Retail chief ‘alarmed’ by new business rates levy

Retail industry leader David Lonsdale today expressed alarm at Finance Secretary Derek Mackay’s..

Retail chief ‘alarmed’ by new business rates levy was originally published on Daily Business


Baillie Gifford takes office space at Mint Building

Chris Stewart Group has signed its second biggest deal in a week on a new office development under way in the centre of Edinburgh.

Baillie Gifford takes office space at Mint Building was originally published on Daily Business

Recruitment consultant joins BBR Services

mark donaldsonConstruction and residential property recruitment specialist, BBR Services, has announced the appointment of Mark Donaldson (pictured) as recruitment consultant.

A property sector recruitment specialist, Mr Donaldson previously held senior roles at FPSG and Eden Scott before joining the team at BBR’s head office in Edinburgh. Prior to joining the recruitment industry he worked in property sales roles in Europe and spent four years working in the financial services sector in a relationship management role at HSBC.

His key focus is on permanent property sector recruitment for residential sales, lettings and estates agencies and residential surveyors. He will also target opportunities in new sectors, including architectural firms.

BBR director Nicholas McVeigh-Crabbe said: “Mark is an experienced recruitment professional who comes to us with a wider background in the property and financial service sector.

“His appointment is designed to help us continue building our business across the UK by further developing our core sectors and focusing on new areas of opportunity.”

Recruitment consultant joins BBR Services was originally published on Daily Business

Staff share record bonus at PR firm Big

Allan Barr Big

Allan Barr: largest-ever staff bonus


Employees at PR agency Big Partnership will share in a £250,000 bonus pay-out after it reported its best-ever year. 

Turnover has increased by £1.4 million to a record £8.8m in the year to 31 May. Profits came in at £1.4m. No comparative figure was given but the company’s Manchester office, which opened in 2015, has doubled profits in the last year following client wins.

The 107 staff in six offices across Scotland and in Manchester will receive an average bonus of £2,336.

Major account wins across all offices have been complemented with an increase in marketing-led accounts with existing clients including Loganair, Stewart Milne Group and global energy skills body OPITO.

The firm has secured new business across a range of sectors and it now has more than 300 clients.


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Big director Allan Barr said: “As well as new account wins, we’ve also expanded the range of services we provide to existing clients, which has made a major contribution to fee income.

“We have a hugely talented team which works incredibly hard for clients and it’s important that they share in the success of the business, so we’re genuinely thrilled to be paying out our largest-ever staff bonus across the entire company.”

Big has taken on 27 staff and 26 interns in the last year and expects to increase headcount significantly over the next financial year, particularly in digital, design, creative and strategy roles.

Mr Barr, brother of co-founder Alex Barr, added: “This year has been the strongest in our history and we have continued to invest heavily in our people.

“We have strong momentum as we start our new financial year and will be unveiling some further senior hires very soon.”


Staff share record bonus at PR firm Big was originally published on Daily Business

Amazon and SE offer help for rural exporters

Fergus Ewing

Fergus Ewing: vital expertise (pic by Terry Murden)


Public sector enterprise agencies have teamed up with US online retail giant Amazon to help small businesses across rural Scotland develop their export potential.

Over 10,000 rural businesses across the UK currently sell on Amazon to grow their business online. and the company is staging an Amazon Academy programme for rural SMEs in partnership with Scottish Enterprise and Scottish Development International. 

Four events are planned for later this year in Aberdeen, Dumfries, Inverness and Selkirk – designed to equip Scottish SMEs with the skills they need to compete in a constantly growing digital economy. The first event is scheduled for Saturday 3 October in Dumfries as part of Dumfries & Galloway Business Week. 

Cabinet Secretary for the Rural Economy and Connectivity, Fergus Ewing said: “Interest from the private sector and the use of digital expertise will be vital to growing the rural economy going forward and these initial academies will aid that aim.”

The programme was announced following a report by Scotland’s Rural College and commissioned by Amazon, which found that unlocking the digital potential of rural areas in Scotland could add between £1.2 billion and £2.5bn annually in Gross Value Added to Scotland’s rural economy, and at least £1.44bn in rural business turnover. 

