Is the Big Beast Back?03-06-2021
It was in the 1970s when the spectre of inflation stalked the UK economy like a big beast in the long grass when the rate of inflation was as high as 25%. But what exactly is inflation? We mostly associate inflation with Latin American countries like Argentina and Nicaragua. Though this view is not wholly wrong, as in simplistic terms if demand for goods outstrips supplies, then prices increase as demonstrated by Alfred Marshall’s supply and demand curve, for those economists among you. In the UK, inflation is measured by the Office for National Statistics (“ONS”) and they report to the Government to look at the Consumer Price Index (“CPI”) when deciding which levers to press in order to control inflation, albeit the control of monetary policy has been given to the Bank of England (“BoE”) who set interest rates. The CPI is a measurement of the weighted average of goods and services which we consume in the UK which then translates into the cost of living, as the CPI measurement includes housing, food, transport and utilities. It was just reported by the ONS last week that in the last 12 months to April 2021 the CPI has increased by 0.7% to 1.5%. This increase was more likely than not helped by the rise in fuel prices from the 12-year low this time last year as a result of the first lockdown when most people will recall that there were no cars on the road. According to the BoE, this rise in inflation should settle down later in the year and then fall back to 2% in 2022 and 2023. However, this is not a settled view of all economists that this overshoot in the inflation target will only be temporary. Though do not get me wrong, some inflation is a good thing, as when you look at economies such as the UK, which are consumer-based, inflation will then help to boost consumer demand. On the other hand, as with most things, too much of something, including inflation, will have negative effects. Inflation will start to reduce the value of money and savings so you are not able to buy as much with your pound as you did in the prior year. When you translate inflation on to a global platform, the issue that becomes more acute as inflationary pressures will determine the value of the countries’ currency. This means that without higher interest rates to counteract inflation, a countries’ currency will start to devalue and imports will become more costly and so the cycle continues. This all then starts to have the negative effect in regards to investment and so productivity which will ultimately affect GDP and in practical terms, companies will use their free cash to plug cash flow strains. So it is a question of waiting and seeing whether or not the inflationary beast is going to bring an end to a decade of low interest rates.
Not our national treasure, but the “British Broadcasting Company”, fondly known as “auntie”. Firstly, there was “Big Bang 2.0”, being Rishi Sunak’s desire to reform financial services, now is it “Britcoin” as a second? I cannot help thinking that, now the shackles of regulation from the EU are starting to fall away, the UK may be entering into a renaissance period as far as financial services are concerned in its transition away into modernity. Britcoin is a good example of this and hence the analogy “BBBC” which I have coined for this article. Britcoin will be a digital version of the Pound and having the same value as the Pound. Cryptocurrencies are simply digital currencies in which transactions are verified and records maintained by a decentralized system. The main difference between Britcoin and other cryptocurrencies is the fact that Britcoin will be regulated by the UK Government and benefit from the guarantee given to it by the Bank of England. But with regulation comes the usual debate of privacy. Authoritarian countries like China have been looking at, and developing, digital currencies for the last five years. China has even started piloting trials of its digital currency, being DCEP. Countries such as Tunisia and Caribbean islands, such as Antigua and Barbuda, Grenada, St Kitts and Nevis and Saint Lucia, already have their own version of Bitcoin, with Sweden following hard on their heels. Only last week, the largest cryptocurrency exchange business, known as Coinbase, listed on the Nasdaq giving Coinbase a larger market capitalisation than BP or General Motors. So surely it is just a question of time to see which digital currency will be widely accepted to be one of the dominant world digital currencies. If Britcoin goes ahead it will sit alongside cash, but in time I have no doubt that Britcoin will be the electronic currency of choice to be used by UK consumers and businesses alike. With this change to digital currencies, some of the big losers could be the traditional bastions of financial services, being the long-established banks. They will have less capital in the form of deposits because Britcoin will require the user to open an account with the Bank of England. It may have been a good thing that the UK did not get “equivalence” for financial services as part of the Brexit deal. The UK is now going to be forced to think long and hard of ways in which to continue to maintain its place at the top table for global financial services. I am only hoping that the UK becomes a disruptor within the global financial services sector in order to stay ahead of Europe and be regarded as an innovator. But irrespective of whether or not this innovation comes to pass, it is good to hear the chorus of innovation cheering loudly from the side lines, hopefully in time we will hear this chorus being sung even more loudly front and centre.
