“I’ve had no support since lockdown started. None. At. All.”
“I’m managing a massive project that’s due to be delivered soon. My milestones are critical, and I can’t afford to get this wrong in any way.”
“I need someone objective to bounce ideas off of.”
“Everything feels chaotic, and my success in managing stakeholders has deteriorated overnight.”
“I really need someone to run things by when they go wrong. Which at the moment, is daily!”
“I didn’t appreciate how much of a difference not seeing people face-to-face would make to my work.”
“Communication has been a struggle, and it turns out no one is clear on what they’re supposed to do.”
These are just some of the comments I’ve heard from Project Managers since the start of the pandemic.
Working from home 5 days a week for an extended period of time has taken its toll on all involved and ultimately, on the end results. This means that the quality of projects is missing the mark, and achieving completion on time and within budget is becoming a rarity as opposed to a certainty.
Reading between the lines, what Project Managers have really struggled with these past few months is the lack of support.
Granted, no one foresaw the pandemic, and there is no rulebook.
But the Project Managers I’ve spoken to feel they’ve been left in the lurch in what are unprecedented circumstances, to come to terms with everything on their own.
It’s not that they are inexperienced; quite the opposite. They are seasoned professionals who have managed and delivered more than their fair share of projects and programmes in various industries in the past.
What’s different is that where previously, they and their stakeholders worked from home one or two days a week, doing so has been a constant feature since lockdown restrictions were announced in March.
And until the coronavirus is under control, it looks like movement will remain restricted in one form or another. One thing is for sure, there will not be a return to offices en masse for quite some time. How long that is? Nobody knows…
…so while Project Managers and all the people they need to provide input and contributions to projects work from home for the foreseeable future, it’s important to acknowledge that:
The shift to working remotely for the foreseeable future has had – and will have – an impact on their working dynamic and ultimately, how they perform.
Essentially, some of the signs include tension in the Project team that didn’t exist before, communication just doesn’t seem to run smoothly.
And crucially? Delivery timelines and milestones have been missed.
These observations and the feedback I’ve had from Project Managers are why I created a Remote Mentoring Service for Project Managers.
What Is It?
My Remote Mentoring Service is a one-to-one, individualised service that helps Project Managers address the complexities that arise from the fact that they, their Project Team and stakeholders are working from home for the foreseeable future.
Those unintended consequences of working remotely take their toll on team morale and their ability to deliver. The Remote Mentoring Service provides crucial support and the opportunity for such consequences to be addressed in real-time.
Who is It For?
The Remote Mentoring Service is for experienced Project Managers who are busier than ever!
However as they navigate the murky world of remote work, they need support to ensure they continue to work effectively and efficiently.
How Will You Benefit?
You’ll get 5 things from my Remote Mentoring Service:
An experienced and objective sounding board.
A place to seek counsel.
A safe space to discuss the issues you are experiencing while managing your project(s).
Recommendations on how to resolve these issues and tackle roadblocks.
What Support Will You Get?
Each week we’ll review specific issues and challenges you highlight in detail.
As well as being a safe place to discuss them I’ll work with you to address each one, so you can feel better equipped to do what you do.
Historian Carter G. Woodson and clergyman Jesse E. Moorland started a group which researched and promoted the achievements of Black people, and the group sponsored what was referred to as the first National Negro Week in 1926.
Over time, what began as local events spread around the country and became a month-long affair, and Gerald Ford was the first president to officially recognise Black History Month in 1976.
In the United Kingdom, the month was first celebrated in 1987.
And it’s never been more relevant. Following the events of this summer around the world, Black History Month in 2020 is more significant than ever.
Can I Confess Something?
I’ve never really paid attention to Black History Month before.
Yes, even as a Black woman I didn’t quite understand why it was needed, and what the big deal was.
Perhaps I’ve developed a greater appreciation over the years. That, coupled with the murder of George Floyd this May and the subsequent protests and awakenings in many individuals, groups and organisations, have meant that I’m looking at Black History Month through a new lens.
So, if you’ve been wondering why it needs to be marked at all, here’s why Black History Month matters:
To re-focus on racial inequality.
It’s crucial that the awareness raised earlier in the year at all levels in business and society is not left as a moment in time, reduced to a hashtag. As difficult as it is, this is a conversation that must continue, accompanied by lasting change.
Black History Month is a time to take stock.
Black History Month is an opportune moment to evaluate where your organisation is in terms of hitting its diversity and inclusion targets.
What statements and declarations did you make just a few short months ago?
It’s easy for things to slip – we all know that life happens.
But what happened on the back of those promises your organisation made? Was an action plan put together to implement those noble intentions you announced?
