News in brief: digital skills, tech, Brexit, funding, apprentices

News in brief
News in brief

‘Do It Digital’ campaign

A new independent, not-for-profit campaign that is encouraging the UK’s 5.4 million small businesses to become more digitally active has been launched.

It is hoped that greater levels of digital engagement will help small business owners improve efficiency, reduce costs and take advantage of effective and far-reaching marketing opportunities only available in the digital arena.

The ‘Do It Digital’ campaign has received support from the Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General Matthew Hancock.

Supporting the initiative, Matt Hancock today emphasised how the government’s new digital platforms – such as GOV.UK, GOV.UK Pay and GOV.UK Notify – are all open source, meaning that small business owners will be able to reuse this code free of charge to develop their own businesses.

The Minister said: "We are backing small businesses across the country to grow and create jobs, by cutting business rates, promoting enterprise, and supporting skills.

“We want to help small businesses harness the power of digital technology to help them innovate and grow, so we’re making the Government's new source code open and reusable, helping budding young entrepreneurs create new businesses.

“But we can still do more to boost digital skills across the country, and that's where initiatives such as Do it Digital can play a crucial role by shining a light on the support available."

Employees expect futuristic tech

A third of UK employees believe that their businesses should be equipped with a 3D printer by 2020, with many highlighting the opportunity for instant ‘product downloads’ being printed on site.

The Beyond Digital report from Infomentum, which examines how new technologies are expected to change UK workplaces over the next five years, also found that one in five employees would also like to see their organisations accepting digital currencies such as Bitcoin by 2020.

In addition, around 14% would like to see drone delivery services introduced, while 15% expect ‘try before you buy’ augmented reality services to be incorporated within the buyer journey. With the introduction of online collaboration and file sharing, a quarter of employees also expect their offices to paperless by 2020.

Informentum partner and chief commercial officer Vikram Setia said: “Our research shows that the new generation of employees has extremely high expectations for workplace tech. Unfortunately, the vast majority also feel that their current employees are not in a position to meet these expectations.”

Business attitudes to Brexit shifting

The majority (63%) of senior business leaders believe that British businesses are better off inside the European Union (EU) than out of it.

According to a survey carried out by BGF (Business Growth Fund), the UK’s most active provider of long-term growth capital to small and mid-sized businesses, there has been a drop from 82% in June last year.

However, 71% of respondents claim that the UK’s membership of the EU gives British businesses invaluable access to European markets while 59% are concerned that an EU exit risks stifling business growth. Looking ahead at the potential implications of a leave vote, 47% of respondents say that Brexit will prompt multinational companies to relocate operations overseas while 71% believe that it will trigger another Scottish independence referendum.

Government-backed loans declining

Small business lending via the Enterprise Finance Guarantee (EFG) loan scheme has continued to decline over the past 12 months.

Around 1,800 UK small firms were granted EFG loans in 2015, compared to a peak of 2,030 loans in the second quarter of 2009.

The EFG scheme sees the government act as a partial guarantor on up to 75% of bank loans between £1,000 and £1.2m to SMEs, and sespite its dwindling success the Chancellor has confirmed the EFG will continue to run until 2018.

Commenting on this news, Whittingham Riddell tax partner Duncan Montgomery said: “The EFG scheme has served a good purpose, but SMEs tend to look for regular financing first, which is frequently on competitive terms. Particularly if you think that each SME already has a banking relationship, and that those banks have very effective sales arms, the government scheme works on the edges a little more, and as the economy picks up there will be less need for such guarantees.

“With consistent GDP growth since 2012, the economy is showing good, if tentative signs, and many businesses are moving firmly ahead.

“However, it is important that SMEs regularly review their current financial packages, to ensure that bank security is reduced where loans are paid off, so as to free up assets for any future borrowings. Too many small businesses leave charges outstanding when they could be cleared down.”

New funding for degree apprenticeships

A new multi-million pound fund to increase the number of degree apprenticeships available to young people has been launched by the Business Secretary Sajid Javid.

First launched in September last year, degree apprenticeships allow for the study for a full Bachelor’s or Master’s Degree while working. £8 million will be focused on supporting universities to design and deliver new degree apprenticeships while a further £2 million will be devoted to encouraging more learners to choose degree apprenticeships. The fund will run for the next 2 years and the process for universities bidding for the funds will be announced in April 2016.

Business Secretary Sajid Javid said: “We launched degree apprenticeships to unlock life changing opportunities for young people and give businesses the skills they need.

“This multi-million pound fund will go further in helping universities and employers design new top quality degree apprenticeships and open doors to our young people.”