Posted by Phil Bird

Managing Director - PC Support Group

Thu 07th, May

If you’re in the habit of checking the news online you will have noticed that almost daily now there are reports of data breaches by attackers. Cyber security headlines are all too frequent and alert us to the skill and persistence of hackers.

Many organisations still rely on traditional security controls in the form of technology such as anti-virus software and firewalls, etc. to protect their critical assets but it is now clear that this is not enough. The increasing importance of employee security awareness is often overlooked with companies providing little or no basic awareness training.

Personnel and processes are often disregarded when it comes to improving security, partly because the security risk they pose to an organisation is difficult to measure and track.

These days, this a crucial issue with cyber security, but businesses that (very sensibly) put in place IT software security often struggle to get senior management to address a risk that they haven’t been able to quantify, or even prove exists.

The problem is that as the technical, on-line security of organisations increases, attackers are looking instead to a much weaker area: employees.

Investing in improving security via staff and processes can vastly reduce the chances of undermining the investment in your technology-based solution.

If you think about it – there is so much information regarding an organisations employees available online and the most common way to exploit them is a phishing email that attempts to attract them to click on a link or attachment. Such e-mails can be anything from promises of deals or offers, to false claims of attached invoices or bank statements. Phishing assessments against employees have shown that as many as 60% to 90% of employees are susceptible to these attacks – effectively allowing an attacker to jump right over the traditional security controls.

So… how can you combat this?

How about some practical employee security awareness training?

Managed phishing assessments, for example, can act as a ‘cyber fire-drill’ for employees, regularly exposing them to various realistic attacks but in a controlled environment – it isn’t unusual for businesses to have 80% susceptibility the first assessment, but see a reduction to less than 10% after the second or third assessment.

Now for the processes … what do your computer users do when they do actually detect an attack? Do you have a process in place for them to follow if that happens? When employees fail to report attacks, it results in a greater exposure than your business would otherwise have had.

Regular “controlled” attacks can not only teach staff how to spot them, but also drills the security process to follow – dramatically reducing your exposure to attack.

Action you can take:

  • Teach employees to recognise bogus emails and not click anything they do not fully trust. Not all security technology will stop malicious emails getting through, therefore they must be vigilant
  • Carry out regular phishing assessments or “cyber-attack drills”
  • Have in place a process to report phishing emails and who to notify in case they clicked purposely or by error; ideally to be carried out within 15 minutes

For more information click here.

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Will the recent bridge debate affect legislation made in 2011?

Posted by Graeme Hughes

Graeme Hughes is a solicitor in the Charities and Social Enterprise Department at Brabners LLP.

  • T: 0151 600 3079
Thu 30th, Apr

Last night (on one of the rare occasions that I was able to exercise control over the TV remote) whilst flicking through the sports channels, I came across a poll being run by Sky Sports on whether or not the card game Bridge should be classified as a sport.

The poll had been prompted by a High Court decision to grant the English Bridge Union permission for a full judicial review of its status following Sport England refusal to recognise thecredentials of Bridge as a sport.The English Bridge Union sought recognition form Sport England in order to qualify for lottery funding but Sport England stated that Bridge is no more a sporting activity than “sitting at home, reading a book”.

The result of the Sky Sports poll (which asked “Is Bridge a sport?”) was that 74% of its viewers did not consider Bridge to be a sport.

I suspect however that many voters were unaware of the Charity Commission’s decision to register the Hitchin Bridge Club as a charity in 2011 in which the Commission took the view that the game of Bridge falls within the definition of “sport” contained in the Charities Act 2011.

The Hitchin Bridge Club applied for registration with the Charity Commission in part on the basis that it was established for the charitable purpose of the advancement of amateur sport (the advancement of amateur sport is listed as a description of a charitable purpose in section 3((1)(g) of the 2011 Act).

Section 3(2)(d) of the 2011 Act defines “sport” as meaning “sports or games which promote health by involving physical or mental skill or exertion”.

