Posted by Lindsey Knowles

Partner, Head of Employment Law at Kirwans Solicitors

Mon 11th, Nov

As the end of another year approaches, businesses across the country are looking ahead to what 2020 will bring.

And while Brexit uncertainty looks set to continue – at least for now – there are certain legislation changes that we know are set to take place.

Lindsey Knowles, Head of Employment Law at Kirwans law firm said: “As a response to the Taylor Review, which examined the legal rights of employees and workers within the UK, the government published the Good Work Plan in December 2018. The plan proposes a number of reforms to provide workers with greater rights, and although Brexit has caused legislation to be delayed this year, 2020 will see the introduction of some of its key reforms.

“Of course, while there is still uncertainty about the final terms under which the UK will leave the EU and the small matter of a general election to consider, it can’t be assumed that these legislative changes will go ahead as planned.

“But for the time being, firms must prepare for the implementation of these new laws in order to avoid being caught off-guard.”

Here, Lindsey sets out the key employment law changes we can expect to kick in on April 6 next year.

1) Changes to the tax treatment of off-payroll labour

The original IR35 legislation, which was introduced to counteract the practice of businesses encouraging individual contractors to set up as a personal service company (PSC) in order for the business to avoid taxes, is being replaced with the off-payroll tax (also known as IR35).

From next April, medium and large-sized private sector clients will be responsible for deciding whether the off-payroll tax rules apply. For small businesses, however, the situation will remain the same, with the intermediary taking responsibility.

What you need to do: Review your off-payroll workforce, consider the changes you need to make, and think about seeking legal advice as the penalties for failing to comply are severe.

2) Written particulars becoming a ‘day one’ right

Under the Employment Rights Act 1996, all employees whose employment lasts at least one month or more are entitled to a written statement setting out conditions of employment.

This is known as a statement of written particulars of employment, a section 1 statement, or a statement of terms and, from April 6, 2020, must be provided to both workers and employees on or before the first day of employment, rather than just to employees and within the first two months as is currently required.

There are particulars that may currently be included in a supplementary statement but which will have to, from next April, be given in the principal statement. These include the notice periods for termination by either side and terms relating to absence due to incapacity and sick pay.

Certain terms can also be provided at a later date – as long as this is no later than two months from the start date - within additional documents rather than the principle statement.

What you need to do: Read up on the information that the written particulars should contain. If you need to make any changes to the contract, then employees and workers will need to be informed and revised contracts given. While employers don’t have to give existing employees the additional information as a matter of course, if there is a change to new provisions which were not in the employees’ section one statement, then they would need to be notified of the change.

You should also be prepared for requests to be made for new-style statements by employees and ensure you have capacity to meet their requests no later than one month after the request. Legal advice should be sought when adding in the new particulars in order to avoid costly errors. 

3)    Parental bereavement leave and pay

The Parental Bereavement Leave and Pay Act will give all employed parents a day-one right to two weeks’ leave if they lose a child under the age of 18, or suffer a stillbirth from 24 weeks of pregnancy. Employed parents will also be able to claim pay for this period, subject to meeting eligibility criteria.

What you need to do: Ensure your employment contracts and procedures are amended accordingly.

4)    New reference period rules for calculating holiday pay

When calculating holiday pay for workers with variable pay, employers currently base it on the pay that a worker receives during the 12-week period prior to taking the holiday.

However, an amended regulation (regulation 16) of the Working Time Regulations 1998 means that from April 6 2020, that reference period will change to 52 weeks, or the number of weeks that a worker has been employed for if it is less than 52 weeks, in order to better reflect a worker’s ‘normal’ pay.

What you need to do: Look at the way holiday pay is currently calculated in your organisation and decide how and when you want to implement the change in order to avoid complications around carrying over holiday pay.

5)    Abolishing the Swedish derogation

The Agency Workers Regulations (AWR) 2010 were introduced in order to protect all agency workers by giving them equal rights to their employed counterparts, by stating that temporary workers employed for more than 12 weeks by the same employer have a right to enjoy the same pay and employment conditions as permanent staff.

