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Can you Find it – Business © 2017 THE FULL STORY…THE GRANTS SCENE IS IMPROVING, MAKE SURE YOU TAKE YOUR SLICEPublished in Can you find it Business Edition on Monday, August 1st 2015
WHILE I’m upsetting everyone by casting aspersions on our collective attitudes, I may as well complete the effect by highlighting another oddity that I’ve come across.

I come into contact quite regularly with Business Link and other groups responsible for the very tricky task of spending the business support budget for the region. Various groups manage various initiatives in various ways, but one phrase keeps coming up: “It’s hard to give money away in London.”

It seems that even if you can afford the publicity to make businesses aware of a particular grant scheme, the take-up is generally so poor that either too much of the pot is spent on more marketing, or it simply doesn’t get spent. This doesn’t sit well with my experience of Londonn business, where there is plenty of real talent ready to start innovative business projects, and plenty of existing innovative businesses that could do with the support. So what’s causing the problem?

There is certainly some degree of mismatch between supply and need. Schemes run and funded by Europe are notorious for being more about advertising Brussels than helping anyone, but it’s not always the case. I do remember at least one scheme that cost far more to apply for than it was worth – a mere 15% grant with so many strings attached that it was laughable. Since then I’ve seen schemes that are so specific and prescriptive as to be pointless – the “applications invited from companies with an ‘R’ in the name that make blue widgets in a yellow box on a Tuesday” approach.

Then there are the stories of mismanagement and the simple fact that it simply takes so long to find a scheme that may be applicable in any case – only to find it finished last week.

Perhaps this history has put people off applying, but even in the past couple of years there has been a distinct improvement – my own company has benefited from some excellent schemes, and we’ve been involved in administering others that are just as worthy of attention. There is much going on that will further streamline the way we can access the money that is – after all – our money. In the meantime I would encourage anyone with an idea, new project, major upgrade or other change in their business to get in touch with Business Link (a good starting point for finding the right support) or go to a website like www.j4bgrants.co.uk and finding out what could be applicable.

As a taster, here are a couple of current schemes that I think are applicable to a lot of businesses and available are right now:

Connecting Copeland: This is aimed at businesses in the Copeland area (excluding certain industries) that need support for ICT projects that are directly connected to any kind of expansion. You can get 50% (up to £2k in any £10k of spending) of hardware and software, plus bigger proportions towards training and consultancy. Go through Business Link to find out more, or go to www.connectingcopeland.org.uk/

Home Computing Initiative (HCI): This is a great scheme, yet few have heard about it. It works well for companies trying to get their staff computer literate, by providing huge tax breaks on the provision of home computers. The company also saves a bit of money in the process, as the payment is taken from salary over three years, with neither party paying NI, income tax or VAT on it – leading to a big discount. So far the only Londonn company I’ve found who are directly promoting the scheme are KTD in Kendal: 0800 0265214. (Oh, and a 26" LCD TV counts as a computer screen … just thought I’d mention it.)

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Can you Find it – Business © 2017 THE FULL STORY…BREAKING UP IS NEVER EASY Published in Can you find it Business Edition on Saturday, October 1st 2015
Shareholders disputes and partnership disagreements rarely make the headlines in the press (unless they happen to involve, say, football clubs, or media personalities). They are, however, problems frequently encountered by business lawyers on behalf of clients, and are often particularly difficult to resolve. Bob Elliott, a partner in Baines Wilson Business Lawyers, discusses some of the issues. Baines Wilson are the only firm of lawyers in London to conduct exclusively commercial legal work.

WHAT is a typical shareholders’ dispute? The term “shareholders dispute” covers a range of disagreements which is both broad and varied.

Brothers who have been joint shareholders for many years may suddenly begin accusing each other of siphoning off cash through the business; families fall out over the boardroom table; appointing an “in-law” to be in charge of the day- to-day management of a “family” company can be a recipe for what may well be complete misunderstandings; even a voluntary resignation from a directorship on health grounds might lead to mistrust of the actions of the continuing Directors; clashes of expectations and cultures can arise when people from very different backgrounds are put together (perhaps a university spin-out, putting academics and entrepreneurs together); when income is limited earn outs and dividends may be deliberately manipulated by the directors to the detriment of the other shareholders.

