Views sought on UK digital strategy

Views sought on UK digital strategy

Digital Economy Minister Ed Vaizey has invited firms and other stakeholders to help shape the UK’s digital strategy for the next five years. The strategy will map out the next steps in the UK’s digital revolution. Ideas and suggestions are invited relating to how the UK’s digital strategy could unlock digital growth, for example by ensuring that firms in all sectors are supported to exploit digital technologies, and how technology could further streamline interactions with Government. Responses must be submitted to digitalstrategy@culture.gov.uk by 19th January 2016.

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Help to Grow scheme announced

Help to Grow scheme announced

The Prime Minister has announced the launch of a new £100 million Help to Grow pilot scheme that will enable fast-growing smaller firms to access finance and realise their growth potential. The scheme will provide 500 firms each year with financial support in the form of loans to help them grow from small to medium-size. According to the British Business Bank, most lenders target larger corporate firms seeking finance in excess of £10 million. This results in few opportunities for smaller high-growth firms to raise the funds they require, which typically range from £0.5 to £2 million. The British Business Bank will seek proposals in March from finance providers to deliver the pilot scheme.

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Fit for Work guidance published

Fit for Work guidance published

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has published guidance for employers about the new Fit for Work scheme. Fit for Work will enable employers in England, Wales and Scotland to refer employees who have been on sick leave for at least four weeks for a free occupational health assessment. It also provides a free telephone advice service for employers. The guidance encourages employers to update their sickness policies to reflect the availability of this new service. The advice line opened in December 2014 and health assessments are expected to be rolled out over the next couple of months.

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HMRC simplifies end of year payroll requirements

HMRC simplifies end of year payroll requirements

Payroll administrators will no longer have to complete an end of year checklist as part of their last Full Payment Submission (FPS) for a calendar year, under measures to improve the way Pay As You Earn (PAYE) is operated in compliance with Real Time Information (RTI). The checklist consists of seven questions, many of which cannot be answered until 5th April, often leaving employers with just 14 days to complete their FPS. Commenting on the change, Natalie Miller, President of the Association of Taxation Technicians (ATT) said: “Employers should be able to file much quicker than before and hopefully avoid a backlog of submissions being made very near the deadline, which always makes an electronic system vulnerable to crashes and disruptions.”

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Use of home tax deductions to be extended

Use of home tax deductions to be extended

The ‘use-of-home’ deductions which are available to sole traders who use their home for business purposes will be extended to business partnerships under amendments to tax legislation in the Finance Bill 2015. The deductions allow business expenses incurred when using a home for business purposes to be offset against taxable income for 2015/16. The amendment has been welcomed by the Association of Tax Technicians (ATT) as having the potential to make tax ‘easier, quicker and simpler’ for taxpayers running small firms.

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Campaign to help firms trade online

Campaign to help firms trade online

The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) has launched a new campaign, Do More Online, which is intended to help sole traders and micro-firms increase their online presence. Key measures include making £2 million available to 22 projects through Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) and publishing specific resources for small firms. Projects funded under the campaign include the development of a digital TV channel in Manchester to provide business advice. According to Rachel Neaman, CEO of digital skills charity Go ON UK, “31% of small businesses in the UK lack basic digital skills, making them less competitive than many of their peers.”

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Measures to protect taxpayers from direct debt recovery

Measures to protect taxpayers from direct debt recovery

New safeguards have been announced by HMRC to protect vulnerable taxpayers from the planned system for Direct Recovery of Debts (DRD). The introduction of DRD would allow HMRC to collect money owed for tax and tax credit debts directly from the bank accounts of individuals and firms that owe £1,000 or more in tax, if they have repeatedly ignored attempts to make contact. The announcement came following a consultation which was held in May 2014. New measures to protect vulnerable taxpayers will include guaranteed face-to-face visits by HMRC officers, a County Court appeal process, and a time limit of 30 days between accounts being put on hold and money being taken by HMRC, if the debtor hasn’t paid the outstanding tax. This is in addition to guarantees which had already been made, such as a minimum of £5,000 always being left in debtors’ accounts.

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Proposed changes to business rates could benefit small firms

Proposed changes to business rates could benefit small firms

Local authorities could have greater flexibility to offer business rate discounts to small local firms, under a proposal put to the Chancellor by the Local Government Association (LGA) in November 2014. Business rates are currently set by central government, meaning local authorities’ ability to offer local discounts is restricted. Under the LGA proposal, all responsibility for setting and collecting business rates would lie with local authorities, allowing greater flexibility for local authorities to offer reduced rates to local high street firms, new start ups and firms using local suppliers. If the proposal goes ahead, local authorities will also be able to link business rates to turnover, including that from e-commerce, to create more fairness between high street and online retailers, and to encourage new start ups to trade on the high street.

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Remote working poses data security risk for business

Remote working poses data security risk for business

Remote working is putting businesses at risk of data security breaches, according to a survey commissioned by information security firm Imation. The survey of office workers in the UK and Germany revealed that a third of respondents had lost unsecured mobile devices in public places, with 75% of mobile devices containing work-related data. Almost half of respondents said that they never encrypt the data they take out of the office, 30% said they do not protect it with passwords and nearly 10% said they do not protect it at all. Only 6% said they were concerned about losing business data when working remotely. Less than 60% of respondents said their organisation had a remote working policy, and where there was a policy, more than one in four respondents admitted to not having complied with it.

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DCMS proposal to penalise nuisance callers

DCMS proposal to penalise nuisance callers

A proposal has been made by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) to ensure firms responsible for nuisance calls and text messages face disciplinary action. Under current rules, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) must prove that a firm has caused ‘substantial damage or substantial distress’ before they face disciplinary measures, but under the new proposal this would be reduced to ‘annoyance, inconvenience or anxiety’. Firms found to be responsible could face fines of up to £500,000. Commenting on the proposal, Simon Hughes, Justice and Civil Liberties Minister, said: “We have already increased the level of fine available to punish rogue companies. Now we want to make it easier to stamp it out by lowering the threshold for taking action against these companies.”

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