Picture of Martin Williamson, Insolvency Expert


news and views from Martin Williamson



January 9th, 2020

The mystery of cash flow…

What is cash flow? The Cambridge dictionary defines cash flow as: noun ˈkæʃ ˌfləʊ/ the amount of money moving into and out of a business Imagine trying to live without blood flowing through your body.  You would have no oxygen or energy to function and eventually you’d die! This is the exact analogy to use […]

December 23rd, 2019

Turning over a new leaf…

Big Four know best..? I recently bumped into an accountant friend of mine (in Tesco in Trent Vale as it happens).  He recalled the time when a pottery client of his had called in one of the Big Four to oversee the move to a publicly-quoted company. No names, no pack drill but those two […]

December 17th, 2019

A visit from the Business Doctor…

House Call… I sat in reception which, even for a Stoke-on-Trent widget company, was a little bit on the tired side. But the receptionist, Rita, was chirpy enough as she rang through to her boss to let him know that I was there. “Well, this is a pleasant surprise!“ he said as he came through […]

October 2nd, 2019

How many ostrich businesses are on your books?

It’s a question I have taken to asking accountancy colleagues of mine, particularly those who have client companies based in the West Midlands generally and, specifically, in Stoke-on-Trent. I am not, of course, enquiring if they have recently taken on firms which specialise in the supply of large, ungainly and argumentative birds or, indeed, a […]

September 17th, 2019

Mieux vaut prévenir que guérir*

What is the sixth largest French city? The answer, as many of you may have already guessed, is London. And one of the reasons that our capital has so many French people living and working there is that it is very easy to start a business in the UK compared with starting one in France. […]

August 30th, 2019

OK, I’m going to say it – I told you so

This column is not globally syndicated (yet) but I do have many regular readers, most of them from the world of accountancy and audit. These readers also use the services of Insolvency Practitioners Direct because they know that not only will we forensically and accurately investigate what is going on with their clients – and, crucially, […]

August 15th, 2019

Pochin’s are a flag, fluttering in the breeze

Readers of this blog will know that for a long time now I have been advising my accountancy colleagues to find out from their clients who they are working for – by which I mean checking to see if the companies they are supplying are sustainable in the long term and not ‘sailing too close to the […]

August 8th, 2019

Directors and disqualification – what you need to know

“Disqualification” is a word normally associated with alcohol and driving, or cheating in a competition.  However, it can also be a process affecting company directors. If they are in breach of their duties (see ITB14) and they have been sufficiently “naughty”, they can be banned, or disqualified, from acting as a director for anything up […]

August 5th, 2019

Why I’m feeling a small tinge of sympathy for Grant Thornton…

Now steady on. Accountants all over North Staffordshire are clutching at their chests and hanging onto doorframes for support as they read that headline.  This blog is a little longer than normal and those with a nervous disposition, or have a dislike of sarcasm, should not read further… “What on earth does Williamson, the Scourge […]

July 23rd, 2019

Looking beyond Q1 to the inevitable insolvency of…

…local retail. Ah. I thought that would get your attention. The headline is, I admit, designed to make accountants sit up and take notice (particularly those with retail clients under their wing). This is my final look at the somewhat gloomy picture painted by the Quarter One statistics released by the Insolvency Service. Q2 will be […]

June 21st, 2019

Every cloud has a silver lining – and this one is in Stoke

I promised to return to the insolvency figures for the first quarter of 2019 and I’m sorry to say that they do not look at all encouraging. As my readers will know, I have been forecasting hard times ahead for more than 18 months now and my hope is that my accountancy colleagues are encouraging […]

May 23rd, 2019

Not so much an undertaker, more of a midwife actually….

When I tell people that I am an insolvency practitioner they usually nod solemnly and quickly move on to talk about the weather. I imagine that undertakers get a similar reaction. Midwives, however, receive beaming smiles and comments along the lines of ‘Oh, how lovely!”. Although it is true that members of my profession do […]

April 29th, 2019

Is your accountancy practice infected by zombie businesses?

