With the reduction in small business loans offered through high street banks in these times, news of a possible Coalition scheme to offer start-ups the financial break they need, may sound like a bonus to many bank managers.
Hopefully, the Tory business bank will be offering nice promotional gifts like high street branches of Lloyds, Halifax or TSB have to incentivise the customer. At the very least they could hand a silvery pen out of it as they sign your business up for more of the government’s borrowed money from the IMF.
Chancellor George Osborne’s claim that it is "all the alphabet soup of existing schemes” should spell “the Tory way of tidying away bitterly disappointing incentives one to one giant kid’s meal, the kind that lacks XYZ of investment capital for genuine high-street money lenders at a time when the UK economy is in recession, without beans”.
The UK economy has statistically been suffering under the weather from a cloud of uncertainty forecasted by the so-called ‘big-four’ high-street Banks. A sector-based approach is a new way in which the Tories can withhold currency and lending to the banks, while having a stronghold in the business investment market and sell assets to small businesses and provide them the breakthrough that has been waiting in the wind.
Ahead of the speech, at Imperial College, London, Cable said that there was a "real shortage" of the "long-term patient capital" needed by businesses to grow. Larger businesses were "by and large" capable of raising short- and long-term finance via capital and equity markets. Meanwhile, the latest SME Finance Monitor showed that in the last 12 months, 33% of businesses that applied for loans were rejected.
Maybe it is along the path but this is still only in initial talks, meaning that the government need to open a tin of beans on-cue and finalise on its structure and offering to selected sectors, choose smaller ‘challenger’ banks and non-bank sources to take on the so-called ‘big-four’ and perform more like a business.
When Vince Cable addressed the public, the follow up indicated that it could shop around to find the tin. Smaller banking providers such as the Co-op, German lender Handelsbanken and Aldermore, are all contenders. By and large Aldermore sound like front-runners. In March, they announced their intended participation in the Government's National Loan Guarantee Scheme (NGLS) providing small businesses to borrow at a lower rate. The partnership would, Cable said, boost these smaller banks' lending capacity as well as round up existing co-investment and guarantee schemes.
Hopefully, this would lead to relief from this financial gasp and finally you start-ups out there will have the power to fulfil your destiny and have the financial backing you needs.
The election messages continue to dance around reality. I did arithmetic at primary school, but did the politicians?
Here’s my maths. The government spends £400 for every £300 it receives, spending half our national income. If the country earned £800 per annum, the government spends £400, of which £100 is borrowed. Total government debt would be £500, rising by £100 per annum. This is less than six years away from going down the pan like Greece.
If we protect health, the government would have to cut a third of all spending to balance the books. That is an unimaginable level of cuts implying public sector pay falling by a third, which in turn would depress GDP severely making things even more difficult.
If GDP grows, it will be better. But we live in an uncertain world, with huge financial risks still lurking all around. Still all of the talk is about additional spending and what will be protected.
We have a financial crisis worse than anything seen in our lifetimes. Why are the politicians playing dumb and not getting totally real with the electorate. Maybe we still don’t want to hear?
Chris Barling, SellerDeck
The Liberal Democrats have come under some fire for a negative campaign tactic of claiming that the Conservatives will not commit to saying they will not raise VAT. The reason for the criticism is that the Liberals will themselves not commit to saying they won’t raise VAT either.
I believe the decision taken to lower VAT to 15 per cent was a good one, but was marketed wrongly. It as presented to the general public as a saving across the board. But, as a member of the public who buys different things in his shopping every week, a saving of a couple of per cent was not noticeable on my Tesco receipt.
However, as a director of a company with VAT returns running into thousands of pounds, the VAT decrease was genuinely helpful. To my customers, saving £1 on a violin was irrelevant. Our products are priced to sell, so I decided not to pass on the VAT saving but instead to raise all of our prices.
To the customer, the prices remained exactly the same. But the few thousand pounds I saved by doing this probably saved a job.
If VAT is raised, I would like to see the Government promote it as a rise on the price of all products, just as last year they promoted it as a reduction on all products. But this is not likely. And, without a strong message that this is a universal price rise, many small companies scared of lifting their prices will try to absorb the extra tax themselves. This will be severely to their detriment.
Moving across the VAT threshold is one of the most difficult barriers for the emerging small business and a higher rate of VAT will only add to the burden. I would hope that on the day that VAT is raised, so, too, is the turnover threshold at which a business must register for VAT – and by a considerable amount.