In reaching its decision to register the Hitchin Bridge Club, the Commission confirmed that it was satisfied that Bridge was a game that involved mental skill or exertion. The Commission was presented with evidence of the health benefits of playing Bridge – the risk of developing Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia is reduced by up to 75% by regularly playing Bridge – and also accepted that Bridge involves a high level of mental skill – a point emphasised by the fact that Bridge is one of the five component games of the World Mind Games (along with Chess, Draughts, Go and Xiangqi).

As a result of this, the Commission accepted that Bridge was a sport for the purposes of the Charities Act 2011 and that the Hitchin Bridge Club (and indeed other Bridge clubs) could be registered as charities on the basis that they were established for the advancement of amateur sport.

The Charities Act definition of sport and the definition used by Sport England do differ. Sport England states that it uses the Council of Europe’s European Sports Charter 1993 definition of sport and also considers if the sport is well established and organised within England and as such it is possible for the Charity Commission and Sport England to take alternative views.

In granting permission to the English Bridge Union for judicial review, Mr Justice Mostyn did refer to the mental exercise undertaken when playing Bridge – an approach akin to that taken by the Charity Commission – and it will be very interesting to see how this case develops and the extent to which the Charity Commission’s 2011 decision is highlighted. 

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Posted by Heather Bailey

HR and employment law consultant at Colemans-ctts

  • T: 0161 876 2521
Wed 29th, Apr

 Many small businesses are often hit particularly hard by staff absence, with some larger SME’s having to shell out tens of thousands per year as a result. Managing sickness can be tricky, particularly where an employee has a medical condition or disability. In this blog, Heather Bailey describes fatal mistakes employers make when it comes to managing sickness in the workplace and what they can do to prevent these mistakes from happening. 

I recently advised on a case which saw Miss K, the employee in this case, who won her case at an employment tribunal.  Ms K has fibromyalgia, a painful condition which causes fatigue and loss of concentration.  She was employed as part-time receptionist by a medium sized GP practice who were aware of her condition. Following a change of medication she experienced a flare up of symptoms which affected her performance at work.

This situation is common with employees who develop or have a long term medical condition. Unfortunately the employer made several fatal mistakes in managing her case that could have been easily avoided.

 

Fatal Mistake #1 They told her to get a sick note 

The employee had asked to reduce her hours on one day to help manage her symptoms of fatigue, this was ignored and she was told to be signed off sick. The employee duly did what she was told only to be later unfairly dismissed for long term sickness. Employers often labour under the misunderstanding that if an employee is experiencing symptoms they need to be off sick, when in fact this is a grey area. If an employee does have a fitnote which recommends adjustments an employer should consider whether these can be put in place, it is only if they are impractical the employee can be sent home sick otherwise the employer can find themselves paying for lost earnings.

 

Fatal Mistake #2 They did not listen to medical advice

The employer in this case did seek an occupational health report, which recommended the small reduction in hours as suggested by the client. The report also suggested that a change in medication would improve her symptoms and suggested a follow up report be obtained. The employer could not show that it had considered any of the recommendations and did not seek a follow up report. Whilst sickness can be a burden on a small employer, obtaining a follow up report a few weeks later would have provided them with the green light to either dismiss the employee fairly or help her return to work.

 

Fatal Mistake #3 They could not show that the required adjustment was unreasonable

 An employer should consider making reasonable adjustments for disabled employees. What is reasonable does depend on the size and resources available to the employer and may take a little creative thinking. Ms K was requesting an earlier finish one of the three days she worked. Being able to leave 2 hours earlier would have given her the rest she needed. Ms K was not the only receptionist and there were other members of staff who could provide cover so therefore the employer came unstuck when it refused to even trial these adjustments.

 

Fatal Mistake #4 They failed to manage the performance and medical issues separately

When Ms K appealed her case, the employer mentioned that the adjustments would not improve her performance which was substandard. If an employee is not performing to the required standard, even with reasonable adjustments, they can be fairly dismissed provided that the correct process is followed. In this case, the employer would have been expected to implement and monitor the adjustments and then issue a series of warnings and a performance improvement plan. However, in Miss K’s case her employer tried to sidestep that process and it cost them dearly.

 

The Final Word

Having an employee off sick can cause a significant dent in the profits of a small business and any savvy business owner will always keep their eye on the big picture. In this case, carefully monitoring the adjustments and an investment of a further medical report would have saved the employer over £30,000 in compensation, lost resources and recruitment.

