Personal debt growth is ‘slowing’, BBA finds

Growth in personal debt slowed during May, data published by the British Bankers’ Association (BBA) has revealed.

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Personal debt grew by 5.1% during May, compared to 6.4% in April. Borrowing via loans and overdrafts slowed down in particular, the BBA said.

House purchase approvals also experienced a deceleration, totalling 40,347 in May. This number is 3.3% lower when compared to May 2016, and down on the monthly average of 41,923.

The BBA found that consumers are also saving less: in the year to the end of May, personal deposits grew at a rate of 2.6% – representing the slowest annual rate of growth in saving since 2011.

Commenting on the data, Eric Leenders, Managing Director for Retail Banking at the BBA, said: ‘In the run up to the General Election, credit growth in personal loans, cards and overdrafts has slowed, which was reflected in lower spending, with increased household costs affecting growth in deposits and saving.

‘Businesses appear to be weighing up their options before raising finance to fund projects or developments. After a long period of subdued company borrowing, overall growth is starting to stabilise at a modest rate.’

Inadequate cyber security practices ‘putting SMEs at risk’, analysis suggests

Poor cyber and data security habits are putting one in ten small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) at risk, an analysis carried out by accounting software developer Reckon has suggested.

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Reckon found that 10% of small business owners and employees regularly send confidential files via personal devices rather than work machines. It also revealed that many send sensitive documents to personal email addresses, as opposed to work ones.

The research suggested that 25% of business owners and their employees save confidential documents onto their desktops, rather than onto a central server.

Reckon warned that poor cyber security practices may expose confidential information to the risk of hacks or unauthorised use.

It stated that the 2018 implementation of the new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) will make adhering to basic cyber security practices compulsory.

Mark Woolley, Commercial Director at Reckon, said: ‘It’s truly concerning that so many SMEs here in the UK are ignoring basic data protection rules.

‘Incorrectly managing data and information . . . can pose financial, reputational and security issues to a business; something that no business owner wants to have to deal with.’

TUC suggests quarter of new fathers are ‘missing out’ on paternity leave and pay

An analysis carried out by the Trades Union Congress (TUC) has found that more than 157,000 new dads are ‘missing out’ on paternity leave and pay.

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During 2016, there were 625,000 working dads in the UK with a child aged under one. The TUC’s analysis revealed that 25% of such fathers did not qualify for statutory paternity leave and pay. Under the current rules, eligible new fathers are permitted up to two weeks of paid paternity leave.

The analysis found that the main reason for this is that many were self-employed. Self-employed fathers don’t receive a paternity allowance, whereas self-employed mothers are entitled to receive a maternity allowance.

The TUC is calling for the government to provide new fathers with a right to statutory paternity leave from day one, increased paternity pay, dedicated leave and a paternity allowance for fathers who are not eligible for statutory paternity pay.

Frances O’Grady, General Secretary of the TUC, commented: ‘It’s really important for new dads to be able to spend time at home with their families when they have a new baby.

‘But too many fathers are missing out because they don’t qualify – or because they can’t afford to use their leave.

‘We’d like to see all dads being given a right to longer, better-paid leave when a child is born.’

Queen’s Speech outlines government’s legislative agenda

The Queen has delivered her annual speech at the state opening of Parliament, in which she outlined the government’s legislative agenda.

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This year’s speech differed to speeches given in previous years: it outlined the government’s legislative plans for the next two years, as opposed to one.

Earlier in the week, the government took the decision to cancel the 2018 Queen’s Speech in order to give MPs ‘extra time to deal with Brexit laws’.

Brexit proposals granted to the UK government include the power to make any future changes to UK laws, flexibility to accommodate trade agreements with the EU and other countries, control over the import and export of goods and the ability to end the free movement of EU citizens into the UK.

Other proposals outlined in the speech include a data protection bill designed to strengthen consumers’ rights, a national insurance contributions (NICs) bill aimed at ‘making the NIC system fairer’, and a financial guidance and claims bill, which establishes a new statutory body to co-ordinate the provision of debt, money and pension guidance.

