Do you need help upskilling?

A new project has been launched to support Lancashire SMEs in increasing the skills and capability of their employees.

The UpSkilling Lancashire project team will help businesses identify, design, develop and implement workforce education training programmes in response to the needs of the company.

WNJ is looking to make its clients aware of the benefits of the programme, which was officially launched last month, and how they can use it to develop the skills of their workers.

Charlotte Duffell (pictured), project manager of UpSkilling Lancashire, says the project, funded by the European Social Fund, will support businesses to become more competitive and to achieve their strategic goals.

She said: “The programme has been launched to support SMEs bridge skills gaps through, among other initiatives, workplace training, an important aspect of workforce development.

“Every business has different needs, which is why the team works closely with the employer to gain an understanding of the business objectives to determine exactly the level and type of support they require.

“It will assist SMEs in gaining the competitive edge required to be able to achieve growth and success, providing a vital boost to Lancashire and helping to promote the county as a place where businesses can thrive.”

UpSkilling Lancashire is led by the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan), in partnership with Burnley College, Edge Hill University, Forest of Bowland (Area of Outstanding Beauty) Project, Lancaster and Morecambe College, Myerscough College and Preston’s College.

There are many services available through the programme, including
• Suggested pathways to training opportunities, workshops and courses
• Guidance on the Lancashire apprenticeship offer up to degree level
• Utilising current student knowledge and skills via placements and internships
• Connecting businesses who can benefit from working together whilst supporting the local economy

To qualify for free support through Upskilling Lancashire, businesses must be based in Lancashire and employ 250 employees or less.

For more information on the programme, contact 01772 895500.

Have you got a great idea?

A project based at the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) is working hard to provide SMEs with the essential tools to develop product ideas from concept to market.

The Innovation Clinic is now offering free workshops on ‘developing a new product’ as it looks to engage with more Lancashire businesses.

One of the sessions will take place on Wednesday May 1 at The Whitaker in Rawtenstall.

WNJ has referred a number of its clients looking to develop their ideas to The Innovation Clinic team and the workshop is a great way for businesses to tap into their expertise.

The workshop sessions aim to guide SME’s through the key steps of product development, with clinic experts sharing their industry knowledge on:

• What makes a good product
• Understanding your market – competitors, demand and legislation
• The importance of design
• New product development – the steps
• Understanding the cost involved
• Routes to funding
• 1:1 specialist advice

The Innovation Clinic has extended its support and expert advice to more than 175 Lancashire SME’s and is looking to help more businesses in the county.

WNJ is delighted to be able to signpost clients to these opportunities and work alongside the Innovation Clinic to help our clients grow their businesses.

Since its creation more than five years ago its aim has been to reduce failure rates of new product development as well as promote a successful innovation culture in Lancashire.

And it is having success, helping businesses in sectors from engineering to sports equipment to bring new products to market.

Its team brings together extensive industry and academic expertise, state of the art facilities and technology to provide fully funded and tailored support.

And it is available at any stage of the development process – from initial concept and market research right through to launch.

Speaking last year Iain Martin, who helped set up the programme, explained: “Having an idea is one thing; that idea being good is another thing and actually being able to roll that good idea out in a commercially viable way is yet another.

“What we do is sit down and work with the business at any stage of the process. For instance, we’ll help them to sense check their idea, to really evaluate if it is any good and also if there is a market demand for it.”

To register for the free workshop log on to: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/developing-a-new-product-by-uclan-innovation-clinic-free-workshops-tickets-58442703700

Under the microscope

As figures reveal, HMRC’s investigative work is more focused and better targeted than ever before. In 2017-18 the taxman collected £30.3bn through compliance activity.

There are now many more trained investigation specialists – and they are using the latest technology and information at their disposal to launch campaigns and set up taskforces designed to maximise tax revenues.

HMRC’s ‘Connect System’ currently selects nine out of every ten enquiries. It is designed specifically to identify those who may have paid to little tax.

Even if you have done nothing wrong, you can be selected – and that means that no-one is immune to scrutiny.

No business is too small or too large for HMRC to challenge and those targeted include cash businesses, tradespeople, farmers, medical professionals and solicitors.

There is no doubt that tax investigations can be massively disruptive for businesses. They can also be lengthy affairs, enquires can take years to conclude.

Small businesses in particular may have fewer resources to cope with the exercise. There is the time that needs to be spent managing an inquiry and co-operating with the inspectors, not to mention the potential cost in terms of professional fees.

