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Policies Impacting Business and Environment

Recent Developments and Policies Impacting Business and Environment

Welcome to our Roundup of the Latest Business News for Our Clients. Please get in touch with us if you wish to discuss how these updates impact your business. We’re here to provide support!

Navigating Recession: Key Considerations for Your Business

The Office for National Statistics recently released official figures indicating that the UK has entered a recession. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for the October to December 2023 quarter saw a decline of 0.3%, following a 0.1% decrease in the July to September 2023 quarter. A recession is defined as a decline in GDP for two or more consecutive quarters.

While economists typically evaluate an economy’s health based on factors beyond just GDP, the term “recession” tends to dominate headlines, instilling apprehension and uncertainty.

However, despite concerns, proactive measures can help mitigate the impact of the recession and even uncover growth opportunities. Here are some essential considerations for businesses navigating these challenging times:

Financial Resilience:

Evaluate the current financial health of your business. Consider bolstering cash reserves and cutting unnecessary expenses where possible. Diversifying income sources can reduce dependence on a few significant customers and enhance stability. Prepare cash flow forecasts to anticipate potential income downturns and plan contingency accordingly.

Customer Behaviour Analysis:

During economic downturns, consumer spending patterns often shift towards essential purchases. Understand how these changes may affect your customers’ buying habits and adjust your marketing strategies and offerings to align with their needs and budget constraints.

Supply Chain Review:

Assess the resilience of your supply chain. Identify key suppliers that may struggle during a downturn and explore alternative options if necessary. Support trusted suppliers by offering reduced pricing or longer-term loyalty to maintain a stable supply chain.

Employee Morale:

Invest in maintaining staff morale, as employees may experience anxiety during economic uncertainty. Implement cost-effective strategies such as flexible work arrangements, skills development programmes, and performance incentives to retain talented staff. Encourage open communication and empower employees to contribute innovative solutions.

Strategic Investments:

Explore investment opportunities that may arise during economic downturns. Look for undervalued assets or potential mergers and acquisitions that can be pursued at reduced prices. Capitalise on the downturn to position your business for long-term growth.

Government Assistance:

Stay informed about government assistance programmes available to support businesses through recessions. These may include policy changes, tax relief measures, funding schemes, and loan financing assistance. Take advantage of these programmes to bolster business continuity.

Long-Term Vision and Positive Attitude:

Maintain a long-term perspective and avoid succumbing to negative thinking. A recession is a technical indicator of the broader economic landscape but doesn’t necessarily dictate your business’s performance. Stay positive and focus on identifying opportunities to drive success.

In conclusion, navigating a recession requires strategic planning and adaptability. By implementing proactive measures and staying resilient, businesses can withstand economic downturns and emerge more robust and competitive in the long run.

We’re here to support you during challenging times. Feel free to contact us we offer valuable guidance and support.

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Customer Satisfaction Index Drops: How Can You Avoid the Same in Your Business?

The latest UK Customer Satisfaction Index (UKCSI) figures for January 2024, published by the Institute of Customer Service, reveal a decline of 1.7 points since last January, with the Index now standing at 76.0 out of 100.

UKCSI – Institute of Customer Service

Each of the 13 UKCSI sectors exhibited lower customer satisfaction compared to a year ago, notably with Utilities, Transport, Insurance, and Service experiencing declines of more than 2 points. The top-rated organisations include Ocado (85.7), First Direct (85.3), and John Lewis (85.1).

Reflecting on an index update such as this provides an excellent opportunity to evaluate the satisfaction levels of your customers. Good customer service hinges on several key elements that prioritise and foster positive experiences for customers:

1. Effective Communication:

Clear and concise communication, demonstrating an understanding of customers’ inquiries and promptly addressing them, is paramount. This applies across all interaction channels, including in-person interactions, phone calls, emails, or live chat support.

2. Empathy:

Demonstrating empathy towards customers’ needs, emotions, and concerns is crucial. Empathetic customer service builds rapport and trust with customers.

