Award-winning Professional Services

Finest members are continuing to be recognised for the outstanding quality of their services.


Long-standing member Freeths solicitors scooped the prestigious Employer of the Year Award at this year’s Staffordshire Chambers Awards ceremony. Peter Gavin, Managing Partner, of Freeths’ Stoke Office said “At Freeths we strive to be the best employer we can with constant engagement with our staff and adapting strategies which genuinely assist with best working practices and a good work life balance.”


At the same event, three more Finest members also received awards. Steve Timmis, from Sempar Accounting & Tax, was recognised as the Entrepreneur of the Year whilst Infinity IT Solutions and Prosurv Consult jointly won the Professional Services of the Year category.


Nationally, Synectics Solutions, who provide predictive analytics and data services, has been honoured with the prestigious Queen’s Award for Enterprise for Innovation. The award, which is in recognition of the company’s outstanding successes in innovation, is the highest official UK accolade for British businesses.


And across Europe, IP specialists Swindell & Pearson have been featured in a Financial Times special report on ‘Europe’s Leading Patent Law Firms 2019’. This report was compiled by FT researcher partner Statista and is based on recommendations made by both clients and peers.


These are just a few examples of the award-winning Finest Member professional services organisations here in Staffordshire providing top class services to their clients locally, nationally and around the world.

The Staffordshire Chambers of Commerce are pleased to have been awarded a “Good” rating in the SEL Group’s Plastic Users, Shops, Services and Hospitality Audit (PLuSH).

Already certified to ISO 14001: 2015, the Chamber are always looking at ways to improve their environmental practices and the QEST Group invited Dr Dawn Pope to carry out the plastic audit and to receive help and advice on what could be done in the near future to achieve “Excellent”.

The QEST team are pro-active and are constantly striving to reduce the Chamber’s plastic footprint. Recent initiatives have included providing toiletries with refillable containers, using jugs and refillable water bottles to reduce single use packaging. The team also actively encourage the segregation of plastic wastes and reusing name badges.

Dr Dawn Pope said: “ The audit identified a number of opportunities to further reduce the plastic impact of the Chamber and both Ann Steele and Sarah Eccleston from the QEST team have some brilliant ideas on how to achieve these changes. It is predicted that by making these changes, they could achieve a rating of “Excellent”.

“The PLuSH audit tool is aimed at addressing end user issues encountered by organisations involved in service, retail and hospitality sectors. It provides a simple objective review of plastic use within an organisation and can be used to benchmark an organisation and to track progress”.

A young, experienced sales professional has been appointed by Adept Vehicle Management as part of a major growth programme.

Kyle Willis, 26, has joined the Chesterton-based fleet specialists as Fleet Sales Manager.

Adept Vehicle Management recently unveiled growth plans after gaining acceptance onto the Crown Commercial Services framework. The successful tender gives Adept access to around 2,500 public sector car and commercial fleets across the UK.

Kyle has worked in the vehicle sales arena for more than four years and was a branch manager for a large commercial car rental company before joining Adept Vehicle Management.

A former pupil of Haywood High School, Burslem, Kyle achieved a BA Hons) Degree in Entrepreneurship and Marketing from Manchester Metropolitan University before joining a management graduate programme in the car sales sector.

Kyle said: “I have learned a great deal about car rental and sales in the last four years and joining Adept means I can build my career with a specialist company which focuses on working closely with the companies it leases vehicles too, providing the highest levels of customer service.”

Adept Vehicle Management Director Carl Cumbo said: “It is a very busy time at Adept and we are in a position to grow our team. It is good to be able to support local, young talented sales professionals such as  Kyle and we welcome him to the team. He will be working primarily with the Staffordshire business community, forging links through organisations such as Staffordshire Chambers of Commerce and BNI Staffordshire.”

Promotional hub BabaBaboon has joined forces with a Staffordshire Radio Station to help share positive news from the area.