Who owns that plan, and who is responsible at a senior level for making it happen?
If your organisation is serious about addressing racial inequality, Black History Month is a good time to reflect on these questions and ensure that action is being taken.
Black History Month is an opportunity to track progress.
Especially as many organisations publicly announced steps they would take to address racial inequality, Black History Month is an opportunity for their customers, target audience and external stakeholders to be reminded and gently prod, challenge and ask what progress has been made.
Back in June I wrote this article on how to support Black professionals, and it gained a lot of support. While it was good that many people read and agreed with it, there is so much more that must happen over and above showing solidarity online!
None of the specific tips I laid out is a quick fix. It’s important to hold organisations in both the private and public sectors, charities, law enforcement agencies, and politicians accountable for moving the needle forward when it comes to eradicating the scourge of racial inequality.
A call to move beyond the performative
I’m hoping that Black History Month is a prompt – another reminder – for organisations and allies to move beyond performative allyship and online activism, which is hardly altruistic in nature.
Businesses which don’t offer their staff sick pay – a particularly dangerous practice during a pandemic, and striking when the majority of those who desperately need it are low income earners who belong to Black and other ethnic minority groups.
Businesses who do not pay their casual staff minimum wage, again many of whom are Black.
Organisations need to move beyond mere rhetoric and ensure that their policies and actions match those carefully worded press releases and social media posts. It is my hope that Black History Month provides an opportunity for such considerations to again come to the fore.
I also wrote about how my Remote Mentoring Service will help them overcome the added complexities that arise as a result of them working with teams and stakeholders who now have to work remotely for the foreseeable future.
Here, I go into more detail about how my Remote Mentoring Service for Project Managers works:
What Is It?
My Remote Mentoring Service gives Project Managers the support they need to deliver crucial pieces of work in this climate.
Since the start of lockdown, I have noticed that:
Project Managers are finding it a real challenge to deliver their projects as normal in this climate.
Since restrictions started in March forcing everyone to work from home, the assumption was that a switch would be flipped, and projects would be automatically continue being managed, run and implemented as usual. Only remotely. But unfortunately, this has not happened.
Company bottom lines have been affected.
You wouldn’t have thought working remotely would have such a significant impact, but it has. Key milestones and timelines are routinely missed, causing costs to overrun. Which, even if your business is doing well in the middle of this pandemic, you cannot afford.
Key stakeholders have raised complaints about several things that are not going well on projects they are involved in.
And rightly so!
These complaints have cannot be ignored any longer, and the growing feeling of dissatisfaction and discontent needs to be addressed.
In response to these issues and many more, I created the service to help Project Managers overcome these obstacles and deliver their projects efficiently.
I’ll help you address the added complexities arising purely from the fact that you, your team and stakeholders have to work remotely for the foreseeable future, so you can deliver your projects successfully.
Who Is It For?
You’re an Experienced Project Manager.
You already have the “hard” skills, so this isn’t about teaching you how core Project Management.
You’ve coped with managing your projects and meeting those deliverables in the months after the pandemic broke out back in March 2020.
But the truth is that it’s been anything but smooth sailing. And now with a second wave afoot, your business has announced that everyone should work from home until 2021 at least. Maybe even indefinitely…
…and you are busier than ever!
While that’s a good thing and you’re grateful to be busy when so many have lost their sources of income, you’ve found that working remotely involves a lot more than having a good WiFi connection, finding a pretty backdrop, and running your meetings on Zoom.
You’re finding it increasingly difficult to complete standard tasks such as running workshops, getting feedback and approvals on essential elements, and managing stakeholders to your usual standard.
Since the plan – inasmuch as you have one – is for you and your delivery teams to work remotely for the foreseeable future, you’ve to this conclusion and are having to admit the inevitable:
You can’t do it without support.
Whereas the pattern was for people to work from home mainly on Fridays or for a couple of days during the week, your working world is now fully remote and virtual. And you need guidance on how to translate what you used to do into that world.
You need a sounding board that is experienced and objective. A place to seek counsel when you feel like pulling your hair out!
How Long Does It Take?
The Remote Mentoring Service takes place over 4 weeks and over that period, we’ll meet at an agreed day and time every week.
The sessions will take place on Zoom.
What Sort Of Support Will I Get?
Each week we’ll review specific issues and challenges you highlight in detail.
As well as being a safe place to discuss them I’ll work with you to address each one, so you can feel better equipped to do what you do.
How Long Are The Weekly Sessions?
Each session in the Remote Mentoring Service lasts between 60 and 90 minutes.
How Much Does It Cost?
The Remote Mentoring Service costs £2,500 + VAT for 4 weeks.
