Finally, many businesses across England can now see a path to restart and recovery following the PMs announcement on Monday. Absolute clarity and honesty will be needed every step of the way over the coming weeks so that businesses have a fighting chance to rebuild, and in many cases to reopen.

The stop-start dynamics of the past year, which has so damaged business and communities, looks finally to be coming to an end.

Even with the PMs new roadmap, the future of thousands of firms and millions of jobs still hangs by a thread. Many hard-hit businesses simply do not have the cash reserves needed to survive the remaining weeks until they can reopen.

The Chambers, along with every business, will hold the Prime Minister to his pledge to support firms for the duration of the pandemic, as this gruelling marathon nears its end. Businesses have haemorrhaged billions of pounds over the past year and need action now.

We continue to lobby for all key support schemes for business to be extended – through the summer and wherever possible throughout 2021 – to ensure that as many viable firms as possible can make it to the finish line and recover.

It is also critical that alongside the pace of the vaccination programme, workplace testing is expanded to businesses of all sizes and continued for as long as is necessary – to help keep our companies and communities open over the months ahead.

Next Wednesday sees another crucial date for business as Chancellor, Rishi Sunak presents perhaps the most important Budget in a long while.

Whilst we accept that the Government has done much to protect business and jobs, we are hoping that the call from the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) to the Government to finish the job as we move back to a fully open economy, has been heeded and acted upon.

The Chambers is hopeful that we can see an extension of the furlough scheme from the end of April to at least 21st June; a lengthening of repayment periods for VAT bills and an extension of the business rates holiday to help businesses who will be forced to close for a little while longer.

Chamber patrons, Dains Accountants, are hosting a post-Budget webinar on Thursday 4 March from 08.30am to 9.30am. Their tax expert Ann Diggins will present a concise summation of the main points of the Budget and how it will affect your business.

Any of you who have seen Ann’s presentation in previous years will know how she boils down the Budget into a fact-filled and often humorous half-hour which highlights the headlines as well as the facts that may have been intentionally buried in the detail.

If you are in business, you cannot afford to miss this event. You can register here.

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 or email: info@staffordshirechambers.co.uk

Voluntary and community groups (VCS) across the city have benefited from a further £50,000 of funding to help them provide crucial services to residents through the coronavirus pandemic.

33 voluntary and community groups across the city have now been awarded funding to provide support to residents in the city affected by COVID-19.

In January, the city council launched a further £50,000 support fund, which VCS organisations could apply to receive financial support in the form of a grant with further match funding to be given by the Community Foundation for Staffordshire. In deciding which applications were approved, priority was given to charities or community groups which are based in the city and delivering services to Stoke-on-Trent residents which address one or more of the following areas:

  1. Provision of food and other essential supplies (particularly to harder-to-reach groups and communities);
  2. Providing support around payment of energy and water bills;
  3. Providing other essential support or services to low income families with children or other vulnerable households who are particularly affected by the pandemic.

The initiative followed the previous successful grant scheme where local VSC organisations were allocated £143,480 in grants to support efforts to alleviate the impacts of the first two waves of the pandemic.

Pamela Heraty of Fegg Hayes Residents Association, who were awarded £2,500 of funding said: “It is fantastic news that we have been awarded £2500 to support our ongoing response to the pandemic. Since March we have been advocates for community. We have been supporting local residents with any support they need. We have done shopping, collected prescriptions, provided activity packs for children and offer a befriending service. Many people have said we have brightened their day.

“The money we have been awarded will enable us to further support vulnerable families, isolated individuals, those who have been furloughed or lost their jobs and elderly people within the Fegg Hayes area. This will involve supplying and delivering food, cleaning materials and toiletries to people who are in need. We know this will make a big difference to those struggling.”

Adam Yates of The Hubb Foundation, who were awarded £4,000 of funding said: “The Hubb Foundation are currently providing emergency referral food parcels to families that are struggling. To date we have provided 275,000 meals to families since April 2020.

“We will be using the money to provide fresh fruit and vegetables in the referral food parcels that we send out to families, to ensure that they do not have to survive entirely on processed foods. Families will be provided with a healthier diet, with all the nutrients and goodness that bodies require to sustain good health.

