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

If I could meet up with myself as I was in December 2019, I am not sure how I would handle the meeting.

The conversation would go something like: “Take a seat, I need to have a word about next year. You’ve been at the heart of business and commerce for several years, witnessing upturns and downturns and seen the effect political decisions can have on the economy, but you have never seen anything like what is just around the corner.”

For years we have lived under the threat of a viral pandemic which had the potential to stretch health facilities to breaking point, disrupt daily life and widespread and long-lasting damage to the world economy. After false dawns, such as SARS and MERS, did we think it could really happen?

When it finally did, it caught us out big style. Months after we knew about the spread of Covid19 in Asia, and its subsequent migration to Europe, we carried on going to pubs, restaurants, cafes, cinemas, theatres, and sporting events and were told if we washed our hands whilst singing ‘Happy Birthday’ we would be alright.

Between then and now there has been nothing short of a revolution in the pattern of day-to-day life the way we behave and in the way we work.

The pandemic has brought on a heightened appreciation of what a fantastic and crucial job many people do to make sure that we are kept healthy, fed and supplied with essential goods and services.

Business has been amazing in the way it has stepped forward to help out and there are countless examples such as manufacturers switching production to make ventilators, manufacture PPE and setting up networks to supply meals and food to those in most need.

Above all, after the initial ‘rabbit caught in the headlights moment’ we’ve all just got on with it and done what we needed to do.

Thankfully, the job retention scheme and financial help from the government was rapid and, if not totally universal, it kept many businesses trading who could have disappeared.

Many businesses, especially leisure and hospitality continue to bear the brunt of the pandemic are suffering and may do for some time as infection rates continue to rage. We may have a vaccine but there are a few months yet until immunisation starts to make a positive difference to our daily lives.

I would like to think that at the Chambers we have done everything we can to help business through advice, information, connections and support in many ways.

Next year we will deliver more of the same with an additional focus on creating new employment opportunities through the Kickstart scheme for young people up to 25 and through our start up schemes for new entrepreneurs.

Some business will fail through no fault of their own, but the talent that runs that business or works for the business is still there and we want to harness this talent, re-skill if necessary, advise, empower, and offer continuing support to the next generation of entrepreneurs who will power our post-Covid economy forwards.

So, I would conclude the conversation with myself by saying: “If anything like 2020 happens again, we have proved that we have what it takes to get through it. The spirit of cooperation and the feeling that we are all in this together, and therefore we must all come out of this together, has never been stronger.

“You can rest assured that the Chambers team was there for business right from the start of lockdown. You have a dedicated, brilliant and adaptable team of people who proved their worth and were prepared to go the extra mile to help business get through this.”

Merry Christmas and here’s to a positive and prosperous 2021.

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

As the UK’s coronavirus vaccination programme gets underway and we at last have an end in sight to the pandemic gloom and restrictions I was hoping that I would also be talking here about a done deal in the post-Brexit trade talks between the UK and the EU.

But guess what; a week after we were told it was the eleventh hour for negotiations, we still have an impasse between the two sides as negotiators appear to have hit a brick wall on the fundamentals of a level playing field, fishing, and resolving disputes in the future.

Even the government’s TV advertisement urging businesses to get ready for the end of the transition period on 31st January has had the slogan ‘check, change and go’ removed as they cannot say what we are checking, what needs changing and where we are going.

This uncertainty does nothing for business confidence whilst we are still in the middle of a global pandemic, facing a recession and having to find ways of plugging a cavernous national debt.

The Chambers feels this frustration, especially our hard-working international trade team who continue to work with Staffordshire businesses who trade with the EU and are looking for advice and guidance. You can be assured if you are an exporter that they will be there to guide businesses through the coming months whether there is a deal in place or not.

If you are not already in contact with the international trade team you can call them on 01782 202222 and visit the website for information and guidance on the transition period: https://staffordshirechambers.co.uk/transition-period/

Now for something which we do have the power to make a difference for the good.

We all know what a tough year it has been for charities who have been hard hit by the effects of the pandemic. They have been subject to charity shops, a major source of income, closing in lockdown, and in some cases permanently. Many volunteers have been unable to fundraise due to health concerns and donations have stalled as people worry about their own finances.

That is why we are raising money on behalf of our Chamber charity members so they can continue to provide vital support for our community.

Throughout December we will be putting the spotlight on one of our charities each day via our special Staffordshire Chambers Spotlight Charity Advent Calendar. And with 23 incredible organisations to share, this will lead us all the way up to Christmas Eve. Click here to discover who is behind the door today. https://bit.ly/33WtIh9

If you can, please consider donating to help support the amazing work they do. All money raised will be divided equally between the charities. Alternatively, you can donate to your chosen Chamber charity here: https://bit.ly/2JOz8UH

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

2020 has seen an exponential increase in the incidence of cyber crime. This has been fuelled by the number of people working from home and the related increase in online activity.

