Business experts

Swindon and Wiltshire's best business brains give advice and opinions on hot topics.

Expert opinion: How will the EU Settlement Scheme affect the temporary and permanent workforce|

Written by Dan Barfoot.

Dan Barfoot

 

If you have been following the Brexit drama lately, you might have heard an advert about a new scheme designed to allow EU, EEA and Swiss workers to stay, live and work here in the UK. This is regardless of whether we leave the EU with a deal or without one and it applies to family members as well.

But just what is this EU Settlement Scheme and how will it affect the temporary and permanent workforce here in the UK?

In light of Bristol's diesel ban, what's the best buy for Swindon and Wiltshire drivers?

Written by Dominic Threlfall.

Dominic Threlfall

 

The recent decision to ban diesel cars from the centre of Bristol has reignited an old argument – what car is a better buy: petrol, diesel, hybrid, or electric?

If the government gives its approval, private diesels will be banned from the city's Clean Air Zone between 7am and 3pm daily. Drivers who flout the ban can expect the fine. Commercial vehicles including lorries, buses and taxis will also be subject to conditions and tariffs.

Expert opinion: The Christmas party – what’s the worst that could happen?

Written by Peter Jones.

Peter JonesChristmas party season is upon us and for some it’ll be a night to remember – but for others, one to forget.

It’s a great time for staff to blow off some steam, bond outside of work and get to know each other without targets and deadlines looming.

But it can end up with uncomfortable conversations afterwards if it gets out of control.

Dealing with the fallout from Christmas parties is the bread and butter for our HR experts through December and January, with fights being the most common complaint.

After a few drinks, people can become a lot more honest and sometimes professional disputes escalate into a physical fracas.

Here are a few useful HR tips to help you get the best out of your Christmas party:

  • Remind everyone about their behaviour – you aren’t a horrible boss for doing so; you’re just making sure you reinforce the rules.
  • Make sure everyone is included and invited – they can be great team building events and a good way to say thank you for staff efforts over the previous year.
  • Ensure under-18s aren’t drinking.
  • Be aware of religious sensitivities.
  • Drinking the bar dry shouldn’t be the stated objective of the evening.
  • If there is an issue, use common sense – note down what’s happened and take appropriate action. Regardless of the situation, don’t sack someone on the spot!
  • Be mindful that Christmas can be a difficult time of year for some people.
  • Swap out Secret Santa for a Christmas Bake Off.
  • No mistletoe – it just asks for trouble!

Most events go without a hitch. But if you really are worried about potential workplace incidents, don’t ban the party altogether.

Why not host it after the New Year is in? You’ll still give your team a morale boost, plus many will be doing Dry January by then!

And if tensions do boil over, seek professional advice and support when launching your investigation.

Peter Jones runs the HR Dept in Swindon and Wiltshire www.hrdept.co.uk/offices/south-west/swindon

Expert opinion: The answer to the poor UK productivity puzzle?

Written by Rob Perks.

Rob PerksAs Britain gets closer to leaving the EU, it is worth looking again at that thorny issue of poor productivity amongst British firms and the fact that many foreign-owned firms in the UK are more productive.

In the summer, the Office for National Statistics said they make up one in four large businesses in the UK.

They employ millions of people and, embarrassingly for top British businesses, the largest ones are about twice as productive as domestically-owned equivalents.

The comparison gets worse when medium-sized businesses are assessed. The foreign-owned ones are about three times as productive as similar-sized UK rivals.

Analysis by the Bank of England last year found that foreign-owned companies were not only a source of well-paid, productive jobs but also a source of expertise that rubbed off on British-owned firms.

One word that sums up their approach would be “process,” while another would be “structure”. Both come under the heading of management.

An ONS study cited research that found a positive link between “structured management practices” and the performance of firms. Family-owned businesses, which make up 64 percent of manufacturing firms in the UK, performed especially badly.

Lacking any structure, their productivity was 20 percent lower than their German counterparts.

Why does the UK perform so badly? The authors argued that third and fourth generation “dynastic” firms were more likely to be obsessed with their reputation and doing things the way they had always done them. They refused to adopt new methods and one effect was to run away from managing “underperforming workers.”

