative impact on freight transport.
But this last gives a clue to potential future winners among the business winners and losers.
It is possible that manufacturing may be brought back to UK and more stock will be stored here as a result of the exposed supply chain issues, which may well boost various types of local production and by extension the construction industry which will have to build the greater capacity that will be needed. Indeed, this in turn may benefit those parts of the country that were devasted by the closing down of industry during the Thatcher years.
Similarly, the UK’s pharmaceutical industry and research may become a winner as the search for a Coronavirus vaccine continues, not to mention worries about its availability if one is ever devised, and the Government has already announced £93m to help speed up the construction of a not-for-profit Vaccines Manufacturing and Innovation Centre in Oxfordshire.
The lockdown has also exposed the amount of pollution that had been generated previously and may bring an upsurge in greener energy production.
According to the Guardian last week, “Britain’s biggest green energy companies are on track to deliver multibillion-pound windfarm investments across the north-east of England and Scotland to help power a cleaner economic recovery.”
Another loser is likely to be the car industry as I cannot see as many cars being needed in a future if more people work from home and unemployment rises.
Finally, given the exhortations for people to find alternative ways of getting to work, such as cycling or walking, as lockdown is eased it is possible that another winner could be bicycle manufacture and the retail outlets that provide both bikes, accessories and aftercare.
There will undoubtedly be business winners and losers but the scale of fallout will only emerge when the future becomes clearer. The above are just some preliminary suggestions.
 

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Business Development & Marketing Cash Flow & Forecasting Finance General

How will work patterns change once Coronavirus restrictions have eased?

work patterns changingWhen working life resumes properly once Coronavirus restrictions have eased people may find that their work patterns are substantially different from previously.
While, sadly, some SMEs will not have survived others may find that their agility and perhaps new innovations introduced during lockdown will have given their businesses a new lease of life for the future.
Those who have shown consideration for their employees, suppliers and customers will have built up a level of goodwill that will stand them in good stead for the future.
I shall examine in another blog those businesses, sectors and processes that may benefit from the changed landscape but in this blog I am focusing on the likely changes to business work patterns and the relationships between employers and their stakeholders.
Because, of course, employers are also people, they will have discovered that they and their families are no more immune to the health risks of the pandemic than any of their employees.
This may well result in an increase in empathy between people at all levels and result in closer and more considerate working relations.
Indeed, an article in Forbes highlights this among the many beneficial changes in work patterns likely to be the result.
It identifies key positives that could result including increased support from businesses for employees: “Companies have been forced to consider employee wellbeing more holistically—in terms of not only the physical, but also mental and emotional wellbeing.”
Employees may find that their employers are much more aware of their different family responsibilities and more understanding of the ways family and friends are critical to life and happiness.
At a more basic level, if employees are to return to their workplaces, their health and workplace safety will be a high priority, suggesting an end to hot-desking, for example, leading to safer workspaces.
Desks could become spaced out, partitions could go up, cleaning stations stocked with hand sanitizer and antibacterial wipes will become the norm, and workers may seek out new places for focused work.
At a more basic level, safe travel to work may mean more people cycling or walking and less use of public transport, which is something that employers may have to take into account.
Dealing with the crisis, Forbes argues, could result in more effective leaders, especially those who “communicate clearly, stay calm and strong, demonstrate empathy, think long-term and take appropriate decisive action.”
Arguably, it says, relationships with teammates will also be stronger and closer after people have faced a common enemy.
New work patterns will also allow for more diversity and flexibility where businesses have discovered that it is perfectly possible to run effectively with employees working remotely, perhaps also having discovered new skills and strengths among their employees as a result.
Similarly, the new “normal” may have made it clear how few physical meetings are actually needed compared to pre-pandemic working life. This may well lead to employees’ work patterns involving far less bureaucracy and offering more opportunities for them to innovate and suggest ideas for future development.
It may also lead to greater use of new technology based on the new skills learnt while in isolation lockdown at home.
Savvy SME owners will be those who assess the good things that have come out of the crisis and incorporate them into more flexible work patterns for those valued employees who have stuck by them in difficult times, to the benefit of both the business and all those who work in it.
 

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Business Development & Marketing Cash Flow & Forecasting Finance General Rescue, Restructuring & Recovery

Is it likely that there will be a permanent change in people’s behaviour post lockdown?

post lockdown behaviourHow people’s behaviour might change post lockdown is something that may be crucial for SMEs in planning ahead.
While it may be a long time yet before the Covid-19 lockdown is removed completely, following the Prime Minister’s briefing at the weekend, the process of relaxing the lockdown restrictions is now underway.
Despite the financial support that has been provided to businesses and workers it is becoming clear that we shall not return swiftly to a pre coronavirus level of business for some time and before we do many businesses will not survive, especially if the recovery takes a long time and the post lockdown landscape is substantially different.
Much depends on businesses’ ability to recover, on how long it will take them to recover and on how much people will change their behaviour as a result of the crisis.
A key to business survival is communication by leaders to deliver the information and direction everyone needs when a large scale crisis hits. While they are unlikely to know the answers, leaders reassure everyone by sharing facts and the rationale for decisions in a way that allows them to change direction as the crisis unfolds and more information is available. Essentially they need to be agile.
A PwC investigation of leadership behaviour during a crisis suggests “When disaster hits, an all-hands-on-deck, everyone-to-the-rescue reaction is understandable — but such good intentions will most likely lead to a chaotic response.”
The website emergency cdc emphasises the importance of clear, simple messaging from the start: “Because of the ways we process information while under stress, when communicating with someone facing a crisis or disaster, messages should be simple, credible, and consistent.”
Messages should be repeated, be supported by a credible source and be specific, it says, and should offer a positive course of action.
To this extent, this is exactly what the UK Government has done with its repetition of the simple message “stay home, protect the NHS, save lives” and its daily briefings reiterating the message as well as giving updates on the numbers of cases that justify the advice.
That it has been doing its job, perhaps almost too well, is indicated by the findings of an Ipsos Mori poll in early May that “two-thirds (67%) of Britons say they will feel uncomfortable going to large public gatherings, such as sports or music events, compared to how they felt before the virus.”
However, things become more difficult as the messaging changes, especially when it becomes more nuanced as we are seeing with the change of message to allow for a partial relaxing of the lockdown rules.
The proposed new message “Stay alert, control the virus, save lives” has already been rejected by the UK’s devolved governments (in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales) as being too vague as well as being perhaps premature given the continued high numbers of positive diagnoses being reported. Indeed, the Evening Standard last night reported confusion over the “back to work for some” message that led to commuters being packed on the London Underground.
The packed tubes may be linked to other reports that the country’s transport infrastructure is operating at only 10% of its former capacity post-lockdown. The biggest four trades unions have united to warn that people should not be going back to work without adequate safety measures in place and despite the troubles in the High Street retail sector, the British Retail Consortium has also warned against allowing shops to open without clear and adequate safety and social distancing rules.
In addition to any return to work message, different age groups are interpreting the message differently with many young adults going out to meet each other while older age groups remain at home.
The longer that the return to post lockdown normality takes then the more likely it is that people will change their behaviour permanently.
It is becoming clear that it will take quite a long time before everyone will do all those things that they did before Covid-19 appeared so a return to normal is a long way off.
Therefore, it is highly likely that there will be a permanent change in many people’s behaviour post lockdown.

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Banks, Lenders & Investors Cash Flow & Forecasting Finance General Rescue, Restructuring & Recovery

Is it time to introduce more resilient business systems for post-lockdown?

business systems need to become more resilientJust in time (JIT) business systems of supply for everything from supermarket stocks to manufacturing components and raw materials have been the dominant model for some years.
While it offers huge benefits, including less storage space needed and less capital tied up in stocks, the disruption caused by measures to contain the coronavirus pandemic has revealed some major flaws in the model.
When such an integrated global supply chain breaks down as has happened recently the impact on business is considerable where shortages of stock have arisen due to road, sea and air freight grinding to a near-halt.
Indeed, JIT relies on many different components arriving on time often from myriad sources such that any one item can bring all production to a halt. The current situation has magnified the vulnerability since all the different supply chains will need to be fixed before production can resume..
Systems resilience describes a system’s ability to operate during a major disruption or crisis, with minimal impact on critical business and operational processes and the pandemic has revealed that in many cases it has been sadly lacking.
While many businesses have ceased to operate as a result of the pandemic, thus reducing demand for some categories of stock, there will come a time when those that survive will need to resume, and where different business systems may need to be developed to make the production more resilient and perhaps protect it from future similar shocks.
So now is the perfect opportunity for businesses to consider how to make their business systems and models less vulnerable in the future.
Firstly, this will take a change of mindset away from profit at all costs towards sustainable profits that factor in risks and resilience rather than simply focusing on cost reduction. The profit at all costs mindset has many short comings, not just vulnerability but safety also and was a causal factor behind the Piper Alpha Disaster that led to 167 oil rig workers dying.
It is also interesting that the US investor Warren Buffet, of Berkshire Hathaway, has sold his firm’s entire holdings in the four major US airlines in the belief that the post-pandemic world is likely to be very different, saying “We will not fund a company … where we think that it is going to chew up money in the future.”
Buffet is widely respected for his investment skill over the decades, so it is worth paying heed to his decisions.
As part of the longer-term thinking about business systems, companies will also need to improve their balance sheets to help withstand future shocks like the banks have been forced to do since the Global Financial Crisis of over ten years ago.
However, business should also, in my view, consider the benefits to be gained from nurturing relationships with reserve suppliers as well as perhaps maintaining larger reserve stocks of those materials or parts they need to sustain productivity during interruptions to supplies.
It may be that this will mean larger onshore storage facilities than they have been used to, but while this might mean lower profits and lower dividends for investors in the shorter term, it will provide greater security for the business and its owners in the medium and longer term.
The so-called “new normal” is likely to be very different for businesses and economies as the restrictions on movement are gradually lifted and it is likely to be a considerable time before we get there, but arguably this is an ideal time for businesses to rethink their business systems and prepare for a more sustainable future on many levels.
 

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Accounting & Bookkeeping Banks, Lenders & Investors Cash Flow & Forecasting Finance General

Has the Coronavirus lockdown exposed the weaknesses of many business models?

business models weaknesses exposedRobust business models should be based on a clear proposition with a plan for profitable activity.
Each model is essentially a road map of how money will flow from activity.
Business models are a financial expression of the company’s business plan in a way that summarises the strategy, funding, organisation and processes used to achieve objectives.
Given that unforeseen roadblocks and successes will occur, business models should be reviewed regularly and adapted depending on new circumstances and new information.
Tools for refining the model are also useful, such as a SWOT analysis to identify Strengths, and Opportunities to be exploited and Threats and Weaknesses to be avoided.
While arguably, few businesses and especially SMEs, will have had plans to cope with the coronavirus pandemic, it has affected most businesses in ways that were not foreseen. The lockdown has also exposed how little resilience they may have built into their business models to protect from such a crisis.
To a large extent, the situation has exposed a lack of financial resilience but it has also highlighted a lack of character among leaders. The behaviour of leaders in particular will be remembered by those who deal with them, whether employees or other stakeholders.
It is alarming how many directors have been paralysed by the situation and not taken calls or failed to answer with awkward questions, often hiding from the fact that their problems will not go away.
While leaders may not know the answers, they should be visible, they should be looking for the answers and telling everyone what they are doing to find them.
The government is a good example of leaders trying to communicate, I leave it you to decide whether or not their messages are believable or they are doing a good job of leading in a crisis.
James Ball, writing in the Guardian, provides an excellent illustration of two examples of flawed business models, Uber and Deliveroo. At a time when it might be expected that their services would be more in demand than ever as people are required to stay at home and preserve social distancing, he points out that they are not structured to make a profit, but instead rely heavily on growing rapidly, not growing sustainably.
“This is the entire venture capital model,” he says. “….This is a whole business model based on optimism. Without that optimism, and the accompanying free-flowing money to power through astronomical losses, the entire system breaks down.” Indeed, this reinforces my view that the Silicon Valley approach to venture capital has parallels with a giant Ponzi scheme by using new investors’ money to provide returns to early backers.
Will Hutton also looks at business models and considers how the economy might recover from the lockdown in a more sustainable way: “equity investment: the venture capital and private equity industries must transmute themselves from their default role as predators and asset-sweaters to long-term, patient investors”.
I believe the short-term, profit-driven motives of early investors looking for a return before their investment makes a profit is a flaw in most companies’ business models and has contributed to the weaknesses that have been exposed by the measures that have been needed to contain the pandemic.
Some might say ‘buyer beware’ in a world where animal spirits and greed drive behaviour but this argument exposes a lack of character among leaders who should show courage and moral fibre.
Perhaps it is time for a bit more moderation and longer-term thinking in the construction of business models for the future.

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Banks, Lenders & Investors Cash Flow & Forecasting Finance Insolvency Turnaround

The latest insolvency statistics for the first quarter of 2020 don’t tell the whole story

insolvency statistics not the whole storyAstonishingly given the news coverage of a financial fallout due to the Coronavirus pandemic, the latest insolvency statistics for Q1 January to March 2020, show a decrease both when compared to the previous quarter and to the same quarter in 2019.
The figures, published by the Insolvency Service yesterday, showed a total of 3,883 company insolvencies with the majority again being in CVLs (Company Voluntary Liquidations).
This was a decrease of 10% compared with the last quarter of 2019, October to December, and of 6% when compared to January to March quarter of 2019.
Construction continued to have the highest number of insolvencies, followed by the wholesale and retail trade and accommodation and food services.
While these insolvency statistics cover the period before the lockdown due to the Coronavirus pandemic was imposed a drop in insolvencies is still surprising given that economies in the UK and EU had been slowing in previous months.
There is more clarity, however, from the latest Begbies Traynor Red Flag alert figures published on April 17.
They reported their highest-ever numbers of businesses in significant distress at 509,000 with the impact of the lockdown showing 15,000 more businesses in significant distress (3%) compared with Q4 2019. The vast majority of these, they found, were SMEs with under 250 employees.
There is even more concern in the Red Flag figures for businesses in critical distress, which Begbies Traynor regards as a precursor to falling into insolvency. They reported a 10% increase in the last quarter alone, although, as they note, “creditors have been held back from taking court action due to the lockdown”.
The most notable increases, they report, are a 37% increase in bars and restaurants, 21% increase in real estate and property, 11% increase in construction and 8% increase in both general retail and manufacturing.
All this is despite the various financial support measures of grants and loans announced by the Chancellor who has sought to help businesses survive the pandemic.
Having said that, loans need to be repaid and many are concerned about the future prospects for businesses and for some industries that may take some time before they return to normal, not least the Banks who understandably might be reluctant to lend to those who are unlikely to repay their loan. This might explain the numbers of businesses that have been turned down.
In the middle of an unprecedented situation like the current pandemic it is difficult to draw conclusions from trends or make meaningful assumptions about the future number of insolvencies but there is no doubt they will rise significantly.
Historically the rise has been an indicator of the country coming out of a recession although most recessions have been ‘V’ shaped where some are predicting a ‘U’ or even an ‘L’.
Clearly much will depend on for how long the lockdown continues and we should prepare for many companies, particularly those relying on travel, events, hospitality and an already-struggling High Street, to disappear altogether as Warehouse and Oasis have most recently done.
Much will also depend on consumer confidence and spending power – and how many people have lost their jobs but clearly economic and business recovery will be prolonged and painful.
 

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Banks, Lenders & Investors Cash Flow & Forecasting Finance General

Time for a rethink? The global supply chain and short-term thinking

global supply chain rethinkA time of crisis, such as the current Coronavirus pandemic, exposes the weaknesses of inter-dependency and systems and in this case, the global supply chain.
There is perhaps also no better time to review things and perhaps change from the short term thinking that seems to have dominated economics and businesses, especially in those economies like the USA and UK that rely heavily on the purchase of foreign goods.
It is clear that it will be a long time before life returns to normal and it is not yet clear what that “normal” will look like.
In the previous “normal” it was possible to rely on adequate supplies of raw materials for the production of various types of goods, such as food stocks on supermarket shelves.
But one of the first signs of the disruption to come was the rapid emptying of supermarket shelves as people panicked and bought large supplies of various items, for example toilet paper, hand sanitiser and pasta, in anticipation of the coming lockdown.
Another sign of disruption is the price of oil which has plummeted leaving tankers around the world mooring off-shore waiting for prices to rise before offloading their oil.
There has also been the saga of medical equipment such as ventilators to treat those hospitalised seriously affected by the virus and of personal protective equipment (PPE) for medical workers treating them.
Similarly, as various crops were ripening, it became clear that there might not be enough seasonal workers available to pick them, as many farmers had been relying on seasonal workers coming into the country from Eastern Europe.
All these examples provide lessons in the inter dependence of supply chains that support a “just in time” model of global business.
As Larry Elliot wrote in a Guardian opinion piece in mid-April: “The past 30 years have seen global markets – especially global financial markets – increase in both size and scope. Long and complicated supply chains have been constructed: goods moving backwards and forwards across borders in the pursuit of efficiency gains”, meaning that capital flowed in and out of countries equally quickly and there was no thought of building any capital reserves.
In an era of weak growth since the 2008 global financial crisis, he says, “What this amounts to is a world clinging on by its fingertips, even in what passes for the “good times”.
The global supply chain, just in time model effectively did away with large, local warehousing attached to manufacturing units as much as to food stores. It relies heavily on a continuous supply of materials and ingredients being delivered by a well-functioning international and national transport system.
In the UK, particularly, the manufacturing sector has been shrinking for years as the economy has pivoted to rely more heavily on the tech and financial services industries.
The reasons for the decline in manufacturing are myriad but largely down to the long-term investment needed and short-term expectations of investors of a swift return on their investment.
The lack of planning for a rainy day has also been highlighted. This observation is not just of the UK government that has failed to invest in the storage of equipment supplies but it also applies to businesses that have not built up capital reserves and consumers who do not have any savings.
In fairness, it has also brought out the best of those many businesses that have adapted to survive through agility by quickly re-designing their business models and production lines such as those who are now producing hand gel or selling goods outside their shops, restaurants or pubs.
While a short blog cannot hope to analyse all the flaws of a global supply chain model in detail, it has become clear that there are vulnerabilities both to businesses and to national economies that rely on international suppliers and the short term thinking that has driven it.
The return to ‘business as usual’ that is increasingly being demanded may not be possible given how long social distancing may have to continue. How many businesses will cease trading altogether as a result and how many people will lose their jobs will be major factors when we get round to reviewing our trading relationships.
This could therefore be a good time for businesses, economists and politicians to give some thought to creating more robust, longer-term, and perhaps more locally-based systems for the future.

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Accounting & Bookkeeping Cash Flow & Forecasting Finance Insolvency Rescue, Restructuring & Recovery

Get expert help with cash flow management in a crisis

cash flow crisisIn the current pandemic situation, many businesses deemed non-essential have been forced to temporarily close for a lockdown period and it is clear that many SMEs will have serious cash flow problems when they resume trading.
Unfortunately, the cash flow problem won’t go away even though for the moment it is easy to ignore it by holing up at home.
While it is true to say that all businesses should have plans for dealing with emergencies and reserves for cash flow problems, it is unprecedented to have to deal with a period of no income and it is becoming clear that many SMEs – and larger businesses – do not have sufficient cash reserves to survive a lengthy lockdown.
Many are telling me that they paid their staff wages for the first month in anticipation of furlough support arriving in time to fund a second month but they are concerned about the Government’s promised CJRS (Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme) arriving in time to pay April wages. As for paying other liabilities such as rent, finance and fixed overheads many of these are being ignored since most SMEs rely on income to pay bills.
It is easy to be wise after the event but, as I have said in my blogs over many years, it is crucial for a business to pay attention to its cash flow and to build up reserves to cushion it from sudden shocks. And yes, as an aside, I do hate factoring and invoice discounting since these only help fund growth and no business can guarantee growth such that in a decline they often starve a business of cash.
While the current situation is unprecedented and it is no surprise that you as a SME owner may be very frightened, it is unlikely that you are in the best position to think clearly about the steps you need to take if cash is running out.
In March, the website Small Business said¨” many small businesses could be forced to make difficult decisions in the coming weeks. Depending on their financial position, some small businesses could start to experience cash flow difficulties very quickly …”
Among its tips for dealing with cash flow crises it advises that you should prepare a cash flow report before seeking financial help such as a time to pay arrangement.
It is helpful to get expert advice to deal with your situation and in particular helping produce the information needed to raise finance and for negotiating with finance companies, HMRC and other creditors.
Crisis management when a company is in financial difficulties is about quelling the understandable panic so that you can manage cash flow and take a long, hard look at the financial and operating options for survival and ensuring the business is viable. This is why objective expert help is so important.
As I said in my blog in February this year: “The most likely immediate priority in managing a liquidity crisis is reducing costs while maximising income.
“So, the first step in managing cash is to construct a 13-week cash flow forecast to help identify risks and actions that can be taken to reduce them. It should include income from sales and other receipts and outgoings, both to ongoing obligations such as rent wages and finance and to creditors.”
It is easy to say with hindsight that SMEs should have built up cash reserves when times were less challenging but you are where you are and calling on an expert to help you with cash flow management will give you a better insight into how you might be able to keep your business afloat.
You can find out more about the government financial help available in my free downloadable guide.
https://www.onlineturnaroundguru.com/support-for-smes-struggling-to-deal-with-coronavirus-pandemic
 

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Business Development & Marketing Cash Flow & Forecasting Finance General

How will consumer spending change as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic?

consumer spendingConsumer spending has become much more restricted during the Covid-19 pandemic safety measures, but will it lead to a permanent change?
From March 21, all non-essential businesses in the UK were forced to close, from hospitality, restaurants and fashion retail to car dealerships and holiday travel companies.
At the same time, many businesses have had to furlough staff and a substantial number of people have sadly lost their jobs altogether.
Inevitably the reduction in income through furlough and loss of jobs and restrictions on going out due to most of us being confined at home are having a huge impact on consumer spending.
It is no surprise, therefore that in March, demand for new cars from private buyers fell by 40.4%, while fleet registrations dropped by 47.4%.
According to Essential Retail the food retailers have clearly benefited both in-store and online to the point where they have had to limit supplies of some products and sign-ups of new online shoppers, however the picture for non-essential retail spending is significantly different, even for those retailers with considerable online and delivery capabilities. Purchases have plummeted.
It says: “People are scared to spend money that’s not essential,”
But as the situation continues, it argues, there is likely to be a greater need for certain non-essential items. Examples include exercise and hobby equipment, gardening products and home improvement materials.
The question is whether all this will lead to a more permanent change in consumer spending once the crisis is over.
According to Paul Martin, UK head of retail at KPMG, Covid-19 will precipitate a rapid increase in e-commerce activity that may persist long after the event, not that this has happened yet.
No-one knows yet how many of the currently closed SMEs will survive the current limitations and much will depend on whether such consumer and business activity will return to normal once the restrictions are lifted. But those of you that do survive will be well-advised to develop an e-commerce proposition if you don’t already have one. The rapid growth in our use of online conference facilities for video meetings that in the past were physical meetings could be an indicator of one change to our normal behaviour where the number of daily meeting participants using Zoom has risen from 10 million to 200 million in a month.
A major factor is the possibility that unemployment rates may rise substantially which will be down to two factors: staff reduction by surviving businesses; and job losses due to insolvency, both of which are likely if there is a delayed or slow return to normal activity.
Another unknown quantity is whether consumers will be more selective about what they purchase having discovered how much they can do without while they have been forced to stay home.
Once the pandemic is over, it is also likely that environmental concerns will rise up the agenda again, making people more wary of re-joining the previous “throw-away” culture.
It will be a while yet before the situation becomes clearer but it is likely that the current crisis will have a significant impact on both the mechanisms and the volume of consumer spending.
 
