Lockdown fatigue “harming businesses and workers”

So says the head of BT

Philip Jansen, 53, said the “metrics on how tired people are, how stressed they are, how mentally challenged they are from a mental health point of view” were of concern, prompting the company to offer greater support.

“There is a lot of fatigue within the organisation, within BT, but I’m sure that’s true of every organisation. We’ve got 120,000 people. They’re tired and they are bored of the mode of operating, which is very one-dimensional and lacks the interaction of humans in the way that we are used to.”

Too true. Fortunately I have a personal way around this situation and also working solo and staying motivated is essential to my role but those who claim “this is the new way of working” haven’t a clue frankly

Last week I actually met a new client for the first time in far too long (its is actually allowed for financial services under HMG guidelines). They were very engaging but the whole dynamic was so so much productive than yet another Teams call. And enjoyable too, which is the key. We are simply not designed to be one dimensional faces at the other end of a screen. Fortunately most of my Teams meetings have been successful but there is still no substitute for being there.

And here’s an interesting point which I believe has strong validity. Maybe we should be seeking the simple phone rather than the dreaded video a little more?

(instead of video calls) He said he was doing more phone calls and is trying to exercise every day in some “shape or form”. Mr Jansen, who was one of the first senior UK executives to be diagnosed with Covid-19 during the first lockdown last spring, is a keen cyclist.

“I have found it very difficult. I found myself feeling the squeeze of the lockdown. I can physically feel it as I’m working.

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Insolvency industry and Banks under the spotlight

Interesting piece in the Times and many would say this is well overdue. I will highlight some lines and readers can make their own judgements.

When businesses go bust their biggest creditors, usually banks, appoint insolvency firms to recover assets. That has prompted accusations among the stricken businesses that the recovery firms act in the interests of the banks over those of the business or other creditors.

Hard to argue with that statement

Prominent scandals have included the administration of the electrical goods retailer Comet Group. Neville Khan, 57, a former star partner at Deloitte, was severely reprimanded and fined £50,000 last year by the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales for failures in his handling of the administration. The institute found that Mr Khan did not “take reasonable steps” to ensure that he was objective.

Would only state that £50k was too lenient.

James Russell, partner at Humphries Kerstetter, said: “What we are interested in exploring is whether such behaviour is indicative of a wider systemic problem. If these problems are endemic we look forward to working with the APPG to find ways to address them for the benefit of the insolvency industry and the wider economy.”

No comment….

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Landlords whining again

Here we go again. The British Property Federation are complaining about the “use of CVAs” by retailers to dump rent obligations. It is being described as a “cynical practice”

Of course there is an element of truth in that but why do landlords consider themselves to be entitled to privileges over and above those of other unsecured creditors? Yes their exposure is high and yes its not simple for them to cut off supply by eviction but that is all part of the credit appraisal. That should have been part of the equation when they first took on the tenants.

Frankly their problem is almost certainly close to home. Oversupply. And thats something which only they can address

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Can the UK still export with ease?

During the past few weeks, we have heard a lot about difficulties with the export chain following Brexit. This was partly triggered by seemingly politically motivated actions by France but also by the publication of the flowchart for exporters detailing the extra procedures necessary to engage with the EU market.

Exporting is now going to be more procedural than before and no one in their right mind would suggest that this is welcome but how much impact will this have on trade? As expected there has been a fair degree of media speculation both in terms of the immediate effects and longer term. There has been a flurry of activity around Dover seeking the extent of consignments and lorries being turned away. As expected there were some teething problems but significantly (and maybe because of the low traffic) this isn’t a story that some hoped for.

In regards the longer term there has been speculation and social media posts from fairly high profile commentators that’s export procedures will be a “disaster”. In fact I had an online exchange with the author of this book regarding the documentation chain. To a receptive tribe of followers he made the bold claim that the export procedures will kill trade with the EU. He used “machine goods” as an example.

Machine goods. Presumably relatively high value lowish volume. So we have the scenario. Uk Business receives an order form France for say 100 units at £2k a time. Does the uk business export or does it refuse because of paperwork? I think the answer is clear because I’ve yet to see the export documentation clerk have the final say on whether a £200k order goes ahead. Or even a £200 one

He retorted that the French importer would just buy elsewhere to avoid any paperwork they have to incur. Remember that we are talking “machine goods”

Didn’t he realise that such transactions are generated by quality branding and price before a little bureaucracy? In fact isn’t that the case with most transactions?

