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

For many years we have used our quarterly economic survey (QES) as a barometer on the local economy.

As we approach the twelve-month anniversary of the first full lockdown, and with the Chancellor’s Budget just around the corner, it is no understatement to say that this is one of the most important times for businesses across Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire to complete the QES.

The information you provide will give an insight into the impact COVID 19 and lockdown have had on local business and will help to shape and influence current policy thinking with survey data being shared with the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), Government departments including HM Treasury and the Cabinet Office as well as the Bank of England.

The more businesses that the fill in the QES, the more weight it carries so we are keen to hear from firms of all shapes and sizes (starts ups, sole traders, SMEs, medium sized and large corporations) to provide an accurate picture of the current business landscape. It takes a maximum of five minutes to complete the online form.

We understand your time is precious, even more so now, so thank you in advance for your input to the survey. You can go straight to the QES here: https://bit.ly/3amE11S

As we draw towards a year of virtual networking, memories of meeting up in a room with likeminded businesspeople could be from another age as we have all become so used to virtual meetings.

I know Zoom events or a catch up on Teams are becoming tiresome for many but for now it’s all we have, and we all need to hang in there until we can again meet face-to-face.

Perhaps the Prime Minister’s address on Monday will give us some idea of when this could be, but in the meantime, perhaps we should be thankful that we have the technology to be able to meet virtually. Imagine if this had happened ten years ago. The technology would be basic, and the broadband networks wouldn’t have been able to cope with the traffic.

Online forums and events are a lifeline of support for many independent firms providing, connectivity and a support network. Many businesses have found making connections vital in keeping their business brand visible during the pandemic.

We have our next Simply Networking event at 10am on Friday 26 February. It is a great opportunity to make some new contacts and put your business in the Spotlight. Hopefully, we will be ‘back in the room’ very soon but until then if you would like to come along to this free event you can by registering here: http://bit.ly/2ZD3b6d

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

Whatever stage your business is at, it’s easy to get lost in the day-to-day and lose sight of your medium and long-term goals. Throw a pandemic in the mix for good measure and it’s a wonder that anyone is keeping on track with their business plan (or what business plan?).

What we all need is some friendly, experienced help – nothing too formal, just the opportunity for a chat with someone who has been there, done that and lived through other recessions. And someone who can view the business without the emotional attachment of owners and senior management.

We have a team of experienced business mentors who all volunteer to act as critical friends, guides, and sources of significant expertise, depending on the needs of the business who asks for help.

Our mentors may be still working or semi-retired but what they all love helping other business people achieve success and have a commitment to building a dynamic and stronger local economy.

Many of our mentors have given the free 16 hours of advice – and then carried on working with the business because they have proved to add significant value.

Mentor Jason Moody explains his ethos, “I encourage the business owner to be clear about what represents success. Transparent and simple reporting is vital.

“It’s important to identify the few tasks that will have the biggest impact. Doing a great job of the most important tasks is much better than an average job of everything on your ‘to do’ list. I also want to see clarity and conviction in the eyes of the individuals I work with.”

Every business can benefit and if you feel you and your business could be one of those now, please drop Richard Carty an email and let’s get you hooked up with someone to make a difference: richard.carty@staffordshirechambers.co.uk

But what happens if you are just thinking about starting out in business? Its not just established businesses who can benefit from support.

The pandemic has seen many people working from home which has meant time to ponder a new way of working and self-employment. Or maybe they are facing redundancy or have had enough of the prolonged period of furlough.

If you are looking to start up on your own, we have a team of experienced business advisers who provide tailored support to help you get up and running by getting to grips with essentials such as cashflow forecasting, business planning, marketing, and helping you to access grants and support.

We are also providing specialist help for young people considering self-employment, post further education.

If you or anyone you know would like to discuss your business idea and start your journey to self-employment contact Tom Nadin tom.nadin@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 or email: info@staffordshirechambers.co.uk

Business Innovation as Chambers Collaborate to Champion Regional Firms

Save The Date as Major West Midlands Business Expo Launched…….

Chambers of Commerce across the Midlands region have joined forces to raise the profile of thousands of businesses in a week-long celebration.

Supporting businesses throughout Covid-19 has been the top priority for every Chamber of Commerce and the West Midlands Virtual Business Expo, which kicks off in March, will provide the ultimate event for firms to network, make new connections and grow, as the business world looks to future recovery in post pandemic times.

The ‘West Midlands Business Expo’ will see the collective efforts of Chambers across the Black Country, Coventry & Warwickshire, Herefordshire & Worcestershire, Shropshire and Staffordshire, with businesses given the opportunity to exhibit at the Virtual Expo, alongside a packed agenda of engaging business focused events.

Taking place between 22nd and 26th March, the Expo comes at the end of a third national lockdown for the country in which many firms have continued to struggle to stay afloat, despite a range of financial support measures put in place by the UK government.

Over five days, the Virtual Expo is expected to attract thousands of visitors from across the region with exhibitors manning their virtual stands to showcase their products and services, whilst being able to respond online to new customer enquiries.

A range of informative business events will also be delivered during the week with each day having a local flavour, demonstrating the unique strengths & opportunities across the five West Midlands areas.

Chambers of Commerce across the UK have been at the forefront of supporting & advising firms through the COVID-19 pandemic and helping them to understand the latest developments, as well as acting as ‘the voice’ of their members to local, regional and national government.

To book a stand, please email laura.hodgkiss@staffordshirechambers.co.uk.

For more information on the West Midlands Business Expo, check out our digital brochure.

A recent survey of 500 mid-sized businesses across the Midlands region has revealed that two-thirds of firms surveyed believe now is the right time to invest in their businesses despite the current lockdown and ongoing economic challenges.

The latest BDO Rethinking the Economy survey, found the top three investment priorities in 2021 are investing in technology and new processes to increase business efficiency, developing initiatives to support employee wellbeing, and hiring graduates and apprentices.

However, businesses surveyed also called on the Government to do the same, to make significant progress in their pledge to ‘level up’ the UK regions over the next three years. And the areas they want investment are in 5G and internet connectivity, more commercial space for business and mandate more devolution to local government.

The survey also revealed that 39% of Midlands businesses expect to recover from the pandemic within seven to 12 months once the toughest restrictions are lifted.

At Staffordshire Chambers we are geared up and ready to help all firms with their post-Covid19 recovery strategy.

We have an experienced Business Growth Advisor, Richard Brace, to provide advice and information to small and medium sized enterprises in Staffordshire that are looking to grow, re-establish their position after the Coronavirus slowdown, and companies looking to develop their strategy to achieve higher growth going forward.

Richard can meet you and offer advice and an objective diagnostic of your growth plans to help develop your company’s strategy and can also deliver an on-line GROWTHmapper business diagnostic. This is an excellent way to get the recovery ball rolling as it enables business leaders to set aside some time to think about the company’s position whilst engaging all senior management teams in the strategic planning development process.

If you would like to speak to Richard about your plans for growth, please email him: richard.brace@staffordshirechambers.co.uk

The government’s Kickstart Scheme is also a great way to help business recovery whilst providing employment opportunities and vital experience for 16–24-year-olds who have been particularly affected by the pandemic.

As part of the Chancellor’s Plan for Jobs, Kickstart provides six-month placements for young people who are claiming Universal Credit and are at risk of long-term unemployment.

The Government picks up 100 per cent of employment costs up to 25 hours a week at the appropriate minimum wage level as well as National Insurance and pension contributions. Employers also receive £1500 towards equipment and training costs.

Dozens of firms locally have already engaged with the scheme to bring in fresh talent and ideas to aid their recovery.

To find out more and to discuss how Kickstart can benefit your business email: kickstart@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 or email: info@staffordshirechambers.co.uk

Continuing Professional Development is a recognised standard used by professionals through the CPD Certification Service, to further their career and develop vital skills. It’s a proactive and conscious form of learning which uses various methods to help individuals either learn new skills or develop existing ones.

Stoke-on-Trent & Staffordshire Growth Hub and Staffordshire Chambers of Commerce are delighted to announce their investment into CPD, as they join the CPD Certification Service as members. This new step forward will enable both Stoke-on-Trent & Staffordshire Growth Hub and Staffordshire Chambers of Commerce to provide CPD Accredited workshops, webinars and seminars, which will greatly aid businesses in their recovery from the pandemic and beyond.

Together we recognise the importance of completing CPD and how it contributes in building employee’s confidence and credibility, allows them to showcase their achievements and equips them with tools to cope positively with change, beneficial for employees’ career progression and advancement.

Sara Williams, CEO of Staffordshire Chambers of Commerce, said: “To have a globally recognised stamp of approval for our workshops and events shows the value and importance of the advice and support that we are offering businesses during this crucial recovery period and we look forward to working alongside the Growth Hub to develop a complementary programme of CPD events.”

Nicola Kent, Manager of Stoke-on-Trent & Staffordshire Growth Hub, added: “This is an incredibly exciting development for Stoke-on-Trent & Staffordshire Growth Hub which I’m sure will be extremely beneficial for local businesses. I’m very excited to be partnering with Staffordshire Chambers of Commerce on this wonderful new venture.”

For employees, CPD helps to keep knowledge and skills up-to-date. It also ensures that the professional standard of their qualifications and registrations is maintained. Furthermore, it contributes to a professional sense of direction. Completing CPD helps to build confidence and credibility, allowing employees them to showcase their achievements. CPD also equips employees with tools to cope positively with change, which is beneficial for employees’ career progression and advancement.

Offering CPD options benefit employers through focussed and motivated teams, who have a sense of value and direction. In the current climate, this is more important than ever and by utilising opportunities such as CPD Accredited courses and events, employers are able to offer enhancement and advancement goals to their employees, which in turn benefit the business through enhanced skills and learning in the workplace.

Over the coming months, both Stoke-on-Trent & Staffordshire Growth Hub and Staffordshire Chambers of Commerce will be releasing further details of courses and events which businesses can engage with in order to access this new service.

We are nearly at the end of our first month of life outside EU rules and regulations and I am sure you are all aware from the news what a stressful time it has been for anyone involved in the movement of goods between the UK and the EU.

As a chamber offering a Customs Declaration Service, we are a part of the ChamberCustoms network, a subsidiary of the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC).

As soon as we knew what the new customs regulation requirements were, we had four members of staff trained to process the paperwork. The four are now fully BCC accredited and are working to process the required paperwork for our exporters.

The team are working seven days a week to clear the goods through our ports and, to the end of last week, Staffordshire Chambers was ranked third nationally by number of customs transactions in the chambers’ network. Incredible when you think of the size of other city and regional chambers.

I am extremely proud of our international trade team headed up by Rob Lawley. They are here for our exporters, not just processing paperwork but offering advice, guidance, and training to ensure our exporters get through this tough transitional period and continue to grow trading relationships with EU member states. For all export enquiries visit http://bit.ly/3iV0mWH or call 01782 202222

Much of the Chambers’ work centres around enabling people to start their own business.

Now, Staffordshire students in further education are also set to discover their inner entrepreneur through a brand-new programme aimed at helping them make the move to self-employment.

The Ignite Programme, delivered by the Chambers and funded by Staffordshire County Council, is a new programme of free advice, workshops mentoring and support for post-18 FE students looking to set up their own business. It has launched at Burton and South Derbyshire College, Leek and Buxton College, Newcastle and Stafford College Group and South Staffordshire College.

Economic downturns lead to particularly large increases in unemployment for young people and the Coronavirus pandemic is no exception. It has already hit hard in the retail and hospitality sectors which traditionally employ younger people.

