After the media frenzy about Brexit it is refreshing to know that we in Blighty continue with most day to day business. The continuing, and accelerating change of the legal landscape being just one example.
Legal Services Board (LSB) research has established that unregulated legal services providers are generally cheaper and more innovative than traditional, regulated law firms. This is very significant as the LSB is, by Act of Parliament, the overarching supervisor of all legal services in this country. A body to whom The Law Society, The Bar Council, the Institute of Legal Executives, and others, must doff their caps.
The conclusion of its research into the unregulated market was that the small scale of the problems it might potentially cause meant the oversight regulator would not take steps to introduce regulation.
On the face of it this is surprising, as one of the tasks of the LSB is to ensure that consumers are protected. So what is going on? Well, one big driver is the major withdrawal of Legal Aid. This, in turn, has been driven by a perceived need for austerity in the overall economy (whether you agree with that or not) and the pressure from various consumer groups to radicalise the legal services market so that consumers can access cheap legal advice.
Part of the picture is also the reluctance of traditional law firms to streamline their processes to lower cost to the end user. There are several reasons for this. One is that lawyers are not, on the whole, innovative thinkers when it comes to business models. To be fair to them, training to be a lawyer is still predicated on learning the law, not on good management, and certainly not education in lean processes. Also, sadly, there is still a huge lack of awareness of what good customer service is, and what the benefit to a law firm is.
The traditional law firm uses an outdated, labour intensive model. There is no incentive to change when you can operate this model and charge consumers for the provision of legal services which are emanating from a hideously Leviathan like monster.
What is also surprising is that, as more and more unregulated law firms and practitioners enter the market, the powers that be appear to be relaxed about allowing them to exist, despite the potential danger to consumers. This is an argument that The Law Society, The Bar Council, and lawyers, have relied on for decades. In other words, you should use “us” because if you use someone who is unregulated, you have no comeback if things go wrong. There is some merit in that argument but as the general population becomes more cost conscious, and expects better and better customer service, speed, and certainty of price, the argument is wearing very thin indeed. After all, most consumers are already used to shopping around for goods and services, and will do so, and are, when choosing legal services. All they want to know is does this lawyer have the expertise I need, are they going to rip me off, and am I going to get value for money? Perhaps they should also be advised to ask “Do you have Professional Indemnity Insurance?”.
The LSB research shows that unregulated practitioners have, and continue to, gain a “significant market share”.
Research commissioned from consultancy Economics Insight (EI) as part of the project found that unregulated providers offered lower prices compared to regulated providers, higher levels of transparency in pricing – publishing their prices – and higher levels of innovation and service differentiation.
“For consumers to realise these benefits, they must be able to make informed choices between regulated and unregulated providers,” it continued. “Without such an awareness, consumers may be exposed to risks.”
The internet has also played a part in this revolution. Consumers can now check a practitioner’s website, to get an idea of pricing (something which traditional law firms have been coy about revealing, to put it politely), the practitioner’s depth and relevance of expertise, and read testimonials. In other words, the internet has given consumers the tools to make an informed choice.
Interestingly, the EI research found that consumer satisfaction levels were on a par with those recorded for regulated providers.
The LSB said that based on the evidence of the benefits and risks to consumers, and limited potential market for voluntary regulation beyond existing trade associations, it would continue to monitor developments in the unregulated market but not seek to introduce a voluntary regulatory regime as allowed under the Legal Services Act.
Legal Services Board Chairman Sir Michael Pitt said: “This is an important piece of work. We hear too much anecdote about the unregulated parts of the legal sector and alleged problems associated with such providers.
“This new research suggests that the unregulated sector is neither as big nor as problematic as some have suggested. The research provides a balanced view of this part of the legal services market and allows us a better understanding as to why consumers might use it.”
Bar Council chairman Chantal-Aimee Doerries QC warned that unregulated firms were set to take more market share as the full impact of legal aid cuts took hold.
Good news for legal consumers, whether “domestic” or commercial. Oh, and a refreshing change from pondering the imponderable consequences of Brexit.
GRANTS AND FUNDING OPPORTUNITIES
AVAILABLE NOW (January 2016) - TO HELP YOU GROW YOUR BUSINESS.
GET IN TOUCH TO UNDERSTAND HOW WE CAN HELP YOU GROW YOUR BUSINESS
START-UP LOANS UP TO £25,000
Full details and terms and conditions available on this link for up to £25,000 on a one to five year term.
