Apprenticeships Must Appeal To SMEs 
Following recommendations in a review undertaken by jewellery entrepreneur Jason Holt into how SMEs could be encouraged to take on more apprentices, the Government has announced a raft of measures to challenge the “outdated view” many businesses have of apprenticeship schemes.

At the moment fewer than 10 per cent of SMEs in the UK employ apprentices, which is less than half the rate of larger companies, which is largely due to ignorance of the scheme and its benefits, according to Mr Holt.

The measures include access to more funding, more say for employers in developing an appropriate training programme and the introduction of standards for training providers supplying services to SMEs.

According to Mr Holt, the existing apprenticeships programme is “misunderstood and inaccessible, not always helped by a plethora of organisations willing to give – sometimes conflicting – advice”

He added that a major problem is that the control of funding for apprenticeships is dominated by training providers, who are sometimes “following the money” rather than providing appropriate workers.

“Employers know about apprenticeships when a training provider knocks on their door saying ‘would you like an apprentice? (The system) places greater emphasis on the role of the provider than on the employer and apprentice.”

These providers often provide inappropriate or poor quality candidates that don’t meet small firms’ needs,” Mr Holt said.

The Government also hopes to promote knowledge of the programme to business owners via accountants and lawyers, who can provide advice on appropriate apprenticeships and providers.

And under the measures announced, the Apprenticeship Grant for Employers (AGE) scheme will be opened up to employers that have not employed an apprentice in the previous 12 months and will also be expanded to firms with up to 1,000 employees. Previously, AGE was only available to employers with up to 250 workers.

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Deputy Prime Minister Calls For A ‘Wealth’ Tax 
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg’s proposal yesterday that there should be an emergency levy on the wealthiest people in the country has received little support from his Coalition colleagues, particularly from Chancellor George Osborne, who warned that the plan would drive away the UK’s “wealth creators.”

Mr Clegg outlined the plan during an interview with the Guardian and said that he wanted to ensure that the rich shouldered a greater burden of the current economic pan.

He said: “The action is making sure that very high asset wealth is reflected in the tax system in the way that it isn’t now, making sure that we continue to crack down very hard on tax avoidance, making sure that tax breaks don’t go disproportionately to people at the very top.”

However, he did not expand much further and it would appear that he had not discussed the proposal with colleagues, as his aides admitted that the plans needed “fleshing out” and Lib Dem Treasury spokeswoman Baroness Kramer admitted she only found out about them through a newspaper.

The Chancellor’s initial response, given while he was in Sunderland, was cool, with Mr Osborne saying: "I am clear that the wealthy should pay more, which is why in the recent budget I increased the tax on very expensive property transactions. But we also have to be careful as a country we don't drive away the wealth creators and the businesses that are going to lead our economic recovery."

Bernard Jenkin, Chair of the Commons public administration committee, agreed with the Chancellor, saying that the plan could “strangle the goose that lays the golden egg.”

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Virtual High Street Pilots Could Boost Local Commerce 
An internet shopping scheme is being piloted in Hereford, whereby local shoppers can choose from goods supplied by local retailers in a ‘virtual high street’ and can then have all their purchases paid for and delivered in one transaction.

The developers of the scheme, called “Open High Street”, say that it will “allow retailers and farm producers to compete online”.

The project's aim is to enable consumers to purchase goods from local independent retailers with improved efficiency and convenience and deliver these goods to their homes with reduced environmental impact.

The hosting site charges a flat 10 percent fee to local retailers and allows local shoppers to have a single shopping basket and a single delivery for all their shopping at a cost of £5.

According to the firm managing the project, the aim is to build a ‘virtual high street’ but, unlike most online shopping, instead of receiving multiple purchases from multiple sites, the customer will receive just one delivery despite having shopped in anything up to 20 stores.

The project has been funded by £400,000 from the Government’s Technology Strategy Board and a further £400,000 from private sector backers.

The plan is to roll the pilot out across the UK if it is successful in Hereford and a similar scheme, called MyHighSt, has already been launched in Wells in Somerset.

A spokesperson for the scheme in Hereford said: “When we go national we’d like to add a pick up service which could take your shoe repairs, dry cleaning and recycling when they deliver shopping. And we’d use the spare capacity of local deliveries. It all goes back to solving a logistics problem – making one journey instead of eight.”

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MPs Advocate Automatic Information-Sharing On Foreign Tax Affairs 
An influential committee made up of a group of cross-party MPs has suggested the introduction of automatic information-sharing arrangement with foreign tax authorities in order to crack down on tax avoidance by UK residents storing assets abroad.

The International Development Committee suggested in a report published last week that the Government should bring in American-style laws in a bid to help stop international tax evasion.

Modelled on the new US Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA), which is designed to stop Americans hiding money from the IRS abroad, the report is advocating a similar system for the UK, where the taxman here effectively becomes a client of foreign financial institutions.

The report suggested that if the UK required tax authorities to exchange information related to British citizens or corporations with overseas interests, it would establish a standard of transparency.

"We recommend that the government introduce legislation similar to the relevant section of the U.S. ... FATCA, requiring tax authorities automatically to exchange information relating to UK citizens or corporations," it says.

The committee also recommended the UK Government to use its influence "to persuade other governments to follow suit", as such a move could “enhance the ability of developing countries to increase their tax take.”

"The capacity of a developing country tax authority to obtain information on the offshore activities of its citizens or corporations is critical to its ability to curtail illicit capital flight,’ the report says.

Another reform suggested by the committee is the introduction of new accounting standards that would require corporations to report information on a country-by-country basis.

It says that this would aim to prevent multinationals from shifting profits to subsidiaries set up in tax havens, thus reducing the tax take in the countries where they actually operate.

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Charities Oppose Changes To Controlled Foreign Company Tax Rules 
Following a nine-month investigation into the importance of tax revenue for developing countries, the cross-party International Development Select Committee called on the Government yesterday to drop its Controlled Foreign Company (CFC) changes, saying that the changes could have a “detrimental impact” on these countries’ tax revenues.

The Committee issued its warning in a report based on research by campaigning charity ActionAid, which aims to end world poverty. According to ActionAid, the UK will deprive developing countries of up to £4bn in tax revenues if British-owned multinational companies are encouraged to shift profits into offshore havens. And the changes will also cost the UK almost £1bn in lost revenue.

The Government proposed a relaxation of its CFC rules in the 2012 Finance Bill. The rules have applied to British-owned companies operating either in the UK or overseas and were designed to discourage UK-owned corporations from using tax havens.

Currently, if a UK-owned company reports profits in a country with lower corporate taxes than the UK, the government is able to impose an extra tax charge on the company to "make up the difference", meaning that profits moved from developing countries into tax havens still incur tax at UK rates.

However, under the new rules, due to come into force in January, the UK will only impose this extra levy if the profits have been shifted from the UK. Profits moved from developing countries into tax havens will incur tax at the tax-haven rate, rather than the UK rate, so the incentive to shift profits will be much higher.

Charities and NGOs, oppose the relaxation, arguing that the cost to developing nations is too high, although the Treasury does not accept the £4bn loss estimate.

But Malcolm Bruce, Chairman of the Committee said: We do not know if this estimate is correct, but the government cannot legitimately refute the £4bn figure unless it is prepared to conduct its own analysis. That is what we are urging it to do."

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