I could write further on many more issues from mortgages for the self-employed to my belief that the Conservative’s recent deluge of signatures from business leaders is a boring stunt with no real message for the struggling small business.
Clearly, business leaders will sign up against any tax that would befall them, so it’s a shame the Tories didn’t use this platform to announce other more relevant, more helpful, business- centric manifesto pledges… but I said I wasn’t going to write about that, so I must stop.
Whoever you vote for at this election, I encourage you to actually use them. More than once, my company has written to elected representatives and you know what? Some of them are actually out to help us – it’s not all house swapping and duck houses!
Adam Ewart, Karacha
Perhaps controversially, I believe that too much emphasis and, indeed, money is spent on encouraging people to start their own business. In my opinion, resources should be restructured to offer more help to people once they have actually taken the plunge.
I believe people should be shown that business is a genuine career option, and I am a strong advocate of Young Enterprise. But I’ve seen too much money wasted on national campaigns encouraging Joe Bloggs to start a business while someone who has a great small business cannot get to the next stage because of unnecessary barriers.
A prime example of a product which should help but which doesn’t is the Government’s Small Firms Loan Guarantee (SFLG). The idea behind this is that the Government covers some of the risk of the loan in order to allow banks to lend more easily to small businesses.
This was re-launched last year as the Enterprise Finance Guarantee Scheme and the Labour Party’s manifesto tells us it has helped 9,000 businesses. Writing as someone who has first-hand experience of the SFLG, I can tell you that if I was to start the process over again, I certainly wouldn’t bother. In the end we gave over so many of our own guarantees that the entire point was lost; despite whatever their PR says, the banks are simply not ready and willing to lend on this scheme.
In a nation of more than 60 million, 9,000 people on this scheme is not a claim to fame but an admission of failure. The figure should be tenfold. The Government needs to seriously and quickly address this issue and they should not be putting forward a scheme which the banks may or may not promote. They should be telling the banks that if a business comes in and meets a set of criteria, then they must allow them finance under a scheme where the risk of the loan is partially covered by the Government itself.
Adam Ewart, Karacha
Earlier this year, entrepreneur and founder of The School for Startups, Doug Richard, published his Entrepreneurs’ Manifesto – a “declaration of rights” for small businesses.
The manifesto sets out eight demands to a new government, each of which addresses a different key concern for businesses. In the build-up to the 6 May general election, Donut MD Rory MccGwire is offering his thoughts on the issues raised by Doug Richard.
Scrap Business Link?
In his manifesto, Doug Richard calls on the new government to scrap the Business Link business support service to provide savings and to migrate all government business support services online to promote efficiency.
In the report he wrote for the Conservative party earlier, I think he also recommended using the universities and specialist providers such as the British Library as a replacement business support network on the ground. More recently, Mark Prisk, the Conservative Shadow Minister for Business, has been talking about using the existing network of Enterprise Agencies for this role.
I’m sure Doug is as pleased as I am to see that the government is already going flat out to move the whole business of government online. Thousands of disparate systems and websites are being corralled into three mega websites: direct.gov for individuals, and nhs.uk for health.
Yes, this is expensive, but what an improvement.
Lots of individuals lack a computer, but most businesses are online and will readily engage with businesslink.gov, as the evidence already shows. We small and medium-sized enterpriseslike being able to do tax returns and company searches etc online; it is a real convenience. We also use the huge library of advice pages.
So let’s talk about the more contentious idea of scrapping face-to-face business support. But first, a bit of history.
In the 18 years I’ve run BHP, I’ve seen governments come and go. At every general election, there’s a clamour to change the way government delivers business support. And we do change - all too frequently.
In the 1970s, we had Enterprise Agencies, which were hailed as fulfilling an important need.
Then someone said “No let’s have Training and Enterprise Councils”, so we had 82 TECs, with a £1.3bn budget to help SMEs in England and Wales. Scotland decided to have 22 LECs.
Why 82 TECs? Because support had to be local, as everyone seemed to agree that “a business in Preston has a different set of needs to a business in Portsmouth” (nonsense on the whole, but that’s a topic in itself…).
Then someone (I won’t mention Tarzan by name, as I’m trying to stay clear of party politics) said “No, these TECs are failing, let’s have a one-stop shop for business support. We’ll call it Business Link”. So we had had 82 Business Links, as local was still flavour of the month, while Wales invented something else new called Business Eye.
Meanwhile the government had also created a network of nine massive organisations called Regional Development Agencies (in England only), each with a list of tasks and targets that went on for pages and pages.
