Well, it’s official! Last week saw the announcement that the UK economy slipped into recession at the end of 2023. The release of economic results confirmed that the UK economy shrank by 0.3% in the final quarter of 2023, after a contraction of 0.1% in Q3 of 2023.
By very definition, a recession is classed as ‘a period of temporary economic decline during which trade and industrial activity are reduced, generally identified by a fall in GDP in two successive quarters.
Our latest Quarterly Economic Survey (QES) for Q1, 2024 was launched last week and although we won’t get the results until into March, this QES could provide a useful barometer of the economic outlook from a Staffordshire business perspective.
QES results during 2023 confirmed that many of our hard-pressed hospitality businesses have been locked into a recession for almost four years, when the pandemic unleashed such a devastating impact on the global economy.
The announcement sparked discussion during our Money Matters forum last week. Money Matters forum is tasked with exchanging information on taxation, corporate law and governance, finance, insurance and professional services sector issues. During the meeting, we watched an update from RSM’s Economist Tom Pugh, who suggested that key investment decisions for business relate to labour-enhancing investments and productivity-enhancing investments, with businesses seeking ways to be more productive but without having to hire extra staff.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Jeremy Hunt, MP), will announce the Spring Budget on Wednesday 6th March.
We know that a General Election has to take place in the next year and all eyes will be fixed on Mr Hunt, to see if there are any eye-catching announcements to entice voters when the country goes to the polls.
That got us talking about a letter we well be sending to Mr Hunt, with some key ‘asks’ for the business community. Once again, we’ll be calling for a reform of the business rates system. We’re also asking for the VAT registration review to be re-started, with a view to removing the existing ‘cliff-edge.
Chamber research shows that many SME businesses are struggling because of business rates and are limiting their expansion plans because of the VAT threshold. The Chancellor should use his statement next month to announce plans to make business rates fairer and restart the VAT registration review.
Staffordshire Chambers of Commerce has been appointed as the designated employer representative body for the Stoke-on-Trent & Staffordshire Local Skills Improvement Plan (LSIP). We would like to see the Government commit to the funding of business-led Local Skills Improvement Plans (LSIP) beyond the current 2025 cut off point, to at least 2028.
Linked to the topic of skills, we will also ask for the Government to show greater flexibility around the use of the Apprenticeship Levy, to allow for expanded training and upskilling of workers.
What else should we be calling for in our letter to Mr Hunt? I would be interested to get your thoughts on the most pressing issues for our business community. Feel free to get in touch:
I’ve already mentioned the importance of our latest Quarterly Economic Survey (QES) and once again, your views count. QES is the country’s longest-running independent business survey and is recognised by the Bank of England as being of real value in measuring economic performance and business outlook. It takes just 60 seconds to complete a QES, so we would be really grateful if you could click here to complete: https://forms.office.com/e/YyPzHWjeRG
Jonathan Gullis MP visits Stoke on Trent College’s Burslem Campus to highlight the significance of Apprenticeships in driving the economy
MP for Stoke-on-Trent North, Jonathan Gullis visited Stoke on Trent College’s Burslem Campus to highlight the significance of Apprenticeships in driving the economy forward.
The visit was designed to raise awareness of the benefits of Apprenticeships and coincided with the culmination of a series of events which took place at the College as part of National Apprenticeship Week 2024.
During the visit, Jonathan had the opportunity to meet with several apprentices from a range of construction sector businesses. He also engaged in some immersive drone training and challenges in the Advanced Construction Centre and participated in a roundtable discussion where he provided an update on his role in Apprenticeship provision and valuable insights into recent developments.
Jonathan Gullis, MP said “It was fantastic to visit Stoke on Trent College’s Burslem Campus on National Apprenticeship Week, meeting with a number of their excellent apprentices and hearing how their courses and hands-on experience are upskilling them for a successful career.
“As co-chair of the APPG for Apprenticeships, I know it is vital we continue to invest in Apprenticeships and encourage more employers to take on an apprentice.
“Lisa and the team at the college are great ambassadors for Apprenticeships and I’m proud to have worked with them to hire two apprentices of my own – Jess and Mya – who work hard day in, day out serving the constituents of Stoke-on-Trent North, Kidsgrove and Talke.”