GRANTS OF UP TO £50,000 TO HELP CREATE BUSINESS GROWTH AND JOBS
Full details and terms and conditions of this programme on this link. Areas covered include The Chilterns, Aylesbury Vale, Rural Milton Keynes, and South Northants. Grants of up to £50,000 are available to promote growth of micro and small businesses in rural areas.
START-UP LOANS UPTO £10,000, AND BUSINESS LOANS UP TO £20,000
For start-up businesses we offer up to a maximum of £10,000, though the average loan is less than £5,000. For established businesses with a financial track record of at least 3 years the maximum loan is £20,000.
FINANCING START-UPS IN AYLESBURY VALE
Useful information advice and contacts.
FINANCING SUPPORT IN BUCKINGHAMSHIRE FROM BBF
Useful information advice and contacts.
FINANCING SUPPORT FROM THE LEP IN OXFORDSHIRE
The Oxfordshire Local Enterprise Partnership work with local, national and international government, to provide local businesses with funding, more details on this link.
SOUTH EAST MIDLANDS LEP (SEMLEP) FUNDING AND SUPPORT
Useful information and guidance on funding, and attending a business support workshop for those who are looking to expand their business.
APPRENTICESHIP GRANT OF UP TO £7,500 PER BUSINESS
Help and support is available along with a grant of up to £1,500 per apprentice, max 5 per business, total £7,500. From Jan 2015 the grant is available to businesses with less than 50 employees, subject to availability and eligibility criteria.
£5,000 TO HELP YOUR BUSINESS INNOVATE
An Innovation Support Voucher gives you up to £5,000 to work with an external expert for the first time. It allows you to gain new knowledge to help your business innovate, develop and grow.
GROWTH VOUCHERS UP TO £2,000
The Growth Voucher programme helps companies find and pay for professional strategic advice.
INVESTMENT POTENTIAL FROM FINANCE SOUTH EAST GROUP
The FSE Group invests in small and medium sized enterprises (SME’s) that have the potential for significant growth.
INTERNATIONAL TRADING GRANTS
UK Trade & Investment (UKTI) works with UK-based businesses to help them achieve overseas growth. UKTI can advise upon International Trade Advisors to help companies looking to export overseas. There are currently grants available for market research, attending overseas Trade Shows, and developing products for overseas export, as well as a wide range of training and skills programmes.
INNOVATE UK FUNDING AND SUPPORT FROM £5,000
Innovate UK is the new name for the Technology Strategy Board. Innovate UK is an executive non-departmental public body sponsored by the Dept for Business, Innovation and Skills. Innovate UK fund, support and connect innovative businesses to accelerate sustainable growth.
The Carbon Trust’s Mission is to accelerate the move to a sustainable low carbon economy. The Carbon Trust are independent experts on carbon reduction and resource efficiency, who reinvest surpluses from group commercial activities into their Mission.
NINE DAYS FOC SPECIALIST SUPPORT FOR VCS ENTERPRISES IN BUCKINGHAMSHIRE
If you are in the Voluntary and Community Sector or other a Not-For-Profit enterprise in Buckinghamshire, you could be eligible for a free half day support from Community Impact Bucks and the up to nine days free specialist support.
JOB SEEKER ASSISTANCE
The support available includes a weekly allowance and a loan to assist with start-up costs.
SOURCES OF HELPFUL INFORMATION INCLUDES:
PREPARING A BUSINESS PLAN
Most funders and grant bodies will appreciate a business that has a well-structured business plan.
FINANCE OPTIONS FOR YOUR BUSINESS EXPLAINED
The most suitable finance options for your business depends on many things, this guide helps by explaining the different types of funding available.
SMALL BUSINESS GRANTS
Articles and advice on how small businesses can get a government grant, along with helpful guides on the different types of business grants available to business owners starting and running a business.
GET IN TOUCH TO UNDERSTAND HOW WE CAN HELP YOU GROW YOUR BUSINESS
The new Sentencing Council’s definitive guidelines were published on the 3rd of this month. They bring with them some quite dramatic changes to health and safety & corporate manslaughter enforcement.
I have read many express the view that we will now see more directors, managers and other employees being handed custodial sentences due to the significantly lower level set for potential imprisonment. As to potential fines the Guidelines make it clear that they must be significant enough to have a real economic impact on the individual business.
A clear message is whether you are a director, shareholder or an individual worker none compliance to the law will not be worth it.
