As the economy gathers pace following the effects of the pandemic and lockdown it is more important than ever that businesses are ready to grasp all the opportunities to capitalise on the upturn.

This means that firms will need to be geared up in all areas including finance, innovation, skills, new markets, product development, customer satisfaction and marketing strategy and research to name but a few.

I am delighted that we now have a specialist Business Growth Advisor, Richard Brace, based at the Chamber as part of the Stoke-on-Trent & Staffordshire Growth Hub team.

Richard will be helping businesses to define their growth strategy by offering advice and free business growth diagnostic support. Richard has over 30 years’ experience of business consultancy in the UK and overseas covering most business sectors and has 20 years’ experience as director of a market research company.

If you are looking to grow your business, or re-establish your position after the Covid-19 lockdown, Richard can meet with you and offer advice and an objective diagnostic of your business to help your company on the road to growth and success. To speak to Richard call 01782 202222 or email: richard.brace@staffordshirechambers.co.uk

As a governor of Staffordshire University, I want to help to reassure prospective students that September 2020 is still a great time to start their higher education journey with Staffordshire University.

Due to the uncertainty surrounding 2020 results, this has been an incredibly challenging few weeks – not only for Staffordshire University but, most importantly, for their prospective students. They are in the process of making one of the most important decisions of their lives – one that will impact their future careers and long-term prospects. The added complications surrounding grade assessments and results have only served to exacerbate their feelings of confusion and uncertainty.

I know as well as our wonderful business community do, that Staffordshire is a great place to study, live and work. Additionally, there is fantastic assistance and encouragement available to any graduates setting up a business.

Staffordshire University sees potential, not just grades. For all courses still available through clearing, they will consider experience and passion – as well as results.

There are limited places for September 2020 still available and if you know of anyone still looking for a place they can do so at: www.staffs.ac.uk/clearing or by calling the 2020 clearing hotline on 0800 590 830.

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.

It’s not really a great surprise that the latest figures from the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) Coronavirus Impact Tracker show that firms are still vulnerable as government support schemes approach their end and illustrate that business conditions improved only moderately since the historic contraction of the economy in Q2 2020.

Firms are still reporting high levels of reliance on government support schemes to help cashflow issues with more than one in three businesses saying they have three months or less cash in reserve.

Slightly mixed news in that the number of firms reporting a rise in revenue from UK customers rose slightly from 34 to 38 per cent, from a low of three per cent in Q2 was perfectly balanced by the 38 percent of respondents reporting a decrease in revenues.

Business to consumer (B2C) firms were more likely to report improvements in revenue compared to other sectors, largely because of pent-up consumer demand.

With government schemes set to wind down in coming weeks and the threat of the reintroduction of localised or national lockdowns, we are still unclear what, if any, support firms will receive when schemes end.

Chambers across the UK are calling for the government to reduce employers National Insurance Contributions and for targeted support for businesses placed under local lockdown. Ministers need to be proactive and not wait until we are in the grips of another lockdown until they act. To add your input to the BCC Coronavirus Impact Tracker visit: https://bit.ly/3gbugmz

Finally, a quick reminder that we are still seeking nominations for our council and our local area boards in Stafford and the Staffordshire Moorlands.

Being a member of council or a local area board is a great way to have a say in shaping business support in the area as well as being kept right up to date with the latest business developments.

It is also great for continuous professional development and introduces you to a new network of likeminded business professionals. To find out more you can contact Vicki Hardie – vicki.hardie@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.

Staffordshire Chambers of Commerce is celebrating this week after winning the Investors in People Award.

During a comprehensive assessment period which concluded in March, Investors in People judged Staffordshire Chambers of Commerce to have achieved the Gold standard, an accolade awarded to only 16% of businesses.

The local business support service received the accolade after the global watchdog recognised that staff members were positive about people, business and process and that the company had strong leadership and open communication. It was also praised for having strong ambition with clear vision, mission and values.

Sara Williams, Chief Executive at Staffordshire Chambers of Commerce, said: “This award is a testament to the passion, expertise and commitment of our staff who continue to excel, even during the challenges of COVID-19.

“Our goal is to help all the people of Staffordshire be more prosperous and have more opportunities, by helping business to belong to the Chamber and do things better. To achieve this we operate as one team and strive to achieve the best for our member businesses.”

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) published labour market figures for August 2020 on Tuesday.

While the headline data continues to lag behind the reality, the decline in number of employees on payrolls and hours worked is further evidence of the damage being done to the UK labour market by the Coronavirus pandemic.

