On Monday the Prime Minister, Theresa May, was locked in discussions with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Egypt for the second day of a summit with Arab states as she sought a breakthrough on the Irish backstop — but with four-and-a-half weeks left until Brexit, there’s only one issue that matters on the PM’s agenda, securing her deal through Parliament.

On Tuesday a big 48 hours in the Brexit endgame commenced as Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn made seismic shifts in their Brexit positions. The PM stated that she will put her withdrawal agreement – including any changes she has agreed with the EU – to a meaningful vote by 12 March. If that fails, MPs will be offered two separate votes, one on whether MPs support a no-deal Brexit and one on whether to request a short extension to the two-year Article 50 negotiation process to delay EU withdrawal beyond 29 March.

Any extension should not go beyond the end of June and so far, MPs have refused to back Theresa May’s plan for how we leave the EU.

On Wednesday Jeremy Corbyn stated that Labour will back another EU Referendum after his alternative Brexit plan was once again defeated in the Commons. He added that he would continue to push “other options including a general election.”


If not 29 March, then when?

The Prime Minister has given in to pressure from rival factions and has agreed to give Parliament a vote on delaying the UK’s departure from the EU on 29 March.

This will only take place if MPs reject her Brexit deal for a second time and then also say no to the UK leaving the EU without a legally binding agreement – the so-called no-deal scenario. With just 29 days to go, Parliament has yet to approve the terms of withdrawal negotiated with the EU.

Mrs May has set a 12 March deadline for the second “meaningful vote” on her deal and insisted that if MPs back her, the UK can still leave as planned just over two weeks later. In the event of MPs backing a pause in the Brexit process, the PM has said she will seek the “shortest possible” delay, while also refusing to rule out the UK still leaving without a deal later in the year.

While this a giant political leap for the Prime Minister, this is only a small step towards the clarity and certainty that businesses need to chart these unprecedented waters.

The overriding priority is still to assure businesses and communities that an unwanted ‘no deal’ scenario will not happen by default on March 29th. Businesses still need to ensure they are preparing for all possible scenarios and Staffordshire Chambers is here to support businesses of all shapes and sizes through our training courses, lobbying and representation and our business support activities.

Occupational health specialist, Hobson Health is celebrating it’s tenth anniversary in business.

Started by Dr John Hobson in 2009 with a team of just twelve staff, the company has come a long way in ten years. Now the fifty-strong workforce operates across three sites and the company boasts a purpose built clinical suite with five consultation rooms, dedicated physiotherapy and counselling facilities.

The business now specialises in key occupational health services including absence management, fitness to work, health surveillance and stress management. The team are proud to work with a varied range of high profile clients including Staffordshire University, Michelin and H&R Johnson.

Dr Hobson commented, “Throughout the last ten years, Hobson Health has grown and been profitable. That has been the result of a remarkable group of people who have always strived for the highest quality in their work of providing occupational health services. We have also been able to successfully train a number of specialist nurses and doctors.”

“These professionals supported by a highly efficient support team are now taking our business to the next level.”

Hanley Economic Building Society has been awarded 3 star accreditation from Best Companies and has been identified as one of the UK’s best small companies to work for in 2019 by the Sunday Times.

On Wednesday 20th February, team members headed to a black tie dinner in London with fellow small companies and not-for-profits to collect the award and to toast the fantastic achievement.

A coveted award nationally, the 3 star accreditation from Best Companies displays an organisations’ employees are truly engaged, “they’re happier, more productive and more invested in your organisation’s success” and shows an exceptional standard of workplace engagement.

Mark Selby, CEO of Hanley Economic Building Society, said: “As a CEO it’s deeply important to me to create a great place to work. People forget the numbers but remember what it’s like to work with you. We’ve tried to create an environment where people feel valued and supported by their colleagues, paid fairly and invested in.”

It is the 8th time the Society has been rated by Best Companies and this shows the ongoing commitment it has to its 80 staff members. Taking a holistic approach to the health and wellbeing, of colleagues – they offer; subsidised gym membership, regular training sessions to approach mental health wellbeing (such as relaxation sessions) as well as health insurance.