Can I Have More Than 4 Sessions?
If you wish to continue getting support after the initial period, you can!
Each additional session costs £500.
What Should I Do Now?
You can’t afford to drop any more balls, miss any more crucial deadlines or overshoot your budget. There just isn’t the bandwidth to do that in this current climate…
…so book your place on my Remote Mentoring Service now.
You head up the Delivery function in your organisation, and one of your responsibilities includes managing a number of Project Managers.
They are a team of experienced women and men who have previously delivered various initiatives successfully.
Whether those projects were to deliver commercial outcomes for the Senior Leadership team, or implementing systems in the IT space, you were secure in the knowledge that your team was capable, dependable, and reliable.
Every Project Manager in the team was a safe pair of hands…
…but along came 2020!
And with it a global pandemic of epic proportions; the kind we have never seen or experienced before.
The lockdown and restrictions on movement followed in March, and that meant working from home was no longer a perk or optional extra available to those privileged enough to have it.
Or, those who had the choice of working flexibly to improve their work-life balance.
Because of the pandemic working remotely – from home – became the enforced status quo.
The “new normal”, if you will.
So, working from home became the norm for your Project Managers, and they had to adapt quickly to the change.
At first, the switch to long-term home working appeared to be smooth.
All the team needed were tools such as Zoom or Microsoft Teams, and access to wi-fi.
You thought your Project Managers would get by easily.
But as the weeks and months rolled by, you started to notice a few things:
Delivery timelines and critical milestones were being missed.
And this happened more often than you’d like or can afford to tolerate.
There was tension in the team that hadn’t existed before.
This surprised you, as the core team know each other well and had a good rapport pre-COVID.
Communication was a major sticking point.
In the sense that in spite of all the technology and tools, it’s been obvious that it’s not working smoothly. Which is having a detrimental impact on efficiency.
In summary, things haven’t been the same since your Project Managers started working from home earlier in the year.
And with the latest set of restrictions announced by the Prime Minister, it’s anybody’s guess how long it will be before the team can go back into their offices.
Can I tell you what the problem is?
It is not about your Project Managers needing more training to hone their core project management skills. They are seasoned professionals who know their stuff, so the current disruption you’ve noticed isn’t down to a lack of having those skills.
The problem has to do with the shift to working remotely indefinitely.
We may not want to acknowledge it but human beings are made for social interaction, and even the best apps and technology cannot act as a substitute.
While such disconnection is fine for a few days or weeks, dealing with it consistently over a long period – or even indefinitely – introduces a different dynamic to working relationships.
Which subsequently has a negative effect on productivity and project outcomes.
So, how can you tackle this problem?
How can you get your critical projects delivered successfully – so, on time and on budget – when your Project Managers have stakeholders who are all remote?
I have something that can help.
Introducing my Remote Mentoring service for Project Managers.
Over a 4-week period, I will work with them to:
Develop the skills they need for successful project delivery in the current climate.
Implement that project that’s been dragging on which you urgently need to get over the line right now.
Tackle the specific challenges they are facing when it comes to delivering the outcomes your business needs on time and within the set budget.
Because now more than ever, you can’t afford for either of those to slip!
Many of us had worked from home in one form or another before March 2020.
However, the start of the pandemic ensured it was no longer an optional extra or a perk that companies offered, and remote working quickly became the status quo.
Organisations which had previously baulked at letting their staff work from home occasionally, were suddenly forced to adapt business models and infrastructure to facilitate their entire workforce working from the safety of their homes.
Businesses like Google and Uber announced that their teams would work remotely for at least another year – or in the case of Facebook and Twitter, indefinitely.
This may have been an answer to prayer for some: no more early morning starts, long commutes, exorbitant transportation costs and busy trains are just a few benefits.
But while remote work enables flexibility, is convenient and saves a bundle on travel costs, it has its downsides.
For example, working from home was supposed to facilitate work-life balance. And in a world where we were mainly based outside our homes, having the option to do so a few times each week helped us achieve that.
But now that we are based at home? There have been references to the fact that we are now living at work.
The boundaries between work and home have been blurred and, in some cases, disappeared completely. Work now encroaches on our lives in a way no one anticipated at the start of the year, and until the public health issues with coronavirus are resolved – a vaccine is probably another twelve months away – it will stay that way for the foreseeable future.
There are ways to mitigate the downsides; it’s all about being aware of them and taking the necessary steps. So here are 9 ways being mindful can improve your productivity while working from home.
1. It Helps To Have a Routine
Your commute has been reduced – significantly.
Instead of travelling for an hour (at least!), you only need to travel from your bedroom to your home office or desk.
