Swindon & Wiltshire Business News

Rates are 'crushing small businesses and killing the high street', says FSB

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The business rates system needs a radical overhaul as almost one in 10 respondents to a Federation of Small Businesses survey say they are paying more in rates than rent.

The survey which polled 2,425 FSB members found that a fifth of respondents pay full business rates, with three in 10 firms receiving some form of rates relief, such as small business or rural rate relief.

However, the FSB is concerned that seven per cent of respondents paying business rates say they pay more in rates than in rent. A further six per cent say their rates and rent costs are about the same.

The FSB says business rates system is cumbersome and overly complex, and would like to see the Government take a formal review to make it simpler and fairer, as it is doing with other taxes. While business rates generate a huge sum for Treasury, it is a tax not related to economic activity and this needs to be addressed.

With another inflationary rise due to be calculated in September the FSB  wants to see the Government change the inflation index used to calculate annual increases from the RPI to the CPI to bring it into line with other government policies. The FSB believes that changing the indexation in this way, as recommended by Mary Portas, could help small firms on the high street.

The FSB's national chairman, John Allan, said: "The current rating system is a blunt tool for maintaining the Government's income even when everyone else's is shrinking. It takes no account of ability to pay, or changes to economic conditions. It is based on rental values but only adjusts its valuation assumptions every five years. 

“Its treatment of empty property is tantamount to a tax on no income, and it continues to use RPI for annual tax increases because it is normally above the Governments official measure of inflation, CPI. The FSB wants to see a level playing field for all businesses.

"There is no doubt small businesses across the country are struggling for survival. Business rates are one of the highest costs for most business after wages and rent, and for seven per cent of small business, business rates were actually higher than rent. 

"Businesses will continue to be lost as a result of this outdated and unfair system. The Autumn Statement will need a wide range of measures to target relief at businesses most in danger, and it will need to talk to business about a major overhaul of the system. 

“It doesn't work anymore; it is crushing small businesses and killing the high street.  That surely can't be right."

Things are looking up for economy, agree businesses leaders

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Image courtesy of www.freedigitalphotos.netBusiness lobbyists have welcomed today's news that the economy grew by 0.6 percent between April and June, compared with the first three months of 2013.

But lobbying groups have demanded more action from the government to sustain growth.

Figures released by the Office for National Statistics also suggest that Quarter 2 GDP has increased 1.4% year-on-year, with services growth up 0.6 percent on the quarter (2.1 percent on the year), manufacturing growth up 0.4 percent on the quarter (0.9 percent on the year) and construction output up 0.9 percent on the quarter (one percent on the year).

Although only estimates, the news has been welcomed by business lobby groups.

John Longworth, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce, said: ““The modest, positive growth seen in the second quarter of the year shows that things are looking up.

“The gradual progress made by the UK economy – particularly in the services sector where exports continue to surge – is pleasing to see.

“Confidence among businesses is high when looking ahead to profitability and turnover, and many have intentions to take on staff later this year.”

But he warned: “Strong, sustained growth requires efforts from the government too, as businesses need an enterprise-friendly environment for the economic to go from good to great.

“New and existing exporters need more support to help them diversify into fast-growing markets, and access to finance for dynamic, growing businesses must be made more available.

“We must be careful not to choke off the growing optimism and confidence that is coming through, but instead be more proactive in nurturing the modest recovery that is starting to gather pace.”

John Allan, national chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses said: “It is clearly welcome that the economy grew by 0.6 percent in the second quarter and that growth was seen across all sectors.

“This gathering momentum fits with the results of own recent small business index, which showed firms expected faster export performance in the coming three months and that more businesses were planning to grow in the next 12 months.

“In order for to build on this momentum and for small businesses to meet their aspirations and further strengthen the economic outlook, they need a stable environment. The capital spending on projects announced by the Chancellor recently, will have a positive effect on growth in the medium-term and the employment allowance announced at the Budget may help more firms to invest in jobs.

“The Government should now look to further supporting UK small businesses by increasing competition in banking, enabling a better energy deal and simplifying the complex number of back to work schemes.”