So not knowing about these Guidelines and their potential impact, or not taking them seriously, may deliver some very unwelcome surprises to businesses and some individuals. You can find a full overview here: Dramatic changes to health and safety & corporate manslaughter enforcement | HR Support for Business
HR Support for Business (HRSfB) was founded to give small and micro businesses access to enterprise level HR and health and safety advice, support and resources that they can trust when they need it. Here is a link to a downloadable PDF giving advice on the new family friendly legislation changes and HR Support PDF.
There has been growth of 33% over the last 5 years in the UK medium sized business market. This sector accounts for less than 1% of all firms and delivers more than 33% of the UK's revenue - over £1 trillion - and accounts for one in four jobs in the UK. Full details here. How do you compare with this average?
Partner in business LLP, are holding a Discussion Luncheon
12.00-14.00 on the 13th March at The Oxford Hotel, Wolvercote, Oxford.
The discussion topic is Pensions – New reforms and Auto-enrolment.
Partner? have invited several local businesses and network leaders to attend this luncheon discussion. The aim of the discussion is to better understand unanswered questions on this important topic. With this improved understanding it is intended to design a subsequent open event to answer the unanswered questions.
The discussion on the 13th March is an invite only event, so if you would like to attend it, please get in touch with a partner at Partner in Business LLP,
It is proposed that there will be an open invite to the subsequent meeting. If you would like to attend this open event please register your interest with us, click here
Grants and funding opportunities now available to help you grow your business. Do get in touch if we can assist you further with these opportunities, and help grow your business.
Most funders and grant bodies will appreciate a business that has a well structured business plan.
100% Business Rate Relief for rateable values below £12,000.
Employment Allowance on Employer National Insurance worth up to £2,000.
Only 10% Corporation Tax through patent Box Scheme. SME’s can claim a lower rate of Corporation Tax on profits earned from patented inventions.
Claim up to 32.6% of R&D costs back through R&D Tax Credits.
30% tax relief through EIS on investments up to £1m; and
50% tax relief through SEIS on investments up to £100k.
Personal tax allowance increases to £10,600 in 2015/16; and
ISA Allowance increases to £15,240 in 2015/16.
So you have decided to start your own business? You have an idea and you think it’s a good one. Where do you start? Well the good news is that you have taken the frightening step first. What next?
Talk to family, friends, colleagues and most important of all prospective customers about your idea/product. What is your USP (unique selling point). Is there demand for your proposed business? Do your research. The research should not only provide you with the knowledge that people want what you are selling, but what they are prepared to pay for it and who your potential competition are.
What will your set-up costs be? What will your overheads be? If it is a product you are selling what does it cost to produce the product. Fixed costs are costs that do not vary regardless of how many items/hours you sell e.g. rates, rent. Overhead costs are costs which vary with the amount you sell e.g. phone charges, fuel. When you know these costs and your selling prices then you can work out your likely profits.
Are you going to be a sole trader? Are you going into business with someone else and forming a partnership? Do you think a limited liability company might be better? The right structure is usually the simplest one r=that meets all your needs. If you are not sure then I suggest you talk this through with an accountant who can tell you which structure would suit your business best.
This does not have be pages upon pages and a huge amount of detail in it. You will need a business plan if you want to borrow money to start your business. It will include the background to the business, describe the product or service and why it will sell, the market, a marketing plan, how the business will run, a financial plan, the management structure, the implementation schedule, conclusion and a detailed appendix which will contain more details on the markets, details of the product/service, finance details. A good website that looks at these in more detail is :- https://www.gov.uk/starting-up-a-business
The Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) recently ruled in favour of including overtime in holiday pay calculations, instead of only factoring in basic pay as employers currently do. The EAT also ruled that workers can make backdated claims if it has been less than 3 months since their last holiday. A survey among manufacturers found that 93% said payroll costs would increase as a result of the ruling. In response to the ruling, the Business Secretary Vince Cable set up a taskforce to investigate the potential costs to businesses "as a matter of urgency".
The business community has criticised the ruling, arguing that it will result in job losses, slow growth and even force businesses to close. Adam Marshall at the British Chambers of Commerce said: "This ruling is damaging for businesses across the UK. Firms could be at risk of incurring significant financial losses, which could force them to close their doors altogether." Simon Walker of the Institute of Directors said: "The holiday pay timebomb could have a hugely detrimental impact on businesses up and down the country. It is not an exaggeration to say that some small businesses could end up being wiped out if employers who have acted compliantly and in good faith face underpayment claims backdated as far as 1998." John Allan from the Federation of Small Businesses described the decision as "desperately unjust": "Today's ruling leaves many questions unanswered. It has the potential to be very damaging to small businesses, presenting a real risk of small firms being forced to close down if faced by retrospective claims."
