This week seems like a watershed in the war against Coronavirus, with government’s announcements of further lifting of lockdown restrictions, coming into effect at the start of a next week.

June is going to feel very different with some school children returning on Monday, and lots of businesses, including the ourselves at the Chambers, making their way back to the office, albeit a small percentage of staff and no visitors yet, whilst we reorganise our space and set to work on minimising any risk of infection with strict social distancing and hygiene measures.

Despite all the caution and sense that it is not over yet, I feel excited and optimistic. Excited to see work colleagues who I have missed. Zoom and Teams are great, but I think you know where I am coming from. Also, I cannot wait to sit in a proper comfortable work chair at a real desk.

Optimistic because of the amazing business community we have in Staffordshire which seems to have gained in strength, supporting each other, the vulnerable, key workers, and the community in so many ways since lockdown.

We have all learned a lot about ourselves and our businesses over the past three months, and yet there is so much more to learn. Business teaching and training is by and large based on experience and hindsight with the experienced imparting their wisdom and fact-based knowledge to the less experienced.

The pandemic has changed this with business teaching based on what might happen and what we can do to prepare for all eventualities.

This is what the Chamber’s webinars are all about. We started off dealing with the aftershock of lockdown with webinars about setting up a home office and wellbeing, moving on to marketing and communicating post-lockdown, re-skilling, employment issues, post Covid exporting many more.

It is going to be a long time before we can sit several people together in one room so we will be continuing our webinars for a long time to come. We are always keen to hear from anyone wanting to share their knowledge and experience with an interesting subject for a webinar.

If you would like to present a webinar you can contact Laura Hodgkiss: laura.hodgkiss@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 weekday daily Twitter hour from 11am – 12noon #StaffsChamberChat

Thousands of contact tracers are starting work today to track down people who have tested positive to Covid-19 who will be told to isolate under the government’s new much talked about test and trace scheme.

People who test positive to Covid-19 will receive a text, email, or call to ask who they have had contact with. Those contacts will then be told to isolate for a fortnight regardless of whether they are sick or not. Even those who have already had the virus will be asked to isolate.

The hope is that test and trace will speed up the lifting of lockdown restrictions opening the way for a more localised targeted approach to restrictions.

Staffordshire Chambers of Commerce, in conjunction with the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) has been supportive of the introduction of test and trace for several weeks now. We know that an effective programme really matters to business as it will prevent another economically damaging lockdown, of the nature we are still enduring.

We see it as essential to boost to confidence of businesses, staff and consumers as the economic restart continues. We know that businesses are keen to play their part in the success of the programme and want to support their staff in following the guidance.

The contact tracing system will only work if everyone adheres to the rules and the likelihood is that employers will have to pay SSP to those needing to isolate, however, a coordinated approach to test and trace across the UK will be critical to ensuring the success of the programme and in enhancing business confidence.

We know that many of you concerned about how all of this will affect business and a crucial time when we are all returning to work. It is now important that the full details of what potential location-based actions or local lockdowns may look like in practice to support businesses’ contingency planning.

Rest assured that we will be working hard to get as much detail as we can, as quickly as we can to enable business to work through the phased return to work whilst supporting the contact tracing programme.

There is more information about test and trace on the gov.uk website:  https://bit.ly/2yE5Ylt

To get in touch about any issues around returning to work you can contact us at 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 weekday daily Twitter hour from 11am – 12noon #StaffsChamberChat

On Monday 1st June, ten weeks to the day from the day we closed our offices on Festival Park to enter lockdown, some of us will be making the first tentative steps back to a new world of work.

Not all staff will be returning to the offices and no one is being asked to come in against their will or put under any undue pressure. Rather, it is a slow start to a way of working which will see a blend of office-based and online activity.

All through the lockdown I have had daily online meetings with the Chambers’ management team and fortnightly all staff meetings, including furloughed staff, so that everyone has had a chance to contribute to the decision-making process along the way.

We have undertaken a full risk assessment which will be published on our website later this week. It follows the government guidelines for returning to offices and coves vital areas such as social distancing measures, hygiene and PPE. In the short term the offices will only be open to staff. The Members’ Lounge will remain closed until further lifting of restrictions.

