Swindon & Wiltshire Business News

Manufacturers enjoying strong demand and increasing headcount - survey

John TalbotManufacturers in the South West are continuing to see strong conditions with increasing confidence being reflected in recruitment and investment intentions, according to the latest Manufacturing Outlook survey published today by EEF, the manufacturers’ organisation, and Bristol-based accountancy and business advisory firm BDO LLP. 
According to the survey, manufacturing output remained strong in the final quarter of the year with a positive balance of 11 percent.

Demand across the region continues to be driven by the continued strength of the aerospace and automotive industries, which is feeding down through the supply chain across the South West.

This is also resulting in strong demand for skilled people with a recruitment intention balance of 11 percent for the last three months. 
Looking forward, the outlook looks equally promising for the next three months with manufacturers in the region expecting orders and staff numbers to both increase to a balance of 17 percent, while 19 percent of companies in the region are also planning to increase investment.
EEF is forecasting that this positive picture will continue into 2014 with the sector growing by 2.7 percent in 2014 compared to 2.4 percent for the economy overall.

The improved performance during 2013 has also resulted in EEF revising its forecasts for this year, showing manufacturing contracting by just 0.1 percent and the economy growing overall by 1.4 percent
Commenting, EEF South West Region Director, Phil Brownsord said: “Over the course of the year we have seen a definite turnaround in prospects for manufacturing and this looks set to continue into next year. This increased confidence is evident in companies looking to increase their headcount and, most importantly for balanced growth, step up their investment.

“However, uncertainties in the global economy remain and a sustained recovery is not secure. As a result, growth must remain a priority for government over the remainder of this parliament, starting with the Autumn Statement this week.” 
John Talbot, at BDO in Bristol, said: “Continued strong demand within the domestic market is very encouraging and this does suggest that a sustainable manufacturing recovery has gained a foothold in the region.

“However, international markets hold the key to a fully-fledged and meaningful improvement and these markets remain frustratingly fragile.

“We haven’t missed the boat yet, but companies need to stand ready and be supported by an accessible Government-backed export framework in order to take full advantage of the recovery on the continent and beyond.”

Analysis: Autumn Statement - what was in it for Wiltshire businesses?

Richard Matthews of BanksThey say no news is good news, and that was certainly the feeling of tax expert Richard Mathews, of Swindon-based chartered accountants Banks, who suspected the chancellor George Osborne would use the Autumn Statement to pull some nasty surprises from up his sleeve.

But as the chancellor took his seat after delivering a 45-minute statement bereft of shocks and surprises, Richard was able to breathe a sigh of relief on behalf of his own firm and his clients.

“I thought we were going to get hammered,” he admitted to Swindon business leaders at a post-Statement briefing, “but it was a neutral Autumn Statement, and that’s a relief to me.”

Banks had put together a panel of experts to give their take on the chancellor’s announcements, just hours after he delivered them.

Andrew Kirk, senior manager at Lloyds commercial in Swindon and Newbury, was first to the lectern, finding the capping of business rates increases at two percent worthy of mention.

In the retail sector, Mr Kirk said, “some of the small independents are squealing”. He said he knew of independent shopkeepers in Swindon paying £50,000 a year in rent – the levy to which business rates are linked.

The chancellor’s cap would be a help. “It’s small, but he’s doing something,” said Mr Kirk.

Meanwhile, the banker celebrated the news that 20,000 apprenticeships are to be created in the manufacturing sector, funded by HMRC. “That’s got to be good for UKPLC,” he said.

And in summary? “I’d call it neutral, to be honest.”

Quite rightly, Paul Himple of Go Legal HR pointed out that announcements on employment law were no longer the preserve of the Budget, or the Autumn Statement, but were drip-fed throughout the year.

So he took the opportunity to look at some of the changes to legislation of which business owners should be aware, after examining one of the key features of the Autumn Statement: the increase in the age at which people will receive the state pension.

Although an increase was always planned, the chancellor used the Autumn Statement to pull it forward.

People retiring after 2027 will qualify for the state pension at the age of 67, but the pension milestone will increase incrementally, said Mr Himple, meaning people in their 40s will have to wait until they are 68, people in their thirties won’t see a pension book until they are 69, and people in their twenties can expect to work until they are 70 before they see a penny.

The news that parental leave would be extended is something you’d have expected to find in the Autumn Statement, but the chancellor’s coalition partner Nick Clegg was so excited about it, he decided to announce it a week ago.