However, a Swedish derogation contract allows the agency, rather than the client, to employ the worker on a permanent contract, with a lower salary, less employment benefits, and up to four weeks reduced (often heavily) pay in between assignments.

The government believes that the Swedish derogation is being used by some recruitment agencies to avoid implementing equal pay and so, from April 6, all agencies and their workers must work in accordance with the AWR 2010, with no get-out clause attached.

What you need to do: Although the onus lies with the agency to ensure the worker is paid an equal wage, you can ensure that, while they’re working with your business, they are able to enjoy similar working conditions as your permanent members of staff.

6)    Lowering the information and consultation threshold

The Information and Consultation of Employees Regulations 2004 (ICE Regs) allow employees the right, subject to certain conditions, to request that their employer communicates and consults with them about issues within the business.

Currently, at least 10% of employees (with a minimum of 15 employees) have to make a valid request to set up information and consultation arrangements in order for employers to set up or change those arrangements. From April 2020, that threshold will reduce to 2%.

What you need to do: Read over the negotiation procedure in the ICE Regs in order to prepare for a request from employees.

7)    Taxation of termination payments

At the moment, termination payments above £30,000 are currently only subject to income tax. From April 6 2020, however, employer class 1A NICs will become payable too. Termination payments will remain exempt from employee NICs.

What you need to do: Nothing right now, but remember that there will be additional cost implications when negotiating settlements next year.

8)    Provision of a key information document

As set out in regulation 13A of the Conduct of Employment Agencies and Employment Business Regulations 2003 (the ‘Conduct Regulations’), all agency workers must be given a key information document before agreeing terms with an employment business. This regulation does not apply to agency workers already working for a business, but from April 2020, when they sign up with a new firm, they will be entitled to a key information document.

What you need to do: Familiarise yourself with the required information that must be set out on the key information document so you don’t fall foul of the regulations.

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Posted by The PC Support Group

Mon 11th, Nov

How would you cope with a sudden crisis in your business?  By sudden crisis we mean, what would happen if your business:

  • lost all its data?
  • couldn’t use its core IT and telecoms systems and equipment?
  • suffered from fire or flood damage to its offices?
  • suddenly lost key members of staff – or a vital supplier?
  • was unable to access bank accounts or key management software?
  • was a victim of the theft of online, intellectual or physical property?

This is something that we, at The PC Support Group continuously consider and review - to be as sure as possible that we could recover from any of these nightmare scenarios.

Owner managers of SMEs work so hard, often for many years, to build up businesses and provide prosperity and incomes for themselves, their families and their employees, and it is frustrating to hear of events when all that effort goes up in smoke – sometimes literally; especially when it could have been avoided by careful planning.

Do you think you would survive and recover? Most importantly, do you have plans in place and resources in reserve to help you to deal with these challenges and emerge with your reputation and your business intact? If you do, your chances of making a full recovery are greatly increased. If you don’t, drawing up these plans and allocating adequate resources to cope with an emergency should be a top priority.

We have a series of free guides available about a range of business-critical issues and one is devoted to business continuity, with a six-step action plan designed to help you to prepare. The steps cover:

  • How to carry out a business impact analysis – to understand your risks and vulnerabilities
  • Assessing your current state of readiness – and identifying those areas needing attention
  • How to construct your plan – to ensure you cover all the bases
  • Communicating your plan – so that your team know what to do if something goes wrong
  • Reviewing, testing and updating your plan – because your business is constantly evolving
  • Recruiting external support – for specific expertise and to plug gaps in your plan.

This FREE, six step guide to business continuity is available now, just click on this link:

Business continuity for SMEs – how to survive a major emergency and recover in style.

If you’d like to have a chat about business continuity, or any other aspect of your IT and telecoms, email us on info@pcsupportgroup.com or call our team on 03300 886116 for an informal chat.

The PC Support Group

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Posted by Lindsey Knowles

Partner, Head of Employment Law at Kirwans Solicitors

Thu 31st, Oct

Many employers are still not doing enough to protect themselves from unfair dismissal claims, despite applications to the Employment Tribunals having seen a sharp rise since fees were abolished, an employment law expert has warned.

