Business Connections

Small Talk: It will take years to solve the zombie problem – if it exists

There are two contradictory ways to look at the latest statistics on corporate insolvencies for England and Wales, which fell sharply during the first three months of the year for the fifth successive quarter. They either make a nonsense of the idea that an army of zombie companies threatens to undermine the economy's recovery, or confirm our worst fears.

Small Talk: Tackling late payers is a question of culture, not law

Which industry is worse than any other at paying its suppliers on time? The answer will not come as a surprise to readers who have followed recent efforts of companies such as Selfridges and John Lewis to squeeze more margin out of their supply chains. Retailers, it turns out, are the only companies who are paying more tardily today than a year ago.

Small Talk: Time for suppliers to stand up to bully boys

Next time you buy something in Selfridges, feel free to tell its staff you're happy to pay the price marked on the goods but that if they want the money there and then, you expect a 5 per cent discount. After all, that's effectively what the department store chain has just told its suppliers.

Small Talk: Firms that have cash are finding it tough as well

In a nation obsessed with home ownership, savers have long been let down by policymakers' one-eyed focus on mortgage interest rates – never more so than today in this era of unprecedented monetary stimulus when millions of savers are earning negative real rates of return on their money. But while personal savers are beginning to build up a head of steam as they protest at the raw deal they're getting, who is looking out for the interests of small businesses who hold money on deposit?

Small Talk: George Osborne's Aim lifelines may not be a help to UK small firms

Aim's decline has damaged the once-buoyant broking sector in the City

Small Talk: Here's how Osborne can make a big difference to the SMEs

Almost exactly a year ago today, George Osborne arrived at the Federation of Small Businesses annual dinner with an inspiring message. "I know that with the energy, creativity, innovation and courage of Britain's small businesses we can take on the forces of stagnation and win," the Chancellor of the Exchequer told his audience, inviting small and medium-sized enterprises to take the lead in driving economic recovery.

Small Talk: It's vital firms take steps to defuse the stress time bomb

David Prosser feels it's time to thaw your business relationships

Small Talk: Entrepreneurship as a force for social good

One doesn't hear so much talk of the "big society" these days, but that is not to say it isn't out there. The rise of social entrepreneurship has largely gone unnoticed by the mainstream business community – or policymakers for that matter – but thanks to the support of some organisations that might surprise you, this is a movement which is definitely in the ascendancy.

Small Talk: Save the schemes that find finance for our small firms

Treasury minister David Gauke was in congratulatory mood at the EIS Association's annual dinner at the House of Lords last week. The enterprise investment scheme, through which investors get tax breaks for putting money into smaller companies, is "the most successful and widely respected venture capital relief scheme in Europe", Mr Gauke told his fellow diners.

Small Talk: Scandals can become a silver lining for the smaller retailer

If you're a butcher who can explain the provenance of every piece of meat, shout about it

Small Talk: It's vital to remember that not all small firms are the same

Chuka Umunna, Labour's high-profile shadow Business Secretary, is trying to stick to a new year's resolution that may surprise you: he has promised not to utter the phrase "small and medium-sized enterprise" (or even SME) during 2013. It's not that Mr Umunna and the Labour Party aren't interested in small business; his argument is that the phrase is so generic that it is both meaningless and misleading.

Small Talk: Watchdog has left door open on interest-rate swap cases

The emails began arriving within minutes of the announcement by the Financial Services Authority that tens of thousands of small businesses have been mis-sold interest-rate swaps by the banks. Within half an hour, no fewer than six "claims management" firms had got in touch offering their views on mis-selling and, naturally, their services to small businesses that might be due compensation.

Small Talk: Unity is strength when it comes to beating late payers

How do small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) deal with persistent late payers that damage their cashflow and jeopardise their very survival? A new piece of research from Barclays Bank suggests many SMEs are getting tough with late payers – if that's the case, it's not before time.

Small Talk: Taxman is cracking down hard on the small companies with very little hope

Is the taxman getting tough on small businesses struggling to pay their bills? HM Revenue & Customs' own figures suggest this may well be the case.HMRC's data, crunched by Wilkins Kennedy, the accountant, reveals that in the 2011-12 tax year, it presented 57 per cent more petitions to wind up companies with unpaid tax bills than in the previous 12 months. It sought to liquidate just over 5,300 companies last year, up from about 3,400 in 2010-11.