 

Heather Bailey will be joining us this Friday to host 60 Really Useful Minutes where she will show you how to help safeguard your business from persistent absenteeism.

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Read Moore and Smalley LLP's new Small Businesses blog focusing on tax returns.

Posted by Liz Cliffe

Thu 23rd, Apr

The government’s vision to modernise the tax system is going to change the way we all complete and file tax returns. The number of paper returns being filed has decreased substantially over the last few years and in the latest budget steps are now been taken to “join up” the information HMRC receive.

By early 2016 it is predicted that 15 million taxpayers will be set up with digital accounts and by 2020 it is hoped that 50 million individuals and small businesses will have a digital tax account.

HMRC will gather information from employers, banks and building societies and these will link in with these new digital accounts allowing individuals and their advisers to access the information and add other income details such as trading profit/loss figures, rental figures etc . It is likely that further down the line these figures will link in from online software providers but the detail of this is not yet known.

The online system will work in a similar way to online banking, a secure environment where duplicating information will become a thing of the past.

Taxpayers will be able to let agents manage their digital accounts on their behalf and individuals will be able to access the same information as their agents.

To find out more on the subject, please contact Liz Cliffe on 01772 821021.

 

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R&D is not restricted to research being conducted in laboratories

Posted by Darren Grimes

Tax Director

  • T: 0151 243 1200
Mon 20th, Apr

The R&D Tax Credits regime allows companies to claim an enhanced corporation tax deduction on eligible R&D expenditure. Where a company is loss making, it may also be eligible for a tax repayment on its R&D expenditure. Despite the advantages of the regime, it is the general case that North West companies are not utilising this tax benefit as much as their competitors in other regions around the country.

In the most recent figures  released by HM Revenue and Customs, the North West lies fifth in the national league table of regions when it comes to making R&D claims. In fact, 66% of the total £1.4 billion of R&D tax credits claimed takes place in London, the South East and the East of England. North West companies claim just £85 million of R&D tax credits. The level of claims in Wales is even lower, with only £20 million of R&D tax credits claimed for the entire country.

R&D is not restricted to research being conducted in laboratories by men in white coats. It covers most industry sectors and applies to a wide range of activities.

Where companies are:

  • Undertaking the development of new products/processes (including systems/software development).
  • Aiming to duplicate existing products or processes in an appreciably improved way.
  • Making advancements in its field of work.
  • Employing technical staff, engineers, software developers or scientists.
  • Spending money on staff costs, consumables or subcontractors costs in the above.

 

Then they may be able to make an R&D claim. For Small and Medium Sized Enterprises, up to 225% (230% from 1 April 2015) of the R&D expenditure will be eligible for tax relief.

Based on the statistics, companies in the south of the UK have identified the benefits of the R&D regime and have generated tax savings in their businesses. It is time for North West and Welsh companies to look at this valuable tax relief again to prevent themselves being at a competitive disadvantage.

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Samantha Long talks about what it's like to be an Apprentice with Yoma..

Posted by Samantha Long

Digital Marketing Exec - Yoma

Thu 16th, Apr

Yoma are delighted to offer our Marketing whizz, Samantha Long, a big ‘congratulations’ on completion of her Advanced Level Apprenticeship in Marketing, while working at Yoma.

Digital Marketing Executive, Sam has been with us since July 2012, after applying for a job with us through the Liverpool Chamber of Commerce.

Since then, she has completed her Level 3 NVQ Diploma in Marketing and also Principles of Marketing Certificate, and developed her skills at Yoma to become a highly valued member of the Digital Marketing team.

So let’s hear from the lady herself about her journey with Yoma…

sam 2

When did you become interested in Marketing as a career?

I went to Ingeus looking for a role, who put me in touch with the Liverpool Chamber. It was then that I asked about an apprenticeship as a route into Digital Marketing.

When I first left school, I had a few sales jobs and then did a bit of admin work, before spotting an advert for the job at Yoma. I didn’t understand much about SEO, but I was really interested in the advertising and marketing side of it, so decided to get in touch.

