News in Brief: Gender equality, finance executives, manufacturing, banking, Next

News in Brief

Gender equality report: Old boys' network still keeping women out of boardroom

An old boys' network is still in place in company boardrooms, holding back the number of women in senior posts, according to a report.

A study by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) showed that headline progress in achieving a target of 25% of company boards made up of women was “masking” the reality.

Three out of five firms in the FTSE 350 were failing to meet the target and fewer than half increased female board representation in recent years, reported the Independent.

A third of companies relied on the personal networks of current board members to find new candidates, so the old boys' network was still being widely used, said the report.

The diversity of candidates was also being limited by virtually no open advertising of board positions, said the commission.

Progress has been made on the 25% target for top firms set last year by Lord Davies in his government-backed report into gender diversity in boardrooms, but the commission said there was “inexcusable and unacceptable” variation within companies.

The position was worse for executive posts, with almost three out of four FTSE 100 companies and 90% of FTSE 250 firms having no women in the positions.

‘UK finance executives optimistic for 2016’

Finance executives in the UK are more optimistic about economic expansion and expect to see employment rise, compared with the rest of Europe, according to a survey.

American Express and CFO Research found close to two-thirds of UK finance executives (64%) reported an increase in revenue in the last twelve months, and they are optimistic that this growth trajectory is set to continue, with three-quarters of UK executives expecting to see economic expansion this year, higher than any other country in Europe.

This is higher than the global average of 65% and the European average of 62%, showing the UK’s confidence in its economy remains solid in spite of the global economic and political headwinds.

The findings in the ninth annual American Express/CFO Research ‘Global Business and Spending Monitor’ are based on a sampling of 651 worldwide senior finance and corporate executives.

The relative optimism in the UK extends to plans to increase spending and investment. UK executives say they have plans to increase levels of spending and investment by 13% this year – a significant number compared with other countries in the region such as France (7%), Germany (7%), and Russia (6%).

Car manufacturing output jumps 13%

The number of cars built in the UK in February 2016 increased by more than 13% from a year earlier, industry figures show.

The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) said 146,955 cars were built, about 17,000 more than in the same month last year, reported the BBC.

The increase took the total number of cars built in the UK this year to 284,507, an increase of more than 10% from the same point in 2015.

The UK exported 104,880 cars and sold 42,075 into the home market in February 2016.

Mike Hawes, SMMT chief executive, said: "The UK automotive industry's impressive growth continued into February, with demand from both domestic and overseas customers showing no signs of slowing.”

He added: "The outlook for the sector is bright, but much will depend on global political and economic conditions in the months and years to come."

Banks: Leaving EU would be bad for business

Britain's banks said their business would suffer if the country left the European Union, said the industry's trade body.

The British Bankers' Association (BAA) said a survey of its members, which include HSBC, Lloyds, RBS and Barclays, said 60% of respondents believe there would be a "negative impact" on them, with 26% saying the hit would be significant, reported Reuters.

"Our survey shows there is almost no appetite from banks for the UK to leave the EU," BBA chief executive Anthony Browne said in a statement.

He added: "However, as the majority of our members have not expressed a position on the matter of UK membership, the BBA will adopt a neutral position in the referendum debate."

Next sees 'challenging year' ahead

Retailer Next has forecast that 2016 will be a "challenging year" for its business, "with much uncertainty in the global economy".

The prediction came as the high street chain unveiled its annual results for the year to 30 January 2016, showing a modest rise in profits.

Pre-tax profit for the 12 months came in at £836.1m, up from £782.2m a year earlier, reported the BBC.

Shares in Next fell nearly 10% in early trading in London.

Next said the year ahead "may well be the toughest we have faced since 2008".

The company, which has more than 500 stores, also downgraded its sales forecast for the 2016-17 financial year. Previously it had expected growth of between 1% and 6%, but it said it now expected it to fall within a range of minus 1% to plus 4%.