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News in Brief – May 2018


Food and drink businesses raised £22 billion from exports in 2017, a record high according to government figures. UK businesses are now exporting products to 217 countries around the world, with whisky proving the most popular – bringing in £4.5 billion. This was followed by sales of salmon (£720m), chocolate (£680m) and cheese (£623m). Sales of milk and cream also rose by 61%, salmon by 23% and pork by 14%.

The top 5 export destinations were:

Irish Republic (£3.7 billion)

France (£2.3 billion)

USA (£2.3 billion)

Netherlands (£1.5 billion)

Germany (£1.4 billion)

The announcement follows the creation of a new Food and Drink Sector Council, which had its first meeting on 29 January 2018. The council aims to boost productivity, and make the sector more sustainable and competitive ahead of the UK’s exit from the EU.

Childcare boost

The government has announced its tax-free childcare scheme is open to all eligible families, almost a year after it was initially launched. Working parents who earn more than £120 a week and less than £100,000 a year are eligible for the scheme if they have children aged 12 and under or under 17 for disabled children. This will allow them to open an online account for savings used to cover childcare costs, including nurseries, childminders, after school clubs and holiday clubs. For every £8 paid in, the government adds an extra £2, up to a limit of £2,000 per year – or £4,000 for parents of disabled children. The scheme was launched in April 2017, but was delayed after several parents reported technical difficulties. It has since been gradually rolled out for children by age group.

Business leaders working longer

Most leaders of small and medium-sized businesses plan to work past the age of 65, according to research. A survey by Aldermore of 1,008 senior SME decision-makers revealed that 73% of business owners are planning to work past their state pension age. Almost two-thirds (63%) of business owners would like to retire by 65, but only 37% think they will be able to. In fact, more than a third (35%) plan to work into their 70s, and 11% believe they will never be able to retire. SME owners gave various reasons for working longer, with nearly half (48%) planning to do so because they enjoy their work. However, the decision is based in necessity for many others, as 34% do not think they will have enough money to live comfortably otherwise.

Carl D’Ammassa, group managing director of business finance at Aldermore, said: “Planning for retirement is at the top of everyone’s agenda once they reach a certain age, and it is a time that can be fraught with difficulties and concerns.Running your own business can mean long hours and SME owners deserve a relaxing and enjoyable retirement, but it is in their own hands to ensure this happens by planning as far in advance as possible.”

House repossession woes

The number of landlords who have fallen significantly behind on their mortgage repayments rose 20% in the last year, according to data published by UK Finance. In Q4 2017, there were 5,100 buy-to-let mortgages in arrears of 2.5% or more of the outstanding balance, representing an increase of 2% since Q4 2016. However, a fifth of that total had fallen into more significant arrears, of 10% or more of the outstanding balance. Overall, 600 buy-to-let mortgaged properties were taken into possession in Q4 2017 – the same number as Q4 2016. In comparison, the figures suggested more positive news for homeowners. The number of homeowner mortgages in arrears saw a 7% decline, and repossessions dropped by 8%, to 1,100.

Paul Smee, head of mortgages at UK Finance, said: “All potential borrowers are carefully assessed against their ability to pay back their loans, and lenders work closely with their customers to ensure any payment issues are dealt with at an early stage. Anyone experiencing difficulty with their mortgage should contact their provider immediately.”

A taxing system

The average small business in the UK spends £5,000 and 15 working days a year on tax compliance, a report claims. A study of 1,017 SMEs by the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) found that businesses spent a total of 126 hours on tax administration. The most time-consuming taxes were VAT, PAYE and employer national insurance contributions, taking 95 hours a year combined. Around a quarter say the taxes they pay are difficult to understand. For many businesses, lack of information about the tax system could also mean missing out on potential benefits. Over half (55%) say they do not feel informed about the tax reliefs available to them. Just 21% of firms had heard of the Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme (SEIS), which is designed to encourage investment in early-stage startups. Enterprise Zone relief and Enhanced Capital Allowance were only slightly better known, with 27% of businesses aware of them.

Mike Cherry, chairman of the FSB, said: “There are lots of useful tax reliefs out there but many small firms simply don’t know they exist or don’t have the expertise to access them. If we get small firms accessing these incentives we’ll be on the way to the incremental output gains that are critical to closing our productivity gap.”