At this point someone said “Crikey, this costs a fortune and the quality and type of business support varies far too much, so let’s take the 82 Business Links and make them into nine Business Links”.
And that’s where we are today. Endless change. If you ran a business like this, you would have gone bust over and over again. The cost of this never-ending change is too much to even contemplate.
But, finally, we have a brand that, like any commercial brand, has been allowed time to establish itself. Hallelujah. There are even road signs saying Business Link in some towns.
The question now is what we want the brand to offer, and how business support should be delivered. I’ll deal with that in my next blog.
Rory’s other Have your say! blogs
With the general election imminent, it’s hard not to see the most recent budget as strongly political. A number of tax incentives were announced, mainly to benefit the largest groups of taxpayers, but paid for by rises affecting the wealthy.
There were no further announcements on income tax, National Insurance or VAT. Although, as previously announced, a 50 per cent top rate of income tax will be introduced from 6 April 2010 on incomes of more than £150,000. On the same date, a reduction in personal allowances will start on incomes of more than £100,000. Finally, a 1 per cent increase in National Insurance is due to take effect from 6 April 2011.
First-time buyers escape stamp duty
The stamp duty threshold will be raised for first-time buyers from £125,000 to £250,000. As the threshold was raised at midnight last night, almost all affected buyers who have not yet exchanged will benefit. The stamp duty rise will take effect for the next two years, and could result in tax savings of up to £2,500, compared with the previous threshold.
Wealthier homeowners will fund the rise. There will be a permanent increase in stamp duty from 4 per cent to 5 per cent on house purchases over £1m.
Tip: Where possible, consider negotiating the asking price to below the threshold by negotiating extras such as curtains or garden furniture in a separate deal.
Good news for SMEs
From October, there will be a business rates cut. This will result in an exemption for properties with a rateable value of less then £6,000 and an increase in small business rates relief for properties with a value between £6,001 and £11,999.
The annual investment allowance will be doubled to £100,000. The relief – which allows a 100 per cent tax deduction for new capital expenditure – will be welcome by small and medium-sized businesses in particular.
The lifetime limit for entrepreneur’s relief will be doubled, with the effect that the first £2m (previously the first £1m) of gains will be taxed at an effective rate of 10 per cent. Contrary to wide predictions, Capital Gains Tax did not rise with the Budget, but will remain at its historically low level of 18 per cent.
Tip: It continues to be a good time for businesses to invest in growth. The difference between the top rate on income tax at 50 per cent and Capital Gains Tax rate at 18 per cent provides a clear incentive for investment in business expansion.
The Chancellor announced a 15 per cent increase in the number of government contracts that will be awarded to SMEs.
The two state-subsidised banks, RBS and Lloyds, will lend a further £94bn, of which at least half will be to small and medium-sized firms.
The Chancellor will set up an investment bank with £2 billion of equity to invest in low carbon industries such as wind farms.
The planned hike in petrol duty by 3 pence will be staggered, so that there will be a 1 pence rise in April, a further 1 pence rise in October and the final 1 pence rise in January 2011.
Good news for savers
As announced in the pre-budget report, the ISA limit will be raised from £7,200 to £10,200 from 6 April. The Chancellor also announced in this Budget that the limit will rise in future years in line with inflation.
Tip: If you have not yet used your ISA allowance there are just a few days before the end of the tax year to use the allowance before it is lost.
The wealthiest targeted
The one-off 50 per cent tax on bank bonuses has raised more than £2bn – double the amount forecast. Further attempts to increase tax revenue from higher income groups were also announced.
The inheritance tax thresholds will be frozen for four years at £325,000. If there is inflation, this will amount to a real term reduction in the threshold.
There will a crackdown on tax avoidance through agreements made with Dominica, Grenada and Belize.
Tax credits rise
Families with one and two-year-olds will receive an additional £4 per week in child tax credit from 2012. The number of hours needed to qualify for working tax credit will be cut for the over 60s.
Tip: Consider making a protective claim for tax credits. Your tax credits claim is based on the prior year unless there is an increase in your income of more than £25,000. Alternatively, you can claim for your assessment to be made on your current income level. Careful planning can ensure you derive the maximum benefit from the system.
The tax system is constantly changing and it is important to review your investment plans, cashflow forecasts and wealth management in the light of new rules and regulations.
Raphael Coman, founder of south London-based Coman & Co, is a chartered certified accountant with many years' experience gained at leading, national accounting firms. He specialises in taxation and small business accounting and offers personal tax advice to business owners, managers and contractors.