BabaBaboon has been actively sharing good news and promoting businesses and events in North Staffordshire since May 2018, and Creative Director Sonya Farrall was invited by owners of FM station – the Hitmix to present a live weekly show – which was launched on July 7. The Sunday “Local and Live” show sees Sonya presenting and co-producing, and will include interviews with public figures as well as welcoming studio guests to the Newcastle-under-Lyme station.

“This is a fantastic opportunity to work with an established radio station and I was delighted to be invited to do my own show,” says Sonya.

“The show is a great platform to extend BabaBaboon’s reach and speak to a different audience. We are very passionate at BabaBaboon about spreading good news as well as helping to promote local businesses and events we liaise with the public on a daily basis, and now with the radio show we will also be interacting with an even wider audience – it’s great!”

Hitmix Station Manager, Robbie Benson said:  “Hitmix Radio is all about sharing great music and local news with our community.  We also recognise local talent and hard work, and Sonya deserves the platform of FM radio to enable her to spread the good news to even more people – we are delighted to welcome Sonya to the Hitmix team!”

BabaBaboon help to promote businesses, events and news via their own unique PR platform –  and are also very active on social media reaching thousands daily via Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

Listeners can tune in to Sonya’s radio show on the Hitmix 107.5FM, or online, every Sunday from 2pm.

Staffordshire based professional business consultancy the Strategi Solutions Group has made a number of recent appointments, to support the growing demands of the business and strengthen their successful HR team.

Lisa Smith has joined the Strategi Solutions Group as HR Advisor. Lisa will be responsible for heading up the HR team under the direction of Rob Fisher, Director of HR Services and will provide direct HR support to clients as well as championing Strategi Solutions own HR needs. With over 20 years’ experience working within HR for the transport industry, Lisa is excited to be transferring her skills and knowledge across a wider range of clients from different industries.

Whilst Van Chavda joins the growing business consultancy in the role of HR consultant. Her primary remit will be to support one of Strategi Solutions key accounts – Palletforce – the fastest growing and most successful pallet distribution network in the UK, whilst supporting the team with HR solutions for the growing client base. With a BA and master’s degree in human resources with a full qualification in CIPD, along with over 10 years of experience working in various industries ranging from warehousing, retail, manufacturing, hospitality, leisure and professional services, she brings a wealth of experience to the team.

The final addition is Laura Bithell in the role of HR Coordinator. Prior to joining Strategi Solutions Group Laura was HR Coordinator at Caudwell Children after graduating with a master’s degree in in Human Resource Management at Keele University in 2017. Laura will be hands on supporting the HR Team and their clients delivering a range HR solution.

“I am pleased to welcome Lisa, Van and Laura to the Strategi family” says Rob Fisher Director of HR Services “The new structure strengthens our breadth of professional knowledge allowing for a bigger impact on our HR clients and gives us a stronger platform to continue to grow.

In addition to HR services Strategi Solutions Group offer a wide range of services including Culture Change Programmes, Learning and Development, Coaching and Mentoring, Talent Management, Recruitment, Health and Safety, ISO implementation and auditing, Marketing and Design.

Keele University Business Gateway is delighted to announce the launch of the very first Breaking the Mould awards. The awards celebrate the diverse community of innovative entrepreneurs, businesses, social enterprises, employers and research partners who have worked with us over the last two years.

If that includes you, we want to share your story and reward your talents and hard work.

Breaking the Mould’s awards evening takes place on Thursday 17 October. Hosted by journalist and broadcaster Naga Munchetty in the brand new Smart Innovation Hub*, it promises to be an awards evening like no other, with surprises in store. Winners will go away with our coveted artisan trophies which are just as innovative as the businesses we work with.

Nominations are now being accepted in the following categories:

• Health and Wellbeing – sponsored by Cobra Biologics
• Sustainability – sponsored by Cadent
• Social Inclusion – sponsored by Synectics solutions
• Bringing Learning to Life – sponsored by Dains Accountants
• Cultivating Talent – sponsored by We are aspire
• Leadership – sponsored by Caja
• Future Enterprise – sponsored by Staffordshire County Council
• Collaboration of the Year – sponsored by Siemens UK

Nominations can be submitted online here. The deadline for submissions is midnight on 31 July 2019.