The consequences of cyber crime can be at best disruptive and costly and in extreme cases can be fatally damaging to a business.

There are more than two million emails sent per second in the UK alone and the number of ever more convincing phishing emails has also gone up steeply this year.

In the past year one in every 10 businesses has been adversely affected by online crime. Therefore it is vital for all organisations to have a policy in place to ensure that staff are aware of the threat from cyber criminals and that they can identify potential threats in the inbox.

By operating a simple policy of check, confirm and verify, most threats can be dealt with before harm to a business occurs.

At the Chambers with have two trained Cyber Champions who disseminate information to our team and our members on cyber crime trends and how to avoid being caught out.

If you would like to find out more about how you can protect your business from cyber crime there is lots of information on the Staffordshire Police website: https://bit.ly/2I5yTDL

You can also contact the Chambers for information and guidance by emailing: info@staffordshirecghambers.co.uk

We are now down to a matter of days until the end of the Brexit transition period on 31st December. After this time new rules for trading with the EU will come into force.

To complicate matters further, as I write this, we still do not know the exact details of the deal, if indeed there will be one.

With this in mind the Chambers have put together a series of information sheets and links for businesses trading internationally at our transition period portal on the Chambers website: https://staffordshirechambers.co.uk/transition-period/

In the meantime, if you have any questions and issues do not hesitate to get in touch with our international trade 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

National restrictions continue to significantly affect businesses across the country.  While non-essential retail, hospitality and leisure businesses have had to temporarily close during lockdown, those businesses which are still operating will also have been heavily affected by the pandemic.   

As such, there is an enormous pressure on businesses’ financial situation.  They may be juggling reduced income whilst navigating new income streams such as various government support measures.  Businesses might be facing unexpected expenditure on PPE and the cost of making their operations Covid secure. 

It is extremely challenging to budget month to month; something which is especially true for smaller businesses, who may already be operating with limited cash flow. 

More than ever, the battle to keep control of company outgoings is crucial if they are to survive in this tough climate.  A straightforward place to start in this battle is a universal cost and key expense:  energy bills. 

While every business receives regular energy bills, the vast majority don’t track how – and where –they are using their gas and electricity.   

A proactive way of taking back control of this expense is by installing a smart meter, to show exactly how much energy is being used hour by hour.  It will show whether switching off appliances overnight will save a small fortune, the cost of keeping laptops and phones plugged in all the time, and even how much boiling a kettle costs. 

Another key benefit of smart meters is that businesses get billed for the exact energy they use.  Unless very regular meter updates are provided, bills generated without the input of smart meters are estimated, based on the usage from a previous period. If businesses have temporarily closed or furloughed some of their teams, this could be hugely damaging as they would be paying for energy they haven’t used yet, and might not use for several weeks, potentially making a big dent in their already fragile cash flow.  

A smart meter is a positive step in taking control of business outgoings and if your firm has 10 employees or less, your business could be eligible. 

To see whether smart metering can work for your business, and to find out if you are entitled to claim a free one, contact your energy supplier.  It could be one of the best calls you make this week. 

It’s been yet another momentous week for business as the Health Minister gave details of the restrictions we will be living under when the national lockdown ends on 2nd December and the Chancellor set out the details of his Spending Review on Wednesday.

It is now clear that the whole of Staffordshire will be moving into the tier three, allowing non-essential retail to reopen, whilst hospitality remains closed and households remain banned from mixing outdoors.

On a positive note, tier three areas will receive extra funding, yet to be announced, as well as more virus testing to help control infections as the government aims to get out of the toughest restrictions as fast as possible. To this end they will work with local authorities to get tests to where they are most needed and to get people to come forward.

As a chamber, and with the Growth Hub, we will be here to help you find out if you are eligible and how to access any available funding – as soon as the details are announced. As we know, sometimes we have schemes that are announced and they take ages to actually be delivered. This is something we have consistently put to government as a flaw in the support they have offered.

What we do not want is for the government to keep switching businesses on and off like a light bulb without expecting even more severe consequences. The Chambers, through the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), will be lobbying government for a plan that keeps Covid-secure businesses, and the economy, open throughout the winter and beyond until the positive effects of a vaccine programme begin to turn the pandemic around.

