Coronavirus is the economic shock that business didn’t see coming, and while it’s been difficult for the whole economy, many Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent businesses have grabbed the opportunities that the pandemic has brought, helped communities and other businesses to adapt and embrace the digital world, and even been on the front-line of medical support and exploration. Many have survived thanks to business support services, and some have even thrived.  There are some great untold stories that need telling, both of how getting the right support at the right time has really helped and of business people making a difference both personally and through their business.

Working together, the Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire Enterprise Partnership and the Staffordshire Chamber of Commerce are developing a showcase of business through written and video case studies that will be seen by customers, stakeholders and other businesses alike throughout the year  – helping others to see the benefit of using the range of business support that is available and also how they could adapt to ‘the new normal.’

So, do you have a story to tell?   Has getting the right support at the right time made a difference? Have you helped the community or other businesses through the crisis?  Is your business in one of the ‘critical/key worker’ sectors and can tell us your experience of the crisis through your work?  How have you adapted?

If you have a story to tell and want the free PR that it will bring, get in touch with brief details before close of play on Monday 6th July. The LEP will be back in touch asap.

Please share:

  • Your name, role and company
  • Company activity (which may have changed recently because of Covid-19)
  • Where you’re based
  • A brief summary of your story – what have you done? Why? What impact has this made?
  • What business support did you  get and how has this helped?
  • Contact email address and phone number

Send your entries to > communications@staffordshire.gov.uk

As the economy begins to gather pace in a return to open trading, Staffordshire Chambers of Commerce remains committed to supporting our members and the wider business community to get through one of the toughest trading environments most of us will have ever seen.

We are partnering with customer experience specialists Insight6 to announce a brand-new Chambers exclusive membership offer, discounted for members, that will help businesses to reopen safely.

Insight6 have developed a business tool that enables all businesses, regardless of size or sector, to regularly engage with their staff and customers to obtain feedback on their experience and how safe they feel when visiting business premises.

With the retail sector preparing to reopen on 4th July, safety now sits at centre of the customer journey. Operating in a way that helps colleagues to feel safe whilst at work, and giving customers and clients confidence that your business is a safe place to purchase the goods and services that you need them to buy, is now the most important part of any business’s operation – and future survival.

Each customer will judge for themselves if they think your business is a safe place to visit, not the business itself, and regardless of how many signs you have on display or how much hazard tape is on the floor, it is the feeling of safety that will determine if you keep them as customers or lose them to your competition.

The Team Safety and Customer Confidence Portal enables staff members and customers to anonymously raise concerns regarding safety to allow a fast response from management. This immediate response will help to resolve safety concerns and ensure that colleagues, clients, and customers feel comfortable returning to the workplace.

 

Creating a safe place for colleagues to work in and customers or clients to visit will be essential to business recovery.

 

You can access the Insight6 portal at: https://www.insight6.com/scc-team-safety/

 

If you want to talk to us about any business issues, you can call our switchboard on 01782 202222 or call the Stoke and Staffs Growth Hub Helpline on 0300 111 8002. We also have a Twitter hour each Tuesday and Friday from 11am – 12noon #StaffsChamberChat

Once more we have some changes in how we are to control the spread of Covid-19 – just when we have planned spaces and bought the signs for a 2m spaced working environment, the Prime Minister’s announces changes to England’s lockdown from 4th July. For once though, official guidelines for businesses have been published at much the same time as the announcement.

The 2m social distancing rule will be relaxed to “one metre plus” where 2m is not possible – but people will be encouraged to have mitigation in place to reduce transmission. This is confusing and will businesses want to, or be able to, police how this operates in practice and in different places? The works kitchen may have different rules from the office or the factory floor.

However, it is great news that our hospitality sector can reopen, indoors and outdoors, with safety measures such as table-only service. Hotels, B&Bs, campsites, caravan parks, hairdressers, playgrounds, museums, galleries are among the businesses that can reopen.  I have booked a B&B in Cornwall to go and see my parents-in-law – even though I can’t go into their house but can at least talk to them across the garden.

And none of us can be complacent. All this comes in the wake of an open letter in the British Medical Journal from health leaders who are calling for an urgent review as to whether we are properly prepared for the “real risk” of a second wave of coronavirus with further loss of life. How will businesses cope if there is another lockdown, even in specific areas?

You can view the government guidelines in full at: https://bit.ly/2BwzfzR

Late last week the government announced its Code of Practice for commercial property relationships during the Covid-19 pandemic to help landlords and tenants work constructively to find solutions that keep their businesses open and people in work.

