Today is a huge day for retailers as many reopen their doors for the first time after weeks of lockdown.

Although food shops, pharmacies, banks, and other essential retailers have stayed open, most high street establishments have been closed since March 23rd.

I have already heard reports of long queues at shopping centres and retail parks as shoppers finally get the chance to visit their favourite retailers.

Shopping, however, will be very different post lockdown, with two metre markings, screens at the tills, changing rooms changed and limited numbers of shoppers allowed in at a time.

Its also a very nervous time for retailers as there are anxieties that online shopping has become such a habit that it will be hard to win back customers. Also, will customer levels return to normal after the initial novelty fades in a week or so. Let’s not forget household budgets have been slashed for millions of families.

Shops will face the same running costs and a drop in sales of, say 20 per cent, could prove disastrous for many smaller independent shops who do not have the cash reserves to bolster a downturn in business.

Chancellor, Rishi Sunak yesterday urged Britain to go on a spending spree to help us bounce back from the crisis caused by Covid-19. He wants the nation to reawaken its “lion-spirit” to give shops a roaring trade.

A great sentiment and rallying call and I hope it translates into pounds in the tills.

The Chambers is here to offer all the support we can to retailers. We have specialists in marketing, HR and finance who can offer specific advice and guidance.

We also have a bank of almost 200 business mentors, all experienced business people and many with years of business to consumer experience. You can access their expertise for free through our Let’s do Mentoring programme.

Please contact Ann Steele at the Chambers if you would like to talk about help from a mentor: ann.steele@staffordshirechambers.co.uk

If you want to talk to us about any business issues, you can call our switchboard on 01782 202222 or call the Stoke and Staffs Growth Hub Helpline on 0300 111 8002. We also have a Twitter hour each Tuesday and Friday from 11am – 12noon #StaffsChamberChat

I was hoping to end the week with a lighter blog, as I usually like to on a Friday. However, the publication of the UK GDP figures for April, showing a fall over thirty times the average month on month decline during the global financial crisis, reveal the stark economic impact of the Coronavirus Covid-19 pandemic.

With lockdown restrictions gradually easing and shops beginning to reopen, April is likely to prove to be the low point for the UK economy. However, the any prospect of a ‘V-shaped’ recovery remains unlikely, with many sectors continuing to operate at reduced capacity.

For example, tourism and hospitality businesses, many of whom will remain closed for some time and will require flexible and open-ended government support to weather the economic storm.

Over the coming months we will be working closely with the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) to urge the Government to take further actions to lessen the impact of the pandemic and kick-start a recovery. This will include extending support packages and stimulating consumer demand and business investment.

On a much more optimistic note, I was delighted this week to provide our input to a great new campaign by the Sentinel entitled #IAmOpen.

The Sentinel and StokeonTrentLive have launched the #IAmOpen campaign to support local businesses left counting the cost of lockdown.

It gave me an opportunity to write down all the great business support initiatives we have put in place since lockdown. Such as; proactively telephoning businesses to see what assistance they needed; moving our entire event and training programmes online as webinars, forums and seminars; dealing with thousands of finance and grant enquiries and applications and importantly, the Chambers having a direct voice to top level policy-makers to influence government policy as effects of the lockdown unfolded.

All you need to do to take part in #IAmOpen is to tweet to @sotlive with a photograph standing outside or inside the business with an #IAMOpen sign, also including the hashtag #IAMOpen in the tweet. You can also send any positive stories to Sentinel business editor, Laura Watson – laura.watson@reachplc.com

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

The Chambers has always been an advocate of a local supply chain and this has never been more relevant than now after we have seen the weaknesses in some of the areas where we have struggled to get the goods needed from a globalised economy. In fact, you could say that many of our events are about introducing businesses to each other as suppliers and customers.

There are obvious arguments for buying from local suppliers including lower transport costs, shorter turnaround, more sustainable practices, and a stimulation of the local economy. Although we also work really hard to encourage people to trade across the world as that helps our economy grow.

Buying local is part of many of the large companies’ corporate social responsibility policies – but it should also be because they can buy excellent goods and services locally and don’t need to look elsewhere. So local businesses need to develop their competitive edge to ensure that they get the work here – and elsewhere.