Speaking about the awards, Stephen Roberts, Keele University’s Business Gateway Manager, said: “Breaking the Mould provides a great opportunity to put a spotlight on the innovative companies that call Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire home, and to recognise the impact that they are having on the local economy, environment, health and wellbeing.”

“Keele is working with over 500 businesses, who are gaining unparalleled access to world-leading research, expertise and talent. Breaking the Mould gives us a chance to recognise those organisations who have used their collaboration with Keele as a catalyst to go on to develop truly great things.”

“Breaking the Mould promises to be a great event in the local business calendar, and we’re looking forward to celebrating the abundance of amazing enterprising talent that is based in the local area.”

Keele University Business Gateway would like to thank Siemens UK who are headline sponsor for Breaking the Mould 2019, as well as the other local and national organisations who are sponsoring the awards.

To find out more about Breaking the Mould, please visit

A loan fund set up to support West Midlands businesses has reached a new milestone.

The MEIF Small Business Loan Fund, which is delivered by BCRS Business Loans, has now invested and loaned £2 million to over 60 West Midlands businesses that have been unable to access finance from traditional lenders.

The fund is part of the Midlands Engine Investment Fund (MEIF), which was set up to transform the finance landscape for small and medium-sized businesses. The MEIF is delivered by six appointed fund managers, including BCRS Business Loans.

BCRS Business Loans provide loans from £10,000 to £150,000 to viable West Midlands based businesses that are looking to grow.

Commenting on this milestone, the chief executive of BCRS Business Loans, Paul Kalinauckas, said:

“We are incredibly proud to be a delivery partner for MEIF, which is an important initiative for small and medium sized businesses that are looking to grow and prosper.

“Delivering over £2million from our MEIF fund is an excellent achievement and is crucial to the prosperity of our region by boosting economic activity and providing jobs for local people.

“As the region’s biggest Responsible Finance Provider, we believe that no viable business should go unsupported and ensure that a fast, relationship-based approach to lending is at the heart of our loan process.”.

Ryan Cartwright, Senior Manager at the British Business Bank, said:

“Following the recent announcement that the MEIF has now reached the £50million investment milestone, this additional achievement by BCRS Business Loans is testament to the hard work of our fund manager.

“BCRS has now supported over 60 businesses, unlocking finance to help them expand and supporting the growth of the local economy. The funding provided so far has supported international expansion projects, the purchase of new equipment and creating jobs.”

The Midlands Engine Investment Fund project is supported financially by the European Union using funding from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) as part of the European Structural and Investment Funds Growth Programme 2014-2020 and the European Investment Bank.


To discover more about BCRS Business Loans visit our ‘About Us’ page or submit an application form by clicking here.

Well-known stockpicker Neil Woodford’s flagship fund remains locked for investors, it has been confirmed.

The extension, announced as the initial 28-day suspension expired, means investors will have to wait at least another month to withdraw their money.

Investors in the Equity Income Fund have now not been able to access their money since 3 June, 2019.

Withdrawals were frozen after rising numbers of investors asked for their money back.

What can investors do?

In short, nothing for now. Investors have no choice but to wait for the suspension to be lifted.

At that point Mr Woodford is likely to make changes and reconstruct his investment portfolio and, at Geens Financial Planning Ltd, we would suggest that should be the point when investors carry-out their own review before making a decision on whether to stay with the fund or exit it.

In reality, investors should regularly review any investments they have and the Woodford fund issue is perhaps a timely reminder for people to do just that,

What happened to the Woodford fund?

When the fund launched five years ago, Mr Woodford’s previous record as a leading investment manager, meant thousands of people  trusted him with their money.

At its peak, the Woodford Equity Income Fund managed £10.2bn worth of assets, such as local authority pension funds.

In its first year, there were returns of 18% on investors’ money, compared with an average rise of only 2% on the London Stock Exchange at the time.

However, this was followed by struggles in the last couple of years.

As a result, the fund has brought very little return for investors who have been in it throughout. Figures from research and ratings agency FE Analytics show the fund has made a total return of 0.36% since its launch.

