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.

Congratulations to the Staffordshire Chambers Business Awards Winners and Highly Commended:

Digital Transformation

WINNER: Infinity IT Solutions

Leek Town Football Club Ltd

Risual

 

Employee/ Charity Employee of the Year Award

WINNER: Charlotte May, Risual Limited

Daniel Nikolla, Hardy Signs Ltd

Aida Haughton, YMCA North Staffordshire

 

Employer of the Year

WINNER: The Hanley Economic Building Society

WINNER: Strategi Solutions Group Limited

WINNER: Mitten Clarke

UbiQ Group

 

Entrepreneur of the Year

WINNER: Victoria Sylvester, Acacia Training Ltd

Jason Harker, Planterra Ltd

 

International Trade Award

WINNER: Radwell International Ltd

Pymatek Automation Ltd.

Eden Holistic Pet Foods

Doulton Water Filters

 

Manufacturer of the Year

WINNER: Hardy Signs Ltd

Klarius Group of Companies

 

Medium/Large Business of the Year

WINNER: Klarius Group of Companies

Acacia Training Ltd

848 Group

 

Most Promising New Start-up

WINNER: Visionary Individual Pathways

National Plant Solutions Ltd

The Slamwich Club

Roundpeg Outdoor Buildings Limited

 

Partnership and Collaboration Award

WINNER: The Staffordshire Gin Company LTD

Port Vale Football Club

Burton and South Derbyshire College

 

Professional Services of the Year Award

WINNER: Prosurv Consult

Strategi Solutions Group Limited

Howards Chartered Certified Accountants

Mitten Clarke

 

Retail, Leisure, Culture and Tourism

WINNER: The Slamwich Club

Canalside Farm

Nelson’s Distillery & School

Aston Marina Ltd

 

Science, Technology and Innovation Award

WINNER: AEON Engineering Ltd.

SecureCloud+

HX Lab

Haughton Design Ltd

 

Small Business of the Year

WINNER: The Staffordshire Gin Company LTD

National Plant Solutions Ltd

Prosurv Consult

EPX Technical Services

 

Sustainability & Environment Award

WINNER: Laundry Efficiency

Taylors Classics

Welligogs

 

Young Employee/Apprentice of the Year

WINNER: Luke Cassidy Synectics Solutions Ltd

Rosie Crowther, Radwell International Ltd

Jack Farmer, Mitten Clarke Wealth Limited

As we welcome the fantastic news that a vaccine rollout by the end of the year is imminent, it is also heartening to see hard evidence of new local employment opportunities emerging.

Job opportunities in Staffordshire increased by 15 percent between September and October, equivalent to 2,500 vacancies, way above the national rate of 11 percent, and similar in number to vacancy levels pre-Covid.

There is immediate demand for roles health, social care, and distribution alongside clear emerging opportunities in digital, advanced manufacturing (AI and automation), construction and the green economy.

The government’s extended support for jobs through the furlough scheme and support for the self-employed has had also had a positive effect on jobs as has the Kickstart Scheme.

Any organisation, especially if applying for less than 30 Kickstart placements, needs to apply via a ‘Representative’ organisation such as the Chambers and businesses will be paid £1,500 towards the costs of taking on a 16- 24-year-old, on Universal Credit and deemed to be at risk of long-term unemployment. The government pays 25 hours at National Minimum Wage level for 6 months to the employer plus associated employer National Insurance contributions and employer minimum automatic enrolment contributions. The £1,500 per job placement is available for setup costs, employability support and training and must be spent on supporting the young person with training to help them stand a better chance of further employment in the future.

Local Job Centres will receive job descriptions and work coaches will then encourage young people, who they feel would be best suited to those roles, to apply directly to business.

If you are thinking of taking someone on through the scheme, or having issues with employing staff, don’t forget we have a funded HR advisor and, in your Chambers. Membership, there is a brilliant HR service included. We also now have a great team of advisors in place offering fully funded advice on marketing, digital technology, and international trade as well as our busy team of start-up advisors and mentors. Therefore, whatever stage your business is at we can help you to get to the next level and to capitalise on the projected upturn in economic fortunes.

