Data reveals slow growth in UK economy

Data published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) has revealed that UK economic growth decelerated in the three months to November 2018, expanding at its slowest pace in six months.

The UK economy grew by 0.3% during this period, which is less than the growth of 0.4% recorded in the three months to October 2018.Image result for slow growth

The ONS figures also showed that the manufacturing sector contracted by 0.3%. Meanwhile, production as a whole contracted by 0.4%, and growth in the services sector increased by 0.3%.

Worries in regard to the global economy have also had knock-on effects for economies around the world, the ONS said. Figures published by the German and French governments recently showed ‘falling industrial output’.

Commenting on the data, Rob Kent-Smith, Head of National Accounts at the ONS, said: ‘Growth in the UK economy continued to slow in the three months to November after performing more strongly through the middle of the year.

‘Accountancy and house building again grew but a number of other areas were sluggish.’

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SMEs ‘waiting 43 days to be paid by government contractors’, research suggests

Research carried out by online business finance supermarket Funding Options has suggested that UK small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) have to wait an average of 43 days to be paid by government contractors.

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Funding Options found that top government contractors took more than six weeks to pay their suppliers in 2017.

It warned that late payments can help to push small firms into insolvency. According to Funding Options, late payments have played a significant role in generating construction sector insolvencies: in the year to September 2018, 2,924 construction firms were declared insolvent – a rise when compared to the previous year’s figure of 2,645.

In 2015, the government vowed to pay 80% of its invoices in five days, and the rest within 30 days. However, the research has suggested that government contractors are failing to meet this target.

Commenting on the issue, Phil Hall, Head of Public Affairs and Public Policy at the Association of Accounting Technicians (AAT), said: ‘Government action to tackle this problem, from the voluntary payment code to compulsory but feeble reporting requirements – as well as the creation of a Small Business Commissioner with no real power – have all predictably failed to stem the scourge of late payments.’

HMRC extends MTD for VAT pilot scheme to all eligible firms

HMRC has extended its Making Tax Digital for VAT (MTD for VAT) pilot scheme to all eligible businesses.

MTD for VAT is set to come into effect from 1 April 2019 for businesses which have a taxable turnover above the current VAT registration threshold of £85,000. As part of the initiative, firms must keep some records digitally, and must submit their VAT returns via an Application Programming Interface (API).

Any business utilising MTD for VAT whose turnover subsequently falls below the VAT threshold must stay in the regime, unless they deregister for VAT. Additionally, any firm exceeding the registration threshold after 1 April 2019 must comply with MTD for VAT, and is given 30 days to ensure that the appropriate digital software is in place.

As part of the pilot scheme, all eligible businesses are permitted to test out HMRC’s MTD for VAT system. The pilot scheme was first launched in April 2018, and was subsequently opened to half a million UK firms in October 2018.

Commenting on the pilot scheme, Clare Sheehan, Deputy Director for MTD for Business, said: ‘The MTD pilot is now available to all businesses who will need to use the service from April. This marks a significant milestone towards our delivery of a modern tax administration.

‘We encourage all eligible businesses to join and try out the service before they are mandated to use it.’

Ban on pensions cold-calling takes effect

From 9 January 2019, the government’s new ban on pensions cold-calling takes effect.

Making unsolicited calls in regard to pensions is now illegal, and any business found to be breaking the law will face fines of up to £500,000.

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Data published by the Money Advice Service recently revealed that as many as eight scam calls are made every second in the UK, totalling 250 million unwelcome calls per year.

Meanwhile, research conducted by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) suggested that pension scammers stole an average of £91,000 per victim in 2018.

Commenting on the ban, John Glen, Economic Secretary to the Treasury, said: ‘Pension scammers are the lowest of the low. They rob savers of their hard-earned retirement and devastate lives. We know that cold-calling is the pension scammers’ main tactic, which is why we’ve made them illegal.

‘If you receive an unwanted call from an unknown caller about your pension, get as much information you can and report it to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).’

The ICO website can be accessed here.

Many firms ‘actively tackling’ gender pay gap, survey suggests

A survey carried out by the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) has suggested that 93% of UK firms are ‘actively tackling’ their gender pay gap.

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The survey of 350 businesses revealed that 60% of firms believe that diversity helps them to attract and retain staff, and a further 50% said it has brought new skills and capabilities into their workforce.

According to the survey, 50% of respondents are seeking to improve gender diversity in ‘all levels’ of their business.

Commenting on the CBI’s findings, Ben Willmott, Head of Public Policy at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), said: ‘For the most part, employers are focusing on improving progression opportunities and on workplace diversity, which are positive steps. But there’s scope to go further, particularly on improving the gender balance in senior roles.’

As part of the second round of gender pay gap reporting, businesses and organisations are required to provide information on their gender pay gap by specific deadlines. Public sector organisations must publish and submit their data to the government by 30 March 2019, whilst businesses and charities must publish and submit by 4 April 2019.

TUC report reveals household debt has ‘hit new peak’

A report published by the Trades Union Congress (TUC) has revealed that UK household debt has ‘reached new highs’.

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The report revealed that unsecured debt per household rose to £15,385 during the third quarter of 2018 – representing a rise of £886 when compared to a year earlier.

Meanwhile, total unsecured debt rose to £428 billion in the third quarter of last year, according to the report.

The TUC said that government austerity and ‘years of wage stagnation’ are the key factors behind the increase in unsecured household debt.

Commenting on the findings, Frances O’Grady, General Secretary of the TUC, said: ‘Household debt is at crisis level. Years of austerity and wage stagnation has pushed millions of families deep into the red.

‘Our economy is not working for workers. They need stronger rights and bargaining powers. Trade unions should be allowed the freedom to enter every workplace to negotiate higher wages.’

Experts call for introduction of ‘pudding tax’ to combat sugar consumption

Public health experts have called for the government to introduce a so-called ‘pudding tax’ in order to help tackle high rates of sugar consumption amongst children.

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The calls for the introduction of a pudding tax come following the recent publication of research which suggested that the average child consumes 18 years’ worth of sugar by the time they reach the age of ten.

The tax would cover such foods as biscuits, sweets and cakes, and would aim to encourage manufacturers to reduce the sugar content in their products.

Dame Sally Davies, Chief Medical Officer for England, is backing the introduction of a pudding tax. She recently stated that more taxes on unhealthy foods need to be introduced, as she is ‘not yet convinced’ that manufacturers can be relied on to reduce sugar content voluntarily.

The government is already taking steps to combat childhood obesity and high rates of sugar consumption amongst children. In April 2018, it introduced the Soft Drinks Industry Levy, which applies to the packaging and importation of soft drinks containing added sugar. 457 manufacturers are currently signed up to this levy.

Official data recently revealed that the Levy generated £153.8 million for HMRC by the end of October 2018. Traders pay one of two rates: either the 18p per litre ‘standard rate’, or the 24p per litre ‘higher rate’.