Lindsey Knowles, Head of Employment Law at Kirwans law firm said she regularly works on unfair dismissal cases – where employment is terminated without a fair procedure or reason - that could have been easily prevented had employers followed some simple processes; and says that many firms don’t realise they are more at risk than ever before of being hit with a claim.

The result, she said, could lead to damaged reputations, increased insurance premiums, and in the worst-case scenario, the bankruptcy of the company.

Ms. Knowles said: “Since the abolition of tribunal fees in 2017, the number of claims has been steadily rising, with a report by GQ Littler revealing earlier this year that they had jumped by more than 25 per cent to 35,430 between 2018/2019.

“The Ministry of Justice’s annual statistics have revealed that, in 2018/2019, there were 660 claims that received compensation for Unfair Dismissal (up 23 per cent compared to 2017/18). The maximum award was £948,000 while the average amount awarded was £14,000.

“As these figures show, a successful claim could be devastating for smaller companies, yet many business owners still aren’t taking precautions to avoid this type of claim.

“Most responsible employers won’t recognise that it’s not just about protecting themselves against claims; it’s also about acting in an ethical and proper way towards their employees. By taking the proper steps to ensure all the correct processes and procedures are in place, they won’t just be creating a defence against claims, they’ll also be making their employees feel more secure by knowing that these mechanisms are in place.”

Here, Ms. Knowles sets out some key steps that all employers should take to protect themselves against employment claims:

1. Ensure all employees have up-to-date employment contracts

These contracts form the basis of the agreement under which both employee and employer work and sets out standards and ways of working that must be adhered to. Should a tribunal application ever be made against your business, they will come under intense scrutiny, so should be as detailed as possible.

If you make your disciplinary procedures part of an employment contract then make sure you follow them, or the employee could make a breach of contract claim against you.

Of course, it’s not enough to simply have these contracts and procedures in place; you also need to demonstrate that you abide by them. Which leads us to the second point . . .

2. Make sure disciplinary procedures follow the Acas Code of Practice

The Employment Act 2002 made disciplinary procedures a legal requirement, so it’s vital that you have them in place. And while it’s not a legal requirement to follow the code, it is strongly advised; if a claimant wins an employment tribunal case against you and you didn’t follow the code when dealing with them, their award could be up to 25% more than if you had.

3. Tell your employees what the disciplinary rules are

In the day-to-day running of the business, it can be easy to forget the basics when it comes to employees – such as making sure they understand the disciplinary rules. But by law they have to be clearly written somewhere so that staff can check them at any time.

The best way of covering this is to make sure they’re set out in a document that you know staff will see and, ideally keep. That could be, for example, a statement of employment or a staff handbook.

The rules must make it clear as to what would lead to someone facing disciplinary action, what that action could be and a named person to appeal to if they’re unhappy about a disciplinary decision.

Again, providing this information is a vital part of what’s expected of you as an employer. A failure to do so could result in a successful claimant being awarded two to four weeks’ pay.

4. Genuinely try and resolve the situation

No matter how much your employee has irritated you, remember that there are often underlying reasons behind their behaviour. Don’t just pay lip service to the Acas Code of Practice; follow it to the letter and listen to what your employee is saying. It could be that they do have a point, and that other staff members may feel the same. Hear them out and consider whether there are constructive actions you could take to improve the situation.

5. Take legal advice before making any dismissals

You’ve followed all procedures, but the situation hasn’t improved and you’re now ready to dismiss the employee concerned. But before you do, press the pause button and consult a solicitor to ensure that, should a case by brought to the Employment Tribunal, you’ll be well-placed to defend yourself. A legal expert will review your actions taken so far and evaluate whether or not you’re in a strong position to be able to dismiss your employee.

6. Be aware of when it’s definitely not ok to dismiss an employee

In most cases, the employee has to have been employed by the organisation for at least two years in order to bring an unfair dismissal claim.