3. Responsiveness:

Customers expect their needs and issues to be addressed promptly. Timely response times convey to customers that they are valued and foster loyalty.

4. Consistency:

Maintaining a consistent standard across all areas of the business is vital. Consistency across all touchpoints and interactions instils confidence in your business and encourages repeat business.

5. Flexibility:

Each customer is unique, so accommodating their preferences and resolving individual challenges is essential. Going the extra mile and tailoring solutions to customers’ needs enhances satisfaction and loyalty.

6. Continuous Improvement:

Collecting customer feedback and implementing insights allows for adapting and evolving customer service practices to meet changing needs and preferences.

7. Good Business Systems:

Effective business systems support staff in providing excellent, consistent customer service. Transparent systems ensure staff know their responsibilities, where to seek information, and authorisations when needed.

Inflation Remains Stable

Recent official figures released last week indicate that inflation has stayed steady at 4% for the year up to January.

Several factors have contributed to this stability. Energy prices have surged following the implementation of the new energy price cap, while second-hand car prices have also seen a 1.5% increase. Conversely, food prices experienced a decrease for the first time in two years, dropping by 0.4%. Additionally, discounts retailers offer during the January sales have further suppressed inflation, particularly in the furniture and household goods sector.

However, it’s important to note that a flat inflation rate doesn’t signify a halt in price increases. A 4% inflation rate means prices are rising at twice the rate targeted by the Bank of England.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has reported that pay, excluding bonuses, grew by 6.2% in the final quarter of 2023. Despite reduced pay growth and job vacancies since the summer, pay still outpaces inflation. Former Deputy Governor of the Bank of England expressed surprise at the notion of the Bank lowering the base rate until this imbalance changes.

Businesses are consequently grappling with heightened prices for supplies and the need to raise staff wages to meet rising living costs while attempting to strike a balance in passing these costs onto customers.

However, Chancellor Jeremy Hunt has interpreted the news optimistically: “Inflation never falls in a perfect straight line, but the plan is working.”

Source: BBC – Inflation Stays Flat

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Request for Trade Information from Some Self-Catering Holiday Let Owners

The Valuation Office Agency (VOA) is reaching out to ensure owners of self-catering holiday lets currently under assessment for business rates.

These owners are being asked to provide additional details regarding the income and expenditure associated with their properties. This information will aid in determining the rateable value of the properties.

This initiative follows a previous exercise conducted by the VOA last year, during which they contacted owners of self-catering holiday lets. The data collected helped the VOA decide whether these properties should be assessed for business rates or Council Tax.

It’s essential to update the rateable values of self-catering holiday lets every three years, and the requested information assists in accurately revaluing the properties.

Forms will be dispatched between February and August, and it’s imperative to return them within 56 days to avoid incurring penalties.

Should you receive a form and require assistance completing it, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

For further insight into how properties are valued, please refer to How We Value Self-Catering Holiday Homes.

Source: Providing Trade Information for Self-Catering Holiday Lets – UK Government News

Violence and Abuse Towards Shop Workers Soars to 1,300 Incidents Daily

A recent crime survey conducted by the British Retail Consortium (BRC) has revealed a staggering 50% surge in levels of violence and abuse directed at shop workers. In 2022/23, there were approximately 1,300 incidents per day, compared to 870 incidents per day in the previous year.

The types of abuse reported include racial abuse, sexual harassment, physical assaults, and threats involving weapons, reminiscent of the challenges faced by retail workers during the pandemic when safety measures often provoked frustration.

Theft-related costs have also soared to £1.8 billion, up from £953 million in the preceding year, with an estimated 45,000 incidents occurring daily.

Despite significant investments by retailers, these alarming increases have occurred, amounting to £1.2 billion (compared to £722 million in the previous year) in security measures such as CCTV, additional security personnel, and body-worn cameras.

Furthermore, the survey has highlighted widespread dissatisfaction with police responses, with 60% of respondents describing the police reaction as either ‘poor’ or ‘very poor’.