 
 

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Business Development & Marketing Cash Flow & Forecasting General Rescue, Restructuring & Recovery

Nurture your key relationships if you want to have a future after current crisis

key relationships are important for business survivalIt may seem premature to talk about what happens when the Coronavirus pandemic is over but SMEs need to think ahead and nurture those key relationships needed to ensure their business has a future.
Many of you have had to temporarily close your business and furlough staff due to Government restrictions introduced to try to slow the spread of the virus and many or you have seen your income plummet or cease altogether, with a devastating impact on your cash flow.
According to behavioural scientists it is natural to behave cautiously, even timidly, in the face of a threat, in direct proportion to its magnitude and to what is known about it. But amid the daily deluge of media updates, it is important to remember that we will tend to exaggerate the risk so the threat looms large in our minds.
So, it is perhaps natural to invoke a so-called “bunker” mentality in which self-protection overrides all else.
But as a business owner, no matter how dire the current situation, it is important you try to maintain a sense of perspective and remind yourselves that eventually some form of “normality” will return at which point you will want to be able to return to business profitability.
An essential element of this is what you do now, and key to it will be your relationship with employees, customers and suppliers.
In previous pandemic-related blogs I have talked about maintaining regular communication with staff, somewhat like the government’s daily briefings from No 10 to keep us all informed. This communication is key whether you have been fortunate enough to be able to carry on with staff working remotely, or whether you have had to take advantage of the Government’s furlough scheme for the time being.
Similarly, it is critical to maintain a level of marketing to stay in contact with customers and clients.  They may not be placing orders now, but staying in close touch with them, demonstrating concern for their interests and wellbeing, and discussing the future will help prepare for it.
In the same way, understanding the changing needs of customers may have helped you pivot, as those like some restaurants who now provide a take-away service and offer meal deliveries. This engagement will ensure your business pick up quickly when restrictions are eased.
Another of the key relationships that you will need to nurture is that with your suppliers. You will need them if you are to remain in business where non-payment during the lock down may have been necessary if you yourself haven’t been paid but ignoring them won’t be easily forgiven.
There is a salutary lesson in the action recently taken by New Look, whose CEO last week wrote to all suppliers suspending payments to suppliers for existing stock “indefinitely, cancelling orders for its Spring and Summer clothing lines and saying it won’t pay costs towards them.
In fairness, the company had been in difficulties as a High Street retailer due to the changing nature of customer shopping habits in the previous two years and had closed many of its branches.
However, the news was devastating to its suppliers who received such a brutal message, one of whom is reported as saying the action would “devastate smaller companies down the supply chain at a time when they need help the most”. There appears to have been no recognition or understanding in the letter that suppliers would be facing cash flow issues of their own.
A little empathy would not have gone amiss when communicating such a non-payment message to suppliers who will need a level of understanding to show how important they really are despite being unable to pay them and especially when wanting to do business with them again in the future.
Perhaps you could engage with them by discussing ways to limit the damage, either by offering staged payments, if you as a business can afford it, or by reassuring existing suppliers that you value them and will continue to work with them as the restrictions ease and life gets back to normal.
No matter how focused you are on your own concerns and worries at the moment, and I am by no means seeking to minimise their significance, you should also remember that if you don’t nurture your key relationships now you could put your eventual business recovery in jeopardy.
Help is available for SMEs dealing with the pandemic at:
https://www.onlineturnaroundguru.com/coronavirus-sme-support

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Banks, Lenders & Investors Cash Flow & Forecasting Finance Insolvency

SMEs applying for support under the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme should read the small print

read the small print in offered helpGrabbing a lifebelt when you are drowning makes sense, but when that so-called lifebelt is a business loan to survive the Coronavirus pandemic, you need to read the small print before signing on the dotted line.
The various government support schemes for SMEs may have made big headlines, not least their claims about making loans available for SMEs, but the devil is likely to be in the details.
No matter how panic-stricken you might be it is worth making sure you know exactly what you are getting into when applying for a loan under the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS). The difficulty many businesses are having getting through to someone at the bank is an indication of the problem, albeit it is hardly surprising given that banks have run down their SME support teams over the past twelve years.
Before even contacting a bank the first step is to take a deep breath and ensure you know exactly who to approach and what you can apply for. There are ample details about the process on the British Business Bank website here. However, the reality is that banks are likely to prioritise their own customers and among them, their long term ones.
The next step is to prepare a forecast showing how much is needed, what it will be used for and how a loan will be repaid.
Most banks have now undertaken to not pass on their usual loan application fees to customers because the Government has promised to cover the first 12 months of these and the interest payments.
However, you should be mindful of what happens after that in terms of your liabilities. According to the BBB website: “The lender has the authority to decide whether to offer you finance. If it can do so on normal commercial terms without having to make use of the scheme, it will”. This means you may be offered a loan but not under CBILS.
The Big Four banks have agreed that they will not take a personal guarantee (PG) from directors as security for lending below £250,000. However, this message hasn’t trickled down the chain in all cases such that managers are still demanding them. The other issue is that non CBILS loans may be offered in which cases the bank can request PGs and in some instances may want a charge over your home.
Despite there being 40 lenders listed as offering loans under CBILS, in practice most of them are small regional lenders who will not apply to you although they are worth checking out to see if you meet their criteria.
For years I have cautioned those seeking business finance and have advised directors to be extra careful about guarantees so make sure to read and understand what you are letting yourself in for. Indeed, I would also advocate involving your spouse in the decision if there is the slightest prospect of you losing your home. These loans are often sold by ‘nice’ banks to ‘nasty’ ones.
Surviving this dreadful situation is fraught with complexity. Decisions about staff with scope for furloughing them is one area that is complicated since contracts of employment must be honoured – there is a link for some good advice on all this from Acas.
Decisions about delaying payments to suppliers and other creditors is another huge issue, while it may be expedient, not paying liabilities as and when they fall due means that a company is insolvent.
It may be tedious, but you need to consider the possible consequences of decisions taken in the heat of the moment so you need to approach problems in a calm and rational manner and ideally you should discuss them with turnaround and insolvency professionals who have considerable experience dealing with such crisis situations.
Whatever you do, don’t just focus on the immediate benefits of decisions but consider the second and third order consequences of decisions before acting on them, despite this caution don’t delay action, most of it is common sense.
Check out https://www.onlineturnaroundguru.com/ for more tips on survival
 

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Business Development & Marketing Cash Flow & Forecasting General

Why you shouldn’t suspend your marketing during the Coronavirus pandemic

marketingSMEs have had to close, suspend or reduce their activities due to the Coronavirus pandemic and most are looking for ways to minimise their cash out flow however despite the temptation they should be wary of cutting their marketing budgets.
But if your business disappears from the market and in doing so is no longer top of mind for your customers and clients will you be able to regain your position or will others who continued marketing replace you?
Withdrawing from the market may suggest you have gone out of business, as indeed will be the case for many as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic.
While it is understandable that SMEs in dire financial straits will want to preserve cash by cutting back on expenditure, some newly-published research from Opinium, released on March 26 has found that people do still want to hear from businesses of many kinds.
The research revealed that “a very large majority of people in the UK would like to hear either the same amount, or even more, from brands” across a range of categories including the essentials such as healthcare and pharmaceuticals, supermarkets, food and drink and household goods but also from healthcare to fashion and beauty to entertainment.
Of course, many of you have reacted quickly, communicating your actions and in many cases pivoted your business model as a response to the crisis.
One example is a small bakery that has closed its shop and set up an outside market stall so customers don’t need to go inside and a drive-by collection service for other customers who order by phone and don’t want to get out of their car. Another bakery does deliveries to hospitals and essential worker sites.
There are examples of SMEs in the hospitality and restaurant businesses that have been forced to close their doors to the public and have responded in different ways, in the case of some hotels, by offering accommodation to such people as health care workers or the homeless and restaurants that have quickly established food takeaway and delivery services as well as special deals for key workers such as those in the NHS.
Some in fitness, health and beauty have moved online to offer their services remotely to help people in lockdown stay not only fit and healthy but also to be able to look after their appearance.
Of course, all of these will be remembered positively when the crisis comes to an end and it is likely that their business will recover more quickly that those that shut down. Plus, if your business has a website you need to protect its place in the search engine rankings with regular blog posts and ongoing marketing activity.
Perhaps more surprisingly the research found that many people want “brands to talk about something other than the pandemic”.
“This desire for something different is symptomatic of a consumer who is struggling to find their place in a drastically different world”, it says. So, any marketing that can convey some sense of normality is good for your business.
Opinium also asked people what were their preferred forms of marketing communication and top of the list came TV advertising (31%) and e-mails (40%).
While the desire to cut the marketing budget may be understandable when margins are tight, clearly it is far from the right thing to do if you want your business to return after the crisis.
 

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Accounting & Bookkeeping Cash Flow & Forecasting Finance General Turnaround

To Pay or Not to Pay Quarter Day Rent & Business Rates – the latest

Quarter Day RentAs if the pressure and worries SMEs are facing due to the Coronavirus pandemic were not enough, yesterday (Wednesday) was when Quarter Day Rent was due to be paid.
For many, it was also a payment date for business rates although the government has suspended these for a year.
While SMEs may be eligible for suspending the payment of business rates as announced by the Chancellor in his first set of measures to help businesses survive the pandemic, little had so far been said about rent.
However, yesterday, the Government published details of three months’ protection for businesses from eviction for failure to pay rent. While is included in the emergency powers legislation that is due to be given Royal Assent today but we are still awaiting confirmation. There more details here.
Some businesses had already declared their intention to miss paying their Quarter Day Rent, like, for example Burger King, whose CEO Alasdair Murdoch announced on Tuesday that the company would not be paying the rent due on its UK restaurants this week.
According to the BBC, it seems that “Banks have been told [by the government] to be supportive as long as landlords act responsibly.”
It also reported that the government has said shops will not forfeit leases if they do not pay but will have to pay arrears in the future.
This may be the case, but many smaller SMEs have been unsure about what they are supposed to do given the latest set of restrictions enforcing the closure of non-essential businesses and the virtual lockdown of the population. Presumably more details will emerge once the emergency powers legislation has been published.
For many withholding rent may be necessary but there are consequences and you should speak with your landlord since the pain needs to be shared between both of you if you are both to survive. If however you are being pressurised by your landlord, there are a number of surveyors who specialise in negotiating rent reductions. It is wort remembering that your landlord won’t be finding a new tenant in the near future.
Meanwhile, the suspension of business rates is helpful as will be the grants to smaller SMEs.
On top of this bank branches are closing, there are two hour waits on hold in telephone queues and most systems seem to be overloaded.
It is admittedly a massive task to roll out so many measures to help and support SMEs but if you are a business worrying about protecting its future it is very hard to be told to be patient.
To provide more information about business rates and grants, I am maintaining an update on the support available for SMEs in my guide at onlineturnaroundguru.com.
At the current moment on business rates this is the situation:
A one-off grant of £10,000 is available to eligible businesses to help meet their ongoing business costs and applies to those businesses that occupy property that is eligible for small business rate relief or rural rate relief.
There will be cash grants to retail, hospitality and leisure businesses, based on the rateable value of your business property. Those with a rateable value of under £15,000 will receive a grant of £10,000. Those with a rateable value of between £15,001 and £51,000 will receive a grant of £25,000.
All retail, hospitality and leisure businesses in England including covers shops, restaurants, cafes, drinking establishments, cinemas and live music venues and premises used for assembly and leisure. It also covers hotels, guest & boarding houses and self-catering accommodation. Will be given a one-year business rate holiday.
Administering all these will be the responsibility of your local authority and while you do not need to do anything to claim them it may be wise to register your business as paying by direct debit so that your bank details are registered with the local authority  and you should keep an eye on the situation with your relevant authority.
Please be assured that as more details on the various Government measures to support businesses emerge or if anything changes I will update the information as soon as possible.
For more business help please go to onlineturnaroundguru.com.
Above all, if you need help and support I am here for you.
 

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Business Development & Marketing Cash Flow & Forecasting Debt Collection & Credit Management Finance HR, Redundancy & Trade Unions

Maintaining a positive mindset about your business during the current crisis

maintain a positive mindsetNobody would deny that the current pandemic-induced situation is a worrying time for SME business owners but they should do everything they can to maintain a positive mindset.
It helps to see if there are potential opportunities for either new ways of working or new services that you can adopt, especially if the changes you make demonstrate a concern for the needs of others.
There have been some excellent examples among the smaller micro-businesses that have been remarkably agile in doing this very quickly. Many of these are likely to fall into the category of sole trader/self-employed for whom there does not yet appear to any Government financial help, so hats off to them for their agility.
Examples we have seen is the numbers of exercise and fitness, yoga, Zumba and other classes that have set up to carry on via video in response to the closure of their usual physical venues.  Not only does this mean that they are able to maintain the link with their clients but they have found a way for people to maintain a level of fitness if they do find themselves having to self-isolate.
The same applies to other types of coaching and mentoring, which can be done one to one via Skype and other platforms or can offer training sessions via video for people.
One independent brewery in Scotland has started making hand sanitiser at its distillery and is giving the product free to anyone who needs it. Perhaps not profitable but a good piece of marketing its social responsibility, which may lead to more people trying its main product!
Local pubs and restaurants, too, are demonstrating a positive mindset despite a drop in customers or actually having to close. Many independent restaurants, for example, have switched to producing and delivering ready-meals. Some local retailers have set up outside their shops and others are offering home deliveries of staple supplies such as bread, eggs, fresh meat, fruit and veg.
At the other end of the scale the Co-op has announced that it will create 5,000 store-based posts which will provide temporary employment for hospitality workers who have lost their jobs because of the coronavirus crisis and is simplifying its recruitment process so successful candidates can start work within days.
Of course, many SMEs have more immediate and pressing concerns keeping them awake at night, like how they are going to pay staff if they have suffered a catastrophic drop in customer orders given that there is as yet no sign of when the promised Government grants and loans will be available. In the meantime, staff expect their wages to be paid and most other overheads are having to be paid.
One example of the lack of understanding among many large firms is Funding Circle who were contacted on behalf of a client to discuss a short-term suspension of payments or at least interest only payments, they were not interested and said that they would issue demands on the personal guarantees they hold if ongoing payments were not made in full.
It doesn’t help that many firms have suspended all trading with the stopping of all payments to suppliers and placing new orders.
In these circumstances it will help to talk to an experienced turnaround and rescue adviser who can help SMEs manage their cash flow and assist with the urgent measures necessary to survive.
Remember, a problem shared is a problem halved!

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Business Development & Marketing Cash Flow & Forecasting Finance General Insolvency

Using the Pareto 80/20 Rule as a guide in your business

Pareto 80?20 RuleMany people in business are familiar with the Pareto 80/20 Rule, particularly the idea that 80% of their business comes from just 20% of customers or clients, or that 80% of their profits comes from 20% of orders, or that 80% of their profits come from 20% of products, or even that 80% of their sales are generated by 20% of their sales staff.
Understanding this can influence behaviour such as protecting the 20% that contribute the most or looking at how to improve the lower performing 80%.
Essentially the Pareto 80/20 Rule is simply a way of demonstrating that most things in life are not distributed evenly.
This can apply to everything but focuses on considering productivity as an output of time spent or as a return on investment. It looks at resources, in terms of people, time and cost with a view to optimising the output. Analysis of turnover and profits by customer, market segment and products to produce a pie chart is likely to highlight aspects of the Rule.
The 80/20 Rule is a guide that can be misused, While 20% workers may be measured as doing 80% of the work this rarely means that the work of remaining 80% is irrelevant. Indeed, it may be that 20% contribute to profitable work while 80% are necessary for the 20% to be productive. It does however show where to focus on improvements.
So how can businesses use the Pareto 80/20 Rule to improve their businesses?
To a large extent this is about identifying the processes, systems or activities on which to focus because they have the best potential for a return on the effort.
You might focus attention on customers perhaps with view to selling more to your best customers or to improving sales to the 80% with view to generating the same level of return as the 20%. This might be putting prices up or selling different products or even turning away unprofitable business or customers who are hard work.
You might focus on staff perhaps with a view to measuring and improving their working practices that in turn improve productivity. Can one person be trained to do several jobs? Or should teams be reorganised or shift patterns altered? Sales and delivery may benefit from reorganising those geographical or market segments for which they are responsible.
You might focus on your products and production. Do you reduce the number of suppliers or the stock held or number of products sold. Can one product replace several existing products? Should you outsource the manufacture of components?
The Pareto 80/20 Rule is, in short, a handy guide to where you might focus your attention for improvement, it should not be regarded as a fixed and immutable rule.

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Banks, Lenders & Investors Cash Flow & Forecasting Finance General Insolvency

Something for everyone in the Spring budget – but will it be delivered?

Spring budgetWho could envy a Chancellor having to deliver a Spring budget just one month into the job and in the midst of a global pandemic?
The Spring budget came after the early morning announcement of by the BoE (Bank of England) of an interest rate cut from 0.75% to 0.25%. Was this an outgoing Governor stealing an incoming Chancellor’s thunder?
With short term measures to help businesses deal with the Covid-19 consequences and others dealing with the environment, infrastructure, business taxes and addressing regional inequality the Spring budget covered them all.
The headline was a commitment to invest in infrastructure in support of the government’s commitment to ‘level up’ the economy by focusing investment on the Midlands and North: “over the next five years, we will invest more than £600bn pounds in our future prosperity”.
Many worries of SMEs were addressed by the £30bn package of short term measures to deal with the consequences of the Covid-19 epidemic.
They included abolishing business rates altogether for a year for small retailers with a rateable value below £51,000 extended to include museums, art galleries, and theatres, caravan parks and gyms, small hotels and B&Bs, sports clubs, night clubs, club houses and guest houses.
There was also a promise that business rates as a whole would be reviewed later in the year.
Any firm that is currently eligible for the small business rates relief will also be able to claim a £3,000 cash grant.
The Government will also cover up to 80% of a coronavirus loan scheme to cover the cost of salaries and bills and will offer loans of up to £1.2m to support small and medium sized businesses.
£2bn will be allocated to cover firms employing fewer than 250 people that lose out because staff are off sick with the cost of a business having to have someone off work for up to 14 days refunded.
The benefits rules will be relaxed to enable those who currently do not qualify for sick pay, such as the self-employed and gig economy workers, to claim benefits, which will also now be paid from day one of sickness.
Fuel duty was also frozen for a further year, but tax relief on red diesel will be removed over two years albeit with an exemption for farmers, rail and fishing.
In the longer term and over the five years of the parliament, the much-anticipated £170bn spending on improving the transport infrastructure and addressing the regional imbalance was also confirmed.
This will benefit the construction industry and is no doubt part of another statement: “Today, I’m announcing the biggest ever investment in strategic roads and motorway – over £27bn of tarmac. That will pay for work on over 20 connections to ports and airports, over 100 junctions, 4,000 miles of road.”
Similarly, the Chancellor confirmed that more than 750 staff from the Treasury and other departments will move to a campus in the north of England, as well as significant investment on R & D and that at least £800m will be invested in a new blue skies research agency, modelled on ARPA in the US.
Among a host of environmental initiatives, a new tax on plastic packaging is to be introduced, as well as freezing the levy on electricity and raising it on gas from April 2022.
Given the uncertain prospects for the UK’s economy, how many of the longer-term promises will be realised is likely to depend on the Government’s ability to borrow at unprecedentedly low rates so that it remains to be seen how much of the longer-term spending will actually happen.
It also remains to be seen how difficult the processes by which SMEs can claim help for Covid-19 related losses will be and whether the promise to review business rates as a whole will materialise.
The PR spin is already in place such as RBS’s claim today that it will provide £5bn of support for SMEs when in practice the small print refers to this as an extension to existing loan and overdraft facilities.
Notwithstanding any cynicism the Chancellor’s rhetoric was optimistic claiming his budget was aimed at “Creating jobs. Cutting taxes. Keeping the cost of living low. Investing in our NHS. Investing in our public services. Investing in ideas. Backing business. Protecting our environment. Building roads. Building railways. Building colleges. Building houses. Building our Union.”

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Banks, Lenders & Investors Business Development & Marketing Cash Flow & Forecasting Finance General

Sector – business in UK’s North and Midlands

UK's North and MidlandsThe UK’s North and Midlands were once the powerhouse for the country’s economy, with its manufacturing and engineering industries driving the Industrial Revolution in the late 19th Century.
Cities such as Leeds, Bradford, Manchester, Sheffield and Birmingham were the industrial heartland of UK when national economies depended heavily on what they could make and sell, from textiles to steel and heavy engineering machinery.
But as industry in UK declined, the UK economy shifted its focus to services and in particular to the professional and financial services with a lot manufacturing being transferred to countries such as India and China, where production costs were much lower. This was also associated with a shift in the UK economic centre of gravity from the Midlands and the North to London leaving much of the country behind.
Vestiges of industry have survived in places like Sunderland, where the Japanese car manufacture Nissan has thrived and recently increased its commitment by investing more than £50m in its plant that builds the Qashqai model.
According to a “State of the North” research by the IPPR (Institute for Public Policy Research) and reported in the Yorkshire Post  in November 2019, “only countries like Romania and South Korea are more divided” than the UK.
It found that “in Kensington and Chelsea and Hammersmith and Fulham, disposable income per person is £48,000 higher than in Blackburn with Darwen, Nottingham and Leicester”.
In December 2019 various reports by the Centre for Cities highlighted the issues. According to the Financial Times it had found that the economic divide between London and the rest of the UK widened last year.
The FT also quoted ONS (Office for National Statistics) figures that showed that “The UK capital recorded a 1.1 per cent annual rise in output per person to £54,700 in 2018, increasing the per capita gap with the poorest region — the North East — where growth was only 0.4 per cent to £23,600 per head”.
The Centre for Cities research analyses business and employment opportunities across the UK, finding that many northern cities are underperforming, hampered by a need for growth and by being at different economic stages in terms of availability of skilled workers and of infrastructure.
But there have been some signs of hope for the UK’s North and Midlands amid the gloom with the Centre for Entrepreneurs think-tank reporting that Birmingham is now the UK’s start-up capital outside London. The British Business Bank has also revealed that entrepreneurs in the north of England received more loans than those in London.
Business Live recently reported that figures from UK Powerhouse have shown that Stoke-on Trent has the fastest employment growth in the UK.
During the recent General Election much was made of pledges to level up the economy with heavy investment promised for the UK’s North and Midlands.
Among the promises made by the Government is a pledge to get on with the proposed HS2 railway to connect northern cities like Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds to London. It argues in support of this plan that “The Midlands already has the highest concentration of businesses outside London, including international firms such as Jaguar Land Rover, MG Motors, Deutsche Bank, JCB and the 150 year old, West Midlands-founded FTSE 250 engineering firm IMI”.
It has also promised “massive investment” in a new institute of technology to be based in Leeds, and to be modelled on MIT in the US (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) and there are suggestions that parts of the Treasury will be relocated to the North of England.
Whether these promises will be delivered remains to be seen, especially given the more immediate and pressing problems of the NHS demands due to the worldwide pandemic of Covid-19 now playing havoc with the global supply chain and countries’ economies.
Perhaps this week’s budget will provide some clues.

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Accounting & Bookkeeping Cash Flow & Forecasting Finance Turnaround

Key Indicator: is the global supply chain too vulnerable to shocks?

global supply chainFor years, businesses have seen the global supply chain as a means of keeping down costs through sourcing goods and services from low-wage countries and importing them often from across the globe.
This may work as a business model for manufacturers seeking to keep their prices as low as possible, and for retailers’ cash management where payment terms and just in time delivery often meant only having to pay for goods after they have been sold. Indeed, stock ties up cash in inventory and storage as well as incurring the cost of warehousing, storage and administering stock, the less stock needed then the less cash needed.
But what happens if events cause a disruption to the smooth flow of the global supply chain causing shortages of finished goods or the essential elements for their production?
The current Coronavirus outbreak that originated in China and is now spreading across the globe provides the perfect illustration of the knock-on effects of such disruption.
According to an Economist article this week, by using a just in time model “multinationals have left themselves dangerously exposed to supply-chain risk owing to strategies designed to bring down their costs”.
Furthermore, it argues that in the last 20 or so years, large multinationals have become much more reliant on China. “China now accounts for 16% of global GDP, up from 4% back then. Its share of all exports in textiles and apparel is now 40% of the global total. It generates 26% of the world’s furniture exports.”
Chinese manufacturing activity fell to 35.7 from 50 in January, according to the PMI index where above 50 is a measure of anticipated growth and below is decline.
Among the industries significantly hit by China’s containment efforts, from isolating regions of the country to closing down factories, have been the electronics, car and clothing industries but they are not likely to be the only ones.
Companies that have already reported significant negative effects have included Apple, Diageo, Jaguar Land Rover and Volkswagen. But the impact is not just on manufacturing but also is on services with BA owner IAG and EasyJet forecasting significant reductions in bookings and cancelling flights.
The reduction in manufacturing output will also hit freight with both shipping and airfreight experiencing lower volumes that in turn impact oil prices that have fallen significantly to below $50 a barrel for the first time since the summer of 2017, according to an article in the Guardian.
Efforts to restrict the movement of people have already caused the cancellation of the Motor Show in Geneva, the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona and MIPIM, the annual real estate jamboree in Cannes.
All this has worried investors with stock markets plummeting around the world, in the case of the FTSE100, down 13% by the end of last week – a decline only last seen during the Financial Crisis of 2008.
Is it time to rethink business’ reliance on the global supply chain?
The current situation with Coronavirus illustrates the vulnerabilities in an over-reliance on the global supply chain and particularly the disproportionate sourcing of inventory from East Asia and China.
However, there are other potential sources of disruption to the supply chain. They include the ongoing tariff wars between China and USA, extreme weather events such as the 2011 tsunami in Japan, and armed conflicts.
Notwithstanding all these factors, arguably the greatest factor is global warming and environmental damage. The mood around the world is changing and people are becoming increasingly worried about this.
The fall-out from Coronavirus may be heightening awareness but demands from consumers and investors for a more ethical and socially conscious sourcing is beginning to concentrate the minds of CEOs on their businesses’ vulnerabilities to the global supply chain.
Indeed a knitwear manufacturer based in Leicester, UK, is reporting an increase in orders from more local retailers in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak.
Will others follow suit?
 

