Boris Johnson moves to mend relationship with UK business

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has moved to rebuild his relationship with the business community by hiring Sky executive Andrew Griffiths as part of his Number 10 team.

A source close to Griffiths said Johnson’s appointment of the Sky veteran – who most recently served as the broadcasting giant’s chief operating officer – was “a clear sign of intent” that the former mayor of London wants to build fresh links with the City and businesses across the UK.

Advisory Excellence understands that Griffiths, who joins the new government as Johnson’s top business adviser, first discussed the position with the incoming PM to weeks ago and felt that the new Tory leader “was the real deal.”

One source said Griffiths is “an operator, not a policy wonk” and he “will want to get things done.” Sources in Johnson’s camp have told Advisory Excellence that there will be a “beefing-up” of the Downing Street business team but it’s understood that Theresa May’s business adviser, Jimmy McLoughlin, will be staying on to assist with the transition.

Johnson ruptured his business-friendly reputation following the EU referendum when he was caught saying “f*** business” in reaction to corporate groups lobbying for a softer Brexit.

However, the relationship may already be thawing with most business groups giving a cautious welcome to the incoming resident of Number 10 yesterday.

TheCityUK congratulated Johnson on his convincing win but warned against a no-deal outcome with Brussels.“He becomes Prime Minister at a pivotal time in our country’s history.

He must now move swiftly to set out his plans for the road ahead. Ongoing Brexit uncertainty is depressing business activity, but the financial and related professional services industry remains very clear that a no-deal Brexit is still the worst of all outcomes,” it said..

The British Chamber of Commerce was also quick to send its regards, but again warned about the consequences of crashing out of the bloc. The message to Boris Johnson from business communities around the UK couldn’t be simpler: the time for campaigning is over — and we need you to get down to business.

Companies need to know, in concrete terms, what your government will do to avoid a messy, disorderly Brexit on 31 October – which would bring pain to communities across the UK and disruption to our trade around the world.

Business lobby group the CBI echoed other calls for a pro-business Brexit deal, but also on support for infrastructure projects to boost businesses across the country.

Johnson has previously voiced opposition two of the country’s most ambitious infrastructure projects: Heathrow airport expansion and the High Speed 2 (HS2) rail project.

An HS2 Ltd Spokesperson said: “We look forward to working with the new Prime Minister to ensure that HS2 will transform the British economy and is value for money for the taxpayer”.

Meanwhile, Heathrow boss John Holland-Kaye said the airport’s third runway, which Johnson opposed, will be “a critical part of any new prime minister’s agenda”.

“As we leave the EU we’re going to need to have the trading links that only Heathrow can bring and that is why we are cracking on with it.”

The pound dropped to $1.247, after the membership ballot result naming Johnson as leader was announced. As Michael Brown, senior analyst at Caxton FX explains, this was largely due to the fact that the likelihood of Johnson victory had already been priced in.

“With such an outcome having been largely expected, sterling’s immediate reaction has been muted as the news was already priced in,” he said. “However, focus will quickly switch to the next steps – namely, Cabinet appointments and the Brexit plan. The latter will be of more importance for markets, with sterling set to remain under pressure should Boris continue his ‘do or die’ Halloween Brexit stance.”

In the run-up to the announcement a number of businesses had been nervous about the prospect of a Johnson premiership, due to the former London mayor’s insistence that he would take the UK out of the EU with or without a deal by the 31 October.

No-deal vote boosts pound sterling

British Pound exchange rates remain under pressure with Brexit uncertainty continuing to loom large. However, against the US Dollar, Sterling found something of a reprieve yesterday after disappointing house building statistics were published across the Atlantic. With Theresa May now in her last week of office, concern over the potential for political chaos under her successor is likely to keep a lid on any upside for the Pound. The Australian Dollar also performed notably well overnight, gaining ground over Sterling (AUD/GBP) after Australian employment data suggested the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) may have done enough for now in terms of interest rate cuts.

