90% of small businesses ‘want to become more energy efficient’

Nine out of ten small firms would like to become more energy efficient, according to a poll carried out by the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB).

Some 78% of FSB members surveyed said that saving money on their energy bills was the primary motivation behind carrying out energy efficiency measures.

However, the research also found other factors are now influencing small firms’ attitudes to energy saving, with 70% of business owners citing the environmental benefits as an important motivator for becoming greener.

Meanwhile, a quarter of those polled said that becoming more energy efficient would help to promote their firm and attract customers.

The findings have prompted the FSB to call on energy companies to offer more support and investment to their small business customers.

FSB National Chairman, John Allan, said: ‘Small businesses are really enthusiastic about energy efficiency and this desire should be capitalised on for the good of their business and the environment.

‘However, what our research does tell us is a simple ‘one-size fits all’ approach will not work as different businesses are driven by a diverse range of factors.’

He added: ‘The energy market will continue to fail small firms until it can help businesses reduce their energy consumption, as well as their underlying unit costs’.

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Business reacts to Queen’s Speech

28 May 2015

Prime Minister David Cameron introduced the Queen’s Speech, saying: ‘The first task of a ‘One Nation Government’ is to help all working people have security. And nothing is more crucial to that than a job.

‘A new Bill will help to create two million more jobs this Parliament. That means there should be a job for everyone who wants one – in other words, full employment.’

The speech received mixed reactions from the political and business world. A new Cities Devolution Bill received a lot of attention in the media, along with further mention of Chancellor George Osborne’s previously announced ‘Northern Powerhouse’ plans.

In response to confirmation of the new Trade Unions Bill, Frances O’Grady, General Secretary of the Trades Union Congress (TUC), said: ‘A government that claimed to be on the side of working people now wants to tip the balance of power against them with draconian restrictions on the right to strike’.

General Secretary of the National Union of Teachers, Christine Blower, said: ‘This is a Queen’s Speech which entrenches inequality’.

However, Confederation of British Industry (CBI) Deputy Director-General, Katja Hall, said: ‘This is a jam-packed Queen’s Speech, with a strong focus on stepping up a gear on the economic recovery – locking in growth, creating jobs and boosting investment right across the country’.

Speaking on the Enterprise Bill, she added: ‘Pruning unnecessary red tape from Westminster and Brussels will give firms bursting with potential – especially small and medium-sized ones – the space to grow and thrive’.

She also welcomed the Housing Bill as a clear ‘signal that the new Government will make home ownership a top priority’.

Further announcements are expected when Mr Osborne delivers his Second Budget of 2015 on July 8.

Boost for retailers as sales growth exceeds expectations

The latest CBI survey of UK retailers has found that growth in sales has accelerated at a faster than expected rate in the year to May.

The organisation’s quarterly Distributive Trades Survey of 134 firms including 63 retailers showed that growth in both the volume of retail sales and orders exceeded expectations in May. 60% of the firms surveyed said volumes were up on a year ago, while only 9% said they were down, giving a positive balance of 51%.

Meanwhile, expectations for the next month were at their highest level for 27 years, with 63% expecting them to rise and only 4% to fall.

Rain Newton-Smith, CBI Director of Economics said: “Retailers will be encouraged to see growth in sales and orders on the high street bounding ahead. Low inflation, which we expect to remain below 1% for the rest of the year, has given household incomes a much-needed boost and greater spending power.

“Overall the outlook is bright for firms on the high street, but challenges still remain, especially for food retailers, who are still feeling the heat of stiff price competition from new entrants to the sector. And investment plans have also taken a hit.”

Howard Archer, economist at IHS Global Insight, welcomed the findings and said that it indicated likely growth in the UK economy. He said: “It is looking increasingly likely that robust consumer spending will help the UK economy regain momentum in the second quarter after GDP growth moderated to just 0.3% quarter-on-quarter in the first quarter. We currently forecast second-quarter GDP growth to improve to 0.7% quarter-on-quarter.”

Last week, figures from the Office for National Statistics showed that UK retail sales rose by 1.2% in April, the strongest increase since November.

Banks paying less corporation tax, study shows

26 May 2015

According to research by Cambridge Judge Business School, the amount of corporation tax paid in the UK by the biggest banks has fallen in recent years despite reports of improved profits.