The job retention scheme has been successful in preserving millions of jobs through furlough. However, with firms continuing to face a perfect storm of increased costs, reduced demand, and diminished cash reserves, unemployment is likely to surge as government support schemes wind down in the next two months.

We are already seeing a steady stream of redundancy announcements in Staffordshire across all sectors from retail to manufacturing and hospitality to services.

If job losses continue to accelerate, we can expect to see a further drop in consumer spending which will in turn lead to a downturn in production – a vicious cycle.

We are lobbying the government via the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), to reduce the cost of employment and prevent more redundancies through actions like an expansion of the Employment Allowance and a cut in employer NIC contributions.

If there are other issues you would like us to make representations on then please let us know by emailing: info@staffordshirechambers.co.uk

I was heartened to read an open letter to all businesses in the county, from Cllr Alan White, the new leader of Staffordshire County Council who replaces Cllr Philip Atkins.

Cllr White says: “ Our role as a county council is to create the right conditions for our economy to grow, for businesses to invest and create more jobs for our people which is the foundation of living a healthy, happy and productive life. Reigniting and renewing the economy, through investment in skills and training, and supporting businesses to adjust to a post Covid-19 world, is central. But we must also inspire and equip current and future generations to learn new skills and increase their potential throughout their lives.

So, whilst my attention is on long-term stability, it is also on continuing to support everyone through the Covid-19 pandemic. Unfortunately, the virus has not gone away, and we must all continue to follow the rules to avoid any future lockdowns. To this end I’m urging all business leaders to help protect their livelihood by knowing what to do if an outbreak happens at their business. For some of you this will be defined when just one confirmed case is reported to you by employees, visitors or NHS Test and Trace. The government has developed a number of ‘action cards’ or quick-reference guides outlining the key steps to help you quickly identify, report and respond to any potential Covid-19 outbreak.”

Staffordshire County Council have always been supportive of business and especially the Chamber and it is extremely good news that we have such a proactive and pragmatic new leader giving his full attention to the recovery of the Staffordshire economy.

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.

Sara’s Blog: Stoke Reads

By the time schools return in September it will be six months since most children have had regular education and schooling.

We already know that many primary school children in our area fall behind in their literacy by comparison to other areas of the UK and that for many there is limited or no access to books.

Stoke Reads is an organisation that works incredibly hard to inspire families across the city to read together and helps parents to support their children’s literacy skills. They also work with schools to support the teaching of literacy, and partner with local businesses who support them in their mission to raise literacy levels in the city.

Importantly, Stoke Reads also gives positive support for working parents, particularly over the summer through initiatives such as Story Quest or the Book Bench Trail, which features eight trails based throughout the parks of Stoke-on-Trent.

Stoke Reads relies on the support of many partner organisations such as YMCA, HUBB Foundation, Port Vale Foundation, Stoke City, Santus, the BID, VAST, Stoke Speaks Out and Middleport Matters as well as many local businesses.

They have already worked with 53 primary schools and 14 local organisations to provide nearly 3000 activity packs and over 5000 books to children across the city. Five external organisations have provided donations to the city including Harper Collins, Bloomsbury publishers, KMPG and REY Paper. These donations have included Harry Potter books, activity packs and paper, children’s magazine, and instant libraries for primary schools.

However, they are still only scratching the surface and need continued support from our business community to reach even more children. Any help is appreciated no matter how small – and it is a great way to fulfil your corporate social responsibility requirements.

We are looking at our future workforce here and we all know that grasping the skill of reading and a love of books at primary school age sets you on course for academic achievement and a fulfilling career.

I would urge all employers to take a look at the Stoke Reads and the support on offer to employees and their families. To find out more about how you can help Stoke Reads you can visit www.stokereads.org.uk or their Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/StokeReads/

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.

I have seen a few economic downturns over the years, and if there is a silver lining, it is that we get some fantastic new businesses emerging from the aftermath.

Necessity being the mother of invention creates new entrepreneurs, with an idea to launch a new business that could be one of the employers and innovators of tomorrow.

I have been there myself and I know what an exciting and daunting time it is. You have got it all in your head, but you need someone to help you rationalise your ideas into a working plan with structure, a clear vision and a sound financial base.

Thanks to our fantastic new business start-up service we can now give even greater support to anyone thinking of starting or already engaged in starting, their own business.

The service is totally free, and working with our start-up advisers Peter Ball, Andy Riley, or Aly Davidson, you can take advantage of our 4-step business start-up programme to help with business planning, cashflow forecasting and marketing planning.

