FSB warns that the rate rise will add to cost pressures for SMEs

The Bank of England announced its first rate hike in more than 10 years earlier this week, raising the rate from a historic low of 0.25% to 0.5%. The central bank’s base rate had remained at 0.25% since July 2007, shortly before the credit crunch and subsequent recession.

Responding to the Monetary Policy Committee’s decision to raise interest rates, Mike Cherry, Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) National Chairman, said:

“Today’s rate rise will mean yet more cost pressures for small firms as they battle spiralling prices and flagging consumer demand. An increase was inevitable at some stage so many businesses will have expected today’s rise. But that’s not to say they can absorb more hikes in the short-term. This change must be allowed to properly bed in before further increases are considered.

“Only one in ten small firms is currently applying for external finance and we have a chronic issue with permanent non-borrowers in the small business community. Today’s rate increase could heighten the sense that borrowing is too expensive if you’re a small firm. That would threaten investment, growth and job creation.

“You also need to consider the fact that, for a typical micro business owner, personal and business finance are closely interlinked. If mortgage and car leasing payments start to rise that’s less money to play with when it comes to expanding the business and taking on new people.”

While the Bank of England’s decision was partly intended to help curb rising inflation, most analysts believe it is unlikely further rate hikes will follow any time soon even if inflation fails to level off. In fact, many experts are suggested UK interest rates won’t change again until 2019, after the UK has left the European Union.

The UK is the most attractive European tech hub for Silicon Valley investors

The UK is the leading European destination for Silicon Valley investors, with British tech companies raising more venture capital from Bay area VCs than any other European country. According to the investment data released by London & Partners, over the last five years UK tech companies have received more venture capital investment from West Coast investors than France, Germany and Ireland combined.

Silicon Valley investors continue to pump large sums of money into UK tech companies despite Brexit, with 2017 already seeing a record $1.13 billion raised since the beginning of the year. The findings have been released to mark the start of Silicon Valley Comes to the UK (SVC2UK), a week-long series of events bringing together leading figures from the Bay area and UK tech scenes.

Further analysis of the investment data reveals that London tech companies received the majority of venture capital investment from the Bay area, accounting for over 90% ($1.04bn) of the total amount raised by UK tech companies this year. Over the last five years, London tech firms have also raised considerably more capital ($2.5bn) than their European counterparts, with Stockholm ($1.4bn), Berlin ($641m) and Paris ($500m) representing the next most popular cities for Silicon Valley investors.

London’s thriving VC market has been boosted by the number of unicorn companies based in the capital, with separate research from investment firm GP Bullhound revealing that London is home to more unicorns than any other European city. Fresh analysis of its 2017 Titans of Tech report found that London accounts for almost one third of all unicorns in Europe. With 17 out of the 53 unicorns founded in London, the UK capital has more unicorns than Stockholm (7), Berlin (5) and Paris (3) combined. Recent London companies to join this year’s list include Improbable, Deliveroo and Purple Bricks.

Sherry Coutu CBE, Co- Founder of SVC2UK and serial entrepreneur: ““With some of best global talent and a strong culture of entrepreneurship, the UK and Silicon Valley are two of the world’s leading places to start and scale a technology business. While London has grown to become Europe’s largest tech hub, we still have a way to go to emulate the success of Silicon Valley and there is a lot we can learn from each other.”

“It is no surprise to see that British tech firms continue to attract more venture capital investment from the Bay area than any other European country and the figures released today suggest that Brexit has not had an impact. London will continue to be a diverse, outward looking city and we look forward to welcoming our friends from the Valley to encourage greater collaboration between the two centres.”

Manish Madhvani, CEO and Founder of GP Bullhound added: “London’s digital economy has demonstrated unprecedented levels of talent, ambition, and investment, delivering an exceptional cohort of billion-dollar businesses. These pioneers have been critical to the rise of European tech and will drive the industry forward to create companies of scale to rival the US and Asia.”

To mark the start of the week-long series of events, SVC2UK has today announced the latest cohort of 50 high growth UK technology companies who will join to join the 2017 Scale Up Club. Together the firms have a combined revenue of £94 million in 2016, employing over 1,900 people across the UK. This year’s club is made up of some of the UK’s fastest growing tech businesses from across a range of sectors, from FinTech to FoodTech – including HomeTouch, the UK’s top online care agency, food-sharing app OLIO, and Mumsnet, the country’s largest online network for parents.