The banks studied were Royal Bank of Scotland, Lloyds, HSBC, Nationwide, Barclays and Standard Chartered, and the data was published in the journal Fiscal Studies. Analysis of the figures shows that corporation tax receipts from the banking sector fell from £7 billion in 2005/6 to a low of £1.3 billion in 2011/12.

Professor of Financial Accounting at Cambridge Judge, Geoff Meeks, said: ‘While profitability of major UK banks recovered to levels seen before the financial crisis, there has been a sharp fall in banking corporation tax receipts by the UK Treasury’.

He added: ‘The exact reasons are difficult to pinpoint due to incomplete and patchy disclosure requirements on banks, which we believe obstruct analysis’.

Possible reasons for the decline in payments have been suggested in the research. These range from tax breaks from HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) to banks shifting their profits offshore.

New ‘sugar tax’ proposed by Minister

22 May 2015

Life Sciences Minister George Freeman has recently announced the possibility of taxing sugary foods in order to pay for the medical costs of obesity in the UK.

According to the minister, food companies should be aware that if they produce food that could lead to bad health and lifestyles then they may face penalties. However, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has previously said that there would be no ‘sugar tax’.

Speaking at the Hay Festival, Mr Freeman said: ‘I don’t think heavy-handed legislation is the way to go. But I think that where there is a commercial product which confers costs on all of us as a society then we could be looking at recouping some of that through taxation’.

Recent figures show that a high proportion of UK adults are overweight. In response, Public Health England released a draft report outlining ‘options for action’ which included a ‘sugar tax’. It is thought that a 20% tax on sugary foods would reduce obesity in the UK by 1.3%. Public Health England has been an executive agency of the Department of Health in the UK since 2013.

Pensioner bonds become ‘biggest-selling financial product’ in UK history

21 May 2015

The Government’s 65+ ‘pensioner bonds’ have been sold to more than a million older savers, who made total investments to the tune of over  £13bn, making them the best-selling retail financial product in Britain’s modern history, HM Treasury has revealed.

The ‘65+ Guaranteed Growth Bonds’ from National Savings and Investments went on sale in January 2015 and offered savers aged 65 and over an opportunity to boost the return on their savings by investing up to £10,000 per bond, with an overall investment cap of £10bn set by the Government.

The bonds offered attractive fixed annual interest rates of 2.8% for one-year bonds and 4% for three-year bonds.

However, following the success of the bonds the Chancellor subsequently announced that they would be available until 15 May 2015, with no overall cap, in order that more savers aged 65+ would have the chance to benefit from the scheme.

New Enterprise Bill to help small businesses settle late payment disputes

20 May 2015

In his first speech as Business Secretary, Sajid Javid has announced that a new Enterprise Bill aimed at tackling problems faced by small businesses will be brought forward and included in the Queen’s Speech.

Speaking at a business centre in Bristol, Mr Javid said: ‘Small businesses are Britain’s engine room … As Business Secretary one of my first steps will be to bring forward an Enterprise Bill that helps them to succeed and create jobs. We will sweep away burdensome red tape, get heavy-handed regulators off firms’ backs and create a Small Business Conciliation Service to help resolve disputes.’

The proposal for a Small Business Conciliation Service was included in the Conservative Party’s manifesto. The new body would assist in settling disputes between small and large businesses, especially over late payment practices, and would help companies to avoid costly legal expenses.

Mr Javid said: ‘There’s a situation familiar to small business owners up and down the country. A letter turns up from a larger customer changing payment terms, or charging them to remain a supplier and in some cases even deducting that charge on the spot against payment owed. This pattern of behaviour is an outrage. It’s bullying – pure and simple.’ He said that in 2008 late payment cost British business £19bn but this year the figure is set to exceed £40bn.

Chris Bryce, chief executive of the Association of Independent Professionals and the Self-employed, welcomed the announcement of the conciliation service, saying: ‘[This] could play a key role in making sure the smallest businesses have somewhere to turn when they are being paid late and could help deliver a better payment culture where small and large businesses work more harmoniously together.’

Other measures to be included in the Enterprise Bill are: plans to cut red tape for business by at least £10 billion over the next five years, which involves targeting independent regulators for the first time; an extension of the primary authority scheme, which allows businesses to get advice on regulation from a single local council; and a review of the business rates scheme.