HMRC Roadshow Essex

The headline billing of the event I attended last week was as above, but upon arrival I was handed a brochure in which HM Revenue & Customs welcomed me to their Business Advice Open Day. The venue chosen, the Five Lakes Hotel was excellent, with plenty of room downstairs for the various stands as well as excellent conference rooms for the seminars going on throughout the day. We will gloss over the catering for which one cannot hold HMRC responsible.

I had heard on the grapevine that the roadshow was coming to Essex, but booked online using the information sent in a mail shot. In view of the very large number of attendees it was clear that the advance information and booking system had worked very well, for which credit should go to the organisers.

I am a tax professional, and the event was very much aimed at business in general, and small businesses in particular. Nevertheless, I have to say that I gained quite a lot from the day. Seven of the twenty-four stands represented various divisions of HMRC. They were promoting heavily their online services, and naturally encouraging businesses that had not yet taken the plunge to do so, highlighting the incentives and advantages. They had a stand where one could chat about VAT, and being a direct tax man myself I sounded them out on an issue which I had just started thinking about and had not got round to consulting an expert. The input was useful and the chap was very helpful.

HMRC also had stands for international trade (customs duties etc.), National Insurance and Research and Development Tax Credits, and one for the Olympics, the actual purpose of which I did not manage to ascertain, and for general advice. All the staff I spoke to were helpful.

Various other Government agencies were represented, from ACAS and Companies House through to local authorities and the Environment Agency. As one would expect, Business Link was very prominent, and they also ran some of the seminars. The non-profit concern Prime was also there, reflecting the reality that older people becoming unemployed need to consider how they might make a living in a hostile environment, perhaps becoming self-employed. Again, all the personnel on the exhibition stands were very helpful and I collected a lot of useful literature.

Turning to the seminars, I managed to fit in three. The first I went to was presented by a representative of the Intellectual Property Office. It was really excellent and the presenter is to be congratulated. The seminar was very informative and at a level designed not to blind everyone with science, and though I have been round the block, I learned quite a lot from it. It was made interesting by including a number of very brief examples of key points involving major companies of which we had all heard. It was really very good value for a 45 minute session.

The second seminar was frankly a demonstration of how not to do a presentation. The subject was “An introduction to Importing and Exporting”. It was a real “Death by PowerPoint” recitation, and rather than talking about the nuts and bolts of how to do things as was the IP talk, it consisted of listing the numbers of all the forms to be filled in at each stage of the process of importing or exporting, and frankly not much else. The tax rates on the slides were out of date, which seemed to surprise the presenter.

The last seminar I went to was from Business Link, and entitled “How to manage your business through a recession”. Wearing my critic’s hat as a small business adviser myself, there was indeed some good generic material which would be useful and make people think. A few minutes were spent on dealing with the banks, and as the presenter was an ex-bank manager (of which there are going to be a few more) he did know what he was talking about. The Captain Mainwarings of today are useful people to know when you can get to talk to them. Anyway, this was a good presentation with useful information as to where to get further help, business coaching and training.

I enjoyed the day and HMRC deserve a good deal of credit for staging the event. They do need to use experienced and competent presenters rather than just experienced staff at their seminars, but maybe I am nit-picking at what was a very worthwhile exercise. If you have an HMRC Business Advice Day in your area, I recommend that you make the time to go.

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