And Phil Orford, of the Forum of Private Business, said: "Today's figures confirm what most had long suspected, and that's that the UK economy is at last steering to calmer waters with a recovery that's gathering pace."

"Of course there's no room for complacency though, and we urge the government to address the many burning issues such as red tape which continue to make life difficult for small firms – the real drivers of the UK economy. The government still has much to do when it comes to simplifying the tax system, and as a matter of urgency government has to address the matter of spiralling business rates."

"We also urge the banks to help the momentum by resuming proper lending to those firms desperate for cash. While RBS is currently auditing their lending processes, we would like to see more banks go the extra mile too." 

"While today's news is most welcome, there is still a mountain to climb," he added.

Rugby treat for ladies who lunch

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Nigel RedmanBath, England and British Lions rugby forward Nigel Redman will be the guest speaker at a meeting of Wiltshire businesswomen in September.

Since retiring from the pitch, Redman has coached the England under 19s and been a commentator for Sky Sports. He is currently assistant head coach at Worcester Warriors. 

The Monahans North Wiltshire Ladies Club Lunch will be held on Tuesday, September 10 from 12.15pm at Guyers House, Corsham, SN13 0PS.Attendance costs £20. 

For more information, or to book a place, log on to www.monahans.co.uk

Social Media Session explores apps, and all that jazz

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Marcus Lilley of FutrSocialTurning your smartphone into a mobile studio is the topic of the next Marlborough Social Media Session.

Social media expert Marcus Lilley, of FutrSocial, will be showing businesses and organisations how to use mobile apps like Vine, Instagram, AudioBoo, Path and Foursquare to promote their activities.

Marcus will also be reporting from this weekend's Marlborough Jazz Festival (July 19 to 21), where he will be documenting the entire festival through a single smartphone.

The session will be held at The Food Gallery, High Street, Marlborough from 6pm to 7pm on Tuesday, July 30. Attendance is free.

To book a place, log on to http://marlboroughsocialmediasession.eventbrite.co.uk To fully participate, delegates are asked to bring a wi-fi-enabled smartphone, tablet or laptop.  

UK exports reach highest level since the recession

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Image courtesy of www.freedigitalphotos.netExporting activity is at its highest level on record (since Q3,2007) according to the latest British Chambers of Commerce / DHL trade confidence index, published yesterday (Tuesday).

Responses from more than 1,700 businesses show that export orders and sales have increased, with confidence levels in both future turnover and future profitability also remaining high.

More businesses have taken on new staff in the second quarter of this year, with many expecting to hire further in Q3.  

The key findings from the DHL/BCC report are: 

  • Export orders for service sector businesses increased for 50 percent of firms to the highest figure on record. Forty four percent of manufacturing firms increased their export orders resulting in the highest figure since Q1 2012.

  • More than half of exporters (51 percent) believe that their profitability will increase this year, and 60 percent believe they will see an increase in turnover.

  • Nearly a third of firms (31 percent) said that they expected to increase staff this year, up from 28 percent in Q1 2013. 

Phil Smith, managing director of Business West said:"For the first time on record, these results are positive across the board.

“Export sales and orders have gone up, confidence is high and expectations around profitability have increased.

“Even more businesses have taken on new staff this quarter, with many expecting to hire again next quarter which is really encouraging.

“This reflects the recent results of our own Quarterly Economic Survey showing that in this region figures for exporting have dramatically improved on Q1– a real tribute to our exporters who are working tirelessly to drive growth and lead the economic recovery.

"But we mustn’t take our foot off the gas. We still need more companies to take the plunge on international trade and for those who export already, to try and diversify into new markets.

“Business West through Acorn Interactive, UKTI and Enterprise Europe Network (EEN) is working hard to provide on the ground support to help companies take their goods and services overseas, smoothing their path by providing local insight, guidance and global expertise, enabling them to sell their wares to the world.

“We must seize this momentum and strive towards an economy that is more than just ‘ok’, but which is truly great and outperforms our competitors.

"Our exporters require all the support they can get from the government, from trade bodies, and fellow businesses to invest in new markets, if they are to lead the country back to sustainable economic growth."