One Year On26-03-2021
Last week marked 12 months since the first UK lockdown and how life has changed for both business and individuals alike. This is not only a time for reflection but also a time to focus on recovery now over 50% of the UK population has been vaccinated meaning there is a light at the end of the Covid tunnel. But what next? We are surrounded by the very same challenges we faced before we went into lockdown comprising of potential trade wars with China and disputes with Europe now framed in a post Brexit world. Of more concern, we now also have a huge bill to pay as a country for the borrowing which kept the country afloat during the Covid storm. One thing that is certain is that there will be a recovery. As the UK economy is nothing if not resilient but the starting point is very low. I say this with a heavy heart as last year the UK economy contracted by nearly 10% which was the largest contraction seen since the ‘Great Frost’ in 1709 though the world was very different almost 300 years ago and the UK’s position within it was also very different. The UK economy has been kept afloat during the crisis using the usual levers of fiscal stimulus of not increasing the tax burden to pay for increased borrowing and monetary policy of pumping eye watering sums into the UK economy. The growth rates for the UK economy have been forecast to be between 5-6%. If the forecasts turn out to be accurate or even half true, it could mean that the UK could outperform Europe. This would mean that UK plc has to be ready to capture this spurt of economic growth and turn it into something tangible. It is incumbent on all business owners as well as the financial sector to ensure that businesses start to look at new prospects which they are able to exploit. We should not forget that the UK is the 8th biggest manufacturer in the world so we must use that double edged sword of investment to cut through and improve UK productivity by new methods of working which have been learnt through the pandemic. We have to bear in mind that there are also new export opportunities given that a lot of businesses who previously traded with Europe (simply because it was on their doorstep), have to consider potentially onshoring elements of their production in order to preserve efficiencies. Do not forget, a lot of employees harbour visions of starting up their own businesses because they know they can improve on what they have learned from their employer. It is this entrepreneurial spark that needs to be nurtured. I am not harking back to the Thatcher era but I genuinely do believe that investment within businesses and support for employees will reap dividends especially when added to new ways of working to increase productivity.
Employed but not working04-03-2021
Last week the Supreme Court, which is the UK’s highest court, made a unanimous landmark judgment which will have far reaching effects on everyone in the gig economy. This long-awaited decision was 5 years in the making when it ruled that Uber drivers who worked for the ride hailing app, were not self-employed workers but rather employees of Uber. On the face of it, this may not seem to matter very much but the repercussions are immense in that those drivers, if deemed self-employed, would not be entitled to minimum wage, holiday pay, sick pay, and all the trappings that are expected with the protection of employment unlike independent contractors. This concept of employment status was controversial as there are tests which have always been used to determine whether or not a person is employed or self-employed and the gig economy has stretched the orthodox thinking to its limits. However, this case has brought clarity to the concept of employment status within the gig economy. The court used various tests and it found that Uber not only set the fares which affected how much drivers could earn, it also monitored their performance and penalised drivers who rejected too many requests. This meant that the drivers were akin to employees as the only way they could earn more money is by working longer hours. Therefore, it was a question of ‘control’ exerted by Uber over the drivers which was pivotal in the judgment. There will be a large number of similar cases which will follow this precedent not only those which were stayed pending the outcome of this decision. The wider impact of this judgment will be felt by all in the gig economy not just the Uber drivers however it does raise difficult questions which the judgment tried to address including when these workers became employees. Again, a very innocuous question but very difficult to answer. Though the importance of this question cannot be overlooked because it goes to the root of the time that is counted for ‘working time’, ‘minimum wage’ and such like. In the case of Uber, it was when the driver was in the relevant location with the app switched on but what about those people with multiple apps such as Just Eat, Deliveroo and such like? Are these people also employed by multiple employers at the same time? This judgment already impacted Uber’s share price but no doubt it will bounce back if Uber switches to driverless cars. This case followed previous case law where courier drivers also benefitted from employment status but it is not just the UK that has to decide these difficult questions. Similar questions are occurring within the EU at present who no doubt will follow the precedent laid down by the court. The ripples caused by this case are far reaching as now Uber will face liability to pay 20% VAT because it will be deemed to be a transport driver rather than an intermediary.