Today we had a webinar from the Small Business Commissioner, Martin Traynor, on how to find and win work from government at every level. It is on our website in the Webinar Library and is worth a look. Government, now more than ever, are keen to buy from British companies and have opportunities that are from £10,000 upwards so are suitable for most companies to have a go at.

Supply chain disruption has been a big issue in pandemic with goods being stranded at ports and airports, or not even getting that far due to lockdown restrictions in the country of origin. Something unfortunately that could well recur with a second wave of infection or in the absence of a vaccine.

Keeping production on a local level also affords an opportunity to exploit your brand capital, whether it is ‘Made in Great Britain’ or even ‘Made in Staffordshire’. As more and more customers are buying with a conscience it gives businesses not only an advantage but also a great back story to boost their image in the public arena.

Managing a supply chain takes meticulous planning and hard work but thankfully we have a great deal of expertise within the Chambers’ membership, particularly in our Manufacturers’ Forum and through our specialist business mentors. And keep an eye on our webinars for some help on exporting and understanding your supply chain – buy local and sell abroad for maximum economic benefit to Staffordshire!

If you would like to talk about how you can build a more local supply chain or would like to offer advice to those looking to do so then please don’t hesitate to contact Tom Nadin at the Chambers: tom.nadin@staffordshirechambers.co.uk

If you want to talk to us about any business issues, you can call our switchboard on 01782 202222 or call the Stoke and Staffs Growth Hub Helpline on 0300 111 8002. We also have a Twitter hour each Tuesday and Friday from 11am – 12noon #StaffsChamberChat

This Friday at 3pm, we have our latest online Policy Hour meeting. I am delighted that we will have an hour in the company of Councillor Abi Brown, Leader of Stoke-on-Trent City Council.

Meeting Councillor Abi Brown is always an uplifting experience. The nine years as a councillor, five years as deputy-leader and 12 months as leader have done little to dampen her enthusiasm, optimism, and strong-minded determination to make her native city great again.

Stoke-on-Trent and the whole of North Staffordshire faces a testing time made tougher by the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.

This policy hour session is a great opportunity to hear what initiatives and projects are in the pipeline to move the local economy forwards. These include, the Hilton Garden Inn Hotel in Smithfield, which had its opening delayed by the lockdown and will be opening its doors soon; Clayworks, from the Council’s wholly owned housing company, Fortior Homes; and a new multi-storey car park. In addition, there are plans to develop the East/West Precinct – one of the largest prime city centre development sites in the Midlands.

The Council’s capital programme will also support Ceramic Valley Enterprise Zone, comprising six key sites totalling 140 hectares along the A500 corridor. It is one of the most successful enterprise zones in the country.

And Councillor Brown will also be able to answer questions on the education of our young people, the roads and transport infrastructure and how the retail centres are going to work as they open up post Covid-19.

If you have any questions you would like to ask of Abi, please could you send them to laura.hodgkiss@staffordshirechambers.co.uk by Thursday 11 June, or alternatively we will be using the Q&A facility on Zoom for any questions on the day.

If you would like to attend, click the link to register. Zoom will then send you a confirmation with joining details for the webinar.

If you want to talk to us about any business matters 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

Yesterday saw the start of the enforcement of a two-week quarantine period for anyone arriving in the UK by plane, ferry, or train except for arrivals from the Republic of Ireland.

The rules, which will be backed by fines of up to £1000, have not been welcomed by the travel industry and some MPs. However, Home Secretary Priti Patel said the move would protect public health now that imported coronavirus “pose a more significant threat”.

The British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) is echoing the cautious sentiment of business to the government that the safe re-establishment of connections to key markets and trade partners must now be a top priority.

‘Air bridges’ must be put in place swiftly for the sake of the many industries and livelihoods that depend on the UK’s connectivity across the world. Any review process should consult widely with affected business communities across the UK.

Co-ordinated checks at departure and arrival airports, together with other internationally agreed safety measures, would alleviate the need for a blanket quarantine affecting arrivals from every country around the world.