If you have any immediate concerns or views around the new tier system restrictions, please let us know so we can represent your views to government. You can email them to info@staffordshirechambers.co.uk

The Chancellor, Rishi Sunak’s Spending Review, came at a critical time as business communities are fighting for survival and looking for clear guidance during the pandemic. We will be looking at all aspects of the Review in the next week or so and seeing how we feel it is going to impact Staffordshire businesses – and what needs to happen for the people of Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire to benefit from the announcements.

As part of the review the government has promised action on help for people to return to work to help limit long-term unemployment, and we will be playing our part in helping people to re-train and re-skill through the Kickstart Scheme for young people aged 18-25, and our brand new Start Scheme which will offer support and interest free loans to people looking to start a new business.

You can see the BCC’s reaction to the Spending Review in full here: https://bit.ly/378E1PZ

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.

Is your business Brexit-ready?

It is less than 50 days to go until Brexit, and currency markets may fluctuate as we near the December 31st deadline, affecting the amount of money you may receive when making an international payment, meaning it is more important than ever to plan ahead. For businesses in Staffordshire, it’s vitally important that you look to protect your businesses as we head into the new era of the UK as an independent nation.

How did we get here?

It is four years since the UK voted to leave the EU, but this year, the crunch year for a deal, Brexit was on the backburner for much of 2020 while the world dealt with the Covid-19 pandemic. However, with the transition deadline fast approaching, businesses and individuals need to get ready, and fast.

A crucial EU leaders’ summit in October didn’t yield a breakthrough, and the PM’s deadline for a Brexit agreement came and went by, barely causing a ripple in the markets. Johnson has told the UK to prepare for a no-deal, and while the government ‘walked away’ from negotiations, they ‘left the door ajar.’ After a few days, talks resumed and appeared to lift sterling after the renewed discussions.

How could this affect businesses and individuals?

If you export or import, buying or selling goods or services from companies based abroad, you are exposed to currency risk, in a nutshell. Factors such as economic growth, interest rates, politics, Covid-19 and Brexit can all play a big part in how much your money is worth. If you are an importer for example, a strong pound tends to be good news, but if you are an exporting business, a stronger sterling can make a product or service more expensive overseas, or it could reduce margins a business is able to take home. British sterling slumped to a 31-year low after the Brexit referendum result in 2016, therefore if the UK and the EU fail to make a deal before the end of 2020, currency markets could become more volatile and the value of your payment could differ.

Where you purchase supplies from for example, to how often you do business internationally, can all add to different points of risk. So the first action as a business looking to understand its risk exposure is to identify where the risk is coming from. It can be simple, such as looking into how you are quoted or invoiced. Some overseas companies may do this in their local currency, and add a margin to protect themselves from currency fluctuations, which in turn impacts your pricing and therefore your bottom line.

Highlighted particularly during the pandemic was the pressure on international supply chains, where some collapsed as lockdowns came into play. Businesses need to be looking at their supply chains, especially those within the EU because of Brexit, and how they may be affected by highs and lows between sterling and the euro.

Could you really afford to lose over £20,000?

An example of how currency fluctuations could impact a company is a manufacturer in the UK exporting goods to the EU. Let’s say the client exports an order worth €500,000, for delivery in 90 days’ time. The price today is €1.10, meaning a return in British sterling of £454,545. Now in 90 days’ time, if the GBP/EUR exchange has moved to €1.16, then the return is now only £431,034. In other words, an exporter could lose £23,510, through no fault of their own. For a client importing from the EU, spending €1,000,000 per annum, there is the potential for costs to vary from £833,333 to £952,380 when looking at market forecasts for 2021. This means costs could differ by as much as £119,047.

Protecting your payments from Brexit

Locking in exchange rates could help secure your costs, which in turn could protect margins and improve revenue. A forward contact* allows you to plan payments ahead with reassurance and certainty, ideal for paying invoices, and if you’re protecting profits or maintaining a budget. Market orders allow you to buy currency at a set exchange rate of your choosing, with the trade being processed if and when the rate is achieved.

If you’re unsure about your currency exposure, we also offer a free FX health assessment. Using historical transaction data from your business over a 3, 6 or 12 month period, our expert team will use the data to provide accurate information on the available exchange rate on the relevant currency for each payment.

Our team of dedicated dealers are on hand to support businesses with FX, global payment solutions and risk management during these turbulent times. Please get in touch via chamberfx@moneycorp.com, or call Andy Medler on 07551 170665 or +44 (0) 203 823 0526 quoting ‘BCC Brexit’. Once set up as a customer, you can easily get a quote or even make a payment yourself online with our 24/7 secure online platform.

*May require a deposit and enables you to secure an exchange rate for up to two years.

Awards celebrate business resilience

The gala presentation of the 2020 Staffordshire Chambers Business Awards, originally scheduled for July, took place at a special online presentation event on Thursday night.

