In 2016, the UK Government published its National Infrastructure and Construction Pipeline which sets out more than 700 projects and programmes with an investment value of £500 billion. The Government has committed to providing over £100 billion of funding towards these projects, with the remainder to be provided by the private sector. However, the uncertainty caused by Brexit and the 2017 general election results may have added to the usual issues faced by private investors in infrastructure such as the build time during which there is unlikely to be any revenue stream, the risks of defective work, cost overruns and delay, and lack of certainty of operational revenue when compared to fixed income assets. All of those factors require a certain appetite for risk.
Government support can play a useful part in encouraging private sector funding and for some infrastructure projects it is crucial because risks levels would otherwise preclude private funding. In a survey from over 100 industry decision makers, conducted as part of Burges Salmon’s recent report looking into how the delivery of UK infrastructure can be improved, ‘Perspectives on Infrastructure’, 74% of the respondents think that infrastructure investment should be led nationally by the Government In addition, 46% of respondents to our survey think that Government policy commitment is the biggest challenge to securing investment. This article considers what the Government is doing to attract private investment and the types of investors who may step up to fill the public funding gap.
The Government’s National Infrastructure Plan (which has been extended to 2026)outlines a number of policies through which the Government aims to secure private investment in the UK. One such policy is the UK Guarantees Scheme (which has been in place since 2013), which aims to eliminate some of the risk for lenders to infrastructure projects. Under the scheme, HM Treasury provides an unconditional and irrevocable financial guarantee of scheduled principal and interest in favour of a lender to a UK Infrastructure project. The scheme has been used to guarantee a number of large scale UK infrastructure projects such as the Northern Line Extension and the Mersey Gateway Bridge.It is also likely that the scheme will be expanded; the Chancellor’s 2017 Mansion House speech included commitments to broaden the UK Guarantee Scheme by offering construction guarantees for the first time and included a statement that the Government would consider other credit enhancement tools, such as first loss guarantees, to reduce the financial risk that complex projects face.
Shortly after becoming Prime Minister, Theresa May pledged the creation of Government backed treasury bonds. The Government has not expanded on how such bonds would work, however it has been suggested that the bonds would be made available to private investors as well as institutions and would receive additional yield in comparison to mainstream government bonds, to account for any reduced liquidity. In addition, in the Conservative manifesto, Theresa May promised to establish a number of UK sovereign wealth funds, named ‘Future Britain Funds’, which will be backed by revenues from shale gas extraction and receipts from the sale of some public assets. Critics have, however, queried the amount of capital that the Government would be able to raise for such funds.
These policies and frameworks highlight the Government’s commitment to attracting private investment in infrastructure. However, the uncertainty caused by the UK general election result may cast some doubt over the continuation of these policies. One beneficiary of the election result could be Northern Irish infrastructure. Some of the DUP’s key aims during the election were to invest in Northern Ireland’s road network and to create an Infrastructure Action Plan for Northern Ireland. The deal reached between the Conservatives and the DUP pledges £400m to Northern Ireland for infrastructure projects, including delivery of the York Street Interchange and a further £150m to develop an ultra-fast broadband network across Northern Ireland.
The uncertainty (some might say chaos) surrounding Brexit and the possible impact on the economy, is another cause of concern for investors. One particular concern is the fact that the UK’s access to EIB funding is likely to be affected. The EIB is currently a large investor in the UK, with outstanding loans of over £48 billion and a guarantee fund of over 20 billion Euros. This includes £700 million of funding for Thames Tideway and around £1.5 billion of investment in Crossrail. Following the decision of the UK to leave the EU, the EIB has continued to approve and sign financing deals. However the EIB rules require all members to be members of the EU, and the EIB’s primary activity is with its members. There is, therefore,significant doubt that the development bank will be committed to the UK in the future.
Despite these concerns arising from the UK’s political situation, the UK appears to remain an attractive investment choice for FDI. Whilst the short-term economic outlook of the UK may be uncertain and difficult to predict, the UK remains a large, wealthy economy with transparent regulations and tax rates with a pipeline of long-term infrastructure investment opportunities, and currently, for those purchasing with foreign currency, exchange rates make UK assets attractively priced. The A.T. Kearney Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) Confidence Index 2017 has the UK listed in 4th place, behind China, Germany and the United States.