The Society also encourages staff to give back to the community by offering up to four of their working days to volunteer for local charitable causes, supports their future by offering an enhanced pension scheme and everyone receives a day off for your birthday.

Jonathan Austin, CEO & Founder Sunday Times Best Companies to Work For, said: “I would like to congratulate Hanley Economic Building Society on their achievement of a Three Star Accreditation status and being named as one of the UK’s Best Companies to Work for. Best Companies have been producing the Accreditation standard since 2006 to acknowledge excellence in the workplace. We are proud that organization’s like Hanley Economic Building Society focus on their employees and have been rewarded with an engaged workforce who tell us that they’re a best company to work for.”


Keele University Events and Conferencing has relaunched its campus facilities after a comprehensive refurbishment, to offer conference and event planners hi tech, versatile conference space.


With technology at the forefront, Dorothy Hodgkin lecture theatre has undergone complete refurbishment giving a modern, airy feel to its key conference space.  With the latest AV technology installed this great space has new LED lighting designed to provide the perfect learning environment whilst maximising energy and carbon savings.  To complement the auditorium, two new meeting rooms have been added, making Dorothy Hodgkin a perfect self-contained venue within the university campus with a mix of tiered and flat floor space for conference organisers.


Chancellor’s Central (formerly Chancellor’s Building Exhibition Suite) has undergone refurbishment responding to feedback from both the student population and conference delegates to deliver bright, open spaces suitable for anything from a quiet seated area to catch up to an extensive business exhibition and networking area.  As the largest teaching facility on the Keele University Campus, conference and event organisers can now host their events all under the Chancellor’s Central roof.  Conference and teaching space are complemented by a range of open plan refreshment and relaxation areas, a choice of catering options and an extensive exhibition area perfect for business networking events.


Emma Woodcock, Head of Event and Business Development commenting on the initial feedback from clients looking to host their events this summer said: “When we heard of the planned refurbishment of Chancellor’s, we were thrilled about the new plans and were excited to launch these modern vibrant spaces into our conference portfolio.  The feedback from our clients has been fantastic and we have some exciting events coming up over the summer months, showing the versatility of this newly designed event space.”


Completing the trio of projects is the development of 453 brand new ensuite bedrooms on campus. Barnes is one of the student accommodation blocks which, during the summer is used for residential conferences and summer schools.  The new design was influenced by the students talking about how they would like to see the space and key elements they would like to have in their accommodation.  The new blocks consist of a number of flats, with large communal area so guests can socialise and relax together.  Each bedroom has its own ensuite shower room, double bed, plenty of storage and desktop work space.  For conference and event organisers, there is also the flexibility of a choice of inclusive conference packages to suit client budgets and requirements.


Keele University who won Outstanding Leadership Team of the year at the Green Gown Awards for Sustainability, have included many features which supports Keele University Events and Conferencing Green Tourism Silver accreditation.


The investment into the campus facilities positions Keele University Events and Conferencing as a premier venue within the academic sector which is underpinned by their membership to Venues of Excellence and Academic Venue Solutions.  The new facilities will be featured on the Keele University Events and Conferencing Stand (Stand 13) at the Academic Venue Showcase Show on Tuesday 19th March at the ILEC Conference Centre, London.

A major delegation of South Korean political leaders will visit the Midlands following an extraordinary link up with a small Staffordshire tech company.

Enlighten is at the forefront of developing “tech for good” in the education and health sectors.

Now the small, two-year-old business is in advanced talks with South Korean government officials to build ground-breaking AR applications designed to stem a mental health crisis in Korean society.

Enlighten will host seven senior government officials over four days in early March. The high-ranking delegation will meet business, education and local government leaders in Tamworth, Stoke-on-Trent and Birmingham. The group includes department heads for the investment department of the Gyeonggi Provincial Government and senior officials from Pyeongtaek City. Gyeonggi is the most densely populated region in South Korea and major centre for technologically advanced industries, while the city of Pyeongtaek has a population of over 400,000 people.

Enlighten has developed a range of material which is being used by UK mental health charities, colleges and universities and the armed forces. The South Korean link would see Enlighten work with that country’s first suicide prevention centre and wider health bodies.