However, there are some dismissals which are automatically unfair no matter how long the employee has worked for you; that is, the Tribunal will rule that the employer unfairly dismissed an employee if the reason for the dismissal was in relation to the employee exercising specific rights connected to:

  •          Pregnancy;
  •          Family reasons, such as parental, adoption and paternity leave (be that birth or adoption) or time off for dependants;
  •          Joining a trade union or acting as an employee representative;
  •          Part-time and fixed-term employment;
  •          Working hours – including the Working Time Regulations and annual leave;
  •          Pay such as the National Minimum Wage.
  •          Whistleblowing

 

7. And be aware of when it is . . .

As far as the law is concerned, there are five potentially fair reasons in which employers can justify conducting a dismissal, so consider whether the dismissal is related to any of these reasons:

  •          Employee conduct;
  •          Employee capability or qualifications for the job;
  •          A redundancy;
  •          A statutory duty or restriction that prohibited the employment being continued;
  •          Another substantial reasons of a kind that justifies the dismissal.

Don’t forget, you also need to demonstrate that you acted reasonably when you chose to dismiss the employee for one of those reason and that your decision was made after all the relevant procedures and processes had been followed.

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Posted by David Kirwan

Senior Partner, Kirwans Solicitors

Tue 22nd, Oct

Letting agents who fail to obtain licences for rented properties that fall under selective licensing rules could be held jointly accountable with the landlords, a leading solicitor has warned.

David Kirwan, from Kirwans law firm, said that agents could be prosecuted either alongside or instead of landlords for failing to license properties on their books, and warned that a conviction could result in crippling fines and a criminal record.

Mr Kirwan said: “Councils such as Liverpool have made it clear that they will go after managing agents that they deem to be flouting the rules and will not hesitate to prosecute where they feel it is appropriate.”

In September 2018, a managing agent was fined almost £4,000 and handed a criminal record under selective licensing laws after pleading guilty to renting out 12 properties without a licence from Liverpool City Council.

At that point, the council was reported to have served 1,700 legal notices since the city’s Landlord Licensing scheme had begun in April 2015 and was at the time considering almost 1,300 cases for prosecution.

In addition, a Freedom of Information (FOI) request by the National Landlords Association made earlier this year revealed that Liverpool City Council was the frontrunner when it came to prosecuting letting agents, with a total of 13 prosecuted in the four-year period between 2014/15 to 2017/18.

By comparison, 53 per cent of the 20 councils questioned had not prosecuted any letting agents, while a further 32 per cent had prosecuted three or less.

However Liverpool is not the only council to have pursued letting agents under selective licensing rules; in May this year, a landlord and their managing agent were ordered by Canterbury magistrates to pay a fine of £1,000, in addition to costs of £120 and a victim surcharge of £100 for renting out flats without a selective licence from Thanet District Council.

Mr Kirwan said: “Section 88 of the Housing Act 2004 states that the proposed licence holder is ‘out of all the persons reasonably available to be licence holder in respect of the house, the most appropriate person to be licence holder’. It also states that the proposed manager of the house is either ‘(i) the person having control of the house, or (ii) a person who is an agent or employee of the person having control of the house’.

“Clearly the legislation anticipates that someone who is managing property, the subject of licensing, can also apply for and be granted a licence instead of the owner.

“In my opinion, many of the managing agency agreements which are operated by estate agents etc all over the country come within this bracket.

“It is, of course, a matter for the owner of the property who can - and often does – obtain the registration in his own name, particularly in cases where there is only a small portfolio of properties.

“Alternatively, if the property is being managed in every sense of the word by a letting agent, there is nothing to prevent thse owner delegating this function to the managing agent who then applies for the licence. This surely is what an owner/landlord is looking for when he pays his commission to the managing agent?”

Mr Kirwan said that, according to Section 95 of the Housing Act, a person commits an offence ‘if he is a person having control of or managing a house which is required to be licensed under this part but is so not licensed’.

However, despite the potential for prosecution, Mr Kirwan said that the defence of ‘reasonable excuse’ can be extended to a managing agent as well as an owner landlord if the former is registered under the Act.

He added: “Managing agents need to be on their guard and ensure that all properties on their books are covered by the relevant licences to safeguard themselves against legal action, while landlords should check the agreements and terms of business set out in the contracts with their agents.

“However, if the agent has agreed to apply on behalf of the owner of registration then it does not matter if that is not specifically referred to in the agreement.