I envisage that all staff will be spending part of their working week at home for some months and we are doing everything we can to make sure that everyone has essential equipment to do this, such as a proper office chair, laptop supports and footrests. The last thing we want is staff suffering injury due to poor posture from home working.

One of the real positive outcomes from the lockdown has been the way in which members of the Chambers’ team have supported each other through this time. Lockdown has been a different experience for us all dealing with issues – some positive and others much less so – such as home schooling, caring for elderly relatives, self-isolation, loneliness, and illness.

Coming back to work in Commerce House is going to be challenging for us all in different ways and so to help everyone, we have re-established our wellbeing group headed by our HR specialist advisor, Joe Gill. It will enable us to share concerns, hints and tips and best practice.

All of this is new territory and we know we have a lot to learn. However, we are happy to share anything discussed here with all business as well as learning from you about what is working well in your organisation. And we are keen to learn from your experiences too.

To get in touch about any issues around returning to work you can contact us at 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 weekday daily Twitter hour from 11am – 12noon #StaffsChamberChat

 

There was a welcome boost for the economy with the Prime Minister’s announcement that car showrooms and open markets will be allowed to open from Monday 1 June and other retail outlets should prepare for a 15 June opening date.

This will be a welcome boost for the economy and for general morale as we start to see a real move toward rebuilding our fragile economy.

It is a given that the retail experience will be changed for a long time to come. Car dealerships, for example, will look different with more space between vehicles, clear distancing markings and appropriate sanitation and PPE measures.

However, as a statement it will hopefully lift spirits and give act as a spur to business to focus on their own plans to reopen.

The Chambers, through the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), are asking the government and relevant agencies, particularly the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) for clarity, support, and guidance on plans for a phased reopening of the retail sector.

We know that businesses will be taking a safe, proportionate, and risk-based approach to returning to work, in close consultation with staff. For many, this is an entirely new way of operating as businesses apply guidance to practical operational realities.

HSE and local authorities should support business as they seek to comply with the new rules and reserve new enforcement powers for the small minority of businesses who wilfully disobey or ignore obligations to their workers and customers.

HSE guidance to retailers can be found at: https://www.hse.gov.uk/retail/index.htm

If you have any concerns or questions around reopening and your obligations please let us know at: info@staffordshirechambers.co.uk

For anything else 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 weekday daily Twitter hour from 11am – 12noon #StaffsChamberChat

Like me, you were probably out at eight o’ clock last night, paying tribute to our wonderful NHS workers and all essential workers currently doing such an amazing job. A small token of thanks for a debt that is impossible to repay.

Yesterday, I received an email from Charles Bagot-Jewitt, the High Sheriff of Staffordshire. He wanted to make me aware of the the work also being done during the lockdown, by staff and residents at HM Prison Stafford.

Residents are enduring even more disruption to their lives, locked in their cells for 23 hours a day, and unable to have visitors. This has ensured that HM Prison Stafford remains Covid-19 free for staff and inmates.

Residents are fundraising for the NHS and the textiles workshop has been making scrubs for local institutions as part of the ‘lovescrubs’ initiative. The prison has also deliverd a number of food hampers, purchased by residents through their canteen, to the House of Bread foodbank in Stafford.

On behalf of the business community I would like to thank Ralph Lubkowski, Governor HM Prison Stafford, his staff and residents, and all the other prisons in Staffordshire, for all for the supportive work they are doing in helping with the fight against Covid-19 during lockdown.

Earlier this week my blog was about Mental Health Awareness Week and how kindness was so important at present.

It’s a Bank Holiday weekend this weekend, not that many of us will notice the difference. After all the stress of the past few weeks I think it’s a real opportunity to take a break, be kind to others and importantly, be kind to ourselves.I know my team at the Chamber have worked incredibly hard to help business through the pandemic thus far, and there is still a long way to go.

So this weekend, go for a walk, read a book, bake a cake, play some music, enjoy the weather and be kind to yourselves. I’ll be back on Tuesday!
For any business enquiries 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 weekday daily Twitter hour from 11am – 12noon #StaffsChamberChat

Yesterday I had the great pleasure of hosting our business leader’s forum. Being the first online forum there was no lunch and no informal networking before and after.

We had a good spread of delegates in attendance representing manufacturing, education, professional services, service industries, media and more.