Sovereign wealth funds (SWFs) have been noticeably increasing their direct investments in UK infrastructure in recent years. Commentators suggest that this may partly be due to an increasing appetite for higher risk/return assets, due to decreasing return on traditional oil and gas assets. Initial SWF investments focused on built assets, such as the Qatar Investment Authority (QIA) acquisition of 20% of BAA, the company that owns Heathrow Airport. Sovereign Wealth Fund Institute data shows that the value of assets invested in infrastructure has grown rapidly over the past two years in comparison to fixed income investments. Speaking in March this year at the Qatar-UK Business and Investment Forum, Qatari finance minister Ali Sharif al-Emadi pledged £5 billion of investment to fund UK infrastructure projects. QIA made its first infrastructure investment this year as one of the sponsors of the acquisition of National Grid Gas, alongside China Investment Corporation’s subsidiary CIC Capital Corporation. The Abu Dhabi Investment Authority (ADIA) and Kuwait Investment Authority also bid for the opportunity. ADIA, which does not publish much information in relation to its investments, also reportedly bought a £612m stake in SGN, a UK gas distribution company.
UK pension schemes have traditionally not been active investors in the infrastructure sector in significant volume. Whilst trustees often manage large amounts of capital, they must abide by regulations and their scheme rules that require them to invest in the interests of their members. The rules also require investments that give certain and steady yield, and maintain the liquidity of the portfolio (to ensure schemes can make regular pensions payments to the members). However, defined benefit pension schemes have begun to buck the trend. In the 2015 Autumn Statement, George Osborne announced the intention that Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS) assets would be pooled into six new British Wealth Funds, each with a value of around £25 billion. The primary reason for this was to boost pension fund investment into infrastructure, by giving each pooled fund more capital to invest with less risk for each individual LGPS fund. This year, HCIL Infrastructure announced it was advancing in its discussions to sell a £25m stake in Affinity Water to a pooled group of local authority schemes. In addition, the London, Greater Manchester, Lancashire, Merseyside and West Yorkshire pension funds have pooled together around £500m of funds and have recently announced joint venture funding for new Bombardier trains for FirstGroup and MTR
A recent Law Commission report on pension fund social investment found that UK defined contribution pension schemes are lagging behind the rest of the world in investment in infrastructure, finding little evidence of any infrastructure investment by these schemes. In comparison to defined benefit pension schemes, the trustees of defined contribution schemes have less flexibility when investing due to the requirement to take individual members’ concerns in relation to risk into account (and in most cases individual members will determine their own broad mix of investments). However, as reported by the Law Commission, the law does allow trustees to make investment decisions based on non-financial factors (such as social concerns) if there is no risk of significant financial detriment to the fund and if the trustees have good reason to think that its members share the same social concerns (recognising that this latter requirement is difficult to evidence). In order to change the behaviour of these funds the Law Commission has identified steps that could be taken by the Government, the Financial Conduct Authority and the Pensions Regulator (for example, consolidation of defined contribution pension schemes) so that they are more able to invest in illiquid assets, which could open up more opportunities for investment in infrastructure.
Despite economic and political uncertainty in the UK following the UK’s EU referendum result and the results of the 2017 general election, there remains an appetite amongst private investors for funding UK infrastructure projects. The challenge for the Government will be to identify those projects which are socially and economically a priority for the UK and ensuring their delivery by providing an attractive investment environment, providing direct credit support where necessary.
Graham Soar is a partner and Ffion Archer a trainee solicitor in the Banking team at independent UK law firm Burges Salmon.
Lockdown 2.0 – Here’s how to be the best-looking person in the virtual room
suggests “the product you’re creating is not the camera, the lens or a webcam’s clever industrial design. It’s the subject, you, which is just on e part of the entire image they see. You want that image to convey quality, not convenience.”
Technology experts at Reincubate saw an opportunity in the rise of remote-working video calls and developed the app, Camo, to improve the video quality of our webcam calls. As part of this, they consulted the digital photography expert and author, Jeff Carlson, to reveal how we can look our best online.
It’s clear by now that COVID-19 has normalised remote working, but as part of this the importance of video calls has risen exponentially. While we’re all used to seeing the more casual sides of our colleagues (t-shirt and shorts, anyone?), poor webcam quality is slightly less forgivable.
But how can we improve how we look on video? We consulted Jeff Carlson for some top tips– here is what he had to say.
- Improve the picture quality of your call
The better your camera, the higher quality your webcam calls will be. Most webcams (as well as currently being hard to get hold of and expensive), are subpar. A DSLR setup will give you the best picture, but will cost $1,500+. You can also use your iPhone’s amazing camera as a webcam, using the new app from Reincubate, Camo.
Jeff’s comments “The iPhone’s camera system features dedicated coprocessors for evaluating and adjusting the image in real time. Apple has put a tremendous amount of work into its imaging software as a way to compensate for the necessarily small camera sensors. Although it all works in service of creating stills and video, you get the same benefits when using the iPhone as a webcam.”
Aidan Fitzpatrick, CEO of Reincubate explains why the team created Camo, “Earlier this year our team moved to working remotely, and in video calls everyone looked pretty bad, irrespective of whether they were on built-in Mac webcams or third-party ones. Thus began my journey to build Camo: an iPhone has one of the world’s best cameras in it, so could we make it work as a webcam? Category-leading webcams are noticeably worse than an iPhone 7. This makes sense: six weeks of Apple’s R&D spend tops Logitech’s annual gross revenue.”
- Place your camera at eye level
A video call will never quite be the same as a face-to-face conversation, but bringing your camera up to eye level is a good place to start. That can involve putting your laptop on a stand or pile of books, mounting a webcam to the top of your display screen, or even using a tripod to get the perfect position.
Jeff points out, “If the camera is looking down on you, you’ll appear minimized in the frame; if it’s looking up, you’re inviting people to focus on your chin, neck, or nostrils. Most important, positioning the camera off your eye level is a distraction. Look them in the eye, even if they’re miles or continents away.”
Low camera placement from a MacBook
- Make the most of natural lighting
Be aware of the lighting in the room and move yourself to face natural lighting if you can. Positioning the camera so any natural light is behind you takes the light away from your face, which can make it harder to see and read expressions on a call.
Jeff Carlson’s top tip: “If the light from outside is too harsh, diffuse it and create softer shadows by tacking up a white sheet or a stand-alone diffuser over the window.”
Backlit against a window Facing natural light
- Use supplementary lighting like ring lights
The downside to natural lighting is that you’re at the mercy of the elements: if it’s too bright you’ll have the sun in your eyes, if it’s too dark you won’t be well lit.
Jeff recommends adding supplementary lighting if you’re looking to really enhance your video calls. After all, it looks like remote working will be carrying on for quite some time.
“The light can be just as easy as a household or inexpensive work light. Angle the light so it’s bouncing off a wall or the ceiling, depending on your work area, which, again, diffuses the light and makes it more flattering.
Or, for a little money, use a softbox or a shoot-through umbrella with daylight bulbs (5500K temperature), or if space is tight, LED panels. Larger lights are better for distributing illumination– don’t be afraid to get them in close to you. Placement depends on the look you’re going after; start by positioning one at a 45-degree angle in front and to the side of you, which lights most of your face while retaining nice shadow detail.”
In some cases, a ring light may work best. LEDs are arranged in a circle, with space in the middle to put the camera’s lens and get direct illumination from the direction of the camera.
- Centre yourself in the frame
Make sure you’re getting the right angle and that you’re using the frame effectively.
“You should aim for people to see your head and part of your torso, not all the space between your hair and the ceiling. Leave a little space above your head so it’s not cut off, but not enough that someone’s eyes are going to drift there.”
- Be mindful of your backdrop
It’s not always easy to get the quiet space needed for video calls when working from home, but try as best you can to remove anything too distracting from your background.
“Get rid of clutter or anything that’s distracting or unprofessional, because you can bet that will be the second thing the viewers notice after they see you. (The Twitter account @RateMySkypeRoom is an amusing ongoing commentary on the environments people on television are connecting from.)”
A busy background as seen by a webcam
- Make the most of virtual backgrounds
If you’re really struggling with finding a background that looks professional, try using a virtual background.
Jeff suggests: “Some apps can identify your presence in the scene and create a live mask that enables you to use an entirely different image to cover the background. While it’s a fun feature, the quality of the masking is still rudimentary, even with a green screen background that makes this sort of keying more accurate.”
- Be aware of your audio settings
Our laptop webcams, cameras, and mobile phones all include microphones, but if it’s at all possible, use a separate microphone instead.
“That can be an inexpensive lavalier mic, a USB microphone, or a set of iPhone earbuds. You can also get wireless lavalier models if you’re moving around during a call, such as presenting at a whiteboard in the camera’s field of view.
The idea is to get the microphone closer to your mouth so it’s recording what you say, not other sounds or echoes in the room. If you type during meetings, mount the mic on an arm instead of resting it on the same surface as your keyboard.”
