Swindon & Wiltshire Business News

Solicitors put their best feet forward for charity

Heather Lawton, Richard Bebb, Jonathan Shipton, Alan Wilson, Emily Knight (Dorothy House Hospice Care), Ross Phillips, Debbie Allen and Lucy WilsonWiltshire solicitors put their best feet forward at in the Bath Half Marathon recently, and raised £2,000 for Dorothy House Hospice Care.

It was the first year Goughs Solicitors has competed in the Bath Half Corporate Challenge - a 13.1 mile half marathon through one of the most popular city centre road races in the UK, and one of the largest charity fundraising events in the South West.

Goughs put together a team of nine runners, including Ross Phillips, Richard Bebb, Jonathan Shipton, Lucy Wilson, Heather Lawton, Nikki Capp and Debbie Allen.

Richard Bebb, team captain and partner in the firm’s family department at their Melksham office, said: “Dorothy House provide an invaluable service to a wide range of people throughout Wiltshire and beyond, and we are proud to be running for such a worthwhile cause.”

Dorothy House provides physical, psychological, social and spiritual care, free of charge to patients and their families who are facing life threatening illness, death or bereavement and have specific problems which need the charity’s specialist skills.

Trainee solicitor Ross Phillips said: “Being part of such a wonderful race alongside thousands of other runners, all being encouraged along by the crowds, was amazing and well worth the blisters. I’m sure it won’t be long before the next Goughs team challenge.”

It´s not too late to sponsor the solicitors, and to help raise funds for Dorothy House. Log on to www.justgiving.com/GoughsSolicitors1 to make a donation.

Zombies, cartels and superpowers dominate Chamber event

Guest speakers David Patterson, Michael Shawyer, Paul Maddison, Ian Piper and Les Durrant with Rosemary Wells head of political and coporate engagement at Thames Valley Chamber of CommerceZombies, cartels and the rise of a new superpower: not the plot of the latest Hollywood blockbuster, but some highlights from the Swindon Business Leaders Forum.

The Swindon Chamber of Commerce event, which was held at Alexandra House in Wroughton last Friday, promised managers from some of the town´s largest employers bags of local, legal and financial intelligence.

Kicking off proceedings, Paul Maddison of HSBC bank reminded delegates of the real risk of a triple dip recession. “We´re not in a good space in the UK,” he said.

The answer, he reckoned, was to get exporting, but not to the struggling economies of Europe, where 45 percent of our export business is done, or even to the US, which accounts for 17 percent of our foreign trade.

“Growth is forecast for the emerging BRIC economies – Brazil, India, China, Russia. We should be thinking about those markets.”

Michael Shawyer of MonahansWhile the banker saw opportunities in the East, Michael Shawyer of Monahans saw zombies on the horizon: 160,000 of them.

Zombies, he explained, are indebted companies that are able to repay the interest on their debts, but not reduce their debts.

The accountant explained that the banks and HMRC were “going softly on companies in trouble” to stop firms slipping into administration.

“We can still get deals from HMRC, and creditors are taking a realistic view, but a lot of companies are just clinging on,” he warned.

However, Swindon was far from swarming with zombies, and the county´s record for business survival is pretty good, said the accountant. Wiltshire is ranked 10th out of 36 counties for business survival, while 62 percent of new businesses in the county make it through their first three years.

For David Patterson, a partner at Thrings, a legal threat to businesses is new legislation concerning anti-competitive pricing.

Business leaders were warned not to disclose prices, bids or contracts with others in their industry, for fear of falling foul of anti-cartel legislation like The Competition Act.

He said that the Office of fair Trading had recently fined six recruitment companies a total of £39 million for price fixing, and warned delegates: “If you are a member of a trade organisation, ensure you know what´s permitted under competition laws.

“You can be fined individually or face imprisonment for being involved in a cartel,” he said.

Ian Piper of Forward SwindonIan Piper, of Forward Swindon, outlined the work of the organisation in “putting Swindon on the map,” by attracting inward investment to the town and looking after the businesses already here.

He explained that an initiative to encourage Swindon Borough Council managers to visit the top 100 businesses in the town had fostered a greater understanding between local government and the business world, and in some cases brought down barriers to growth, especially in the planning arena.

Mr Piper was also keen to talk about regeneration, reminding delegates that the Planning Swindon Together document, as master plan for the area with cross-party support, goes before the borough council next week (March 20).

