Saturday 23rd January 2021
Home Weekly Business<br />E-newsletter ebusiness weekly news 12/01/2021

Hopes rise for higher activity in 2021 as job-shedding ends

Private firms' expectations for business activity in the East of England in 2021 improved further in December whilst the job-shedding seen over the previous nine months came to an end, according to a key survey of purchasing managers. The NatWest East of England future outlook index climbed for the second straight month – up from 69.3 in November to 71.5 – and the highest since August. Vaccine rollouts, business expansions and new product launches fuelled the optimism. Meanwhile, private firms in the East increased staffing in December. Although slight, the increase was in contrast to the marked contractions seen in previous months. Overall, the headline NatWest East of England business activity index fell from 51.2 in November to 50.1 in December, pointing to unchanged activity, although the backlog of incomplete work at firms in the region rose. The survey also pointed to a modest improvement in export markets. But it also signalled a ‘substantial increase’ in cost pressures faced by private firms in the region, particularly manufacturers. John Maude, NatWest Midlands & East regional board, said: “December data highlighted a sombre end to 2020, with output broadly stagnating in the East of England. The continuation of virus-related restrictions weighed on business activity, growth of which ground to a halt. There were some positives however, with demand conditions improving following new client wins, whilst vaccine rollouts and business expansion plans fuelled greater optimism surrounding output in 2021.”

Plans for 300 homes in west Norfolk unveiled by Birmingham-based developer

A Birmingham-based developer, Prosperity Homes, has unveiled plans to develop a 300-home scheme at Downham Market in west Norfolk on land acquired from a private firm, Koto Ltd. Outline planning has been granted for the 30-acre Broad Oaks scheme, which includes 60 affordable homes and where a reserved matters application was submitted last week. Joe Billingham, CEO of  Prosperity Group, said moving into the residential market for owner-occupiers was the natural next step for the business, which specialises in buy-to-let flats. He said: “As our largest housing project to date, we are excited to see our ambitious plans coming together. The East of England has a significant housing demand and Broad Oaks will bring the number of affordable homes we will have provided in England up to 150. We are continually looking for opportunities to develop more affordable homes.” Funding partner Property Investment Partnership has provided a £16 million funding package to develop Broad Oaks.

Home working set to rise ‘five-fold’ over coming years

Finance leaders expect levels of home-working to rise five-fold by 2025 compared to pre-pandemic levels and are forecasting higher levels of taxation and regulation in the longer term, according to Deloitte’s latest chief financial officers survey. An overwhelming balance (98%) of CFOs expect flexible and home working to increase. Paul Schofield (photo, right), Deloitte practice senior partner for the South East based in Cambridge said: “The pandemic has triggered fundamental and lasting changes in business, with CFOs expecting rising levels of home-working, greater diversification of supply chains and increasing investment in technology.” The survey also showed finance leaders expect a return to growth in 2021 with optimism rising to a record high although half of CFOs do not expect demand for their own businesses to recover to pre-pandemic levels until the last quarter of 2021 or later. It also shows that expectations for hiring and spending are running higher than the levels seen between 2016 and mid-2019. But the survey, taken before the latest Covid restrictions and the Brexit deal, also shows that risk appetite remains weak with only 19 per cent of CFOs believing it is a good time to take greater risk onto the balance sheet, although this is up from just 3 per cent a year ago.

Briefly…

Suffolk haulier expands truck fleet

Suffolk-based Kersey Freight, a privately-run haulier now in its 17th year of trading, has expanded its fleet by buying 18 Scania 500 S 6x2’s trucks through local dealer TruckEast. The trucks will operate throughout the UK and into Europe and will clock between 120,000 and 145,000 kms a year and are expected to remain in service for five years.The new additions feature Scania’s largest cab, the S Series Highline, complete with a flat floor. “Having a comfortable environment we think is a necessity, as drivers spend so much time out on the road,” said David Crawford, joint owner and director of the Hadleigh-based firm. “The package that comes with the Scania 500 S, in terms of product performance, driver appeal and back-up, ticks all the boxes for us. That’s why we’ll continue to invest. In fact, we’ve another five 6x2/2’s due later this month and have already ordered a further five similarly specced vehicles to come later in the year.”