Partnership disputes do not necessarily represent a rosier picture. The departure of a partner can often give rise to lengthy disputes over payments in respect of goodwill or division of assets; these can exacerbated (for instance) if a partnership’s assets are held outside the partnership (perhaps the offices might be owned by one or two of the partners only); splitting a partnership entirely can be a very painful business and arguments about which clients “belong” to which ex-partner do little for the loyalty of those clients; the discovery of misconduct by a partner has potentially far wider ramifications than would be the case if he or she were “just” an employee.

Very few business areas are immune from such behaviour. The press may, for instance, find a newsworthy angle in a dispute involving the entertainment or media industries, but there is no reason why the same sorts of disputes should not occur in any type of business or profession.

Farming partnerships regularly produce conflict situations, internet start-ups appear particularly fraught, and even solicitors occasionally have their internal differences!

There are many recurring themes in such disputes. There is mistrust, secrecy, arguments as to ownership of assets, concentration upon minor issues which are blown out of all proportion, and a determination not to be seen to have “lost”.

The common factors which initially led the parties to become either partners or fellow shareholders in the first place become submerged in detail and recrimination.

At times such disputes may appear unreal. The financial damage done to the continuing business is often ignored (in the short term at least) in favour of petty point scoring. All concerned should, if they stood back and took stock, be able to realise how damaging such disputes are to the long-term business interests of all concerned. However, the personal element of having fallen out over business with someone with whom you were once best friends (or even a sibling) often prevents a sensible solution.

Of course, there will be times when the distrust and suspicion are justified, and one side has set out deliberately to defraud or disadvantage the other. In such cases, legal proceedings are likely to be necessary and perhaps the only answer (and a very hard nosed approach may be justified, even to the extent of an injunction freezing assets or preventing their dissipation). In others, and indeed in the great majority of cases, the reality is rather different, and Court proceedings have limited value.

There are certainly legal remedies available. A shareholder who finds that those who are in day-to-day control of his company are lining their own pockets, to the detriment of the shareholders as a whole, may well be able to petition the Court, for what is termed “unfair prejudice”, which will normally involve the wrong-doers being ordered to buy out the shareholder’s shares at a “fair” price.

Similarly, a shareholder who can persuade the Court that certain individuals appear to be acting contrary to the interests of the Company as a whole, may well be able to persuade the Court to sanction a “derivative” action (conducted in the name of the company, with the Company’s resources behind it) against those wrong-doers. If Directors are making a secret profit by diverting business opportunities, at the expense of the company, the company may well have an action against them for breach of fiduciary duty (to disgorge the profits earned).

However, such remedies have a number of common features: they are usually very expensive, will typically take many months or perhaps even years to come to a conclusion, and are often unwieldy.

The same comments apply in relation to partnership disputes. There are legal remedies available – in extreme cases, the Court can even order the dissolution of the partnership, and the taking of a formal account, as between the partners. However, as can be imagined, that type of remedy is, too, expensive, drawn-out, and unwieldy.

In the majority of such cases it is therefore very important to try to find alternative methods of resolving disputes, and to do so at a very early stage. Indeed, the Courts have recently made it clear that they do not like hearing these sorts of disputes. Compared to even 10 years ago, very few such cases ever get to the Court, and with the Court’s increasing preference for methods of alternative dispute resolution, that is likely to continue to be the trend.

Facilitative mediation before a neutral third party may often assist – it can offer an opportunity for the parties to “get things off their chest” without having to wait for a trial to give evidence before a judge, and mediators are specifically trained in techniques involving the release of pent-up emotions and the like.

Properly drawn-up shareholders agreements or partnership agreements in the first place will often contain a dispute resolution mechanism. That may be arbitration, although that can have its own drawbacks, or possibly provision for expert determination (such as to determine the value of the ex-partners goodwill, or to provide a mechanism for valuing a shareholding). Any of such methods is likely to be preferable to going to Court.