Don’t get into the habit of rolling out of bed and logging onto Zoom with your pyjama bottoms on. While you no longer need to wake up two hours before work starts, setting your alarm to go off at a set time helps. That, and taking the time to prepare yourself mentally for the day ahead.
2. Dress For Work
No one is expected to wear a suit at home, but deliberately dressing for work is a useful practice.
Comfortable clothes in the smart-casual category send the message both to yourself and others you’ll encounter in the course of your virtual working day that you’re in work mode.
3. Designate a Work Space
As much as you’re able and depending on how much space you have available, assign an area in your home to be used specifically for work.
That will help establish the “I’m going to work” prompt in your brain, and is great for setting boundaries between your home and work lives.
And if possible, avoid working from the sofa or your bed. Doing so doesn’t help with those blurred boundaries and if nothing else, curling over your laptop while slumped in those locations isn’t good for your back!
4. Watch The Clock
It’s no surprise that we’re all working longer hours. Since we’re saving hours on commuting, we’ve shifted to starting work earlier and finishing later.
Clock-watching is usually frowned upon – we all know that person who always made a beeline for the day at 5.00pm and wouldn’t stay a minute later. But, useful practices such as taking lunch and coffee breaks, and consciously shutting your laptop after a certain time are healthy ways to enforce boundaries and stop work encroaching on the rest of your home-based life.
5. Watch What You Eat!
You’re at home, and the fridge is right there.
You have back-to-back calls to get through, and grazing while you sit mindlessly through them might help you get through the day…
…the convenience of having food and snacks within reach makes snacking and constant grazing tempting!
But it’s useful to be aware of how much you’re eating and when. Remember that you’re probably less active than you were six months ago; sticking to fixed mealtimes and being conscious of snacks and portions will help ensure you don’t end up with a significant increase in your calorie consumption.
6. Make Exercise Part Of Your Routine
And linked to point 5 above, keep moving!
Now more than ever, it’s crucial to make exercise a part of your daily routine. There is more tendency to lead a sedentary lifestyle, which the World Health Organisation warns could be among the ten leading causes of death and disability as it increases the risk of cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and high blood pressure, among others.
So make a conscious effort to go for a run or walk before you start work in the morning. Or if you can make it to a gym after you’ve shut your laptop for the day, even better. Gyms are open and obliged by law to follow official guidelines to make their spaces COVID-secure, so call and ask what safety measures they have in place first.
7. Take Breaks Between Calls
If you can, take breaks between Zoom calls.
It’s easy to go from one call straight onto a series of others, and before you know it, you’re left wondering why you feel drained and exhausted. After all, it’s not as if you’re doing anything other than sitting there, right? Regardless of how widespread the technology is, staring at small squares of ourselves and our colleagues is not normal and Zoom fatigue is real.
One way to guard against it is by taking breaks between those calls. Block out between 10 and 15 minutes in your diary, so anyone view your availability when trying to book a meeting will see that you are unable to meet at those times. This will force your colleagues – and you – out of the habit of booking and sitting through back-to-back calls.
8. Switch On Your Camera
The majority of business meetings are being carried out via video conference, but it appears many of us aren’t comfortable being seen by our peers and so, decide not to switch on our cameras.
While there is unspoken pressure to act a certain way when visible – not to mention that your colleagues can easily spot when you’re multi-tasking! – speaking to a series of dark squares is de-motivating and doesn’t do much for building rapport. Which is already hard enough to do virtually.
So if you accept an invitation to a Zoom, Skype or Microsoft Teams call? Switch on your camera and prepare to be seen.
9. Use The Phone
It’s easy to forget that all meetings don’t have to be video conferences.
You can use the good “old” phone instead, or schedule a conference call if more than two people need to be in that meeting.
As mentioned above, there is an unconscious pressure to perform when you know we’re going to be on display, and that extra pressure can be taken away by having voice calls only where appropriate.
These tips should help you increase productivity while looking after your mental and physical health in this season.
And if you need more support as you make that transition to working from home long-term?
I offer a Remote Mentoring service which will help you tackle that inertia you’re feeling, and give you practical tools to get back to delivering on your targets.
Contact me to discuss your specific challenges and how I can help you.
You may not know it, but if you are based in the United Kingdom there are several funding options available for businesses, many of which were made available as a direct result of the pandemic.
While many are loan facilities such as the Bounce Back Loan Scheme, Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS) and Coronavirus Large Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CLBILS), there are three grants you should know about.
What Are Grants?
Grants are sums of money given by the government or a public body for a particular purpose and unlike loans, are not liabilities to be repaid.
There are eligibility criteria to meet, and bodies which provide funding through grants will usually specify what the money should be spent on.