Leader of the city council leader Abi Brown said: “I am delighted that we have been able to provide further financial support to the voluntary sector. I have seen first-hand the impact these grants made previously and know they will continue to. We are blessed with many organisations across the city that do fantastic work to support our residents’ and I’m grateful that we’ve been able to give financial support to 33 such organisations.

“Stoke-on-Trent City Council moved quickly to administer overall £556,552 in funding to the sector in government grants and its own community fund, in response to the pandemic in 2020.The voluntary and community sector have a vital role to play in supporting the response to COVID-19, both locally and nationally. We hope to continue to support this sector further throughout 2021.”

For the latest information on council services and support during the coronavirus, and frequently asked questions, please visit www.stoke.gov.uk/coronavirus. For latest health advice on the coronavirus, please visit www.nhs.uk/coronavirus, and for further information on the virus visit www.gov.uk/coronavirus.

All residents are reminded about the critical importance of regular handwashing with soap and hot water for 20 seconds. The significance of this action cannot be underestimated. If residents have symptoms, please get tested. All residents must continue to follow the guidance of wash hands, cover face and make space.

For more information on digital services, visit www.stoke.gov.uk, download the MyStoke App, or follow the city council’s social media channels.

Residents are being urged to get rapid result coronavirus tests in their communities at least once a week, as case rates in the city have plateaued and are beginning to show signs of a slight increase.

The warning comes from city and health leaders at Stoke-on-Trent City Council who say it is crucial that residents continue to have regular tests if the national roadmap to ease lockdown restrictions is to be achieved. The authority has increased the availability of lateral flow testing, which gives a result in around 30 minutes, at more and more local venues, but uptake remains at around 20-30 per cent of capacity.

Council leader Abi Brown said: “We have all taken a lot of heart from the national plans to ease the country out of lockdown, and I speak to so many residents and businesses in the city who are as eager as I am for us to move on from this incredibly debilitating virus.

“But let me be really clear: we won’t get out of the restrictions if we don’t stop the spread. To do this, we must all get tested, and tested regularly.

“Last week we made 13,920 lateral flow tests available at 15 community venues all over Stoke-on-Trent. This week we have 16 venues – with Baddeley Green Working Men’s Club added to the list thanks to speedy help from our organisers and the local community – and we have a total of 17,808 tests available. Please book a test and do your bit to protect yourself and your loved ones, and play an important role in helping to kick coronavirus out of Stoke-on-Trent.”

Latest figures show that the seven-day coronavirus rate is 143.9 cases per 100,000 people, from February 12 to February 18, a decrease of 13.6% per cent on the previous seven days. The positivity rate – the percentage of people who have had a coronavirus test and tested positive – has also decreased to 5.8% per cent.

Dr Paul Edmondson-Jones, director of adult social care, health integration and wellbeing, said: “While it is good news that case rates have fallen, we have reached a point where they have plateaued, and concerningly, there are signs that cases are rising slightly in the last couple of days.

“The significance of the role of regularly testing in helping to stop the spread of the disease cannot be underestimated. The government’s roadmap has made it clear that the community testing programme is being extended until at least the end of June. Social mixing is expected to increase over the next few weeks, so it is really important that we all get tested, particularly those who have not had a vaccination yet and those who are key workers who cannot work from home. Our data shows that case rates are highest in Fenton East, Hanley Park and Shelton, and Penkhull and Stoke; we’re urging people in these areas to please get tested.”

A full list of community locations where lateral flow tests are available is on the council website, book at www.stoke.gov.uk/bookacovid19test. Residents experiencing one or more of the following symptoms are not eligible for lateral flow testing and should instead book a test through https://www.gov.uk/get-coronavirus-test, or by calling 119:

  • a high temperature
  • a new, continuous cough
  • a loss or change to your sense of smell or taste.

Meanwhile, the coronavirus vaccination programme is continuing to accelerate, with more than 330,000 people receiving the first dose vaccination across Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire, and people with learning disabilities will also now be getting the jab.

A total of 32 per cent of the adult population across the city and Staffordshire have had the first dose vaccination, including 96 per cent of the over 70s and 85 per cent of the over 65s, which is higher than the national average.

People aged 16 and over with a diagnosed learning disability and registered as such with their GP will be included in ‘cohort six’ of the vaccination programme in the city in the next few weeks.