Equivalent is not always equal27-01-2021
With Brexit over and still in the midst of Covid-19, we have not yet seen the full implications of the free trade deal struck with the EU on the premise of ‘zero tariff and quota’. It goes without saying that the post Brexit custom rules with their reams of new forms and certificates have caused despair due to delays at the border despite reduced traffic due to the national lockdown. But, and it is a big ‘but’ which relates to services, the current EU trade deal favours goods for the simple reason the UK has a deficit in goods with the EU but there is no mention of services even though the UK has a surplus. The Chancellor, Rishi Sunak last week announced that the City should get ready for “Big Bang 2.0”. This reference by the Chancellor is his prelude to his vision of the de-regulation of the City. The Chancellor must be thinking about the original phase of de-regulation put in place by the Thatcher government. If the City can replicate the original Big Bang, London may be able to steal a march on Europe with all of its clunky rules. This will mean a divergence between the City and the EU which will prevent the UK from trading into the EU because it is the EU who decides whether or not the UK rules are equivalent to those in the EU. If I am right then we should have divergence sooner rather than later in order that the UK can find its own path whilst the EU is in a hiatus trying to consolidate its own position on financial services and not yet having the skill set to replicate London’s offering. I appreciate there is always going to be fall out to Paris, Frankfurt etc but in order for the City to remain the dominant force within Europe and the world, there is no time to waste. The UK has to ‘grab the bull by the horns’ within the current reviews on the ‘Independent Fintech Strategic Review’. The original Big Bang made the UK a rival for New York and Big Bang 2.0 needs to ensure that the UK stays the dominant force throughout Europe and the world even if there is divergence rather than through equivalence.
Ctrl Alt Delete16-12-2020
Last week the EU revealed new proposals to regulate big tech firms though the “Digital Services Act” (“DSA”). The DSA uses the guise of curbing dis-information and hate speech to leverage control over tech giants such as Amazon, Facebook, Google and Twitter but will this ever be a success? What is going to be interesting is to see how the new President elect, Joe Biden, will view the EU flexing its muscles over the US tech giants. Donald Trump frequently clashed with these tech giants, but he was a strong advocate that no foreign countries should control these US businesses, it was for the US to do and the US alone. There is no doubt that the DSA is intended as a worthy piece of legislation as according to Ursula von der Leyen (President of the EU Commission), the DSA intends to “rewrite the rule book in the digital rule books”. As without regulation, there is no protection for the consumer. When looking at the tech giants, will the cost of this regulation for example in the case of eBay and Amazon simply be passed on to the individual sellers using their site and so ultimately the consumer rather than the tech giants themselves? If this happens, then the DSA will not be getting to the root of the problem but instead just be another layer of administration that needs to be dealt with. The irradiation of dis-information and hate speech are laudable attributes in any society but this has to be balanced with the freedom of speech and the practicalities of having legislation which can be enforceable at all levels. The DSA aims to increase “platform monitoring” and incorporate “take down responsibilities” whilst ensuring that there is a “restriction on the collection of data” unless the data is made accessible to business users active in the same space. There will be a new concept of “gatekeepers” however gatekeepers, being the tech giants will be prevented from using data received for advertising services. It is also intended that there will be curbs to prevent pre-installation of tech giants installing their own application on hardware devices. An unintended consequence of the DSA could be that when the tech giants try to addresses the dis-information and hate speech, they create regional variations of their offerings in the same way that Google is available in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Macau but not in mainland China. It is not going to be possible for human intervention to review for example the 500 million tweets that are made every day. This can only be done by changing the algorithms and so instead of having diversity, Europe may find that the EU becomes more homogeneous in respect of big tech. Start-ups may also find it more difficult to raise funding through private equity within a more restrictive e-commerce environment. One thing that can be said for sure is that will the Silicon Valley giants will not easily give up their algorithms. Instead, you are more likely to find that regional variations offered within the EU are more inferior to those within the rest of the world just like not having Google in mainland China and so this could be the gradual eroding of European enterprises rather than a restart through ctrl alt delete.