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Cash Flow & Forecasting Debt Collection & Credit Management Finance Insolvency

Late Payments putting even more pressure on SMEs in 2020

late payments penalty?The amount owed to UK SMEs in late payments had allegedly risen to £50bn in early January according to research by digital banking platform Tide as reported by CityAM.
It has calculated that the average UK SME is chasing five outstanding invoices at once, wasting an hour and a half every day.
Data from Pay UK, which runs the Bacs Direct Credit and Direct Debit payment services, later in the month revealed that late payments had reached a four-year high last year at £23bn.
Tide’s new £50bn total was considerably higher than Pay UK’s total of £23bn owed to SMEs and I cannot reconcile the two figures.  The Tide research was conducted by Atomik Research among 1,002 SME decision makers from the UK and, it appears, judging by a footnote to the Tide report, that its £50bn figure may have been estimated on the basis of a total of 5.9 million SMEs, as calculated by The Department for Business .
However, the situation puts immense pressure on SMEs, with some having had to resort to overdrafts, cutting their own salaries and personal loans to pay bills because their own are being paid late. This is highlighted by Paul Horlock, chief executive of Pay.UK who has said that for the first time their research has revealed the human cost in stress and anxiety to SME owners.
Rashmi Dube of legal practice Legatus Law and former director of TMA UK wrote in the Yorkshire Post that a third of payments to the SME sector are late, leaving 37% with cashflow difficulties, 30% forced into an overdraft and 20% suffering a slowdown in profits, with considerable knock-on effects to employees as well as business owners.
In an attempt to ensure the Government promises to strengthen the regime tackling late payments, the Labour peer, Lord Mendelsohn, introduced a private members bill in the Lords, aims to bring in fines for persistent late payers, shorten the deadline by which clients must pay suppliers from 60 to 30 days and force all companies with more than 250 staff to comply with the Prompt Payment Code.
Although Private Members’ Bills from the Lords are not generally debated in the Commons the move serves as a reminder to the Government of promises it has made.
Prior to the December election a wider package of reforms had been promised, including improved resources and increased powers, a tougher Prompt Payment Code and Audit Committees’ oversight of payment practices.
One of these promises has at least been kept in part, with the appointment of Philip King as interim Small Business Commissioner following the sacking of Paul Uppal last November over an alleged conflict of interest and pending the appointment of a permanent replacement.
Mr King, who was previously chief executive of the Chartered Institute of Credit Management (CICM), which was responsible for running the Prompt Payment Code, is transferring the administration of the Code to his new office, fulfilling the commitment made by government in June last year to bring late payments measures under one umbrella. This is a useful measure as the  CICM was focused on training income and mainly funded by large companies. Following the move, we can expect to see the naming and shaming of those large companies who withhold payment to their suppliers, many of them SMEs.
Meanwhile In February, another 11 large businesses have been suspended from the Prompt Payment Code for failing to pay suppliers on time. They include BAE Systems (Operations) Limited, Leonardo MW Limited, and Smiths Detection.
However, for many SMEs the wait, in my view, for tougher and more effective powers with real bite beyond the current regime of naming and shaming has been far too long. How many have been forced to give up the unequal struggle in the meantime and fallen into insolvency?
 

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Banks, Lenders & Investors Cash Flow & Forecasting Finance Insolvency Turnaround

Running out of cash – crisis management, the first step in dealing with a cash crisis

crisis management when running out of cashCrisis management when a company is in financial difficulties is about quelling the understandable panic and taking a long, hard look at managing the business’ cash flow and the potential for action that makes the business viable.
Running out of cash is the cause of most business failures where the cash flow test of insolvency applies such that a company is insolvent if it is unable to meet its liabilities as and when they fall due. This doesn’t mean the business should be closed down but it does mean the directors should take clear steps to deal with the financial situation.
The first thing directors need to appreciate is that their primary consideration is to protect the interests of creditors rather than that of shareholders. This is where an insolvency or turnaround professional as an outsider can help by bringing an objective assessment of the personal risk when making decisions and the prospects that turnaround initiatives can be taken to restore the business to solvency.
Initial action by experienced turnaround professionals will focus on the short term cash flow while at the same time they will consider the medium and long term prospects for the business and whether the business model works or needs to be changed. This may be contrary to insolvency professionals who may be interested in justifying their appointment under a formal insolvency procedure.
Any review by professionals will consider how financial situation developed where it often the case that over time creditors have been stretched. Indeed, there are many reasons for the shortage of cash that often leads to a delay in paying suppliers whether this is due to a decline in sales, poor debt collection, bad debts, inadequate credit control, over trading, over stocking, funding investments and growth that doesn’t translate into sales or indeed myriad other reasons.
Guidance from the ICAEW (The Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales) is that at this stage:
Getting cost controls properly in place, insisting all purchases (however small) are signed off centrally by the managing director or finance director, chasing harder to collect outstanding debts, or agreeing new payment terms with creditors can have a quick impact and help ease an immediate crisis.
The most likely immediate priority in managing a liquidity crisis is reducing costs while maximising income.
So, the first step in managing cash is to construct a 13-week cash flow forecast to help identify risks and actions that can be taken to reduce them. It should include income from sales and other receipts and outgoings, both to ongoing obligations such as rent wages and finance and to creditors.
The business also needs to control cash on a daily basis, with payments made on a priority basis with purchases approved by an authorised person who is aware of their impact on cash flow.
This will avoid the risk of returned cheques. It is also advisable to talk to the bank and keep it aware of what is being done to keep things under control.
This is the first step in crisis management when a company is having financial difficulties, but thereafter a restructuring adviser can be invaluable in taking a long, hard look at the business operations, its processes and its business plan to identify areas where performance is weak or unprofitable and whether and how the company can be returned to profitability if these elements are removed.
Getting external and objective help is likely to be necessary and my guide to running a business in financial difficulties is a useful reference.

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Business Development & Marketing Cash Flow & Forecasting Finance General Turnaround

Sector focus on the UK newspaper industry, regional, national and online

UK newspaper industryThe UK newspaper industry has faced multiple challenges for many years but somehow it manages to survive.
In many ways it is a good example of how agile a business needs to be in the 21st century if it wants to continue, to prosper and to grow.
But arguably the UK newspaper industry is more than simply a business albeit, like all businesses it needs to cover its costs and make a profit.
Relevance is critical to having and retaining readers as consumers of content in what might be assumed to be a traditional supply and demand business. At its most basic, news is about informing readers about what is happening in the world, and in the country and region in which they live and aspiring journalists in training were often told that their purpose was “to entertain, to educate and to inform”.
Nevertheless, to the accountants, newsroom journalists have increasingly been seen as a cost, a drain rather than a contributor to the business’ profits.
Indeed, relevance is often more than simply news or indeed information.
So, costs started to escalate in the early 1990s largely due to the increasing price of the paper, much of which is imported from Canada and to falling circulation.
The development of web offset printing had already eliminated the need for type setters and proof readers and increasingly the focus turned to how to get more from fewer journalists and a near-epidemic of redundancies began, with a shift in the news-gathering model from in-house employed journalists to a mix of less expensive, young trainee journalists in house and freelance columnists.
At the same time, in attempts to retain readership, many papers, particularly the regional and local ones, started to include a great deal more content that could be described as lifestyle, celebrity and entertainment-related, reflecting a perceived change in readership interests.
But it is a tough and competitive business and by March 2018 the UK Press Gazette was reporting a net loss of at least 30 local newspapers in the previous year, while many of the nationals were struggling to make a profit. It said that Trinity Mirror closed more titles than any other publisher, with 12 shut down in total over the year and the collapse of family-owned Observer newspapers had led to the closure of all of its 11 titles.
In the local market, it reported, “Trinity Mirror remains the biggest regional publisher, with a total circulation of 1,598,285 across its 129 local publications.
“Newsquest was the second largest publisher with a total circulation of 1,344,379 across its 118 publications.”
Arguably, the digital revolution has had the biggest impact on the UK newspaper industry.
The majority of a newspaper’s profits come from advertising, and as more and more advertisers shift to online promotion the print and distribution costs of newspapers are significantly impacting profits. Like retailers, the switch to online distribution is taking a long time and the rate of online growth in profits is not sufficient to offset the rate of print related decline.
Nowadays, we take it for granted that our daily, or weekly, paper whether it is local, regional or national, publishes an online edition, which can be updated frequently throughout the day given the intense competition to be first with news developments in an increasingly fast-paced world.
Many national UK newspapers, with the notable exception of The Guardian which relies on appeals for contributions from readers, have introduced a paywall, forcing readers to pay a subscription to read many of their online articles.
The Independent, launched in 1986, and sold to the Russian businessman Alexander Lebedev in 2010 went online-only in March 2016.
According to an article in PR week last year “the Financial Times hit its target of a million paying subscribers a year ahead of schedule … and The Times and Sunday Times have around half a million paying customers, with the majority now digital-only. After years of making substantial losses, the Guardian announced a small operating profit for 2018-19.”
By contrast, over the last 13 years, it said, there had been a net closure of 245 local and regional titles.
There is no doubt that the explosion of social media, has led to arguably shorter attention spans and more impatience generally, not to mention a greater dislocation between where people live and their attachment to the locality and changed attitudes to local and regional papers.
However, the rise in concern about “fake news” on social media and subsequent fact checking services offered by some papers, may well improve readers’ trust in what they read in reputable publications rather than on social media.
In my view it is too early to predict the total demise of the UK newspaper industry, certainly at national level, but I hope also at regional and local level, not least as an antidote to the early-morning commute or as a pause in the daily office pressure for a mid-morning coffee and a quick flick through the paper.

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Banks, Lenders & Investors Business Development & Marketing Cash Flow & Forecasting Finance General

Key Indicator – the state of UK business activity

UK business activityUK business activity is either in a woeful state, or slowly picking up speed following December’s general election, depending on who you are listening to.
Given the dire insolvency figures for 2019, which I covered in Tuesday’s blog, there is clearly plenty wrong in specific sectors of the economy.
The construction industry, High Street retail and the accommodation and food services were the worst-affected last year but it would be foolish to pretend that any business, from SME to large corporations had an easy time given the global economic slowdown and, more recently, figures revealing that the EU economy is near-stagnant.
Nevertheless, now that the withdrawal of the UK from the EU has passed its first hurdle and that the government has a clear mandate with a huge majority to implement its decisions for the next five years, there are signs of optimism.
The first Lloyds Bank Commercial Banking Business Barometer in 2020 showed a 13-point increase in business confidence, taking it up to 23% in January, the highest it has been for 14 months. The Lloyds barometer calculates overall business confidence by averaging the views of 1,200 companies on their business prospects and optimism about the UK economy.
The most recent IHS Markit/Cips manufacturing purchasing managers index (PMI), for January, showed that the sector has enjoyed its best performance for nine months. Another survey by the CBI (Confederation of British Industry) was also positive in suggesting “the biggest wave of optimism among smaller manufacturers for six years” with 45% of these SMEs reporting that they were more optimistic following the election.
In addition, the Bank of England has kept interest rates at the same level, despite expectations that they would be cut. The outgoing BoE Governor Mark Carney said: “the most recent signs are that global growth has stabilised”.
But much of this is about sentiment where the proof of the pudding will be in increased orders on business’ books and improved cash flow.
On the positive side, productivity (output per hour) increased in January, by 0.1% in the services sector and by 5.7% in construction, according to official figures from the ONS (Office for National Statistics). The results of another survey by the finance firm Together concluded that British SMEs plan to invest £1.7bn over the next two years.
It has to be said that much of this “improvement” is from a pretty low base given that the economy ended 2019 at near-stagnation point, so this is not yet really any indication of a growing economy, although it is a positive shift.
There have also been some encouraging government noises about increasing spending to address the economic inequalities between the North and Midlands and the South which could be good news for Northern businesses. Other government initiatives in the pipeline are likely to benefit the house building and construction industries.
Despite the optimism there is a long way to go before most businesses and especially those involved in farming, fishing and food export, will know the shape of any proposed trade deals, with the EU and with the USA so the short-term for them is not especially encouraging.
The Chancellor, the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister have all in the last few days signalled a very hard line negotiating position with the EU over the shape of any agreements which the Government hopes to achieve by the end of 2020. Whether this is a negotiation tactic or a ‘die in the ditch’ strategy we shall find out quite soon.
Concerning input to the outcome there have been some reports that the Government has been ignoring requests from business bodies, such as the CBI (Confederation of British Industry) and the FSB (Federation of Small Businesses) to include their representatives in the forthcoming trade negotiations with the EU.
There are also still the unresolved issues of how the current skills shortage and migrant labour issues will be addressed.
No doubt a level of certainty for some businesses will emerge during the budget, which is due to be announced on March 11. Well at least we shall learn more about the Government’s priorities.
In summary, while it is encouraging that there has been a return to more positive sentiments from UK business leaders, there is a long way to go before we can be confident that they are matched by revitalised UK business activity at home and abroad.

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Banks, Lenders & Investors Cash Flow & Forecasting Finance Insolvency Turnaround

Dire insolvency figures for 2019 – and little respite in sight?

insolvency figures and lifebeltsThe final quarter insolvency figures for 2019 make grim reading, as does the regular Red Flag update from insolvency and recovery firm Begbies Traynor.
The main messages from the latest insolvency figures, published for Q4 2019 by the Insolvency Service at the end of January, were that in 2019 underlying company insolvencies increased to their highest annual level since 2013 driven by a by 8.2% increase in CVLs (Creditors’ Voluntary Liquidations) which were at their highest level since 2009 and by a 24.0% increase in administrations, their highest level since 2013.
Construction, the wholesale and retail trade and accommodation and food services suffered the most, as they had been doing all year.
Begbies Traynor’s Red Flag update published last week also piled on the misery, with findings that a record 494,000 UK businesses are now in ‘significant financial distress’ with property, support services, construction and retail businesses suffering the most. These figures were the highest-ever since the company began reporting its Red Flag research 16 years ago.
Julie Palmer, partner at Begbies Traynor, said: “Currently, we do not know if the failing performance within some sectors is due to short term confidence issues, or more fundamental economic and structural issues.”
But, arguably, the worst insolvency figures could yet be to come.

Bellicose politicians and European stagnation

On Friday night the UK formally left the EU. While this has established a level of political certainty, for business the economic uncertainty continues for at least ten months before our trading relationship with EU has been negotiated.
The negotiation timetable helps us know when we might have certainty about our trading relationship. The first being the end of June as the last day by which any extension to the 11 month transition period can be sought although as things stand the PM has ruled that out. Without an extension the deadline for a Brexit trade deal is the 26th November as the last date for it to be presented to the European Parliament if it is to be ratified by the end of the year.
Notwithstanding the uncertainty of its trading relationship with the EU, the UK can now begin negotiating its own trade deals with other countries.
But whoever heard of a trade deal being formalised so quickly?
Furthermore, this will all take place in the context of stalling economic growth in the EU, particularly in France and Germany as revealed last week:
“Gross domestic product (GDP) in the currency bloc rose by just 0.1% in the fourth quarter of 2019 from the previous quarter, according to the EU statistics agency Eurostat.”
Stock markets were also dropping dramatically, which has been attributed largely to the spread of Coronavirus that has led to a lockdown of much of China.
All this, without taking into account changing consumer behaviour and confidence, partly due to increasing debt levels and to environmental concerns. Perhaps, given the 6% annual increase in personal insolvency figures over 2018, now at its highest level since 2010, there is also a degree of job uncertainty. In retail, for example, almost 10,000 jobs have been lost since the start of the year and 57,000 went in 2019, according to the Retail Gazette.
The Prime Minister and foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, seem set on taking a very hard line ahead of negotiations with the EU. While there are some that take the view that in negotiations it is best to start off taking as hard a line as possible then softening as they progress, given that the remaining countries in the EU clearly have their own problems that they will be seeking to solve the words “rock and hard place” spring to mind.
So, there is a distinct possibility of a hard Brexit, one without a deal although message spin is likely. If this is the case then the uncertainty for business will continue beyond the end of the year until a new normal is established.
We therefore endorse the advice of Eleanor Temple, chair of R3 (the insolvency and recue industry body) in Yorkshire:
“These insolvency figures should be a wake-up call to any director of a company which is finding it hard going at the moment. Anyone in this position should look to take objective advice from a qualified, professional source, to decide the best path forward – and the earlier this is done, the better.”

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Business Development & Marketing Cash Flow & Forecasting General

Retrain to do what? The jobs of the future

the jobs of the futureA national government retraining scheme was proposed in July last year to help those workers whose jobs will become obsolete because of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and automation.
Whether it will materialise following the Brexit mayhem and subsequent election remains to be seen.
Research by Oxford Economics has found that 1.7 million manufacturing jobs have been lost to robots worldwide since 2000, including 400,000 in Europe, 260,000 in the US, and 550,000 in China and that a further 20 million manufacturing jobs will be obsolete by 2030 although most of these will be abroad.
There is no doubt that the future world of work, especially, but not only, in the manufacturing sector will look very different.
The drive towards aver more automation may conflict with concerns for the future of the planet and the environment but both will doubtless mean a radical rethink of economies, especially those that are dependent on consumer activity.
Demographics too will play their part as many of the populations of the developed world age and live longer and birth rates decline.
All this has led to an apocalyptic vision of the future by some, such as Aaron Benanav, a researcher in the social sciences at the University of Chicago, who argues that economies have, since the 1970s, been based largely on industrial production, expansion and exporting as their major economic growth engine and that such opportunities for growth are dwindling as more economies mature.
He argues that no other sector than manufacturing has been identified that can replace this out of date growth engine and that “restoring previously prevailing rates of economic growth will prove difficult if not impossible. Unless we find some way to share the work that remains, beggar-thy-neighbour politics really will tear our societies apart”.
Others, however, are more optimistic arguing that we have not even begun to imagine the jobs of the future.
Business Insider is one publication that has had a stab at imagining the jobs that will be needed in the future. Their list includes GPs, Dentists, Plumbers pipefitters & steamfitters, vocational nurses, construction managers, physician assistants, sales reps, secondary school teachers, tractor-trailer truck drivers, computer systems analysts, construction trades supervisors, service sales reps, software developers, and physical therapists to name just a few.
But these are all existing jobs in the world as it currently is. A global digital company, Cognizant, has gone even further and imagined jobs of the future that may be needed. A small sample from their suggestions includes:
Ethical Sourcing Officers for when corporations want to root their decisions on what is ethical and not what is profitable. The ESO will be in charge of production to ensure that every step of the process is in accordance with the ethical values of the shareholders.
Personal Data Brokers, who will make sure their customers are paid by those companies who use their data. This assumes that consumers will have full control over their personal data
Virtual Store Sherpas, will be the online equivalent of the in-store personal shopper, who will guide consumers through the process of selecting the most appropriate and affordable items and organise delivery.
Man-Machine Teaming Managers, whose job will be to “figure out and combine the strengths of man (cognition, judgment, empathy, versatility, etc.) and machine (accuracy, endurance, computation, speed, etc.) to create the most productive worker team possible”.
A brave new world or an apocalypse? Who knows? But there is no doubt that the future is out there!
 

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Banks, Lenders & Investors Business Development & Marketing Cash Flow & Forecasting General

What items are top of businesses’ post-election wish list?

post-election wish listInevitably many promises were made during pre-election campaigning but how many will be delivered and what items are top of businesses’ post-election wish list?
There is no question that there are many urgent domestic issues that need tackling and were “parked” during the on-going wrangling over Britain’s referendum to leave the EU.
However, now that the so-called “party of business” has been returned with a solid majority, perhaps businesses will see some action on the issues that have left them feeling that they were overburdened and struggling to carry a heavy weight with little support.
While many business groups have been calling for the closest possible trade alignment with the EU post-Brexit it will be a year – or more – before the shape of any deal is known.
In the meantime, there are plenty of items on the business post-election wish-list that can be progressed.
Perhaps the biggest and most pressing burden needing attention is a thorough reform of Business Rates.  Of course, the loudest cries for this have come from the retail sector, particularly from High Street retailers, but there is no question that the current levels, and the slow pace with which appeals are addressed, is a heavy burden for many SMEs.
However, the Federation for Small Businesses (FSB) leader Mike Cherry, has warned that it could take up to five years to complete a rates review and reform
Arguably of equal importance is the difficulty many businesses have in finding people with the appropriate skills and this has been impeding growth plans.
While the new Prime Minister has promised an overhaul of immigration policy, this will affect how and who firms can recruit. It remains to be seen how the proposed three-tier points-based system will work.
The idea is to fast track so-called Tier One entrants such as entrepreneurs, investors and people who have won awards in certain fields, and Tier Two people, skilled workers, such as doctors, nurses and other health professionals, who have a confirmed job offer leaving the need for less skilled, people such as for as agriculture and manufacturing as a problem. Essentially Tier Three employers will most likely have to show that they cannot recruit enough people from within the UK before other entrants are allowed into the country which may take some time and leave them with short and medium term staffing shortages.
Indeed business organisations such as the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) have said that the current immigration proposals are vague and impeding businesses’ ability to plan for growing staffing levels.
The final and most pressing issue, on which the Government has promised action and investment is the country’s neglected and in some cases crumbling infrastructure, particularly in areas like the North and Midlands.
Whether improving communications such as road and rail links, or broadband connectivity, it is going to require significant financial investment and given the lack of growth and current weak economy it remains to be seen how much money is in the Chancellor’s pot come the first budget in March.
 

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Banks, Lenders & Investors Cash Flow & Forecasting Insolvency Turnaround

Sector blog – The north of England and the future of the construction industry

construction industryThere is no doubt that the construction industry has been having a torrid time in the last couple of years, especially since the collapse of the contractor Carillion with debts of £1.5bn at the start of 2018.
The most recently published insolvency statistics, for the third quarter of 2019, showed a 55% increase in the number of companies falling into administration, continuing an upward trend that had been going on all year.
There is little doubt that the political uncertainty since the UK voted in June 2016 to leave the EU has been a contributory factor to the industry’s woes, which are compounded by a shortage of people with appropriate skills. The skills shortage in the construction industry and its reliance on labour, often as subcontractors, has for several years been mitigated by the use of EU labour, particularly from Poland, but this, too, has been disrupted in the aftermath of Brexit as attitudes to migrants have become less welcoming.
But there have also been knock-on effects from the collapse of Carillion, which are being attributed to the structure of the industry, where major contractors like Carillion were focused on winning projects and managing them, relying on subcontractors to carry not only the responsibility for doing the work but also for taking the financial risk based on exposure to fixed price contracts and poor payment terms.
Indeed, when they go bust there is little left for creditors which highlights the level of credit risk.

Is the situation for the construction industry about to change?

Now that the Election is over and that the Government has a solid majority, hopefully, it will focus on the many pressing domestic issues that had been overshadowed by Brexit, not least the economic imbalance between various UK regions and London.
Indeed, the Prime Minister has already been warned that unless more attention is paid to the North of England particularly, those voters who lent him their vote, they may well withdraw their support equally quickly if they don’t see tangible investment.
In late December and again this week there were some signs that the message had been received and understood.
The Prime Minister had already promised that their trust in his government would be repaid and both The Times and the BBC were reporting that there was the prospect of changes to Treasury rules coming that would allow more cash to be allocated to projects outside of London and the South East, notably on infrastructure, business development projects and schemes like free ports.
Then, on Tuesday, when March 11th was announced as the date for the Chancellor’s first budget, the predictions of Treasury changes were again emphasised:
“In the intervening two months, the Treasury will have to work up a new National Infrastructure strategy that delivers on the plan to rebalance regional inequalities, some of which stem from decisions made nationally on, for example, transport spending.”
While doubts have been raised about the viability of the proposed HS2 rail project to connect London to the North, said to be likely to cost almost three times more than predicted, should this radical rethinking of Treasury rules come to pass, hopefully it could open up opportunities for the construction industry to work on plenty of other big projects in the North and possibly also the Midlands.
The other area that is likely to benefit the industry is a massive house building initiative. While no policies have been announced, Dominic Cummings’ Alternative Civil Service may light a bonfire under planning restrictions that are often blamed as the impediment to achieving previous governments’ targets. I am also sure we shall see more financial stimulus aimed at new owners, again all initiatives that will benefit the industry irrespective of what happens to the economy.

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Banks, Lenders & Investors Cash Flow & Forecasting Finance General

Key Indicator – Stock Market behaviour predictable or not?

stock market predictionsAt the start of the new decade predicting stock market behaviour is anything but an easy task.
A year ago, the pundits variously predicted that the year-end valuation of the FTSE 100 would be anywhere between 7200 and 8400 points. In the end, at close of business on 31st December it was in the mid-7000s at 7542 below most predictions but it was still a stonking year.
Over the last year, stock market values, including the UK’s FTSE 100 and 250, have risen an astonishing amount to make 2019 one of the strongest years ever, despite a sluggish global and EU economy, US and China trade wars and Brexit uncertainty.
According to the business news two days ago the Dow Jones industrial average has seen  a rise of almost 25% having reached record highs day after day, the broader S&P500 is up 30% and the tech-heavy Nasdaq has grown 40% in value. The FTSE100 in London is also close to its record high, as is the Dax30 in Germany.
In so-called “normal” times the stock markets traditionally go down when the interest rates go up which may explain the stock market values given the unprecedented period of low interest rates set by Central Banks that have done everything they could to support their countries’ weakening economies in their attempt at stimulating growth or more accurately avoiding recession.
But what is “normal” given that some Central Banks including European Central Bank, Japan, Sweden, Denmark and Switzerland have set negative interest rates?
To make predictions more difficult, this has been going on now for more than 10 years, since the 2008 Financial Crisis, and growth/recovery is still pretty sluggish despite the stimulus.
Usually, over a 10-year period there is a natural economic cycle from “boom” to “bust”, but the “bust” has yet to come, and nor is it being predicted. More of the same seems to be the view of most economists.
However a few pundits, notably the economist Nouriel Roubini, Professor of Economics at New York University’s Stern School of Business, argue that the stock markets are far too optimistic, while the business writer Rana Foroohar, author of Don’t Be Evil: The Case Against Big Tech and associate editor at the Financial Times, predicts that the next crash will be brought about by the concentration of power in the hands of big tech companies like Apple, which have built up huge amounts of debt in their quest for power. She says: “Rapid growth in debt levels is historically the best predictor of a crisis.”