This year’s SVC2UK programme kicks off today in Cambridge, with a debate about ‘Our Future’, tech and the way it will shape our lives, at the Cambridge Union Society. The programme will then head to London tomorrow (Wednesday 1st) with masterclasses on building strategic partnerships when scaling at campus London and then on accessing finance at Barclays’ innovation centre, Rise London, as well as insights from the likes of Renee La Londe, iTalent, and Ellen Levy, Silicon Valley Connect.

The week culminates with the Good Growth Summit on Friday 3rd November, bringing together inspirational women leaders at the Institute of Technology and Engineering. Speakers at this event include SVC2UK Founder, Sherry Coutu, Debbie Woscow, Obi Felten, Google X and a keynote address from Shiza Shahid, CEO of Malala Fund.

This year’s summit is being run by London & Partners with support from SVC2UK partners including Mastercard, Google Campus London, Barclays, Softbank, Pennington Manches, Buzzacott, Herbert Smith and Freehills, WSGR, GBx, Pitch@Palace, FieldHouse Associates, Cambridge Wireless, Bradfield Centre, Judge Business School and Bailey Fisher Executive Search.

Artificial intelligence set to eliminate 1.8 million jobs globally in 2020…but also create 2.3 million new ones

As with any highly disruptive technology, artificial intelligence has the potential to eliminate a wide range of job roles by automating some of the tasks and functions previously performed by humans.

According to Gartner, one of the world’s leading technology analyst firms, AI will eliminate more jobs than it creates each year between now and 2019. However, in 2020 forecasts suggest the balance will shift in the other direction, with artificial intelligence creating more jobs (2.3 million, to be precise) than it eliminates (1.8 million) for the very first time.

Still, it should go without saying that the jobs that are created will not be perfect replacements for those that are eliminated, and many employees will need to upskill or retrain in order to succeed in this brave new AI world.

Upskilling

Quality control, transactional processes and any other routine functions that can be systematised and automated are at risk of being replaced by artificial intelligence. Some current jobs will become entirely obsolete, while others will be radically reconfigured with the incorporation of new digital skills. In addition, millions of new jobs will be created that require very specific new skillsets.

E-learning programmes and massive open online courses (MOOCs) will play a key role in helping companies upskill their current staff, but on the job training will also need to be central to the upskilling process for most companies because it offers employees a practical way to get to grips with their new skills and apply them in a real world setting.

Retraining

Beyond employer-led upskilling initiatives, some employees that have been displaced by artificial intelligence (or expect to be displaced in the near future) may wish to commit themselves to retraining for a new, future-proofed career.

One approach to this retraining would be to look at the current digital skills shortages and devise a programme of self-directed learning designed to provide the employee with those new skills. This can take the form of e-learning programmes and MOOCs, short university or college courses, internships or apprenticeships, or some combination of all of those.

Alternatively, rather than focusing on the digital skills shortage, employees may wish to consider those specific skills which are less likely to be replaced by artificial intelligence or other forms of automation. For instance, creative problem solving, strategic planning and interpersonal skills aren’t likely to be replaced by computers any time soon…if ever.

 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Paul Marks is a Partner at Miramar, a firm of executive search consultants with global reach and an impressive track record of success with high profile clients. Paul leads the firm’s technology division, where he specialises in supporting tech companies that are focused on the Internet of Things, Machine to Machine, Digital Transformation and Cloud Services.

 

The automotive industry is set to be transformed by machine learning

Machine learning, where computer systems are encoded with the ability to learn, adjust, and ‘evolve’ when exposed to new data, might still sound like science fiction to some, but the technology is already advancing at an extraordinary rate…and being embraced by businesses in a growing range of industrial sectors.

Let’s take a look at how machine learning is beginning to transform just one of those sectors – the automotive industry.

Predictive maintenance

As the Industrial Internet of Things and Big Data technologies increasingly find their way into the manufacturing sector, the automotive industry is embracing machine learning solutions to help drive ever-more sophisticated levels of automation in a firm’s production and maintenance processes.

Machine learning algorithms can aid in the effective planning and execution of predictive maintenance, by monitoring equipment and using predictive modelling to predict future failures and adjust the maintenance interval accordingly.

Mass customisation

The usage and driving data automotive firms are able to collect from connected cars can be used in a myriad of ways, including customising future vehicles to meet the needs of a relatively niche consumer market.

For instance, by feeding vehicle usage and driving data to machine learning algorithms they can help to predict which design changes or vehicle enhancements will be most popular with a specific segment of the firm’s target market, or determine which modifications are most likely to improve road safety.

Autonomous vehicles

Beyond the production line, machine learning will also play a central role in the vehicles of the future – particularly self-driving cars.