All workers are entitled to a week's pay for every week of their legal leave entitlement. But it can be difficult to work out what a week's pay is for part-time and shift workers. Are you confident that you know how to calculate holiday pay entitlement for people whose hours and pay vary? Here's a reminder of how to calculate holiday pay for different workers:
• fixed hours and pay = pay the amount due for a week's work
• fixed hours but variable pay = pay the average hourly rate from the last 12 weeks and multiply it by the normal working hours in a week
• shift work = pay the average hourly rate for average weekly hours of work over the last 12 weeks
• no normal working hours = calculate the average weekly pay received over the last 12 weeks and pay this.
Only hours where the worker was working should be counted when working out the average hourly rate. In line with the EAT's ruling, you should now include overtime hours in this calculation. If there are weeks in the last 12 weeks when the person wasn't paid for any work, you should go back to the next week in which they were.
…but everyone needs a website right?! There are a lot of statistics to be found on this topic but it would seem that just over half of small businesses do not have a website (only one third of those that do have an ecommerce solution) which I find quite odd (perhaps being an internet geek I find it more odd) as there are so many ways to get a site.
Terms and Conditions (“ts and cs”)
I gave a talk to a group of enthusiastic small business owners the other week. They were a great bunch and clearly knew a lot about their respective fields. What troubled me was that they had scant, or even no knowledge of contract law.
Well, why should they? Because they were all entering into binding contracts several times a week or month without even knowing it! They were under the illusion that a deal, when struck, covered all eventualities. In summary, if they delivered the service or goods, they got paid. Simple!
Anyone who has been in business for a few years knows that regrettably, goodwill, trust, and a handshake, can lead to tragedy. Sometimes even to the demise of a business.
None of the 12 in the room had any real idea of what terms and conditions were, or why they were necessary. Having made a good part of my living from sorting out the sometimes catastrophic results of this lack of knowledge I know why t’s and c’s are not just a nice to have – but a must have.
So let’s get topical here. Within the last two weeks, as some of you will know, Facebook has been criticised for manipulating members’ posts as part of an experiment to see whether that would alter members’ moods. “Foul!” cried people. You can’t carry out psychological experiments without the express consent of the human guinea pigs – i.e. US!
Not so, said Facebook. Didn’t you read the small print? When you ticked the box to say you agreed to our t’s and c’s you would have read that this is something we were asking you to agree to. End of story. And it was.
This illustrates the power of t’s and c’s which are simply your proposal of the terms of the contract that is going to bind both you and the other business or person. If you push them across the desk and the other business representative signs them then they are bound by them – and vice versa, as the Facebook story illustrates.
Here are some statistics which might surprise you (Sources: Skandia; Fairer Finance; Carnegie Mellon University):
• 93% of Britons don’t read the ts and cs when using a website.
• 1 in 5 of Britons say they have suffered in some way after agreeing to ts and cs without knowing the consequences.
• More than 7,500 people agreed to sell their souls to Gamestation when it put spoof ts and cs on its website as part of an April Fool.
• 27% of Britons read the ts and cs of banking products. Only 17% of those that did said they understood them.
• An Endsleigh car insurance policy typically contains 37,674 words.
And the sting in the tail? Those ts and cs which you agree to, and which contain a clause giving the other party the right to alter its ts and cs at any time without giving you notice.
Perhaps one day there will be a test case challenging the legality of lengthy ts and cs, especially those containing clauses that might be considered unreasonable. In the meantime, tread carefully.
Legal problems are costing small businesses in England and Wales £100bn a year, with fears over the cost of legal advice meaning they are far more likely to go it alone than seek help, authoritative new research from the Legal Services Board (LSB) has found.
The LSB’s business legal needs benchmarking survey is by far the largest of its kind, with 9,703 small businesses – from sole traders to companies with up to 50 employees – taking part.
Nearly four in ten of them (38%) had experienced a ‘significant’ legal problem in the past year, with trading issues by far the most frequent cause, followed by tax and employment. Of these, almost half (45%) had a tangible impact, with the average financial impact being £6,700.
This equals £100bn when scaled up across all small businesses, and the LSB’s head of research, Alex Roy, said this was a “statistically robust sample” from which to draw such a conclusion.