So, why have stock market valuations continued to climb?

In my view, two things have driven the value of companies listed on the stock market.
Firstly, businesses have broadly maintained their profitability by reducing overheads through slimming down management and not reinvesting. This has hidden their decline in productivity because profitability has been maintained. I believe that the cutting out of swathes of management has made many businesses extremely lean but left them without scope for responding to growth, with little experience for investing in new technology and for implementing the changes necessary to remain competitive.
Secondly, the numbers of listed companies have declined leaving fewer in which to invest money. Given that investors want to invest in profitable businesses this has meant that the pool of investable companies has also shrunk driving up the value of those that should be part of an investment portfolio. This distortion is likely to encourage a shift from the growth investment strategy preferred by long-term investors to one of value investment preferred by those with a higher appetite for risk. Indeed, picking winners is difficult as those who backed Neil Woodford will attest.
You could argue that UK based companies exporting abroad with foreign investors have benefited from exchange rates problems due to Brexit to make more locally focussed companies more attractive but this should only be part of a value investment strategy and still leaves the long-term investors looking for fundamentally sound businesses.
It’s possible that once Brexit is under way after January 31, there will be a re-rating because the companies that import from abroad have suffered disproportionately.
It will only take the Central Banks raising interest rates to more normal levels for a major stock market crash to become inevitable.
 

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Business Development & Marketing Cash Flow & Forecasting Finance General

VUCA – protecting your business when nothing is predictable

VUCA uncertaintyVUCA is an acronym devised by the US military to describe an environment of Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity.
But it doesn’t only apply to conflict zones. At the moment, and for the foreseeable future, it could equally well describe the climate in which business is operating.
For UK businesses the predominant uncertainty has been the situation, arguably since June 2016, when the country voted by a narrow margin to leave the EU. Since then, there have been three years of VUCA which won’t end tomorrow when we know the outcome of today’s General Election.
In the meantime, the UK economy has been sluggish, with the latest data from the ONS this week indicating that there had been almost no growth, a derisory 0.7%, in the third quarter of the year.
However, there are other influences that have combined to make uncertainty the new business norm, including a rise in nationalistic sentiment and population, trade wars between the US and China and also those between Japan and S Korea, all of which have led to a slowdown in the global economy.
Longer-term influences are the rapid pace of automation and AI development and, increasingly, worries about the future of the environment, which are influencing both consumer and investors in the direction of more ethical and responsible behaviour and decision-making.
Given the headwinds, VUCA is likely to get worse and will affect businesses for a long time to come.

Can businesses turn VUCA into a positive?

Despite its reference, VUCA offers terrific opportunities to entrepreneurs and adaptable businesses although exploiting them tends to be at the expense of those businesses, normally large ones, that rely on stability and predictability.
The website  vuca-world.org re-imagines the acronym as Vision, Understanding, Clarity and Adaptability and several business writers, among them Karen Martin and Sunnie Giles, both writing for Forbes, make the point that ultimately dealing with uncertainty is down to the creativity, agility and skill of people in an organisation.
Giles suggests that businesses need a change of mindset, so that they can react to fast-moving changes.
These include “moving from hierarchy to self-organisation”, “democratising information”, “speeding up interactions” and using “simple rules to make quick decisions, rather than perfect analyses.”
Of course, there will need to be effective and flexible leadership and a sound knowledge of the business situation at any point in time, which makes such things as management accounts and cash flow monitoring, as well as sound knowledge of customers’ changing behaviour and requirements even more crucial.
I would argue that it is often SMEs that are in the best position to deal with a VUCA climate as very often they are flatter organisations where there has to be a good deal of multi-tasking when the numbers of key employees are fewer than in larger, more hierarchical organisations.

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Business Development & Marketing Cash Flow & Forecasting Finance General

Sector focus – changes in consumer spending and attitudes?

consumer spendingIt will be interesting to see the analysis of consumer spending once the Christmas and peak holiday buying season is over.
Data throughout the year has indicated that people are less willing to splash out on so-called “big ticket” items, whether online or on the High Street.
Whether this is being caused by a change in attitudes to consumption or to increasing worries about job security and income is not yet clear. Consumption assumes spending on basic needs and then discretionary spending on goods and services including leisure.
Influences on consumer spending
Clearly, consumers’ confidence in their current and future financial situations are a key driver in the willingness to spend at least in the short term.
It is influenced in part by the changing costs of expenditure on such things as housing, fuel, food, clothing and travel costs, which are monitored annually by the Consumer Price Index (CPI), where the weighted average of prices of a basket of consumer goods and services indicates the level of and changes to the rate of inflation in the economy.
This has left less for discretionary spending.
An indicator of spending on capital goods is this year’s fall in the purchases of new cars, attributed by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders to weak business and consumer confidence, economic uncertainty and confusion over diesel and clean air zones.
There has also been a reduction in consumer spending on both the High Street and online which has contributed to the closures of High Street retailers, and reduced profits of online retailers such as Asos, whose profits were reportedly down 68% in the year up to October, altbough   Asos attributed this to IT problems in its warehouses.
A study by the card machine provider Paymentsense at the start of the year predicted that over half (56%) of UK consumers were planning or considering cutting their spending over the coming year by cutting back on purchases of goods like new clothes (31%), sweets, crisps, cake and chocolate (27%), and switching to less expensive toiletries (18%). This was closely followed by spending less on jewellery and holidays which require a flight (both 17%).
This is not surprising given that research by KPMG and the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC) showed that the number of permanent job appointments fell in November as growth in the demand for staff fell to a 10-year low.
Employment in the manufacturing sector also fell for the eighth month in a row and the pace of job losses was the steepest since September 2012 according to the latest IHS Markit/Cips monthly snapshot.
It would be interesting to see how many people (mainly women) have lost their jobs in the ongoing carnage in High Street Retail.
At the same time, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) has reported that average household financial debt had risen 9% to £9,400 in the two years to March 2018. The biennial study showed that personal loans accounted for £35bn of total household debts, £32bn is from student loans, £25bn is hire purchase, and £22bn is on credit cards, while the remainder includes £3bn of overdrafts. Much of this, it has been argued, is due to increased living costs, such as rent, council tax and other bills.
It is fairly certain, therefore, that worries about the future and job insecurity are influencing consumer spending currently.
Having said all this, however, the recent Black Friday sales saw an average 7% increase in sales compared to last year.
This could be seen as a change in consumer spending to waiting to buy until prices are, allegedly, reduced.
It will take more than a year to determine whether a longer-term change in consumer spending habits is taking place, however, there are other factors at play.
Concern for the environment and global warming have risen to the top of the agenda, in particular for younger consumers, which has encouraged people to think twice about buying fast fashion and disposable and other plastic items.
Buying second-hand has been re-branded as “pre-loved chic” and the demand for longer-lasting household products such as fridges, washing machines and the like has prompted the EU to regulate that manufactures must stock spare parts for ten years for such items.
Then there have been the movements encouraging people to buy from local independent retailers as well as the rise of local groups specialising in helping people to repair household items such as small kitchen appliances.
Guy Moreve, CMO of Paymentsense, said “…. our study reveals that instead of aspirational health or lifestyle goals many UK consumers are increasingly concerned about just keeping up as living costs climb more quickly than salaries.
“Another growing trend is ethical consumption, and over 2018 we saw increased awareness and attention to environmentally friendly lifestyle habits such as veganism and sustainable fashion. We feel that this coming year will see continued movement in this area, as more people adopt ethical attitudes.”
Time will tell whether the “shop till you drop” love affair is finally over and there is a sustained change in consumer spending.

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Accounting & Bookkeeping Cash Flow & Forecasting Finance Insolvency

Update – sacked Small Business Commissioner speaks out

Small Business Commissioner sacked - for telling the truth?The now-ex Small Business Commissioner, Paul Uppal, has accused the Government of thwarting attempts to help SMEs tackle the late payment scourge.
Mr Uppal has reportedly blamed Whitehall for pushing him out of a role which, he says, is under-resourced and ignored by government.
He said that his office was met with “radio silence” from civil servants and ministers over his approach to the job and that his budget was too small to tackle the “huge task” of getting big companies to pay small businesses on time.
He also revealed a little more detail about the reason for his sacking, which was “a disagreement over an alleged conflict of interest related to an unpaid, interim advisory role in another government-backed small business scheme”.
The Times, is the only national broadsheet to cover the story, although it has been picked up by the online publication smallbusiness.co.uk.
It seems that The Times is becoming the champion of SMEs, carrying another article on the same day about a poll from the Chartered Institute of Procurement & Supply (CIPS) that found that almost one in six businesses said most payments are settled late. Malcolm Harrison, chief executive of CIPS, said there was a “rotten culture” of late payment. The organisation has been calling for big businesses that are slow to settle invoices to be barred from public sector work.
Another poll out this week from Xero, the online accountancy platform, revealed that a quarter of small business owners believe their company will go bust within 5 years, with 54% warning that late payments posed a risk to their firm.
The FSB (Federation of Small Businesses) has repeatedly said that late payment is the cause of an estimated 50,000 small businesses go under each year because of “pernicious” late payment. This figure might be questioned given that there were 17,454 formal company insolvencies in 2018 however I accept a liberal interpretation to allow for sole traders and companies ceasing to trade.

Does the Government care about or understand the pressures on SMEs?

According to research from the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy, at the start of 2018 a massive 99.9% of the 5.7 million businesses in the UK are small or medium-size businesses (SMEs). Of these only 0.6% of businesses in the UK are classed at medium-sized businesses.
This arguably makes SMEs an essential contributor to the economy and the provision of jobs.
Yet there has been no word on the appointment of a replacement for Mr Uppal, since I reported in my blog on November 19 the Government’s statement: “An open recruitment campaign to appoint a new Small Business Commissioner will get started immediately.”
Allegedly Fiona Dickie, the Deputy Pubs Code Adjudicator, was to provide oversight in the Small Business Commissioner role until early November, pending the appointment of an interim commissioner.
However, there has been a deafening silence from her, the General Election notwithstanding.
It has to be asked why an unpaid, voluntary advisory role for Mr Uppal was deemed to be a conflict of interest with his official position?
I have asked previously and I repeat my question: has the Government been successfully lobbied by some large corporates to roll back this initiative? Was he becoming too successful?

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Banks, Lenders & Investors Cash Flow & Forecasting Finance General

Do High Street banks care about their customers?

High Street banks and trustHigh Street banks rely on providing a service to customers yet too often it seems that customers are the last thing banks care about.
Of course, banking is also a business and therefore subject to the pressures and responsibilities of any business to remain compliant and profitable.
However, I would argue that their existence is entirely down to the loyalty of their customers. Yet, customer loyalty is being stretched by the seemingly endless IT problems and closure of branches and ATMs that inconvenience customers, particularly SMEs in rural areas.
Most recently, TSB, encountered yet another IT failure, just a year after the mammoth meltdown which cost it an estimated £366m. To compound the distress for customers, it has just announced that it intends to close another 86 branches, cutting up to 400 jobs over the course of next year.
IT failures have not been confined to TSB, however, and in 2018, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), said the number of incidents reported to it had increased by 187% in the past year, 65% of which were from high street banks.
This has prompted a committee of MPs to call for faster action in resolving complaints and awarding compensation, along with more decisive regulatory action, calling the current situation unacceptable.
According to the consumer organisation Which? “Banks and building societies closed a total of 3,312 branches in between January 2015 and August 2019, with an average of 55 closing each month”.
Which? has been tracking the closures and its breakdown shows 1,094 for the RBS Group (NatWest, Royal Bank of Scotland and Ulster Bank) and 569 for the Lloyds Group (Lloyds Bank, Halifax and Bank of Scotland) while it estimates that Barclays has closed approaching 500, although the bank has declined to share figures with Which?
In addition, the organisation has found that 5,000 free-to-use ATMs had been lost between January 2018 and May 2019, the vast majority in rural and more deprived areas.
But it has not only been IT failures and branch closures that have arguably reduced trust in banking.
Only last month, Barclays announced its debit card holders would be able to deposit money but not withdraw cash from a post office counter from January 2020 as a cost saving measure to save £7 million. Following a huge outcry that situation was quickly reversed.
Nevertheless, it was an indication of the general attitudes of the traditional High Street banks given the number of branches and even ATMs that have been disappearing from villages and towns throughout the UK, on the tenuous argument that customers prefer to bank online. And despite the well-known unreliability of internet connections in such locations.
It all adds up to a massive headache for anyone who lives or works outside of a main city location.
So it is with some scepticism and a few hollow laughs that we note the latest Government initiative, a SME Financial Charter, to which, approximately 20 banks and financial service providers have signed up.
The charter is aimed to support SMEs through Brexit and signatories make five pledges:

  1.  We’re open for business and ready to lend;
  2.  We’ll help you prepare for Brexit and beyond;
  3.  We’ll support your application and signpost other options if needed;
  4.  We’ll treat you fairly at all times;
  5.  We’ll work with the government-owned British Business Bank to support SMEs.

The charter is voluntary and clearly limited in scope.
It would have been more to the point if it had been an ongoing pledge, not confined to helping SMEs with Brexit and its aftermath, and if it had been given some regulatory teeth to encourage High Street banks to offer a real service to SMEs and other customers.
 

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Accounting & Bookkeeping Cash Flow & Forecasting Finance General Insolvency

After several high profile business failures – Is corporate governance robust enough?

corporate governance failuresand  penalties Research by a provider of audit, tax and consulting services has found that only 21% of board members think corporate governance is critical for a business to achieve success.
The findings by RSM also revealed that 96 per cent of company Board members it surveyed expected to see an increase in the number of criminal prosecutions of those senior executives and organisations implicated for poor risk management.
The issue of corporate governance has been under review by the FRC (Financial Reporting Council) for some time following high-profile collapses of businesses like BHS, Patisserie Valerie, Carillion and most recently Thomas Cook.
In its most recent annual report, the FRC found that that “audit quality is still not consistently reaching the necessary high standards expected”.
More than a year ago, a review of the FRC itself led by Sir John Kingman proposed the establishment of a new regulator, the Audit, Reporting and Governance Authority, but this was not acted upon by the Government before business was suspended pending the outcome of the forthcoming general election.
Concerns about corporate governance have also been raised by a Government committee, the business, energy and industrial strategy select committee which has called on ministers to move faster to reform the audit profession, strengthen corporate governance and curb executive pay.
Among its findings were that “too often, audit teams appear prepared to accept what management tells them rather than questioning its plausibility and drawing on specialists to form their own view”.
Corporate Governance refers to the way in which companies are governed and to what purpose. It identifies who has power and accountability, and who makes decisions. It is meant to take account of the interests of not only the business but its shareholders and stakeholders.
In July 2018, the FRC revised its corporate governance code, which was to apply to the accounting periods beginning on or after 1 January 2019.
According to the FRC the new code was designed to focus “on the application of the Principles [Code] and reporting on outcomes achieved. For the Code’s Provisions, companies should disclose how they have complied with these or provide an explanation appropriate to their individual circumstances.”
Clearly, more robust measures are going to be needed if the RSM research findings are any indication of the attitudes of business directors to the idea of responsible corporate governance.
Interestingly the IoD (Institute of Directors) yesterday launched what it called its manifesto for the next government to restore trust in corporate Britain. It included a proposal for a new Public Service Corporation to restore trust in the outsourcing sector, reforms to the regulation of auditors and replacing the FRC with a new, stronger Audit, Reporting and Governance Authority.
Changing corporate behaviour is a challenge, especially when it is so entrenched, but there is nothing like the threat of criminal proceedings to focus a board of directors given that in law they are collectively responsible for the decisions, behaviour and actions of any one director. The role of non-execs is key.

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Accounting & Bookkeeping Cash Flow & Forecasting Debt Collection & Credit Management Finance

Small Business Commissioner Paul Uppal sacked– is this down to his success in holding large companies to account?

Small Business Commissioner sacked - for telling the truth?In a worrying development the Government has sacked Paul Uppal, the Small Business Commissioner, over what it called a “conflict of interest”.
Even more worryingly, the only news outlet to report on the development was The Times, on October 12.
It reports that “the business department felt his involvement in establishing a bank redress scheme was a conflict of interest”.
So far, apart from the report in The Times, there has been a deafening silence on this development.
Mr Uppal’s role as a mediator of payment disputes between small and large companies was established in 2016.
His dismissal came just a few days after the Government had announced that Mr Uppal’s role was to be expanded to having a seat on the Compliance Board of the Prompt Payment Code, which it was intending also to strengthen.
The Government said: “Fiona Dickie, the Deputy Pubs Code Adjudicator, will provide oversight in the Small Business Commissioner role until early November, pending the appointment of an interim commissioner.
“An open recruitment campaign to appoint a new Small Business Commissioner will get started immediately.”

Has the Small Business Commissioner been too successful?

It was announced in December 2018 that in the first year of the Commissioner’s existence unpaid invoices worth £2.1 million to small businesses across the UK have been recovered. Subsequently that amount had reached £3.5 million.
Mr Uppal also began the practice of naming and shaming those large businesses that were failing to meet the terms of the Prompt Payment Code and of actually removing some of them from its lists.
They included Holland & Barrett, Jordans & Ryvita, BHP Billiton, DHL and GKN, G4S, Bupa Insurance and Zurich Insurance.
Clearly, there is a need for government intervention on behalf of SMEs when payments are withheld by larger customers.
A study by FinTech firm Previse shows that small suppliers are paid an average of 30 days later than the largest firms. And a separate survey by Hitachi Capital Business Finance found the proportion of SMEs that were taking legal action chasing late payments from clients had grown from 31% to 40% over the past year with more than 60% of SMEs affected by late payments.
IPSE (Association of Independent Professionals and the Self-Employment) Deputy Director of Policy, Andy Chamberlain, said: ““Late payment is still the scourge of the self-employed. In fact, IPSE research has found the average freelancer spends 20 days a year chasing clients who have failed to pay them on time.”
Mike Cherry, the chairman of the FSB (Federation of Small Businesses), said: “We’ve made some genuine progress on the late payments front since the Small Business Commissioner first took office back in 2017…. This is a disappointing development, one that will put the brakes on our efforts to date.
He added: “The appointment process needs to be efficient and thorough  .. We can’t delay further action to tackle this crisis, especially in such an uncertain climate.”
Notwithstanding that we are in the run-up to a General Election, when all Government business is suspended there are a number of questions in need of answers on this situation and on the future of both the Small Business Commissioner and the Late Payment Code.
So, the question I would ask is has the Government been successfully lobbied by some large corporates to roll back this initiative. Was it becoming too successful?
Why was Mr Uppal sacked and was it really his involvement in establishing a bank redress scheme that was claimed to be a conflict of interest?
Have UK’s SMEs been consigned to limbo?

Categories
Cash Flow & Forecasting Debt Collection & Credit Management Factoring, Invoice Discounting & Asset Finance Finance

Withdrawal of credit insurance exposes suppliers to greater risks

credit insurance removal increases risk to suppliersWhile it is true that running a business is always challenging the withdrawal of credit insurance is adding to the cash flow pressure on supply chains and in particular on retailers.
Trade credit insurance protects suppliers by minimising the financial impact if a customer fails to pay for goods and services.
The withdrawal of credit insurance is normally based on a company’s credit rating that in turn is adjusted based on disclosed accounts, county court claims, statements by directors and adherence to payment terms as information that is increasingly being provided by suppliers.
For more than a year, the retail sector has been in the spotlight due to the high profile restructuring of several large chains and there would seem to be little sign of this abating, according to recent reports highlighting the latest move, by Paris-based insurer Euler Hermes, which reduced the credit cover it provides to Iceland’s suppliers over the summer.
Euler Hermes is not the only insurer to have taken steps to reduce its exposure. Atradius has also been following the same path, removing cover last year from Debenhams.
According to the most recent figures produced by the ABI (Association of British Insurers) in the first quarter of 2019 the number of insurance claims made so far by UK businesses facing bad debts had reached its highest level in ten years.
It said that there were 5,114 new trade credit insurance claims made, up 6% on the previous quarter and that the value of claims paid was £48 million, up £1 million on the previous quarter. The average payment was £9,000.
So, it is perhaps not surprising that insurers are continuing to take steps to mitigate their exposure as insolvencies continue to climb in the face of political and economic uncertainty.
But the inevitable consequence is that the risk is being pushed back to suppliers, who in turn are reducing the amount of credit they extend to their customers. This is impacting on suppliers and their ability to maintain sales volumes to bigger customers.
For many suppliers with weaker balance sheets or who depend on a few large customers this can leave them taking the credit risk and often means waiting longer for payment.
Should SME suppliers continue to supply a customer if credit insurance is withdrawn?
It is all very well to advise SMEs to ensure they have a broad spread of customers perhaps with no one representing more than ten percent of the sales ledger, but opportunities need to be grabbed and growth is often achieved by taking some risks. It is a brave company that forgoes the benefit of having large and profitable customers. Despite this it is imperative to avoid being caught up in a domino insolvency if a key customer fails.
Growing a business takes time, forethought, planning and access to capital, none of which is available in abundance in the current uncertain national and global economic climate.
So, is there any way suppliers can protect themselves?
One route is to start to demand payment upfront, which may mean re-negotiating supply agreements, although it is debatable whether customers will oblige, which could then force the supplier into seeking help from the Late Payments Commissioner.
Another route could be to protect at least some of their revenue by using factoring or invoice discounting services. Both services tend to offer non-recourse facilities as a form of insurance to protect against approved but unpaid invoices. While this route involves credit insurance the finance providers often share a level of risk by underwriting better credit terms since they also want to make their own profits.
It is understandable that insurers will want to protect themselves but their service is a market and they may take a level of risk to get your business.
However risk is managed, there is a need for a strong balance sheet and credit management to avoid the fallout when a customer fails to pay your bills.
 

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Banks, Lenders & Investors Cash Flow & Forecasting Finance General Insolvency Voluntary Arrangements - CVAs

Post-Christmas apocalypse for the retail sector?

retail, high street trading,As we head for its most crucial shopping period in the wake of Mothercare and Mamas & Papas collapsing into administration, I make no apologies for revisiting the UK’s retail sector.
Following last month’s Brexit Halloween deadline and with Black Friday, Cyber Monday and Christmas ahead of us retailers have reportedly stockpiled seasonal products earlier than usual but the consumer uncertainty remaining no one knows how much stock will remain unsold in the new year.
The Confederation of British Industry, the country’s leading business lobby group, said retailers’ stock levels compared with the volume of expected sales had risen to the highest point in October since it began compiling retail sales estimates in 1983.
This is against a backdrop of dramatically narrowing profit margins, falling consumer confidence and repeated demands for comprehensive reform of business rates falling on seemingly deaf Government ears.
A new report by the global professional services firm Alvarez & Marsal (A&M), in partnership with Retail Economics, has found that store-based profit margins for the top 150 UK.retailers have more than halved in less than a decade – dropping from 8.8 percent as seen in 2009/10 to 4.1 percent in 2017/18.
This, it says, is the result of increasing operating costs, inflexible lease structures and changing shopping habits. Yet, it concludes that there is still demand for the High Street physical retail experience “presenting opportunities for forward-thinking incumbents, entrepreneurs and investors. Those that collaborate with landlords and local authorities will be the big winners going into the next business cycle”.
But with a December 25th Quarter Day deadline for the payment of quarterly rents, cash flow is likely to be tight for many retailers who won’t get much support from landlords.
Indeed, headwinds are building up for retail landlords in the retail sector such as Intu, the shopping centre owner, which has warned that it will have to raise more money from shareholders.  It has said that its rental income has been battered by a wave of controversial retailer restructures, by such retailers as Monsoon and Arcadia, using CVAs (Company Voluntary Arrangements) to negotiate rent reductions.
In addition to rent, rates are also an ongoing problem for retailers. On October 30th the Treasury Committee, a cross-party group of MPs, called for an urgent review of the whole business rates system, saying that it was broken, having outpaced inflation for many years and grown as a share of business taxes, placing an unfair burden on bricks and mortar shops. Not only that, but, it also criticised a backlog of 16,000 appeals against business rate decisions and called for the government’s valuation office to be properly staffed.
This was only the latest in a seemingly endless series of calls for reform, that had come from such bodies as the FSB (Federation of Small Businesses), the British Retail Consortium and others throughout the year, with FSB chairman Mike Cherry warning of a very bleak winter ahead.
With consumer confidence currently at a six-year low according to research by YouGov and the Centre for Economics and Business Research Mr Cherry’s prediction isn’t a surprise.
With an estimated 85,000 jobs having already gone from the retail sector over the last year, and approaching 3,000 more coming after the latest retail closures how likely is it that consumers will rush out and spend during the festive season?
The likelihood of any Government action has, of course, receded into the distance given that politicians are now not sitting, but out on the campaign trail ahead of a General Election on December 12th.
Whether a new government can shift its focus away from the ongoing and ever more tedious Brexit saga and onto more pressing domestic concerns remains a very big question but the party manifestos focus on sectors other than the retail sector which doesn’t bode well for them in the short term.