The Pound has continued to climb against the Euro and US Dollar in Thursday’s trading session. MPs backed an amendment that could prevent Conservative Party frontrunner Boris Johnson from shutting down Parliament to pass a no-deal Brexit in October.

Moving into Friday morning’s trading, the Pound is in a relatively tight range, trending slightly lower against the US Dollar, Euro, and Australian Dollar. UK Public Finances data will be out later in the session, along with the University of Michigan US Consumer Sentiment stat.

Weak US Housing Data Offers Cable (GBP/USD) Some Temporary Respite

The Pound to US Dollar exchange rate (GBP/USD) found a little respite yesterday following the release of some significantly worse-than-expected US Building Permits data. Despite falling mortgage rates across the Atlantic, applications to build new houses fell for a second straight month to the lowest level in two years. Land and labour shortages are said to be behind the move, so this may prove sufficient deflect some concern away from the reading which has previously been seen as an indicator of recession. However, the news was sufficient to help drag Cable back from its test of two-year lows, at least for now.

UK Political Uncertainty Keeps Pound Exchange Rate in Check

Markets may have priced in Brexit uncertainty, but it seems as if the impending political chaos starting next week, once a new Conservative Party leader is announced and new Prime Minister appointed, may still need to be priced in. Parliament is, however, strengthening its resolve to ensure it cannot be suspended to allow a no-deal Brexit to be forced through. The House of Lords voted yesterday to provide further safeguards here and the bill will return to the House of Commons today for a second reading. The Pound to Euro exchange rate (GBP/EUR) remains close to six-week lows, but anything that points towards another general election being necessary in the Autumn has the scope to see further selling here.

Why Did it Move? Pound to Australian Dollar (GBP/AUD) Exchange Rate

The Pound to Australian Dollar exchange rate (GBP/AUD) fell last night despite a decidedly mixed employment report from Canberra. However, upward revisions to May’s data and solid growth in terms of full-time jobs appear to have been sufficient to convince markets that the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) doesn’t need to jump in with another rate cut just yet. Having traded as high as 1.7760 yesterday, the cross now sits almost a cent lower at 1.7670.

Small businesses struggling to expand due to Brexit uncertainty

More than seven in 10 firms in a survey by the Federation of Small Business (FSB) said they did not expect to raise capital spending in the next quarter, the highest figure in two years.

The FSB says the current standstill over Britain’s path to Brexit has left small firms “hamstrung” and struggling to expand, hire and increase productivity.

The FSB survey also suggests growing caution among lenders as signs stack up of a slowdown in the UK economy.

More than four in 10 of its member firms said new credit was “unaffordable,” the highest in more than four years.

Lending to consumers also increased at its smallest annual rate in more than five years in May, according to separate data from the Bank of England.

In the manufacturing sector, a key index of UK performance slid to a six-year low on Monday, as a survey highlighted sinking output and employment levels.

Mike Cherry, national chair of the FSB, said: “It’s impossible for small business owners to invest for the future when we don’t know what the future holds.

“Lifting productivity among the smaller firms that make-up 99% of our business community is a must. But until we have the political certainty that enables us to take risks and innovate, achieving that goal will remain elusive.”

He also took aim at Conservative leadership rivals Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt, who have talked up their willingness to lead Britain out of the EU without a deal.

“We urgently need to see both prime ministerial candidates spell out their plans for supporting small firms and securing a pro-business Brexit – one that encompasses a comprehensive deal and a substantial transition period,” he said.

“Fast and loose talk about accepting a chaotic no-deal Brexit in four months’ time is not helpful.”

He said it was “understandable” lenders were more cautious, suggesting they were continuing to offer credit but were upping premiums to cover perceived increases in risk.

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Political crisis deepens as small businesses ask what next?

Speaking after today’s vote on the Withdrawal Agreement, National Chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) Mike Cherry said: “On the day that we were supposed to be leaving the European Union, all we have is yet another political failure to chalk up.

