Swindon & Wiltshire Business News

Property lawyers welcome Government boost for homes market

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Mary HoffmanSpecialist property lawyers Hoffman Male are seeing steady growth in the market thanks to a large increase in the numbers of homebuyers contacting them, wanting to take advantage of a Government scheme to encourage sales of new houses.

And the firm, which has offices in Swindon and Bristol, believes another Government initiative, due to come into force in January, will also give the property market a welcome boost.

The NewBuy scheme, which launched in March last year, enables buyers to purchase a new property with a much smaller deposit than they would normally need by offering loans from the Government and developers. In January the Government’s Help to Buy scheme will start offering mortgage guarantees to homebuyers with a deposit of just 5 per cent of the purchase price.

Mary Hoffman, partner at Hoffman Male, whose Swindon headquarters is at Windmill Hill, said the schemes are were having an impact on the housing marking, with the firm seeing an increase in enquiries.

“The NewBuy scheme is really making a difference to those people who want to move into a newly built property, but need help with the deposit,” she said. “As with many Government initiatives, however, they are not straight-forward which is why people are coming to us, as property specialists, to help with their purchase.”

Hoffman Male opened its base at Aztec West in Bristol in June, partly in response to the growing demand from the new homes market. Business at the new office, run by partner Yvette Morcombe, and the Swindon HQ is brisk.

As well as conveyancing, Hoffman Male specialises in wills, probate and estate planning. For more information visit www.hoffmanmale.co.uk or contact Mary Hoffman on 01793 538198 or Yvette Morcombe on 01454 202134.

Chance to breakfast with Police Commissioner

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Angus MacphersonPolice commissioner Angus Macpherson will be the guest speaker at the next Monahans business breakfast.

Mr Macpherson is the Conservative Police and Crime Commissioner for Wiltshire. He is the first person to hold the post and was elected in November 2012.

This summer, his office launched a major new survey to identify the type of crimes suffered by the Wiltshire business community, and the effect crime as on business in the county.

The results are due to be published on September 6.

The networking event will be held at Chippenham Sports Club on Wednesday, September 25 from 7.30am. Attendance costs £10.

For more details, or to book a place, log on to www.monahans.co.uk and click on the events tab.

GCSE change must equip students with workplace skills, says FSB

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Pupils at St John's in Marlborough celebrating their GCSE results todayThe planned overhaul of GCSE exams needs to help young people get the right skills for the workplace say small business owners, according to a recommendation by the the Federation of Small Businesses. 

Recent research suggests five in 10 small firms believe young people lack a good attitude to work as well as other skills such as problem solving.

The Government consultation on GCSE reform has now closed and the FSB believes it is vital that changes do not just focus on grades alone.

Employers, says the lobbyist, need the staff of the future to have much wider skills, such as communication, problem solving and a good attitude to work.

Further research by the FSB suggests small firms believe numeracy (37 percent) and literacy (41 percent) are skills lacking in young people.

The FSB suggests the Government should consider a pass/fail exam for these functional skills giving employers a clearer understanding of ability.

And there must be more time in the school day to give students quality careers education and guidance. More than half (61 percent) of small firms are not confident they will find the right young person for the job.

Finally the FSB stresses how any change to the GCSE system must be clearly communicated to the 4.8 million small businesses in the UK. They need to know what exam grades mean when recruiting staff.

John Allan, FSB national chairman, said: “Young people need to know they have been taught the skills needed for today's competitive workplace.

"We want to see employability and personal skills embedded in everyday teaching and schools must focus on this alongside academic rigour.

“Young people need to know about business; what the workplace expects of them and how to pursue careers that suit their skills. 

“They also need to be inspired. With any changes to the GCSE system, the Government must ensure they are clearly communicated to employers so they know what they mean.

"Many small businesses are keen to play their part to help improve employability skills and to teach young people about business and the workplace.

“Our members are already involved with charities such as Young Enterprise, or sit on schools' governing bodies.

“Business recognises the important role it has to play and we are also running events around the country to help bring businesses, schools and colleges together to forge lasting partnerships. The FSB will continue to promote the benefits of engaging with schools in this way."

Swindon employers are ready to recruit, says new survey

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Becky Nicholls Peter Jones and Emma Briers of The HR DeptHalf of all SMEs in Swindon are looking to recruit at least one new member of staff during the next six months.

That's the finding of a survey by The HR Dept, an HR outsource business for small and medium sized businesses, which also found that only four percent were likely to lay off staff in the near future.

The HR Dept surveyed its SME client base and response from its customers serves as a barometer of confidence for the wider economic background.

Peter Jones, director of The HR Dept Swindon said: “Clients are now looking to the future and as we start to pull clear of the doldrums of the last few years, more businesses will want to increase their capacity to grow which is great for the economy.

“The key and the challenge – regardless of the role being recruited for - remains recruiting the right people with the right skills to do the job, we often hear from our clients that they may receive plenty of applications for roles advertised but the quality of candidates isn’t sufficient for what they are looking for.”