Here is just one example. HMRC opened a full enquiry into a self-employed caterer. The Inspector requested all of the books and records at the outset and subsequently made further enquiries about the expenses claimed.

The practice managed to close the enquiry through correspondence alone, with no adjustments required to the return. Yet the fees still amounted to £2,000.

In another recent case a law firm was subject to an employer compliance review with the taxman specifically considering the status of self-employed workers.

The accountant challenged HMRC’s view that the workers should have been employees.

After a four year enquiry a successful outcome was achieved. However, accountancy costs in respect of the investigation came to £10,000.

These cases, and many others, highlight why it is as important as ever for you to protect against these costs.

Tax Enquiry Fee Protection Insurance schemes, like the one operated by WNJ, can give people piece of mind and help protect them.

For a small yearly cost, professional fees for defending clients in tax enquiries can be claimed under this insurance policy.

Clients in the scheme are also able to obtain helpful advice about the complex areas of Health and Safety and Employment Law, with access to a team of qualified solicitors and barristers.

We can’t take away the stress and anxiety of being under investigation. But we can remove the cost and work to achieve the best outcome.

If you would like to discuss any aspect of this article, want more information about protection from HMRC investigation, or have any tax queries or concerns please contact me on 01772 430000

Cloud accounting – how we can help

Cloud accounting software is changing the way that businesses operate their bookkeeping functions.

With the imminent introduction of Making Tax Digital (MTD) it is important to consider whether this software could assist your business, not only allowing you to file your VAT returns but also enabling you to take advantage of numerous efficiency and cost saving benefits.

At WNJ, we have a dedicated team that can help and advise you and who are all cloud accounting specialists. We work closely with expert providers; Xero, Sage, QuickBooks and FreeAgent to give our clients the best solutions that suit their individual accounting needs.

We will set you up and train you to use all of the functions with confidence. And we can also provide a full or partial outsourced book keeping service.

To discuss cloud accounting benefits and determine which provider would be best suit your business, please call me on 01772 430000.

The advantages of going digital

HMRC’s vision to digitalise the UK tax system is nearly upon us as VAT registered businesses with turnover above £85,000 will be required to use compatible software to maintain their records and to update the taxman quarterly, starting from April.

It may seem like a minefield but help is available when it comes to digital tax advice – and making sure you have the systems and processes to meet the challenge and the switch-over can even help when it comes to running your business.

Whilst much of the press and media coverage has been highlighting the cost to small business of this new legislation, here at WNJ we believe that for many businesses it will be the catalyst to a new age where the legislation is forcing changes which will in a relatively short period of time allow savings in time and money.

Whilst there are many different accounting software solutions, here at WNJ we have ensured that our dedicated Cloud Accounting team have the expertise to show business owners how the use of appropriate software will reap these benefits.

A good accounting solution allows easy invoicing, including quotes, estimates and statements – all you need to do business and get paid. You can track what you’re owed so you can see how much each customer owes at -a-glance and chase overdue balances. And it allows you to bank securely and accurately. It is also time-saving, bank transactions effortlessly flow into software and can be automatically matched to your invoices.

The available software also produces reports such as profit and loss, balance sheet, trial balance, and more – these are ‘clever reports’ that empower business decisions.
It also takes care of VAT when it comes to calculating and submitting returns, giving confidence with compliance. And it’s functions include the ability to produce cashflow forecasts that will allow businesses to plan ahead.

Access to invoicing and expenses apps mean you can work at the office, at home or on-the-go on your computer, tablet, and phone – whenever you need it. And the package can also help speed up sales and purchases, and calculate profit.

There are free webinars available for clients to get the most out of the software and we are always happy to help clients with queries and problem solving.

WNJ has hosted a number of seminars already and plan more over the next year to give clients a further insight into the potential benefits and capabilities of Cloud Accounting.

To discuss the software available and any aspects of the government’s digital tax drive, please call me on 01772 430000.

Making Tax Digital – The Facts

Tax Digital is a key part of government plans to make it easier for individuals and businesses to get their tax right and keep on top of their affairs.

There’s now just a few weeks to go until HMRC’s digital platform will be mandatory for the filing of all business VAT returns – and as the countdown continues the government says the project is “on track”.

HMRC’s ambition is to become “one of the most digitally advanced tax administrations in the world”.

