“Forgotten’ Medium-Sized Businesses 
A report issued today by the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) and management consultancy McKinsey has said that the Government and City should focus on Britain’s ‘forgotten army’ of medium-sized firms as a way of boosting the economy by up to £50bn a year over the next decade.

Such businesses, with a turnover of between £10m and £100m, represent less than 1 per cent of all businesses in the UK but generate 22 per cent of revenue and 16 per cent of all jobs.

According to the report, new measures should include improving access to finance for these companies, especially in the bond markets and nurturing our own version of the German ‘Mittelstand’.

In the German model only 10 per cent of family firms is run by the eldest son whereas in the UK the figure is 50 per cent. The report also notes that second-generation, family owned companies run by sons generally underperform and that too few executives have a university qualification.

Director General of the CBI, John Cridland, said: "Medium-sized businesses are truly a forgotten army, and now is the time to unlock their potential.

"We should be championing, nurturing and encouraging our mid-sized firms so that more of them grow and create jobs.”

Mr Cridland went on to say: “"I want the UK to have its own version of the German "Mittelstand".... These future champions would help the UK weather unexpected economic shocks, and act as a new engine for growth.

"To achieve extra growth, medium-sized firms must have access to new kinds of finance. This means opening UK bond markets to medium-sized businesses, encouraging use of venture capital, and making it easier for large companies to invest in medium ones, possibly in their supply chains."

A Department for Business spokesperson said: "We welcome the CBI's focus on the UK's mid-sized companies.... The Government is already focused on this group as part of the growth review"

For more information, please visit www.milsted-langdon.co.uk

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Digital Dough 
Figures released this week by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show that almost £1 in every £10 spent on buying goods is now spent on-line. We spent around £539m on-line each week in September, meaning that shopping on the internet is becoming part of the retail habit.

The internet’s 9.6 per cent share of retail sales is 30 per cent up on last year and is potentially taking its toll on high street shopping. For example, clothing store Next revealed last month that much of its on-line growth had come at the expense of sales in its high street stores.

According to the ONS retail sales were up generally in September and increased by 5.4 per cent compared with last year. However, nearly all the growth came from inflation, with only 0.6 per cent of that revenue coming from the volume of goods sold.

Interestingly, the sale of luxury goods such as mobile ‘phones, lingerie, alcohol and home products were particularly buoyant in September and smaller stores performed better than larger ones.

Despite the encouraging figures, the Interactive Media in Retail Media Group (imrg), the membership community for the e-retail industry, is trimming its forecast for further on-line growth from 18 per cent of retail sales to 16 per cent.

David J Smith, Chief Marketing & Communications Officer at IMRG, comments: “While consumer confidence in the online market was high ... there has been a slight dip in terms of the growth levels.

“The tough times for the travel sector are showing little sign of improving any time soon, with consumers focusing on home improvements rather than going on holiday.

It is clear that both the stagnation in the housing market and the continuing uncertainty over the economic recovery are influencing consumer behaviour in the online market.

For more information, please visit www.milsted-langdon.co.uk

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Small Business Afraid Of Bankers 
Owners of small businesses are afraid of approaching their bank to ask for more money in case they have existing facilities withdrawn or deals renegotiated, according to the Bank of England’s regional Agents.

In the agents’ monthly summary of business conditions, they report that “fear of repricing or withdrawal of existing facilities continued to discourage many small businesses from approaching lenders altogether.”

The Agents also found that many companies are scaling back investment plans, with some putting off making any new investment altogether.

There are 12 regional Agents, who cover the whole of the UK, discussing business conditions with around 700 companies across all sectors. In addition to the monthly reports, the Agents make quantitative assessments of economic conditions as seen from their respective regions.

The Bank’s Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) uses the intelligence gleaned from the Agents to assist its understanding and assessment of current economic conditions.

As far as lending is concerned, some banks are trying to keep the playing field level; Lloyds TSB promises not to change the availability of overdrafts during the period of an agreement as long as accounts are kept “within agreed terms and limits.”

And the RBS pledges not to withdraw overdraft facilities for 12 months after one is agreed, although that is subject to the condition that the risks associated with lending to a company don’t increase.

The report also noted that small businesses also face a lengthy process when applying for loans, with “elevated” fees.

However, the report also said that credit conditions had continued to ease for large and medium-sized firms, particularly those in the manufacturing sector, which might reflect improvements in the health of corporate balance sheets. But “increased nervousness about the outlook had led some firms to ... switch their focus back to paying off outstanding debts.”

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Millions To Get Tax Rebates 
Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs (HMRC) has announced that around six million taxpayers will be sent cheques averaging £400 for overpayment of tax dating back several years. And just over a million will get a bill for underpaid tax averaging £600.

The reconciliations follow widespread problems with the PAYE system that were picked up by a new computer system, which HMRC says will reduce the number of under or over payments from now on.

Around a million of the settlements are for the 2010-11 tax year but six million of them are outstanding queries, which are now being settled en masse. The rebates will include interest and it is estimated that they will cost the Government more than £2bn.

Those due for a rebate could start receiving cheques as early as this weekend, with everyone being paid by December 2012. And this time those who underpaid will be allowed to pay the extra tax they owe in installments.

A spokesman for HMRC said: “Money that is owed going back many years is now going to be automatically paid back as we get the tax system up to scratch. We are getting cases that were left unreconciled up to date as quickly as possible. Anyone owed money will be paid back with interest without the need to contact us.”

HMRC has faced a lot of criticism in recent years for tax issues including PAYE, tax credits and a backlog in answering letters and telephone calls, causing worry to millions of taxpayers.

In a similar exercise last year, HMRC Permanent Secretary Dave Hartnett was widely criticised for a lack of sympathy toward those facing an unexpected bill, after he said tax reconciliation was a routine measure.

He later apologised and insisted that HMRC did "not underestimate the distress caused to taxpayers".

For more information, please visit www.milsted-langdon.co.uk

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Small Business Confidence Wavers 
According to insolvency trade body R3, more small companies are experiencing decreased profits, with over 40 per cent of them saying that their margins took a hit in the last quarter and 20 per cent reporting that they regularly exceed their overdrafts.

The quarterly Business Distress Index revealed that more businesses were reporting decreased turnover, falling market share and cash flow difficulties and the number of liquidations is on the rise.

There are now almost eight per cent more companies being liquidated or given a winding up order over the last three months compared to the previous quarter and a 20 per cent rise on the same period last year.

And research by the Centre for Economic and Business Research (CEBR) suggests that more small businesses intend to lay off staff in the next three months.

Charles Davis, economist at CEBR, said: “Companies relying on discretionary expenditure are especially negative, with the leisure, sports and entertainment and hospitality sectors showing the largest drops in confidence of any.”

Almost 80 per cent of the businesses reported cost rises compared with a year ago, with a third reporting the increases were “significant”. Utility bills, raw materials, labour and rents all rose steeply, the firms reported.

There is also a national divide in optimism, with confidence in the West Midlands and South West falling fastest and a marked divide between optimism in the South East and the rest of the country.

John Walker, National Chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses, said the Chancellor should respond to the collapse in confidence by extending national insurance (NIC) tax breaks designed to encourage new firms to hire more staff and by cutting VAT.

“As businesses come to terms with the double whammy of falling revenues and rising costs, it is no wonder that they’re losing confidence, and unfortunately, as their overheads increase one way to control it is to lay off staff,” he said.

For more information, please visit www.milsted-langdon.co.uk

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