Business groups have responded to the Queen’s Speech. Dr Adam Marshall, Director General of the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), said: ‘While Brexit isn’t the top immediate priority for many businesses, firms of every size and shape want to avoid turbulence and confusion during the Brexit transition. The government’s proposed bills on trade, customs and immigration must minimise adjustment costs and maximise opportunities.’

Meanwhile, Mike Cherry, National Chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), commented: ‘It’s good to see commitment to special support to help British businesses export to new markets around the world, which we look forward to engaging with the government on.’

Brexit deal must put jobs and prosperity first, says Chancellor

In his annual Mansion House speech, Chancellor Philip Hammond stated that any Brexit deal between the UK and the EU must put UK jobs and prosperity first.

Mr Hammond revealed that the government will seek a ‘bold and ambitious’ free trade agreement, that covers both goods and services. He also stated that mutually beneficial transitional arrangements will be made in order to avoid ‘disruption and dangerous cliff edges’.

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Agreeing ‘frictionless’ customs arrangements to facilitate trade across UK borders is also a priority during Brexit talks, Mr Hammond said.

Additionally, the Chancellor pledged to keep taxes ‘as low as possible’, stating that higher taxes will ‘slow growth, undermine competitiveness and cost jobs’.

Responding to the Chancellor’s speech, Mike Cherry, National Chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), said: ‘In the negotiation itself, small businesses are looking to the government to secure an ambitious free trade agreement with the EU, while still allowing small firms to retain access to the skills and labour they need to grow and prosper.’

He continued: ‘While Brexit is the dominant issue of the day, our members are increasingly concerned about the weakness in the domestic economy. We therefore welcome the Chancellor’s commitment . . . to a low tax burden.’

Business groups call for ‘softer’ Brexit

Five business groups, including the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) and the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), have called for the government to secure continued access to the European single market until a final Brexit deal can be struck with the EU.

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The letter to Business Secretary Greg Clark calls for the government to ‘put the economy first’, and to ‘prioritise an early agreement on guarantees for EU citizens’ already residing in the UK.

A final agreement between the UK and the EU should guarantee certain economic principles, as outlined in the letter. These include securing tariff-free goods trade between the UK and the EU, establishing a flexible system for the movement of labour and skills between the UK and the EU, and protecting the benefits of free trade agreements currently delivered through the EU.

The letter, which is also signed by the Institute of Directors (IoD) and manufacturers’ organisation the EEF, comes as Brexit Secretary David Davis enters into formal Brexit negotiations with the EU.

Commenting on the negotiations, Mr Davis said: ‘I want to reiterate at the outset of these talks that the UK will remain a committed partner and ally of our friends across the continent. And while there is a long road ahead, our destination is clear – a deep and special partnership between the UK and the EU. A deal like no other in history.’

The UK is set to leave the EU by the end of March 2019.

New data reveals fraud ‘hotspots’ in the UK

New data collated by consumer group Which? has outlined fraud ‘hotspots’ around the UK.

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Which? has created a map, pinpointing locations where certain types of fraud appear to be more prevalent.

The consumer body revealed that Norfolk is a hotspot for dating fraud, Dorset suffers the most computer virus, malware and spyware fraud and Warwickshire experiences the highest level of retail fraud.

London was revealed to be a hotspot for many types of fraud – Which? suggests that this may be because of its ‘large concentration of money and people’. Individuals residing in London are more at risk of falling victim to social media or email hacking, scam door-to-door sales, ticket fraud and mandate fraud.

Gareth Shaw, money expert at Which?, said: ‘This research highlights how reported fraud in the UK is on the increase and the kinds of scams you are most likely to fall victim to will depend on where you live.

‘These criminals are constantly finding new ways to rip us off and those tackling fraud should be upping their game.

‘The government needs to set out an ambitious agenda to tackle fraud, while law enforcement agencies need to be working harder to identify and protect the people most at risk from fraud.’