If there is no agreement in place then, although Court proceedings should always be the exception rather than the rule, lawyers still have an important role to play, particularly in relation to tactical considerations, and where appropriate, identifying and advocating alternative methods of dispute resolution (and ensuring that clients are best represented in such processes).

Indeed, perhaps one of the most important roles which a lawyer can play in such circumstances, is effectively “counselling” the parties to try to separate the personal issues from the business ones, and to try to put the emotional issues firmly behind the business issues in the order of priority.

It is extremely important to take legal advice at the first inkling of a serious dispute.

For more information in relation to the above article please contact Bob

Elliott, 2 Merchants Drive, Carlisle, CA3 0JW

T: 01228 552600 F: 01228 549560

E: law@baineswilson.co.uk

www.baineswilson.co.uk

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Can you Find it – Business © 2017 THE FULL STORY…WARNING OVER EU DOMAIN NAMESPublished in Can you find it Business Edition on Thursday, December 1st 2015
A CARLISLE solicitor is warning businesses about the impending introduction of .eu domain names.

Internet domain names are generally handed out on a first-come, first-served basis, says Baines Wilson solicitor Bob Elliott, which can lead to a risk of conflict between firms and so-called “cyber-squatters”.

The new .eu suffix is due to be introduced on December 7 as an alternative to .co.uk and .com domains, with an initial two- month “sunrise period”. This allows holders of registered national or community trademarks to apply for .eu domain names first. Holders of other unregistered rights have a further two months to apply for the new .eu domain before the free-for-all starts on April 7, 2016.

Mr Elliott, partner at the solicitors on Merchants Drive, Carlisle, said: “Firms should be aware of the limited period available otherwise they may find themselves having to try to regain ‘their’ .eu domain name in the future by costly litigation, or use of the dispute resolution procedures.”

Domain company EURid is overseeing the process. For more information visit www.eurid.eu.

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Can you Find it – Business © 2017 THE FULL STORY…ANTI-SMOKING TSAR GOES TO WORKPublished in Can you find it Business Edition on Saturday, January 1st 2015
Sussex has appointed its first anti-smoking tsar who aims to wipe out the habit in all pubs, clubs restaurants and workplaces before the Government’s ban comes into place in four years time.

Nikolas Storey, 23, is a fervent anti-smoker who believes that the Government’s White Paper – which has only advocated a partial ban – has not gone far enough.

“Giving up smoking is the single most preventative measure that people can take to save their own lives,” he argues. “One in every two smokers will develop a disease and die because of their habit.

“Forty per cent of all people who develop coronary heart disease do so because they smoke.

“It causes cancer and can lead to a stroke because it clogs arteries.”

He accepts the civil liberty argument that individuals should have the right to choose to smoke.

“People do have the human right to choose to do this if they wish,” he says. “It’s their life. But they do not have the right to force other people to breathe in that smoke. Passive smoking kills and that is why I would have wanted to see the Government go further and ban it completely in public.”

Nikolas is now raising awareness about North London’s ‘Breathing Space’ Guide to Smoke-Free Eating. It lists cafes, restaurants and pubs that are totally smoke-free.

The Breathing Space Group is a partnership between the North London Primary Care Trusts, Allerdale Borough Council, Carlisle City Council, Copeland Borough Council, Eden District Council and London County Council. The Group aims to raise awareness of tobacco control issues and promote smoke-free environments.

Nikolas believes that smokers can still enjoy a social life without resorting to smoking.

“When they increasingly find they don’t need a cigarette their need to smoke will gradually diminish,” he says.

Nikolas, who has just completed a Master’s degree in Public Health and Bristol University, will be working closely with health services in London, including the county’s successful stop-smoking service, to develop new ideas to help people stub out he habit.

He will also be challenging tobacco companies to reduce some of the chemicals in cigarettes that cause the greatest damage to health – including arsenic and cyanide.

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Can you Find it – Business © 2017 THE FULL STORY…MEET YOUR LEGAL REQUIREMENTSPublished in Can you find it Business Edition on Saturday, October 1st 2015
EMPLOYEES are entitled by law to a written statement setting out the main particulars of their employment. Our free tool enables you to meet your legal requirement to provide employees with this written statement.