Katy Bourne OBE, Sussex Police & Crime Commissioner and APCC Lead for Business Crime has characterised the retail crime as indicative of “an unprecedented level of selfish lawlessness.” She has advocated for increased police focus on addressing this problem.

Calls have been made for the introduction of a standalone offence for assaulting, threatening, or abusing a retail worker in the hope that this will act as a deterrent to offenders. In Scotland, such legislation has already been implemented since 2021, affording protection to retail workers.

Retail business owners are urged to continually assess risks and explore practical measures to safeguard their staff and businesses.

Source: British Retail Consortium (BRC) – Retail Crime: A Crisis That Demands Action

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HMRC Warns of Increased Tax Refund Scams

HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) has issued a cautionary alert regarding a rise in tax refund scams, mainly targeting self-assessment taxpayers.

Since the deadline for tax return filing has recently passed at the end of January, fraudulent communications offering tax rebates via email, phone calls, or text messages may appear more convincing than usual.

HMRC reports responding to 207,800 referrals in the year leading up to January, with over 79,000 related to counterfeit tax rebates. This marks a 14% increase in total referrals compared to the previous year, indicating heightened efforts by fraudsters.

Scammers aim to acquire personal information for resale to criminals or gain access to bank accounts by using emails, phone calls, or texts that mimic HMRC communications.

It’s important not to rush into any actions and always safeguard your personal information to safeguard yourself.

HMRC has affirmed that they do not communicate via email, text, or phone to notify customers of eligible refunds or request refund requests.

Repayments are automatically deposited into the account designated during tax return filing. Alternatively, your online HMRC account or the HMRC app can view and request repayment amounts.

If you receive suspicious communication, HMRC encourages you to report it. You can:

  • Forward emails to phishing@hmrc.gov.uk
  • Report tax scam phone calls to HMRC on GOV.UK
  • Forward dubious texts purportedly from HMRC to 60599

If you are uncertain about the authenticity of any communication you’ve received from HMRC, don’t hesitate to contact us for assistance.

Source: HMRC – Warning to Self-Assessment Customers as Scam Referrals Exceed 200,000

New Trade and Investment Partnership with Nigeria

The UK recently inked an Enhanced Trade and Investment Partnership with Nigeria to bolster trade and investment collaboration between the two nations.

In the year leading up to September 2023, bilateral trade between the UK and Nigeria amounted to £7 billion. UK exports to Nigeria reached £4 billion during that period, reflecting a 3% increase in current prices compared to the previous year.

This partnership is poised to unlock additional opportunities across various sectors, including financial and legal services, the film and media industry, and education provision by UK educational institutions in Nigeria.

A vital aspect of the agreement is facilitating lawyers from the UK and Nigeria to practice foreign and international law in each other’s jurisdiction.

Nigeria boasts the largest economy in Africa and is projected to be among the world’s top 20 economies by GDP by 2035.

Source: UK Government News – UK Signs Landmark Economic Partnership with Nigeria

Our Policy on Scanning QR Codes

Since the onset of COVID lockdowns, QR codes have gained widespread use as a convenient method for directing individuals to websites, logging into online services on smart TVs, or facilitating orders and payments for goods and services. However, businesses must safeguard against potential risks associated with malicious QR codes. Do you have a clear policy in place for your staff? What considerations should be taken into account?

The National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) has recently provided guidance on this matter in a blog post, offering valuable insights into QR code-related scams and recommended best practices.

According to the NCSC, while QR code-related fraud remains relatively small compared to other cyber frauds, it primarily occurs in public spaces such as stations or car parks, often involving social engineering tactics. Additionally, QR codes are increasingly utilised in phishing emails or ‘squishing’ attacks, as they may easily disguise links to malicious websites, bypassing some security tools.

Furthermore, criminals exploit the likelihood of individuals scanning QR codes with their devices, which typically lack the robust security measures of employer-provided computers.