Small Talk: Problems ahead but the tax revolution looks a winner

HM Revenue & Customs is as adept as any commercial organisation at presenting changes to its practices as "improvements", no matter what additional expense or hassle they cause. So it is with real-time information (RTI), about which David Gauke, the Treasury minister with responsibility for HMRC, tends to be evangelical.

News
Lord Heseltine has been indelibly associated with the revival of Liverpool for four decades
Lord Heseltine is cautiously optimistic over the Coalition’s bid to put a regenerated Liverpool at the centre of its target to double exports to £1 trillion by 2020, says Russell Lynch
News
Demonstrators carry placards as they gather for an anti-fracking protest in London last week
As developers get set to bid in the UK’s biggest sale of onshore gas licences, the commercial benefits of drilling remain far from clear
News
GlaxoSmithKline Chinese headquarters
We’ll just have to wait and see if Sir Andrew’s apparent wit goes hand in hand with the wisdom to cure GSK’s problems, says James Moore
News
Burberry is opening new stores in San Francisco and Los Angeles this autumn
From discount to luxury, UK brands are vying to conquer the States. Laura Chesters asks if they can succeed in a graveyard for our retailers
News
Amazon founder Jeff Bezos is obsessed by sales
As its new smartphone makes its debut, it is sometimes hard to keep track of what Amazon does. And that's not a good sign
News
When God was giving out the moral outrage, Wall Streeters were inventing credit-default swaps. It's no surprise Ackman failed to take down Herbalife, says Mark McSherry
News
Fallen star Bo Xilai in court, in September last year; he was given a life sentence
The rules are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos , as he learns the dark arts from a master
News
A brand new prescription: ‘Only using healthy mice and rats to find cures for ill humans is old-fashioned,” says George Freeman
The UK’s first-ever minister for life sciences tells Margareta Pagano about his new role at the departments of business and health, transforming how the UK develops and finances medicine
News
Rich, young Russians won’t dump their English lives unless they have absolutely no other option, says Jim Armitage
News
It’s not a question of if, but when... interest rates have been kept artificially low for long enough, says Hamish McRae
News
There may be trouble ahead … David Levy has very rarely been wrong in his forecasts
David Levy’s family has correctly called every major financial event in the US for decades. Now he’s warning of a global recession next year. Bernard Condon investigates
News
A 1930 image of the Karl Albrecht Spiritousen and Lebensmittel shop, Essen. The shop was opened by Karl and Theo Albrecht’s mother; the brothers later founded Aldi
The retailer is on its knees, thanks to a German war veteran who turned the family grocers into the Aldi chain, writes Tony Paterson
News
It was Paul Fisher’s job to oversee and implement quantitative easing
Paul Fisher has left the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee after five years. He tells Ben Chu what Threadneedle Street got right and why the Bank behaved properly over forex
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book
Warren Buffett and Bill Gates are big fans of an out of print 1960s business book. Seth Stevenson explores why
News
News
Analysis: Some feel that Philip Clarke didn't get enough of a chance to prove himself
Voices
Mr Osborne, who is on a two-day trip to India with Foreign Secretary William Hague, said the two countries would see greater investment in each other’s economies and more job creation.
The young have been hurt the most by recession. They don't vote Tory and can't buy a house, so who cares?, writes David Blanchflower
News
One of the lines on the Metro do Porto network crosses the Dom Luis bridge
An interest rate swap arrangement has ended up costing a Portuguese state-owned transport company a fortune. So did it really understand the pages and pages of algebra in the contract, asks Jim Armitage
News
Is the new bank likely to be of much use? The emerging countries have done pretty well without it, says Hamish McRae
Life and Style
The value of Ruby Roman grapes has rocketed since they were first put on the market in 2008, finds Beckie Smith
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Day In a Page

Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash
Shipping container hotels: Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Spending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but these mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
Native American headdresses are not fashion accessories

Feather dust-up

A Canadian festival has banned Native American headwear. Haven't we been here before?
Boris Johnson's war on diesel

Boris Johnson's war on diesel

11m cars here run on diesel. It's seen as a greener alternative to unleaded petrol. So why is London's mayor on a crusade against the black pump?
5 best waterproof cameras

Splash and flash: 5 best waterproof cameras

Don't let water stop you taking snaps with one of these machines that will take you from the sand to meters deep
Louis van Gaal interview: Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era

Louis van Gaal interview

Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era
Will Gore: The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series

Will Gore: Outside Edge

The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series
The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz