Cheques To Stay 
The banking industry has announced that it has decided not to scrap the use of cheques as a means of payment after all, following an outcry from the public and businesses.

The Payments Council, a banking industry body, had been planning to replace cheques by 2018. But after widespread criticism from MPs and charities, it has now decided they will be kept "as long as customers need them".

MPs on the House of Commons’ Treasury select committee, which had been highly critical of the plans, said the about-turn was “a victory for Middle England”. Pressure will now be on retailers, which had stopped accepting cheques as 2018 approached, to start honouring them again.

The decision was described by the Nationwide building society as a victory for the consumer and a common sense approach.

"Scrapping cheques would have had serious ramifications, not only for the elderly and most vulnerable in society, but also for small businesses and charities that rely on this payment method," the society said.

The industry plan received severe criticism from Mark Hoban, Financial Secretary to the Treasury, in June. He said there was no "credible and coherent case" for the abolition of cheques before an alternative had been fully tested.

Last year, 620 million payments were made by cheque, compared with 6.29 billion by debit card, and 1.88 billion by credit card. Despite its popularity with some, cheque use is fast declining, with 1.1 billion cheques written in 2010, down from 4 billion 20 years ago.

John Walker, national chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses, said: “It is great news that the Payments Council has reversed its decision to abolish the cheque.

“Scrapping the humble cheque would have put many small firms at a disadvantage, especially in rural areas which rely on the cheque for payments.”

The cheque guarantee card, which has already been axed, will not be re-introduced.

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Smallest Firms Still Losing Out On Loans 
According to an independent survey released yesterday by the British Bankers Association (BBA) Taskforce, small companies are being rejected for loans and overdrafts much more than they would have been before the financial crisis.

The survey of 5,000 small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) also found that confidence in the banks is weakening, with just 40 per cent of the SMEs planning to secure new or to renew existing finance in the next 12 months saying they were confident of succeeding compared with 70 per cent of those who had applied in the last year.

Banks are also turning away more businesses seeking overdrafts. Some 72 per cent were approved on the initial approach last year, compared with 90 per cent in 2007. Worryingly, rejection rates were higher for the smallest businesses than for more established companies.

John Walker, National Chairman, Federation of Small Businesses, said: "These figures tell us what we already knew: the very smallest businesses are the ones bearing the brunt of a contraction in bank lending. Small firms have been telling us for the past few years that they are fearful of approaching the banks for new finance, or to extend an overdraft, because they know they are likely to be turned down, or be offered a deal on terms that just aren't favourable for them.”

However, the statistics were viewed differently by the BBA, which responded with:

“Today’s results show that most business are able to get the credit they need and that customers with a good track record and sound credit history find the process straight forward. It clearly pays to have a strong, ongoing relationship with your bank, as existing customers were rarely turned down.”

They did add, however: “... some businesses are concerned about the process and we will address this issue.”

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Small Business To Be Central To UK Exports 
The United Kingdom’s Trade and Investment agency (UKTI) has unveiled a new strategy, Britain Open for Business, which is at the heart of the Government’s drive to promote growth through trade and investment.

Launched in May, it sets out plans to provide practical support to exporters and inward investors over the next five years. The strategy lays out four pathways to balanced growth. These are:

1. Targeting services at innovative and high growth SMEs to encourage more companies to export, and help existing exporters reach more high growth and emerging markets.

2. Winning high value opportunities in overseas markets for UK businesses of all sizes.

3. Delivering high quality inward investment, with a drive to market large British infrastructure and regeneration projects to foreign investors.

4. Building strategic relationships at the highest levels with the most significant inward investors, including overseas institutions such as Sovereign Wealth Funds, and with the UK’s top exporters and major overseas buyers.

Trade Minister Lord Green has said that there are 900,000 businesses exporting in the UK and that he wanted that increased by a quarter.

“I would love to see a 25 per cent increase in the number of SMEs engaged in the international market place. That’s achievable, I believe,” he said.

And Miles Templeman, Director General of the Institute of Directors said: “With the right strategy, business of all sizes can benefit hugely from international expansion.”

John Walker, National Chairman, Federation of Small Businesses said of the strategy: "The Federation of Small Businesses welcomes the strategy from UKTI and seven point charter from the FCO as they address many of the issues that small businesses face when exporting and will go some way to encouraging new firms to enter the export arena... For many small firms, the challenges of finding customers and the red tape around doing business abroad is a major concern and today’s announcement will help small businesses lead an export led recovery."

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Manufacturing Rise 
Figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show that UK manufacturing output jumped by the largest amount in a year in May following a sharp drop in April due to the abnormally large number of public holidays that month.

The growth, a rise of 1.8 per cent, beat forecasts for a 1 per cent rise and was the strongest showing since March 2010. However, the wider measure of industrial production only rose by 0.9 per cent in May, which was smaller than expected. This was mainly due to a sharp drop in oil and gas production due to unplanned maintenance work.

Britain’s manufacturing sector has been seen as the cornerstone for growth in the economy, but it is difficult to measure the true situation, as some firms have been affected by supply problems stemming from the disruption caused by March's earthquake and tsunami in Japan.

The statistics office said the effects of the Japanese tsunami on UK manufacturing diminished in May. A number of car manufacturers indicated that sales were getting back towards normal levels.

Ross Walker, analyst at RBS, said, "The manufacturing production figures rebounded much more strongly than the market thought. That tells us more about the underlying state of demand and activity.”

"The broader industrial production numbers matter more arithmetically for GDP, but the BoE will pay more attention to the factory numbers," he added.

However, May's increase failed to offset April’s 1.7 per cent drop, leaving some analysts concerned about the bigger picture.

"Even a decent rebound in June would probably leave industrial production down quite sharply in Q2 as a whole compared to Q1 and therefore dragging on GDP growth," said Vicky Redwood at Capital Economics.

"The survey evidence has given a pretty consistent picture of an underlying slowdown in demand for UK manufacturers' products both at home and overseas. Accordingly, this slowdown in the industrial recovery looks like it might continue."

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Made in Britain or Europe? 
In the wake of the Derby factory of train maker Bombardier missing out on the £1.4bn Thameslink contract, unions and opposition politicians have called for the government to review its decision to choose German company Siemens to build 1,200 carriages for the Bedford to Brighton route.

However, the Government has said that the Siemens bid represented the best value for money, and that it was following EU procurement rules, which do not allow where companies are based to be taken into account, when choosing the supplier.

Transport Secretary Philip Hammond and Business Secretary Vince Cable have written to the prime minister suggesting that the UK needed to look at the way in which EU procurement rules were operated.

"The way some of our continental partners approach these things is to look more strategically at the domestic supply chain," Mr Hammond said.

But Chantal Hughes, European commission spokeswoman for the single market commented: "It's too easy to say that the job losses in Derby are the EU's fault and that it's because of EU rules that Bombardier lost out.”

And Stephen Kinsella, head of European competition law at the Sidley Austin law firm said: "The UK decided quite a while ago that it would have a competition policy and no other considerations."

The European commission pointed out that when it comes to bidding for public contracts elsewhere in the EU, the British are unusually successful, winning 17 per cent, second only to the Germans.

"It's too easy to say that the French choose only French suppliers, the Germans choose German suppliers and only the UK is naive enough to choose non-UK suppliers, thus putting themselves at a disadvantage," Ms Hughes said.

But Mark Young, co-ordinating officer of the Unite union said: "I don't know of any procurement that's been in France or Germany that has gone to any other company other than the indigenous rail manufacturers in their countries."

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