Business

Don't let inertia become a business cost

ONE of the common refrains of the Brexit referendum was just how much credence can be given to the predictions of ‘experts', particularly those involved in the dark art of forecasting growth.

On the whole, since last summer the trend has been to revise forecasts upwards and just last week ONS reported that the UK's GDP grew by 0.7 per cent in the last quarter of 2016, up 0.1 per cent from its initial estimate.

The Office of Budget Responsibility (OBR) has also revised its forecast for UK growth upwards from 1.4 per cent to 1.7 per cent whilst revising figures for Government net borrowing downwards.

The real impact of Brexit on the national economy will become clear in the next year or two. There are, however, more immediate concerns facing business – particularly SMEs – which have little to do with Brexit.

Such has been the focus on our post-EU world, it has been easy to forget the colossal dent which the banking and property crisis put in the national finances and Government's ongoing need to plug the gap by raising revenue.

Suggested changes to business rates, for example, have been vexing companies in England and Wales, but it's also a live issue locally. Earlier this month Belfast City Council increased rates leading to an average rise of £11 per month for premises.

In itself this is not a huge amount and councils have their own budgetary pressures to manage, but it comes at a time when businesses feel that their regulatory and tax burden is already too high. In the past year 231 companies in Northern Ireland went into liquidation due to financial difficulties – 10 per cent up on the year before and 20 per cent compared to three years ago.

Although part of the reason for increased insolvencies may be increased business activity, that's little comfort for those firms struggling on tight margins where every cost counts.

In the insurance industry we're faced with our own tax burden, the Insurance Premium Tax (IPT) which is applied to most insurance policies in the UK with a few notable exceptions such as life cover.

When it was first introduced in 1994 the rate was just 2.5 per cent. With incessant increases and another 2 per cent increase scheduled for this June, the rate will soon sit at an eye-watering 12 per cent.

We work hard to understand our customers' needs and deliver the right advice, along with initiatives such as our campaign this year specifically tailored for the retail sector to match any quote. However, customers can also help themselves.

The best piece of advice I can give is to properly review your insurance needs every year – and that means taking some time to speak to an insurance professional about your insurance requirements or, even better, asking them to visit your premises – something which is a must for Autoline's business teams.

I know that it's easy to fire up the laptop and look at what's available online, and while that can be a good start, an algorithm-driven computer programme is not going to give the nuanced advice needed for most business insurance requirements.

With inflation notching up, along with business rates and stealth taxes such as IPT, it's important to keep a lid on other costs without cutting corners. Insurance is an obvious area to look at – don't let inertia needlessly cost you.

:: Michael Blaney is managing director of Autoline Insurance Group (www.autoline.co.uk)

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