It would mean extraordinary growth for the small Enlighten team. The South Korean proposal involves access to millions of pounds of European funding and has a clause which will see Enlighten open a second office in South Korea.

Steve Wileman, Head of Technology and Development at Enlighten, said: “We have introduced AR solutions into local colleges, worked with armed forces and are part of the West Midlands Smart City Alliance, but this deal is beyond anything we imagined.

“The seeds were sown when we successfully applied to take part in a trade mission to South Korea last year. Rather than selling to companies, we talked to officials and listened to their issues. We were told that South Korea was in the grip of a mental health crisis and were looking at innovative ways to tackle it. South Korea is technologically advanced with extensive 5G networks and high smart phone usage and this means the augmented reality phone based mental health resources developed by Enlighten are ideally suited for the country’s needs.”

Delegates will meet at Enlighten’s office at Tamworth Enterprise Centre, Philip Dix House, before moving to the Tamworth Town Hall for talks and demonstrations on mental health applications and from the Enterprise Europe Network and the Smart City Alliance (West Midlands).

At 4pm, the party will move on to Tamworth Castle for a VIP tour and this will be followed by a tour of the local microbrewery, Tamworth Brewing Company, and a drinks reception (29 Market St, Tamworth, B79 7LR).

Tuesday, 5 March, will involve events in Stoke-on-Trent. The Staffordshire Chambers of Commerce will host a breakfast reception at Commerce House, Festival Park, Stoke-on-Trent, where the South Korean delegation will meet Sara Williams, Chief Executive of Staffordshire Chambers, David Frost, Chair of the Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire Local Enterprise Partnership, and representatives from the Department of International Trade.

They will move on to Staffordshire University for lunch where there will be a tour of technology based educational facilities and meetings with key personnel who helped to roll out and support AR mental health strategies and Enlighten resources.

Wednesday,6 March, will focus on Birmingham, with visits to both Aston and Birmingham universities. Discussions and demonstrations will include a focus on the Smart City Alliance.

The final morning of the visit will be back at Enlighten’s Tamworth office, with a focus on consortium building and the next steps, prior to an anticipated further visit in October.

Suzanne Edwards, Enlighten’s Head of Education, said: “We are so proud to be able to welcome the South Korean delegation to our home town of Tamworth and to the wider area. While this is an incredible opportunity for Enlighten, we want it also to be a showcase for our partners in business and education as there’s so many opportunities available for other organisations to partner with South Korea.”

Sara Williams, Chief Executive of Staffordshire Chambers of Commerce, said: “Staffordshire Chambers has worked with Enlighten since Suzanne and Steve started their business and it is fantastic to see their development and ever growing reputation as experts in augmented reality technology in the UK and now around the globe.

“Following our support to help Steve attend a trade visit to South Korea last year, we are now looking forward to joining Enlighten as we host an event for the South Korean delegation, which offers a golden opportunity to market not only Enlighten but the capability of our members to work in one of the world’s busiest commercial markets.”

Enlighten created an Augmented Reality mental health awareness raising app, in partnership with charity Rethink Mental Illness.

The resources were also used in a campaign with South Staffordshire College. This highly successful initiative saw a 47% increase in self-referrals via AR posters, 43% increase in self-referrals for anxiety and depression and 27% increase in self-referrals for self-harm and 8% for suicidal thoughts and tendencies.

Enlighten has also worked with serving military personnel from DAT-R (Defence Animal Training Regiment) to devise a campaign based on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

The campaigns involved the creation of a variety of mental health themed posters. Once zapped using a phone with the free downloadable app, the posters are triggered to show a video that gives mental health support and guidance.

Suzanne added: “Mental ill-health, including stress, depression and anxiety, is thought to be responsible for 91 million lost working days each year in the UK, more than for any other illness, costing workplaces £24 billion each year. By raising awareness and reducing the stigma associated with mental illness Enlighten want people to become more open about their feelings and help friends, colleagues and family members identify mental health issues in people close to them.

“South Korea faces an acute mental health crisis. We were told that much of this can be traced back to major economic changes with the economy moving rapidly from old fashioned industry and farming to the development of hi-tech industry in huge cities. South Korean health officials fear that a culture shock and the migration of many people from small rural communities to large, new urban cities can spark anxiety and mental health issues.”

