Swindon & Wiltshire Business News

Chamber heads to Self Build Centre for Christmas networking

A local business with national significance is the venue for the last morning networking event of the year from Swindon Chamber of Commerce.

The expo-style Christmas banner networking event gives Swindon businesses the opportunity to promote their goods and services with marketing material and pop-up banners while networking over a bacon butty or a mince pie... or both.

The event will be held on from 9am to 11am on Friday, December 6 at the National Self Build Renovation Centre at Lydiard Fields in Swindon – a national facility for people thinking of building, renovating, or retro-fitting their homes. The venue also offers conferencing facilities.

Attendance costs £20 for members and £30 for non-members. For more information, or to book a place, visit www.thamesvalleychamber.co.uk/event-details/swindon-christmas-banner-networking-event/46220

 

Employment land snapped up at Solstice Park

UEOS 1A Solstice ParkDevelopment land on the strategically-located EOS section of Amesbury’s giant Solstice Park business area has been sold.

Property consultancy Myddelton & Major successfully negotiated the sale of the 1.75-acre (0.71-hectare) EOS 1A commercial development plot to Nationwide Engineering Group.

Quoting price for the parcel of land fronting Sun Rise Way, adjacent to the A303 and suitable for B1, B2 & B8 Uses was £700,000.

Myddelton & Major partner Philip Holford said: “Salisbury-based Nationwide Engineering Group is a construction focused service provider with dedicated integrated companies for building, rail, air, energy, professional services and health and safety training.

“Following their successful development of the 36 unit Bluestone Centre, I was pleased to facilitate the sale of this parcel of land which further demonstrates the attraction of Solstice Park as the premier business park in the region.

“We anticipate that the developer will earmark the site for specific design and build opportunities for commercial occupiers.”

Solstice Park is an established 160-acre business park situated alongside the A303 dual carriageway. It offers strategically-located development opportunities for industrial, distribution, trade, roadside, and office users.

 

Swindon's gender pay gap described as 'woeful' by campaigners

Female workers in Swindon are still being paid almost a quarter less than their male counterparts, according to new figures released this week.

Today (Thursday, November 14) is Equal Pay Day – the day in the year when women effectively start to work for free, when their pay packet compared to that of male colleagues.

Nationally, the pay gap averages 17.3 percent, according to data compiled by the Office for National Statistics. But in Swindon, the gap widens to 23.7 percent.

That means Swindon's female workforce started working for free on or around October 4.

The Trade Unions Congress – which represents 5.6 million working people – says the causes of the gender pay gap are complex but much more can be done to close it.

The TUC's South West regional secretary Nigel Costley said: "From employers who simply undervalue women’s role in the workplace, to not enough flexible working options for mums and dads, there are many reasons why we are still seeing unacceptable pay gaps in our workplaces.

“Childcare costs are extortionate, so women who typically earn less than their partners will be the ones who cut back on their hours to look after the kids. This impacts on career opportunities and pay in the long run.”

The federation of trade unions also points to too few women in senior and leadership positions in businesses that can reduce the gap.

It is calling for

  • New and stronger rights on flexible working
  • New family-friendly rights at work from day one for mums and dads
  • Firms to be legally required to publish an action plan on how they’ll tackle pay inequality in their businesses and advertise jobs on a more flexible basis.
  • And rules introduced to fine companies who repeatedly don’t pay women fairly.

Equality campaign group The Fawcett Society is also calling for more to be done to close the pay divide.

Its own research suggests that 60 percent of women in workplaces across the UK either don’t know what their male colleagues earn, or believe they are earning less than men who are doing the same job.

Sam Smethers, chief executive of the Fawcett Society, said: “Nearly fifty years on from the Equal Pay Act, equal pay for equal work is still a distant dream for many women. Pay secrecy means women cannot know if they are being paid equally and fairly."

She continued: “Even if they do suspect a man is earning more it is almost impossible to do anything about it.

"This is why we are calling for a change in the law. Women need an enforceable ‘Right to Know’ what their colleagues earn so that they can challenge unequal pay."

 

Charity asks business supporters to help it win £1,000

Val HuxleyMelksham-based charity People against Poverty is calling on its supporters from the Wiltshire business community to get behind its bid to win a £1,000 boost as part of specialist insurer Ecclesiastical’s annual 12 Days of Giving Christmas campaign.

The specialist insurer will be giving 120 different charities an early Christmas gift of a £1,000 donation, with 10 winners announced each weekday from 5 to 20 December.

£1,000 will help People against Poverty to begin its new UK partnership with local foodbanks.

CEO Val Huxley said: "As more and more families are beginning to use foodbanks in and around the country support is growing for the families and many struggle at home because sometimes they don’t even have a cooker to cook food on.

"This is where our new project will come into place. We are working closely with local businesses and our own local foodbanks to provide families with white goods when the need is there.