However, despite the virtual setting we had a lively discussion and a chance to chew the fat over current hot topics including the phased return to work, holiday pay and the furlough scheme, and the effect of the pandemic on exporting and international trade.

It was another example of how we have adapted to the situation that Coronavirus- Covid 19 has put is in and shows how we have swiftly moved into a brave new world of work.

Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire LEP Chairman Alun Rogers said, in his Chamber webinar this week: “Work is now a thing that we do, not a place that we go to.”

Whilst this is to some extent true, there are many businesses who are currently facing up to the challenge of re-opening offices and factories with new risk assessed layouts, PPE, and different patterns of work.

We are a hosting a very useful webinar at 10.00am tomorrow entitled ‘Manufacturing restart – a workplace guide from Michelin’

Michelin factory manager Francois Levert, production manager Alan Murdock and factory personnel manager Rob Hewitt will talk about physical adjustments to the offices and factory, new hygiene regime and PPE and the effect on shift patterns and working groups. Rob will also talk about communication with employees prior to re-opening, to reassure employees and make sure they are ready to return.

The webinar will also cover the need for education in new protocols before returning to the workshops.

I would recommend the webinar to anyone re-opening premises or looking to do so soon. You can book here: https://bit.ly/36jDb2f

For any business enquiries 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 weekday daily Twitter hour from 11am – 12noon #StaffsChamberChat

This week is Mental Health Awareness Week promoted by the Mental Health Foundation, with the theme being kindness.

I totally agree with the Mental Health Foundation that mental health is everyone’s business as it can affect anyone at any time.

The pandemic has made us all more aware of those people around us who perhaps need a little more support and kindness, be they family, friends, neighbours, work colleagues and of course the army of essential workers who have worked tirelessly to keep our lives as normal as possible.

Following the 2008 credit crunch it was that the most vulnerable in society who experienced the severest consequences of austerity, with devastating effects on their mental and physical health. However, this time so far at least, it seems different, as if we are all in it together and we can only come through it by making sure no one gets left behind or goes without help and support.

One of the real positives to take from the pandemic and lockdown is the way in which the whole Staffordshire business community slipped seamlessly into support mode from day one.

The Government’s response to ease financial anxiety was swift with the Jobs Retention Scheme, self-employed grants, and a raft of loan options.

At the same time business was swift to react with manufacturers switching production to making vital medical and PPE equipment. Many businesses and organisations also moved to aid charities and to distribute food to the vulnerable.

I have been really heartened how many businesses and self-employed workers are taking it upon themselves to help each other out through social media groups and virtual networking. Acting inclusively to make sure everyone is keeping their narrative going and is ready to do business post-lockdown.

Similarly, at the Chamber we moved our entire operation online in a matter of days offering daily support in the form of daily webinars, additional mentoring, helpline support and advice on finance, employment law, marketing, exporting, skills, etc., as well as offering online networking and sector forums.

This new consideration and kindness and sense of looking out for each other, as well as ourselves, could transform our places of work and communities, tipping the balance in favour of good mental health for all.

If you would like to speak to us about any issues related to this blog please contact us at info@staffordshirechambers.co.uk

For any business enquiries 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 weekday daily Twitter hour from 11am – 12noon #StaffsChamberChat

Who knows what the true impact of Coronavirus – Covid-19 and the lockdown has had on our economy? To paraphrase Winston Churchill from 1942, we are not sure if this the beginning of the end or the end of the beginning.

What we can do at every stage of the journey is measure the impact of the pandemic and use this information to influence government policy. Never have the Government needed the guidance of the business community more than they do now. They are asking for our opinion and guidance daily as they tread the tricky path to recovery. Knowing that to ignore our advice, and get big decisions wrong, could do long lasting damage to our fragile economy.

This is one of the most important times for businesses across Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire to complete our Quarterly Economic Survey (QES), as it will give an insight in to the economic impact the Coronavirus and lockdown have had on local businesses.

 

The information you provide will have help to shape and influence current 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, to assess the health of the UK economy.

 

We would keen to hear from firms of all shapes and sizes (starts ups, sole traders, SMEs, medium sized and large corporations) as it will help create an accurate picture of the current business landscape. Whether you are a seasoned director or relatively new to your company, if you can spare just a few minutes to fill in the survey it would be really appreciated.