Are There Problems Accessing Grants?
Especially for small and medium-sized enterprises there is a surprising amount of this kind of funding support available, but the challenge with gaining access is two-fold:
There is limited knowledge about their existence. They either tend notto be widely publicised, or there is a lack of adequate explanation about the nature of the funding and how it works. This is unfortunate, as businesses which desperately need the lifeline don’t get the opportunity to apply for it, as has been the case since the end of August . Schemes such as the Small Business Grant Fund (SBGF) and Retail, Hospitality and Leisure Grant Fund (RHLGF) were announced to provide relief to businesses as a result of the pandemic, but were ended a few months later without an estimated 2 in 5 eligible businesses applying.
When researching available grants, it is rare to find relevant information that is up-to-date and collated in one location in a way that is easy to read and assess.
What Small Business Grants Can You Apply For?
That being the case, here are 3 Small Business grants you can apply for right now:
1. THE EUROPEAN REGIONAL DEVELOPMENT FUND (ERDF) PROGRAMME
This was announced by the Minister for Regional Growth and Local Government in July, and consists of £20 million of new government funding to help smaller businesses recover from the effects of the pandemic.
Who Is It For?
Grants from this fund are for small and medium-sized businesses.
What Is The Grant Amount?
It is a one-off cash amount of between £1,000 and £5,000.
Who Distributes The Grant?
The grant is distributed by Growth Hubs, which bring together the best of public and private sector partners to promote, co-ordinate and deliver business support based on local needs. They are embedded in local areas across England.
Who Is Eligible?
Your business qualifies for this grant if it is based in England.
If your application is for less than 30 job placements, you’ll have to partner with other organisations to have a minimum of 30 placements. You can either find a representative to help you do this by getting in touch with your local Kickstart Scheme employer contact, or become a representative of a group of employers yourself.
What Else Do I Need To Know?
You’ll need the following details to complete your application:
The Companies House reference number.
The business address and contact details.
Details of the Kickstart scheme job placements and their location.
Supporting information to confirm the placements meet the criteria of the scheme.
Details of how the business can develop the employability skills of young people.
Once your submitted application is checked to make sure it meets the criteria, it will be reviewed by a panel. Current government estimates are that applications should be responded to within one month.
3. LOCAL LOCKDOWN GRANTS
To avoid a second wave and the need for another national lockdown, the government strategy to contain the spread of coronavirus now involves implementing restrictions on a local and regional basis.
Since many businesses caught up in these local lockdowns will see their revenue-generating activities halted, the Treasury has announced new funding to support and protect them.
Who Is It For?
Grants from this fund are for businesses forced to close as a result of local lockdowns or targeted restrictions.
What Is The Grant Amount?
Larger businesses will receive £1,500 every three weeks for the duration of any such closure. Smaller businesses will receive £1,000.
Who Distributes The Grant?
The grant is distributed by local authorities.
Who Is Eligible?
Your business qualifies for this grant if:
It is based in England.
Occupies a property or part pf a with a rateable value, annual rent or mortgage less than £51,000 (this qualifies for the £1,000 payment).
Occupies a property or part pf a property with a rateable value, annual rent or mortgage of £51,000 or more (this qualifies for the £1,500 payment).
Local authorities will also receive an additional 5% top up amount to enable them to help other businesses affected by closures which may not be on the business rates list. Payments made to businesses from this discretionary fund can be any amount up to £,1500, and may be less than £1,000 in some cases.
How Can You Make a Claim?
Contact your local authority.
What Else Do I Need To Know?
If you make a profit, you will be liable to pay tax on it.
What Are Your Next Steps?
If you think your business qualifies for one of these grants, speak to your accountant in the first instance to clarify details such as tax implications before completing and submitting an application.
Since the start of the pandemic, the government has announced financial support in excess of £300 billion to shore up individuals and business of all sizes.
The state had to intervene in unprecedented ways, from paying 80% of workers’ salaries through the furlough scheme to giving lifelines and loans to entire sectors.
But those significant levels of intervention have come at a cost.
The £300 billion wasn’t exactly sitting in a savings account; the Chancellor had to fund his announcements through borrowing. Fortunately interest rates on borrowing are at a historic low of 0.1%, but it means there is still a £300 billion-shaped hole in the public purse which must be repaid.
There have been hints and rumours about how the colossal expenditure of 2020 will be paid for. Will the Chancellor raise income tax? Is a return to austerity on the cards? Or, will corporation tax be increased?
Call me cynical, but my view is that many of these rumours emanate from the very heart of government itself, so they can get a read of how popular a policy might be if or when it’s announced.