"This will be done in association with social services, the foodbanks and ourselves. We really want to kickstart this project early in 2020 and £1k will enable us to do this."

The charity is encouraging everyone to use their social media channels to ask people to vote for them to give People against Poverty the best possible chance of winning.

Mark Hews, CEO of Ecclesiastical, said: “As a company whose purpose is to contribute to the greater good of society, charitable giving is at the heart of our business.

"Our annual 12 days of giving Christmas campaign will help charities change lives for the better and we know that for many charities, £1,000 can make a real difference.

"We’re encouraging everyone to nominate a cause close to their hearts this Christmas to be in for a chance to win a festive financial boost.”

People against Poverty has a membership community of businesses called Business against Poverty.

Member Simon Long, of Simon Long Training Services, said: "Having been involved with People against Poverty now for five years I have witnessed the amazing and crucial work that the charity does.

"The way People against Poverty works is amazing: the drive that they have to improve the lives of the poorest people, those who are unable to have their most basic needs met, food, shelter, care & education.

"These are basic needs that would not be met if it were not for the awesome work of People against Poverty."

Nominations for Ecclesiastical’s 12 Days of Giving campaign are open until 19 December at www.ecclesiastical.com/12days

* Business Biscuit is a member of Business against Poverty

Swindon one of the best places for 'Good Growth'

Swindon is one of the best places in the UK for economic growth, according to a new report.

The town ranked eighth out of 42 urban centres in the Good Growth for Cities index, published by professional services firm PricewaterhouseCoopers and think tank Demos.

Along with Bristol (ranked fourth), Swindon is one of only two communities to find a place in the top 10.

The index – which uses measures other than GDP to measure the success of urban areas – was topped by Oxford, followed by Reading and Southampton.

A range of factors are taken into consideration when devising an overall score for each place, including:

  • Secure jobs
  • Adequate income levels
  • Good health, work-life balance
  • Affordable housing
  • High levels of entrepreneurship
  • Good quality transport systems
  • Providing for the future through the potential to be in employment and earn a living
  • Protection of the environment, and
  • Fair distribution of income and wealth

Swindon scored well for transport, improving on its score from last year, along with property owner occupation and income distribution, which were above the national average.

Swindon also saw an index increase for skills in people aged older than 25, and in protection of the environment, although it still performs below the national average in this area.

On the downside, Swindon saw its largest decrease in skills for 16 to 24 year olds, a rise in poor health, and costlier housing.

And despite retaining a top ten ranking, its overall index score actually decreased slightly, by around 0.05, compared to 2015-17. Most urban areas, conversely, have seen an overall increase in their scores.

"The region as a whole performs well across a wide mix of indicators with Swindon maintaining its top ten status, despite falls in some of the measures," said John-Paul Barker, PwC’s West and Wales regional leader.

"The progress made by cities across the South West and Wales is to be welcomed, but also presents some challenges.

"It is critical that the local authorities and their partners in this area continue to focus on their approach to managing rapid growth, ensuring that its benefits are distributed fairly across all sections of society.”

High yielding commercial investment comes to the market

College CourtThe freehold of Swindon's College Court has come to the market with commercial property consultants Kavanaghs and London consultants Allsop.

College Court comprises of Imperial, Trinity, and Oxford Houses.

Imperial House comprises a ground floor shop and first and second floor offices and is currently occupied by Advance Insurance. The lease expires in 2031 and the passing rent is £34,000 pax.

Trinity and Oxford Houses are currently occupied by Allen & Harris estate agents who occupy the combined ground floor units and all of the first, second and third floor offices. They have five years unexpired on their lease and the rent payable is currently £120,000 pax.

Thereafter there is the reversionary opportunity of potentially re-gearing the current lease and possibly redeveloping the upper parts. Both units have their own allocated car parking on site.

Kavanaghs' commercial property Manager, Stephen Brickell, said: “We are delighted to be bringing to market College Court and are once again pleased to be working with Duncan Moir of Allsop.

College Court comprises of Imperial, Trinity & Oxford Houses.

The property is to be sold in the December Allsop auction on Monday, December 9 at The Berkeley Hotel in Knightsbridge although offers are invited prior to the auction.

Duncan Moir of Allsop said: “I am once again pleased to be working with Mr Brickell again who is one of the most effective and proactive agents in the South and South West and have no doubt that between us we will be able to deliver a successful outcome for our client.”

To view the property or for further information please contact Stephen Brickell on 01225 341490 or Duncan Moir of Allsop on 0207 543 6704.

Expert opinion: When can an employer rely on ‘private’ WhatsApp messages in the context of disciplining an employee?

Malcolm GregoryHave you ever become aware that an employee has done something inappropriate on social media? Maybe they posted something which they ought to have thought twice about, or maybe you have discovered an entirely inappropriate online conversation?