“It would be better, though, to have such a provision that in the terms of the ‘management’ of the property, the application for and compliance of all the terms and conditions of any subsequent registration licence is included as an agent’s responsibility.”

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Posted by Inspired Energy

Fri 18th, Oct

What Is SECR?

Introduced in April 2019, Streamlined Energy and Carbon Reporting (or SECR) is a new framework, which requires businesses to report annually on their electricity, gas, and transport energy use, along with the associated carbon emissions.

The introduction of SECR coincides with the ending of the Carbon Reduction Commitment (CRC) Scheme, which some companies will already be familiar with, although the qualification criteria is very different and will affect many more organisations. The idea is that the new guidelines will create a simple approach to carbon reporting, whilst also encouraging energy efficiency.

Business and industry accounts for 25% of UK greenhouse gases, so it’s crucial that businesses play a role in helping to reach our emissions reduction target.

Who Does SECR Affect?

The Government estimates that around 11,900 organisations fall within the scope of SECR. The new reporting framework is mandatory for the following organisations:

All UK quoted companies, meaning a company…

  • whose equity share capital is officially listed on the main market of the London Stock Exchange; or,
  • is officially listed in a European Economic Area State; or is admitted to dealing on either the New York Stock Exchange or NASDAQ.

Any large UK incorporated company or LLP which meets 2 or more of these conditions…

  • has more than 250 employees
  • has an annual turnover of more than £36m
  • has an annual balance sheet total of more than £18m

What Do I Need to Report?

Under SECR guidelines, you’ll need to provide a detailed report on your company’s energy use and greenhouse gas emissions (scope 1 and scope 2), alongside details of the energy efficiency actions you’ve put in place during the reporting period. If you haven’t made any efficiency measures, you’ll need to state this.

Quoted companies also need to report global energy consumption in addition to the mandatory carbon reporting they have already been completing.

All companies must also provide an intensity metric relevant to their business sector. For example, if you’re a manufacturer, you may choose to report tonnes of CO2 equivalent per million tonnes of production. For those in retail, you might report tonnes of CO2 equivalent per m2 of store area.

When and How Do I Submit My Report?

The timeframe for SECR reporting runs in sync with your company’s financial year, meaning that if your business is within scope, you’ll need to report from the start of your first accounting period starting on or after 1st April 2019.

In terms of submission, SECR forms part of your business’ annual reporting obligations, so your energy data must be included within your Directors’ Report and submitted to Companies House in the usual way. LLPs will need to prepare an Energy and Carbon Report for each financial year, to be signed off by LLP members.

Benefits of Carbon & Energy Reporting

Organisations can sign up to SECR voluntarily and there are several benefits to taking a proactive approach. Saving energy is an effective way to reduce business costs, save carbon and help to meet emission targets. SECR can also be used by businesses to promote their sustainability credentials, as part of their wider Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) efforts.

Penalties

Companies House may reject your report if it doesn’t meet their reporting requirements. As with all company reporting, fines are in place for late or incomplete submissions, with fines of up to £1,500 for reports which are more than six months late. The penalty will be doubled for those who report late for two years in a row.

The bigger incentive, however, is expected to be the reputational damage that will come from late or missing reports.  This may well impact on future business opportunities, particularly given the significant focus now being given to carbon reporting and carbon neutrality targets.

Although many companies are familiar with a certain degree of energy reporting, we would urge members to seek expert advice to ensure they remain 100% compliant.

To find out more about how Inspired Energy can help you, get in touch…call 01772 689 250, email partnerships@inspiredenergy.co.uk or visit inspired-referral.co.uk

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Posted by The PC Support Group

Fri 18th, Oct

It’s a tough job running a business. It’s incredibly demanding, stressful and time consuming – but, of course when things are going well, it can be tremendously satisfying and rewarding too.

We hear these personal stories every day as we talk to customers, and we’re constantly learning lessons from these conversations too. One lesson came through loud and clear this week.

Prosperous businesses have some key things in common. And when it comes to their IT, data and telephony, this boils down to getting the basics right. They’re on top of those absolute fundamentals, minimising their risks and maximising their chances of success.