New mums and dads will now be able to share their leave, meaning men will be entitled to take nearly a year off work to mind the baby if they so wish.

“That will create challenges for businesses, especially small ones,” said Mr Himple. Changes to the law surrounding flexible working arrangements for parents would also create a challenge for bosses, he said.

Independent financial advisor Amanda Barnett, of Grosvenor Consultancy Limited, returned to the state pension, calling it the hot potato of the Autumn Statement.

She said she was relieved that there seemed to be no apparent changes proposed to personal pension legislation. “The government has been playing around with it a lot lately,” she pointed out. “Hands off is good news.”

And she pointed out that workers would have to build much bigger pension pots to enjoy a quality retirement: The government expects only a third of pensioner’s incomes to come from state pension in the future.

Richard Matthews highlighted good news and bad for personal tax payers - with the income tax threshold increasing to £10,000 a year from April, but the point at which people enter the higher rate of tax of 40p falling to just under £42,000.

None of that was new news, of course, and neither was the married couple’s allowance, which was set in stone by the chancellor but had been trailed by the prime minister earlier in the week.

Mr Matthews welcomed the freeze in fuel duty - “important for business” - and the £2,000 National Insurance Contributions employee allowance, from which businesses will benefit from next April.

There were also cheers for the announcement that employers will be incentivised to hire young people through a National Insurance contribution cut for under-21s.

“Get yourself a load of 16 to 21 year olds,” was Richard’s playful advice to employers.

Victoria joins Thrings' private client team

Victoria SmythLaw firm Thrings has further strengthened its offering to clients who have potentially complex needs around succession, estates and tax planning, with the recruitment of partner Victoria Smyth.

Victoria has joined Thrings as a partner in the private client team from Clarke Willmott. She is a specialist private client solicitor, providing a comprehensive wealth management, wills, trusts and tax service for businesses and individual clients.

She has substantial experience in advising families on their businesses and, in particular, succession planning matters.

Simon Holdsworth, managing partner at Thrings, said that it is widely recognised that commercial and farming clients often fail to plan adequately for succession, which in the event of their death could leave their businesses, estates and even the livelihoods of their families in potential jeopardy.

Yet with timely planning and expert advice their businesses or estates may qualify for some substantial tax reliefs, delivering the maximum benefit for the next generation.

Simon said: "At Thrings, we are continually striving to deliver a first class service to our clients. Victoria’s appointment is the latest move in our strategy to provide our clients with the protection they need, and guide them safely through the complicated decisions that will ensure their business interests are preserved and even enhanced for those who will come after them.

“By offering such high calibre support and expertise in succession-planning and related issues, we can have a substantial positive impact on the lives and business interests of those left behind.

"We are thrilled to welcome Victoria who arrives with an impressive track record and, with the rest of the private client team, will undoubtedly continue to deliver great success in this area.”

Victoria said: “I am very excited to have joined Thrings at such a significant stage in the firm’s development.

"I’m particularly pleased to be joining a team that sees beyond the transaction and understands how the advice that a private client lawyer gives to an individual can impact on how they manage their business.

“There is a very forward-thinking ethos here, which recognises that our commercial clients’ affairs are complicated and merit expert support and protection.

“Commercial clients clearly value this fully integrated, cross-discipline approach, rather than the more traditional separation of commercial and private client affairs.

"I am very much looking forward to playing my part in ensuring that our clients continue to get a fully-rounded service that is second to none.”

Hills’ £500 Christmas gift to local charities

Michael Hill chief executive of Hills GroupCustomers of Marlborough-based Hills shouldn’t expect a Christmas card this year – the firm is giving its budget away to good causes.

Instead, members of the public can log on to the firm’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/HillsGroup to decide which charities get an extra Christmas present this year.

Voters can choose between Doorway Project, a homeless drop-in centre based in Chippenham; C.A.L.M., supporting children with cancer and leukaemia in Swindon and Marlborough; and Fairfield Farm College, a specialist college in Westbury offering day and residential courses for young people with learning difficulties.

The winner of the poll will receive £300, with £100 each going to the runners up. The results will be announced in the first week of January.

Mike Hill, chief executive, said: “We undertake charitable giving throughout the year and hope that this donation will enable the deserving causes to continue their excellent work.”

How to survive Christmas as a business owner

Office PartyBusiness owners should be aware of the seasonal dangers that could potentially leave them with a nasty financial hangover long after the decorations have been taken down.

The festive period presents a number of issues, ranging from health and safety issues to staffing rotas, which can leave employers open to litigation or staff disputes.

With their mix of drink, high spirits and merriment, Christmas parties are still the number one source of potential problems.

In order to comply with workplace legislation, business owners need to:

  • Avoid pressurising staff to attend Christmas parties. Some staff may not want to attend due to factors such as faith or abstinence from drink
  • Let staff attending parties know in advance what acceptable standards of behaviour are expected of them. Make it clear that your usual disciplinary policies apply, even if the party is being held away from the workplace.
  • Watch out for drug use! Under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, it is an offence for an employer to permit or even ignore drug use on their premises. Drug use in the workplace may also constitute a breach of health and safety regulations.
  • Make it clear to staff if they are expected to turn up for work as normal the following day, hangover or not. Also don't forget to by example – research suggests that senior managers are more likely to call in sick the day after a Christmas party than junior staff members.
  • Keep it clean and don't let the tipple flow too freely. Saucy gifts and games could easily lead down the dangerous path to a tribunal, while too much alcohol could spark arguments and fights, leaving employers dealing with tricky disciplinary issues.

Business owners should also remember to act professionally when socialising with staff and not let anything slip which they wouldn't do in the office, such as personal opinions of other employees.

However, putting on a Christmas party does have an upside for employers. Up to £150 per head of the cost of holding the party is an allowable tax deduction and VAT can also be recovered on staff entertaining expenditure.

No-one wants to put a dampener on the festive spirit and Christmas parties are great for boosting workplace morale and allowing staff to let their hair down. But business owners do need to take some important precautions if they want to guard against potential litigation.

Most of the regulations which govern the normal working day also extend to the Christmas party, wherever it might be held, so employers need to ensure they're not leaving themselves open to claims, complaints and time-consuming employee disputes.

The Forum offers small firms free advice on Christmas parties, and winter weather advice via its website www.fpb.org Advice is available under the ‘hot tips' section of the site, which can be viewed both by Forum members and non-members.

Joanne Eccles is business adviser at the Forum of Private Business

Swindon FD is one of UK’s 20 ‘hottest’

Fraser Park of UbiquisysFormer Ubiquisys financial director Fraser Park was named one of the UK’s 20 hottest FDs in the TMT sector at an awards dinner in London last night (Wednesday)

Fraser, former CFO at Swindon-based Ubiquisys, was honoured at the event - hosted by accountancy and business advisory firm BDO - which saw 70 FDs and CFOs from technology, media and telecoms companies nationwide be nominated for the top 20 accolade.

The report called Park “one of the most experienced FDs in Britain,” and praised him for being instrumental in the sale of Ubiquisys to Cisco, one of the largest European venture-backed exits of 2013, both in terms of preparing the business in advance and ensuring the deal went ahead.

Viewed as a “tough negotiator who can diffuse contentious situations with a great sense of humour”, he was described as the “go-to person for all things deal-related”.

Robert Brown, tax director at accountancy and business advisory firm BDO LLP in Bristol, said: “Fraser deserves this recognition. He is an impressive business leader and influential personality, who continues to innovate and impress.”

The Hot 20 FDs in TMT report by accountancy and business advisory firm BDO LLP reveals that the most successful FDs are helping companies expand into new sectors and markets through an increase in M&A activity.

Brown added: “This year’s competition has revealed that the mindset of FDs is changing. We’re now seeing them pushing the top line rather than squeezing the bottom line.

“The most successful FDs must be more than simply a ‘numbers person’. The role is now much more about presenting to investors and preparing for growth rather than keeping the business in hibernation.”

Swindon accountants praised for ‘no bull’ approach

d&t directors Carl Reader, Neal Dennis and Ben HerbertSwindon accountants Dennis & Turnbull have been crowned as the best Independent Firm of the Year in Wales and South West England at The British Accountancy Awards.

The accolade was presented at a glittering ceremony in London, attended by 500 guests from accountancy firms large and small.

In reaching their conclusion, the judges said: “There’s no bull from Dennis & Turnbull! They show a modern approach to work, and are trying to understand clients better - what they want.”

d&t director Ben Herbert sad the firm was proud that its core values of providing leading financial support and planning and offering a comprehensive solution to individuals and businesses had been recognised.

“We are delighted that what we think about ourselves as a business has been confirmed by our peers,” said Ben. “Regardless of any award, we still passionately believe in the importance of client service which comes first and foremost at d&t.”

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