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

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.