Conversely, those businesses that don’t have a grip on these basics are taking some very big risks, missing opportunities and gambling on their futures – and the futures of their employees too.

So, this week, it’s back to basics! Of course, there are many things that have to go right to be successful in business, but we strongly recommend that you complete our IT health check. If you’ve got a handle on these essentials, then you’ve got good IT system foundations in place and you can build from there. To get a clean bill of health you need to be able to answer all 8 questions!

  1. IT services. Do you know exactly what outsourced services are you currently receiving from your IT provider and at what cost? Do you know the details of the contracts with these suppliers such as when you are tied in until and what notice period you need to give?
  2. Data storage. Do you keep records of all the types of data your business uses, and how you store, protect and use it?  Have you assessed the impact of losing each type of data so you can manage and mitigate the risk?
  3. IT equipment. Do you have an up-to-date inventory of all your IT equipment, software, and devices?
  4. Security. What security measures do you have in place such as managed anti-virus, firewalls and multi-factor authentication (like online banking uses) Have you undertaken any of the Government-backed, industry-supported programmes such as Cyber Essentials, to ensure your business is doing all the security basics?
  5. Backup. Is your data being backed up? By who?  How many copies are being taken and can you access those easily? Do you check that backups are being successfully completed? What about cloud file storage like Dropbox or SharePoint – these are not backups in their own right
  6. Disaster recovery. Do you regularly assess the risks should any aspect of your systems fail or be inaccessible? Do you have a disaster recovery plan? Just because a server is backed up does not mean you will have instant access to that data in the event of a failure; it could be days or even weeks depending on what plans you have in place.
  7. Updates. Is your operating system and software automatically updated or are you using old, unsupported tech, possibly with security holes waiting to be found?
  8. Training. Do you have measures in place to control how your employees use your IT so that they use it efficiently and safely? Simply training them on how to spot a spam email could save your business from a cyber-crime.

So, how did you get on? Do you feel in control, or do you need some assistance?  If you’d like to find out how we may be able to help your organisation to get the basics right, email us on info@pcsupportgroup.com or leave us a message here and we’ll call you back or call our team on 03300 886116 or for an informal chat.

www.pcsupportgroup.com

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Posted by Inspired Energy

Mon 14th, Oct

Inspired Energy plc is the leading utilities Third Party Intermediary (TPI) in the UK, helping businesses to optimise the value of every pound spent on utilities. Utility bills form a large part of a company’s overall costs, and as energy prices continue to rise and new legislation is introduced, it’s important to look for ways to become more efficient. Inspired Energy share their top energy-saving tips, to help bolster your business’ green credentials and save you money.

1. Create a Utility Plan

Having a clear picture of your utility consumption is the first step to efficiency. A comprehensive utility plan, which includes information on consumption and contract renewal dates, can help you pinpoint your efficiency goals, and prevent you from falling foul of default rates, which are often poor value.

We understand that time is precious for business owners and many don’t have time to focus on their utility usage.  In fact, a 2018 report from Ofgem showed that 53% of businesses hadn’t engaged in the energy market during the past 12 months. Working with a credible intermediary gives you access to energy experts who understand the complexity of the utility market, so you don’t have to. We track electricity, gas and water prices on a daily basis and will search the marketplace to find the right contract to suit your business’s needs.

2. Switch on to Smart Lighting

Lighting makes up a large proportion of a building’s electricity use, so a few small changes can make a world of difference. Consider switching to energy-saving LED lights, which use up to 90% less energy than traditional lighting. Of course, in an ideal world, everyone would switch lights off when a room is not in use, but by installing motion sensors, you can make sure that unoccupied areas aren’t being lit unnecessarily. 

3. Get Smart Meter Savvy

Using a smart meter gives you control over your utilities by allowing you real-time access to your usage in pounds and pence.  A smart meter will take meter readings, so you don’t have to, and you’ll only be billed for the energy you use - no more estimated bills! We work with suppliers that offer free smart meters and can arrange installation for you.