Dr Edmondson-Jones added: “We’re also including anybody open to the council’s learning disability service, for people with moderate to severe learning disabilities, if they are not registered with their GP. It also means we can ensure people can be vaccinated who are living in tenancies supported by staff who have been vaccinated. This has been an area of concern for those families who have been unable to visit so we’re pleased that we’re able to respond accordingly to these concerns. We ask people not to contact their GP practice for an appointment. We will contact you over the coming weeks to offer an appointment.

“We know people with learning disabilities are at a higher risk of complications from the coronavirus, so it is great news that we’re able to do this. People are always at the heart of decisions that we make. Wherever we can, we’ll always aim to put them first. I’m so pleased for the families across the city and county who will benefit as a result.”

Freeths refreshes office portfolio

Over the past year, the move to agile working has been a great success for Freeths, and lockdown has shown our people do not have to be in the office every single day in order to deliver an excellent service to their clients, and to ensure business growth.

Accordingly, the firm has reviewed its office portfolio, taking into account the efficiency of agile working, the preferences of employees and clients, as well as accommodating the firm’s progressive and ongoing growth. The review has concluded that agile and remote working is likely to remain a core element in the future.

As a result, Freeths is pleased to announce the firm has this week moved into a new look Derby office, which is specifically designed to accommodate an efficient agile working environment. Freeths has also taken new premises in Oxford, which it will be moving into in the summer after completing an extensive fit out to provide a creative and collaborative workplace. The Stoke team, having worked remotely for the last year, will now be fully agile. The move to agile working across Stoke coincides with the retirement of Peter Gavin in the summer after nearly 40 years of practice in Freeths’ Stoke office (previously KJD). The Freeths staff, who live in and around Stoke, will continue to have a strong presence throughout the city and to work for their clients across the region.

National Managing Partner, Karl Jansen said, “We would like to thank Peter for all his achievements over his many years with Freeths. He has put together an excellent team in the region and we are fully committed to supporting them, and our Stoke and Staffordshire clients, in the long term. The pandemic has proven we can still offer excellent and immediate service, while working remotely, and our lawyers are enjoying the benefits of a more flexible working environment. Moving to a more modern and progressive office platform will ensure benefits for both clients and our people, which is why we feel it is important to move forward and continue to embrace all the benefits which technology offers”.

Dains welcomes the news that the government is giving consideration to the provision of financial support to the hundreds of thousands of directors of limited companies, who are effectively self-employed but are not eligible for the government’s existing grants. This group have been labelled the ‘excluded’ by many in the press to date.

In the East and West Midlands there are 836,000 small businesses, many of whom fall into the so called ‘excluded’ bracket.

Reports suggest that the government is reviewing one of the proposed support schemes put forward by leading business organisations. The UK200Group, a group of leading chartered accountancy and law firms, of which Dains is a member, has produced a paper, which details recommendations on several financial problems affecting SMEs.

One of the key things that we are encouraging the government to do is to is to look at an overall individual’s income – or lack of it – and not just the historic profitability of their business in determining eligibility and the provision of financial support packages.

Steve Rogers, a Partner from Dains comments:

“We welcome the news that the government is listening to us and other recognised bodies that work closely with small businesses and looking at how they can introduce financial support for those currently excluded. Clearly any additional support is welcome, but it is imperative that the government adopt an approach that is both fair and practical and seeks to ‘level the playing field’ for all small business owners.

The self-employed and small businesses make up the vast majority of all employment in the UK, and we are keen to help the government to tackle the logistical obstacles that prevent them from supporting everyone equally. A copy of the paper can be downloaded from the UK200 website.

Klarius Products has announced a range of updates and additions to its Euro 5 catalytic converter (CAT) and catalysed diesel particulate filters (CDPF) range. These include new CATs for the hybrid Lexus CT200H from 2010-2013 and the popular Ford Ranger 2.2TDCi pick-up truck from 2011-2013, plus CDPFs for the Fiat Doblo 1.6d MultiJet van from 2010-2015.

View the new components here.

Doug Bentley, Head of Research and Development at Klarius, said: “It has been especially important for us to make sure we cover light commercial fleet vehicles such as the Fiat Doblo, which have seen a large increase in usage during the current pandemic as people choose to stay at home and use home-delivery options instead.

