Welcome to the August 2021 'Need to Know' update. You'll find the latest key information on Fleet operations, the Government's new National Disability Strategy, Scottish business concerns, and support and advice worries for SMEs.
Employers unite to encourage over a million staff to get the COVID-19 vaccine
The Department of Health and Social Care has launched a toolkit for employers to help ensure employees get reliable information about COVID-19 vaccines.
Leading businesses, employers and industry bodies across the UK have come together to support the COVID-19 vaccination programme and encourage their staff to get a jab when eligible.
Organisations have pledged to be as flexible as possible when it comes to staff getting the vaccine. Many companies, including IKEA, have also committed to giving paid time off work for employees, in addition to providing sick pay as standard for the minority who experience minor side effects like fever or a headache.
Employers will also use resources from the new national government campaign to run an internal awareness campaign consisting of key messages, vaccine fact sheets, informative question and answer videos, posters and many more resources to ensure their employees get access to reliable and accurate information about the COVID-19 vaccine.
The Government is calling on all UK organisations to join the campaign by introducing similar internal awareness campaigns to promote the benefits of vaccination.
Access the toolkit to get materials for you to run internal awareness campaigns, including key messages, posters, fact sheets and videos providing accurate, up-to-date information.
For more information click here.
Government encourages fleet operators to convert to battery-electric vehicles in the transition to zero emission road freight.
Funding to boost the UK’s transition to zero emission road freight has been announced.
Pioneering £20 million zero emission road freight trials, funded by the Department for Transport and delivered by Innovate UK, will help to develop innovative solutions to support the uptake of zero emission trucks.
Using learning from field testing battery-electric vehicles in a real-world environment, and from undertaking feasibility studies, these activities will help to design and develop cost-effective, zero emission heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) and their refuelling infrastructure right here in the UK.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said: “Through our bold and ambitious transport decarbonisation plan, we’re leading the way in the transition to zero emission vehicles by becoming the first country in the world to commit to ending the sale of all new fossil-fuelled road vehicles by 2040, subject to consultation.
"From Doncaster to Scotland, by working in partnership with industry, this funding will allow us to better understand the role of zero emission HGVs while levelling up the industry and boosting regional economies."
Successful projects include an ‘Electric Road System’ feasibility study, led by Costain Ltd, considering a 20-kilometre stretch of road near Scunthorpe for a possible trial of electric road systems. Electric Road Systems supply battery-electric trucks with electricity from overhead catenaries via a pantograph enabling HGVs to charge dynamically.
Meanwhile, a hydrogen fuel cell feasibility study, led by Arcola Energy Ltd, will design a possible future trial of hydrogen fuel cell trucks and new refuelling infrastructure in Scotland.
These projects, along with 4 other successful feasibility studies, aim to prepare for a potential demonstration of zero emission freight technologies at scale on UK roads and will support the rollout of zero emission technologies to decarbonise heavy transport vehicles.
Commercial vehicle manufacturing company Leyland Trucks will be deploying 20 DAF battery-electric trucks for use by public sector organisations to support the uptake of battery-electric trucks, enabling learning to be gathered from field testing vehicles in a real-world, real-time logistics environment. The investment in an interactive tool will de-risk, aid and encourage fleet operators to convert to battery-electric vehicles. This is an important step in the transition to zero emission road freight.
This announcement follows the launch of government’s transport decarbonisation plan along with the consultation on a phase out date for new non-zero emission HGVs.
Rob Lawton, Project Manager, at Leyland Trucks, said: “We’re delighted to have been selected to play such a key role in the initiative and we’re proud to be leading the drive towards a cleaner, more sustainable future for the road transport industry.
“We believe our LF Electric and CF Electric vehicles offer the best solution for zero-emissions operation and we’re confident that the results from our NHS and local authority partners will support our own extensive and long-term testing programmes.
Richard Kemp-Harper, Strategy Director at Arcola Energy, said: “We’re pleased to be leading this initiative to decarbonise heavy-duty transport. The study will enable us to expand the application of Arcola Energy’s A-Drive fuel cell powertrain platform to a critical group of HGV operators that can benefit from Scotland’s strong potential for green hydrogen production.”
Read more here
Disabled plan draws mixed response
There has been a mixed response from charities and campaigners to the government's £1.6bn strategy to improve the lives of disabled people.
Ministers have unveiled 100 pledges to tackle issues such as housing and inaccessible public transport, as well as barriers to education and work.
The Government says its National Disability Strategy - first announced by the prime minister at the last election - is a once in a generation transformative plan.
It promises £300m will be provided to support children with special educational needs and disabilities.
Other measures include a plan to pilot an Access to Work Adjustment Passport making it easier for disabled people to change jobs.