Finally, we are less than a week away from our special gala celebration evening celebration for the Staffordshire Chambers Business Awards. This year more than ever we want to highlight our local business heroes – businesses who have not only come through the pandemic but have innovated, adapted, diversified, helped their community and looked after the welfare of staff and customers.

We will be livestreaming the event from the New Vic Theatre from 6.30pm on Thursday 19th November. I do hope you can join in the celebrations by booking your place here: https://bit.ly/32hy15P

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.

Key facts about the UK/ EU Trade Deal

The UK and EU secured a Trade & Co-operation Deal on 24 December which endeavours to maintain tariff-free trade now that the Transition Period has ended.

Although the protracted negotiations didn’t reach a conclusion on key areas such as financial services, the deal marks the end of a turbulent period in UK-EU relations.

The Agreement is the largest bi-lateral pact in history worth an estimated value of £670 Billion. The document comprises some 1,246 pages available here or the Government has produced a Summary Explainer available here which is a more manageable 46 pages.

It is very difficult to summarise all this information but below are ten of the more important/ relevant points for our businesses:

1. No tariffs (but see Point 2)

Agreeing a tariff- and quota-free trade deal had been the primary objective of the negotiations.

The agreement achieves this goal, allowing traders to move goods between the UK and EU without paying duties, so long as they comply with ‘Rules of Origin’ included in the deal.

2. Rules of Origin

Rules of Origin determine the economic nationality of a good and are often a key component of FTAs signed between countries.

Under the agreement, companies will be able to self-certify the origin of their goods and where the processing takes place will also count towards this.

For example, an electric car made in the UK can be traded tariff-free even if a significant proportion of it was built using components imported from around the world.

3. New customs procedures will apply

New customs and VAT rules will apply for UK and EU trade – including the requirement for companies to complete customs declarations. However, the agreement includes a protocol for UK-EU cooperation when it comes to combatting VAT, customs and excise fraud. The UK can instruct the EU to recover unpaid UK tax from EU companies on its behalf and the EU may make the same request.

4. Independent Sanitary & Phytosanitary (SPS) rules

In a chapter on human, animal and plant life and health, the agreement states that the UK and EU may set and implement their own independent sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) rules and controls.

This will require companies trading affected goods – agri-food producers and grocery retailers in particular – to attain new certification and comply with border checks.

5. Uncertainty remains for services

While the agreement gives clarity for most goods traders in the UK, it doesn’t shed as much light on the future of UK-EU services trade, particularly financial services.

The UK’s access to European financial markets was not finalised in the deal, with the UK still seeking ‘equivalence’ status from the EU. The EU has not yet decided whether the UK’s financial regulatory framework and implementation is as rigorous as its own.

The UK and EU have stated that they will codify a framework for regulatory cooperation in a Memorandum of Understanding.

For legal services, the agreement gives UK solicitors and barristers the right to advise clients across the EU on UK and public international law using their own titles and qualifications.

6. UK can set its own standards

The UK can now set its own rules in areas such as environmental standards or labour law.

However, if either the UK or EU strays too far from each other’s standards, there is a “rebalancing mechanism” whereby one party can impose tariffs should it deem that its own businesses are put at an unfair disadvantage by the divergence.

This mechanism will be governed by international law rather than UK or EU law.

7. Independence on state-aid

The UK government can also set its own subsidies for its domestic industries and businesses.

According to the government’s own summary of the agreement: “each Party will have in place its own independent system of subsidy control and that neither Party is bound to follow the rules of the other.”

However, companies in the EU can challenge government state-aid in the UK’s courts and UK companies can do the same in the EU.

8. Mutual recognition for Authorised Economic Operator status

The UK and EU will recognise each other’s AEO (Authorised Economic Operator) schemes, allowing for AEO-approved firms to move goods more easily between the UK and EU. The principles of the WTO’s Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) and the Revised Kyoto Convention will also apply in the deal, meaning both parties will cooperate on expediting the movement, release and clearance of goods, including those that are in transit.