Here are some key facts about the MTD switch and what you need to do to ensure you meet the taxman’s deadline:

• Making Tax Digital relates to changes introduced by HMRC, for businesses in terms of the way accounting records are kept.
• If you run a VAT-registered business with a taxable turnover above the VAT registration threshold – currently £85,000- you are required to keep digital VAT business records and send returns using Making Tax Digital (MTD)-compatible software.
• The vast majority of businesses will need to do this for VAT periods starting on or after April 1st.

When will the MTD changes impact my business?

MTD Impact

wdt_ID Usual Quarter End MTD filing for VAT Quarters
2 March/June/Sept/Dec 2019 1st April - 30th June 2019
3 Jan/Apr/July/Oct 2019 1st May - 31st July 2019
4 Feb/May/Aug/Nov 2019 1st June - 31st August 2019

VAT registered businesses with a taxable turnover below the VAT threshold can also sign up for MTD for VAT voluntarily.
If your taxable turnover drops below the VAT registration threshold at any point after April 1 you are still required to continue to keep digital records and send HMRC your VAT returns using MTD-compatible software unless you de-register from VAT or if you are exempt from MTD for VAT.

HMRC is encouraging businesses with a taxable turnover below the VAT threshold to sign up so they can also benefit from MTD.

To discuss any issues regarding the HMRC’s MTD plans and how we can help you meet the deadline, please contact me on 01772 430 000.

Making New Year resolutions that work

It’s that time of year when we look to make resolutions. Filled with good intentions we set off on our New Year exercise regime with vigour, only to stop going to the gym in February.

It can be the same with the resolutions you make for your business. But here are three resolutions that you can keep to help in 2019.

1. Don’t wait until the last minute

Make sure that you start your tax return procedure well in advance. Have the conversation with us early rather than later.

The longer we have to look at your affairs the better we can advise you – and it also pays to talk to us. You may be missing out on tax relief in some areas.

Keep all the key dates for filing and payment in your diary. And aim to keep on top of all your tax issues – it’s one less pressure point in a busy schedule. We’re here to help.

2. Look at your workflow

If you’re becoming bogged down with financial paperwork it may pay to look to outsource your bookkeeping and payroll – freeing you up for other parts of the business.

Keeping your financial records up to date is vital for any business – and not just for tax purposes. Maintaining cash flow and forecasting your business’ performance can go a long way to keeping you on track. Getting experts in can be a big help.

There is no doubt the increasingly complex world of payroll is also causing major headaches for many small and medium sized businesses as they struggle to cope with the growing burden of red tape.

3. Get set for MTD

The countdown to Making Tax Digital (MTD) is now well and truly on – so make sure that you are ready for any changes you might need to make.

As part of MTD, businesses registered for VAT with a taxable turnover above the VAT registration threshold of £85,000 will need to keep VAT records digitally and file their VAT returns using MTD compatible software.

This will start from their first VAT period starting on or after April 1 next year.

Businesses with a taxable turnover below the VAT threshold will not have to operate MTD, but can still choose to do so voluntarily.

VAT Notice 700/22: Making Tax Digital for VAT provides information to customers and adds to amendments to the VAT Regulations made earlier this year.

WNJ also has a dedicated team which we have put together to address MTD issues and to help our clients chose, install and train how to best use the different software on offer.

To discuss any of these issues please contact me on 01772 430000.

Turning ideas into business

A project based at the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) is working to ensure that innovative businesses can take their great ideas and turn them into profits.

Launched five years ago The Innovation Clinic exists to support Lancashire businesses in the development of new products and services.

WNJ has referred a number of its clients looking to develop their ideas to the programme.

Its aim is to reduce failure rates of new product development as well as promote a successful innovation culture in Lancashire.

And it is having success, helping businesses in sectors from engineering to sports equipment to bring new products to market.

Its team brings together extensive industry and academic expertise, state of the art facilities and technology to provide fully funded and tailored support.

And it is available at any stage of the development process – from initial concept and market research right through to launch.

The programme is part-funded by the European Regional Development fund (ERDF) and works closely with Boost, Lancashire’s Business Growth Hub.

To qualify for the programme your business or new business idea must be based in the county, employ fewer than 250 full time people and have an annual turnover below £40 million and/or an annual balance sheet total of less than £35m.

Iain Martin (pictured), who helped set up the programme, says: “We work with people to understand the potential of a product before they commit to the expense of opening up tooling, developing prototypes and awarding production contracts.”

The team also works with businesses researching and testing products as part of the innovation journey – that may mean validating their benefits and usability as well as measuring performance.

