Welcome to the Election-free zone, cyber-security-conscious May 2017 newsletter from Chamberlains

Surprising and disconcerting times we live in.  In the wake of the dreadful event in Manchester and just before the UK General Election, at the start of the Brexit process and just after the world’s biggest ever cyber attack – what confidence can we have in where we’re going, and who can we trust?

Personally, I think that continuing relationships and communication are crucial – which is at least partly why I continue to send out these newsletters every month.  You may not find everything in them interesting, but you can rely on receiving something written by me, not just a bought-in newsletter, and if you reply to them I’ll respond.  You can even suggest what you’d like me to write about!

 

10 YEARS: HAPPY TO HAVE DONE SO WELL

I started business as Chamberlains on 1 June 2007 – so that’s exactly 10 years ago.  I had virtually no business at the start, but I wanted to work for myself – for my own satisfaction but especially to be able to offer the personal service to clients that wasn’t possible in a larger firm.  Since then I’ve been gathering clients and the business has been growing year on year, until this January I was able to tempt in a partner from a much larger firm – Chris Lowry – who shared the Chamberlains ethos of looking after clients within the nimbleness of a smaller firm.

Stay with us for further news, and please let me now if there’s anything else we could do for you or anything we could do better.

 

CYBER SECURITY

The recent world-wide cyber attack is rapidly fading from our memories, but it raised important issues.  As a reminder, it was a “ransomware” virus that infected networks of computers, most notably the UK, as far as we were concerned.  The screens in many hospitals froze with a message about having to pay a ransom fee to get access to their information.  Businesses were also affected, here and in many places around the world.

It was suggested that this was based on a weakness in an old version of Microsoft’s ubiquitous software – the good old XP version that, in its time, was reckoned to be reliable and secure.  However, all these different versions are updated – and we need to make sure that we do apply the updates, and interim “patches”.  An extra delight for the anti-establishment folk was that the “malware” (a wider term for the viruses and programs that are sent out to infect our computers) was an adapted version of something that one of the US intelligence services had developed.

Despite the temporary panic and inconvenience for people, it appears that not much was paid over and that individuals and small businesses were not much affected.  Perhaps that’s because we look after ourselves better than larger businesses and because we take more notice about updating our software and backing up our data.  I hope so.  But it feels as though we got off lightly and that we – and that may include you – need to be continually careful about “IT hygiene”.  As you’d expect, I know a few IT practitioners, and I can perhaps point you in the direction of someone who specialises in these things.

So what of Chamberlains?  No problems!  All our current work is held securely in “the cloud”.  This means that almost all our data is held on an external computer system (in the UK) and that they look after its security for us.  We log into our dedicated portion of their computer through the internet – which has the bonus of being able to operate from anywhere.  Advantages: Jo and Nigel normally work from home, for example, and any of us can access our information when we’re out with a client. And if we’re out of the office – at home or in Barcelona for example, we can easily be in touch.   All the information is constantly backed up by the cloud IT people, so there’s no danger of us forgetting or being too busy to do what we should, and of course they keep all the software and security systems up to date.  If you have any questions or concerns about this, please let me know and I’ll give you more details.

 

TAX RATES

There’s much talk about tax competitiveness – making the UK an attractive place to live and work.  It’s interesting to compare different countries – and there are a number of surveys to help us.  We see that, despite the different systems, in civilized societies we end up paying similar levels of tax. The most recent I’ve seen is one from the Guardian newspaper.  Perhaps I was particularly interested in it because it shows the UK as very similar to Catalonia (the Barcelona region – tax rates vary in Spain) – and you may remember that I go there quite frequently.  Key figures (cheapest in yellow) are as follows:

Gross                    UK                        Spain                        France                           Ireland                 US
aa  aaaaaa (not Scotland)     (Barcelona)
aaa  aaaaaa After      Tax        After      Tax           After      Tax           After      Tax            After    Tax
Salary              tax          rate       tax           rate         tax           rate        tax           rate           tax        rate
£                              £                             £                                  £                                 £                                   £
25,000       20,279   18.9%   20,812  16.7%    17,050   31.8%    21,183   15.3%      19,925  20.3%
40,000       31,480   24.8%   31,000  22.1%    34,520   41.2%    29,624   26.0%      30,280  24.3%
100,000     65,780   34.3%  65,700  34.3%    40,600   59.4%    59,000   41.0%      65,800  34.2%

National Insurance is included for the UK – you’ll perhaps remember that last month I explained that it was really just another tax.  We’re not the cheapest of any of these, but we’re at the lower end of each.  It’s interesting to see how such different economies and different political rhetorics end up with such similar rates of tax.  The exception is France which, lovely country as it is in so many ways, suffers abnormally high levels of tax at every level.   But it’s hard to make comparisons: for example people generally retire earlier in France and get a higher state pension, evidently paid for by higher taxes.

In the current election campaign both Labour and Conservatives are making promises that don’t follow from the last Budget, so we should expect to have the pleasure of a new set of legislation soonish after the Election – I’ll do my best to guide you through it when they spell it out some time after their victory speeches.  I naturally try to look at things from the glass-half-full point of view, so I’d like to think that times of change create fresh opportunities.  If you force me to nail my colours to the mast, I must admit that I voted against Brexit and that I’d like to have some say in approving the final deal.  But, in the interest of balance, I think that Chris, my partner, may have voted the other way.  I haven’t poisoned his coffee yet (nor he my tea, so far as I’ve noticed): we’re setting a fine example of being able to work together!