 

We understand your time is precious, even more so now, so thank you to all those who complete the survey.

 

The link to the survey is – https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/ZFQ9YR9

 

For any business enquiries 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 weekday daily Twitter hour from 11am – 12noon #StaffsChamberChat

Although there is a long way to go in the current pandemic and lockdown situation, last week started to see the easing of restrictions with more and more businesses and services re-opening.

I personally feel there is confusion surrounding government advice, for example in encouraging those who can return to work to do so whilst advising against all but essential travel.

Today we are seeing crowd-control measures being put in at some stations, preventing passengers from boarding a train or entering a platform if there are already too many people. Measures such as booking time slots for travelling by train are also being considered – and its best to book online.

A lot of the potential risk of infection on trains and buses depends on how crowded they are and how far away you can keep from other people. This applies both on the vehicles and at stops and stations and will vary in different parts of the country and on different routes.

Ventilation also plays an important role as fresh air can help droplets containing the virus dissipate faster, so being able to open a window can be an advantage.
Coronavirus spreads when an infected person coughs, sneezes or exhales small droplets packed with the virus into the air. These droplets can enter the body through the eyes, nose and mouth, either directly or after touching a contaminated object.

If you can’t walk, cycle or drive to their destination, then you are advised to travel at off-peak times; take a less busy route and reduce the number of changes; wait for other passengers to get off before boarding; keep two metres away from people where possible and wash your hands as soon as possible after completing the journey.

Big issues already and we still have millions of employees furloughed and only a fraction of business open.

Do you have concerns around travel to work on public transport or other issues around the return to work? Then please let us know by emailing info@staffordshirechambers.co.uk

You can also call our switchboard on 01782 202222 or call the Stoke and Staffs Growth Hub Helpline on 0300 111 8002. We also have a weekday daily Twitter hour from 11am – 12noon #StaffsChamberChat

It is sad, but a sign of the times that JCB today announced that up to 950 jobs are at risk of redundancy at its UK plants after demand for its machines fell by half because of the COVID-19 crisis.

JCB has said the decision to restructure JCB’s business had been extremely tough but that the company “had no choice but to take difficult decisions to adapt to this new economic reality”.

I’ve spent most of Friday morning reacting to this, not only in interviews but talking to Chamber management about what we can do to not only help JCB employees facing redundancy, but also others who will inevitably face the same fate in the coming months.

We are working closely with the DWP, Jobcentre Plus and Staffordshire County Council to help people back employment or other options such as self-employment, training, or study to upskill.

The Chamber also offers a comprehensive start-up programme to help people into self-employment.

This week, results from the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) Coronavirus Impact Tracker, a national barometer of business sentiment, reveals that businesses are ready for a gradual reopening of the economy but will need continued, adaptable government support during a phased return to work.

The results were taken from responses between 5th and 8th May, prior to the Prime Minister announcing an easing of lockdown measures to allow a gradual phased return to work.

It covers readiness to start back to work, the job retention scheme and the Bounce Back Loans scheme and shows that most businesses can implement social distancing and make provisions for flexible and home working where applicable.

Whilst the Bounce Back Loans Scheme has made an encouraging start many smaller cash-strapped firms are unwilling or unable to take on more debt. Chambers will be urging Government to further expand existing grant schemes to ensure as many businesses as possible get access to the support they need.

We are in no doubt that the job retention scheme and the furloughing of employees has been successful in its aim to protect livelihoods and its extension is a huge help and relief for business.

Therefore, the Chambers are urging the government to continue to listen to business and evolve the scheme in line with what is happening on the ground. Further phased support may yet be needed for firms who are unable to operate for an extended period or those who face reduced capacity or demand due to ongoing restrictions.

You can have your say by contributing to the BCC Coronavirus Business Impact Tracker: https://www.britishchambers.org.uk/page/bcc-coronavirus-business-impact-tracker

For all other enquiries you can email info@staffordshirechambers.co.uk call our switchboard on 01782 202222 or call the Stoke and Staffs Growth Hub Helpline on 0300 111 8002. We also have a weekday daily Twitter hour from 11am – 12noon #StaffsChamberChat