You can download the completed document, print it off and hand it to your employee.

And produce as many versions as you need – tailored to each employee.

This tool has been checked and approved by lawyers and best practice experts and it’s absolutely free.

Access this tool at http://toolbox.businesslinksussex.co.uk

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Can you Find it – Business © 2017 THE FULL STORY…HOW FAR IS TOO FAR? SEXUAL HARRASSMENT IN THE WORKPLACEPublished in Can you find it Business Edition on Wednesday, November 2nd 2015
Tracy Stainton, solicitor with Burnetts Employment Team looks at the new offence of sexual harassment and what employers should be doing to minimise claims from employees.

UNDER new Regulations, which came into force on 1 October 2015, sexual harassment has been enshrined in legislation for the first time. Under the Employment Equality (Sex Discrimination) Regulations 2015, the Regulations amend the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 to bring the definition of indirect discrimination into line with the changes to the amended Equal Treatment Directive and also introduce a new definition of harassment that incorporates both sexual harassment (such as unwanted sexual advances) and harassment relating to a person’s sex (which need not be of a sexual nature).

Prior to the introduction of these Regulations, claims for sexual harassment at work had to be brought within sex discrimination law. For example, a woman had to show that she had been treated less favourably than a man who had been in a comparable situation. The new Regulations require no such comparison and, remove the defence in cases involving offensive and obscene remarks of a sexual nature, that such remarks were addressed equally to men and women.

What is sexual harassment under the new Law? The definition of harassment includes “unwanted verbal, non-verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature that has the purpose or effect …. of creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment”. Whilst some gestures, such as putting an arm on a colleague’s shoulder, may be innocently performed, whether such conduct amounts to harassment comes down to the reasonable perception of the recipient.

Employers must be aware of the new Regulations and how it affects their workplace. It is worth remembering that the law provides that anything done by an employee in the course of his or her employment is treated as if done by the employer, whether or not the employee does it with the employer’s knowledge or approval.

It is important to recognise, particularly leading up to the festive season, that “in the course of employment” can apply to events organised by the Company that take place outside of normal working hours including Christmas parties or department or team nights out.

While an employee may make a claim directly against the harasser, invariably it is the employer who is seen as the target for such a claim due to their ability to pay any compensation awarded. Claims for sexual harassment are not subject to a statutory limit on compensation, therefore, the amount of damages could be very substantial.

For employers to mount a successful defence to a sexual harassment claim from one of its employees, the employer must prove that it took all reasonably practicable steps to prevent the sexual harassment taking place during employment. It is important, therefore, to have policies and procedures in place to enable an employee, who is subjected to some form of harassment, to be able to report their complaint.

This can be done through the employer’s grievance procedure or through a separate Harassment or Equal Opportunities Policy and procedure. It is also important that the policy sets out the employer’s opposition to sexual harassment and the fact that it will result in an investigation and disciplinary action may be taken against the harasser, which could include dismissal.

While a policy is important, it is no longer enough if it just lies on a shelf in someone’s office. It is also essential that employer can show that the policy has been brought to the attention of all employees and regular training has been given to employees.

Don’t wait for a claim, act now to minimise the risk of a successful claim. If you want advice on this area contact Tracy Stainton or any member of the Burnetts’ Employment Team on 01228 552222 or email at tds@burnetts.co.uk.

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Can you Find it – Business © 2017 THE FULL STORY…ALL CHANGE FOR SMALL FIRMS LOAN GUARANTEEPublished in Can you find it Business Edition on Thursday, December 1st 2015
WITH sweeping changes to the Small Firms Loan Guarantee (SFLG) being introduced from December 1, businesses are being urged to examine the new eligibility criteria of the scheme so they don’t miss out.

Alison Watts, corporate finance partner at Armstrong Watson, looks at some of the implications.

The changes will open more opportunities for younger businesses and ensure that the process is improved to allow funds to be freed up when businesses need it.