Responding, Federation of Small Businesses National Chair Mike Cherry said: "More needs to be done. The failure of our whole country to do more to support disabled people to prosper is a moral and economic disaster.
"We have been keen to work with Government to improve the situation for those with disabilities when they start a business, are at work or seeking employment. We value the engagement we’ve had with Government on this but believe that working with employers to make progress on these issues needs to be a higher priority.
"Small businesses already employ a disproportionally higher number of disabled people compared to the rest of the private sector – but we think far more could and should be done to increase disabled employment across all workplaces.
"In particular, there needs to be a push to improve when it comes to recruitment, retention and the resilience of small firms.
"There is a strong case for Government to update existing schemes such as Kickstart, so they can do more to help increase the number of disabled people in work as we move out of the pandemic. This is especially important as disabled people were far less likely than the population as a whole to be in work prior to Covid-19, and are more likely to have faced educational and employment disadvantage to date.”
For more information, click here.
Scottish business optimism rises but overheads spiral
Latest research from FSB Scotland shows that staff shortages are a problem for 1/3 of businesses with growth ambitions.
Business optimism amongst Scottish smaller firms is at its strongest since the summer of 2015, according to new research.
The FSB figures show the average Scottish business is now more hopeful about prospects than its UK-wide equivalent for the first time since the third quarter of 2020.
FSB’s Scottish small business confidence index rose to +20.5 points this summer from +18.8 points in the first quarter of the year. The equivalent UK-wide figure fell to +18.6 points from +27.3 points in the first three months of 2021. The index measures whether firms believe trading conditions will improve or deteriorate over the next three months.
However, almost two thirds (64%) of Scottish firms reported an increase in running costs in comparison to this time last year, while only eight per cent said their overheads had decreased. Further, more Scottish firms believe their profits will fall over the next three months than increase.
According to the research, two fifths of Scottish businesses (38%) say they have plans to grow in the year ahead, while a fifth (20%) say they plan to downsize (12%), sell (3%), or close their business (5%).
Firms with expansion ambitions were asked to identify the biggest barriers to growth: three fifths of Scottish businesses cited the domestic economy (59%); just over a third highlighted consumer demand (36%); and just under a third warned of the problem of accessing skilled staff (32%).
Read more on this here.
Small firms call for better access to support and advice
The Government’s flagship levelling-up agenda will fall short of improving regional economies unless more is done to bolster business support for smaller firms, according to a new report from FSB.
Small businesses are more geographically spread than big companies, and in every single local community. This means they are crucial to balancing-up productivity, innovation, jobs and opportunities across towns and rural areas as well as cities. Improving support for this group will play huge dividends, both economically and socially, and must feature in the forthcoming Spending Review to revive local economies.
However, significant gaps in business support for small firms and the self-employed are identified in FSB’s new report, Open for Business.
It sheds light on how business support advice was used by small firms during the pandemic, drawing lessons from how while it supported some, others were left with little assistance.
FSB National Vice Chair Martin McTague said: “We’ve endured almost 18 months of this terrible pandemic which has wreaked economic chaos for small businesses all over the country. That’s why the support and advice available to them has never been more important.
“If small firms are to compete on fair terms with larger businesses, if regions are to step out of the shadows and if all businesses can thrive after the pandemic, then an element of levelling up is critical to success.
“Even when times are good, gaining access to the right support at the right time can be tricky.
“We’ve seen huge numbers of small firms, almost half in fact, state that their business is still standing today thanks in part to the economic advice they managed to access. And while this is excellent news, it means that almost half didn’t have the same levels of success.
“For too many, knowing where to look, who to speak to and what to do leads to a dead end and that needs to change. Every day, small firms ask themselves how can I manage my debt? How can we achieve Net Zero without breaking the bank? Or how can I attract more staff? It’s these sorts of questions where the right advice, can make huge differences.
“Our findings show that existing business support advice already helps small firms when it comes to taxation and regulation, but as our post-EU journey continues and while we continue to weather the economic COVID-19 storm, there is plenty more Government could be doing to help make things easier.
"At the outset, Ministers should recognise the centrality of small businesses to the levelling up agenda in every region and community. You can only level up local economies by backing small businesses. They will succeed by improving the support they can access, which in turn will mean more small businesses, trading more, creating more jobs and wealth.
“Government needs to simplify and streamline how and where small firms can access critical business support advice, building on what currently works.
“It should also ensure that the level of funding for business support via UK Shared Prosperity Fund matches, or exceeds, those funds previously received under European Structural and Investment funding.
“If the right advice can be accessible to all, then small businesses can thrive, our economy can bounce back and everyone benefits.”