“Responsibility for this deepening political crisis lies squarely at the feet of politicians who have clearly stopped listening to the business community. Our small businesses have been crying out about the significant damage that uncertainty is causing them. These cries have been drowned out by those seeking to play political games.

“Planning has stalled, investment is handcuffed and growth has flatlined. The only question now is what happens next? Small businesses message is simple, stop playing politics, come together and get on with delivering a pro-business deal that secures a transition period, guarantees as frictionless trade as possible and most importantly, avoids a disastrous no deal Brexit.

“Our small firms are sick and tired of politicians debating and dithering over Brexit. They are trying to get on with their jobs and it’s time that politicians get on and do the same.”

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Potential impact of Brexit on the law firm market

With Brexit negotiations continuing in the United Kingdom (UK), there is little clarity as of yet on how businesses will be able to operate both in mainland Europe and cross border once the UK leaves the European Union (EU) in March 2019.

As a regulated profession, law firms potentially face greater uncertainty — the regulations directed by each individual bar association must be carefully considered in conjunction with any agreement reached between the UK and the EU.

What’s happening at present in law firms with UK offices?

Brexit remains high on law firms’ agendas, particularly with respect to the uncertainty surrounding firms being able to provide legal services as normal after March 2019. Conversations around restructuring have been brought to the forefront.

Many law firms, UK-headquartered firms in particular, are approaching their final accounting period of trading before the two year Article 50 process expires in March 2019. For some businesses, it is therefore impractical to wait to see how Brexit negotiations progress and how local countries’ bar associations respond. Any action is likely to take a period of time and require HMRC (and potentially other) clearance or clarification.

What should your law firms be doing?

Each business will need to consider its current legal structure, the tax and regulatory rules (including around management, control and profit sharing) in the locations in which it operates, and the profitability of the local offices.

Some firms will wish to restructure, and those most likely to consider restructuring may have:

  • EU operations held within a UK incorporated entity (i.e. an EU branch of UK LLP);
  • EU operations held within a non-UK incorporated entity (i.e. an EU branch of US LLP); and/or,
  • EU incorporated entities with UK solicitors having a level of management and control.

Despite Brexit primarily affecting UK businesses, it is important to note the impact that this may have on US-headquartered law firms. As a result of current regulations, US-headquartered law firms usually operate as a UK LLP, or a branch of the US LLP depending on the EU country in question. However, a by-product of Brexit could see the harmonization of regulation across EU territories so it is possible that neither of these structures will be permissible post-March 2019.

While not certain, to the extent that any grandfathering provisions are introduced there may be benefits in a firm being established in the appropriate country(ies) in the appropriate form before March 2019.

It should be noted that it is possible that a firm may wish to restructure twice: the first time to satisfy the applicable regulations during an interim period to ensure continuity of operations, and once again after a final agreement has been ratified to give a more permanent solution. As we approach the March 2019 deadline there is likely to be an increasing need to have plans in place to manage the uncertainty and satisfy stakeholders.

Potential tax consequences of restructuring?

PwC UK has noted that firms currently considering restructuring their EU operations may consider transferring their EU book of business into a separate EU legal entity. This could involve a demerger of a business within a UK LLP, which poses a number of UK tax considerations, including:

  • whether there has been a cessation of trade in the UK LLP;
  • for UK income tax purposes, whether this could trigger the closing year and opening year rules of taxation to apply to the equity partners (basis period adjustments). Quantification of overlap profits would be required to understand the funding requirements;
  • a UK capital gains tax event could arise on the equity partners upon transfer of partnership assets to a new legal entity;
  • there may be non-UK income tax consequences, for example if an EU office has to move to an accruals basis of accounting; and/or
  • overseas capital gains tax events may also crystallise on the equity partners.

It is clear that restructuring, if necessary, could result in both “dry” tax charges and an acceleration of tax, which may provide challenges around funding for both the firm and the individual partners.