Just short of 1000 users clicked to watch the event live as the results were announced by live streaming from the New Vic Theatre, hosted by Chambers CEO Sara Williams with guest presenters, Ed James from Heart FM and Kate Beardmore from Synectics Solutions.

The 15 category winners were chosen from a total entry of 300 businesses ranging from an award for the young employee or apprentice of the year to the overall winner of the prestige title of Staffordshire Business of the Year.

Sara Williams said: “After the year we’ve all had we were determined that the award ceremony would go ahead to give everyone a shot of positivity and a chance to celebrate.

“It’s never easy to pick winners when entries are of such a high standard. This year our businesses have achieved success in so many ways, by adapting and innovating, supporting fellow businesses and importantly supporting the NHS, key workers and those in our community who took the full impact of the pandemic.

“I would like to personally thank the entrants, judges, sponsors and the Chambers team for making sure the show went ahead and that we were able to shine the spotlight on all that is great about the Staffordshire business community.”

Award Winners:

Staffordshire Business of the Year – Klarius Group of Companies – sponsored by HSBC

Digital Transformation – Infinity IT Solutions – sponsored by Synectics Solutions

Employee/Charity Employee of the Year – Charlotte May, Risual – in partnership with Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire Enterprise Partnership

Employer of the Year – Three-way tie between: The Hanley Economic Building Society, Mitten Clark and Strategi Solutions Group Limited – sponsored by Newcastle & Stafford College Group

Entrepreneur of the Year – Vikki Sylvester, Acacia Training – sponsored by Staffordshire University

International Trade Award – Radwell International – sponsored by Department for International Trade

Manufacturers Award – Hardy Signs – sponsored by Michelin

Medium/Large Business of the Year – Klarius – sponsored by Dains

Most Promising New Start Up – Visionary Individual Pathways – sponsored by Start Up

Partnership and Collaboration – The Staffordshire Gin Company – Sponsored by Staffordshire Chambers of Commerce

Professional Services of the Year – Prosurv Consult – sponsored by Finest

Retail, Leisure, Culture and Tourism Award – The Slamwich Club – in partnership with Destination Staffordshire

Science, Technology, and Innovation – Aeon Engineering – sponsored by the University of Wolverhampton.

Small Business of the Year – The Staffordshire Gin Company – in partnership with Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire Growth Hub

Sustainability and Environment Award – Laundry Efficiency – sponsored by Keele University

Young Employee/Apprentice of the Year – Luke Cassidy from Synectics Solutions – sponsored by Trentham Estate and Gardens

Last night I had the honour to host the live streaming of the 2020 Staffordshire Chambers Business Award results from the New Vic Theatre, with our fabulous guest presenters, Ed James from Heart FM and Kate Beardmore from Synectics Solutions.

The celebration has been a long time coming as it was originally scheduled for July. However, as I hope the hundreds who joined us online will testify, it was well worth the wait.

Our judges had the unenviable task of selecting the finalists for the sixteen category awards and the overall winner of Staffordshire Business of the Year, won by Cheadle based exhaust and emissions equipment manufacturer, Klarius. They really are an exemplar in the way they conduct their business, develop and support staff and apprentices and interact with and support the local community.

Congratulations to Klarius and all the winners and a big thankyou to everyone who has gone the extra-mile to make the awards happen including all the fantastic entrants, main sponsor HSBC and all the category sponsors, The New Vic Theatre, Ed James, Kate Beardmore and to the team at the Chamber who put in the hours and made it all happen.

You can view a full list of finalists, winners and sponsors on our website at: https://staffordshirechambers.co.uk/awards/

Some welcome news on the finance front.

In reaction to the latest lockdown, the government has launched the Business Rates Support Grant scheme. The scheme will provide grants to qualifying businesses which have been forced to close rateable premises for three weeks or more due to imposed lockdowns, and has been extended to provide grants of up to £3000 per month (up from £1500).

These grants will be administered by each local council in Staffordshire, pending final details of the scheme, and will be open for application from 20 November at the earliest.

As guidance the amounts are:

• For properties with a rateable value of £15k or under, £1,334 per month, or £667 per two weeks; • For properties with a rateable value of between £15k-£51k, £2,000 per month, or £1,000 per two weeks; • For properties with a rateable value of £51k or over, £3,000 per month, or £1,500 per two weeks. Businesses will be excluded if they can continue to operate during the period of restrictions because they do not depend on direct in-person services from their premises (e.g. accountants and solicitors), or if they have chosen to close of their own accord. To apply and for more information visit your local authority website or contact the Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire Business Helpline on 0300 111 8002

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.