Many changes over 15 years of success for Hawkins Hatton16-12-2020
Hawkins Hatton Marking 15 Years and Remaining Positive07-12-2020
This is a title I have used before as it is from that famous phrase, “to Jaw Jaw is always better to than to War War.” It is one of those enduring quotes that resonates over generations. The fact that talking and negotiating is better than war. I am sure most people will agree that the consequences of war and the devastation it causes are long lasting. Last week it was announced by Boris Johnson that, “the days of cutting the UK’s defence budget are over.” This may seem contrary to the phrase mentioned above but is definitely a welcome announcement during this year of Covid. At the very least this will be another factor that will help create long term growth in the UK economy. I am saying this because there will be at least £16 billion spent over the next 4 years. Not only will this money be spent on modernising the UK’s military, but there will be investments in new projects such as space and cyber. This transformation has a two-fold effect of not just enhancing the UK’s military capability but more importantly, if done correctly, will lead to more UK innovation. Innovation is an important part of the make-up and fabric of the UK’s DNA as a nation. It is through this cutting edge innovation where there is need to be the best, that you will get the trickled out effect of technology into the private sector and hopefully into everyday goods and services that the consumers will want to buy. A good example of this are the satellites which are used for sat-nav’s. After all, it is the consumer that is the beating heart of the UK economy and this may just be the shot in the arm that the UK economy needs. Space and Cyber are going to be the new grounds that need to be conquered rather than just a physical land grab. This announcement of military spending, with Brexit looming, is welcome on the basis that even if we fall short of the claim this spending will create 40,000 jobs, it has to be good news for a variety of industries such as UK aerospace and ship building. I say all of this because it has been 50 years since it could last be said that the UK were holding their own against the USA and the Soviet Union when it comes to the Space Race, but the sun has long set on those days so if this new start is not going to be squandered it could be a new dawn for the UK in so many different ways.
Making the UK more resilient12-11-2020
Medicom is a global brand based in Canada but with a worldwide footprint stretching into Europe and the UK. Medicom has always been committed to making the world safer and healthier by providing consistent, reliable protection through its brands and superior materials and manufacturing processes. Now with the worldwide pandemic of Covid-19 it has become more important to find partners who you can rely on. Medicom is moving into the UK to assist in the provision of medical equipment on a local basis to help the UK become more resilient in facing this current pandemic and any future pandemics which may come to fruition. As part of the move into the UK Medicom has decided to open the base of operation within Northampton in order to use this as a separate location to try and reach all parts of the UK. Medicom used Hawkins Hatton Corporate Lawyers to assist it when taking the lease of premises (112,750 sq ft) at Brackmills Industrial Estate in Northampton. Hugues Bourgeois, a director of Medicom said “We had a short window in which to finalise the deal though it was important to find a firm that could move at the pace we wanted to and ensuring that they covered off the commercial points in a manner which was not tied up in a legalistic wrapper. We found that firm when we instructed Hawkins Hatton” Colin Rodrigues, Corporate Partner of Hawkins Hatton Corporate Lawyers said “It is always hard to meet the expectations of new clients but at Hawkins Hatton client service is at the forefront of everything we do so to us it is always pleasing when we are able to assist clients with achieving their end goals which is in our legal DNA”
PDQ for PDX12-11-2020
PDX Logistics has for 26 years been synonymous for warehousing, distribution and logistics, as such, it was natural for Möbile to have targeted PDX Logistics as a natural fit for its expansion beyond the West Midlands, in order that Möbile can better serve its customers in the South of England. Möbile, throughout its history which dates back to the late 1970s has continued to expand its business, but it has maintained its ethos of “People.Powered.Logistics”. Matthew Marriott, managing director of Möbile, said “there is no wizardry involved in the formula of People.Powered.Logistics, it is just simply hard work and commitment and ensuring you do the right thing every day”. Möbile was assisted by Arran Jones of MDP Accountants who said “I have worked with both Matthew Marriott and Ian Jolly of Möbile and I have found them to be quite visionary in their sector.” Hawkins Hatton Corporate Lawyers also assisted Möbile by delivering what was a difficult transaction in a clear and concise way and avoiding the obstacles which could have beset the whole deal. Colin Rodrigues of Hawkins Hatton said that “Matthew Marriott and Ian Jolly’s sorcery with their ethos and its combination with PDX will transform Möbile into a national player in its sector in the post-Brexit years.”
