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INSURANCE FOR YOUNG DRIVERS

INSURANCE FOR YOUNG DRIVERS

Looking to get your young workers out on the road? Here’s how to make it affordable.

The aftermarket supports youth employment. It’s great for the industry and even better for the people being given their opportunity in a thriving work environment. If you run a business that employs young people, and require them to drive for business, you will need to consider what ramifications that has for your insurance programme.

In times of financial uncertainty, sourcing competitive rates from your suppliers is paramount. Unfortunately, adding young drivers to your motor trade or fleet insurance policy makes you less attractive to insurers. After all, it’s no secret the insurance industry doesn’t have a favourable view of covering young drivers, which can lead to eye-watering premiums for you, and even a refusal to cover those drivers at all.

However, this doesn’t have to be the case. In fact, with a bit of planning and tweaking to the way you manage your vehicles and drivers, it’s possible to manage your premiums and still give your young employees the opportunity to build their careers in a driving role.

Restrict vehicle usage

Allowing your drivers to take vehicles home can help mitigate the risks involved with having all your vehicles stored in one place and act as a significant employee benefit. But it also increases the risk of incident in the eyes of insurance companies, especially if social use is permitted. Consider restricting this access to older and more experienced drivers only and exclude social use if you can.

With night driving considered another risk factor you could restrict your younger drivers from using your vehicles during the hours of darkness.

Consider your excess

Most insurers will insist on a higher excess if a driver has held their license for less than 12 months, though some specialist policies will negate this. Increased excesses can also apply to drivers under 25.

However, you can also voluntarily increase your policy’s standard excess, which may lower your premiums. This works particularly well if you generally don’t claim for minor damage. Some companies also make employees liable for any excess charges that might occur, to offset the potentially increased costs of repairs.

Monitor with telemetry

Driver training courses can give younger, less experienced drivers a better understanding of safe and responsible motoring, and can count in your favour when it comes to calculating premiums.

Fitting cameras and telematics can also help reduce insurance costs. In fact, the simple presence of a camera has been proven to improve people’s driving style. Telematic data can even be used to form a league table for your drivers, and create a bonus structure that rewards good driving.

Disciplinary process

Do you have a robust disciplinary process for your drivers? One where they can be taken off the road whilst a situation or concern is resolved? If not, we’d recommend one is implemented. Being able to demonstrate you have policies like this in place demonstrates to insurers you are taking the necessary steps to mitigate risk, a key factor when looking to reduce premiums.

Article by Joe Howard, Associate Director at Norwich-based insurance firm Hugh J Boswell

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BUYING IN TO A FRANCHISE

Business can be tough for small and local, independent firms. Despite the freedoms associated with running a business that is at liberty to do whatever it likes in terms of appearance, business model, etc., there isn’t the financial assistance or technical information that a bigger brand, franchiser or buying group can provide.

One business owner who has had a thorough experience with an automotive garage franchise is Kamran Saleem, now owner of the independent MotorServ UK service centre business. Prior to running his current venture, Saleem operated a branch of the iAuto garage network. Describing the initial set-up of the branch, Saleem said: “The actual delivery and installs and everything of equipment and fixtures for the garage, that actually ran very smoothly and we were very happy with what was going on at the start of the franchise, it was brilliant. They provided a lot of support.”

Saleem and a technician in the workshop

Through the iAuto network, Saleem, whose background was in automotive sales and ‘knew as much about car servicing as the man in the street’, was able to learn the ins and outs of the industry. “It gave me the insight, all the trade secrets, background etc. So that’s probably a year’s worth of experience in a week,” he said. At the time, Saleem was paying five percent of turnover as a franchise fee, as well as some fees for software licences.

Marketing

Initially, Saleem recalled that things like supplies, kit, trade contacts, branding and more were ‘spot on’, but issues started to arise after the set-up. “When we actually opened, day one, it was like: ‘okay, how do we get the cars in now?’,” he said. Sales did not pick up substantially, and Saleem noted that a lack of marketing by the franchise did not help. “What they needed to do is focus on marketing, focus on sales, focus on this or that, but they were too busy selling franchises that they were over run.” Plus, Saleem claims that his own efforts to market the business were not heeded quickly as all the initiatives needed approval which too long to obtain.

Eventually, Saleem decided to leave the franchise, which was a negative experience in itself, requiring the need for a BFA lawyer. “The franchise agreement, they’re heavily weighted towards the franchisor,” said Saleem. “There aren’t a lot of lawyers around that will actually take on a franchise agreement that’s written properly.” iAuto agreed to terminate the contract, but Saleem claims it took ‘about nine months in total to get out’, and ‘ended up costing me probably £70k in costs and loss in income and sales growth during the period all this was going on’.

Programmes

However, Wendy Williamson, Chief Executive of the IAAF, makes a distinction between franchises and garage programmes and believes that the latter are beneficial for the industry. “To me, the definition of a ‘franchise’ is a business that is absolutely run to a very tight set of rules and regulations,” she said. “And I think it’s not what we see in the aftermarket. We see garage programmes where the independent garage still has their independence, they are still Joe Bloggs independent garage…”

Williamson was once involved in the Unipart Car Care Centre scheme, which provided a ‘much more professional image for the garage,’ she explained. “These days, many of our key distributors offer similar programmes with UAN, Groupauto, UK Parts Alliance, ECP, all having very similar programmes which I’m a big fan of and still think they are absolutely key to giving garages as much support as they possibly can,” she said.

Ultimately, when it comes to pros versus cons, Williamson notes that: “I wouldn’t necessarily really see that many cons with these programmes”, and thinks challenges facing the independent aftermarket such as connected vehicles and data access mean that: “the more that the independent sector can support each other right the way through the supply chain, the better it is for the whole sector.”

There are benefits to being being in a group or franchise, but talking to fellow businesses within the industry might help.

“Don’t necessarily rely upon the data that you’re given by the franchisor. Look at the other franchisees, if they exist; you’re going to be in their shoes after all,” said Saleem.

“So make sure you’ve got access to them. And if you are blocked access to the other franchisees or you’re not given the opportunity to discuss things … then there might be something up”  he concluded.Buis

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COMPANIES HOUSE – THE CASE FOR REFORM…

COMPANIES HOUSE – THE CASE FOR REFORM…

By Peter Windat – accountant and insolvency practitioner at BRI Business Recovery and Insolvency 

The work and practices of Companies House, the repository for all information on the majority of the UK’s companies and similar registered entities, is currently under review. In May, the Department for Business Energy and Industrial Strategy issued a consultation about options to reform the body and change is coming.

In recent years concerns have grown that the UK’s framework is open to misuse. Concerns arise mainly from four interrelated issues – misuse of UK companies by international criminals and corrupt elites; the accuracy of information held at Companies House; the abuse of personal information on the register; and the limited nature of cross checks between Companies House and other public and private sector bodies.

Given a span of 80 pages much is covered, and the view is clearly that much work needs to be done to help keep the UK in the leading pack of countries in which it is desirable to start and grow a business.

Know who’s managing

The government is proposing that individuals who have a key role in companies should have their identity verified. This would apply to company officers (directors), People with Significant Control (PSCs), and those filing information.

It should be possible to introduce such identity checks simply but there are also important data protection issues.

The consultation sets out why greater certainty over the identity of those shown as owning, running or controlling companies is needed, it shows how new technology offers the opportunity to obtain greater assurance over identities, and sets out far-reaching proposals to introduce identity checks for those who file information on the register, directors, PSCs and, on a voluntary basis, shareholders.

This document proposes a series of reforms that would deliver better quality information on the register – including extending the powers of Companies House to query and seek corroboration on information before it is entered on the register and making it easier to remove inaccurate information. In addition, the government is proposing improvements to the process and delivery of annual accounts to Companies House. The government intends to maintain the current approach to retaining records of dissolved companies on the register for 20 years from dissolution.

Personal information

The government has outlined how Companies House will store information if its proposals are adopted. Under identity verification proposals, access to the register will be carefully managed, allowing only identified or authorised persons to file information. New processes are proposed for sensitive information to be protected. Proposals to allow directors some additional rights to suppress their information from public view have also been set out.

Information on the register should be of real, practical use to those who wish to find out information about those taking advantage of the privilege and protection of limited liability. However, information on the register should not become a tool for abuse and so information of a sensitive personal nature will not be made publicly available.

Ensuring compliance

Companies House data on UK corporate bodies could be improved through cross checks against data held by other government and private sector bodies. The government wants to see the exchange of intelligence made easier in order to enable greater sophistication in identifying possible criminal behaviour. This will lead to faster identification of anomalies between data at Companies House and elsewhere.

Also sought were views on several related measures that might deter abuse of UK legal entities, including ending the business activities of limited partnerships which are being misused, imposing limits on the number of directorships any one individual can hold, disclosure of banking information and action to deter misuse of company names and addresses.

The routine cross-checking of information on the companies register against external data sets and powers to obtain feedback on discrepancies identified is proposed alongside adopting a risk-based approach to the sharing of intelligence with police and requiring firms to provide bank details.

Implementation

The proposals in the consultation, if implemented in full, would amount to the most significant reform of the UK’s company registration framework since a register was first introduced in 1844 and go to the core of the Companies Act. There will be an impact on the fees levied by Companies House, though the government fully expects them to remain very low compared to international standards.

The transformation will touch every aspect of Companies House’s work, covering both customer-facing and internal digital systems.

Although responses to the proposals were required by August 5, there will be a little leeway for late submissions.

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IS THE AFTERMARKET EMISSIONS COMPLIANT?

IS THE AFTERMARKET EMISSIONS COMPLIANT?

By Greg Whitaker

At this year’s What Car? Awards the coveted ‘Car of the Year’ gong was picked up by Kia for its e-Niro EV. This marked the first time that a car maker from the Pacific Rim had picked up such an accolade, but crucially it was the first time that an electric car could be considered practical enough for the magazine to recommend one to its readers as being better than, rather than just a compromised alternative to, a conventional petrol or diesel-powered car.

Electrification is one of three major areas (or to use industry jargon ‘megatrends’) where the motor industry is changing and fast, with the other two being ‘connected car’ and autonomy. This is good news for the health of all concerned, but does it mean that car manufacturers are done with conventional power trains?

The answer is no, at least if you read some of the press releases about emissions-reducing technology that is being developed in reaction to emissions. Delphi Technologies for example produces a GDI (gasoline direct injection) system that runs at 350 bar – tech that the manufacturer itself immodestly describes as ‘state of the art’. However even this has now been supplanted by a new system that runs at an intense 500+ bar, or around 7,500 psi.

Under pressure

Such pressure means the fuel vapour mix is so fine it will explode at an atomic level, meaning even very small particulates are reduced by half. However, running engines so hard is not without problems.

“The industry has long recognized that increasing injection pressure to 500+ bar could substantially cut engine-out particulates while improving CO2 emissions and fuel economy,” explained Walter Piock, Chief Engineer, Gasoline Systems, Delphi Technologies.

The challenge has been to achieve such pressures without increasing the drive loads from the pump. As most engines power the GDI pump through the camshaft drive, a conventional approach would usually require a costly redesign and strengthening of the camshaft mechanism.

“By designing an innovative new internal sealing system for our GFP3 500+ bar pump, in some applications, we have designed a downsized plunger diameter which prevents increasing the loads in the drive mechanism,” said Piock.

Descriptions of the Multec 16 injectors and ‘forged rail’ make no reference to the parts being serviceable, and it is likely that components under that significant amount of pressure will be sealed for life.

Time will tell how reliable a pump that operates under such a load will be, but there can be no denying that the increase in combustion efficiency will allow the petrol engine to be a viable proposition to both the buying public and to politicians for a while yet.

Of course, the aftermarket has to follow OE so there is little in the way of innovation in this field, although products such as ‘universal’ lambda sensors could well make the emissions from a vehicle worse as they are not calibrated to the specific values needed for the application. Fortunately there a plenty of OE-spec parts available, such as the recently launched wide band (also known as five-wire) sensor range under NGK’s NTK sensors brand.

“We have had a very positive response from our customers to the launch of our new NTK five-wire sensors. NTK has more than 40 years’ experience in the sensor business and this is a fantastic addition to our portfolio” said Mark Hallam, Marketing Manager at NGK UK.

Slippery issue

It is also no secret that lubricants are getting thinner in a bid to increase engine efficiency. “Car and lubricants manufacturers try to improve the fuel economy of cars by reducing the viscosity of engine and transmission oils. A thinner oil flows more easily and requires less energy for it to be pumped into the engine,” said Bob Wood, a Technical Engineer at Total Lubricants. “To be compliant with ACEA specifications, synthetic oils or severely hydrocracked base oils are used in combination with the dedicated additives, to not only meet the minimum requirements, but to exceed them”. Wood added that the pace of development of thin synthetic oils for modern and hybrid engines is fast, and that innovations in the additive pack, such as the firm’s patented ‘age resistant’ technology would continue.

Standards question

Buying aftermarket products that directly relate to the emissions that a vehicle produces can be complex. Equipment such as DPFs and catalysts vary wildly in price and this is due in part to different methods of producing them. One of the main areas of debate over the last few years is how effective these components are. David Carpenter of Cats and Pipes explained to us the last time we spoke that: “When buying a product of this technical complexity, in order to guarantee the product complies, it is important to purchase a product that meets Euro classification and comes with all the relevant and up to date test data and quality approval marks”.

Crucially, and in reference to a row that the aftermarket had seen in recent years, he added: “It is also important to question the data and information received to ensure it applies to the actual product you are purchasing. Also, very simply, if the aftermarket version you are buying is totally different in appearance and size to the manufacturer fitted version, there has to be a difference in performance”.

“This is particularly relevant with DPFs and CATs that are supposed to meet the Euro classification to be retailed in the UK. If they are physically only half the size of the original factory fitted part, they cannot possibly meet the standards to which they are supposed to comply. This is a challenge for the aftermarket and small companies which often do not have the time or resources to check all this information and are often buying purely on price and good faith however visual checks are a good place to start,” he furthered, concluding that apart from the environmental issue, products that don’t meet the spec result in returns and unhappy customers.

It seems that the battle of price vs quality is not over yet.

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HOW TO BE A LEADER IN UNCERTAIN TIMES

HOW TO BE A LEADER IN UNCERTAIN TIMES

 

ARTICLE WRITTEN BY FORMER ENGLND CRICKETER, JEREMY SNAPE

 

It is a difficult time to be a business leader in the motor trade, and as Brexit uncertainty amplifies, businesses that rely on the EU for supplies and trade, are being tested like never before.

Already we are witnessing suppliers stockpiling parts to avoid the mayhem that chronic uncertainty has caused this vital sector.

Jeremy Snape urges firm leadership in an uncertain age

Imagine you are the boss of an independent garage that sources obscure but vital components for a certain make of van. Your biggest customer has a 50-strong fleet of these vans, and they need to be assured that your garage will keep supplying those vital parts without disruption that Brexit could bring – what do you do?

The UK’s future trading relationship with the EU is just one of the many ongoing concerns facing independent garages and distributors. The sale of diesel cars in freefall following the 2016 emissions scandal, while automated cars are the way of the future with petrol being phased out by 2040.

Even after the Brexit dust settles, they will be no end in sight for the huge environmental issues affecting the motor trade. London, for instance, has introduced a new charging zone for older polluting vehicles that enter the city, something that could be rolled out across the UK.

These fundamental challenges call for leaders who are capable of withstanding intense pressure.

Now is not the time to dither, but instead focus on showing courage, clarity, action and most importantly, leadership.

For lessons in leadership you could do no better than look to the military or elite sport, which operate in environments of intense pressure, constant uncertainty and, in the case of the military, life or death decisions. You might argue that in professional sport, international football and rugby teams operate in environments where some people think the outcome is even more important.

The pressure powerful enough to unnerve even the most experienced players as I have learned from personal experience. Mental preparation is key to success.

Back in 2002, when I was privileged enough to be included in the England Cricket squad tour of India, my game collapsed in front of 120,000 people while I was up against batting legend Sachin Tendulkar.

The crowd roared as the pressure built up inside me that day, I couldn’t hear a thing and I ran Freddie Flintoff out. Right there and then I felt I wasn’t good enough to be there. It was only later when I started exploring psychology that I understood it wasn’t India that beat me that day, but my own mindset.

This started my research quest to find out what neuroscientists, military leaders, and Olympians could teach us all about performing under pressure.

In the last decade I’ve interviewed some of the world’s most impressive and prolific leaders, from Sir Alex Ferguson to military generals and even the Performance Director at the Cirque du Soleil to understand what tactics and strategies they use to mentally prepare for uncertainty.

In doing so I have distilled the secrets of their success into a digital library which helps my clients to maintain a winning mindset when they need it most.

Here are some essential tactics to help you cope with chronic uncertainty.

  1. Stop blaming others; own the situation.

With our current Brexit situation there are plenty of people you might feel like blaming– the electorate; former Prime Minister David Cameron; the EU; MPs in Westminster; our Prime Minister.  But when Brexit is done there will be another fundamental problem in its place. You can’t continue to blame others for everything that is wrong in the world, you need to get over it.

In the world of sport, we see elite coaches stepping up when things have gone wrong, not making excuses.

Ireland Rugby coach Joe Schmidt didn’t hide after his team was beat by Wales in the final Six Nations match in February. It later turned out some of the squad had been hit by a stomach bug in the run up to match, but that wasn’t an excuse for poor play, said Schmidt, they were simply beaten by a better team and would need to work out a strategy for the World Cup in Japan.

As Schmidt shows, great leaders don’t waste time blaming others: it may win you sympathy, but it won’t help you solve the problems.

Uncertainty creates opportunity so start by owning the situation and making a plan that turns the uncertainty into an advantage.  After all, other businesses have the same problems so those that actively tackle the situation will be the ones that succeed.

  1. Pressure is a privilege.

 

Having played in and worked with some of the world’s highest profile sporting teams, I’ve seen how they use pressure as privilege and use this mindset to tackle potential issues head on. Worrying about what might or could happen leads to paralysis, so an effective leader must embrace the challenges ahead.

In the military, the best leaders prepare their teams for Plan A, but they also throw scenarios into the training that get the teams thinking on their feet. I’ve supported several senior leadership sessions at Sandhurst military academy and heard how they create challenging and chaotic scenarios to test the soldiers’ ability to think clearly and adapt under pressure.

In a business context, this could mean equipping teams with the skills to make decisions under extreme pressure and rehearsing with scenarios. By pressure testing various challenges, you will be more familiar with the decision-making sequence that follows when chaos ensues. What if vital parts for your biggest customer was stopped at the border?

  1. Don’t micromanage – enable.

 

An effective leader needs to have confidence that their team so that they are empowered to make crucial decisions when needed.

This may sound good on paper, but, I hear you ask, what does that mean in practice?

Making sure that vital employees are given the right training is essential for building confidence in them. Equipped with the right skills and level of autonomy, team members will feel empowered to make decisions – and this could be the difference between you and your competitors, who are dally without making business choices.

  1. Be fluid not fixed.

 

Rapidly changing situations calls for leaders who can bring together diverse people to fix problems and exploit opportunities, fast.

Leaders must understand that they can’t predict and prevent all problems from arising, they must prepare teams so they can assess and respond quickly.

Understanding your biggest business threats, whether that is Brexit or environmental issues, and how your business will respond if they become reality is important to be able to withstand the pressure that comes from uncertainty.

Confidence comes from preparation, so plan for the unexpected and turn disruption to a commercial advantage.

Very few will have the perfect strategy to deal with the political uncertainty in coming weeks but those who maximise their mindset and culture will have the best chance of winning whatever the position.

 

  • Former England Cricketer Jeremy Snape founded Sporting Edge,  a consultancy that ‘unlocks the Winning Mindset in business’. Stated in 2005, the firm’s approach to corporate learning helps businesses to stay ahead of the game.

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EMPLOYMENT LAWS ARE CHANGING – ARE YOU?

EMPLOYMENT LAWS ARE CHANGING – ARE YOU?

By Tina Chander – partner and head of the Employment team at leading Midlands law firm, Wright Hassall

Tina Chander

Since 2010, the UK has experienced lower unemployment rates across every region, underpinned by a strong and innovative labour market that has seized on the opportunities offered by new technologies, emerging business models and changing ways of working. 

Existing employment law and policy framework has found a balance between flexibility and worker protections, placing Britain in a strong position to benefit from the new industrial revolution and the opportunities it will bring.

Out with the old, in with the new

The government unveiled its Good Work Plan in December 2018 as a direct and carefully detailed strategy to strengthen worker’s rights and change employment laws.

Labelled as ‘the biggest package of workplace reforms for over 20 years’, the plan builds on the Taylor Review recommendations of February 2018 and outlines an intention to improve conditions for agency, zero-hour and other atypical workers.

Within this plan, the government commits to a wide range of policy and legislative changes, clarifying the relationship between employers and workers, while ensuring the enforcement system is fair and fit for purpose.

As working becomes more flexible and varied, it is imperative that the key protections relied on by workers are not negatively impacted, and this Good Work Plan is designed to reinforce existing rights.

Requesting stable contracts

One of the main issues addressed is ‘one-sided flexibility’, which recognises some businesses have transferred too much business risk to the individual, affecting their financial security and personal well-being.

New legislation will give workers the right to request a more stable contract, allowing them to benefit from flexible working, without the financial uncertainty.

Those happy to work varied hours each week can do so, but others will be allowed to request a fixed working pattern after 26 weeks of service, giving workers greater control over their own lives.

For those working zero-hour contracts, this change will allow them to request a contract that guarantees a minimum number of weekly hours, which is crucial when looking to secure a mortgage.

Repealing Swedish derogation

The Good Work Plan also addresses Swedish derogation, which currently allows agency workers to exchange their right to be paid equally to permanent counterparts in return for a contract guaranteeing pay between assignments.

Although the original intentions of Swedish derogation were to offer reassurance that individuals would still earn during quieter periods, some employers have been using this opt-out to reduce the size of their pay bill.

Nowadays it is very unusual for agency workers to have gaps between their assignments, and in some cases, employers have devised schemes to keep their exposure to a minimum contrary to the requirements originally outlined.

The government aims to repeal Swedish derogation with new legislation, banning the use of this type of contract to withhold equal pay rights. Instead, long-term agency workers will receive equal wages to those of permanent employees.

Tougher enforcement measures

In order to create a level playing field between businesses, there needs to be effective enforcement.

The government plans to extend state enforcement for vulnerable workers, introducing tough financial penalties and an approach that already applies to underpayment of the National Minimum Wage.

This involves increasing enforcement protections for agency workers where they have pay withheld or unclear deductions made, while new legislation will increase the maximum penalty imposed during employment tribunals on the grounds of aggravated breach.

Ongoing employment developments

While the Good Work Plan looks set to bring about some wholesale changes to employment law and workers’ rights, there are other broader developments on the horizon.

On April 6, 2019, new legislation under the Employment Rights Act 1996 is due to come into force, introducing a right for all workers to be provided with an itemised pay statement and the ability to enforce this right at an employment tribunal.

On the same day, other legislation will require itemised payslips to contain the number of hours paid for where a worker is payed hourly.

Preparing for the future

With the arrival of the Good Work Plan and ongoing consultation regarding employment laws and legislation, 2019 will be a crucial year for businesses and workers alike.

It’s important that organisations take the time to review the changes and understand the requirements outlined in the new legislation, as non-compliance could cost organisations financially and damage their reputation.

If you’re unsure about the Good Work Plan and wider developments, it is important to consult a legal team with significant experience of employment law and the imminent changes.

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IS AMMONIA THE NEXT DIESELGATE?

Mark Blinston, commercial director of BM Catalysts, examines the potentially harmful effects created by the use of SCR technology in modern day diesels

Talk of emissions is never far away as of late and it seems that the problem isn’t set to go away any time soon. From CO2, particulate matter and the infamous NOx, there is another potential emissions problem looming on the horizon in the form of ammonia pollution.

Whilst Euro emissions standards continue to tighten in response to the ongoing emissions crisis, with the current Euro 6 legislation being the strictest set to date, it is apparent that not everything is quite as it seems.

With tighter emissions requirements comes the need for new vehicles to incorporate technologies designed to combat these emissions. Technologies such as Selective Catalyst Reduction (SCR) are just one method used today on modern diesel vehicles that aim to help eliminate the harmful NOx gases they emit. However it seems that everything comes with its consequences. Despite the use of SCR technology being hailed as one of the greatest and most effective feats to date in helping to tackle the NOx crisis, it doesn’t come without flaws of its own.

SCR systems work by a process of a Diesel Exhaust Fluid (DEF) being injected into the exhaust system. As exhaust gases travel between the Diesel Particulate Filter and the SCR, the DEF (most commonly ‘AdBlue’) that has been added to the mix works by reacting with the base metal coating of the catalyst, converting harmful NOx gases into less harmful by-products, nitrogen and oxygen. The DEF used in this process is comprised of urea and deionised water, otherwise known as a less concentrated form of ammonia. Whilst DEF is a non-hazardous liquid, its gases, under the wrong circumstances, can be extremely harmful.

The function of SCR technology can only be fully utilised under appropriate conditions, such as the optimal operating temperature of around 350-450°C being achieved, by which it can help reduce NOx emissions by as much as 95%. However when placed in conditions such as built-up urban areas comprised of low speeds and heavy traffic, this isn’t always possible, which can lead to further complications aside from NOx pollution. It is possible that under such circumstances of low efficiency, the ammonia which is continually injected into the system may not be used entirely leading to what is known as ‘ammonia slip’. This is where excess ammonia exits the system and is expelled into the atmosphere, thus further adding to pollutant levels.

The rise of ammonia in the atmosphere has already seen an increase of 3.2 per cent between 2015 and 2016 according to UK Government figures, which also coincides with the implementation of the Euro 6 emissions standards. This indicates that, whilst the fight against NOx rages on, the increased use of the technologies required to help combat them, in this case SCR, may be posing further emissions concerns. As SCR technology continues to become the go-to choice in new diesel vehicles for its proven NOx reducing capabilities, it begs the question of what impact the rise in ammonia pollution is going to have on both us and the environment. It is clear that whilst positive changes such as the steadily declining atmospheric NOx levels are taking shape, there are other factors that also need to be taken into consideration before it’s too late.

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MANUFACTURING IN THE MODERN AGE

Mark Blinston, Commercial Director – BM Cats

For most of us, BM needs no introduction. One of its plants, tucked away in an innocuous industrial estate in Mansfield, Nottinghamshire, doesn’t give anything away from the outside. It’s only when you step through the door that the scope of BM’s undertaking with emissions products is revealed. All of it (or most; some robots weren’t working on the day we arrived) moves with automated efficiency alongside ceiling-high racks upon racks of raw material storage. Mark Blinston, BM’s Commercial Director, cheerily explains some of the serious-looking machines churning away on the plant floor. One of them is producing a small waterfall of oil continuously, and every minute or so a freshly-machined nut tumbles out into a collection tray. “We use this for producing sensor ports and various other machined parts,” says Mark. “The most expensive one we have cost £170,000. The CNC Lathe machines can run 24 hours a day and are fully automated. We manufacture these components in-house to give us control over quality and design whilst reducing the inventory labels required when importing them.” Other automated machines at work include a 200-tonne press to stamp out the shells for BM’s catalytic converters; welders; CNC Miller machines; and three large tables upon which an automated plasma cutter line is fast at work. We have to be careful not to look directly at the beams.

The whole operation exudes a sense of pride, considering that not so long ago all of this was non-existent.

Beginnings

BM, like any company, had humble beginnings. When it was founded in 1966 by Alf Belton and Eric Massey, the company offered one service: fitting tyres for the local community. Operating out of a single base in Bulwell with five members of staff, it wasn’t until a few years later that government legislation led the company to expand its operation to fitting exhausts as well. Then, when legislation requiring mandatory catalytic converters was enacted, BM seized the opportunity to begin producing their own. In true full-circle fashion, BM has grown from sourcing exhaust parts from big suppliers in Europe to being a major supplier to them. “We were buying exhausts from all of these people as a garage,” says Blinston, “and they’ve allowed us to set up and it’s come all the way around to the fact that we now supply them! It’s quite bizarre.” Indeed, it takes some pretty astounding oversight on the part of competing European firms to allow a small garage in the East Midlands to become the largest independent manufacturer of cats, DPFs and front pipes in the whole of Europe, but this is precisely what has happened. Today, BM is almost entirely self-sufficient, manufacturing and machining its own parts – even down to the nuts used to fasten sensors on to the catalytic converters – to be used later on in the assembly process. “What we’ve got to do is keep our products as cost effective as possible, hence the investments in all the bits and bobs –” robotics and machinery, in this case “– so that we don’t then have someone in the way taking a margin as well,” says Blinston. The other benefit of being self-sufficient is that relying on European-based suppliers for parts is about to get a whole lot harder…

Brexit

For BM, the disadvantages that a hard Brexit might place upon the company are numerous; particularly frustrating given the strong position the company has earned itself over the years. “Of course, some of our European competitors will have an instant advantage over us if we have a hard Brexit. There’ll be no tariffs [for them], and it would take longer for our stock to get to our customers,” Blinston explained.

Plenty of storage at the Mansfield plant. Will Brexit affect imports?

A solution could be to move at least a portion of BM’s manufacturing into Europe before the UK officially leaves, as others have done. But for Blinston, this isn’t on the cards. “You’ve got to spend millions setting up plants in a low-cost economy that in five years’ time isn’t a low cost economy any more. Poland, five or ten years ago, was a cheap place to manufacture, but their economy’s grown quite a bit. So it’s tricky, and we wouldn’t want to be as far out as China.” In addition, all of this wouldn’t play into BM’s identity as a British manufacturer, something Blinston wears on his sleeve. “We’re proud to be a British manufacturer, to be honest with you. It can be done here. There’s this massive assumption that you can’t make things here, and we are.

“It will be interesting to see how [Brexit] affects other people. I suspect that some people will have buried their heads, and I suspect that some people have got plans like we have.” Blinston says that BM has a number of scenarios in place depending on the outcome of a Brexit deal on March 29th. And, in a worst-case scenario where trade is halted altogether, the warehouse stockpiles could enable BM to continue producing components for 10 to 12 months. But selling and sourcing parts isn’t the only issue that Brexit has brought upon the firm.

Automated plasma cutters at work

Human resource 

This year has been a struggle for BM in an unexpected way. “It’s a shortage of manpower,” says Blinston. “For the first time in our history this summer, the factory couldn’t cope with sales. We were selling more every day than we were able to make, so our stocks became massively depleted.” There were a couple of factors that made 2018 difficult in this respect: particularly high demand, a red-hot summer and a world cup (yes, really!) made it difficult to get workers in. “When you’re working a 10-hour weld shift in hot conditions, do they want to stay and do overtime for an extra four hours? Very difficult…” says Blinston.

The availability of skilled workers is another area in which the uncertainty of Brexit is proving a nightmare for BM. “Since the referendum we’ve found a smaller pool of workers from outside the UK wanting to work. People are going back because they’re worried about settled status.” But crucially, the lack of skilled workers is an issue that starts at home. “It does worry me that people coming out of school or college that would normally go into the engineering sector or fabricational welding, they don’t want to do it anymore,” says Blinston. “They want a beautiful office environment with air conditioning and table football.” Although Blinston says that BM have managed to recruit a sufficient amount of welders for now, the frustration from passing up on sales and certain supply deals over the summer, costing millions of pounds worth of business, still lingers.

Future

Despite everything, Blinston remains optimistic about BM’s future. “Our company has always thrived in difficult, challenging circumstances. I think we just tend to navigate the choppy waters a little bit better.” Plus, regardless of Brexit, the emissions market will see increasing developments which should drive sales for manufacturers. The addition of SCR (Selective Catalytic Reduction) systems, for example, “is going to drive sales for AdBlue, temperature sensors, NOx sensors, this kind of stuff,” says Blinston. Although Euro-4 products make up 37 percent of BM’s sales, Euro-5 and 6 ones are fast catching up. “The trick,” he concludes, is to “never stop investing” in new market developments. Easier said than done, but BM certainly seems to be in a position to do so.

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THE GUARDIANS OF THE ARCHES

First published October 2018

Last year, National Rail announced that it had agreed to sell off every archway property in what would become a £1.5 billion deal with private equity and property management firms Telereal Trillium and New York-based Blackstone Group.This meant that every business – and many garages and workshops – operating out of each of the 4,455 archway properties owned by Network Rail underwent rent evaluations and, perhaps unsurprisingly, prices didn’t go down.  One of these is Clapham North MOT garage, under the brick foundations of Clapham North’s railway arches, has been operating since the 60s under Ronnie Grant, now 93. Prior to the sale, the garage received a letter in November last year notifying them of a rent hike – from £33,000 per year to £147,000.

“It was a demand. End of story,” says Ronnie’s son, George Grant. “We obviously went:  ‘there is some mistake here.’” When it became apparent that the hike wasn’t a mistake, George – who recently took over ownership of Clapham North MOT from his father – and dozens of other small archway businesses formed a group called the Guardians Of The Arches. The exposure from the price hike culminated in a trip to Westminster and a meeting with Transport Minister Jo Johnson, who also brought in the bosses of Network Rail. They revealed plans for the sale. “We absolutely laid into them,” said Grant. The Network Rail figures apologised, saying that they had conducted a ‘desktop review’ of the estate, which resulted in the price hike.

But George was sceptical. He mentions that three years prior, he received a notice saying that Network Rail wanted to redevelop the garage into “a wine bar or something similar.” “How can I say it… they were being ‘creative’ in the way in which they said our garage is located on the high street. It’s not on the high street, it’s set back. We think they had ulterior motives, basically to create an estate which was highly valuable.”

Location

To be sure, the archway properties are ideally located for enterprise. Garages around the country set up shop in similar conditions. But value is more than location and potential; how much a business is really worth can often be gleaned through community feedback, something Clapham North Garage receives in spades and which would be lost if it were sold out of business. “We have a unique way of customers and that is you look after people, it’s not rocket science. We have several generations of customer, and we do such a good job that even people who have moved out of London have come in.”

For Grant, this adds a particular sting to the price hikes. “These business were thriving in their communities. Thriving in conditions most normal businesses wouldn’t occupy because of the damp and noisy arches. These are Victorian premises, and they’re not for everybody. We’ve taken the hit as a business and set ourselves up in them with the knowledge that it’s good enough for us.”

Indeed, gentrification was one of the desired outcomes of the selloff posited by Network Rail CEO Mark Carne (who has since retired). Carne said at the time of the deal that it would bring investment “for the benefit of the local communities and it will help fund a better railway. I hope to see areas around the railway positively transformed with new and refurbished shops, amenities, and extra facilities for local people and passengers.”