Meanwhile, he was keen to talk up successes like the Union Square development – one of the biggest commercial development projects in the UK – which will transform the town centre and accommodate 3,000 new jobs.

And he welcomed the development of Regent Circus, the former college site. “It was a symbol of lack of progress,” he said. “I sensed a lot of optimism when that building came down.” A new cinema and restaurants will soon take its place.

Les DurrantAnother important document was the topic of the final presentation by planning expert Les Durrant, author of the business representation to the Swindon Borough Local Development Framework by Swindon Chamber of Commerce in conjunction with GWE Business West, Wessex Chambers, the FSB and the CBI.

The planning consultant said the council´s 2011 core strategy had been a concern to the business community, as it was based on a low growth scenario.

The Local Development Framework, which will guide planning policy until 2026, was broadly welcomed by the business community, said Mr Durrant, but there were still reservations, including concerns over housing levels which will fuel economic growth, and the underestimation of employment land requirement.

One of the biggest problems was a lack of co-operation between Swindon Borough Council and Wiltshire Council. “The best opportunities for development lie to the west, along the M4 and beyond Swindon Borough,” said Mr Durrant. “These cross-boundary issues will not go away.”

The next Swindon Chamber of Commerce event is the business breakfast on Thursday, April 11 at the County Ground, when Jane Bromley of Strategenic Ltd will be talking about mastering the techniques to attract and retain a flock of customers.

For booking details log on to www.thamesvalleychamber.co.uk/event/44774

Small businesses must be at the heart of the Chancellor’s Budget, says FSB

FSB LogoThe Chancellor, George Osborne, must improve access to finance, simplify the tax system and make business rates relief permanent in his Budget next Wednesday, according to the Federation of Small Businesses
The FSB is calling for a Budget for small firms, which will give opportunities for investment, growth and job creation and return confidence to small businesses.

The lobbying group has called for incentives to take on new staff and for the Chancellor to announce a review of how enterprise support is delivered through central and local government to ensure support is focused and effective.
“Small firms have ambition and want to grow but consistently cite finance and access to long term capital as key barriers,” said John Walker, national chairman of the FSB.

“The Chancellor needs to put clear plans in place for the Business Bank.  Not only should he set out the role the new institution will have in getting this finance to small firms, he should also show how the bank should help open up competition in the banking sector and encourage non-bank sources of finance.”
To bolster efforts to increase competition, the FSB is urging the Government to ensure the Financial Conduct Authority focuses on this aspect of their remit with the aim of encouraging new entrants into the market, so that small firms have more choice.
The organisation says the Chancellor must also ensure that the work being done to simplify the tax system is not watered down.

The current proposal to allow small firms with a turnover of less than £77,000 to provide cash-based accounts is a major deregulatory step, and one the FSB believes will increase compliance. The FSB would also like to see existing schemes for investment relief pooled together in a simple one-stop-shop so that small firms know where to go for capital to invest in their business.
And the body is calling for Small Business Rates Relief to be made permanent in England as some small businesses pay more in business rates than they do in rent.

The FSB is also calling for a review on how business rates are calculated, moving the indexation from RPI to CPI in line with other areas of Government policy.
In addition, to help create new jobs and boost small firms’ confidence the FSB is recommending Government:
Extend the National Insurance Contributions holiday to all small firms across the UK with less than four staff, rather than just start-up businesses. This could create 45,000 new jobs and add £1.3 billion to the economy
Cancel the 3p fuel duty rise planned for September 2013 and to initiate a full review of fuel prices and motoring taxation
Help boost businesses cash-flow, by ensuring that when it is awarding contracts that its Tier 1 suppliers are signed up to the Prompt Payment Code and pay their supply chains quickly
Extend the money available through StartUp Loans scheme to help more people that struggle to access finance to start a business. The payback periods should also be extended
Direct Ofgem to mandate that energy companies cannot rollover a small business onto an un-negotiated contract for more than 30 days, down from the current period of 12 months
Mr Walker said: “With the economy only growing a fraction in 2012, the Chancellor must deliver a Budget that is unashamedly focussed on boosting small business.

“Our figures show that confidence is rising among small business owners, but there is still caution. And, even though unemployment has fallen considerably, consumer confidence to spend and boost the economy is far from sufficient.
“What we need to hear on 20 March is not more small-scale policies which tinker at the edges but measures that will have a tangible effect both immediately and in the long-term. That is why we have asked for a review of enterprise policy, to ensure the right initiatives are in place that really do help small firms start-up and grow. 