“It’s a terrifying sight”, my accountancy colleague told me: “They come lurching through the door, rotting clothes hanging from their bodies, bony fingers clutching the latest bank statements. These zombie businesses scare the living daylights out of me!”. Ok, Ok. I admit it – I just made all that up. There are no reanimated corpses […]

April 9th, 2019

It’s time to run lean and batten down the hatches

Can you buy an apple in Burslem? I ask the question because the Times newspaper reports that you can’t – well not in the town centre anyway. The Mother Town, it points out, has the highest proportion of boarded-up shops in the UK. And even if you could manage to find a greengrocer, you probably […]

March 25th, 2019

A small chink of light – but will it arrive in time?

This autumn, some small businesses that suffer by being paid late will see a small chink of light fall into their lives when the government introduces its Prompt Payment Initiative. The aim is to ensure that all government suppliers and subcontractors are paid on time – but before the cynics and naysayers amongst you begin […]

March 5th, 2019

Government announces new tax on small businesses

The Government has revealed that it will be imposing a completely new tax on some small businesses beginning in just over 12 months time. The Treasury estimates that it will raise an additional £185m in revenue every year. Hang on, I can hear you say. Where has Martin got this from? We haven’t seen anything […]

February 27th, 2019

What happens when you are outwitted by the opposition?

“Leeds United’s movement and intensity caught us by surprise”. (Older quote..!) Speechless Stoke City fans were open-mouthed in astonishment as manager Gary Rowett gave his post-match television interview. The Potters had just lost their opening Championship game at Leeds and they were being told it was because they weren’t quick enough or committed enough for […]

February 15th, 2019

Accountants: Are your client businesses keeping their nose clean with HMRC?

This particular blog is aimed primarily at my long-suffering accountant colleagues.  The reason I ask this question is that, nationally, an increasing number of companies are not paying either their VAT or Corporation Tax on time. HMRC’s response has predictably been to take enforcement action which can result in winding up businesses which can then […]

January 31st, 2019

Having your cake and eating it

No sooner had we published our latest Insolvency Technical Bulletin (ITB) which defines exactly who can be considered a Director of a company – read it here – then along comes two shocking stories about Directors who should be hanging their heads in shame. The details are even more appalling because they also highlight what […]

December 19th, 2018

While some accountants get a hot bath, the FRC needs a cold shower

Stephen Haddrill knew that after Christmas, like Santa, he would (probably) be given the sack. So he announced in November that he was stepping down from his job as chief executive of the Financial Reporting Council (here). The FRC is the regulator for accountants – and in its own accounts it notes that Mr Haddrill […]

December 11th, 2018

“With great power comes great responsibility” – P. Parker

P Parker? Peter Parker, of course. Still none the wiser? Peter Parker is The Amazing Spiderman, otherwise known as “Spidey” to his fans. His oft-quoted bon mot above refers to the moral obligation of superheroes to use their powers for good. But that same phrase could equally apply to company directors, could it not? Let […]

December 3rd, 2018

Accountants: Don’t forget to ask WHO your clients are working for

“Great news! We have just landed two blue-chip accounts from absolutely nowhere!”. Lawrie Driver was not normally so ebullient when arriving at his accountants to discuss his company’s quarterly management accounts, but it had been a good day. Gray Columns, the steadfast senior partner at Dubble, Entry and Heidit, perused the MD of Liquid Logistics […]

November 19th, 2018

Banks finally gear up to tackle money transfer fraud

When you get on a bus, tram or train you have no idea who your fellow passengers are. Most will be, like you, either going to and from work, shopping or meeting folk socially. But some will be criminals who are on their way to commit a crime. You may not be able to spot […]

November 5th, 2018

Why a no-deal Brexit could bring problems for some accountants

It has not been a great year for some of the bigger beasts of the accountancy world and, in particular, the auditing arms of those firms. First of all there has been a number of high-profile corporate collapses with insolvency proceedings following just a few months after the accounts had, apparently, been blithely signed off […]

October 22nd, 2018

Never make assumptions – they can lead you into bad company

Money laundering – disguising money obtained by criminal activity as legitimate – is one of the areas we address here at IPD. In fact, along with accountants, bankers and solicitors (in fact, anyone involved with financial matters), insolvency practitioners not only have the skills and systems to detect and monitor money laundering activities but we […]