For sale: six bedroom period farmhouse... in an industrial estate

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An aerial view of Hunts Copse FarmhouseThey say the three most important factors in determining the desirability of a property are location, location, location.

So the sale of a six-bedroom period farmhouse in Swindon will raise a few eyebrows... it's in the middle of a trading estate.

Hunts Copse Farm at South Marston – parts of which date back to around 1700 – was once the hub of a 370 acre farm.

At the advent of World War Two the Ministry of Aircraft Production built a factory and airstrip nearby, and the industrialisation of the area continued throughout the 20th century, notably with the arrival Honda's UK manufacturing plant in 1985.

More recently, B&Q built its national distribution centre – the size of twenty football pitches – nearby.

Today, the grounds of Hunts Copse Farm extend to a little over two acres. Yet estate agents Moore Allen & Innocent, of Cirencester, are expecting considerable interest in the property – which will go under the hammer on site at 2.30pm on Thursday, August 15 with a guide price of £395,000 – not least because of its versatility.

The Grade II listed farmhouse was converted into offices in 1990. But there is existing planning consent to convert the property into a boutique hotel and restaurant, while an application currently going through the planning process is likely to see permission granted to turn the property back into a residential dwelling.

The L-shaped property occupies a space in South Marston Industrial Estate surrounded by sympathetically styled modern office units , and is well away from the light industrial and warehouse units at the entrance of the park.

A five bar gate gives way to a gravel drive with ample parking and a large entranceway between two staddle stones.

Inside, a wood-panelled entrance hall with flagstone floors leads to three large reception rooms – one designated as a reception and bar with adjoining men's and women's washrooms, and a fine dining room with dual aspect windows and period fireplace.

Hunts Copse Farmhouse exteriorOn the first floor are six bedrooms, including a well-proportioned master bedroom with large sash windows and period fireplace. On the second floor is an attic.

In total, the property provides a living space of around 400 square metres, with period features including flagstones floors, fireplaces and exposed beams throughout the property.

The farmhouse sits in around an acre of landscaped gardens proportional to its size and character, and including a small orchard with apple and cherry trees and fruit bushes.

Adjoining the gardens is a further acre of land enclosing a lake, which will be auctioned as a separate lot.

Andrew Stibbard, commercial surveyor at Moore Allen & Innocent, said: “It's surprisingly quiet here on a weekday, and at the weekend you'd have the place to yourself.

“I can see this property appealing to a small business looking for office accommodation in an historic building with interesting features, or a hotelier, but equally I can see the appeal to a large family that requires lots of rooms and space, both indoors and out.

“In a village setting this farmhouse would set you back £1.5 million plus. Where else are you going to pick up a period six-bedroom period house for £395,000?”

Viewing events have been scheduled for Tuesdays July 23 and 30, and August 6 and 13 between 4pm and 5.30pm. For more information, or to arrange a viewing, call Moore Allen & Innocent on 01285 648104.

New summer ale creates a buzz

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Ramsbury Estates manager Alistair Ewing, mayor of Marlborough Guy Loosmore, mayoress Fiona Lawson, and Henry Oliver, director of North Wessex Downs AONBA new beer launched near Marlborough this week aims to help Wiltshire's ailing bee population.

Mayor of Marlborough Guy Loosmore pulled the first pint of HoneyBee Nectar at The Bell in at Ramsbury on Saturday.

The light, summery beer is produced by Ramsbury Brewery in association with North Wessex Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), with 20p for each pint or bottle sold aimed at conserving bees – especially bumblebees and their habitats.

In recent decades the bumblebee populations have dramatically declined partly due to the disappearance in some areas of 97 percent of the UK's flower-rich grasslands.

Henry Oliver, director of North Wessex Downs AONB, said: “This project will help towards our vision that our communities and countryside will once again be rich in bumblebees and colourful wild flowers, supporting a diversity of wildlife for everyone to enjoy.

“Many of our farmers and large landowners have embraced the need for wildflower planting, but there is much the ordinary individual can do – and we are very keen to develop an outreach programme with local primary schools.”

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