Doug Gurr, UK Country Manager, Amazon, said: “Every day, we see digital tools and services levelling the playing field between businesses operating in urban and rural parts of the country, whether that’s exporting locally produced goods or using cloud computing to scale their business.

“We know that Scotland has huge potential to grow its rural economy through digital, and hope that this programme will inspire more businesses in rural areas to embrace e-commerce.”

Amazon and SE offer help for rural exporters was originally published on Daily Business

Investment in staff brings rewards for legal firms

Chris Harte
Chris Harte
Richard Masters
Richard Masters

Two legal firms have reported strong growth on the back of investment in people.

Scottish independent Morton Fraser said its investment in talent was the foundation for a 9% rise in year-on-year income, topping the £20m threshold for annual billings for the first time in its history (£21.7m). Revenue is up 60% over five years.

International law firm Pinsent Masons, which acquired McGrigor Donald in 2012, saw global turnover increase by 6% to £449.8 million.

Fees billed rose by 10% on the previous year and in the last five years turnover has increased by more than 40% while profit growth has risen by 60%.

Morton Fraser’s performance-related bonus scheme will reward all staff with up to 13% of their annual salary. Profits have also risen by 13% this year. 

Noting that the number of independent Scottish firms is “dwindling”, Chris Harte, chief executive of Morton Fraser, said: “The quality of our team is the one consistent factor underpinning this period of growth for our business.” 

It now has more accredited employment specialists than any other firm in Scotland. Its real estate and corporate teams were active in a number of high profile deals and its banking and finance team won several key panel appointments. 

Among the deals it advised on were Rockspring’s purchase of 9-10 St. Andrew Square, Edinburgh and BAM Properties on its role in Edinburgh’s largest speculative office development at Capital Square.

Pinsent Masons, which employs 540 staff in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen, was appointed as global strategic partner to the fintech sector enabler, Fintech Scotland, and as legal mentors to the Oil & Gas Technology Centre’s TechX Pioneer accelerator and incubator programme in Aberdeen.

Notable deal activity by the firm’s corporate and banking teams included advising on the $1.6bn acquisition of Ithaca Energy by Delek Group, Shell’s $3.8bn sale of North Sea assets to Chrysaor, Tullow Oil’s sale of £30m of gas assets to HALO and a £74m funding package for Carraig Gheal wind farm in Argyll.

Pinsent Masons also advised on the only two Scottish flotations which took place in the last quarter of 2017, Springfield Property’s £387 million IPO and the £25.5 million AIM listing of fintech company Beeks Financial Cloud Group.

The results showed that approximately 90% of revenues are now generated from clients operating within the firm’s core global sectors of Advanced Manufacturing & Technology, Financial Services, Infrastructure, Energy and Real Estate and that profit per equity partner increased by 4.4%.

Pinsent Masons managing partner, John Cleland, said: “Our vision is to be recognised as an international market leader in the global sectors in which we specialise.”

Chairman of Scotland and Northern Ireland, Richard Masters, added: “Our involvement in some of the largest corporate transactions, representation at the top levels of strategically important bodies such as Fintech Scotland and the TechX initiative, and the promotion of our next generation of talented lawyers show that our Scottish offices are in robust health.”


Investment in staff brings rewards for legal firms was originally published on Daily Business

LNER takes to rails as Labour steps up campaign

First LNER trains

LNER trains began operating on Sunday (pic: Newsbox)


Labour will mark the return of East Coast Main Line (ECML) trains to pubic ownership by launching a fresh campaign to nationalise the network.

The party will argue that three failures by private operators on the route proves that the franchising model does not work.

Virgin Trains, which handed in the franchise on Sunday, stated that both investment and returns to the taxpayer were higher under its control than under the last period of public ownership.

Despite Virgin’s insistence that it was making good progress, Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard will today join activists outlining Labour’s plans to renationalise the network.

“East Coast coming back into public hands should make clear, once and for all, that the franchising model does not work. It is time to nationalise our railways and put public transport back into public hands.