We are delighted to have Aly join the Chambers team of start-up advisers. She has a wealth of experience in commerce and education and has set up and run two successful businesses.

Aly says of her new role: “My observations so far are that many employees are starting to think more seriously about setting up on their own, some offering a mini version of whatever their employer does.

“The effects of the pandemic on employees has given them the time and courage to think about how they want to spend the rest of their working lives. Many are being driven by emotion rather than financial need. We have had a surgeon developing a new medical app, a trauma survivor becoming a life coach, and several people commercialising their hobbies and passions.

“There are, and will be, the inevitable redundancies but it is exciting to see that people seem to be taking control of their future and making their dreams a reality.”

So, if you are needing someone to share your ideas with or you are an employer making redundancies and wanting to signpost employees to new opportunities, you can contact Aly: aly.davidsion@staffordshirechambrs.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.

Staffordshire Chambers of Commerce has been matching mentors with businesses for several years through its Let’s do Mentoring scheme.

Mentoring has been even more vital to businesses since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic with many firms facing a battle to survive as the economy stalled and locked down in March.

One business who has seen an immediate benefit from their mentor matches is Roundpeg Outdoor Buildings, based in Fauld near Burton-on-Trent.

Business partners Sallyann Smith and Adam Timmis set up Roundpeg Outdoor Buildings in January 2020. Having worked together in the same industry for 15 years, they had finally realised their dream of setting up their own business to capitalise on their experience and take charge of their own destinies.

Move on two months, and Covid-19 has forced the country into lockdown and brought all but essential business to a standstill.

Add to this, the fact that as a new business with no history of paying tax, government financial support was looking highly unlikely.

Roundpeg were already involved with the Chamber as they had received help through their package for start-up businesses. In February they took possession of a new unit and were assigned Richard Carty as mentor. By the time they had got electricity into the building and their equipment set up it was mid-March. With timber due to arrive on the 24th March they were ready to make up their first orders. Lockdown was announced on the 23rd March, but fortunately the timber had been loaded and the delivery took place.

Sallyann said: “For the first two weeks of lockdown we didn’t work as we weren’t sure if we could travel and fit buildings.

“However, after this time we noticed that tradesmen were working so we decided to work locally, fitting customer buildings that could be accessed from outside. Orders grew and we were even able to pay our first month’s rent. Due to the fine weather in April, we noticed people were working on their gardens and wanted buildings.”

Sallyann and Adam had kept in touch with mentor Richard via Zoom through this period and now Richard advised them to speak to another mentor, journalist and digital communications specialist Justine Halifax, owner of Angel Media.

Justine said: “I spent some time researching Roundpeg’s presence on social media and put together an action plan to boost their online profile. The warm weather and the fact that people were confined to their homes and looking for an additional workspace at home, meant there was no time to lose.”

Sallyann added: “Justine went into a great deal of detail regarding our business. She checked the website thoroughly, checked our Facebook and Instagram pages. Her advice on what to communicate and when to do it, and through which of our channels, was extremely helpful and I went away feeling very positive and energised.”

“Home offices and working from home was an angle I hadn’t really considered. This was a totally different culture to my previous company where I did not get to make the big decisions. It made Adam and I realise that we were now in control of our destinies and we had the choice to make key decisions which could mean the difference between survival or failure.

“Almost immediately we have had interest in the home office and have taken orders which should see us through this difficult time. If we can get through our first year in such tough conditions, I am sure we can survive anything.

“I can’t thank Richard and Justine enough for their guidance, expertise and faith in us and our business.

“Hopefully, we will continue to work together. I thought I knew how to market but I clearly had a lot to learn and I now know the true value of working with experts. I certainly won’t be shy in asking for help in the future.”

Justine added: “I find mentoring extremely rewarding, especially so in lockdown when mentees such as Sallyann and Adam act on your advice immediately and it makes a real difference to their bottom line.”

If you would like to find out more about how to become a or how a mentor can help your business visit www.staffordshirechambers.co.uk/businesssupport or contact Ann Steele ann.steele@staffordshirechambers.co.uk 01782 202222

We are actively seeking Council and Local Area Advisory Board members

Staffordshire Chambers of Commerce are looking for active, influential members who would like to take their involvement to the next level by joining Chambers’ Council or one of the Local Area Advisory Boards for Stafford and the Staffordshire Moorlands.

Chambers CEO, Sara Williams said: “Serving on our Council, or a Local Area Advisory Board is a great way to keep abreast of what is going on in business and the wider economy. As a businessperson you can get directly involved and can represent the views of businesses in your community right up to the highest level.