Our biggest export market is a mountain of bureaucracy and seemingly unnecessary forms (almost certianly far more taxing than to the EU) but somehow we’ve managed to trade impressively with the USA for as many years as you would wish to count.

Frankly the author of this seemingly well received and widely distributed book hasn’t a clue about business. He doesn’t understand that sales and sourcing drive business, not a little additional paperwork and on this basis I would heartily recommend that you avoid his drivel like the plague

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Brexit finally. But are “services” at risk?

Hand drawing a red line between the UK and the rest of EU, Brexit concept.

With a trade deal finalised, the focus has shifted to the nature of the Brexit world for the UK service sector. It is easy to find polarised views and the fact that certain conditions do not appear to have been finalised has been a red rag to opposition of HMG and those who cannot accept that Brexit has been completed.

How do we judge this? Analysing a near 2000 page report is not going to be within our means so I believe that the next best solution is to look at the reaction of other significant parties. This can be the media or those actually taking hard decisions in industry

No one would claim that the Guardian is a friend of Brexit or the Government but this piece on this very subject is quite revealing. Its a relatively balanced report but the only area of concern that was seriously seized upon was Audit. That comes down to the mutual “recognition” of qualifications and ignoring the somewhat hysterical reaction quoted from an accountant, surely that will be imminent? EU states will most certainly wish to see their accountants having access to experience in the UK and “recognition” is the norm rather than the exception between first world states.

Financial services and the city are also a focus but here again we should look at a salient fact. Employment in banking in the City has actually increased since 2016 so a fair conclusion is that despite the bluster form some parties, the City is certainly not anticipating an exodus of employment

Lastly there is Digital and that is the relatively easy to address. The government is confident but surely Google and Bloombergs (to name two) heavy investment in the UK as a European HQ nails any doubts.

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An unforgettable Santa

Following the positive reaction to my set of vintage xmas photography, this absolute gem appeared in the Observer last weekend

Great photojournalism need no words

Happy Xmas

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And a very happy xmas

To all my readers.

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CBILs and Bounceback extension?

The excellent James Hurley at the Times reports

Some rumours of possible extension of BBLS and CBILS to March to help companies through Brexit transition / continued Covid restrictions, with new scheme perhaps kicking in at that point. Just rumours though.Quote

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CBILs replacement due to be unveiled

More or less confirmed by Reuters, a seemingly like for like replacement for CBILs is on its way

The United Kingdom is planning to launch a permanent replacement for the 65 billion pounds ($86.86 billion) COVID-19 loans programme with new state-backed guarantees to support lending by banks to a range of small to medium-sized business, the Financial Times newspaper reported late on Sunday.

The new loan scheme may carry a guarantee of up to 80% for loans of up to 10 million pounds for businesses deemed viable but unable to get finance from their lender, the newspaper said. Banks would be allowed to set interest rates for the new loans but the rate is expected to be capped at about 15%.

Im not sure that this will be entirely welcomed by all the lending industry and will possibly hit asset based lending. Having said that, rates of up to 15% are not exactly competitive and most invoice financing arrangements would be substantially cheaper and a whole lot more flexible. I also sense that many lenders will be looking to lend at the higher end of the scale given it will not be seen to be quite so unethical to do so once the pandemic has died down. Yesterday I saw a rate of between 12 and 15% and even a relatively mainstream lender quoted 8% to me (and ridiculously claimed that the British Business Bank set the rate)

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Why HMRC should be careful

Unfortunately the story behind this piece is behind the Times paywall but whilst there is a revealing story which is certainly worth reading, this revolves around two pretty straightforward points

First debt collectors should be abiding by a code of conduct and not this.

The findings come after The Times revealed yesterday that HM Revenue and Customs has sent letters to families during the pandemic accusing them of “deliberately” choosing not to repay debts and threatening to “take things you own and sell them”.

Secondly HMRC are using a collectors run by Jersey based tax exiles with a somewhat colourful past. It would also be fair to say that their flash public image is not exactly appealing either

Why are HMRC associating themselves with these people? And shouldn’t HMG be very aware of reputational damage?

No one is denying that debt collection is often necessary but at least do some due diligence and use UK based firms that pay UK taxes and behave in a professional manner

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