“The Business Bank and access to finance have a clear role to play in this, but so too does making it easier to run a business. This is why making it easier to find investment relief, simplifying the tax system and making small business rates relief permanent should be the Chancellor’s priority.”

Wiltshire Council commits to boosting economy

Tim-Iredale-Julie-GirlingWiltshire Council reconfirmed its commitment to creating a buoyant local economy during a meeting of business leaders on Friday.

The council hosted the monthly Wessex Chambers of Commerce business breakfast, where council leader Jane Scott took the opportunity to pledge the council´s support to the business community and outline plans for the current year.

“Last year was a celebratory year, which we all embraced and it helped to reinvigorate the local economy in many of our market towns and city – but we’re now looking to the future and the legacy that 2012 instigated and how we keep this momentum alive,” said Cllr Scott.

“We have set up a legacy board, which is made up of partners that has already delivered and planned a number of innovative events across the county.

“We need to take every opportunity to encourage communities to continue to come together, to take action to keep our economy buoyant and to encourage people to keep active and healthy.”

She told networkers that a sporting dinner will be held on Friday, May 24, where each table will be asked to sponsor a future Olympian or Paralympian to support their training, connecting businesses to future sporting stars.

The council is also supporting the Wealth of Wiltshire Markets in Chippenham, Salisbury and Devizes, the city council-run Big Business Event in Salisbury, and the Trowbridge Business Expo in June.

The guest speakers at the event, which was held at County Hall in Trowbridge, included South West MEP Julie Girling, who gave an overview of her responsibility as an MEP and the current  issues facing the  European Union, and Tim Iredale  from Calls In Confidence, who explained how his organisation can provide a “ sterile corridor” between employees and senior management enabling sensitive information to be passed on anonymously.

The next breakfast will be held at Cumberwell Golf Club, BOA on Friday, March 22 when the guest speaker will be James Scott, CEO of the Royal United Hospital, Bath. Visit wessexchambers.org.uk events for details.

Spirit of the age: fashion chain enters administration

Award-winning independent fashion chain Spirit has gone into administration, with the loss of around 20 jobs.Models from Spirit at Marlborough Fashion Show in 2011

The firm – which had branches in Devizes and Bradford on Avon, and until recently Marlborough and Frome – was well known for its high-end lines appealing to a market of thirty- to fifty-somethings.

The Frome outlet has continued as a clothing boutique under new ownership, while the leases on the Marlborough shop has been taken by a gifts supplier.

Sprit opened its first boutique in 1999. In 2010 readers of the Gazette & Herald newspaper voted the Devizes store The Best Boutique in Wiltshire.

This week, the firm appointed Bristol-based Mazars as liquidators.

In November, Chamber News reported how the Marlborough branch was looking to sublet the top floor of its two-storey premises in marlborough High Street in a bid to manage the £31,500 PA rent.

Proprietor Rose Webster said: “People look at Marlborough, they see the grand High Street and the College and they assume there are millions of shoppers. There aren´t; and the economic downturn since 2008 has had a serious knock on profits.”

Employment agency takes snapshot of Wiltshire economy

A snapshot of the state of the Wiltshire economy is being taken by Trowbridge-based White Horse Employment, which is conducting its 2013 Business Outlook Survey.

Wiltshire businesses are being invited to share their thoughts on operating expectations over the next 12 months in a quick, easy and confidential survey.

White Horse Employment MD Beverley Glover was the driving force behind the 2012 survey and believes this year’s information gathering is just as important.

“Following the published Business Outlook report from last year’s submissions, we were approached by local businesses who found the survey invaluable, who want to gain a snapshot for the year ahead, specific to our geographical area,” she said.

“We have seen that by sharing this information, businesses can get a better measure of the local economy and it helps us all.”

The 2013 Business Outlook Survey, can be completed online at www.surveymonkey.com/s/WhiteHorseEmployment-2013BusinessOutlook

As a thank you to businesspeople who complete the survey before 31 March, White Horse Employment will make a £5 donation to Comic Relief.  

Image courtesy of www.freedigitalphotos.net

HMV to pull out of Swindon and Salisbury

HMVHMV is to pull out of Swindon and Salisbury in the latest tranche of closures following the company´s move into administration.

Administrators Deloitte announced yesterday (Wednesday) that 37 stores, employing 464 staff, will close.

At the time of its collapse, HMV operated 236 stores around the UK.

Following yesterday´s announcement, just 116 will remain.