A Gripping Deal for Pilers12-11-2020
Maun Industries Ltd has a long history dating back to 1944 and is the UK’s largest manufacturer of pilers and precision hand tools. It has just continued their innovation and secured its future growth for the long term through Tim Scholes. Tim Scholes, whose background has always been business, has continued his entrepreneurial streak by closing a gripping deal for Maun Industries. Tim has 35 years of project-based consulting experience, which he is going to bring to bear within Maun Industries. Tim was attracted by Maun Industries’ combination of specialist products and highly skilled workforce which he wants to help continue to develop by introducing new product ranges and customers through innovation, design and technology. Tim was assisted in this transaction by Pippa Hawkes of BSN Chartered Accountants, who helped Tim structure a deal which worked for all parties. Pippa said that “with Tim’s experience, Maun Industries is certain to grow and increase its global footprint beyond the 200 countries which it already services.” Hawkins Hatton Corporate Lawyers also assisted Tim by ensuring the deal was dealt with in both a timely manner and with a commercial outlook. Corporate partner, Colin Rodrigues said “knowing Tim and his capabilities, he will not only continue to nurture Maun Industries, but he will ensure that its evolution will be world beating to guarantee that Maun Industries is synonymous with quality worldwide.”
Legal Tie Up14-09-2020
Rik Pancholi of Pattersons Commercial Law, based in Ratby just outside Leicester, orchestrated the merger of his firm with Ashteds Solicitors who are also based in Leicester. Pattersons Commercial Law is renowned in the East Midlands for Corporate and Commercial legal expertise within sectors ranging from Accountancy, Financial Services and Retail to E-Commerce and Healthcare businesses to name but a few, Ashteds has maintained a strong reputation in Dispute Resolution and Corporate Insolvency lead by Ashwin Mody. Rik Pancholi (MD of Pattersons Commercial Law) commented that “I followed my instincts when looking to merge with Ashteds as I always wanted to find another firm which would be a perfect fit for Pattersons Commercial Law in order to further compliment the advice we offer to our clients. Ashteds were the perfect marriage partner and together we will be stronger in the depth and breadth of advice we are able to offer going forwards under the Pattersons brand.” Ashwin Mody (MD of Ashteds) said “I have been in the legal sector for over 25 years so you can say that I have seen many things in my career but like the old adage goes, doctors make bad patients so I decided when embarking on this merger, to instruct Hawkins Hatton Corporate Lawyers to deal with the sale as, having made the big decision to merge with Pattersons Commercial Law, I was content to leave the contractual negotiations with them.” Colin Rodrigues (Corporate Partner at Hawkins Hatton) said, “unlike most transactions where from time to time you find problems can escalate into deal-breakers, there was a real desire from both Pattersons Commercial Law and Ashteds to ensure that nothing should be a problem which could not be resolved and looking at the personalities and make up of both firms, I can genuinely say that the merger of these two firms is not a marriage of convenience but instead, the coming together of two reputable legal firms to create a formidable legal force within the East Midlands.”
We started the year coming off a high from a business point of view knowing that the 2019 election gave Boris his majority which would put an end to the uncertainty of Brexit on the basis that the political paralysis was now broken. Then came the talk of the Budget and the pre-tax planning about removal of ER (aka Entrepreneurs Relief) which would hit SME owners hard. The results of this speculation consumed many professionals, both accountants and lawyers alike and took over as the main driver for their clients. This concern did not prove unwarranted as the lifetime allowance for ER was reduced from £10m to £1m. This means that in a business sale in excess of £1m, the proceeds will be taxed at 20% and not 10%. This even made my speculations to the ER changes look too conservative and reminded me of a valuable lesson of always preparing for the unexpected. This is what those clients did in their pre-budget planning where they were able to do so. The detail of the changes to ER has been lost by the press in their budget commentary by the talk of emergency funding for the NHS, the ability to claim sick pay, business interruption loans, business rates being abolished for firms within leisure, hospitality and the retail sector and such like. But all of this is needed as you do not need to be an economist to know that the UK growth in 2020 will be severely curtailed as a result of the Coronavirus and will most likely be the slowest since 2009 as a result of the banking crisis. That brings me back to the point I always focus on which is productivity and how to do more with less. Businesses should learn and heed well the lessons taught from the Coronavirus, as businesses still need to function and deliver goods and services but with a contracting workforce so productivity improvements will have to be delivered if businesses are to survive and come through the shock of Coronavirus. It is at times like this that spark innovation as business has to “think out of the box” to deal with situations which it normally does not need to face maybe because a lot of businesses were within their own comfort zone. The message to businesses is to focus on the “bounce-back” and keep applying those productivity improvements and innovations in order to ensure that this decade can try and emulate some of the “Roaring Twenties” in the last century through the collaboration between the political elite and business to engender growth in order to prevent this decade from being another lost decade.
Marex Spectron completed another acquisition. This time it was for a London-based Tangent Trading Ltd (‘Tangent Trading’). Tangent Trading is a leading scrap metals trading firm which can trade its roots back to 1985. Tangent Trading specialises in non-ferrous scrap metals trading, with a focus on copper and aluminium markets. A long-term member of the London Metal Exchange, Tangent Trading has an international network of customers and suppliers across Asia, Europe and North America. Tangent Trading will continue under the leadership of Darren Leigh and Robert Borland, who join Marex Spectron’s global metals franchise, which boasts one of the most experienced teams and broadest product ranges across base, precious and ferrous metals worldwide. Ian Lowitt, Marex Spectron Chief Executive, commented: “The scrap metal market is a new and exciting direction for our business as we continue to invest in and grow our market-leading metals franchise. This acquisition is part of a strategy focusing on expanding our offerings and developing our business in sustainable commodity sectors. We believe the recycled metal markets are poised for growth as environmental sustainability becomes more important to clients. Given the scale of our global network and balance sheet, there are significant opportunities to further develop the Tangent Trading business – making it an excellent fit for Marex.” Darren Leigh, CEO of Tangent Trading added: “We are excited to join the Marex Spectron family. Not only will we have access to new technologies and services, we will be in a great position to further enhance, strengthen and expand our global offering.” Tangent Trading were assisted by Hawkins Hatton Corporate Lawyers who have worked with Tangent Trading for several years and have detailed knowledge of their background and operating model. Colin Rodrigues, Corporate Partner of HH said “as with any deal, time is the biggest enemy and there was a lot of ground to cover in a very short period of time, yet this was achieved as there was a true meeting of the minds between the parties”. David Price, Director of Price Pearson Accountants commented: “it has been a pleasure to work with Tangent Trading from the outset. Price Pearson have a long history with Tangent Trading and have a special affinity for them. We are delighted to help achieve the shareholders goals of continued growth and expansion through this acquisition by Marex Spectron.
Our team of experienced lawyers came together to form Hawkins Hatton in 2006 with the single ambition of creating a different type of practice. One that not only delivers the desired results for our clients, but puts the smooth running of their business and life at the forefront of everything we do. Our ethos is built on total personal support, regardless of whether we are reacting to a client crisis within a moment's notice or pro-actively advising on a complicated legal or commercial issue. By bringing clear thinking to legal complexities, and responding to often challenging deadlines we help take the pressure off our clients. Through a highly dedicated, hand-picked professional team, our clients have access to vast experience within the firm. Achieving the results you require, means understanding your business, and your personal aspirations. In short, working alongside you as your legal partner.
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Our team of experienced lawyers came together to form Hawkins Hatton in 2006 with the single ambition of creating a different type of practice. One that not only delivers the desired results for our clients, but puts the smooth running of their business and life at the forefront of everything we do.
Our ethos is built on total personal support, regardless of whether we are reacting to a client crisis within a moment's notice or pro-actively advising on a complicated legal or commercial issue.
By bringing clear thinking to legal complexities, and responding to often challenging deadlines we help take the pressure off our clients.
Through a highly dedicated, hand-picked professional team, our clients have access to vast experience within the firm. Achieving the results you require, means understanding your business, and your personal aspirations. In short, working alongside you as your legal partner.
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Hawkins Hatton Corporate Lawyers Ltd.
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