The event was also attended by local employers Unitas and Carson Powell, who shared insights into their experiences and the positive impact Apprenticeships have had from the perspective of both the apprentice and the employer.
Helen Woolley from Carson Powell said: “Our apprentices are very important to our Company’s succession planning and ensure that we will have the trades’ skills needed for the future. Over the past 15 years we have trained over 50 apprentices. We have enjoyed participating in National Apprenticeship Week with the college as well as having our own Company celebrations.”
Lisa Capper MBE, Principal and CEO of Stoke on Trent College said: “At Stoke on Trent College, our mission is to ensure that all our learners are equipped with skills for the future. We offer Apprenticeships in key sectors such as Health, Construction, and Engineering as well as service industries.
Apprenticeships offer an ideal pathway to develop practical experience alongside formal training and nationally recognised qualifications. We are proud to collaborate with a diverse range of employers to provide Apprenticeships across priority sectors, contributing to the growth of the local and regional economy. We are also keen to work with government so that we can get the best possible chances for apprentices and help make it easier for employers to participate”
To find out more about Apprenticeships at Stoke on Trent College, visit: www.stokecoll.ac.uk/apprenticeships
The Longton Community Carnival and Pig Walk Parade returns to Stoke-on-Trent on Sunday, April 21st, 2024. This family-friendly event, organised by Urban Wilderness CIC, promises a day filled with festivities, entertainment, and community spirit.
The Pig Walk Parade, a historical celebration deeply rooted in Longton’s heritage, commemorates the journey of Aynsley, Mayor of Longton and owner of Aynsley China, that saw him drive a pig from Trentham to Longton Market, to secure land for Queen’s Park and funds for Longton Hospital.
This year’s parade will once again bring this tale to life, blending world-class artistry with local community engagement.
Laurel Gallagher, Co-Director of Urban Wilderness CIC, stated, “We are delighted to be able to bring back the Carnival and Pig Walk Parade again in 2024. The first year brought nearly 9,000 people into Longton on a Sunday, which was a total joy to see.”
The Longton Community Carnival is not just about celebration; it’s about community empowerment and regeneration. Supported by Arts Council, National Lottery, SOT City Council, and Levelling Up funds, the event serves as a catalyst for cultural and social revitalisation in Longton Town Centre. It provides a platform for local performers, community groups, and volunteers to showcase their talents, join the parade, and contribute to the town’s vibrant atmosphere.
Click here to find out more.
Great news announced this week that leading OZEV-registered EV installers, EVC solutions have joined forces with fleet management specialists Adept Vehicle Management to help businesses make the transition to an EV vehicle fleet.
This collaboration is set to transform the landscape for businesses making the crucial transition to electric vehicles and marks a significant step towards sustainable business practices in Staffordshire and beyond.
Staffordshire Chambers helped to facilitate a meeting between Nigel Ryan and Adrian Cooper from EVC with Francis Jones from Adept back in the autumn of last year.
Facilitating meaningful connections and propelling innovative partnerships is at the core of Staffordshire Chambers’ mission.
It’s great to see that the partnership has gathered real momentum – it demonstrates the power of the Chamber network in action.
This partnership is not only significant for Staffordshire but also extends its impact beyond, contributing to a broader movement towards sustainable business practices. It not only supports the adaptation of electric vehicles but also underlines the commitment to creating a sustainable and environmentally conscious business ecosystem.
We look forward to witnessing the tangible impact it will have on businesses embracing electric vehicles in Staffordshire and the surrounding areas.
A new partnership sparked by Staffordshire Chambers of Commerce is helping local businesses to transition to electric vehicles.
EVC Solutions, a leading provider of OZEV-registered EV charging systems, is joining forces with Adept Vehicle Management, a distinguished player in the fleet management industry with over 21 years of experience, to ensure that businesses opting for EV fleets receive comprehensive support in the instillation of charging infrastructures.
It’s hoped that the partnership will help businesses to transition to an EV fleet as conveniently as possible.
Adrian Cooper, business partnering manager at EVC, said: “EVC’s collaboration with Adept Vehicle Management is the perfect partnership for companies with electric fleets or customers with EVs.