The pandemic has created severe cashflow problems for many SMEs who will need time to rebuild and recover. The Code sets out principles for landlords and tenants to work together and stresses that transparency and collaboration is needed to manage the issues and situation as we move to a post lockdown environment.

You can view the Code of Practice in full on the gov.uk website : https://bit.ly/3dsC2XO

If you want to talk to us about any business issues, you can call our switchboard on 01782 202222 or call the Stoke and Staffs Growth Hub Helpline on 0300 111 8002. We also have a Twitter hour each Tuesday and Friday from 11am – 12noon #StaffsChamberChat

We are delighted to be partnering with insight6 to announce a new Staffordshire Chamber of Commerce exclusive membership offer that will help businesses to reopen their businesses safely.

Insight6 have developed a business tool that enables all businesses, regardless of size or sector, to regularly engage with their teams to get feedback on how safe they feel at work. The Team Safety and Customer Confidence Portal enables staff members and customers to anonymously raise concerns regarding safety to allow a fast response from management. This immediate response will help to resolve safety concerns and ensure that colleagues feel comfortable returning to the workplace.

Sara Williams, Chief Executive of Staffordshire Chambers of Commerce, said: “Creating a safe place to work for colleagues and a safe place to visit for customers/clients, will be essential to business recovery.”

Ian Kelsall, insight6 Customer Experience Director said: “We believe that the feeling of safety will be unique and different to each colleague who is seeking confidence that their workplace is indeed a safe place to work. Each customer/client, will also decide if they think your business is a safe place to shop/visit, not the business itself, and regardless of how many signs you have on display or how much hazard tape is on the floor, it is the feeling of safety that will determine if you keep them as customers or lose them to your competition.”

The insight6 business tool, Team Safety and Client Confidence Portal is available exclusively to Staffordshire Chamber of Commerce Members for a one off payment of £140+VAT, for a 3 month system licence.

To register your interest click on the link below.

Team Safety and Customer Confidence Portal

As I write this blog the Prime Minister has just updated Parliament on changes to England’s lockdown, coming into force on 4th July.

Using words such as “cautious” and “entirely conditional” he has stated that there would be no hesitation in reintroducing restrictions if there is any resurgence in infections.

The main points are:

  • The 2m social distancing rule will be relaxed to “one metre plus”where 2m is not possible – but people will be encouraged to have mitigation in place to reduce transmission
  • People will be able to meet one other household at a time indoors, with social distancing. Meet-ups do not always have to be with the same household
  • Pubs and restaurants can reopen indoors and outdoors with safety measures such as table-only service. Hotels, B&Bs, campsites, caravan parks, hairdressers, playgrounds, museums, galleries are among the businesses that canreopen
  • Nightclubs, spas, indoor soft play areas, bowling alleys, indoor gyms and nail bars are among the businesses that cannot reopen at this stage

The Chambers welcomes a return of our tourism and hospitality economy as it is such a large sector of our economy and one with huge potential for growth and jobs.

It is worth reminding ourselves what a fantastically creative and diverse county Staffordshire is, and what a fantastic offer our visitor economy presents to visitors and residents alike.

From big headline like Alton Towers and the National Memorial Arboretum and World of Wedgwood to small artisan craft makers, museums and heritage attractions, pubs, restaurants and unique market towns and villages, there really is something to suit all ages and tastes. When you add in our unrivalled countryside, canals, stately homes, and parks then you start to appreciate just what we have to offer.

From July 4th we all need to play our part in ensuring support for our local visitor economy.  Personally, I cannot wait to paint a mug at Emma Bridgewater, visit our amazing museums and galleries or browse and buy some unique treats from anyone of our independent retailers.

 

We are awaiting the official Government upload of the new guidelines but in the meantime if you want to raise any issues or concerns please email: info@staffordshirechambers.co.uk

If you want to talk to us about any business issues, you can call our switchboard on 01782 202222 or call the Stoke and Staffs Growth Hub Helpline on 0300 111 8002. We also have a Twitter hour each Tuesday and Friday from 11am – 12noon #StaffsChamberChat

The New Vic Theatre in Newcastle-under-Lyme is set to begin work this week to transform its auditorium, as it embarks on its biggest redevelopment project since the theatre was built 34 years ago.

In these difficult times the theatre is taking a positive step forward to invest for the future.  The fundraising target for the project has now been reached, with funds restricted to this important work that will support the future resilience of the organisation.

An artist’s impression of the newly refurbished auditorium has been released today to give an indication to audiences of what the theatre will look like following the work – including brand new deep purple seats, with wooden trim. The refurbishment works will see the theatre replace all of its 597 seats with ergonomically designed seating and a number of two person seats in certain spaces; redesign its balcony area to increase comfort and improve the audience experience; install handholds to the end of aisles and increase the number of spaces available to wheelchair users. The theatre will also install a brand new stage and improve aisle lighting to help audience members access their seats with ease. Works also include upgrading the theatre’s customer toilets.

The redevelopment project sees an investment of over £750,000 into the theatre following major support from Arts Council England. The Stoke-on-Trent based Denise Coates Foundation has also made a significant donation towards the works, having supported previous redevelopment projects at the theatre alongside contributing significant funds to the theatre’s Borderlines community programme over a number of years, to support ongoing work with disadvantaged and vulnerable young people.

The New Vic is currently closed in line with government guidelines but once able to reopen the refurbished auditorium will be used to stage New Vic shows as well as playing host to the theatre’s extensive education and community programmes.

Fiona Wallace, New Vic Managing Director, said: “34 years after the New Vic opened, and after welcoming over three million theatregoers, our unique in-the-round auditorium was in urgent need of major investment. This vital work will transform the space, bringing the New Vic up to modern standards, improving the comfort and experience for our audiences and ensuring we continue to be at the heart of our community for generations of theatregoers to come. We’re pleased that we’re able to start this project on time, and grateful to our contractors for working with us to ensure we can undertake the work in line with all current safety regulations surrounding Covid-19. We look forward to being able to share the finished auditorium with audiences as soon as we’re able to. This investment will support the theatre for the future, as we aim to be in the strongest position we can be when we come out of this current crisis.”

Local people can support the New Vic’s work by donating to the theatre, through their website at newvictheatre.org.uk or by calling the Box Office on 01782 717962.

For more information on the redevelopment project and to keep up-to-date with all the news from the New Vic, visit newvictheatre.org.uk

The outbreak of coronavirus has hastened the use of technology to diagnose and treat healthcare issues remotely. Patients across the country are now becoming accustomed to relying on remote healthcare services such as NHS 111, virtual GP appointments, and online deliveries.

5G technology will be key in providing the infrastructure required to deliver remote health services over the next decade. By design, 5G’s ability to deliver real-time information (low latency), ultra-fast speeds (critical for high definition images and video), increased capacity and heightened security are going to be fundamental in scaling the patient benefits of remote healthcare and keeping medical records secure and private.  The West Midlands 5g testbed has already showcased examples of 5G technology in healthcare, such as the use of live video streaming to provide specialist advice to ambulance paramedics.

Furthermore, health sector expert and former MP, David Kidney who has recently been appointed to head up the development of a new West Midlands Health Tech Cluster has indicated the importance of Digital health technologies as essential tools in the ongoing response to the global COVID-19 pandemic: “Artificial Intelligence (AI), big data, 5G and robotics can provide valuable and innovative solutions for patient treatment, frontline protection, risk reduction, communications and improved quality of living under lockdown as the world continues to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic”.

Currently the Chief Executive of the UK Public Health Register, David has been appointed to lead the development of a Health Technologies Cluster Organisation, which will support the creation of the brand-new cluster.  His responsibilities will include establishing the requirements of the nascent West Midlands Health Technologies Cluster, engaging with life science and associated business bases to raise awareness of the plans for the Cluster and securing commitment from prospective members and stakeholders.

For further information about the West Midlands Health Technologies Cluster, please contact Ravi Kumar.

This week is Armed Forces Week, a time as a nation to show our appreciation and support for the men and women who make up the armed forces community; from currently serving troops to service families, veterans, and cadets.

Events throughout the week lead up to Armed Forces Day this Saturday, 27th June.

To give an example of the unsung work our armed forces do, over the past three months the Royal Logistics Corps have been working to deliver a wide range of support and services during the pandemic. As well as their involvement in setting up the new Nightingale Hospitals across the UK, soldiers have also been involved in supporting regional testing sites, delivering food to the vulnerable and driving ambulances.

Staffordshire Chambers of Commerce have always had strong links with the armed forces, and we know that many local employers and employees play a vital role in their support of our reserve forces.

We have our very own Honorary Colonel of the British Army, in ex-Chamber President Mike Frewer, who represents the Armed Forces on the Chambers’ Council. We are also extremely proud to have West Midlands Reserve Forces & Cadet Association (WMRFCA) as patrons and very pleased that our support has been recognised through our Silver Award and being a signatory to, the Armed Forces Covenant.

There are lots of activities taking place from today including three excellent events aimed at employers.