“In addition, you will make new contacts within your peer group and forge valuable business connections.

“We welcome applications from all businesspeople from all backgrounds from self-employed to large business in any sector. “

Here are some quotes from existing Council and Local Area Advisory Board members:

“I would recommend Council membership to any Chamber member who would like to get more involved in Chamber activity and in the local community.”

Margaret Michell

“Being a member of the Chambers Council is an amazing opportunity to be a bridge between the Chambers team and the local businesses they support. It has enabled me to meet with some fascinating and inspirational people in the local business community.”

Lisa Cooper, Socially Grown

“I can honestly say that being a member of the Staffordshire Moorlands Board has totally transformed the way that I operate. It has introduced me to likeminded businesspeople who are willing to work together and collaborate on initiatives which make a real difference to all our businesses and the local economy.”

Jed Eatough, LSGK Accountants Ltd

“I joined the Chamber’s Council because I believe that it is vital to be willing to serve in order to support local businesses and jobs – no more so than now when we face such major challenges.”

Jeremy Lefroy

If you are interested in becoming a council or board member, or would like to chat about what is involved please contact Vicki Hardie vicki.hardie@staffordshirechambers.co.uk

Sara is away this week, so our guest blogger is Rob Lawley, Head of International Trade

Increased international trade support ready for January 2021

With the end of the EU withdrawal transition period drawing closer it is vital that companies trading across borders prepare thoroughly for the implications from 1st January 2021.

As always, it is our intention at Staffordshire Chambers to be the ‘go to’ organisation for support on all matters international trade.

To this end, from 1st September we are increasing our support package and changing the existing Export Club to the International Trade Club with the following greatly increased benefits:

· Up to six hours free advice per annum on import/ export technicalities.

· Priority service for customs declarations and access to specialist advice.

· 50% discount on a customs compliance visit – currently charged at £2,000

· £50 discount off a Chamber international trade training course

· Premium walk-in service fee waived for two ‘walk ins’ per annum – currently charged at £15 per walk-in

· Completion of first export document free of charge – currently charged at £25

· Discounted letter of credit and export documentation collection service.

· Discounted credit reports on overseas companies.

· Access to the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) global network

· Exclusive invites to four International Trade Club breakfasts per annum

There will be workshops from the beginning of October covering the topics associated with the new customs regime which will be underpinned by our existing suite of courses and more new workshops focussing on the customs declaration service.

In the meantime if you have any enquiries or issues please contact our international trade team on 01782 202222 or visit www.staffordshirechambers.co.uk/internationaltrade/

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 Twitter hour each Tuesday and Friday from 11am – 12noon #StaffsChamberChat

Chancellor Rishi Sunak has dug deep into the coffers again this week as he announced measures in his Wednesday statement, worth £30bn, to prevent mass unemployment and stimulate the coronavirus hit economy.

Measures include:

· A bonus of £1000 payable to firms for every member of staff kept for three months when the furlough scheme ends in October

· 50% off ‘Eat out to help out’ vouchers’ during August

· A VAT cut on hospitality from 20% to 5%

· An ‘Apprentice recovery package’ to create more high-quality jobs for 16-24-year olds

· A stamp duty holiday for properties valued up to £500,000

The Chambers welcomes all the above announcements whilst we realise that further stimulus will be needed to help the UK economy restart, rebuild, and renew over the coming months.

The Chancellor admitted that there will be further job losses, and this is evidenced by the daily announcements from big name retail, travel and hospitality firms who are cutting their losses. Evidence that the £1000 job retention bonus will not be enough to save jobs.

The British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) will continue to lobby the government to address concerns – including the impending end of key business loan schemes, and the unanswered question around what support will be offered to communities that face local lockdowns.

If you have any concerns or issues you would like us to take up on your behalf then please let us know by sending them to info@staffordshirechambers.co.uk

Good news for the tourism sector as the government has announced to boost the visitor economy, drawing down on remaining allocation from the EU’s Regional Development Fund.

Up to £5000 will be available to pay for new equipment, technology, professional help etc.

Funding locally will be allocated to the Stoke & Staffordshire Growth Hub, based at the Chambers.

Funding will be concentrated in places such as Staffordshire, where the employment share of tourism and hospitality is especially high.

Whilst we await further clarification you can register your interest by calling the Growth Hub helpline 0300 111 8002. You can view the scheme announcement at https://bit.ly/2DlAOS9

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 Twitter hour each Tuesday and Friday from 11am – 12noon #StaffsChamberChat