Along the way there is support when it comes to developing materials and prototypes as well as product design concepts, brand development and market strategy advice.

Iain adds: “Having an idea is one thing; that idea being good is another thing and actually being able to roll that good idea out in a commercially viable way is yet another.

“What we do is sit down and work with the business at any stage of the process. For instance, we’ll help them to sense check their idea, to really evaluate if it is any good and also if there is a market demand for it.”

To discuss if you could benefit from the programme contact me on please contact me on 01772 430000.

Email: innovationclinic@uclan.ac.uk or call Carl on 01772 892703 and Rory on 01772 892707 for more information.

Do you still qualify for entrepreneurs’ relief?

The good news is Entrepreneurs’ Relief remains an attractive proposition for many business owners as they look to sell all or part of their company.

The less good news is the changes to the system announced in Chancellor Philip Hammond’s recent Budget, which could impact on their qualification for the scheme.

Two additional tests have been introduced – which means business owners will need to review their situation to ensure that they still qualify.

Entrepreneurs’ Relief (ER) reduces the capital gains tax rate for higher rate taxpayers from 20 per cent to 10 per cent when selling or disposing of all or part of a business.

The aim of the changes is to tighten up the scheme and to ensure that the relief is going to genuine entrepreneurs. There were fears that the scheme could be scrapped, but the Chancellor announced his commitment to continuing ER.

However, the first immediate change, announced by the Chancellor at the end of October, means that entrepreneurs selling their shares or business will have had to have been a qualifying owner for two years to benefit – previously it was one year.

Secondly, from April next year, the qualifying conditions for ER are set to be tightened even further.

To qualify the company has to be an individual’s personal business. That definition has been expanded, so that the shareholder must now be entitled to five per cent of the distributable profits and five per cent of the assets available for distribution to equity shareholders in a winding up.

That is in addition to the present qualifications which stress the shareholder has to hold at least five per cent of the ordinary share capital and that their shareholding entitles them to at least five per cent of voting rights.

In many cases these additions to the rules may have no impact – but if your company has ‘alphabet shares’ – giving directors discretion to declare dividends on one class of shares but not others – there may be an impact.

To discuss these changes and any tax issues please contact me on 01772 430000.

Broadband help is here – but be quick!

SMEs are being urged to take advantage of a £2,500 voucher scheme to help install high-speed broadband or risk missing out.

More than 7,000 businesses across the UK are reported to have taken up the government’s £67m Gigabit Broadband Voucher Scheme and have used the cash to cut the cost of installing fibre-optic cables.

Now the government is warning that the scheme, originally expected to be open until March 2021, has been so popular that the money is set to run out a year early.

Take up has been particularly high in the North West of England and Yorkshire, according to reports.

Gigabit vouchers can be used by small businesses and the local communities surrounding them to contribute to the installation cost of a gigabit-capable connection.

And to make sure that as many businesses and homes can benefit the maximum value of the voucher has now been reduced from £3,000 to £2,500.

Businesses can claim the cash against the cost of connection either individually or as part of a group project. And residents can benefit from the scheme with a voucher worth £500 as part of a group project.

The government believes the reduction in the maximum amount will encourage neighbouring businesses to “pool” their vouchers.

A spokesman said: “This will enable the scheme to reach more properties without the need for any additional funding.

“We expect more than 1,000 additional businesses and homes to benefit as a result of this change.”

The scheme is operated by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and looks to support the government’s goal to provide ‘nationwide full fibre broadband coverage by 2033’.

DCMS says it will be carefully monitoring take-up following this change to the scheme rules to determine whether there are locations in which a higher voucher value would be justified.

Minister for Digital Margot James is urging businesses to take advantage, saying: “These vouchers provide practical and immediate help to firms struggling with slow broadband speeds. I encourage small businesses around the UK to apply now.”

With the clock counting down towards the start of Making Tax Digital (MTD) for VAT in April 2019, high-speed broadband access is set to become increasingly important.

But it’s not only for MTD – high-speed broadband is seen as vital in helping SMEs develop and grow in the digital age.

Mike Cherry, who is chairman of the Blackpool-headquartered Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) said: “Access to good broadband is vital for small businesses across the UK.

“With the clock ticking on this scheme it’s important small businesses don’t delay if they want to apply for funding.

More information on the Gigabit Voucher Scheme, including details on how businesses can apply can be found at https://gigabitvoucher.culture.gov.uk/