I like to think that I am an ethical consumer. Wherever possible I shop locally (on foot or by public transport too), I purchase Fairtrade goods and my mortgage and savings are with an ethical bank. And I am not alone. Research has shown that demand for ethical goods and services grew 12% during the recent economic crisis against mainstream growth of just 0.2%.
The recent furore surrounding the tax shenanigans of high profile businesses and celebrities only serves to back this up with widespread condemnation and boycotts by consumers and commentators alike.
So, as a member of the Donut team and a supporter off all things small business, this AAT infographic got me thinking. It shows how few small and microbusinesses incorporate ethical thinking into their business strategy. As well as the bigger moral picture, companies are also potentially missing a trick by not attracting employees and customers who really care about ethical practices.
Personal, yes. Political, certainly. Business focused? Not that I noticed.
Like much of the country, we’ve been glued to the Budget today wondering if there’ll be any surprises from George Osborne. As publishers of the Donut websites, we’re always particularly interested in what the Budget means for small businesses.
Mostly, the Budget came across as being a feel-good one, with an eye to individuals. The saver, the pensioner, the tax payer all have cause to feel uplifted by the Budget. Those pension pots that have hitherto been locked behind measly annuity schemes, unless you want to pay punitive tax levels to draw them down, suddenly seem within shiny reach at only a basic level of tax.
Those people, and no, I’m not one of them, with a spare £15,000 per year to squirrel away will now be able to put it all into tax efficient ISAs. The personal tax allowance increase actually puts more real cash into a lot of pockets. Families could breathe a little more easily with transferable tax benefits and childcare allowances. Companies with up to £500,000 to invest in developing their business could also do well.
The continuing help for first-time buyers and the promised increase in housing stock is good news for associated companies including removals firms (who also benefit from reduced fuel duty), the construction industry and conveyancers.
So much for individuals and big businesses. But most micro-businesses and start-ups, who were singled out for attention in last year’s Autumn Statement, would still be straining to hear themselves mentioned.
Arguably, any Budget that makes people feel more optimistic and actually changes the amount of cash they have to spend, from tax cuts or accessible pension pots, will boost the recovering economy. And that, in turn, is good news for small businesses. It also, of course, won’t do any political harm to the Coalition.
Personally, I thought the tweet from Norman Smith, chief political correspondent at the BBC News Channel, summed it up nicely: "Booze, Bingo, Business and Savers. That's your #Budget2014 Folks."
This week’s Budget speech was full of references to enterprise, start-ups and growth. But it remains to be seen just how much George Osborne’s budget will actually do to help small firms in the UK.
Like every Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne has had to try and deliver something for everyone — and in business terms that includes local shop-keepers and high-growth technology firms, big businesses and the city.
But while there was some good news for small businesses — and lots of talk about helping entrepreneurs — many of the substantial changes look set to benefit large companies.
In fact, as Robert Peston noted in his BBC blog, this was a budget for big businesses.
First and foremost, the surprise two per cent reduction in Corporation Tax is good news for big companies. But what about the small business rate? That drops one per cent (as previously announced) to 20 per cent but there’s no extra reduction for small firms in this Budget.
The relaxation of planning restrictions will be music to the ears of some of the UK’s largest corporates such as supermarkets and construction firms. But will it really make a great deal of difference to the average small business?
George’s big moment was the announcement that fuel duty would be reduced by 1p, effective immediately. In addition, the planned inflation rise in fuel duty due in April was delayed and the annual 1p above inflation “fuel escalator” rise was scrapped until 2015.
But these gestures mostly represented a chance to grab — and make — the headlines with the clever message that this is the Budget that “fuels” growth. Do you see what they did there?
In fact, the price of petrol has gone up by 17p in the past 12 months and the price of diesel has risen by 23p. That’s the reality on the forecourt for small firms.
OK, yes we’re getting 21 new Enterprise Zones — but how these will work has yet to be revealed.
And yes, from April, there will be a moratorium exempting start-ups and all businesses employing less than ten people from new domestic regulation for the next three years. That’s just new legislation, mind.
And yes, the tax code is being simplified, with 43 tax reliefs being abolished. Call me cynical, but I would bet these are the 43 most obscure parts of the tax code — the removal of which may not radically reduce red tape for the average business.
OK, the government has agreed with the banks a 15 per cent increase in the availability of credit to small businesses. But how that translates into real lending remains to be seen. Does that mean that your business will get the lending it needs to invest in people, product development, equipment, stock — all necessary for growth.
Then there’s the merging of National Insurance and Income Tax. With NI costs rising, this sounds like a plan that could make a very real difference to SMEs. But it’s only a consultation. And the government is looking at merging the administration of NI and income tax, not necessarily fully merging the two systems. And anyway, it’s going to take ages…
Much of the talk about encouraging enterprise in the Budget was full of soundbites — tell the world, “Britain is open for business”, we are making the UK “the best place in Europe to start, finance and grow a business” and this is a “budget for making things not for making things up”.