Worries over this has led to many investors pulling away from the fund, ultimately leading to the fund being suspended and frozen while restructuring takes place.

Concerns have been raised that management fees have continued to be charged to customers and Nicky Morgan MP, who chairs the Parliamentary Treasury Committee has said fees should be halted while trading in the fund remains suspended.

Meanwhile, other funds within the Woodford stable continue to operate, although Woodford Patient Capital has seen its shares suffer in the wake of the income fund suspension.

How can Geens Financial Planning Ltd help?

Geens Financial Planning Ltd are regulated by the FCA and operates independently from Geens Chartered Accountants. It offers a comprehensive lifetime wealth planning and investment service.

We can provide detailed valuations of your investment portfolios, supplying analytical information of different products and investments, ranging from investment returns to illustrations on competitive life assurance or annuities.


As indicated, investors can only sit and wait if they currently have money invested in the suspended Woodford fund. However, we are on hand to support your investment review and give advice on a full range of financial planning services.

Please contact Karen Staley, Director,

The insurance market for the tyre industry is diminishing quickly with only a small number of motor trader insurers willing to write insurance policies. When premiums rise, price becomes the main focus and key balance sheet exposures may be missed as brokers fight to retain and win business.

Jelf has significant experience in arranging insurance for the tyre industry and in partnership with the National Tyre Distributors Association (NTDA) has now designed insurance programmes specifically for the sector.

Founded in 1930, the NTDA is a strongly proactive trade association representing and promoting the interests of the tyre wholesale, distribution and retail sectors of the automotive aftercare market.
Every business sector needs strong professional representation and the NTDA fulfils this responsibility in a complex, highly competitive and ever-changing operating environment.

“Jelf have partnered with the NTDA due to its high level of professionalism and risk management discipline.”Jonathan McArdle – Insurance Broker at Jelf

“For a number of years, the NTDA has had a tremendous amount of support from Jelf, which is a truly active member of the Association. From risk management advice to presentations at regional meetings and the Tyre Industry Conference, members have experienced, first hand, the tangible benefits Jelf offers and we are, therefore, delighted to be further developing this relationship with this new partnership.”Stefan Hay, NTDA Chief Executive.

Pensions expert Emily Jacobs is urging parents to think about their children’s pensions and to educate them about saving by putting away a few pounds each month.

With severe pressure on state pensions and people facing paying tens of thousands of pounds in social care bills, the onus to save for retirement is growing year on year.

Emily, a Director of Richard Jacobs Pensions and Trustee Services, is already saving £20 a month for Oliver, her five-year-old son and if this is sustained through adulthood, with uplifts to take into account inflation, it will yield a pension pot of £309,000 which is higher than the average pension pot in the UK.

“Financial education is in many ways as important as the core topics on the school curriculum and I urge parents to teach their children about the need to save and, if possible, put a small sum away each month to start their pension pots,” said Emily.

“The introduction of auto enrolment for pensions has begun the process of educating everyone that we all need to save what we can and has shown that putting a little aside every month works, but the key is to start as a young adult, at the very latest.”

A report by The Alzheimer’s Society, released on 8 July, 2019, calculates that people with dementia have spent almost £15bn of their own money in the last two years.

But how much is enough when it comes to saving for your old age?

A study by investment firm AJ Bell shows that Britons will need to reach retirement age with a pension pot of nearly £450,000 to have a decent retirement if they are lucky – or unlucky – enough to live until 100 years old.

The study assumes someone on an average annual UK salary of £28,000 who wants to retire at 65 years old and who wants an annual retirement income of £20,000.

For funds to last 35 years until the age of 100, the private pot would need to generate a starting income of £20,000 a year, which would increase at 2 per cent to remain inflation-proofed.

To save the £447,000 pension pot, AJ Bell estimates that a 25-year-old would need to save £235 a month. Delaying by 10 years to start saving at age 35 sees the monthly saving figure almost double to £428 and if savers wait until age 45, the figure rises to a much higher £859 a month.

Richard Jacobs Pensions and Trustee Services Ltd is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority, please go online to