UK inflation rises to highest level in two years

Inflation rose to 1.0% in September, up from 0.6% in August, according to official figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

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Although low in historical terms, the increase in Consumer Price Index (CPI) inflation is the sharpest since June 2014, and the 1% rate is the highest since November 2014.

The Retail Prices Index (RPI) measure of inflation, which includes mortgage interest payments, also rose to 2.0% in September – up from 1.8% in August.

The ONS attributed the change in the CPI inflation rate to rising prices for fuel, hotel rooms and clothes – with the last seeing the largest price rises since 2010.

Although the post-referendum fall in sterling is widely expected to eventually lead to increased prices for household items, the ONS said that there was ‘no explicit evidence’ that the weakened pound was the cause for the latest rise in inflation.

The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) stated that it expects the depreciation of sterling to ‘push up prices through the course of next year, which will hit the pound in people’s pockets’.

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Self-employed ‘earning less than they did 20 years ago’, report suggests

Average wages for self-employed individuals are lower than they were in 1994/95, a report by the Resolution Foundation has revealed.

Data published by the think tank showed that, whilst the number of self-employed workers has grown by 45% since 2001/02, their weekly earnings have fallen by £60.

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The report revealed that self-employed individuals’ typical weekly earnings grew during the late 1990s and early 2000s, but fell in the wake of the financial crisis.

Earnings have recovered over the last year, and, according to the Resolution Foundation, are ‘almost back to levels last seen in the late 1990s at around £240 a week’.

However, this is 15% down when compared to typical weekly earnings in 1994/95.

Adam Corlett, Economic Analyst at the Resolution Foundation, commented: ‘Almost five million workers across Britain are now self-employed. But while the self-employed workforce is getting bigger, typical earnings are actually lower than they were 20 years ago.

‘With so many self-employed workers earning so little, it is right that the Government investigate how public policy should catch up to meet the needs of these workers.’

A Government spokesperson stated: ‘The Government is committed to building an economy that works for everyone and while the National Living Wage has given one million workers a pay rise, the Prime Minister has made clear the labour market must support and protect all workers.’

Business group urges Chancellor to ‘boost business investment’

In its Autumn Statement submission, the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) has urged the Chancellor, Philip Hammond, to ‘incentivise business investment’, improve infrastructure and demonstrate continued support for business.

The business group also called on the Chancellor to use the upcoming Autumn Statement to reform the UK’s business rates system, improve the implementation of the Apprenticeship Levy and invest in ‘quick-start’ infrastructure projects, such as housing and broadband.

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The BCC also recommended that the Government should not introduce new input taxes or other costs for businesses ‘for the remainder of this Parliament’, and that the Annual Investment Allowance (AIA) be temporarily widened to allow for business premises improvements.

Adam Marshall, Director General of the BCC, commented: ‘The Autumn Statement gives the Government a great chance to set the tone for its relationship with British businesses by pulling out all the stops to support investment, infrastructure improvements and business confidence.

‘Plans to lower business costs and support investment would help firms take risks and seize opportunities in spite of the ongoing uncertainty surrounding the Brexit process.

‘Westminster must do everything in its gift to improve the business environment – and firms will repay that backing with investment, hiring, training and export growth.’

Stress ‘top health and safety concern in UK workplaces’, TUC suggests

A survey conducted by the Trades Union Congress (TUC) has revealed that stress is now the biggest health and safety concern within UK workplaces.

The data, which was gathered by polling over 1,000 health and safety representatives from around the UK, revealed that workplace stress has reached record high levels, with 70% of representatives citing it as a significant problem.

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The survey also revealed that stress is one of the main contributors to mental health issues, including anxiety and depression.

Moreover, concern over workplace stress is higher within the public sector than in the private sector, according to the data.

Workplace stress proves to be particularly prevalent amongst employees in central government, with 93% of health and safety representatives in this sector reporting it to be a major concern.

Frances O’Grady, General Secretary of the TUC, stated: ‘Stress is becoming a bigger and bigger problem. Pressures of long working hours and low job security are being felt in workplaces across the UK.

‘Stress is preventable if staff have reasonable workloads, supportive managers and a workplace free from violence, bullying and harassment.

‘Anyone worried about their workload or being unfairly treated at work should join a union to get the support they need and their interests represented at work.’

‘Limited progress’ has been made in reducing cost of regulation, PAC suggests

A new report published by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) suggests that the Government has made ‘limited progress’ in reducing the cost of regulation for UK businesses.

The Government had previously pledged to reduce the total cost of red tape by £10 billion between 2015 and 2020.

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In its report, the PAC reveals that, so far, less than £1 billion has been saved. It also suggests that the Government has included the compulsory 5p plastic bag charge as a ‘saving’ for retailers due to the additional revenue it generates.

Other significant costs, however, have been excluded from the target, such as the ones generated by the National Living Wage (NLW).

The PAC urges the Government to ‘consider whether it is appropriate to include regulations imposed on business as contributing towards the target’.

Meg Hillier MP, Chair of the PAC, stated: ‘A policy of reducing regulatory costs has the potential to deliver significant benefits but the Government has its work cut out if these are to be realised.’

Meanwhile, Mike Cherry, National Chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), commented: ‘FSB members tell us regulation is the number one issue they want this Government to focus on. As we face the challenges and opportunities of Brexit, it is vital that we bolster business productivity and remove burdensome red tape.’

New tool allows users to check their revised business rates

A new Government tool allows individuals in England and Wales who pay business rates to easily check their new draft rateable value, and, from this, get an estimate of what their business rates will be from April 2017.

The Government’s Valuation Office Agency (VOA) recently revalued all 1.96 million non-domestic properties in England and Wales. These new rateable values are based on the rental value of properties on 1 April 2015, and will be used to calculate business rate bills from 1 April 2017.

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The news has been welcomed by business groups, but some have also raised concerns about the new system since certain businesses could face a significant hike in their rate.

Mike Cherry, National Chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), said: ‘This review has been delayed by two years and means small businesses have been paying rates based on 2008 valuations which are now out of date.

‘Many businesses across the country will be getting some relief from years of overpayment or see their rates remain steady. In other areas, there will be a big jump between the old valuation and the new one. To avoid such big discrepancies in payments, we believe more frequent valuations are necessary.’

Transitional relief plans recently announced by the Government include spreading the tapering over five years and having a new band for medium businesses.

The new VOA tool can be found here: www.gov.uk/correct-your-business-rates

Tools for calculating business rates in Scotland and Northern Ireland can be found on the relevant Government websites.

Business groups urge Government to avoid ‘hard’ Brexit

Business groups, including the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) and the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC), have penned an open letter to the Government, urging it to avoid a so-called ‘hard’ Brexit by preserving barrier-free access to the EU’s Single Market.

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The letter, which is also signed by manufacturers’ organisation the EEF and technology firm techUK, states that the terms under which the UK leaves the EU are ‘of critical importance to jobs and investment’.

The business groups claim that trading under World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules would leave 90% of UK goods trade with the EU ‘subject to new tariffs’.

This, the letter continues, would result in additional costs of 20% for the food and drink industry and extra costs of 10% for car manufacturers.

Such costs would have significant consequences for British exporters and importers, as well as for those within their supply chains, the letter’s signatories suggest.

‘Every credible study that has been conducted has shown that this WTO option would do serious and lasting damage to the UK economy and those of our trading partners,’ the groups wrote.

They are calling for the Government to make sure that the terms of the deal to leave the EU will ensure stability, prosperity and improved living standards in the UK.