Waseem Ahmed has joined the Dispute Management team as a Solicitor at Freeths in Stoke-on-Trent. Waseem began his career at International law firm, Freshfields before coming back to the area to complete his training.  Waseem qualified as a solicitor in July 2018 and has broad experience in a wide range of commercial litigation disputes.

Waseem said: “I am delighted to join Freeths at such an exciting time, where there is not only rapid growth, but also a personal touch across the firm.  I am looking forward to working with the team at Freeths, and our clients in the Staffordshire area”

Stephen Hadley, who leads the Dispute Management team in Stoke-on-Trent added: “We are delighted to have somebody with Waseem’s quality and enthusiasm join the department. His appointment strengthens our general litigation offering supporting our existing team of experienced lawyers.”

Peter Gavin, Managing Partner of Freeths’ Stoke office commented: “We are really proud that we are making rapid progress in Stoke-on-Trent, underpinned by our ability to attract high calibre lawyers, such as Waseem. Further growth for the Stoke office in 2019 is very much on our agenda. Financial growth at Freeths has allowed us to invest across the UK, including a new Liverpool office in 2018 and plans to open in Bristol in 2019”

Freeths LLP is a top 50, full service commercial law firm. With 12 offices across the UK, Freeths has a presence in the majority of the major cities. Staff numbers have increased to 890 including 195 partners & directors in recent years.  The Legal 500 2019 states “Delivering ‘excellent service all-around’, Freeths LLP is praised for its outstanding depth of knowledge’”.

PM Training has secured a new grounds maintenance contract with Stoke-on-Trent City Council, which could lead to apprenticeship opportunities for up to 800 young people across the region.

The contract will see the Staffordshire-based training provider delivering a range of services for council tenants through its Homeworks division. Services will include garden maintenance, carpeting and soft furnishings, and painting and decorating.

The contract continues a 23-year partnership between Homeworks and Stoke-on-Trent City Council. Around 150 to 200 learners go through the Homeworks scheme each year, with over three-quarters of learners progressing into full-time employment, apprenticeships or further education.

Will Nixon, Managing Director of PM Training, said: “We’re absolutely delighted to be awarded this new contract which will allow us to build upon the 5,000 young people who have already benefited from our ongoing collaboration with the council.

“The partnership allows local school leavers to learn invaluable trade skills along with a range of transferable career skills, opening up a world of job opportunities for them.”

Councillor Janine Bridges, Stoke-on-Trent City Council cabinet member for education and economy, said: “We’re serious about giving our young people the best opportunities to learn the skills and gain the experience to prepare them for their future careers.

“This new contract will make a difference to the lives of hundreds of young people, providing trades and services that will support our residents and communities.”

The contract will run for two years with an option to extend for two further years, at an estimated cost of £3.6m over the four-year period.

Beta, is set for growth as it celebrates two years in business.

In its initial 24 months, Staffordshire Moorlands based Beta Commercial Finance, has provided funding to support business growth and more than 50 jobs and now plans to add to its own team.

Beta Commercial Finance has more than doubled its turnover from year one to year two.

Managing Director, Tom Wilkinson, has revealed plans to double his team from two to five in 2019. Plans are at an advanced stage to employ an apprentice, an FCA-registered (Financial Conduct Authority) Commercial Manager and an Office and Compliance Manager.

Tom said: “Beta has the ability to search the whole of the market as we are independent and not just linked to one bank or lender. We constantly explore the markets and by building relationships with the lenders, we can negotiate the best pricing and funding packages on a customer’s behalf.

“This is paying dividends for our client and it is fantastic to be able to use my knowledge to support a varied range of growing companies.”

Beta has worked on deals to provide new or bigger premises and to finance business machinery for companies as diverse as an accountants, a dress designer, a printer, a day nursery and a travel agents.

An early deal involved brokering a financial package for the new Daisy Bank Business Centre, Cheadle, opened by HCA Developments in 2018.

Beta also worked with So Marketing to fund the purchase of their offices in Broad Street, Leek. James Aberley, Managing Director, said: “We were recommended to Tom to help us during a very fluid situation with securing finance for our offices. Due to some extreme time pressures, Tom helped us to push all the players in our chain to ensure that the funding we needed was in place and on time and that enabled us to purchase our commercial premises in November 2018.