While boardroom directors are often, even in British-owned firms, expected to have a management qualification, even an MBA, from a recognised business school, middle managers are almost totally neglected. Many are left to flounder and must make decisions with little training.

The government is now considering measuring the quality as well as quantity of work. This week the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy will convene a meeting to discuss how to measure the government’s industrial strategy.

Rob Perks is the CEO of Inspire, which is launching a new service to support senior and middle management to gain expertise and share best practice with other firms more effectively. An announcement will be made in the new year. www.inspirebiz.co.uk

 

 

Expert advice: 12 PR Tips for Your Business for 2020

Written by Fiona Scott.

Fiona Scott

 

Do you engage with the media – on or offline – in your business? Would you like to yet don’t really know where to look for a story? How can you change that for 2020?

If you do want some help then I’ve come up with 12 ways to find stories in your business. Follow these simple tips and you will see results.

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

Written by Malcolm Gregory.

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.

Expert opinion: New rules on Capital Gains Tax on second homes may catch out property investors

Written by Richard Mathews.

Richard MathewsIf you own a second home, are a landlord or a property investor, you should be aware of a new ruling that comes into force in April next year, affecting Capital Gains Tax on second homes.

Currently, if as a UK resident you sell a property where Capital Gains Tax (CGT) is due, you have to pay this by January 31 after the end of the tax year in which the gain arose. In some cases this could leave you holding the ‘tax’ for up to 21 months before it has to be paid to HMRC.

But from 6 April 2020 the rules are changing. Anyone selling a property where CGT is due will need to settle this liability within 30 days of the completion of the sale. This could create cashflow difficulties in getting the funds to be able to pay the tax in such a short time.

Failure to pay will most likely lead to HMRC charging interest and penalties.

What is Capital Gains Tax?

Capital Gains Tax is a tax on the profit you make when you sell an asset that has increased in value. Capital Gains Tax on second homes falls into this category.

It’s the gain you make that’s taxed, not the amount of money you receive.

There are specific reliefs from CGT for people selling their principal private residence and generally these ensure there isn’t any tax to pay.

The problems arise where the property is not a principal private residence, or was but for only part of the period it was owned. Second homes and property investments will not enjoy any principal private residence reliefs.

How much is Capital Gains Tax on second homes?

There is a higher rate of CGT to pay on the gain you make on a property sale than there is on other assets.

If you are a basic rate taxpayer, you will pay 18 percent on any gain you make on selling a second property.

If you are a higher or additional rate taxpayer, you will pay 28 percent.
With other assets, the basic rate of CGT is 10 percent, and the higher rate is 20 percent.

It is important to note, that any capital gains will be included when working out your tax liability and as a result other income could therefore push you into a higher tax bracket.

All taxpayers have an annual Capital Gains Tax allowance, which means you can make gains up to a certain amount tax free. For the tax year 2019/2020, the CGT allowance is up to £12,000 per individual; for 2018/19 it was £11,700.

Couples who jointly own assets can combine this allowance, potentially avoiding CGT on a gain of £24,000. Any unused allowance cannot be carried forward – so you use it or lose it.

How much Capital Gains Tax will you pay?

Capital Gains Tax is only paid, and at the rates outlined above, on the gain that has been made between the cost when you bought the asset and the amount you sold it on for.

To work out your gain, you need to deduct the amount you originally bought the property for from the sales price.

You can also take off any legitimate costs involved with buying and selling. This can include legal fees, estate agents’ fees, Stamp Duty and upgrades you made to the property when you owned it.

You can also offset losses against the ‘gain’. For example, if you are a property investor and make a loss on a property sale, you can offset this against the gain you make on another sale and so reduce the amount on which CGT is liable. Losses can be claimed for up to four years after they were incurred.

Clearly, the issue of Capital Gains Tax on second homes is not straightforward!

Any landlords, second homeowners or property investors thinking of selling within the next 12 months should take specific advice to determine the ‘tax cost’ of selling before or after 6 April 2020.

Richard Mathews is CEO at Optimum Professional Services, which offers tax and legal services under one roof. Visit www.optps.co.uk

 

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