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Business Development & Marketing Cash Flow & Forecasting Finance General Insolvency

Diversity of thought is about more than challenging stereotypes and ticking a box

diversity of thoughtToo often the word diversity as applied to directors of companies is seen as demonstrating representation by gender, ethnicity, religion, and possibly of age. But it should actually be about more than that, it should also be about diversity of thought and ideas.
The challenges facing businesses in the 21st Century are becoming more complex and happening at a faster pace so it makes sense to have people at board level who think differently and can communicate their ideas.
In a recent survey carried out by Social Mobility Pledge as reported by The Times newspaper, the researchers found that by and large “who you know” was still the most important factor when promoting staff.
Sadly, the inference from this is that recruitment tends to favour like-minded people, which is hardly helpful to businesses wanting to avoid being stuck in a rut.
The ability to challenge the status quo at all levels and in particular a board level was a topic discussed in a recent vimeo by Kenneth McKellar, a partner at AGM Transitions, which advises senior executives on their career transitions and roles.
He argues that every business needs people who can challenge the organisation and this means choosing directors from a wide variety of backgrounds, education and disciplines as being more important than simply having more women on the board which seems to be the focus of most FTSE 100 companies seeking to observe the UK Corporate Governance Code.
Being open to people from different educational backgrounds and with different experiences can bring different ways of thinking, different knowledge bases and different perspectives to problem-solving.
The challenge for boards is to avoid groupthink despite the natural desire among teams to seek harmony and conformity since groupthink can lead to irrational and dysfunctional decision-making.
This is also about people’s preferred ways of thinking as shown in the Hermann Whole Brain ® Model which was the result of research originally conducted at GE’s corporate university, Crotonville.
It describes four main modes of thinking, analytical, organized, interpersonal and strategic, each of which has a value in promoting diversity of thought in the workplace and at board level. Of course, this is likely to lead to differences of opinion which might imply conflict. However, such differences ought to be regarded as healthy if a business is to consider the challenges of the future and continuously change to meet them.
Ultimately businesses need people who represent a range of thinking and of ideas with the ability to think laterally, who can disagree in a way that leads to collective decisions.
‘Yes’ men and women may keep their job but they ultimately they contribute to the decline of their business due to their going along with others instead of contributing in a constructive way that improves the decisions made.

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Banks, Lenders & Investors Cash Flow & Forecasting Finance General Turnaround

Key Indicator: no respite for the global economy as conditions get worse

perfect storm over the global economyAs we head towards the end of the year it is a good time to look at the current state of the global economy.
Trade wars and the threats of tariffs being imposed by the US on China have become a wearyingly familiar story as US President Donald Trump continues his policy of ‘putting the American economy first’ at all times. It is not just China in the firing line, the rhetoric has escalated with his threat made in October to introduce a series of 25% tariffs on a range of exports worth an estimated £5.8bn from the EU.
But this is not the only trade dispute in the global economy as Japan and South Korea’s disagreements threaten the production of smartphones, computers and other electronics, while yet another Brexit delay, and now a UK general election, all add to the uncertain economic outlook in both the EU and the UK.
Growth has been slowing in India, particularly in its automotive sector, and to an extent in China also.
At the same time there seems to have been an upsurge in popular political protests across the world with demonstrations taking place in Spain, Iraq, Lebanon, Chile, Venezuela and Hong Kong, to name but a few.
Arguably, political unrest, too, has consequences for the global economy, particularly in a place like Hong Kong, which has for years been a focus for dynamic business activity but is now in recession after five months of civil unrest. Unrest has also led to Chile having to cancel its hosting of the November APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) meeting at which the United States and China had been expected to sign a deal to ease their trade war.  As yet no alternative venue has been announced.
The growth in global trade may have slowed to 3.0% this year – the lowest since the 2009 recession – according to International Monetary Fund (IMF). Data provider Refinitiv has reported that Global deal making has eased to the slowest pace in more than two years, with activity falling 11% so far this year to $2.8 trillion.
Not surprisingly all this has prompted the IMF to predict that global economic growth will be just 3% this year, its lowest level since the financial crisis and a downgrade from the organisation’s April prediction.
Earlier in the year it also warned in its global financial stability report that the next major economic crisis would be similar to the financial crisis of 2008; while it didn’t say when it believed this is a likely consequence of the estimated $19 trillion corporate debt mountain in eight major economies. This warning was echoed by the Bank for International Settlements (BIS) in its annual health check of the global financial system.
The new IMF head Kristalina Georgieva has also warned that Brexit in whatever form will be “painful”, adding to the effects of a global slowdown.
Meanwhile with Germany in recession and the EU economy stuttering, ECB chairman Mario Draghi announced a cut in interest rates to a new record low at minus 0.5 percent as part of a broader stimulus package making it expensive for banks to hoard cash.
The signs are not looking good for improvements in the global economy in 2020 and it is becoming increasingly clear, in my view, that politics is contributing to and inextricably entangled with the stormy economic weather besetting business.

Categories
Cash Flow & Forecasting Finance Insolvency Rescue, Restructuring & Recovery

A rise in Administrations in Q3 indicates that many businesses are just about hanging on

Administrations rise and businesses just hanging onThe newly-published insolvency figures for Q3 (July to September) show a massive increase in the number of businesses entering Administrations.
A mid-October report by Begbies Traynor reported that the number of British businesses in significant financial distress has risen by 40% since the Brexit vote – with those in the property, construction, retail and the travel sectors the hardest hit and 489,000 companies in significant distress up by 22,000 on this time last year.
This was followed by KPMG’s recent analysis of London Gazette notices of companies entering into Administration and the picture became clearer with yesterday’s statistics from the Insolvency Service.
Administrations increased by 20% in the last quarter, compared to the previous quarter, to reach their highest level since Q1 2014. CVLs (Company Voluntary Liquidations) rose by only 2.3% compared to the previous quarter but were still at their highest quarterly level since Q1 2012.
The category with most insolvencies was Accommodation and Food Services. This would suggest that dining out seems to have fallen out of favour with consumers increasingly ordering meals to be delivered and eaten at home. This was becoming apparent based on the frequency with which I have been reporting restaurant failures over the last year but is confirmed by the stats that show Food Services have come top of the insolvency list. Meanwhile the Construction Industry continues to struggle with the highest number of insolvencies over the last 12 months to the end of Q3 2019.
Notwithstanding changes in consumer behaviour and the plight of builders, there has been a steady rise in the number of insolvencies over the last two quarters which is no surprise given the ongoing economic uncertainty due to world trade, US sanctions and the Brexit farrago. Meanwhile investors and businesses remain understandably wary about planning for growth – or even planning for future trading given the level of uncertainty and lack of prospects for many businesses. All this is against a backdrop of a weakening of the global economy.
Therefore, just hanging on is often the only option for many businesses who simply want to survive rather than plan for growth where the alternative is insolvency, often via Administration.
The Insolvency Service defines Administrations’ purpose as “the rescue of companies as a going concern, or if this is not possible, then to obtain a better result for creditors than would be likely if the company were to be wound up”. All too often Administrations end up as Liquidations following a sale of the assets with companies rarely ever surviving Administration.
K2 is in the business of helping companies to survive and restructure and has several guides to help when they are in difficulties.
If you would like to know more about your duties and responsibilities as the director of a company, with particular emphasis on knowing if your company is insolvent and what to do if it, you can download the Guide to Directors Duties here.
https://www.onlineturnaroundguru.com/Directors-duties
 

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Banks, Lenders & Investors Business Development & Marketing Cash Flow & Forecasting Finance Insolvency

Directors of companies in financial difficulties should be aware of their pay and perks!

executive pay and perks under scrutinyExecutive pay and perks have been creeping up the agenda with politicians and the public increasingly questioning the rewards given to top CEOs when companies fail.
But should this be done well before any potential failure and in particular when highly paid executives are seeking support for the restructuring and reorganisation initiatives that is necessary when their company is in financial difficulties?
Leadership involves setting an example and when the chips are down this means making demonstrable self-sacrifices.
This week, the Financial Times reported that Standard Chartered bank CEO Bill Winters may have his total pay cut and Namal Nawana will be leaving his CEO role at Smith & Nephew after less than a year after investors turned down his request to increase his $6m package to nearer $18m-$20m.
But it is not only executive pay that has come under fire, this is also true of pensions and other executive benefits.
In September the influential investor group IA (The Investment Association), told companies they must publish credible action plans that align executive pension pay with their workforce by 2022, or risk further shareholder revolts.
A Guardian report revealed that the IA, which represents City firms with £7.7tn in assets under management, has warned that it will “slap companies’ annual reports with a “red top” or highest possible warning label if they fail to share concrete action plans to align executive pension pay with the majority of staff and continue to offer top bosses retirement benefits worth over 25% of salary”.
Clearly shareholders are becoming less willing to support the “greed is good” philosophy that grew out of the Chicago School economist Milton Friedman’s Neoliberal economic model whereby businesses exist solely to make money for their shareholders and executives should be rewarded accordingly.
How much of this is due to external pressures, such as the growing awareness that perpetual growth is incompatible with a sustainable environment, and how much to a seemingly endless series of high profile business collapses, from Carillion to Thomas Cook with massive debts but still high executive pay and perks?
Are CEOs worth their executive pay and perks?
The CIPD (Chartered Institute of Personnel Development) monitors the gap between average CEO pay and that of workers.
Its most recent report found that average salaries for chief executives fell by 13% between 2017 and 2018, but they still earned 117 times more than the average UK full-time worker, despite the introduction of new standards for corporate governance and the introduction of the Audit, Reporting and Governance Authority by the Government earlier in the year
The argument has always been that in order to attract the best a business has to pay for talent, but beyond their annual reports, there is little or no guidance, or seemingly effort, made to monitor effectiveness or track improvements in profitability following the appointment of new CEOs.
In the most recent example, the death of travel company Thomas Cook, only now are questions being asked about the high remuneration of its CEO and executives when contrasted with its massive accumulated debt, and about the wisdom of turning down offers for lucrative parts of the business that might have made a difference.
At a recent event, moreover, Charles Cotton, CIPD senior adviser for performance and reward, said employers risked sending the message that executives’ contributions were “valued more highly” if their pay was rising when employee salaries had remained largely stagnant since 2008.
Clearly, there is a need for much more awareness among executive about the messages their pay and perks convey to stakeholders. The level of scrutiny they are being subjected to will only increase.

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Banks, Lenders & Investors Cash Flow & Forecasting Finance Insolvency Turnaround

Is the death of Thomas Cook a sign of more to come in the travel industry?

travel industry in trouble?Commentators have been quick to predict the death of the package holiday and in some cases of much of the travel industry following the demise of Thomas Cook in September.
But is this really the case?
Johan Lundgren, the chief executive of easyJet, argues that it is too soon to predict the demise of the travel industry, or indeed of package holidays.
In an article in the Daily Telegraph he says: “sales of holiday packages have grown faster than the economy every year for the past 10 years”.
There is no doubt, however, that technology has made a significant difference to the way people search, book and pay for their holidays.
Lundgren acknowledges that requirements and buying methods have changed significantly: “Rapid development in technology and AI, combined with a focus on data now allows the customer to find holidays suited to them online”.
Holiday companies, he said, needed to invest in technology to support customer interactions.
The tour operators trade body ABTA (Association of British Travel Agents) said 51% of people it surveyed in July had taken a package holiday in the past year, up from 48% in 2018.
According to statistics from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), the number of package holidays taken in the UK has been rising steadily since 2014, reaching 18.2m last year.
In its latest quarterly bulletin on overseas travel in general, published in September, the ONS results found that UK residents spent £4.5 billion on visits overseas in June 2019 (1% more than in June 2018), however, they made 6.8 million visits overseas in June 2019 (7% fewer than in June 2018).
There are also plenty of successful small, independent local travel agents offering tailored packages to fit customers’ requirements. We know of at least three in Suffolk alone and there are doubtless many more around the country.
So clearly once people have decided where they want to go and what they want to do, they still feel the need for someone to take care of the details and to have the assurance of having someone available should things go wrong.
Furthermore, the price paid by consumers and amount received by holiday providers might provide a clue to why travel operators and package travel companies ought to survive. Most online purchases, in particular for accommodation, are now handled by firms like booking.com, trivago.co.uk or tripadvisor.co.uk who charge hotels up to 30% of the package. This is a huge margin for travel companies to exploit.
So, what happened to Thomas Cook?
The company was launched in 1841 by a Derbyshire preacher, Thomas Cook, and became one of the world’s biggest companies to offer “integrated holidays” (ie package holidays).
The company issued two profits warnings in 2018 and in May revealed it was carrying huge amounts of debt – around £1.2bn. According to the Financial Times, many of its wounds were self-inflicted: “Successive managements allowed debts to balloon. The company revealed a debt pile of £1.2bn in May and recorded a £1.1bn write-down from its ill-fated acquisition of MyTravel, a UK rival. About one-third of Thomas Cook’s sales was spent just on servicing its loans”.
Generous remuneration to its executives, including an estimated £20m in bonuses and payment of more than £8m over the past five years to chief executive, Peter Fankhauser, have also been cited as excessive.
The company also received, and declined, five offers for its profitable airline operation and as if that were not enough, the FCA (Financial Conduct Authority) is investigating EY’s audit of the company’s accounts.
The German international broadcaster, Deutsche Welle, has speculated that opaque private equity deals amid low interest rates may also have played a part in its collapse.
Arguably an out-dated business model depending too much on high street retail outlets and a failure to adopt modern technology will have contributed too.
But while there will undoubtedly be casualties among travel firms that fail to adapt their business models and practices to modern consumer requirements, and, of course, the whole industry is vulnerable to the volatility of consumer confidence in the context of an eventual post-Brexit future with fears about job security, it would be unwise to predict the death of the travel industry as a result.
 

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Banks, Lenders & Investors Cash Flow & Forecasting Finance Insolvency

‘Caveat Emptor’ Is peer to peer lending too risky for peers?

peer to peer lending house of cardsPeer to peer lending (P2P) enables individuals to obtain loans directly from other individuals, cutting out the financial institution as the middleman.
As such, the lack of trust in middlemen has seen the emergence of peer to peer lending platforms as an attractive proposition for retail investors in a climate of low interest rates because they can offer better rates thanks to the lower overheads associated with online businesses. The lower overheads are also related to not having to pay a middleman!
The platforms are generally a website or app that facilitates this alternate method of financing, where the first emerged in 2005 and was brought under FCA (Financial Conduct Authority) regulation in 2014.
However, the FCA has been criticised as being too “light touch” in its oversight following the collapse in May this year of UK property finance peer to peer firm Lendy with £160m in outstanding loans of which it has been calculated more than £90m are in default.
According to CityAM, Lendy was placed on a FCA watchlist last year amid concerns about its inability to meet the standards required of regulated firms. Its subsequent failure is believed likely to result in retail investors losing £millions.
The demise of Lendy came a year after the peer to peer platform Collateral UK went into administration, reportedly, according to the website crowd funder insider, after it was discovered that it had wrongly believed it was authorized and regulated by the FCA under interim permission.
FCA chief Andrew Bailey has been reported as saying that the decision to authorise Lendy had been taken to reduce consumer harm, as refusing authorisation may have risked greater damage.
However, Adam Bunch of the Lendy Action Group, which claims to represent about 900 investors, said: “FCA authorisation was seen by investors as a stamp of credibility. Only now, after the platform has failed, do we learn that the regulator in fact saw authorisation as a way to contain a badly run business”.
I would add that the reference to ‘investors’ worries me since there seems to be no distinction between shareholders, secured lenders and unsecured lenders nor any understanding of ‘caveat emptor’.
Indeed, Lendy was a lending platform and there is no mention of the peers as retail lenders who have a prior ranking claim over investors (shareholders) but I am sure it highlights the ignorance among retail investors and lenders who might be better off seeking advice from professionally qualified middlemen.
Not surprisingly, there have been growing calls for tighter FCA regulation of peer to peer lenders and in June, following consultations, the FCA launched new, tighter regulations, most of which will come into effect in December this year.
They include introducing more explicit requirements to clarify what governance arrangements, systems and controls platforms need to have in place to support the outcomes they advertise and a requirement that an appropriateness assessment (to assess an investor’s knowledge and experience of P2P investments) be undertaken, where no advice has been given to the investors and lenders.
In September the FCA also warned peer to peer lenders to clean up poor practices or face a “strong and rapid” crackdown.
Whether this will be enough to stem the reported exodus of investors’ money from peer to peer lending and to better protect them remains to be seen.
However, the warning to potential investors remains as it has always been to not invest any money you can’t afford to lose.

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Business Development & Marketing Cash Flow & Forecasting Finance Rescue, Restructuring & Recovery

Recession, imminent or not is it time to ban the word?

recession storm cloudsRecession is a word that has immense power, striking apprehension into the hearts of businesses, politicians and consumers alike.
Talk of a recession can also precipitate the very economic conditions that are so feared and it is worrying that the word is currently appearing regularly in the daily news media.
But is recession a useful concept especially in the context of increasing pressure to move to sustainable, rather than perpetual, economic growth, in order to combat climate change and global warming?
Should we keep growing?
The generally-accepted definition of a recession is, according to the Business Dictionary: a contraction in the GDP for six months (two consecutive quarters) or longer. It goes on to say: “Marked by high unemployment, stagnant wages, and fall in retail sales, a recession generally does not last longer than one year and is much milder than a depression. Although [they] are considered a normal part of a capitalist economy, there is no unanimity of economists on its causes.”
So, by these measures, the UK has its highest ever employment and rising wages and is not in recession. On the other hand, it is suffering from falling retail sales, apparently now online as well as on the High Street, as a result, we are told, of declining consumer confidence and worries over future job stability.
Clearly, an imminent recession has been a worry for some time, at least as far as the media has been concerned.
Over the course of the last two months, every time the latest confidence and productivity figures have been announced it has prompted speculation.
In early September, the Sunday Times reported data from MakeUK and BDO who both indicated falls in factory output and from the CBI (Confederation of British Industry) whose latest growth indicator showed a continued decline in services and distribution volumes.
Later in the month these same two bodies were reporting that domestic orders in the UK manufacturing sector had declined in the third quarter for the first time in three years as well as reporting weakening export orders.
Purchasing managers’ monthly indexes from IHS Markit/CIPS throughout the month showed declining confidence in the services, manufacturing and construction sectors.
And so it went on until by the start of October, the Guardian was claiming that a recession was on the way.
In view of the persistent pessimistic data one might wonder how we are not in a recession.
It might be explained by the alternative views based on other data. For example, the Economist carried an opinion piece that pointed out that the last two recessions, between August 2000 and September 2001, and then in 2008, had been as a result of “epic financial crisis” accompanied by stock market crashes.
It then argued that a recession was as much a matter of mood as it was of any reliable economic signals and signs.
Meanwhile on September 27 David Blanchflower, Professor of economics at Dartmouth College in the US and member of the MPC (Monetary Policy Committee at the Bank of England) from 2006-09, argued that the UK was already in recession, even though the conditions for the technical definition had not yet been fulfilled.
Ah, so it is down to the definition of recession. Is a recession now like news: fake or real? And what is a technical recession?
Blanchflower based his argument on the fall in “how businesses are doing on turnover, capacity constraints, employment and investment intentions” arguing that since GDP figures are actually regularly revised after their initial announcement they cannot be used as an indicator of recession.
Confused? That’s no surprise!
This is why I am suggesting that the widespread use of the term is less than helpful to businesses trying to navigate their way through the admittedly uncertain landscapes of imminent Brexit, global trade wars and political mayhem.
They would be much better served by focusing on their cash flow, balance sheets, growth plans and other data in order to remain sustainable and profitable, whatever the surrounding, feverish “mood music” of recession talk.

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Banks, Lenders & Investors Cash Flow & Forecasting Finance Insolvency Rescue, Restructuring & Recovery

Sector update: have there been improvements in care home viability?

care home viabilityIt hardly seems any time since I last assessed the viability of the UK’s care home sector, but in the light of recent developments with one of the UK’s largest providers it’s time for an update.
The last blog in December 2018 focused on the implications of the collapse of Southern Cross in 2011. This time it has been prompted by reports this month that Four Seasons, Britain’s second-largest private care home provider with around 320 sites and 22,000 staff, has confirmed it has failed to pay rent on time. It is being seen as a negotiating tactic in order to cut bills, but is this really the case?
Its latest troubles began in 2017 when its owner Terra Firma was unable to pay interest on its debts, most of which are owned by private equity firm H/2 Capital Partners who took control and have overseen the group since then.
The business, which has more than £700 million in debts, appointed Alvarez & Marsal as administrators in April 2019. While the administrators have sought a buyer, it would seem most likely that H/2 will end up cherry picking the best homes and roll its debt into a new vehicle.
An estimated 70% of the care homes in England are small, mainly family-run businesses, while around 30% are owned by overseas investors, according to information published by the LSE in May this year.
In the LSE’s view many of the latter group of owners: “view them as assets for extracting large sums in the form of interest payments, rent and profit”.
In 2014 after the Southern Cross debacle the sector regulator CQC (Care Quality Commission) introduced a new requirement – a statement of financial viability, in a bid to ensure there were no repeats of the situation.
However, it clearly has not worked.
In August this year the insurance provider RMP published an assessment of the current state of care home viability, in which it quoted findings by Manchester University that “the financial models for nearly all the larger private equity-owned care home chains carry significant external debt and interest repayments”.
In addition, it said that spending by local authorities on social care had fallen while at the same time as costs have risen. This rise is attributed to a number of factors several of which are being related to Brexit: difficulties in staff recruitment and retention, restrictions on immigration numbers and, increases of the minimum wage.
Indeed, the GMB Union cites concern from the newly-published Operation Yellowhammer documents regarding the sector: “The adult social care market is already fragile due to declining financial viability of providers. An increase in inflation following EU exit would significantly impact adult social care providers due to increasing staff and support costs, and may lead to provider failure, with smaller providers impacted within 2 – 3 months and larger providers 4 – 6 months after exit”.
The Yellowhammer document, it says, therefore advises planning for potential closures and the handing back of contracts.
Despite these problems, demand outstrips supply in most local authorities, with an estimated current shortage of 65,000 care home beds, while a recent report by Newcastle University finds that an additional 71,000 care home spaces will be needed in the next eight years.
Clearly, funding the cost of care homes is itself in need of urgent attention and support. Call in the restructuring advisors?

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Cash Flow & Forecasting Insolvency Rescue, Restructuring & Recovery Voluntary Arrangements - CVAs

High Court CVA clarification for landlords

High Court ruling for landlords on CVARecently in the High Court landlords challenged the validity of the CVA (Company Voluntary Arrangement) that was approved for the High Street Debenhams retail chain.
The store chain had announced that its restructuring plan based on the closure of 50 stores and rent reductions for up to 100 others.
Major shareholder Mike Ashley, owner of Sports Direct, had sought to challenge the CVA after the board of Debenhams rejected his offer to buy the chain for £200 million. His shareholding was wiped out when the company went private as part of the rescue and restructuring deal, which was approved by 80% of its landlords.
Although Ashley withdrew his own challenge to the CVA, he continued by backing a legal challenge from Combined Property Control Group (CPC) as landlords who owned several properties.
According to CMS Law the five grounds of the CPC challenge were:

  1. Future rent is not a “debt” and so the landlords are not creditors, such that the CVA cannot bind them;
  2. A CVA cannot operate to reduce rent payable under leases: it is automatically unfairly prejudicial;
  3. The right to forfeiture is a proprietary right that cannot be altered by a CVA;
  4. The CVA treats the landlords less favourably than other unsecured creditors without any proper justification;
  5. There is a material irregularity: the CVA fails to adequately disclose the existence of potential “claw back” claims in an administration.

Items 1, 2, 4 and 5 were rejected by the High Court, although item 3 was upheld, meaning that the landlord retains the right of re-entry and to forfeit a lease and therefore this right cannot be modified by a CVA.
This means that if they choose to, landlords can take back their property, although in the current perilous circumstances in the retail sector it is questionable if this would be in their interests given the difficulties they might have in finding an alternative tenant and their liability for rates even when the property is vacant.
The findings did however leave open the prospect of a challenge over the reduction in the rent value if it could be proven that it was below the current market value.
Given the growth in the use of CVAs to exit unwanted leases and reduce rent in the struggling High Street retail sector, the High Court judgement is to be welcomed, both for those retailers hoping to survive by restructuring their businesses onto a hopefully more sustainable footing by reducing their overheads, and for landlords, who now have some clarity about their position in such cases.