Of course, Grant takes a dimmer view of matters, particularly in regards to the motives of the private firms to whom matters are being handed. “You’ve got to remember that these people are completed blinkered. They’re only interested in creating wealth. They are un-transparent, unethical, unfriendly. They do not hold their tenants in any value whatsoever.”

Publicity

For now, the future is opaque. Grant hasn’t had any correspondence with the future private landlords, although he has negotiated and signed a new lease agreement with Network Rail for £59,000, which he expects to begin in the next few weeks. He’s had to adjust his business operations to account for the sudden extra expenditure.

“We’ve taken on more staff, updated our website. I’ve been promoting Clapham North in the motor racing world. I wanted to create more of an impact about what we do. From a business point of view, it’s a case of: you sit down and cry in your hands or you say ‘we’ve got to up our ante.’”

I want to preserve what my father started before I was born,” says George. “I’m going to hold onto it like you wouldn’t believe.”

Railway arch business locations are so abundant that Network Rail was technically the largest provider of small-to-medium-sized business space in the UK, until the sale. Network Rail’s initial statement explained that the sell off would create ‘a significant injection of cash to the taxpayer-owned railways infrastructure company’, allowing it to ‘focus on its core business of improving the passenger experience.’ It cites added investment towards mega projects such as the Thameslink Programme, Crossrail and the Waterloo and South West Upgrade. Meanwhile, Paula Whitworth of Network rail assured CAT that “all tenants’ current leases and rent agreements will transfer to the new owner and be protected.”  

Graham Edwards, co-founder of new archway co-owner Telereal, said at the time of sale: “We and our partner Blackstone believe that our ownership of the portfolio will provide the supportive environment in which these businesses can flourish on a long-term basis … We intend to remain particularly sensitive to the small businesses that have been long-term tenants of the Network Rail estate.”

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PROMOTING YOUR BUSINESS

Promoting your business

By Adam Bernstein

Do you really know how valuable your customers are to you? Have you ever stopped to think if they actively promote or harm your reputation?

Of course, it is entirely possible to run a business on a diet of ‘one-hit wonder’ customers, but it’s a wasteful, time consuming and expensive way of generating business. It’s much better to win and keep customers by understanding their lifetime value through studying their loyalty. One way of doing this is to generate what is termed a ‘Net Promoter Score’.

 Net Promoter Score

The Net Promoter Score (NPS) is a loyalty tool used to monitor and gauge the loyalty of a business relationship, irrespective of whether it’s business to consumer or business to business. The key benefit of NPS is that it gives insights into elements of a relationship such as customer satisfaction, effectiveness of communications and how well customer service is judged.

For some, it can be a very effective way of measuring customer experiences precisely because it’s possible to see if customers would recommend you to others, with answers based on a zero to 10 scoring method.

Calculations

From a business perspective, understanding how the scoring is calculated is essential as this drives communication with those who might buy from you. Essentially NPS asks a series of “why” and “would” questions which return scores of between zero to 10.

And over time NPS allows firms to regularly canvas customers for their opinions, asking numerous questions via a 20 – 30 second questionnaire which can be answered quickly. Because of the ease of answering NPS questionnaires the response rate can be high.

There is a standard to scoring NPS responses:

Those reporting nine to10 are labelled as a promoter. They are likely to buy again and promote the business to others as a recommendation. They are a great advocate for the business to have and they will be a loyal customer in the future.

A score of seven or eight labels customers as ‘passive’. These people fall in the middle of being a promoter or detractor. They are undecided and do not want to commit and so do not give active responses to the questions and try to remain impartial.

Customers giving a response under six are labelled as detractors. A detractor can be detrimental to a business as they can become negative, give comments that will influence others, and they may not complete business transactions.

The problem for businesses faced with detractors is that the web feeds the subconscious. This is because consumers often look online for comments made about the products and services of a business and this can have a negative or positive effect and may well influence their own buying decisions.

The actual calculation when measuring NPS is a function of the total number of respondents who reply, the total number of promoters and the total number of detractors; the percentage of detractors need to be subtracted from the percentage of promoters. The closer the result to 100, the better it is and anything with a negative should be dealt with quickly.

 Best effect

It should go without saying that NPS needs to be used properly if the right result is truly wanted. Having a score for a product or service will give an insight of how well a job has been done. If the scoring is poor, a business can see the areas that need work and take proactive action to improve them.

NPS can be used generally or specifically, depending on the strategy being deployed. For example, after a customer has purchased a simple automated email can be sent asking for feedback. It’s important to note, however, that for NPS campaigns to work a business-wide strategy needs to be implemented and it needs to take into consideration factors such as making all staff aware of what NPS is, how the measurements work and what they mean; not ignoring or failing to respond to negative comments; and actively seeking to engage with those classified as promoters.

Think also about how you will communicate further with promoters. They have given you a good score but how will you continue to communicate positively with them now that you have their goodwill? And negative scorings should also create the same thought process – think about how you will work with those customers that give a low score? Everyone needs to communicate effectively to customers and the key is to keep monitoring the scoring results and act upon them.

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