But I digress. So far it’s clear that after a decade of George Osborne’s austerity, the electorate will not tolerate further cuts in public spending. Nor will income tax rises win this Conservative government votes at the next election. It might be four whole years away, but it’s always on the radar for politicians!
An increase in business rates might be the nail in the coffin for many businesses. Especially for a retail sector already on its knees before the pandemic which is now haemorrhaging money and employees with each passing day. So there is very little leeway to raise funds there.
What Has The Government Decided To Do?
The government is proposing an online sales tax.
For more background information on what it is check out my last blog post; essentially it will be a levy of 2% on all purchases made online, and also a tax on deliveries of items bought online.
What Was The Rationale Behind It?
The government clearly needs to find alternative sources of revenue. Fast!
Since retail is in dire straits and will take a long time to recover – if at all – there are high hopes that this new tax will raise something in the region of £2 billion each year. According to the government, this could potentially fund a cut in business rates to give the sector a much-needed reprieve.
However, I doubt such a cut will actually be implemented. And that lack of transparency is my first issue with this tax…
…why position it as support for retail, when there is a black hole in public finances to fill?
That aside, it seems like a good idea at first glance: online sales were booming even before the pandemic and have gone stratospheric since March. It makes sense to raise funds from one of the few areas of the economy that is performing well and forecast to grow even more for the foreseeable future.
Or, does it?
Why I’m Against the Online Sales Tax
I’ll lay my cards on the table: I’m not in favour of the proposed online sales tax.
I think it’s a bad idea, and here’s why:
1. Impact on SMEs:
According to the government’s own figures, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) account for three-fifths of the employment and around half of the turnover in the private sector. So, total employment in SMEs was 16.6 million (or 60% of the total) and turnover was £2.2 trillion (or 52% of the total).
However, these figures are due to be updated and do not take into account the effect of the pandemic. When that update is published, I suspect both figures will see a significant reduction.
These businesses have already borne (and in many cases, are still suffering from) the effects of the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent lockdown, and introducing a new tax as they seek to emerge from the doldrums could have a damaging and lasting effect, which is the opposite of what’s needed.
2. Who Really Picks Up The Bill?:
You’ve guessed it: these taxes will be passed on to consumers.
So, you and me.
That’s already happened with the digital services tax which came into effect in April: there are reports that companies such as Amazon have passed that tax onto its sellers, most of whom are small business owners who cannot afford to absorb it. Which raises the chances that the new digital services tax will be passed on to customers.
What’s to stop companies – especially multinationals who the government seems unable to hold accountable – from passing this new tax on to customers too?
Customers have already been battered and bruised by the pandemic. Official figures are yet to catch up and reflect current events, but estimates are that more than 600,000 people have lost their jobs. The last thing they need is a heavier tax burden!
And those who are lucky enough to still have an income and can afford to spend should be incentivised to do so, not penalised.
To all intents and purposes, we are still in the middle of a pandemic.
Not many individuals and businesses have escaped unscathed. Its effects are still unravelling, and my sense is that this is not a good time to announce new taxes or tax rises. Especially as so many businesses are falling into administration, and job losses mounting by the day.
I accept that the government needs to plan ahead. But I would suggest that a new tax on the few successful areas now will inhibit and penalise, rather than encourage, economic recovery.
What Alternatives Would I Suggest?
I’m neither naïve nor an anarchist; and we doneed to raise money for crucial public services to ensure education, universal healthcare and social welfare are always available for people as and when required.
But there are better, more efficient ways to fund them. I’m not an economist, and none of my suggestions have been costed. But here are some of the initiatives and actions I would suggest instead of a new online sales tax:
1. Focus On The Online Digital Services Tax:
This was introduced in April 2020. It applies to search engines, social media platforms and online marketplaces with global revenue of more than £500 million and UK revenue of more than £25 million.
It is specifically targeted at companies like Amazon, Facebook and Google which have historically paid very little tax due to accounting practices which mean sales are processed through countries with low corporation tax policies such as Ireland and Luxembourg.
The aim was to achieve global consensus on a digital tax but with little progress made, former Chancellor Philip Hammond announced the UK’s plan for a digital services tax in his October 2018 budget.
The amount it is forecast to raise each year varies depending on which publication you read; it could be anything between £275 million and £500 million.
And while there are obvious teething problems with it – see the paragraph above about who actually foots the bill for this – I would suggest that it makes sense to ask businesses with millions of users in the UK who generate huge profits for them to do more by paying this tax.
The government could focus on refining it to curb practices such Amazon’s, and create more of a level playing field.
2. Revise The Debt Repayment Schedule:
I don’t know what the Chancellor’s plan is for plugging the hole in our public finances, or how soon he hopes to get it done.