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Business Development & Marketing Cash Flow & Forecasting Finance General Turnaround

The state of manufacturing in the UK and globally – October Key Indicator

the state of manufacturing - redundant machinesThis month’s Key Indicator looks at the state of manufacturing in the UK and globally and by all indications, it is struggling everywhere.
While the proportion of manufacturing as a part of individual national economies varies all economies depend on trade with each other and in an interconnected world a slowdown in one place can have a significant impact on others.
China is currently the No 1 in the world in terms of manufacturing output valued at $2,010 billion representing 27% of national output. USA is second ($1,867, 12%); Japan third  ($1,063, 19%); followed by Germany ($700, 23%); South Korea ($372, 29%); India ($298, 16%); France ($274, 11%) and Italy ($264, 16%).  The UK trails these countries in ninth place with $244 billion manufacturing output representing 10% of national output.
Poland meanwhile has the highest percentage of its workforce employed in manufacturing, followed by Germany, Italy, Turkey, and South Korea.
In the UK, manufacturing makes up 11% of GVA, 44% of total UK exports and directly employs 2.6 million people. In fact, in August according to IHS Markit/CIPS the UK manufacturing sector fell to a seven-year low.
The CBI (Confederation of British Industry) monthly survey showed that manufacturing order books fell in September to -28 from -13, well below consensus expectations of -16%. While food, drink and tobacco and mechanical engineering drove positive growth, metal manufacture, metal products and textiles and clothing pulled in the opposite direction.
However, figures everywhere over the last few months make grim reading.
IHS Markit’s latest snapshot for September of Germany’s manufacturing growth, where a score under 50 signals contraction, slid to 41.4, the worst reading since June 2009. In fact, the entire Eurozone is experiencing a contraction, according to official data from Eurostat, the statistical office of the European Union in Luxembourg.
In China, Reuters reports that growth in industrial production in August was at its weakest in more than 17 years while in the USA, too, the New York Times reported that in August the manufacturing sector contracted again as it had in July, albeit manufacturing accounts for just 11-12 percent of the country’s gross domestic product.

What is causing the current state of manufacturing in the UK and globally?

In a word, uncertainty is the theme everywhere, but while the primary causes may differ around the world, in many ways the underlying reasons are politics and market economics.
There are two ongoing conflicts: 1. between those who advocate stimulating economies and those who believe we should live within our means; and 2. between those who believe in market forces and those who seek to control them whether by tariffs, duty, currency control or exchange rates.
In September the USA introduced yet another set of trade tariffs on Chinese imports as part of the ongoing trade war launched by US president Donald Trump. The question is what next as tariff talks between the two are due to resume in October.
In the UK, clearly, the ongoing uncertainty is primarily over when, if or whether the country will finally resolve its various dilemmas over leaving the EU at the end of October as Prime Minister Boris Johnson continues to promise.
Manufacturers anticipate that output volumes will fall briskly over the next quarter and that output price inflation will accelerate in the next three months, above the long-run average. Anna Leach, deputy chief economist at the CBI, said: “UK manufacturers have become noticeably gloomier in September.”
However, arguably the three-year Brexit wrangle has had its repercussions well beyond the UK as manufacturing supply chains are so closely interwoven across the EU. The effects of the reduced value of £Sterling against the Euro and other currencies has added significant costs to importing of raw materials and components, which has had a significant impact on the automotive industry particularly.
There is little sign that the politicians will shift their stance on the big issues but the one element that so far does not seem to have been factored into the arguments is the effect of climate change and the damage to the environment.
This is an issue that has become so pressing that it is just faintly possible that it could prompt a radical rethink in the way businesses trade globally, the way goods are manufactured and what goods will, or should, be made in the future, and above all on how national and global economies should measure economic success.
Perhaps this presents an opportunity for SMEs to come up with new and innovative ideas that will promote sustainable growth without the endless competition that currently seems to dominate the discussion?

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Accounting & Bookkeeping Cash Flow & Forecasting Debt Collection & Credit Management Finance Insolvency

Can SMEs afford to wait any longer for a business rates review?

business rates review is urgent for businessesRetailers have been calling for months for a business rates review as the decimation of the UK’s High Street continues.
In early August more than 50 leading retailers wrote to the Chancellor urging him to change tax rules to boost the UK High Street and the business law firm RPC has reported that there has been a 65% increase in the number of businesses challenging their rates bill in the last quarter, with 4,000 challenges made in the first quarter of 2019, up from 2,430 challenges in Q4 2018.
RPC explains that the increase in challenges shows broadening dissatisfaction with business rates. Jeremy Drew, Co-Head of Retail at RPC, explains that the property tax is so complex that each new ratings review sees thousands of challenges lodged by businesses.
The retailers’ call was reinforced later in the month by the CBI (Confederation of British Industry), whose chief economist Rain Newton Smith said reform would be an enormous help to companies facing uncertainty and rising costs.
So, it is not only retail businesses that are struggling as new figures from an investigation by the real estate adviser Altus Group revealed earlier this week.
Using the Freedom of Information Act, it asked all the councils in England to provide details of how many business premises had been referred to Bailiffs.
It found that during the financial year 2018/19 councils appointed Bailiffs to visit 78,000 non-domestic properties including shops, restaurants, pubs and factories to collect overdue business rates.

What are the chances of a business rates review in the near future?

There are worries that in the light of politicians’ and Government’s ongoing tunnel-vision focus on Brexit urgent domestic concerns are being forgotten.
A total of 10 trade bodies have written to the Treasury Select Committee to express concern that the recent ministerial reshuffle has risked delaying urgent business rates reform.
Robert Hayton, head of UK business rates at Altus, said: “It’s not the mechanics of the rating system that is of primary concern to business but the level of the actual rates bills.”
“Commercial property is already making a significant contribution to overall UK tax revenues…with the highest property taxes across the EU…”
And John Webber, Head of Business Rates at commercial real estate advisers Colliers International, has said that a Government promise to carry out business rates reviews every three years, rather than every five, “ will merely scrape the surface of a current business rates system that needs much more drastic reform”.
This includes a revamped appeals system, which has been made so complicated that at first SMEs were deterred from using it. Also, a lack of staff at the VOA (Valuations Office Appeals), Colliers argues, has created an enormous backlog of appeals being settled.
The Times recently reported that the number of outstanding appeals has risen six-fold.
It is clear that if the UK economy, which relies heavily on SMEs, is to survive and thrive once Brexit is finally settled (if it ever is) the conditions in which they operate will have to be vastly improved, and quickly, if they are to be able to manage their cash flows, create sustainable business plans and grow in the future.
Perhaps the most urgent element of this is a business rates review given that the present system is far from fit for purpose.

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Banks, Lenders & Investors Business Development & Marketing Cash Flow & Forecasting Finance Insolvency

What is AIM and is it beneficial to SMEs to apply for AIM listing?

aim for growing businessIt is coming up to 25 years since AIM (Alternative Investments Market), the London Stock Exchange’s junior stock market, was launched and it now lists around 3,600 businesses.
According to the accounting firm BDO, “AIM is the most successful growth market of its type in the world” and in the last five years AIM-listed businesses “have created an additional 76% jobs, now employing almost 390,000 people”.
The London Stock Exchange website explains that AIM is targeted at smaller, and growing, businesses and offers them “the benefits of a world-class public market within a regulatory environment designed specifically to meet their needs”.
It is a multilateral trading facility, operated and regulated by the London Stock Exchange under FCA rules.
Candidates for AIM listing do not have to have a trading track record, but they must abide by the rules. There are very clear guidelines on how to apply for AIM listing on the Stock Exchange website.
They must appoint and maintain an AIM approved Nominated Advisor, also known as a NOMAD, who is responsible to the Exchange for assessing the appropriateness of an applicant for AIM. The NOMAD also advises and guides their client through the AIM listing process and once listed ensures it complies with its ongoing responsibilities.
The Stock Exchange will suspend trading of the company if it ceases to retain a nominated advisor and if a new NOMAD is not appointed within a month, its AIM listing is cancelled and its shares can no longer be publicly bought or sold.
Albeit with advice from a NOMAD, application for AIM listing is relatively straightforward but listing does cost an estimated £400,000 to £600,000 a year. This covers the NOMAD and other adviser and broker fees, plus AIM membership at around £100,000 per year, according to the website startups.co.uk.
Startups lists some of the pros and cons of AIM listing, the main advantage being future access to raising further funds after the IPO (Initial Public Offering). It says, “AIM listing is being seen as an increasingly attractive investment class to institutions such as pension funds”.
“It also raises the profile of a business, as does having Plc status”, it says. While Plc status requires a minimum of £50,000 share capital, AIM companies tend to have much more and there is the attraction of having publicly tradeable shares.
The downsides according to Startups, are not only the financial cost but also the difference between running a Plc as opposed to a privately-owned business, plus the business will be vulnerable to the ups and downs of share values.
I would add another downside, the need to make public disclosures about matters that influence the share price. This may be great when an AIM company is doing well but can be disastrous for one that isn’t, especially one that needs restructuring.

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Accounting & Bookkeeping Cash Flow & Forecasting Finance Insolvency

Late payments situation getting worse for some SMEs

late payments penalty?According to the ICAEW (Independent Chartered Accountants of England and Wales) late payments to SMEs are a bigger problem than they were a year ago.
Of the nine SME industries analysed, it said, six had reported that the problem of late payments was worsening.
The FSB (Federation of Small Businesses) too, has said that while there have been some improvements thanks to the efforts of the Small Business Commissioner Paul Uppal, late payments remain a major problem and research by Lloyds Bank Commercial released at the end of last month found that last year almost two thirds (62%) of SMEs that were being paid late “failed to chase up for fear of harming customer relationships” also cited time constraints as a significant factor.
The cost to small businesses has been considerable, according to research published by Hitachi Capital earlier this month. It estimates late payments have cost SMEs £51.5bn in the last year.
Its survey of 1000 businesses found that 31% have experienced late payments costing their business at least £10,000 in the last 12 months.
It said that 27% reported that late payments have hit profits, while 12% said the issue had forced them to defer pay to staff. Around 40% have had to use their own money to fund cash flow in their business, with 80% using personal savings to keep their business operational.
Mr Uppal has meanwhile continued to investigate SME complaints and published reports since I last provided an update on the situation.
In mid-July he suspended 18 companies from the Prompt Payment Code, including BT Plc, British American Tobacco and Centrica.
He investigated several complaints and has published reports naming and shaming the companies involved.
They included Bupa Insurance Services Ltd who had failed to pay an invoice for £29,403.76 on 2 November 2018 based on 45-day end of month payment terms. Payment was eventually made 30 days late on January 15 2019 after the SME and Mr Uppal had chased on several occasions.
Also named and shamed in separate reports were Zurich Insurance PLC which eventually paid a claim 65 days later than its agreed payment terms.
Another company, Sambro International failed to pay a small graphic design company within its promised 30 days, for two invoices submitted in November and December 2018. Eventually following Mr Uppal’s investigation, one was paid 56 days late and the second 23 days outside their contracted terms.
Clearly, Mr Uppal and the Chartered Institute of Credit Management (CICM), which administers the system of removal of businesses from the Prompt Payment Code are doing their best, but in the current uncertain economic climate SMEs have enough to worry about without this constant and relentless mistreatment by larger customers and it is well past time the Small Business Commissioner was given stronger powers of enforcement.

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Banks, Lenders & Investors Cash Flow & Forecasting Finance General

The cost to SMEs of IT failures

IT failures in a networked worldThe pressure to do everything online is inexorable but what is the cost to businesses of IT failures?
Perhaps one of the most frequent and difficult issues facing SMEs is the seemingly frequent meltdowns of both banking systems and government websites.
This is without considering the issues of cyber-attacks on companies where the FSB has recently calculated UK small firms are subject to nearly 10,000 cyber-attacks a day, with over a million small firms hit by phishing, malware attacks and payment scams.
Obviously it is in businesses’ own interests to have robust IT systems in place including cyber security, but the frustrations of IT failures are a different issue and often not of their own making since the counter parties also need to have adequate IT systems and security at their end.
Since 2018 the FCA (Financial Conduct Authority) has required banks to publish information about the number of major operational and security incidents they have experienced.
Last month a BBC investigation revealed that bank customers face an average of 10 digital banking shutdowns a month, based on the figures published so far.
The figures for the 12-month period until the end of July 2019 are not exactly comforting. The top five worst “offenders in the list (with the figures in brackets showing failures for the 3 months between 1 April and 30 June 2019) were:
Barclays 33 (4);
NatWest 25 (7);
Lloyds Bank 23 (2);
RBS 22 (7);
Santander 21 (4).
This is at a time when an estimated 6000 small bank branches have been closed, often in small town or rural locations, while, according to analysis by Close Brothers Finance, 51% of SMEs visit a bank branch at least once a week while three quarters use online banking at least once a week, with 41% using it every day.
This would suggest that the costs of IT failures to SMEs, not only in delays, frustration and cash flow issues are considerable.
But it is not only the banks that are a problem. We have lost count of the number of times businesses have reported difficulties with Government websites, from the application process for Business Rate Relief, to authorising and accessing various HMRC websites, and the online court service where last January the entire civil and criminal court IT infrastructure collapsed for several days!
Where does the problem lie for IT failures?
Is the problem with the expectations of those commissioning IT systems, who perhaps do not understand the IT capabilities and limitations? In their understandable desire to win business are the software providers and developers, themselves often SMEs, failing to tell their potential clients honestly what the limits are to the systems they want to commission? Or more pertinently what you can have for the budget.
Or is it simply that the IT skills of the Fintech and other IT provider industries are just not good enough?
We know there is a skills shortage in the IT sector generally but Fintech is supposed to be one of the UK’s most successful sectors.
UK Fintech companies received £740m from venture capital in the second quarter of 2019, almost double the amount invested during the same period last year according to the CBI (Confederation of British Industry), with Challenger Banks like Monzo among the most successful cohorts in Fintech.
Data released by Tech Nation and Dealroom for the government’s Digital Economy Council showed that British tech companies attracted more foreign investment in the past seven months than in the whole of 2018. Another endorsement.
If SMEs are to rely more and more on IT and the tech services of banks and other institutions with which they have to interact, it is perhaps time to look more closely at the services being provided and to make a concerted effort to do something to prevent so many IT failures.

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Banks, Lenders & Investors Business Development & Marketing Cash Flow & Forecasting Finance General Rescue, Restructuring & Recovery

Chaos and Confusion or Order and Clarity? Where are SMEs now with Brexit Planning?

Brexit planning - which way?Brexit planning will continue to dominate the thinking and expenditure of the UK’s SMEs as Parliament is suspended for five weeks and the Government’s plans for leaving the EU on October 31 seem to be in tatters.
Parliament has forced the Prime Minister and cabinet to release its documents, called Operation Yellowhammer, on planning for a No Deal Brexit and has also blocked the possibility of the latter. Both are now, in theory, legal requirements as Acts of Parliament.  However, disagreement prevails.
It is questionable whether the government will obey the law, especially if they can find a way out. Furthermore, there is now no Parliament, or Parliamentary Committees, sitting to scrutinise the Government although the press and Courts are fully engaged.
Notwithstanding the political gymnastics, businesses are deluged with upbeat exhortations and alleged offers of help of which the following is a selection from the last six weeks or so.
Liz Truss, the then International Trade Secretary, described Brexit as a “golden opportunity” for UK businesses and Lord Wolfson, CEO of Next was reported in the Mail on Sunday as being no longer fearful of a no-deal Brexit now that Boris Johnson is Prime Minister. One wonders whether he is now preparing to eat his words.
Last week Alex Brazier, the executive director for financial stability, strategy and risk at the Bank of England, claimed the UK’s financial system will remain stable after Brexit.  Indeed, the BoE now claim a hard Brexit won’t be as disastrous as they previously claimed.
There have also been announcements of several offers of help to businesses with Brexit Planning.
The Business Secretary Andrea Leadsom has launched a £10m grant scheme for business organisations and trade associations to support businesses in preparing for Brexit ahead of October 31. The fund is open to business organisations and trade associations.
Barclays is to host a series of “Brexit clinics” in October and November, with the sessions designed to help its SME customers after Britain’s departure from the EU.
The Government also launched its own £100 million “Get Ready for Brexit” campaign designed, according to Michael Gove, to “give everyone from small business owners to hauliers and EU citizens, “the facts they need” to prepare for the UK’s departure from the EU on October 31st.”
Also, as I reported in July, the BCC (British Chambers of Commerce) launched its own Brexit planning  guidance.

Is all this Brexit planning help and guidance just “smoke and mirrors”?

There is some evidence from SMEs on the ground that their businesses are already feeling the effects of the long-running Brexit saga and that they still feel there is little clarity to help them with Brexit planning.
Last month a QCA (Quoted Companies Alliance) survey of UK small and mid-cap companies found that 59% said it had distracted them from running their business, 16% have invested less in the UK, 43% say that preparing for Brexit has had a negative impact on their company’s growth while just 24% felt the Government had provided adequate information although more than half had taken steps to prepare for the no-deal scenario as best they could.
The real effects on the ground are already being felt.
The value of central EU public procurement contracts secured by UK businesses fell by 30%, to €108m (£99m) in 2018, from €155m (£142m) in 2017, research by UHY Hacker Young.
The British Ports Association (BPA) has dismissed a £10m Brexit fund for English ports as “a tiny amount of money”.
The UK Food and Drink Industry has highlighted its worries about regulatory clearance required for selling animal products to the European Union, warning that there is a serious possibility that, come October, listed status will not be granted.
Towards the end of last month the Guardian described the impact it has already had on one UK company, a Bristol-based manufacturer of industrial safety valves. It reported that at one time its exports were growing fast, with 130 employees and eight apprentices training to high standards, but since the referendum things have quickly changed. According to the owner: “Some EU customers instantly decided it was too much trouble and switched to EU manufacturers – we lost 10% of the business.”
He reported that to continue to trade in the EU post Brexit he needs to obey rules of origin, recording every raw material, tracking every component, requiring “horrendous” new IT systems, his various valves containing 30,000 different configurations and “tripling our admin workload”.
Order and Clarity for Brexit planning? Not quite yet it seems.
So, my advice to SMEs who have to contend with this ongoing Chaos and Confusion remains as it was in July:
For the time being the sensible strategy may be to hold off on any major investment, to focus rigorously on management accounts and cashflow, and to ensure strategy and business plans are as flexible as possible to cover a range of eventualities. It might even be worth contacting a restructuring adviser as part of your contingency planning.

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Business Development & Marketing Cash Flow & Forecasting Finance Turnaround

Ongoing carnage in consumer services sector as consumers reduce spending in restaurants and bars

consumer services struggle to surviveAs I outlined in my June sector blog, it is not only well-known shops in the consumer services sector that have been struggling.
The restaurant sector has also seen a plethora of big name closures, including Gourmet Burger Kitchen, Carluccios, Prezzo/Chimichanga, Byron, Cafe Rouge, Jamie Oliver’s restaurant group and most recently the Restaurant Group which has announced that it plans to close up to 100 of its Frankie & Benny’s and Chiquito branches.
A recent CBI poll has revealed that the whole of the consumer services sector, which includes hotels, bars, restaurants and leisure firms, has suffered its fourth consecutive fall in business activity with both profits and confidence plummeting.
Rain Newton-Smith, chief economist of the CBI, said: “The idea of a no-deal Brexit is clearly weighing down the economy and is affecting businesses both big and small.”
But, of course, there is much more to all this than Brexit uncertainty weighing on businesses and consumers, although the last week of febrile activity in Parliament on this seemingly now all-consuming issue will not help.

Is this a long-term change in consumer behaviour?

Clearly, worries about future job security after Brexit are playing into the declining numbers of people visiting restaurants, bars and hotels which will have contributed to the ongoing decline in the number of pubs and bars, down 2.4% to 116,880 over the past year.
Aside from the increasing numbers of people choosing to eat in, with ordering home-delivered food becoming more common as reported in my June blog, it seems that dining preferences and tastes are all factors.
A recent analysis in the Guardian newspaper revealed that restaurant numbers had fallen by 3.4% in the year to June. It also suggested that our tastes are changing, so that consumers are moving away from Indian, Italian and Chinese establishments in favour of Middle Eastern, Caribbean and specialist vegetarian rivals.
Perhaps, though, among the most significant long-term trends is the shift in demand towards vegan and vegetarian food, as highlighted by the Verdict analysis of restaurants in their 2019 food trends report.  It said: “The country is ever more aware of the amount of food that is wasted and the effect food and packaging has on the planet”.
The other big issue, plastic use and waste, has also grabbed consumers attention as reported in research by RG Group that highlights this as a significant influence on consumers going forward.
Sustainability, transparency and trust are likely to become ever more important in the choices that consumers make, says RG Group: “Consumers today expect brands to be much more accountable when it comes to whether or not they remain loyal. And frequently, perceived accountability comes in the form of commitment to transparency and more socially responsible values and processes.”
Clearly, it is not enough for the High Street and the consumer services sector as a whole to focus solely on providing a “destination experience” as many have promoted in their quest for relevance.
Businesses in this sector, but also in many others, are likely to have to pay a great deal of attention to consumers’ socially responsible values if they want to retain customer loyalty, to survive and grow.

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Banks, Lenders & Investors Business Development & Marketing Cash Flow & Forecasting

Key Indicator – a snapshot of the current state of commodity prices

minerals among the commodity prices going downOngoing fears of a global economic recession, not to mention the escalating trade war between the USA and China, are having an impact on commodity prices.
August has been a particularly torrid month, according to analysts, with iron ore prices in particular suffering a sharp drop – up to 30% according to a report in the Financial Times, although other sources also back this up.
The ongoing uncertainty has also had its effect on oil prices, with OPEC cutting production while the USA has increased theirs. This has had its impact on the futures price of oil, with Brent Crude for October falling 31 cents, or 0.5%, to $60.18 a barrel.
According to the latest analysis from Marketwatch.com, published on August 30, “Commodities will end August with a second straight monthly loss”.
It says that the S & P GSCI index, which tracks 24 commodities across five sectors was down by more than 4% at the end of August, following a fall of 7% in July.
Gold and Silver prices, on the other hand have been steadily rising, with Silver reaching a 1-year peak last week, breaking $17 per ounce and Gold prices rising by almost 7% in August.
In the grain sector, Marketwatch reports the biggest decline in corn, of more than 0.9% over the year. Corn futures prices for August were also down, by 9%.
Bloomberg publishes a useful summary of commodity prices covering three sectors, energy, precious and industrial metals and Agriculture here.
Stability is not yet in sight with the ongoing uncertainties over global trade, fears that Germany will soon fall into recession, the outcome of Brexit still unknown and the latest set of USA-imposed tariffs on Chinese goods kicking in from September 1. As a consequence, predicting what will happen to commodity prices is going to be increasingly difficult for the foreseeable future.
This is not likely to be something businesses will be happy to hear as it makes planning more risky.
 

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Cash Flow & Forecasting Finance General

UK productivity – is it time to move to a four-day working week?

productivity working hours and family timeThe UK’s comparatively low productivity and how to improve it has long been a source of debate and analysis.
The ONS (Office for National Statistics) has reported a reduction in UK productivity for three successive quarters and according to the Resolution Foundation productivity is now 28% below the average rate before the 2008 financial crisis.  Yet this is a time when employment levels in the UK are the highest they have ever been.
Business productivity has traditionally been calculated by dividing average output per period by the total costs incurred (capital, energy, material, personnel) consumed in that period and is used as a determinant of efficiency.
Productivity in both national economies and individual businesses is much scrutinised by governments, business commentators and business owners as an indication of performance, efficiency and economic health.
All of this is based on the assumption that perpetual growth and competition are the cornerstones of economic health.

There are good reasons why it may be time to question some productivity assumptions

Two considerations suggest that the element of the productivity calculation based on employee hours worked and improved performance is becoming less central to the assessment.
Firstly, the nature of many workplaces from manufacturing to offices, has been changed by the growth of AI (Artificial Intelligence) and automation. This can have a potentially dramatic impact on overheads, particularly in reducing staffing levels, but it also means that the skills required from employees in the future will change dramatically.
Secondly, there has been a growing awareness that employee health, both mental and physical, is crucial to business productivity and success. There has been mounting evidence that increasing workers’ hours can result in higher staff absence rates due to ill health, not to mention increasing the chances of mistakes being made through tiredness and exhaustion.
UK employees have the longest working week compared to other workers in the European Union. But, despite the long hours, there is growing evidence that reducing hours worked can have a beneficial effect on productivity.
The TUC (Trades Union Congress) has calculated that UK full time employees worked an average of 42 hours a week in the final quarter of 2018 – almost two hours more than the EU average – but that full-time staff in Denmark are 23.5% more productive per hour than UK workers, despite working four hours fewer per week.
TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady explains: “Britain’s long hours culture is nothing to be proud of. It’s robbing workers of a decent home life and time with their loved ones. Overwork, stress and exhaustion have become the new normal.”
Based on this evidence, along with the TUC, the (NEF) New Economics Foundation has been campaigning for a reduction in weekly working time to 32 hours spread over four days without a reduction in pay.
‘Job and finish’ used to be more commonly used by firms although it has been largely replaced by hourly wages for productivity focused workers.  This has led to firms trying to get more out of workers without the incentives and sharing rewards with staff.  The productivity data would suggest this approach has failed.
There are however examples of companies that have shifted to a 4-day week including one Glasgow-based marketing company mentioned in a recent BBC article, that made the switch three years ago and reports that productivity has increased by about 30%, sickness leave is at an all-time low and there have been unexpected cost savings in that the company no longer needs to pay professional recruiters, as so many people want to work for them.
In July, new research by Henley Business School, as reported by the Independent, found that a four-day working week could save UK businesses an estimated £104bn a year and its survey of 250 companies “indicated that adopting a shorter working week could add to businesses’ bottom lines through increased staff productivity, as well as improved physical and mental health”. The Henley paper, Four Better or Four Worse, also found that nearly two thirds (64 per cent) of those who have already adopted the scheme reported improvements in staff productivity.
But crucially, the third, perhaps currently most important, reason why we should rethink our attitudes to productivity, is the effect on the environment.  The Henley research indicated that the four-day week would have a positive impact on the environment with employees estimating that they would drive 557.8 million fewer miles per week on average.