October 11th, 2018

About the new rules – there’s good news and bad news…

The accountancy world has been agog at the new insolvency measures that are being proposed by the Government following a consultation process that ended in August. Well, OK, not agog exactly. Accountants are rarely agog about anything although they do occasionally raise an eyebrow! Well, eyebrows are certainly being raised about the proposed new measures […]

September 19th, 2018

We don’t actually have a time machine…

“Prediction is very difficult, especially if it’s about the future”, according to the physicist Neils Bohr. And he’s right. Prediction is a mug’s game. At IPD we don’t do prediction but we DO sometimes issue forecasts which, like weather forecasts, are not pronouncements of what will definitely happen but rather our views on what will […]

September 13th, 2018

Why cash-strapped local authorities are bad news for small businesses

Knees are knocking together in Northamptonshire and heads are being scratched in Somerset. The two county councils are in dire financial straits with one of them teetering on the edge of insolvency. “Why should this worry small business clients?”, I hear my accountancy friends ask: “None of my clients are based in these areas nor […]

September 4th, 2018

The bigger picture – and why accountants do not always see it

Inspector Morse turned towards his detective sergeant who had been puzzling aloud over some aspect of a baffling case.  (Stay with me here…) “Try and see the bigger picture, Lewis”, he said, wearily. That was always a favourite quote of mine and not just because John Thaw delivered it with just the right amount of […]

August 15th, 2018

(Dis)Interest on SME’s

Business is just business? No, it’s not – and these two news items help to explain why.  If you are a regular reader of this blog – and if you are not, (ha ha!) why not? – you will know that I have been concerned about the wellbeing of some Staffordshire businesses for almost a […]

July 3rd, 2018

Professional skills and personal responsibility

House of Fraser, Sir Terence Conran, Jamie Oliver, Toys R Us, Carillion – the big names that are in difficulty or going bust (or hoping to trade their way back to viability after a CVA) seem to grow every week. Those names, once the darlings of the media, are now making headlines for all the […]

June 29th, 2018

Patterns, predictions and problems around the corner

I promised a few weeks ago to return to my commentary on the sobering Q1 data from the Insolvency Service because there are statistics in there that give me cause for concern.  Despite working as an insolvency practitioner I am not a gloomy person by nature; I do, however, have a reasonable gift for crunching […]

June 15th, 2018

How exposed are your clients to the late payments disease?

Accountants, like GPs, are busy people. Just like GPs, they spend so much time each day working on one client/patient before they have to turn their attention to the affairs of the next one. And just like GPs, each client/patient has a different need. With GPs an older person who has fallen at home may […]

May 4th, 2018

Why 2018 may turn out to be the Year of the CVA

You can be a multinational conglomerate with stores in 20 countries, or a one shop trader in Neck End. When sales are falling, costs are rising and insolvency is beckoning, both have been known to reach for the relative comfort of the CVA. The Company Voluntary Arrangement is essentially a deal between a company and […]

April 27th, 2018

Watch out for this latest scam

The scammers of the world are out there right now planning to relieve you of your hard-earned cash. You know it and I know it – but we also think we know what a potential scam looks like. The days of the email from Nigeria giving us the good news that we are about to […]

March 7th, 2018

This thing is bigger than both of us

In The Hitchikers Guide to the Galaxy, author Douglas Adams recounts how a mighty galactic fleet of hostile spaceships journeys across the universe to attack Earth. When they arrive, due to a terrible miscalculation of scale, the entire battle fleet is accidentally swallowed by a small dog. “Those who study the complex interplay of cause […]

March 6th, 2018

Carillion postcript

Yes, I know I said that I was not going to write about Carillion again.  But that was before Charles Orton-Jones wrote a punchy article in the Times on February 15 entitled ‘Five lessons Carillion can teach us all’. You will recall my concern that some smaller businesses caught up in the Carillion insolvency would […]