Autonomous vehicles use an array of sensors and machine learning technologies to navigate the vehicle and respond to changing road conditions in real time.

While true self-driving cars will likely be prohibitively expensive for some time, a recent market forecast from Transparency Market Research suggested there will be more than 600,000 self-driving cars on the roads by 2025 – and machine learning will be at the heart of how they run.

 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Ross Bailey is a founding Partner of Miramar, a firm of executive search consultants with global reach and an impressive track record of success with high profile industrial clients. Ross has extensive experience of building executive leadership and market entry teams for both private equity-backed innovators and global brands.

Lonely Planet names Belfast and the Causeway Coast as the world’s number one tourist destination for 2018

Lonely Planet, one of the world’s foremost travel media companies, has named Belfast and the Causeway Coast as the number one region in the world to visit in 2018, ahead of the likes of the Languedoc-Roussillon region in France, Bahia in Brazil, Alaska in the USA and the Aeolian islands in Italy.

Belfast and the Causeway Coast received the accolade as part of Lonely Planet’s ‘Best in Travel 2018’ – its annual collection of the world’s top destinations, hottest trends and unmissable travel experiences for the coming year.

Belfast is described in Best in Travel 2018 as “full of hip neighbourhoods that burst with bars, restaurants and venues to suit all tastes. The rusting old docklands are now the vibrant Titanic Quarter, home to fancy apartments and a sensational museum”. Belfast shares the accolade with the Causeway Coast, “whose timeless beauty and high-grade distractions – golf, whiskey and some of the world’s most famous rocks – are more popular now than ever”.

Welcoming the high profile recognition for two of Northern Ireland’s top tourist regions, Niall Gibbons, CEO of Tourism Ireland, said: “The inclusion of Belfast and the Causeway Coast as the Number One Region in the world in Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2018 is wonderful news and will surely help to inspire travellers everywhere to put Northern Ireland on their holiday wish-list for next year.

“It is another well-deserved accolade, which provides Tourism Ireland with a great hook to continue to promote Belfast, the Causeway Coast and Northern Ireland around the world as a ‘must visit’ destination.”

Lonely Planet’s announcement follows Northern Ireland’s ‘Year of Food and Drink’ last year, which helped to introduce culinary tourists from around the world to the epic landscapes, cultural traditions and charming people that make Northern Ireland’s food heritage so unique.

2018 will also see the launch of Belfast’s inaugural ‘BelFeast‘ festival, an annual food and drink festival that will feature foodie tours, an artisan food market and a street food village in order to showcase Northern Ireland’s capital city and its many culinary delights.

 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Phil Hoey is an Irishman, a marketer and a writer (but not necessarily in that order). Originally from County Down in Northern Ireland, he spent 12 years working as a marketer in London, before returning to the land of shebeens and boxty in 2016.

In the past Phil has written for Tech City News in London, Irish Tech News in Dublin, Tech.co in Silicon Valley and AlleyWatch in New York, and his business commentary has appeared in The Guardian, Reuters, The Telegraph, The Daily Express, The Business Recorder, The Scotsman, London Loves Business, Fresh Business Thinking and Money Observer.

CMA launches investigation into hotel booking websites

The CMA is investigating booking sites to find out whether their customers really are able to choose the best hotel deal for them.

The CMA is concerned about the clarity, accuracy and presentation of information on sites, which could mislead people, stop them finding the best deal and potentially break consumer law.

Its investigation will examine several practices, including:

Search results: how hotels are ranked after a customer has entered their search requirements, for example to what extent search results are influenced by other factors that may be less relevant to the customer’s requirements, such as the amount of commission a hotel pays the site.
Pressure selling: whether claims about how many people are looking at the same room, how many rooms may be left, or how long a price is available, create a false impression of room availability or rush customers into making a booking decision.
Discount claims: whether the discount claims made on sites offer a fair comparison for customers – for example, the claim could be based on a higher price that was only available for a brief period, or not relevant to the customer’s search criteria, for example comparing a higher weekend room rate with the weekday rate for which the customer has searched.
Hidden charges: the extent to which sites include all costs in the price they first show customers or whether people are later faced with unexpected fees, such as taxes or booking fees.

The CMA has today written to companies across the whole sector requiring information to understand more about their practices. The CMA also wants to understand the impact that these practices have on sites’ customers so is calling on people that use them, and hotels that advertise with them, to share experiences which could be relevant to the investigation.

If the CMA finds that sites’ practices or claims are false or misleading and are breaking consumer law, the CMA could take enforcement action.