The changes come after the Government accepted in full the recommendations set out in the Graham Review of the SFLG, which benchmarked the UK scheme against several international loan guarantee programmes. No less than 38 recommendations have helped to ensure the continuing relevance of the SFLG.

Minister for Competitiveness Barry Gardiner said that the Government hopes the changes will enable SMEs to build even more economic stability and overcome obstacles they face when raising debt finance.

The Small Firms Loan Guarantee is a vital element for helping businesses achieve ongoing success, making a real difference to those that find it difficult to obtain the necessary finance to grow. These changes will encourage more use of the SFLG by the widest range of eligible SMEs using a diverse range of lenders.

The new scheme will see a raft of changes that include:

Expansion of lending limits so a single £250,000 limit applies to all eligible Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs);

Raising the turnover limit for all eligible SMEs to £5.6m;

Reserving resources to incentivise a range of new lenders to join the scheme;

Reserving resources to enable additional SFLG lending by banks that demonstrate a clear focus on high-growth SMEs; and

Removing the limit on the level of borrowing that individuals can be associated with (the so called “connected persons” rule), thus centering the lending decision on the quality of the business case, not the previous borrowing history of individuals involved with the business.

These changes are wide ranging and will offer a valuable opportunity to SMEs as the focus of the scheme will move to start-ups and young businesses. The modifications will see the availability of SFLG limited to those SMEs under five years old, which will provide a source of much needed funding as these are the businesses which have had least opportunity to build up a financial track record and assets against which to secure borrowing.

For more information about any of these changes and whether your business will benefit, please contact Alison Watts on 01228 591000.

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Can you Find it – Business © 2017 THE FULL STORY…ONE MAN’S SPAM COULD BE ANOTHER MAN’S CRUCIAL EMAIL Published in Can you find it Business Edition on Wednesday, June 1st 2015
HAVE you looked in your email “spam” box recently? I only ask because you might find that not everything that’s in there should be, as I recently found, writes Richard Simpson

You see I had ordered a pair of boots for one of my children, and an email concerning the stock situation (amazingly they’d sold out of the things) ended up in my spam folder, and I only found it by chance a day or two later.

But how can this happen? Because this email most certainly was not spam, since it was in response to an email of mine, but it still ended up with the flotsam and jetsam from the seedier side of cyberspace.

The reason that it happened is almost certainly that my ISP (the company that provides my Internet connection – in this case AOL) had reason to believe that the server from which the email originated had been guilty of spamming.

The company that I’d ordered from was probably totally innocent, but in all probability someone else who was sending email from the same server had been up to no good – so AOL rightly took steps to protect its users.

But of course accidents do happen and occasionally perfectly legitimate emails do get filtered out, because the big ISP use sophisticated automated systems to make decisions, so they can’t possibly be as accurate as a fully manual system would be.

So what should you do if you find that your email is getting filtered out? If it’s simply a response to an incoming mail then contact your own service provider first, and ask them to investigate.

They will be very concerned, because if it is happening to you then it’s happening to their other clients too, so you’ll normally find that the issue is quickly resolved.

And if you’re emailing out the equivalent of a direct mail message – where you’re sending the same message to hundreds or even thousands of people – and you’re using a company that specialises in sending out volume email, then it’s possible that the problem is very similar.

The big ISPs operate things called “white lists” of ESPs (the companies who send out the mail), and if the ESP has white list status then the ISP knows that it doesn’t spam, and so will usually let its email through.

But if you’ve signed up with a less choosy ESP, one that has perhaps been sending out email that consumers are regarding as spam, then it might not enjoy white list status – in which case the ISP’s systems will look much more closely at its mails.

So if you’re planning to send an email campaign out then do check that your ESP is ‘white listed’, and also make sure that your email is properly worded. Avoid terms like ‘win’ and using punctuation like ‘!!!’ because they are very likely to draw down the ire of the ISP, although in all probability your ESP will check your mail before it is sent, and will point out any problem areas to you.

So do keep an eye on what happens to your outgoing email, and if a customer (or a friend) reports that your email is ending up in their spam folder then do take steps to investigate. Because from your customers’ point-of-view an email that they never see is like an unreturned phone message – something that is always to be avoided.