- Be wary of video app add-ons
Video apps like Zoom include a ‘Touch up your appearance’ option in the Video settings. This applies a skin-smoothing filter to your face, but more often than not, the end result looks artificially blurry instead of smooth.
“Zoom also includes settings for suppressing persistent and intermittent background noise, and echo cancellation. They’re all set to Auto by default, but you can choose how aggressive or not the feature is.”
- Be the best looking person in the virtual room
What’s important to remember about video calls at this point in time is that most people are new to what is, really, personal broadcasting. That means you can easily get an edge, just by adopting a few suggestions in this article. When your video and audio quality improves, people will take notice.
Bringing finance into the 21st Century – How COVID and collaboration are catalysing digital transformation
By Keith Phillips, CEO of TISATech
If just six or seven months ago someone had told you that in a matter of weeks people around the world would be locked down in their homes, trying to navigate modern work systems from a prehistoric laptop, bickering with family over who’s hogging the Wi-Fi, migrating online to manage all financial services digitally, all while washing their hands every five minutes in fear of a global pandemic… You’d think they had lost their mind. But this very quickly became the reality for huge swathes of the world and we’re about to go through that all over again as the UK government has asked that those who can work from home should.
Unsurprisingly, statistics show that lockdown restrictions introduced by the UK government in March, led to a sharp increase in people adopting digital services. Banks encouraged its customers to log onto online banking, as they limited (and eventually halted) services at branches. This forced many customers online as their primary means of managing personal finances for the first time.
If anyone had doubts before, the Covid-19 pandemic proved to us the importance of well-functioning, effective digital financial services platforms, for both financial institutions and the people using them.
But with this sudden mass online migration, it’s become clear that traditional banks have struggled to keep up with servicing clients virtually. Legacy banking systems have always stilted the digitisation of financial services, but the pandemic thrust this issue into the limelight. Fintech firms, which focus intently on digital and mobile services, knew it was only a matter of time before financial institutions’ reliance was to increase at an unprecedented rate.
For years, fintechs have been called upon by traditional players to find solutions to problems borne from those clunky legacy systems, like manual completion of account changes and money transfers. Now it is the demand for these services to be online coupled with the need for financial services firms to cut costs, since Covid-19 hit the economy.
Covid-19 has catalysed the urgent need to bring digital transformation to a wider pool of financial services businesses. Customers now have even higher expectations of larger institutions, demanding that they keep up with what the younger and more nimble challengers have to offer. Industry leaders realise that they must transform their businesses as soon as possible, by streamlining and digitising operations to compete and, ultimately, improve services for their customers.
The race for digital acceleration began far before the recent pandemic – in fact, following the 2008 financial crisis is likely more accurate. Since the credit crunch, there has been a wave of new fintech firms, full of young, bright techies looking to be the next big thing. Fintechs have marketed themselves hard at big conferences and expos or by hosting ‘hackathons’, trying to prove themselves as the fastest, most innovative or the most vital to the future of the industry.
However, even during this period where accelerating innovation in online financial services and legacy systems is crucial, the conditions brought about by the pandemic have not been conducive to this much-needed transformation.
The second issue, which again was clear far before the pandemic, is that fact that no matter how nimble or clever the fintechs’ solutions are, it is still hard to implement the solutions seamlessly, as the sector is highly fragmented with banks using extremely outdated systems populated with vast amounts of data.
With the significance of the pandemic becoming more and more clear, and the need for better digital products and services becoming more crucial to financial services firms and consumers by the day, the industry has finally come together to provide a solution.
The TISAtech project was launched last month by The Investing and Saving Alliance (TISA), a membership organisation in the UK with more than 200 leading financial institutions as members. TISA asked The Disruption House, a specialist benchmarking and data analytics business, to create a clearing house platform for the industry to help it more effectively integrate new financial technology. The project aims to enhance products and services while reducing friction and ultimately lowering costs which are passed on to the customers.
With nearly 4,000 fintechs from around the world participating, it will be the world’s largest marketplace dedicated to Open Finance, Savings, and Investment.
Not only will it provide a ‘matchmaking’ service between financial institutions an fintechs, it will also host a sandbox environment. Financial institutions can pose real problems with real data and the fintechs are given the space to race to the bottom – to find the most constructive, cost-effective solution.
Yes, there are other marketplaces, but they all seem to struggle to achieve a return on investment. There is a genuine need for the ‘Trivago’ of financial technology – a one stop shop, run by an independent body, which can do more than just matchmaking. It needs to go above and beyond to encompass the sandboxing, assessments, profiling of fintechs to separate the wheat from the chaff, and provide a space for true collaboration.