The aim of the programme is to make sure that young people in the final year of further education, who aspire to starting up on their own, are provided the support they need to make their new business a success. It will help develop entrepreneurial thinking, alongside existing studies, and thus open self-employment opportunities.

The programme will cover; business basics (company formations, taxation, VAT etc); business planning; marketing planning; developing networking and sales skills and business finances (basic cashflow forecasting and funding).

Sessions will be delivered by the Chamber’s experienced business start-up advisers, virtually or in college settings dependent on restrictions. All participants will also have access to mentors from a range of backgrounds, many under the age of 30 who have started, and are successfully running their own businesses, and a new online platform designed to help deliver the modules.

If you know any young person who would benefit from the Ignite programme, please pass on this information. More information from Tom Nadin, info@staffordshirechambers.co.uk or call 01782 202222.

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

Several people have already been fortunate enough to take part in our Peer Network launched back in November last year.

Peer Networks is a networking programme for senior businesspeople to share ideas, solutions, and support to ensure a business thrives and moves forward beyond the effects of the pandemic. It is delivered by the Chambers on behalf of Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire LEP

I know that many businesses missed out on the first programme because the timing was not right, or they were too late to sign up. However, I am delighted that we have secured funding for a second Peer Networks programme cohort commencing 28th January.

It is a fully funded programme and all we ask is a commitment of 21.5 hours to complete six virtual networking sessions.

Participants also receive 3.5 hours of bespoke mentoring from an experienced consultant who will help you implement the ideas and strategies that you have discussed in the networking sessions.

As a special bonus, all those completing the programme get an opportunity to join an exclusive talk on ‘Teamship’ from 2003 England Rugby World Cup winning coach, Sir Clive Woodward.

Spaces are limited so I would recommend acting straight away if you want to be involved in Peer Networks. For eligibility criteria and booking details click here: http://bit.ly/2Y3dAHb

And whilst I am talking about getting business geared for recovery and new opportunities…

I am very pleased to announce that the Chambers in partnership with Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire Growth Hub are joining the Continuous Professional Development (CPD) Certification service.

Continuing Professional Development is a recognised standard used by professionals through the CPD Certification Service, to further their career and develop vital skills. It is a proactive form of learning which employs various methods to help individuals learn new skills or develop existing ones.

For employees, CPD helps to keep knowledge and skills up to date. It also ensures that the professional standard of their qualifications and registrations is maintained whilst contributing to a professional sense of direction.

CPD helps to build confidence and credibility, allowing employees to showcase their achievements. It also equips employees with tools to cope positively with change and aids career progression and advancement.

The CPD offering will be a fantastic benefit to employers, allowing them to develop focussed and motivated teams, who have a sense of value and direction, which in turn benefits the business through enhanced skills, a competitive advantage, and increased staff retention.

We will shortly be releasing further details of CPD courses and related events which businesses can engage in to access this new service. Watch this space!

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 

There is no shying away from the fact that this lockdown is having an immeasurable effect on the mental wellbeing of many people.

Bereavement, anxiety, isolation, stress, and financial worries are just some of the terrible consequences of the situation we currently find ourselves in.

One way to ease this burden is to talk to someone who listens, empathises and most importantly, cares.

Therefore, the Chambers are teaming up with charity Ministry at Work who were established in 2012 to support businesses by getting alongside them, supporting management and staff by listening, caring and when necessary, signposting them to other support services such as bereavement and mental health counselling services.

The service is free, and its total confidentiality allows for people to open up about their situation without prejudice or judgement.

They offer tailor made packages of support for staff and management in wellbeing and flourishing at work. Their trained Chaplains’ role is to listen and to care, not to advise. When people are listened to well, and know they have someone to lean on when times are tough, it can make a huge difference to that person’s wellbeing and ability to cope in traumatic situations.

Ministry at Work work alongside HR professionals and wellbeing champions in all sizes of business, becoming part of the mental health team function.

A business can engage with a chaplain for a contracted number of hours per week or month tailored to the company’s needs.