March 2nd, 2018

Workers have rights when their employer becomes insolvent

If you think it is tough as a business owner or director facing corporate insolvency, spare a thought for the workers whose jobs are on the line. These employees, however, have valuable rights – and not all company directors or even their accountants fully understand what they are. So let’s take a brief look at […]

February 23rd, 2018

Don’t turn the alarm bells off just yet…(Carillion pt 3)

The alarm bells began ringing in accountancy firms across the West Midlands when the news of Carillion’s insolvency hit the media. Although the story has now largely disappeared from the headlines, chartered accountants across the region are still working through the implications with client companies who were exposed, one way or another, to the collapse […]

January 26th, 2018

A Carillion reasons why…

We are still in the early days of Carillion’s collapse. However, across Staffordshire, accountants are talking with the owners and directors of their client companies affected by the collapse of Carillion. Collectively, they are trying to assess the immediate impact on trading and cash-flow but they should also be looking further down the line at […]

January 4th, 2018

Action this day – make this your New Year resolution

The quote that ended 2017 should become the watchword at the beginning of 2018 for accountants who have clients that are struggling to keep their businesses afloat. Indeed, my suggestion is that accountants should write this quote at the top of the page in their diary on their first day back at work. “Early intervention […]

December 11th, 2017

A Christmas Carol – how Dickens got it all wrong

I have always enjoyed the timeless morality play that is Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. The characters are wonderfully drawn, the atmosphere gripping, the storyline endlessly compelling. As an insolvency practitioner I also appreciate the detail which the author sprinkles like snowflakes throughout this famous short story (it’s all about the detail, folks). When it comes to the […]

November 6th, 2017

The figures that show we may be heading for a tough time

The latest insolvency statistics for Quarter 3 (July to September) 2017 are out and I have not seen much reaction to them yet from local business and civic leaders. That may be because the headline figures seem innocuous enough. But I am not so sure. Having taken a careful and dispassionate look at the numbers […]

August 31st, 2017

Two little words that remove a roadblock

The insolvency world continues to change at a rapid pace. Accountants are still getting to grips with the biggest rewrite of insolvency law in 30 years, brought about by the Insolvency (England and Wales) Rules that came into force in April 2017. One of the most useful changes has been the introduction of “deemed consent” – […]

July 28th, 2017

Debt worries rise for UK businesses

Four times more businesses than in September 2016 say they would be unable to pay debts if interest rates rise even by a small amount, research has revealed. A survey by insolvency and trade body R3 say 79,000 UK businesses are worried that they could not cope with an interest rate rise, compared to 20,000 […]

June 30th, 2017

Financial education in schools just doesn’t add up

Many British adults can be confused by financial matters due to a lack of education on the subject at schools and colleges. Just one in 10 adults say they received useful advice on finance through the education system, according to a survey by trade body R3 and polling body ComRes. “PHSE education in schools is […]

May 15th, 2017

Upward trend in insolvencies

Corporate insolvencies are now running at more than 5% higher than 12 months ago (ref: The Insolvency Service). Following a period of calm in 2016, insolvencies are now showing an upwards trend from a post financial crisis peak. Martin Williamson, Managing Director at ipd, said factors including a rise in the national minimum wage, pension […]

April 20th, 2017

Don’t be a Zombie!

139,000 businesses in the UK are only paying the interest on their debt and not repaying the debt itself, according to new research by insolvency and restructuring trade body R3. The number of businesses in this position – equivalent to 8% of all UK businesses – has returned to levels more in line with previous […]

March 20th, 2017

UK businesses owe £1.8 billion in late corporation tax says new study

The total value of corporation tax payments in arrears has jumped 15 per cent in the past year, to £1.82 billion up from £1.59 billion, as businesses increasingly struggle to pay their tax bills. Research by online business supermarket, Funding Options, have warned that small businesses are at particular risk of having their assets seized because […]

November 8th, 2016

Help at hand for young families in financial distress

Young families are most vulnerable to insolvency, a new survey suggests. But there has been an overall drop in personal insolvencies year-on-year, according to statistics from Experian. The company reports that the number of people facing insolvency during the third quarter of this year has decreased by 14 percent compared to the same period last […]