The pandemic has taught us that we are more effective if we work together. We need mass support and collaboration to find solutions to problems. Businesses and industries are no different. If fintechs and financial institutions can work together, there is a real chance that we can start to lessen the economic hit for many businesses and consumers by lowering costs and streamlining better services and products. And even if it is just making it that little bit easier to manage personal finances from home when fighting with your children for the Wi-Fi, we are making a difference.
What to Know Before You Expand Across Borders
By Sean King, Director of International Tax at McGuire Sponsel
The American retail giant, Target Corporation, has a market cap of $64 billion and access to seemingly limitless resources and advisors. So, when the company engaged in its first global expansion, how could anything possibly go wrong?
Less than two years after opening its first Canadian store in 2013, Target shut down all133 Canadian locations and terminated more than 17,000 Canadian employees.
Expansion of an operation to another country can create unique challenges that may impact the financial viability of the entire enterprise. If Target Corporation can colossally fail in its expansion to Canada, how might Mom ‘N’ Pop LLC fare when expanding into Switzerland, Singapore, or Australia?
Successful global expansion requires an understanding of multilayered taxes, regulatory hurdles, employment laws, and cultural nuances. Fortunately, with the right guidance, global expansion can be both possible and profitable for businesses of any size.
Any company with global ambitions must first consider whether the company’s expansion outside of the U.S. will give rise to a taxable presence in the local country. In the cross-border context, a “permanent establishment” can be created in a local country when the enterprise reaches a certain level of activity, which is problematic because it exposes the U.S. multinational to taxation in the foreign country.
Foreign entity incorporation
To avoid permanent establishment risk, many U.S. multinationals choose to operate overseas through a formal corporate subsidiary, which reduces the company’s foreign income tax exposure, though it may result in an additional level of foreign income tax on the subsidiary’s earnings. In most jurisdictions, multinationals can operate their business in the foreign country as a branch, a pass through (e.g., partnership,) or a corporation.
As a branch, the U.S. multinational does not create a subsidiary in the foreign country. It holds assets, employees, and bank accounts under its own name. With a pass through, the U.S. multinational creates a separate entity in the foreign country that is treated as a partnership under the tax law of the foreign country but not necessarily as a partnership under U.S. tax law.
U.S. multinationals can also create corporate subsidiaries in the foreign country treated as corporations under the tax law of both the foreign country and the U.S., with possibly two levels of income taxation in the foreign country plus U.S. income taxation of earnings repatriated to the U.S. as dividends.
Under U.S. entity classification rules, certain types of entities can “check the box” to elect their classification to be taxed as a corporation with two levels of tax, a partnership with pass-through taxation, or even be disregarded for U.S. federal income tax purposes. The check the box election allows U.S. multinationals to engage in more effective global tax planning.
Toll charges, transfer pricing and treaties
When establishing a foreign corporate subsidiary, the U.S. multinational will likely need to transfer certain assets to the new entity to make it fully operational. However, in many cases, the U.S. multinational cannot perform the transfer without recognizing taxable income. In the international context, the IRS imposes certain outbound “toll charges” on the transfer of appreciated property to a foreign entity, which are usually provided for in IRC Section 367 and subject to various exceptions and nuances.
Instead, the U.S. multinational may prefer to license intellectual property to the foreign subsidiary for a fee rather than transfer the property outright. However, licensing requires the company and foreign subsidiary to adhere to transfer pricing rules, as dictated by IRC Section 482. The U.S. multinational and the foreign subsidiary must interact in an arms-length manner regarding pricing and economic terms. Furthermore, any such arrangement may attract withholding taxes when royalties are paid across a border.
Are you GILTI?
Certain U.S. multinationals opt to focus on deferring the income recognition at the U.S. level. In doing so, they simply leave overseas profits overseas and delay repatriating any of the earnings to the U.S.
Despite the general merits of this form of planning, U.S. multinationals will be subject to certain IRS anti-deferral mechanisms, commonly known as “Subpart F” and GILTI. Essentially, U.S. shareholders of certain foreign corporations are forced to recognize their pro rata share of certain types of income generated by these foreign entities at the time the income is earned instead of waiting until the foreign entity formally repatriates the income to the U.S.
The end goal
Essentially, all effective international tax planning boils down to treasury management. Effective and early tax planning can properly allow a company to better achieve its initial goal: profitability.
If global expansion is on the horizon for your company, consult a licensed professional for advice concerning your specific situation.
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