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Banks, Lenders & Investors Business Development & Marketing Cash Flow & Forecasting Finance General

The current state of the commercial property sector

commercial property siteWith economic uncertainty prevailing both globally and in the UK it would be no surprise if the commercial property sector was facing some difficulties.
The commercial property sector covers Community, Education, Hotel, Healthcare, Office, Retail and Industrial and it is clear from some of the statistics that the woes of retail have been acting as a drag on the sector as a whole.
Jones Lang LaSalle (JLL) provides information on property and investment opportunities and in its most recent analysis on new construction starts it revealed that they fell in the first quarter of 2019 for the first time since Q2 2017.
It reports that the ongoing uncertainty “dampened UK commercial real estate transactional activity in Q2, with investment volumes slowing to £8.9bn. This represented a 22% decline on the first half of and was the slowest first half of the year since 2013.
However, it reports, Alistair Meadows, Head of UK Capital Markets, believes that “Market fundamentals remain strong, with high levels of leasing, low vacancy rates and rental growth offering encouragement to investors. “
The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) reports that in London demand for commercial property in London stayed in negative territory for the 12th quarter in a row and Capital Economics expects a weakness in investment activity is likely to extend into the rest of the year.
Aside from the obvious continuing uncertainty about the UK’s economic future outside the EU, the retail woes are likely to be a significant drag on commercial property. It is estimated that some 20% of retail landlords’ tenants are in significant financial difficulty, Many are insolvent and have embarked on restructuring via CVAs where insolvency is a prerequisite for doing a CVA. Furthermore there are indications that a lot of town centre retail space is no longer viable with landlords seeking planning permission for a change of use so property can be converted into residential units.
Finally, according to CBRE, the world’s largest commercial property services and investment company, most commercial property rents have been reducing in the first half of the year, declining by -0.2%, although it said the industrial sector was the best performing prime market, recording a capital value growth of 1.6% Quarter-on-Quarter, and a Year-on-Year of +6.8%.
One trend that may be significant in the future is the growing popularity of flexible tenancies and shorter leases rather than businesses owning and occupying large corporate buildings. This is already popular for renting for office space with Regus and WeWork growing rapidly but is likely to be used as a more flexible approach to renting light industrial and retail space.

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Banks, Lenders & Investors Business Development & Marketing Cash Flow & Forecasting Finance Turnaround

Can fashion retail ever be made sustainable?

fashion retail garment workersIt is no secret that High Street retail has been in dire straits for some time, and clothing and fashion retail have particularly suffered.
The most recent, and perhaps most high-profile example has been the struggles of Philip Green’s Arcadia Group, comprising the clothing chains Topshop, Topman, Evans, Wallis, Miss Selfridge, Burton and Dorothy Perkins, to use CVAs as a way of restructuring.
But it is not only physical fashion retail stores that are struggling. ASOS has recently issued its second profit warning in seven months, albeit blaming IT chaos in its overseas warehouses despite overall sales being up 12% in the four months to 30th June.
Obviously, cheap prices and turning around lines quickly, have been the two main things on which fashion retail has been relying. As a consequence, clothes are often made by low-paid workers in appalling conditions, in factories located in countries like Bangladesh.
However, for some years there have been demands from consumers for such workers to be paid fairly and treated better following revelations about their working conditions.
That did not, however, mean that consumers were prepared to pay more for their clothes or necessarily to wear them for longer.
Marketing plays a big part in this kind of consumer environment by encouraging shoppers to “be ahead”, “get the newest” and stay “on trend” in order to encourage them to buy and to do so often and repeatedly.
But as I said in my blog on Tuesday, corporate survival is coming increasingly dependant on a variety of demonstrably ethical behaviours, including protecting the environment and treating employees fairly.
It may be that we have reached a critical moment where the zeitgeist among consumers is changing in a way that is focussing fashion retail on the need to change its business model by marketing its ethical and sustainable credentials.

What would sustainability mean in fashion retail? 

Clearly, a recent initiative by Boohoo.com highlighted its ‘new’ sustainable credentials by the launch of its range of “recycled” clothes.
The collection, the company says, has been manufactured entirely in the UK to cut air pollution and its garments are made from recycled polyester, with no environmentally unfriendly dyes or chemicals being used.
It is not yet clear if this is marketing puff or a shift in values as the launch has been greeted with some scepticism, according to an article on the BBC news website.
It may be a start but the EAC (Environmental Audit Committee) argues that it doesn’t address other issues with clothing, including the fact that synthetic fabrics used to make such garments shed micro-fibres when washed, polluting waterways or that even those that are disposed of through retailer take-back schemes or in charity collection bins will eventually find their way into landfill.
The Independent recently reported that fashion retailer Net-a-Porter plans to launch a new platform, Net Sustain, to highlight brands meeting certain criteria regarding sustainability. Attributes will include “Locally Made”, when at least 50% of a brand’s products have been manufactured within their own community or country, and “Craft & Community”, where products showcase exceptional, artisanal skills. The platform will launch with 26 brands and 500 products.
However, other pressures are also having an influence, not least all the publicity about plastic waste littering the world’s oceans and land, which it has been argued is not helped by the rise in online shopping where packages generally use plastic materials.
Fair pay for overseas garment workers and the use of sustainably grown fibres, such as cotton are also factors.
Another is the popularity of new initiatives such as the decluttering movement started by Marie Kondo who has been encouraging us to hoard less “stuff”, or the Tiny House movement that is encouraging us to use less space.
One company in Suffolk has been in the forefront of fair trade and environmentally sustainable clothing production for five years.
Where Does it Come From, operates in both India and in Africa and offers a complete history of its manufacture with each garment. It has to be said their range is not as cheap as perhaps the fast-turnaround online and high street fashion retail can produce but its ethical, environmental and sustainability credentials are impeccable.
And this is perhaps the main issue for fashion retail, promoting their values as evidenced by their actions rather than by their marketing. Will consumers be willing to pay more and buy less frequently to satisfy their concerns?
The Suffolk business has clearly been able to survive and has some extremely loyal customers but whether its model can work in the mass fashion retail market remains to be seen.
 

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Cash Flow & Forecasting Finance

Proposal to strengthen sanctions for late payments culprits

late payments penalty?Some 18 months since the appointment of Small Business Commissioner Paul Uppal to tackle the problem of late payments to SME suppliers by larger companies it seems that the situation has barely improved.
In fact, according to research published in June by Purbeck Insurance Services late payment problems have actually got worse for 27% of SMEs with some 30% reporting worsening cash flow problems.
In the first quarter of this year Mr Uppal’s department has overseen the removal or suspension of some 17 companies that had signed up to the Prompt Payment Code (PPC) but failed to meet its standards.
The five removed altogether included BHP Billiton, DHL and GKN Plc. Signatories to the PPC pledge, among other things, agree to pay 95% of all supplier invoices within 60 days.
In its most recent completed case in May 2019 the Small Business Commissioner (SBC) was approached by a SME over the failure by G4S to pay it an invoice for £31,880.49 despite having contracted to do so within 60 days.
Although G4S claimed this was an isolated incident and the invoice was paid immediately it was contacted by the SBC, further investigation found persistent late payment of previous invoices over an 18-month period.
Now the Government’s small business minister Kelly Tolhurst has announced proposals to consult on strengthening Mr Uppal’s powers.
The proposals include making directors accountable for overseeing their payment practices, which would have to be detailed in their annual reports.
They also propose strengthening the powers of the small business commissioner to tackle late payments through imposing fines and introducing binding payment plans.
The proposals have been welcomed by Mike Cherry, national chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses while the IoD (Institute of Directors) is reported in an article published by CityAM to have said  that they marked a significant step forward: “Forcing larger firms to report on their payment practices will ensure much greater scrutiny where standards fall short, and sunlight is often the best disinfectant,”
In another development, from September this year firms that do not pay 95% of subcontractors within 60 days risk being frozen out of public sector procurement. The new rules force companies to report their payment data every six months to a national database overseen by the business department. This will no doubt encourage whistle blowing by those who are not paid within the 60 day deadline.
It is clear that voluntary agreements by large companies as well as being named and shamed are not going to be sufficient to halt the scourge of late payment to SMEs but barring large companies from public sector contracts and moves to strengthen the SBC powers are to be welcomed as they may change the late payment culture that seems to be embedded.

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Accounting & Bookkeeping Cash Flow & Forecasting Finance General Turnaround

How much can businesses realistically plan for no-deal Brexit?

no-deal Brexit amid Global economic slowdownClearly businesses are operating in very uncertain economic times with no-deal Brexit having become a game of political football and with such an unpredictable outcome.
While a degree of uncertainty is a fact of life in business, which is why I strongly recommend regular and at least monthly scrutiny of management accounts, the current situation is arguably unprecedented.
We are in the midst of a global economic slowdown, with UK manufacturing activity at its lowest level for six years and the economy stagnating according to the British Chamber of Commerce (BCC) latest quarterly report published last Monday, much of this being self-inflicted following the Brexit referendum.
And worse, the UK is now beset by a contest to elect a new leader for the “governing”, Conservative party in which only a small group of party members have a say, and seemingly with both candidates adopting increasingly intractable positions on leaving the EU by the end-October deadline and even worse with the prospect of leaving with no deal in place.
It was alarming for UK businesses to hear the most recent comment, from the previously moderate and supposedly business friendly entrepreneur, Jeremy Hunt, that he would be willing to tell business owners that they should be prepared to see their companies go bust in a no-deal Brexit as a price worth paying to fulfil a “democratic” promise to voters.
Meanwhile his opponent, and the alleged favourite to win, famously used a four letter word to dismiss business concerns and, more recently, according to his colleague, the International Trade Secretary Liam Fox, has failed to grasp that leaving with no deal actually precludes the UK relying on a 10-year standstill in current arrangements using an article of the EU’s General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (article 24 of the general agreement on tariffs and trade) which actually only applies if there is an agreement in place.
Amid this turmoil the Governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, has urged businesses to prepare properly with the relevant paperwork for a no-deal Brexit to allow them to continue to export to the EU.
Furthermore, in the last few days it has been announced that around £96 million has been paid to consultants helping the Government to prepare for departure, while Tom Shinner, the top government official in charge of no-deal Brexit planning has resigned as has his colleague, Karen Wheeler, the HMRC official in charge of “frictionless” Brexit border planning.
How on earth can businesses be expected to make realistic and achievable plans for an unknown future against this backdrop?
Well, there is some help to be had, courtesy of the BCC, which has issued its own Business Brexit Checklist, divided into nine sections of some detail about the areas businesses should be looking at.
They include assessing their Labour and Skills needs for the next few years, Cross border trade and the paperwork that will be needed in the event of no-deal, Currency/intellectual property/contracts, Taxation/insurance, Regulatory compliance/data protection, European funding and a link to a Government’s online support called ‘The Business Preparation Tool’.
To be fair, UK businesses, particularly manufacturers, did their best to prepare for the March Brexit deadline, stockpiling essential parts, materials and the like to be able to ensure continuity in the expected aftermath but it would be unreasonable to expect them to continue to tie up capital indefinitely in this way.
Indeed, most UK car manufacturers brought forward their annual shutdown to coincide with the March deadline as a means of preparation. There is no doubt that the further delay and continuing uncertainty is a major factor that is causing our largest export industry to struggle.
At the other end of the scale I believe that UK SMEs are among the most resilient and innovative in the world and will find ways to survive come what may and in spite of whatever economic damage is caused by the politics of Brexit.
But for the time being the sensible strategy may be to hold off on any major investment, to focus rigorously on management accounts and cashflow, and to ensure strategy and business plans are as flexible as possible to cover a range of eventualities. If necessary contact a rescue and turnaround adviser.
As for current political announcements, they might be taken with a large spoonful of salt.

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Banks, Lenders & Investors Cash Flow & Forecasting Finance General

Redefining measures of national economic health – July Key Indicator

national economic health measured by more than just GDP?For almost 40 years the defining measure of a country’s national economic health has been GDP (Gross Domestic Product).
As such, my monthly Key Indicators have focused on various specific aspects, such as oil prices, factory output or investment decisions and the like. This time, however, given that the summer is generally a time to pause and reflect, the Key Indicator considers this notion of how we measure national economic health.
There are signs of a growing resistance to using such a simplistic measure as GDP to compare the relative success of national economies.
For example, Evan Davies, the BBC’s former economics editor argues: “It is barely an exaggeration to say it has been fetishised in economics, despite obvious weaknesses in its capacity to encapsulate a whole economy in a single number” in an article analysing where economists have been going wrong.
National economies are, he argues, both too complex and too theoretically based on mathematical models.
This is a theme also in the work of Joseph Stiglitz, Nobel laureate in economics, a professor at Columbia University and chief economist at the Roosevelt Institute, who, in asking what kind of economic system is most conducive to human wellbeing, has for some years argued that “The neoliberal experiment – lower taxes on the rich, deregulation of labour and product markets, financialisaton, and globalisation – has been a spectacular failure”.
The key word is “wellbeing”.
In 1972, Bhutan became the first country to change its method of assessing the country’s national economic health and performance to a more holistic method of assessing progress based not only on its economic performance but also on Gross National Happiness (GNH). The then King Jigme Singye Wangchuck argued that for sustainable development both should be measured.
Bhutan’s GNH includes psychological wellbeing, health, education, time use, cultural diversity and resilience, good governance, community vitality, ecological diversity and resilience, and living standards.
In May this year, New Zealand released its first-ever “wellbeing budget”. According to the country’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, the purpose of government spending is to ensure citizens’ health and life satisfaction, and this should be how a country’s progress is measured, not by GDP alone.

Is UK about to follow suit in changing how it measures national economic health?

Just last week it was revealed that in the last three years the numbers of people employed in the “gig” economy had doubled to 4.7 million people, meaning that one in 10 people now works in insecure employment with all the worries this brings about having sufficient – and regular – income to pay the rent, the mortgage, living expenses and so on. The lack of security and lack of welfare support is a real problem for those without savings who live pay cheque to pay cheque.
It has been no secret for some time that income inequality has been rising massively, manufacturing in some parts of the country has been decimated (as covered in my recent macroeconomic update). Arguably this has led to the rise in nationalist and populist movements as demonstrated by the massive national division that was the result of the 2016 referendum to leave the EU.
This is without taking into account the impact of current thinking on the urgency of tackling climate change and environmental damage and moving towards a more sustainable economy.
Clearly, therefore, current circumstances are concentrating some politicians’ and economists’ minds.
In early June, MPs on the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) also backed a proposal to widen measures of UK’s growth performance beyond GDP. Measures of national economic health should take into account other indicators of economic progress, such as consumption, inequality, leisure time, unemployment and life expectancy, it is argued.
The backing followed publication of the first part of a study by the Centre for Progressive Policy (CPP), commissioned by the APPG.
Is all this the start of an unstoppable movement that will have us all rethinking how we asses national economic health? Only time will tell, but why don’t you join the debate and post your own thoughts about what indicators should be included in the assessment?

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Business Development & Marketing Cash Flow & Forecasting General Insolvency

June sector focus on the restaurant trade and changing eating habits

The restaurant trade is notoriously volatile at the best of times but the last two years have seen it undergoing a particularly torrid time.
Even by the standards of the recent decline in High Street retail the restaurant trade stands out.
By December 2018, according to a BBC report, “Gourmet Burger Kitchen [has] earmarked 17 sites for closure while Carluccios is shutting 34 outlets. Prezzo said it would close 94 – about a third of the chain – including all 33 outlets of its Tex-Mex brand Chimichanga.” Add to these burger brand Byron, and the French cuisine chain Cafe Rouge.
In all, according to the trade publication The Caterer, 1,123 restaurant businesses filed for insolvency in the first three-quarters of 2018 and the most recent Market Growth Monitor from CGA and Alix Partners reveals that the number of restaurants in the UK decreased by 2.8% in the year to March 2019.
The problem is highlighted by the experience of Jamie Oliver who in August 2018 closed 12 of his 37 Jamie’s Italian restaurants and made about 600 staff redundant in an attempt to save the rest of his business. It didn’t work as in May this year he announced the immediate closure of his restaurant group, including Barbecoa and Fifteen, with the loss of 1,000 jobs, leaving him with just three surviving restaurants.
The bulk of the insolvencies and closures has been among restaurant chains, of which arguably, there has been an oversupply.
Having said that, some chains are still surviving and expanding, notably Indian food chains Dishoom and Mowgli.
What is driving the contraction of the restaurant trade?
Of course, and inevitably, the backdrop to some of this is at least in part the still-unresolved issue of Brexit and when, if ever, the UK will finally leave the EU. This is arguably the undercurrent driving a significant drop in consumer spending and confidence in future job security despite current record employment levels.
Then there is the impact of high business rates, the minimum wage and rising ingredient costs and increasingly a shortage of staff, many of them from overseas and notoriously badly-paid, as more and more EU citizens return home either because conditions in their home countries have improved or out of a perception of the hostility towards them in the UK.
However, there is also arguably a shift in eating habits taking place.
It is partly a case of a desire for quality over quantity or a unique dining experience that has contributed to the survival of small, independent local artisanal restaurants, although if you speak to their owners, rent and business rates are a major issue.
It is also about an increased desire for more healthy, often locally-sourced food, the rise of vegan diets, and above all, it is about time and convenience. Increasingly, people are opting to eat in, either with their families or with friends and to order food online. With Deliveroo, Just Eat and Uber catering to this demand the traditional “dine out” restaurant trade faces an uphill struggle unless it can offer something unique as the small independent offering well-cooked, authentic, regional specialities can.

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Accounting & Bookkeeping Cash Flow & Forecasting Finance Insolvency

What is the future for company audits?

conducting company audits

In principle, company audits must be carried out on any public body, FCA regulated business and most companies unless they are exempt. The exemption threshold means a company must have at least 2 of the following: an annual turnover of no more than £10.2 million, assets worth no more than £5.1 million, 50 or fewer employees on average.

The audit industry has been under review for some time and this scrutiny has intensified since the collapse of Carillion the construction and outsourcing firm in early 2018.

The industry is dominated by the “Big Four”, Deloitte, EY, PwC and KPMG, who audit almost all of the FTSE 100 largest companies. Despite their dominance other accountants have also come under the spotlight such as Grant Thornton who were auditors of Patisserie Valerie that went bust recently, apparently due to a £40 million fraud.

Mr Dunckley, CEO of Grant Thornton told MPs on the business, energy and industrial strategy committee “we are not looking for fraud and we are not looking at the future and we are not giving a statement that the accounts are correct. We are saying they are reasonable, we are looking at the past, and we are not set up to look for fraud.” MPs were not impressed. Should they have picked up the fraud as part of their audit? What is their level of accountability for failing to spot the fraud?

One of the contentious issues raised has been a suspected conflict of interest between auditors’ auditing and consulting arms.

In 2018 PwC, was fined £6.5 billion for its “inadequate review” of now-defunct department store BHS’s books.

In April 2019 the FRC (Financial Reporting Council) fined KPMG £6m and “severely reprimanded” them, telling them to undertake an internal review over the way it audited an insurance company, Syndicate 218, in 2008-09.

And in May 2019 the FRC fined KPMG another £5m and again “severely reprimanded” them after they admitted misconduct over their 2009 audit of Co-operative Bank.

KPMG must be feeling the heat as it was also the auditor for Carillion, which collapsed with debts estimated £1.5bn.

Since the Carillion collapse the CMA (Competition and Markets Authority) has been investigating and announced its recommendations in April.

It concluded that there should be:

* A split between audit and advisory businesses, with separate management and accounts

* A mandatory “joint audit” system, with a Big Four and a non-Big Four firm working together on an audit

* Regulation of those appointing auditors

The CBI criticised the proposals saying they could add cost and complexity for business with no guarantee of better outcomes and could restrict access to the skills required to carry out complex audits.

For smaller businesses, including those below the exemption threshold, company audits can be an effective test of a company’s accounts and are a useful tool for directors in assessing their business’ health.

The worry is that the seemingly endless question marks, fines and “reprimands” issued to large firms and their presumed conflict of interest between earnings from consultancy and from audit work could undermine confidence in the audit function and in the many smaller accountancy practices that diligently carry out audits.

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Business Development & Marketing Cash Flow & Forecasting Finance

VOIP a phone solution for growing SMEs

VOIP replaces the old-fashioned switchboard

As a SME develops and grows costs can quickly escalate, no more so than its phone and communication systems and yet there is a cost-effective solution called VOIP that some may not be aware of.

VOIP stands for Voice over Internet Protocol and is essentially a broadband-based phone service that can include a free switch board.

A business can make calls using laptops or PCs but equally using VOIP telephones, which cost very little and are the only additional piece of hardware needed if bought upfront since the exchange is either embedded in the phone or provided by the VOIP supplier who is normally also the broadband service provider.

A VOIP system allows the business to dispense with call handling and an in-house switching system, all of which can be set up and automated by someone familiar with IT systems. You can have unique phone numbers and set it up so that calls can be switched from one number to another.

With a phone-based service, you use VOIP the same way you use a regular landline: by picking up the phone to answer it or dialling a number to place a call.

Calls are not confined to only others who are using a VOIP system and usually there is no additional or at most a minimal cost for calling overseas. The system can also be used to make conference calls and it allows you to take your number with you when you travel.

It has been estimated that savings using VOIP can be as high as 95% per month but if you are considering this option, there are some things to remember.

Getting your VOIP system right

Basic requirements are a high-speed internet connection and VOIP phones which are inexpensive. You should also remember that in the event of a power cut your phone set-up will not work and it is therefore wise to have a secondary power source, such as a generator, as a standby.

For businesses with multiple users, a separate PBX (Private Branch Exchange) is not required as the phones can be set up to manage calls within a network and can also be set up to transfer calls between phones like in a normal office exchange as well as routing incoming and outgoing calls. Most Internet Providers offer hosted/virtual PBXs, so that your SME does not have to go to the expense of buying and installing expensive equipment.

There is one caveat if considering using VOIP for your business, and this is that you will likely come across many phone company providers, such as BT, as well as specialist providers, who will offer to install and manage your set-up and hire you the phones.

You should remember that the uplift charged by VOIP phone companies is their gross profit plus phone hire if they supply the hardware and for the small, but growing SME this means a significant, and unnecessary, expense.

This website is a very useful introduction to all things VOIP.

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Banks, Lenders & Investors Cash Flow & Forecasting Finance General

What should be on the SME wish list from the new Bank of England governor?

The search has begun for a replacement for Mark Carney, Bank of England (BoE) governor, who is due to leave his post in January 2020.

So far, the speculated names in the frame have included Andrew Bailey, the chief executive of the Financial Conduct Authority, seen as a “safe pair of hands”, Ben Broadbent, the Bank’s deputy governor for monetary policy and Andy Haldane, the Bank’s chief economist.

But also included have been Shriti Vadera, chair of Santander, Janet Yellen, former head of the US Federal Reserve, and Raghuram Rajan, economist, and former head of the Indian Central Bank.

Chancellor Philip Hammond has reportedly said that Mark Carney’s “steady hand has helped steer the UK economy through a challenging period”.

In the light of the ongoing turmoil that is a still-not-finalised Brexit, political populist turmoil and US-inspired trade wars with China and potentially the EU, clearly another “steady pair of hands” at the BoE is needed, as well as someone who may have to deal with a government that wishes to take back much of the power that was handed over by Gordon Brown when he was Chancellor.

Beyond a steady hand what qualities might SMEs like to see in a Bank of England governor?

The BoE headhunting will be carried out by Sapphire Partners, a head-hunting firm that specialises in diversity and placing women in top roles. The company is run by an all-female management team.

While they will obviously be seeking the best candidate for the job this could be an encouraging sign for many, given the various ongoing headlines about the difficulties women entrepreneurs have in being taken seriously and accessing finance as I have reported in past blogs.

At the time of Carney’s appointment in 2013 it was revealed that loans to SME fell by £4.4bn in the three spring months. Since then the signs have been that the main banks have continued their reluctance to lend to SMEs, so perhaps a signal of SME support from the new Bank of England Governor would be welcome.