How did you get your current role at Yoma?

The first job I got after leaving school was as a Trainee Data Technician, I found the role through a youth training scheme with Liverpool City Council. I was responsible for recording the geographical information for the city – and that’s what really got me into the technical side.

Then the second role I found was thanks to the Liverpool Chamber within the Marketing team at Yoma, where I learnt about SEO and then moved more into the PR side of things. This is is where I enjoy applying my technical skills and natural interest in this area.

So you were the first person ever to sign up to the Liverpool Chamber’s Marketing Apprenticeship?

Yes, they told me a little bit about it and I was interested so decided to give it a go. I was the first ever person they signed up for the Marketing Apprenticeship in Liverpool – so it’s a bit of a milestone for the Apprenticeship scheme, and for myself as well as Yoma!

What do you enjoy most about your job?

I really enjoy the creative aspect, plus being able to network with people all around the country in a variety of industries. I also like looking into market research and exploring the different ways marketing companies target their specific audience and demographic, and then also building relationships with relevant influencers on behalf of our clients.

And finally, how has the Advanced Level Apprenticeship in Marketing assisted you in your role?

Studying for my qualifications has armed me with a range of tools I use on a daily basis in my job. During my time on the course, I learnt skills such as how to utilise market resources for marketing to B2B and B2C.

This means I know how to define market segments and customer classifications, which helps me in my role to identify the right approach for our clients. And because I’ve enjoyed studying so much, I’m continuing to study in my spare time to learn about the latest methods and technologies in online marketing.

To find out more about what Sam does within her role, check out Yoma’s Digital Marketing services.

Original blog can be found at http://www.yoma.co.uk/blog/digital-marketing-exec-sams-success-story-yoma/

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Recent consultation outlines new approach to the role of trustees but does this act as a deterrent?

Posted by Graeme Hughes

Graeme Hughes is a solicitor in the Charities and Social Enterprise Department at Brabners LLP.

  • T: 0151 600 3079
Wed 15th, Apr

Towards the end of November last year, the Charity Commission published a consultation on a replacement for its core guidance for trustees, “CC3, The Essential Trustee”.

The consultation ran until February of this year. 114 responses were received.

Putting that into context, there are approximately 165,000 charities registered with the Commission as well as an estimated 190,000 unregistered charities (exempt or excepted from registration). There are an estimated 900,000 charity trustees in England and Wales. Approximately 40 of the 114 respondents to the consultation identified themselves as being trustees.

Of the 114 responses, 53 said the guidance was an improvement on the existing CC3. The Charity Commission has taken the view that the results of its consultation demonstrate that the revised guidance is “overwhelmingly welcomed by the people for whom it is designed – trustees”. It is not entirely clear how a response rate amongst trustees of less than 0.05% corresponds with this view.

Despite the Commission’s upbeat mood, the guidance was not universally liked. Umbrella organisations such as NCVO, the Association of Charitable Foundations and the Charity Finance Group have been critical of the revised guidance stating that it “takes an excessively prescriptive tone in various sections, and misrepresents the scope and nature of the duties that in fact apply to trustees”.

Particular concerns have been raised in relation to the Commission’s approach to the distinction drawn between the “must do’s”, being legal requirements; and the “should do’s”, which are simply standards of good practice.

In the existing guidance, “must” means legal requirements that charities or trustees have to abide by. “Should” means good practice that they should follow unless there is a good reason not to.

In the revised CC3, “should” now means good practice that trustees are expected to follow. Trustees are warned that if they do not follow the stated good practice they may be in breach of their legal duties, and be guilty of misconduct or mismanagement.

In relation to this, the Commission has stated that trustees need to understand “that ‘should’ means ‘really should’ - not ‘maybe, if you feel like it’”.

In addition to this, concerns have been raised as to the negative tone of the revised guidance and the impact that this may have on the numbers willing to become charity trustees.

The final version of the guidance is expected in the summer,

Comment:

The Commission has a very difficult job putting together accurate, concise and readable guidance on matters behind which there are a great many legal principles, cases and pieces of legislation. However, the publication of such guidance is a key element in the delivery of its general functions, as set out in section 15 of the Charities Act 2011.