  • Armed Forces Covenant webinar, Tuesday 23rd June at 2pm (update on local Armed Forces response to Covid19) https://bit.ly/2Ni7tcR
  • Reserves Day event on Zoom, Wednesday 24th June at 2pm (for your employees interested in knowing more about reserve service) https://bit.ly/2AXi22r
  • Army Engagement Team broadcast, Thursday 25th June at 2.30pm (A multimedia presentation on our British Army) https://bit.ly/3fDTL06

Please share these with your staff and your external networks and if you are planning any social media or digital activity the hashtags are #ArmedForcesWeek and #SaluteOurForces and the twitter tag for WMRFCA is @WMRFCA.

Details of Armed Forces Week can be found at: https://www.armedforcesday.org.uk and

https://www.wmrfca.org/reserve-forces/armed-forces-week-2020/

If you want to talk to us about any business issues, you can call our switchboard on 01782 202222 or call the Stoke and Staffs Growth Hub Helpline on 0300 111 8002. We also have a Twitter hour each Tuesday and Friday from 11am – 12noon #StaffsChamberChat

Michelin staff have produced thousands of protective face masks to help keep colleagues, customers and the community safe in the Covid-19 pandemic.

The tyre manufacturer set up a temporary manufacturing centre at the Michelin Athletic Club, close to its factory and office in Stoke-on-Trent.

Volunteers and furloughed staff produced the masks to protect factory, sales and logistics employees – as well as tyre technicians, who have been keeping vital services such as ambulance and truck fleets on the road throughout the crisis.

The move has allowed Michelin UK to donate more than 13,000 face masks to the wider community, including some Stoke-on-Trent care homes and charities.

A team of seven were given extensive training to carry out the work, including Victoria Shirley.

Victoria, who works in logistics at Michelin, said: “I volunteered for the role because I had started making masks myself, for family and friends, as well as a donation of 500 to a local care home.

“I thought some of these skills might be useful and came in a week beforehand to help start setting up production.

“We are working in a really good atmosphere and keeping morale up.”

Fellow team member, David Clarson, also works in logistics at Michelin. He said: “It feels good to be doing something to help make people safe.”

The mask production facility operates to stringent safety operating protocols, overseen by Michelin Stoke factory manager, Francois Levert.

Francois said: “The factory is back in production and it is important we are self-sufficient in face masks. Safety is our number one priority and people from different parts of Michelin UK have worked together on this project – it has been a great team effort from everyone.”

A bit of a mixed bag to end the week!

I’d like to start the blog by saying that I could not be prouder at this moment of Staffordshire Chambers, of being an accredited  British Chamber of Commerce and all the incredible businesses who support us to carry out our work, and more importantly support each other and the local community.

On that note, the highest possible praise for Chambers of Commerce comes this morning in a letter from Her Majesty The Queen.

Queen Elizabeth, who is Patron of the British Chambers of Commerce, praises Chambers’ contribution to business communities during the Coronavirus pandemic and the work we are doing as more businesses across the UK are reopening and adjusting to a new normal.

The letter says: “ At a time of great difficulty for many, it is heart-warming to see civic response and generosity of so many businesses, small and large, to the challenges posed, whether supporting the health sector or vulnerable communities.”

The Queen goes on to recognise the contribution Chambers of Commerce and their members have made during the pandemic. “As Patron of the British Chambers of Commerce, it gives me great pride to see the contribution of you and your members are making to help firms, champion trade and rebuild communities.”

Moral support such as this is crucial as we look to work together to rebuild and renew our local economy.

You can read The Queens letter in full at: https://www.britishchambers.org.uk/news

After seeing the high streets reopen and the tremendous work that so many national chains and our brilliant independent retailers have done, it is encouraging that for the cities and towns in Staffordshire people are returning to spend locally.

It is a tribute to the businesses and the local authorities who have worked tirelessly to get the high streets open and to provide excellent support to ensure that customers and staff feel safe and comfortable as we move back to a more sociable way of living.

Businesses also need to be aware of the issues on the changes to the government’s support. Most people will know that the furlough scheme is changing and there are daily updates on easing of restrictions and their implications for business.

The other big issue is the HMRC VAT payment deferral period, bought in to alleviate financial pressure during the lockdown, ends on 30th June. You need to set-up direct debits now to allow enough time for HMRC to take payment (as well as submitting your VAT returns as normal, on time and pay the VAT in full on payments due after 30th June). And any deferments taken so far will need to be paid in full on or before 31st March 2021 if you are unable to pay the VAT due and may need time to pay. All information and advice on VAT deferral can be found at: https://bit.ly/3egy4mh

If you want to talk to us about any business issues, you can call our switchboard on 01782 202222 or call the Stoke and Staffs Growth Hub Helpline on 0300 111 8002. We also have a Twitter hour each Tuesday and Friday from 11am – 12noon #StaffsChamberChat