4. Get Staff on Board

Getting the workforce engaged is crucial to an energy efficient workplace. It might sound simple but encouraging behavioural changes can make a big impact. Try creating promotional posters to get staff involved with energy saving measures like switching off equipment. For example, turning your printer from standby to off overnight for a year could reduce your CO2 by as much as would be produced by a driving from Cambridge to Paris and back again.

It’s also important to educate staff on the scale of the issue. Staff who are aware of the importance of sustainability and the role they can play are more likely to take a responsible approach to consumption.

5. Go Green with Renewables

Economic and legislative pressure has led to more and more businesses investing in renewable energy products, with 80% of businesses planning to generate a quarter of their electricity on site by 2025.

On-site generation brings many benefits but is not practical for all businesses. As independent industry experts, we can guide you through the process, checking what is feasible within your organisation and finding the best solution for your business.

 

To find out how Inspired Energy plc can help your business become more energy efficient, get in touch… call 01772 689 250, email partnerships@inspiredenergy.co.uk or visit inspired-referral.co.uk

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Posted by The PC Support Group

Thu 03rd, Oct

No one likes to be ignored. We’ve all felt that surging irritation when the waiter or sales assistant just refuses to catch our eye!

When we ask our clients about what’s important to them and what great customer service looks like for them, they always tell us how important speed of response is – and, sadly, how often they are let down by organisations whose responses are slow, inadequate and sometimes non-existent.

There are many reasons why slow response times become the norm in some service businesses. It may be that help desks are under-resourced, that systems are inadequate or that they’re hiding behind impressive-sounding SLAs that actually give them permission to respond slowly!

These excuses mask the real problem – and that’s to do with leadership. By leadership we mean a total and unwavering commitment, from the top, to great customer service – and then making good on this commitment by putting in place the people, skills and systems that ensure that the old “committed to customer service” chestnut is a reality.

In the IT support and service sector, responding quickly to a client that needs assistance is absolutely vital of course. Loss of data, systems and security measures, even for a very short period of time, can be very damaging and expensive – and in extreme cases – fatal. So, here are some golden rules that we at The PC Support Group keep at the heart of our own customer service ethos:

  • Make it as easy as possible for clients to speak to people who can really help – most clients calling us speak directly, on the first call, to an engineer with the skills to take immediate action
  • Train engineers to ask intelligent questions and listen – understanding the underlying issue and identifying the urgency of the fix is a real skill - the smallest piece of information about a problem can be significant and enable a fast solution
  • Respond quickly to requests – acknowledging their call straight away and confirming in writing that their query is being dealt with
  • Wherever possible act immediately – or for more complex cases, set accurate expectations about resolution. Be realistic, most of us can make alternative, short-term arrangements once we have a timetable to work around
  • Stay in touch – it is not enough to just fix things in the background. It’s important to keep clients informed on progress so that they are reassured and so we can work together to ensure the right solution is put in place in the right timescale
  • Maintain continuity – whoever responds first should own the issue and its resolution, no-one wants to be passed around from one person to another.  If there is a need to escalate internally, it’s explained and agreed with the client
  • Lead from the front – all our clients have the names and numbers of senior management and can escalate to the Managing Director if needed
  • Always check that the customer is happy with the solution and the outcome – and allow them to decide when the problem has been resolved to their satisfaction.

If you’re not happy with the speed of response from your current IT support company, email us on info@pcsupportgroup.com or call our team on 03300 886116  for an informal and confidential chat to see how we can help boost your productivity and keep your business safe.

www.pcsupportgroup.com

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Posted by Paul Cherpeau

Chief Executive

Wed 02nd, Oct

Businesses are increasingly demanding specialist skills and outstanding talent to drive performance and success. The educational institutions in our city region have a vital role to prepare our next generation of talent for careers in the businesses of tomorrow. But they cannot do it alone and it is time for a social partnership between our businesses, schools, colleges and universities.

Through a collaborative engagement survey with businesses the Chamber, working with colleagues at Professional Liverpool and the Local Enterprise Partnership, have identified the existing and intended engagement of individual businesses with schools, the objectives and barriers to such engagement and the qualities our businesses expect within school leavers.