As the rules also cover UK citizens returning home employers need to be mindful of working arrangements with staff before they travel. Employees who cannot work from home are eligible for statutory sick pay if they meet the required conditions.

Employers also need to be mindful that they have an appropriate quarantine policy in place.

If you need any advice on this or you have any views or concerns about any other issues we can represent on your behalf,  do not hesitate to contact us at: info@staffordshirechambers.co.uk

If you want to talk to us, 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

I am aware that many Staffordshire businesses and schools are manufacturing, supplying, and distributing PPE.

Whether it was something you have been involved in for a long time, or whether you have switched your production to manufacture PPE during the pandemic, I have been really impressed with how businesses have responded to the overwhelming need for PPE from frontline services, business and the public.

If your business is manufacturing and supplying PPE please let us know so we can publicise local suppliers through our communication channels.

Please email full details of your products to info@staffordshirechambers.co.uk subject: PPE Staffordshire.

There have been some great examples locally such as British Boxers in Leek who manufacture high quality underwear and nightwear. They have now added high-quality face masks to their product range, and they are selling extremely well. I am sure that they have welcomed the news that face masks are to become mandatory on public transport.

We want to encourage businesses to buy locally to help our economy recover as quickly as possible. To help with this we want to publicise all examples through a dedicated page on our website, social media and news feeds.

I mentioned this time last week that Monday 1st June marked areal step change in the recovery of our economy as schools and many businesses returned to work, albeit in a cautious manner with only part of the workforce returning to a physical office or factory environment.

Personally, it has been fantastic to see colleagues again, to catch up in person and to start to rebuild.

We would be interested to hear your experiences and what strategies you are employing to get back to normality. Perhaps you are having staff come in on alternate days or adjusting employee hours to fit around childcare or care of vulnerable family members.

If you would like to share your experiences or have any issues around the return to work don’t hesitate to contact us at: info@staffordshirechambers.co.uk

If you want to talk to us about any business issues, you can call our switchboard on 01782 202222 or call the Stoke and Staffs Growth Hub Helpline on 0300 111 8002. We also have a Twitter hour each Tuesday and Friday from 11am – 12noon #StaffsChamberChat

As businesses emerge from lockdown there is an expectation that there will be a growth in redundancies and businesses will have to change some working practices. It is extremely important that equality and diversity is considered in any decision making

This is for two reasons. Firstly, that diversity is good for brand loyalty, generates greater commitment and businesses that are more diverse are innovative and resilient. Secondly, this is still the law and as such, there needs to be a focus on equality in decisions taken. Breaches resulting in tribunals and fines can cause massive reputational damage at a time when businesses are already vulnerable.

The Home Office have a good information resource around equality and diversity, with several guidance documents on their website. https://bit.ly/3dvJKkK.

Businesses and organisations must make sure that their decision making is non-discriminatory and that they have the right information about the protected characteristics for their teams. The decisions being made relate to furloughing staff, changing working conditions and hours as well as making roles redundant.

The key element, as with all staffing issues, is to communicate with employees, involving them in the decision making and listening to their suggestions.

Businesses may have to make reasonable workplace adjustments which could now include providing equipment for staff with protected characteristics working from home. This could mean providing them with another place of work. If this is not possible then they may need to be put on paid disability leave or furloughed. However, after lockdown there may still need to be adjustments made if the working environment has changed.

Women who are pregnant or on maternity leave already have protections. Risk assessments must be undertaken for them returning to work. They cannot be made redundant, and if the risks cannot be mitigated, they will receive full pay.

Other areas to consider are insurance cover for those with protected characteristics. If they are medically vulnerable will the employer be liable? This is currently under investigation by the Equality & Diversity unit in the Home Office, as there are several issues with insurers.

Those most affected by Covid 19 are people living in poverty, in low pay but high value jobs such as health, care and other essential services, and are from black or minority ethnic (BAME) groups – as many people in these communities are in the low pay, multiple jobs bracket.

As they are most at risk, there is a chance that perceived racism could rise in those employing or making people redundant. Such discrimination in recruitment can only be detrimental to the growth of innovative and diverse businesses and could stall economic recovery.