Determining when it is possible to discipline an employee for their use of social media can be a tricky area.

A recent a Scottish Court of Session decision has helped provide some clarity on the right to privacy and when interactions on WhatsApp may be admitted into misconduct proceedings. This case does seem to have struck the right balance.

The case distinguished WhatsApp from other social media platforms viewing it as more private than others.

In June this year, the court was faced with deciding whether WhatsApp messages exchanged between police officers can be disclosed in the context of misconduct proceedings.

In terms of when a person may reasonably expect a conversation to remain private, the court distinguished between the ‘ordinary member of the public’ and those who are required to comply with specific professional standards whether or not they are at work, such as police officers.

Whilst investigating internal allegations of sexual offences, the Police Service of Scotland (PSS) reviewed a suspect police officer’s phone and found messages sent via WhatsApp on two separate groups, of which other officers were also members.

The PSS described the content of the messages as “blatantly sexist and degrading, racist, anti-Semitic, homophobic, mocking of disability” and showing a “flagrant disregard for police procedures by posting crime scene photos of current investigations”.

Although not used in the criminal investigation, the messages were passed on to the PSS’ professional standards department for them to review in the context of disciplining the officers.

The officers claimed that the use of these messages in the context of the misconduct proceedings was unlawful and infringed their right to privacy. The court disagreed.

Right to privacy?

In England, there is an established legal right to privacy. In this case, for the first time, the court stated that there is also a right to privacy in Scotland. It said that privacy is a “core value… which is inherent in a democratic and civilised state”.

Reasonable expectation of privacy?

Here, the court distinguished between the ‘ordinary member of the public’ and those who are held to professional standards whether on or off duty, such as police officers.

The ‘ordinary member of the public’ may reasonably expect that a conversation which takes place within a WhatsApp group will remain private, and so the right to privacy is engaged. The content of the messages, no matter how abhorrent, does not affect this expectation.

Those to whom professional standards apply have a limited right to privacy which is in line with the standards they adhere to. If they breach the standards, they have no reasonable expectation of privacy.

Officers swear an oath to behave in accordance with the Standards of Professional Behaviour (‘the Standards’). These apply whether the officers are on or off duty and refer to honesty and integrity, equality and diversity and reporting improper conduct, amongst other things.

Officers are also under a duty to abstain from acting in a way which is likely to interfere with the impartial discharge of their duties, or which may give that impression to the public.

The content of conversations is relevant here, as this will inform whether there is a reasonable expectation of privacy or not.

As all officers have a duty to report improper conduct, they cannot reasonably expect such inappropriate conversations to remain private. Therefore in relation to these messages, the officers’ right to privacy was not engaged.

In making this distinction, the court placed a great deal of emphasis on the existence of the Standards. As their underlying purpose is to maintain the public’s confidence in the police it makes sense that they should be held to account for their behaviour it if falls below what is expected.

Legal basis for disclosure?

The officers argued that their employer was not permitted to transfer the messages from the separate criminal proceedings to the employer’s disciplinary team as there was no legal basis justifying this.

The court held the transfer was permissible as it was in the public interest, and done to protect the public. There is a clear public interest in having a properly regulated police force.

What about proportionality?

Even if the officers had a reasonable expectation of privacy, the court determined that this would have been a proportionate interference with their rights as it was necessary in the interests of public safety and the prevention of disorder or crime (a Human Rights Act issue – Article8(2)).

So what now?

This decision makes sense: it is right that the police (and those held to a higher standard) should be held accountable for these sorts of messages.

This judgment means that individuals who are the subject of professional standards – including solicitors, doctors and financial service workers – have a limited right to privacy: their WhatsApp messages may be admissible in misconduct proceedings where they act in breach of those standards.

In most other circumstances, messages sent via WhatsApp are caught by the right to privacy and so an employer who wishes to pursue disciplinary action following the discovery of inappropriate WhatsApp messages will risk infringing that employee’s right.

They may only admit such messages if one of the exceptions stated in Article 8(2) is met such that the individual’s right to privacy is outweighed.

All employers should ensure that they have clear policies on the use of social media identifying what is and is not acceptable behaviour on these platforms and what the consequences are for non-compliance.

For ‘ordinary’ employees who are using their work phones to send inappropriate messages, this is a bit of a grey area.

Arguably the employee cannot reasonably expect the messages to remain private.

There is also the issue of who owns the data. Where the employer has paid for the phone and the contract it could be said that they own everything on the phone, potentially including the WhatsApp messages.

These cases will be fact specific and legal advice should be sought if this sort of issue arises. All the more reason for a clear social media policy to support you.

Malcolm Gregory is a partner in the employment law team at Royds Withy King in Swindon and can be reached on 01793 847 777 or at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

More Articles ...