The benefits to business are easy to measure. A short chat occasionally and knowing that someone is always there for you can do wonders for morale and help long term with absenteeism, mental health, and productivity.

If you or any of your staff would like to speak to someone from Ministry at Work, you can contact Mo Trudel in full confidentiality at mo@ministryatwork.org.uk or call Mo on 07971966160 for an informal chat.

Sadly, another consequence of the prolonged lockdown has been the increase in domestic abuse.

We are working with Staffordshire Police, Crime and Fire Commissioner to support businesses by offering free domestic abuse workplace champions training.

The training will help staff identify the tell-tale signs of domestic abuse and equip them with the skills to be able to access the appropriate support and signposting.

The next sessions will be held on 19th and 26th January and 2nd February on Zoom. Places can be booked by contacting Tom Nadin; tom.nadin@staffordshirechambers.co.uk

One last note. If you are a Chamber member you can benefit from a range of health and wellbeing benefits via the Westfield Chamber Primary Health Plan.

Benefits include face-to-face counselling and 24/7 telephone access to a Doctor, as well as a wide range of medical cashback options and priority medical treatment. Full details from our membership team by calling 01782 202222.

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

With the latest Covid19 variant infection rates soaring and hospital admissions at a pandemic high, the new national lockdown was inevitable and necessary.

This lockdown will be particularly difficult as the weather is harsh, the days are short, and we are all extremely tired of living with restrictions and unpredictability.

The latest restrictions are much more stringent than in the previous lockdown and will remain in place until at least mid-February. There are serious considerations for businesses – individuals can only leave their homes if they have a ‘reasonable excuse’ or risk a fine. The fact that colleges, primary and secondary schools will only remain open for vulnerable children and the children of critical workers only places more pressure on parents trying to juggle work, childcare, and home schooling.

At the Chambers, we have redoubled our efforts and put a series of measures in place to help Staffordshire businesses through the pandemic. Staying informed and connected and taking advantage of all our services and schemes will help to keep your business on course to get through the next few months. Here are a few options to keep your business running smoothly.

Employment advice

Lockdown will inevitably affect you and your staff. We have our own in-house advisor, Joe Gill who can advise on any HR issues. In addition, members can utilise the free HR portal and helpline from QUEST. You can get in touch with Joe Gill, by emailing joseph.gill@staffordshirechambers.co.uk

For 24hr support with HR, Legal and Finance queries via the QUEST support service call 01455 852037.

Staying connected

We offer lots of opportunities to network with fellow businesspeople through our events programme and schemes such as our Peer Networks programme connecting Staffordshire SME business leaders to address ongoing business challenges and finding practical solutions with like-minded businesspeople. This is a fully funded programme – all we ask of you is a time commitment of 21.5 hours. Places are limited and you must register by 13th January by completing the online form at: www.staffordshirechambers.co.uk/peer-network

Mentoring Support

We have a team of experienced business mentors who can help guide and support your business through this current lockdown and beyond. Mentors act as critical friends, guides, and sources of significant expertise, depending on your needs. For more information contact Richard Carty richard.carty@staffordshirechambers.co.uk

Post Brexit Support

Our International Trade Team are currently classed as key workers providing help and advice on trade with Europe post-Brexit. Our offices are also open as usual for export documentation and customs declaration services. Call 01782 202222 for more information.

Start-Up Support

If you are looking to start up on your own, we have a team of experienced business advisers who provide tailored support to help you get up and running with essentials such as cashflow forecasting, business planning, marketing, and helping you to access grants and support. Contact tom.nadin@staffordshirechambers.co.uk for more information.

Financial support

The Chancellor has announced additional grant support for impacted businesses. This is over and above the ongoing support of the Jobs Retention Scheme and the Self Employment Income Support Scheme. Businesses required to close in the retail, leisure and hospitality sectors will receive one off grants worth up to £9000.

Additional discretionary grant support will be made available for local authorities to support impacted businesses outside of these sectors in addition to the grant payments and other existing local authority managed schemes. We will post details as soon as we have further information.

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