The survey also asked customers to rate their satisfaction with the firm – which has 50 offices across the UK. Swindon scored a laudable 9.43 out of 10.

Should you be using zero hours contracts?

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Richard White of Withy KingWe’ve all been reading the press and watching the news on zero hours contracts, and many businesses are wondering whether they are going to be targeted for employing staff on these contracts in circumstances where both they and their employees have until now been happy with them.

Before getting too concerned, it’s worthwhile considering what zero hours contracts are, how they can be used and the pros and cons of using them.

Despite an increase in their use there isn’t a definitive definition of a zero hours contract, and the employment status of the recipient can be an issue: are they a worker, where there is no obligation to provide work, or have they gained employment status because, in practice, work is offered to them and accepted? If there is a difference between the wording of the contract and the actual day to day practice a legal dispute can easily arise. It’s important from the outset of the relationship to record what the day to day practice will be and to revisit this from time to time to ensure that it reflects the reality of the relationship. 

A particular issue with zero hour worker contracts is exclusivity. Increasingly contracts say that even though the contracts do not guarantee work, the worker cannot seek extra work with another employer. This again may lead to a legal dispute – the worker can argue that they are an employee because of this exclusivity requirement.

A large-scale claim has just been launched against SportsDirect.com, raising the legality of its treatment of its part-time workers, one of the arguments being that they are in effect employees, and that they should be entitled as part-time employees to sick pay, paid annual leave and other bonuses such as the recently-announced Company bonus share scheme.

So, if you do use zero hours contacts, it’s worthwhile checking that their terms are genuinely consistent with ‘worker status’, including no obligation on the employer to give work or the worker to undertake it and allowing the worker the freedom to undertake work with other companies. Companies which don’t regularly review their contracts may find themselves with a difficult legal claim to defend.

Please contact a member of our employment law team if you have any queries about zero hours contracts.

Avon Rubber secures £4.4m US military contract

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Avon Rubber's M53 face maskMelksham-based Avon Rubber has secured a £4.4m contract with the US military.

The manufacturer is to develop a version of its M53 face mask to provide respiratory protection to the crew of fixed wing aircraft.

The initial two-year pre-production contract covers the development, testing and user trials of the new mask system and the provision of logistical support.

There is potential for follow on production contract awards of up to $74m.

Commenting on the news, chief executive Peter Slabbert said: “This contract reaffirms Avon Protection’s position as the respiratory protection equipment provider of choice for the US Department of Defense. 

“Our high specification products have gained widespread support as users experience their superior design and comfort. 

“Our depth of capability and development positions Avon Protection as the global market leader of respiratory protection systems technology.” 

New programme aims to help women break glass ceiling

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Charlotte Mannion of QuicklearnWith the drive to get women into directorships stalling, long-standing businesswoman Charlotte Mannion is running a pioneering new programme to encourage women to push their careers forward.

Charlotte, who runs Swindon-based training and coaching company Quicklearn and is chartered fellow of the CIPD, has become one of just a handful of women in the country to qualify to run the ReNew You programme – a personal development programme for women devised by specialist Jane C Woods of Changing People Limited.

The programme aims to help women improve their skills and give them the confidence to push their careers forward and break through the glass ceiling into the boardroom.

Recently, a new report by Cranfield School of Management, the Government’s official monitor of the number of women on listed boards, revealed that the drive to increase female board representation had lost momentum.

Over the past six months, the number of FTSE 100 board appointments going to women has dropped from 44 percent to 26 percent.

This in the face of evidence that companies with at least one woman board member do better – in its report of August 2012, Credit Suisse report that companies with at least one woman on their board have outperformed companies with no women by 26 per cent from 2005 to 2011.

Charlotte said she was inspired to run the programme through Quicklearn because she came across so many talented women in business who lacked the confidence to promote themselves and their talents.

And she cites evidence from an Institute for Leadership and Management (ILM) 2011 report, which found women were held back at work by low ambitions and expectations, lack of self-belief and confidence, a cautious approach to pursuing career opportunities, and a less than straightforward career path.

“Even in 2013 women are finding it hard to progress their careers beyond a certain level, and in part this is due to confidence,” said Charlotte.

“The ReNew You programme sets goals which are achievable and tracks their progress over a year. It also highlights the stories of some amazing women, which will really inspire the participants to examine their own careers and work out how they can progress them to the very highest level.”

The ReNew You programme comprises a one-day workshop with a workbook to complete over the following 12 months. Charlotte is hoping business owners and managers, wanting to nurture the female talent in their organisations, will run the programme in-house.

And she could find herself getting support from central government.

Following the Cranfield School of Management report, Women and Equalities Minister Maria Miller said: “The reality is, women are still hampered by inequalities in the workplace. While the gender pay gap is falling, there is still a long way to go, and many women still experience barriers when looking to get ahead – including lack of female role models, the cost of childcare, lack of workplace flexibility, and a lack of transparency around recruitment for senior positions.”

For more information about ReNew You visit www.quicklearn.co.uk or contact Charlotte on 01793 790331.

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