Belfast Telegraph

Ask the experts: Recovering from the rioting, finding that jar to keep under the mattress, and getting the most out of apprenticeships

My business relies upon being able to get good apprentices when I need them - the big problem at the moment is economic unpredictability. Any advice on how best to approach this during the next few years?

Derek Poole, Chair of Plumbing & Mechanical Services Training Ltd, answers:

It can be hard to plan three years ahead over the lifetime of an apprenticeship, when building services installation contracts are typically shorter than that.

However, an apprentice will contribute to profits in as little as one year by adding to work productivity at a low cost. Not only that, but having an apprentice is often seen as an asset in any pre-qualification tender process, actually helping to secure new contracts.

It’s also worth taking into account the commercial value of a qualified apprentice: their motivation, skill level and willingness to work are all very positive assets and their productivity levels are typically high.

The cost? For apprentices, all training costs are funded — there is no extra cost beyond salary, where levels are set through national agreement.

Wage rates for early-stage apprentices are far lower than for full-time staff members, even though in many cases they are already contributing to the lower-level skill aspects of the work, and a grant of £1,500 is paid to the employer when the apprentice successfully completes the full NVQ Level 3/ Qualifications Curriculum Framework (QCF).

The new QCF apprenticeship offers much greater flexibility in terms of content, structure and timing of apprenticeship delivery.

An apprenticeship programme can now be built up from a series of modules, including new disciplines such as renewable energy, with companies able to create a framework to suit their organisational needs.

My commercial premises have been damaged by rioting. Does my insurance policy cover me for the damage?

Aleric Turtle, Solicitor, McCartan Turkington Breen, answers:

If you lease the premises invariably the responsibility for insuring and reinstating them will lie with your landlord. If you own the building which has been damaged then it is likely that it was for you to arrange the insurance cover and you will be responsible for its reinstatement. Your solicitor will be able to clarify this.

In general, insurance policies will cover businesses and homeowners for damage caused by rioting. Often this will be contained within a specific clause in the insurance policy and policyholders should make themselves aware of the details of that clause. There can often be a defined period for damage from rioting to be reported. This period will be shorter than the normal reporting period. Missing that deadline could cause serious difficulties in the claim.

There is a difference between rioting such as that seen in England and rioting linked to terrorism. Many insurance policies in Northern Ireland will not cover such a loss. In those circumstances a claim is made to the Compensation Agency under the Criminal Damage (Northern Ireland) Order 1977. Again there is a limited period to claim, with first notification required within 48 hours. The process is not quick and is subject to certain conditions but the Compensation Agency does at least provide a fund in those circumstances.

Criminal damage not linked to terrorism is also covered by the Compensation Agency but an insurer will undoubtedly provide more immediate help in the aftermath.

When premises suffer criminal damage it is always good practice to lodge a claim with your insurers and the Compensation Agency. It is, therefore, imperative to contact your |broker and solicitor swiftly after the criminal damage has occurred to ensure that the correct procedures are adhered to.

Given all the recent events, would I be better off keeping my savings under the mattress?

Ewan Boyle, Director, Johnston Campbell, answers:

I can understand why you might think there is nothing worthwhile to invest your money in given the current state of the markets and interest rates. The news coverage of the ‘crises’ in Europe and the US makes the situation seem a lot more threatening than the normal ups and downs of the markets. I don’t want to downplay the seriousness of the current situation, but I would advise you to think carefully before cashing in your portfolio.

We could see lots more turmoil in the financial markets and further declines in stock prices — but the fact remains that there will always be something going on that investors react to — whether it’s the threat of a recession triggering a market collapse, or in better times, corporate profits and rapid economic growth, suggesting that the markets will soar.

We have seen this all too clearly of late with falling stock markets on the one hand, but rising values of assets such as gold and commodities on the other.

You need an investment strategy, which is focused on getting sufficient long-term growth, rather than focusing on |minimising any short-term setbacks.

The key is to maintain a diverse portfolio that includes a mix of investments that spread your level of risk but also maintain some savings in accounts that you can access readily when needed.

Belfast Telegraph