9. Continuity for hauliers

Road haulage operators moving goods between the UK and EU will continue to do so without new permit requirements.

UK hauliers will be subject to similar standards they already comply with when operating internationally, including restrictions on driver hours, requirement for professional qualifications as well as vehicle weight and dimension limits.

However, British truckers will be limited to a single drop-off and a single pick-up when in Europe – a downgrade on the three pick-ups they could do within EU countries before.

10. Short term visits allowed

Short-term business visits to the EU will be allowed for up to 90 days in any 180-day month period.

Here we go again, back to lockdown!

Business confidence has already been hit so hard by the stop-start approach to lockdown taken by the government since March. The new restrictions are a real blow to businesses and particularly frustrating for the retail and hospitality sector who have already done everything in their power to adapt and operate safely.

Whilst there is no substitute to a fully functioning economy, the temporary extension to the furlough scheme and revised support for the self-employed will bring short-term relief to many and echoes the Chambers’ call for business support to be commensurate with the scale of lockdown restrictions.

It falls to us all to help our local retailers and hospitality outlets as much as we can. Many retailers are providing online shops and cafes, pubs and restaurants are moving to a takeaway service for food and drinks.

Two great local initiatives are the City Centre Business Improvement District’s Mi Rewards card with fantastic discounts, prizes and offers: https://mi-rewards.com/stokeontrentcitycentre and Leek’s brand new ‘high street online’ website: https://leek.totallylocally.shop/

I am getting very excited about the 2020 Staffordshire Chambers Business Awards gala presentation evening on 19th November which will be live online from the New Vic Theatre with myself and our special guest presenter, Ed James from Heart FM.

I have been heartened by the number of people who have signed up for the event, over 250 so far, and by the people who have said how much they are looking forward to a positive celebration amidst so much bad news.

It is a chance to dress up, have a glass of your favourite drink and join in on a celebration of all that is good about our fantastic local businesses. You can join the fun by booking your place here: https://bit.ly/32hy15P

Finally, the Chambers is proud to commemorate Remembrance Day on the 11th November. Paying respect to all those in the armed forces from Britain and the Commonwealth who gave their lives to defend our democratic freedoms and way of life, as well as highlighting support for the current serving forces and veterans.

Staffordshire is steeped in military and we have our very own Honorary Colonel of the British Army, in ex-Chamber President Mike Frewer, who represents the Armed Forces on the Chambers’ Council. We are also extremely proud to have Midland Reserve Forces & Cadet Association as patrons.

We will certainly be wearing our poppies with pride.

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.

In partnership with Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), we are launching a brand-new programme which will connect top business leaders from the county to help our economy recover and to drive it forwards.

The Peer Network, as it is known, will address issues such as the current business challenges brought about by the Covid19 pandemic, the end of the Transition period, move towards net zero carbon economy as well as ongoing issues ranging from growth strategies, HR, change management, innovation, succession and planning – all with the aim of helping your business, improving the region’s business landscape and driving prosperity.

Everyone completing the programme will be invited to an exclusive talk on ‘Teamship’ from England’s Rugby World Cup winning coach, Sir Clive Woodward in March 2021which will dovetail with the 2021 Staffordshire Chambers Business Festival.

The Peer Network provides a great opportunity for business leaders to learn from each other and get great support and hints and tips on dealing with the challenges facing us all – and especially those who have drive and ambition to grow their companies.

Participants will be put into small groups of about 15 people and will meet to discuss strategic and operational challenges and work together to find practical solutions.

The programme is fully funded with a minimum commitment of 21.5 hours from each participant delivered over five network meetings, each lasting three hours, every two weeks from early November and will be facilitated by an experienced business consultant. And it’s all confidential. Anyone interested in joining the scheme can register at: www.staffordhirechambers.co.uk/peer-network or for more information call Matt Hustwit on 01782 202222 or email Matt.Hustwit@staffordshirechambers.co.uk

When moving on is not a good thing……. as you will know Staffordshire is set to join Stoke-on-Trent in Tier Two (high alert). Whilst we fully support any effort to slow the spread of Covid19, this is yet another blow to business, in particular the hospitality sector.