“I would recommend Tom to anyone who requires commercial lending facilities in the future due to his over and above attitude to getting things done.”

Tom added: “The deal hinged on an application for grant funding and the timings were tight, so it was a challenge to get everything in place to meet deadlines.”

Beta Commercial Finance has also fostered growth by developing relationships with many of the area’s accountancy practices who refer clients searching for finance. Vanessa Fuller, Director, at Premier Tax Solutions, said: “We have referred several clients to Tom at Beta and we do so with the confidence that he will find the best available solution. The feedback from our customers about Beta is always positive.”

Guests at The Erwin Hymer Centre Travelworld launch were treated to a star line up in the form of TV favourites, Julia Bradbury and Jilly Goolden, in celebration of its new site opening. 

After an address from Managing Director, Ross Edwards, Julia, who launched her new ITV series, ‘Australia with Julia Bradbury’ last week, spoke to the 400+ guests who attended about her love of the countryside and how motorhome ownership is one of the great ways of connecting with all the outdoors have to offer.

Julia said: “It was wonderful to see so many guests at the event yesterday, so many like-minded people, enthusiastic about their motorhomes and the outdoors. Stafford is a great location for the new centre and there is a real buzz from the Travelworld team about their new venture.”

Jilly Goolden, Wine Critic and Former Co-presenter of the 1980s Food and Drink programme, entertained guests with two wine tasting sessions, providing tips on how to sniff and slurp wine correctly and experience its full flavour. Her sessions included recommendations on where to take your motorhome to experience some of the best wine tasting in Europe.

Jilly said: “I totally ‘get’ the romance of motorhomes. Being part of the opening of the new site near Stafford meant I could combine the romance of discovering wines… with the notion of discovering new places, free as a bird. I’m inspired to explore the combination out on the open road.”      

Following the entertainment, a formal ribbon cutting took place outside the showrooms with the Mayor and Mayoress of Stafford Borough, Councillors, Ray and Jenny Barron.

The Mayor said: “We were pleased to be invited to the grand opening of the new Erwin Hymer Travelworld event. It is most encouraging to see another new business relocating to the Stafford area. This is great news for Stafford Borough and also for the many new local jobs that will be created. I hope their new business venture will be a tremendous success.”  

MP for Stafford constituency, Jeremy Lefroy and Staffordshire County Council’s economic growth Chief Councillor, Mark Winnington, came along to the launch to show their support for the new site.   

The launch event continued throughout the week with UK National Mountain Bike Champion, Scott Beaumont, to talk to guests about his adventures with his bike and his Dethleffs motorhome.

Ross said: “This was the perfect start to our event, having Julia and Jilly come along was hugely popular and we aim to continue to deliver to all of our new and existing customers as we start our exciting new phase in Stafford.”


A talented young Stoke-on-Trent Accountant has won national recognition after passing part of his taxation exams with the highest marks in the UK.

Josh Draycott joined Geens Chartered Accountants after A-levels and has won the Kimmer Medal for the best paper in the Inheritance Tax, Trust and Estates section of the ATT (Association of Taxation Technicians) qualifications.

Geens is celebrating a double success as Hannah Sutcliffe, who only joined the staff at the Stoke town firm in the summer, passed her Level 3 AAT,, gaining a distinction.

Geens’ Director, Karen Lowe, said: “Josh is part of our Trust and Tax team and has been studying is tax exams after already passing his AAT, accountancy exams. 903 students sat the ATT exams but just 73 selected the Inheritance Tax, Trust and Estates paper due to its complexity, with only three achieving distinctions. To come out on top is a remarkable achievement for Josh.

“Hannah only joined Geens in the summer from a non-accountancy role. She is making rapid progress and has now passed her Level 3 AAT with distinction. Hannah’s commitment to gaining industry qualifications is matched by her work at Geens where she has progressed very quickly.

“We have a proud record of training our own staff and all five of our Directors came through their examinations at Geens, gaining promotions along the way. Geens is experiencing a period of growth, adding new clients and staff. We recently extended into Probate services, an area once reserved for the legal profession.”