“Businesses with electric vehicle fleets need access to charging points, whether for their own vehicles, their staff, or their customers.
“The partnership between EVC Solutions and Adept Vehicle Management is a huge benefit to companies switching to, or growing their electric vehicle fleets.”
Chris Plant, Deputy CEO of Staffordshire Chambers, added: “Facilitating meaningful connections and propelling innovative partnerships is at the core of Staffordshire Chambers’ mission.
“We are immensely proud to have helped bring together EVC Solutions and Adept Vehicle Management for this transformative collaboration. The strength of this partnership lies not only in their shared commitment to sustainable business practices but also in their ability to simplify the transition to electric fleets for businesses.
“This collaboration will have a significant impact on businesses embracing electric vehicles, and it underscores our dedication to fostering growth and sustainability within our business community.”
Chris Street, chair of Staffordshire Chambers of Commerce’s newest forum – the International Trade Forum – shares an update on the forum, and his feelings on why businesses should get involved.
“I’m frequently asked, why should I bother to Export?…. and it’s a good question.
It initially can be seen as expensive, difficult and complicated for those that have never done it before.
In reality, many organisations start exporting by accident. A customer asks you to supply to an overseas location instead of locally, you are approached by an overseas company who has seen your product or service online or you just put your toe in the water and go to an international trade fair. However it happens, it is often the starting point to an exciting, new adventure for your organisation which in turn can often be very lucrative.
If you or your organisation is exporting for the first time or is a seasoned exporter please join us to share your experiences and ideas at the International Trade Forum so we can together learn from each other and build stronger businesses.
The Forum consists of a diverse range of businesses and organisations who are looking to grow their business overseas and want to share their experiences whilst learning from those that have done it.
The aim of the Forum is to help support local businesses to export more by providing specific advice and ideas. This can involve supporting businesses with issues such as recruitment, language support, visas and legal advice. We also promote Trade Missions and can provide assistance in finding funding support.
In addition the ITF will look to raise issues impacting barriers to export with relevant strands of local and national government to ensure we give our businesses and organisations in our region every chance to succeed and prosper.
If you are interested in Exporting or just want to know more then please join us at the next International Trade Forum Meeting to be held at Commerce House, Stoke on Monday 26th Feb 2024 at 9am.
Please contact Maxine Darrock at email@example.com to book a place. It’s free and it may be the best investment you can make this year.
Business owners and leaders are being urged to complete the new Quarterly Economic Survey for Q1 2024 to help inform policymakers on the challenges facing businesses in our local area.
This is one of the most important times for businesses across Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire to complete the QES as firms continue to battle headwinds of skills shortages, inflated costs and supply chain disruption.
The information you provide will help to shape policy thinking as the data is shared with the British Chambers of Commerce, Government departments including HM Treasury and the Cabinet Office as well as the Bank of England.
We are keen to hear from firms of all shapes and sizes as it will help create an accurate picture of the current business landscape.
Whether you’re a seasoned director or relatively new to your company, please spare just a few minutes to fill in the anonymous survey.
We understand your time is precious, even more so now, so thank you to all those who complete the survey. Click here.
Last week, our Transport Forum held its first meeting of 2024. The main topic of discussion centred around electric vehicles and we were pleased to welcome one of our Chamber members, Adrian Hide of Adrian Hide Consultancy, who shared his experiences of driving an electric car.
The UK Government has announced a ban on the sale of all new petrol and diesel cars by 2035. That gives us eleven years to think about making the switch to electric vehicles and the clock is ticking!
Adrian made the switch two years ago and he described driving an electric car as “responsive” and “effortless”. The Regeneration system in some models allows the driver to select ‘one-pedal driving’.
The driver can use the system to slow the car without the need to press on the brake pedal. When driving from home to our Transport forum meeting, he said he didn’t touch the brake pedal until he arrived on our car park at Commerce House!