Chamber calls for government support as Suffolk business rebound continues

Suffolk businesses continued their rebound in the fourth quarter albeit at a slower pace, according to Suffolk Chamber’s latest quarterly economic survey. Twenty two of the thirty criteria measured improved quarter-on-quarter - including sales, orders and hiring intentions with eight declining, including company cashflow statuses and equipment investment plans – although most remain in negative territory. The balance of manufacturing firms reporting an increase in domestic sales rose by 25 points to +21% with overseas sales at +5%, up 11 points. Meanwhile, the numbers anticipating a future increase in employment rose from +5% to +33%. Paul Simon, Suffolk Chamber’s head of communications & policy, said: “There is a lot of hope and optimism in these figures…. However, if business activity and sentiment is to continue to rebuild, and some of the key indicators such as cashflow and investment are to reverse their recent declines, it is vital that the government now articulates its full programme of support for 2021, including a Budget which reboots how and when firms pay tax so as to boost and not penalise long-term risk-taking and growth.”

Firms urged to plan for changes in employment law

Companies need to plan for some significant changes in employment law in 2021, according to a law firm in the region. Graham Irons (right), partner at Howes Percival, said: "With the focus on helping businesses through the pandemic last year, several anticipated employment law changes, including the extension of off-payroll working rules, were postponed.  However, with hope that vaccination sees the beginning of the end of the pandemic, 2021 is likely to be a busy year for employment law with several significant changes expected to take effect." The firm has highlighted six key areas where employers need to plan: the extension of the furlough scheme to 30 April; pay rises in April following increases in the national living wage and national minimum wage; tax changes linked to off-payroll working rules (IR35); a consultation on the use of non-compete clauses; Brexit and the new Employment Bill due to be published in 2021.

More employees eligible for furlough

The latest lockdown means employers and employees will be depending on the furlough scheme until the scheme’s end date, currently in April 2021. Barry Howell (right), senior manager at chartered accountants and business advisors, MHA Larking Gowen, said businesses can handle the complexity if they follow a few important rules and need to be aware that application deadlines and eligibility criteria have undergone changes since the furlough scheme began. More employees are now eligible for furlough. “If you put in a new furlough application now, you need to bear in mind that more employees are potentially eligible for the scheme as the qualification criteria have changed." Read more

Separately, after the Chancellor announced some £4.6 billion of additional support, new lockdown grants will be available for retail, hospitality and leisure businesses. Chris Scargill, partner at MHA Larking Gowen, said: “The lockdown grant will be most welcome as swathes of the retail, hospitality and leisure sectors are desperately in need of funds. As with previous grants, the new lockdown grant is for businesses operating from their premises. However, there is some funding available for other businesses too.” Read more

See Profile MHA Larking Gowen

Partner appointed to private client team

Law firm Birketts has appointed Deborah Carrivick (right) as a partner in its private client team. Featured as a leading individual for personal tax, trusts and probate in the Legal 500 2021 rankings, she has more than 20 years’ experience of delivering advice for international clients on private property, tax planning and family matters. Louise Long, partner and head of private client, said: “I am delighted to welcome Deborah to the firm and our team and I am certain her invaluable experience will be a great asset for our clients."

Separately, Birketts has appointed new senior associate Jonathan Insley to its employment team. He has more than ten years employment law experience, handling contentious and non-contentious matters for a broad range of clients.

See Profile Birketts

Solicitor appointed president of junior lawyers division

Natasha Adams (right), a solicitor at Ashtons Legal, has been appointed president of the Cambridge Junior Lawyers Division. She qualified as a solicitor in 2020 having completed her training contract with Ashtons and works in the disputes team in the firm’s Cambridge office.The Cambridge Junior Lawyers Division is a social and professional collective of young lawyers across Cambridgeshire. Natasha Adams said: “…This new and exciting role will enable me to expand Ashtons’ network within the Cambridge legal market and I look forward to hosting a few in-person events in the latter part of 2021.”

See Profile Ashtons Legal