But if it’s in the next year or two? I would suggest extending that out, with a repayment plan that is less aggressive.
We all know we need the medicine, and that all the support provided was not free.
Nothing ever is!
But the medicine risks killing the patient, if prescribed in large doses.
Plugging the hole quickly may look good on paper. But is it the right move, considering the severe blows dealt by the pandemic and lockdown?
And will it do more harm than good?
3. Wholesale Review of Retail Sector and Business Rates System:
The government claims this new tax will potentially mean business rates can be cut.
As I’ve said, I’m doubtful that will happen.
But putting my cynicism aside, the truth is that retail has been on its knees for a long time.
A comprehensive review of the sector is urgently needed, and there have long been calls for an overhaul of the business rates system. A temporary rate reduction will not address the underlying issues and general view that it is no longer fit for purpose.
The system needs to be revisited and replaced with something that works for businesses and communities in the twenty-first century.
4. Fix The Leaks!:
It may surprise you to hear this, but many large companies get away with paying a fraction of the tax they should.
I’ve explained how internet giants have eluded paying the correct amount of corporation tax for so long, which brought about the digital services tax.
They are not the only ones; stories like this give the impression that once a company can afford expensive tax lawyers to handle their negotiations with HMRC, they can pay what they like instead of what they are actually liable for.
Unfortunately it sometimes appears to be one rule for one group, and another for the rest. As a small business owner, I certainly wouldn’t get away with trying to knock down how much corporation tax I pay…
…and I’m sure this is not an isolated example. It would be interesting to know how much has been “saved” by large companies in this way, and how that compares to the £2 billion the Chancellor hopes to raise with this new tax.
My suggestion? The government should ensure the rules are applied equally across the board. I know the government makes concessions and offers incentives to encourage businesses to invest, but after the initial one-offs there shouldn’t be further room to manoeuvre.
5. Stop The Waste:
Stories of wasted public funds abound, and I wonder if such practices would fly in a private organisation…
…there are too many to count, but I’ll give you a recent example. £15 billion was spent just in the last few months on the beleaguered test and trace system and personal protective equipment (PPE).
That sum alone covers this proposed tax for seven and a half years, and there are calls for a public inquiry to investigate how this was allowed to happen.
But that’s not all.
As I write, the test and trace system is stillnot fully operational. Experts say it is crucial when planning for the start of the academic year in September, and is also required if the rest of us are to return to some semblance of normality.
Yet, all that money has been spent and the world’s fifth largest economy does not have an effective tracking system to help combat the virus.
And the PPE? The whole batch was faulty and has now been condemned, as it did not meet basic standards set out by Public Health England.
It’s hard not to think that taxpayers are seen as an endless source of funds which can be frittered away at will.
The country is straining under the weight of the pandemic and besides, the business case has not been made for a new tax.
Following the series of financial packages announced by the UK government to support individuals and businesses through the coronavirus pandemic, one question has been on everyone’s mind:
How are we going to pay for it?
There had been hints and leaks that tax rises and austerity measures would be used to plug the £300 billion hole in public finances, which were subsequently denied. But the first official step has been taken by the government, with the Treasury consulting with industry on the best way to “provide a sustainable and meaningful revenue source for the government.”
Here is a summary of the proposed online sales tax, and how it could affect you if it is implemented.
What Is the Proposed Online Sales Tax?
There are actually two taxes being considered in relation to online sales.
The first is a two per cent tax on anything sold online. Early forecasts from the Treasury estimate that this will bring in an estimated amount of £2 billion each year.
However, note that this online sales tax is not the same as the digital services tax designed specifically for the likes of Facebook, Google and other international internet-based businesses which operate and have users in the UK.
Deliveries have increased significantly since the start of the pandemic, and the second proposal is to implement a tax on deliveries.
Why Were These Taxes Proposed?
The government believes that online retailers benefit disproportionately from the current tax system, while businesses with a physical High Street presence bear several financial burdens such as rents and business rates.
As the High Street has been in dire straits for a long time and is under even more pressure as a result of the pandemic, the thinking is that the £2 billion raised each year can be used to fund reductions in business rates for retail properties.
On the other hand, the delivery tax has been positioned as targeting traffic and congestion on the roads, with a view to achieving a reduction in toxic emissions and pollution.
When Will a Decision Be Made?
The government will make a decision on these proposals in the Spring of 2021.
And if you really want to know what I think about this proposed online sales tax? Have a look at my next post here.
And a tip: You don’t have to do this, but it might be easier to apply wherever you do your business banking, if they are on the list.
What Do I Need To Apply For a Bounce Back Loan?