To address these risks, the NCSC proposes the following recommendations, which could serve as the foundation for a workplace QR code usage policy:

  • QR codes encountered in pubs and restaurants are generally considered safe.
  • Exercise caution when scanning QR codes in stations, car parks, or other public spaces, particularly if excessive personal information is requested.
  • Be wary of scanning QR codes received via email, as ‘squishing’ attacks are rising.
  • Utilise the built-in QR scanner on your phone rather than downloading third-party apps from app stores.

Source: NCSC – QR Codes: What’s the Real Risk?

Businesses must remain vigilant and implement appropriate measures to mitigate the risks associated with QR code usage, ensuring the security of employees and organisational assets.

Reminder for Businesses on Waste Recycling Responsibilities

A Buckinghamshire-based company recently made headlines, not for their innovative products or services, but for failing to comply with waste packaging recycling regulations.

Hi-Tech Coatings International Limited, situated in Aylesbury, faced repercussions for neglecting their obligations under the Producer Responsibility Obligations (Packaging Waste) Regulations 2007. Consequently, the company was required to make a substantial financial contribution of nearly £21,000 to a local charity and cover Environment Agency expenses.

However, the company took proactive steps to rectify its oversight and demonstrate its commitment to future compliance with the law. The Environment Agency acknowledged the company’s efforts and opted not to pursue prosecution.

The Berks, Bucks and Oxon Wildlife Trust will benefit from the company’s contribution, with the funds earmarked for the protection of local wildlife habitats and wetland areas in Buckinghamshire.

These regulations are designed to hold businesses accountable for the recycling of packaging waste. According to Jake Richardson, a senior technical officer for the Environment Agency, any company handling over 50 tonnes of packaging annually, with a turnover exceeding £2 million, must register with the Environment Agency or a packaging compliance scheme and fulfil their recycling responsibilities.

This financial penalty is a stark reminder for businesses to remain vigilant regarding their environmental obligations, particularly concerning waste management and recycling. By fulfilling their responsibilities for recycling waste packaging, companies mitigate financial and legal risks and contribute to the preservation of natural ecosystems and the well-being of future generations.

Source: Buckinghamshire Firm Pays Heavily for Packaging Oversight – UK Government News

Thousands of Applications for Sustainable Farming Incentive

The Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) has reported that over 10,000 farmers across England have submitted applications for the enhanced Sustainable Farming Incentive since its launch in September.

The Sustainable Farming Incentive offers financial support to farmers who undertake actions aimed at bolstering food production, farm productivity, and resilience while simultaneously safeguarding and enhancing the environment.

In response to feedback from farmers, the Incentive has been expanded and refined to incorporate approximately 50 new actions for which farmers can receive compensation. Moreover, the application process has been streamlined, granting farmers greater flexibility in selecting actions that align with their preferences.

Farmers are encouraged to apply promptly, with Defra hosting webinars throughout February and March, in addition to participating in forthcoming agricultural exhibitions across England.

For further details and to apply, visit the Sustainable Farming Incentive Portal .

New Legal Requirement Benefits Nature from Developers

All significant housing developments in England are now mandated to deliver a minimum 10% benefit for nature. This requirement, known as Biodiversity Net Gain, was introduced under the Environment Act and has become a compulsory element for all new planning applications.

Biodiversity Net Gain necessitates that developments either avoid causing harm to nature or, if unavoidable, compensate by creating new habitats or enhancing existing ones, resulting in a net increase in nature post-development compared to before. Ideally, the gain should occur within the new site, but developers can also meet the requirements by investing in nature conservation elsewhere.

To ensure that Biodiversity Net Gain delivers lasting environmental benefits, the new regulations include measures for ongoing monitoring and maintenance. For significant gains, both on-site and off-site, legal agreements with responsible bodies or local authorities are required to oversee habitat improvements.

While many developers already incorporate measures to enhance nature in their projects, introducing these new requirements has been widely welcomed as a positive step towards reintegrating nature into urban and suburban environments.

Source: New Housing Developments to Deliver Nature Boost in Landmark Move – UK Government News

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