“With hybrid vehicles such as the CT200H making up to 31% of new vehicle sales in January 2021, we are also working to stay ahead of the curve and will continue to develop and release new products to supply this ever-increasing market. Hybrid light commercial vehicles are an area of focus too, as increased miles and intermittent engine operation places more strain on exhaust system reliability.

“Additionally, as part of our ongoing work to maximise our range and improve catalogue efficiency, we have reduced our part number complexity by condensing multiple applications into one part number with improved coverage. For example, amalgamating our Gen-1 Honda Jazz offerings into a single new part number.”

Mark Brickhill, CEO at Klarius, added: “In addition to these new parts, we are upgrading many of our existing CATs and DPFs from Euro 3 to Euro 4/5 standards to offer the best product performance we can in an ever-changing market. We signpost these updates to ensure our customers always have the latest part number and vehicle fitment information.

“This focus on improvement ensures that Klarius retains its market-leading position with the greatest car parc coverage of exhausts, CATs and DPFs – supported by next morning deliveries to our partner distributors, buying groups and auto-factors across the UK.”

All applicable components in the Klarius range match OEM performance and adhere to relevant legislative standards. Every Klarius component is developed and tested in-house. Testing is carried out at our dedicated test track on vehicles of correct make, model and production year. The entire Klarius range features a 2-year warranty and a Fit First Time guarantee as standard.

Fleet Operations, the UK’s leading independent provider of outsourced fleet management and mobility services, has appointed Mark Gallagher as Business Development Manager to support the company’s ambitious growth plans.

Bringing more than 20 years’ experience in the fleet industry, Mark previously spearheaded and developed award-winning solutions to aid businesses in making the transition to electrification.

In his new role, Mark will explore new opportunities to accelerate the growth of Fleet Operations’ client base.

“As the fleet industry readies itself for recovery in the wake of the pandemic, companies will be looking at how they can best reduce costs and drive greater levels of efficiency,” he said.

“Fleet Operations has a proven track record in consulting with clients to achieve these goals, and I look forward to building on this success. The company has an enviable reputation in the industry and I am delighted to be joining such a forward-thinking and dynamic organisation.

“Having spent many years involved with both leasing and fleet management, I aim to utilise my career expertise to propel the business forward.”

Jayne Pett, Sales and Marketing Director at Fleet Operations, added: “Mark has a wealth of business development and fleet experience and will prove a fantastic addition to the team.

“Having successfully implemented award-winning green solutions in his previous roles, we are confident he will be a huge asset to Fleet Operations, helping deliver on our strategic goals.”

Fleet Operations’ outsourced fleet management services include strategic consultancy, multi-bid leasing, pay as you go maintenance, dedicated hire provision, EV transition as well as supply chain management, policy creation and risk management.

Gabrielle Hadley steps back as Managing Director of ExtraMile Communications Ltd. Staffordshire-based multilingual digital marketing agency, ExtraMile Communications has a new Managing Director after Founding Director, Gabrielle Hadley – a well-known figure in the business and fundraising community – stepped back.

“ExtraMile has been my baby for over 20 years,” Gabrielle said, “and the company has now grown up and needs a new leader to take it forward into the next stage of its development. It’s been a privilege to lead the company and I have thoroughly enjoyed this challenge, but I now want to turn my attention to other projects, although I shall continue to be an active member of the Board of Directors.”

Gabrielle continues as a majority shareholder in the company, along with her husband, Nick Evans, who is Chairman of the company. Amanda Brooke meanwhile will take over the day to day running of the growing business, working closely with Sales and Marketing Director, James Roberts.

“This is an exciting time to take this dynamic company to the next level,” commented Amanda. “ExtraMile has a marvellous culture, reflected in its Investors In People Platinum award; a great team of highly skilled individuals who work with major companies around the world; and a growth plan which we as a Board, with input from the team, have developed to take the company on the growth path it’s planning.”

Amanda’s background is in business growth and coaching. Many local businesses have benefitted from her expertise and she’s been a well-known figure on the speaking circuit at conferences and training courses. “I’ve worked with many great companies over the years,” she says, “but when the opportunity arose at ExtraMile to build on the foundations of the work that I had done with them, it was too good to miss. Now I shall be at the sharp end –  putting all that great theory into practice and taking the ultimate responsibility for its success. I’m proud that Gabrielle and Nick have had the confidence in me and in James to run the company – we’re looking forward to developing our ability to respond well to our clients’ needs.”