Andrea Coscelli, Chief Executive of the CMA, said:

Around 70% of people who shopped around for hotels last year used these sites and they should all be confident they have chosen the best accommodation for their needs and are getting a good deal. In today’s increasingly busy world, sites like this offer real potential to help holiday-makers save time and money searching for their ideal get-away.

To do this, sites need to give their customers information that is clear, accurate and presented in a way that enables people to choose the best deal for them. But we are concerned that this is not happening and that the information on sites may in fact be making it difficult for people to make the right choice.

That’s why we have started our investigation into this sector – to get to the bottom of these issues, see whether sites are breaking consumer law and make sure they help, not hinder, people searching for their next hotel room.

Today’s announcement follows the CMA’s year-long market study of online comparison tools, which emphasised the importance of complying with consumer law by setting out clear ground rules. They must be:

Clear on key issues such as how they make their money
Accurate in the information they provide
Responsible about how they use people’s personal data
Easy to use

European Commission publishes the results of 5G study

Which approaches to spectrum policy will work best for 5G? That is the question addressed by a new study published today.

The Study on Spectrum Assignment in the European Union was written by PolicyTracker together with LS Telcom and VVA. The report covers 5G services aimed at traditional mobile customers as well as services designed for new industrial sectors, the so-called vertical markets.

The study concluded:

  • a variety of authorisation¹ and assignment² approaches are needed to unlock new use cases and to achieve the full benefits of 5G
  • countries with an investment-friendly approach to spectrum policy exhibited more positive outcomes for consumers
  • a consistent approach amongst all EU Member States would bring additional benefits, namely:
    faster access to spectrum
  • a more diverse range of operators
  • widespread availability of new services over large geographical areas

The report considers whether 5G services should require licences, like the mobile sector, or be unlicensed like Wi-Fi, or adopt mid-way approaches, often called “light licensing”. It also examined methods of assigning the spectrum to operators, such as the auctioning of licences.

PolicyTracker carried out a range of statistical analyses for the project, examining the relationship between individual spectrum policy inputs and market outcomes as well as taking a grouping approach.

This latter technique found that countries which practiced a group of investment friendly practices when assigning spectrum, namely low reserve prices; well-designed coverage objectives; and long licence lengths exhibited more positive market outcomes, such as wider network roll-out; better quality and choice of services; higher take-up of services and greater competition.

“We are very pleased that the Commission chose PolicyTracker to provide research and statistics to inform their decision making. This data and expertise is available as part of our new Spectrum Research Service which is used by a variety of companies and regulators across the sector.” said Martin Sims, PolicyTracker’s Managing Director.

“The findings of the study will provide additional elements in the context of the ongoing negotiations with the European Parliament and the Council on the Commission Proposal for a “European Electronic Communications Code”, said a spokesperson for the European Commission.

Long way to go before artificial intelligence dominates customer service, according to Blue Moose

 

Over recent years a stream of companies have been turning to AI and developing digital customer solutions in an attempt to automate their processes and to service a broader and more demanding demographic. However, it is evident that an increasing number of companies are choosing AI to deal with customer requests to manage their growing customer base, not necessarily to improve the customer experience.

Although investing in AI technology makes sense in terms of regulation, it can also be viewed as poor business practice. Many issues have arisen with AI in recent years, primarily that systems are not able to predict or offer solutions to all customer queries despite a growing database of potential answers. An unresolved query and no human interaction to provide a solution can cause a massive sense of frustration within the customer’s experience. A recent study states that a shocking 67% of customers ended a phone call when unable to get through to a human customer service representative when attempting to resolve a query.

A recent study reported in CNBC has discussed that AI still has a long journey of development before it is ready to replace a human representative. This study based its research on the most popular AI systems readily available, including Apple’s Siri, Google, and Bing. The overwhelming research found that the average IQ of the most popular artificial intelligence systems is measurable to a six-year-old child.

Blue Moose has found the research to only support their view on AI, and how it will never be able to replace a human-to-human experience. Blue Moose puts a massive sense of customer interaction at the forefront of its company, to offer the best experience for all customers, old and new. The firm believes this is a service that AI will never be able to provide as efficiently as a dedicated member of their workforce.

Millennials are the new target audience for event marketing

In the digital world, where meaningful customer interactions are few and far between, AJG Direct is adamant event marketing is more important than ever.

However, a new study has shocked the firm and could change the way brands market to the Millennial generation.

AJG Direct is a London-based sales and event marketing firm that boasts impressive and unique campaigns that they believe should directly be targeted at the millennial generation. The company believes that customer personalisation is more crucial than ever before, discovering a recent study that supports this brand ethos. In an industry that is seeing the transition by more and more companies into the automation of robotics, AJG Direct states that they wish to keep the human touch.

