Business news 2 February 2024

Government to launch Small Business Council to support SMEs. Interest rates, construction, manufacturing, retailers, HMRC late fines & more business news that we thought would interest our members.

James Salmon, Operations Director.

Government to launch Small Business Council to support SMEs

The Government has announced the formation of a Small Business Council and an update of the Help to Grow website to help small firms access the resources they need to expand. The new council, which will bring together small and medium enterprise (SME) chiefs across the country, will mean their voices are represented within Government. The updated Help to Grow site will help entrepreneurs find what funding is available and provide webinars and guides on setting up a business for the first time. Business and Trade Secretary Kemi Badenoch said, “Small businesses are the lifeblood of our local communities and drive the UK’s economy, supporting jobs and wages across the country.”

Bank of England keeps interest rates at 5.25%

In a widely expected move, the Bank of England has kept interest rates at 5.25%, despite weak economic growth and a steady decline in inflation. The Bank’s Governor, Andrew Bailey, acknowledged the “good news” on inflation over the past few months but stated that more evidence of inflation falling to the 2% target is needed before lowering rates. Although services inflation and wage growth had come in below the Bank’s forecasts, key indicators of inflation persistence remain elevated, the Bank said. It suggested falling energy prices would help inflation touch 2% in the second quarter of this year, it would then pick up again in the second half.

UK manufacturing continues to struggle

The UK’s manufacturing sector continues to decline as supply chain difficulties persist. The S&P Global/CIPS UK manufacturing PMI survey shows a slight reduction in the rate of decline, but the sector remains below the contraction threshold. Manufacturers are adopting a cost-cautious approach, leading to cutbacks in purchasing and stock holdings. Rob Dobson, director at S&P Global Market Intelligence, notes the widespread decline across all sub-industries. The 11th consecutive month of manufacturing production decline is attributed to weaker levels of new work and supply chain delays. Disruption in the Red Sea route to the Suez Canal has caused longer lead times, resulting in increased costs and slowed production.

UK construction sector outlook improves

Confidence in Britain’s construction sector has risen slightly, thanks to expectations of interest rate cuts. The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) reported a more positive outlook for the year ahead, with its headline workloads measure increasing from 6% to 12%. While activity in the sector declined in the three months to December, the decline was less severe than in the previous three months. RICS noted a “clear divergence” between home-building, which contracted further, and infrastructure activity, which continued to grow. Despite lower mortgage rates, the housing market has been slow to recover from previous interest rate increases, RICS said.

Pressures remain high for retailers

Two-fifths of FTSE-listed retailers issued profit warnings in 2023, with well-known companies like Superdry, Dr Martens, and B&Q owner Kingfisher among them. The number of profit warnings fell at the start of the year but increased towards the end, according to the EY-Parthenon research. Fashion retailers were particularly affected, accounting for over half of the profit warnings. Silvia Rindone, EY UK and Ireland retail lead, said: “Cost pressures remain relatively high for retailers, with further challenges set to arise in April with the proposed increase in business rates and the impact of ongoing geopolitical disruption on supply chains.”

HMRC to issue £100m in fines as late tax returns double

HMRC is set to impose over £100m in fines as more than 1.1m people missed the January 31 deadline, almost double the number from the previous year. The freeze on income tax bands until 2028 has resulted in tens of thousands of individuals needing to file self-assessment forms for the first time. Late filers will face an initial £100 fine, regardless of whether they owe tax or have paid it on time. The Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales has called for a review of HMRC’s service performance after a decline in customer service levels and missed performance targets. Dawn Register, of the accountant BDO, said the process for first-time filers is “cumbersome” while Maxwell Marlow of the Adam Smith Institute said HMRC’s systems were “sclerotic and confusing” for taxpayers. A spokesman for HMRC stated that a record 11.5m people filed their tax returns on time and were able to use online services for assistance.

HMRC is undermining vital investment tax reliefs

The business spokesman for Reform UK, Rupert Lowe, takes a swipe at HMRC in a piece for the Telegraph, describing the tax office as a “law unto itself” with appalling customer service. Lowe zooms in on how HMRC makes claiming investment tax allowances particularly difficult. According to several EIS practitioners, HMRC “gives advance clearance to an EIS and then resiles on its assurance.” HMRC also appears to be adopting an interpretation of the guidelines on VCT which is not favourable to companies. The tax office appears to be prioritising a higher tax take over nurturing young companies, Lowe says. He is also critical of the UK’s massive tax code, the overall tax burden and the size of the state.

Small businesses sue for return of secret broker commissions

Harcus Parker, a leading litigation law firm, has revealed that consumers are paying an extra 10% on average for their gas and electricity because suppliers routinely add third-party broker commissions to their bills. A group legal action led by the law firm is looking to claw back up to £2bn in undisclosed broker fees for thousands of small businesses hit by the secret commissions. More than a million small businesses may have been forced to pay inflated prices over the past decade, Harcus Parker says, with bills often not disclosing that a fee has been added or the level at which it has been charged. Ofgem is now pushing for suppliers to be forced to disclose to all customers the rates they add to bills to cover broker fees.


Stocks posted broad gains this morning after strong earning reports from technology giants and as investors looked forward to a US jobs report expected to show further cooling in the labor market in a boost for hopes of interest-rate cuts in May.