The Chambers is here to support businesses in any way we can, bringing you the latest developments and continuing to lobby government through the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) to provide clear guidance and a plan for further support for business as the pandemic continues.

If you have any concerns or questions about the new measures and what it means for business, please don’t hesitate to get in touch by emailing: 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 or email info@staffordshirechambers.co.uk.

October is Black History month in the UK, an event that has been celebrated nationwide for more than 30 years.

Black History Month was originally founded to recognises the contributions that people of African and Caribbean backgrounds have made to the UK but has expanded to include the history of all black people.

There are countless examples of the contribution that black people have made to Staffordshire but as my space here is limited, I am highlighting just one, Doug Brown, the son of a Ghanaian father and an English mother.

Doug trained as a physiotherapist in the Second World War to help in the recovery of injured soldiers and continued this work in the newly formed NHS.

In 1960 Doug became the physio for Stoke City where his elder brother, Roy, had played as a young man. Doug was fanatical about inclusiveness in sport and in 1967 set up the first Lads-and-dads matches on local school football pitches, which had previously been closed at weekends.

Lads-and dads continues to this day and has given thousands of aspiring boys and girls given a safe and regulated environment to play football, make friends and stay healthy.

For his work with Lads and dads, Doug was nominated by black footballers Garth Crooks and Robbie Earle, both originally from Stoke, for the BBC People’s Awards. Doug also helped to set up Match Mates to help combat hooliganism for which he received an award from Princess Diana.

Doug became an independent councillor, later joining the Labour Party and went on two serve twice as Lord Mayor of Stoke-on-Trent, in 1984 and 1997.

He received an honorary degree from Keele University in recognition of his lifetime’s service to young people, was a Justice of the Peace and president of the North Staffordshire Chinese Community.

Doug Brown’s life was dedicated to making other people’s lives better and his legacy lives on. I am sure he still serves as an inspiration to black men and women who continue to enrich our community in so many ways in business, education, healthcare, politics, charity, entertainment and sport.

I also feel it is appropriate to mention arguably Stoke-on-Trent’s most famous son, Josiah Wedgwood, who was an active member of the Britain’s Society for the Abolition of Slavery in the eighteenth century. He created the anti-slave medallion featuring an enslaved man alongside the words “Am I not a man and a brother?” Wedgwood sent a medallion to Benjamin Franklin, then president of the Pennsylvania Society for the Abolition of Slavery who wrote back: “ I am persuaded [the medallion] may have an effect equal to that of the best written pamphlet in procuring favour to those oppressed people.”

The British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) are hosting a very special webinar on Tuesday 27th October when former Prime Minister and Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown will be discussing a global approach to rebuilding a stronger economy with BCC Director General, Dr Adam Marshall.

You can watch the discussion live as they talk about the Restart, Rebuild and Renew campaign and what the UK and global market need to do to rebuild the economy. You can book your place at this unmissable live webinar here: https://bit.ly/2IGXAGv

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 is home to many companies operating in the Business and Professional Services Sector. It is a common miscomprehension that this sector does not import or export but the truth of the matter is that these so called ‘invisible exports’ account for as much, if not more, than the sum of the UK’s tangible goods being shipped overseas. However according to a recently published House of Lords’ report the UK’s accountants, lawyers, recruiters, architects and advertisers..etc are under risk of losing contracts and jobs when the Transition Period ends on 31 December.

It’s becoming clear that Professional Services are being undervalued when it comes to Brexit. The general feeling of uncertainty that 2020 has given us, married with a growing fear of job losses across the board, we must be doing all we can to ensure professionals can continue to trade.

Staffordshire Chambers of Commerce is therefore urging the Government to bear this in mind whilst conducting the Free Trade Negotiations with the EU so that this sector is not forgotten. It is of paramount importance that our professional business community can continue to work with and service overseas customers unhindered to ensure that our economy does not suffer further setbacks.”

The Chambers fully understand the measures implemented to tackle the spread of Coronavirus and welcome the new tiered approach adopted by Government, however we do urge the government to consider differences across industrial sectors.