Our key outcomes were:

  • The three most important qualities a school leaver needs to possess in order to be successful in business were communication, flexibility and problem solving
  • Businesses intend to increase their engagement with secondary schools through career talks, mock interviews, lesson participation and mentoring support
  • Work experience is becoming less popular for businesses to deliver
  • Businesses engage to a far greater extent with Secondary Schools than Primary Schools
  • Most businesses undertake formal activity to fulfil a socially responsible function and develop their own talent base
  • Business capacity (size and time) and school accessibility are the key impediments to school engagement

Initiatives like the Careers Hub and the ‘Give an Hour’ initiative are beginning to overcome a decade of underinvestment in the facilitation of business-school engagement, but there remains more to be done if we are to fully equip our young people with the skills to succeed and that businesses are looking for in their workforce.

Schools who are able to plan for employer engagement in their curriculum activity would greatly enhance the ability to prepare businesses for appropriate and worthwhile encounters. By making those interactions of greater value, it enhances awareness, opens the minds of students to the future world of work, increases preparedness and positively impacts on their aspirations.

Whilst Chambers, LEPs and associations help build bridges between the worlds of education and business, it is imperative that local authorities, school governors and teachers adopt a joined up and structured approach to encourage and welcome the world of work into the classroom.

There is considerable goodwill and desire amongst the Liverpool business community to help support, shape and inspire the next generation of our business community. The opportunity to facilitate meaningful engagement can only be good for our students, our businesses and ultimately our society.

We will be sharing the full report next week and featuring some of the key findings on our social channels.

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Posted by Mitchell Charlesworth

Fri 20th, Sep

In his latest blog Mitchell Charlesworth partner, Mike Buxton, looks at how law firms can remain competitive.

Competition

Competition in the legal sector has never been greater, with a continuous stream of new entrants entering the overcrowded legal market exploiting changes in legislation and technology. There is constant pressure on law firms to ensure they stay on top of their game, and this is only going to become a greater issue over the foreseeable future.

We are seeing a lot of competitive activity in the sector. Some of the ways law firms are gaining and maintaining an edge over the competition include mergers, investing in technology and innovation to improve client service, attracting talent through flexible working, showcasing expertise, offering added value and developing their brand. There are frequent media reports of larger, more diverse firms acquiring mid-tier or boutique firms to complement their existing service offering, or a departmental head leaving an established practice to set up their own firm, and often taking several employees with them.

Frequent regulation changes, including the SRA’s 2013 “Red Tape Initiatives”, the long-awaited redrafted Solicitors Accounts Rules, as well as other changes in the sector from the SRA, are all looking to increase “access to justice” and efficiencies. Essentially, they are intended to bring more supply and demand to the legal sector as a number of firms are repeatedly finding themselves priced out of the market, especially as price transparency increases, with more firms readily publishing prices on their websites.

However, this has led some commentators to say that it could turn into a race to the bottom, leading to dissatisfaction in the legal sector and a reduction in consumer confidence. It is, therefore, a delicate balancing act to improve the current situation whilst not compromising on quality.

There has been a rise in alternative legal services which has also increased competition. In addition to major accountancy firms launching legal services over recent years, the sector has seen a large increase in “platform law firms”, of which there are now over 1,000 in the UK. These allow lawyers to leave the traditional firm structure and work in a more flexible environment. Lawyers at this style of firm are usually self-employed, decide their own hours of work and tend to keep a higher percentage of the fees they charge. With the added benefits of cost savings via working remotely and using shared services, such as accounting and IT provided by a central hub, this leads to less fixed overheads for the firm.

To succeed in such a hugely competitive market, law firms need to get the basics right by offering incentive packages which attract and retain the best lawyers and staff, and consistently provide added value and attentive client service, whilst bolstering their offering with specialist knowledge. Investment in technologies which improve efficiency and drive productivity, including the use of AI and automation, should be high on the agenda, with business analysts McKinsey predicting that up to 23% of lawyers’ time can be automated by 2025.

If you would like to discuss how your law firm can stay competitive, please contact Mike Buxton on 0151 255 2300 or email mike.buxton@mitchellcharlesworth.co.uk 

To read Mike’s blog on Brexit please click here.

To read Mike’s blog on technology please click here.

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