The vast majority of businesses (91%) took action to respond to their problems, but mostly by either handling it themselves or to a lesser extent seeking help from family and friends.
However, while respondents recognised the importance of legal processes to enforce their rights, just 13% agreed with the statement that “lawyers provide a cost-effective means to resolve legal issues”, with 45% disagreeing and 43% unsure.
The survey showed that the larger end of the sample was somewhat more comfortable with seeking legal advice and a little happier with the cost (23% of companies with 10-50 employees thought lawyers cost-effective).
A significant minority of respondents also searched the Internet, mainly for information about the law or regulations and to download a document template.
Reliable, accessible, good-value legal services are as important to growing small businesses as bank finance. But this research shows that law firms are missing this opportunity to contribute to growth – and to grow themselves.
The research was conducted by Professor Pascoe Pleasance and Dr Nigel Balmer of University College London.
This is an edited version of an article first published in ”Legal Futures”. Copyright acknowledged.
A recent survey of successful entrepreneurs featured in the The Times gives us the following tips for entrepreneurial growth - check yourself against each and see where you can make improvements.
Extract from The Times/smehub
Fredericks Foundation working with Community Foundations are delivering Microloans across 18 counties in England, including Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire and Northamptonshire. Over 90% of new loans go to start-ups, and whilst loans can be as large as £20,000, typically loans are between £3,000 and £10,000.
Fredericks is a charity and relies on donations, support from businesses and business people who fund raise and give of their time to support this worthy cause. Fredericks need help from more people in the following key areas:
1. To spread the word - so that clients are aware of what Fredericks can offer.
2. Donations or loans to the Fredericks fund - loans may qualify for Community Investment tax Relief, offering individuals and companies up to 25% tax relief.
3. Volunteering - including both Mentoring and attending Loan Panels.
4. Fundraising - through a wide range of activities and support.
For more information about Fredericks click HERE
There is a common theme impacting business performance which was painfully highlighted in the media this week as numerous staff in a care home were dismissed for a lack of care of their elderly customers. Whilst the attention focused on the behaviour of the staff concerned there were also insights into the failings of the management system which in my view significantly contributed to the situation.
In many organisations there is a significant disconnect between how value adding work should be done and how it’s actually performed. The consequences of this are high costs, inferior products & services and suboptimal customer service. The management are often more focussed on dealing with these consequences than they are on coaching and supporting their employees to deliver the customer requirement right first time.
Another example I recently observed was the administration of ‘top-up’ pain relief in a hospital ward. The reality was up to a 3 hour delay from the time of the patients request to relief being administered. This was not what was stated in the policies and procedures – the underlying reasons for the failure are numerous but the fundamental gap was the lack of effective management. Fortunately, in this instance the Chief Operating Officer has taken steps to address the situation.
For those companies that adopt a process orientated management system there is much more emphasis on first line supervisors and managers spending their time observing and actively managing those activities that are critical to the purpose of the business – albeit stacking shelves, manufacturing products, responding to customer requests. The result is competitive advantage.
Following the key announcements in George Osborne's Budget of 19 March, many of the changes revealed were re-announcements from the Autumn Statement of little more than three months ago.
Nevertheless, the improving economic landscape did allow the Chancellor to spring a few surprises, including:
From April 2014 HMRC will get tough on employers who fail to meet their RTI reporting and payment requirements. The majority of employers are coming to the end of their first full year of reporting under RTI where 'relaxations' applied for small employers and few penalties for non-compliance. HMRC have announced a staggered start to interest and penalty charges:
Have you switched to Widows 8 recently and are you regretting it? By far the largest complaint from users about the most recent versions of Windows 8 is that the standard Start Menu is no longer available. This leaves some users feeling lost and unable to operate the system at all; and others wondering why they took this tiny bastian of functionality away from us. Either way it was a big change which Microsoft seemingly overlooked. The Start Menu has always been there, well since Windows 95. If there is ever something you need to find like documents or programs most people are used to using the Start Menu to find it. For slightly more advanced users it was the place to go to access the Control Panel and a host of other system tools.
So why did they remove the Start Menu? Well to be fair Windows 8 is designed with touch screen devices in mind. The new icon menu is very user friendly in this format and with very little instruction you can navigate around the system just fine. So if you are thinking of upgrading to this operating system make sure you read up on it so you know exactly what you are purchasing with Windows 8.
To see what the latest version of Windows 8 looks like please follow this link Windows 8 Visual