The Commission has moved away from providing charity trustees with advice and has now positioned itself as the sector’s “policeman” and the revised CC3 is a further indication of the very different regulatory landscape.

The new regulatory powers to be introduced by the Protection of Charities Bill will reinforce the Commission’s position further and it will be interesting to see the effect of this on the numbers of both trustees and charities.

40 responses from charity trustees to the Commission’s next consultation might represent a much better return.

If you would like to discuss any of the points raised in this blog, please do not hesitate to contact Graeme on 0151 600 3079 or graeme.hughes@brabners.com.

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Exporters mustn't underestimate their value to our economy. In fact, they need to do more.

Posted by Andy Snell

Head of International Trade & Commercial Services

Mon 13th, Apr

Every time I drive down Speke Boulevard or the Knowsley Expressway, I see car transporters loaded with Range Rover Evoque and Land Rover Discovery models.

The sight of them embarking on the first leg of a journey from the Halewood factory to destinations all over the world never fails to raise my spirits.

It tells us that this city is connected with global markets and is supplying something that customers want.

Like the UK as a whole, we need more exporters. Why? Because exporting boosts productivity. Not only is there a whole host of academic research to prove* it’s also common sense.

In the face of global competition, businesses can only sell their products around the world if they are as productive and efficient as possible.

And as a country, we desperately need to boost productivity. It won’t be mentioned much during the General Election campaign, but the shocking trend in productivity per head in Britain’s private sector is the most pressing economic problem we face. It has fallen 4 per cent since 2008 compared with a rise of more than 8 per cent in the USA.**

That’s why I welcome the interim report of the Cole Commission on Exports and, in particular, its call for the issue to be at the heart of economic planning.

The commission, headed by Graham Cole, chairman of Agusta Westland UK, was set up by the Labour Party but its findings should be acted upon by whoever forms the next government.

It calls for big ticket projects to be handled by a merged UK Trade & Investment and UK Export Finance, while Chambers of Commerce provide a one-stop shop for SMEs.

Helping exporters is already a key part of our core business and we’re keen to do more. The message to exporters is clear – your country needs you and ought to be doing a lot more to help.

 

* Do exports generate higher productivity? Evidence from Slovenia. Jan De Loecker, Department of Economics, Stern School of Business, New York University.

Does Exporting Increase Productivity? A Microeconometric Analysis of Matched Firms. Sourafel Girma, David Greenaway, and Richard Kneller.

** Thomson Reuters Datastream/Fathom Consulting.

Do you need help to develop your exporting potential? Sign up free of charge to the New Markets and Export Growth programme and receive 12 hour business assist and access to funding.

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Ian McGee outlines the key economic indicators for last week

Posted by Ian Mcgee

Natwest - Relationship Director

Fri 10th, Apr

A respectable 0.6% expansion in output in the final quarter of the year currently places the UK in top spot among advanced nations for 2014 economic performance. Yet poor productivity growth continues to cast doubt about its sustainability. In the US, weak job growth added to concerns that the pace of expansion is slowing.

That was the year that was. A stronger performance than first thought during the last three months of 2014 meant the UK economy grew by a spritely 2.8%y/y last year. That’s one of the fastest rates of growth among the developed nations. Households played their part, spending 2.5% more in 2014 than the year before. They paid mainly through rising salaries but partly by reducing savings. And the UK story is more than just a consumer one as business investment rose by 7.5%.

Spoiler alert. A persistent spoiler is the UK’s current account deficit – our financial position relative to the rest of the world. Almost ever present, our deficit widened to 5.5% of GDP in 2014, the biggest since records began in 1948. The problem isn’t so much poor trade performance. At 2% of GDP our trade deficit is lower than in the years leading up to the crisis. Rather it rests with our foreign investments, or more precisely the low returns we currently earn on them. In contrast, an expanding UK economy means we are generating relatively decent returns for foreign investors who own assets here.