The exact details of what you need to provide to apply for a Bounce Back Loan may vary slightly from lender to lender, but in broad terms this is what you’ll need to do:
You’ll be asked to fill in a short application.
You’ll be asked to confirm that you qualify, i.e. that you meet the criteria listed above.
To provide details about your business such as business name and address, contact details, and your annual turnover.
The process should be easier if you apply with your business bank, as there is already an existing working relationship. They already have some data and knowledge about you and your business, which should simplify and accelerate the application process.
What Should I Do Next:
If a Bounce Back Loan sounds like the kind of support you need or qualify for, it’s worth having an initial conversation with your accountant.
And once you decide to proceed, contact any of the banks listed in the list of lenders above to start your application.
Still Struggling To Understand How It Works?
If you need further clarification about the Bounce Back Loan Scheme (BBLS) and how it works, you can contact me here.
Did you listen to Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s Economic Statement last Wednesday 8 July?
“We will not be defined by this crisis, but by our response to it,” he said, and respond he did.
It was the second stage of his response to the coronavirus pandemic, and the focus is protecting, supporting and creating jobs.
The first stage involved providing crucial and immediate support in March through initiatives such as the Coronavirus Jobs Retention Scheme, where employees are furloughed on 80% of their salaries. £20.8 billion has been claimed by businesses so far, which has ensured that 9.1 million people kept their jobs.
However it was never expected to run indefinitely, and Mr Sunak confirmed the scheme will wind down by October and be replaced by a Jobs Retention Bonus Policy aimed at retaining people in work and staving off the threat of unemployment for millions.
Here’s a breakdown of the policy, and a summary of the Summer Economic Statement:
Protecting Existing Jobs
Jobs Retention Bonus Policy:
The policy has at its core a reward system for employers who bring back furloughed staff and retain them till January 2021. Companies will be paid a Jobs Retention Bonus of £1,000 for each employee, on the condition that they are paid a minimum of £520 per month.
Financial commitment: £9 billion.
Hospitality & Leisure:
There was an acknowledgement that these sectors employ more than 2 million people who tend to be among the lowest paid n the country. Consequently, people who work in this sector have been some of the hardest hit by the pandemic. And the numbers don’t lie; 1.4m have been furloughed!
The Chancellor announced two new measures to revive the hospitality and leisure industries. The first is a VAT reduction on food, accommodation and attractions such as amusement parks from 20% to 5%. The reduction on this sales tax takes effect on Wednesday 15 July and will run until 12 January 2021.
It’s expected to benefit 150,000 businesses and protect 2.4 million jobs.
Financial commitment: £4 billion.
The second measure to facilitate recovery in the hospitality and leisure sectors has been designed specifically to get customers back into restaurants and pubs. The government-backed “Eat Out to Help Out” discount will be available for everyone in the country to use on certain weekdays this August.
Patrons will benefit from a 50% discount (up to a maximum of £10 per head) from Monday – Wednesday for the month, and businesses can register from Monday 13 July.
Supporting People To Find Jobs
A new kickstart scheme targeted at young people will pay employers to create new jobs for 16-24 year-olds at risk of long-term unemployment.
To qualify, the jobs must last six months, be for at least 25 hours per week and pay at least minimum wage. With a £6,500 grant per person and no cap on available places, the expectation is that this guarantees that the youth do not bear the brunt of the economic effects of the pandemic.
Financial commitment: £2 billion.
Apprenticeships, Trainees & Support for the Unemployed:
Mr Sunak also announced schemes to encourage employers to take on trainees, Career Advisers to support 250,000 people, an expansion of the universal skills offer (with plans to triple existing places), apprenticeships funded at £2,000 each, and support for the unemployed with more work coaches, and £1 billion pumped into the Department for Work and Pensions to help support people back into work.
A Green Recovery:
Government ministers have previously talked about making this a green recovery, and the Chancellor announced a historic investment in infrastructure & jobs in the sector by way of a green homes grant, which will provide homeowners and landlords with vouchers to make their homes more energy-efficient from September.
Expected to make 650,000 homes more energy-efficient, the vouchers will cover two-thirds of the cost or £5,000 per household. This will double for low income households.
Financial commitment: £2 billion.
Stamp Duty Cut:
Probably the most eye-catching announcement was the immediate cut in stamp duty on property sale transactions below £500,000 until 31 March 2021. This is expected to resuscitate the property industry and In the Chancellor’s estimation, this temporary cut will benefit 9 out of 10 people buying their main home.
Total financial commitment for these announcements and initiatives is £30 billion. The third phase of his coronavirus response will be announced as part of the Autumn Budget & Spending Review.