Many companies operate production lines which require days, in some cases weeks, to fully shut down with a similar timeframe to re-start. The ceramic sector is a classic example with high temperature kilns which cannot simply be switched off without planning. This problem is replicated through many businesses using complex automated production processes.

Sectors such as automotive to food and drink will be affected in a similar manner. We are therefore calling on the Government via the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) to ensure that communications are swift, accurate and comprehensive so that businesses can act accordingly, thus avoiding the confusion which ensued during the initial stages of the first national lockdown.

From the unemployment figures that are starting to come through, it is clear that the under 24s are being hardest hit. These young people are the future for us all and we need to support and help them into work, so they don’t feel like a generation which struggles to see a positive economic future.

We are currently assisting businesses in the county to access funding to create hundreds of jobs for 16 to 24-year-olds through the government backed Kickstart Scheme which aims to have its first placements in work by November. Any organisation, especially if applying for less than 30 Kickstart placements, needs to apply via a ‘Representative’ organisation such as the Chambers.

Businesses will be paid £1,500 towards the costs of taking on a 16- 24-year-old, on Universal Credit and deemed to be at risk of long-term unemployment. The government will pay 25 hours at National Minimum Wage level for 6 months to the employer plus associated employer National Insurance contributions and employer minimum automatic enrolment contributions. The £1,500 per job placement is available for setup costs, employability support and training and must be spent on supporting the young person with training to help them stand a better chance of further employment in the future.

Local Job Centres will receive job descriptions and work coaches will then encourage young people, who they feel would be best suited to those roles, to apply directly to business.

Employers can offer more than 25 hours and pay the young person more than National Minimum Wage at their own cost. Support will also be provided for employers looking to offer the young person full-time work or even an apprenticeship at the end of the six-month placement period. And of course there is wrap round support from the Growth Hub, the Skills Hub, the Chambers’ mentoring programme, our HR specialist advisor and many other services to help make this a good experience for the young person and the business generously offering the placement.

So far we have had over 200 businesses offering placements in Staffordshire alone.

Any employer interested in Kickstart should contact Tom Nadin: tom.nadin@staffordshirecghambers.co.uk 01782 202222

Finally, a big thank you to all those who sent in entries for the 2020 Staffordshire Chambers Business Awards. Despite the current situation we still had just under 200 entries. We now have the difficult

but pleasurable task of deciding on the shortlisted entries for our online gala presentation evening on 19th November. More on this special event nearer the time and all the information on the event is on our website.

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.

The findings of the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) quarterly economic survey for quarter three 2020, published late last week, made sobering reading with nearly half of firms reporting a decrease in sales as they endured a sustained squeeze on cash.

The survey of over 6000 firms from across the UK, including a healthy input from Staffordshire businesses, showed conditions for quarter three have remained weak despite much of the economy reopening.

Not surprisingly, business to consumer firms, including hospitality, fared worst in the wake of redundancy threats and a fall in the availability of disposable income.

Whilst Q3 has seen an improvement compared to the unprecedented percentage of firms reporting decreases in domestic and export sales in Q2, most firms continue to report decreases or no change in sales in Q3.

Cash flow, a key indicator of business health, continued to deteriorate for almost half of firms. In Q3, 21 percent of firms reported an improvement in cash flow, 34 percent reported no change and 45 percent reported a deterioration. Alarm bells rang in the micro firms’ sector with 51 percent reporting a deterioration.

The government’s Winter Economy Plan may provide a short-term shot in the arm, but the BCC is pushing ministers to be on standby with further measures, clearly articulated, to assist those businesses most at risk.

You can read the full QES report here: https://bit.ly/34ueuiM

Stoke on Trent and Staffordshire Growth Hub are offering grants of up to £1000 to help growth in SMEs.

Typical expenditure would include product and design development, specialist consultancy or consultancy costs to build or improve a website.

The £1000 grants must be matched by £667 of a businesses own funding and you need to have been trading for 12 months with 70 percent of your sales derived from business to busines (B2B) activity.

If you are interested in applying contact Angela Halls: angela.halls@stoke.gov.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.