But soundbites don’t fuel growth. And, as important as Wednesday’s Budget was, the effect of the sweeping cuts is about to be felt. With this year’s growth figures revised downwards, we’ve got a long way to go.
Rachel Miller, editor, Marketing Donut.
The Wordle above illustrates the frequency of words that appeared in George Osborne’s Budget speech. The bigger the word, the more frequently it appeared – and so, we assume, the more important it is.
The biggest relevant words here are tax and new. Tax is understandable – there were a lot of announcements around the tax system and its simplification. New? Well, I guess the Chancellor took a lot of pride in announcing one "new" initiative after another.
We then have Britain (naturally) and growth. This, the Tories have been saying, would be a “Budget for growth”. Was it? Well, given that the Budget was accompanied by a downgrading of growth forecasts, we’ve got to wonder… Nevertheless, the words business and businesses are reasonably prominent, too.
Work, however, is not. Neither is manufacturing, despite the apparent emphasis on this sector. One surprisingly large word is also. Well, maybe it’s not so surprising – this was, after all, something of an ‘also’ Budget. How many times did the Chancellor say, like a conjuror, “I promised you this, but I’m also giving you this.”
Investment in growth
Tax and business rates
I’m pleased to report that the wraps are off: The IT Donut, a new website for small businesses, will be launching the week of 23 August.
Expect heaps of advice about choosing, using and generally not getting totally frustrated with IT in your business.
I’ve taken on the role of editor (the next few months are looking to be very busy), but thankfully there’s a whole team of great people from BHP Information Solutions working hard on the site too. And because you can’t substitute for first-hand knowledge and experience, we’re on the hunt for experts who know all about IT at the sharp end of business.
You see, when businesses use IT, there’s an ideal world, and there’s what actually happens. The two often differ quite considerably.
The IT Donut isn’t going to live in the plain sailing, smooth running and largely theoretical ideal world. It will acknowledge the situations and challenges businesses face every day with their IT.
Although the team behind the website is packed with experience (I’ve been writing about small businesses and IT for years now), we need people who’ve been there and done it to help us cover every area. These IT experts are the people who’ll really bring the site to life.
So if you know a bit about IT in business, I want to hear from you. You might be an expert in web hosting, networking or accounting software. Or you might be a business that’s experimented with cloud computing, open source software – or gained some other knowledge that you’d like to share.
Whatever your expertise, give me a shout. It’s your chance to be involved in one of the most exciting projects I’ve ever worked on – and to get some great PR while you’re at it.
As a start–up business, one of the most crucial elements will be employing a strong and reliable team. But how do you judge if someone is likely to be a reliable employee? One of the issues that can affect your team in the long term is maternity leave.
I was shocked to read Alexandra Shulman's recent article for the Daily Mail, ('Year-long maternity leave, flexi hours, four day weeks... why would ANY boss hire a woman?'), in which she argued that current maternity law is making women 'unemployable'.
I found Shulman's article particularly galling given that she is a woman with children who is in a rare position of power as editor of Vogue UK. By her own admission, she was able to go back to work after only 18 weeks off because she had, and continues to have a 'live–in nanny'. This option is off the cards for the vast majority of women, yet her article implies that those who do not, or cannot hand their children over to others are likely to deliver a less than adequate performance in the workplace.
Shulman's is an extreme view, but there is no denying that for a small business, a vital employee taking maternity leave can make things difficult, particularly in the current economic climate. Although businesses that pay £45,000 or less in gross national insurance contributions in a tax year can reclaim 100% of Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP), there are other aspects to consider such as the potential costs of arranging for temporary cover. It can also have a negative effect on your team – promoting a junior employee to fill the position and then effectively demoting them once the employee on maternity leave has returned to full–time work can create resentment.
The Start Up Donut has plenty of information on the legal issues affecting maternity leave and SMP. However, I think there is more at stake here than just the law. The World Economic Forum (WEF) reported this year that the UK has slipped down the league tables for gender equality. The stats are alarming – the UK now stands at 15th out of 134 countries, a drop from ninth place in 2006. According to the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) women in the UK face an average pay gap of 17%, with the media blaming the gap on women taking leave or working fewer hours when they have children. Compare this to the Scandinavian countries occupying the top positions in the WEF survey, where maternal leave can be up to 12 months, but which have smaller pay gaps. Is there a cultural difference here? If the UK is to really act on the gender equality it promotes, I would argue that all businesses, whatever the size, have a responsibility to ensure that they take maternity leave seriously.
What do you think? Are you a woman who has worried about the results of taking maternity leave or experienced difficulty returning to work after taking it? Have you deliberately chosen a less competitive or pressured career so as not to face these worries in the future? Are you an employer who has hesitated to hire a woman, because, in the words of Lord Sugar, you considered it 'a bit risky'?