The Stone-based company currently has 24 employees and its suite of services includes Search Engine Marketing, Web Design and Development, Graphic Design and Global Marketing Services. Its customers range from huge multinationals to smaller local businesses and the company’s reputation continues to grow both in multilingual and single language digital marketing communications.

Design and print company Graphix have added to their working relationship with Stoke-on-Trent’s council housing repair service, Unitas, by designing vibrant, environmentally-friendly Potteries themed branding for their new electric fleet.

To emphasise the green-theme, Graphix used recycled vinyls, designed in the company’s Norton,  Stoke-on-Trent studio and applied in Graphix’ purpose-built fitting bay, to wrap the vans, which are now in use helping residents across Stoke-on-Trent.

Graphix has previously worked with Unitas to brand their extensive fleet of vans, but Managing Director Steve Ward, said the new electric vans gave his design team a chance to pull out all the stops on  the creative content.

“We wanted to celebrate Unitas’ move to electric vehicles and proposed bright, green-themed designs to the management team, featuring scenes from Stoke-on-Trent. The concept was enthusiastically embraced by Unitas and we’re delighted with the finished product.

“It’s fantastic to win repeated contracts to work with Unitas. We’re proud of our city and it’s satisfying to work with a company who strive hard to build a better city, repairing and maintaining the local housing stock.”

Graphix are also approved suppliers to Stoke-on-Trent City Council and have longstanding partnerships with many companies in their home city, including bet365.

Steve added: “We work nationally but our roots are firmly in North Staffordshire, so it’s satisfying to have such strong links with the area. We’re official signage and print suppliers to Stoke City FC, working with the club to brand the bet365 stadium, the training ground at Clayton Woods and the club’s shops.

“Our name can be seen on the LED pitch-side boards at every Potters’ home game and we were delighted to be main match sponsor for the recent Stoke City versus Luton Town home game.

“I founded Graphix with my brother Simon Ward in April 1993. I’m a trained graphic designer and Simon is a print specialist, We’ve seen much growth since the early days, when we worked from our parents’ home at Norton Green. We now have a purpose built studio, team of designers, web developers, printers and signage installers and have invested in excess of £300,000 on cutting edge print machinery.

“Recent projects in North Staffordshire have included the design, print and appliance of new branding for leisure centres across the Staffordshire Moorlands but our work takes us across the country, for example, supporting Cadbury World, Birmingham, with new wall coverings at the popular, chocolate-themed visitor attraction.”

How SSW supported Gemma

Gemma’s role is customer-facing and requires her to engage with new business leads as well as helping existing customers. Gemma unfortunately had health related problems at a key time in her schooling and therefore did not go straight to University and instead had worked her way up on the job.

It was decided that Sales training would benefit Gemma and it would be an ideal stepping-stone for her to build up to do a higher-level apprenticeship at the local University. This way Gemma could upskill and achieve qualifications linked to her profession as well as methodology to help her with her long-term career and educational goals.

As Skills Support for the Workforce is co-financed by the European Social Fund and the Education and Skills Funding Agency, Tailored Branding was able to enrol Gemma onto the training at no cost to the business.

The training was carried out by The Tess Group, one of Serco’s trusted providers. Gemma was enrolled onto a group of Sales Level 3 & 4 units which included:

  • Buying and selling cycles
  • Customer relationships
  • Negotiation and objection handling

The training was delivered through both webinars and face to face training sessions. The sessions were conversational which built Gemma’s confidence in subject matter.

Gemma learned closing techniques, communication skills, sales methods, leadership traits, account management and negotiation skills. Gemma really enjoyed the training:

“The level of the training has – well been on another level. Really really good, I find that talking it through once you’ve had a little bit of knowledge you can develop it. I’m one of those people who talks it through and then completely understands it.”

The training improved Gemma’s confidence in her role, especially her ability to manage people. As a result of the training, Gemma has now enrolled onto a university course at Staffordshire University which was part of her long-term career goals.

Please note the training took place pre-COVID.