Running out of road. The UK’s strong growth prompted an equally strong pace of job creation. That’s good news for workers, but also extends an enduring puzzle about the UK’s economic recovery; namely the absence of productivity growth. GDP is now 3.4% above its pre-crisis peak but output per hour is still 1.7% below its old level. And rather than recent growth propelling productivity upwards, for the last two years it has slipped sideways. Weak productivity is probably delaying the moment when the Bank of England first raises interest rates. But unless we see a turnaround in our productivity soon, 2014 may prove to be the high watermark for growth.

Resurrection. The UK’s makers continued their encouraging start to the year in March. The Purchasing Managers’ Index of manufactures reached an 8-month high of 54.4 (a reading above 50 signals expansion). It’s the domestic economy that’s driving growth, particularly the consumer goods sector. Prices are continuing to fall too, both the costs to manufacturers and the prices they charge. And there’s better news on exports, with new export orders reaching its highest reading since August. The recent return to life for the Eurozone's economy may just be beginning to support the UK's export sector.

With moderation. With 61,000 new mortgage approvals, February saw the third consecutive monthly increase, adding to the in-tray of conflicting messages on the state of the UK housing market. Last week the Nationwide house price index reported the cost of a typical house rose by 0.1% in March. That’s not much. But then that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Like prices, mortgage approvals and hence housing transactions should continue to increase, albeit moderately.

Two directions. The direction of travel for the Eurozone’s inflation and unemployment rates has been welcome. While the
unemployment rate edged down again in February, to 11.3% (hiding a huge difference between countries mind), deflation eased to just -0.1%y/y in March, up from -0.3% in February. That's similar to the UK inflation rate. The fact that two economies performing so differently have near identical inflation suggests an external force acting on both. Mainly that's weak global price pressures, most famously but not exclusively oil. Exclude energy and Eurozone inflation is 0.6%y/y.

Blip or warning? The US added 126,000 jobs in March, leaving unemployment at 5.5%. That was a sharply-reduced rate of job creation compared with the preceding 12 months when the economy had added almost 270,000 per month. While the usual warning applies – don’t rely too much on a single piece of data – weak job growth adds to surprisingly poor retail sales and industrial production data. The US equivalents of the Purchasing Managers’ Index have also suggested growth is slowing. It’s too soon to sound a warning bell but these data will only encourage the Fed to keep rates low for longer.

Soft landing? US house price inflation slowed to 4.5%y/y in January. A year ago it was running at 10.5%. Prices fell by 0.1% m/m, the fifth consecutive monthly decline. This gentle slowing of price rises is the thing of central bankers’ dreams. And there are signs that house price inflation could be approaching a floor. The proportion of borrowers well behind on their mortgage payments is at its lowest rate since 2008, meaning fewer forced house sales. Applications for mortgages to buy a house – rather than remortgaging – were up 8%y/y last week.

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New connection announced is symbolic of Liverpool's growing aviation hub

Posted by Paul Cherpeau

Chief Executive

Tue 31st, Mar

Today's announcement by Liverpool John Lennon Airport represents a major step forward in achieving global connectivity for Liverpool.

We are delighted that the proactive engagement by JLA with aircraft carriers and local businesses has begun to bear fruit with Flybe. More than 1m passengers from the city region use other airports every year to then connect onwards to travel to European and global destinations. 10% of our airport's current 4m footfall comprises business travel.

This announcement will open up excellent opportunities for business travel to new export markets and some of the most prosperous and attractive economies of the world. Having a hub connection will also improve our attractiveness as a destination for inward investment. The prospects for business travel to and from Liverpool are suddenly much stronger. The impact of a successful international hub connection upon our economy cannot be understated and the Liverpool & Sefton Chambers of Commerce and its members will welcome this new link.

New York, Bangkok, Singapore, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Shanghai and Toronto are all markets that are conveniently reachable from our home airport through this international hub connection.

Our long term aspiration has been to establish a connection to the UK hub at an expanded Heathrow. Capacity issues make that impossible in the short term. The link to the Amsterdam hub represents a tremendous opportunity for our city region's businesses and population to reach destinations previously unreachable or unaffordable. 

The Chamber looks forward to supporting JLA's aspiration to make Flybe’s Amsterdam link a success, to continue the campaign for a link to a UK hub at Heathrow and to grow the airport's market share by building a business case that is attractive to other prospective operators.

Our link to the world just got stronger.

 

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