If you would like to discuss any issues around equality and diversity please contact us via info@staffordshirechambers.co.uk

If you want to talk to us about any business issues, you can call our switchboard on 01782 202222 or call the Stoke and Staffs Growth Hub Helpline on 0300 111 8002. We also have a weekday daily Twitter hour from 11am – 12noon #StaffsChamberChat

This Friday we have another in our series of online Policy Hour webinars with Karen Bradley, MP for Staffordshire Moorlands.

Policy Hour events are taking place in lieu of our regular Meet the MP events and afford an opportunity to voice your opinion directly to decision makers on the issues which matter to you most.

All our MPs in the county have been incredibly supportive of business community during the lockdown and Karen is no exception. Having such a close relationship with our MPs means that our message gets directly to the top decision makers and we have a direct influence on government policy.

You can pre-submit a question and there will also be time for questions on the day.

Register here for Policy Hour:  https://bit.ly/2U4FVeW

All pre-submitted questions need to be sent no later than 5pm on Wednesday 3 June to Vickie Hardie: vickie.hardie@staffordshirechambers.co.uk

Manufacturing in the UK has started to show some slow recovery from the coronavirus crisis, but the sector is continuing to struggle amid the pandemic, according to new Purchasing Manager’s Index (PMI) statistics.

The report showed that the index rose to 40.7 in May, picking up after falling to a record low of 32.6 in April.

The index is derived from a survey of manufacturers on business activity, with figures below 50 indicating contraction in the sector.

The survey also found further contraction in output, however new orders and business confidence have started to edge up, hopefully indicating that UK economic activity could improve as lockdown restrictions are progressively eased over the coming weeks.

A small crumb of comfort, but encouraging, nonetheless.

The Chambers Manufacturers’ Forum brings together all our manufacturers from different sectors but with a common aim of sharing best practice, benchmarking, and facilitating a wide range of events and instructive seminars.

The Forum enjoys great support from the big names in Staffordshire manufacturing including Michelin, JCB and KMF and many more companies.

 

We want all manufacturers large and small to be part of the Forum and help shape the recovery and future of the sector in Staffordshire.  More immediately, you have a great chance to put your manufacturing questions directly to Karen Bradley on Friday.

 

For more information on how you can get involved contact Tom Nadin: tom.nadin@staffordshirechambers.co.uk

Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s announcement on Friday, of the additional changes to the Job Retention Scheme, was generally well received and showed once again that the Government is listening to the business community.

The changes which come in to place from July, will see a gradual reduction in furlough contributions from the Treasury and will give businesses additional time to rebuild their income streams and cash flows. In addition, it gives businesses the flexibility to bring people back on a part-time basis as the economy re-builds.

We will be urging the Government, with the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), to be open to providing new and additional support for businesses who are unable to get back to work for an extended period, especially in sectors of the economy facing reduced capacity or demand due to the phasing of ongoing lockdown restrictions.

For many firms, facing significant uncertainty, for example those in the hospitality sector, even a small rise in contributions to the furlough scheme will be difficult to find when there is zero income coming in.

It was also welcome news for the self-employed who have seen their livelihoods greatly affected by the virus.

The Self-Employed Income Support Scheme (SEISS) will continue, covering the three-month period to the end of August. It will provide 70 per cent of average income based on the past three year’s profits.

We realise that many businesses and self-employed workers will still have issues and concerns around financial support, or perhaps do not qualify for the above schemes.

If you would like raise any issues so we can represent you at the highest level or signpost you to other possible sources of funding, please contact us at:  info@staffordshirechambers.co.uk

If you want to talk to us about any business issues, you can call our switchboard on 01782 202222 or call the Stoke and Staffs Growth Hub Helpline on 0300 111 8002. We also have a weekday daily Twitter hour from 11am – 12noon #StaffsChamberChat

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If you would like to present a webinar you can contact Laura Hodgkiss: laura.hodgkiss@staffordshirechambers.co.uk

If you want to talk to us about any business issues, you can call our switchboard on 01782 202222 or call the Stoke and Staffs Growth Hub Helpline on 0300 111 8002. We also have a weekday daily Twitter hour from 11am – 12noon #StaffsChamberChat