To be fair, Carney and the Monetary Policy Committee have resisted the temptation to raise interest rates, which has been a huge benefit to many SMEs, particularly in the current turbulent economic climate. This has been welcomed by FSB (Federation of Small Businesses National Chairman) Mike Cherry.

In an interview published on the Government’s website in February this year, Mark Carney referred to the BoE’s upgrade of its RTGS [real-time gross settlement] system to take advantage of new technology to “not only lower the cost and increase the speed of payments, but has the potential to be transformative beyond the financial sector” and he said would benefit SMEs.

He also said “These benefits would multiply if delivered alongside services trade liberalisation, which has the potential to increase productivity growth, reduce excess imbalances, and make free trade work for all, including SMEs.”

So clearly he has been mindful of the considerations for SMEs, but what else would you like to see from the new Bank of England governor?

Leave your suggestions in the comments section below.

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Business Development & Marketing Cash Flow & Forecasting Finance Turnaround

Price and environmental pressures in the cargo shipping sector – stormy waters ahead?

cargo shipping on stormy seaIn early April a national newspaper published a report on the captain and crew of a cargo ship who had been stranded in the Persian Gulf off the UAE for 18 months without pay or food.
The cargo ship, said the report: “became a floating prison from which he and his 10-man crew could not escape without losing their claim to thousands of dollars in unpaid wages.” The ship’s owners had got into financial difficulties but would not sell the ship because they “would not get a good price”.
This is becoming an all too frequent story and in 2018 alone according to the IMO (International Maritime Organisation) an estimated 791 sailors on 44 ships had been abandoned in this way as a slump in orders led to overcapacity in cargo shipping and took its toll on owners.
Over the last couple of years, a global economic downturn has been gathering pace exacerbated by Trade Wars between the USA and China leading to lower demand on trade routes between Asia, the USA and Europe.
Demand has also been affected by rising costs including for fuel, port handling, insurance and security. These have increased significantly over the past few years, not least due to piracy off Somalia and the recent threat by Iran to block the Straits of Hormuz.

Will 2019 bring any relief for cargo shipping?

Growth in the first 11 months of 2018, was the slowest recorded in the past decade for intra-Asia at 3.8% and the predictions are that European containerised imports may be stuck at a demand growth of no more than 2% for the foreseeable future.
Rates have been relatively steady for a couple of years but, it has been argued, they are barely recovered from a loss-making, low-rate 2016. For some charter cargo shipping companies rates are expected to remain loss making, leading to numbers of idle ships.
While there is some potential for demand from South America and Africa to grow, the outlook is very uncertain.
An added complication is that the IMO has introduced a mandatory cap on the amount of sulphur in ship fuel starting form 2020. Lower sulphur fuels are expected to be more costly than the current Heavy Sulphur Fuel Oil (HSFO).
The increased emphasis on climate change and environmental protection will play an increasingly important role in the cargo shipping sector as it will in other sectors and it will not escape from the geopolitical pressures of trade wars, rising populism and uncertainty over regulation due to these, Brexit and other issues.
It will be some time before there is any relief for the cargo shipping sector.

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Banks, Lenders & Investors Cash Flow & Forecasting Finance General

May 2019 Key Indicator – is there still a direct link between rising Brent crude oil prices and inflation?

Brent crude oil refineryThe Bank of England (BoE) governor, Mark Carney, has recently warned of growing inflationary pressures and potential interest rate rises sooner than was previously expected.
At the moment the UK’s inflation rate is at 1.9%, unchanged from the previous month and well below the ceiling of 2% after which the BoE would have to take action.
However, although the core basket of prices that influence the inflation rate is not seen as the problem, the rising cost per barrel of crude oil may be behind Carney’s latest warning.
The current price of Brent crude oil as of April 29, 2019 is $71.22 per barrel, although the monthly average so far this year has been calculated as $64.98. (Figures courtesy of https://www.macrotrends.net )
The idea of a direct correlation between oil price rises and inflation was cemented in the 1970s when the UK economy was hit by an oil embargo by the 1973 by Arab oil producers in response to Western support for Israel in the Yom Kippur war.
The 1970s inflation rate of more than 24% that toppled the government of Edward Heath and forced the BoE under the subsequent government of Harold Wilson to prop up Burmah Oil was arguably determined by oil prices. The resulting “stagflation” also c9ntributed to global food shortages and escalating Trades Union demands for wage increases to cope with the rising prices.
The link between crude oil prices and inflation was fixed in the minds of economists and central banks although it seems to have been forgotten.

So, should the current rising Brent crude oil prices be reason for concern?

This chart (again courtesy of macrotrends) shows the oil price picture over the last decade:
Brent Crude price fluctuationsThe chart highlights the volatility of oil prices with a 10-year high of £128.14 in 2012 and low of £27.88 in 2016.
At today’s price the future trend would seem upwards although most economists now argue that the direct link between price and inflation is no longer relevant because the world has changed significantly.
Firstly, the economists cite the many other oil producing countries outside of the OPEC cartel and why OPEC is no longer dictating prices. These include Iran, Russia, Brazil, China and Canada, with the US being self-sufficient now it produces its own oil.
Secondly, consumer demand for petrol when the oil prices rise does not reduce and some industries do not pass on the rises to consumers via their products.
Thirdly, they argue that the crude oil pricing model is not simply one of supply and demand because the price of oil is actually set by the oil futures market, which is determined by traders and market sentiments.

So where is the BoE warning of inflationary pressures coming from?

According to the Observer’s business leader at the weekend, the BoE latest quarterly review of the economy sees a combination of a reviving global economy and the UK’s ever-increasing workforce –increasing demand and keep up the pressure on prices. This is contrary to other evidence of a global bubble that is growing.
However, the BoE says: “the only reason that economic activity has picked up in the US, the eurozone and China is because their respective central banks have promised to tear up plans for interest rate rises”.
Despite the positive forecast, supply concerns may prop up oil prices due to the USA’s continued embargo on Iranian oil and its re-imposition of sanctions on countries that buy from Iran. It also has an embargo on Venezuela.
Also, concerns about contaminated oil coming via a pipeline from Russia have prompted European customers Poland, Germany and Ukraine to halt imports via the Druzhba pipeline are all contributing to the currently high price of crude oil.
Whether this will feed into rising inflation and the knock on effect of rising interest rates remains to be seen.
Alas, each generation tends to forget history and the 1970s seem a long time ago!

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Banks, Lenders & Investors Cash Flow & Forecasting Finance HM Revenue & Customs, VAT & PAYE

Does the Government understand UK SMEs’ problems?

UK SMEs are many and variedA recent fiery opinion piece in the London Evening Standard by Rohan Silva accused the Government of failing to help and therefore destroying UK SMEs.
While most of his ire was directed at the Chancellor, Philip Hammond, due to the 2017 increase in business rates, Silva also alleges: “Poorly implemented plans to make tax digital are costing companies thousands of pounds to become compliant. Big increases in the amount firms have to pay towards pension contributions are making it more expensive to employ people.”
According to the Federation of Small Business (FSB), the business rate increase means the average small company in London now has to find £33,000 a year simply to cover its rates bill. That’s on top of paying rent, NI contributions, corporation tax and running costs. Significant increases in the minimum wage haven’t helped many SMEs either although unlike the other burdens it has benefited employees.
It has become increasingly and depressingly clear that there is a lack of subtlety and nuance in many Government policies that affect UK SMEs.

What are the UK SMEs’ other main problems?

SMEs are said to be “the backbone” of the UK economy but a big problem is that there is no “one size fits all” solution to the pressures they face.
The start-up SME is very different from the established small business, a retail SME with a physical premises is very different from an online retailer yet there is very little recognition of this.
A newly-published British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) survey of 1,000 firms, many of them SMEs, found that almost 60% believe the tax regime is unfair on businesses like their own. The poll saw 67% of respondents say the taxman does not apply rules fairly across all sizes of business.
It quotes Suren Thiru, head of economics at the BCC, who argues that HMRC (HM Revenue and Customs) sees “smaller businesses as low hanging fruit and as a consequence they feel under the constant threat of being called out for getting things wrong in a tax system that has grown ever more complex.”
According to R3, the trade body of the insolvency profession, the Chancellor’s recent proposal to make HMRC a preferential creditor in insolvency is only likely to make the situation worse, by adding to the risk that banks and finance providers won’t lend without personal security and suppliers will be less willing to provide credit terms in the future.

Other issues raised by UK SMEs

One issue is that there is insufficient weight given to those businesses outside of London, with an uneven spread of investment that favours the capitol.
Bibby Financial Services’ confidence tracker found that there was patchy awareness among SMEs about local initiatives with just 54% local firms aware of the Midlands Engine and 36% of Northern SMEs believing that there is too much focus on the Northern Powerhouse at the expense of other Northern cities.
Then there is the difficulty SMEs have in accessing and negotiating Public sector contracts, not to mention the hurdles and perceived lack of help they face when accessing export markets. A 2019 survey by techUK of 101 SMEs across the technology sector, found that just 15% of respondents think that the government has an adequate understanding of the role SMEs could play in public sector provision.
To end on a more positive note I should mention one initiative which is beginning to show some success in supporting SMEs and that is the Prompt Payment Code. This follows the recent change that now allows the Small Business Commissioner, Paul Uppal, to investigate cases and to name and shame those large business offenders who continue the practice of late payment.
 

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Accounting & Bookkeeping Business Development & Marketing Cash Flow & Forecasting Finance

UK economy macroeconomic update at the end of March 2019

UK economy crystal ball gazingAmidst the tedious ongoing, protracted and now further extended Brexit process, predicting where next for the UK economy is akin to crystal ball gazing.
So, a macroeconomic update on the UK economy can only be a short term snapshot, from which it may be possible to tease some potential signs for the future although the impact on UK of some global trends make some predictions more certain.

The state of the UK economy after the first quarter of 2019

As ever, we have seen a mixture of positive and negative economic data but it should also be remembered that Brexit is a distraction since the UK economy is heavily dependent on the EU and global economies which have been slowing markedly.
In defiance of most economists, unemployment continues to decline and is at its lowest level for 45 years, and employees are finally seeing modest, albeit recent, above inflation wages growth after many years of minimal wage increases. This has no doubt contributed to the higher levels of income tax and helped narrow the gap between government spending and revenue. Consumer spending has also held up rather better than predicted to help the UK economy.
While the FTSE 100 dropped to 6,584 in December it has since recovered to 7,490 but not yet to its historical peak of 7,877 in May last year. Much of the recovery would appear to be a reversal in economic forecasts for interest rates, which were expected to rise in US and UK but now are projected to remain the same for some time and even may be reduced as some are predicting. As a benchmark the yields on UK 10-year Gilts (bonds) are currently 1.23% up from 0.52% in July 2016, and US 10-year Treasury bonds are 2.58% which is down from their 5-year high of 3.23% in November last year.
The rate of house price growth has been at its lowest for almost eight years and the UK economy expanded by just 0.2% in the latest three months with the Treasury, the Bank of England and the City predicting the weakest growth for eight years for 2019.
Export orders, too, have gone down, with UK export growth falling by 0.8 points to 95.6 in the first three months of the year.

Worrying signs ahead for the UK economy

The UK’s service sector accounts for 80% of its economy and the most recent purchasing managers’ index for February from IHS Markit/CIPS fell to 48.9 in March from 51.3 in February, where any figure below 50 shows a contraction in the sector. Construction, too, remained below 50.
IHS Markit/CIPS is predicting that the UK economy will grow by just 0.8% this year. PwC has also downgraded its GDP growth forecast for this year to 1.1% from 1.6%.
At the end of March, there was some evidence from the REC (Recruitment and Employment Confederation) that employers were scaling back hiring and investment plans.
More concerning is the flight of capital out of the UK with Santander moving spare capital away from its British operations and EY (Ernst & Young) analysis suggesting that banks, asset managers and insurers are opening or expanding their European centres, with 23 companies announcing the transfer of £1trn in assets.
Despite what some might regard as a gloomy outlook, it would appear that prospects for the UK economy are better than those for Europe and possibly than for US.
It will be interesting to see what happens over the next quarter now that extra time has been agreed to sort out the Brexit situation.
Normal business life cannot remain on hold forever, but whatever the outlook we should get on with doing business and not wallow is apathy or self-pity.

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Cash Flow & Forecasting Debt Collection & Credit Management Finance Insolvency

First two companies named and shamed over late payment

late payment penalty?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 culture of poor payment practices”, in which 60% of invoices were not paid within agreed terms and payment took an average of 68 days. He also condemned the retailer for not cooperating with his investigation, saying: “Holland & Barrett’s refusal to co-operate with my investigation, as well as their published poor payment practices says to me that this is a company that doesn’t care about its suppliers or take prompt payment seriously”.
Since the inception of the Prompt Payment Code and Mr Uppal’s appointment in December 2017 his office has released £3.5 million in late payments for small businesses and attracted 50,000 visitors to its website.

The effects of late payment to SMEs by large businesses can be catastrophic

The FSB (Federation of Small Businesses) has estimated that 50,000 SMEs each year close because of late payments and in July last year published research showing that 17 per cent of smaller suppliers were paid more than 60 days after providing an invoice, while close to one in five smaller suppliers are paid late more than half the time by the public sector.
While the latest results are a welcome development I would argue that until Mr Uppal is given powers to fine offenders they are unlikely to take this initiative seriously despite his efforts, for which some credit is due.
The Government’s Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee has also repeated its call for Small Business Commissioner to be given the power to fine companies that pay late and for there to be a legal requirement to force them to pay invoices within 30 days.
I urge all SMEs to report late payment by large clients and especially well-known names so that more are named and shamed as a way of humiliating them into paying on time.
 

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Cash Flow & Forecasting Insolvency Rescue, Restructuring & Recovery Turnaround

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

Rescue culture is surely preferable to the grim reaper of insolvencySince 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 for the company surviving. A CVA is supervised by an IP but the directors remain in control providing they meet the revised terms.
There are problems with the current regime as both cases require an IP to be involved and both are enshrined in the IA86 which means that they are tarnished by the reference to insolvency. While this might be the case, it encourages a self-fulfilling prophesy and all too many companies fail again shortly after going through Administration or a CVA which might suggest the restructuring measures were not sufficient when perhaps other factors might also contribute to the restructuring not being successful.
One provision that is missing from insolvency legislation in the UK, when compared to the USA’s bankruptcy protection (Chapter 11) and Canada’s Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act (CCAA), is some breathing space, or moratorium, that works in practice to allow time to develop and agree a plan before entering any formal procedures.
A moratorium would provide for a temporary stay of action by creditors and suppliers while a rescue plan is devised, and it is argued, would encourage directors to act earlier when their business is in difficulties.
Indeed, there are current provisions for a CVA moratorium as a 28-day period to allow for preparing CVA proposals but it doesn’t work and is rarely used because IPs as supervisors of the moratorium have been advised by their lawyers that they could be held liable for credit during the moratorium period. It is logical therefore that IPs prefer Administration which gives them the control necessary to manage any such liabilities.
This has been ignored during the latest initiative by the Insolvency Service who, as part of efforts to improve the UK rescue culture, have consulted on proposals for a different moratorium period, presumably one that that would allow for a broader breathing space than the current CVA moratorium.
While new legislation has not yet been enacted, it would appear that the consultation has resulted in plans for a 28-day moratorium with scope for a 28-day extension. This proposal on the face of it would appear sensible but like the CVA moratorium it won’t work in practice for the same reasons: it must be supervised by an IP and it could expose IPs to liability to creditors.
Further confusion on behalf of those proposing the new moratorium relates to proposals that a business may only apply for a moratorium if it is still solvent and able to service its debts. This makes no sense, why would a business that is able to pay its debts risk damaging its credibility and ability to operate by advertising the fact that it is heading into difficulties by appointing an IP as supervisor of a moratorium that is part of insolvency legislation?
This is surely counter-productive to any attempts at saving a business since the moratorium would cut off its credit.
In my view, rescue legislation should be part of the Companies Act and if supervision is deemed necessary, then a broader range of professionals ought to be approved, not just IPs.
Furthermore, it is hard to see why an IP would not push for Administration instead of a moratorium and taking on the related liabilities; turkeys don’t vote for Christmas.
The credit for the prospective and in my view flawed legislation goes to R3 whose lobbying on behalf of IPs has captured the turnaround space and in doing so has helped kill off initiatives to develop a rescue culture.

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Cash Flow & Forecasting Finance General HR, Redundancy & Trade Unions

The tide may be turning to improve workers’ rights

demonstration for workers' rightsIn 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 holiday pay and other basic workers’ rights. This was similar to the Appeal Court ruling re Uber that its drivers should be classed as workers with access to the minimum wage and paid holidays.
The Government has published its proposals for employment law reform, which included giving workers the right to request more predictable hours, as well as offering enhanced protections for agency workers and heavier fines for malicious employers.
Not surprisingly, the more predictable hours proposal was dismissed by TUC leader Frances O’Grady as likely to give workers on zero hours contracts “no more leverage than Oliver Twist”.
No doubt, SME owners will say that the burdens placed on them by the living wage, work-place pension legislation and existing rules governing how they can and cannot treat employees are already onerous enough.
However, given the uncertainty surrounding a post-Brexit future and the fact that much of existing law protecting UK workers is EU law, it is understandable that employees are concerned about their future position.
In an effort to alleviate their concerns, the Government earlier this month issued guarantees on workers’ rights after Brexit, although this was quickly dismissed by an EU and employment law barrister as “meaningless” because there was no guarantee that a future UK Government would enact any future EU legislation protecting workers.
Certainly, the Labour party is offering the prospect of improved workers’ rights and a significant improvement in the power of Unions with a view to reversing the demise of the Unions and the lack of collective bargaining.
Independent of new legislation, the current low level of unemployment and large number of job vacancies would suggest that workers may regain some of their lost power and rights through their right to provide or withdraw their labour and more pertinently their confidence that they can offer it to another employer.
Given that many UK business sectors are already struggling with a skills shortage, particularly in engineering, construction and IT, and that any business that wishes to thrive and grow relies very heavily on its employees feeling valued and engaged with their employer’s future progress, this would seem to be one time when it is in the interests of both to ensure that workers’ legal protection is robust and secure.

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Banks, Lenders & Investors Cash Flow & Forecasting Finance

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

Minsky moment fuse litHyman 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 of steady prosperity and investment gains that built up risk through ever more leverage instead of improving the balance sheet.
Essentially it is an assumption of never ending growth funded by debt.
Arguably, this is exactly what happened in the run-up to the 2008 crash as banks and other lenders issued complex instruments such as Credit Default Swaps to conceal leverage and risky lending. The crisis crystallises when either interest rates rise or when replacement finance is so expensive that borrowers are unable to pay interest on their debts, never mind the debt itself or even some of the principal.

The Minsky Cycle

A Minsky cycle is a repetitive chain of Minsky moments, when a period of stability encourages risk taking, which leads to a period of instability when risks are realized as losses. The result is that participants move to risk-averse trading (aka de-leveraging), to restore stability, which eventually leads to complacency and so on so the whole cycle repeats.

So, is there a risk of an imminent Minsky moment?

Some investors have been warning of the likelihood of an imminent Minsky moment for the last couple of years.
Asset prices have been relatively high, stock markets have been buoyant and, crucially, central banks have kept interest rates artificially low for much longer than was anticipated after 2008 in order to prop up their economies and allow time for stability and growth.
It is worth noting that the US Federal Reserve late last year started to increase interest rates slightly and we should watch carefully what happens in other central banks.
The IMF, too, has been warning of the risks or another financial crisis as the global market has been slowing markedly.
While Minsky tended to concentrate his analysis on the economy of an individual state, another now-deceased contemporary of his, Susan Strange, who taught at the London School of Economics, supported his thinking but had a broader, global political perspective.
She argued that individual economies should not be seen in isolation but in fact are woven together across the world.  This introduces the idea of contagion, where financial crises flow across borders. She also introduced the influences of a rise in populism and growing inequalities between rich and poor into the analysis.
Arguably, this is a more accurate analysis of the consequences of the Minsky Moment that began in 2008.
All this looks uncomfortably like what seems to be happening in economies now, but it is hard to say for certain yet whether a Minsky Moment is imminent. We only ever find out after the event.

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Banks, Lenders & Investors Cash Flow & Forecasting Finance Insolvency

Monthly global outlook – the Bears are gathering for a global economic slowdown but will it be a crash?

Global economic slowdown - or tsunami?While the “B” word is the focus of attention in UK and cited as the cause of low productivity and a UK economic slowdown, there is a growing body of evidence outside UK that is indicating a global economic slowdown although few are yet predicting a crash.
According to the Independent’s economics writer Hamish McRae: “The European economy has pretty much ground to a halt – and this has very little to do with Brexit. If, however, the Brexit negotiations go badly, then the sky darkens – and not just across Europe.”
Certainly, the prospects across the world are looking gloomier.
Recessions tend to be cyclical and come at 10-year intervals, and it is now a decade since the global Financial Crash of 2008.
Arguably, much more important than Brexit is the fact that ten years on Central Bank intervention continues, there are enduring low interest rates and that many nations are still on emergency monetary policies. And there is now a huge mountain of debt that everyone seems to ignore.
US Nobel prize-winning economist Paul Krugman is one of those predicting that there will be a recession in America by the time Donald Trump comes up for re-election at the end of next year.
The second half data from 2018 suggests that global growth has peaked and reported the onset of falling demand for goods and declining factory output in China, Germany, Japan and South Korea, to name a few of the countries particularly dependent on global trade.
In Davos last month IMF managing director, Christine Lagarde, warned that the risks of a sharper decline in activity had increased. Earlier this month came a report from the WTO (World Trade Organisation) that its quarterly indicator of world merchandise trade had slumped to its lowest reading in nine years.
Several Central banks, including the ECB (European Central Bank) and the Chinese have been trying to stimulate growth and investment.
You may remember that both Paul Krugman and Kenneth Rogoff, who is professor of economics and public policy at Harvard University, predicted the 2008 financial meltdown although they were ignored at the time.
However, interest rates remain at rock bottom and debt has been creeping up. As Krugman says, “we came into the last crisis with interest rates well above zero, we came into the last crisis with debt substantially lower than it is now … and we came into the last crisis with substantially better leadership …”
Herein lies the problem.
The world has changed, perhaps as a result of ten years continuing pain since of 2008 and little prospects of respite in the future.  We have seen a rise in protectionism and “populist” movements, most notably in Italy, in Eastern Europe and in Trump’s America, in his sanctions threatened against China, and in tensions between the US and Mexico.
If, as Krugman predicts and Rogoff warn, another economic crisis is looming it is unlikely that we will see the same, co-ordinated government action as was made by the G20 in 2008 that staved off a complete economic meltdown. Although this time there is little left in the tank, especially given the low rates of interest and huge levels of national debt. I see the seeds of huge interest rate rises.
To quote Rogoff in a recent article in the Guardian: “Crisis management cannot be run on autopilot, and the safety of the financial system depends critically on the competence of the people managing it…. The bad news is that crisis management involves the entire government, not just the monetary authority. And here there is ample room for doubt.”

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Business Development & Marketing Cash Flow & Forecasting Insolvency Turnaround

How to make failure your first step towards business success

failure is just one step on the road to successNone of us is perfect.  Perhaps that is why we admire so-called successful people so much.
But behind almost every business success lies a series of failures. Just ask Thomas Edison, inventor of the electric lightbulb, or Richard Branson, who has made no secret of his past business failures, or even Luke Johnson, investor in and chairman of the recently-failed Patisserie Valerie and business blogger who has written extensively about failure and pertinently for him how to spot and prevent it.
Edison said of previously unsuccessful attempts at his invention: “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
He also said: “Our greatest weakness lies in giving up.” This along with learning the lessons from failure is the key to understanding how successful people approach failure.
Failure would be better rebranded as a trial and error approach to achieving goals where essentially each instance of failure is primarily a learning experience. Each failure simply requires humility that recognises our fallibility and a degree of honesty, thought and a willingness to learn.

Converting failure to success is all about attitude

A business failure can be a devastating experience but the worst things you can do are wallow in self-pity, sink into a depression, give up or, even worse, blame others. These characterise the behaviour of a victim.
There are plenty of business gurus with advice about dealing with failure, and most will start with advising you to accept that you may have been to blame, but the key is to move on by analysing what, precisely, went wrong and to then try again, differently. Trial and error.
Firstly, you should resist the urge to repeat past mistakes by trying the same thing again, only bigger or cheaper. For example, if your customers aren’t buying your products or services you need to give careful thought to whether your business offers something they want, in the way they can buy it, rather than something you thought was a great idea but they don’t want or don’t know about. How much market research did you actually do?
Secondly, how competent are you at running a business?  Did you have a business plan? Did you regularly check cash flow, produce management accounts and so on?  Did you put in place robust credit control and other processes? We cannot all be good at everything so if you feel you do not understand any of these subjects properly you should have the humility to get in expert help and be willing to act on it.
Were you sufficiently passionate and committed to your business? It may have seemed like a sure fire way to make a lot of money, but that, on its own, is no guarantee of success.  It is also important to be emotionally invested in what you are doing and committed to making it work.
There are plenty of inspiring examples of people who have become successful after multiple failures but what they all have