Amazon is set to return to share price levels last seen two years ago after reporting robust fourth-quarter earnings on Thursday, outperforming analysts’ expectations. The e-commerce giant reported earnings per share (EPS) of $1, up from $0.03 a year earlier and surpassing the average Wall Street estimate of $0.78 by engaging in strict cost cutting .


Meta Platforms (facebook) shares jumped after Thursday’s closing bell as the tech giant once again outperformed Wall Street’s expectations, this time for the fourth quarter and full year 2023. The Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp parent company reported 4Q revenue of $40.1 billion, up from $32.2 billion in the year-ago quarter and ahead of estimates of $39 billion. Earnings per share (EPS) rose from $1.76 to $5.33, compared to expectations of $4.83. They also announced they will pay a dividend for the first time ever.


Apple revenue rose to $119.6 billion in the last quarter of 2023, up 2% over the same quarter in 2022 after a year of declines, driven by a 6% upswing in iphone sales. However,  Apple spooked investors with a report of a fall in revenue from China by 13% last quarter. They also warned that iphone sales won’t be as strong as analysts are predicting.

Visa blocks Fraud

Visa said it blocked a record amount of suspected fraud last year, culminating in a boom in criminal activity during the holiday season.  Globally over the whole year, Visa said it blocked $40 billion-worth of suspected fraud, nearly double the $23 billion seen in the previous year.


Oil Prices rose this morning following a decision by OPEC+ to keep its oil output policy unchanged, although benchmarks were headed for weekly losses amid unsubstantiated reports of a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas.


Water bills are set to rise by 6% in an inflation busting increase from April. Prices are set to rise a further 35% between 2025 & 2030.  Tim Farron, environment spokesman for the Lib Dems said “This price hike is a disgrace and should be scrapped immediately. There should be no price rises until water firms scrap insulting overseas dividends and exec bonuses.”


Eurozone Inflation cooled in January in the eurozone, official figures showed on Thursday, while unemployment remained steady in December. According to Eurostat’s flash estimate, annual consumer price inflation ebbed slightly to 2.8% in January, from 2.9% in December. But core inflation – which strips out food and energy – eased to 3.3% from 3.4%, and came in slightly above consensus of 3.2%.

Degree apprenticeships prove a success

A report by the Association of Accounting Technicians suggests that by the age of 21 degree apprentice graduates can be up to £100,000 better off than their university-attending peers. The qualifications offer a debt-free degree and at least three years’ work experience. Applications for degree apprenticeships are soaring, with one in seven of all apprenticeship starts now at degree level. Deloitte and EY are among the companies offering degree-level apprenticeships, the Times notes.

Labour to ditch £28bn green investment pledge

Labour’s flagship policy pledge to spend £28bn a year on green investment is being ditched by Keir Starmer and Rachel Reeves, according to party sources. However, Labour will still invest in green infrastructure and maintain plans for GB Energy and a mass home insulation programme. The previously announced schemes are set to cost just under £10bn a year. The decision to drop the £28bn figure comes after recent government attacks and concerns about potential tax rises.


Shell launched a $3.5 billion share buyback, and boosted the dividend 4%, despite reporting a big drop in fourth quarter profit. The oil major said fourth quarter adjusted earnings were $7.31 billion, up from $6.22 billion in the third quarter, but down from $9.81 billion the year prior.

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Why should you become a CPA member!

The Credit Protection Association (CPA) has been assisting thousands of UK businesses to get paid, since 1914. We have seen many financial crises, this one will be particularly deadly for suppliers for some time to come.

CPA eases cash from tardy debtors – Efficiently, Effectively, Economically and Ethically. And we provide credit information so you can monitor and assess your key customers.

Unlike other credit management companies, we offer our members a fixed annual subscription regardless of how high the debt value maybe!

Just call Peter Uwins, CPA’s National Sales Manager, on 020 8846 0000 (business hours) or email today.

When you see your money come in, you will be so glad you used CPA.

The Credit Protection Association – Prompting Punctual Payments – Ethical, Effective, Efficient, Economical collections


Do you have a commercial late payer that is causing you grief? Use CPA’s no-win, no-fee, commercial debt recovery service!

If you have a particular business customer who is late paying and causing you sleepless nights, why not offer it to CPA for purchase on recourse?

CPA’s collection department will then pursue the debt. We will be liable for any costs incurred and then when we have recovered the debt, we will pay you the net principle debt recovered less our percentage.

Once you have enjoyed that success then you can consider the more cost effective membership which includes our Overdue Account Recovery service and Status/Credit reports as well as a range of other complimentary services.

Just call  020 8846 0000 and ask for Godfrey Nelson or Cris Shirley (business hours) or email today.

The Credit Protection Association – Prompting Punctual Payments – Ethical, Effective, Efficient, Economical collections.


Get compensated for previous late payments

Have you been paid late by business customers in the last six years?

Maybe you no longer work with them. Under legislation, you are entitled to  compensation you for those late payments you have suffered.

You put up with the PAIN – now claim the GAIN!

Claim late payment compensation (LPC) from former business customers who paid you late in the last six years!

CPA (LPC) Recoveries is using our bespoke software and decades of experience to do just that for our clients

Check our compensation calculator to see how much your business could be owed!

Discover NOW the potential value of late payment compensation hidden in your sales ledger!

The Credit Protection Association – Prompting Punctual Payments – Ethical, Effective, Efficient, Economical collections.