“Range anxiety” is still seen as a barrier preventing more drivers from switching to electric vehicles, fearing that they will run out of charge and struggle to find available charging points. Adrian explained that this barrier can be overcome through forward planning by the driver. Using the example of a recent journey to Exeter, he stopped for a short break at Gloucester Services and in the time taken to drink a coffee, he had topped up the charge on his car. He added that there are electric vehicle charge points at more than 31,000 locations around the UK.
More businesses are installing charge points at business premises, recognising the benefits of both staff and visitors being able to charge vehicles on site. There is also a growth in hotels and other leisure venues installing charge points, in a bid to encourage more customers. Adrian reported that charging the remaining 20% of battery capacity can take disproportionately longer than charging the first 80% of the battery and suggested that drivers need to have a mindset of topping up.
More of us will be making the switch in the coming years and Adrian’s presentation gave us plenty of food for thought.
We also welcomed Ciara Jagger of Midlands Connect to deliver an update. Midlands Connect is a sub-national transport body (STB), funded by the UK Government as one of seven STB across the country. Midlands Connect works with all 22 regional transport bodies and a number of stakeholder groups (including Chambers’ of Commerce), across a region which stretches from Herefordshire to the Lincolnshire coast.
We were interested to hear that Midlands Connect “continues to establish a strategic narrative for transport investment in the region”. From a Staffordshire perspective, we are keen to keep pressing for improvements to the A50/A500, which connects the M1 and M6 and is regarded as the North Midlands Manufacturing Corridor and a key logistics route for the likes of JCB and Toyota. We also want to see a major overhaul of junction 15 of the M6 and the approaches, which opens up access to/from the North Staffordshire conurbation.
Our Transport forum meets again on Tuesday 30th April. If you have an interest in the latest developments on road, rail, air and sea, please contact me: firstname.lastname@example.org
Full-service law firm, Freeths, has announced that it is now a certified B Corporation (B Corp) as part of its ongoing commitment to sustainability and its wider ESG strategy.
B Corp certification is awarded to businesses that demonstrate they meet B Corp’s high standards of environmental and social impact and good governance. This is measured through performance, accountability, and transparency across all areas including employee benefits, charitable work, and supply chain practices.
Freeths will now be working with the environmental company Planet Mark to help the firm to create a net-zero plan, and to establish interim and long term Science Based (SBTi) net-zero targets.
Chris Freeston, Head of the firm’s Banking & Finance Practice, who led the B Corp application for the firm, said: “I’m excited and hugely proud that Freeths has achieved B Corp certification.
“As a responsible business, it is testament to the hard work of our people and it highlights these important issues and embraces the values that are integral to our firm, our people, clients, and our communities.
“At Freeths, we take our commitments to people and the planet very seriously and this status demonstrates our ongoing performance in the field.”
The secret is out! We’re bringing Timpson Group’s pioneering CEO, James Timpson OBE to Staffordshire to deliver a masterclass on all things skills, recruitment and retention.
This groundbreaking event will shake up the way that Staffordshire businesses approach talent acquisition and employee retention, as James shares the strategies that he uses to foster a top-tier workforce.
James will be joining us hot off the release of his new book – The Happy Index: Management tools & leadership advice for creating a happier and healthier workforce – to share the specific qualities and characteristics he values most in potential hires.
With a staggering 5,600 colleagues across 2,000 stores, Timpson Group stands as an example of excellence in creating an outstanding company culture.
James will join businesses at the bet365 Stadium on the morning of March 20, when he will help Staffordshire businesses to understand how they can approach recruitment and retention in the face of a national skills shortage – and share the secret tactics he uses to retain talent.
The room will full of other leading local businesses so it is also a brilliant networking opportunity!
Attendees will also gain a unique insight into the projects and initiatives undertaken by the Timpson Foundation to support education and employment. The positive impact the foundation has had on lives through skills development and employment opportunities is nothing short of inspiring.
This masterclass forms part of the Chambers’ Big Business Breakfast series, aimed at empowering Staffordshire businesses to overcome challenges and celebrate local success stories.
Staffordshire Chambers is continuing to drive collaboration between businesses and education providers to help tackle skill gaps, aligning seamlessly with our local skills improvement plan.
James book is release next Thursday so we will be keeping an eye out for that, too!
Mark your calendars for March 20, and we will hopefully see you at the bet365 Stadium!