“Getting to work shouldn’t be a gamble, but for too many passengers in Scotland the daily commute means an overcrowded, late running, overpriced train – if it turns up at all. 

“Some passengers in Scotland are spending up to 20 per cent of their wages on rail fares. 

“Labour offers a brighter future for our railways, with public ownership giving passengers more of a say and better services.”

Labour produced figures showing that ScotRail has failed to hit its punctuality target for the whole of 2017/18 and said a break in the contract with Abellio in 2020 allows the Scottish Government to bring the franchise in Scotland to an early end and take it back into public hands.

LNER begins operating

The protest today takes place as newly-liveried East Coast Main Line trains begin operating. The Aberdeen to London route will now be known as the London North Eastern Railway (LNER), a name last used in the 1940s.

Stagecoach and Virgin Trains, which had a 90% and 10% stake in the franchise respectively, handed over control on Sunday after running it since 2015. The first LNER train left Newcastle at 07:54 on Sunday.

The companies promised to pay £3.3bn to run the franchise until 2023, but at the end of last year it had become clear they were running into trouble.

In February it was announced that the franchise would end early, leading to accusations the government was bailing them out, denied by Transport Secretary Chris Grayling.

The Department for Transport will run the service until a new public-private partnership can be appointed in 2020.

Virgin Trains East Coast (VTEC) managing director David Horne will be in the same role at LNER and all VTEC staff will transfer to the new franchise.

As a result of the change £8m will be spent on marketing, rebranding, IT systems and staffing, according to LNER.

Virgin claims successes

On its website this weekend, Virgin Trains emphasises the gains made for travellers and the government during the three-years of operating the ECML, including higher investment and returns than under the last period of public ownership.

It notes “industry-leading customer satisfaction scores”, investment of £75 million in improving services and increased payments to taxpayers by 30%, both far higher than under DOR [directly operated railway], which previously operated the route.

It says a package of customer improvements has helped drive record passenger numbers and strong business growth this year, bucking a downwards trend in rail travel. In recent months, passenger numbers have grown by 5%, building on a record-breaking 21.8m journeys in 2017/18, 1.3m more than when Virgin Trains took over the east coast route in 2015.

Virgin Azuma

New Azuma trains will be handed over in December


Stagecoach and Virgin have prepared the route for the next phase of improvements in customer services with the introduction of the state-of-the-art fleet of 65 Azuma trains from this December.

Testing of the trains, whose name means “East” in Japanese, continued over the past week with visits to the last of 57 stations on the network to ensure platform compatibility.

ECML’s history of failure

1996-2006 Sea Containers

The East Coast route was first let to now-defunct freight giant Sea Containers upon the privatisation of British Rail in 1996, which operated it under the brand name GNER.

Early success led to its initial term being extended from 2003 until 2005, and then being re-awarded the franchise for another seven years from May 2005.

Problems started with the advent of ‘open-access’ operations that are not tied to government franchises. Grand Central won the right to stop at York, one of the busier destinations.

A mixture of over-bidding and poor profitability, linked partly to the 2005 terror attacks, cheap air fares, signalled the franchisor’s demise. In October 2006 Sea Containers filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in the US, and in December the Department for Transport  stripped it of the East Coast franchise.

2007-2009 National Express

The company mainly known for express coaches took over the franchise, but once again analysts said the winner had paid too much.

Within a year, they were starting to be proved right. By April 2009 it was in discussions with Whitehall over financial assistance.

2010-2015 State ownership

The Department for Transport established a East Coast Trains and became the most successful operator in the route’s privatised history and the most profitable operator on the British railways during its tenure.

2015-2018 Virgin and Stagecoach

A joint venture 90% owned by Stagecoach and 10% owned by the Virgin Group took over the East Coast route in March 2015, as Virgin Trains East Coast, until 2023.

In late 2017 financial problems were once again plaguing the operator and its tenure was cut back to 2020, saving Stagecoach and Virgin an estimated £2bn in premium payments.

Early this year Transport Secretary Chris Grayling admitted the franchise had become “unsustainable”, and instructed civil servants to investigate options for its future.


LNER takes to rails as Labour steps up campaign was originally published on Daily Business