The recent research, which surveyed 600 shoppers of different generations, outlined that the millennial generation was the most receptive of those surveyed, valuing face to face interaction with store representatives highly. The study also found that the baby boomer generation was surprisingly more inclined to dislike interaction with members of store staff, a shocking 22% describing them as ‘extremely unimportant.’

The researchers also found that the introduction of customer service automation and robots within stores could turn consumer business away. The study found that store employees were found to be highly desirable in regards to consumer queries, checkout assistance and more, a shockingly high 43% of the 600 shoppers surveyed would stop shopping at a place where robots replaced human workers

AJG Direct has found this research highly surprising, primarily because the millennial generation has grown up with a high development in technology, are often thought to be on the side of automation and digital marketing.

The firm is urging other companies to alter their marketing and sales methods to ensure that they are meeting the expectations and demands of the millennial generation. The generation is known to shape and develop varying industries, particularly a consumer-driven sector such as marketing. The firm is keen to embrace the development of digital marketing campaigns, but not at the stake of its consumers. AJG Direct will continue to listen to the needs and wants of the millennial generation.

 

Industrial strategy success hinges on infrastructure, say small firms

The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) is urging the Chancellor to deliver promised improvements to digital and road connectivity while removing barriers for small housebuilders at his Autumn Budget next month.

In November 2015, the Government committed to implementing a UK-wide Universal Service Obligation (USO), designed to give everyone access to broadband by 2020. Two years on, FSB is calling on the Government to decide how this will be achieved.

As part of its Autumn Budget submission, FSB has also put forward a series of recommendations aimed at boosting output among smaller housebuilders in England. They include reforming the Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL), increasing public sector provision of small development sites and simplifying the planning system.

Independent research conducted by Cebr earlier this year on behalf of FSB shows policy-linked costs for small construction firms rose 34 per cent in the five years to 2016. That compares to a cumulative Consumer Prices Index (CPI) of 7.7 per cent for the same period.

Mike Cherry, FSB National Chairman, said: “The UK has slower download speeds than Romania, Bulgaria and Thailand. We welcome the Government’s commitment to an ambitious industrial strategy. But clearly we’re not going to have an economy of highly-paid, highly-productive workers when a significant proportion of businesses can’t even access the internet.

“It’s been two years since we were promised a USO. Whether honouring the Obligation as agreed by Parliament, or taking up BT’s offer to expand services, Government must have the interests of small businesses and households front of mind as it reaches a decision.

“We need to see a plan setting out exactly how UK broadband will improve as soon as possible. Doing so will give some measure of confidence to businesses, especially those in rural areas where connectivity is typically poorest. The future of business is digital. Small firms and the self-employed in rural areas must not be left behind – or indeed face any hidden broadband fees.

“Given we have a chronic housing shortage, it’s extremely disappointing to see small developers stifled by a complex planning regime, soaring business costs and restricted access to smaller sites. What’s more, small construction firms bear the brunt of our late payments crisis.

“DCLG’s guidance on the Community Infrastructure Levy runs to 30,000 words. Yet for all that prose, it doesn’t allow for the higher costs that come with small projects. Such projects are integral to providing business owners and employees with the homes they need.”

In July, the Government put forward the Major Road Network (MRN) initiative, which would see substantially increased investment in routes under local authority control across England. FSB is calling on the Chancellor to show support for delivery of the MRN at the Budget.

The country’s largest business group is also urging the Chancellor to protect the Small Business Research Initiative (SBRI). The SBRI gives innovative firms the opportunity to trial new ideas in response to specific challenges faced by the public sector, delivering better value for the taxpayer in the process. FSB is also keen to see the mooted Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund developed with a focus on smaller businesses.

Mike Cherry added: “Achieving a game-changing productivity boost will only happen through incremental gains among the smaller firms that make up 99 per cent of our business community.

“What we hear from small firms is that roads, and local roads in particular, really matter when it comes to mobilising goods, services and staff. The Government has pledged significant investment in roads outside of motorways – it’s now time for them to deliver. The Transport Secretary’s £345 million commitment last week marks a welcome step forward, but there’s far more work to be done.

“Promoting innovation must be central to the Government’s industrial strategy. The Budget is the Chancellor’s opportunity to position the UK as best place in the world to invest, innovate and grow. We look forward to him seizing that opportunity by ruling out any new business tax increases, maintaining entrepreneurial and investor reliefs and expanding fantastic initiatives such as the SBRI and R&D tax credits.”

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