Business Briefs: The Data Protection Act and you

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The Independent Online

You may think your business doesn't need to worry about the Data Protection Act, but if you store personal information about identifiable living individuals, whether customers or clients, you would be wrong.

MIND YOUR DATA

You may think your business doesn't need to worry about the Data Protection Act, but if you store personal information about identifiable living individuals, whether customers or clients, you would be wrong.

It doesn't matter how large or small your enterprise, the 1998 Act requires you to register with the relevant government department. You are also legally obliged to control and efficiently manage certain types of information. The Act has two sides. It gives individuals certain rights over the information held on them by organisations. And it imposes duties on those organisations to be open about their use of that information and to follow sound and proper practices.

If it all sounds a bit daunting, don't worry. Two useful websites will help: www.dataprotection.gov.uk and www.lcd.gov.uk. You can find out more, or register under the Act, by contacting The Information Commissioner, Wycliffe House, Water Lane, Wilmslow, Cheshire SK9 5AF; 01625 545700; email: data@dataprotection.gov.uk

BUSINESS WEBSITE

Abbey National has launched a website specifically aimed at the SME sector: www.anbusiness.com. The bank says: "The launch reflects the record increase of small firms doing their banking online, and the website draws together a wide range of business-related products and services."

The website's features include a business grant search facility which enables companies to seek out some of the millions of pounds of support and loans made available by organisations ranging from local councils to the EU. The site also offers a series of free business guides, which cover issues ranging from writing a business plan to growing a company.

WE LOVE MEETINGS

Meetings dominate modern business life, according to a recent survey, which found that 37 per cent of SMEs consider meetings the best way of dealing with staff, customers and suppliers. The office telephone is still the preferred method of communication, with 48 per cent of those surveyed by British Gas saying that they would rather use this over any other technology.

The bi-annual survey suggests that hi-technology isn't making an impact, with only 5 per cent valuing email as a business tool. And banks are still monopolising owners' time. Small business owners spend five weeks a year talking to their banks, almost half of which is spent querying statements and resolving issues.

RED TAPE

If you think your business is being strangled by red tape, you're not alone. Government regulations are now the number-one headache for the 1,700-odd small businesses surveyed every quarter by the Forum for Private Business (FPB). Red tape has now beaten employment regulation and the Uniform Business Rate (UBR) into second and third place respectively as being the biggest barrier to growth, according to the FPB's survey for the first quarter of 2002.

Over half the businesses said red tape was a concern, and 14.9 per cent said it was their main priority for government action. The FPB said: "As employment regulation now ranks as the second highest concern to red tape for FPB Members, with 48 per cent of respondents expressing concern, and 10.6 per cent ranking it as their main priority, it is clear that the whole range of regulatory compliance requirements have now created a significant barrier to SME growth. The UBR continues to rank as a high concern at third place, and the perception of private businesses that the system is inherently unfair in its differential effect on large and small business is a significant element of this concern.

Other research by the FPB found that small businesses spend an average of 2.6 hours a week dealing with employment law regulations, 1.9 hours on health and safety rules, 1.8 hours on VAT, 1.7 hours on PAYE and National Insurance, and a further 2.1 hours on environmental rules, fire regulations and the Data Protection Act.

WOMEN STARTING UP IN BUSINESS

Female-owned businesses accounted for 168,000 of the UK's new business start-ups in 2000, lifting their share by almost 15 per cent from 1999.

Just over a quarter, one million, of all UK businesses are owned by women, according to a survey by www.everywoman.co.uk, an independent website for women in business, launched three years ago. Women starting up in business are less driven by the desire to make money (52 per cent) than their male counterparts (59 per cent). A sense of fulfilment ranks highly for nearly a quarter of women when considering what they hope to get out of their business. The survey found that women have markedly lower revenue expectations than men for their first year in business, an average of £71,000 against £143,000 for men.

A third of all new company start-ups, currently 3.7 million SMEs, are headed by women, and nearly one quarter of all women starting up in business are based in the South-east. This is followed by a fifth in the Midlands and just over a tenth in the South-west. East Anglia, Wales and the North each account for 4 per cent. Nearly three-quarters of women go into business having never run such an enterprise before.

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